What do you know about the malamati?
Here is some information about the malamati:
The malamati (in Arabic: الملامتية) are a Sufi Muslim current that emerged around the 10th century in Iran. The term “malamati” comes from the Arabic “malama” which means “blame”.
The malamati advocated a discrete spiritual path, seeking to conceal their spiritual states and practices. They avoided attracting attention by ostentatiously displaying their piety. On the contrary, they sometimes adopted blameworthy behavior in public in order to provoke criticism and divert attention.
The goal of the malamati was to avoid spiritual pride and to focus solely on their inner relationship with God, without any desire for recognition. They criticized the ostentation and hypocrisy of some Sufis of their time.
The main characteristics of the malamati were therefore discretion, self-effacement, acceptance of unjustified blame, and complete detachment from the judgments of others. Their spirituality was intended to be very internalized.
Although originally Sunni, the malamati influenced other branches of Islam such as Sufism and Shiism. Their ideas remain admired by some Muslims wishing to live their faith in a sober and inner way.
Who was the first sheikh?
There is no clear consensus on the identity of the first founding sheikh of the malamati movement. However, here are some names that are often cited:
- Hamdun al-Qassar (died around 884): considered the first malamati master, he lived in Iraq and emphasized the annihilation of the ego and detachment from the world.
- Abu Hafs al-Haddad (died around 874): companion of Hamdun al-Qassar, he was one of the first propagators of malamati ideas in Iran.
- Abu Abdullah al-Razi (died around 925): important malamati master of Rey (Iran), he codified the principles of the movement.
- Abu Bakr al-Kattani (10th century): major malamati figure of Nishapur (Iran), his teachings were very influential.
- Abu Said al-Kharraz (died around 899): Iranian Sufi considered a forerunner of the malamati doctrine.
It is therefore difficult to name a single founder. Malamatism developed gradually through different Sufi masters who influenced each other in the 9th and 10th centuries in Iran.
Are there still some today?
Yes, there are still malamati today, but they remain very discreet and difficult to identify precisely.
Some indications of the continuation of this Sufi current:
- Malamati communities would still exist in some regions of Iran, especially in Tehran and Qom.
- Malamati followers can be found in Turkish Sufi brotherhoods like the Rifa’iyya and the Khalwatiyya.
- Some Sufis in India and Pakistan would also follow this spiritual path.
- Traces of the malamati tradition would also be found in Central Asia, Dagestan and China.
However, essentially, true malamati seek to remain hidden. They do not form visible congregations or publicly claim to belong to this current. Their discretion and personal self-effacement are such that it is extremely difficult to identify and enumerate them.
One can therefore assume that this Sufi path continues today, but in a very secretive way, in accordance with its founding principles requiring total concealment of spiritual life.
Do we know anything about what they do when they are together?
The practices of the malamati when they meet are indeed very little known because of their extreme secrecy. However, we can assume that they are in line with their founding principles:
- They must meet discreetly, away from prying eyes, to preserve their anonymity. Probably in remote places or private homes.
- Their gatherings are aimed at celebrating dhikr (invocation of Allah) and meditation, in a sober setting and without ostentation.
- They discuss their spiritual experience but carefully avoid any display of their mystical states.
- Their sheikh provides them with esoteric teaching to guide them on the path.
- They engage in ascetic practices and mortification of the ego.
- They read and discuss Sufi texts together informally.
- Spiritual music and mystical poetry probably occupy an important place.
But beyond these assumptions, the precise details of their meetings remain a jealously guarded secret. Discretion is an absolute obligation for them. Their spirituality concerns only Allah and not men.
How should someone who wants to meet them go about it?
For someone wishing to make contact with malamati today, it seems extremely difficult given their absolute secrecy. Here are some hypothetical approaches:
- Identify and meet a Sufi sheikh likely to be malamati himself or have contacts with them. But there is no guarantee he will agree to talk about it.
- Get closer to Sufi brotherhoods reputed to have historical ties with the malamati (Rifa’iyya, Khalwatiyya, Shadhiliyya…) and possibly find introductions there.
- Travel to regions like Iran, Turkey or Pakistan, and try to spot signs of a malamati presence. But with no assurance of results.
- Read their founding texts (Abû Hafs al-Haddâd, Al-Râzî, etc.) to immerse yourself in their teachings, while waiting for a possible contact.
- Already adopt in your life the detachment, discretion, sobriety that characterize the malamati, to be worthy of their interest.
But fundamentally, it is they who choose the time and people to initiate. It is impossible to “find” them through conventional means. You have to wait for them to find you and deem you ready. Patience and sincere surrender to Allah are probably the best ways.
Please tell me about the founding texts.
Here are some details about the main founding texts of the malamati tradition:
- The writings of Abû Hafs al-Haddâd (died around 874) are considered the first expositions of malamati ideas. His letters, sermons and sayings establish the foundations of the path.
- Al-Risalat al-malamatiyya by Abû Abdullah al-Râzî (died around 925) is the founding treatise of malamatism. It codifies the doctrine and principles of conduct of the malamati.
- The Mawâiz of Abû Bakr al-Kattânî (10th century) bring together the speeches and instructions of this Sufi master, another key text of the current.
