Divine Feminine [a sufi perspective]
The Eternal Feminine Draws us heavenward. —Goethe
The world famous Islamic Sûfî poet Mevlana Jalaluddin Rūmī (1207 - 1273) writes: “Woman is the radiance of God; she is not your beloved. She is the Creator—you could say that she is not created.”
This paper calls attention to an unexpected and little explored fact of immense significance in Islam: at the center of Islam abides the Divine Feminine.
Before the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, brought the religion of Islam to Arabia, the Arabs were a polytheistic people. Hindu merchants frequently passed through Makkah, a major trading hub. Ancient Indian Vedic texts refer to Makkah as a place where Alla the Mother Goddess was worshiped. In Sanskrit, Alla means “mother.” This name was connected to the Hindu Goddess Ila. She was the consort of the Hindu God Śiva in his form known as Il, and this form of Śiva was known and worshiped in pre-Islamic Makkah. A great deal of cultural and spiritual interchange took place between the merchants of Makkah and India.
the ancient Arabs believed that Allâh (the greatest God) had entrusted the discharge of the various functions of the universe to different (lesser) gods and goddesses. People would therefore turn to these gods and goddesses to invoke their blessings in all sorts of undertakings. The ancient Arabs prayed to these lesser gods and goddesses to intercede before Allâh and to pass their desires on to Allâh. As part of their religious practices, they visited Makkah. In Makkah was a large cube-like building known as the Ka’ba. This temple contained three hundred sixty idols. Those who were visiting the great city of Makkah as pilgrims would circumambulate the Ka’ba as part of their religious rites. The pre-Islamic Arabs had a custom of performing a sevenfold circumambulation of the Ka’ba completely naked. Men performed this in the daytime and women at night.
Inside the Ka’ba there were fresco paintings including those of Abraham and the “Virgin Mary” with the baby Jesus. When Muhammad retook Makkah he began a program of removing the pagan influences from the Ka’ba, the most holy of Muslim sites. He removed many frescoes and images that he considered inauspicious but he specifically left on the walls a fresco of the “Virgin Mary” and her child. The Qur’ān obligates every believer to make a pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in his or her lifetime, if finances permit. Since the time of Muhammad, during the Tawaf (circumambulation of the Ka’ba) pilgrims kiss or touch the black stone as they make circuit around the Ka’ba.
The crescent moon goddess (and virgin warrior Goddess of the morning star), Al-Uzza, was known to the pre-Islamic Arabs as “The Mighty”. Some scholars believe that in very ancient times, it was she who was considered enshrined in the black stone of Makkah, where she was served by priestesses. Her sacred grove of acacia trees once stood just south of Makkah, at Nakla. The Acacia tree was sacred to the Arabs who made the idol of Al-Uzza from its wood.
Stones, similar to the black stone of the Ka’ba, were worshipped by Arabs in most parts and by the Semitic races generally. The Kabyles of Kabylia in Northern Algeria say their first Great Mother goddess was turned to stone. Other names of the goddess are Kububa, Kuba, Kube and the Latin Cybele. Other scholars say that this meteorite was brought to Makkah by the Sabeans or the Ethiopians and state that the goddess who dwelt in the sacred black stone was given the title Shayba (see Beni Shaybah - the Sons of the Old Woman, above) who represented the Moon in its threefold existence - waxing, (maiden), full (pregnant mother) and waning (old wise woman). Although the word Ka’ba itself means ‘cube’, it is very close to the word ku‘b meaning ‘woman’s breast’ or heart.
Sûfîsm cherishes the esoteric secret of woman, even though Sûfîsm is the esoteric aspect of a seemingly patriarchal religion. Muslims pray five times a day facing the city of Makkah. Inside every Mosque is a niche, or recess, called the Mihrab - a vertical rectangle curved at the top that points toward the direction of Makkah. The Sûfîs believe the Mihrab to be a visual symbol of an abstract concept: the transcendent womb of the female aspect of divinity. In Sûfîsm, woman is the ultimate secret, for woman is the soul. Toshihiko Izutsu writes, “The wife of Adam was feminine, but the first soul from which Adam was born was also feminine.”
The Divine Feminine has always been present in Islam. This may be surprising to many people who see Islam as a patriarchal religion. Maybe the reason for this misconception is the very nature of the feminine in Islam. The Divine Feminine in Islam manifests metaphysically and in the inner expression of the religion. The Divine Feminine is not so much a secret within Islam as She is the compassionate Heart of Islam that enables us to know Divinity. Her centrality demonstrates her necessary and life-giving role in Islam.
Sûfîsm, or as some would define it “mystical Islam” has always honored the Divine Feminine. Of course, Allâh has both masculine and feminine qualities, but to the Sûfî, Allâh has always been the Beloved and the Sûfî has always been the Lover. The Qur’ān, referring to the final Day, perhaps divulges a portion of this teaching: “And there is manifest to them of God what they had not expected to see.”
Islam is aniconic. In other words, images, effigies, or idols of Allâh are not allowed, although verbal depiction abounds. There was a question long debated in Islam: can we see Allâh? The Prophet said in a hadīth, “In Paradise the faithful will see Allâh with the clarity with which you see the moon on the fourteenth night (the full moon).” Theologians debated what this could mean, but the Sûfîs have held that you can see Allâh even in this world, through the “eye of the heart.” The famous Sûfî martyr al-Hallaj said in a poem, “ra’aytu rabbi bi-‘ayni qalbî” (I saw my Lord with the eye of my heart).
