The Emerald Hills of the Heart or Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism

The aspect of Fethullah Gülen's "mission" or personality as a trainer of the human carnal soul may be seen most profoundly and comprehensively in The Emerald Hills of the Heart, a four-volume compilation of his writings that had been published over the years in the monthly periodical, Sizinti. In this series, Gülen elucidates the principles of Sufism, or to be more exact, the spiritual and moral facets of Islam—in a sense, those facets which are essential. This is done via a conceptual framework. Those who follow the articles can immediately see that this enunciation or style of analysis of the subject is fundamentally different from the methods followed by others who have laid emphasis on Sufi concepts, such as Abu'l-Qasim Abdulkarim al-Kushayri[1] in ar-Risala, 'Ali ibn 'Uthman al-Hujwiri[2] in Kashf al-Mahjub, or Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya[3] in Madarij as-Salikin.

Fethullah Gülen evaluates the heart, which in Sufi terminology signifies the biological heart's spiritual aspect, and which the Qur'an refers to as a spiritual intellect and mind, as the center of all emotions and (intellectual and spiritual) faculties such as perception, consciousness, sensation, reasoning, and willpower. A person's real nature lies in the heart. It is through this intellectual and spiritual faculty that one is able to know, perceive, and understand. Spirit is the essence and inner dimension of this faculty; the biological spirit or the soul is its mount. It is one's heart that God addresses and that undertakes responsibilities, suffers punishment or is rewarded, is elevated through true guidance or debased through deviation, and is honored or humiliated. The heart is also the "polished mirror" in which Divine knowledge is reflected.

The heart both perceives and is perceived. The believer uses it to penetrate his or her soul, corporeal existence and mind, for it is like the eye of the spirit. Insight may be regarded as its faculty of sight, reason as its spirit, and will as its inner dynamics. Faith, knowledge, and love of God and the spiritual pleasure attained through Divine love are the cause of creation and the ultimate aim of the heart.

The heart is the center of the human existence which is considered by God in evaluating humans. God treats people according to the quality of their hearts, as the heart is the stronghold of many elements vital to the believer's spiritual life and humanity: reason, knowledge, knowledge of God, intention, belief, wisdom, and nearness to God Almighty. If the heart is alive, all of these elements and faculties are alive; if the heart is diseased, it is difficult for the elements and faculties mentioned to remain sound. To the same degree that the physical livelihood and existence of the body is dependent on the heart, the organ that is located on the left side of the chest, so too is the spiritual life or the actual existence of humans reliant on the celestial counterpart of that biological heart, and the two hearts represent two facets of the same reality, insofar as their mutual relationships are concerned.

The heart has another vital aspect or function. It has the points or faculties of "reliance" and "seeking help" ingrained in it and in human nature, by which it enables the individual to perceive God as the All-Helping and the All-Maintaining. That is, it always reminds one of God in the tongues of neediness and seeking help and protection. This is vividly expressed in a narrated Prophetic Tradition, which Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum[4] relates as follows:

"I can be contained by neither the heavens nor the earth," God said.
He is known by the heart as a Hidden Treasure in the heart.

Belief is the life of the heart; worship is the blood flowing in its veins; and reflection, self-supervision, and self-criticism are the foundations of its permanence. The heart of an unbeliever is dead; the heart of a believer who does not worship is dying; and the heart of a believer who worships but does not engage in reflection, self-supervision, and self-criticism is exposed to many spiritual dangers and diseases.[5] Thus, The Emerald Hills of the Heart expounds all the requirements for the existence and sustenance of the heart, its indicators of health, along with the states, degrees and virtues acquired through such vivacity. To be more explicit, this is an effort to articulate the spiritual life of Islam from within a conceptual framework which, rather than perceiving Sufism as an intangible science with peculiar concepts, envisages Sufism as the spiritual facet of Islam, or simply a spiritual life per se.

