The Metaphysical, Epistemological, and Mystical Aspects of Happiness in the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness Attributed to Moses Maimonides

In: The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy
Author: Avi Elqayam1
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  • 1 Bar Ilan University
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This article explores the metaphysical, epistemological, and mystical aspects of happiness in the Judeo-Arabic Treatise on Ultimate Happiness (Kitāb as-Saʿāda al-Ākhira), of which only two chapters have survived from what is thought to have been a more comprehensive text. Although the treatise is attributed to Moses Maimonides, the conception of happiness (saʿāda) it presents is clearly that of the Pietists (Ḥasīdīm), the Jewish-Sufi circle of thirteenth-century Egypt. The discussion of happiness in this short treatise constitutes an important chapter in the philosophical and mystical discourse about happiness in medieval Jewish-Islamic thought, especially within the Jewish-Sufi mystical stream led by Maimonides’s descendants.


This article explores the metaphysical, epistemological, and mystical aspects of happiness in the Judeo-Arabic Treatise on Ultimate Happiness (Kitāb as-Saʿāda al-Ākhira), of which only two chapters have survived from what is thought to have been a more comprehensive text. Although the treatise is attributed to Moses Maimonides, the conception of happiness (saʿāda) it presents is clearly that of the Pietists (Ḥasīdīm), the Jewish-Sufi circle of thirteenth-century Egypt. The discussion of happiness in this short treatise constitutes an important chapter in the philosophical and mystical discourse about happiness in medieval Jewish-Islamic thought, especially within the Jewish-Sufi mystical stream led by Maimonides’s descendants.

1 Introduction

In this article, my aim is to explore the metaphysical, epistemological, and mystical aspects of happiness in the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness (Kitāb as-Saʿāda al-Ākhira),1 of which only two chapters have survived from what is thought to have been a more comprehensive text. The Treatise, written in Judeo-Arabic, is attributed to Moses Maimonides (1138–1204); however, this compact exposition was more likely penned by a descendant of Maimonides of the Jewish Sufi school, either Abraham ben Moses Maimonides2 (1186–1234) or ‛Obadyah ben Abraham ben Moses Maimonides (1265–1228).3 Regardless, the conception of happiness (saʿāda) it presents is clearly that of the Pietists (Ḥasīdīm), the Jewish-Sufi circle of thirteenth-century Egypt.4

The Treatise was translated into Hebrew in the late fourteenth century by Zeraḥya Halevi Saladin of Saragossa (late 14th–early 15th c.), a philosopher and translator, author of philosophical essays, and a disciple of Ḥasdai Crescas (1340–1410).5 He took part in the Disputation of Tortosa (1413–1414). He gave the eulogy at Crescas’s funeral and succeeded him as rabbi of Saragossa.

Saragossa was home to an active circle of philosophers and translators who rendered works of philosophy from Arabic and Latin into Hebrew, an initiative led by translator Benvenist Caballeria, a.k.a. Ibn Lavi.6 Zeraḥya Halevi is known for his translation from Arabic into Hebrew of Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī’s (1058–1111) seminal work The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahāfut al-Falāsifah).7 His translating the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness suggests that the work held great interest for Crescas’s circle.8

The Treatise on Ultimate Happiness deals with the nature of ultimate happiness (as-saʿāda al-ākhira) and the means for attaining it. The anonymous author explores prophetic, rabbinic, and philosophical theses about ultimate happiness, with the aim of reconciling the apparent contradictions between them. As we shall see, the author draws upon the technical vocabulary of multiple disciplines in this attempt, especially the terms taṣawwuf and falsafa.

The author’s synthesizing vision argues that the attainment of ultimate happiness depends on perfecting the human intellect through philosophy, as detailed by Aristotle and Maimonides,9 on reaching the contemplative ideal of human perfection, and, above all, on attaining the Neoplatonic goal of the soul’s renascence in the spiritual world, achieved by following the esoteric doctrines of Ibn Sīnā (980–1037), the “Chief Master” (al-Shaykh al-Raʾīs), and al-Ghazālī, the “Proof of Islam” (Ḥujjat al-Islam). Practically, the treatise proposes that ultimate happiness is a function of one’s perceptions and preparations:

I have already informed you, in what I elucidated for you previously of the philosophers’ theses about ultimate happiness, that happiness is achieved according to one’s perceptions and preparations.10

And so I have collected for you prophetic and rabbinic sayings and philosophical theses, showing how they concur, with respect to the attainment of ultimate happiness, about the part that one can achieve through one’s own abilities.11

The research literature on this short essay focuses primarily on the identity of its author: Was it indeed Moses Maimonides, or is the attribution to Maimonides false? Is the author Abraham ben Maimonides, ʿObadyah ben Abraham ben Maimonides,12 or perhaps some unknown member of the Kabbalistic-Sufi circle of the late thirteenth century in the land of Israel, a group that created a synthesis between the Prophetic Kabbalah founded by Abraham Abulʿafia and Jewish-Sufi traditions?13 Researchers have also studied particular subjects discussed in the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, such as mystical ecstasy in prayer14 and a practical guide to prophecy.15 However, we still lack a systematic critical analysis of the essay’s conception of ultimate happiness itself, nor do we have a review of the history of its ideas in the context of Jewish and Islamic thought in the Middle Ages. This is what the current paper proposes to do.

The key terms used in the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness are saʿāda and as-saʿāda al-ākhira, with saʿāda being variously translated in the literature as “prosperity,” “wealth,” “good fortune,” “happiness,” “beatitude,” or “felicity,” and sometimes even as “well-being” or “eternal bliss.”16 Closely related to the Greek term eudaimonia (εὐδαιµονία)17 —signifying prosperity, good fortune, and opulence—saʿāda means the ultimate goal of one’s life, to be pursued, striven for, and attained through a life of values, morality, self-actualization, and virtue.18

Lane’s dictionary identifies two main subcategories of this term: saʿāda ukhrāwiyya, which refers to the world to come, and saʿāda dunyāwiyya, referring to this world.19 The latter is further split into three kinds: saʿāda nafsiyya, relating to the soul; saʿādah badaniyya, relating to the body; and saʿādah khārijiyya, relating to external matters.

As-saʿāda al-ākhira literally translates as “ultimate happiness,” which considers all of these categories, both in this world and the next. But while the author implies that happiness comes in degrees, he concludes that the ultimate happiness is that achieved in the world to come, also known as ad-Dar al-Ākhira—the Ultimate Dwelling. The Treatise then focuses on saʿāda ukhrāwiyya, happiness in the world to come, as the ultimate, eternal happiness for humans to attain.

My aim in this article is to explore the metaphysical, epistemological, and mystical aspects of happiness in the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness. My thesis is that the discussion of happiness in this short treatise constitutes an important chapter in the philosophical and mystical discourse about happiness in medieval Jewish-Islamic thought,20 especially within the Jewish-Sufi mystical stream21 led by Maimonides’s descendants.

2 Metaphysical Aspects of Happiness

In the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, the author joins the philosophical discussion of saʿāda, a topic of interest among medieval Arabic philosophers and mystics,22 that dates back to the time of classic Greek philosophy. Plato (427–347 BCE) perceived happiness as “assimilation” to God (οµοίωσις θεῷ),23 in the sense of nearness to God, and as knowledge of God through moral and virtuous living.

Aristotle (384–322 BCE), in contrast, saw happiness as “an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, or if there are more kinds of virtue than one, in accordance with the best and most perfect kind.”24 In Aristotelian terms, this makes happiness the sum total of a rational and moral life. Significantly, Aristotle’s definition of happiness is firmly situated in the human world, rather than being, as for Plato, related to God:

So, if the intellect is divine compared with man, the life of the intellect must be divine compared with the life of a human being. […] [W]hat is best and most pleasant for any given creature is that which is proper to it. Therefore, for man, too, the best and most pleasant life is the life of the intellect, since the intellect is in the fullest sense the man. So, this life will also be the happiest.25

It should be noted that, unlike his predecessors Plato,26 Aristotle,27 al-Fārābī (872–950),28 and Maimonides,29 the author of the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness does not discuss the political antecedents of happiness in any form. The philosophy of “political happiness” investigates the benefits to society from actualizing the lessons of ethics. It contemplates both the happiness arising from virtuous governance under a qualified leader or “philosopher-king,” as well as the misery under different non-virtuous types of government.30 However, neither of the two surviving chapters of the Treatise offers any discussion of “political happiness,” neither as a primary factor in the attainment of happiness, nor as a political factor adjunct to theoretical and practical ones.

Rather, in the essay’s conception, happiness is linked directly to the soul, understood as the entity that remains after death, and as one that strives for eternal pleasure. This places the metaphysics of the Treatise squarely in the camp of psychophysical dualism. Whereas ultimate happiness according to Aristotle—and, some authors argue, Maimonides as well31 —is founded on psychophysical monism, the Treatise’s author supports Neoplatonic psychophysical dualism, influenced primarily by Ibn Sīnā32 and al-Ghazālī.33

Psychophysical dualism has profound implications for understanding ultimate happiness. The most central principle of the Treatise is that happiness is a function only of the soul and not of the body. This principle, the author argues, is shared by prophetic, rabbinic, and philosophical conceptions of ultimate happiness. Happiness is thus removed from any dependence on satisfying one’s appetites; to the contrary, happiness becomes a function of liberating oneself from them.34

The author eschews the idea of corporeal happiness as vulgar, and sharply criticizes it on philosophical grounds. He argues that mind-body dualism is essentially spirit-matter dualism, with the body, of course, being matter. And as matter is the veil separating a person from God, identifying the body with happiness is tantamount to separating happiness from God and attaching it to matter. Moreover, body/matter-derived happiness is a function of this-worldly sensory pleasures, which are soon annulled in death, and such transient, short-lived happiness cannot be equated with ultimate, eternal happiness.35

Tangentially, this position leads the author to object to the ancient tenet that Enoch, Moses, and Elijah did not die, but rather remained eternally in their corporeal bodies. Such concepts were prevalent in the ancient world; for example, in his Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus (37 BCE–100 CE) attributes such corporeal survival to Moses, while various midrashim attribute it to Enoch and Elijah. The author of the Treatise, in contrast, firmly rejects any such possibility. The very idea of corporeal survival, given the limits dictated by matter, would preclude the individual from ever cleaving to the World of Intellects; in the cruel prison of the body, humans can never realize their spiritual potential. Therefore, he argues, these three biblical personages would not, and did not, survive eternally within their worldly bodies; their bodies perforce decayed, freeing their souls for eternity.

The author interprets the biblical verse “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (Gen 5:24) as a reference to God killing Enoch.36 According to the author, God took Enoch away from this turbid world of sorrow into the world of spirits as a reward for his righteousness. As the author writes:

And He said: And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him (Gen 5:24). Onqelos the Proselyte, may he rest in peace, interpreted this as: For the Lord smote him. This can only mean either of two things: If the Lord smote him, He might have been protecting and sparing him, to repay his righteous acts; or it might have been the opposite. But the opposite is patently false, for the Lord does not harm one who worships Him. By elimination then, He must have been benefiting him and sparing him from this Turbid World of Sorrow by taking him to the World of Spirits.37

The same holds true of Moses and Elijah: they did not survive in body; rather, they died and their souls were thereby freed to cleave entirely to the World of Intellects. In the author’s words:

It is a foundational belief to us that Moses our Teacher, the teacher of all the Prophets, may he rest in peace, died, although he was the lord of prophets. How, then, can one say about Elijah that he survived in body? In fact, were it so it would be a loss for him, as he would be held back by earthly matter from cleaving to the World of Intellects, and held prisoner by desert or mountain. Thinking this is an unworthy sort of faith.38

Of note is the author’s ontological dualism, with a World of Matter and a World of Spirits. And most germane is the description of the World of Matter as al-ʿĀlam al-Kadr ash-Shaqī—the Turbid World of Sorrow. As the term shaqāwa (sorrow or misery) is the opposite of the word saʿāda (happiness),39 the World of Spirits is implicitly the world of happiness. The metaphysical basis of happiness is thus conditioned on this dualistic dichotomy of body and soul, material and spiritual. Body and matter are the source of misery, while the spirit is the source of happiness. The body is the soul’s prison, holding it back from the happiness of cleaving to the World of Intellects for all eternity.

