ḤAKIM al-TERMEḎI, ABU ʿABD-ALLĀH MOḤAMMAD b. ʿAli, a prolific mystic author, many of whose writings have survived (b. Termeḏ, ca. 205-215/820-830, d. Termeḏ, ca. 295-300/907-12). He is perhaps most accurately described as a theosophist, combining expertise in Islamic theology, jurisprudence and Hadith with a method of introspection (ʿelm al-bāṭen) and diffuse gnostic speculations. A particular anthropology and cosmology emerges from his works. In addition to influences from earlier mystics, especially Ḥāreṯ Moḥā-sebi, he adopts certain Shiʿite ideas without, however, necessarily becoming a Shiʿite himself. So, in his Sirat al-awliāʾ he deals throughout with the concept of welāya.
In his anthropology Termeḏi distinguishes three operational centers: the head, the heart and the abdomen. Reason (ʿaql) is located in the head, whereas the carnal soul (nafs) whose lust (šahwa) is aroused through the passions (hawā) resides in the abdomen. Reason and the carnal soul struggle in the breast (ṣadr) to possess the divine light of mystical knowledge (maʿrefa) which shines forth from the heart (qalb) into the breast. Mystical knowledge itself is attained when the mystic, by means of spiritual combat, stops the effect of the carnal soul on the divine light of maʿrefa. This process is also described as an ascent to God through the cosmos. Reason, exercising its capacity for knowledge, traverses the light realms of the divine attributes which are grouped around the unknowable essence of God, in order to become extinguished in the highest realm of God’s essence.
Termeḏi is best known for his teachings concerning the ḵatm al-walāya, which he develops in his most influential work, the Sirat al-awliāʾ (see Radtke and O’Kane for a translation of this work into English). In this treatise he also works out for the first time a theory of a hierarchy of saints, or friends of God. Centuries later this theory was to influence Ebn al-ʿArabi (q.v.), and through him later developments in Sufism into the modern period.
Termeḏi’s other major works are: 1. Nawāder al-oṣul (GAS I, p. 655, no. 9). This is Termeḏi’s most voluminous work. It is available in old and new unreliable printed editions (e.g. Istanbul, 1294/1877). It was repeatedly cited in Islamic religious circles throughout the 19th century and has been preserved in numerous manuscripts. Individual Hadiths and their interpretation provide the starting-point for its discussions, which cover a wide range of topics. The principle of interpretation followed by Termeḏi is esoteric, that of ʿelm-e bāṭen. The book contains an abundance of views and thoughts from the period of classical Islamic mysticism and deserves to be studied more systematically. 2. ʿElal al-šariʿa (GAS I, p. 654, no. 2; ms. Istanbul, Velieddin 770, 34a-83b). The intention of this work is the same as that of the Nawāder al-oṣul, in that Termeḏi subjects the theological-juridical tradition, more specifically the religious duties imposed by the law (šariʿa), to an interpretatio ab intra. 3. Ketāb al-manhiyāt (GAS I, p. 659, no. 19; printed, Beirut, 1986). This work belongs to the same category as the Nawāder al-oṣul and the ʿElal al-šariʿa. In this case, however, Termeḏi applies an interpretatio ab intra to the prohibitions proscribed by the šariʿa. 4. Ketāb al-ṣalāt (GAS I, p. 655, no. 11; printed, Cairo, 1965). Similarly to the three above-mentioned works, in this work Termeḏi applies an interpretatio ab intra to an aspect of the law – in this case to the prescriptions that deal with ritual prayer. Ths history of the text’s transmission is rather confused. 5. Ketāb al-amṯāl (GAS I, p. 656, no. 20; printed, Cairo, 1975). This is a substantial collection of exempla that are meant to serve to clarify the nature of mystic experience and the mystic path. The wide variety of subjects dealt with does not appear o follow an overall plan. 6. Ketāb al-foruq (GAS I, p. 655, no. 10; ms. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale 5018, 54b-100a). This extensive work attempts to demonstrate by means of 164 conceptual pairs that synonyms do not exist. The underlying argument throughout is that the individual words refer to separate experiences or functions of Man’s internal spiritual organs: the carnal soul and the heart. 7. Ketāb al-akyās wa’l-moḡtarrin (GAS I, p. 654, no. 3; published with the incorrect title Ṭabāʾeʿ al-nofus (Cairo, 1989). 8. Ketāb riāżat al-nafs (GAS I, p. 654, no. 4; it has been edited twice: ed. ʿAbd-al-Moḥsen Ḥosayni, Alexandria, 1946; ed. A. J. Arberry and ʿAbd-al-Qāder, Cairo, 1947). This is a short compendium that deals with questions of anthropology and the mystic path. Termeḏi himself often quotes from this work in his other writings and refers to it as a kind of textbook. 9. Manāzel al-qāṣedin (known by other titles as well; GAS I, p. 656, no. 17; ms. Ankara, Ismail Saib I, 1571, 220b-237b; ed. Aḥmad ʿAbd-al-Raḥim Sāʾeḥ, Cairo, 1988). This short work deals with the seven stages of the mystic path. 10. ʿElm al-awliāʾ (GAS I, p. 658, no. 43; ms. Göttingen 256, pp. 1-218). The history of this work’s transmission is very complicated. It is worth noting that the work deals with many other subjects besides “the knowledge possessed by the Friends of God.” 11. al-Farq bayna al-āyāt wa’l-karāmāt (GAS I, p. 657, no. 32; ms. Ankara, Ismail Saib I, 1571, 152b-177b). This work takes up the question of the possibility of miracles. 12. Masāʾel – Masāʾel al-maknuna (ed. Ebrāhim Joyuši, Cairo, 1400/1980 = ms. Leipzig, 1a-54a.)
Bernd Radtke and John O’Kane, The Concept of Sainthood in Early Islamic Mysticism, London, 1996, Introduction; this book contains an English translation of Termeḏi’s autobiography and of his main work, the Sirat al-awliāʾ. Bernd Radtke, Drei Schriften des Theosophen von Tirmiḏ I: Die arabischen Texte, Beirut-Stuttgart, 1992; II: Übersetzung und Kommentar, Beirut-Stuttgart, 1996 (Bibliotheca Islamica 35a-b).
Idem, Al-Ḥakīm at-Tirmiḏī. Ein islamischer Theosoph des 3./9. Jahrhunderts, Freiburg, 1980.
Idem, “Tirmiḏiana Minora,” Oriens 34, 1995, pp. 244-98.
Idem, “Al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī on Miracles,” in D. Aigle, ed., Miracle et karāma: Hagiographies médiévales comparées, Paris, 2000, pp. 187-299.
GAS I, pp. 653-59.
Originally Published: December 15, 2003
Last Updated: March 1, 2012
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Vol. XI, Fasc. 5, pp. 574-575