Kernel of the Kernel

Concerning the Wayfaring and Spiritual Journey of the People of Intellect (Risāla-yi Lubb al-Lubāb dar Sayr wa Sulūk-i Ulu'l Albāb) A Shiʿi Approach to Sufism

By Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabā'ī
Compiled by Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ḥusaynī Tihrānī
Translated by Mohammad H. Faghfoory
Foreword by Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Subjects: Islam
Series: SUNY series in Islam
Paperback : 9780791452387, 183 pages, May 2003
Hardcover : 9780791452370, 183 pages, May 2003

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Table of contents

Foreword by Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Translator's Introduction

Chapter One: Editor's Introduction

1. Attraction to the invisible world is in man's primordial nature

2. The Straight Path means a combination of exoterism and esoterism

3. The Holy Qur'an calls for purification along with intellection

4. Mulla Sadra's recommendation for humility of the heart and acquiring intellectual sciences

5. The chain of gnostics during the last hundred years

6. Reasons and motivations for compilation of this treatise

Chapter Two: Kernel of the Kernel

7. The human being in the darkness of materialism

8. Wayfaring and spiritual journey according to the gnostics

9. Difficulties in passing through the intermediate world and the realm of multiplicity of the soul

10. The spiritual traveler entering the realm of spirit

11. The goal of the traveler is companionship with God and His Image

12. Muraqabah, its stages, and effects

13. The meaning of wine (mey) according to gnostics

14. The traveler observes his own soul

15. The traveler observes Divine Names and Attributes

16. Immersion in the Divine Essence of the Lord and subsistence in the Worshiped

17. The station of being present in the world of multiplicity while simultaneously witnessing and experiencing the realms of Divine Lordship

18. Reasons why not everyone can reach the station of human perfection

19. The inability of words to describe the realities of the lights of catharsis and the Realms of Divine Lordship

20. The world of sincerity (khulus) and its hierarchy

21. Peculiarities and manifestations of sincerity of essence (khulus-i dhati)

22. Freedom from the world of multiplicity is one of the first and most essential necessities of spiritual journey

23. One's detachment from one's essence

24. The need for Divine Grace for total victory in the struggle against the carnal soul

25. The necessity of observing all religious duties throughout spiritual journey

26. Observing religious duties by the Perfect Man is by virtue of perfection, and not for finding proximity to God

27. Brief description of the realms preceding the realm of sincerity (khulus) according to Qur'an

Chapter Three: Description of the Realms Preceding the Realm of Khulus

28. The Greater Islam (Islam-i Akbar)

29. The Greater Faith (Iman-i Akbar)

30. The Greater Migration (Hijrat-i Kubra)

31. The Greater Spiritual Struggle (Jihad-i Akbar)

32. The Greatest Submission (Islam-i a'azam)

33. The Greatest Faith (Iman-i a'azam)

34. The Greatest Migration (Hijrat-i 'uzma) and the Greatest Spiritual Struggle (Jihad-i a'azam)

35. Choosing to Die

36. Explanation: Special privileges granted to Muslim spiritual travelers over travelers of previous religions

37. The Station of Righteousness (Suluh)

38. Different kinds of righteousness (Salah)

Chapter Four: Undifferentiated Description of the Path and Methods of Wayfaring Toward God

39. The necessity to seek reason to prove the truth of religion

40. The effects of lamentation and pleading to God with humility to find faith in the World of Meaning

41. Conversation between the prophet Hadrat-i Idris with 'Allamah Tabataba'i in a dream

42. God will guide those who search guidance from Him with sincerity and purity of heart

43. Knowledge and action complement each other

44. The necessity of having bodily organs share the joy of faith

45. The absence of sadness and fear for the selfless traveler

46. Wayfaring in the Angelical Kingdom is not in contradiction with being in this world

47. Prayers and supplications of the Shi'ite Imams were not merely for guiding and teaching purposes

Chapter 5: Differentiated Description of the Path and Methods of Wayfaring Toward God

48. The necessary conditions for spiritual journey

49. Abandoning conventionalism, habitual practices, and formalities

50. Steadfastness

51. Tolerance and forbearance

52. Loyalty

53. Stability and perseverance

54. Constant attention

55. One's accounting one's inward state

56. Self-condemnation

57. Expeditious action

58. Devotion

59. Observing proper manners

60. Intention

61. Silence

62. Abstaining from indulgence in food consumption

63. Spiritual retreat

64. Morning wakefulness

65. Perpetual ritual cleanliness

66. Constant expression of humility

67. Avoiding appetite and worldly pleasure

68. Guarding and protecting the secrets and mysteries of the path

69. Spiritual teacher and master

70. Litany and supplication

71. Control of mind, thoughts, and other mental preoccupations

72. Invocation

73. Meditation

74. Methods for control of mind and thoughts in the treatise attributed to Ayatullah Sayyid Mahdi (ibn Murtada ibn Muhammad) Bahr al-'Ulum

75. Methods used by the late Akhund Mulla Husayn-Quli Hamadani

76. Stages of muraqabah

77. On the chain of the author's spiritual teachers and masters in Divine sciences

78. The opening of the fourfold realms of tawhid before one's soul as a result of muraqabah and concentration on the soul

79. What do the gnostics mean by Griffin ('Anqa) and (Simaurgh)

80. Poems by Hafiz alluding to the station of the Essence of the Invisible of all invisibles

Index of Qur'anic Verses

Index of Ahadith

Index of Quotations of the Sayings of the Shi'ite Imams

Notes on Saints, Scholars, and Authors Cited in the Text

General Index

An English translation of a seminal book on Sufism from a Shi'i perspective by an eminent Muslim thinker.


Kernel of the Kernel is an authoritative work on Sufism from a Shi'i perspective that is not only fascinating, but also contains much practical advice. In addition to providing a theoretical discussion of spiritual wayfaring, it is also the account of a personal fifty-year spiritual journey by Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabā'ī, a renowned Iranian-Shii scholar and spiritual master. In Kernel of the Kernel, Ṭabāṭabā'ī discusses the doctrinal foundations of spiritual wayfaring as well as processes and stages that an aspiring wayfarer must go through in order to attain spiritual realization. He discusses the relation between the exoteric and esoteric aspects of Islam and clearly demonstrates that these inward and outward dimensions of Islam complement each other. The book also provides information on the Quranic origins of Sufism and its special relations with Shi'ism as well as the role of Shi'i Imams in the spiritual realization of a sincere wayfarer.

Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabā'ī (1901–1982) was a prominent Muslim scholar who taught Islamic philosophy, jurisprudence, ethics, and gnosis in the seminaries of Qum, Iran. He is celebrated for the example of his spiritual life and for his spiritual writings. Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ḥusaynī Tihrānī (1925–1995) was one of Tabataba'i's most brilliant students. A teacher, eloquent speaker, and prolific writer, his most important works include comprehensive studies on the nature of God, the lives and spiritual status of Shii Imams, and eschatology. Formerly a Professor at the University of Tehran, Mohammad H. Faghfoory is affiliated with George Washington University and the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London.


"Aside from its historical and theological background, the Lubb al-Lubab or Kernel of the Kernel stands by itself as a masterpiece in the field of spirituality and gnosis. While naturally couched in the language and terminology of the Quran and Hadith, it conveys a message of universal order meant for all human beings. " — from the Foreword by Seyyed Hossein Nasr