There was a Sûfî Saint Muyiddin ibn al-‘Arabî. He said, “To know woman is to know oneself,” and “Whoso knoweth his self, knoweth his Lord.” Ibn al-’Arabî wrote a collection of poems entitled The Tarjumân al-ashwâq. These are love poems that he composed after meeting the learned and beautiful Persian woman Nizam in Makkah. The poems are filled with images pointing to the Divine Feminine. His book Fusûs al-hikam, in the last chapter, relates that man’s supreme witnessing of Allâh is in the form of the woman during the act of sexual union. He writes, “The contemplation of Allâh in woman is the highest form of contemplation possible:
As the Divine Reality is inaccessible in respect of the Essence, and there is contemplation only in a substance, the contemplation of God in women is the most intense and the most perfect; and the union which is the most intense (in the sensible order, which serves as support for this contemplation) is the conjugal act.” Allâh as the Beloved in Sûfî literature, the ma‘shûq, is always depicted with female iconography.
Among the Ghulat there is much respect paid to the Divine Feminine. In the Ghulat group the Ahl-i-Haqq (“the People of Truth”), the Divine Feminine appears as the Khātūn-i Qiyāmat (Lady of Resurrection) who also is manifested as the mysterious angel Razbâr (also Ramzbâr or Remzebâr). The writer, Frédéric Macler, claims that the name Razbâr is of Arabic origin and means “secret of the creator”.
The term qiyāma literally means, “rising” of the dead, and allegorically, it implies an idea denoting the rising to the next spiritual stage, and qiyāmat-i qubra (great resurrection) means an attainment of the highest degree when a man becomes free from the ties of external laws, whom he shackles and transfigures into spiritual substance, which rejoins its divine sources. “The King of the World was sitting on the water with His four associate angels (chahār malak-i muqarrab) when they suddenly saw the Pure Substance of Hadrat-i Razbâr, the Khātūn-i Qiyāmat (Lady of the Resurrection). She brought out from the sea a round loaf of bread (kulūcha), and offered it to the King of the World. By His order they formed a devotional assembly (jam), distributed the bread, offered prayers and exclaimed ‘Hū!’ Then the earth and the skies became fixed, the skies being that kulūcha.”
Another rendition of the emergence of the Lady of the Resurrection is as follows: “After this the Holder of the World and Creator of Man looked upon ‘Azra’īl with the eye of benefaction, and ‘Azra’īl became split into two parts, one exactly like the other, and from between these parts a drop of light emerged in the form of a loaf of kulūcha bread. The Creator then said, I appoint that person (sūrat) who became separated from ‘Azra’īl to be the Lady of the Resurrection (Khātūn-i Qiyāmat), who will on the Resurrection Day be the helper of human beings.”
What do those who study mystical Islam claim is the hidden meaning regarding the existence of the sexes in creation? These researchers perceive that the biological and psychological differences between the sexes are only hints of a more momentous significance hidden within the divinity Itself. Of course, Sûfîsm does not argue against the Oneness of Allâh. The quintessence of Allâh transcends duality, yet the Ultimate Reality manifests qualities in creation that are dualistic. In Kabbalah (a Jewish mystical tradition), just below the first Sphere (sefirah) of divine emanation known as Keter (meaning “crown”, “summit” or “pinnacle”), lie the two roots of masculine and feminine, known as Hokhmah and Binah.
Although they are not masculine and feminine, Hokhmah and Binah are the archetypes of the masculine and feminine. Binah is the Kabbalistic feminine symbol for ‘Understanding’, a prelude to wisdom. “Binah, the Great Mother, sometimes also called Marah, the Great Sea, is, of course, the Mother of All Living. She is the archetypal womb through which life comes into manifestation.” The “female” principle within God is personified and called by the name: Shekhinah (literally “dwelling”), a term familiar from classical Rabbinical literature. In the Kabbalah, however, the Shekhinah is not only included as a distinctive principle within the inner divine life, but this distinctive principle is explicitly, and quite graphically, described as female.”
The Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine express two very distinct aspects of Allâh. First, that Allâh is Supreme is the principle of masculinity, and that Allâh is Infinite is the principle of femininity.
In the Qur’ān, Allâh reveals Itself by giving Itself ninety-nine names. These names are divided up into the names of Majesty (jalâl) and the names of Beauty (jamâl). The names of Majesty call to mind images of the stern and strict “father”, while the names of Beauty call to mind images of a gentle and loving “mother”. Allâh did not exhaust Itself in creating the world; hence Allâh still exists along with creation. Allâh, in creating the world, is indicative of masculine qualities, such as achievement, strength, dynamism, severity, and rulership. Yet, Allâh is also infinite compared to the finite world. This inconceivably extended aspect of Allâh is the aspect of Allâh that the Sûfî often refers to in ecstatic poetry in the feminine gender. That is why Ibn al-‘Arabî says Allâh can be referred to as both Huwa (He) and Hiya (She).
One of the drawbacks of the English language is that we do not give gender to nouns. Arabic, like the Romance languages, expresses words with gender. Many of the essential words regarding Allâh are in the feminine gender in Arabic.
