Hülya Küçük and Stephen Hirtenstein

Reproduced from the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, Volume 49, 2011.

Sadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī's al-Nusūs

Considerations of al-Haqq and tahqīq

Hülya Küçük and Stephen Hirtenstein

Al-Nusūs,[1] variously known also as al-Nusūs miftāh al-Fusūs li Ibn ʿArabī,[2] al-Nusūs fī muqābalat al-Fusūs[3] or al-Nusūs fī tahqīq al-tawr al-makhsūs,[4] by Sadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī, is a condensed collection of metaphysical considerations, some of which are drawn from or repeated in his other works. The date of composition is not known, although phrases such as 'as I mentioned in Miftāh al-ghayb (or Tafsīr al-Fātiha)' would indicate that it was written later than Miftāh al-ghayb. In many ways it is a discourse on the Absoluteness of Truth (haqq), and Its ramifications from the point of view of knowledge and realization (tahqīq). Although at first sight it may seem quite philosophical and intellectual, al-Qūnawī constantly stresses the centrality of 'taste' or direct experience (dhawq) as the real touchstone of what he is examining. In a way the book can be described as a hymn to 'taste' and 'realization'.

The Nusūs consists of twenty sections entitled nass ('texts'), with two extra parts called fasl. The root of the word n-s-s means to 'specify', 'designate', 'raise', 'elevate something so that it is visible to all'. The term nass (plural nusūs) in terms of Quran and Hadith refers to a relatively small number of clear injunctions in the words of the Quran or Sunna, where there is no need to resort to any interpretation. It also particularly indicates a transmission in writing, and came to be applied to ascribing a tradition text (through a chain of transmitters) to its original author (usually the Prophet) and making a statement that is clear and unequivocal (as in the Quran).[5] Thus these 'texts' which al-Qūnawī presents in his Nusūs can be understood as statements of Reality, expressing particular meanings in an authoritative and explicit manner so that all can see what he is pointing to. They are concerned with the deepest meanings of 'Truth' or what is 'Real'.

There are well over forty extant manuscript copies of the work,[6] testimony to its influence: the earliest and best is probably Husein Celebi 477 (fols. 65a–89b) in the Inebey Elyazmalar Library in Bursa, which may be in the author's hand, where it appears between a copy (also original?) of his Fukūk and Ibn ʿArabī's Miftāh al-Fusūs. The earliest dated copy seems to be Shehit Ali Paşa 1351 (fols. 213b–229b, dated ah 690). Some copies have called the work Mafātih or Miftāh al-Fusūs ('The Keys' or 'Key to the Fusūs'), but this would appear to be a mistaken understanding of the wording on the Husein Celebi manuscript: the text clearly ends with 'Here ends the Nusūs' (tammat al-Nusūs) and is followed by the words Miftāh al-Fusūs li-musannif al-Fusūs ('The Key to the Fusūs' by the author of the Fusūs).[7]

The Nusūs was edited and published by Sayyid Jalāl al-Dīn Ashtiyānī on the margins of Kāshanī's Sharh Manāzil al-sāʾirīn (Tehran, 1362/1983), Ibn Turka's Tamhīd al-qawāʾid (Tehran, 1315/1897–98).[8]

There are several commentaries by later authors: for example, Asrār al-surūr bi al-wusūl ilā ʿayn al-nūr fī sharh al-Nusūs[9] by Ibrāhīm b. Ishāq b. Sulaymān al-Musannif al-Shīrāzī (or al-Tabrīzī) (d.800/1397); Mashraʿ al-khusūs ilā maʿānī al-Nusūs[10] by the Gujarati Sufi ʿAlī b. Ahmad Mahāʾimī (d.835/1432); Sharh al-Nusūs fī tahqīq al-tawr al-makhsūs, better known as Zubdat al-tahqīq wa nuzhat al-tawfīq,[11] by Qutb al-Dīn-zāda Muhyī al-Dīn Muhammad b. Qutb al-Dīn al-Izniqī (d.885/1480); Sharh al-Nusūs[12] by ʿAbd al-Rahmān al-Khalwatī Nūr al-Dīn b. Shams al-Dīn al-Mashriqī; and Sharh Kitāb al-Nusūs[13] by Nūr al-Dīn-zāda Muslih al-Dīn Mustafā b. Nūr al-Dīn Ahmad al-Filibe (d.981/1573).