The Emerald Hills of the Heart, from one vantage point, erects a framework, while from another vantage point it abolishes all limits and frames. As the spiritual life has more of an "esoteric" nature and as proceeding on the "esoteric" track is both difficult and extremely strenuous, such a journey must be undertaken within a specific framework. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi warns that all the factions that have digressed (on the Sufi path) have been led astray by leaders who have set out into the inner dimension of existence, who for a moment made progress, but because they did not comply with the Sunna, presumed that what they had received meant that they had reached the apex, and thus regressed, misleading both themselves and others.[6] Since journeying on the spiritual path is highly risky and this path contains many special characteristics, those who enter it must observe the principles of Islamic jurisprudence strictly and try to advance in the lights it provides in order to be able to avoid possible deviances. Throughout history, stemming from partial ignorance or neglect of these principles, or simply from dissociation with them due to some theoretical considerations, many Sufi sects, deceptive in their esoteric inclinations, have emerged, while many other deviant sects or factions have sought a safe haven under the protection of Sufism. Hence, for spiritual or Sufi life to advance on the basis of Islamic principles or along the guidelines of Islamic jurisprudence without causing or suffering any digressions, The Emerald Hills of the Heart delineates the limits of the spiritual path, illuminating it at the same time with floodlit projectors that it has placed at every stage and station.

While sketching such limits, The Emerald Hills of the Heart, as we have indicated, destroys all limits and borders imposed before the spiritual journeying. Such a spiritual progression is virtually infinite, and is comprised of as many stages and ranks as there are believers, from the most honorable of all creation, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, to the most ordinary Muslim. Furthermore, although on the one hand this path is accessible to all, from another perspective it has particular lanes, along which only very few humans are able to walk. The school of Muhyi'd-Din ibn al-'Arabi,[7] or the doctrine of Wahdat al-Wujud, which literally means "the Transcendent Unity of Being," for instance, may be considered to be among the most particular of these lanes. The spiritual path also contains various distinguishing subtle characteristics or particularities that can only be comprehended by those with the ability to brave these rough terrains. Those characteristics or particularities are of such nature that since those that were found in Mansur al-Hallaj[8] (858–922) and Suhrawardi the Slain[9] (1155–1191) apparently opposed the jurisprudential limits of the path, they cost them their lives. The Emerald Hills of the Heart, however, is able to evaluate these characteristics both within the boundaries and limits of the Islamic measures and the enormous profundity and infinity of spiritual life.

The Emerald Hills of the Heart presents God through His Attributes and Names such as Uniqueness, Oneness, the First, the Last, the Outward and the Inward, thus profusely illuminating the way. This feature allows for the sciences of theology, Sufism and wisdom, or Hikmah, as it is termed in Islam, which is different from philosophy, to emerge from within The Emerald Hills of the Heart as a science of Ma'rifah, or knowledge of God. These sciences in unison expound a detailed synoptic map of the Divine manifestation and the relationship between the Creator and the created, which are often alluded to in Islamic Sufism represented by certain particular persons such as Muhyi'd-Din ibn al-'Arabi in the shade of certain mysterious symbols and expressions that are incredibly difficult to comprehend. In addition, both through the concepts and subjects mentioned and certain other concepts and subjects it discusses such as "Heavenly Realms," "Archetypes and the World of Representations or Ideal Forms," The Emerald Hills of the Heart presents ontology and draws a metaphysical road map that can shed a light on physics and astrophysics. In addition to these, by way of utilizing such spiritual ranks as Nujaba (the Nobles), Nukaba (the Custodians), Awtad (the Pillars), Qutb (the Pole), Qutb al-Aktab (the Pole of Poles) and Ghawth (the Helper), The Emerald Hills of the Heart discusses the relationship between God and His human creation in the most unique and sensitive aspects of this relationship, while at the same time it focuses on the identity of humans as of the best stature and the perfect pattern of creation, and the vicegerent of God on earth by making use of the concept of the Perfect, Universal Human.

