Monday, July 27, 2020

Piro Preman: Punjabi Sufi Poetess

I am sorry but due to the shortness of time, I rarely read or comment on the post comments. My work is to simply put Sufi ideas and stories out there and spread the message of Sufism but I don't have the time due to my personal life and professional responsibilities to be anybody's guide or guardian. I will advise you to find such people closer to your geography as the physical presence of a guardian is very necessary for initiation. 

Here is another story of a Sufi poetess whose poetry really touched me. 

There are conflicting accounts of her life. Some suggest she lost her mother at a young age and accompanied her fakir father to various shrines.

The seed of spirituality must have been sown in her as a child on these pilgrimages. But perhaps her experience at these shrines was not all pleasant.

It was during one of these pilgrimages that she was handed over to a Muslim man from Lahore, who upon returning to the city with his new bride sold her to a brothel in Hira Mandi. She eventually joined a sect and became critical of pilgrimages.

Born a Muslim, Piro Preman is believed to have repudiated her religion after she became a member of the Ghulab Dasi sect.

We cannot say for sure if this was an actual act of apostasy and conversion, or rather an accusation hurled by religious puritans offended by her provocative poetry, her devotion to Ghulab Das, the enigmatic head of the sect, and her unrestrained sexuality.

Either way, she refused to correct them and embraced the accusations much like Bulleh Shah, an iconic Punjabi poet who lived a few decades before her but whose poetry she must have heard in the Sufi shrines of Punjab. “They call you kafir, you say yes indeed,” Bulleh Shah said.

In many ways, Piro Preman can be seen as part of the same Sufi poetic tradition that connects Baba Farid with Guru Nanak, Shah Hussain with Bulleh Shah.

These similarities have been identified by Anshu Malhotra, author of the book Piro and the Gulabdasis. While Bulleh Shah said, “Calling out to Ranjha I became him”, Piro Preman wrote, “Piro herself is piya, not separate from him”.

Divine will
But she was also unique, distinct, the founder of her own tradition. Baba Farid laid the foundations of Punjabi Sufi poetry in the 12th century, but it took Punjab more than six centuries to churn out its first female Sufi poet in the form of Piro Preman.

Classical Punjabi Sufi poetry already challenged several conventions of sexuality: far from being seen as taboo, sexual union was celebrated in these verses as a symbol of the union of the devotee with the divine.

The devotee, expressing his emotions in poetry, traditionally began referring to himself as female, Heer, while the divine was represented as a male, Ranjha.

There were also references to homoeroticism, representing the bond a devotee shared with his murshad, as can be seen in Bulleh Shah’s reference to Shah Inayat. But it took a person of the stature of Piro Preman to break through the final ceiling.

Perhaps unwittingly, by representing their relationship with the divine in traditional gender symbols – the devotee as an abandoned lover yearning for the acceptance of her husband, the divine – the Sufi poets were reinforcing traditional gender roles even as they pushed the boundaries of spirituality and brought together people from different folds of religion.

Piro Preman refused to be an abandoned lover at the mercy of a cruel beloved. She refused to wait for a beloved who would deign to give her his acceptance. She wrote:

“Piro! I will not accept the companionship of a lie
Those that are separated will never meet, just like a broken thread
Nor family, nor your in-laws, not your age-mates, neither your friends
They disperse as people do when they disembark from a boat.”

All religions belonged to men as far as Piro Preman was concerned. She wrote:

“Making false religions and promises,
You make Turks by snipping the penis and the moustache;
Hindus are made with janeyu and chat,
Women cannot be made thus, they are both wrong.”

— (Translations by Anshu Malhotra)

Contesting claims explain her arrival at the Hira Mandi brothel: some suggest she was brought there by her husband, others claim she was sold by her lover, a fakir, with whom she had eloped after abandoning her husband.

But there is no doubt that Piro Preman did work as a prostitute for some time. Her low caste, her profession became her identity, just as Shah Hussain’s weaver caste and Ranjha’s temporary job as a cowherd with Heer’s family are ubiquitous.

In her writing and her life story, her profession comes across as an entrapment from which she is finally freed when she joins the Ghulab Dasi sect in Chatian Wala, a village in Kasur district, a few kilometers from the city where Bulleh Shah is buried.

But perhaps it was her profession that emancipated her from the restraints of traditional morality. Having “fallen” so low in the eyes of society, she was relieved of the burden of lifting the weight of their expectations.

She and Ghulab Das became lovers. While in traditional religiosity their relationship, undefined by the institutions of society, would have been taboo, in their sect, of which these two were the most prominent leaders, it was an expression of divine will, a compelling force that had to be obeyed.

For Ghulab Dasis believed that one’s impulse was a divine command that could not be denied. Societal rules held no significance in the face of these divine instructions.

Like Heer-Ranjha
For centuries, however, before the Ghulab Dasis expressed this as a tenet of their sect, millions of Punjabis raised on the spirituality of Sufi poetry had celebrated a similar love between Heer and Ranjha.

Heer was married to someone else when their love was discovered but continued her rendezvous with her true lover, Ranjha, which in Sufi poetry is expressed as divine love, one that binds a lover with her beloved, a devotee with her divine.

It is the same kind of bond that united Radha with her Krishna, despite her own marriage.

But poetical and metaphorical expressions are not necessarily tolerated in their literal incarnations. Both Hindus and Muslims turned against the Ghulab Dasis for their licentiousness.

Unlike ascetics, the Ghulab Dasis freely accepted the comforts of the world.

Challenging conventional beliefs about god, they propagated that this world is god, a manifestation of god, and that all is god, leading many of their critics to believe they did not believe in god and instead worshipped worldly luxuries.

They did not impose restrictions on food and drinks like Muslims and Hindus did.

The shrine of Piro Piraman and Ghulab Das. They wanted to be buried together, like the legendary lovers Heer-Ranjha.
The shrine of Piro Piraman and Ghulab Das. They wanted to be buried together, like the legendary lovers Heer-Ranjha.
Perhaps Ghulab Das and Piro Preman believed they were incarnations of the legendary Punjabi lovers Heer-Ranjha. Similar to them, they wanted to be buried in a single grave after their death, which did eventually happen.

A shrine was constructed over their singular grave and it ironically became a major pilgrimage for thousands of Ghulab Dasis scattered across Punjab and Sindh, despite their abhorrence towards pilgrimages and shrines.

The shrine was there, in a dilapidated state, taking its last breath, when I visited the village in 2011.

A couple of years later, the last physical evidence of Piro Preman and Ghulab Das disappeared from the land of its origin

Female Sufi Mystics

Some of you have emailed me as to why I don't post very often, I have migrated to a new country & started a Ph.D. ( not in esoteric matters) but something very worldly and I am busy running a social enterprise as well and there are some personal life changes which I can't post here but they consume most of my time. I will end this blog this year, and before that, I would try to write about the topics I most care about. 
I might write a novel about Sufi Initiation after this but my own personal journey with this blog is complete. 

One of my favorite verses of the Quran is Surah  Al Azhab which makes it clear that spiritual blessings are intended for both righteous men and women who are equal in the eyes of God.  The woman “auliya” meaning friend of God-  appeared in the early history of Islam and the dignity of sainthood was conferred on women as much as men. 

The late Margaret Smith, one of the first women to work in the field of Islamics, wrote in her book Rabi’a The Mystic and Her Fellow Saints in Islam,
In the history of Islam, the woman saint made her appearance at a very early period, and in the evolution of the cult of saints by Muslims, the dignity of sainthood was conferred on women as much as on men. As far as rank among the ‘friends of God’ was concerned, there was complete equality between the sexes. It was the development of mysticism (Sufism) within Islam, which gave women their great opportunity to attain the rank of sainthood.” 

The doctrine of Sufism which seeks Union with God through love and devotion does not leave space for the distinction of sex. Islam has no order of priesthood and nothing prevents a woman from achieving great mystical heights. Throughout the centuries, women as well as men have continued to carry the light of this love. For many reasons, women have often been less visible and less outspoken than men, but nevertheless they have been active participants. Within some Sufi circles, women were integrated with men in ceremonies; in other orders, women gathered in their own circles of remembrance and worshiped apart from men. Some women devoted themselves to Spirit ascetically, apart from society, as Rabi’a did; others chose the role of benefactress and fostered circles of worship and study.

Sufis themselves have chosen the famed mystic woman Rabia Basri (died 801) as the representative of the first development of mysticism in Islam. The saintly Rabia basri (717-801 AD), who first expressed the relationship with the Divine in a language that has come to be recognized as specifically Sufic by referring to God as the Beloved. Though she experienced many difficulties in her early years, her aim was to melt her being in God.

Among the other early women, mystics are Umm Haram whose tomb is in Cyprus, Rabia bint Ismail of Syria, Muadha al Adaiyya of Syria, Nafisa of Mecca, Zainab and Ishi Nili of Persia.
Another early saint was Rabi’a bint Ismail of Syria whose husband was a well-known ascetic and a servant of Abu Sulayman, another ascetic. The relations between Rabi’a of Syria and her husband remained platonic. She was noted for her prayers and fasts. She used to spend the whole night in prayer and wore herself out with ascetic practices. She was famed for her attainment of the mystic states (ahwal). An ascetic who was famed chiefly for her godly sorrow was Sha’wana. She used to say that “the eyes which are prevented from beholding the Beloved, and yet are desirous of looking upon Him, cannot be fit (for that Vision) without weeping”. 

Another great saint was Nafisa AtTahira, great-granddaughter of Hasan, son of the Khalifa Ali. She was so versed in religious knowledge that even her great contemporary, the Imam al-Shafi’i, used to come and listen to her discourses and enter into discussions with her. Many miracles were attributed to her. 

Among the women who followed the Way of Love and Truth, there were some who rejoiced and some who continually wept. Sha’wana, a Persian, was one of those who wept. Men and women gathered around her to hear her songs and discourses. She used to say, “The eyes which are prevented from beholding the Beloved, and yet are desirous of looking upon Him, cannot be fit for that vision without weeping.” Sha’wana was not only “blinded by tears of penitence, but dazzled by the radiant glory of the Beloved.” During her life, she experienced intimate closeness with Friend or God. This profoundly influenced her devout husband and her son (who became a saint himself). She became one of the best-known teachers of her time.

One of those who rejoiced was Fedha, who was also a married woman. She taught that “joy of heart should be happiness based on what we inwardly sense; therefore we should always strive to rejoice within our heart, till everyone around us also rejoices.”

As this story unfolds, we are discovering the lives and work of many Sufi sisters.Aisha of Damascus was one of the well-known mystics of the fifteenth century. She wrote a famous commentary of Khwaja ‘Abdo’llah Ansari’s Stations on the Way (Manazel as-sa’erin) entitled Veiled Hints within the stations of the Saints (Al-esharat al-khafiys fi’l-manazel al-auliya’).

