The Zahuri Sufi Web Site: Articles
These notes were made in response to a request by an American Research Scholar for a
video interview about Sufism that could be used for students in America who would have
little or no background to the topic. I have subsequently amplified the original. They are
introductory notes only. For a full introduction to the Sufi way the reader is referred to
The Culture of the Sufis by Hazrat Zahurul Hasan Sharib. (see forthcoming publications)
Some brief notes introducing the subject of 'The Sufi Way' to American college
by Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri
If you ask 'what is Sufism? ' you may be meaning how do you fit 'Sufism' as a
piece of knowledge into the overall curriculum consisting of many different
branches of knowledge about the universe and how it works. Then you must
understand that it is a way, quite a direct way, into what might be described as the
wholeness underlying that curriculum.
Let me explain. Your curriculum contains many subjects, art, music, poetry,
psychology, social sciences, pure and applied science, biology, medicine, history,
geography, engineering, agriculture etc. The list is enormous. None of these is in
themselves the whole of the curriculum. Even all of them added together would
not be the same as the whole of which they are a part. Each relies on an
underlying wholeness, a universality of which each is a particular manifestation.
You may be familiar with the expression that the whole is greater than the sum of
its parts. Sufism concerns itself with the underlying whole - you can say with the
underlying nature of reality or truth, in a quite direct way.
This may sound at first as if we are talking about philosophy, but it is not
philosophy since Sufism relies on an extra faculty rather than on logical deductive
reasoning. The extra faculty is called taste or a particular type of direct
experiencing. No amount of talking or writing about it will be sufficient. For
example, it will be very clear to you that you could not explain the sense of sight,
adequately to someone who is blind from birth. The way in which this is usually
illustrated in Sufism is this. The Sufis point out that if you try to explain to
someone who has never had it, how sugar tastes, then, however you try, the
person cannot understand you, but when they taste the sugar all confusion or
doubt is cleared away without need of explanation. So in certain respects Sufism
utilises this special faculty of taste to apprehend the nature of the reality on which
all knowledge in the curriculum, so to speak, is based.
Of course taste is only a metaphor. Sensory experience is but a part of the whole
and tasting here refers to a faculty which is quite distinct from, but in a way
contains, all the sensory faculties such as hearing, taste, touch sight and smell.
Sufism has been called the science of Reality. In many respects it is quite distinct
from the natural sciences but it shares their concern for Truth.
The fruits of Sufism, in other words the benefits it brings if followed and
practised assiduously, have been described by Hzt* Zahurul Hasan Sharib as
'better living' 1. footnotes
The explanation I have given above can hardly be entirely satisfactory to you and
in any event applies broadly to mysticism of many types. We will therefore
restrict ourselves to talking about Sufism largely as if it were a single subject in
the curriculum. But you should bear in mind during this discussion that it is really
a way or a path to the Universal Real and perhaps beyond that since at a certain
point word/concepts fail us. Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, a great Sufi saint, said
somewhere that whatever stage is reached on this path always ask if there is more.
Taking Sufism for now as if it is a subject in the curriculum, what are its
characteristics? Firstly we may say that its historical origins are believed to lie in
the revelations to the holy Prophet Muhammed. Of course these days some of the
various ways in which Islam is practised and also the ways in which it is
represented in the western media, may produce a negative response in you, if you
are not a Muslim - and perhaps even if you are. I must leave you to deal with
those feelings in your own way, and to use your own intelligence to ascertain the
truth behind the fiction or to suspend your judgement whilst you learn.
To get to know something about Sufism may require a willingness to, temporarily
at least, suspend judgement and preconception. One great medieval scholar called
Al-Ghazzali2 was known as the most learned man in all the major sciences of his
day yet he set aside his knowledge in order to ascertain the truth about Sufism
from within. He became a great Sufi himself and gave recognition of, and
scholarly validity to, the Sufi approach. Footnotes
The meaning of the word Islam is often described as submission to Divine Will.
Muslims believe that Almighty God (usually through the medium of the angel
Gabriel) revealed His message for mankind to the holy Prophet Muhammed. Sufis
consider that those revelations consisted not only of the things openly spoken
about but of a deeper hidden truth. They believe that this hidden part of the
revelations to the Holy Prophet were passed by him to his son-in-law, Hazrat Ali.
