THE SUBJECT MATTER OF SUFISM

The variety of definitions and explanations that have been provided of Sufism indicate the breadth of its subject matter. It might therefore be said that the subject matter of Sufism is as vast and deep as an ocean; for it covers everything related to the human soul and spirit. Essentially, it sees to the spiritual states passed by the wayfaring disciple during his spiritual journey, in the beings with whom he meantime gets in touch with, in the experiences he encounters and in the ways he finds, knows, and serves his Lord; though this would only be brief number of the otherwise great breadth of topics the subject matter of Sufism includes. Still, at the risk of being succinct, we may nonetheless proceed to expand on the primary subject matter of the Sufi path.

Above all, the Sufi path engages in the spiritual states and stations a disciple passes by in the process of perfecting his unripe spirit to ripeness, by means of purifying his heart and soul. In other words, Sufism deals with the exact ways of purifying the heart and soul and obtaining inner and outer enlightenment, to enable the actions of the Sufi to accord with Divine pleasure and thereby grant him eternal happiness. The gist of this consists in embodying an exceptional moral conduct and tapping in to the knowledge of spiritual realities. At its core, Sufism thus seeks to ensure one tastes the zest of ihsan, of internalizing faith, and enjoying its indescribable pleasure.

To put it in another way, the Sufi path is about the principles and ways to understand the Divine wisdoms, secrets and intentions concealed in names and attributes of Allah, glory unto Him, as well as their abounding manifestations throughout the universe. In this context, Sufism talks about notions related to the unseen, the spirit, the heart and the soul; as well as spiritual experiences like insight (kashf), inspiration (ilham), spiritual witnessing (mushahada), ecstasy (wajd), and love (‘ishq), and no less, the spiritual states attained as a result of undergoing these experiences.

In short, Sufism is concerned with imparting the spiritual ability to behold and witness of the names and attributes of the Lord and to acquire Divine knowledge (marifatullah), offering man a real insight into the uni- verse, the Quran, as well as himself, by taking him through a journey at the end of which awaits spiritual maturity.

  • Excerpt from the book, “SUFISM: A PATH TOWARDS THE INTERNALIZATION OF FAITH (IHSÂN)”

Being a Sufi

Ibrahim Effendi, the renowned Sheikh of the Sufi Lodge of Aksaray, eloquently voices the assorted definitions of the Sufi path in the following lines:

 

Being a Sufi, at the onset, is freedom from material existence, At the end, it is to rise to throne of the heart

Being a Sufi, at the onset, is to strip away the flesh, At the end, it is to enter the Lord’s palace of secrets.

Being a Sufi, is to remove the fading garment of the body, In return for a pure existence, and the light of the Lord…

Being a Sufi, is to kindle the candle of the heart with a flame Divine, And hence throwing it in the fire of love, to burn forever more…

Being a Sufi is save oneself from the grip of the ego, And hence to follow the Law and attain to true faith.

Being a Sufi is acquaintance with the ways of the Lord;
And hence to reach out a helping hand and cure to the needy.

Being a Sufi is to unlock the flesh with the key of the Lord’s Name, And to usher it in through the gates of nothingness.

Being a Sufi is to turn the Sufi words to action, Where each word uttered becomes a portion of life.

Being a Sufi is to learn to interpret the dreams and the word, To become a secret, in one’s own right, in the seat of life.

Being a Sufi is to become joyous and bewildered in Divine presence, To be in amazement before the secrets of the Divine.

Being a Sufi is to cleanse the heart of everything other than the Lord, To turn the heart into His Throne through faith

Being a Sufi is to reach East and West in the blink of an eye; To hence care for all people and offer them shelter.

Being a Sufi is to witness the Lord’s presence in every particle, To hence be a sun shining upon all creation.

Being a Sufi is to understand the languages of all creation; To assume to role of Solomon in the realm of intellect.

Being a Sufi is to seize the firmest handle, to burden the greatest duty; To hence reflect on the Quran and convey the news of Divine Mercy.

Being a Sufi is to treat all beings through the secret name of the Lord; The ability to absorb the commands of the Quran.

Being a Sufi is to seek the Lord in every gaze thrown,
To hence turn difficulty into ease for the fellow human being.

Being a Sufi is to turn the heart into a depository of Divine knowledge To lead a drop, the human being is, into the vast ocean.