In this paper, the author will analyze three of these words: the first is al-Hakîm, the Wise; Wisdom is hikmah. In Arabic to say, for example, “Wisdom is precious,” you could repeat the feminine pronoun: al-hikmah hiya thamînah, literally “Wisdom, she is precious.” It is stated by some Sûfî Sheikhs (Masters) that Sûfîsm originally was named Sophia, which connects Sûfîsm with the Christian Gnostic tradition, in which Wisdom is personified as a woman, the divine Sophia. The physical mother of Jesus was an external image of manifestation of the Virgin Sophia, the word “Sophia” stemming from Sophos (wisdom). The Gnostics, whose language was Greek, identified the Holy Spirit with Sophia, Wisdom; and Wisdom was considered female. The Virgin was closely associated by the early church with Wisdom, of the cathedral church at Constantinople, while the ascension of the Virgin Mary refers to the passing of Wisdom into Immortality. The litany of the Blessed Virgin contains the prayer, “Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.”
Julian of Norwich (1343-1420?), English religious writer, an anchoress, or hermit, called Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Roman Catholic “Holy Trinity”, our Mother in Wisdom, and our Mother of Mercy or Compassion.
The latter title with the words “mercy” and “compassion” returns us to a subtle interpretation of the phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim, often translated as “In the name of Allâh the most Beneficent the most Merciful”, but with the added gnosis that God can appear to a human being as the Divine Feminine and that the Divine Feminine is not confined to Christian or Islamic mystical intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths. St. Peter Chrysologos presented the Virgin as the seven-pillared temple which Wisdom had built for herself.”
The aforementioned philosopher and Sûfî, ibn al-Arabî, saw a young girl in Makkah surround by light and realized that, for him, she was an incarnation of the divine Sophia. Mary was born of an angelic annunciation; Fātima (the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad) was considered to come from the level of angels. She is considered by many Muslims as divine in origin and several variations of a major hadīth describe how she was conceived on the night of Mi’râj (ascension). On this night Gabriel took Muhammad to Jerusalem and then to Heaven. While up in Heaven, he was offered some heavenly fruit, the seed of which was responsible for her conception, after the Prophet’s return.
Muhammad’s peak defining experience, was the Meraj, he was elevated through the seven heavens to the realm of God Almighty at the resplendant Sidrath where he communed with God, received his divine visions and instructions and was placed on the inexorable course of his life-mission to establish Islam. Muhammad was escorted by the archangel Gabriel (a masculine force) but the vehicle upon which Muhammad rode was the beautiful “Buraq”. The Buraq was a white horse with wings and the face of a woman! Clearly suggesting that the great power by which Muhammad was elevated to the level of supreme consciousness was ultimately feminine in nature! some say that the Buraq is an Islamic symbol of the Kundalini, a force that Eastern Yogis describe as the Goddess or Divine Mother.
Fatimah is another prominent female in the Islamic tradition. Muhammad revered Fatimah as if she were a divine being, saying "Allah, The Most High; is pleased when Fatimah is pleased. He is angered; whenever Fatimah is angered!"
Fātima tul Zehra (Fātima the Radiant, Fātima the Brightest Star, Fātima-Star of Venus, Fātima-The Evening Star), the daughter of the Prophet, is the secret in Sûfîsm. She is the Hujjat of ‘Alī. In other words, she establishes the esoteric sense of his knowledge and guides those who attain to it. Through her perfume, we breathe paradise. Though she was his daughter, the Prophet Muhammad called her Um Abi’ha (mother of her father). What mystery was the Prophet hinting at by this statement? While Fātima Zehra was Muhammad’s daughter, the Rasulallah (Prophet of God – Muhammad) understood that his gnosis was bestowed upon him from the Divine Feminine. Fātima Fatir as representative of Allâh’s Jamal, saves humankind from Allâh’s Jalal. Esoterically, if it were not for Fātima (Mercy),
Allâh would never have sent Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the Qur’ān to humanity. The night is the exemplification of our sovereign Fātima, especially the “Night of Destiny” (laylat al-Qadr). Lady Fātima was chosen from all women to be the Mother source of Muhammad’s lineage, the core of the generation of Muhammad. Through her, the progeny of the Prophet multiplies – through a woman. The process of giving birth to the spirit is the feminine principle. That to which has been given birth is the masculine. “This is why, in spiritual transformation and rebirth, only the masculine principle can be born, for the feminine principle is the process itself. Once birth is given to the spirit, this principle remains as Fātima, the Creative Feminine, the Daughter of the Prophet, in a state of potentiality within the spirit reborn.”
Shī’as revere the person of Fātima, for she is the mother of the line of inspired Imāms who embodied the divine truth for their generation. As such, Fātima is directly associated with Sophia, the divine wisdom, which gives birth to all knowledge of God. She has thus become another symbolic equivalent of the Great Mother. Lady Fātima (as) has various names near Allâh (Exalted Be His Name), they are: Fātima (Aleiha Assalam) Siddiqah (the honest) Al-Mubarakah (the blessed one) Al-Tahirah (the pure) Az-Zakiyah (the chaste) Ar-Radhiatul Mardhiah (she who is gratified and who shall be satisfied) Al-Mardiyyah (the one pleasing to Allâh ) Al-Muhaddathah (a person other than a Prophet, which the angels speak to) Az-Zahraa (the splendid) Fātima was given the title of “az-Zahraa” which means “the Resplendent One.” That was because of her beaming face, which seemed to radiate light. However, others, who must keep their beliefs prudently concealed, know the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter as “Fātima Fatir”. In Her own sacred words She utters the truth, “There is no God beside me, neither in divinity nor humanity, neither in the Heavens nor on earth, outside of me, who am Fātima - Creator.”
It is said by some Sûfîs that there is another great secret regarding Fātima. These Sûfîs say that she was a Prophet from the time of her father’s death until the time of her death. After the Prophet’s death, Fātima lived seventy-five days. During this time the Archangel Gabriel came to her and consoled her by telling her what her father was doing in the spiritual worlds, what his status was, and what would come about in the Islamic community after her death. Imām ‘Alī wrote down what Fātima dictated to him.