Moreover, the body is temporary and destined to decay, while the spirit, once perfected and purified, is eternal, and after it separates from the body may enjoy happiness eternally. Thus does the idea of happiness as sensory pleasure become vulgar, unlike the true, real, and absolute happiness, which can be found in the writings of the prophets, the rabbis, and the philosophers.

Again, conspicuously absent is any consideration of the role of “political happiness,” the contribution of society and the state to individual happiness. The journey the author describes is an internal, spiritual one by the individual towards ultimate, eternal happiness, a state only attainable in the spiritual world after the soul has separated from the body. In this regard, the author of the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness follows in the footsteps of Ibn-Sīnā,40 Ibn Bājja (1085–1138),41 and al-Ghazālī,42 discounting the ideas of the politeia favored by Aristotle, al-Fārābī, and Maimonides.43

3 Epistemological Aspects of Happiness

In his Treatise, the anonymous author develops methods for attaining ultimate happiness, and stresses preparations and perceptions available to the soul while an individual is still alive,44 in particular, by following the path of Moses’s Torah.45 Such preparations, spanning the moral, the ethical, and the ascetic, are to bring about the purification and sublimation of the soul. In the author’s words:

Was gathered to his people (Gen 25:8): was acceptable to his contemporaries, as his soul was purified and refined for its departure to the world of eternal being.46

The author also stresses the importance of cleaving to the World of Intellects,47 and describes how in his lifetime Moses became the Active Intellect.48 Although the author does not outline a systematic thesis, his conception of individual epistemological development seems to rest on turning the Potential Intellect into an Actual Intellect, with the ultimate goal of cleaving to the Active Intellect. Abundantly clear is that intellectual activity is an essential, central precursor to achieving Ultimate Happiness.

In this, the author follows Aristotle and al-Fārābī, who promote intellectual attainments for the pursuit of happiness, as does Maimonides. Maimonides, too, recommends engaging in intellectual exercises as preparation for ultimate happiness, in particular, studying logic, physics, and metaphysics, followed by studying the mysteries of the Torah. In his responsum to R. Yoseph on the topic of life’s predetermined end, Maimonides writes:

We will first present biblical evidence, as it is the greatest and most elevated, and as it is also the ultimate goal to be attained after studying the preparatory wisdoms, that is, mathematics, as well as the natural and Divine wisdoms mediated by logic. Indeed, this is what leads to ultimate happiness.49

According to Maimonides, ultimate happiness is knowledge of the sciences, i.e., knowledge of God. In contrast, what is traditionally (taqlīd)50 considered to bestow happiness, namely health, wealth, and progeny, is nothing but illusion. The vulgar masses can imagine happiness only as material, and lose heart when they cannot attain it. But those who strive to know God, having attained the right perception, know that happiness is spiritual and therefore eternal, and do not look to material happiness as the vulgar masses do. As Maimonides writes in The Guide of the Perplexed concerning Job:

However, the latter said all that he did say as long as he had no true knowledge and knew the deity only because of his acceptance of authority, just as the multitude adhering to a Law know it. But when he knew God with a certain knowledge, he admitted that true happiness [as-saʿāda al-ḥaqiqiya], which is the knowledge of the deity, is guaranteed to all who know Him and that a human being cannot be troubled in it by any of all the misfortunes in question. While he had known God only through the traditional stories and not by the way of speculation, Job had imagined that the things thought to be happiness, such as health, wealth, and children, are the ultimate goal. For this reason, he fell into such perplexity and said such things as he did.51

As noted by Gabriella Berzin, for Maimonides, as-saʿāda al-ḥaqiqiya denotes the attainment of perfection, which in turn is equivalent to the knowledge of God. This perfection is acquired through political studies, and is assumed to be acquired by studying physics and metaphysics as well.52

4 Mystical Aspects of Happiness

Ultimately, following Ibn Sīnā and the Sufis, the author of the Treatise connects ultimate happiness with mystical ecstasy. Ibn Sīnā, reflecting a clear Sufi influence, describes those endowed with intrinsic immediate knowledge, meaning true knowledge, which is esoteric or mystical knowledge derived from the ecstatic experience of cleaving to God. He characterizes them as being only those whose souls are flawlessly pure and freed from the body, whereupon they achieve a mystical experience accompanied by a release of pleasure. However, Ibn Sīnā also argues that mystical pleasure can be achieved not only by discarding the body, but also while dwelling within the body. By immersing oneself in contemplation of God’s potency and shedding the body’s distress, one may also win a measure of spiritual pleasure, despite being in the body. Such souls attain ultimate happiness in this world by being loving and passionate and reach their most sublime state.

4.1 Mystical Prayer

Mystical prayer as a focus for happiness holds an essential place in the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, as part of the triad of knowledge of God, prayer, and fulfilment of the Torah and mitzvot. These three modes define the spiritual space within which happiness can be attained. As Ḥaviva Pedaya argues, in the Treatise, prayer and mitzvot are the essential means toward enlightenment and pleasure.53 Fulfilment of the mitzvot prepares the individual to become a vessel in which he can contain the Godhead. The power of the mitzvot is that they purify the murky speculum of one’s heart, making it a shining speculum reflecting the Divine light it contains.

In this concept of attaining happiness through knowledge of God and fulfilling the Torah and mitzvot, the author seems to follow al-Ghazālī’s premise that happiness in the hereafter is attained through knowledge as well as practice (ʿilm wa-ʿamal).54 In this, al-Ghazālī rejects the conception of intellectual happiness as the sole route to happiness:

Happiness, sought after by the ancients and contemporaries alike, can only be obtained by knowledge (ʿilm) and practice (wa-ʿamal).55 […] Success and salvation are not attained except through knowledge and practice together. […] Knowledge is nobler than practice, for it is as though practice serves the attainment of knowledge and is guided by knowledge until it arrives at its mark.56

Throughout the Egyptian Jewish-Sufi school, prayer both as mystical experience and as praxis played a pivotal role in the individual’s spiritual development. For example, Abraham ben Moses Maimonides dealt extensively with a groundbreaking reform of the praxis and theory of normative prayer, as evidenced in his monograph Kitāb Kifāyat al-ʿĀbidīn.57

Another primary essay from this medieval school is the Mystical Treatise on Prayer,58 penned by a member of Abraham ben Moses Maimonides’s inner circle. Fenton suggests that its author might have been the physician Abraham Abīʾl Rabīʿ, also known as Abraham the Pious (Abraham he-Ḥasīd), who was Abraham ben Moses Maimonides’s companion.59 The work portrays the experience of prayer as a personal, intimate mystical experience, providing the individual with happiness both in this world and the world to come. Its author outlines seven modes of prayer, of which the seventh expresses one’s gnostic knowledge of God, one’s love of and devotion to God, one’s pleasure in attaining God’s presence, and one’s joy in prayer as an intimate conversation with Him—both in this world and the world to come. In this world, joy evolves from one’s mystical awakening from existential sleep; in the next world, it comes from the constant presence of God.

To shape the experience of prayer, the author of the Mystical Treatise on Prayer follows the Sufi path of stations and spiritual states (maqāmāt, aḥwāl), particularly dynamic polar states (aḥwāl, muqābilah), with each spiritual or mystical state paired with its opposite. According to this approach, spiritual ascent resembles a ladder whose rungs are made of these pairs, ordered in levels of potency, on which the mystic’s position is determined by his proximity to God. Lowest on the ladder is the pair Dread and Hope (khawf, rajāʾ), followed by Narrowing and Widening (qabḍ, bast), Awe of the Lord and Befriending Him (haybah, uns), Intoxication and Sobriety (sukr, ṣaḥu), Absence and Divine Presence (ghaybah, ḥuḍūr), and highest of all, Annihilation and Subsistence (fanāʾ, baqāʾ). Further, in the highest stations of spiritual-mystical transformation, these polar states all merge into a singularity, called Union (tawḥīd, ittiḥād, jamʿ) or Union of Opposites (jamʿ al-aḍdad, jamʿ al-jamʿ).60 The author of the Mystical Treatise on Prayer writes:

Know that, as the Lord knows, there are seven kinds of contemplations in prayer. The first—Affirmation of the Lord. The second—Affirmation of the Unity, that Man need not trust in any other, for all paths lead only to Him. The third—His exalted proximity to those who seek Him with truth on their tongues and in their hearts. The fourth—Standing before His exalted portal and none other’s. The fifth—Not abandoning oneself to one’s passions, as doing so leads to oblivion, for without limits, even if one worships, but disregards the prohibitions and commandments, one has become aberrant and deviant from the path of righteousness. The sixth—The soul, turning, craves its place in its sacred world. The seventh—Worship of the Lord, to Whom the soul has the merit to return, as it is said: And the spirit shall return unto God who gave it (Eccl 12:7). This last is the worship of those who know the Lord by gnostic knowledge, who know Him and love Him and worship Him, who have attained the bliss of proximity and the joy of intimate conversation (tīb al-uns) during Absence (Ghaybah) and Divine Presence (Ḥuḍūr). Indeed, the Divine Presence in life is an awaking following sleep, and Sobriety (Ṣaḥu) following Intoxication (Sukr), whereas in life after death, there is the Divine Presence following Absence. All this is the whole happiness (as-saʿāda jamiʿahā), arising from truly seeking the Lord and ever approaching Him, as David said: As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness (Ps 17:15).61

The conception of prayer in the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness echoes those of Abraham he-Ḥasīd and Abraham ben Moses Maimonides in this regard. In Kitāb Kifāyat al-ʿĀbidīn, the praying person is portrayed as standing, kneeling, and prostrating himself, with bliss in his heart and on his lips, his arms outspread as Muslims do while praying,62 trilling his prayers with sweet melodies,63 and making a supplication to the Lord while his whole body shudders with weeping.64 Weeping is particularly lauded, as it triggers an altered state of consciousness, which in turn brings on a mystical experience of awe and immersion, moving the soul from the corporeal world to the World of Intellects.65 Similarly, the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness states:

The one praying should address the Lord Almighty with bliss in his heart and on his lips, his arms outspread, his vocal apparatus trilling and giving voice and all his parts aquiver and agitated; as it says (Isa 6:4), And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried. And he should not cease trilling in melodious voice, whispering, entreating, kneeling and prostrating himself, and weeping as he faces the great and awesome King, until immersion (istighrāq) and awfulness (indihāsh) come upon him and he finds his corporeal being in the World of Intellects. His noble soul will have submitted, removing him from the sensory world, as if he were hidden from it.66

Describing the mystical state of ecstasy, the author uses two Sufi terms: immersion (istighrāq) and awfulness (indihāsh).

