A TREATISE ON THE SUFIISTIC AND
UNITARIAN THEOSOPHY OF THE
COMPILED FROM NATIVE SOURCES BY
E. H. PALMER
HCHOI.AH OF ST JOHN'S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
MEMBER OF THE ROYAL ASIATIC SOCIETY, AND OF THE
SOCIETY AS1ATIQUE DE PARIS
SECOND EDITION, WITH INTRODUCTION BY
A. J. ARBERRY, Litt.D.
ASSISTANT LIBRARIAN OF THE INDIA OFFICE &
SOMETIME FELLOW OF PEMBROKE COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
Interior of a Mosque, by Jean-Leon Gerome 
EDWARD HENRY PALMER, born at Cambridge in 1840, and murdered by Bedouins in the Egyptian desert in 1882, is one of the most romantic figures in the history of Oriental studies. The story of his humble origin, of the amazing flair for languages which led to his discovery by the Fellows of St. John's College, Cambridge, and of his subsequent brilliant career, is too well known to need retelling.
At the age of thirty-one lie was appointed Lord Almoner's Professor of Arabic in the University of Cambridge, a Chair which it has within this decade been thought proper to suppress, a curious circumstance in a country where the modern science of Orientalism may be said to have been born.
It was while Palmer was engaged in cataloguing the Islamic manuscripts preserved in the libraries of King's and Trinity Colleges that his interest was aroused by a short manual of the Sufi system of
theosophy, the Maqsad i aqsa or "Furthest Aim" of 'Aziz ibn Muhammad al-Nasafl. In 1867, the year of his graduation as a Bachelor of Arts, he published the present little book, which he called "Oriental Mysticism": in this he gave a summarized Introduction.
translation of Nasafi's treatise, working it up into a form suitable for general reading. A careful comparison of "Palmer'ssuccinct account" with the text of Nasafi shows that it is in reality no more and no less than a version of carefully chosen paragraphs of the original: the skill with which this process has been conducted will be evident to the
reader, who will find in this book a remarkably clear and concise account of the theological and philosophical basis of the Sufi system.
Of Nasafi himself virtually nothing is known beyond the statements of the author of the Majalis al-'ushshaq, quoted by Rieu 1 and followed by subsequent writers, that he lived at Bukhara, but fled before the invasion of Chinglz Khan, and died at Abarquh, between Istakhr and Yezd, in 661/1263.
He wrote several fairly widely known works on Sufism, including the Kashf al-haqaiq, an epitome of the 400 volumes of the works of Najm al-Din Kubra's pupil, Sa'd al-Din Hummu'i. 2 Nasafi quotes Hummu'i in the Maqsad i aqsa, and there refers to him as no longer living as Hummu'i died in 650/1253, the present work would appear to have been written some time during the decade 1253-1263.
1 Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum, p. 1095a.
2 So write Rieu and Eth4; Palmer (below, p. 27), Ivanow and Brockelmann write Hamawi.
3 MS. 1.0. (Delhi Persian) 1193, fol. 33o.
But in the same context Sadr al-Din Rumi (sc. Qonawi) is also quoted in terms which imply that he is likewise dead: and Qonawl's death did not occur until 672/1273. 1
The system which is here expounded is largely based on the theosophical mysticism of the great Ibn 'Arabi (560/1165-638/1240), whose Fusus alhikam Nasafi in one place quotes. 2 If it is permitted to hazard a guess, it is possible that Nasafi's acquaintance ith Ibn 'Arabi's work was not directly based on the perusal of the highly abstruse ongma but
derives from Qonawl's lectures on the Fusus, which he may have attended, like Fakhr al-Din 'Iraqi.
3 The central point of this system is the doctrine of the Insan i kamil or Perfect Man, the microcosm corresponding with the macrocosm, for whose being the whole order of creation was designed. It is to this conception that the Maqsad i aqsa gradually leads up, and it is well summarized in a passage
1 The inconsistency may, of course, possibly be due to the copyist inserting the usual pious formulae.
2 Below, p. 55. Palmer incorrectly renders the title "Investigations": fusus means literally "bezels."
3 Iraqi's Lama'at was based on Qonawi's lectures: see Jami, Nafahat al-uns, p. 702.
4 One of Nasafi's works, a collection of twenty-one tracts, is called Insun al-kamil fi ma'rifat al-wafir : see G. Fliigel, Die arabischen, perssischen und turkischen Handschriften . . . zu Wien, vol. iii., pp. 430-438. For Jill's exposition of this doctrine, see R. A. Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism, pp. 77-142.
which Palmer mistranslates on page 57, but which should read 1:
"If man could have existed without these heavens, stars, elements, temperaments, plants, animals, if he could have had life without end, none of these things would have come into being; but man could not have existed without these, neither
without these could he have attained life. Therefore the object (maqsud) of all these is Man, and the reason for the existence of all these other things is solely the need of Man. Then how grand and glorious a thing is Man!"
