Haal - Ḥāl in Sufism

Ḥāl in Sufism

Since aḥwāl are considered in Sufism to be gifts from God, there is nothing on the part of human beings that can be done to ensure that they are granted, for man is merely the receiver. Yet, unlike material gifts exchanged among men, man cannot do anything to avoid experiencing these special states. No prerequisites have been determined for man to receive any particular ḥāl since it has been noted that even the unreligious occasionally experience states that have been granted by God. The explanation given for this phenomenon follows from the idea that there is an overabundance of divine grace and, thus, it must necessarily come into contact with nonbelievers at times. Likewise, those that are in the early stages of their spirituality may experience aḥwāl just as much as the more advanced Sufis.

When enduring a particular ḥāl, such as that of ecstasy, one must note that only those who have already experienced that state can truly comprehend what it is like. As well, for the one experiencing a state of ecstasy to be understood, only those that are in a similar state will understand what is being said. This also applies to one’s work, since someone who is viewing a piece of art or reading a particular passage must be in the same ḥāl as the creator was at the time of work’s creation. Failing to do this will only result in a lack of understanding between the creator and his audience.

It is generally thought that aḥwāl are only experienced intermittently for a short time, but others such as Abd al-Karīm ibn Hawāzin Qushayri argue that each state is continuous, and that there is a necessary succession from one state to the other. For him, once a state has been granted by God, man maintains that state, or condition, until he has been given a new state that is spiritually higher than the previous. Others would argue that his definition of a state actually pertains to a station or spiritual stage (maqām) which is a completely separate notion in Sufism as, in contrast to a ḥāl, it is usually not granted by God but only achieved on the basis of individual merit and efforts. His reason for making this claim, however, comes from a hadith given by Muhammad, as well as an explanation of that hadith from Abu Ali ad-Daqqaq. The passage is written as follows:

“My heart becomes shrouded, so that I ask God Most High for pardon seventy times a day. In regard to this hadith, I hears Abu ‘Ali ad-Daqqaq, God’s mercy upon him, say: “The prophet (God’s mercy and blessings upon him) was continually rising in his states. When he rose from one condition (ḥāla) to a higher one, he might glance at the condition he has risen beyond, and he would count it as a covering or shroud in relationship to what he had attained. His states were continually being intensified."

Given this passage from Muhammad, it would appear that Qushayrī is correct in making his claim, but many Sufis still consider each state to come and go like a flash of lightning. Still others would claim that while most aḥwāl are short-lived, the more advanced aḥwāl can remain with man for a longer period of time.

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