Islam Today: The Promised Messiah (as) as a Zilli and Buruzi Prophet

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Last Updated on 23rd March 2022

Can the idea of zilli or buruzi prophethood be traced back to Islamic tradition?

In the course of his divine mandate, the Promised Messiahas used various terms to describe the uniqueness of his divinely bestowed prophethood, just about all of which were known in the Islamic scholastic tradition. These terms include, for example, shadow (zilli), spiritually projected (buruzi), likeness (mathil), non-real (ghayr haqiqi), metaphorical (majazi), partial (juz’i), non-legislative (ghayr tashri‘i), non-independent (ghayr mustaqill), follower (ummati), etc.

What the Promised Messiahas had in mind when using these terms, i.e., what he himself understood by them, he explained in countless of his works. In doing so, he was more or less guided by the traditional terms but did not always adhere exactly to their purport.

In this regard, the hermeneutic maxim of the science of principles, “There is no dispute about technical terms,” (la mushahhata fi l-istilah) has to be kept in mind, since terminology is meaningless in itself and debate is only expedient when it comes to meaning, content and substance.

If one wants to understand how the Promised Messiahas filled terms he used with semantic content, one cannot avoid delving into his works and informing oneself. What can be said with certainty, however, is that the essence and the tenor and the core of the common denominator of all these terms can undoubtedly be found throughout the history of Islamic scholarship.

As early as the 4th H/10thCE century, the Muslim ummah was divided into at least three groups regarding the nature of the Second Coming of Jesusas.

Describing the doctrine of one of these three groups, the historian and philosopher Abu Nasr al-Mutahhar ibn Tahir al-Maqdisi (more commonly known for his works from around 966 CE) writes in his universal chronicle with a theological approach called Kitab al-Bad’ wa-t-ta’rikh (“The Book on Creation and History”):

وقالت فرقة نزول عيسى خروج رجل شبيه بعيسى في الفضل والشرف كما يقال للرجل الخير هو ملك وللشرير هو شيطان يراد به التشبيه لا الأعيان

“And one group says: The descent of Jesus is the emergence of a man who is a likeness of Jesus in excellence and nobility, just as it is said of the good man that he is an angel, and of the evil man that he is a devil, by which is meant the likeness, not the essence.” (Mutahhar ibn Tahir al-Maqdisi. Kitab al-Bad’ wa-t-ta’rikh, ed. Clement Huart, Paris, Ernest Leroux Vol. 2. p. 196)

In the same way, Muhyi d-Din ibn ‘Arabi (d. 1240 CE), one of the most influential Sufi mystics in the history of Islam, writes in his commentary (tafsir) on the Quran about the ascension and descent of Jesusas:

رفع عيسى عليه السلام اتصال روحه عند المفارقة عن العالم السفلي بالعالم العلوي. […] وجب نزوله في آخر الزمان، بتعلقه ببدن آخر

“The ascension of Jesusas is the establishment of his soul, at the separation from the lower realm, in the supernal realm. […] His descent at the end of time is inevitable, through his communion with another body.” (Muhyi d-Din ibn ‘Arabi. 1867, Tafsir Ibn ‘Arabi, Cairo, Matba‘t Bulaq Vol. 1. p. 165)

This is the very concept that is known among the honourable Muslim mystics as buruz i.e. spiritual projection.

Thus, the Crimean Tatar Hanafi encyclopaedist Abu l-Baqa’ Ayyub ibn Musa al-Kafawi (d. 1094/1683) writes in his lexical work on scientific terms Kulliyyat al-‘Ulum (“The Totalities of Sciences”):

والبروز: هو أن يفيض الروح من أرواح الكمل على كامل كما يفيض عليه التجليات وهو يصير مظهره ويقول أنا هو

“And projection (al-buruz): It occurs when a soul from the souls of the perfect men pours into a perfect being, in the same way as epiphanies pour into him and he becomes the locus of their manifestation and says, ‘I am him’.” (Ayyub ibn Musa al-Kafawi, 1998. al-Kulliyyat: Mu‘jam fi l-mustalahat wa-l-furuq al-lughawiyyah, eds. ‘Adnan Darwish; Muhammad al-Misri, Beirut, Mu’assasat al-Risalah. p. 305.)