Her words were collected into what is known as the Mushaf. Mushaf refers to a collection of sahifa, which is singular for “page.” The literal meaning of Mushaf is “The manuscript bound between two boards.” In the early days of Islam, people used to write on leather and other materials. They either rolled the writings, what we know as a “scroll” in English, or kept the separable sheets and bound them together, in what could be called a Mushaf, a book in today’s terms. Of course, the above narration requires more research and exegesis. “. . . Fātima’s book, I don’t claim that it is Qur’ān, rather it contains what makes people need us and makes us in need of no one,” stated Imām Sadiq.
According to the traditions of the Ahlul Bayt, Fātima’s Mushaf is not a Qur’ān, but most definitely a revelation by Allâh, to the Mistress of Women and Daughter of the Master of Prophets, just as He chose to make revelations to Moses’ mother. Sûfîs are taught to be aware of coincidences. They say that coincidences are merely “Allâh’s orders”, or “no coincidence, only Providence”. Hagia Sophia (Greek, “Holy Wisdom”) was the cathedral of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul, Turkey).
The second word the author will consider, in this paper, is accounted the second most important name of Allâh, and that is al-Rahmân, the All-Merciful. The first ayât (verse) of Al-Fatiha (the most important chapter in the Qur’ān) firmly establishes that the two names Al-Rahmân and Al-Rahîm refer to Allâh, the Supreme Power, and to Allâh exclusively. The two names’ etymology stems from the same root: RAHM, which can mean “womb” or “place of origin”. There is a hadîth qudsî that specifically addresses that: Allâh says, “I am al-Rahmân. I created the womb and I derived its name from My name. I will be connected to whoever stays connected to it, and I will be cut off from whoever stays cut off from it.”
most translators, in translating these words, do not take into consideration the context in which Allâh refers to Itself as Rahmân or Rahim. Surah Maryam (19) is the Sura in which the name Al-Rahmân is mentioned most frequently (sixteen times). In ayât 18 of this Sura, Maryam asks for protection from Al-Rahmân against one whom she perceives as a man entering her private chambers, but who in fact is the Archangel Jibreel (Gabriel -Maryam is asking for protection from the Most Powerful, as Cecilia Twinch perceives in her article The Beauty of Oneness witnessed in the emptiness of the heart, “in this state of not knowing what the reality of the situation was, she turned to God with all her being, saying, ‘I take refuge in the Merciful (Rahmân) from you.’ ‘Consequently,’ Ibn ‘Arabi says, ‘she was overwhelmed with a perfect state of the Divine Presence.’ ” another example of the Almighty power of Al-Rahmân, we have the description in Sura Taha, verse 5, that culminates when “Al-Rahmân “is established on the throne.” Thus the Holy Qur’ān says, Inna Rabba-kumulla-hullazi khalaqas-samawati wal-'arza fi sitati 'ayamin sumas-tawa 'alal 'Arsh: “Your Guardian-Lord is Allâh, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the Throne.” This is the perfect image of power and authority, the assumption of full authority over everything.
the concept of mercy is still relevant in this context. Note translations of the Towrah (Torah) of Moosa (Moses) use the word “Mercy-seat”; could this not be a translation of the name Al-Rahmân as “Mercy” and Al-aarsh (throne) as “seat”? Bear in mind that these two names, Al-Rahmân, Al-Rahîm are part of the most ancient, profound and universal revelation of the Divine in the opinion of the Jewish people and the Muslims. Yet, is this concept of the seat of mercy or “Mercy-seat” limited to the Jewish people and the Muslims? No. The Egyptian Goddess Isis is one of the goddesses that has stood the test of time.
Isis is the Greek form of more ancient names (Aset or Eset), and the name Isis is represented in hieroglyphics with a picture of a “throne”. The throne represented the Feminine power of the Goddess, and the King when he ascends the throne, is actually drawing power from the throne upon which he sits. Halmasuit is the Hittite throne goddess that represents divine legitimization of earthy rulership.
Surah 109 in the Qur’ân, al-Kawthar, gives an especially revealing look into the Prophet’s feminine soul. It was revealed because his enemies had been taunting him that he had no sons, only daughters, while they had been given sons to perpetuate their patriarchal ways. Allâh revealed this message of consolation to the Prophet: “We have given thee al-Kawthar ... surely the one who hates thee will be cut off (from progeny).” What is al-Kawthar? Al-Kawthar is a sacred pool of life-giving water in Paradise-a profoundly feminine symbol. The name of Kawthar is derived from the same root as kathîr ‘abundance’, a quality of the supernal Infinite, the Divine Feminine. Allâh established that Allâh’s feminine nature has primacy over Allâh’s masculine nature when Allâh says in the hadīth qudsi “My mercy precedes My wrath” (rahmatî sabaqat ghadabî). The Prophet also said, “Your body has its rights over you.”
Eric Ackroyd, author of A Dictionary of Dream Symbols: With an Introduction to Dream Psychology writes about water, “It is a feminine symbol, representing either your own femininity (whether you are a male or female), or your mother.” In addition, the Ka’ba stood by a sacred spring, the Zemzem, whose sacred waters are drunk by all good Muslims.The Hijira or “sudden departure” although applied to the events following 622 C.E. bears the same name as Hajar (Hagar), who discovered the spring of Zemzem flowing by Ishmael’s foot when searching for water for him after the “sudden departure” of Ibrahim.
