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)”

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.


Shams Tabriz (rahimahullah)’s 40 Rules of Love.

Rule 1

How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we.

Rule 2

The path to the Truth is a labour of the heart, not of the head. Make your heart your primary guide! Not your mind. Meet, challenge and ultimately prevail over your nafs with your heart. Knowing your ego will lead you to the knowledge of God.

Rule 3

You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe, because God is not confined in a mosque, synagogue or church. But if you are still in need of knowing where exactly His abode is, there is only one place to look for him: in the heart of a true lover.

Rule 4

Intellect and love are made of different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything. Intellect is always cautious and advices, ‘Beware too much ecstasy’, whereas love says, ‘Oh, never mind! Take the plunge!’ Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.

Rule 5

Most of problems of the world stem from linguistic mistakes and simple misunderstanding. Don’t ever take words at face value. When you step into the zone of love, language, as we know it becomes obsolete. That which cannot be put into words can only be grasped through silence.

Rule 6

Loneliness and solitude are two different things. When you are lonely, it is easy to delude yourself into believing that you are on the right path. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely. But eventually it is the best to find a person who will be your mirror. Remember only in another person’s heart can you truly see yourself and the presence of God within you.

Rule 7

Whatever happens in your life, no matter how troubling things might seem, do not enter the neighbourhood of despair. Even when all doors remain closed, God will open up a new path only for you. Be thankful! It is easy to be thankful when all is well. A Sufi is thankful not only for what he has been given but also for all that he has been denied.

Rule 8

Patience does not mean to passively endure. It means to look at the end of a process. What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. Impatience means to be shortsighted as to not be able to see the outcome. The lovers of God never run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full.

Rule 9

East, west, south, or north makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.

Rule 10

The midwife knows that when there is no pain, the way for the baby cannot be opened and the mother cannot give birth. Likewise, for a new self to be born, hardship is necessary. Just as clay needs to go through intense heat to become strong, Love can only be perfected in pain.

Rule 11

The quest for love changes user. There is no seeker among those who search for love who has not matured on the way. The moment you start looking for love, you start to change within and without.

Rule 12

There are more fake gurus and false teachers in this world than the number of stars in the visible universe. Don’t confuse power-driven, self-centered people with true mentors. A genuine spiritual master will not direct your attention to himself or herself and will not expect absolute obedience or utter admiration from you, but instead will help you to appreciate and admire your inner self. True mentors are as transparent as glass. They let the light of God pass through them.

Rule 13

Try not to resist the changes, which come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?

Rule 14

God is busy with the completion of your work, both outwardly and inwardly. He is fully occupied with you. Every human being is a work in progress that is slowly but inexorably moving toward perfection. We are each an unfinished work of art both waiting and striving to be completed. God deals with each of us separately because humanity is fine art of skilled penmanship where every single dot is equally important for the entire picture.

Rule 15

It’s easy to love a perfect God, unblemished and infallible that He is. What is far more difficult is to love fellow human being with all their imperfections and defects. Remember, one can only know what one is capable of loving. There is no wisdom without love. Unless we learn to love God’s creation, we can neither truly love nor truly know God.

Rule 16

Real faith is the one inside. The rest simply washes off. There is only one type of dirt that cannot be cleansed with pure water, and that is the stain of hatred and bigotry contaminating the soul. You can purify your body through abstinence and fasting, but only love will purify your heart.

Rule 17

The whole universe is contained within a single human being-you. Everything that you see around, including the things that you might not be fond of and even the people you despise or abhor, is present within you in varying degrees. Therefore, do not look for Sheitan outside yourself either. The devil is not an extraordinary force that attacks from without. It is an ordinary voice within. If you set to know yourself fully, facing with honesty and hardness.

Rule 18

If you want to change the ways others treat you, you should first change the way you treat yourself, fully and sincerely, there is no way you can be loved. Once you achieve that stage, however, be thankful for every thorn that others might throw at you. It is a sign that you will soon be showered in roses.

Rule 19

Fret not where the road will take you. Instead concentrate on the first step. That is the hardest part and that is what you are responsible for. Once you take that step let everything do what it naturally does and the rest will follow. Don’t go with the flow. Be the flow.