This definition can be traced back to the founder of the Nurbakhshiyyah order, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah Nurbakhsh al-Khurasani (d. 1464 CE). He writes in his Risalat al-huda (“Treatise on Guidance”):

ومثل ذلك الظهور كان من برزات المكمل لا من التناسخ، والفرق بينهما أن التناسخ وصول روح إذا فارق من جسد إلى جنين قابل للروح، يعني في الشهر الرابع من وقت سقوط النطفة وقرارها في الرحم، وكان ذلك المفارقة من جسد والوصول إلى أخر معا من غير تراخ، والبروز أن يفيض روح من أرواح المكمل على كامل، كما يقبض عليه التجليات وهو يصير مظهره، ويقول أنا هو

“[The Muhammad-Reality appears in the human body through the process of] spiritual projection (barazat) of the perfecting saints, which is not transmigration (tanasukh). These differ in that transmigration occurs when a soul departs one body and enters an embryo ready for a soul – meaning in the fourth month after the sperm first settles in the womb – and this removal from one body and arrival at the other occurs instantaneously, without a time interval. However, projection (buruz) occurs when a soul from the perfecting souls pours into a perfect being, in the same way as epiphanies pour into him and he becomes their locus of manifestation and says, ‘I am him’.” (Shahzad Bashir, 2001, The Risalat al-huda of Muhammad Nurbakhsh (d. 1464 CE), Critical Edition with Introduction in Rivista Degli Studi Orientali, 75 (1-4): p. 107)

‘Abd al-Qadir ibn Muluk al-Badauni (d. 1004/1615), a historian and translator living in the Mughal Empire and the first Grand Mufti of India, writes in Najat ar-Rashid (“Salvation of the Rightly Guided”), a work on Sufi theology and ethics:

بزرگان اهل کشف و عيان بروز را قایل اند نه بتناسخ. و میان تناسخ و بروز فرقی است. بارزچه تناسخ آن است که روحی از بدن مرده جدا شود (و) بی فاصله در بدن که مستعد حيات شده باشد در آید، و قالب اول ضايع و يهمل ماند. و این معامله نزد تناسخيه بيک ساعت بقولی نی می کشد.

و بروز آن است که روح مکملی بروح کاملی تجلی کند، چنانچه مالک و متصرف و مدبر بر در شهر، آن کامل همين مكمل شود، بی آنکه روح آن کامل از بدن مفارقت نماید و اختلاف درین است که آیا در بروز این شرط است که آن مکمل درین عالم باشد یا نه. و ظاهر این است که عام تر باشد ، چه بسیاری از اولیای در زمان حیات خود نیز بر بعضي كاملان بروز کرده اند. و این بدان ماند که نور چراغ ضعیف در پرتو چراغ قوی مغلوب شود بي آنکه معدوم گردد. گاه تو این معنی را قبول کنی که جن را قدرت تصرف و تغلب بر بعضی از نفوس ناقصه انسانی هست . چنانچه بارها مشاهده شده . پندارم که در بروز نيز نه خواهی ایستاد ت، چه تصرف انبيا و اصفیا کمتر از تصرف جنیان نه خواهد بود.

و ازین جاست که بسیاری از اولیای الله این مقام رسیده بعضی دعوی عیسویت و بعضی دعواهای دیگر کرده اند

“The leaders of the community of mysticism and gnosis subscribe to the projection of the soul (buruz), not to transmigration (tanasukh). There is a difference between projection and transmigration. It is evident that transmigration is that in which a soul is separated from a dead body and immediately enters into the body of a species that has become capable of life, and the former body becomes wasted and worthless. This process takes no longer than an instant, according to the trans-migrationists.

“On the other hand, projection (buruz) is that in which the perfecting soul manifests itself in the accomplished soul, just as the owner, occupier, and governor at the gate of the city. The existence of the accomplished soul is thus brought to perfection, without requiring the soul of that accomplished one to leave the body.

“The unsettled question here is whether the perfecting one has to be in this world or not. Apparently, it is more common that it be so, for many among the saints have projected in their own lifetimes onto some accomplished ones. This is akin to how the light of a weak lamp is subdued by the rays of a strong lamp without, however, being extinguished. When you accept the notion that jinn have the ability to dominate and subdue some imperfect human souls, as it has been witnessed many times, I imagine that you will not oppose the notion of spiritual projection. For how could the ability of the prophets and the pure ones be less than that of jinn?