A. Indihāsh, “awfulness,” is a verbal noun of the seventh conjugation variously translated as a feeling of great surprise, complete surprise, amazement, awe, bewilderment, or wonder; as wildness or confusion of mind; as a state of perplexity; as an emotion excited by what is unexpected or unfamiliar; or as surprise mingled with admiration or curiosity.67

In Sufi mysticism indihāsh is often mentioned in the context of love of God, which is to say that love of God involves amazement, awe, submission, and perplexity, rather than joy. To cite Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm Kalābādhī’s (d. 990) monograph Kitāb at-Taʿarruf li-Madhhab Ahl at-Taṣawwuf:

One of the great Ṣūfīs said: Love is a pleasure and with God there is no pleasure: for the stations of reality are astonishment (dahash), surrender and bewilderment.68

In his Kitāb aṣ-Ṣafāʾ, Abū Saʿīd al-Kharrāz (d. 899) discusses the Spiritual Station (Maqām) of Proximity (Qurb) to God. For al-Kharrāz, proximity to God arouses mystical states intensified in terms of emotional intelligence. Under such conditions, the mystic is elevated to the boundaries of consciousness, and to heights of mystical awareness of a Being both transcendent and immanent, an awareness that he experiences directly, unmediated. Proximity to God, the intimate encounter between the individual and his God, in which they converse simply as man to man, is an exhilarating experience, yet one that shakes the mystic’s soul to its core, striking him with wonder and awe. As al-Kharrāz writes:

Those who are close to Him, those who are steadfast in religion and mystical awareness, the Lord nurtures with His own wisdom; they sit with Him and converse with him as if man to man. Between Him and them the portal is open, and He keeps bestowing His gifts upon them; and they are amazed (yadhashuna), perplexed, moved, astonished and awe-struck (yadhashuna). Of the many truths which the Lord shows them in the regions of proximity [to Him], those of mystical awareness shout.69

Arguably, the term indihāsh is a precursor of Rudolf Otto’s (1869–1937) famous idea of the numinous, the non-rational feeling of horror or shuddering that accompanies the encounter with the Divine.70 The numinous is a key conception for understanding the religious experience, incorporating spiritual feelings of awe, strong affect, and exaltation felt by the believer as he faces the Divine.

B. Istighrāq literally and figuratively means “immersion.” As noted by David Zwi Baneth, the term istighrāq refers both to drowning and to snatching up an object in its entirety; metaphorically it refers to loss of consciousness, especially through ecstasy.71

Maimonides refers to istighrāq in his explanation of prophetic dreaming. He describes prophecy as beginning with a waking vision, in a state that is fearful and terrifying, followed by increasing terror as the “strong affection consequent upon the perfection of the action of the imaginative faculty becomes intensified”—that is, the activated, intensifying imagination triggers an emotional state of strong fearfulness. This is followed by sleep, as the prophet sinks into a state of istighrāq, epiphany becoming a state of dreaming. In this formulation, istighrāq, immersion, refers to the state in which consciousness is extinguished, allowing prophetic dreaming to begin. In other words, according to Maimonides, istighrāq denotes the decline of the consciousness from prophetic vision to dreaming. To quote from Maimonides’s Guide of the Perplexed:

One could also say that every vision in which you find the prophet hearing speech was in its beginning a vision, but ended in a state of submersion [istighrāq], and became a dream, as we have explained with regard to the dictum: And a deep sleep fell upon Abram. [The Sages] have said: This is the deep sleep of prophecy. All speech that is heard, whatever the way may be in which it is heard, is heard only in a dream; as the text has it: I do speak with him in a dream.72

However, the author of the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness seems to have been inspired rather by Sufi mysticism in his use of the term istighrāq. A modern definition will shed light on the history of this term. Sheikh Muḥammad Hāshem al-Baghdādī (d. 1995), one of the greatest Sufi leaders in the twentieth century, head of the Qadiriyya Sufi Order in Palestine and Israel, referred to istighrāq, saying:

Fanāʾ (Annihilation) in Allah means istighrāq (immersion) of thought in Him, may He be exalted by feeling and thought.73

This definition is inspired by very early sources, such as Sufis of the school of Bā Yazīd Bisṭāmī, who advocated a complete immersion (istighrāq) and annihilation (fanāʾ) of the soul in the Absolute. Martin Lings shows a connection between these two terms in Sufi writings on “immersion” in Qurʾān verses, arguing that there, too, istighrāq should be understood in the context of fanāʾ, i.e., as referring to the way that the created is annihilated in the Creator, the temporary is annihilated in the Eternal, the finite is annihilated in the Infinite:

The Sufis speak of “seeking to be drowned” (istighrāq) in the verses of Qurʾān. What they are seeking is, to use another Sufi term, extinction (fanāʾ) of the created in the Uncreated, of the temporal in the Eternal, of the finite in the Infinite; and for some Sufis, recitation of the Qurʾān has been throughout their life, their chief means of concentration upon God.74

Although istighrāq in Sufi mysticism is associated with fanāʾ, the terms are not always synonymous. For al-Ghazālī,75 for example, the terms are differentiated by polarity: fanāʾ expresses the negative aspects of union with God, while istighrāq describes positive union, attained with absorption in contemplation, love, and worship of God—for example, through the rite of dhikr (remembrance of God).76

In his book The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God (al-Maqṣad al-Asnā fī Shraḥ Asmāʾ Allāh al-Ḥusnā), al-Ghazālī rejects equating Manṣūr al-Ḥallaj’s famous saying “I am the Truth,” or his poem “I am whom I desire and he whom I desire is I,” with a fanāʾ—a unio mystica experience, a claim to divinity.77 Instead, al-Ghazālī interprets them as istighrāq—an absorption experience, describing al-Ḥallaj as so absorbed in the Truth that he has no room for anything else:

The one who said: “I am the Truth” was wrong, unless it be taken according to one of two interpretations, the first of which being that he means he exists by virtue of the Truth. But this interpretation is far-fetched because the statement does not communicate it, and because that would hardly be proper only to him, since everything besides the Truth exists by virtue of the Truth. On the second interpretation, he is so absorbed in the Truth that he has no room for anything else. One may say of what takes over the totality of a thing and absorbs it that one is it, as the poet says: “I am whom I desire and he whom I desire is I,” and by that he means that he is absorbed in it [istighrāq].78

In this context, istighrāq refers also to the mystical condition of immersion, in which the disciple attains, through the rite of dhikr, an experience of immersion in God. John Spencer Trimingham (1904–1987) refers to istighrāq in the context of dhikr in Sufi orders:

The ritual of an order constitutes a Way, a rule of life, by following which the murid may hope so to purify his nafs as to attain union with God. Ṭarīqa materializes itself in the dhikr (recollection), whose regular practice leads the predestined ʿārif to the state of istighrāq (immersion) in God.79

To paraphrase, when the spiritual traveler is in the station of shuhūd (perception, witnessing) and annihilation (fanāʾ), and is overwhelmed by intoxication (sukr) and immersion (istighrāq), mā siwā (everything other than God) is completely obliterated from his consciousness and he witnesses nothing except the Real. This has important implications for the esoteric interpretation of prayer in Sufism. One of the great Sufi mystics, Najmuddīn Kubrā (1145–1221), described three levels of prayer: the lowest, prayer guided by the Sharīʿa, the Islamic code of praxis; the second, prayer guided by the Sufi way; and the highest, prayer guided by Truth—that is to say, by God Himself. Najmuddīn Kubrā defines prayer according to the Sharīʿa as worship, according to the Ṭarīqa as proximity, and according to the Ḥaqīqa as union with God.80

To conclude: Happiness is attained through mystical prayer, through its capacity to change one’s state of consciousness. Prayer, as a mystical union with God, centers on the immersion of thought by senses and by meaning; that is, the praying individual is wholly immersed in God and nothing but God, and this is his whole happiness in his life on Earth.

4.2 Mystical Wedding

One of the central metaphors used by the author to describe ultimate happiness is that of the ḥuppa, literally “wedding canopy,” and by metonymy, the marriage ceremony itself. In this connection the author interprets the following talmudic saying:

Rabba in the name of R. Joḥanan said: The Holy One, blessed be He, will make seven canopies for each righteous person, as is written (Isa 4:5): And the Lord will create upon every dwelling of Mount Zion, and upon her places of assembly, a cloud and smoke by day, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory shall be a canopy.81

The author proposes that allegorically, this talmudic saying is referring to seven wedding canopies made by God for each righteous person in Paradise. He then elaborates, based on three interpretations he gives for the word ḥuppa.

First, following the Hebrew grammarian Jonah ibn Janāḥ (990–1055), he offers in his Book of Roots a linguistic analysis of ḥuppa’s root as ḥ-p-p, meaning “to overlap” or “to cover” (an analysis that agrees with contemporary morphological parsing). This makes ḥuppa a place of sanctuary, cover, and safety. Second, following Psalm 19:6, he posits that ḥuppa can refer to “sunrise following sunset,” meaning sunrise in contrast to the previous setting of the sun. Last, a ḥuppa is the place where a bride and groom become joined. All three meanings come together with the consummation of marriage. As the groom has sexual intercourse with the bride, performing the commandment of cohabitation, he overcomes mortality and shines forth as a rising sun. This evokes the happiness of all attending the marriage ceremony, while the sexual pleasure enjoyed by the bride and groom is the ultimate pleasure that the body may attain.

By analogy, the soul enjoys this same happiness and pleasure at its wedding with the celestial spiritual world, though in truth, there is no similarity between the material happiness and the spiritual one. And thus he writes:

There individuals shall be separated according to their gradations. One shall have the advantage over the other according to the measure of his preparations and his measure of closeness to attaining perfection. Indeed, ultimate happiness is likened to a ḥuppa (wedding canopy), since ultimate happiness is the pleasure (ladhdha) of the souls that prepared themselves, which each individual achieves commensurate with his preparations.82

In his non-physical application of the term “pleasure” (ladhdha), the author resembles al-Fārābī, al-Ghazālī, and Maimonides. Al-Fārābī interprets ladhdha as subject to the principle by which the magnitude of pleasure is conditional on the degree of knowledge.83 Al-Ghazālī emphasizes that ultimate pleasure is experienced through knowledge of God, His attributes, and His acts, though a portion of this pleasure is tasted by those who study and know the sciences. For him, the philosopher comes closest to the highest knowledge, the knowledge of God.84 Maimonides, in his Arabic-language essays, takes this further, separating the term pleasure (ladhdha) entirely from physical functions and analyzing it purely in intellectual terms: it is pure intellectual pleasure, which leads to a life of happiness.85

However, the author of the Treatise does not restrict himself only to the experiences of the intellect, as al-Fārābī, al-Ghazālī, and Maimonides do. He relates pleasure, as well, to the mystical experience of the soul departing the body and uniting with its divine Beloved. In other words, pleasure in this essay is discussed in mystical and not just intellectual contexts. In this, the author follows Maimonides in the Guide, where he discusses ladhdha in the context of the separation of soul and body that arises from contemplation of God:

Because of this the Sages have indicated with reference to the deaths of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam that the three of them died by a kiss. […] Their purpose was to indicate that the three of them died in the pleasure (ladhdha) of this apprehension due to the intensity of passionate love (al-ʿishq).86

In the Treatise, the bride represents the soul, the groom represents spiritual entities, and the ḥuppa represents the spiritual union between bride and groom. Just as a bride prepares herself for her groom prior to her marriage by acquiring virtue and good behavior, so must the soul prepare itself for the next world:87

The soul’s departure for its world is analogous to the bride being prepared for her husband, being stationed in proximity to the Lord of the world, the World of Intellects, and the souls of the righteous.88

The author portrays the moment of the soul’s departure from the body as a wedding, vividly depicting the way the intellectual soul leaves the body by comparing it to a bride leaving her parents’ home and being given to her groom, accompanied by singing and chanting and bedecked with jewelry. In this situation, all the veils of matter that had imprisoned her fall away, and, purified and sublimated, she can now become as enlightened as sunrise. As the author writes:

The speaking soul separates from its earthly sanctuary, as a bride given to the groom goes to him bedecked with her jewelry and accompanied by pleasant voices. The covering clouds have departed from her, the veils have been removed, the turbidity of that soul has been purified, and it gains enlightenment and illumination as the sunrise.89

And as in a wedding celebration, when souls arrive at the spiritual world having separated from the body, they are blissfully happy, joyful, and safe from loss and decay.

