The Secret of Secrets: An Interpretive Translation of Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani’s “Sir al-Asrar”
Tanslation by Sheikh Tosun Bayrak
Published by the The Islamic Text Society
Hadrat ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (1077-1166), considered by many to be one of the greatest saints of Islam and the eponymous founder of the Qadiriyya order. This book, appearing in English for the first time, contains the very essence of Sufism, giving a Sufi explanation of how the outward practices of Islam – prayer, fasting, almsgiving and pilgrimage – contain a wealth of inner dimensions which must be discovered and enjoyed if external actions are to be performed in a manner pleasing to God. When this is achieved the soul finds true peace and the spiritual life becomes complete.
Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, born near the Caspian Sea, was the son of the great saint Fatima bint Abdullah al-Sawma’i. After a period of intense intellectual and mystical training he received the khirqa (robe of initiation) and was soon recognized as a saint and scholar, consulted, loved and revered by caliph and pauper alike. As one of the most venerated figures in Sufism his burial place in Baghdad still attracts numerous visitors from many countries.
“This work, which contains a biographical introduction to one of the author’s least-known works, represents a valuable contribution to the field… the translator’s introduction provides an insight into the various personal qualities and divine graces which are recognized in combination as proof of sainthood… It is clearly and elegantly presented, accessible, and has the considerable merit of combining metaphysical doctrine with devotional ethics as encapsulated in the life and work of one of the most endearingly popular Sufis of all times.’ -Journal of Islamic Studies.
Excerpt from the Secret of Secrets:
On the Vision of Allah: Arriving at the Level of Seeing the Manifestation of the Divine Essence
The vision of Allah is of two kinds: one is seeing the manifestation of Allah’s attribute of Perfect Beauty directly in the hereafter, and the other is seeing the manifestation of the divine attributes reflected upon the clear mirror of the pure heart, in this life, in this world. In such a case the vision appears as the manifestation of light emanating from the Perfect Beauty of Allah as seen by the eye of the essence of the heart.
Allah describes the vision seen by the eye of the heart:
“The heart did not deny what it saw.” (Sura Najm, Ayat, 11)
On seeing the manifestation of the divine through an intermediary the Prophet says, ‘The faithful is the mirror of the faithful’. What is meant by the first ‘faithful’, the mirror in this phrase, is the pure heart of the believer, while the second ‘faithful’ Who sees His reflection in that mirror is Allah Most High. Whoever arrives at that level of seeing the manifestations of Allah’s attributes in the world will certainly see the Essence of Allah in the hereafter without shape or form.
The reality of this has been confirmed by many of the beloved and lovers of Allah. Hadrat Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said, ‘My heart saw my Lord by the light of my Lord.’ And Hadrat Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, said, ‘I will not pray to Allah unless I see Him’. They both must have seen the manifestation of divine attributes. If someone sees sunlight coming through the windows and says. ‘I see the sun!’ He is telling the truth.
Allah gives the most beautiful example of the manifestation of His attributes’
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His light is as if there were a niche and within it a lamp, the lamp enclosed in glass, the glass as it were a brilliant star lit from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil is wellnigh luminous, though fire scarce touches it; light upon light! Allah doeth guide whom He will to His light, (Sura Nur, Ayat 35)
The meaning of the niche is the faithful heart of the believer. The lamp enlightening the niche of the heart is the essence of the heart, while the light it sheds is the divine secret, the sultan soul. The glass is transparent and does not keep the light within, but protects it and allows it to spread, which is why it is likened to a star. The source of the light is a divine tree. That tree is the state of unity reaching out with its branches and roots, inculcating the principles of faith, communicating without any intermediary in the language of purity.
It is directly in this language of purity that our Master the Prophet received the Qur’anic revelations. In reality, the angel Gabriel brought the divine messages only after they had already been received–this for our benefit, so that we might hear in human language. This also made clear who were the hypocrites and non-believers by giving them the occasion to deny, as they would not believe in angels.
The proof that the Holy Qur’an was revealed directly to the Prophet is in the Qur’an itself.
And thou art surely made to receive the Qur’an from the All Wise, the All Knowing. (Sura, Naml, Ayat 6)
Since the Prophet received the revelation before the angel Gabriel brought it to him, each time Gabriel delivered the holy verses, the Prophet found them in his heart and recited them before they were given. That is the reason for the verse:
And make not haste with the Qur’an before its revelation is made complete to thee. (Sura Ta Ha, Ayat, 114)
This situation is made clear by the fact that when Gabriel accompanied the Prophet on the night of his ascension, he could not go any further than the seventh heaven, saying, ‘If I take another step I will burn to ashes’, he left our Master to continue on his own.
Allah describes the blessed olive tree, the tree of unity, as being neither of the East nor of the West. In other words, it has neither a beginning nor an end, and the light of which it is the source has no rising or setting. It is eternal in the past and never ending in the future. Both Allah’s Essence and His attributes are ever-existent, because His attributes are light generated from His Essence. Both the manifestation of His Essence and the manifestation of His attributes are dependent on His Essence.
True worship can only be performed when the veils hiding the heart are lifted so that that eternal light shines upon it. It is only then that the heart is enlightened by the divine light. it is only then that the soul sees the truth through the celestial niche.
The purpose of the creation of this universe is to discover, to see that hidden treasure. Allah says through His Prophet, ‘I was a hidden treasure, I willed to be known.’ That is to say, that He would be known in this material world through His attributes manifested in His creation. But to see His very Essence is left to the hereafter. There the vision of Allah will be direct, as He wills, and it will be the eye of the child of the heart that sees Him.
On that day some faces will beam (with joy and beauty), looking at their Lord (Sura Qiyama, Ayat, 223)
Our Master the Prophet, (Sayyidina Muhammad, salla alaiyhi wa salaam), says, ‘I have seen my Lord in the shape of a beautiful youth.’ Perhaps this is the manifestation of the child of the heart. The image is the mirror. It becomes a means, rendering visible that which is invisible. The truth of Allah Most High is exempt from and free of any kind of description or any kind of image or form. The image is the mirror, though what is seen is neither the mirror nor the one who is looking into the mirror. Ponder on that and try to understand, because that is the essence of the realm of secrets.
Yet all this is happening in this world of attributes. In the realm of the Essence all means disappear, burn into thin air. The ones in that realm of Essence themselves do not exist, but they feel the Essence and nothing else. How well the Prophet explains this when he says, ‘I knew my Lord by my Lord’. ‘In His Light, by His Light! The truth of man is the secret of that light, as Allah says through His Prophet: “Man is My secret and I am his secret”
The place of the Prophet Muhammad, whose light is the first of Allah’s creation, is described in his own words, ‘I am from Allah and the believers are from me’. And Allah speaking through His Prophet, says: ‘I have created the light of Muhammad from the light of My own existence’. The meaning of Allah’s own existence is His divine Essence manifested in His attribute of the Most Compassionate. This He declares through His Prophet, saying: ‘My compassion far surpasses My punishment’. The beloved Messenger of Allah is the light of the Truth, for Allah says,
‘We sent thee not but as a mercy to the whole of creation’. (Sura Anbiya, Ayat, 107)
‘Indeed Our Messenger has come to you, making clear to you much of that which you concealed of the Book and passing over much. Indeed there has come to you from Allah a light… (Sura Ma’ida, Ayat, 15)
The importance of the Prophet of Allah is made clear when Allah speaks to him and says:
‘But for you, I would not have created creation’