The lover of the ABC

Just suppose you are able to make an interview with Fazlallah Astarabadi (1340-1394). What would you ask him? Perhaps some of your questions are similar to the ones as given below:

Q: Can you tell us something about yourself?

A: My father was a judge. He died while I was still a child. I inherited my father’s office. In my youth, while I was incapable of actually doing the job of a judge, I was put on a horse every day and taken to the courthouse to act as a figurehead. My father’s formerly assistants took care of the work. Because of sitting in the judge’s seat I became unusually serious even as a child, but it was also true that I was naturally inclined to religious devotion. I was given a solid traditional religious education by studying Qur’an and the ahadith..

Q: Can you tell us about your first inclinations towards the mystical path?

A: I’ve had an extraordinary inner experience at the age of eighteen. One day I heard a wandering dervish recite the following lines by Mawlana Rumi:

Why are you afraid of death,
When you have a deathless soul?
How can a dark grave contain you,
When you are filled with the light of God?

This verse moved me greatly, so much so that I became rooted to the spot and experienced a spiritual state. I then asked my religious teacher about the meaning of the verse and he told me that it was beyond description. He told me that understanding its message required that I should devote myself completely to religious pursuits, thus enabling me to experience the meaning rather than knowing it intellectually. Hoping to unite with God and transcend death as mentioned in the verse, I decided to attempt the experiential path as suggested by my teacher.

Q: What happened then?

A: For one whole year after hearing the verse I tried to live a normal life while at the same time I detached myself from worldly concerns. During the day I continued my religious studies and worked as a judge as required by the office I had inherited. At night I often removed myself to a graveyard outside the city and prayed alone until dawn. But my day and night activities were fundamentally at odds with each other. That is why when I was about nineteen I decided to become a wandering dervish. I gave away all my belongings and left Astarabad in the dark of night. On the way out I met a shepherd and gave him the clothes I was wearing in exchange for a felt shirt.

Q: What happened then?

A: I was unused to the hard conditions of the life of a wandering dervish and my long journey caused me to develop a seizure in one of my limbs after my arrival in Isfahan. It took me some time to recover. In Isfahan I began to experience significant dreams.

Q: Why not tell us more about these dreams?

A: I saw a disturbing dream in which an uncouth man took me by the hand near a water bank and spun me around three times. A few days later I ran into a group of men who invited me to come with them to the river. I went with them but did not like them because of their questionable religious behaviour. I had a meal with them, after which they started to dance. I was sitting by the side hoping not to be asked to join in. However, one of the men came over and made me stand up and spin around three times just as in my dream. My initial unease about the dream was now relieved since I realized that it had been a premonition about the future.

Q: Have you had more dreams guiding you in your search?

A: One day, after completing the pilgrimage to Mecca, I had a dream in Khwarazm. I fell asleep while doing the zikr. I then saw that I was in a bathhouse when Jesus came in and asked me if I knew the names of the most sincere religious seekers in Islam. I said that I didn’t know the answer and was then told that these were the four famous Sufis Ibrahim Bin Adham, Abu Yazid Bastami, Sahl at-Tustari and Bahlul. Their names remained with me when I awoke and this knowledge allowed me to understand many things. You can read more about my dreams in my “Nawn Name” (= The Book of Sleep).

Q: You have been praised by your followers who called you a master of inner interpretation, but you have also been seen as a transgressor, an unbeliever, a heretic. What do you have to say in regard to these accusations?

A: Ibn Sina has written this quatrain:

Kofr chu mani gezaaf o aasaan nabud
Mohkamtar az imaan-e man imaan nabud
Dar dahr chu man yaki o u ham kaafer
Pas dar hame dahr yaki mosalmaan nabud.

The unbelief of someone like me is neither foolish nor an easy matter.
There is no faith stronger than the faith of mine.
There is only one like me in the world and he is an infidel.
So there is not one Muslim in the whole world.

Q: People outside of your movement have referred to you and your followers as Hurufis or “letterists” because of your emphasis on letter mysticism. Can you tell something about this science?

A: All tangible reality is a materialization of the divine meta-language. The sounds of the cosmos are the spoken aspect of this meta-language and the physical world is its written aspect. The only way to get to the meta-language from ordinary language is to break words down to letters and sounds and analyse them to see their meta-linguistic references. Meta-linguistic letters relate to ordinary letters in the same way archetypes have their relationships. In the science of letters there are a number of different techniques for doing this. The requisite organ for the meta-language is the heart. In order to find the inner meaning you therefore have to undertake a journey to the core of your own being.

Q: Anything else you want to say to us?

A: Safar-e mubarak! May your journey be blessed!