Bismillah ir Rehman ir Rahiim.
What follows is an edited and to some extent ammended interview between a researcher
into 'Inspiration' (I believe for purposes of a doctorate) and Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri.
For the purposes of this interview I took inspiration to refer to the varied spiritual states or
'hals' well known in Sufism. It could, of course, have been possible to take broader
view of inspiration since clearly the inflow of thought when writing or speaking can be
described with this word and this does not amount necessarily to a 'state'. Equally I did
not dwell on those high levels of inspiration far beyond the spiritual states experienced
whilst on the Sufi way, particularly by the extraordinary inspiration of the holy Prophets
and particularly that of the holy Prophet Muhammed. Inspiration is hardly an adequate
expression to convey the elevated nature of such revelations.
My intention I think was to use the opportunity to counterbalance the
tendency sometimes encountered in 'New Age' discussion to perceive inspired states as
an end in themselves. As this can put people involved in experimentation with the
delicate heart. mind, body balance at risk of losing real spiritual benefit. Taking the
opportunity to express thisseemed to me entirely appropriate.
The interview was conducte by Gil Dekel with the aid of a recording device. Necessarily
this will have a more spontaneous but less well structured feel to it. I have made some
minor alterations particularly where the repetition seems excessive and have deleted
some passages that could be seen as abstruse. However repetition in speech is an
important tool for driving a point home and as much as possible I have left the structure
alone to retain the spontaneity.
Gil Dekel: How do you understand inspiration?
Inspiration can be a two-edged sword because if you don’t let go of it, it actually impairs
your ability to move forward... And that is the same in the spiritual life of the Sufis, as a
matter of fact, when you experience a stage of “Hal” which is the term for inspiration or a
particular form of inspiration (in Sufism), you become enamoured of that state and you
spend all your energy trying to recreate it; and that is futile, because it impairs your ability
to move forward spiritually.
This is one of the risks in the spiritual path, when people are given temporary states from
Allah الله) ( one of the risks is that they become so attached to that specific spiritual state,
and they fail to continue to mature. The Sufi poet Mawlana Rumi used to say, “Always ask
is there more? Is there more?” If you’re not always looking for more, you can get stuck.
Many teachers of spirituality have exactly that problem. They acquire a degree of spiritual
development and they are convinced that they have reached their goal; that they have
reached enlightenment. Without any doubt, they have reached something high, I’m not
talking about people who are fraudulent. They have reached some particular state; some
particular stage of development. But because Allah has not determined for them to move
further they actually then turn around and they think, “Right; I can teach this to other
people.” They can teach and bring people to that stage they’ve reached, but that is as far
as they can go because they don’t actually know anything else. The danger therefore is, if
one attaches oneself to someone who teaches like that, then one may actually be limiting
oneself to a very particular kind of experience – not bad, but it doesn’t take you all the way.
The true teachers of spirituality are those that are actually appointed by Allah. This is not
done by their own efforts at all, they are actually appointed by Allah and they’re given
exactly what they need when they need it, to teach what they need to teach.
In Sufism, the true teachers that are truly worth following are those who are appointed, not
those who have simply acquired some specific state.
GD: Really? So you can be ‘appointed’ even if you had no peak-experience?
Amongst the Sufis, the most admired people are those who don’t get 'peak-experiences'.
Because they retain their faith, they pursue their practice, they are devoted to Allah, but
they don’t require the encouragement of what you call peak-experience.
Allah decides that this soul needs some encouragement because it is not as strong, so He
gives some peak-experiences, as you call it. But actually, in Sufism that is almost a sign of
weakness – spiritual weakness….
GD: So, Mohammed?
The holy Prophet Mohammed was divinely appointed, of course. The things which he was
given, were given because of the need to convey that message to people, so he had a
purpose. I’m not saying that the Sufis don’t have spiritual states, they do. What I’m saying is
that they’re not essential to the process. So a true teacher could be appointed and actually
never even know that he was. For instance, there are some very special people called
Abdal (لأبدال) - they are people who Allah appoints to govern the universe – souls. They may
be constituted of those who have no idea and have no conscious awareness of their role,
and possibly, no interest in spirituality as such. But, in the unseen world they occupy so to
speak a ruling position, which is of utmost significance to the whole evolution of mankind.
