The flight of the hidden phoenix

(The Presence and Influences of Ahl al Tariqat wa al Tasawwuf on Western Europe from the VII century to nowadays)


“I Am the Strange ‘Anqa. my dwelling is forever in the WEST, in the middle station, on the banks of the surroundings sea.

Hadrat Ibn Al Arabi (The Universal Tree and the four Birds)


It is very difficult to describe the influences, links and relation which the “initiatic” teaching of Islam (tasawwuff) and its formalized carrying vehicles (the Turuq) had and have on Western Europe from the beginning of the Revelation to the contemporary times. It is even more difficult to identify such relations among the more general historical links which bridge Islam with the so called West. Extended studies have been carried out on the more apparent historical influences, however analyzing those, a lot could be tracked directly or indirectly to the role plaid by the most inner aspects of Islam in shaping the connections between Islam and Europe.

The present short essay wishes only to point out to other researchers less known or overlooked aspects of such relation, considering the point of view of the providential action which the core of the Islam plaid and plays towards pre-Islamic revelations and their derived cultures and civilizations, according that aspect of the Universal function of the Muhammedian Revelation known as Tawassur, or action towards the human world and history.

Two Traditions in Osmosis

Islam from its very begin exerted a strong influence and built links with all the pre islamic revelations with which it came in contact, as the occurrences of the “emigration” to Abyssinia/Etiopia, or the mission of the messengers sent to Byzantine and Persian Emperors show. It is also reported that the high representatives of the pre-islamic revelations such the Negus and the Emperor Eraclius (as. the “legend” of the Tabuut[1] witnesses) were very aware of the real nature of the spiritual mission of the Prophet Muhammed (AS) from their own traditional source. In fact being Islam implicit in each form of revelation, it was in some cases “waited” or “missed”, representing the lost link to their very own origin to a whole corpus of knowledge mentioned but no explained in their own original sources. No different was then the encounters with no Abrahamic civilizations such those of India and China, towards them Islam plaid a pivotal role also thanks to its original spiritual and metaphysical teachings[2].

Very peculiar were the relations with west Christianity which slowly was emerging in the early middle age at the same time Islam expanded, and which was shaping and somehow defining itself as the only Muslim free area of the Roman known world. However this did not stop essential aspects of middle age civilizations from feudal chivalry to hermetic philosophy, from craft guilds to medical science if not to openly declare but at least to “indicate” (“for those who have the sane intellects“[3]) their dependency from external inputs, so much to recognize the very sources of their most inner knowledge in the “opposite” camp of the Dar al Islam. On the other side, there are several reports, among the large amount of anecdotes relating to Muslim Saints (Awalya Ullah)[4] and their spiritual quests, pointing to close links with the land of Dar al Harb, where secretly lived among the Christian knights and monks members of “common” brotherhoods and guilds. Such complex and no apparent matrix of relations become deeper and deeper some how despise increasing “outer” conflicts, if there were not rare the cases of crusaders that easily moved from zealous enmity to pacific coexistent when not fully conversion[5]. Relations between medieval spirituality within knight orders and Ahl al turuq must have been of some deep if, in several “confessions” exhorted during the trials which followed the outlaw of the Temple Order, Templar knights described the rituals of Qyam Dhikr accordingly Qadery and Rifay usuls (the turuq most spread amongst the Ayyubidi troops) in such details, which could be available only to who had directly witnessed them. More “astonishing” cases are the templar chapels located in South Sweden, were graves of knights just returned from Jerusalem are strictly oriented towards Mecca, in one of the chapel a glass mosaic shows a templar knight sitting bare feet in a mosque. The last effective Emperor of the Holy Roman Empery, Frederic II of Svevia, who refuses to carry out a further crusade, was buried in a scroll embroidered with Quranic verse, among two of his body guards, which were a special unit exclusively chosen among the few surviving Sicilian Muslims. Still now in some zawyas of Cairo you can heard “The legend” accordingly which Ahmed Al Arabi Al Sharnubi, famous Badawi shaych of XV century and writer of classic text of Tasawuuf is secretly, truly buried in Sicily and no in the his “official” maqam in Egypt.

