It’s Time

مسکین معین در یک غزل بنمود اسرار ازل
بشنو کلام لم یزل از کسوت گفتار او
Mo’in, the dervish, has presented in a single poem the secrets of eternity.
Listen to these words of eternity, clothed in the sound of his words.

The Sufis mention various concepts of time like, ân, dahr, zamân, waqt, qidam, abad, azal, hîn, mudda and imtidâd. G. Böwering in his Ideas of Time in Persian Sufism writes: “The philosophers had explained time; the mystics set out to conquer it.” [p. 217 of Classical Persian Sufism: from its Origins to Rumi]. Let’s start with the creative moment, ân [آن].

This moment is different from any before it.
This moment is different: it’s now!

If you step on a Persian carpet at exactly 3.00 A.M., it will fly. “Such good fortune,” says A. Reza Arasteh, is fleeting, for the person invariably steps on the carpet an instant [ân] before or after 3.00 A.M.” This idea of a precise instant, undoubtedly resembles the idea of Kairós in Greek mythology. Kairós personifies opportunity, while the Sufi must seek the right time, the real moment, i.e. the instant of total relatedness.

The Greek concept Kairós corresponds with ân [present time] and waqt [a moment in time] in Arabic lexicons. Chrónos corresponds with zamân [a long time, having beginning and end], aión with dahr [time from the beginning of the world to its end] and diâstasis with mudda [a space of duration].

Among those who seek the creative moment there are the ‘child of the moment’ and the ‘master of the moment’. The second one possesses a more sensitive ‘antenna’ than the first one, who needs more preparation to be able to tune in to the fortunate moment.

The nature of ân is hard to define. Sufis compare it to a sharp sword that cuts the past from the future. They use similes like flying on a Persian carpet to describe the opening to the creative moment, and mention aspects like inspiration, illumination, unveiling, overcoming emotional and cultural blocks.

The appearance of ân, the ‘opening’ moment, is also the moment of union with the object of your spiritual quest. According to the Sufis there is a hierarchy in the experience of ân. The lowest degree is an illuminated experience of the Divine acts, a higher degree is the manifestation of the Divine qualities and, if He so wishes, the highest degree is an illuminated gift experiencing the Divine essence as far as possible regarding your preparedness.

Khwaja Hafiz is a ‘master of the moment’ and warns us:

The heart misunderstands the measure of time, the value of the moment.
It stands by idle, alas, when we at last regret all these unharvested moments.

He recognizes time [waqt-shinâsî] to be important and uses waqt as similar to ân. This is also the case with al-Jurjani in his definition of ân:

“It is the name given to the moment [waqt] wherein you find yourself.”

The word waqt [وقت] literally means time, opportunity or hour. It has also been translated as metaphysical time, hour or opportunity. Shaykh Abu Sa’id Ali’l-Khair said: وقتک بین النفسین ، وقت تو میان دو نفس است ، یکی گذشته و یکی نا آمد which means: “Your time/moment is between two breaths; one of them past and the second yet to come.”

Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh in his The Crucible of Light – Sufi Terms Illuminated explains on p. 278 about waqt that “the moment is said to be the time in which you are present. In Sufi terminology, the moment occurs in the state of meditation when you have no thought of past or future and you are even unaware of yourself.”

The Kubrawiyya Sufi Najmuddin Razi states many people behave like brutes and beast “to the currency of time”, and thus are debarred from experiencing the spiritual stations of the Sufis. He writes:

The bird of your spirit returns to the nest,
Once bestial temper turns from your soul.
The vulturelike spirit strives to ascend,
Alights on the king’s arm and turns into a falcon.

What is the proper âdâb to be observed in the conduct of waqt? Three points are important:

  1. The preservation of the moment: You need to monitor your waqt, protecting it from the intervention of your ego. Don’t consider the waqt to be yours, so that the purity of the moment may be maintained.
  2. The pre-condition of the moment: You should not become attached to the moment. In combination with # 1 you need to avoid to be proud or self-expressive [see # 3].
  3. The concealment of the moment: You need to keep the gift of this state [hâl] hidden from others.

Shaykh Fariduddin ‘Attar asks about waqt:

وقت چیست از یک سر موی آمدن
صد بلا چون موی در روی آمدن

What then is the creative moment?
That which comes from the tip of a hair.
A hundred afflictions become no more
Than a hair on the face.