So, the spiritual experiences as such can be very nice but they are never, ever the goal of
Sufism. Spiritual experience wasn’t the goal of the holy Prophet Mohammed. The goal of
the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was to convey The Message to mankind, not to
experience spiritual states.
In fact, he actually gave up spiritual states in a sense in order to fulfil that role. He went to
within a ‘bow’s length of God’ – as in the Quran it is described – but then he came away
from that to teach and convey the very explicit message from Allah for mankind. The
frequent revelations he received were of an entirely different order of magnitude to other
One of the misleading things in contemporary life is that people aspire to temporary spiritual
states. If they can’t do it by meditation or any other means, they use drugs. But the value of
that is next to nothing. The real purpose in Sufism is, firstly, that your whole soul, your
whole being, is matured in a completely rounded way.
Secondly, real Sufi teachers are unrecognizable from other people. They’re exactly the
same and when they really reach the final goal, the only thing by which you can distinguish
them is that they are indistinguishable but they have an inherent inner power which maybe
you feel or not; depending on if you’ve got sufficient sensitivity or not. That’s more a
reflection on the person. You cannot distinguish them by means of what they wear or their
manner, but by the silent wisdom and power they exude. This is easily confused with
'charisma' by those who do not really know.
My own sheikh used to speak to me mostly about what was in the newspaper, not about
spirituality. Very rarely did we ever overtly speak about spirituality as such.
Gil: What does the word Sufi mean?
I believe nobody’s quite sure but it probably comes from an Arabic term for purity or
possibly Suf (صوف) which means wool; referring to the early garments that only Sufis may
have worn. It’s usually taken to mean purity.
From a historic perspective, the heyday of Sufism was probably in about the 12th, 13th
centuries AD. That’s when Mawlana Rumi, Hazrat Abdul Qadir al-Gillani, and Khawaja
Muinuddin Hassan Chishti worked. They are recognized as very great saints. There were
others after them as well who were also extremely great. By the time of the 16th or 17th
century there’s not quite that same level achieved. True Sufi sheikhs still live and are still
very active in the organization and structure of the world around.
The great sheikhs – they’re still alive, of course. It is fundamental to the perception of Sufis
that the true Sufi sheikhs don’t die. Their bodies may be buried but they don’t die; they live
on and they’re palpably part of the way in which Allah organizes the universe. He takes
particular souls; He purifies them, often through some hardships, or asceticism or
difficulties or through various other means. He usually gives them a specific guide to help
them with this, though in truth Allah is the only guide. He develops those souls because it is
part of the way he organizes, manages, and administrates the world, and the states, the
inspirations are very, very secondary to those.
One of the dangers in just seeking inspiration and being focused on inspiration is that you
may actually be missing the point. As I said, inspiration, whilst it can be a great stimuli it can
also be negative. For example, people get this stimulation through taking drugs or
something. So, you do experience strange and exotic states of perception but there are two
things about that. One is, you attribute them to the drugs, and therefore it reinforces a
sense of separate causalities, whereas in Islam and in Sufism there is only one cause, not
many. So it can lead you to an emphasis on physical means – drugs or medications – and
reinforces in you the sense that this caused that.
But the same danger exists with those who do this by spiritual means because in fact they
think, “OK, I do this meditation. This meditation causes this effect. It’s still a form of
materiality actually, because they are assuming the state they get into is dependent on
actions that they take and not dependent on the only cause of the universe. Again, it’s far
better than taking drugs but it suffers some of the same risks.
So people practice meditations and all sorts of hardships and often in reality, they’re
walking in an unending desert, which take them nowhere. Or they’re walking round in a
circle, very far from the goal they need to be at.
There’s a nice story in the Masnavi; I don’t know if you know the story of Majnun - مجنون ,
have you heard of Majnun?
Gil: Majnun means mad man? I didn’t hear the story, no.
Majnun was a figure in Sufism and in the east in general. He’s known for the madness of
his love for Layla. He fell in love passionately with a woman called Layla who by various
ways spurned him. Anyway, this particular aspect of the story (because it’s a kind of
parallel with the love of Allah) is that he gets on his camel, horse, or whatever, and he’s
riding on a three-day journey to get to Layla. He’s absolutely, passionately devoted to Layla
so he starts off on a journey. But his camel is passionately in love with a she-camel from
wherever he comes from. Every time he rides along heading in the direction of Layla, the
moment that he loses attention or gets a bit drowsy and is no longer controlling the camel,
the camel immediately turns around and starts going back in the other direction.
This goes on for about three years in what should be a three-day journey. Eventually he
says to the camel, “You and I must part. This isn’t going to get either of us anywhere.” The
camel is obviously a symbol for corporality, if you like; for the body and for the attachments
to the lower nature from which one has to separate in order to actually progress
towards the goal one is going to.
So, the thing with inspirations is that one must always be recognizing that if Allah sends us
inspiration, yes, we should be grateful for it; we should appreciate it and then we should
leave it alone and move on. Because if we don’t it could be that it’s actually a way of
preventing us from moving forward. Maybe that is Allah’s will. It may be that Allah actually
intends for us not to move forward, so there’s nothing we can do about it. But in terms of
understanding our development, it’s very important that we move beyond those things and
that we recognize that there is a far, far, far deeper, more powerful thing we need to be
moving towards if we’re going to one day make sense of those things.
After all, there are all sorts and kinds of states; ordinary sex between a man and a woman
is kind of state, isn’t it? But again, that can draw you back into corporality and into loss of
morality and all sorts of things. If all you’re doing is running after that state, it doesn’t take
you far. Compared with that, take the example of marriage where it’s not only about
particular moments, it’s also about the whole of it; all the responsibilities that go with it, all
the deeper things that go with that. It’s a much wider and broader thing than just the nice
So Maslow’s peak experiences are quite interesting in a sense and it’s nice that an actual
psychologist recognized that there was a value in looking at those things. But I’m not sure
that he necessarily fully understood it in the context of proper spiritual development. I think
he understood it in the context of psychological development; but I don’t think he
necessarily understood the limitations it could impose in terms of spiritual development.
The great saints who have been through all of these states and stations and all the rest of
it, they’ll say simple things like, “I’ve been through all of this and all I can tell you is, there’s
nothing as valuable as doing something to help somebody.” There’s nothing more valuable
than that; despite the fact that they’have experienced nearness to God, bliss,
transcendence and all the rest of it. They say there’s nothing as valuable as doing a good
deed for a neighbour.
Gil: But they say that only after the experience, the transcendence experience, so to
You might argue that it is that which gives them the authority to say it. If you’re listening to
somebody who’s been through that, it’s probably worth taking his advice. And recognizing
that on the other side of spirituality, on the other side of states and experiences is a life
lived differently qualitatively but absolutely the same in every other respect. So it’s about
recognizing that ultimately, you want to get out and beyond those experiences or
an interest in those experiences, to the reality, which is far beyond those.
Arguably, some people do have to go through various states like this in order to reach that.
And generally speaking in Sufism when people start going into ecstatic states, it’s kind of
put up with. When somebody gets this, they say, “OK, we understand. He’s on his way;
he’s travelling. Poor guy, he hasn’t reached there yet.” They will tolerate his rather erratic
behaviour. But the true Sufi doesn’t concern himself with any of these states. He may have
had them at various times in his development but they are no longer of any interest to him
as a goal - though it is a practice to recall such states to mind from time to time.
I’ve forgotten, was it St. Theresa? The one from Lourdes who said, “I am the immaculate
conception.” Do you know about that story? Bernadette, maybe...but one of the Christian
nuns said that as a young girl she saw this marvellous vision of Mary, mother of Jesus and
she was inspired to say. “I am the immaculate conception.” It was a bit of an anathema. It
was a bit like Mansur Al-Hallaj, a famous Sufi mystic who said, “I am the truth”, and got
executed for his pains by the orthodox. Anyway, she was eventually put in a nunnery of
some kind and she was looked after by a very severe nun who was very, very ascetic and
who had done all sorts of spiritual practices. And there in her charge was this young girl
who’s just had this experience of Jesus or the holy spirit or whatever. The nun eventually
recognized the lesson ; she said, “I’ve been knocking on the door to gain admission
to God. But unless God opens the door, nothing happens. She had done a lifetime of
asceticism, and a 17 or 18 year-old girl gets the inspiration she’s been wanting for all her
life. And it is not a matter how hard you knock on the door, if Allah doesn’t open it, you don’t
So there is an utter dependence in Sufism in that we can do all sorts of practices but
ultimately, it is simply whether Allah... if Allah is pleased with us and decides to give us
something, he gives it to us. We may not in any conscious sense understand how we... in
fact, we couldn’t have earned it. The generosity of Allah is such that one of the things you
realize is that there is nothing I could ever have done in my life that would have earned this,
and that it is a pure gift.