The Break of the Bridge

All long the middle age a network of Craft gilds, Hermetic brotherhoods and societies, Chivalry orders and fellowships formed the very tissue of the western society, surrounding, overlaying, shaping and even by-passing the most external aspect of the feudal order and of the catholic creeds. This network was waved around an organization which, being at one time at the centre of both Church and Empire, would embrace and override them at once the Temple Order. Until it lasted, the above mentioned net was preserved and the “subtle links” between Ahl al Turuqa and Western Christianity was kept. This age of the middle which was last balanced age enjoyed by Europe, ended with the end of such Order; thus the complex network of relations, never openly established and recognized, which still in the XV century allowed Raimond de Lull to travel unarmed in North Africa from zawya to zawya, slowly disappeared with the collapsing of the middle age Christianity. Chivalry morals and ethic came to end with the 100 years war and the 2 roses wars; the osmotic culture of Arabic Spain, ended with the “reconquista”, the religious equilibrium of West Europe and her organic common society, exhausted by the “never understood” overlapping of the Imperial and Papal powers, disaggregated eventually with the Reformation and Counterreformation. The Spiritual elites of Islam which had somehow affected Europe had no more supports to their actions if any, records of what has been the nearly seven centuries of influence were stored and some how preserved in the early renaissance “legends” of Christian Von Rosenkrutz or of Nicholas Flammel. No casually after the 30 years wars which ended middle age Europe and gave birth to the contemporary concept of nationhood, statehood and society, such “legends” “converged” presenting a common end, which declared that knowledge and the spiritual nobility had left Europe to withdraw to “India”, until better time will come.

In the XVIII century Europe was full of old vestigial of what once was its spiritual treasures feed by the Ahl al Turuq, (only apparently fought on the battle fields of the Holy land), they were stored in no more understood symbols, laid here and there among: alchemic texts, Shakespeare works, Rabelais novels, Campanella philosophy, Cervantes tales; in the rituals of the gilds of carpenter cathedral builders. In the same time the absence of real metaphysical knowledge gave birth to so modern a purely western “occultist” fantasies, wrapped in recurrent “exotic” fashions. The obsession first with all could not be rationally explained spread amongst educated and uneducated European folks at once[6].

The remaining circles more or less conscientious of the nature of the knowledge they possessed find a sort of refugee in the craft gilds and those eventually melted in the main one still active all across Europe, the Free Masons Guild. However also this order was progressively conquered by the novel mentality and partially degenerated by the intrusion of political and philosophical interested, fuelled by the Stuart Hannover war in the British isles. When the “reformed” speculative freemasonry, “invented” by a group of reformed priests to take control of what was the last Catholic brotherhood in Great Britain, merged with the residual of operatives crafts and with the continental craft “compagnonage”, what was left of the middle age “Christian turuq” was some how frozen in the quite heterogeneous, often subversive corpus of Fremasonry, which however had to play still a role in the following action of the Ahl Turuq in Europe.

From Maghreb to Sham: The Mission of Hazret Shaych Al Emir Abd El Qadir Muhiddin al Hasani, Al Jazayri

With modernity and the “reorientation” of trade and wealth from the Mediterranean sea to the Atlantic Ocean, Europe become progressively self-centred, of course some “filtrated” exchanges probably still occurred through the only channels of contacts still open between the Islamic East and the Christian west, the Barbaresque corsairs of North Africa (most of them European “renegades”, or converted accordingly the point of view of the historian of the opposite side of the Mediterranean sea) and the porous northern border of the Osmanli Khilafat across the Balkan. Odd enough, the still “most active” western military unit in Islam lands, the US marines, fought the very first time against Moroccan and Algerian Corsairs. Exactly in the lands where eventually the full swing of colonialism erupted in European history with the invasion of Algeria by French army in 1830. Maybe at that time no French soldiers, generals or ministers, would have never thought that such action will in 150 years make the slang spoken in Paris a French with over 30% of Arabic words.

If the Osmanli government left Algeria to itself, the Turuq became the core of a long term resistance which eventually in 120 years, (under different not always belligerent forms) gained freedom to Algeria. The occupation of Algeria was the first overall colonial invasion of Muslim land, but it very indirectly changed the fate of Europe, either by causing much later the first mass immigration of Muslim nationals into main land Europe, either in more subtle way linking Europe to the figure of Hadrat Abd El Qadir Al Jazairi (QS). If the legend of Christian Rosenkrutz[7] located his grave full of the treasures of his “lost” in knowledge in Morocco and the origin of his teaching in Syria, odd to say he was a Muslim holy man birth in the Maghreb and then buried in Syria, that indirectly plaid a great role to establish a new form of influence of the Tasawwuf in Europe.

Emir Abd El Qadir was a Seyd (descendent of the Prophet, as), Shaych Qaderi, representative of the Akbarian lineage in the Maghreb and accordingly several Muslim scholars of ahla al Turuq of his time the Pole of the Islamic spirituality of his age. His charisma was able to call forces from around the entire Muslim world[8] in the long Algerian colonial war. When eventually defeated by traitors, he was confined in France and then exiled to Syria in Damashque, he assembled around him Muslim Scholars and Ahl al Tasawwuf, from several part of the Islamic Umma, often among those who were championing a more active resistance to the penetration of the westerns powers[9]. Emir Abd El Qadir, devoted himself in Syria to the commentary, reshaping and reformulation of the teachings of Hadrat Muhiddin ibn Arabi (QS), assuming a leading role in several Turuq, nominally in Qaderya, Naqshbandya and Shadhiliya, orders in which more directly spread his spiritual influence. Among the close followers of the last great Emir of the Islam, there was the Maliki Mufti of Egypt and Shaych Shadhili, Mustafa Illaysh Kabir. The Shadhili usul of Shaych Mustafa was a very selective branch of Shadhilya, particularly focused on Akbarian perspective, known as Shadhiliya-Arabya. This lineage and this family will play then an unpredictable role in the birth and development of the Tree of Tasawwuf in west Europe along the path opened by Hazrat Abd el Qadir Muhiddin Al Hasani.