Rule 20

We were all created in His image, and yet we were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is an amount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.

Rule 21

When a true lover of God goes into a tavern, the tavern becomes his chamber of prayer, but when a wine bibber goes into the same chamber, it becomes his tavern. In everything we do, it is our hearts that make the difference, not our outer appearance. Sufis do not judge other people on how they look or who they are. When a Sufi stares at someone, he keeps both eyes closed instead opens a third eye – the eye that sees the inner realm.

Rule 22

Life is a temporary loan and this world is nothing but a sketchy imitation of Reality. Only children would mistake a toy for the real thing. And yet human beings either become infatuated with the toy or disrespectfully break it and throw it aside. In this life stay away from all kinds of extremities, for they will destroy your inner balance. Sufis do not go to extremes. A Sufi always remains mild and moderate.

Rule 23

The human being has a unique place among God’s creation. “I breathed into him of My Spirit,” God says. Each and every one of us without exception is designed to be God’s delegate on earth. Ask yourself, just how often do you behave like a delegate, if you ever do so? Remember, it fells upon each of us to discover the divine spirit inside and live by it.

Rule 24

Hell is in the here and now. So is heaven. Quit worrying about hell or dreaming about heaven, as they are both present inside this very moment. Every time we fall in love, we ascend to heaven. Every time we hate, envy or fight someone we tumble straight into the fires of hell.

Rule 25

Each and every reader comprehends the Holy Qur’an on a different level of tandem with the depth of his understanding. There are four levels of insight. The first level is the outer meaning and it is the one that the majority of the people are content with. Next is the Batin – the inner level. Third, there is the inner of the inner. And the fourth level is so deep it cannot be put into words and is therefore bound to remain indescribable.

Rule 26

The universe is one being. Everything and everyone is interconnected through an invisible web of stories. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a silent conversation. Do no harm. Practice compassion. And do not gossip behind anyone’s back – not even a seemingly innocent remark! The words that come out of our mouths do not vanish but are perpetually stored in infinite space and they will come back to us in due time. One man’s pain will hurt us all. One man’s joy will make everyone smile.

Rule 27

Whatever you speak, good or evil, will somehow come back to you. Therefore, if there is someone who harbours ill thoughts about you, saying similarly bad things about him will only make matters worse. You will be locked in a vicious circle of malevolent energy. Instead for forty days and nights say and think nice things about that person. Everything will be different at the end of 40 days, because you will be different inside.

Rule 28

The past is an interpretation. The future is on illusion. The world does not more through time as if it were a straight line, proceeding from the past to the future. Instead time moves through and within us, in endless spirals. Eternity does not mean infinite time, but simply timelessness. If you want to experience eternal illumination, put the past and the future out of your mind and remain within the present moment.

Rule 29

Destiny doesn’t mean that your life has been strictly predetermined. Therefore, to live everything to the fate and to not actively contribute to the music of the universe is a sign of sheer ignorance. The music of the universe is all pervading and it is composed on 40 different levels. Your destiny is the level where you play your tune. You might not change your instrument but how well to play is entirely in your hands.

Rule 30

The true Sufi is such that even when he is unjustly accused, attacked and condemned from all sides, he patiently endures, uttering not a sing bad word about any of his critics. A Sufi never apportions blame. How can there be opponents or rivals or even “others” when there is no “self” in the first place? How can there be anyone to blame when there is only One?

Rule 31

If you want to strengthen your faith, you will need to soften inside. For your faith to be rock solid, your heart needs to be as soft as a feather. Through an illness, accident, loss or fright, one way or another, we are all faced with incidents that teach us how to become less selfish and judgmental and more compassionate and generous. Yet some of us learn the lesson and manage to become milder, while some others end up becoming even harsher than before…

Rule 32

Nothing should stand between you and God. No imams, priests, rabbits or any other custodians of moral or religious leadership. Not spiritual masters and not even your faith. Believe in your values and your rules, but never lord them over others. If you keep breaking other people’s hearts, whatever religious duty you perform is no good. Stay away from all sorts of idolatry, for they will blur your vision. Let God and only God be your guide. Learn the Truth, my friend, but be careful not to make a fetish out of your truths.