However, the connection to Ibn ʿArabī's Fusūs al-hikam can be seen in the titles employed by later commentators. The title al-Nusūs, which is such an elegant rhyme for fusūs, clearly inspired Haydar Āmulī (d. post-787/1385) and Rukn al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī (d.769/1367) when they wrote their commentaries on the Fusūs, entitled Nass al-nusūs and Nusūs al-makhsūs fī tarjamat al-Fusūs, respectively. The word also appears in the rhyming subtitle of the great Ottoman Fusūs commentary by al-Būsnawī (d.1054/1644): Tajalliyāt ʿarāʾis al-nusūs fī manassat hikam al-Fusūs ('Lifting the Veils from the Brides of Divine Revelation on the Sublime Thrones of Wisdom'), where another form of the same root, manassa (or minassa, the bridal throne or raised dais, where the bride is displayed on her wedding day)[14] is also used, and in Jāmī's (d.898/1492) commentary Naqd al-nusūs fī sharh Naqsh al-Fusūs. Clearly these later authors appreciated the rhyming qualities of the word that al-Qūnawī had employed in relation to the Fusūs, and this may partly explain the idea that al-Qūnawī's work has some direct relation to Ibn ʿArabī's masterwork.

Al-Qūnawī begins his work by giving praise to God and blessing the Prophet in a highly condensed and allusive way, which can be considered a summary of the whole book. He says:

Praise be to God who by focusing the spiritual aspirations made clear the levels of certain knowledge (ʿilm al-yaqīn), its essence, reality and degrees; who by silencing the restlessness of those who seek to reach the end of the disfigurement of their souls, made plain their various degrees in the levels of knowing Him (maʿrifa) and of closeness to Him; who distinguished its/His special quality from all of creation by giving them no other aim than His Essence, from all His worlds and the presences of His Names and Qualities... until all that they desire and aim for is what He wishes for Himself in Himself... And may He bless the one who is realized in Him with the most perfect witnessing and the most complete, noble, all-inclusive knowledge, and who is always present with Him in every place, state, degree and emergence, our master Muhammad, his family, the elect of his community and his brothers, who have received a most complete inheritance from him, which includes his knowledge, states and stations...[15]

It is not difficult to guess that a book that begins with such lines will go on to state that gnosis of God (maʿrifat Allāh), which is the very kernel of the 'Unity of Being' (wahdat al-wujūd), is only possible by direct experience (dhawq). In the work al-Qūnawī bases his discussions upon the ultimate unknowability of God, mostly using the name al-Haqq (the Real, Truth). He refers several times to Quranic verses and hadīths to explain his Sufi perspective, showing how deeply and comprehensively he understands the sacred text. Almost every nass begins with the phrase 'nassun sharīfun' (a noble or eminent text), the first two of which are also numbered (the First, the Second), and then with the words 'Know that...' (Iʿlam anna...). The ending is generally 'So understand!' (fa-fham). At times al-Qūnawī mentions Ibn ʿArabī, referring to him as 'shaykhunā al-imām al-akmal' (our master, the most perfect leader) or simply as 'shaykhunā' (our master), or alluding to him as one of the muhaqqiqūn (verifiers). The following is a brief survey of some of the main themes of these nusūs, to give a flavour of the work.