Accepting the exile in Syria, the Emir had not left the battle field of this world for the kingdom of pure metaphysic Truth. The previous years of war against the Frenchs and then the imprisonment in France gave to him the unique opportunity to know very well the Westerns with their typical spiritual diseases and the self styled “perfect” but unbalanced vision of the world, what we call “Modernity”. The Emir wrote an open letter addressed to the French people but he meant in this way considering all the Westerners. The letter contains a warning full of surprising clairvoyance against the deep sickness of “modern Europe”, (which will lead the world to a following century of continuously wars, human sufferance, spread violence and injustices) and he offered of a way out: an Islam taking Strength and Truth from the endless source of Tasawwuf. The letter ends with a gloom prophecy or Europe will find his equilibrium again accepting the last revelation or it will be the apocalyptic mission of the second coming of the Messiah (Hazret ‘Isa, as), waited by all the Abrahamitic religions alike to end the west ontological abnormality[10]. With this knowledge of west in his mind the Emir, did not lose the opportunity to erect himself as the protector of westerns residents and local Christians during riots in Damashque. This quite surprising act from who so much had suffered of the increasing intrusion in Muslim lands of the foreign western powers gained him the invitation to joint the ranks of the French Freemasonry, at the time the very cradle of the European ultimate creed in “science, free market and democracy”. The Emir was initiated, in 1864, passed and raised in 2 days ceremony in Cairo organised by a French expatriate lodge, “Les Pyramides d’Egypte”. These colonial “brave white man” though they were planting in this way the very seed of modernity in the heart of Islam, but they were only expose again after centuries to the vivifying Light of the Prophecy carried by the tasawwuf, the mummified “vestige” of the middle age Christian guild spirituality. Thus the Emir, Qutb of his time, entered the residual last initiator order of the west, the broken bridge was rebuilt; new “roses” will bloom in France, and Europe in one century as zawya, tekkyes and dergas, of sufi orders, from Rome to London, from Granada to Vienna.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1.  Accordingly middle age “legends” common to Islam and Christianity, this was wooden box containing the “ portraits” of all the Prophet (AS) from Seydna ‘Adam (as)  to Seydna Muhammed (as), which was in the hands of Emperor Eraclius, and He used it to verify the aspect of the Prophet (as) as reported by the messenger send to him.
  2. Chinese tradition shared with Islam the sacral art of Calligraphy which was particularly established by Taoist monks and though to Confucians scholars, Chinese Muslim later on developed their own styles of Islamic Calligraphy greatly borrowing from the Taoist correspondent art. In China are buried 3 great Sahaba (as) sent there from the Prophet Himself, in the occasion of the revelation of the famous  hatidh “Seek the Knowledge until China”.
  3.  Dante Alighieri “O voi che avete gli intelletti sani, mirate la dottrina che s’asconde sotto’l velame de li versi strani” Divine Commedy  (Inferno IX 60-62).
  4. See writings of Faruddin Al Attar, Abd Allah Yusuf Yamani, Ahmed Ash Sharnubi.
  5.  A case among several ones: the Great Master of the English Templar Knights fallen prisoner of Sultan Salah uddin al Ayyubi, converted in the hand of his master to become then his son in law.
  6.  Misunderstanding of Alchemy and Hermetic sciences prepared the ground for so called modern sciences in the XV, Necromancy fashions followed in the XVII, then the XVIII saw any kind of magic practices becomes entertainment of the high classes, phenomena were sought for themselves, none more able to understand what they were real about, Mesmerism first, Hypnotism then, to end with “ghost” evocations in the XIX. This was first of a long series of “new spiritual” fashions coming from beyond the Ocean. The end of real spirituality open in Europe the door to his parody, first represented by occultism, then by theosophies confused doctrines and latter on by numberless “new age” movements.
  7.  The metical founder of Rose and Cross brotherhood which will appears in some publications and pamphlets during the 30 years’ war time in several towns of Europe, about a lot has been written and so few has been really known.
  8.  Several branches of  turuq moved with their Shuych from Egypt and Sirya in Algeria, to support the resistance of Emir Abd El qadir.
  9. An exchange of letters existed between Emir Abd El Qadir and Shaych Shamil al Dagestani, just as an example.
  10.  A godless world pursuing an endless pure quantitative growth.
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