The explicit part of that revelation they called The Holy Law and this was
enshrined in Islamic beliefs and practises, such as ritual prayers, fasting, charity,
pilgrimage, the organising of society and the establishment of a moral and legal
code. The implicit part of the revelation was passed by Hazrat Ali to others found
worthy to bear it, who in turn passed it on to worthy successors, who in their turn
similarly passed it on. One of the earliest mystics to establish a recognisable Sufi
code was Hzt Junaid of Baghdad who is sometimes called the Lord of the Tribe
You must understand that the 'passing on' of the hidden or implicit aspect of
revelation was not done in the way in which ordinary knowledge is passed on, by
a process of instruction, practise and learning. Nor did it consist of secret verbal
formulae which could be learned. Where such exist they are a manifestation and
not the reality behind it. It was transmitted in a way that cannot usefully be
described, but, once known, it is as clear as the tasting of sugar to which we
earlier referred. If we say it is passed from heart to heart that only partly
Often the transmission was accompanied by the passing on of holy relics such as
a cap, or coat, or prayer carpet, used by the spiritual predecessors.
What you must bear in mind is that the historical perspective is limited. In reality
the message, as it is called, that was given to the Holy Prophet, was in essence, if
not in specifics, the same as that revealed from time to time throughout history.
The holy Qur'an, which is the sacred book of Muslims, makes this clear -
referring to other great Prophets such as Hzt Jesus, Hzt Moses, Hzt Abraham, Hzt
Noah and Hzt Adam and many more as people who have submitted themselves to
the Divine Will (i.e. Islam). In reality, in their true nature, these revelations are
not limited by conventional understandings of time or space or thought. They are
universal and stand outside of our normal bounded human perspective or
Perhaps therefore the easiest way to think of Sufism is as an Islamic form of
universal mysticism or as a mystical form of universal Islam. Both ways of
thinking have some truth. If you come to think of it only as a specific sect or cult
attached to a specific religion then to some extent you have missed the point. To
describe it as a tradition of spirituality or spiritual development might be a little
The Sufis believe that Almighty God has been so Gracious as to pour His Mercy
into particular souls in such a way that they acquired a level of development that
enabled them to influence and train other souls to be able to receive His
Benevolence and thus reach perfection. These souls also act as a vehicle for
dispensing Almighty God's Benevolence and Mercy to society in general,
consciously or not. Indeed Sufis believe that this is one of the ways Almighty
God has chosen to develop His plan for mankind. Without such beneficial, if
hidden, influences, it is thought mankind would deteriorate to living an animal like
existence, trapped within its own lower nature. Religion, the Sufis believe, has a
social purpose and functions so as to ensure that the persons who follow it can
make the best of this life and avoid the serious consequences in the life after
death or on the Day of Judgement. It limits the negative effects of man's lower
self. Mysticism the Sufis believe goes beyond that and can take man to a higher
level of existence. If someone says to you that life is about 'the survival of the
fittest' then they are actually describing our lower nature, for in the animal,
vegetable and mineral kingdoms this is the law. To the Sufis humans also have a
higher, you can say angelic, potential and this, they affirm, is governed by the law
Under Almighty God's inspiration some of the perfected souls developed methods
for increasing the effectiveness of their influence. One such method was the
developing of Sufi orders. At any given point in time an order would seem to
consist of a spiritual master, sometimes called a Shaykh or Pir, his disciples and a
spiritual genealogy or line of predecessors which trace their authority back to
Hazrat Ali and thus to the Holy Prophet. Frequently there were associated
buildings or Khanqas (sometimes misleadingly translated as monasteries). These
orders developed a style of living which usually included techniques and rituals
to aid the process of perfecting individuals and establishing communities that
lived according to both the hidden and known Laws of God. Often these
techniques or rituals were secret things themselves but this was because they
could be harmful if the novice was not properly prepared and trained or guided.
This was a wise precaution, but nowadays so many techniques have leaked into
the public domain - often only partially understood - that some Sufis at least have
spoken more openly in order to set straight the many resulting confusions 3. Sufi
teachings were essentially based on the Holy Law as mentioned above, but
developed beyond the limited application which the Holy Law recommends for
everyone. It is true to say that Sufism is not for everyone - indeed at certain
levels it may only be suitable for a very few. Nevertheless at certain points in
history membership of some Sufi orders in some places would be counted in
hundreds of thousands at least. It is the heads of the Sufi orders or their caliphs
(deputies) who received and, it appears, passed on the spiritual message and
authority given to them. When we refer to Sufism as a historic thing we generally,
though not entirely, mean these orders and their associated features. footnotes
Islam, as a religion, prides itself on crossing national, racial, social, gender, class
or ethnic boundaries and thus in creating a single universal brotherhood. Within
that Islamic brotherhood the Sufis, it seems, saw themselves as a more specific
brotherhood dedicated to maintaining the spiritual vitality of the religion, rather
than just its more formal aspect. They also saw the idea of universal brotherhood
as referring to the brotherhood of mankind in a wider sense - in the sense that we
are all children of Hzt Adam, i.e. all human. Further than that many saw
themselves as belonging to a brotherhood of mystics or developed souls,
irrespective of religious affiliation. Indeed Sufis often came into conflict with
religious bigotry and narrow mindedness and were not infrequently outlawed,
persecuted and reviled by some fellow Muslims and still are.
The orders themselves branched out and formed new orders based on the teaching
or spiritual influence of some particular perfected soul or saint**. This tended to
happen when more than one disciple was found worthy of guiding their own
disciples. Of course as Sufism became overtly politically influential, as it did at
times, it also suffered corruption and deterioration not to mention acquiring a
charlatan element, and many of the great Sufis are at least as scathing of 'so
called Sufis' as they are of the false piety of many of the clergy. You will get a
sense of this if you read the sublime poetry of the Persian mystic Hafiz 4
footnotes. Despite these corrupting factors some element of spiritual vitality
continued and at times flourished, albeit changing in form, though not in essence,
according to the needs of the time.
We should not be too distracted by the historical view for it must be realised that,
to Sufis, the masters who passed on from this life are not in fact dead, but live
and continue to influence the development of individuals and the ordering of
society from the unseen world, even centuries after the death of their corporeal
selves. They should not really be thought of as a kind of continuing 'ghostly'
presence though, for it is this world, i.e. our 'normal' perception, that is unreal or
at least transitory and shadowy. It is the unseen world that is the real substance -
this world and the events in it are but a shadow of that. Indeed it is the view of
Sufis that there is an inner or hidden government which by divine dispensation
rules the fates of nations and individuals to the benefit of mankind. Do not
imagine this means a secret cabal of persons meeting in some hidden room
utilising magical powers. No! This refers to those perfected souls who continue to
live in the unseen beyond their corporeal death and they can function only within
and according to the Will of Almighty God. However some living saints or highly
developed persons are able to access their discussions if and when they permit it.
You may want to know what do Sufis do. Well of course this is no more easily
answered in a few words than asking what it is American or European people do.
However I will not entirely duck the question but try very briefly to give a hint of
the flavour of some practises of which I am aware.
Firstly it should be said that authentic Sufi orders tend to encourage the
conventional practises also carried out by Muslims in general. Affirming the unity
of God, ritual and private prayer, fasting, pilgrimage (though this is sometimes to
the shines of saints as well as the more usual pilgrimage to the Kaaba in Mecca),
charitable acts, reading or reciting of the Qur'an, ritual purity etc. However the
extent to which this is overtly insisted upon varies. My own spiritual guide used
to say that Islam is very simple - its essential requirement is that you believe that
there is only one God.
In general I think it would be fair to say that the true Sufi guides are not formulaic
in their attitude. They see deep into the state of their disciple and instruct them
accordingly. In many cases it may be that their spiritual influence is more potent
in awakening a desire to follow Islamic law than anything said to the disciple.