Being a Sufi is to burn entire existence in the fire of negation; And then to revive through the light of affirmation”.

Being a Sufi is to call to the path, to say “sufficient is the Lord” (ar-Rad, 43), To nurture delight for the inevitable “return”. (al-Ghashiyah, 28)

Being a Sufi is to return to life after dying a thousand times each day, To act as a reviver for corpses from all creation.

Being a Sufi is to annihilate existence into the existence Divine,
To conceal oneself in the intimacy of being “even nearer”. (an-Najm, 9)

Being a Sufi is to surrender the soul to the beloved and become free; To remain with the beloved forever more.

Being a Sufi, Ibrahim, is to become a real servant of the Lord; To embrace and remain loyal to the Law of Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him).

Khalq and Khulq

Imam Ghazali (rah) explains in the following passage the spiritual impossibility of adequately overseeing our ‘self’ by oneself alone:

“The words khalq (creation) and khulq (morality) are derived from the same root. One is about the external world and the other is about the internal world.

Khalq is the form that can be known by the senses.

Khulq is hidden and cannot be known by looking at our external existence. The real identity of a person rests in his character, way of life, and his nature. Regardless of how much one hides himself in outer appearances, one day his inner identity will be disclosed.”

As we need a mirror to see our outer appearance, so too we need a mirror for our heart: the help of a friend of Allah who will diagnose and cure our inner world, our character, and our inclinations.

sufi meditation

If one wishes to know whether he is someone loved by Allah or not, he should closely evaluate his inner world: to the extent, he feels Allah in his heart and witnesses his power and kingdom with amazement he is close to Him.

For this reason, one should always be concerned with purifying his soul so that the manifestations of divine light, which will destroy the passions and the desires, can appear in the heart.

The Almighty Creator has said, “Truly, the one who purifies his soul succeeds” (Shams, 9).

Likewise, the Prophet Muhammad 􏰀(may peace and blessing be upon him) also said: “The believer is a mirror of the believer.” According to this hadith, the perfect humans serve as clear mirrors, with no stain on them, for our souls. In other words, seekers may observe the reality of their condition and their essence in the face of these individuals. This is not a material observation. The mirror of the heart goes well beyond the material dimension. In it one may explore the mysteries of the hidden inner worlds. This mirror is not a mirror of the outer world but rather a mirror of the inner world and there are no forms there save the reflections of Allah’s lights. Therefore, those who spiritually seek out and reap rewards from this mirror carry a different kind of beauty and joy in their hearts. They grow to sacrifice themselves. They wish farewell to their ego and consequently reach to the blessing of Allah aiming to become completely absorbed in Him. For this reason, it is necessary to be under the guidance of a perfect master and to internalize his morality. Yunus Emre has said:

“Shariah (religious law) and tariqah (mysticism) are paths for sincere seekers, Yet the Truth and divine knowledge are beyond them.”

One can only reach to the secret mentioned in this couplet by Yunus Emre under the guidance of a perfect master.

-An excerpt from the book, “From the mirror of the heart”

The Sufi way personifies exemplary character traits (akhlaq) and propriety (adab).

Saving a believer from blind imitation (taqlid) in matters of faith, exemplary character traits give birth to the consciousness of ihsan, which itself imparts uprightness and integrity to the thoughts and acts of human beings. Ihsan is to permanently implant a mindset in the heart of a believer, crystallized by a constant awareness of the Lord, as if the believer sees Him. Gradually, ihsan becomes an essential and governing force behind all the actions and behavior of a believer throughout his life. Abu’l-Husayn an-Nuri explains Sufism accordingly when he says, “Sufism consists not of forms and sciences but of good moral qualities (akhlaq). If it were about forms, one would have taken it by means of personal striving; if it were about sciences, one would have learned it by means of conventional education. For this reason, neither can forms nor science merely make one reach the purpose. Sufism is to succeed in embodying the qualities of the Lord.” The special emphasis an-Nuri places on his definition is thus the strong connection between the Sufi way and the embodiment of exemplary character traits it leads to.