Nasafi wrote in Persian: Palmer is mistaken in saying that the book was originally composed in Turkish, and translated into Persian by Khwarazim Shah 2(!). His language is clear and free from ambiguity: the original itself has been published in lithograph at Teheran. 3 Palmer's epitome is admirably calculated to serve as a general introduction to
the study of a subject around which a vast literature has grown up since his untimely death.
A. J. ARBERRY.
1 MS. Delhi Persian 111)3, fol. 45a.
2Hajjl Khalifa, vi., p. 90, states that Nasafi's Persian original was translated into Arabic by al-Khwarazmi (d. 835/1431); but he is confusing the present work with another book of the same title but totally different contents: see Rieu, op. cit., p. 1446.
Palmer's misstatement is on p. ix, n. 1.
3 See W. Ivanow, Concise Descriptive Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the . . , Asiatic Society of Bengal, p. 565.
HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY,
THE' EMPEROR OF THE FRENCH.
E. H. PALMER,
St John's College,
From a feeling of profound admiration for the munificent encouragement given to Oriental studies throughout YOUR MAJESTY'S Empire, I have solicited the honour of dedicating to YOUR MAJESTY this attempt to contribute towards a better understanding of the Philosopher Poets of the East. The noble Institutions of France for the promotion of those studies (some of which it has been my privilege to attend), and the Illustrious Names that adorn
them, will make YOUR MAJESTY'S reign long remembered as the brightest Era in European Orientalism.
I have the honour to remain,
most obedient and humble Servant,
E. H. PALMER.
(January, 1867, A..)
THE following work is founded upon a Persian MS. treatise by 'Aziz bin Mohammed Nafasi 1, but I have endeavoured to give a clearer and more succinct account of the system than would have been afforded by a mere translation. The term Stiff is derived from the Arabic word suf "wool," in allusion to the dress adopted by the Dervishes, who are the
master and teachers of the sect ; the similarity to the Greek cro^o? appears to be merely accidental.
The system of the Sufis consists in endeavouring
1 The Maksad i Aksa or " Remotest Aim." Vide Hfajji Khalfa, ed. Flugel, Vol. VI. p. 90. This work was originally written in Turkish and translated into Persian by Khwarazim Shah. Some fragments of it were edited in Turkish and Latin by A. Muller, Brandenburg, 1663. The copy I have made use of forms part of a volume containing miscellaneous Persian and Turkish treatises on Philosophical and Religious subjects, presented by Adam Bowen to the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. It is marked B. 13. 32. in the Catalogue.
to reconcile Philosophy with Revealed Religion, and in assigning a mystical and allegorical interpretation to all religious doctrines and precepts. These tenets are found principally among the Shi'ites, or followers of 'Ali, and appear to have existed in Islamism from its very foundation ; indeed the expression of the Coran, "I am the Truth" (Hacc), is the first principle of the system. They may be considered as forming the esoteric doctrine of that creed. 1 Steering a mid course between the pantheism of India on the one hand and the deism of the Coran on the other, the Sufis' cult is the religion of
beauty, where heavenly perfection is considered under the imperfect type of earthly loveliness. Their principal writers are the lyric poets, whose aim is to elevate mankind to the contemplation of spiritual things, through the medium of their most impressionable feelings. This habit of contemplation, which is so constantly inculcated by them, requiring as it docs retirement and seclusion for its due exercise, inclines the followers of the system somewhat towards asceticism, but in countries where luxury is the idol of the many, we may not unnaturally look
1 Cf. La Puesie philosophique et religieuse chez les Persans, par
M. Garcin de Tassy, p. 3.
for a protest against it in the tendencies of the few. My present intention is merely to give an exposition of the system; its origin and history I reserve for a future work, in which I hope to prove that Sufiism is really the development of the Primaeval Religion of the Aryan race. The Ahl i wahdat form a branch of Sufiism, rather than a separate sect of Theosophists; they insist upon the Universality and Unity of God.
I have translated the title "Unitarian," although I am sensible that misapprehension may arise in consequence of its current application to the professors of a particular form of modern belief. I should have preferred the use of some such term as Monopantachists had I possessed sufficient courage or position to warrant me in coining so formidable an epithet.
The term may be generally understood of those Mussulmans, who, though pursuing philosophical enquiry, refuse to subscribe unreservedly to all the metaphysical doctrines of the Sufis.
The expression zat i Khuda, "the Nature of God," by which the Persians designate the very essence and being of the Deity, would, perhaps (according to the general use of the word zat in construction with a proper name), be more idiomatically rendered "God Himself;" but as this treatise
professes to deal in exactitudes investigated from an Oriental point of view, I have preferred keeping to the original idiom as moro definitely expressing the idea.
In conclusion, I have only to acknowledge my obligation to Mr C. A. Hope, of St John's College, for his valuable assistance afforded me in preparing this book for the press.
E. H. PALMER.
ST JOHN'S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE,
DEDICATION (by special permission of His Majesty tlie Emperor of the French) v
CHAP. I. Of the Traveller, the Goal, the Stages, and the Koad 4
II. Of Law, Doctrine, and Truth ... 7
III. Concerning the Perfect Man, and the Perfectly Free Man . . . . . . . 11
IV. Concerning Fellowship, and Renunciation . 14
V, Concerning Attraction, and Devotion . . 19
VI. Concerning Counsel 21
CHAP. I. Concerning the Nature of God . . . 11
II. Concerning the Attributes of God . . . 37
III. Concerning the Works of God, physically considered ........ 19
IV. Concerning the Works of God, metaphysically considered ....... 33
V. Of the four Universal Sources . . . . 38
CHAP. I. The Saintly and Prophetic Offices defined . 43
CHAP. I. On the Influence of Early Prejudice upon Belief 45
THE STUDY OF MAN.
CHAP. I. Grounds for the Discussion . . . 50
II. Of the Origin and Animal Development of man 51
III. Of the Intellectual and Spiritual Development of Man 55
IV. Of the Upward Progress or Ascent of Man 58
V. Conclusion ........ 64
APPENDIX. Glossary of Technical and Allegorical Terms in use among the Sufi Poets.... 69
Thy prayer-mat stain with wine, if so
The Magian's favour thou canst win,
For travellers in the land should know
The ways and customs of the iuu.
THE verse above quoted, like most Oriental poetic writings, is susceptible of a mystical and much higher interpretation than appears from a merely superficial perusal. It is peculiarly illustrative of the allegorical form under which the intellectual life of the Religious Philosopher is treated by the Persians, namely that of a journey, the ultimate object of
which is the knowledge of the Infinite Majesty of God; a plan similar to that adopted with reference to the moral life by our own John Bunyan in the Pilgrim's Progress. At the outset of their treatises the term Traveller is applied to the intellectual man only, but the word is afterwards used in a more
2 general sense, just as in Christian writings man is not unfrequently called a Wayfarer ; it becomes often identical with Disciple. M. Garcia de Tassy, in a work already referred to in the preface, has very appropriately quoted a verse of St Thomas illustrating this point:
Ecce panis angelorum
Factus cibus viatorum.
To an elucidation of this system, and the terms employed therein, the following pages are devoted; but to avoid breaking the continuity of the account, I have endeavoured to present an epitome of the Oriental Mystic Philosophy from the point ot view taken by the Mohammedan writers, from whom my information is chiefly derived. I must therefore premise that any dogmatical statements that may occur in the course of the work are not to be considered as enunciations of my own opinion, but as an exposition of the views of those whose system I am attempting to expound.
The first part will contain an explanation of, 1,
The terms Traveller, Road, Inns or Stages, and Goal.
2, The words Law, Doctrine, Truth, and the Perfect Man, according to the Oriental definition of them.
3, What is meant by Fellowship, Renunciation, Attraction and Devotion.
The second, the Sufiistic account of, 1, The Nature; 2, The Attributes; 3, The Works of God;
4, The Four Universal Sources.
The third, a definition of, 1, The Saintly; 2, The Prophetic Office.
The fourth, a dissertation on the Influence of Early Prejudice upon Belief.
The fifth, the Study of Man.
For the benefit of those who study oriental poetry I have added an Appendix, containing a glossary of allegorical and technical terms in use among the Sufiistic writers.