Rule 33

While everyone in this world strives to get somewhere and become someone, only to leave it all behind after death, you aim for the supreme stage of nothingness. Live this life as light and empty as the number zero. We are no different from a pot. It is not the decorations outside but the emptiness inside that holds us straight. Just like that, it is not what we aspire to achieve but the consciousness of nothingness that keeps us going.

Rule 34

Submission does not mean being weak or passive. It leads to neither fatalism nor capitulation. Just the opposite. True power resides in submission a power that comes within. Those who submit to the divine essence of life will live in unperturbed tranquillity and peace even the whole wide world goes through turbulence after turbulence.

Rule 35

In this world, it is not similarities or regularities that take us a step forward, but blunt opposites. And all the opposites in the universe are present within each and every one of us. Therefore the believer needs to meet the unbeliever residing within. And the nonbeliever should get to know the silent faithful in him. Until the day one reaches the stage of Insane-I Kamil, the perfect human being, faith is a gradual process and one that necessitates its seeming opposite: disbelief.

Rule 36

This world is erected upon the principle of reciprocity. Neither a drop of kindness nor a speck of evil will remain unreciprocated. For not the plots, deceptions, or tricks of other people. If somebody is setting a trap, remember, so is God. He is the biggest plotter. Not even a leaf stirs outside God’s knowledge. Simply and fully believe in that. Whatever God does, He does it beautifully.

Rule 37

God is a meticulous dock maker. So precise is His order that everything on earth happens in its own time. Neither a minute late nor a minute early. And for everyone without exception, the clock works accurately. For each there is a time to love and a time to die.

Rule 38

It is never too late to ask yourself, “Am I ready to change the life I am living? Am I ready to change within?” Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it surely is a pity. At every moment and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again. There is only one-way to be born into a new life: to die before death.

Rule 39

While the part change, the whole always remains the same. For every thief who departs this world, a new one is born. And every descent person who passes away is replaced by a new one. In this way not only does nothing remain the same but also nothing ever really changes. For every Sufi who dies, another is born somewhere.

Rule 40

A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western. Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water.

Reference: The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

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”

Just wait a while,
turn your back
and remember
what you have forgotten.
Try to find if you have lost,
apologize if you have hurt,
forgive if you have been hurt.
Because life is too short.
– Hazrat Shams Tabrizi (Alaihi Rehma)

MURAQABA

Muraqaba (Arabic: مراقبة) is the Sufi word for meditation.

When the lips are closed, then the heart begins to speak; when the heart is silent,
then the soul blazes up, bursting into flame, and this illuminates the whole of life.

Muraqaba is the Sufi word for meditation. Literally it means “to watch over”, “to take care of”, or “to keep an eye”. Metaphorically, it implies that with meditation, a person watches over or takes care of his spiritual heart (or soul), and acquires knowledge about it, its surroundings, and its creator.

 

Stages of Muraqaba

Following are the maqamat (stages) in which sufis have broadly categorized their journey of ascension. This categorization is an arbitrary one, and each level is generally further divided into several sub-levels. During the process of enlightenment, some stages can merge or overlap each other.

 GNOSIS OF SELF

Ghanood (Somnolence)

This is the starting level of meditation. When a person starts meditation, he enters into a somnolent or sleep state often. With the passage of time, the person goes into a state betweensleep and wakefulness. So the person can remember that he saw something, but not specifically what it is.

Adraak (experience)

With continuous practice of meditation, the sleepiness from meditation decreases. When the conscious mind is not suppressed by sleep and is able to focus, the person can receive the spiritual knowledge from his subconscious mind. At this stage, the person is unable to see or hear anything, but he is able to experience or perceive it.

Warood (coming, beginning)

When adraak (experience) becomes deep, it is exhibited as sight. The stage of warood starts when mental concentration is sustained and somnolence is at its minimum. As soon as the mind is focused, the spiritual eye is activated. The conscious mind is not used to see through the spiritual eye, so concentration comes and goes. Gradually, the mind gets used to this kind of visions and the mental focus is sustained. With practice, the visions/experience becomes so deep that the person starts considering himself a part of the experience rather than considering himself an observer.

