Surrender: Its Significance for Today and in the Qurʾānic Commentary of Rūzbihān al-Baqlī  --- by Alan Godlas


Published in  Mohammad H. Faghfoory,  ed. , Beacon of Knowledge: Essays in Honor of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Louisville,  Fons Vitae, 2003.  Formatted for unicode fonts such as Arial Unicode and Titus Cyberbit (If you did not do a full install from your Windows 2000 or XP CD, download either of these fonts by clicking on the links.)


            Suppose there was an American scholar who only knew a little Arabic and knew nothing else about Rūzbihān ibn Abī Naṣr al-Baqlī al-Shīrāzī[1] and Seyyed Hossein Naṣr except that they were both Iranians deeply immersed in Sufism.   With his or her rudimentary knowledge of Arabic, our hypothetical scholar might realize that Rūzbihān' s name indicates that he was a son of a man who was named the Father of Naṣr.  Recognizing the element of naṣr (assistance) in both of their names as a point of unity and knowing their mutual affinity for the Sufi path, our scholar might indeed think that Seyyed Hossein Naṣr might possibly be related to Rūzbihān, who was a son of the Father of Naṣr.  Perhaps they might be brothers or perhaps more distant relatives.  Then, of course, if this scholar were to hear that Seyyed Hossein Naṣr was the author of an article titled "Islam and Music: the Views of Rūzbahān Baqlī, the Patron Saint of Shiraz,"[2] he or she might become even more convinced that there might be some relationship between Rūzbihān (the son of the Father of Naṣr), and Seyyed Hossein Naṣr.            

            Nevertheless, after finding out that Rūzbihān ibn Abī Naṣr had passed into the other world nearly 800 years ago in the year 1209 CE[3] and that Seyyed Hossein Naṣr is very much alive today, our scholar would probably give up speculating about their relationship.   But we do not need to abandon speaking of their relationship, for it is all too obvious that they are spiritual brothers.  From both of them there emanates the scents of love and gnosis.  And although what is more manifest in one may be more hidden in the other, if anyone comes into close proximity to their intoxicated words, he or she will no doubt realize that both Ruzbihan and Dr. Nasr have drunk from the same vat.

            Fortunately for the public, vat after vat of wisdom distilled by Seyyed Hossein Nasr is available in his many published works.  Unfortunately, only a fraction of the vintage produced by Rūzbihān is available.  The main reason for this is that a vat of major proportions, in the form of Rūzbihān's voluminous Qurʾān commentary, the ʿArāʾis al-bayān, remains inaccessible to most, and is still unpublished.  Nevertheless, I am currently in the process of translating and editing it and will present in this paper a few of Rūzbihān's words about surrender to God, words related to the Qurʼān that he has left with us in his ʿArāʾis al-bayān, which we can translate as the Brides of Elucidation.[4]

            Before I begin with Rūzbihān's understanding of surrender to God, I will discuss the significance of surrender for our world today, arguing that an exoteric reduction of the principle of surrender to God has caused a major distortion of Islam, a distortion which can lead to militant extremist Islam.  Then, after having demonstrated the critical need for a recovery of the esoteric aspect of the principle of surrender to God, I will turn to Rūzbihān's Brides, letting them display to us the esoteric beauty of true surrender.


The Significance of Surrender Today

            One of the many misunderstood and distorted aspects of religion, in general, and Islam, in particular, is the concept of surrender to God.  There is no question that it is an essential Islamic principle (and arguably an essential principle to the world's religions as a whole).  Although surrender in Islam has both an esoteric and an exoteric dimension,[5] a broad range of exoterically oriented people -- from the uneducated to scholars, from modernists to post-modernists, and from fatalists to militant extremist literalists -- mistakenly reduce the principle of surrender to God to a principle governing action.[6]  My first and primary contention in this part of my paper is that by truncating surrender into a principle for action alone, this exoteric reduction committed by both passive and militant exoterically oriented people serves (albeit in different ways) -- in spite of sharīʿah -- to produce at least some of the violence in which we find our world embroiled today.  Second, I will argue that the exoteric reduction of the principle of surrender to God also results in the following:

1) it deprives exoteric man of a key to gaining awareness of the process by which he acts, a loss that in turn

2) deprives exoteric man of a way of transforming the state of his being, which leaves him little recourse but militancy, and

3)  this reduction blinds him to the fact that his militancy (if he tends toward militancy) is violating sharīʿah, the revealed law of Islam.


Exoteric Reduction of Surrender

            Let us begin by considering my main contention, namely, that some Muslims tend to reduce surrender to God to its exoteric dimension and that this distortion -- in spite of sharīʿah -- is partly to blame for the violence in our world.  The problem for exoteric man, whether he is passive or militant, arises concerning the question of how to act while he is in or is encountering a painful or disturbing situation.  Generally, for Muslims the sharīʿah (together with the sunnah) provides sufficient guidance in these circumstances.  Nevertheless, in the many challenging and even traumatic situations that one faces in today's world the sharīʿah may not obviously dictate the course of action.  Furthermore, even when the sharīʿah very clearly governs a situation (such as in the case of the prohibition of killing non-combatants in a conflict), the particular injustices or traumas that a Muslim faces may blind him or her to the obvious demands of the sharīʿah.  Also, such circumstances may compel a Muslim to act or not act (unbeknownst to themselves!) on the basis of their emotions, NOT on the basis of the sharīʿah, even though he or she may try to rationalize that how they are proceeding is demanded by the sharīʿah.  Hence although the sharīʿah does provide guidance, it does not always provide Muslims with wisdom and clear solutions to their problems in the world.  

            Without unequivocal guidance from sharīʿah, but faced with the necessity of dealing with the traumas in their lives and the injustices in their world, Muslims fall back on their need to follow the principle of surrender to God.  On the one hand, Sufis (who generally attempt to follow both the esoteric and exoteric principles of surrender) to some degree may be able to transform their consciousness as a result of putting into practice the esoteric dimension of surrender.  (I will discuss Rūzbihān's understanding of this in the second half of this paper.)  Yet on the other hand, as I will explain shortly, exoterically oriented Muslims will exoterically reduce the idea of surrender to God, using it  as a pretext either for justifying passivity when action would be appropriate or for justifying action when patience (and inner transformation) would be called for.   Such reductive views of surrender to God reduce it to a principle that governs only one's actions in the world.  Then, when exoterically oriented people face difficult circumstances in the world --  but lack the inner transformative resources that the esoteric aspects of surrender can provide -- their inner resources for coping with such difficulties are diminished.  Hence, they may see that the only possible way to deal with their difficulties will be to attain power over their circumstances; and thus the chances of their acting militantly are greatly increased.


