ASMĀR AL-ASRĀR (Night-discourses of secrets), theosophical treatise in Persian composed by a 9th/15th century Češtī Sufi of India, Sayyed Moḥammad Ḥosaynī Gīsūdarāz (q.v., d. 825/1422), popularly known as Ḵᵛāǰa-ye Bandanavāz. Several manuscripts are extant, and the text has been edited by S. ʿAṭā Ḥosayn (Hyderabad, 1350/1931). It was originally divided into 114 asmār to correspond with the number of sūras in the Koran. Yet the editor, who seem to have had four manuscripts before him, states that three of them contained 115 chapters and one contained 114. He preferred the majority (ibid., editor’s introduction, pp. 6-7), but chapters 74 and 75 deal with the same subject and should be treated as one, in the fashion of the fourth manuscript. Each chapter is a complete unit, containing an inspiration set to writing as it seems to have occurred to the writer. There is no systematic organization to the subject matter.
Composed in 811-12/1408-09, the work highlights the Persian style of Gīsūdarāz, one reminiscent of ʿAyn-al-qożāt Hamadānī (d. 525/1130-31) in his monumental work Tamhīdāt, and of Aḥmad Ḡazālī (d. ca. 520/1126) in his Persian treatise Sawāneḥ fi’l-ʿešq. The Asmār represents an elegant combination of Persian prose and poetry. In the tradition of classical Persian, the influence of Arabic is apparent throughout the work. Prosodic in style, its language is replete with metaphors, symbolic analogies, similes, allegorical elucidations, and poetic imagery. It is eloquent, rhetorical, and, when the author chooses, lucid—a display of spiritual artistry in the language most suitable to the subject which it treats. Yet the construction of sentences is at times odd and unidiomatic, while the usage of certain words is otherwise rare in the Persian language. The author’s avowed intent was to make understanding of the text painful; by his own admission he sets forth only allusions (Asmār, no. 24, p. 80). While visions and stories with multi-leveled mystical meaning are set forth in an elegant style, their intelligibility is opaque; the reader has to struggle to mine their significance. Yet enigmatic exposition and difficult style are worth enduring for what B. Lawrence has described as the “dazzling” quality of the Asmār (Notes from a Distant Flute, Tehran, 1978, p. 51).
The Asmār becomes more intelligible and more engaging when viewed in the context of 14th-15th century India, when Ebn al-ʿArabī’s doctrines of waḥdat al-woǰūd “unity of being” were penetrating Sufism and apparently also popular religion in the subcontinent. The works of Ebn al-ʿArabī were much commented on, and Sufis corresponded about them freely, while jurists—and Sufis such as Shaikh Naṣīr-al-dīn Maḥmūd Čerāg-e Dehlī (d. 757/1356)—emphasized strict observance of the šarīʿa. A means of testing a Sufi’s fidelity to the šarīʿa was to have him explain and comment on ideas of Ebn al-ʿArabī that were regarded as heretical. The Asmār presupposes a knowledge of Ebn al-ʿArabī’s doctrines and criticizes him and his followers directly (e.g., Asmār, no. 10, pp. 31-32; no. 20, p. 62) or by inference (ibid., no. 44, p. 151; no. 110, p. 333). The key idea behind the entire work is: “Every day God takes a new grandeur” (Koran 55:29); “He does not manifest Himself twice in one form, neither does he take two forms in one manifestation” (Asmār, no. 1, pp. 4-5; no. 4, pp. 16-18; no. 10, p. 31; no. 59, p. 192). Hence God becomes, or remains, indescribable and unidentifiable. The author’s contention is that everything is the emanation (fayż) of God but is not God Himself (Asmār, no. 10, p. 32; no. 47, p. 161). In short, Gīsūdarāz demurs from Ebn al-ʿArabī’s identification of Absolute Existence (woǰūd al-moṭlaq) as God.
Yet the Asmār is much more than a critique of Ebn al-ʿArabī and contains a mine of information for the student of taṣawwof. The Asmār, in the words of its author, expounds the denudation of unity (taǰrīd al-tawḥīd) and the singularity of isolation (efrād al-tafrīd, ibid., p. 1). The work is hailed as a product of pure inspiration, free from human additions or deletions (ibid., p. 3). All the major subjects of which Sufis reflected are treated in its pages: meditation, the significance of colors, the “nonsense” letters of the Koran, prophethood and saintship, music and dance, poverty and patience, life, death, and above all love. Mystical love (ʿešq or maḥabba) is the explicit, exclusive subject of six asmār (nos. 32, 47, 67-69, 73), and its heightened appeal looms in visions elsewhere in the text (e.g., no. 42, pp. 147-48).
Among evidences of the wide popularity which the Asmār enjoyed in Muslim India are three commentaries. The first was Tabṣerat al-eṣṭelāḥāt al-ṣūfīya written by Sayyed Moḥammad Akbar Ḥosaynī, the eldest son of Gīsūdarāz, in 811-12/1408-09 (ed. S. ʿAṭā Ḥosayan, Hyderabad, 1365/1945). Another was Asrār al-asmār, šarḥ-e Asmār al-asrār, the unicum for which is preserved in Asafiyah State Library, Hyderabad, India (taṣwwof no. 1464). It is an anonymous work compiled in 877/1472. A partial, third commentary was produced by Shah Rafīʿ-al-dīn, son of Shah Walīallāh (d.1177/1763). It has been printed (in Maǰmūʿ tesʿa rasāʾel, Delhi, 1314/1896; see K. A. Nizami, “Gīsū Darāz,” EI2 II, p. 1115).
See also Ethé, Cat. Ind. Off. I, p. 1027, no. 1861.
S. S. K. Hussaini, Sayyid Muḥammad al-Ḥusayanī-i Gīsūdarāz (721/1321—825/1422): On Sufism, M.A. thesis, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University, Montreal, 1976.
Ivanov, Cat. ASB, p. 583, no. 1219, p. 584, no. 1220.
Storey, I/2, p. 950 n. 1.
(S. S. K. Hussaini)
Originally Published: December 15, 1987
Last Updated: August 16, 2011
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Vol. II, Fasc. 7, pp. 771-772