Some disciples are, consciously at least, ambivalent about their religious
affiliations. However even the least orthodox true Sufi guide will not overtly
contradict the spirit of their own understanding of Islamic law in instructing
disciples. They may or may not tell the disciple to pray five times a day
according to the Islamic law, but they will never say do not do so. In any event
the outward following of Islamic law is not the goal but is at its best a means of
getting nearer to the goal - which is spiritual development or nearness to God.
It can be said that the observation of morality in conduct is an essential
prerequisite of progress, as is self-examination and repentance. In this respect the
difference between the Sufi and the orthodox religious believer is often in their
commitment to the spirit of the basic Islamic tenets. To give an example. A
Muslim is expected to pay 2.5 % of his income to charity. The Sufi who is a little
advanced however, it is said, retains only 2.5% for his own use and gives the rest
to charity. The Sufi who is really advanced is said to give 100% and depends
entirely on God. Khawaja Muinuddin Hasan Chishti distinguishes between real
fasting - which is giving up of worldly desires or even the desire for reward in the
next world, and unreal fasting which is merely giving up of food and drink etc. for
a short period footnotes 8. The same distinction is made in regard to love. The
ordinary love of one person for another, as for instance between parent and child
or between man and woman is regarded as unreal love. It may be good but at best
it is only a stepping stone to real love which is the love of God.
All of this may appear not very exotic and interesting to you, as you may still feel
concerned to find out what the Sufis actually do, in the sense of what esoteric and
exotic customs do they follow. But one note of caution before I indicate one or
two of these. I once witnessed a very enthusiastic and nice lady from the west
who was visiting the house of a Sufi. Cornering a disciple she asked with great
earnestness when and where the secret practises of the Order were carried out. It
appeared she had tried in vain to discover when the disciples met to carry out
their secret rituals which she had not been able to witness. The disciple told her
with great politeness and patience that there were no such secret rituals and that
what she had seen was what happened. Yes it was true that sometimes the
disciples sat late into the night talking but there was nothing secret about this. The
more such secret rituals were denied the more she appeared convinced that they
existed. In fact the patience that the disciple attempted to demonstrate in
responding was as much a 'secret practise' as anything she was looking for. By all
means seek to understand mysticism but don't seek mystification.
One well known tradition is a custom of spiritual retreats for various periods,
usually forty days and nights, often with fasting. Sometimes this is carried out
near the tomb of some venerated saint. Another is the remembrance of God by
repeating the name of His essence, Allah, or of one of his attributes such as
Mercy. This may be done, out loud or silently, privately or collectively in a circle
and is called Zhikr (remembrance). There is verse in the holy Qur'an which talks
'men who are not distracted from the remembrance of God either by trade or
commerce or buying and selling'. (Qur'an 24:37)
Some orders, such as the Mevlevi associated with Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, use
a whirling dance which can bring about states of spiritual ecstasy, others such as
the Chishtis, of which the Gudri Shahi Order is a branch, listen attentively to
music in praise of God, His Prophets or His saints or telling stories of Divine
Love (Ishq) with the same effect. To do this however they follow strict rules of
etiquette which make it quite different from just going to an ordinary concert or
partaking in dance in an ordinary way. Usually quite strict conditions have to be
met. You will probably be able to find descriptions of these gatherings in the
literature on Sufism.
For some advanced Sufis spiritual elevation can exist without such props.
Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi was said to go into ecstatic transport on hearing some
phrase in the street or the sound of the hammering of the goldsmith. In general it
can be said that very advanced mystics do not have to be bound by all the rules
that apply to the novice. That they appear to do so at times may be for the benefit
of the disciples.
Sitting in the company of saintly or good people with or without conversation is
another custom which is given great emphasis.
However the performance of all or any techniques or rituals are not what
constitutes the essence of Sufi practise and the mere carrying out of them can
have little benefit without the spiritual power and blessings of the guide. Service
to the spiritual guide is the cornerstone of Sufism.
Performing social service, acts of kindness, neighbourliness, bearing suffering
with patience, honest hard work, marriage and the raising of a family are all
usually thought of as part of the Sufi way. In short all the good manners and
social graces, honesty, cleanliness of body and heart and mind, moral courage,
love of justice, humility, generosity etc, which most 'civilised' societies proclaim
more loudly than they practise, are expected to be observed assiduously by one
following the Sufi path, and to be practised quietly and without making claims to
piety or having feelings of superiority. The two great commandments given by
Lord Jesus - to love the Lord thy God and to love thy neighbour - sum this up
very well indeed. It may be said that learning to give and receive pure love is a
quintessential practise in Sufism. In truth this may have more importance than
specific rituals or practises but in fact both have their place and are not
Sufis, whilst being advised to live in the world rather than withdraw from it to a
monastery, are exhorted not to be part of this world. As my spiritual guide said,
they should float like a leaf lightly on the surface of a stream - following its
currents but not being dragged into its depths. One great saint has said (loosely
paraphrased) that worldliness is not beautiful women, big mansions, fast cars and
jewels or good food, but the forgetting of God.
A common practise amongst Sufis is the telling of stories. These convey lofty
ideas through a simple medium and when told by a spiritual guide they have a
great, if sometimes hidden, effect on the mind and the heart. The parables of Lord
Jesus are of course a wonderful model for this. It is hoped that some of these
stories will be featured on this website in the future but of course their effect can
be quite different according to the circumstance of their telling. Mevlana
Jalaluddin Rumi used to say that these stories are like bread - better when they
I have mentioned the idea of sitting in good company, but you may imagine this
means only sitting physically with good and like minded persons. It is this, but it
is more. In fact when students of Sufism talk together they often discuss the lives
or sayings of Prophets or great saints. This is another form of good company,
since if we talk respectably of such persons Sufis believe a beneficial influence
from them occurs and elevates the spirit of those talking, and in effect they gain
the spiritual company of saints. Nor is this practise restricted to discussing
religious figures. Sufis tend to recognise an affinity with great minds so
discussion of great thinkers, poets or mystics from other traditions may also
figure. The reading of good books can also be a way of getting good company -
though Sufism cannot be learned just from books. Bringing to mind the mental
image of the spiritual guide is another common practise. In Sufism concentration
is important - whether it is reading the newspaper, watching the news etc. on TV
or focusing on a mental image or an external object.
Much can also be conveyed through a look (of grace) or through presence. When I
sat with my own spiritual guide, Hzt Zahurul Hasan Sharib (usually referred to
affectionately and respectfully as Zahurmian), who was the head of the Gudri
Shahi Order of Sufis, we often sat in silence or talked only of incidental things
and yet, through this, he conveyed more than could have been learned from
sermons. Also when he did talk to me he would sometimes slip into a language he
knew I could not follow and yet I still felt he was communicating to me most
effectively. I also met a great Shaykh in Konya, Turkey, called Nuri Baba who
had a similar effect on me. However I do not want to go into personal
experiences, they might interest you but may not help you much. As a matter of
fact it is said that when a true Sufi Shaykh or guide speaks to a disciple, or a
group of disciples, he is not speaking from self interest, for it is believed that he
has died to his own desires and he is acting, so to speak, as a mirror, reflecting in
his words and actions the disciples' needs. Another way of describing this is to
see the words as waves on an ocean. The Shaykh has become the ocean and his
words and actions are like waves that rise and disappear back into the ocean.
They arise not from the ocean but from the effect of the wind blowing on the
surface of the ocean. When the disciples' thoughts have become stilled the ocean
One of the customs of Zahurmian was to visit daily the tomb of the towering saint
Khawaja Muinuddin Hasan Chishti who is the focus of attention for Sufis
belonging to the Chishti Order, which is widespread in India and Pakistan.