The Passive Exoteric Reduction of Surrender

             When a passive and exoterically-oriented person is in a painful situation, as I have noted above, I can suggest that at least three factors combine to produce the passive course of action that he or she will take:

1) a reduced and exotericized principle of surrender that limits one's awareness to worldly circumstances and to the choices of what actions to take or not to take;

2) a distortion of the Islamic doctrine that whatever HAS occurred was God's will,[7] distorting it into the belief that whatever was God's will in the past is God's will in the present and will be so in the future;

3) a fear that by taking a particular action one might, at best, be going against what would be pleasing to God, or at worst, violating God's will.

            Muslims generally see painful situations as tests of faith, but given these three factors, the passive exoteric reductionist mistakenly concludes that if one were to try to flee or act to change the situation, one would fail the test.  In other words, the passive exoteric reductionist mistakenly concludes that in this test the principle of surrender to God would demand that he or she not act to change the situation.  Such a passive exoteric reduction often leads people to jump to a conclusion and to assert statements to the effect of "It was meant to be, and therefore I should not try to change things."[8]  This is called fatalism.  The chance that Muslims will adopt this stance is mitigated because of the importance of following the example of the Prophet, who did not shy away from taking appropriate action to try to change unjust situations in the world.         

            In spite of the fact that the Islamic model of the sunnah is not to be passive in the face of injustice, some Muslims throughout history have fallen into the passive exoteric reductionist mindset; yet, in a roundabout way, this contributes to the violence of the militant.  This is one of the factors that reinforced one of the stereotypes of Muslims prevalent in the West until recently, namely that Muslims were passive fatalists who all too quickly would resign themselves to powerlessness and to being unable to change oppressive conditions under which they were living.  Exoteric reductionists (such as Ibn Taymīya) have tended to criticize Sufis along these same lines, blaming them (usually unjustly) for being passive in the face of injustice.  Hence passive exoteric reductionists contribute indirectly in two ways to violence: first, even though (from their perspective) their reduction justifies their inaction -- by simply reducing surrender to a principle governing action or inaction, they contribute to the overall exoteric reductive malaise; and second their passivity becomes the evidence to which militant exoterists point when they attempt to prod their fellow Muslims into action.  In other words, criticism of such passivity becomes the broad brush that militants use to paint fatalists with derision and censure  as well as to unflatteringly (but in fact unjustifiably) portray esoteric Sufis who are surrendering and not acting when faced with situations where action would be unjust or spiritually harmful.   


The Militant Exoteric Reduction of Surrender

            A related but slightly different situation is that of the militant extremist exoterist.  Facing a painful or unjust situation, where the possibility of taking action might occur, we can suggest that the choice to act or not to act made by a militant exoteric reductionist would be influenced by at least five factors, such as the following:

1) his exoteric reduction of the principle of surrender to God, reducing surrender to a principle only demanding the conformity of his actions to his interpretation of Islamic law;

2) decontextualized exhortations to jihad and martyrdom and promises of paradise (decontextualized from Qur'an and sunnah)

3) the pain of injustice

4) devaluing of the life of one's opponents;

5) the possibility of taking militant action.

Just like the exoteric reductionist who erred by passivity, the militant exotericist (like Muslims in general) would view his problematic situation as a test of faith.  But given the five factors mentioned previously, the militant exoteric reductionist (in contrast to the passive reductionist) would mistakenly conclude that by NOT acting, he would fail the test.  Consequently, the militant exoteric reductionist would mistakenly believe that in this test the principle of surrender to God would demand his militancy.

            Hence we see that in both the cases mentioned --that of the passive exoterist and the militant exoterist-- an exoteric reduction of the principle of surrender to God results in a distortion of surrender that contributes to militancy.  In the case of passive exoterists, the distortion results in a delusion that surrender to God necessitates passivity.  This reduction has two consequences that indirectly support militancy: the first is that the passive reduction further reinforces the overall tendency among Muslims to reduce surrender exoterically to a principle governing action/inaction; and the second consequence is that inaction on the part of fatalists lends fuel to the militants' resentful fires.   In the case of the militant exoterist, however, the exoteric distortion of surrender directly results in a mistaken idea that surrender to God demands militancy.


Consequences of the Exoteric Reduction of Surrender: Loss of Self-Awareness, Loss of Transformation, Loss of Religious Discernment about Militancy

            A second argument that at the outset of this paper I indicated I would touch on is that exoteric man's reduction of the principle of surrender (i.e. his lack of acceptance of the esoteric dimension of surrender) deprives him of three qualities:

1)     a key to gaining awareness of the process by which he acts;

2)     a means of transforming the state of his being; and

3)     discernment of the fact that his militancy is violating sharīʿah.  

Concerning the first of these, since awareness of the esoteric dimension of surrender to God is a key to gaining awareness of the process by which a person acts, exoteric man will remain blind and asleep to the real motives of his actions. Lacking awareness of the inner workings of his mind and emotions, exoteric man is unaware that his actions are largely socially, psychologically, and physiologically conditioned.  Lacking sufficient awareness of the nature of his self (nafs),[9] exoteric man is unaware of the extent to which he is enslaved by his own commanding self (al-nafs al-ammārah), by the principle of evil in its various other forms, or by the divine deception.

            A second quality lost in the exoteric reduction of surrender to God is the ability to transform the overall quality of consciousness of exoteric man.  Without an adequate understanding of the esoteric dimension of surrender to God, a Muslim's state of consciousness is at the mercy of the shifting winds of contingency, dependent on events in the world. But with an awareness of the transformative capacity of the esoteric dimension of surrender, one gains the awareness that irrespective of how one's state of consciousness is or was, at each moment one has the capacity to surrender to God.  One becomes aware that in every ruin and in every state the theophanic treasure of love, joy, and tranquility can be found.  More precisely, by means of the practice of the esoteric aspect of surrender, the quality of one's states can become transformed from a contracted state into an expanded state involving awareness of the Divine reality.[10]

            The third lost quality is that without awareness of the esoteric dimension of surrender, the militant extremist becomes blind to his self-righteous delusions and loses religious discernment with regard to his militancy.  Lacking esoteric awareness, lacking awareness of the nature of his mind, emotions, and self, militant exoteric man sees no possible response to the pain and powerlessness felt by Muslims, except a militant response.  And as we have seen, this resultant militancy, with its disregard for the lives of innocents, violates sharīʿah, the Divine law.  Hence the exoteric reduction of surrender can result in a loss of religious discernment and a blindness to the un-Islamic nature of one's militant actions.  It is my contention that over time, if leading Muslims guide the world's Muslim populations to recover the esoteric dimension of surrender, the compulsion of many Muslims to be drawn into militancy and violence will decrease.