Bib Hayati Kermani belonged to a family immersed in the Sufi tradition. Her brother was a shaikh of the Nimatullahi Order, and she became the wife of the master of the order. After her marriage, she composed a divan (collection of poems) that revealed her integration of both the outer and the inner knowledge of Sufism.

At a later period, one finds an interesting figure among the women saints of Islam, an Indian princess who lived in the 17th century. This was Fatima, best known as Jahan Ara, the favourite daughter of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his empress Mumtaz Mahal. 

Ibn Arabi, the great “Pole of Knowledge” (1165-1240 A.D.), tells of time he spent with two elderly women mystics who had a profound influence on him: Shams of Marchena, one of the “sighing ones,” and Fatimah of Cordova. Of Fatimah, with whom he spent a great deal of time, he says:

“I served as a disciple one of the lovers of God, a gnostic, a lady of Seville called Fatimah bint Ibn al-Muthanna of Cordova. I served her for several years, she being over ninety-five years of age… She used to play on the tambourine and show great pleasure in it. When I spoke to her about it she answered, ‘I take joy in Him Who has turned to me and made me one of His Friends (Saints), using me for His own purposes. Who am I that He should choose me among mankind? He is jealous of me for, whenever I turn to something other than Him in heedlessness, He sends me some affliction concerning that thing.’… With my own hands, I built for her a hut of reeds as high as she, in which she lived until she died. She used to say to me, ‘I am your spiritual mother and the light of your earthly mother.’ When my mother came to visit her, Fatimah said to her, ‘O light, this is my son and he is your father, so treat him filially and dislike him not.’1

When Bayazid Bestami (d. 874), another well-known master, was asked who his master was, he said it was an old woman whom he had met in the desert. This woman had called him a vain tyrant and shoed him why: bey requiring a lion to carry a sack of flour, he was oppressing a creature God himself had left unburdened, and by wanting recognition for such miracles, he was showing his vanity. Her words gave him spiritual guidance for some time.

Another woman for whom Bestami had great regard was Fatimah Nishapuri (d. 838), of whom he said, “There was no station (on the Way) about which I told her that she had not already undergone.” Someone once asked the great Egyptian Sufi master Dho’n-Nun Mesri, “Who, in your opinion, is the highest among the Sufis?” He replied, “A lady in Mecca, called Fatimah Nishapuri, whose discourse displayed a profound apprehension of the inner meanings of the Qur’an.” Further pressed to comment on Fatimah, he added, “She is of the saints of God, and my teacher.” She once counseled him, “In all your actions, watch that you act with sincerity and in opposition to your lower self (nafs(.” She also said: “Whoever doesn’t have God in his consciousness is erring and in delusion, whatever language he speaks, whatever company he keeps. Yet whoever holds God’s company never speaks except with sincerity and assiduously adheres to a humble reserve and earnest devotion in his conduct.”

Among the Bektashis, an order in which women have always been integrated with men in ceremonies, many women have continued the tradition of composing sacred songs (illahis). In 1987, a songbook entitled Gul Deste (“A Bouquet of Roses”) was published in Turkey. It brings together sacred hymns written by women and men of the Bektashi tradition from the nineteenth century to the present.

Sufi women around the world today continue to teach and share their experience personally as well as in written form. In Sudan, for instance, there continue to beshaikhas (female shaikhs) who are particularly adept in the healing arts. In the Middle East, women continue to mature in many Sufi orders. In Turkey, in particular, the teachings continue through women as well as men, perhaps even more so now than in the past because of Ataturk’s proscription of the Sufi orders early in the century, which drove much of Sufi practice into private homes. One luminous lady, Feriha Ana, carried the Rifai tradition in Istanbul until her recent death; Zeyneb Hatun of Ankara continues to inspire people in Turkey and abroad with her poems and songs.

One branch of Sufism that has become better-known in the West in recent years is the Mevlevi. Within this tradition, which was founded upon the example of Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi, women have always been deeply respected, honored, and invited to participate in all aspects of the spiritual path.

Mevlevi shaikhas have often guided both women and men. Rumi had many female disciples, and women were also encouraged to participate in sema, the musical whirling ceremony of the Mevlevis. (Women usually had their own semas, though they sometimes performed together with men.) One of Rumi’s chief disciples was Fakhr an-Nisa, known as “the Rabi’a of her age.” 

Within Sufism, the language of the Beloved and the recognition of the feminine helps to balance some of the old cultural stereotypes that were sometimes used in expository writing and which the Western media have chosen to highlight. Rumi often speaks beautifully of the feminine, presenting woman as the most perfect example of God’s creative power on earth. As he says in the Mathnawi, “Woman is a ray of God. She is not just the earthly beloved; she is creative, not created.”

It is precisely this creativity and capacity for love and relationship that suits women so well for the Sufi way of opening to a relationship with the divine. As we come to recognize the magnificence of the benevolent Source of Life, we can come to see ourselves in harmony with it. Each surah (chapter) of the Qur’an begins with Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim, which means “In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful.” Rahman speaks to the fundamental beneficence inherent in the divine nature, Rahim to the particular mercy that manifests. Both words come from the same root, which is the word for “womb.” God’s mercy and benevolence is always emphasized as being greater than His wrath; the encompassing generosity and nurturance of the divine is the milieu in which we live.

As Rabi’a says:

In love, nothing exists between breast and Breast.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes knows;
The one who explains lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?
And who lives as a sign for your journey?

Monday, June 8, 2020

We Are All Slave-girls!

RUMI has narrated a story of a slave girl of Samarqand. According to the narrative, once the king of an adjoining state visited the bazaar of Samarqand.

There in the shop of a goldsmith, he saw a beautiful slave girl. He instantly fell in love with her, unaware of the fact that the slave girl was in love with the goldsmith.

On return to his capital, the king ordered one of his viziers to bring that slave girl to his court at any cost. The vizier went back to the goldsmith of Samarqand, enticed him and bought the slave girl from him.

 The vizier presented the slave girl to the king who immediately took her as his wife. Later on, the king discovered that the slave girl was not happy with the new arrangement and remained depressed and melancholic all the time. The king also became melancholic and did not know how to make her happy.
One night the king had a dream. In his dream a spiritual guide appeared to him and inquired about his miserable state. The king told the spiritual guide the whole story about how he fell in love with the slave girl of Samarqand and how she remained unhappy despite all his best efforts to make her happy. 
The spiritual guide told the king that he would visit his palace the next day to solve his problem, then and there. The next day the king along with his courtiers waited outside the city walls for the spiritual guide. When the much-awaited spiritual guide arrived, the king was very happy to see him. He rushed towards the guide, kissed his hands and took him to his palace with honour and respect.
There the spiritual guide demanded a private session with the slave girl. During his discourse with the girl, he described in exotic terms the bazaars and markets of Samarqand. Suddenly the slave girl broke her silence. She confessed to the spiritual guide that she was madly in love with the goldsmith of Samarqand; that this was the precise cause of her unhappiness with her marriage to the king.
The next morning the spiritual guide told the king about the cause of the melancholic moods of the slave girl and advised him to summon the young goldsmith of Samarqand to his court in order to help her recover from her misery.
 Eventually the goldsmith was brought to the palace and found the beloved of his yesteryear there. The king allowed them privacy and gradually the slave girl recovered from her miserable state. Together she and her lover enjoyed music, dance, good food and had lots of fun in the palace for many days.
Gradually, the spiritual guide started poisoning the goldsmith. First he became yellowish, and then weaker by the day.
 One day the slave girl felt repulsed by him and finally abandoned him to his disease. The goldsmith died and the slave girl found her new lover in the person of the king. The spiritual guide left the palace the very next day.

This narrative contains symbolic meaning for us, in two contexts. The first context is personal and affects all of us in these days of spiritual vacuum. The slave girl is a symbol of our sick hungry souls; the goldsmith is our unbridled ego-desire; the king is our heart seeking satisfaction; the palace is our primordial spiritual state of existence to which we want to return; and finally the spiritual guide is a person or spiritual idea to show us the path to self-satisfaction.

.I was watching the movie Baraka and it has these harrowing images from around the world of people running and striving and running with a vacant look in their eyes.

The uncontrolled desire chambers of our ego has made our hearts more and more dissatisfied. The more we desire to possess and own; the more our soul becomes melancholic and cut of from its real purpose. 

We are all running like the slave girl.

Our slave girl is enamored by the material objects and toys of globalization. 

You must live to consume is the dictum.I love David Mitchel's novel Cloud Atlas, in oneof its russian doll like stories is about a genetic clone in a dystopian materialist  future--in this all too possible future, society is only constructed to facilitate and encourage consumption and those who refuse to become drones, are outcast and penalized. 

Our cognitive matrix is only populated with fanciful objects and bodies.  
We have become objectified brands, WE ARE WHAT WE OWN.Our identity is Nike, Apple or Gap.We identify and categories human beings by what they are wearing, listening to or driving.This consumption makes us more sad and we feel meaningless and hollow inside.

Everybody is monitored by precise gadgets of control. Our thoughts are regulated. Our networks are watched. Our freedom is mechanical and our choices are shaped by the sinister machine of our civilization. It is driven by the ever-more complex cycles of cultural mechanisms of consumption and destruction. It is dominated by the subtle moves of electronic capitalism.

There is another way to live.We need to find the silence within and construct our identity on spiritual rather than material parameters.You only become what you own/buy /consume when you are too spiritually lazy to find out, who you really are!

Thursday, August 2, 2018


A reader commented on one of my blogs that Quranic tafsir based on Baatin is un-Islamic and heretical. 

Nothing could be farther from the truth. 

It deeply hurt me that petrodollar-funded Wahabi propaganda has distorted Islamic culture to the extent that we have disavowed our own occult, mystical history to embrace a 100-year-old materialistic cult-like Salafism which is completely disconnected from the 1400 year old rich and syncretic Islamic history.

It's important to discuss the concept of Baatin or Baatiniyat; it's one of the most important words in Islamic mysticism and is the cornerstone of Shite faith and Sufi worldview. Ismailism was once even called Batiniya owing to its' deep belief in the baatni world view.

Imam Ali once wrote in on of his letters that one of the signs of awakening in this life from the deep sleep of unconsciousness is to be able to see (perceive) the inner meanings of things, not just the outer. ( He, of course, was gifted with the sight to penetrate the meaning of existence beyond the veil of time and appearances

Life is full of various levels of inner meanings and messages, clues and hints according to the level of the person’s spiritual unfoldment. There are many ayat in the Qur’an and ahadith to confirm this phenomenon. 

The words zahir and batin are two Quranic terms that, while not too well known outside specialist circles, describe something highly important in the Islamic tradition. Zahir refers to the outer dimension, or the outer face, of the Islamic faith. 
Batin, on the other hand, refers to the inner, spiritual dimension. At its most simple level the former term refers to acts while the latter refers to the intention behind those acts. 

He is the First and the Last, the Zahir (outward) and the Batin (inward), and He is, of all things, Knowing

– Holy Qur’an 57:3

Are you not aware that God has made subservient to you whatever is in the heaven and whatever is in the earth, and has bestowed His favours upon you both in zahir and in batin.

– Holy Qur’an 31:20

Most of the Universe is composed of the dark matter and dark energy which is shaping the cosmos. Our reality mirrors that reality. Quranic verses carry mutitudes of meanings within it as does sufi poetry and sufi rituals. The Baatin of reality is its true meaning beyond the social labels and the veil of compromise laid over the truths which man is often too demenetd to ever truly comprehend.

This is where the term “blind” has been used in the Qur’an, alluding to people who in spite of having eyes, yet cannot see. Indeed they see the forms and the exoteric aspects of things but do not see the esoteric meaning within.

Consider this: over ninety-five per cent of the universe is invisible. The existence of the so-called dark matter and dark energy cannot be measured or observed directly; we can only rely on the gravitational effects caused by them. Dark matter, which outweighs standard matter five times, has mass and gravity but it does not reflect or absorb light. 

What is essential is invisible to the eye. And yet it is fundamental to the whole universe. It initiated its creation. It anchors galaxies, making them stable instead of full of celestial objects spinning around precariously. 

Allah (swt) points to this repeatedly in various verses in the Holy Book, usually after a story, parable or symbolism:

“in this there are lessons for those who can understand”
"there is indeed a lesson for all who have eyes to see" 
“if only they could understand” or 
“if only you could see”

"we detail Our signs for people who understand".

Becoming conscious of these unconscious processes active in our universe requires a shift in perspective. As Jung noted in Mysterium Coniunctionis, “the conscious mind is usually reluctant to see or admit the polarity of its own background, although it is precisely from there that it gets its energy.” Or as Rumi said, “life’s water flows from darkness.

As RUMI says in the 6th verse of the opening of the Mathnawi:

Every one became my companion through his own perception
None tried to know my inner secrets and notion

And immediately follows it with:

My secret is not distant from my outcry
But your eyes and ears do not possess the light

What is this light that the ordinary eyes and ears do not possess in order to find out the secrets? 

For the answer we go to Rumi himself, since he says he has revealed everything in this book, sometimes through explanation, sometimes through allusions, sometimes only hinting.

Why so?

 He explains that by saying:

The secrets are hidden in between the lines
If I say it any more clearly, it would disrupt the order of the world

In other words, if everyone knew the truth, hardly anyone would go after the affairs of the world. This is why the enlightened people are always only a few, compared to the masses. 

The Qur’an also refers to this by repeatedly saying 'only a few would know', or ‘only a few would perceive’ or ‘only a few would think’ etc.

But somehow, although we are looking right at them, the majority of these signs are missed. They go right over our heads and we see only the outermost aspect of them, for good reason since our heads are not the apparatus for the perception of these things. 

God taught Hazrat Yusuf (Joseph) the ta’wil of dreams and visions, experienced by himself and others:

And thus will your Lord choose you and teach you the ta’wil of narratives and complete His favour upon you and upon the family of Jacob, as He completed it upon your fathers, Ibrahim and Ishaq. Indeed your Lord is Knowing and Wise.

– Holy Qur’an 12:6

And thus, We established Yusuf in the land that We might teach him the ta’wil of events.

– Holy Qur’an 12:21

My Lord, You have given me [something] of sovereignty and taught me of the ta’wil of dreams.

– Holy Qur’an 12:101

We are told that all the signs/ayat of Allah are in two books; the book of the Holy Qur’an, and the book of the cosmos - life and creation.

 We are clearly told with regards to the Qur’an that only the cleansed or pure ones (motaharoun) will be able to touch this (Qur’an 56:79).

 The “cleansed" or "pure ones” have generally been taken for their outer meaning of having been physically cleansed and having had ablution. 

While that holds, yet there is more to it. It alludes to the state of inner purity, the purity of heart. If all that was meant was outer cleanliness and ablution, why then would we witness from time to time, that people who have not prepared themselves that way, still gain access and are able to touch the Qur’an? 

When we consider that Allah’s word is the Truth and there cannot be an exception to it, then when we see these exceptions it should highlight the discrepancy between our understanding and the real meaning of the Words.

Wanting to know what is veiling us from the light of hearing and seeing, we go to Moulana again. He says:

The blinkers covering people’s eyes are nothing but the secondaries
Who ever did not go beyond the secondary is not one of the companions

So the eyes which Rumi is talking about are the eyes that could see the Reality and not be veiled by people, the material world, and above all by the self, which is the biggest obstacle. We need to acquire the eyes that could see the primary beyond the secondaries.

He says:

I want the eyes that would know the King
So that it could recognise Him in every different clothing

How does one acquire these eyes? 

He guides us to journey on the Sufi path.

Sufis possess a Surmeh, go and seek that
So that your eyes of narrow stream become an ocean

What is this veil that is with us all the time and gives us a different account of the reality? 