Another important attribute of The Emerald Hills of the Heart, at least as important as the other attributes mentioned above, if not more so, is that it presents the Islamic spiritual life that constitutes the core of Islam not as a theoretical subject but as lived by the Companions of the Prophet. It presents this life as a profound experience of the heart, mind, and body described and appointed by Islam. It also investigates how it has taken shape throughout history. The Emerald Hills of the Heart bequeaths to future ages—a time in which perhaps apparently different realms of religion and reason, science, technology, rhetoric and welfare will, in cooperation, make unprecedented and inconceivable progress—the legacy of Sufism, with all its dimensions, or the spiritual life of Islam in its immense entirety as a safe and sound road that has been protected against all manner of deviations.

A note to the reader: Throughout this book, the masculine pronoun may be used in reference to both guides and initiates. However, this should never be understood to be exclusive; it is simply the case that the repetitive use of "he or she" and "him or her" is cumbersome and adds unnecessary complexity to a text which is intended to be, first and foremost, a broad invitation to the understanding of the discipline of Sufism which is inclusive and embracing of all humankind.

[1] Abu'l-Qasim Abdulkarim al-Kushayri (d. 1077): A muhaddith (scholar of Hadith) and mufassir (interpreter of the Qur'an). He mostly lived in Naysabur, in eastern Iran. He was the student of the great Sufi shaykh Abu 'Ali ad-Daqqaq. Although he is the author of several important books, he is mostly famous for his ar-Risala ila as-Sufiyya ("An Epistle to the Sufis"), which is one of the early books on Sufism. (Tr.)

[2] 'Ali ibn 'Uthman al-Hujwiri (d. 1073): He was one of the great saints and early writers who wrote about Sufism and Sufi masters. He lived in Ghazni and Lahore in Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively.Kashf al-Mahjub ("Revelation of the Veiled") has received great respect from students of Sufism for nine centuries. It contains biographies of certain saints and advice on many subjects such as reflection, generosity, spiritual courtesy, prayer, and love. (Tr.)

[3] Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr (d. 1350): A famous, all-round scholar, a disciple of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), and considered among the best representatives of his school of thought. Madarij as-Salikin is a three-volume commentary on Abdullah al-Ansari's Manazil as-Sairin, a guide to the maqamat or spiritual stations of the Sufi path. (Tr.)

[4] Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum (1703–1780) was one of the most outstanding figures in the Ottoman Turkey of the eighteenth century. He lived in Erzurum and Siirt in eastern Turkey. He was a Sufi guide and a prolific writer, who wrote on many subjects such as theology, morality, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. His Ma'rifatname ("The Book of Knowledge and Skills") is very famous and still being widely read. (Tr.)

[5] M. Fethullah Gülen, Emerald Hills of the Heart – Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism, (Trans.), The Light, NJ, 2004, Vol.I, p. 26.

[6] Said Nursi, al- Mathnawi al-Nuri ("Seedbed of the Light"), The Light, NJ, 2007, p. 190.

[7] Muhyi'd-Din ibn al-'Arabi (1165–1240): One of the greatest and most famous Sufi masters. His doctrine of the Transcendental Unity of Being, which most have mistaken for monism and pantheism, made him the target of unending polemics. He wrote many books, the most famous of which are Fusus al-Hikam and al-Futuhat al-Makkiyyah.

[8] Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (857–922) was one of the most famous of Muslim Sufis. He was born in Shushtar in western Iran and lived in Baghdad. He is famous for his utterance "I am the Truth." He is also famous for his austerities.

[9] Shihabu'd-Din Yahya as-Suhrawardi (1155–1191) was a Muslim philosopher Sufi, and the founder of the School of Illumination. He was born in Suhraward in presentday northwest Iran. He mostly lived in Syria.Kitab al-Maqamat ("The Book of Stations"), Kitab Hikmat al-Ishraq ("The Book on the Wisdom of Illumination"), and Hayakil an-Nur ("Temples of Light") are among his most well-known books.

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