Therefore, we see the Divine Feminine, as the Source of Life, being expressed first by the means that humans may understand the Divine Feminine, in other words, Wisdom, being a feminine word, second, by the two most holy names of Allâh: al-Rahmân and al-Rahim which express in a universal way (spanning cultures as varied as Egyptian, Hittitie and Celtic) that the Source of Life is the Divine Feminine.
However, the Divine Feminine does not always manifest in ways that most people think of as traditional, in other words: nurturing, embracing, caring, and so forth. She has a martial aspect too, and so it is not surprising that Al-Rahmân wields power and can appropriately be called The Almighty. artist Shahzia Sikander has explored the spiritual meaning of the Feminine in South Asia through her female images that blend veiled Muslim women and goddesses like Kali or Durga in the same figure. By depicting the Divine Feminine in her art, she says, “I am interested in the multidimensions of the female identity. The goddess could be a figure of power. It refers to empowerment definitely. And yet there is a certain sort of dark side to it too....” Now the author will consider the third name, and perhaps the most outstanding of all: al-Dhât. This word, in Arabic, is also feminine. Allâh is Beyond the Beyond, higher than any action, manner or condition, and any thought that any being may have. This transcendence of all qualities denotes the Divine Feminine. The renowned Sûfî master Najm al-Din Kubra wrote of the Dhât as the “Mother of the divine attributes.” On this makam or “level of existence”, femininity corresponds to interiority and masculinity to manifestation.
The ancient Celtic Druids would perform a strange rite after two people married. The Druid would go into the house in which the marriage was consummated and reappear dressed in the bride’s gown. He would do this to demonstrate the balance between the masculine and feminine aspects within himself. The Druids were ancient Celtic priests, shamans and philosophers as described in Neo-Shamanists and Pagans Today P3: From N. Pennick to Celtic/Northern Literature. Druid-Shaman-Priest: Metaphors of Celtic Paganism by Leslie Jones further delves into the connection between the Druid and the Shaman.
“A Shaman is a man or woman who is able, at will, to enter into a non-ordinary state of consciousness in order to make contact with the spirit world on behalf of members of his or her community.”
“The distinctive feature of family shamanism was participation by nearly all members of the family in ritual activities. At the same time, peoples of northeastern Siberia had shamans who played the main role in rituals. They included transvestite male and female shamans. During religious ceremonies (kamlaniye), such male shamans dressed in women’s clothes and female shamans dressed in men’s clothes. Transvestite men and women shamans were regarded as the most powerful.” Ibn al-‘Arabî divulged, “I sometimes employ the feminine pronoun in addressing Allâh, keeping in view the Essence.” The perfection of the human state, al-insân al-kâmil, means the perfection of both the masculine and feminine qualities together, and is symbolized by the marriage of Imām ‘Alī (the nephew and brother-in-law of Muhammad) and Fātima (the daughter of Muhammad).
Love stories abound in all cultures: Romeo and Juliet, Orpheus and Eurydice, Tristan and Isolde, and in the Middle East, we find the stories of Yusuf and Zuleika, and Majnûn and Laylá. The story of Majnûn and Laylā was (and still is) widely known throughout the Islamic world. However, in the hands of Persian Sûfî poets, the story became transformed into a symbol of the love of a human being for Allâh. In Sûfîsm, questing for Allâh is similar to the European Grail quest in which the Knight quests for a Chalice (the cup being a symbol of the female sexual organ). Laylá, in Arabic, comes from the word layl meaning “night”. The association of the Divine Feminine with Darkness and the Night is ubiquitous.
The Sumela Monastery, in Trabzon on the shore of the Black Sea, is an important site for the Divine Feminine in Christianity, and provides a connection with the concept of the Islamic Laylá. “Sumela” is derived from the Greek words meaning “dark stone.” Water drips down from a dark rock near the monastery. “Dark stone” has been a very ancient symbol of the Divine Feminine going back to pagan times, as has been posited in this paper with regard to the black stone of the Ka’ba.
“These days, one of the most powerful archetypes being revived in feminist religion is Lilith, archetype of the ‘dark’ inner feminine. For ages this goddess had been cast aside and denigrated by patriarchal religion as a demoness, but now she is being looked at with renewed interest. To anyone following Lilith’s career, it would be interesting to learn how she already had been rehabilitated centuries ago in Islamic Sûfî guise. She is known to Muslims as Laylā — of Laylā and Majnûn fame. Both names come from the same ancient Semitic root meaning ‘night’. The old Akkadian form of her name was Lilitu, from the root L-Y-L, with the feminine ending in -t; it took the form Lilith in Hebrew. The Arabic name Laylá is from the same root with a feminine ending often used in Arabic girls’ names.”
The blackness of night is an essential quality of the Divine Feminine. The “black cloak” of Muhammad is very famous. The Sûfîs sing about kali kamaliya vala (the one wrapped in the black blanket) in their qawwalis (spiritual songs). The kiswa of the kaba -the kisa was black , as was the first flag of Islam.
Majnun went crazy because of his love for Laylā. He went out of his mind. The goal of the Sûfî is called fana or “annihilation”, in which the Sûfî literally goes out of his or her socially conditioned mind. Majnun means someone not in an ordinary state of mind. To quote the Dîwân of Shaykh Ahmad al-‘Alawî: “I drew near to Laylā’s dwelling, when I heard her call. O would that sweet voice never fall silent! She favored me, drew me toward her, and took me into her precinct; then with words most intimate addressed me. She sat by me, then came closer, and raised the garment that veiled her from my gaze; she took me out of myself, amazed me with her beauty . . . She changed me and transfigured me, marked me with her special seal, pressed me to her, granted me a unique station and named me with her name.”
In the nighttime, all that is visible during the day vanishes into the darkness. Boundaries fade away at night. Forms are no longer visible. This apparent lack of manifestation that takes place during the night is directly connected to the unmanifested aspect of the Divine Nature, Allâh as Unmanifest. “Aba’ad”, is a very well known song from the Persian Gulf region. The full-length song is twenty and a half minutes in length. Many dancers and musicians in the United States know this song as “Laylā, Laylā” because about fourteen minutes into the song the lyrics sing “Laylā” many times over and over again. The Saudi Arabian vocalist who made this song popular was Mohammed Abdou. “Laylā, Laylā, Laylā, Allâh, Allâh, Laylā”, go the lyrics, intertwining the name Laylā with the name Allâh.
At the top of (or beyond) the Kabbalistic Tree of Life is found three mysterious “veils of negative existence (unmanifestation).” These veils contain and conceal the unmanifest aspects of the entire Tree of Life. The veils are traditionally not illustrated on the Tree of Life. When they are, they are drawn as three semi-circles above Keter. The most remote veil is Ain, which represents absolute negative existence. Complete darkness is a symbol of this state. The seed grows in the darkness of the earth and the fetus develops in the darkness of the womb. Each Sheikh has a woman that develops him into a Sheikh. Therefore, in this seemingly patriarchal mystery tradition (Sûfîsm), we see that woman is the Hidden Initiatrix, the Shadow Guide, the Blackness that births the Light. “Da tariki, tariqat” - “In the darkness, the Path,” is a Sufic maxim. The void has been described as a dark cave, a shadowy mihrab, the Concealed or Secret Radiance, the Black Stone of the Ka’ba, Ghayb ul-Ghaib ( Mystery of Mysteries ), Amma ( Darkness), and returning to the Womb of Fātima (‘Alaiha Assalam) the Mother.
The Prophet Muhammad pronounced an utterance of supreme compassion and love for the feminine when he was returning from a battle with his Companions. They came upon a group of women and children. One woman had lost her child and was going around looking for him, her breasts flowing with milk. When she found her child, she joyfully put him to her breast and nursed him. The Prophet asked his Companions, “Do you think that this woman could throw her son in the fire?” They answered “No.” He then said, “Allâh is more merciful to His servants than this woman to her son.” Jalâl al-Din Rūmī, in an amazing passage of the Masnavi on the Return to Allâh, made reference to the story of the infant Moses and addressed Allâh directly as “Mother”: “On Resurrection Day, the sun and moon are released from service: and the eye beholds the Source of their radiance, then it discerns the permanent possession from the loan, and this passing caravan from the abiding home. If for a while a wet nurse is needed, Mother, return us to your breast. I don’t want a nurse; my Mother is more fair. I am like Moses whose nurse and Mother were the same.”
Nick Herbert, a renowned physicist, states, “Science has succeeded (perhaps too well) in taming Nature; now it’s time to learn how to woo Her, seeing Her not as a collection of dead parts but approaching Nature as the very Body of the Beloved.”
In Islam, there is not the same condemnation of the body as is found in many of the major Christian sects. Spirit if often depicted in Christianity as “male” and the body as “female”. The body is not an obstacle in Islam, but rather it is a means to attain enlightenment. Sexual pleasure is not shunned in Islam, but rather incorporated into daily life.
To begin with, the body itself is given great significance in Islam when one takes into account the bodily postures that are a necessary and essential part of the compulsory five times a day, prayer. During salât (Islamic prayers) the body is metamorphosed into a manifestation of the sacred. These bodily postures are very similar to the bodily postures one observes in Hindu Hatha Yoga, which is a branch of Tantric Yoga. Islam’s unitary, holistic view of the body and spirit is evident in the alchemical saying of the Shi‘ite Imāms, “arwâhunâ ajsâdunâ wa-ajsâdunâ arwâhunâ” (our spirits are our bodies and our bodies are our spirits).
One of the primary goals of the Sûfî is to reawaken the body to an awareness of it being an expression of the divine. The body is not basically sinful (as in the Roman Catholic Church’s conception of Original Sin) in Islam, rather the body is the seat of the highest reality created by Allâh in the whole universe. To understand the Divine Feminine in Sûfîsm, it is helpful to understand a few basics of Tantra Yoga.
Therefore, the author asks the reader’s indulgence as he briefly explores Tantra Yoga. The author believes the reader will be richly rewarded for his or her patience. The basic tenet of Tantrism is that matter, and therefore the body, is also a manifestation of Śakti power, that is, the power emanating from the feminine aspect of Divine Reality. In the domain of the spiritual life, the same term Śakti signifies the celestial energy that allows one to enter into contact with the Divinity. Hence, the body must not be opposed or despised.
Tantra has been one of the most neglected branches of Indian spiritual studies despite the considerable number of texts devoted to this practice, which dates back to the 5th-9th century C.E. Tantra itself means, “to weave, to expand, and to spread”, and according to Tantric masters, the fabric of life can provide true and ever-lasting fulfillment only when all the threads are woven according to the pattern designated by nature. Sex, being a part of nature, then is considered part of the fabric of life. The physical, spiritual and mental cannot be separated. To the Tantrics, the body is a form of consciousness, but this consciousness is veiled.