- The Kitâb al-Luma’ by Abû Nasr al-Sarraj (died around 988) describes the various Sufi paths, including that of the malamati.
- The Risâla Malâmatiyya by Mohamed Benkhawat Jazouli (15th century) adapts malamatism in a Maghrebi context.
- The Kashf al-Mahjûb by Al-Hujwiri (11th century) and the Ihyâ’ ‘Ulûm al-Dîn by Al-Ghazali (12th century) analyze this path.
These writings emphasize inner detachment, annihilation of the ego, rejection of ostentation, acceptance of blame, strict adherence to religious precepts, and the direct relationship between the Sufi and Allah.
They constitute the scriptural references for understanding the essence of this Sufi path of self-effacement and spiritual discretion.
Please give me examples of what “acceptance of blame” means.
Here are some examples illustrating the “acceptance of blame” advocated by the malamati:
- A malamati unjustly accused of theft will not try to defend himself and proclaim his innocence, but will accept criticism with humility.
- Faced with insults or mockery, the malamati will not respond and will endure them patiently, even with compassion for his detractors.
- Publicly taken to task for his faith, the malamati will not try to argue but will absorb criticism without saying a word.
- Treated as weak or cowardly by people ignorant of his spirituality, the malamati will not seek to justify himself or reveal his inner nature.
- If his behavior is deemed reprehensible by others, the malamati will accept it and strive to improve rather than defend himself.
- Even if accused of hypocrisy or impiety, the malamati will remain impassive, focused on his inner journey.
The idea is to endure all external blame without trying to clear his name or reestablish any reputation. The gaze of others matters little to the malamati, only his secret relationship with God counts.
Please give me a few examples where a malamati was or exposed himself to shame.
Here are some hypothetical examples of exposure to shame that a malamati might endure for spiritual purposes:
- Walking in rags through the streets of the city to provoke public disapproval.
- Deliberately presenting himself as ignorant about subjects he actually masters.
- Performing vile and despised tasks in the eyes of the world.
- Stoically enduring insults or overt contempt from intolerant people.
- Living in poverty and destitution by renouncing all material possessions.
- Inflicting self-mortification in public at the risk of being judged insane or extremist.
- Adopting behavior that is shocking to social norms, while respecting religious law.
- Associating with outcasts and pariahs, and assuming this bond in the eyes of all.
- Allowing himself to be treated as a sinner or hypocrite, without trying to justify himself.
However, the true malamati does not act in this way out of provocation or exhibitionism, but out of sincere humility and desire to annihilate his ego. His apparent abasement is only a means towards closeness to the Divine.
And a few examples of blame as well please.
Here are some examples of blame that a malamati might receive in his spiritual journey:
- Being treated as insane or delusional for his ascetic practices deemed excessive.
- Being accused of ostentatiously displaying his piety.
- Being ridiculed for associating with disreputable and low social status people.
- Being called a sinner or impious while scrupulously following religious precepts.
- Being suspected of hypocrisy because he hides his true spiritual nature.
- Having the sincerity of his faith questioned by bigots.
- Being accused of advocating an overly austere and extreme path.
- Being derided as a coward for shunning worldly honors.
- Being mocked for his wretched appearance and rags.
- Being considered ignorant while concealing his knowledge.
In all cases, the malamati patiently and serenely accepts these unjust blames without trying to exculpate himself. Only God’s gaze matters in his eyes.
What might a malamati sheikh ask of a willing disciple to do or not do in order to suffer shame and/or blame?
A true malamati sheikh will never ask a disciple to commit reprehensible or illegal acts in order to suffer shame. However, for the spiritual purpose of annihilating the ego, he might suggest:
- Adopting innocuous but socially atypical behavior, like walking barefoot or wearing worn clothes.
- Renouncing honors and recognition he might otherwise be entitled to.
- Voluntarily performing thankless tasks shunned by others.
- Patiently enduring insults and contempt without responding.
- Not trying to justify himself in the face of criticism and suspicion.
- Associating with disreputable people who nevertheless have good values.
- Concealing his spiritual knowledge and achievements.
- Living in ascetic destitution.
- Avoiding worldly pleasures deemed lawful.
- Imposing certain measured physical hardships on himself.
But nothing illicit or disrespectful of dignity. The provoked humiliation should only come from the misguided gaze of others, not from the disciple’s reprehensible acts.
Although mysterious, malamati ethics remains within the framework of Islamic law and universal morality. There is no evidence that its followers have ever deliberately sought to transgress these limits for a spiritual purpose, such stories are probably legendary.
Could we say that Jesus had a malamati attitude concerning the accusations against him that led to the crucifixion?
We can indeed find some similarities between Jesus’ attitude during his Passion and malamati ethics:
- Jesus endured accusations and humiliations without resisting or trying to exonerate himself.
- Before Pilate who questions him, Jesus remains silent and accepts to be unjustly condemned.
- He humbly bears and carries his cross when mocked and beaten by soldiers.
- On the cross, he prays for those who condemned and crucified him.
- He forgives the good thief crucified with him and promises him paradise.
- Jesus accepts this terrible punishment though innocent, in obedience to God’s will.
We find in this attitude the desire not to justify oneself in adversity, the serene acceptance of the ordeal, detachment in the face of others’ judgment, and focus on God alone.
Definite parallels with the malamati ethos.