People struggle with this; it’s just a gift. There are no strings; not because you did anything;
not because you’re this or that and the other. There’s nothing you did that would possibly
deserve this gift, for the generous nature of Allah is such that He gives.
What we do in the moments when we’re not feeling that... because you get periods; you get
what we call separation and you get closeness. There are periods when we feel somehow
not as close to God; not that closeness to the Beloved. That’s separation, and then there’s
a longing and it’s painful. Then there are periods when that’s passed and there’s unity and
union with God. The states vary and there’s ‘contraction and expansion’ it’s called in
Sufism. And actually, they’re equally necessary; it’s a bit like breathing out and breathing in;
one follows on from the other and it’s a necessary pattern, breathing in and breathing out.
But ultimately, it is purely and utterly down to the generosity of The Beloved, that He shows
some manfestation of Himself to you and He gives you whatever gifts He decides to give
you. And He gives gifts to people who don’t know anything about it as well. People who are
not aware of those things but they still get those gifts. People that are not in their conscious
minds aware of it, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been given something; Allah
keeps some things veiled, He keeps from people’s consciousness things which it’s
better for them not to be aware of.
Another aspect of Sufism is contentment. Let’s suppose you’ve been having a few spiritual
states and things then they’re not there anymore. in some respects that is a kind of spiritual
state or inspiration if you take it that way. If you take boredom – what’s boring about
boredom? Have you ever tried to study boredom? It’s fascinating! There’s nothing boring
about boredom. You sit there bored and you say, “What’s going on in my mind?” It’s
fascinating! So what’s boring about it?
So, all of the things which we take to be, our everyday states even; actually, when you look
at them, they contain the seed of something much more. It’s God's removing that veil from
us and our coming to terms with the fact that it’s all there in front of us and it always was.
Allah was never away from us; He’s never separate from us. His imminence is such that
there isn’t anywhere where he isn’t, Including in the separation state.
There was one old Sufi sheikh; he was passing away and there were some other Sufi
sheiks standing around him at the time of his dying. I think it was Baba Kuhi. And one of the
people said to him, “I know nothing would ever for a moment distract you from
remembrance of Allah.” And he said, “No, no, no, you’re wrong.” He said, “I want to so
submit my will to Allah to such an extent that even not remembering Him, if that’s his will, I
accept.” So the stage that one can reach is that even in separations and all the rest of it,
they’re all equally acceptable because they are all from Allah, from God, from The Beloved.
The Sufis use the term ‘Beloved’ mostly but they tend to use it inwardly. When they think of
God, they think of The Beloved but when they speak of God, they speak of Allah. But
inwardly, they tend to think of God as The Beloved. They don’t so often use that term
One must also be aware, Sufism like all the other mystical traditions is very exposed to
fraudulence, misconception, misunderstanding and people who are only half developed
assuming they are fully developed and trying to teach and all the rest of it. There are a lot
of people who are assumed to be Sufis, but the true Sufis are very rare. I’ve been very
fortunate to meet two of them. The fully developed Sufis are very rare indeed – very, very
rare. What they can do for you in the bat of an eyelid is just extraordinary. They can do it by
a glance; they can do it without any contact, actually. They are very rare but there are
plenty of people who are...they’re not frauds, but they’re kind of half developed and have
decided they can teach people. They can, up to a point; it’s just that they’re limited in how
far they can take them.
Gil: I think you mentioned one of the tools is the heart; one of the tools of the Sufi is the
heart; that he operates through the heart?