“For this reason, of many of the saints of God who reached this stage, some made the claim of being Jesus and some made other claims.” (‘Abd al-Qadir ibn Muluk Shah Bada’uni, Najat ar-rashid, ed. Sayyid Mu‘in al-Haqq, Lahore, Idarah-i Tahqiqat-i Pakistan, The University of the Punjab, 1972, pp. 72-73.)

Shams ad-Din Muhammad ibn Yahya al-Lahiji (d. 1506 CE), known as Shaykh Asiri Lahiji, an eminent Nurbakshi thinker, poet and mystic, in his Mafatih al-i‘jaz (“The Keys of Wonder”), a very widely read Persian Sufi work during the later medieval period and the most famous of commentaries of Gulshan-i raz (“The Mystic Rose Garden”), a well-regarded versified work on Sufism by the Sufi poet Mahmud Shabistari (d. 720/1340), describes in more than twenty pages that the Muhammadan Reality (haqiqah Muhammadiyyah) manifests itself in the bodies of living human beings through the process of projection (buruz). This occurs at varying levels, so that the perfect humans in a given historical period are receptacles of the projection of the Muhammadan Reality according to the level of spiritual perfection available in that age. (Muhammad ibn Yahya Lahiji, Mafatih al-i‘jaz fi sharh Gulshan-i raz, eds. Muhammad Riza Barzgar Khaliqi, ‘Iffat Karbasi, Tehran, Zavvar, 1992,  pp. 265-87.)

The Persian scholar and judge Qadi Kamal ad-Din Husayn ibn Mu‘in ad-Din ‘Ali al-Maybudi (d. 1504 CE) –  likely affiliated with the Nurbakhshi Sufi order –  corresponded with al-Lahiji in the chapter on prophethood and sainthood of his major opus, the Sharh-i Divan-i ‘Ali (Commentary on the Poetry of ‘Ali, and also known as al-Fawatih):

و بعضی برانند که روح عیسی در مهدی بروز کند و نزول عیسی عبارت از این بروز است و مطابق این است حدیث: لامهدي الاّ عيسي بن مريم.

“And some say that the spirit of Jesusas will be spiritually projected (buruz) into the Mahdi, and by the descent of Jesusas this spiritual projection is meant, and in agreement with that view is the hadith reads, ‘There is no Mahdi but Jesusas, Son of Mary.’” (Husayn ibn Mu‘in ad-Din al-Maybudi, Sharh-i Divan al-mansub ila l-Imam, Tehran, 1868, p. 89.)

This exact phrase has also been reproduced verbatim by the Hanafi Sufi scholar Shaykh Muhammad Akram ibn Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ali Sabiri Quddusi Barasawi (d. unknown) from Delhi in his Iqtibas al-anwar, also known as Sawati‘ al-anwar, a large work on the saints of the Chishti order in four chapters which he completed in 1729.

Moreover, the great Indian mystic and reformist thinker Imam Rabbani, Mujaddi Alf Thani, Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624 CE) explains in one of his letters, collected and published as Maktubat:

و بروز کہ بعضی از مشایخ گفته اند بتناسخ مساس ندارد زیرا که در تناسخ تعلق نفس ببدن ثانی از برایی ثبوت حیات است و برایی حصول حس و حرکت آن بدن است و در بروز تعلق نفس ببدن دیگر از برایی حصول این غرض نیست بلکه مقصود از این تعلق حصول کمالات است مر آن بدن را و وصول بدرجات است

“As for spiritual projection (buruz), which some shaykhs have spoken of, it has nothing to do with transmigration. In transmigration, a soul unites with another body to give it life, perception and movement. In spiritual projection, however, the union of a soul with another body does not have this purpose, but its aim is to receive the merits of the other person and elevate it by degrees.” (Maktubat Imam Rabbani, Vol. 2, Letter no. 58)

Coming now to more contemporary times, Sayyid Muhammad Dhawqi Shah (d. 1951), a scholar on Islamic mysticism, has a detailed entry on the concept of buruz in his reference work on Sufism, Sirr-i Dilbaran (“The Secrets of Beloveds”):

