She walks in beauty

You’ll know the poem of Lord Byron called She Walks in Beauty. I have accessed its recitation by Marianne Faithfull on the 21st of July 2021:


The Sufis say that the manifestation of the Divine is strongest in women. The dark-haired beauty – the raven tress – in Byron’s poem will remind you of Layla in Sufism, whose name implies the darkness of the night.

Lord Byron’s love for beauty reminds me of a Persian Sufi concept called Jamâl-parastî – the worship of beauty. She Walks in Beauty could have been written by shaykh Rûzbihân Baqlî; just study this quatrain:

‌چشم از رخ خوبت آفتابی دارد
حسن از قبل روی تو تابی دارد
مسکین دل شوریده سر گشته من
از تاب سر زلف تو تابی دارد

My eye has its sun from your beautiful face.
Beauty has its light from the power of your face.
My poor, crazy heart is desperately in love.
It has its brightness from the curls of your tress.

Beauty begins with God Himself. He was a hidden treasure and loved to be recognized. Shaykh Rûzbihân Baqlî writes about the unfolding of this hidden treasure [Kazuyo Murata: Beauty in Sufism – The Teachings of Rûzbihân Baqlî; p. 49]:

Were there no unveiling of His beauty,
How could there be love in people’s spirits?
He made Himself recognized in the signs,
Then He gave out the descriptions of the attributes.

Do you know that there is a rose named after Lord Byron? Shaykh Rûzbihân Baqlî is also known because of his visionary experiences. He remembered that the Prophet said:  ‘The red rose is of God’s splendour [bahâ’].’ Carl W. Ernst in his Ruzbihan Baqli – Mysticism and the Rhetoric of Sainthood in Persian Sufism, pp. 66-7, has presented one of these visionary experiences of a red rose:

‘In the middle of last night, after sitting on the carpet of devotion in search of the manifestation of hidden brides, when my conscience soared in the regions of the angelic realm, I saw the majesty of God in the station of clothing with divinity, in the shape of loveliness, repeatedly. It did not satisfy my heart, until from it came a revelation of the perpetual majesty that consumes the consciousness and thoughts. I saw a face vaster than all of heaven and earth, and the throne and the footstool, scattering the lights of glory, and it transcended analogies and similitudes. I saw his glory with the color of the red rose, but it was world upon world, as if he were scattering red roses, and I saw no limit to it. My heart remembered the saying of the Prophet, ‘The red rose is of the splendour of God.’ And that was the extent of my heart’s comprehension.’

Splendour [my translation of bahâ’] appears to me to be beauty [jamâl] mixed with elements of majesty [jalâl]. I’ll return to this mix after dealing with the explanation of the shaykh of the vision of the red rose [Kazuyo Murata: Beauty in Sufism; p. 127]:

‘This is an allusion to self-disclosure and the eye of gathering, that is, the self-disclosure of the Real through the quality of splendor in the Garden, for the Garden makes the red rose grow. [The Prophet] also said, ‘The red rose is the master of the aromatic plants of the Garden after the myrtle,’ for the lights of the essence’s self-disclosure penetrated the rose. The Real made it into a mirror for the beauty [husn] of His splendor for the folk of His intimacy and His love. In the same way the red rose is the most beloved of the aromatic plants to His friends, so much so that [the Prophet] used to love it, kiss it, place it upon his eyes, and say, ‘This is freshly acquainted with its Lord’.’

Let us return to the earlier remark that splendour [bahâ’] appears to me to be beauty [jamâl] mixed with elements of majesty [jalâl]. This matter is even more refined as can be seen in the explanation by shaykh Ibn al-Arabî in his Kitâb al-Jalâl wa’l-Jamâl:

‘The matter of jalâl and jamâl, the Divine majesty and the Divine beauty, has attracted the attention of the witnesses of truth, the knowers of Allâh among the Sufis. Each of them has spoken of these two as was appropriate to his own state. Most, however, have connected the condition of intimacy with beauty and the condition of awe with majesty, and things are not as they have said.’

‘Or rather, to a certain extent things are just as they have said, that is, majesty and beauty are indeed two attributes of Allâh, and awe and intimacy two attributes of human beings, and when the souls of the knowers witness majesty, they feel awe and diminution, while when they witness beauty, they feel intimacy and elation. Because this is so, the knowers have equated majesty with Allâh’s overpowering force and beauty with His mercy. They came to this decision because of what they experienced in themselves.’

‘I wish, if Allâh so wills, to clarify the realities of the two to the extent that Allâh enables me to explain them.’

