A revised account of the Theory of Spiritual Integration in a Social
(I attempted this article in 2003 but have long felt dissatisfied with it - here is a
second attempt to try to describe this important concept - I have removed the
This article may be difficult for someone without a background in the ways of
spiritual development of the Sufis. If you are just browsing you might prefer some
of the other articles available.
The world is in a sorry and sad state as the new year establishes itself and
reminds us of the hard realities of our working and daily lives. We find divisions
and strife - between continents, between countries, between cultures, and
between different ethnic or racial groups. There is separation and conflict
between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the powerless,
between religions, between ideologies, between classes, between families and
even between members of the same family or group. Perhaps it was 'ever thus'
or perhaps it is, as it appears, even more dire and dreadful than ever before.
What is certainly true is that what applies to continents, and countries, and
groups, and families, also applies within the individual's own self. So many
people feel torn and divided within, they are not at peace with themselves or with
their surroundings. They feel anxiety, stress and strain. They are in a state of
war within themselves.
At every turn it seems they must face difficult decisions - they want inward peace
but they want the conveniences and toys of the modern market place. They want
happiness - but also the excitement of a hectic world and busy life. They want
traditional values - but they also want modern 'freedoms'. They want an ordered
society, but they also want to be free to do what they want regardless of others.
The competing ambitions can be a souce of unhappiness and discontent. Some
try to solve this by retreating from worldly involvement altogether. Some try to
solve it by throwing themselves into worldly involvement with vigour. Some seek
a third route of living within the world whilst remaining inwardly detatched from it.
This option is generally taken by modern Sufis to be the best way and no doubt it
is - at a certain level. I want, however, to discuss a fourth option albeit this could
be described as refining the third option.
It may surprise you to know that Shah Wali Ullah of Delhi, one of the greatest
Sufi saints and thinkers of his own, or any time, recognised that, even at the
astonishing heights of spiritual development that he had reached, he was still
discovering divergent tendencies within the soul of man that required reconciling.
Briefly, they are the tendency of the various spiritual faculties (see below) of the
purified man to fuse into a whole when the divine inspiration appears - this he
called the Way of the Saints. The drunkenness or spiritual intoxication of the
saints is the result of this process. The second tendency was for each faculty to
be to be separately purified but to remain distinct. One cannot but think of this as
the 'sobriety' which many see as superior to spiritual drunkenness. This he called
the 'prophetic way' because it distinguishes certain traits inherant in prophecy
rather than being specific to the holy prophet Muhammed (saw) himself - though
it is interesting to note that prior to the Miraj the holy Prophet had his heart (one
of the faculties) removed and purified before being returned to his body.
Whether historically accurate or not, the story of the encounter between Mevlana
Rumi and Hazrat Shems Tabrizi characterises this dichotomy well. Shems is said
to have asked Mevlana 'Who is greater, Bayazid Bistami, who said everything
beneath his cloak was God, or the Holy Prophet Mohammed who said: 'I did not
know God as well as it was my duty to know Him?' Since both must have been
speaking the truth.
Mevlana's answer was that the Holy Prophet was greater because he had
draught after draught of the wine of revelation but remained sober, whilst
Bayazid became intoxicated after one draught of Divine Grace.
Ishq or Ashq (divine Love) is one of the names given to this intoxication and is
associated with a fusion of all the spiritual faculties.
Shah Saheb it seems sought to find the way to reconcile these two processes. If
you want to understand all this more deeply then I recommend his wonderful little
work (Alt al-Quds) which has been translated as 'The Sacred Knowledge'.
I suppose one could put it simply and say that the question is how to be
simultaneously intoxicated with God, and made sober by God? Not, of course,
by merely being drunk and acting sober - only the really drunk man would think
his inebriation was not evident in spite of his acting.
Excessive sobriety makes for a dull, repressed and potentially repressing
individual; disorganised spiritual intoxication makes for a chaotic personality.
None of this would of course apply to the Messenger or to Bayazid who are far
beyond such criticism.
