Burning Hurqalyâ

« Henry Corbin »

In matters of religion, one of the common errors is to want to choose with whom one can talk, and to exclude from one’s field of vision extreme ideologues, stubborn minds, closed mentalities. This is human.

It is incomparably easier to begin detailed debates or circumstantial glosses if there is already an a priori agreement on the substance. This avoids infinite misunderstandings and deadlocked dead ends. Who thinks it possible, indeed, to ever agree, on any point whatsoever, with such and such an ultra tendency of such and such a monotheistic religion?

It’s human, and it’s easier, but, on the other hand, the ultras of all acabits, irreconcilably ‘other’, absolutely ‘foreign’ to any dialectic, remain in the landscape. They continue, and for a long time, to be part of the problem to be solved, even if they don’t seem to be part of the solution. Precisely because they have nothing in common with the proponents of the very idea of ‘dialogue’, they can be interesting to observe, and must be, in every respect, if one considers the long-term destiny of a small Humankind, standing on its dewclaws, on the surface of a drop of mud, lost in the cosmic night.

Nevertheless, it is infinitely easier to speak to ‘open’ minds when trying to cross cultural, traditional or religious barriers.

« The conditions of the Christian-Islamic dialogue change completely if the interlocutor is not legal Islam but spiritual Islam, whether it is Sufism or Shî’ite Gnosis. » i

Henry Corbin was an exceptional personality. But he admitted that he did not want to waste his time with the ‘legitarians’. This is understandable. And yet, they are basically the key lock. If world peace and universal understanding are to be achieved, ‘spiritualists’ and ‘legitarians’ must find, whatever the difficulties to be overcome, a common ground…

Dialogue with the ‘other’ begins with mastering the other’s language.

In theory, we should be able to understand all of them, or at least decipher them, particularly these chosen languages, chosen for conveying this or that sacred message.

Sanskrit, for example, should be part of the minimal baggage of any researcher interested in a comparative anthropology of the religious fact through time. It is the oldest and most complex language, which still testifies to the wonders of the human spirit, trying to approach mysteries that are seemingly beyond its reach.

I hasten to add (biblical) Hebrew, which is much simpler, grammatically speaking, but full of a subtle delicacy that can be seen in the play on words, the etymological shifts, the radical drifts, the subliminal evocations, and the breadth of the semantic fields, allowing for the most daring and creative interpretations.

Koranic Arabic is also a necessary acquisition. The Koran is a book with a very ‘literary’ and sophisticated writing that no translation can really render, as it requires immersion in the musicality of classical Arabic, now a dead language. Puns and alliterations abound, as in Hebrew, another Semitic language.

The famous Louis Massignon sought in good faith « how to bring back to a common base the textual study of the two cultures, Arabic and Greco-Latin »ii.

For our part, we would also like to be able to bring the study of Vedic, Egyptian, Sumerian, Assyrian, Zoroastrian and Avestic cultures, at least in theory if not in practice, to a « common base ».

And, still in theory, one should particularly have solid notions of Ancient Egyptian (very useful if one wants to understand the distant foundations of the ancient ‘mosaic’ religion), and Avesta (indispensable to get an idea of the progressive, ‘harmonic’, transitioniii in ancient Iran from Zoroastrianism and Mazdeism to Muslim Shî’ism).

In the absence of these indispensable add-ons, one can minimally rely on a few genius smugglers. Henry Corbin is an incomparable pedagogue of Shî’ite Islam. Who else but him could have allowed the discovery of a concept like the one of Ḥûrqalyâ?

Ḥûrqalyâ is the land of visions, the place where mind and body become one, explains Henry Corbin. « Each one of us, volens nolens, is the author of events in ‘Ḥûrqalyâ‘, whether they abort or bear fruit in its paradise or its hell. We believe we are contemplating the past and the unchanging, as we consume our own future. » iv

His explanation of Ḥûrqalyâ is rather short and somewhat obscure. We would like to know more.

Looking in the famous Kazimirsky dictionaryv, I discovered the meaning of the verbal root حرق (ḥaraqa): « To be burned, to burn. To set on fire, to ignite; to burn with great fire. To burn each other (or to sleep with a woman). To reduce to ashes. »

It is also the word used to designate migrants who ‘burn’ their identity papers.

With different vocalizations of the same verbal root, the semantic spectrum of the resulting nouns widens considerably:

ḥirq « the tallest branch of the male palm tree, which fertilizes the flowers of a female palm tree »;

ḥourq « avarice »;

ḥaraq « fire, flame, burn »;

ḥariq « which loses its hair; which produces violent lightning (cloud); « fire;

ḥourqa « burning heat in the intestines »;

al- ḥâriq « the tooth (of a ferocious beast) »;

ḥâriqa « burning (said to be a very sensual woman in the carnal trade) »;

ḥâroûqa « very sensual woman », or in the plural: »who cuts (swords) »;

ḥirâq « who destroys, who consumes »; « who burns the path, who runs very fast (horse) »;

ḥourrâq « burning firebrand »;

ḥârraqa « vessel to be set on fire ».

You get the idea…

But in the context that interests us here, it is the noun حَرْقً (ḥarq), used by mystics, that we must highlight. It means « the state of burning », that is, an intermediate state between برق (barq), which is only the « lightning of the manifestations of God », and الطمس فى الذات, al-tams fi-l-dhat, « annihilation in the ‘that’, in the divine essence »vi.

The etymology of the word ḥûrqalyâ, shows that it means a state that lies between the lightning flash and the ash or annihilation .

Let us return to the glossary proposed by Corbin.