‘I say, first, that Allâh’s majesty is a relation that proceeds from Him to Him, and He has prevented us from true knowledge of it. Beauty, though, is a relation that proceeds from Him to us, and it is this which grants us any knowledge we may possess of Him, as well as all revelations, contemplations, and spiritual states. Among us, it has two modalities: awe and intimacy. That is because this beauty has an exalted aspect and a related aspect. The exalted aspect is called the majesty of beauty, and it is of this of which the knowers speak and which appears to them, though they believe that they are speaking of the first majesty we mentioned.’

‘For us, this majesty of beauty has been linked to the state of intimacy, and the closer, related aspect of beauty has been linked to the state of awe.’

‘When the majesty of beauty manifests to us, we are drawn intimately close. Were it not for this, we would be destroyed, for nothing can continue to exist in the face of majesty and awe together. Thus majesty in Him is countered by intimacy in us so that we may keep our balance in contemplation and maintain a mental awareness of what we see, rather than falling into distracted terror.’

‘When beauty manifests to us here – and beauty is the welcoming openness of the Truth towards us while majesty is its unattainable exaltation over us – then His expansiveness in His beauty is countered by our state of awe. For were one expansiveness to be met with another it would lead to unacceptable behaviour, and unacceptable behaviour in the Divine presence is the cause of expulsion and alienation. On account of this, one of the witnesses of Truth who knew its importance said, ‘Seat yourself upon the prayer-mat [bisât] and beware of presumption [inbisât]’.’

‘Allâh’s majesty acting upon us prevents us from unacceptable behaviour in the Divine presence, as likewise does our awe at His beauty and expansiveness towards us.’

‘Therefore, what has been spiritually disclosed to our colleagues is sound. It is their judgment [that majesty in itself closes and diminishes them and that beauty in itself opens and expands them] that is in error. So long as the divine disclosure is sound, the rest is inconsequential, but majesty and beauty, in their essences, are as we have described them.’

Do you know Mohammed Yahyâ ibn Sîbak? Do you know his pen name Fattâhî? If your answer is no, then you are in good company, because even Henry Corbin in his four volumes of En islam iranien pays no attention to this Sufi poet from Nîshâpûr. His date of birth is unknown. He died in 852 A.H./1448/1449 C.E.

The takhallus  Fattâhî is derived from the anagram of the Arabic translation of his Persian name  Sîbak [= little apple, Ar. Tuffâh]. This pen name is also a reminder of the Divine name al-Fattâh, the Opener.

Fattâhî’s most famous work is a masnawî of about 5,000 distichs called Husn u Dil [French translation as Coeur et Beauté ou Le Livre des Amoureux]. It is named after its two allegorical protagonists Beauty and Heart.

Fattâhî introduces us in fact to no less than 28 personifications, like Dream, Reason, Love, Suspicion, Patience, Essence, Honour, Loyalty etc. Heart and Beauty are active in a quest for the Water of Life, having received beautiful guidance from Khizr [Ibid. p. 120]:

که چون آز خضر دید این حسن ارشاد

Heart is the son of the king of the west, who is called Reason. Heart is longing for the Water of Life and that’s why Heart sends Glance as an envoy on a quest. After many difficulties Glance returns with the good news that the Water of Life has been found in the rose garden of Beauty situated in the east. Glance returns with Dream who is a painter.

Dream paints a portrait of Beauty, who is the daughter of Love, the king of the east. When Heart sees this portrait, he immediately falls in love with Beauty. King Reason then does his utmost to prevent from falling into the hands of Love whom he considers to be a tyrant.

Why do you think that the Water of Life can be found in the garden of Beauty? Beauty is a key term in Persian Sufi poetry. Beauty is an aspect of the beloved. In order to become manifest, beauty has to reflect itself in the ‘mirror’ of the lover. This mirror is nothing but the heart. Fattâhî thus makes clear that Heart can find Beauty in his own heart.

And what about the two ‘enemies’, Reason, the king of the west, and Reason, the king of the east? During his quest Heart gets imprisoned in the fortress of Separation. Love sends an army to free Heart and informs Reason thereof. These two kings thereafter turn into brothers.

Fattâhî concludes his tale by disclosing about himself that although he is a poor dervish, he is also a king owning a treasure. His treasure is the spiritual station of contentment.

How about the 28 personifications in Fattâhî’s tale? Are these and other characteristics real in the tale of your life? Close your eyes and contemplate what you see!

In case you say that you see nothing at this moment, you are mistaken. The mistake is yours. You do see in reality, but Temptation, Suspicion, Jealousy, Hatred and other Demons cloud your observation.

In case you wish to ‘see’ diminish their influence somewhat. The way to do so only demands a little effort in the field of spiritual training. The meaning of this inward training is to devote your efforts to overcome your enemies. When the King of Love, sends his army to help you, Beauty might show its face to you as well:

ای آفتاب حسن برون آ دمی ز ابر
کان چهرهء مشعشع تابانم آرزوست

O Sun of Beauty! Come out for a moment from the clouds:
I long to see your radiant, illuminated face.