An account that we believe is true. 

What is self, and how does it prevent us from realising the Truth and the Reality?

When Moulana tells us to go and take the journey of the Sufi path, so that our power of seeing widens, he is pointing to this widening of sight and insight, since an enlightened person could see and perceive things that are not available to most people. Enlightened people are capable of seeing the unseen, in various degrees, according to the level of their enlightenment.

Therefore we need to understand there are different kinds of seeing, and realise how limited our ego-senses are and not take that for the absolute reality. We need to be mindful that what we think and see is not all that there is, and there is another kind of seeing which requires journeying on the Sufi path and going beyond the senses of the self.

The purpose of these signs is the realisation of the purpose of our life in this human body, which is God-consciousness, in spite of the forgetfulness that has been placed in human beings, and in spite of distractions we experience, some of which provide very strong attractions that constantly pull us in the opposite direction. 

This purpose has been revealed in a famous Hadith Qudsi, where Allah (swt) explains the purpose of the creation by saying:

“I was a hidden treasure and I loved that I be known, so I created the creation so that I can be known”.

It is no wonder that His creation and the life of human beings are encoded with clues towards knowing Him. But that potentiality does not reach fruition for everybody. One needs to have a sincere longing and desire for his Creator and put on the walking shoes and set forth on the journey in order to be accepted as a traveller on the path to God, “salek”. In modern times we see a lot of people putting on their walking shoes but all they do is keep jogging. This walk is a different walk and in reality shoes are not necessary and are allegorical. As Allah (swt) said to Moses:

“Take off your sandals”, since he did not need them there.

In Sufism, we are told that there is nothing in this world whose source is not in the unseen. Therefore wherever we look lies a reminder, for those who can see.

“Wherever you look is the face of Allah” - Qur’an 2:115

In looking at birth, at childhood and dependency, at growing up, at relationship with parents, at becoming self-sufficient and independent, at using our will and putting it in action, at love relationships and at work and making a living; as I am reflecting on the list, I am reminded of at least one ayah in the Qur’an that applies to each stage and/or category, teaching us the right versus wrong behaviour, guiding us to the straight path and therefore to Him.

“How many a sign is there in the heavens and on earth which they pass by, and on which they turn their backs!” - Qur’an 12:105

One then must question why it is that with so many reminders, so many people remain asleep and only see things for their outer form, and in one dimension. 

My response is that the inner eyes do not open until one has done some degree of internal Jihad against one’s ego-personality (nafs). The potentiality is there in everyone – man is made in the image of God – to reach a degree of perfection in his attributes, but he has been sent to the lowest of the low. 

Our Creator says in the Qur’an:

“The life of this world is nothing but a play, whereas, behold, the life in the hereafter is indeed the only (true) life: if they but knew this!” - Qur’an 29:64

Imam Ali (a.s.) says in Nahjul Balagha:

“They have not taken lessons from things which are full of lessons, but they have taken them from far off places.” - Sermon 221

Moulana Rumi says:

"You see the world according to the measure of your eye" and then goes on saying

“the Arifs (gnostics) possess a ‘surmeh’ (black powder make-up used on the eyelid), 

go and seek it. So that your eye of stream may become an ocean." - Mathnawi, Book 5:1905-7

He is alluding that Arifs having done the required inner purification, are given the reward of seeing the inner reality of things, (which is an act of Beauty).

In the story of Moses and his staff, Allah tells Moses to throw his staff down and it turns into a serpent moving rapidly, and then tells him:

“Take hold of it, and fear not; We shall restore it to its former state.” - Qur’an 20:2

In this story, first Allah sets the stage by asking "what is this in your right hand O Moses?" and Moses responds:

"It is my staff; I lean on it; and with it I beat down leaves for my sheep; and other uses have I for it." - Qur’an 20:17-18

There have been different interpretations of this verse such as Allah wanting to hear Moses speak or that Allah is testing him.These verses are pointing to the esoteric and mystical reality. It means that as long as man only sees the outer form of things he will only see the staff. But things in life inherently carry other and deeper dimensions and uses. 

The miracle is the transformation to perceive the inner dimension of things.The fear referred to is the fear of letting go of the familiar form and touching (perceiving) beyond the form. 

We then are being assured in this story not to be afraid since after the transformation we are still able to see the form.
We need to pay attention to every word in the Qur’an and not get carried away with the story because the story covers the esoteric teaching since the stories are meant to be the apparent (zahir) and the teachings hidden (batin). 

In this Ramzan, during the special nights, recite Al Baatin many times so Allah may open your heart to recieve the true essence of reaity beyond the corruption of zaahir and materialism! 

our real self


A Sufi story.... A man went in search of truth. The first religious man he met was sitting under a tree, just outside his own village. He asked, ”I am searching for a true master. Please tell me the characteristics of a true master.” 

The fakir told him the characteristics. His description was very simple. He said, ”You’ll find him sitting under such and such a tree, sitting in such and such posture, his hands making such and such gestures – that is enough to know he is the true master.”

The seeker started searching. It is said that thirty years passed while he wandered the whole earth. He visited many places, but never met the master. He met many masters, but none were true masters. 

He returned to his own village completely exhausted. As he was returning he was surprised, he couldn’t believe it: that old man was seated under the same tree, and now he could see that this was the very tree that the old man had spoken of ”... he will be sitting under such and such a tree.....” And his posture was exactly as he had described. ”It was the same posture he was sitting in thirty years ago – was I blind? The exact expression on his face, the exact gestures....!”