 GNOSIS OF THE UNIVERSE

Kashaf/Ilhaam (unveiling of arcane knowledge)

Kashaf, or Ilhaam is the stage where man starts getting information that most people are unable to observe. In the beginning, this condition occurs suddenly without personal control. With practice, the mind gets so energized that it can get this knowledge by will.

Shahood (evidence)

When a person can get any information about any event/person with his will, this condition is called Shahood. This stage is broadly categorized according to activation of the senses:

The person can see things anywhere in the universe

The person can hear things anywhere in the universe

The person can smell things anywhere in the universe

The person can touch things anywhere in the universe (hadith)

Fatah (opening, victory)

The peak of Shahood is called Fatah. At this stage, the person doesn’t need to close his eyes for meditation. Here the person is freed from both space and time. He can see/hear/taste/touch anything that are present anywhere in time and space.

 GNOSIS OF THE CREATOR

Fanaa (extinction, annihilation)

Through a series of stages (maqamat) and subjective experiences (ahwal), this process of absorption develops until complete annihilation of the self (fana) takes place and the person becomes al-insanul-kamil, the “perfect man”. It is the disintegration of a person’s narrow self-concept, social self- and limited intellect (feeling like a drop of water aware of being part of the ocean). The stage is also called Fana fit tawheed (“extinction with the unity”), and Fana fil Haq (Extinction in the reality).

Sair illallah (journey towards the God)

Here the person starts his spiritual journey towards the ultimate reality of the universe, i.e. God. Also called Safr-e-Urooji

Fana fillah (Extinction of the self in God)

One of the important phases of mystical experience which is attained by the grace of God by a traveller on the mystical path is the state of fana fi Allah, “extinction of the self in God”. This is the state where the person becomes extinct in the will of God. It is important to mention that this is not incarnation or union. Most Sufis, while passing through this experience, have preferred to live in the greatest depth of silence which transcends all forms and sounds, and enjoy their union with the beloved.

  • The highest stage of fana is reached when even the consciousness of having attained fana disappears. This is what the Sufis call “the passing-away of passing-away” (fana al-fana). The mystic is now wrapped in contemplation of the divine essence. (Nicholson, The Mystics of Islam, p.60).
  • Since it is a state of complete annihilation of carnal self, absorbation or intoxication in God, the pilgrim is unable to participate in worldly affairs, he is made to pass into another state known as Fana-al-Fana (forgetfulness of annihilation). It is a sort of oblivion of unconsciousness. Since two negatives make one positive, the pilgrim at this stage regains his individuality as he was when he started the journey. The only difference is that in the beginning he was self-conscious, but after having reposed in the Divine Being, he regains that sort of individuality which is God-consciousness or absorbation in God. This state is known as Baqa-bi-Allah — living or subsisting with God. (Alhaj W.B.S. Rabbani, Gems of Sufi Gnosticism).

Sair min allah (journey from the God)

Here the person comes back to his existence. Also called Safr-e-Nuzooli.

Baqaa billah (eternal life in union with God)

This is the state where man comes back to his existence and God appoints him to guide the humans. This is a state in which the individual is part of the world, but unconcerned about his or her rewards or position in it. This doctrine is further explained in an authentic tradition of the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) which states that God said:

And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil (praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him, so I become his sense of hearing with which he hears, and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips, and his leg with which he walks. [Sahih Bukhari: Volume 8, Book 76, Number 509]

There is another verse from Qur’an , that is used to explain this concept.

We (Allah) are nearer to him (man) than his jugular vein (50:6)

When Sufis have come out of the Fana fillah state and enter Baqa billah, many of them have produced works of unsurpassed glory, especially in the fields of philosophy, literature, and music. These works have crowned the culture of the entire Islamic world and inspired Sufis and non-Sufis for generations. As the great Persian Sufi poet, Hafiz of Shiraz (Alaihi Rehma), who is fondly remembered as the “tongue of the unseen”, said centuries ago: “He whose heart is alive with love, never dies.”. Allah says about these people in the Qur’an:

“Lo, indeed, the friends of God have no fear, nor are they grieved.”