Prayer

~Henry Corbin

Looking more deeply into this creative meaning of Prayer, we see how in every instance it accomplishes its share of the Divine Being's desire, of H is aspiration to create the universe of beings, to reveal Himself in them in order to be known to Himself in short, the desire of the Deus absconditus or Theos agnostos, aspiring to Theophany . Each prayer, each instant in each prayer, then becomes a recurrence of Creation (tajdid al-khalq), a new Creation (khalif jadid) in the sense noted above. The creativity of Prayer is connected with the cosmic meaning of Prayer so clearly perceived by Proclus in the prayer of the heliotrope.

This cosmic meaning is apparent in two kinds of homologation suggested by Ibn 'Arabi and his commentators, which possess the extreme interest of showing us how in Islam Sufism reproduced the operations and configurations of mystic consciousness known to us elsewhere, especially in India. In one of these homologations, the man in prayer represents himself as the lmam of his own microcosm. In another the ritual gestures of Prayer ( accomplished in private ) are likened to the acts of the Creation of the universe or macrocosm. These homologations presuppose the meaning of Prayer as creative ; they prepare, ground, and justify its visionary denouement, since precisely as new creation it signifies new epiphany (tajalli). Thus we move toward our conclusion: Creative Imagination in the service of Creative Prayer, through himma, the concentration of all the powers of the heart.

The first of these homologations introduces the idea of the Imam, "he who guides" ; in current usage, he "who stands before" the faithful, and after whom they regulate their movements for the celebration of Prayer. In Sunnism, he is simply the officiant in a mosque, a function quite unrelated to the individual's moral and spiritual qualities. In Shi'ism, he is something very different. The word Imam designates those persons who in their earthly appearance and apparition were epiphanies of the Godhead, spiritual guides of mankind toward the esoteric and saving meaning of Revelations, while in their transcendent existence they assume the role of cosmogonic entities. So all important are the ideology and devotion concentrated in the persons of the Holy Imans that Shi'ism is properly designated as Imamism (Imamiya ) . For the Duodeciman Shi'ites, the Imam of our period, the twelfth Imam is in occultation (ghayba ) , having been ravished from this world as Enoch and Elijah were ravished . He alone would have the right to guide Prayer. In his absence, no simple officiants assume this role, but persons who have been put to the test and are known for their high spiritual quality ; they are not appointed like functionaries, but are gradually recognized and promoted by the community . But, since such qualified persons are extremely rare, and since after all they are only substitutes for the hidden real Imam, a pious Shi'te likes just as well to practice his cult in private. Hence the extraordinary development, in Imamism, of the literature of the Adiya, or private liturgies.

This form of devotion is certainly, and for profound reasons, in sympathy with the private ritual we have just heard Ibn' Arabi describe as a Munajat, an intimate dialogue. In it, the mystic himself is invested in the dignity of the Imam in relation to his own universe, his microcosm. He is the Imam for "the angels who pray behind him," in ranks like the faithful in a mosque, but invisible. But the condition of this personal divine service is precisely solitude. "Every orant (musalli) is an Imam for the Angels pray behind the worshiper when he prays alone. Then his person is elevated during Prayer to the rank of the Divine Envoys, that is, to the rank (of the Imamate) which is divine vicarate (niyabat 'an Al-Lah)." As lmam of his microcosm, the orant is thus the Creator's vicar. This homologation helps us to understand the meaning of creative Prayer.

From: 'Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi'