SHAMAN, SAIVA AND SUFI
XI. MAGICIAN AND MYSTIC
ONCE more the Malay magician sat at the feet of Indian teachers, this time as a student of Muslim pantheism.
To India have been traced the first use of the Sufi term fana for loss of the individual self in God, and the Sufi's
acquaintance with the practice of "watching the breaths" as a means of worship. The Sufi legend of Ibrahim bin
Adham, the hunter prince of Balkh who gave up his throne for the beggar's bowl, is modelled upon the story of
The Malay has two versions of the tale of Ibrahim, prince of Balkh. Long before he got them, India had taught
him to fast and practise austerities in order to acquire invulnerability and other magical arts. Brahminical mantra,
to which even the gods were subject, would have prepared his mind for the audacities of popular Sufism. Like the
mantra, too, Sufi secrets and charms were fascinatingly esoteric, to be revealed only to the initiated. The doctrines
that the disciple must honour and obey his teacher above all men and pass through several initiatory stages were
not new to a race that had been under Hindu influence for centuries.
Teachers of Sufisrn came to the Malay Peninsula more than four hundred years ago. Before the end of the
fifteenth century a Sultan of Malacca sent an embassy to Pasai, a small Sumatran port famous as a religious
centre, offering a present of gold and two slave girls to any theologian who could say if those in heaven and those
in hell remain in their respective places for ever. A Pasai pundit replied openly that they did, quoting the authority
of the Quran. But the Sultan of Pasai summoned him, hinted that an embassy could not have come for such an
obvious answer and suggested giving in private an interpretation of the problem, communicable only to the
chosen few. The pundit took this advice and won the prize offered by Malacca. There is little doubt that his
answer was on lines suggested by a work that has left its impress on many Malay charm books, the
Insanu'l−kamil or "Perfect Man" of al−Jili. "You may say, if you like," writes al−Jili, "that hell−fire remains as it
was, but that the torment of the damned is changed to pleasure," or, again, "the power of endurance of the
sufferers in hell continues to grow−God never takes back His gifts and these powers come from God−until there
appears in them a Divine power which extinguishes the fire, because no one is doomed to misery after the Divine
attributes become manifest in him." The author of the Malay Annals , writing at a learned court, was not so
indiscreet as to reveal this mystery to all and sundry. Nor does he give the Sufi answer to another problem
propounded by Malacca to Pasai, the paradox that both the man who believes and the man who disbelieves that
God created and bestowed His gifts from all eternity is an infidel. Theological discussions like these are above the
head of the magician. Moreover, he has left to the foreigner to practise occasionally in Malaya that orgiastic
Sufism which degrades the famous cry of Abu Sa'id, "There is nothing inside this coat except Allah." Village
magicians that refrain from the black art are popular, while the Arab teacher is respected, feared and disliked, and
the Indian often despised. The Malay Annals cynically record how when the Sultan of Malacca took his Arab
teacher into battle against the Portuguese in 1511 A.D., the theologian clung with both hands to the howdah and
exclaimed, "Let us return! This is no place to study the unity of God. "
The Shi'ah heresies and the "rash mystic pantheism" to be detected in many Malay charms has not received the
attention of English students. "Such mysticism," remarks Snouck Hurgronje, "is found also in Arabian lands but
only in small circles of the initiated as half secret doctrines of the Sufis, cautiously concealed on account of the
hunt of official theologians for heresy and of the suspicious fanaticism of the vulgar. In the East Indies, however,
it formed woof and warp not only of learned speculation but of popular belief. Tracts with drawings and tables
were used in the endeavour to realise the idea of the Absolute. The four elements, the four winds, the four
righteous Caliphs, the four founders of the schools of law, the four attributes of God in dogma, the four grades of
progress in mysticism, the four extremities of the human body, and many other sets of four were for popular
mysticism revelations of the one indivisible self of man. Through the names of Muhammad and Allah, each in
Arabic spelt with four letters, were symbolised the One Being."