Surrender in the ʿArāʾis al-bayān

            Having sketched out a theory for understanding both the mistaken passive and militant exoteric reductions of the principle of surrender, in the remainder of this paper I will discuss Rūzbihān's esoteric understanding of "surrender" as he expresses it in his encyclopedic esoteric commentary on the Qurʼān, titled ʿArāʾis al-bayān fī ḥaqāʼiq al-qurʼān (The Brides of Elucidation, the Truths of the Qurʼān).[11]  The ʿArāʾis, written in Arabic in the 6th century AH / 12th century CE, is encyclopedic in that it consists not only of Rūzbihān's commentaries but of a selection of Sulamī's (d. 1021) commentaries,[12] Tustarī's (d. 896),[13] and Qushayrī's (d. 1074).[14]  Furthermore, Sulamī's commentaries in turn consist of the commentaries of the earlier generations of Sufis, the shaykhs of Sufism's formative period.[15]  In spite of the encyclopedic nature of the ʿArāʾis, since my objective in this article is to get a clear picture of Rūzbihān's own understanding of "surrender," I will generally use only Rūzbihān's own words as my source material.  Nevertheless, I will also discuss the commentaries of other Sufis that he includes in the ʿArāʾis in certain cases when there is clear coherence between them and Rūzbihān's ideas.  In short, after briefly discussing the traditional basis of Rūzbihān's esoteric understanding of surrender, what I will examine in this introductory study are the following esoteric dimensions of surrender and concepts with which it is interrelated:

1)     Divine agency,

2)     shirk,

3)     servanthood and submitting to awareness of Divine will,

4)     contentment (with Divine will) and love,

5)     the relationship of surrendering ones true face, embodying beauty (iḥsān), and annihilation (fanāʾ)

6)     the relationship of motivation, embodying beauty, and subsistence in God (baqāʾ).


The Traditional Basis for an Esoteric Hermeneutic of Surrender

            Rūzbihān, in relating "surrender" to the Qurʼān, is squarely in the tradition of Sufism.  Aside from the obvious presence of "surrender" in the very name of the religion of Islam (which literally means "surrender"), it is mentioned in the Qurʼān on a number of occasions and figures as well as in the ḥadīth.[16]  More specifically, Rūzbihān in his ʿArāʾis al-bayān  elucidates an esoteric hermeneutic of surrender, interpreting its esoteric dimensions on a number of occasions.  In so doing he is following a long tradition of Sufis.  At the outset of the ʿArāʾis, he himself makes this clear by quoting from the Sulamī (412/1021) -- who preceded him by roughly two hundred years and who was the master compiler of the wisdom of the formative period of Sufism.   There he informs us that it is through "surrendering" (istislām) that the truths or realities (ḥaqāʼiq) of the Qurʼān are apprehended:  "It is said that the Qurʼān is verbal form, indication, subtleties and truths (ḥaqāʼiq).  So verbal form (ʿibārah) is for the ear (samʿ), indication (ishārah) is for the intellect, the subtleties (laṭāʻif) are for "spiritual witnessing" (mushāhadah), and the truths are for surrendering (istislām)."[17]   Hence Rūzbihān here (following Sulamī), was expressing the possibility of understanding four levels of meaning in the Qurʼān, each of which is apprehended by four different epistemological means, from the most superficial to the deepest and most refined.  In particular, Rūzbihān knew that it was within the Sufi tradition to regard the most profound level of understanding the Qurʼān, that of the truths or realities (ḥaqāʼiq), as being apprehended by the inmost epistemological means, which was called "surrendering."


Surrender and Divine Agency

      For both the Qurʾān and Rūzbihān, surrendering to God is a human act, yet on the other hand God is also the one who enables humans to surrender, opening their hearts to surrender.  God is the ultimate agent for the surrender of those to whom He wants to give guidance.  This is evident in Qurʾān (6:125): "So whomever God wishes to guide, He expands his bosom to 'surrender' (al-islām)."   Rūzbihān elaborates on this in his commentary by emphasizing the divine agency by which the expansion to "surrender" comes about. 

Whomever God wants to guide to God, Himself, and whomever God wants to achieve gnosis of His attributes, and whomever God wants to show the grandeur of His essence (jalāl dhātih), God expands (tawassaʿa) his bosom by means of the subtly beautiful lights of God's nearness (laṭīf anwār qurbih) and the sweetness of God's address, so that God brings him to gnosis by God, not by means of something besides God.  And man sees God by God's light, not by the light of his self's light.[18]

For Rūzbihān, then, it is God's desire to guide people to Himself that enables them to surrender to God.  Furthermore, His guidance, which leads them to surrender, will enable them to gain gnosis of God, which is to know God's reality by means of God.[19]     

Surrender and the Veil of Shirk

      An important key to understanding Rūzbihān's perspective concerning the role of human effort in the process of surrender (I will argue at this juncture) is the recognition of a principle in opposition to that of surrender, the principle that persistence in subtle forms of "associating partners with God" (shirk) will cause human hearts to be veiled by God.  The relevance of this to "surrender" is that persistence in subtle shirk would mean that one would be disinclined to surrender.   So there is both a process that can lead humans to surrender and a process that can lead them to become veiled and away from surrendering; and this latter process is interconnected with the committing of shirk, which, like surrendering, is a human action.  In the Qurʾān, in its most basic sense, "shirk" is the worship of other gods together with Allāh, and hence it is often translated as "polytheism."  Rūzbihān, however, like many Sufis, expanded the basic Qurʾānic understanding of "shirk" (which they often called "gross shirk" (al-shirk al-jalī) and which would involve the act of worshipping other gods along with God) and developed the concept of "subtle shirk" (al-shirk al-khafī). 

      For Rūzbihān, people succumb to subtle forms of shirk -- ways of relating to other than God as if it were God -- at any moment in which they become caught up in what he and other Sufis commonly call "passing thoughts" (khāirāt) having a self-centered quality.  Such thoughts contrast with mere lapses which, as he put it "do not break the covenant of love and gnosis."  So even though in the passage I note below Rūzbihān does not explicitly use the term "surrender," what is implicitly understood by Rūzbihān here (I contend --because of his clearly implied assertion that egocentric passing thoughts do break the "covenant of love and gnosis") is that underlying such egocentric thoughts is an abscence, which is the lack of surrendering one's thoughts and awareness to God.  This lack, this quality of one's attention inherent in subtle shirk -- which occurs for example (as he puts it) in the cases of "hyprocrisy and doubt concerning the path" -- involves leaving one's awareness of anything (in one's mind, self, or in existence) without surrendering at that instant to gnosis and love.  Namely, this "lack" consists of both the absence of surrendering to the recognition that God is the theophanic source of all and the absence of the gratitude and love that would follow from this recognition.  In his commentary on "Indeed, God does not forgive one for "associating anything with Him" (shirk), but He forgives [sins] less [grave] than that, for whomever He wills" (Qurʾān 4:48), Rūzbihān states the following:

God forgives the masses all their sins, minor and major, except for gross "shirk"....  And He (God) intensified the matter for the elite, by His calling them to account, since He examines the matter of hidden passing thoughts,  [thoughts] such as awareness of one's own acts of obedience and [desire for] recompense, and the love of position and praise and being seen and acclaimed.  He elucidates the fact that they are forgiven slips and lapses, which are less grave than those [abovementioned] things, since slips and lapses do not break the covenant of love (maḥabbah) and gnosis (maʿrifah). They are, however, accountable for the subtle "association of anything with God" (al-shirk al-khafī) which consists of passing thoughts marked by hypocrisy and doubt concerning the path.  And God-- may He be exalted-- meant by that āyah that they are called to account for it at every breath.  If they remain in that for an instant, God will punish them with the debasement of being veiled.  This will be the case if they are heedless of those passing thoughts.

Consequently, subtle shirk (as well as its root, which is the lack of surrendering one's thoughts to God) is a form of heedlessness, a human action leading one into being veiled by God, leading one away from surrender. 

            Thus, for Rūzbihān the surrendering of one's inclination to commit subtle shirk, surrendering one's thoughts to God, to the gnostic awareness that He is the theophanic source of all, is part of the process of surrender.  Quoting from an anonymous Sufi commentary, he links to "surrendering" the purification of one's true face of both hypocrisy and subtle shirk.  In his commentary on "whoever surrenders his true face to God while he is embodying beauty" (Qurʾān 2:112), he indicates that one surrenders one's true face when one "purifies the true faces (wujūh) of his actions from hypocrisy and subtle shirk." [20]  The fact that surrendering of subtle shirk is a significant part of the process of surrender is indeed what we would expect, given the magnitude of the human act of subtle shirk.  In other word, we would expect that surrender one's subtle shirk would be of grave importance, since if it is not surrendered, it may preoccupy one's consciousness and break our human covenant with God, which Rūzbihān refers to above as the covenant  of love (maḥabbah) and gnosis (maʿrifah).

Surrendering, Servanthood, Submitting and Not Submitting to Awareness of the Divine Will


            Servanthood (ʿubūdīyah) is another quality that for Rūzbihān is related to surrender.  Not having the qualities of servanthood, namely, not having the humble recognition of one's dependence upon God, is tantamount to not surrendering.  In spite of one's desire to become aware of God's Lordship and one's yearning to attain the qualities of those who are close to God, one will not achieve these higher spiritual degrees unless one is surrendering and recognizing one's servanthood.   Rūzbihān expresses this in his commentary on "Whoever desires other than "surrender" (al-islām) as a "way of religious life" (dīn), it will not be accepted [by God] from him" (Qurʾān 3:85).  "Namely, whoever desires to witness Lordship (rubūbīyah) without being a servant (ʿubūdīyah), the stations of the veracious (ṣiddīqīn) and those brought near [to God] (muqarrabīn) will not be unveiled to him."[21] 

            The surrender that is inherent in servanthood is linked, for Rūzbihān, with surrender that is a form of submission (inqiyād) to God, a submission that involves man's continuing his awareness of God (as the ultimate cause), particularly at times when man is facing traumatic events.  Rūzbihān highlights three qualities of one who is not submitting in this sense at such times:

1)     being unable to patiently endure

2)     becoming deeply anxious

3)     paying attention to other than God

In other words, when things go badly and one suffers, there is a tendency to resist surrendering to the awareness that what happened was what God has willed (murād al-Ḥaqq). In addition, this lack of surrender and submission goes hand in hand with one's inability to be forbearing under difficult circumstances; it exacerbates the anxiety that one feels; and it is related to the tendency, heightened at this time, to ruminate about and become lost in other than God. Furthermore, as Rūzbihān implies, there is a tendency at such times (for people who are religiously inclined) to try to deal with their suffering, lack of patience, anxiety, and inattention to God by performing religious acts such as increasing the numbers and times of one's prayers, by fasting, and by reciting more of the Qurʾān than usual, for example.  Nevertheless, states Rūzbihān (following the Qurʾān), such actions will have no effect.  Continuing his commentary on (Qurʾān 3:85) "Whoever desires other than "surrender" (al-islām) as a "way of religious life" (dīn), it will not be accepted [by God] from him", he states

And also, the [realization of the] root of all the truths is dependent on surrendering (al-islām) and submitting (al-inqiyād) in the presence of what God has desired (murād al-Ḥaqq).  In this verse is an allusion to the fact that whoever is not patient (lā yaṣbiru) during God's affliction [of them] (balāʾ al-Ḥaqq) and becomes fraught with anxiety during the descent of calamities, [looking] toward other than God, no religious activities or exertions (al-muʿāmalat wa-al-mujāhadāt) that he undertakes will be acceptable.[22]

Where Rūzbihān leaves us, then, is that only submitting to the awareness that God is the ultimate agent of what has occurred -- only surrendering -- will be acceptable to God; but if one is able to surrender in this manner, then Good will allow such a servant to become aware of God's Lordship and to attain the qualities of those who have been brought close to God.


Surrender, Contentment with Divine Will, and Love

            Among the many aspects of "surrender" in the ʿArāʿis is Rūzbihān's view of surrender as contentment (riḍā) with what God has desired and willed, a view that he elaborates from three perspectives: contentment with regard to the inner dimension of one's self, with regard to the outer dimension of one's self, and in relation to affliction (balāʾ).  Beginning his commentary on Qurʾān 3:19 "Indeed religion (al-dīn) from God's perspective is surrender (al-islām)," he asserts that surrendering (al-islām) consists of embracing contentment with whatever has to come to pass, namely "contentment with what God has desired (bi-murād al-Ḥaqq) and with what He has disposed and destined to have occured (qaḍāʾihi wa-qadarih)." [23]  Then, he looks at surrender in the sense of contentment with regard to the "inner dimension of consciousness" (al-bāṭin), specifically referring to the sirr (mysterium or innermost core), which in Sufi psychological systems is often viewed as the most inward and subtlest faculty of consciousness.  Here, with regard to the bāṭin, he explains that surrender is contentment that involves "the quality of stability of the mysterium" (istiqāmat al-sirr).[24]   Subsequently, he looks at surrender in the sense of contentment with regard to the outer dimension of consciousness (al-ẓāhir).  There, surrender consists of contentment to the extent of not becoming too affected (emotionally and mentally) by whatever occurs.  Or, as he himself expresses it, such surrender is contentment that is characterized by "a minimum degree of disturbance (qillat al-iḍṭirāb) outwardly."   Lastly, Rūzbihān interprets surrender as being contentment that involves the quality of feeling love when faced with bad experiences.  He states it in a more detailed manner: [surrender is contentment that involves] "the quality of finding the delight of love (maḥabbah) at the time of the descent of affliction (balāʾ)."   In sum, Rūzbihān views surrender as contentment with what God has willed, a contentment that involves the following qualities: the stability of one's mysterium -- inwardly; only being minimally disturbed -- outwardly; and tasting love while undergoing experiences that are difficult to endure.[25]

Surrendering One's True Face to God, Theophanically Embodying Divine Beauty, and Annihilation

            In the Qurʾān, important aspects of surrendering to God involve the interrelationship between (a) the surrender of one's true face (wajh), (b) the embodying of beauty (iḥsān), and (c) one's religious life (dīn).  For Rūzbihān, a consequence of surrendering one's "true face" (wajh)[26] to God while being "one who embodies beauty" (muḥsin)[27] is that one's "religious life"(dīn) will be "more beautiful" (aḥsan);[28] and that, in addition, surrendering while embodying beauty will involve being aware of God's reality and losing awareness of one's self.[29]  In his interpretation of Qurʾān 4:125, "And whose religious life is more beautiful than one who surrenders his "true face" unto God while he is embodying beauty...?!" [30]  Rūzbihān touches on answers to the following implicit questions:

1)     When a person surrenders one's true face to God, what happens?

2)     More specifically, while surrendering, what is the relationship between God's true face and the true face of man?

3)     How does surrender produce the virtue of beauty (ḥusn)?

4)     How is being "one who is embodying beauty" (muḥsin) related to surrender?

5)     How is the surrender of the one who is embodying beauty linked to his annihilation?

            Rūzbihān answers the first two questions by stating that when one surrenders one's "true face" (wajh) to the Beauty (jamāl) of God, God's "true face" (wajh) becomes manifest theophanically to the "true face" (wajh) of that person.  Regarding the third question, Rūzbihān maintains that as a result of this theophany, which is a consequence of surrender, signs of [the virtue of] beauty (ḥusn), which derives from God, becomes manifest in the person.  As he himself states with regard to these three implied questions, "The signs of [the virtue of] beauty (ḥusn) come from Him, when he [the Messenger] surrenders his true face for God's sake to the Beauty (jamāl) of God; then there is a theophany from God's true face to the true face of God's messenger (qāṣid)."[31] 

            Answering the fourth question (how is being a muḥsin related to surrendering?), Rūzbihān states that when one such as the Messenger, who is "embodying beauty" (muḥsin), is surrendering,  the light of uncreatedness (qidam) (which is the non-temporal quality of God's being) appears; and the servant perceives God's being; but because of such awareness, the servant looses awareness of himself.  Namely, "Then, the light of the true face of Uncreatedness appears from His [or his] true face, annihilating his being (afnā wujūdahu) because of his perception of God's being."[32]

             Let us now consider the final implicit question noted above concerning "surrender" in his commentary on Qurʾān 4:125, "How is the surrender of the muḥsin (resulting in his awareness of God's being) linked to his annihilation or passing away (fanāʾ)?"  The simple answer that Rūzbihān stated here is while one is surrendering and being a muḥsin, one is becoming aware of God and losing one's awareness of self.  For Rūzbihān, a muḥsin is a gnostic (ʿārif), one who not only knows rationally but experiences his ultimate aim, which is the awareness of the reality of God.  And since God is the One who subsists and remains (al-Bāqī) (in contrast to everything else, which passes away), when the muḥsin surrenders, he becomes more truly a muḥsin, becoming aware of the reality of God's subsistence and losing awareness of the independence  of his self.  "A muḥsin," states Rūzbihān, "is a gnostic (ʿārif) and a knower (ʿālim) of what he seeks.  The object of his search and his goal is witnessing the Subsistent One (mushāhadat al-Bāqī) to the extent of being annihilated in that witnessing (al-fanāʾ fī-hā)."  In short, what we can derive from his commentary on Qurʾān 4:125 is that Rūzbihān sees surrender to God as an inward act resulting both in the signs of the virtue of beauty (ḥusn) becoming manifest in the servant as well as in a theophany from God's true face to the true human face.  Furthermore, when one who is surrendering is also one who is embodying beauty (muḥsin), since such people are gnostics, their resultant awareness of God will result in the passing away of their awareness of their selves.[33]


Surrender, Motivation, Embodying Beauty, and Subsisting in God's Presence

            Rūzbihān's understanding of the outcome of surrender goes beyond this "passing away" or "annihilation" (fanāʾ) into "subsisting" (baqāʾ) in God's presence, when he expresses a similar but slightly different constellation of aspects of surrender in his interpretation of a passage in the Qurʾān that is nearly identical to 4:125 (which I have just discussed).  In his commentary on Qurʾān 2:112, which is "Rather, whoever surrenders his true face to God, while he is embodying beauty (muḥsin), [he will have his reward in the presence of his Sustainer]," Rūzbihān looks at and expands upon three interrelated aspects of surrender:

1) the quality of surrendering and its motivation

2) embodying beauty (iḥsān), and

3) attaining one's reward in the presence of God

First of all, with regard to the quality of surrendering and its motivation, he interprets surrendering "one's true face to God" as "freely giving the very core of one's self (badhala muhjatahu) for God," in contrast to surrendering it for what comes from God.   In other words, one should distinguish between two types of motivation for surrendering, one which is motivated by God versus one which is motivated by anything else (which is what comes from God).

            Second, Rūzbihān follows the Qurʾān and links the quality of being muḥsin (which I translate here as embodying beauty) with surrender, although he elaborates on various implications of "embodying beauty." For him "embodying beauty" involves neither paying attention to one's own religious actions (muʿāmalah) nor giving in to any opposition to surrender that might arise within him.  Rather, "embodying beauty" entails being aware of God to the extent that one surrenders one's awareness of created existence, which "passes away" from one's awareness.  For Rūzbihān (as well as for Sufis in general), this is called the "passing away of creation" (fanaʾ al-khalq).

            The third aspect that he links together in this discussion of surrender is the outcome of surrender, which is to say the "reward" that one attains in the presence of God.  When one surrenders for God's sake, while being aware of God to the degree that one's awareness "passes away" (fanāʾ) from created existence, then one attains the "reward," which is "subsistence (baqāʾ) in the presence of His Sustainer (ʿinda rabbih)."  Such "subsistence" among Sufis is commonly understood as involving an awareness of self that does not obscure awareness of God.  Rūzbihān goes further into the psychological consequences of this "subsistence," however, stating that along with "subsistence," one will no longer experience two states of consciousness in particular: the fear of separation from God and the sadness that a seeker commonly experiences when he or she is veiled from God.

            Rūzbihān expresses these three interrelated aspects of surrender as follows when commenting on Qurʾān 2:112:

" 'Rather, whoever surrenders his true face to God, while he is embodying beauty (muḥsin), [he will have his reward in the presence of his Sustainer].'  This is to say that whoever 'freely gives the very core of his self' (badhala muhjatahu) for God, not for what comes from God, while he is embodying beauty, without paying attention to his religious actions and without the occurrence of his opposition; rather [whoever freely gives up the very core of his self] while having an awareness of God, [an awareness] that has the quality of the 'passing away of creation' (fanāʾ al-khalq), he will [as a reward] be able to sit in subsistence in the presence of his Sustainer (baqāʾ ʿinda rabbih), accompanied by the cessation of [both the] fear of separation and the sadness of being veiled.[34]

In sum, Rūzbihān maintains that when a person surrenders, giving up the core of his or her being -- for the sake of God and for the sake of maintaining an awareness of God in which any awareness of created existence has passed away (fanāʾ) -- as a result  such a person's awareness will have the quality of subsistence (baqāʾ) in the presence of God; and this is the "reward" to which the Qurʾān refers.


            In the world of Islam, there have been and continue to be Muslims who reduce the principle of "surrender to God" to a principle governing action.  This, as I have shown here, leads both to psychological and spiritual ignorance, which sadly reinforces and contributes to militancy and violence. In contrast to what the exoteric reductionists of today's world (the fatalistic and militant exoterists, along with many modernists and post-modernists) would have us believe, there is a long and rich tradition of an esoteric understanding of Islam and the principle of "surrender to God."   Rūzbihān Baqlī's Qurʾān commentary, the ʿArāʾis al-bayān, illuminates a number of esoteric aspects of surrender and clarifies important concepts that are related to it, among them being the following:

1)     the ability to surrender their consciousness comes from God's will, but humans are nevertheless urged by God to surrender;

2)     they may also, in contrast, not surrender, committing subtle shirk and directing their awareness to other than God;

3)     esoterically surrender involves submitting to the awareness of one's dependence on the Divine will;

4)     it involves contentment with the Divine will, even to the degree of experiencing love when affliction strikes them;

5)     the process of surrendering one's true face to God results in the "embodying of beauty" (iḥsān) that consists of a theophany of Divine qualities from God to one's true face, resulting as well in the "passing away or annihilation" (fanāʾ) of one's individuality;

6)     and finally, when truly motivated for God's sake and accompanied by the "embodying of beauty" (iḥsān) that consists of fanāʾ, surrendering will result in a person's subsisting (baqāʾ) in the awareness of the presence of God.

      Given the clarity of Rūzbihān's esoteric understanding of surrender to God, as long as the people of today sit with his wisdom or the esoteric wisdom of Seyyed Hussein Nasr, or with others who refuse to let the flame of the esoteric dimension of surrender be extinguished, then there is hope that the disease of violence in our world will be healed.  It has been my privilege to have tasted this hope and to have sat for a little while with Rūzbihān's wisdom, with Seyyed Hussein Nasr, and with others who live to surrender.  And so, I hope that all will sit with them, learning and becoming imbued with their esoteric fragrance, becoming as the Persian poet, Saʿdī of Shiraz, so beautifully stated:


            Gelī khoshbūʾī dar hamām rūzī

            Rasīd az dast-e maḥbūbī be-dastam

            Be-dū goftam keh moshkī yā ʿabīrī

            Keh az bū-ye delāvīz-e to mastam

            Be-goftā man gelī nā chīz būdam

            Valīkan moddatī bā gol neshastam

            Kamāl-e hamneshīn dar man athar kard

            V'agar nah hamān khākam keh hastam


There was passed to my hand by the hand of a friend

a fragrant piece of clay in a public bath one day.

I asked it: "Are you musk or amber

because from your heartrending fragrance I'm drunk?"

It said, "I was just a little nothing piece of clay,

but for a while I sat next to a rose.

The perfection of my companion effected me,

and otherwise, the piece of clay that I am is all I'd be."


[1] For Rūzbihān's biography and teachings see Carl Ernst, Ruzbihan Baqli: Mysticism and the Rhetoric of Sainthood in Persian Sufism (Richmond Surrey: Curzon, 1996) and Paul Ballanfat, translator and editor, Le Dévoilement des Secrets by Rūzbehān al Baqlī al-Shīrāzī, Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1996.

[2] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "Islam and Music: the Views of Rūzbahān Baqlī, the Patron Saint of Shiraz," Studies in Comparative Religion 10:1 (1976), pp. 37-45.

[3] Ernst, p. ix.

[4] Rūzbihān ibn Abī Naṣr al-Baqlī, ʿArāʾis al-bayān fī ḥaqāʾiq al-qurʾān, Lucknow: Newal Kishore, 1315. In my Ph.D. dissertation, I edited and translated Rūzbihān's commentary on Sūrat al-Nisāʾ (Sūrah 4) of the Qurʾān.  See Alan Godlas, "The ʿArāʾis al-bayān, the Mystical Qurʾānic Exegesis of Ruzbihan al-Baqli," Ph.D. diss., University of California at Berkeley, 1991.

[5] The term "exoteric," in the sense I am using it here, refers to the outward (ẓāhir), to the material dimension (and implications) of texts, reality, people, and actions.  Their inner (bāṭin) or spiritual dimension, in contrast, is referred to by the term "esoteric."  The esoteric dimension of surrender, surrendering to God one's heart and soul and all of the faculties of one's consciousness, is a generally accepted principle of Sufism, the mysticism of Islam.  While exoterically oriented Muslims such as Salafīs may argue that there is no place for an esoteric understanding of surrender in Islam (or for an esoteric understanding of anything Islamic, for that matter), I will not attempt to refute such a claim here.  Nevertheless, the fact that surrender does indeed have an esoteric Islamic dimension will be made amply clear in the second part of this paper, where I discuss Rūzbihān's elucidation of some of the esoteric aspects of surrender.

[6] When I assert that exoterically oriented people reduce surrender to a principle governing action, I do not mean to imply that such people do not also regard as a valid aspect of surrendering the conforming of one's beliefs to those beliefs accepted by orthodoxy.

[7] One of the generally accepted "articles of faith" in Islam is that whatever that has occurred, both the good and the bad, has been destined and determined by God, Nuh Keller, trans., Reliance of the Traveller by Aḥmad ibn Naqīb al-Miṣrī, (Abu Dhabi: Modern Printing Press, 1991), pp. 813-14.  Nevertheless, simply because the ultimate agent, the primary cause of everything, is God does not mean that one should not attempt to strive for change.

[8] In Arabic, a common expression heard when someone wishes to speak about an event that has been willed and destined by God is that it has been maktūb (written).  The expression "it was meant to be" is used in the West, especially among seekers influenced by "New Age" spirituality.

[9] Most books on Sufism deal at least in part with the nafs (self or soul).  A brief treatment is by a former professor of psychology and devotee of Sufism: Mohammaad Ajmal, "Sufi Science of the Soul," in Islamic Spirituality: Foundations, ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (New York: Crossroad, 1987), pp. 294-307.  A recent discussion of the nafs (soul) written from the perpective of an American Muslim psychologist who is also a Sufi shaykh is Robert Frager, Heart, Self, and Soul: The Sufi Psychology of Growth, Balance, and Harmony (Wheaton, Il: Quest, 1999).

[10] For an understanding of Sufi psycho-spiritual transformation see Alan Godlas, "Psychology and Self-Transformation in the (Arabic) Sufi Qurʾān Commentary of Rūzbihān al-Baqlī(ʿArāʾis al-bayān),"Sufi Illuminations, 1(1996) 31-62.

[11] Baqlī, ibid. 

[12] Gerhard Böwering, "The Qurʾān Commentary of al-Sulamī," in Wael Hallaq and Donald Little, Islamic Studies Presented to Charles J. Adams, (Leiden: Brill, 1991), pp. 41-56;  Abū ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī, Ḥaqāʾiq al-tafsīr, edited by Sayyid ʿImrān (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-ʿilmīyah, 1421/2001); Ibid, Ziyādāt Ḥaqāʾiq al-tafsīr, edited by Gerhard Böwering (The Minor Qurʾān Commentary of Abū ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥusayn al-Sulamī) (Beirut: Dar al-Machreq, 1995).

[13] Gerhard BöweringThe Mystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam:  The Qurʾānic Hermeneutics of the Sūfī Sahl At-Tustarī  (d.283/896),  (Berlin-New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1980). 

[14] Abu'l-Qāsim ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Qushayrī,  Laṭāʾif al-ishārāt,  ed. Ibrāhīm Basyūnī, 3 vols., Cairo, 1971.

[15] For an interesting survey of the formative period of Sufism, see Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975), pp. 23-76.

[16] In the corpus of ḥadīth, surrender (islām) is most well-known as being addressed --along with īmān (faith) and iḥsān (embodying beauty) -- in what is commonly called the ḥadīth of Gabriel.  See Keller, pp. 807-08, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ideals and Realities of Islam (New Revised Edition) (Chicago: ABC International Group, 2000), pp. 129-30. But in that ḥadīth it is defined as what is known as the five pillars, not in the spiritual-psychological sense in which Rūzbihān and other Sufis use it.

[17] ʻArāʼis, vol. 1, p. 4, quoted from Sulamī, Ḥaqāʼiq al-tafsīr, ed. by ʿImrān, v. 1, p. 23, and ms. Alexandria, f. 2a, ln. 7-8. This particular understanding of a four-fold division of the dimensions of the Qurʾān is related to another saying that Rūzbihān quoted from Sulamī, who relates it on the authority of Jaʻfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/765), "Jaʻfar ibn Muḥammad [al-Ṣādiq] said, “God's book comprises four things: verbal form (ʻibārah), indication (ishārah), subtleties (laṭāʼif), and truths (ḥaqāʼiq). The verbal form is for the masses, the indication is for the elite, the subtleties for the saints, and the truths for the prophets” (ʿArāʾis, vol. 1, p. 3-4; Ḥaqāʼiq al-tafsīr, ed. by ʿImrān, v. 1, p. 22, and ms. Alexandria f. 2a, ln. 3-5). 

[18] ʿArāʾis, vol. 1, p. 231.

[19] Two relevant and related questions are (1) the relationship between God's "wish" to guide man referred to in "So whomever God wishes to guide, He expands his bosom to 'surrender' (al-islām)" (Qurʾān 6:125) and what (if anything) man can do to precipitate or affect that; and (2) the relationship between God's "wish" to guide man (leading to his surrender) and God's love (iḥbāb, from ḥubb) (prior to man's creation) that He be known.  First, although God in the Qurʾān (6:125) asserts that it is God's will (yurid Allāh, from the verbal noun irādah, meaning "wish," "will," or "desire") to guide man that precedes man's surrender, the question still remains as to the role of man in precipitating God's guidance of him.  The Qurʾān 2:186 ("I answer the call of one who calls), however, does make clear that God's giving his guidance to man is a form by which God answers man's need.  Concerning the second question, one cannot help but notice the similarity between, on the one hand, God's wish (irādah) to guide man (referred to in Qurʾān 6:125 and which results in God's enabling man to surrender) and, on the other hand, God's love (iḥbāb) that He be known (which results in His creating creation, in order that He be known), to which the purported ḥadīth qudsī often quoted by Sufis refers: I was a hidden treasure and I loved (aḥbabtu) that I be known, so I created creation in order to be known.  One way to understand the relationship between God's wish to guide man (leading to his surrender) and God's love to be known is suggested by Rūzbihān, who (in his commentary on Qurʾān 6:125) interprets God wish to guide man as God's desire to be known by man.  Hence, God's enabling man to surrender to God is a means by which God guides man and "answers his call" (Qurʾān 2:186).  In sum, the metaphysical process integrating God's will and man's act of surrendering appears to be as follows: Prior to creation God loves to be known and therefore He brings about the creation, so that He can be known.  But humans cannot know God without guidance, so as result God wishes to guide people and thereby enables them to surrender, by which man can come to know God.  One way that people can precipitate God's guidance, leading them to surrender to God, is to call upon God.