4.3 Removing the Veils of Consciousness

I said to my rose-cheeked lovely
“O you with bud-like mouth
why keep hiding your face
like flirting girls?”
She laughed and said
“Unlike the beauties of your world
in the veil, I am seen
but without it I stay hidden”
ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Jāmī (1414–1492)90

To arrive at the pinnacle of the mystical wedding, one must first tear away the veils of consciousness.91 The author argues that the rational soul (al-nafs al-nātiqa) becomes whole when the veils are removed. In this the author follows al-Ghazālī’s and Maimonides’s doctrines about removing the veils of consciousness. According to al-Ghazālī, the science of epiphany (ʿilm al-mukāshafa) depicts the internal journey towards the Divine Light,92 a journey that necessitates tearing down all the veils that separate the individual and the Divine, that is, the veils of the senses, imagination, and intellect. Tearing down the veils symbolizes the transition from one level of consciousness to a higher one, whose pinnacle is the annihilation of consciousness.

In the third part of The Niche of Lights (Mishkāt al-Anwār), al-Ghazālī withdraws, veil after veil, all veils of consciousness, to gaze upon the Divine Light, the superior light, the hidden light, the light of the world for which the eye of intellect yearns, and, upon viewing it, marvels. Al-Ghazālī writes:

God discloses Himself to His Essence in His Essence. Without doubt, the veil is understood in relation to the thing that is veiled. The veiled among the creatures are of three kinds: those who are veiled by darkness alone, those who are veiled by sheer light, and those who are veiled by light along with darkness.93

It is noteworthy that the idea of tearing down the veils and barriers separating the righteous person wishing to be purified from the Divine, which al-Ghazālī depicts as the foundation of the science of epiphany, has clear parallels in Maimonides, as Girdner notes;94 for example, in chapter 7 of The Introduction to Tractate Avot—The Eight Chapters, a chapter entitled “Concerning the Barrier between God and Man and Its Signification” (Fi al-Hujub Wmaʿnāhā). Although Maimonides does not cite al-Ghazālī by name, his influence is clear. Maimonides writes:

Many passages are found in the Midrash, the Haggadah, and the Talmud, which state that some of the prophets beheld God from behind many barriers, and some from behind only a few, according to the proximity of the prophet to Him, and the degree of his prophetic power. Consequently, the Rabbis said that Moses, our teacher, saw God from behind a single, clear, that is transparent, partition. As they express it, “He (Moses) looked through a translucent speculum.” Speculum is the name of a mirror made of some transparent body like crystal or glass, as is explained at the end of Tractate Kelim.95

Maimonides also argues in his Guide of the Perplexed:

Matter is a strong veil preventing the apprehension of that which is separate from matter as it truly is. It does this even if it is the noblest and purest matter, I mean to say even if it is the matter of the heavenly spheres. All the more is this true for the dark and turbid matter that is ours. Hence whenever our intellect aspires to apprehend the deity or one of the intellects, there subsists this great veil interposed between the two. This is alluded to in all the books of the prophets: namely, that we are separated by a veil from God and that He is hidden from us by a heavy cloud, or by darkness or by a mist or by an enveloping cloud, and similar allusions to our incapacity to apprehend Him because of matter. This is the intention of its saying: Clouds and darkness are round about him (Ps. 97:2).96

These partitions or veils are flaws of character and flaws of intellect. How far or near an individual is from God is dictated by these partitions, and as one tears them down one becomes closer to God. Moses, proposes Maimonides, tore away all partitions but one, the partition of intellect, which alone remained separating him from his Creator. Sarah Klein-Braslavi notes the difference highlighted by Maimonides between Moses’s sole partition and those experienced by all other prophets. While their partitions were self-created, Moses’s partition was only a passive consequence of his very nature as a human, an “intellect embedded in matter.”97

Maimonides also discusses the partitions separating humans from God in his essay on the Thirteen Principles of Faith.98 The seventh principle, which focuses on the prophecy of Moses, pronounces him the perfect or complete human, one who succeeded in tearing down all partitions between himself and God, including the partitions of the body, the passions, the senses, and the imagination, with only pure reason remaining:

The Seventh Fundamental Principle is the prophecy of Moses our Teacher. We are to believe that he was the chief of all other prophets before and after him, all of whom were his inferiors. He was the chosen one of all mankind, superior in attaining the knowledge of God to any other person who ever lived or ever will live. He surpassed the normal human condition and attained the angelic. There remained no veil he did not rend and penetrate behind, nothing physical to hold him back, no deficiency, great or small, to confuse him. All his powers of sensation and imagination were repressed, and pure reason alone remained.99

4.4 The Soul’s Illumination and Dawning

Light occupies center stage in the Treatise. The author likens the human figure to the pure Menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum used in the Temple. Five branches reference the five senses, while the other two reference the imaginative and the intellectual faculties. In tending the lamps, one focuses one’s purposes and intentions solely towards the exalted Lord, intensifying the shining of the Lord’s light, so that one’s whole body shines with divine and angelic light. The Treatise says:

While worshipping […] through the pure Menorah, through tending the lamps, so that you perfect your senses and intentions towards Him, the Exalted One—these being the five senses, the Sun and the Moon, and the Speech and the Imagination—you may so do opposite the Menorah, this being the Western Lamp, as the Shekhinah is in the West. And observe how the Sun is arrayed amongst the Spheres, and all this so that its shining should move you, so that your home should always be lit in the light of the Divine Lights and the Angelic Splendor.100

And at the climax of the soul’s mystical experience:

The covering clouds have departed from her, the veils have been removed, the turbidity of that soul has been purified, and gains enlightenment and illumination as the sunrise.101

Having freed itself from all veils—of the body and of consciousness—the soul may attain “enlightenment and illumination as the sunrise.” This terminology of “enlightenment and illumination” (al-āḏāʾa uʿal-ʾishrāq), the soul’s ultimate happiness, is very likely influenced by Ibn Sīnā’s doctrine of happiness.

It was Ibn Sīnā who first coined the term “Eastern philosophy” (al-Ḥikma al-Mashriqiyya),102 distinguished from “Western” thought in its affinity for light and the dawning of light. He identifies the realm of Form with the luminous East, the Orient, and that of Matter with the Perpetual Darkness of the West, the Occident. Knowledge is the rising sun (ash-shāriq); ignorance is the Darkness around the Pole (al-quṭb).103

Another possible influence on the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness is that of Shahāb ad-Dīn Suhrawardī (1154–1191), “The Murdered Master” (Shaikh al-Maqtūl).104 Suhrawardī named his book The Wisdom of Illumination (Ḥikmat al-ʾIshrāq)105 to express the methodological difference between his own philosophical conception and that of the Peripatetic school, most specifically that of Ibn Sīnā. He uses the term ʾishrāq, “illumination,” in several ways. For example, mushāhada ’ishraqiyya, “vision of illumination,” denotes the epistemological primacy of immediate perception. Al-ʿilm al-ḥuḍūrī al-ʾishrāqī, “the present knowledge of illumination,” denotes the primacy of immediate, durationless, intuitive knowledge, in preference to knowledge derived from logical syllogism, or acquired knowledge (al-ʿilm al-ḥusūlī).

Suhrawardī follows the Neo-Platonic theory of light. However, Henry Corbin argues that Suhrawardī’s doctrine of light draws on Persian Zoroastrian culture as much as it draws on Greek traditions, and denotes Suhrawardī’s approach “Neo-Zoroastrian Platonism.” His School of Illumination maintains that a posteriori knowledge may be acquired via intuitive knowledge (al-ʿilm al-ḥuḍūrī). The world of forms, or ideas, can be grasped by intuition and illumination, and not only by the posterior analysis of Aristotelian proof (burhān). Intuition, immediate rather than mediated through direct perception or experience of a present object, grants certainty of knowledge.

Suhrawardī’s philosopher progresses through four stages, which he outlines as follows:

  1. Part of the Shining Divine Light (al-bāriq al-ʾIlāhī) resides in the body of philosophers who have developed their intuitive faculties, and grants them personal revelations and visions (mushāhada and mukāshafa) that have the power to verify their intuition.

  2. Illumination, through which the philosopher can perceive the Divine Light (an-nūr al-ʾIlāhī). This Divine Light permeates the human body, and through it True Science (al-ʿulūm al-ḥaqiqiyya) is known.

  3. Constructing the philosophical method of Correct Science (ʿilm ṣaḥīḥ) through discursive analysis. This involves analyzing interior experience by drawing on the Aristotelian method as outlined in his Posterior Analytics. Its outcome is the Philosophy of Illumination (al-ʿilm al-ʾishrāqī).

  4. Documenting or recording visionary experiences.

The fragmented discussion in the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness makes it difficult to confirm whether its author accepts the entire structure of Suhrawardī’s philosophical mystical system. However, his thesis of the soul’s illumination supports the presupposition that in one way or another he agrees with the school of Ḥikmat al-ʾIshrāq as shaped by Ibn Sīnā and Suhrawardī.

4.5 Emanation from the Sun to the Moon

The Treatise’s author outlines an allegorical interpretation of the talmudic saying “The appearance of Moses was like the sun, and the appearance of Joshua like the moon” (b. Baba Batra 5a). According to the Treatise, the skin of Moses’s face shone because his soul had been so purified that he had become an angel; in other words, Moses reached the degree of the Active Intellect in his lifetime.106

Compared to Moses our Teacher, who appeared like the sun, Joshua appeared like the moon; for just as the moon has no light of its own, but only reflects the light of the sun, so did Joshua receive his light from Moses. This follows the analogy of the sun to the Active Intellect and the moon to the human intellect, which also appears in the Moral Epistle attributed to Maimonides and addressed to his son Abraham:

The truth of the matter is as interpreted by the wisdom of Rabbi Abraham Ibn ʿEzra, of blessed memory, whom I was told was one of the wise, [as seen] in his commentary on the Torah in which he unearthed deep, momentous mysteries, understandable only by those among the remnants [of our people] whom the Lord shall call, who are as advanced as he was. Now he, of blessed memory, elucidated the verse in the Torah portion of Mishpatim: Behold, I send an angel before thee (Exod 23:20), with an important exegesis concerning the sun and the moon, pleasingly done, and not to be understood by simple laymen. He explains what is meant by saying that the light of the moon is from the light of the sun, and I shall reveal some of his ideas to you. Know, then, that the sun which is discussed is the Divine Intellect, and the moon is the human intellect, which draws its bounty from [the sun] as it may; this is the meaning of the analogy that the moon has no light or clarity of its own except that which comes from the sun.107

Other prophets are likened to the sun reflected in a mirror: each receives light to the extent that he has polished his mirror, meaning that each perceives the amount of light appropriate to his preparations. Perfection, in this context, is achieved by adherence to Moses’s Torah, and in proportion to that adherence, so that the more one distances oneself from the Torah and its precepts, the more one’s light darkens until it may even be extinguished.108

The author further highlights the chain of emanation from prophet to prophet, elucidating the principle of the overflow of prophetic plenitude from Moses, the father of prophets, to other prophets. As Ḥannah Kasher has already noted, this should not be taken to refer to a direct flow from the Active Intellect; rather, the power of Moses and his Torah can bring perfection through emanation down the chain of prophets, or, occasionally, from the light emanating directly from Moses’s Torah. The similarities between this discussion and the principle of the Chain (as-Silsala) in Islamic mysticism—the idea that plenitude is transmitted from master to disciple—are too great to ignore.