Let’s continue with dahr. Al-Jurjani in his Book of Definitions writes about dahr -دهر – which can be translated as time, perpetuity, duration. According to him, “dahr is the permanent moment [ân] which is the continuity or permanence [imtidâd] of the Divine Presence [hadra ilâhiyya]. It is the innermost part of time [zamân], in which eternity a part ante and a parte post [azal and abad] are united.”

Some verses in the Diwan-e-Mo’in, attributed to Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti, add azal and abad to eternity, referring to a pre-eternity and a post-eternity:

هر کرا هوش و قرارست میش ده ساقی
که معینی ز ازل بیخود و مدهوش آمد

O cupbearer, give His wine to everyone who is sound and sane,
Which has enraptured Mo’in and has made him intoxicated since pre-eternity.


ساقی عشق مرا روز ازل باده چشاند
تا ابد هر نفسم مستی دیگر بفزود

Love’s cupbearer has made me taste some wine during the day of pre-eternity,
So that with every breath of mine my intoxication will increase at post-eternity.

Both pre-eternity and post-eternity have nothing to do with historical time. The day of pre-eternity took place before time started. It refers to the atemporal meeting of the souls with the Divine Beloved who asked them the question: “Am I not your Lord?” What is atemporal is perceived by Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti outside time. In his contemplative vision he thus also witnesses each meeting with the Beloved in post-eternity.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Allah Almighty said: The son of Adam abuses me. He curses time and I am time, for in my hand are the night and day.” Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi has been influenced by the Zahiri school that interpreted time [dahr] as an attribute of God. He described God as time [dahr], defined as a single day [yawn wâhid] without night-time or daytime, yet divided into many days, the ‘Days of God,’ by the properties of the Divine names and attributes. Each name has days which are the time [zamân] of the ruling property of that name. But all names are the Days of God [ayyâm Allâh], and all are differentiations of time [dahr] in the universe by virtue of the ruling property.

Hin [حین] receives different translations in the lexicons, like time, age, seven years, forty years, half a year, eve and morn, the day of judgment.

Shaykh al-Kashani in his lexicon of Sufi technical terms pays attention under item 420 to the ‘Master of time [zamân] and the Master of the creative moment [waqt] and spiritual state [hâl]’:

“He has verified the reality of the first assembly of the intermediate world, and is apprised of the realities of things outside the control of time; things, that is, outside the control of his past and future actions – except for those in the eternal present [ân al-dâ’im], which is the vehicle of his states, his qualities and his deeds. For this reason he handles time by a process of folding and unfolding, and he handles space by a process of contraction [qabd az-zamân] and expansion [bast az-zamân].”

Before shaykh al-Kashani continues with his definition of item 420, let’s first pay attention to some of the above terms. Among the supernatural powers [karâmât] of the Sufis is their ability to pull large time spans into short moments or draw out time to inconceivably long durations, rolling up time [tayy az-zamân] or expanding time [nashr az-zamân]. Asked the number of his students, shaykh Awhaduddin Kirmani replied: “They number seventy thousand. Of these three thousand are near the Sufi path, and every night I must read to each of them the invocation.” He thus was able to contract space and time. Shaykh Abu’l-Hasan Kharaqani went five times a day from his home in Iran to the Lebanon mountains to lead a group of Muslims in prayer.

Shaykh al-Kashani continues his definition of item 420 thus:

“He is someone who has verified alike the realities and natures of the many and the few, the long and the short, the great and the small. For unity, diversity and quantity are all merely accidental phenomena; and while he operates with them in his imagination, and likewise in his intellect, his behaviour is validated and becomes comprehensible through contemplation and direct revelation. Thus the verifier of Reality, as he deals with realities, is active in a mode which goes far beyond the limits of sensory perception, imagination and intellect; and he controls and modifies accidental phenomena.”

Eternity [قدم – qidam] and transitoriness [حدث – hadath] are also mentioned by a Sufi poet:

When he left the two worlds behind him,
Only the Eternal remained
And he left transitoriness behind him.

When God wants to awaken ordinary people, he shows them His sign in the two worlds. When he wants to awaken the elect, He removes consciousness of the transitory from their hearts.

Shah Da’i of Shiraz says in the first volume of his Diwan:

Traveling implies going forwards and doing so with open eyes.
Step by step inwardly advancing while crossing the world in the eyes of the world,
Travelling from a particle of dust to the sun and from the drop to the ocean.
When you travel the path in this way, you’ll become aware of all that exists.
You’ll know all that is good or bad and be able to deal with everyone you’ll meet.
When you enjoy contemplative vision, you’ll find what you are searching for.

The Sufis are travellers and during their travel along the Sufi path they can experience fortunate moments that take them out of ordinary time.