بروز: كسى عارفِ كامل ىا شیخِ مكمّل كا كسى شخصِ ناقص كى جانب متوجّہ ہونا۔ فیض پہنچانا اور اُسے اپنا سا بنا كر اپنا مظہر بنا لینا۔ اسى معنى میں كہا جاتا ہے كہ فلاں بزرگ فلاں بزرگ كى صُورت مىں نمودار ہوئے اور مراد اس سے یہ ہوتى ہے كہ اُن بزرگ مكمّل كا پرتو كامل طور پر دُوسرے بزرگ پر پڑا اور دونوں كى صورتِ معنوى یكساں ہوگئى۔ صورتِ ظاہرى كا ایك ہو جانا بھى كچھ بعید نہیں۔ یہ تناسخ نہیں ہے۔ تناسخ كے مدّعى تو اس كے قائل ہیں كہ ایك كى رُوح سے دُوسرے كى زندگى كا قیام ہوتا ہے لیكن بروز سے مقصد نہ تو دُوسرے كى زندگى كا قائم ركھنا ہے نہ اس میں حِس و حركت كا پیدا كرنا ہے بلكہ كمالاتِ باطنى اور كمالاتِ معنوى كا فیضان مقصود ہوتا ہے۔

Buruz: The attention of a perfect knower or accomplished spiritual guide to an imperfect person, bringing spiritual benefit to that person and making them his manifestation by making them like himself. In this sense it is said that such and such a saint has appeared in the image of such and such another saint. The meaning is that the image of the perfect saint was perfectly transferred to the second and the essential form of the two became the same. The outward image becoming the same is also not improbable. This is not transmigration of souls. The proponents of transmigration are convinced that one soul gives life to another person, but the purpose of spiritual projection (buruz) is neither to preserve the life of the other nor to cause perception and movement in them, but the aim is the grace of the secret perfections and spiritual perfections.” (Muhammad Dhawqi, Sirr-i dilbaran, Karachi, Mahfil-i Dhawqiyyah, 1980, p. 90.)

Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qadir Siddiqi (d. 1962 CE), a scholar on Sufism and translator, writes in the introduction of the second bezel of his Urdu translation of the renowned Sufi work Fusus al-Hikam (“The Bezels of Wisdom”) of ash-Shaykh al-Akbar, Muhiy-ud-Din Ibn Arabi:

بُروز كى تحقیق یہ ہے كہ اولیا میں سے بعض كى فطرت كسى خاص نبى كى فطرت سے مشابہ ہوتى ہے۔ ہر چند كہ اولیائے كرام كو انبیائے عظام كے كمالات كى سیر كرائى جاتى ہے اور اولیا انبیا كے رنگ میں رنگے جاتے ہىں۔ یا یوں كہو كہ انبیا كے كمالات كا پرتو ان پر پڑتا ہے۔ یا یوں كہو كہ انبیا كى صفات خاصّہ اُن میں سے ظہور و بروز كرتى ہىں۔ مگر تكمیل سیر كے بعد ہر ایك اپنى فطرى مناسبت كے اصلى مقام پر رہتا ہے مثلا حمیّت دین والا ولى نوحىؑ المشرب یا قدم نوحؑ ىا مظہر نوحؑ یا بروز نوحؑ كہلاتا ہے۔ اور رضا و تسلیم والا ابراہیمى المشرب۔ اور عشق و محبت والا موسوى المشرب اور صدق و فنائیت والا عیسوى المشرب اور عبدیت والا جو سب كو جامع ہے محمّدى المشرب كہلاتا ہے۔ بعض دفعہ كہہ دیتے ہیں كہ فلاں ولى میں فلاں نبى كا بروز ہوا ہے جیسے قمر میں شمس كا بروز ہوتا ہے۔ الغرض نبى اصل اور ولى اس كى نقل ہوتا ہے اور انبیا كى اصل محمّدؐ صلى اللہ علىہ وسلّم ہیں۔

Buruz means that the nature of some saints resembles the nature of a particular prophet. Many saints are made to travel through the achievements of the great prophets and the saints are coloured with the colour of the prophets. In other words, the image of the achievements of the prophets is transferred to them. One could also say that the special qualities of the prophets are manifested and projected (buruz) through them. But after the journey is completed, each of them remains in their original position of natural belonging. For example, the saint who supports the cause of faith is referred to as one who has the nature of Noahas or who stands in the footsteps of Noahas, or as one who manifests Noahas, or as the buruz of Noahas. The saint who accepts the will of God is called someone who has the nature of Mosesas, the one of sincerity and self-annihilation is called someone who has the nature of Jesusas, and the one who is a perfect servant who combines all these qualities is called someone who has the nature of Muhammadsa. Sometimes it is said that this or that saint is the buruz of this or that prophet, just as the moon is the buruz of the sun. In short, the Prophet is the original and the saint is his copy and the original of the Prophets is Muhammadsa.” (Muhyi d-Din ibn ‘Arabi, Urdu translation of Fusus al-Hikam , ed./trans. Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qadir Siddiqi, Hyderabad, Dar at-Tab‘-i Jami ‘ah-i ‘Uthmaniyyah, 1942, p. 24)

Although the concept of buruz may not appear in sources earlier than the ninth/fifteenth century, the gist of the idea, that saints are representations of the Muhammadan Reality and that an inheritor of this light is bound to be present in any era, is found in Sufi sources very early on. Accordingly, Ibn ‘Arabi conceives the fourfold division of sainthood (walayah), saint-prophethood (nubuwwat al-wilayah), legislative prophethood (nubuwwat at-tashri‘) and messengership (risalah), whereby, according to him, while risalah and nubuwwat at-tashri‘ have come to an end with the Holy Prophetsanubuwwat al-walayah and walayah remain in effect due to the continued bearing of the general Prophethood (nubuwwah ‘ammah) of the Prophet Muhammadsa and his overarching Muhammad-Reality.

A concept similar to buruz is subsumed by the Islamic saints under the term zill, i.e., shadow.

‘Ali ibn Yusuf al-Shattanawfi (d. 1314 CE), a Sufi mystic of the Qadiri order reports in Bahjat al-asrar (“Splendour of the Mysteries”), a very early biography of one of the most outstanding Islamic scholars and Sufi grandmasters, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (d. 1166 CE), that al-Jilani said:

الولاية‭ ‬ظل‭ ‬النبوة‭ ‬والنبوة‭ ‬ظل‭ ‬الإلهية

“Sainthood is the shadow (zill) of Prophethood and Prophethood is the shadow of Godhood.” (‘Ali ibn Yusuf al-Shattanawfi, Bahjat al-asrar wa-ma‘din al-anwar, Cairo, Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, 1912, p. 39.)

The South Asian Islamic scholar and Sufi reformer Shah Isma‘il Shahid (d. 1831 CE) writes in his important but lesser-known Persian work Mansab-i Imamat (Station of Imamate):

امام نائب رسول ست و امامت ظل رسالت. احکام نائب از احکام منیب توان شناخت، و حقیقت ظل را از حقیقت اصل توان دریافت.

“The Imam is the deputy of the Messenger and Imamate is the shadow (zill) of Messengership. The rulings of the deputy are identified through the rulings of the chief and the truth of the shadow is known through the truth of the original.” (Shah Muhammad Isma‘il Shahid, Darajat-i Imamat, Delhi, Faruqi Press, 1899, p. 3.)

Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindirh writes in another of his letters:

مقام‭ ‬ولایت‭ ‬ظل‭ ‬مقام‭ ‬نبوت‭ ‬ست‭ ‬و‭ ‬کمالات‭ ‬ولایت‭ ‬ظلال‭ ‬اند‭ ‬مر‭ ‬کمالات‭ ‬نبوت‭ ‬را

“The state of sainthood is the shadow (zill) of the state of Prophethood, and the perfections of sainthood are the shadows (zilal) of the perfections of Prophethood.” (Maktubat Imam Rabbani, Vol. 2. Letter no. 71)

And in another letter, Shaykh Sirhindirh writes:

کمل تابعان انبیاء علیهم الصلوۃ و التسلیمات بحجت کمال متابعت و فرط محبت بلکه بمحض عنایت وموهبت جمیع کمالات انبیاء متبوعه خود را جذب می نمایند و بکلیت برنگ ایشاة منصبغ می گردند حتی که فرق نمی ماند درمیان متبوعان و تابعان الا بالاصالة والتبعیة و الاولیة والاخریة

“The perfect followers of the prophets, by virtue of their perfect discipleship and their great love, nay, by virtue of their bestowal and endowment alone, assimilate all the perfections of the prophets whom they follow into themselves, and are imbued with their very colour, to such an extent that there no longer exists any distinction between the followers and the followed other than that of superiority and subordination, priority and posteriority.” (Ibid, Vol. 1. Letter no. 248) 

In conclusion, what the Promised Messiahas wanted to express with these two words was that although he was a Prophet because Allah and his Messengersa called him a Prophet, he and his Prophethood were merely a shadow (zill) and a spiritual projection (buruz) of the Messengersa of Allah and his infinite Prophethood, since prophets as before, i.e., legislative (tashri‘i) or independent (mustaqill), can no longer appear after the appearance of the Messengersa of Allah.

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