4.6 Prophetic Experience as Happiness

One of the central issues in the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness is the attainment of prophecy. There is good reason for this: the author’s main thesis is that happiness on earth is a direct function of the prophetic experience, which also offers the possibility of ultimate happiness in the world to come. This expresses the author’s own experience of prophecy.109 Indeed, the author boasts of having obtained prophecy himself; or, as Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972) put it: “The author readily admits that he himself had attained the level of prophecy.”110 Heschel, who erroneously ascribed this treatise to Maimonides, used this as a crucial link in the argument he put forward to support his thesis that Maimonides believed that he had attained prophecy.

Prophecy was also a central preoccupation for Abraham ben Moses Maimonides’s circle.111 For the author of the Treatise, the prophetic experience provided true life, while its cessation was more than a symbolic expression of death. To quote from the Treatise:

And the cherubim shall stretch forth their wings on high (Exod 25:20). And as the Lord spoke via the Cherubim, and as the speech of the Lord will resurrect the dead souls, so is breath the vitality of the heart, its health and the remedy from whatever ill motion harms it. Note that spirit [ruaḥ] is an equivocal term,112 such that it may refer either to breath or to prophecy. Now, just as the vitality of the heart depends upon this breath chilling its fires and fever, so that if it ceases for but a small moment then it shall cause its death, so, in one’s life, when the Holy Spirit is taken from the heart, so does it die temporarily, and that is its death.113

The author describes the attainment of prophecy using Neoplatonist elements, compounded with aspects from Maimonides’s and Sufi mysticism’s conceptions of prophecy. Although the text that survives does not outline his anthropological theory very clearly, the author seems to share much of the Greek schema still prevalent in the Middle Ages, by which humans are composed of vegetative, animal, and intellectual souls. He occasionally seems to draw on anthropological concepts from Maimonides’s Eight Chapters as well. In line with this, the author gives utmost importance to control by the intellectual soul over the animal soul; that is, he affirms controlling one’s senses, passions, and appetites as an essential step toward attaining prophecy. In illustration, he draws on Plato’s chariot allegory, taken from the dialogue Phaedrus (246a–249b). Plato divides the soul into three components: intellect or reason, rational or moral impulse, and irrational passions and appetites. To demonstrate how the soul is torn between rival drives, Plato likens these components to a chariot drawn by two horses and driven by a charioteer: the charioteer is the intellect (λόγος); the noble, obedient steed is the will, the drive to courage, honor, and fame (θύµος); while the wild, troublesome steed represents the passions and appetites (ἐπιθυµία). Although the charioteer knows the way, he has no real power to draw the chariot. That power is held by the noble, obedient steed, the power of will, with whom communication and direction are possible, while the wild steed of desire cannot be controlled. If the steed of desire wishes to drag the chariot to the abyss, says Plato, it is unstoppable. What the charioteer must do, aided by the power of the will, is to stop it from ever drawing near the abyss in the first place, to direct it far away from there.

Al-Ghazālī offers an alternative metaphor, that of a mounted hunter. Rather than chariot and charioteer, here there is a horseman, representing the intellect, who tries to govern both a steed and a dog, both of which represent the passions. The horse represents the general appetites, while the dog—a loaded Islamic symbol that carries connotations of uncleanliness and ungodliness—represents specifically anger in this context.114 This connects with al-Ghazālī’s theory of the heart (qalb) and its relation to the inner “armies” or passions, comprising desire and anger. In his metaphor, the task of the horseman is very close to that of Plato’s charioteer; that is, he must exercise his will to subdue his animal nature, taming it and subjecting it to his direction. As he writes in his magnum opus, The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Iiḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn), in the Marvels of the Heart (Kitāb Sharḥ ʿAjā’ib al-Qalb), book 21:

The intellect (ʿaql) is like a horseman who has gone hunting. His appetence is his horse and his anger is his dog. When the horseman is skilled and his horse well broken and his dog trained and taught, then he is able to succeed. But when he is himself clumsy, his horse ungovernable, and his dog vicious, then neither is his horse guided under him, nor does his dog go forth in obedience to his signs. Then he himself deserves to perish rather than to gain that which he seeks. The clumsiness of the horseman is like the ignorance of a man, his paucity of wisdom, and his dim insight. The ungovernable horse is the appetite for food and for sexual indulgence. And the viciousness of the dog is like the victory of anger and its domination.115

However, Plato’s charioteer and al-Ghazālī’s horseman do not suffice for the author of the Treatise; he also invokes the imitatio Dei principle. The Lord “rides upon the heavens” (Deut 33:26), controlling and steering the Spheres, yet nonetheless separate from them. So too must the charioteer control the corporeal body, the world of the senses in the animal soul, without cleaving to it, remaining abstracted from it:

As it says: Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty (Ps 45:4), meaning, one should rule the passions so as not to be disturbed by them. And it is also said: Who is a hero? He who conquers his passions (m. Avot 4:1); and it is said, In thy majesty ride prosperously (Ps 45:5), […] and Who rides upon the heavens (Deut 33:26), which is a wondrous metaphor. For as the exalted Lord rules the heavens, so likened to Him, with wondrous aptness, is the one who rides. For the rider is the one who steers the beast and leads it as he wills, […] while being separate from it, not cleaving to it, but being outside it. Thus, the exalted Lord is the One who steers the Sphere, in whose movement all that moves with it moves, yet He is separate from it and not a power within it.116

It is the intellectual soul’s control over the animal soul, the corporeal body, the senses, and the imagination, while remaining uncoupled from that which it controls, that allows the individual to acquire virtue. By the animal soul and the senses obeying the intellectual soul, the soul becomes purified and illuminated and transmutes from potential divine spirit to actual divine spirit, thereby attaining the rank of Holy Spirit and connecting to the World of Intellects:

It is said: The virgins, her companions, that follow her (Ps 45:15), […] and it is said Shall be brought unto thee, which is to say, […] thus shall the soul be purified and its candle ignited, by its turning its face into the form of the sun; thus shall it be detached from the potential Divine Spirit and made fast to the actual Divine Spirit, and this is the Holy Spirit that dwells alongside those that are holy, which is the World of Intellects.117

In addition to describing the path to prophecy in Maimonidean terms, the author also depicts its experiential elements in the language of Sufi mysticism:

My heart overflows (Ps 45:2), which is a wondrous phrase to describe how prophecy descends upon one with neither speech, nor tongue nor voice, but only with that which vibrates the lips, which the exalted Lord sends onto one’s tongue with no thought or choice about whatever descends upon one.118

The experience of prophecy, says the author, is an uncontrolled state. As Ḥaviva Pedaya aptly notes, this is reminiscent of Ezra ben Shlomo’s expression, “as if someone put words into their mouth and they would say them perforce,” or Azriel’s similar phrase, “caught by speech as a fish is caught on a fishing line.”119

The idea that passive, involuntary prophecy is a sign of a prophet’s elevation and uniqueness might have been influenced by the figure of the madjdhūb, the “attracted one,” in Sufi mysticism and sainthood. The mystic madjdhūb is in an unconscious state in which his actions are involuntary and uncontrolled. As the passive participle of the Arabic verb djadhaba/yadjdhibu, meaning “to draw,” “to pull,” or “to attract,” the term madjdhūb embodies this central trait of mystic passivity.120 In this respect, the madjdhūb is the opposite of the sālik, the “walker,” the prototypical active Sufi mystic.121

In his discussion of madjdhūb, al-Ḥakim al-Tirmidhī (d. 869) identifies two religious types. One is the Friend of God Himself (Awliyāʾ Allāh),122 which refers to saints who are so close to God as to reach God Himself. The Friend of God is effortlessly free from the tyranny of the corporeal soul and is attracted by God. The other, in contrast, is the Friend of What is Due unto God (Awliyāʾ Ḥaqq Allāh). He is of a lower grade, and for him the process of drawing closer to God is gradual and never quite reaches God Himself. It is only after he has spiritually toiled that God relents and releases him from the misfortunes of the corporeal soul. What both the Awliyāʾ Allāh and the Awliyāʾ Ḥaqq Allāh have in common is the passivity of their religious work, since both are attracted by God. And thus, writes al-Ḥakim al-Tirmidhī:

Only the man drawn unto God [majdhub] is set free immediately by God from slavery to the carnal soul when God draws him unto himself. And thus, he becomes a free man. The other one adheres to his rank while he is being refined, educated and cleansed, and then God, in his generosity, sets him free from his slavery to the carnal soul without responsibility. The carnal soul can no longer demand from him any one of its moral traits. Then he also becomes drawn from his rank [unto divine closeness].123

The madjdhūb’s passive stance stands in stark contradiction to the active spiritual training usually pursued by students of medieval Sufism.124 Whereas the sālik relies on his own efforts (kūshish) to achieve his spiritual goals, the madjdhūb passively abandons himself to Divine Attraction (djadhaba, djadhb, Persian kashish). Both, however, receive prophecy as a gift (bakhshīsh) of God.

In conclusion, madjdhūb as a mystical state fascinated the inner circle of Egyptian Pietists and they shaped their conception of prophecy accordingly. In this passive state, the mystic is drawn by God to God, a state which leads to ultimate happiness with God.

5 Conclusion

In this article, I set out to explore systematically the conception of happiness in the medieval Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, penned by Abraham ben Moses Maimonides or his son ʿObadyah. By focusing on the antecedents and causes of happiness, the author continues the line of inquiry initially established by Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and carried over into Muslim and Jewish medieval philosophy in the writings of al-Fārābī, Ibn Sīnā, and Maimonides, among others. The Treatise on Ultimate Happiness brings together a synthesis of Maimonides’s thought with Sufi mysticism. It is perhaps Sufi mysticism’s influence that motivates his departure from some of the aspects of the Aristotelian tradition. I have shown that the author’s conception of the causes and roots of happiness is individual rather than political—unlike those of previous Hellenistic, Muslim, and Jewish thinkers, who followed Aristotle by accepting the perfectly governed state as a necessary condition for one’s attainment of happiness. In contrast, according to the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, happiness is an attainment of the individual soul in its journey toward the Divine and the experience of the Divine. In this, the author seeks to create harmony between prophecy, philosophy, and rabbinical thought, all of which, so he argues, are in accord about the nature of ultimate happiness.

According to the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, one requires a conjunction of preconditions, none of which is sufficient on its own, but together they constitute necessary and sufficient conditions for the attainment of happiness. These preconditions include both intellectual contemplation and religious praxis. Together the pursuit of both prepares the soul to ascend to the level on which happiness is to be found, attaining the Neoplatonic goal of the soul’s revival in the spiritual world. Thus, ultimate happiness is only found in the world to come. Moreover, it also follows that bodily pleasure has nothing to do with happiness, which is congruent with the author’s dualistic position on the mind-body question. The consummate experience of the Divine in which the ultimate happiness is found is twofold: it can be found in prayer and in the experience of prophecy. This is inspired by the author’s own personal experience of ultimate happiness through prayer and prophecy, so he testifies. Thus, the author’s discussion of ultimate happiness draws on his own mystical experience.


