THE SUFI'S SPIRITUAL COURSE
by Syed Mohamed Zauqi Shah (r.a.)
It is not intended to carry the reader here into complicated technicalities on the subject and tire him with information that may prove dry and uninteresting to a lay mind; but in order to help him to catch a glimpse of what Sufi's work is like, and what sort of attainment he aspires to, a summary account of suluk, a Sufi's Course will now be given.
As already stated, to begin with, you need the service of one who knows, a teacher, a Shaikh, or a Murshid, call him by whatever name you please. The initiative must come from him. He initiates you into the Unseen within you into harmony with the Unseen without. He keeps a constant watch over you and saves you from slips and pitfalls.
He acts as a medium between the high and the low, between the Deity and humanity, between where you are and where you ought to be, or in plainer language, between you and your God. So the Shaikh or Murshid is an indispensable necessity in the spiritual emancipation of man.
We spend a good deal of the earlier portion of our life in physical bondage. Our libraries and laboratories only tighten the bonds. Even independent thinking creates fresh chains for us. The moment we come in contact with the Shaikh, we enter upon a new era of liberation.
The ties are loosened, the chains are broken and the journey begins. From the Seen we gradually move on to the Unseen and after plunging into the fathomless depths of the Unseen, we have to come back to the Seen to complete our course. The following diagram will clearly illustrate the beginning and the end of a spiritual wayfarer called salik (seeker).
The Spiritual Course
In the diagram at left (Figure 1), B is the starting point for the beginner. The arrows indicate the direction of the course. B-C-A is the upward journey which finishes at A. You then make a further progress by coming down to B via A-D-B. When you complete the circle, you finish your spiritual courses and attain "human perfection".
It will be observed that B is the point which is the first and the last, the point where you start and finish. To a superficial observer, you appear in the end what you were in the beginning, but, as a matter of fact, you and others who know you inwardly find in you a wonderful change.
At the start you know nothing about the circle and nothing about your real self. At the end, you find that you have traversed the entire circuit and have found yourself; that you have personally been through all the different gradations of life; that you have directly known (of course, according to your personal capacities) all the various forces of nature that move the universe.
You discover that all these forces are, in a way, centred in you and ultimately, you realise that at point B, you are in a comprehensible form from what you were at point A, an incomprehensible formlessness.
In short, you realise the sense, the force and the significance of the religious phraseology that you are God's Image or God's Lieutenant on earth and you understand better the meaning and sense of the following passages in the Qur'an:
"And thus did We show unto Abraham the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth (high and low) that he might become one of those who believe firmly" [6:75]
"Hereafter We will show them Our signs around them and within them, until it becomes manifest unto them that it is the truth" [61:53]
"And not without purpose did We create the heaven and the earth and whatever is in between them" [38:27]
"And verily, He hath created you in diverse stages (i.e. He has brought you to your present stage through a variety of conditions and states)." [71:14]
"Unto thy Lord is the Ultimate goal of it (i.e. of everything in the universe and of knowledge about the time of such termination)" [79:44]
"Such is God, your Nourisher and Maintainer, there is no god but He, the Creator of all things, worship Him (i.e. obey Him with love) for He supervises everything and takes care of it." [6:102]
At this stage, the powers of observation in a Sufi and his perceptions help him considerably to realise passages like the following:
"We are nearer to him (man) than his jugular vein." [50:16]
"We are nigher unto him than ye are, but ye perceive not." [55:85]
"And He is with you wheresoever you be." [57:4]
"There is no secret conference of three but He is their fourth, nor of five but He is their sixth, nor of less than or more but He is with them wheresoever they may be." [58:7]
"He is the First and the Last, and the Manifest and the Hidden; and He knoweth all things." [57:3]
"See ye not how Allah hath brought under your subjugation and control whatever is in heavens and earth (in the higher and the lower planes) and hath abundantly poured upon you His favours both visible and invisible." [31:20]
To return to Figure 1, the upward march, B-C-A is a difficult and uphill task. The downward move, A-D-B is comparatively easy. As a matter of fact B-C-A passes through exactly the same fields as A-D-B.
In other words, you can observe during the upward march what you do observe during the downward move, but your observations during the upward journey are bound to be misleading. You cannot understand properly anything below point A, unless you once reach the point A.
Unless you grasp the root properly, you cannot make the branches your own. So the best teachers prefer to carry their pupils up through B-C-A, with closed eyes, as it were. They do not allow them observation on their upward march. It saves time and labour and prevents mistakes resulting from partial and incomplete knowledge. The "eyes" are, however, utilised when the downward course A-D-B is traversed. This is the safest and the shortest way to success.
All the various hard and fast rules laid down for the completion of the spiritual course are necessary during the first round only. When you complete the course and finish, for the first time, the rounds B-C-A and A-D-B, you are liberated.