Zahurmian would circle the tomb and then sit nearby for some time. He would sit
in the same spot everyday at the same time. The visiting of tombs has a long
tradition in Sufism and, provided it is accompanied by appropriate respect, can be
said to be of great spiritual and sometimes material benefit. His disciples would
sit attentively and respectfully near by. The Sufis see themselves as sitting in a
great spiritual court at which great matters are discussed and benefits bestowed,
unseen to most and unheard by most but seen and heard by the Shaykhs. The
tombs of saints such as this are open to all who seek their help sincerely,
irrespective of religion etc. There is a great verse by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi
(here loosely translated) which expresses this spirit:-
'Come, come, whatever you are, it doesn't matter,
Whether you are an infidel, an idolater or a fire worshipper,
Come, our court is not a place of disappointment, come,
Even if you have broken your vows a hundred times, come again. '
Another practise amongst some Sufis is to show deep respect at the tomb of a
saint by kneeling and kissing the ground near where the saint's feet would be. This
is a point of some controversy with orthodox Muslims (and some Sufis) as from
outside it can look like worship and Islam specifically rejects the worship of
anything but God. Others see it as a deep form of respect and devotion and point
out that it was not uncommon for Muslims in the past to show this sort of respect
even to mere worldly rulers. There are numerous other arguments in support of or
opposition to this practise. Another option is to make a short recitation of some
Qur'anic verses with the hands uplifted followed sometimes by a personal request
for intercession by the saint.
You may be expecting me to talk about how the Sufis do things like meditation or
practises with holding the breath, etc. Of course there are many such techniques
and they have been written about - some safer ones, which are of great practical
value, you can find in the series of lectures which Hzt Zahurul Hasan Sharib has
written footnotes 5. His spiritual guide Hzt Nawob Khadim Hasan Sahib has also
written a short book with some descriptions of Sufi practises 6. Techniques have
their place but in my view we westerners are frequently a little more interested in
exotic techniques than is always entirely good for us. A practise often
recommended is simply to eat less, sleep less and talk less. Many of the safer
practises are already well known to you. Have you ever sat and literally 'counted
your blessings'? The rule of moderation is valuable. To undertake practises
without proper guidance is not wise.
The most basic lesson of Sufism is sometimes said to be to learn to sit properly.
Some think that perhaps it is also one of the most advanced lessons.
A not uncommon experience when maintaining the company of the guide with
faithfulness is that such techniques as are needed may be gifted to the person.
That is to say, they gain the 'technique' apparently from within themselves,
without overt teaching and, though the technique may or may not require effort,
the ability to make any effort needed is also gifted. There are ways between soul
and soul which cannot be described with advantage but which it is not beyond the
power of man to apprehend. It is also said that Love is a gift.
But people are different and some people require external technical help and
where a real need arises the guide supplies that. He may give some formula to
recite a fixed number of times each day. He may advise specific periods or types
of meditation. He may interpret a dream for you. He may give a straightforward
piece of practical advice. He may tell you to fast or he may tell you to eat. He
may give you some task to complete, suggest some book to read or some place to
visit. Or he may just smile! Sometimes the disciple stands in legitimate need of
material help. In this case the master's prayers are believed to be of great help in
obtaining that, and, whilst the logically oriented mind will reach quickly for words
like coincidence in order to explain away the ensuing events, the sheer plethora of
these 'coincidences' will leave any reasonable person in little doubt that the
normal course of events has been altered.
Another practise is called fatiha, this is a sort of communal (or sometimes
private) 'prayer' consisting of recitation of Qur'anic verses over food and in one
form or another is common amongst Muslims generally. In the Gudri Shahi Order,
based in Ajmer, India, this incorporates both Qur'anic recitation and respectful
invocation of God's blessing on the souls of the holy Prophets and the saints of
the spiritual genealogy of the order. Sometimes this takes the form of a kind of
chanting. It may be done for the benefit of some person who has died or to
commemorate the anniversary of the passing of some saint. At the end everyone
present partakes of some of the food.
One custom that may interest you is the ritual of initiation as a disciple. This
usually consists of a short recitation of some Qur'anic verses, some form of
words indicating the acceptance by the disciple of the unity of God and the
authority of the holy Prophet, Hazrat Ali and the Shaykhs of the order. There is
usually the taking of the hands of the disciple between the hands of the guide who
may offer some prayer for the disciple's acceptance. A nominal offering from the
disciple of perhaps a handkerchief, sweets and some flowers may be accepted.
The ritual varies between orders and the form of words may differ from occasion
to occasion. The disciple is usually presented with a written copy of the list of
spiritual successors with verses from the Holy Qur'an and respectful salaams
(greetings) or invocations of God's blessings on the holy Prophet and the saints.