Even though one might not find the term tasawwuf mentioned during the lifetime of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, its essence and reality nonetheless did exist. What we mean by the expression “exemplary moral qualities” is none other than the moral qualities of the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace-; qualities which the believer is expected to embody at the expense of his deficient traits. The integrity of the Blessed Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- morality is confirmed by the Quran:

“And indeed, you are of a great moral character.” (al-Qalam, 4)

Similarly, when inquired about the morals of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, Aisha –Allah be well-pleased with her- replied said, “His morals were that of the Quran.” (Muslim, Musafirin, 139) When a servant embodies the exemplary moral traits laid down by in the Quran and abides by the Quranic principles, he virtually becomes the Quran come-to-life. Contemplating on the meaning of the Quran, reciting it in reverence, and practicing its instructions represent the apex of good morality.

The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was sent by the Almighty with the mission of enlightening the universe entire, the whole spatio-temporal scope, from the very onset his prophethood until the Final Hour. Thanks to reliable historical and scholarly records, we are gifted today with a strenuously detailed account of the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- life and times. Upon glancing at these records, one is unmistakably struck by many an extraordinary aspect of his life; fitting, as he represents the quintessential perfection of humankind and morality. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- himself highlights his universal mission when he states, “I have been sent for nothing but to perfect good morals.” (Imam Malik, Muwatta, Husnu’l-Khulq 8). Confirming this is the verse of the Holy Quran, which refers to the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- as “the quintessential example” (uswah hasa- nah): “You have a quintessential example in The Almighty’s Messenger for whosoever hopes for The Almighty and the Last Day, and remembers The Almighty often.” (al-Ahzab, 21)

Even after the physical departure of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, the Lord will always hail saintly scholars from among people, as a gift to humankind and more importantly, to perpetuate the practice of good morals. These scholars are described in a hadith as “the heirs of prophets” (warathatu’l-anbiya)*. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- offers a further description of such scholars, saying, “The most perfect believer with respect to faith is he who exudes the best moral traits.” (Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, II, 250) These words allude to the fact that good morals are the fruits of faith and the signs of its perfection. Consequently, saints are spiritual guides who have been privileged with the good fortune of having personified the moral qualities of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. Correlated is the definition of the Sufi way offered by Abu Muhammad al-Jariri, according to which it is “… to embody good morals and to refrain from the immoral.”

As demanding an undertaking it is to beautify heart with good morals and cleanse it from the immoral, it is nevertheless essential in order to attain to eternal happiness and salvation. In highlighting the grueling nature of this awaiting task, Abu Hashim as-Sufi says, “Eradicating an existing conceit from the heart is more difficult than digging a mountain with a needle.” Similar are the words of Abu Bakr al-Kattani: “Sufism is about morality. A person morally better than you is at the same time a person spiritually purer than you.”

The history of mankind is replete with the manifestations of the exemplary conducts of prophets. Prophet Yusuf -upon him peace-, for instance, exemplifies one of the most remarkable instances of moral excel- lence in history. As reported by the Quran, Yusuf –upon him peace- not only did not retaliate against his brothers who had, years ago, committed the terrible crime of throwing him into a well in the middle of nowhere, he displayed an unrivalled show of mercy and forgiveness when meeting them years down the track, assuring them that “No blame will there be upon you today. The Almighty will forgive you; and He is the most merci- ful of the merciful.” (Yusuf, 92)

The ultimate goal a Sufi strives for is to emulate Ibrahim -upon him blessings and peace- in purging his heart of everything worldly and filling it with obedience to Divine commands; Ismail -upon him peace- in unconditional submission to the Almighty and contentedness with Divine fate; and Ayyub -upon him peace- in enshrouding the heart in unyielding patience. Spiritually, it is to personify the sorrow of Dawud -upon him peace- and the abstinence of Isa -upon him peace-.

A Sufi’s heart ought to imitate the heart of Musa –upon him peace-, in being immersed in spiritual joy and yearning for the Lord in His remem- brance, and above all, the heart of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- in sincerity, love and devotion for Allah, glory unto Him. Abu Hafs al-Haddad gives an inclusive summary of all these descriptions when he says, “Sufism is about good propriety (adab).” In explanation of adab, Rumi says,

O gentleman! Beware that adab is the soul in your body;

Adab is the eye of the Men of the Lord and the light of their hearts.

If you want to crush Satan’s head, open your eyes and see;

It is adab that depresses Satan.

If you cannot find adab in a man, he is not in fact a human being.

It is adab that separates mankind from animals.

In the same context Rumi also says,

My reason asked my heart, “What is faith (iman)?”

My heart whispered into the ear of my reason, “Faith is all about pro- priety (adab).”

Another poet versifies,

Adab is a crown sent down from the Lord’s light; Place it on your head and be spared from all plights.

For a long time, therefore, it has been customary to have a cautionary signboard at Sufi lodges that read, “Adab Ya-Hu!”; a motto with a multidi- mensional meaning. While it reminds the reader how essential it is to live a life of propriety, from another vantage, it is at the same time a plea, in the sense of “O Lord, give us adab!


(*) The term “warathatu’l-anbiya’” denotes the real scholars who, both inwardly and out- wardly, personify prophetic conduct and above all, the morals of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, and exhibit an exemplary way of life in all respects, in both theory and practice; as the hadith in question reads, “…real scholars are heirs to prophets.” Abu Dawud, Ilm, 1.


True Education: A Heart that is not hurt and that does not hurt…

The great Sami Effendi had just completed his bachelor’s degree at the Faculty of Law, at the Daru’l-Funun University in Istanbul. Noticing his upright conduct and wonderful demeanor, a righteous man said to him:

“This education is fine, too, but you really should look to complete the real education, son. Let’s enroll you in the school of wisdom, where you can receive training in the sciences of the heart and the secrets of the Hereafter”, after which he added:

“I really do not know how they train one in that school and what they teach. But if there is one thing I know, it is that the first lesson of this education is to not hurt, and the last lesson not to be hurt.

Moral of the Story:

Not hurting is relatively easy. But not being hurt is seldom in one’s control; for it is a matter of heart. Avoiding being hurt and heartbroken, therefore, is possible only by becoming immune the poisonous, heart-piercing arrows shot by mortals. The strength of this immunity depends on the level acquired in cleansing the soul and purifying the heart. On being stoned and insulted in Taif, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- was met with an angel, who assured him that he could, with a word, “…strike the two mountains, surrounding Taif together, and destroy the locals”.

But being the mercy to the worlds he was, the Honorable Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- not only declined that offer, he moreover turned towards Taif and compassionately pleaded for the eventual guidance of her locals.[*]

Similarly, as he was being stoned to death, Hallaj, a devoted lover of the Prophetﷺ, was heard pleading, “My Lord…They know not; so forgive them even before You forgive me!”

This is a mindset acquired only through education in its truest form; a mindset belonging to a heart purified through spiritual training.

On being asked about the traits of a purified heart (qalb-i salim), Abu’l-Qasim al-Hakim replied:

“A purified heart has three traits: It is a heart that does not hurt, a heart that is not hurt and a heart that does goodness only for the sake of Allah without accepting anything in return. For a believer reaches the presence of his Lord with dignity (wara), if he has not hurt anyone; with loyalty, if he has directed his heart solely to his Lord and protected it from being hurt by anyone; and sincerity, if he has not ascribed any mortal as partner to his righteous deeds.”

The poet says it beautifully:

The purpose of man and jinn on the garden of earth
Is to not hurt, devotee, and not be hurt!

(*) See, Bukhari, Badu’l-Khalq, 7; Muslim, Jihad, 111.

-An Excerpt from “Sufi Narratives and Lessons”

Islam and Good Manners

Good manners are the most important provision of the traveler of the straight path. A person cannot be both pious and quarrelsome and unkind. As a creed, the spiritual essence of Islam is tawhid or believing in the oneness of Allah, and, in practice, good manners, uprightness, and compassion. In this regard, it can be said that Islam is composed of measures of elegance, courtesy, cleanliness or “good manners.” How elegantly Jalal al-Dīn Rumī قدس سره states this
reality in the following lines:

“Open your eyes and look carefully into the word of Allah from beginning to the end. The whole Qur’ān, all of its verses, is but explanation of good manners.”

Friends of Allah have attained such high levels of spirituality through their good manners. Imam Rabbānī قدس سره says that:

“None can make progress towards unity with Allah the Almighty without complying with the measures of good manners. The way of great Sufis is composed of good manners from beginning to the end.” And the most significant of good manners is the ones observed towards our Creator.

We should not forget that the devil was banished from the Divine presence, not because of his lack of knowledge or actions, but because of his bad manners. This is why the thing that the devil hates most is good manners.

How nicely Rumī قدس سره explains this state:

“When Devil refused to prostrate before Adam and disobeyed the command of Allah, he said:

“My essence is fire, while his essence is clay. Would it be appropriate for someone who is eminent to prostrate to someone who is low?”

