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Sufi Terminology
After our brief look at classical Sufi literature, it is now time to cast a glance at Sufi terminology, reflected in its didactic and lyrical works. This terminology, which entailed the employment of the special connotations of the words which were otherwise commonly used phrases, came into circulation during the second generation of Sufi masters. Its use was prompted by the need to safeguard special Sufi teachings and doctrines from the uninitiated, a practice which had precedents among other Islamic sects.
This type of terminology was referred to by Sufis as the science of allusions (`ilm al-isharat), since it was their contention that ordinary language was incapable of conveying mystical concepts. However, at the same time, it was believed that this science of allusions was only attainable by one who had mastered the common sciences of the day, since it was in reality based on a distillation of those sciences through the filter of personal experience, whose results were attested by Sufi masters. None the less, in many cases, the science of allusions was founded upon the inspirations received by the adept and thus was independent of his knowledge of official sciences. In fact, such sciences may even have been viewed as veils and as obstacles in the way of attaining to `ilm al-isharat.
Of course, as far as the didactic literature of Sufism was concerned, the bulk of the terminology of `ilm al-isharat was derived from the Qur’an and Hadith, often in their hermeneutical connotation. In fact, Qur’anic exegesis provided a major source of inspiration for this hermeneutical terminology, which was, at the same time, clearly influenced by various exegetical methodologies. Later, the common parlance of such fields as fiqh, theology, logic and philosophy entered into this mystical terminology and gave rise to the body of technical mystical lexicon which came to be known as istilahat al-sufiyyah (Sufi technical terms).
The employment of such terminology by Sufi masters and in various Sufi gatherings gave rise to a heightened sense of suspicion among the religionists. It is reported that Junayd chastised his contemporary Sufi master, Ibn `Ata’ Adami regarding his employment of such terminology. Junayd claimed that the reason for using such terms was either that Sufis were trying to evade straight answers or that their ideology suffered from certain defects which they attempted to conceal, to which Ibn `Ata’ replied, “ma fa`alna dhalik illa li-ghayratana `alayh li`izatahu `alayna kaylan yashur bihi ghayra ta’ifatana.” All and all, it appears that the reason behind the employment of such a technical jargon by Sufis was to protect their states and statements from misinterpretation by the uninitiated ordinary people.
There, however, came to arise a body of works and dictionaries which elaborated this mystical parlance; works which circulated not only among Sufi circles but between scholars of other persuasions. These included such didactic works as Sharh ta`arruf, Kashf al-mahjub, Risalat al-Qushayriyyah, al-Luma`, Manazil al-sa’irin and Misbah al-hidayah. Other such works came to be devoted to the specific terminology employed in the works of such masters as Ibn al-`Arabi, Shaykh Kubra, Sa`d al-Din Hamawi, and Mawlana; a task also taken up in the commentaries which elaborated the other aspects of their writings.
The understanding of the terminology of a work such as the Mathnawi-yi Sharif was also increasingly aided by the appearance of works written by Mawlana’s masters, students, and descendents, e.g. the teachings of Baha’ Walad, the treatises of Shams, and the teachings and mathnawis of Sultan Walad. It is also a matter of comparative importance to examine the linguistic and social conditions which contributed to the variety and scope of this terminology.
In regard to lyrical terminology employed in Sufi love poems and qalandariyyat, as well as in such works as Sawanih of Ahmad Ghazzali, Lama`at of `Iraqi, and Lawa’ih of Jami, one should also borne in mind the longstanding tradition of obscurantism and hermeneutical interpretation practiced by Sufis. Examples include the Maqamat Shaykh Abu Sa`id, in which the poems are continuously subjected to hermeneutical interpretation, as well as the works of Fakhr al-Din `Iraqi, who employ a wide range of technical terms throughout his poems; a terminology which became the subject of ever-increasing imitation by others. There is a poem in Ibn al-`Arabi’s Tarjuman al-ashwaq which clearly indicates that the work’s amorous terminology should be interpreted in a manner other than its immediate sense. Other examples include Awrad al-ahbab of Sayf al-Din Bakhrazi and Gulshan-i Raz of Mahmud Shabistari, the true interpretation of whose terminology – including such terms as but (idol), tarsa (nun), kharabat (tavern), shahid (handsome male), and saqi (cupbearer) – is contained in such works as the Sharh of Lahiji and Risalat al-mushwaqiyyah of Fayd Kashani, among others.
 source: Zarrinkoob , Abdol Hossein "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.483- 484
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