The stars and planets as Signs, of course demonstrate one kind of answer, each
intoxicated in their own rotation yet moving in a stately way in the courses
prescribed for them - which seems implied in some of the Qur'anic references to
The Mevlevi 'Sema' dance of the 'whirling Dervishes' has the spinning dervishes
in their white skirts each rotating round their own axis and also within a given
orbit. The Shaykh normally stationary at his post moves forward at the end of a
cycle and begins a much, much, slower and more stately turning in his black robe
in the centre. This is the real turning - the axis. Maybe the physical universe has
a slowly rotating centre responsible for the 'expanding universe' effect? Who
Shah Saheb however spoke of all this in terms of his research into the 'faculties':
the heart, intellect, lower soul (Nafs al-Amarah), the Rational soul, the Spirit, The
Deeply Concealed, the Nasamah, and so on) and also put it in a social context in
an interesting way.
Let us put it in to a topical social context.
The recent 'Arab Spring' gives us one indication of how this apparently purely
internal process of intoxication or sobriety applies socially as well as to an
individual's spiritual development. Protester's inspired by 'freedom' and the need
to improve their society, seek to overthrow a dictator and the state apparatus.
The state apparatus - particularly the army and police representing the sober
and controlling force oppose this. If the spirit of 'freedom' is sufficiently strong
the army and state dissolve, order breaks down and a heady chaos ensues.
If on the other hand the state successfully suppresses the intoxicating desire for
liberty they do so because the order they have themselves holds firm. Their
discipline and control mechanisms maintain order within themselves and thus can
exert their sobering (and possibly repressive) order on the populace.
Neither outcome would appear entirely satisfactory on its own.
Contrast this with a process in which the desire for 'freedom' or change
motivates the populace to organise themselves to develop alternative structures
that may require opposition to the state apparatus, then the oppressive
controlling mechanisms are far more likely to begin to dissolve because they will
also be affected by this 'desire' but without losing their discipline or efficiency
which gives them superiority over a crowd or a mob. Perhaps leading to a
genuine process of change rather than a revolution. You will feel sceptical of this
simplistic analysis but bear in mind we are using it to make a point rather than
become involved in specific socio-political analysis.
This begins to link the issue of spiritual drunkenness and sobriety in the individual
by comparing it with social phenomena, but we need to go further. Shah Saheb's
theory of social development in which one more sophisticated layer of social
development succeeds another, each being dependent on the previous one being
stabilised in order to do so, gives us the key to this.
Think of society as a circular core with layer after layer of concentric circles
expanding it - in which the most basic needs having been met securely (the
core). Increasingly sophisticated ones are added concentrically once stability is
established in the preceding layer.
To take a single example: at a primitive social level an organised transport
system is not necessary - only the means to eat and drink and sleep, but as the
social sophistication increases such things become imperative and thus becomes
a fresh layer. Each layer or system functions within its own parameters but is
dependent on the stability of the more central layers and must work with the
other layers. Rather than each layer having a seperate axis all share the same
More graphically powerful perhaps would be to see it as a city state.
Initially a core building is established that is able to provide the bare necessities
for survival. As this functions well so additional building arise that can facilitate
this production and enable it to reach people better. Around these more buildings
begin to appear providing facilities to enable these support mechanisms to
function better, perhaps an army to protect the resources, housing for labour etc.
In short a complete infrastructure. The process continues until a city emerges.
Each layer providing support to the previous layers. Each layer however far it is
apparently removed from the core function nevertheless existing primarily to
support that core purpose. Each layer develops its specific rules and practices
with a degree of autonomy that neverthless leaves it subservient to the prime
function of the centre. Now if Allah is pleased and causes an effulgence of divine
blessings to flow - perhaps in the form of improved harvest etc - the core
function is enhanced and all the supportive mechanisms are likewise caused to
receive their share of the enhancement.
If there is no inspiration, no desire for something better then there is no growth.
In fact if there is no ideal, then social systems become corrupt, repressive and
repressed, and functions poorly. Then in terms of the image of the city above it
retreats to its core function of survival. If however such motivation flows through
and reaches all the systems then it is absorbed into each system, which
functions better within its own parameters.
If, the systems lose their identity or in modern jargon lose sight of their specific
business the divine blessings may become a general urge for change that
overpowers the systems then fusion rather than integration occurs. Then society
loses its way and the blessings are turned to a bad effect. Even the core need
for survival become difficult to meet. It becomes a case of : 'like her who
unravels her yarn, which she has spun, after it has become strong'. ((Qur’an 16:
92). This image of the yarn in which individual threads retain identity whilst
mutually supporting each other to make a strong finished product is more than a
little relevant here.
