Montesquieu

Usbek to the mul­lah Mohammed Ali, guar­dian of the three Tombs1 in Com


Why do you live amongst the tombs, divine mul­lah ? You were made rather to dwell amongst the stars. You no doubt hide your­self lest you dim the light of the sun : you have no spots, unlike that star2 ; but like it you cover your­self with clouds.

Your science is an abyss dee­per than the ocean3 ; your spi­rit is more pier­cing than Zufagar, Ali’s two-poin­ted sword4 ; you know what takes place in the nine choirs of the celes­tial powers ; you read the Qur’an on the breast of our divine Prophet, and when you find some pas­sage obs­cure, an angel at his com­mand unfolds its swift wings and des­cends from the throne to reveal to you its secret.

I could by means of you have an inti­mate cor­res­pon­dence with the sera­phim : for are you not, thir­teenth Imam,5 the cen­ter where hea­ven and earth end, and the point of com­mu­ni­ca­tion twixt the abyss and the empy­rean ?6

I am in the midst of a pro­fane peo­ple ; allow me to purify myself with you : suf­fer me to turn my face toward the sacred pla­ces where you live ; dis­tin­guish me from evil­doers, as we dis­tin­guish bet­ween the white and black threads at sun­rise.7 Assist me with your coun­sel ; watch over my soul : exalt it with the spi­rit of the pro­phets ; nou­rish it with the science of para­dise, and allow me to place its wounds at your feet. Address your sacred let­ters to Erzerum, where I shall be staying for seve­ral months.

Erzerum this 11th day of the moon of Gemmadi II, 1711

Those of Fatmé and of the kings Sefi I (who died in 1642) and Abbas II (1632-1666). Usbek has performed his devotions in the famous mosque of Com (letter 1), which contains the three tombs.

It was Galileo who described sunspots ; see letter 126.

“For her thoughts are more vast than the sea, and her counsels more deep than the great ocean” (Ecclesiasticus 24:39).

The sword named Zulfagar had been given by the archangel Gabriel to Ali, son-in-law and successor to Muhammad (Chardin, III, 64).

A forceful compliment to the addressee, who is not one of the twelve successor imams directly descended from Ali. The word imam had the general meaning of guide or spiritual head.

The abyss designates hell and the deepest seas ; the empyrean the highest realm of heaven, where the saints enjoy the beatific vision.

The expression comes from the Qur’an (2:187) : “[…] eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread [of night]”.