« A whole region of Hûrqalyâ is populated, post mortem, byour imperatives and our vows, that is to say, by what makes the very meaning of our acts of understanding as well as our behaviors. As well as all the underlying metaphysics is that of an incessant recurrence of Creation (tajaddod), it is not a metaphysics of the Ens or the Esse, but of the Estovii, ofbe !’ in the imperative. But the event is put to the imperative only because it is itself the iterative form of the being for which it is promoted to the reality of event. » viii

We learn here that Creation is a continuous act, a continuous iteration, an imperative to be, a ‘be!’ infinitely repeated, implying a ‘become!’ no less perpetual.

Esto! Or the unceasing burning of the moment, that is to say of the presence (to oneself, or in oneself ?).

Perhaps we can read in these ever-changing, ever-challenging moments « the mystery of the primordial Theophany, of the revelation of the divine Being, who can only reveal himself to himself in another self, but can only recognize himself as other, and recognize this other as himself only because he is God in himself. » ix

Another image, often used in the Psalms, is that of clothing. It is necessary to reach this state where the body is no more than a ‘garment’ that one can freely undress or put on, because it is really the other in oneself that is the true garment of oneself.


iHenry Corbin. Heavenly earth and resurrection body. From Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Iran. Ed. The boat of the sun. Buchet/Chastel. 1960. p.12

ii Louis Massignon. Lettres d’humanité tome II, 1943, p.137

iiiAccording to the expression of H. Corbin. op.cit. p. 111

ivHenry Corbin. Heavenly earth and resurrection body. From Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Iran. Ed. The boat of the sun. Buchet/Chastel. 1960. p.13

vA. de Biberstein Kazimirski. Arab-French dictionary. Volume I. Ed Al Bouraq. Beirut. 2004, pp. 411-412.

vi The mystical meaning of the word tams is precisely the annihilation of the individuality of man’s attributes in the attributes of God. The word dhat means « that » and, in context, the very essence of God.

viiIn Latin: ens = « being », esse = « to be », esto = « Be! »

viiiHenry Corbin. Heavenly earth and resurrection body. From Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Iran. Ed. The boat of the sun. Buchet/Chastel. 1960. p.16

ixHenry Corbin. Heavenly earth and resurrection body. From Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Iran. Ed. The boat of the sun. Buchet/Chastel. 1960. p.111

The Poisonous Death of the Prophet

The prophet Muhammad may have been poisoned, according to Hela Ouardi, a Tunisian academic. In her book, « The Last Days of Muhammad » (2017), she takes a cautious and documented look at the last hours of the Prophet. He died in a few days from a strange illness. Yet he was a man in his prime, robust and even corpulent.

« Muhammad was a lover of tayyibât, a delicacy celebrated in the Koran: women, perfumes and food.i The prophet is a gourmand, fond of meat, honey and sweetsii. Muslim traditionalists describe the strong appetite of the Prophet in gargantuan scenes such as the one where he is seen swallowing half a sheep aloneiii. »iv

The famous Boukhâri, quite an illustrious authority on Islamic chains of tradition, reports two theories that can explain such a quick death, pleurisy and poisoning.

But pleurisy is excluded from the outset, at least if one believes the words of the Prophet himself. « In his Tabaqat, Ibn Sa’d relates that the mother of Bisht, Muhammad’s companion, visiting the Prophet, said to him: ‘I have never seen anyone suffering from a fever like the one that overwhelms you. – God multiplies suffering to multiply the reward,’ he replies. – People say that you are suffering from pleurisy, » she said, to which he replied: « God will never inflict it on me; it is a satanic disease; in fact I am suffering from this meal I have had with your son and I feel that this dish [of goat] will rupture my aortav. »vi

Muslim tradition reports that « the Prophet’s entourage, convinced that the Prophet was suffering from pleurisy, administered against his will a remedy suspected of being a poison that only accelerated the end; this remedy was given to the Prophet on Sunday, the day before his death.vii»viii

This could all be found in a novel by Agatha Christie. All the more so as the sudden death of the prophet did not fail to redistribute the political cards.

« Two men then played a leading role: Abû Bakr and ‘Umar who had to improvise and set up a new political institution based on the idea of replacing the Prophet: the Caliphate. The Caliphate still nourishes the collective Muslim imagination, which sees it as an infallible political institution. »ix

And Hela Ouardi pushes the point of the argument even further, in a politically sensitive direction: « After the death of the Prophet, Abû Bakr and ‘Umar will thus make a decisive entry on the stage of history. Are they not finally the true founders of a new religion that they must rebuild on the ruins of a primitive belief that suddenly collapsed the moment Muhammad died? »x

These two men will soon be murdered themselves, by the very people on whom they had sought political and religious ascendancy.

Today, Islam is still paying a heavy price for the endless excesses of this original conflict.

iTabaqât 1/410

iiTabaqât 1/391 ; Muslim 4/185. His favourite meal was tharîd, a kind of « ratatouille » with bits of bread (Tabaqât 1/393). Muhammad often compared his wife Aisha to his favourite meal (Bukhâri 3/1252 ; Dârimî Sunan 2/144 ; Muslim 4/1886 ; Ibn Mâjah Sunan 2/1092 ; Tirmidhî 4/275 ; Hâkim Mustadrak 4/129 ; Muttaqî Kanz 12/33)

iiiTabaqât 1/393 ; Ibn Hanbal Musnad 45/172

ivHela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.164

vTabaqât 2/236 ; Balâdhuri Ansâb 2/221

viHela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.171-172

viiWâqidî Maghâzi 3/1119 ; Tabaqât 2/190 ; Bukhâri 5/2159-2160 ; Ibn ‘Asâkir Tarîkh Dimashq 2/56 : Muttaqî Kanz 10/573

viiiHela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.172

ix Hela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.233

x Hela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.233