“People await the advent of the Sabbath, for there will he repose on that day for those who have recognised the reality of these days and who laboured in fulfilment of (the Prophets’) command and with knowledge. Those who toil physically in this physical world and know the esoteric meaning of this with their souls today will be rewarded for it tomorrow in the spiritual world” (Sayyidina Nasir Khusraw, Wajh-i din, p. 65)
The days of creation, in Ismaili thought, were considered the great cycles of prophecy. God’s intention in the verses (mentioned in Quran) was not the dense world of earthly phenomena, but a world of far greater import, that of religion. In the former, time is marked by the movement of the celestial spheres, while in the latter, it is marked by the coming of God’s messengers, the lords of the cycles (sahiban-i adwar). The structure of these cycles of prophecy was of tremendous interest to the Ismaili savants. This paper will explore Nasir Khusraw’s exposition of these cycles, the days of creation, and their consummation in the advent of the Sabbath.
The Harbinger of the Advent of the Sabbath: Hujjat of Qaim
Before the advent of the seventh cycle, governed by the Qa’im, comes the a senior rank in early Ismaili da‘wa corresponding to that of hujjat — hujjat of the Qa’im. This is noteworthy, as the hujjat of an Imam is generally his contemporary. The hujjat of the Qa’im, however, is the harbinger of the advent of the Sabbath. The Qur’anic verse, ‘The night of power (laylat al-qadr) is better than a thousand months’ (97:3), is said to refer to him, and indicates that his knowledge is superior to that of a thousand imams, though of course, collectively, their rank is one.It seems that Nasir considers the successors of the Qa’im to be his khalifas, and he assigns a special rank to this function. Thus, he explains that the current cycle of Muhammad is composed of two parts – that of the awliya’, or the imams, and that of the khalifas. At the same time, he also alludes obliquely to the seventh imam, Muhammad b. Isma‘il, having the rank of qiyamat, although the name of this imam is not explicitly mentioned.
The Lord of Sabath:
‘Lo! Your lord is God who created the heavens and the earth in six days; then he ascended the Throne…’(7:54)
The reference to the throne in this well-known Qur’anic verse, is interpreted by Nasir as symbolic of the Qa’im, who is God’s throne. God’s sitting upon the throne is the fulfillment of his command regarding the Qa’im-i qiyamat, who appears after the passing of the six days. It is in this context that God declares:
‘Whose is the kingdom today? God’s – the One, the Subduer!’ (40:16).49
According to Nasir Khusraw, the world was generated by the activity of the Universal Soul for the sole purpose of giving birth to a perfect child, the Qa’im. The Qur’an describes six stages in the birthing process of human beings:
We created man of an extraction of claythen we set him, a drop (of sperm), in a receptacle securethen we created of the drop a clotthen we created of the clot a tissuethen we created of the tissue bonesthen we clothed the bones in fleshThen, we produced him as a new creation — blessed by God, the best of creators! (23:12-14).
These six stages are seen as parallel to the six Natiqs preceding the arrival of the Qa’im, who is ‘a new creation’, a Natiq following upon his predecessors, but one who differs from them in his ushering in of the Great Resurrection.
Exegetic Approach of Nasir Khusrau:
When the muezzin faces the qibla to call the adhan, it is symbolic of the Natiqs summoning humankind to the Lord of the Resurrection, who is represented by the qibla. The afternoon prayer represents the Asas. It commences when the shadows of things equals their height, demonstrating the equality of the exoteric and esoteric (zahir and batin) in the time of the Asas. The waning of the sun at the end of this period represents the weakening of the zahir or the Natiq, the end of the cycle of the Asas, and the coming advent of the Qa’im. The Qa’im is represented by the witr prayer, which occurs in the middle of the night, after the completion of all the other prayers. This symbolises that on the Day of Resurrection, people will dispense with honouring all the physical hadds, except the Qa’im himself.
‘Goodness is knotted up in the forelocks of horses till the Day of Resurrection,’
Interpreting this well-known tradition of the Prophet, Nasir Khusraw explains that the ta’wil of this is that the da‘wat, the summoning of humankind, will not be severed from the hujjats, symbolised by the horses, and the da‘is, symbolised by their forelocks, till the time of the Qa’im’s manifestation.
The witr prayer consists of three units or rak‘ats, indicating that the Qa’im has three ranks, those of prophethood (nubuwwat), legateeship (wasayat) and resurrection (qiyamat). The fact that one of the rak‘ats is recited separately from the other two indicates that the Qa’im holds a rank that neither the Natiq nor the Asas held. Expounding on this difference in rank among the seven days, or lords of the cycles, Nasir Khusraw alludes to the Qur’anic notion of the seven heavens. He explains that the six planets that are visible to the naked eye – Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury and the Moon-are similar in that they have light. However, it is only the seventh, the sun itself, which has both light and heat. Moreover, in the presence of the sun, the other six disappear from view. Such is the place of the Qa’im among the Natiqs.
The Qa’im is represented by the ‘Id al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice as well as by the prayer recited on this occasion. He is the lord of the two worlds, as the inner meaning of the divine scripture is revealed through him and he delivers the believers from the torment of ignorance, extracting symbols from concealment and explaining them. The fact that the expression ‘God is Greater’ (Allahu akbar) is recited five times before the festival prayer indicates that during the cycle of the Qa’im, the believers receive benefit directly from the five spiritual hadds, the Universal Intellect, the Universal Soul, Jadd, Fath and Khayal. The ta’wil of reciting Allahu akbar before the festival prayer is that the divine unity and grandeur of God will be revealed to the people through the Qa’im.
The Qa’im is from among the descendants of the Asas and represents the pinnacle and purpose of creation. Because of him, the Universal Soul attains completion and reaches the rank of the Universal Intellect, leading to the annihilation of the physical world. This is why, in the sitting prayer after the witr, two rak‘ats, representing the two spiritual hadds, are recited as one. This indicates that the Qa’im has linked the two spiritual hadds such that there is no separation between them.
In Nasir Khusraw’s view, God accomplished the creation of the world of religion in six days, the cycles of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. However, the Sabbath, the seventh day, will be such that the wise will achieve felicity, truth will be eternally established, the darkness of ignorance shall be banished in the light of knowledge, ‘and the earth shall shimmer in the light of her Lord’ (39:69). However, he points out mindfully, this Qur’anic verse suggests that presently the earth is enveloped in darkness, or else what would be the point of illuminating it in the future? Surely, he declares, the Qur’an refers not to physical light, which is abundant, but to a spiritual light that will engulf the world of religion at the time of the Qa’im’s advent. But, as he concludes his discussion of this matter in his Jami‘ al-hikmatayn, ‘this is a subtle allusion only for the wise.’