What follows is the text of a brief talk by Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri, given to an interfaith group
meeting in a church hall in Southampton on March 3rd 2002. The meeting was also
addressed by people professing the Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, and Jewish faith. The
topic for the talks was - 'The Elements - Earth, Fire, Water, and Air.' Each speaker was
allowed just seven minutes.
All religions have their mystics and at their best they aspire to a more direct knowledge
of, and even union with, God. At their worst they present as charlatans and frauds
misleading the naïve. In Islam the mystical tendency of man became institutionalised
somewhere around the 7th, 8th century AD. It became known as sufism - meaning
those who aim to purify themselves from their lower nature, and from worldliness. The
Sufis lived mostly in society and sought their salvation through the service of God by
means of service to man.
Let me briefly introduce two of the great sufis who lived at the height of sufism's golden
age. One is Khawaja Muinuddin Hasan Chishti who preached and taught this doctrine
of love and service as the basis of man leading a more noble and better style of life. To
this day he is so revered in India that millions of people visit his shrine every year
irrespective of their religion.
Another is Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, in Turkey. Living in the 11th/12th century he is
currently the best selling poet in the USA, bar none. His emphasis on the universality
of love and the significance of service is widely appreciated. His welcoming tolerance
is captured in these famous lines:
Come, come, whoever you are,
It doesn't matter if you are a fire worshiper, an idolater, or an unbeliever,
Our court is not the place of disappointment, come,
Even if you have broken your vow of repentance a hundred times, come again.
The Elements as Signs
God speaks to us in many ways - these are the called the Signs of God. The signs
themselves are not worthy of worship by man - man himself is the finest sign, but they
refer us to what alone is worthy of worship, the One God (Arabic - Allah).
We are advised to concentrate on these signs rather than on the essence of God that
is beyond our cognitive reach.
Scientific exploration of the natural world, physics, thus can reveal even more of these
signs as they appear in nature. Our human mind cannot grasp or encompass God by
imagination, or reason, or thought or by any other means including physics or scientific
methodology, but by considering the signs the mind and imagination can have
something concrete to grasp.
Learning from the Signs
Thus, briefly, to interpret the relationship of fire (heat), water (liquid) earth (substance),
air (dryness) as a sign that can guide us, consider the following. It is derived from Imam
The natural elements interact and are both mutually hostile and complementary. Their
mutual interactions are essential to life. To express it most simply, if water were not
hostile to fire our fire brigades would be in trouble, and our chances of a good cup of
tea would be nil.
When one element dominates another excessively conditions become incompatible
with life. We see this in the vast arctic wastes and we see it in the huge dry deserts.
Star Trek aside, our scientists seek in vain for a single other planet in the cosmos that
is even capable of sustaining the most minimal form of life. Thus, as it stands at the
moment, this single planet out the billions upon billions of planets, alone has, in some
parts of it, the combinations of fire, air, water, and earth to sustain human life. This is
achieved by such a delicate balance of elements that it is astonishing that the rational
mind can be anything but overwhelmed and fail to recognise a hidden cause or order.
Now what can we draw from this sign that is helpful to us in the development of our
society and in our daily lives? The law that we can derive from this is that of
moderation. For it is the moderating influence of one element upon another that makes
The physical structure of the human being himself is a picture of moderation in action.
If our temperature rises by a few degrees it is no longer compatible with life. If our fluid
levels become disturbed, or cold becomes excessive, we perish. It is when all are kept
in a balance - each element competing with others due to its inherent nature, but none
becoming so dominant that it throws the individual's ecology out of balance - that life
flourishes. The Qur'an refers to the particular quality of God named as Al-Hafiz - The
Preserver as manifesting this balance in life.
In society too we are faced with competing and mutually incompatible forces,
ideologies, and even religions. But the quality of our social life, even its survival, is
dependent on a moderating balance that implies we yield not an ounce of our belief
system, but which recognises that our mutual well being as a society, relies on mutual
tolerance, mutual respect, mutual love, sharing, and caring.
In short it relies on a balance that can be achieved through ensuring that, in the
modern parlance, - moderation rules - OK.
This elicited one question - as to the role of evil. The answer was along these lines.
Both evil and good derive from God. We have a choice. If we choose evil we also choose the consequences that follow, but we
do not harm or detract from God in the slightest. If we choose good we also gain the subsequent rewards, but we do not add
anything to God. Even in our ordinary social life we see that if a person chooses a life of drugs and so on, consequences follow
that can lead to the destruction of an individuals happiness and well being. If we choose to build positive social and personal
interactions - a life of service to others, we can gain some kind of happiness even in this life.
JMZ March 3rd 2002
Published by The Zahuri Sufi Web Site March 2002