For a critical edition of Kitāb al-Saʿāda al-Ākhira, see De Beatitudine, capito duo, R. Mosi Ben Maimon adscripta, ed. and trans. H. S. Davidowitz with additional notes by D. H. Baneth (Jerusalem: Mekitze Nirdamim, 1939), 33–71; Georges Vajda, review of Perakim b-Hatslaḥa (De Beatitudine), ed. H. S. Davidowitz, Revue des Études Juives 107 (1946–1947): 212–213; idem, “Une Citation non signalée du Chapitre sur la Beatitude attribute à Moise Maimonide,” Revue des Études Juives 130 (1971): 305–306; Jacob Israel Dienstag, “Perakim b-Hatslaḥa Attributed to Moses Maimonides—Bibliography, Editions, Translations and Studies” [Hebrew], Studies in Bibliography and Booklore 16 (1986): 51–56. The name of the treatise is subject to speculation, as it is not provided in what survives. It has been suggested that it was Kitāb as-Saʿāda, but this is not certain. Baneth notes that the phrase as-saʿāda al-ākhira appears several times in the treatise, though not in reference to the title. One can also point to the author’s use of the phrase kamal as-saʿāda for “ultimate felicity.” See Davidowitz, De Beatitudine, 9.


Naftali Wieder proposed that the author was Abraham ben Moses Maimonides or one of his school. The Formation of Jewish Liturgy in the East and West [Hebrew], vol. 2 (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 1998), 699–700.


Paul Fenton proposed that the author was Abraham ben Moses Maimonides’s son ʿObadyah. See ʿObadyah ben Abraham ben Moses Maimonides, The Treatise of The Pool, ed. Paul Fenton (London: Octagon Press, 1981), 44–45. On his mystical doctrine, see George Vajda, “The Mystical Doctrine of Rabbi ‛Obadyah, Grandson of Moses Maimonides,” Journal of Jewish Studies 6 (1955): 213–225; Steven Harvey, “Avicenna and Maimonides on Prayer and Intellectual Worship,” in Exchange and Transmission across Cultural Boundaries: Philosophy, Mysticism and Science in the Mediterranean World, ed. Haggai Ben-Shammai, Shaul Shaked, and Sarah Stroumsa (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 2013), 97–98.


For a general introduction to the Jewish-Sufi school of Maimonides’s offspring, see Paul B. Fenton, Deux traités de mystique juive (Paris: Verdier, 1987); idem, Treatise of the Pool; idem, “Judaeo-Arabic Mystical Writings of the XIV–XVth Century,” in Judaeo-Arabic Studies: Proceedings of the Founding Conference of the Society for Judaeo-Arabic Studies, ed. Norman Golb (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 1997), 87–101; idem, “Abraham Maimonides (1186–1237): Founding a Mystical Dynasty,” in Jewish Mystical Leaders and Leadership in the 13th Century, ed. M. Idel and M. Ostow (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1998), 127–154; idem, “The Literary Legacy of the Descendants of Maimonides,” Peʿamim 97 (2003), 5–25; idem, “Maimonides—Father and Son: Continuity and Change,” in Traditions of Maimonideanism, ed. Carlos Fraenkel (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 103–137; Elisha Russ-Fishbane, Judaism, Sufism, and the Pietists of Medieval Egypt: A Study of Abraham Maimonides and His Times (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).


Baneth, in Davidowitz, De Beatitudine, xxviii n. 54. It has been mistakenly suggested that the author is Zeraḥya ben Shealtiel Gracian (d. 1290), who was born either in Barcelona or in Toledo. See Davidowitz, De Beatitudine, xxvii–xxx; Israel Moses Ta-Shma, Rabbi Zeraḥya Ha-Levi and His Colleagues [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1993), 7; Ḥaviva Pedaya, “Possessed by Speech: Towards an Understanding of the Prophetic-Ecstatic Pattern among Early Kabbalists” [Hebrew], Tarbitz 56 (1996): 622. The name of the translator, Rabbi Zeraḥya Ha-Levi, is mentioned in two manuscripts of his translations: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms. 719; New York, Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Ms. 2341.


Ari Ackerman, The Sermons of R. Zeraḥya Halevi Saladin [Hebrew] (Beer Sheva: Ben Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2002), 29.


Abu Hamid Muhammed al-Ghazālī, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, trans. Michael Marmura (London: Brigham Young University Press, 2002). On the Hebrew translation, see Moritz Steinschneider, Die hebräischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters und die Juden als Dolmetscher (Berlin: Kommissionsverlag des Bibliographischen Bureaus, 1893), 327–330. On the influence of al-Ghazālī on Crescas’s circle, see W. Zev Harvey and Steven Harvey, “Rabbi Ḥasdai Crescas’s Attitude toward al-Ghazālī” [Hebrew], in The Intertwined Worlds of Islam: Essays in Memory of Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, ed. Naḥem Ilan (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2002), 191–210.


The Treatise on Ultimate Happiness was very likely influential in shaping the perception of happiness in Crescas’s circle. Crescas himself criticized the concept of happiness in Aristotle’s and Maimonides’s philosophies. On the perception of happiness in Crescas’s thought, see Gabriella Berzin, “ ‘Happiness,’ ‘Pleasure’ and ‘Good’ in the Thought of Maimonides and Ḥasdai Crescas,” in Shefaʿ Tal: Studies in Jewish Thought and Culture Presented to Bracha Sack [Hebrew], ed. Zeev Gries, Howard Kreisel, and Boaz Huss (Beer Sheva: Ben Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2004), 85–111.


On the attitude toward philosophy in Abraham Maimonides’s circle, see Paul B. Fenton, “Between Father and Son—Moses and Abraham Maimonides, Continuity and Change” [Hebrew], in Maimonides: Conservatism, Originality, Revolution, ed. Aviezer Ravitzky, vol. 1: History and Halakha (Jerusalem: The Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, 2008), 37–41.


Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, 20.


Ibid., 39. This section survives only in the medieval translation into Hebrew and not in the original Judeo-Arabic.


The identity of the author is a matter of some intense controversy. While Graetz considered the attribution to Maimonides false, Steinschneider, Bacher, and Heschel accepted it as authentic. However, Davidowitz, Scholem, and Shilat have argued that the Treatise has no connection to Maimonides. On the controversy over the identity of the author, see Heinrich Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, vol. 6 (Leipzig, 1861), 461; Steinschneider, Die hebräischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters, 437; W. Bacher, “The Treatise on Eternal Bliss Attributed to Moses Maimuni,” Jewish Quarterly Review 9 (1897): 270–289; Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Did Maimonides Believe That He Had Attained the Rank of Prophet?” [Hebrew], in Louis Ginzberg Jubilee Volume (New York: American Academy for Jewish Research, 1945), 159–188, esp. 170 n. 62; Gershom G. Scholem, “From Philosopher to Cabbalist: A Legend of Cabbalists on Maimonides” [Hebrew], Tarbitz 6 (1935): 335; Davidowitz, De Beatitudine, 1–32 [Hebrew]; Isaac Shilat, Letters and Essays of Moses Maimonides [Hebrew] (Maʿaleh Adumim: Shilat Press, 1988), 696–697.


Moshe Idel, “The ‘Word of Imagination’ and the Collectanaea of R. Nathan” [Hebrew], Eshel Beer-Sheva: Studies in Jewish Thought 2 (1980): 165–176; idem, “Ribbi Yehudah Ḥallewa and His Zafenat Paʿaneaḥ” [Hebrew], Shalem: Studies in the History of the Jews in Eretz-Israel 4 (1984): 131–134.


Wieder, Formation of Jewish Liturgy, 2:699–700; Moshe Idel, Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Academon Press, 1990), 102–105; Pedaya, “Possessed by Speech,” 602–606; Ḥaviva Pedaya, “Text and Text Performance in the Poetry of R. Israel Najara: Exclusion of Sleep as a Praxis of Exile in the Space of the Night” [Hebrew], in The Piyyut as a Cultural Prism: New Approaches, ed. Ḥaviva Pedaya (Jerusalem, 2012), 47–49.


Heschel, “Did Maimonides Believe,” 170–172; Ḥannah Kasher, “Disciples of Philosophers as ‘Sons of the Prophets’: Prophecy Manuals among Maimonides’s Followers” [Hebrew], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 14 (1998): 76–78; Russ-Fishbane, Judaism, Sufism, and the Pietists, 199–201.


I will use “happiness” as it reflects contemporary philosophical discourse.


The term literally means “good daemon” and refers to its happiness. Hence the derived meaning of eudaimonia transferred to the human domain, namely a state of happiness and its varieties. See Aristoteles: Die Nikomachische Ethik, ed. Olof Gigon (Zurich: Artemis, 1951), 7ff.


Ervin I. J. Rosenthal, “The Concept of Eudaimonia in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Philosophy,” in idem, Studia Semitica II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 127–134.


Edward William Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (London: Williams and Norgate, 1863), 1362. See also Reinhart Pieter Anne Dozy, Supplément aux dictionnaires arabes, vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill; Paris, Maisonneuve Frères, 1927), 654.


Hans Daiber, “Saʿāda,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., (accessed May 21, 2018).


On the Sufi terminology in the Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, see Fenton, Treatise of The Pool, 44–46.


On happiness in medieval Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thought, see Daiber, “Saʿāda”; Muḥsin Mahdi, Alfarabi: Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle (New York: Free Press, 1962), 13–52; Miriam Galston, Politics and Excellence: The Political Philosophy of Alfarabi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 55–94; Binyamin Abrahamov, Divine Love in Islamic Mysticism: The Teachings of Al-Ghazālī and Al-Daffāgh (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 67–95; Sarah Stroumsa, “‘True Felicity’: Paradise in the Thought of Avicenna and Maimonides,” in Medieval Encounters: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Culture in Confluence and Dialogue 4 (1998): 51–77; Janne Mattila, “Philosophy as a Path to Happiness: Attainment of Happiness in Arabic Peripatetic and Isma‛ili Philosophy” (academic dissertation, University of Helsinki, 2011); James M. Powell, Albertanus of Brescia: The Pursuit of Happiness in the Early Thirteenth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992); Thomas Williams and Christina van Dyke, Saint Thomas Aquinas, The Treatise on Happiness: Summa Theologiae I–II 1/21 (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2016), 1–66; Amira ‛Eran, “Al-Ghazālī and Maimonides on the World to Come and Spiritual Pleasures,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 8, no. 2 (2001): 137–166; Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, Happiness in Premodern Judaism: Virtue, Knowledge, and Well-Being (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2003), 143–290; Berzin, “‘Happiness,’ ‘Pleasure’ and ‘Good,’” 85–111.


Plato, Theaetetus, 176 B.


Nicomachean Ethics, 1.7, 1098a15; ET: The Ethics of Aristotle—The Nicomachean Ethics, trans. J. A. K. Thomson (London: Penguin, 1976), 76.


Nicomachean Ethics, 10.7, 1177b30, 1178a5 (ET: The Ethics of Aristotle, 330–331).


Christopher P. Long, Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy: Practicing a Politics of Reading (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).


Anthony Kenny, Aristotle on the Perfect Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).


Al-Fārābī’s work is particularly challenging to portray, as relevant discussions are dispersed through a wide range of his writings. For helpful introductions, see Nadja Germann, “Al-Fārābī’s Philosophy of Society and Religion,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2016 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta,; Galston, Politics and Excellence. The latter is especially useful for tracing the variations, occasional inconsistencies, and developments in al-Fārābī’s thought.


Tirosh-Samuelson, Happiness in Premodern Judaism, 143–290.


Mattila, Philosophy as a Path to Happiness, 31.


Shlomo Pines has suggested that Maimonides did not really believe in the immortality of the souls of exemplary men. See Shlomo Pines, “The Limitation of Human Knowledge according to al-Fārābī, Ibn Bājja and Maimonides,” in Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature, ed. Isadore Twersky (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), 82–109. However, Pines’s thesis in this regard has not gone unchallenged. For a recent detailed review of the debate, see Josef Stern, “Maimonidean Skepticism I,” ch. 5 in idem, The Matter and Form of Maimonides’ “Guide” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 132–190.