There is a form of Tantra, entitled “Kundalinî Tantra”. This is the Yoga of sexual intercourse. In the classical literature of hatha yoga Kundalini literally means coiling, like a snake. Kundalini can be understood as an immanent and latent liberating power, or as potentiality of liberation. This power lies in wait (is coiled) at the base of the spine of the average person. It is useful to think of Kundalinî energy as the very foundation of our consciousness so that when Kundalinî moves through our bodies our consciousness necessarily changes with it. Kundalini Tantra is engaged in precisely for the reason of freeing up this energy that is waiting at the base of the spine, and allowing it to flow freely up the spine. In yogic anatomy the sushumna is the central channel and conduit for the Kundalinî energy that runs along our spine and up to the crown of our head, the summit of liberation (brahmarandhra). Along this channel are placed seven additional channel networks called chakras. These chakras are associated with major aspects of our anatomy - for example our throat, heart, solar plexus, and in turn these aspects of our anatomy are related to aspects of our human nature.
What ties Tantra to Sûfîsm is contained in the symbolism of Prophet Muhammad’s nighttime ascent to Heaven. The Prophet ascended on al-Burâq, a riding beast with the head of a woman, through the seven heavens to the Throne of God. Hadīth relates that the Prophet’s bed was still warm when he returned from the Mi’râj. On this night, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) reached within “two bows’ length” of Allâh. Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi explains: “Imagine lover and Beloved as a single circle divided by a line into two bow-shaped arcs. This line but seems to exist, yet does not, and if it will be erased at the moment of the Meeting, the circle will appear again as one - as in fact it really is. This then is the secret of Two Bows’ Length.”
The secret Sufic explanation of the fact that the Prophet’s bed was still warm, is that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was making this journey while having relations with his wife Khadijah. Additionally, it is possible that Muhammad’s nighttime ascent to Heaven, al-Mi‘râj, was mediated by an hallucinogenic plant. Baqir Majlisi reports, “It is related from the Prophet that over each leaf and seed of the isfand plant (soma) an angel is appointed so that through its bark and roots and branches grief and sorcery are set aside.” There is an Iranian folk-song about isfand. “Our Prophet selected it, ‘Ali planted it, Fatima collected it For Husayn and Hasan. All who are born on Saturday, On Sunday, or on Monday, On Tuesday, or on Wednesday, On Thursday, or on Friday; Underground, on the ground; Black-eyed, blue-eyed, crow-eyed, ewe-eyed; All who have looked, all who have not; Neighbor on left, neighbor on right; Before the face, behind the back; May the eye of the envious and of envy crack!” The Book of Plants by Abu Hanifa al-Dinawari (circa about 895 C.E.) states that harmel is discernible in two forms. One has leaves like the Egyptian willow and white fragrant flowers like those of jasmine. Sesame oil and Moringa seed oil become fragrant with this blossom. Its seed is a long capsule like that of Cassia. The other is called in Persian, isfand, and its capsule is round. Harmel contains the psychoactive compounds (harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine).
In most ancient hunter-gatherer societies, women balanced the males supply of game with their collected harvest from the surrounding wilderness. Women therefore became the first to learn the secrets of plants, and plant propagation. This knowledge led to the development of agriculture, and the evolution from the animal totems of the hunter-gatherers to images of the Great Mother, who with proper worship produced her abundant harvest in the same way that women produced children. In various Mystery Cults, traditional ingestion of hallucinogenic plants allowed members the option of seeking a personal relationship with deity.
Interpretation of the Qur’ān in the light of Sahaja Yoga was the topic of the first international conference of the Islamic Study Group in the city of Lucknow. Various Muslim scholars from around the globe dwelt on the divine powers of Nirmala Devi, who it is claimed rediscovered the magic of Sahaja Yoga. The members discussed the benefits of this form and how Muslims could benefit from it. Speaking on this occasion, Mr. Husain Top, a renowned Sûfî saint from Turkey, said the seven heavens mentioned by the prophet were in fact seven “chakras” of consciousness. “God sees through man and he hears through man,” the Sûfî saint said. Mr. Top explained how in the final stage of consciousness man is enveloped by the will of God and in this state he attains union with the Almighty and finds peace.
The human beloved becomes a witness (shahed), a Theophany of the Real. Ibn Tamiya had remarked a practice that reflected the last of these views, noting that a mystic might kiss his or her beloved and say to him or her, "Thou art God.” Abdelwalah Bouhdiba describes the mystical approach to sexuality in Sûfîsm, “The body of a woman, therefore, is a microcosm of the masterly work of God. To lose oneself in it is to find oneself in God. To run over it is to continue the great book of Allâh.”
An eighteenth-century Gujarati text of the Satpanth Nizari Isma‘ilis tells of a renowned Isma‘ili and Sûfî master imparting Tantric spiritual instruction to a Nath Siddha Jogi master. It includes both Islamic and Tantric terms, and demonstrates the intersection of these two traditions. A portion of this document has been published with a study by Dominique Sila Khan as “Conversation between Guru Hasan Kabiruddin and Jogi Kanipha: Tantra Revisited by the Isma‘ili Preachers.” Sometimes when the Divine Feminine is realized in all Her Splendor, She so transforms her devotees that their forms of worship are transformed also. Hence Islamic and Sûfî groups arise that are considered heretical to mainstream Islamic and
a renowned Sûfî saint from Turkey, said the seven heavens mentioned by the prophet were in fact seven “chakras” of consciousness. “God sees through man and he hears through man,” the Sûfî saint said. Mr. Top explained how in the final stage of consciousness man is enveloped by the will of God and in this state he attains union with the Almighty and finds peace. The human beloved becomes a witness (shahed),
Sûfî belief structures through attention and study of the feminine aspects of divinity. The concept that Allâh is the feminine form of the Ultimate Reality is the inner secret of the most esoteric mysteries of Islam. Ibn ‘al-‘Arabî pronounced: “True divinity is female, and Makkah is the womb of the Earth.” Because he said the godhead was feminine, they accused Ibn al-‘Arabî of blasphemy. Allâh commanded reverence for womankind in the Qur’ân. “Pay ye heed to Allâh on whose bounty ye depend, and pay ye heed to womankind!”
