I Study the history of philosophy and religion and I have a question regarding the Islamic view of the figure identified as Idris in the Quran. I have heard that this is also Enoch of the Christian and Jewish texts who rose to Heaven on a chariot of fire. I have also read that the Sabians identify this figure as Thrice-great Hermes, who set down the Emerald Tablet and the Corpus Hermeticum. Can you elucidate on the Islamic perspective of Idris?
Thank you for this wonderful site, as well as all the other Naqshbandi sites. They are fantastic.
There is no better source in English for the Islamic history of the Prophet Idris, peace be upon him, than the first volume of Lore of Light by Hajjah Amina Adil, may Allah have mercy on her. As you mention, Idris is also known as Enoch; concerning the prophet raised on the chariot – or rather horse – of fire, that is Elijah, or Ilyas, peace be upon them all. In the Holy Qur’an (XIX, 56), Idris is called a Siddiq; a relationship therefore exists with the Biblical Melchizedek, as well as with the Naqshbandi order that was originally known as the Siddiqiyya.
Since your question also concerns the history of Hermes, some additional remarks should not be out of place. According to Islamic sources, Hermes was known as the “Thrice-great” because his name is connected to three historical figures: Idris in the time before the flood, and in the time after, the Babylonian Hermes who taught Pythagoras and the Egyptian Hermes. “Hermes” may therefore be understood as a title, with its shared use confirming a singular wisdom. As you know from your study of the Corpus Hermeticum, the Classical world recognized in the Egyptian Thoth an identical function to that of Hermes. For an alternative explanation of the three Hermeses, please see my Alchemy in Middle-earth.
The remnants of the wisdom of the Thrice-great Hermes, although pertaining to the priesthood of past nations, has passed into the Christian and Muslim worlds as knowledge pertaining to the intermediary sciences that are rooted in the correspondences between the human microcosm and the greater cosmos. These Hermetic sciences were traditionally understood both to depend upon and to provide a support for the greater mysteries of religion. It should be noted that the earliest record of the Emerald Tablet – of profound importance to the Christian and Muslim worlds alike – is to be found in Arabic sources. Also worth mentioning is the identification in Islamic sources of the Great Pyramid as the “tomb of Hermes;” no doubt Shaykh Abd al-Wahid Yahya is correct in affirming that here also is a remnant of the wisdom of Idris, embedded in its very structure and in its proportions, but that this nevertheless remains concealed.
There is an even greater relevance to the role of Idris in the Islamic perspective. Along with Ilyas, Jesus, and al-Khidr – peace be upon them – Idris is one of the ever-living prophets, and so he is understood to have an important function in the spiritual hierarchy. These four are known as the Awtad – literally “Stakes” – who stabilize the world. Moreover, with his position in the Heaven of the Sun of traditional cosmology, Idris acts as the living Pole or axis of the entire cosmos. It is therefore of interest to observe that according to Arabic gematria, the name for the Pole – Qutb – is reckoned numerically as 111. This is in perfect agreement with what was mentioned above, concerning how unity may have a three-fold expression.
Another valuable contribution to the understanding of Idris may be found in a book written by Charles-Andre Gilis which originally bore the remarkable title, Le Coran et la fonction d’Hermes (“The Qur’an and the Function of Hermes”).