ṢUḤBAH (lit., "companionship"). In mystical parlance, ṣuḥbah can refer to (1) a mystic's return from seclusion (ʿuzlah ) to human society; (2) the company of the spiritual mentor, which a new entrant to the mystical fold needs for spiritual training; and (3) social contact with all human beings. The value of ṣuḥbah was first to be appreciated when those near the Prophet became known as ṣaḥābah ("companions"), since they had the privilege of being in his company. Thereafter mystics looked upon the "company" of a superior mystic-master as a way to spiritual development. The spiritual guide (pir or shaykh) came to occupy a high position on account of his capacity to influence the thought and character of those who came near him.
Abu al-Ḥasan al-Hujwīrī (d. 1079) identified three types of companionship that he considered inseparable and interconnected: (1) companionship with God, the awareness of God's presence at all times, which controlled and determined every detail of external behavior; (2) companionship with one's own self, which dictated the avoidance in one's own company of all that was improper in the company of others and unbecoming in the presence of God; and (3) companionship with fellow creatures. Operating within such a comprehensive concept of ṣuḥbah, mystical writings include the totality of a mystic's life—prayers and penitence, travels, sojourns in hospices, dealing with fellow mystics, relations with kin and friends, methods of earning a livelihood, marriage or celibacy—as aspects of that person's ṣuḥbah. As such, the principles of ṣuḥbah came to determine mystical actions in all their details, and many brochures and treatises were written on the subject. Notable works include al-Junayd's Tasḥīḥ al-irādah (The rectification of discipleship), Aḥmad ibn Khadrūyah Balkhī's Al-riʿāyah bi-ḥuqūq Allāh (The observance of what is due to God), and Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī Tirmidhī's Ādāb al-murīdīn (Rules of conduct for disciples). Al-Sulamī's Kitāb ādāb al-ṣuḥbah (Book on the rules of company), al-Qushayrī's Risālah (Epistle), al-Hujwīrī's Kashf al-maḥjūb (The unveiling of the veiled), and Abu al-Najīb Suhrawardī's Ādāb al-murīdīn neatly consolidate all the information available in earlier works.
In the initial stages of mystical development in Islam, the term ṣuḥbah was used in a limited sense to mean the company of the mystic teacher only; elaborate rules of residence and discipline were developed later. When Sufism came out of its first phase, designated by Reynold A. Nicholson as "the period of the Quietists," the value of companionship was emphasized and seclusion was considered of little significance in the building up of a spiritual personality. In mystical discipline, companionship and seclusion were paired as complements and supplements to each other. Shaykh Abū al-Ḥasan ibn Muḥammad al-Nūri (d. 907) remarked: "Beware of secluson for it is connected with Satan, and cleave to companionship for therein is the satisfaction of the merciful God." Among the eleven veils that have to be lifted before gnosis can be attained, Al-Hujwīrī considered companionship the ninth. Meticulous care in the performance of duties pertaining to ṣuḥbah could lift this veil and make gnosis possible.
Islamic mysticism, particularly before the organization of the Ṣūfī orders (ṭuruq; sg., ṭarīqah ), considered travel an essential part of mystical discipline. The rules of ṣuḥbah therefore deal with both residents (Pers., muqīmān ) and travelers (Pers., musāfirān ). Regarding those who undertook travel as part of their spiritual training, rules were laid down about articles they took along, people with whom they could keep company, places where they could stay, and the way they had to conduct themselves while staying in a mosque, in a Ṣūfī center, or in an educational institution (madrasah ). The main principle governing behavior in all these spheres was that a mystic did not forget God while involved in any of these activities and could utilize travel as a means for breaking undue attachment to material assets and family, for learning to live with complete resignation to the will of God, and for trying to develop a spirit of adjustment to different conditions of life and company.
Life within the Ṣūfī centers is similarly defined by elaborate rules of ṣuḥbah. Residents had to share responsibility for running the center; travelers were treated as guests for three days but after that they too were obliged to do some work to lighten the burden of the permanent residents. The Ṣūfī centers that provided facilities for ṣuḥbah were of different types: khānagāh s where separate accommodation was generally provided for all inmates; jamāʿat-khānah s, where all lived a communal life under one roof and slept on the ground; zāwiyah s and dāʾirah s, smaller institutions where persons of one affiliation lived in order to devote their time to meditation. Mystics following different masters laid down principles of ṣuḥbah according to the basic teachings of the order to which they belonged, but the ʿAwārif al-maʿārif of Shaykh Shihāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī (d. 1234) was generally accepted as the model on which khānagāh life could be organized and the basic objectives of ṣuḥbah achieved.
For a brief mention of ṣuḥbah in the larger context of Ṣūfī thought and practice, see Annemarie Schimmel's Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975). Al-Hujwīrī's discussion of ṣuḥbah can be found in The Kashf al-Mahjúb, the Earliest Persian Treatise on Sufism, translated by Reynold A. Nicholson, new ed. (1936; reprint, London, 1976), pp. 334–366. Abū al-Najīb Suhrawardī's Kitāb ādāb al-murīdīn has been translated in abridged form by Menahem Milson as A Sufi Rule for Novices (Cambridge, Mass., 1975). Important compendia of Ṣūfī practice available in Arabic include al-Qushayrī's Al-risālah al-qushayrīyah (Cairo, 1966), Shihāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī's ʿAwārif al-maʿārif (Beirut, 1966), and al-Sulamī's Kitāb ādāb al-ṣuḥbah (Jerusalem, 1954).
Khaliq AḤmad Nizami (1987)