This is signed by the guide. The ritual usually lasts just a few minutes.
Sometimes when the guide deems it appropriate he may give some article such as
a coat or hat to the disciple - the most valued of these are the ones that have been
worn or used by the guide. They are generally taken to indicate that the guide is
pleased with that person's progress.
Leaving customs and rituals I will touch briefly upon some other areas. Firstly,
you will no doubt come across the term wine used in Sufi literature. In general it
is thought that this does not refer literally to alcohol, which is neither permitted in
Islam nor generally approved in Sufism, but to a kind of feeling of spiritual
elation which may come as the reward of some endeavour or from close
association with the spiritual guide or by some other means. One of the great
advantages of spiritual intoxication is that it tends to drown out and silence
harmful negative thoughts and if it creates a sense of dependency, it is
dependency on God or spiritual effort rather than on material means to alter
consciousness. Some Sufis give great emphasis to this kind of intoxication.
Others however maintain that there is a stage of sobriety which is even better than
Something may also be said of specifically intoxicating drugs. In the course of
spiritual development most, though not all, followers of the Sufi way find
themselves enveloped in transitory states which appear to arise from within
themselves. However these states are not the purpose of Sufism. If the person
undergoing these states is properly trained and guided they may be of benefit by
giving encouragement and internal evidence of progress, if not they can have a
harmful effect on long term, real progress. It need hardly be pointed out that to
pursue 'altered states of consciousness' by the aid of artificial intoxicants may
have much more harmful effects on spiritual development. It has been said that
the behaviour of the truly well established Sufis appears exactly as the behaviour
of anyone else and that they appear quite indistinguishable from their neighbours,
exhibiting no outward signs of altered states of awareness. The difference lying in
the presence of spiritual power residing in the saint which makes the ordinary,
extraordinary. However circumstances vary.
Mysticism is sometimes associated with secrecy. Do Sufis keep secrets - or tell
lies? My understanding of this is that in one sense they may appear to do so, but
the sense is this. Suppose a very young and innocent child comes to you and
questions you about the sensations associated with physical intimacy in connubial
bliss? What will you say (assuming you have experience of this)? If you deny
knowledge of it you will be lying and you are certainly keeping a secret. If you
try to explain it openly the child will not be able to grasp what you are saying and
will think you are talking nonsense or form a very distorted view of it. If you
make a comparison suited to the child's understanding and say it is something
which adults find as enjoyable as the child does sweets then you may also feel
that you are telling a kind of lie since you know very well that it is not
comparable to tasting sweets. If you refuse to answer you may only stimulate the
child's curiosity. Another problem is that this may be an intensely personal thing
shared with a beloved and you do not wish to trivialise or betray it by verbal
description to another. You may also be aware that it cannot satisfactorily be
described anyway. Yet another problem is that even if you do manage some sort
of communication will the child then be inclined to misrepresent this to other
children who will become confused? Most adults will use every means to avoid
this situation until they judge the child has become mature and adult enough to
benefit from some explanation.
In this sense, and in this sense only, the real developed Sufis may appear to
belong to a conspiracy of either silence or 'implicit lies', as they are effectively
adults mostly surrounded by innocent children, quite irrespective of apparent
chronological age. But this is of course very different from the lie that is used for
personal advantage or the secret that is kept from feelings of guilt or to mislead.
In every other respect the real Sufis seem to value truthfulness, integrity and
sincerity as indispensable virtues and even candour has its place. There is a
tradition that the holy Prophet advised people not to ask him questions that, if
answered would be a great difficulty to them. Perhaps we can express all of this
simply by saying that what God hides from most people, he hides for His good
purpose (which is to say for their benefit). What He reveals to some he reveals
for His own good purpose.
I will add one caveat here, in case you think that any of this supposes a sense of
superiority in Sufis. Contradictory as this may appear, Sufis do not think of
themselves as superior. In fact they have a well established mode of perception
which regards everyone else as superior to themselves. If anything they perceive
themselves as child-like in an adult world - but to go further into this apparent
paradox is not the purpose of these notes.
Perhaps you would like a little glimpse into the thinking of the Sufis on the
important points of spiritual purity and human choice.