Because of this impertinent response, Devil is cursed and banished from Divine presence. In addition to his rude response, Devil attempted to argue with his creator.” (Fihi Mā Fīh, p. 159)

Abū ‘Alī al-Daqqāq (may Allah have mercy upon his soul) says that:

“Leaving good manners requires to be banished from Divine presence. Whoever misbehaves in front of the Sultan, he would be sent to the door; and if he misbehaves at the door, he would be sent to the barn.”

Our predecessors advised us to take lessons from the states and fates of ill-mannered people in their saying “Learn your manners from the ill-mannered.” We should think about the end of Demon and take lessons from it.

A servant who shows the appropriate manners towards Allah the Almighty avoids all kinds of reckless actions, and realizes his mistakes and heedlessness in his worship and dealings with others. He protects himself/herself from the illness of too much reliance upon his actions.

One of the greatest objects of Sufism is to raise people to the state of iḥsān or the state of realization of being in the presence of Allah all the time, and thus to show good manners towards Allah. Sufis say that:

“Hold on to good manners externally and internally. Because if someone makes a mistake about his manners externally, he gets external punishment; while those who commit mistakes about their inner manners will be punished internally. Whoever loses his good manners gets away from Allah the Almighty, even if he thinks that he gets closer to Him and even if he thinks that he is accepted, in fact he is rejected.” (Bursevī, Ismail Hakki, Ruḥul Bayān, X, 401)

The most valuable manner towards Allah is to revere Him. And the best manifestation of reverence shows itself in our worship. Friends of Allah state that:

“Worship takes a person to Paradise; while reverence and good manners in worship takes him to Allah the Almighty and makes him His friend.”

Anas b. Mālik رضي الله عنه says that:

“Showing good manners in actions is a sign of their acceptance.” Hiḍir (Alaihi Salaam) advises to say the following prayers:

“Dear Lord! Bless me with good manners in worshipping You.”

Because friends of Allah live being aware of that they are always in the presence of Allah the Almighty, they pay utmost attention to their external good manners in addition to their inward manners. This can be expressed as keeping the state of reverence and respect out of worship as well. In fact Allah the Almighty says in the Holy Qur’ān in this respect that:

“Those who are constant at their prayer” (70; 23)

“And those who keep a guard on their prayer” (70; 34)

Jalal al-Dīn Rumī قدس سره interprets these verses as follows:

“A servant keeps his state in prayer, after he is out of prayer as well. Thus he spends all his life in reverence, respect, and good manners; and watching his tongue and heart. This is the state of real friends of Allah the Almighty…”

The causes of sickness of the heart

heart2

The temptations to which the heart is exposed are what cause its sickness. These are the temptations of desires and fancies. The former cause intentions and the will to be corrupted, and the latter cause knowledge and belief to falter.

Hudhayfa ibn al-Yamani, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

The Messenger of Allah (SalAllahu Alaihi Wa Aalihi Wassallam) said, “Temptations are presented to the heart, one by one. Any heart that accepts them will be left with a black stain, but any heart that rejects them will be left with a mark of purity, so that hearts are of two types: a dark heart that has turned away and become like an overturned vessel, and a pure heart that will never be harmed by temptation for as long as the earth and the heavens exist. The dark heart only recognises good and denounces evil when this suits its desires and whims. Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Iman, 2/170 (with different wording).

He, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, placed hearts, when exposed to temptation, into two categories:

First, a heart which, when it is exposed to temptation, absorbs it like a sponge that soaks up water, leaving a black stain in it. It continues to absorb each temptation that is offered to it until it is darkened and corrupted, which is what he meant by “like an overturned vessel”. When this happens, two dangerous sicknesses take hold of it and plunge it into ruin:

The first is that of its confusing good with evil, to such an extent that it does not recognise the former and does not denounce the latter. This sickness may even gain hold of it to such an extent that it believes good to be evil and vice-versa, the Sunnah to be bida’ and vice-versa, the truth to be false and falsity to be the truth.

The second is that of its setting up its desires as its judge, over and above what the Beloved Prophet Salla Allahu ta’ala ‘alayhi wa ‘aalihi wa Sallam taught, so that it is enslaved and led by its whims and fancies.

Second, a pure heart which the light of faith is bright and from which its radiance shines. When temptation is presented to pure hearts such this, they oppose it and reject it, and so their light and illumination only increase.

10 sickenessess in heart