You are now at liberty to go up and down as many times as you like without observing the rules of procedure you observed during your first round. You may go up either way and come down likewise; you may go up half way and return; or you may stop, for any length of time, at any of the intermediate stages.
There have been people who have preferred to remain permanently at point A, and have refused to climb down. The luxury at the point A is called Lazzat-i-uluhiyat, which means Luxury of Divinity and is so great that no earthly pleasure, whatsoever, can match it and everyone is tempted to remain there for good; but human greatness really depends upon descending to point B, and faithfully fulfilling the functions of Perfect Man, so long as the physical body retains the power of sustaining the soul within.
Methods of Approaching the Goal
There are innumerable methods of approaching the goal, but they may be divided broadly into the following three:
Leading a strictly pure and religious life, provided that the religion is correctly understood, properly handled and duly observed. It is a lengthy and comparatively dry course, but is generally recommended to the masses because, though lengthy and dry, it is all the same quite safe.
Extra hard work, both physical and spiritual; i.e. doing a great deal more than the irreducible minimum prescribed by the shariat. It is shorter and more interesting than the first, but more difficult. It leads to better results.
Cultivating and developing Love of God. It is the shortest, the sweetest and the most interesting path, leading to the best and the most valuable results; but it is not within the reach of everyone and is not always safe for those who are not meant for it.
There are people who combine in them the first two, or the last two, or all the three methods, in different proportions.
Attraction and Work
Ordinarily, every worker in the field of spirituality needs two things, attraction and work. He is attracted towards the higher regions and he has to work to reach the goal. Some are first attracted inwardly and then commence work. Others start work and find subsequently, that they are being attracted inwardly. In both the cases, however, one of the two predominates.
Attraction is jadhb and the attracted is majdhub. Work is suluk and the one who works and keeps on moving forward is salik. So every practical student of Sufism is a majdhub and salik at the same time. The difference in names only signifies the predominance of one feature over the other. The one who is strong and steady in work and is not overcome by jadhb is called a salik; while the other who is weak and unsteady in work and is overpowered by jadhb is called majdhub.
The response to jadhb in a majdhub is so great that he finds himself powerless to make further progress in his work. His senses are affected, his self control gone and not being able to move on, he remains stuck to the point where the overdose of jadhb overtook him.
A beginner, at a later stage, is met now and then by attractions in different forms. At this stage, he is called a salik-majdhub.
In a more advanced stage, he remains constantly surrounded by attractions of a superb nature, in a variety of conceivable and inconceivable forms and feeling and yet he does not allow himself to be deluded and overpowered by them and does not allow the consequent 'intoxication' to interfere with the necessary work. He is called a majdhub-salik. He is a man of very superior sufi and always rewarded with very high attainments. The above description may help to throw some light on the real Sufi and his work and may dispel, to a certain extent, the mist that surrounds him. The poor Sufi has, unfortunately, been the victim of various attacks levelled against him from ill-informed quarters.
Sufism is the Life and Soul of Islam
It is wrongly supposed that Sufism has nothing to do with Islam. In fact, it is the life and soul of Islam. It is really Islam in its higher and practical aspects. It is action and the consequent realisation. It is a process of purification of the soul.
It is not an idle and unproductive philosophy. It is not a set of fresh beliefs in any way different from the teachings of Islam. It is not a series of secretive teachings of any fantastic nature. It is work on proper lines and, as a result of such work and consequent purification of the soul; it is enlightenment and realisation.
With this improved outlook, wider knowledge and better understanding, the Sufi becomes capable of higher flights and better comprehension of Islamic teachings; and his interpretation of Islam is necessarily more to the point. His interpretations are not properly understood by those who lack the proper insight.
It usually happens that the Sufi finds it difficult to express himself in an ordinary language. The language of miscellaneous humanity is not coined to give expression to the higher subjects of Divine purity. He has therefore, to express himself in his own special language which can only be understood by those conversant with proper Sufism and for whom his writings are really meant.
Limitation of language, sometimes compel him to use ordinary human expressions to indicate extraordinary discoveries in the domains of Divinity. For example, in the description of the diagram given before (Figure 1), the following expressions have been used:
"...and, ultimately, you realise that at point B, you are in a comprehensible form from what you were at point A, an incomprehensible formlessness."
This very important part of the explanation of the diagram, is quite capable of misinterpretation and can never be understood correctly by those who are ignorant of the subject and who have not been personally through the suluk.
Since most non-Sufis are not fully conversant with the expressions and language of the Sufis, the Sufistic writings are generally misunderstood and misinterpreted, not only by ordinary people, but by those who are learned in the subjects other than tasawwuf.
On certain points, it is true, the Sufi arrives at results vastly differing from those arrived at by others. Such divergence is due, not to a differing source of information but to his cultivation of better powers of understanding and to the acquirement of greater light and wider horizon.
"Sameeh Rashid" firstname.lastname@example.org
Please report any
broken links to
Copyright © 1988-2012 irfi.org. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer