Barq (lightning) is a light that flashes in an initiate during the first steps of the journey toward sainthood. This is the first invitation to those seeking nearness to God. The scholars of truth have related the emergence of lightning to the verse (20:9–10), Has there come to you the tiding of Moses? He saw a fire and said to his family: “Wait here! I see a fire far off”, and have concluded that such a flash of light means the beginning of Prophethood for Prophets and of sainthood for saints.
The first steps to be taken on the way of truth are belief, righteous deeds and wakefulness. For this reason, lightning can be regarded as the first step of, not this journey, but rather the spiritual states (of sainthood) that one steps through during the journey.
The difference between lightning and ecstasy is that ecstasy emerges in the home of meeting with the All-Beloved, while lightning flashes when permission to enter the sanctuary of the All-Beloved to meet with Him is given. For this reason, ecstasy sends zeal into the heart, awakening in it a burning desire to meet the All-Beloved from among the lights of state, urging the petitioning of more and more of His gifts and to rise to higher ranks. As for lightning, it hits the eye like a dazzling light and reminds one that the door of the All-Beloved is ajar. For those who are to cross the threshold of sainthood, we recall the following couplet of Ibnu’l-Farid, a couplet full of excitement:
Has a dazzling lightning flashed from the direction of Mount Sinai, Or have the veils over the face of Layla been opened part way? So it is that while living in the dark night of corporeality and bodily desires, Layla began to show herself step by step and to send the hope of union into the hearts, and in the end the nights changed into days in the hearts of those who had been burning for union with her.
Because it signifies permission to enter the way to union, lightning is considered as the start of the journey for the travelers on the way to the Ultimate Truth. At this setting out, God Almighty makes His servants, who are candidates for sainthood, aware of His offerings and Grandeur and of the servants’ own helplessness and poverty, enabling them to awaken to the love of God and to form a sincere relationship with Him, abandoning attachment however slight to transient, decaying, earth-bound things. These are the first gifts of God. In addition, like the favors offered to Moses on Mount Sinai, initiates need to feel some things and change their solitude into company (with the True, Eternal Friend) to better endure the difficulties of the journey and the loneliness. So lightning can be considered as the pleasure of feeling God’s friendliness, and a favor given to counter the difficulties that a traveler is bound to face during the journey.
Lightning has another face, by which an initiate is reminded of God’s omnipresence and given the signal of self-possession. Initiates are warned that entering the Realm of the Holy Presence requires self-possession. Fear and alarm are aroused in their inner world by this warning. So, with its two aspects—one bringing deep pleasure and desire, the other causing fear and alarm—lightning serves to prevent the traveler both from falling into despair and from uttering words of pride incompatible with the rules of the Shari‘a.
The gifts coming on the wavelength of lightning are the Lord’s favors to the traveler; they are provision for the journey. These favors are the means of innocent delight for the traveler, because of Him Who sent them, and as a result of the recognition of poverty on the part of the one receiving. The traveler acknowledges this favor, as indicated in the verse (10:58), Say: “In the grace and bounty of God and in His mercy—in this, then, let them rejoice.” Reflecting on the Divine favors received, the person confesses that everything is from Him and proclaims: “All praise be to Him,” expressing the feeling of unworthiness for such favors, as Gedai did: That which I have—I am not worthy of it; this favor and grace—why are they bestowed on me?
Thereupon the traveler journeying to God bows in humility and thankfulness. The saying of the pride of humankind, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, I am the master of the children of Adam, yet I am not proud at all,33 is the crystal in which this reality is reflected, from whichever side it is looked at.
O God! I ask You for good in its entirety, with all its beginning and end and with its visible and invisible, and high ranks in Paradise. And bestow blessings and peace on the Prophet, the intercessor whose intercession is acceptable to God, and on his family and Companions, those of great merit and loyalty.
‘Umar ibnu’l-Farid (1181–1235) is one of the most venerated Sufi poets in Arabic, whose expression of Sufi experiences is regarded as the finest in the Arabic language. He studied for a legal career but abandoned law for a solitary religious life in the Muqattam hills near Cairo. He spent some years in or near Makka, where he met the renowned Sufi as-Suhrawardi. (Tr.)