On immortality and true felicity in Avicenna, see Harry Blumberg, “The Problem of Immortality in Avicenna, Maimonides, and St. Thomas Aquinas,” in Essays in Medieval Jewish and Islamic Philosophy, ed. Arthur Hyman (New York: Ktav, 1977), 95–115; Peter Heath, Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sînâ): With a Translation of the Book of the Prophet Muḥammad’s Ascent to Heaven (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992); D. Schwartz, “Avicenna and Maimonides on Immortality: A Comparative Study,” in Medieval and Modern Perspectives on Muslim-Jewish Relations, ed. Ronald L. Nettler (Luxembourg: Harwood Academic, 1995), 185–195; Stroumsa, “‘True Felicity,’” 51–77.


‛Eran, “Al-Ghazālī and Maimonides,” 137–166.


Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, 6.


Ibid., 38–39.


Ibid., 36.


Ibid., 28.


Ibid., 35. In this interpretation, he is following Maimonides: “[The Sages], may their memory be blessed, mention the occurrence of this kind of death, which in true reality is salvation from death, only with regard to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. The other prophets and excellent men are beneath this degree; but it holds good for all of them that the apprehension of their intellects becomes stronger at the separation, just as it is said: And thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be at thy rear (Isa. 58:8). After having reached this condition of enduring permanence, that intellect remains in one and the same state, the impediment that sometimes screened him off having been removed. And he will remain permanently in that state of intense pleasure, which does not belong to the genus of bodily pleasures, as we have explained in our compilations.” Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), pt. 3, ch. 51, 2:628.


Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, 1362.


Heath, Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna, 68–69; Shams Constantine Inati, Ibn Sīnā and Mysticism: Remarks and Admonitions, Part Four (London: Kegan Paul International, 1996), 8–30.


Lawrence V. Berman, Ibn Bājja and Maimonides: A Chapter in the History of Political Philosophy [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1958), 7–73; idem, “The Political Interpretation of the Maxim: The Purpose of Philosophy is the Imitation of God,” Studia Islamica 15 (1961): 53–62; Alexander Altmann, “Ibn Bājja on Man’s Ultimate Felicity,” in idem, Studies in Religious Philosophy and Mysticism (London: Routledge and K. Paul, 1969), 73–107; Steven Harvey, “The Place of the Philosopher in the City According to Ibn Bājja,” in The Political Aspects of Islamic Philosophy: Essays in Honor of Muḥsin S. Mahdi, ed. Charles E. Butterworth (Cambridge, MA: Center for Middle Eastern Studies of Harvard University, 1992), 199–233.


Al-Ghazālī, The Alchemy of Happiness (Kimiya as-Sa‛ādat), trans. Jay R. Crook and Laleh Bakhtiar, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Chicago: Great Books of the Islamic World, 2008).


Lawrence V. Berman, “Maimonides on Political Leadership,” in Kinship and Consent: The Jewish Political Tradition and Its Contemporary Uses, ed. Daniel Judah Elazar (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1983), 113–126.


Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, 31.


Ibid., 27.


Ibid., 30.


Ibid., 35.


Ibid., 33.


Response to Rabbi Yosef on Life’s Predetermined End, Shilat edition, 267. Maimonides’s term in Arabic in this text is as-saʿāda al-ākhrī, which can be translated as “ultimate happiness.” Blau suggests that al-ākhrī might be an alternative spelling for al-ākhira. See Joshua Blau, A Dictionary of Medieval Judaeo-Arabic Texts (Jerusalem, 2006), 6.


For a recent detailed review of taqlid in Jewish and Islamic philosophy, with a particular focus on Maimonides, see ‛Omer Michaelis, “‘Even of the Philosophers’: Taqlid in Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed and Its Sources” [Hebrew], Daat: Journal of Jewish Philosophy and Kabbalah 83 (2017): 7–46.


Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Pines, pt. 3, ch. 23, 2:492–493.


Berzin, “ ‘Happiness,’ ‘Pleasure’ and ‘Good,’ ” 93–95.


Pedaya, “Possessed by Speech,” 601.


“Practice and knowledge” (ʿilm wa-ʿamal) is a well-known idiomatic expression in medieval theology. See Ignace Goldziher, Kitab Maʿani an-Nafs (Berlin, 1907), notes on pp. 54ff.; Ḥava Lazarus-Yafeh, Studies in Al-Ghazzali (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1975), 221; Shlomo Pines, “Jahilliya’ and ‛Ilm,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 13 (1990): 175–194; Robert Cleave and Eugenia Kermeli, Islamic Law: Theory and Practice (London: I. B. Tauris, 2001).


Abū Ḥamid al-Ghazālī, Mīzān al-ʿAmal, ed. Sulīmān Dunyā (Cairo: Dār al-Ma’arif, 1964), 179. See also Kenneth Garden, The First Islamic Reviver: Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī and His “Revival of the Religious Sciences” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 30–62; idem, “Revisiting al-Ghazālī’s Crisis through his Scale for Action (Mīzān al-ʿAmal),” in Islam and Rationality: The Impact of al-Ghazālī: Papers Collected on his 900th Anniversary, ed. Georges Tamer, 2 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 1:211–213; Yasien Mohamed, “The Duties of the Teacher: Al-Iṣfahānī’s Dharīʿa as a Source of Inspiration for al-Ghazālī’s Mīzān al-ʿAmal,” ibid., 1:186–206.


Al-Ghazālī, Mīzān al-ʿAmal, 194.


On prayer, by Maimonides and his descendants, see Marvin Fox, “Prayer in Maimonides” [Hebrew], in Ha-Tefillah ha-Yehudit Hemshekh ve-Ḥiddush (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 1978), 142–166; David Blumenthal, “Maimonides: Prayer, Worship, and Mysticism,” in Prière mystique et Judaisme, ed. R. Goetschel (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1987), 89–106; Ya‘aqov Blidstein, Prayer in Maimonides’s Halakha [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1994); idem, “Community and Communal Prayer in the Writings of Abraham Maimonides” [Hebrew], Peʿamim 78 (1999): 148–163; Stefan C. Reif, Problems with Prayers: Studies in the Textual History of Early Rabbinic Liturgy (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2006), 207–228; idem, “Maimonides on the Prayers,” in Traditions of Maimonideanism, ed. Carlos Fraenkel (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 73–102; Wieder, Formation of Jewish Liturgy, 2:699–700; Nissim Dana, “Introduction,” in Rabbi Avraham ben ha-Rambam: Sefer ha-Maspik le-ʿOvdey Hashem, Kitab Kifayat al-ʿAbidin [Hebrew], pt. 2, vol. 2, ed. and trans. N. Dana (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 1989), 13–48; Paul Fenton, “A Mystical Treatise on Prayer and the Spiritual Quest from the Pietist Circle,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 16 (1993): 137–175; Harvey, “Avicenna and Maimonides on Prayer and Intellectual Worship,” 82–105; Russ-Fishbane, Judaism, Sufism, and the Pietists, 158–184.


Fenton, “Mystical Treatise on Prayer,” 137–175.


On Abraham he-Ḥasīd and his contribution to mystical prayer, see Simon Eppenstein, “Chapter 22 and 25 of Abraham ben Moses Maimonides’s Kifāyat al-ʿAbidīn,” in I. Lewy Jubilee Volume (Breslau: H. Marcus, 1911), 53; Naftali Wieder, Islamic Influences on Jewish Worship [Hebrew] (Oxford: East and West Library, Phaidon Press, 1947), 37; idem, Formation of Jewish Liturgy, 2, 686–691; S. D. Goitein, “Abraham Maimonides and His Pietist Circle,” in Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies, ed. A. Altmann (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), 145–165; Gerson D. Cohen, “The Soteriology of R. Abraham Maimoni,” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 35 (1967): 269–271; Shelomo D. Goitein, Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, vol. 5: The Individual: Portrait of a Mediterranean Personality of the High Middle Ages as Reflected in the Cairo Geniza (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 79–80, 459–460; Paul Fenton, “Some Judaeo-Arabic Fragments by Rabbi Abraham ha-Hasid, the Jewish Sufi,” Journal of Semitic Studies 26 (1981): 47–72; idem, Deux traités de mystique juive (Paris: Verdier, 1987), 53–54; idem, “Abraham Maimonides (1186–1237): Founding a Mystical Dynasty,” in Jewish Mystical Leaders and Leadership in the 13th Century, ed. Moshe Idel and Mortimore Ostow (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1998), 127–154; Dana, Rabbi Avraham ben ha-Rambam, 79; Russ-Fishbane, Judaism, Sufism, and the Pietists, 47–48 n. 15, 96–97, 138–140.


On the dynamics of polar modes in the Sufi way, see Sara Sviri, The Sufis: An Anthology [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Press, 2008), 196–210.


Fenton, A Mystical Treatise on Prayer, 150–151. The translation from Judeo-Arabic to English is mine.


Kitāb Kifāyat al-ʿĀbidīn, 88, 101–102, 216.


Ibid., 115–117.


Ibid., 116.


On weeping in Abraham Maimonides’s circle, see Dana, “Introduction,” 44–46. On weeping as a mystical practice in Sufism, see Arthur J. Arberry, Sufism, an Account of the Mystics of Islam (London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1979), 100–136; William C. Chittick, “Weeping in Classical Sufism,” in Holy Tears: Weeping in the Religious Imagination, ed. Kimberley C. Patton and John Stratton Hawley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 132–144. On weeping as a mystical practice in Kabbalah, see Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 75–88; Bracha Zak, At the Gates of R. Moshe Cordovero’s Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1995), 232–234; Elliot R. Wolfson, “Weeping, Death, and Spiritual Ascent in Sixteenth Century Jewish Mysticism,” in Death, Ecstasy, and Other Worldly Journeys, ed. John J. Collins and Michael Fishbane (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 209–247; Mosheh Ḥalamish, An Introduction to the Kabbalah (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), 112–114.


Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, 7.


Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, 924; Dozy, Supplément aux dictionnaires arabes, vol. 1, 466.


Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm Kalābādhī, Kitāb at-Taʿarruf li-Madhhab Ahl at-Taṣawwuf (The Doctrine of the Ṣūfīs), trans. Arthur J. Arberry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 102.


Abū Sa‛d al-Kharrāz, Kitab aṣ-Ṣafā’ (The Book of Purity), in Rasā’il al-Kharrāz (al-Kharrāz’s Letters), ed. Qasem as-Sāmarā’ī (Baghdad: Maṭba‛ah al-Majma‛ al-‛Iilmī al-‛Irāqī, 1967), 23–24.


Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans. John W. Harvey (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959).


Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, 7 n. 14; Dozy, Supplément aux dictionnaires arabes, vol. 1, 654.


Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Pines, pt. 2, ch. 45, 2:402–403.


Muḥammad Hāshem al-Baghdādī, Dusttūr al-Wilāyya w-Marāqī al-‛Ināya (Nablus: Maṭba‛ah Offset al-Naṣr, 1987), 1: 21.


Martin Lings, What Is Sufism? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 25.


Fadlou Shehadi, Ghazālī’s Unique Unknowable God: A Philosophical Critical Analysis of Some of the Problems Raised by Ghazālī’s View of God as Utterly Unique and Unknowable (Leiden: Brill, 1964), 30–31.


On the mystical ritual of dhikr, see Louis Gardet, “Dhikr,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., (accessed May 21, 2018); Eliyahu Stern, “On the Remembrance of God in Islamic Mysticism,” in The Intertwined Worlds of Islam: Essays in Memory of Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, ed. Naḥem Ilan (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2002), 535–565. On dhikr in medieval Sufism and with reference to Egyptian pietism, see Elisha Russ-Fishbane, “Physical Embodiment and Spiritual Rapture in Thirteenth-Century Sufi Mysticism,” in Les mystiques juives, chrétiennes et musulmanes dans l’Egypte médiévale (Le Caire: Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 2013), 305–332.