[20] Ibid, quoting Sulamī, Ḥaqāʾiq al-tafsīr, v. 1, p. 63.  Although Rūzbihān literally states that "purifies the true faces ... from subtle shirk" is a commentary on "while he is embodying beauty," I would speculate that because of the structure of the sentence, this seems in fact to be a paraphrase of "Whoever surrenders his face to God" and not his interpretation of "while he is embodying beauty" (wa-huwa muḥsin).  Often, when Sufi interpreters comment on a phrase or a verse, they will use parallel constructions and/or repeat a word that is in the actual Qurʾānic verse in order to indicate that their comment is an interpretation of that phrase or verse.  In this case Rūzbihān's quoted "purifies the true faces" (akhlaṣa wujūh) parallels the Qurʾānic "surrenders his true face" (aslama wajh).  In any case (whether or not my speculation is true) because of the close relationship of "embodying beauty" to the process of surrendering, it is safe to assert (as I have done in the text) that letting go of one's tendency to commit subtle shirk is an important aspect of the process of surrender.

[21] ʿArāʾis, vol. 1, p. 92.  Rūzbihān, unlike Muslim exclusivists, does not read Qurʾan 3:85 to mean "Whoever desires other than Islam as a religion (dīn), it will not be accepted from him."  In other words, he does not interpret this verse to mean that Islam is the only valid religion.  The same is true for his interpretation of Qurʾān 3:17 (ʿĀrāʾis, vol. 1, p. 74).  Rūzbihān, in taking "al-islām" here, to mean "surrender" is in harmony with Sahl al-Tustarī, who stated, "The 'al-islām' in whoever desires other than 'al-islām' as a 'way of religious life' (dīn)... is al-tafwīḍ (entrusting one's affair to God).  And whoever does not entrust to His Lord (mawlá) all of his affairs, nothing of his actions will be acceptable" (ʿArāʾis, vol. 1, p. 92 quoting Sulamī, Ziyādāt, p. 107).

[22] ʿArāʾis, vol. 1, p. 92.

[23] One aspect of the traditional formulation of "faith" (īmān) of a Muslim is that one has faith that God has destined whatever has occurred (īmān bi'l-qadar) (Keller, ibid., pp. 813-14).  When Rūzbihān is speaking of contentment, the reader should bear in mind that he is not referring to contentment with things independent of God.  Rather it is contentment with things and events from the perspective of the awareness that God is the ultimate agent of their existence.

[24] We can infer, in the light of Rūzbihān's previously noted remarks about the process of surrender (cf. his commentary on 2:112, ʿArāʾis, vol. 1, p. 27), that this "stability" of the mysterium (sirr) (to which he refers here) involves the constancy of the mysterium's awareness of subsistence (baqāʾ) through God in the presence of God.  It is possible, however -- given what I have previously discussed regarding surrender, fanāʾ (passing away), and baqāʾ -- that such "stability" might also involve the awareness of fanāʾ.  Hence the two states or stations of consciousness of fanāʾ and baqāʾ, for Rūzbihān, might be considered to be two sides of the same coin and not simply successive states or stations.  In contrast, Carl Ernst (basing his assertion on Rūzbihān's Sharḥ-e shaṭḥiyāt) describes Rūzbihān's understanding of mystical experience as "oscillating" between fanāʾ and baqāʾ (Ernst, Ruzbihan Baqli, pp. 34-35). 

[25] The entirety of Rūzbihān's discussion of contentment in his commentary on "Religion from God's perspective is surrender (al-islām)" (Qurʾān 3:19) is as follows: "Al-Islām, surrender, is contentment with God's desire (al-riḍā bi-murād al-Ḥaqq) and with what He has disposed and destined that has come to pass (qaḍāʾihi wa-qadarih), a contentment having the quality of stability of the innermost core (istiqāmat al-sirr) inwardly, the quality of a minimum degree of disturbance (qillat al-iḍṭirāb) outwardly; and the quality of finding the delight of love (wijdān ladhdhat al-maḥabbah) at the time of the descent of affliction (balāʾ)" ʿArāʾis, vol. 1, p. 74.  

[26] The word wajh, which I have translated as "true face," literally means simply "face."  Muhammad Asad translated it here as "whole being" (Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qurʼān (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1980, 1984), p. 129.

[27] The word muḥsin, literally, is one who does iḥsān.  It is derived from the root ḥusn, which means beauty and goodness.  The Arabic verbal paradigm ifʿāl that generates the word iḥsān generally forms a transitive infinitive producing a word indicating the actualization of the root object or quality.  Hence the root kamāl (perfection) when put into this verbal paradigm become ikmāl, meaning to bring to perfection, to perfect, and to complete.  As a result of this etymological reason and because of its usage by Rūzbihān, I have rendered iḥsān as "embodying beauty."  Nevertheless, the translation of iḥsān is problematic.  In the famous ḥadīth of Gabriel, it is defined as "that you worship God as if you see Him, and if you do not see him, [know that] He sees you."  For a lengthy discussion of iḥsān, based on the ḥadīth of Gabriel see Sachiko Murata and William Chittick, The Vision of Islam (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1994).      

[28] I have rendered aḥsan here, not simply as "better" (which is how it is commonly rendered), but as "more beautiful," which seems to be the sense of how Rūzbihān is using it. 

[29] ʿArāʾis, vol. 1, p. 162.

[30] Pickthall renders the whole phrase as follows: "Who is better in religion than he who surrendereth his purpose to Allah while doing good (to men)..." (Mohammad M. Pickthall, The Glorious Qur'an, p. 92).  Asad translates it in this manner: "And who could be of better faith than he who surrenders his whole being unto God and is a doer of goodwithal...", ibid, p. 129.

[31] ʿArāʾis, vol. 1, p. 162.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid, vol. 1, p. 27.