In a social sense such 'systems' include the religious, the legal, the moral and
ethical, the financial, communication, energy, employment, social care, health,
education, engineering, the arts and so on. In the individual soul they are the
faculties such as heart and intellect mentioned briefly above but fully covered in
Shah Saheb's brilliant work.
If each individual 'system' or faculty has been brought to perfection within itself
by the guide, and then placed so as to form an integrated structure as in the
parable of the city state, then the wine of spiritual inspiration from the effulgence
of the Divine brings each to its optimal functioning level and importantly also
enables all systems to work together better - providing them with the 'oil'
necessary to do so, but without fusing the whole and losing completely the
autonomy of the seperate parts.
To summarise: if there is no inspiration towards change for the better, society
and the individual stagnate and eventually perish. If, in the individual soul, all the
faculties have not been separately developed with a degree of autonomy then
the flow of universal inspiration can lead to a spectacular but short lived fusion of
the parts - this is great beyond words but in the long term less effective. If the
separate parts are all perfected but not integrated with each other in the way
described then universal inspiration, whilst very beneficial, does not achieve all it
could because it inspires the parts but does not simultaneously increase their
If all the faculties are fully and perfectly functioning and in a structure that
enables them to fulfill their interdependent as well as independent roles then long
term development and evolution can occur and this invites even more blessings
from Al-Rehman. This I call integration.
The holy Qur'an frequently refers to learning lessons from societies that have
failed in the past; implicitly both as a social lesson but also as a spiritual lesson
for the individual. Clearly some societies (e.g. Sodom and Gomorrah) blocked
the flow of spiritual and moral inspiration through corruption and hedonism and
became only fit for destruction. An increase in the spiritual flow (the visit by the
angels etc) resulted in that destruction. Some societies perished because the
spiritual flow was blocked (e.g. by ingratitude) and they collapsed more slowly
but inevitably. As the holy book puts it: ‘Have you considered who will bring you
pure running water, if your water drains away?’ (Qur’an 67:30)
The relationship between the internal individual reality and the external social
realities is often not appreciated, but this is why it is sometimes said: 'In order
to change society - first change yourself'.
The role of the Sufi (who has become integrated within him or her self) in his or
her own society is thus simply to be what he or she is but also, by dint of his or
her own integration, to become in a sense the model of that particular society. In
the case of the Holy Prophet that 'society' extends to an entire religion. The
Qur'an says 'in the Prophet you have a perfect model'. In the case of a saint
there is usually a lesser sphere of influence. This of course is the underlying
sense in which Saints can and should be legitimately referred to as Kings or
Because of the interdependence of its members an integrated individual soul
draws those in its ambiance towards a higher level of functioning, purifying
inwardly the faculties of such persons in the process, and supporting their
integration from within. Integrated individuals make for a more integrated society
and an integrated society supports all its members. Socially a Sufi Order would
do well to aspire to reflect this integration within itself. Its members working
towards their own purification and development and when inspiration comes from
the Shaykh allowing that to enhance them individually so that they can pour their
own unique enhanced quality into the whole.
The truly integrated soul is the obedient servant of the divine command 'Be and it
becomes'. He becomes what man is capable of becoming (by God's Grace), and
in his becoming, society becomes what it is capable of becoming.
But God knows better and cannot be Compared.
Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri
(Southampton, Jan 14th 2012).
This is a bit of an aside, but important - placing 'survival' needs at the 'core' could cause
some to presume a materialistic view of society and the individual but this would be
incorrect. It could be said that the core of the core, so to speak its very axis, is in fact
that point of contact with the spiritual dimension from which inspiration flows. It is
tempting to describe this as the Qutub (the spiritual pole)but the function of the Qutub is
somewhat different from this and would require an article in its own right. Probably
better to think of it as being more like the role of the Kaaba in Islam. Thus individuals
would overcome in themselves that 'core' survival instinct (through asceticisms such as
fasting, pilgrimage etc) in order to reach that axis and contact with the spiritual
dimension. This is not exact but should serve.