Prophet Muhammad said that woman is the greatest treasure in the world. One of Sûfîsm’s first saints, Râbi‘ah, is held with equal reverence as any male saint. In Chapter 9 of the Qur’ān, At-Taubah, it is written: “Then Allâh did send down His Sakînah (calmness, tranquility and reassurance, etc.) on the Messenger (Muhammad), and on the believers, and sent down forces (angels) . . .” Then in Sura 48 we find: “It is He who sent down the Sakînah into the hearts of the believers, that they might add faith to their faith.”
The Sakînah in Islam is a manifestation of the Divine Feminine, very similar to the Shekinah in the Hebrew tradition. Prophecies of the return of the Shekinah, which had left the Temple and city of Jerusalem in the days of Ezekiel, are repeated in Zechariah. The word is also used to describe the mystical Shekinah presence in the tabernacle. Shekinah in Hebrew is a feminine noun; it is interesting that Isaiah refers to the Shekinah using feminine pronouns. In Arabic, Barakah means blessing or Divine Grace. It is a feminine Arabic name. Barakah also carries the meaning of “soul power”, the “blessing”, “irradiation of sanctity”, or the “protective energy”, all of which constitute so many images of the celestial Femininity.
the veiling of women, suggests a metaphor (rather then literal) of mystery and sacralization. The Prophet said of himself: “The Law (sharî‘ah) is what I say; the Path (Tarîqah) is what I do; and Knowledge (Haqîqah) is what I am.” The Law carries with it connotations of masculine action, while Knowledge carries with it a sense of feminine intuition. One can truly experience the Divine Feminine only through this Knowledge. Prophet Muhammad also said “Three things from your world have been made beloved to me: women, and perfume, and prayer the comfort of my eyes.”
The great Shaykh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti in his article “True Love” writes, “The Prophet of Allâh, when he tells of the things he was made to love, puts woman above man. He uses the word thalath, feminine three, not thalathah, masculine three, and yet in the same sentence there is the word tib – perfume, which is masculine. In Arabic grammar when it is said, for example, ‘Fātima and Zayd came,’ the verb is in the masculine form.
Thus the Prophet has purposefully and ungrammatically given precedence to the female over the male. In addition to the first loved one being feminine, third loved one, salât, is also (grammatically) feminine. The pattern is repeated thus: Dhat (Essence) is feminine; Adam is masculine; Eve is feminine. It is the concept of trinity: man (masculine) is between two feminines. They are linked: Essence to man; man to woman; woman to Essence.” Pagla Kanai also compared Fātima to the goddess Kali and considered her more virtuous: “Mother Kali is virtuous indeed— she stood on her husband’s chest! Did my gracious mother (Fatima) ever trample Ali?” The Prophet Muhammad never advocated celibacy. According to a hadīth, “marriage is half the religion”; and in some Sûfî orders, a student of Sûfîsm cannot be considered for initiation until he or she is married. To know the Absolute, one must experience the primordial totality of the soul. Therefore, sexual union provides the Sûfî with a glimpse of this Totality or Unity. not to be abused- The Prophet of Islam taught that when husband and wife look in each other’s eyes with love, their sins are forgiven. When they hold hands, good deeds are recorded for them. When they make love, they are surrounded by praying angels. One statement of the Prophet is that: “In the sexual act of each of you there is a sadaqa.”
In other words, the Prophet stated that a proper Muslim man understands that the woman takes priority before the man .
Female-oriented religions are directly connected with birth and the body, nurturing, fecundity, nonviolence, wholeness, spirals, circles and the Underworld. Perhaps this is the profound insight that the Prophet Muhammad had when he said, “Paradise is found at the feet of the mother.”
The Divine Feminine, while hidden and mysteriously woven throughout Sûfîsm, nevertheless will not be denied, but will reveal Herself to those worthy of the knowledge. Is the Divine Feminine an aspect of Allâh , the form by which Allâh unveils Allâh to human beings, the Ultimate Reality of Allâh, the Dark Unmanifest cosmic womb from which Ya Nur (The Light) bursts forth?
Her nature is as fluid as the dominion of water, which is a symbol of the Divine Feminine. “It has a voice and can be silent, murmur gently when tranquil or range and roar when it is tempestuous. Water has many powers. It has the ability to refresh men and animals and to restore new life to dried out vegetation. It can heal and purify and also has the capacity to destroy. Water symbolizes the original fountain of life, which precedes all form and all creation.
Many myths and legends are based on a concept of there being a primeval ocean or watery abyss that was the source of all life. In the Hebrew view of creation it is said that ‘the Spirit of God moved on the face of the Waters’ and that ‘the waters of the Torah’ are the life-giving waters of the sacred law. In the Qur’ān it is said, ‘From the water we made every living thing’.”
In the Dao-de jing of Lao-zi, the author writes, “The gateway of the mysterious female is called the root of Heaven and Earth. Though constantly flowing, it seems always to be present.”
The waters flowing, from this gateway of the Divine Feminine, stream throughout Sûfî thought and practice.