In the First Nass, he says:

Know that in respect of the Real's absoluteness, it is not right to attribute to Him any kind of property or characterize Him by any quality or relation, such as oneness, necessary being, origination, bringing into being, emanation of an effect or any knowledge of such in Himself and so on, since all these things imply self-identification (or individuation, taʿayyun) and restriction (or relativity, taqyīd). There is no doubt that the idea of any self-identification implies that there was a previous non-individuation (lā taʿayyun). All that we have mentioned is contained within absoluteness. To conceive of the absoluteness of the Real one has to understand it as meaning negation, not an 'absoluteness' that is opposed to 'relativity'. It is a complete divorce from being known as One and Many, and also from being confined in absoluteness and relativity and in the synthesis of the two, or from being transcendent of it. All of that becomes true within His Truth as a state/condition of His being utterly transcendent from everything... Then it is clearly known that relating oneness, originating, effecting (taʾthīr), bringing into being and such like to the Real is only possible by virtue of self-identification. The very first identification that can be comprehended is the relation of Essential Self-knowledge, although separating His knowledge from the Essence is a relational distinction, not a real one. By virtue of the relation of Essential Self-knowledge, the oneness of the Real can be known, as well as the necessity of His Being and His being the ground and foundation [of all things]: it is all equally a matter of His knowledge of Himself through Himself in Himself, and the knowledge of Himself is the cause of His knowledge of all things. 'Things' means the mentational individuations of universals and particulars... What their realities require is according to two modes: the first way of understanding them is that their multiplicity is annihilated in the oneness of the Real, and means understanding what is detailed within the whole, like an expert scientist contemplating within a single acorn (seed) all the branches, leaves and fruit that lie in potential within it... The other way is understanding the properties of oneness, as a whole, one after another, so that one understands each whole in terms of the quiddities that it contains... This is the opposite of the first annihilation mentioned above, which is the annihilation of the multiplicity in the unity, and is the annihilation of the unity in the multiplicity. So know this! (fols. 65b–66b)

He adds in the Second Nass that the Real in His Absoluteness cannot be named by any name. There is no difference between 'necessity' and 'non-necessity' for Him. Here he implies that it is equally inappropriate to define Him by any kind of attribute or name as to not define Him by an attribute, since both mean limiting Absolute Being.

In the Third Nass he discusses how the singleness of Essential Self-knowledge becomes multiple by virtue of its connection to the things which are known (maʿlūmāt), and how they can only be perceived by means of manifestation and comprehensibility. Knowledge is subject to that which is known, in terms of being simple or composite, connected to time or not, attached to place or not.

In the Sixth Nass he reiterates that the Real cannot be known by any means of knowledge such as seeing, vision, sense and imagination, but 'only by direct experience and vision (dhawqan wa shuhūdan)... however, this is one of the things that it is not permissible to explain or write about' (fol. 68a). He also states that there is a relative distinction between the name and the named when it comes to the Real, and therefore Lordship is where all destinations end up. He points out that this can be seen in the meaning of the verse 'Indeed to your Lord is the ultimate' (Q. 53. 42) and the hadīth 'O my Lord, I take refuge from You in You'.[16] He adds that something is best known by itself, which is alluded in the verse 'They know them all from their faces' (Q. 2. 273).

In the Seventh Nass, he states that the Ipseity (huwiyya) of the Real points to His Absoluteness in the sense of His non-individuation (lā taʿayyun), and His real Oneness (wahda), which consists of His comprehension of Himself by Himself, 'obliterates all considerations of names, qualities and attributes' (fol. 69a).

In the Ninth Nass, he says that the difference between knowing the Real and His manifestations is much greater than that represented in the analogy of a thing and its image in the mirror, since both the thing and the mirror are part of His manifestations. The Self-revelations of the Essence (al-tajalliyāt al-dhātiyya), which are specially granted to gnostics,

do not take place in any locality of manifestation or mirror or at any kind of presence. The perception of the Real in these Self-disclosures takes place outside the mirror, without depending on any locality of manifestation or degree as we have said, or name or quality or individual state or entity. It is known [solely] by 'taste' (dhawq). (fol. 70a)

As he mentions, such Self-revelations were called 'lightning-flashes' (barqiyya) by Ibn ʿArabī, because of the speed of their arrival and the brevity of their appearance. They can only occur to one who is completely empty of all qualities, states and so on, in fact empty of all that is multiple, even interior or exterior. He says that he himself experienced this essential Self-revelation, and when he was writing about this inspiration, he came to understand that his interior could not comprehend the mystery of Muhammad's saying 'I have a time with God, in which none but my Lord suffices me',[17] and the hadīth 'God is and there is nothing with Him',[18] and the verse 'Our command is but a single word like the twinkling of an eye' (Q. 54. 50). He adds that to be truly able to comprehend these sayings one has to have such an immediate experience, and only then can one understand that the established entities (al-aʿyān al-thābita) are the realities of existent things.

In the Tenth Nass, he includes a Nass from his K. Miftāh ghayb al-jamʿ wa tafsīlihi (sic), as he wants to give all the Nusūs together: 'Nothing can originate from itself, and nothing can produce its own opposite' (fol. 71b). For instance, although they are very different in kind, all fruits are fruit. Likewise, the effusion (fayd) that emanates from the Real to the creatures is the same, but it differs according to their abilities and receptivities. This is clearly expressed in the verse 'Everyone acts according to their own manner' (Q. 17. 84). He ends this section by saying:

There is no repetition in creation, according to the one who knows what we have mentioned. So understand! This is why the verifiers say that the Real, glory to Him, never reveals Himself in the same form to a single person twice, nor to two people in the same form. There will inevitably be variation and difference in one respect or several respects. (fol. 72a)[19]

In the Eleventh Nass he states:

Since no quality or name can be attributed to the Real in respect of His Absoluteness nor can any kind of property, whether one that negates or one that affirms as necessary, determine over Him, then know that the names, qualities and determinations can only be applied and related to Him by virtue of the self-identifications (taʿayyunāt). Since it is clear that every existent plurality or what is understood as such is preceded by a unity or wholeness, then the individuations by virtue of which names, qualities and determinations are predicated of the Real must be preceded by a self-identification which is the source of all of them.

He ends this passage saying that he was given this gnosis by unveiling (kashfan) (fol. 72a).

In the Twelfth Nass, he addresses a practical question of concern to anyone with a religious or spiritual bent: given that God says 'Call on Me, I shall answer you' (Q. 40. 60), why is it that prayer is not always responded to? Al-Qūnawī's answer is admirably direct:

The state of the great ones among the people of God is such that their prayers are answered due to the perfection of their obedience to Him and the soundness of their knowledge of God... A lack of proper contemplative knowledge means that the person is not praying to the Real God who imposed on Himself the obligation to respond by saying 'Call upon Me, I shall answer you'. In his prayer he is facing towards the form [of God] that he has created in his mind, which results from his reason and imagination or someone else's imagination and reason. (fol. 73b)

He then goes on to describe the situation of the perfect and peerless ones (afrād),

whose turning towards the Real follows the essential revelation that comes to them and depends on their success in realizing the station of perfection. What results for them is a complete gnosis which includes the standpoints of all the names, qualities, degrees and considerations as well as a true imaging of the Real in respect of His essential Self-revelation, which happens for them through the most complete witnessing. This is why His answer is never retarded for them. (fol. 74a)

He then describes how he himself often saw this in Ibn ʿArabī, who reported that even the Prophet commented on how quickly God responded to him.[20] He calls this stage 'the perfect acceptance of prayer' (kamāl al-mutāwaʿa), which is higher than that of simple 'acceptance of prayer'.

These extracts give a clear sense of al-Qūnawī's teaching method and scholarship. There are hardly any 'easy' passages such as personal anecdotes or asides like those employed by Ibn ʿArabī. The only remark that directly concerns himself is the statement that such a knowledge had been given to him by unveiling, as is the case at the end of the Eleventh Nass. However, his comment that all his discussions could only be understood by 'taste' (dhawqan) can also be regarded as an expression of his own experience, and in that sense he was implicitly talking about himself in the process. On the other hand, unlike the amusing stories employed by his contemporary, Rūmī, which directly engage the imagination, Qūnawī adopts a highly conceptualized and rigorous approach, with an abundance of technical vocabulary, making spiritual realization a matter of metaphysical science. Founded on his reading of Ibn ʿArabī's work, his philosophical training and his own experience of the spiritual path, al-Qūnawī's Nusūs opened up a new form of systematic and scientific discussion of spiritual questions, which would prove highly influential in subsequent generations.


[1]. Byz. Devlet, Veliyüddin 1817, Millet, Ali Emiri Arabi 1397, and other copies at the Millet Library.

[2]. Süleymaniye, Ayasofya 2135.

[3]. Konya, Yusufağa 677/2.

[4]. Konya, Bölge 198; Byz. Devlet, Veliyüddin 1849, and other copies.

[5]. In Shiʿi Islam the word nass also has a specific meaning, referring to the statement of designation, oral or written, whereby one Imam formally appoints his successor. The Prophet is said to have nominated (nassa) ʿAli as his heir, and this was repeated by his successors, by virtue of which the Imam possessed light and knowledge and was protected from error or sin. There is no indication that al-Qūnawī was making any reference, implicit or explicit, to this doctrine in choosing such a title, although he was no doubt well aware of such a resonance.

[6]. The MIAS digital catalogue lists 42 copies, almost all of which are held in Turkey. See also Osman Ergin, ‘Ṣadraddin al-Qonawi ve Eserleri’, Şarkiyat Mecmuası II (1958), pp. 63–90 (which does not mention the copies at the Yusufağa Library).

[7]. The Miftāh al-Fusūs, known also by its variant title Naqsh al-Fusūs, is well known as the commentary on the Fusūs written by Ibn ʿArabī himself.

[8]. W.C. Chittick, ‘Sadr al-Dīn al-Qunawī’, EI2, c.VIII, 753–5:755. Other editions include al-Nusūs fī tahqīq al-tawr al-makhsūs, edited by I.I.M. Yasin (n.p., 2003).

[9]. See Süleymaniye, Carullah 1034, Hamidiye 761, Ragıp Paşa 1469; Byz. Devlet, Veliyüddin 1737.

[10]. Ed. S.J. Ashtiyānī (Qum, n.d.).

[11]. See, for example, Süleymaniye, Murad Buhari 182, Carullah 1015, Şehid Ali Paşa 1279, Ayasofya 4805, Fatih 2708; Yusufağa 8198; Topkapı Sarayı Ahmed III 1425, Emanet Hazinesi 1291; etc.

[12]. Süleymaniye, Ragıp Paşa, 699.

[13]. Hacı Selimağa, Hüdai Efendi 320. See also Süleymaniye, Ragıp Paşa 699 and Halet Efendi 762.

[14]. For a discussion of the word manassa, see Pablo Beneito, ‘The Servant of the Loving One: on the Adoption of the Character Traits of al-Wadūd’, JMIAS 32 (2002), pp. 1–24.

[15]. Husein Celebi 477, fols. 65a–65b. All subsequent references refer to this manuscript.

[16]. For the hadīth, see al-Tabarānī, Muʿjam al-awsat (Cairo, 1415), IV, 85.

[17]. For the hadīth, see Ismāʿīl b. Muhammad al-ʿAjlūnī, Kashf al-khafāʾ, 2 vols. (Beirut, 1351/1932), II, 174.

[18]. A hadīth narrated by Bukhārī, Tirmidhī and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. See also al-ʿAjlūnī, Kashf al-khafāʾ, II, 130.

[19]. Here he is referring to a well-known saying that Ibn ʿArabī attributes to Abū Tālib al-Makkī – see Futūhāt, III.384 (quoted in W. Chittick, Sufi Path of Knowledge (Albany, NY, 1989), p. 353).

[20]. See al-Tabarānī, Muʿjam al-awsat, IV, 200.