Every Sufi who is one with God is a saint with supernatural powers, and already it has been said that Malaya is
strewn with the graves of miracle−workers. An eighteenth century history of Perak records how when a Sultan of
that State fell ill vows were paid to "prophets and saints and the Poles," who stand at the head of the Muslim
hierarchy and are each in his generation the axis whereon the sphere of existence revolves. The founder of the orthodox Qadiri order was among the saints invoked, but while the invocation of saints is allowed to Sunnis, it is
commonest in India and among the Shi'ahs. Again, the Sufi holds that the esoteric teaching of the Quran was
revealed by the Prophet to 'Ali, his son−in−law, to whom according to the Shi'ahs was transmitted the Light of
Muhammad. The name of 'Ali, our "Lord 'Ali," occurs in innumerable Malay charms.
It has been remarked that the conception of the tears of the Archangel Michael creating countless cherubim in
his likeness to control the rain and guard the fruits and plants of the earth exhibits a pantheistic tendency. The
same may be said of the diagnosis of the Kelantan medicine−man, who finds a hundred and ninety demons for
smallpox, each operating on a selected part of the body, His Lordship Buzz on the ear, His Lordship Peg on the
joints, and so on. In Patani there are elders and midwives who believe that all evil "spirits were really one,
pervading the whole world, only called by different names according to the environment in which the universal
spirit of evil was considered for the moment. . . . As one old man expressed it, ' It may be hot here and at Mecca at
the same time, and the spirit is the same.' He went on to explain that the spirit could break itself into one hundred
and ninety parts, and that the great medicine−man was the person who could cause it to do this and could keep all
the different parts under his control. "
Elsewhere it has been noted how the Malay magician's idea of an archetypal "world of the breadth of a tray
and a sky of the breadth of an umbrella" reminds one of Ibn 'Arabi's saying that all the universe lies potential in
God like the tree in the seed.
Drums and wild singing of interminable chants helped the shaman to fall into a trance wherein he trafficked
with the world of spirits, just as Malay village mystics seek union with Allah by roaring His praises in chorus and
swaying head and body in giddy contortions. The Brahmin ascetic attained hypnotic slumber by counting his
inhalations and exhalations and concentrating his gaze on some object. Before completely losing consciousness
and gaining deliverance from the cycle of existence with power (like Habib Noh of Singapore) to transport
himself anywhere at will, he "hears within his body (in the heart and throat, between the eyebrows and in other
parts) various sounds, those of a drum, the roaring sea, the thunder, a bell, a shell, a reed, a lyre and a bee."
The religious ascetic uses his trance to lose himself in God; the Kelantan magician to discover if a warrior will
win a fight or a villager live another year. The warrior is to invoke thrice the four Shaikhs at the corners of the
world, the four first Caliphs of Islam and the four archangels, the blessed saints, all miracle−working rulers dead
and alive, and pray them to intercede with God to reveal the issue of the coming battle. Then he gazes at his
followers. If he sees them headless, they will perish. If he sees them armless, they will suffer greatly in the fight.
Or he may listen three times. If he hears no sound, his men will perish; and so on. Again: the four Caliphs have
their seats in the human frame, Abu Bakar in the liver, 'Omar in the spleen, 'Usman in the lungs, 'Ali in the
gallbladder. Each of them passes to his seat along different parts of the right or left nostril. "If one wants to cross a
river without a boat, one consults Abu Bakar through one's breath, inhaling and then exhaling; if there is a heavy
sensation, the water is deep and a boat required; if there is a feeling of lightness in the inhalation, the water is
shallow." There are a number of ways of divination from observing the breaths. One more charm of which
breathing forms a part must suffice:−
"To marry body and spirit draw all your breath into your heart and recite the following:− "I am the true
Muhammad. It is not I that say it. It is Muhammad. First spirit was created, then the body. Only if this night be
destroyed, can I be destroyed. My being is thy being. My being is one with thy being. I vanish in the fold of the
attestation, 'There is no God but Allah−He!' in the fold of my mother the Light of Muhammad until dawn." If the
charm is for protection by day, then it commits the reciter to the fold of his "father the Light of Allah." "Between
the two eyebrows," said Hamzah of Barus, a famous heterodox mystic of Sumatra, " that is the spot where the
servant meets his God," and unconsciously he was quoting yogi ritual. Hamzah visited Pahang on the east coast of
the Peninsula about the beginnning of the seventeenth century. So it is less surprising to find in a Kelantan charm
book the above assertion by the Malay villager of his participation in the Islamic Logos, though it is only a
mundane expedient for protecting his skin!