If you want to get kind of specific about that; the Sufi perspective would be that, there is a
faculty of the body which permeates the body. There’s the soul or what most people think is
the soul, and that kind of is infused through the physical body. But that’s actually only the
link. And there’s the faculty of the heart, which has its centre in the physical heart but
actually, if you were to try to draw it or describe it, it would be the same shape as the whole
body, so to speak. Then there’s the intellect. Again, its physical root is in the brain but
if you were to try to draw it or describe it, it would be the whole figure of a man. The third
one is the body, which is rooted in the liver but again if you try to perceive it, it would be
seen as the whole body. So, there are those three very distinct faculties. I say distinct, and
they are, but they are also fused together. I think the description that Shah Waliullah gives
is most illuminating, it’s like mercury – is it a metal or is it a liquid? It’s kind of a metal and a
liquid, the two bonded together. So, it is kind of bonded together so it’s actually difficult but
at least you can perceive that there are those three distinct faculties.
The combination which each and any given individual has is different. One person for
instance, may have a very strong heart faculty but be very weak in the intellectual faculty -
which by the way, is nothing to do with being clever at school. There are various
combination of the faculties which account for a huge variety of mankind. So each
individual person will have a different balance. The Sufi sheikh will look at where those
things need to be developed in a given individual. But he doesn’t do it with his outer mind;
he does that from his soul. So it’s not something you think with your mind, it actually comes
from within the sheikh.
All the events that happen to us, some of which we think of as good and some of which we
think are bad, are the way in which Allah is trying to perfect... no, Allah doesn’t have to try.
by which Allah perfects us, either through natural means or when he inspires us to do some
particular practice of some kind.
Accordingly, it is those three faculties that need to be purified and there are certain means
and mechanisms by which they can be purified. When those are purified completely, and
that can be a very long process, they’re developed from those two other faculties which are
the faculty of the... the purified intellect and the purified heart. Those two then have to
undergo many purifications as well. And then the next level is what was known as ‘the
secret’ and the 'Deeply Concealed', which is an even higher level of purification that goes
on there. As you can see, that is an extremely comprehensive program, which requires the
thorough reconstitution of an individual’s ordinary psyche.
What is doesn’t do is affect is the individual’s... I suppose you could call it the individual’s
personality. Words become a bit difficult at that point; so that although one undergoes
complete transformation in the process of purification, what comes out at the end of it is still
recognizably that person – but transformed. It’s not actually a completely different person
but all of the qualities that were in that person have become realized and actualized, to use
a Maslovian term.
The actualization isn’t just once, it happens again and again and again and it’s a constant
process, and there’s a maturation that goes on throughout. Just as the physical body, when
it grows from infancy and goes through all sorts of maturation processes. We understand
that – it’s a miracle, but it does. And in a sense, spiritual maturity also is like that, so that
there is that genuine spiritual growth.
Mawlana Rumi used to say; one of his famous sayings sort of summed up his life in three
words. He said, “I was raw; I was cooked, and I was burned.” There are various ways of
elaborating and talking about it. The way I’ve just described is a relatively scientific kind of
way of expressing it, but it’s also expressed in other literature. It’s exactly the same thing
but it’s expressed through different forms according to needs of people.
Sufis tend to speak to the particular needs of the people they’re speaking to. If they’re
talking to children they’ll talk about childish things, even though what they’re saying are
pearls of wisdom. If they’re talking to a person of particular scholastic development, they’ll
talk in those kinds of terms. If they’re talking to a person with a different type of thinking,
they tend to talk in those terms. Because what they’re saying is exactly the same but
people are only impressed by forms, because they are used to that.
People look at form and take that to be the truth, whereas truth is expressible through forms
but they’re just expressions of it. Truth itself remains absolutely singular, indivisible but it
can express itself through various kinds of means. People say, “This particular expression,
that’s the truth.” Well, it’s an expression of the truth but the truth itself is an absolute. And
that is again, one of the great problems that a lot of contemporary philosophy has
because it sees truth as relative. What is really relative is expressions of truth. Truth itself is
an absolute and indivisible and any expression of it is relative to that absoluteness.
It’s a fundamental problem that a lot of 'Western' culture has, it takes form to be truth and
sees it as relative to other forms. Incidentally this is also the error in 'absolutism' in religious
fanaticism. They take their limited understanding of specific forms, which in fact are a
reflection of of the limitations of their own mind, as absolute. Forms cannot be absolute
because they are caused, and only their Causer can be described as Absolute.
Gil: Why cannot people see the absolute?