From what I have been able to discover Sufis tend to think along these lines. One
of God's requirements is faith and belief, in the absence of concrete proof.
Without the existence of doubt and disbelief there would be no such thing as faith
or belief - thus He allows doubt and disbelief. However He condemns doubt and
disbelief and approves faith and belief. Thus he leaves us with some degree of
apparent choice, either to seek His pleasure or His displeasure, to have faith or to
doubt, to have belief or disbelief. If successful the struggle that this produces
within us can help to lead towards what is termed in Sufism as purification. Some
Sufis have described it thus. There is a 'place' where each of us is represented in
the form of a pure spirit-body7. The image of the spirit-body appears either to
consist of a shining white light substance or as black and 'dirty', or as some
mixture of the two. Each good effort we make, such as acts of faith, or belief, or
pure love which are acceptable to God, causes that spirit-body to acquire a spot
of light. Worldly or sinful acts which draws us away from God produce a black
or dirty spot. The removal of all black spots, leaving that spirit-body represented
as pure white light, is a matter of great moment to the Sufis. Indeed the term 'Sufi'
is often thought to derive from the same root as the word for purity. For them one
of the best aids to this spiritual purity of thought and action, to faith, belief, love
etc, is the company of those who are pure, for without doubt we are affected by
that with which we surround ourselves. For them the true and pure spiritual guide
is the best of company.
What I have said in these notes is hardly a hint of a hint of the aroma of the wine
of Sufism - let alone its flavour. I have spoken to some extent as if Sufism could
be considered as just another subject in the curriculum, but I have tried to make
clear that it is more than that. If you merely wish to add it to your trophy belt of
subjects studied then what is written here will not be enough for you, but there is
quite a lot of scholarly literature that will help you to feel you have done just
that. If your deep and sincere interest is to find out what Sufism is really about
then you are actually seeking God and it may be that your search has yet to
begin. It may take you a lifetime of commitment and striving and, if in His Grace
He wills it, provide you with benefits which will surprise you not a little.
Words and thoughts have a great power. Sufis take what they think, say and do
seriously, since they expect to be judged by God on this. Therefore they often
include a prayer at the end of their writing. I will follow their practise to the extent
of offering my earnest hope and prayer that if I have said anything misleading, that
Almighty God will forgive it, cover my fault, and remove any ill effect my words
might cause and change that bad effect into good as only He has the power to do.
Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri 4, Polygon Court , The Polygon, Southampton.
September 16th 1998
* It is the custom in eastern literature to make plentiful use of honorific titles out of respect. I have abbreviated here the word Hazrat
which is just such a term, in order to attempt to make it easier for the western reader who will probably be struggling with the
unfamiliar names anyway. However I cannot bring myself to drop these entirely as the reasons behind their use I find quite valid.
** The term saint is not awarded by formal process as happens in some Christian traditions, but is used to refers to a person
generally thought to be saintly. In truth however it is really a term which can only be conferred by the grace of God.
1. The Psalm of Light: The Psalm of Love: The Psalm of Life: all published by Sharib Press. 1990
2. The Confessions of Al-Ghazzali: Translated by C. Field. Kitab Bhavan. India. 1992.
3. The Sacred Knowledge: Shah Wali Ullah: Translated by G. N. Jalbani. Octagon Press. 1982.
4. The Hafez Poems of Gertrude Bell: Iranbooks. 1995.
5. Lectures of the Society of Mystics: The Society of Mystics. Sharib House, Jhalra, Ajmer.1975-1996.
6. The Path of Tasaawuf: Hzt. Khadim Hasan. East West Publications.
7. The Sacred Knowledge: Shah Wali Ullah: Translated by G. N. Jalbani. Octagon Press. 1982.
8. The Meditations of Khawaja Muinuddin Hasan Chishti: Z. H. Sharib. Sharib Press. 1994.
Copyright Sharib Press. 1998.
This article should not be reproduced for publication, in whole or part, except for review, by any means without permission of the
Published by The Zahuri Sufi Web Site: September 1998
We are grateful to Farhan Zafar for providing this for us.