The Rapture

There is more to the Sufi path than the experience with light alone. Sufis often describe the feelings that go along with the Vision as "joyful," "loving," "blissful" and "ecstatic." The thirteenth century Persian Sufi Fakhruddin 'Iraqi described the state of this relationship as "perfect joy."21 Ibn 'Arabi says that "rapture and ecstasy is the intensity of love, and the quality of ecstasy and rapture first became manifest in the high and rapturous and ecstatic spirits to whom the high God revealed Himself from His Beautiful Awesomeness, [becoming] enraptured and ecstatic in the lights of God...."22 When Sufis see the "all-beautiful, all-loving" God and His Light, they reach a state of ecstatic trance.23 Again Sufi expressions on this matter are best said poetically:

...all the earth's joys
are dust beneath the feet
Of those entrancing memories of Thee.

In a state of separation
I felt sad and distressful,
In union I felt my self-consciousness
and my self-hood had bereft me.
Joy came to dwell in my soul
And now do I keep my body and soul
in a state of bliss.24

Alas, that He
Should ever be perceived in ecstasy...
Ecstasy touches but the forms,
which flee before His radiant Divinity...

It were more meet that He
Who with such bounty brought me ecstasy
Should of His boundless grace
Sweep clean my spirit of its every trace.

When first He came to me,
When first He
stirred my soul to ecstasy,
I knew that He would bring

Gifts far beyond the mind's imagining.25

And so shall Attar shattered be
And rapt in sudden ecstasy
Soar to Godly vision, even
beyond the veils of earth and heaven.26

The power and beauty of the verses is stunning -- and no wonder. R.A. Nicholson explains that "ecstasy affords the only means by which the soul can directly communicate and become united with God."27 Maneri explains that one will know that the light a mystic sees is from God if it is accompanied by bliss: "a sense of inner bliss arises within him so that in that very bliss a person knows that what he is seeing is from God Almighty and not from any other source."28 So, says one Sufi, Truth itself is known in ecstasy.29

This blissful, joyous, ecstatic state is part of the intense love that the Sufi and God share. Khwaju of Kirman explained this relationship poetically, as a kind of love that is without bounds:

In ocean waves of love Divine
The lover's soul is not aware
of tranquil shores
And those who watch the ocean waves
from tranquil points of distant shores
Are not aware of shoreless love.30

Nuri explained the mystic love of God this way:

So passionate my love is,
I do yearn
To keep His memory
constantly in mind;
But O, the ecstasy with which
I burn
Sears out my thoughts,
and strikes my memory blind!

And, marvel upon marvel,
ecstasy Itself is swept away:
now far, now near
My Lover stands,
and all the faculty
Of memory is swept up
in hope and fear.31

...And I adore thee, Light Divine
Lest lesser lights
should make me blind.32

The ninth century Persian poet Yahya b. Mu'adh says of Divine Love that

The lover joys to dwell
In love with Love;
Yet some, as strange I tell,
Do love reprove

About God's Love I hover
While I have the breath,
To be His perfect lover
Until my death.33

This ecstatic joy, the love of and for God, and the vision of the Divine Light was not without its difficulties, however. Such an intensely desirable experience compelled the mystic to get closer and closer to God. In the end, some became so close that they could no longer tell the difference between God, His Light, and themselves. Nuri says that "I looked one day at the Light and I did not cease looking at it until I became the Light."34 This happens when the Sufi "contemplates all the time on the light of God and forgets everything, even his own self."35 Rumi put it this way:

What is to know of the Unity of God?
It is to extinguish oneself
in the presence of the One.
Shouldst thou desire to be
as bright as day...
He who loses his separate existence
The result of what he does
is always full of bliss.36

I am plunged in the Light
like the sun;
I cannot distinguish myself
from the light.37

As the stone that is entirely
turned into pure ruby...
Through oneness with the Light...
Strive that thy stony nature
may be diminished
So that thy stone may become resplendent
with the qualities of the ruby...
The qualities of self-existence
will depart from the body
The qualities of intoxication (ecstasy)
will increase in thy head.38

Fakhruddin 'Iraqi echoes Rumi's assessment:

No, I am the Light:
All things are seen
in my unveiling
and from moment to moment
my radiance is more manifest...
Look: I am the mirror
of the shining Essence.
These lights which arise
from the East of Nothingness
are myself, every one
-- yet I am more....39

Mansur al-Hallaj took sentiments such as these to their logical conclusion. Hallaj declared, in Arabic, "Ana 'l-Haqq," meaning "I am the Truth," or "I am God." Orthodox Muslims took this to be blasphemy of the worst kind -- no man can declare himself to be God. As in Judaism and Christianity, Sufi mystics generally came close to identifying the soul with God, but most fell short of any such absolute identification.40 Still, the main point is well taken: the closer one gets to the Divine Light, the more one's self becomes One with the Divine.

The visions of light and feelings of ecstasy have broad and clear similarities with other mystical traditions and with near death experiences. However, like other traditions, Sufism is unique when it comes to interpreting what the mystic encounters. For example, Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, is seen by some Sufis as "light from God's light."41 According to these mystics the prophet of Islam shows the searcher "the way unto his own soul where he finds the reflection of God's light and the 'light of Muhammad.'"42 Fakhruddin 'Iraqi expressed this view poetically as follows:

Praise belongs to God
Who made effulgence the face of
His Friend Muhammad
with Beauty's theophanies,
that it sparkled with light...43




Divine Encounters
The Rapture


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