Salawat ‘ala an-Nabi (making felt connections with the Prophet)
No doubt when most Muslims recite salawat ‘ala al-nabi, they are expressing their love for the historical Muhammad (pbuh), the habib Allah (beloved of God), who came into existence at a particular time and place, but who is no longer present in this world, except in the hearts and minds of Muslims and in the traces he has left behind.
Nevertheless, it is essential to note that in addition to expressing such love, when Sufis, in particular, recite salawat ‘ala al-nabi, they are also contemplating the haqiqat al-muhammadiya, the Muhammadan Truth, which is the same as the nur muhammadi, the Muhammadan light.
Furthermore, especially after the Shaykh al-Akbar, Muhiyuddin Ibn ‘Arabi (قدس سره), Sufis assert that the haqiqat al-Muhammadiya is identical with the core human primordial nature, al-fitra, which is the microcosm of the whole of Reality and the theophanic manifestation of the all-inclusive Divine name “Allah” (tajalli al-ism al-jami’).
As a consequence, out of the many Sufi commentators on the meaning of salawat ‘ala al-nabi, both in Sufi Qur’an commentaries and specifically in commentaries on the Salat al-Mashishiya and the Wazifa, I have been able to find two commentaries, by Abu Shammat al-Dimashqi and Sidi Shaykh Muhammad al-Jamal al-Rifa’I al-Shadhili, that explicitly give us the simple key that enables Sufis to practice salawat ‘ala al-nabi as a means of actualization and realization of the haqiqa al-Muhuammadiya.
In a nutshell, what these commentaries assert is that in the Salawat, when we say Allahumma ṣalli (O God, ṣalli), the Arabic word “ṣalli” in ṣalawat (going beyond the usual overly simplistic translation “send blessings”), in fact means “tajalla lī-” and ikshif lī, namely, illuminate for me and unveil for me the Muhammadan Truth and Reality. The key commentary in the Arabic is as follows:
: اللهم صلِّ — أي تجلَّ لي بالرحمة التي هي الحقيقة المحمدية التي قام بها كلُ شيء. والتجليْ معناه الانكشاف، أي اِكشِف لي عن تلك الحقيقةِ ]المحمدية[.
Here is the translation: O Allah, ṣalli means theophanically illuminate for me by means of the Mercy which is the Muhammadan Truth by means of which every thing comes into being. And the meaning of “theophanic illumination” (al-tajalli) is “unveling” (al-inkishaf). Namely, this means “Unveil for me this Muhammadan Reality.”