He fell at his feet saying, ”Why didn’t you tell me in the first place? Why did you misdirect me for these thirty years? W

hy didn’t you tell me that you are the true master?”

The old man said, ”I told you, but you were not ready to listen. You were not able to come home without wandering away. You had to knock on the doors of a thousand houses to come to your own home, only then could you return. I said it, I said everything – beneath such and such a tree. I was describing this very tree, the posture I was sitting in, but you were too fast, you couldn’t hear correctly, you were in a hurry. You were going somewhere to search. Searching was very important for you, the truth was not so important.

”But you have come! I was feeling tired, sitting continuously in this posture for you. You were wandering for thirty years, but think of me sitting under this tree! I knew someday you would come, but what if I had already passed away? I waited for you-you have come! You had to wander for thirty years, but that’s your own fault. 

The master was always here.” It happens many times in our life that we cannot see what is near, and what is far attracts us. The distant drum sounds sweeter, we are pulled by distant dreams.

Zikar of the Heart

The experiences of ZikAR cannot easily be described: They belong to a level of reality beyond the mind, to a dimension of unity in which everything is merged, where the mind cannot get a foothold. In this stage of emptiness, we begin to experience our true nature which is a state of oneness: we are what we experience. 

His light may be compared to a niche 
wherein is a lamp 
the lamp in a glass 
the glass as it were a glittering star 
kindled from a Blessed tree 
an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West 
whose oil would almost shine forth 
though no fire touches it 
light upon light 


There is a Sufi saying that the disciple has to become “less than the dust at the feet of the teacher.” We have to be ground down until there is nothing left, just a speck of dust to be blown hither and thither by the wind of the spirit. Only when we have lost our sense of self, the values of the ego, can we carry the sweet fragrance of the divine, as described in the words of a Persian song
Why are you so fragrant, oh dust?

I am a dust people tread upon,
But I partake of the fragrance of the courtyard of a Saint.
It is not me, I am just ordinary dust
For the heart meditation, as long as the body is relaxed the physical position does not
matter: one can sit or even lie down.


In my teacher’s room we meditated, had tea and cookies, and listened and talked. My teacher would speak about her sheikh, about the power and beauty of his presence, and about the desire for truth that lies hidden within the heart. 
She shared with us the passion with which she lived this primal desire and pushed us to live what was deepest within us.

There was little form or structure to these weekly meetings; we meditated in silence and then just sat together, sometimes in silence, often in discussion. 
Later I came to realize that our way of meeting—just being together, in silence and also in discussion, talking about the path—is an essential feature of the tradition. 


Along with meditation, psychological inner work, dreamwork, and being together with other wayfarers, the other central practice of this path is a silent dhikr. The dhikr is the repetition of a sacred word or phrase. It can be the shahâda, “Lâ ilâha illâ llah” (There is no God but God), but it is often one of the names or attributes of God. 

The dhikr we were given is ninety-nine names Allâh, contains all His divine attributes.

The heart meditation may appear very simple, but it works as a catalyst, accelerating the process of inner transformation, bringing one’s darkness to the surface, where it has to be confronted and accepted. The rejected and unacknowledged parts of one’s psyche have to be acknowledged, “given a place in the sun.” 

Sahl said to one of his disciples: “Try to say continuously for one day: ‘Allâh! Allâh! Allâh!’ and do the same the next day and the day after, until it becomes a habit.” Then he told him to repeat it at night also, until it became so familiar that the disciple repeated it even during his sleep.
 Then Sahl said, “Do not consciously repeat the Name any more, but let your whole faculties be engrossed in remembering Him!” The disciple did this until he became absorbed in the thought of God. One day, a piece of wood fell on his head and broke it. The drops of blood that dripped to the ground bore the legend, “Allâh! Allâh! Allâh!”[
But for the Sufi, the name Allâh also points beyond all His attributes. According to an esoteric Sufi tradition, the word Allâh is composed of the article al, and lâh, one of the interpretations of which is “nothing.” Thus the word Allâh can be understood to mean “the Nothing.” The fact that His greatest name contains the meaning “the Nothing” has great significance, because for the mystic the experience of Truth, or God, beyond all forms and attributes, is an experience of Nothingness. 

There is nothing but Nothingness. . . Nothingness because the little self (the ego) has to go. One has to become nothing. Nothingness, because the higher states of consciousness represent nothingness to the mind, for it cannot reach there. It is completely beyond the range of perception. Complete comprehension on the level of the mind is not possible, so one is faced with nothingness. And in the last, most sublime, sense, it is to merge into the Luminous Ocean of the Infinite.

Thus, the name Allâh contains the essence of all Sufi teaching: to become nothing, to become annihilated in Him, so that all that remains is His Infinite Emptiness.
One of the mysteries of the path is that this Emptiness, this Nothingness, loves you. It loves you with an intimacy and tenderness and infinite understanding beyond imagining; it loves you from the very inside of your heart, from the core of your own being. 
It is not separate from you.
Sufis are lovers and the Nothingness is the Greatest Beloved in whose embrace the lover completely disappears. 
This is the path of love; it is the annihilating cup of wine which His lovers gladly drink, as in the words of Rumi:
I drained this cup:
there is nothing, now,
but ecstatic annihilation.
In saying the dhikr, repeating His name silently on the breath—“Al” on the out-breath, “lâh” on the in-breath—we remember Him. 