Less learned but equally pantheistic is the magician who, forgetting the terrific appearance of the archangels
for the orthodox, cries:−
I attest there is no God but Allah!
I attest that Muhammad is His Prophet!
Ho my brethren, Gabriel, Michael, Israfil and 'Azrail!
Ye are four but with me five!
I sit on the Seat of Allah!
I lean against the pillar of His Throne!
Is this a debased interpretation of al−Jili's description of the Perfect Man? "his heart stands over against the
Throne of God, his mind over against the Pen, his soul over against the Guarded Tablet, his nature over against
the elements, his capability of receiving forms over against matter. He stands over against the angels with his
good thoughts, over against the genies and devils with the doubts that beset him, over against the beasts with his
animality. . . . To every type of existence he furnishes from himself an antitype." A literal interpretation of
mysteries is all that a mind utterly untrained in metaphysics can compass. An extraordinary mixture of Hindu
sentiment and imagery and of Sufi metaphysical speculations on the Perfect Man occurs in an old Perak charm for
giving a person a dominant personality:−
I sit beneath the Throne of Allah;
Muhammad my shelter is beside me,
Gabriel on my right, Michael on my left,
All the company of Angels following me.
Vicegerent of Allah . . .
Only if Allah suffer harm,
Can I suffer harm:
Only if His Prophet suffer harm,
Can I suffer harm.
A hooded snake is my loin−cloth,
A musty elephant my steed:
My ear−posy the lightning,
My shadow is that of a fierce tiger.
By virtue of this charm of Awang the Preeminent
In seated assembly
Erect, walking or talking
I, lord of all mortals,
Precious stone of the Prophet,
Pearl of God.
The same manuscript contains a tremendous love−charm to be recited over seven blossoms, that must then be
handed to the object of one's passion:− "There is no God but God. I am God, the Divine Reality, ruler who
blesseth all the worlds. There is no God but God, the King, the Divine Reality, the Revealed. There is no God but
Allah, lord of the heavens and the earth and of the great Throne." Thirty years ago a Perak Malay was sentenced
to gaol for teaching an obscene form of pantheism based on the creed−"There is no God but God. I am God. God
Most High is only this self of mine."
The claim of the magician that he is God or that he is the brother of the four archangels seems hideously
blasphemous to the orthodox Malay villager, a claim allied with the blackest magic of the spirit−raising shaman.
But to the disciple the Malay exponent of this crude popular pantheism explains and establishes his doctrine by
many far−fetched analogies. The invocations used by the Kelantan magician are full of them. He calls, for
example, upon four winds of disease to go forth from the patient's body by the four doors of the organs of the
mystical life. Wind in skin and pores corresponds with the first of the four steps towards union with God, that is,
with the observance of the law, which is the outer mark of the religious and about which there is no secrecy. Wind
in sinews and bones corresponds with the second stage, that is, the mystic path enjoined by his spiritual guide for
the Sufi novice. Wind in the flesh and blood corresponds with a third stage, the plane of truth. Wind in the breath
of life and the seed of man corresponds with the plane of perfect gnosis. Or again, analogies are discovered
between the worlds of Sufi metaphysics and parts of the physical frame. The material world is in the tongue; the
invisible intelligible world in the windpipe; the world of power (wherein lie hidden the processes of the divine
nature) in the first stomach of ruminants! All this is abracadabra to civilised men, even metaphysicians. But the process of thought is clear. The archangels are four; the first Caliphs were four; the elements out of which the
human body is composed are four; the limbs of the body are four. Therefore man and the archangels are one!
Adam, Muhammad, and Allah can each be spelt in Arabic with four letters. Still the ever recurring number four!
Therefore God and man are identical! Other mystic numbers are three, founded on Sufi speculations on the trinity
of the lover, the beloved and love, and seven, the number of the stages in the Neo−Platonic theory of the
emanation process of being, exemplified also in the number of the Pleiades and the days of the week. All this is
puerile, but a charm from the Kelantan manuscript tract already quoted so largely, a charm called "The Fortress of
the Unity of God," will show that it is wrong to suppose the Malay had no serious intellectual interests until
European protection provided him with schools and colleges. The charm should be recited four times a night from
one Friday to the next "with a sincere vowing of the heart to unity with Allah and the vision of Him implanted in
one's heart, until His Being permeates one and one has faith: 'I am lost in the universal and absolute Essence of
God'; and one is lost to self and one's self becomes absolute and universal too:−
"In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Oh God! grant peace to our lord Muhammad and the
household of Muhammad who watcheth over my self and my friends and all my children and all the contents of
my house and my property and the possessions of my hands with a sevenfold fortress from the fortress of God
Most High; its roof−'There is no God but God,' and my wall 'Muhammad the Apostle of God,' and my key 'the
might of God,' which may not be opened for ever save with His permission. Muhammad is like man and unlike
man; he is like a chrysolite among stones.
"Now the meaning of the term 'fortress' is that we know we come from not−being and to not−being shall
return. For there is nothing evidently save the Being of God. And of a surety the Being of God never parts from
His absolute essence, which carries out all His will, according to His word: ' His desire is accomplished by
Himself and goes forth to no other than Himself save to not−being.'
"The meaning of the term self is 'spirit,' one of the attributes of God Most High, which parts not from His
essence and it becomes an individualized idea and is called man. Now the spirit is particularized and fettered.
Always the spirit yearns towards God.
"The meaning of 'the house ' is the body. The body is the place of the spirit and so the veritable place that
reveals God according to the saying of the Prophet, on whom be the peace of God: 'Whosoever knows himself,
knows his Lord.' The house was built of itself and though it will pass away, yet He Whose house it is, is the
Reality Who with His absolute essence is eternal.
"The meaning of our 'property' is the liver and heart and lungs and gall and all that God Most High has created:
according to His word:−'There is no strength in any one save the strength of Allah, lord of all the worlds both as
regards things revealed and things hidden.'
"The meaning of our 'possessions' is the ten senses, firstly the outward and secondly the inner. The outward arc
five: the sight of the eyes, the hearing of the ears, the taste of the tongue, the smelling of the nose, and the touch
of the hand. The inner also are five: consciousness, faith, memory, perception and judgment.
"The meaning of the sevenfold 'fortress' is the creation by God Most High of man with seven attributes: life,
knowledge, power, will, hearing, sight and speech. And seven parts of the body must be bowed to God in prayer:
the forehead, the palms of the hands, the knees and the soles of the feet.
"The meaning of the 'lock' is because we have utter trust and union by surrendering ourselves to God Most
High, according to His word: 'Hold yourselves fast to the cord of God which breaks not neither is there
concealment of His will from mystical knowledge'; as said the Prophet on whom be God's peace:−'Nothing at all
moves save by permission of Allah.' For we cannot behold aught if the cord break and it cannot break save by the
will of God Most High, and there is no substitute for that cord.
"And the meaning of the 'key' is Muhammad Apostle of God. For God is utterly hidden; none knoweth Him
save in His own person. Therefore to cherish His glory, God Most High was revealed in the spirit of Muhammad
our Prophet and from that spirit God Most High created all this universe, and all the attributes of His secret
wisdom were revealed. So it is that Muhammad is called the 'key,' because he opened the treasure−house that was
hidden, according to His word:−'I opened that which was closed.'
"And the meaning of the protection of God is according to His word: 'God Most High is with thee wheresoever
thou art,' according to His word:
God is nearer to thee than the muscles of thy neck.' "And the meaning of 'roof' is the power of God to cover any of His servants with mercy according to His will, so that he be locked away from all enemies and danger in
this world and the next, neither shall the lock be opened by genie or man save with the permission of God Most
Was it to test the efficacy of some such charm as this that that novice on the Sufi path, Sultan Mahmud of old
Malacca, took his spiritual guide with him into battle against the "white Bengalis," descendants of genies, the first
European invaders of Malaya?