On the place of the unio mystica experience in the Abrahamic religions, see Moshe Idel and Bernard McGinn, Mystical Union in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: An Ecumenical Dialogue (London: Bloomsbury, 2016); Adam Afṭerman, “And They Shall Be One Flesh”: On the Language of Mystical Union in Judaism (Leiden: Brill, 2016).


Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī, The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God: al-Maqṣad al-Asnā fī Shraḥ Asmāʾ Allāh al-Ḥusnā, trans. David B. Burrell (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1992), 125.


John Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 194; Fethullah Gülen, Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism, vol. 2 (Lanham, MD: Tughra Books, 2007), 79–84.


Najmuddīn Kubrā, Risāla fi faḍīlat aṣ-ṣalāt (Istanbul Universitesi Kütüphanesi, Arab. 4530), 2b.


b. Baba Batra, 5a.


Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, 27.


Herbert A. Davidson, “Alfarabi and Avicenna on the Active Intellect,” Viator 3 (1972): 173–174.


Abrahamov, Divine Love in Islamic Mysticism, 61–60.


Berzin, “ ‘Happiness,’ ‘Pleasure’ and ‘Good,’ ” 96–100.


Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines, pt. 3, ch. 51, 2:627–628. On the term ladhdha, see Berzin, “‘Happiness,’ ‘Pleasure’ and ‘Good,’” 96–100; Binyamin Abrahamov, Divine Love in Islamic Mysticism: The Teachings of Al-Ghazālī and Al-Dabbagh, (Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2013), 59–61. On the term ʿishq, see Steven Harvey, “The Meaning of the Terms Designating Love in Judaeo-Arabic Thought,” in Judaeo-Arabic Studies, ed. Norman Golb (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 1997), 175–196.


Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, 27.


Ibid., 28.


Ibid., 24.


ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Jāmī, Lawāīḥ, trans. William C. Chittick, in Rending the Veil: Concealment and Secrecy in the History of Religions, ed. Elliot R. Wolfson (New York: Seven Bridges Press, 1999), 59.


On the paradoxes of simultaneous veiling and unveiling in Sufism, see William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2000), 179–200.


Abrahamov, Divine Love in Islamic Mysticism, 62–66.


Al-Ghazālī, The Niche of Lights, trans. David Buchman (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1998), 44.


Scott Michael Girdner, “Ghazālī’s Hermeneutics and Their Reception in Jewish Tradition,” in Islam and Rationality: The Impact of Al-Ghazālī: Papers Collected on His 900th Anniversary, ed. Georges Tamer (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 253–274.


The Eight Chapters of Maimonides on Ethics (Shemonah Perakim): A Psychological and Ethical Treatise, ed. and trans. Joseph I. Gorfinkle (New York: Columbia University Press, 1912), 79. On the interpretations of speculum in Maimonides’s writings, see Hannah Kasher, “Maimonides’s Interpretations of the Story of the Divine Revelation in the Cleft of the Rock,” Daat: Journal of Jewish Philosophy and Kabbalah 35 (1995): 29–66.


Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines, pt. 3, ch. 9, 2:436–437. This passage from the Guide was discussed in the context of veiling in Elliot Wolfson’s book on dreams and in Joseph Stern’s book on matter and form in Maimonides and Russ-Fishbane’s book on the pietists. See Elliot R. Wolfson, A Dream Interpreted within a Dream: Oneiropoiesis and the Prism of Imagination (New York: Zone Books, 2011), 376 n. 96; Stern, Matter and Form, 191–192, 385–393; Russ-Fishbane, Judaism, Sufism, and the Pietists, 187–218.


Sara Klein-Braslavy, “Introduction to The Eight Chapters” [Hebrew], in Eight Chapters: Maimonides’s Introduction to His Commentary on “Avot,” trans. from Judeo-Arabic into Modern Hebrew by Michael Schwarz (Jerusalem: Makhon Ben Zevi, 2011), 41.


On Maimonides’s conception of prophecy in the Introduction to the Commentary to Perek Ḥelek, see Howard Kreisel, Prophecy: The History of an Idea in Medieval Jewish Philosophy (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 2003), 167–178.


Introduction to Chapter 10 of the Tractate Sanhedrin—Perek Ḥelek, Shilat edition, 142. Idel notes that the meaning of “pure reason alone remained” in Rabbi Abraham Abulafia writings is that Moses is a symbol of the Active Intellect. See Moshe Idel, “Definitions of Prophecy—Maimonides and Abulafia,” in Maimonides and Mysticism: Presented to Moshe Hallamish on the Occasion of His Retirement, ed. A. Elqayam and D. Schwartz (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 2009), 15.


Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, 3.


Ibid., 24.


Shlomo Pines, “La ‘Philosophie Orientale’ d’Avicenna et sa polémique contra les Bagdadiens,” Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du Moyen Age 19 (1952): 5–37, reprinted in Studies in the History of Arabic Philosophy [The Collected Works of Shlomo Pines, vol. 3], ed. Sara Stroumsa (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1996), 301–333; Lenn Evan Goodman, Avicenna (London: Routledge, 1992), 39–41; Dimitri Gutas, “Ibn Ṭufayl on Ibn Sīnā’s Eastern Philosophy,” Oriens 34 (1994): 222–241; idem, “Avicenna’s Eastern (‘Oriental’) Philosophy: Nature, Contents, Transmission,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 10 (2000): 159–180.


Heath, Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna, 173.


On the influence of Suhrawardī al-Maqtūl on Maimonides’s offspring, see Paul Fenton, “The Literary Legacy of David Ben Joshua, Last of the Maimonidean Negidim,” Jewish Quarterly Review 75 (1984): 1–56; Y. Tzvi Langermann, “Arabic Writings in Hebrew Manuscripts: Suhrawardī, Ibn Sīnā, and Ibn al-Ṭayyib,” ʿAlei Sefer: Studies in Bibliography and in the History of the Printed and the Digital Hebrew Book 21 (2010): 21–33.


Hossein Ziai, Knowledge and Illumination: A Study of Suhrawardi’s “Ḥikmat al-ʿIshraq” (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990); Mehdi Amin Razavi Aminrazavi, Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination (Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2014); John Walbridge and Hossein Ziai, ed. and trans., Suhrawardī: The Philosophy of Illumination (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1999); John Walbridge, The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000); idem, The Wisdom of the Mystic East: Suhrawardi and Platonic Orientalism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001); Roxanne Marcotte, “Suhrawardi al-Maqtul, The Martyr of Aleppo,” Al-Qanṭara 22 (2001): 395–419; H. Eichner, “‘Knowledge by Presence,’ Apperception in the Mind-Body Relationship: Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and al-Suhrawardī as Representatives and Precursors of a Thirteenth-Century Discussion,” in The Age of Averroes: Arabic Philosophy in the Sixth/Twelfth Century, ed. Peter Adamson (London: Warburg Institute; Savigliano: Nino Aragno, 2011), 117–140.


In this he follows Maimonides in his Introduction to Perek Ḥelek (Sanhedrin, chap. 10). See Maimonides’s Introduction to the Mishnah, Shilat edition (Jerusalem, 1992), 142; Kasher comments on this in her “Disciples of Philosophers,” 76–78.


Teshuvot: Collected Correspondence and Responsa by Maimonides (Warsaw, 1877), 4. Moshe Idel discusses further sources for comparing the sun and the moon to the human intellect and the speaking spirit in humans; see “Jerusalem in Thirteenth-Century Jewish Thought” [Hebrew], in The History of Jerusalem: Crusaders and Ayyubids (1099–1250), ed. Joshua Prawer and Haggai Ben-Shammai (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 1991), 280–281 n. 87.


Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, 33–34.


“Indeed, the man who has attained perfection must bring others to perfection, and bestow on people from whatever affluence the Lord, may He be blessed, has bestowed on him. […] He who has completed these bases and roots is in position to attain this level. And do this in the manner in which I have directed you.” Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, 10–11. This text readily lends itself to the interpretation that the author perceives himself as the man who has attained prophecy and as such is able to bestow it on his disciple. On other Jewish medieval figures who claimed to have attained prophecy, see Idel, “Definitions of Prophecy,” 1–36.


Heschel, “Did Maimonides Believe,” 171.


Paul Fenton, “A Mystical Treatise on Perfection, Providence and Prophecy from the Jewish Sufi Circle,” in The Jews in Medieval Islam: Community, Society and Identity, ed. D. Frank (Leiden: Brill, 1992), 301–334; Russ-Fishbane, Judaism, Sufism, and the Pietists, 189–218; Kasher, “Disciples of Philosophers,” 76–78.


He is following Maimonides: “Air (ruaḥ) is an equivocal term,” Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines, pt. 1, ch. 40, 1:90.


Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, 1–2.


More generally on the image of the dog in Islam and Sufism, see Javad Nurbakhsh, Dogs from a Sufi Point of View (London: Khaniqahi-Nimatullahi Publications and Kegan Paul International, 1989) and, more recently, Nathan Hofer, “Dogs in Medieval Egyptian Sufi Literature,” in Our Dogs, Our Selves: Dogs in Medieval and Early Modern Art, Literature, and Society, ed. Laura Geldfand (Boston: Brill, 2016), 78–96.


Al-Ghazālī, “Kitāb Sharḥ ʿAjā’ib al-Qalb—The Marvels of the Heart”: Book 21 of the “Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn—The Revival of the Religious Sciences,” trans. Walter James Skellie (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2010), 19–20. For a comprehensive analysis of this chapter, see Jules Janssens, “Al-Mīzān al-‘Amal: An Ethical Summa Based on Ibn Sīnā and Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī,” in Islamic Thought in the Middle Ages: Studies in Text, Transmission and Translation in Honour of Hans Daiber, ed. Anna Akasoy and Wim Raven (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 123–137; idem, “Al-Ghazālī between Philosophy (Falsafa) and Sufism (Taṣawwuf): His Complex Attitude in the Marvels of the Heart (ʿAjāʾib al-Qalb) of the Iiḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn,” The Muslim World 101 (2011): 614–632.


Treatise on Ultimate Happiness, 14–15.


Ibid., 18–19.


Ibid., 13.


Pedaya, “Possessed by Speech,” 604–605.


Lorenz M. Nigst, “‘He Would Bite Them Really Heavily’. Maqdish on Madjdhubs-Saints,” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlands 103 (2013): 269.


Richard Gramlich, “Madjdhūb,ˮ Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., (accessed May 21, 2018); Arin Salamah-Qudsi, “The Concept of jadhb and the Image of majdhūb in Sufi Teaching and Life in the Period between the Fourth/Tenth and the Tenth/Sixteenth Centuries,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 28, no. 2 (2018): 255–271.


Michel Chodkiewicz, Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn ‛Arabi, trans. Liadain Sherrard (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1993); Richard J. A. McGregor, Sanctity and Mysticism in Medieval Egypt: The Wafā Sufi Order and the Legacy of Ibn ‛Arabi (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004), 9–26.


Bernd Radtke and John O’Kane, The Concept of Sainthood in Early Islamic Mysticism: Two Works by al-Ḥakim al-Tirmidhi. An Annotated Translation with Introduction (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1996), 123–124.


Michael W. Dols, Majnūn: The Madman in Medieval Islamic Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 388; Daphna Ephrat, Spiritual Wayfarers, Leaders in Piety: Sufism and the Dissemination of Islam in Medieval Palestine (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).

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