With each cycle of the breath, we return to the inner essence of the heart and live the remembrance of our love form Him. Practising the dhikr as constantly as we can, we bring this mystery into our daily lives. 

Lying awake at night we can silently repeat His name----when our mind is free enough to remember Him again, we rejoice once more in repeating the name of the One we love.
But with practice, the dhikr becomes a natural, almost automatic part of our breath, and then no moment is wasted; every breath aligns our attention with Him. 

And over time our whole coming to participate in this attention. By repeating His name, we remember Him not just in the mind but in the heart; finally there comes the time when every cell of the body repeats His name.

It is said, “First you do the dhikr and then the dhikr does you.” The name of God becomes a part of our unconscious and sings in our bloodstream. 

The way the name of God permeates the wayfarer is not metaphoric but a literal happening. The dhikr is magnetized by the teacher so that it inwardly aligns the wayfarer with the path and the goal. (It is for this reason that the dhikr needs to be given by a teacher, though in some instances it can also be given by the Higher Self or, traditionally, by Khidr)

Working in the unconscious, the dhikr alters our mental, psychological, and physical bodies. On the mental level, this is easily seen. Normally, in our everyday life, the mind follows its automatic thinking process, over which we often have very little control. The mind thinks us, rather than the other way around. 

Just catch your mind for a moment and observe its thoughts—every thought creates a new thought, every answer a new question. And because energy follows thought, our mental and psychological energy is scattered in many directions. To engage seriously in spiritual life means learning to become one-pointed, to focus all our energy in one direction, towards Him;the thinking process is redirected towards Him. You could say that the practice of the dhikr reprograms us for God.

Through repeating His name, we alter the deeply worn grooves of our mental conditioning that play the same tune over and over again, repeat the same patterns which bind us in our mental habits. The dhikr gradually replaces these old imprints with the single imprint of His name. 

The lover experiences a deep joy in repeating the name of her invisible Beloved who is so near and yet so far away. When He is near, saying His name becomes the expression of our gratitude to Him for the bliss of His presence. 
When He is absent, it becomes our cry to Him and helps us to bear the longing and the pain.

In times of trouble, His name brings reassurance and help. It gives us strength, and it can help to dissolve the blocks that separate us from Him. When we say His name, He is with us, even when we feel all alone with our burdens.

Through repeating His name----we begin to lose our identification with our isolated, burdened self and become identified with our Beloved who has been hidden within our own heart. 

Gradually the veils that have kept Him hidden fall away and the lover comes to know His presence in her heart. 

And as He removes the inner veils, so also does he lift the outer veils. Then the lover finds Him not only within the inner dimensions of her heart but also in the outer world; she comes to experience that “whithersoever ye turn, there is the Face of God.”

Then He whom we love and whose name we repeat becomes our constant companion. And the lover also becomes the companion of God, for the “eyes which regard God, are also the eyes through which He regards the world.

The Beloved is our true friend, and this is the deepest friendship; it demands our total participation. Practising the dhikr, repeating His name, we are with Him in every breath.

This is the traditional Sufi work of “polishing the mirror of the heart,” through which we come to glimpse our true nature. When this inner mirror is covered with what in the West we would call projections and ego-conditioning, we see everything in a distorted way; we see the confused reflections of our own light and darkness. 

But as we polish the mirror, the distortions are removed and we begin to see with a new clarity and simplicity. 

From the seeming chaos of multiplicity, we become aware of an underlying unity. The divine is born into consciousness and its quality of wholeness begins to permeate our inner and outer life. Looking within, we see beyond the ego, or nafs, to what is more essential and more enduring: Although you were completely changed you see yourselves as you were before.

The state of Zikar  is a complete abstraction of the senses in which the mind is stilled by the energy of love within the heart, and the individual mind is absorbed into the universal mind. The actual experience of dhyana rarely happens during the first practice of meditation.

It may take months, even a few years, to reach this stage.

And once we do begin to experience dhyana we may not realize it. 

The initial experiences of Zikar  usually last for just a split second—for an instant, the mind dips into the infinite and just for a moment we are not present. There may be little or no consciousness that this has happened; the mind may not even be aware that it was absent. 

But gradually, the mind disappears for longer and longer periods; we become aware that our mind has shut down. The experience can for some time seem like sleep since sleep is the nearest equivalent we have ever known to this mindless state.

The experience of Zikar deepens as the lover is immersed deeper and deeper into a reality beyond the mind. More and more one tastes the peace, stillness, and profound sense of wellbeing of a far vaster reality where the problems that surround us so much of the time do not exist—a reality beyond the difficulties of duality and the limitations of the world of the mind and senses, into which, for a little while each day, meditation allows us to merge.

It is the first stage after transcending the thinking faculty of the mind, and from the point of view of the intellect, it must be considered as an unconscious state. 

It is the first step beyond consciousness as we know it.”, the heart is activated and the energy of love slows down the mind. The mind loses its power of control and individual consciousness is lost, at first for an instant and then gradually for longer periods of time. The lover becomes absorbed, drowned in the ocean of love.

Also, our experience of it changes: no two meditations are the same and our experience becomes deeper and richer, more and more complete. On this plane of unity everything has its own place and fulfils its real purpose.

Here the true nature of everything that is created is present as an expression of divine oneness and divine glory. In the outer world, we experience only a fragmented sense of our self and our life. Here everything is complete and we come to know that everything is just as it should be.