Because that would imply sight was able to encompass the thing seen so it would not then
be Absolute. Might as well ask why cant we see sight - we can see the mechanics of sight
but not sight itself.
Some people can see some of its its higher manifestations. But if you look at a lot of
contemporary philosophy, it will be based around ideas of everything’s relative. It’s a
nonsense statement of course, because if everything’s relative, that statement can’t be true.
Gil: That’s right.
JM: Nevertheless, if you talk to people who are interested in those kinds of things, they
often tell you, “It’s all relative”. It’s relative to them. 'This is relatively true'... but no; actually,
the truth is absolute but what we tend to do is take expressions of the truth which then take
a form and we take that to be the truth. That’s a kind of idolatry in its own right.
Getting away from idolatry is absolutely fundamental in Islam and also to Sufism because
even in our thinking we should aspire not even to be thinking in ways in which we attribute
anything to anything else other than the divinity. We don’t take God to be simply
the original cause and that then there is a a whole sequence or chain of events that God
triggered off; that each one required the previous one, if you see what I mean. We take the
universe in its physical aspect or its spiritual aspect and all the other forms of its
manifestation; we take the whole entire thing as being immediately dependent on and
caused by Allah who recreates in its entirety every single moment.
In a sense,the inspiration, or more properly 'revelation' that came down on The Prophet
occured when the dome that covers our ordinary intellect was opened and some of the real
reality was able to enter into the conscious mind. In a prepared person, that is a great
blessing. In an unprepared person, it is madness, basically.
That is why in Sufism real preparation is very important. A lot of people don’t realize
nowadays, they’re playing with fire. They really are. They do techniques, spiritual
techniques in order to get experiences and they don’t know what they’re doing. People do
run the serious risk of disturbing their mind in a negative way, even if it all seems wonderful
at the time; because the mind is an extremely delicate instrument. It requires experts to
adjust it; to understand the various levels. So if a person goes into spirituality without a
good guide – and I mean a really good guide, they do put themselves at risk.
If Allah so wills, there’s nothing they can do about it. If He doesn’t guide people to that. In
Sufism, there’s nothing as important as the guide; and the guide has to be one who knows
those various levels and depths to an extraordinary degree and is actually appointed in that
role by Allah. That guide can actually guide people all the way if they’ve got the capacity.
But without that, a person may be lucky or they may not be lucky, so to speak. But they do
run a risk if they take on their own spiritual development because they simply, do not know,
no matter how clever they are, and sometimes the more clever they are the worse it is. No
matter how clever they are, they have no real apprehension of what they’re playing with,
and if they are not thoroughly prepared but they do things that actually cause an inspiration
to come to them, then they put themselves at serious risk because they will not actually
have known how to prepare their mind and even their heart, intellect, and so on. A lot of
fine-tuning has to go on. It’s a bit like putting a child in a car. If they push a few levers, pull
a few levers, they might actually start the car and then they have a problem.
That’s why in Sufism the emphasis is always on: 'seek the guide' and when you have found
the guide, stay with the guide until you have got what we know as ‘the pearl’; and when you
have the pearl from him, you can seek it from other people. Otherwise, you remain with the
guide because all of the preparatory work can take many years sometimes. It’s not always
pleasant. You are dealing with a vicious... Basically, the carnal nature is a very vicious
beast. You awaken it at the wrong time or in the wrong way before you’re ready to actually
throttle that thing to death – which is what you need to do – it will have you in its grip in a
moment. And you won’t even know that you’re in its grip and you’ll identify with it; because
it’s so insidious; because it is actually our self. It’s not out there; it is here.
It takes an expert to actually manage that. There is another story from the Masnevi, which
says a man went to the mountains, and he found a dragon-like serpent and it was frozen.
He was a hunter so he thought, “OK, this would be great.” So he put it in a sack, took it
down to the plains – into Baghdad or wherever it was – and he announced to everybody
that he’d found this great monster. And all of the crowd comes along. In actual fact, the
monster was not dead; it was simply frozen. The sun of course acted on it and the
next thing you know, the monster starts to stir, wakes up, and immediately starts thrashing
about, and devours the man and all sorts of other people around him as well. That’s kind of
like a description of what is inside each one of us. We have a beast of the most vile kind. If
you don’t know how to destroy it properly, you could easily be fooled into thinking you
have, and then you have to deal with the consequences, which could be very serious.
Spiritual development is no joke and it’s not a kind of pastime you can play at. Either you
go for it or you run risks. You may get away with it, you may be one of the lucky ones; but
there are also many people who fall afoul of that. In Sufism, the absolute essence of it is
that you are as the Quran says, ‘rightly guided’. It requires a very deep transformation to be
rightly guided. It does have to start at the roots. It uproots your life, turns it around, but
ultimately replaces it with something wonderful.
The Masnavi also speaks of this; it’s very much like a man who takes the house, knocks it
down, and builds a great palace from it. But you can’t do that without first... if you knock
the house down, you destroy it; you actually raze your own life and everything you knew
right down to ground zero and then build it again. That is the work of Allah and that is the
work of the people He appoints as guides. And it’s a very deep, life-consuming work to be
involved in. It’s not a pastime, it’s not a hobby, and it’s not a joke. It’s real and it’s serious
because the consequences of spiritual development going wrong are ruined lives, people
becoming disillusioned, then they turn to disbelief and all sorts of things like that; all sorts of
things that can have a really bad effect. And ultimately, if that’s what Allah wills for this
person nothing can be done. But equally, He wills that there are people who can guide.
Going back to the beginning to draw a conclusion, my feeling in relation to spiritual states
and experiences is, and the simple advice that I would give is, that if one is interested in
these things, one should beware of being beguiled by them into missing the real potential
that they have, which is for spiritual maturity. If you take them as a transient, pleasant
thing, which you then happily move on from, they may well be a benefit to you. They may
inspire you to move on to other things. If you take them and get hooked into seeking those
things then you are missing the point – and that’s very important, because the point is what
it’s all about (this was actually intended as something of an-in joke - sorry maybe I will
explain another time).
One needs to treat the spiritual states with a degree of caution, but also, that’s not to say
they’re not great fun and pleasant and all the rest of it. Just that, if they take over, they can
delay or hold back a person. But if Allah wills a thing for a person, He can resolve all
There are many people interested in spirituality who wander for years in the illusion that
they’ve reached their goal – and they just haven’t and it’s one of the hold-ups. I’ll tell you an
interesting story just as a conclusion. There was a fisherman, a very poor fisherman. He
was a very great ascetic, he used to fast all the time and fish all day, and all the fish he
caught he’d give to the poor. He was considered very great; he had all these disciples. One
day he said to one of his disciples, “I’m spiritually stuck. I don’t know what it is...” What he
used to do is, he would give all the fish to the poor but he would save two fish heads, which
is all he would eat. He said, “I’m really stuck spiritually” and he asked his disciple to visit a
very great sheikh that he had heard of.
The disciple arrives at the place where he’s been told to go, the village of so-so and it’s like
a big house – it looks like a palace to him. He was surprised but he goes up; because his
own master lives in a little shack. He goes up and sure enough, it’s a palatial building
resplendent with gold and diamonds and rubies and pearls, all built into the walls; and it’s
opened up and there are beautiful serving women with big, lustrous eyes and all the rest of
it. And in the middle like an emperor, sits this shiekh... he said, “This is the Sufi sheikh?”
“Oh, yes, that’s him'. He’s slightly horrified that anybody who called himself a sheikh could
live in such luxury; it’s ridiculous. But bearing in mind that his master has asked him to do
this, he goes along and says, “My master so-and-so sends salaams. He has spiritual
problems and he’s asked you what the solutions to them were. This man, eating grapes
and the rest of it sort of thinks for a moment and then he says, “Tell him his problem is...
greed.” So the disciple is totally horrified. Eventually he goes back to his master.
The master says, “Tell me every word he said, please.”
He said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, this is ridiculous.”
“Please, every single word; don’t miss a word out.”
“What he said was that your problem is greed'.
And the sheikh says, “Oh, of course!”
“How can that be? This man lives in a palace and you’re eating two fish heads a day! That’
s all you have, and you live in this shack!”
He said, “But he doesn’t give one fig for all of that wealth and luxury, it means absolutely
nothing to him. He has no attachment to it whatsoever. But every time I eat those two fish
heads, I always wish I had a third!”
A lot of Sufism is taught through stories because they are more potent; they stay with the
mind more easily.