Saturday, August 22, 2020

Imam Hussain in Sufism

I grew up in a household infused with Shi'ism.I still remember the first Persian poem I heard  my Grandfather reciting during Muharram, it was Qaani's elegy:

What is raining?

The eyes.
Day and night.
From grief.
Grief for whom?
Grief for the king of Kar

For Sufi's Imam Hussein is the symbol of a process of spiritual development of man and the long periods of suffering which are required for the growth of everything that aspires to perfection.

As Anne Marie Schimmel writes  “Husayn b. 'Ali,  is a model for the Sufi; he is the suffering lover,  enamoured by God, sacrificing himself on the Path of divine love as an  ideal lovers of God whom the pious should strive to emulate.

The keynote of Sufism is the union, the identification of God and man.The highest good to which the Sufis can attain is the annihilation of the physical to keep the soul pure--to forget that they have a separate existence, and to lose themselves in the Divinity as a drop of water is lost in the ocean.In order to obtain this end, Imam Hussein achieved baqa by his martyrdom in the name of Allah. The use of ‘Karbala’ as a metaphor expands the horizons so much that it becomes almost impossible to limit the connotations.

In all the Sufi lands from Persian to Turkey to Subcontinent---Sufi interprets the fate of the Imam Husayn as a model of suffering love for Allah, and thus as a model of the mystical path.He is the symbol of ego annihilation for all those who want to pursue the path of Divine love

This is echoed in the Divan of 'Attar (nr. 376) in which he calls the novice on the path to proceed and go towards the goal, addressing him:

Be either a Husayn or a Mansur.

In one of the central poems of his Divan, Sufi poet Sanai describes his Hero Husain, as the foundation for the development of man and the long periods of suffering that are required by those aspiring spiritual perfection.

In some of the earliest popular Turkish Sufi songs, composed by poets like Yunus Emre in the late 13th or early 14th century, the Prophet's grandsons have found a pivotal and special place. They are described by Yunus in a lovely poem as the 'fountain head of the martyrs', the 'tears of the saints', and the 'lambs of mother Fatima'. Both of them, as the 'kings of the eight paradises', are seen as the helpers who stand at ‘Kausar’ and distribute water to the thirsting people, a beautiful inversion of Husain suffering in the waterless desert of Karbala'.) Yunus has also covered in his poetry the popular legend of Prophet witnessing angel Gabriel bringing a red and a green garment for his grandsons and then informing him that the color of garments pointed to their future deaths through the sword and poison.

Husayn b. ‘Ali is ‘the secret of God’, the ‘light of the eyes of Mustafa’ (thus Seher Abdal, 16th cent.), and his contemporary, Hayreti, calls him, in a beautiful marthiya, ‘the sacrifice of the festival of the greater jihad’. 

Has not his neck, which the Prophet used to kiss, become the place where the dagger fell?

The inhabitants of heaven and earth shed black tears today.
And have become confused like your hair, O Husayn.

Dawn sheds its blood out of sadness for Husayn, and the red tulips wallow in blood and carry the brandmarks of his grief on their hearts … (Ergun, Bektasi sairleri, p. 95).

In subcontinent poetry, From the broken threads of  Karbala's catastrophe, poets and writers have weaved narratives of hope and optimism, reaching out to people throughout the ages.One of the most recited and famous persian poetry in the Honour of Hz.Imam Hussain was written by the great Sufi master Hz.Khawaja Moinuddin Chishty (ra) :
Shah ast Hussain, badshah ast Hussain
Deen ast Hussain, deen panaah ast Hussain
Sar daad, na daad dast dar dast-e-yazeed
Haqu-e-binney la ilaahaa ast Hussain
King is Hussain ,King of Kings is Hussain
Faith is Hussian ,Protector of Faith is Hussain
He gave his Head ,but not his Hand in the hand of Yazid Verily ,truth is nothing but Hussain:

The truth, according to this thirteenth-century Sufi (Chisti), is that the very core of Islam, its essential creed of tawhid, or Divine Unity, ‘la ilaha illa lah Muhammadan rasul Allah,’ or ‘there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger,’ is Hussain. 

In the words of the great Indian Sufi of Iranian origin, Khwajah Mu'in-al-Din Chishti: 

He gave his life but wouldn't give his hand in the hand of Yazid (for allegiance, bay'ah) Verily Husayn is the foundation of la ilaha illallah

Since Hussain refused to pay allegiance to Yazid, in spite of having to make innumerable sacrifices, he is projected as an embodiment of Islam’s creed that refuses to acknowledge any power other than that of God; he is the symbol of Tawheed for a Sufi.

Rumi is addressing the Muslims world enamored with Greed and materialism ---laments that man has sunk to such a lowly state that he thinks only of his selfish purposes and wishes and does everything to fondle the material aspects of his life, while his religion, the spiritual side of his life, is left without nourishment, withering away, just like Husayn and the martyrs of Karbala' were killed after nobody had cared to give them water in the desert.It echoes the indifference of that age and the choice Yazidi army made when they decided to extinguish the flame of the Prophet’s family---and the materialism and greed which still reigns the Islamic world.

Another Persian poet Hayreti, calls him, in a beautiful marthiya, 'the sacrifice of the festival of the greater jihad'. And asks Has not his neck, which the Prophet used to kiss, become the place where the dagger fell?

The inhabitants of heaven and earth shed black tears today.
And have become confused like your hair, O Husayn.

GhalibGod has kept the ecstatic lovers like Husayn and Mansur in the place of gallows and rope, and cast the fighters for the faith, like Husayn and 'Ali, in the place of swords and spears: in being martyrs they find eternal life and happiness and become witnesses to God's mysterious power.

Muhammad Muhsin, who lived in the old, glorious capital of lower Sind, Thatta, with whose name the Persian marthiya in Sind is connected. During his short life (1709-1750), he composed a great number of tarji'band and particularly salam, in which beautiful, strong imagery can be perceived:

The boat of Mustafa's family has been drowned in blood;
The black cloud of infidelity has waylaid the sun;
The candle of the Prophet was extinguished by the breeze of the Kufans.

In a beautiful manqabat (Sufi devotional poem) written by Pakistani poet Hafeez Jalandhari and sung by the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Imam Hussain’s defiance is expressed in vivid detail:

Libaas hai phata hua, ghubaar mein ata hua
Tamaam jism-e-nazneen, chida hua, kata hua
Yeh kon ziwiqaar hai, bala ka shahsawaar hai
Ke hai hazaar qaatilon ke samne data hua
Yeh bilyaqeen Hussain hai
Nabi ka noor-e-ain hai
(Translated from Urdu)
His dress is torn, with mud it is worn
His splendid, delicate body is cut, slashed, and torn
Who is this dignified, master horseman?
Who is standing his ground in front of an army of thousands?
Indeed it is Hussain, it is Hussain
The Light of the Prophet’s eyes, it is Hussain

But in the modern poets, no one understood Hussain’s sacrifice better than IQBAL. 
It is from Husayn, says Iqbal, that we have learned the mysteries of the Qur'an, and when the glory of Syria and Baghdad and the marvels of Granada may be forgotten, yet, the strings of the instrument of the Muslims still resound with Husayn's melody, and faith remains fresh thanks to his call to prayer.IN Rumuz-i bekhudi  Iqbal praised  Husayn as the imam of the lovers, the son of the virgin, the cypresso of freedom in the Prophet's garden. While his father, Hazrat 'Ali, was, in mystical interpretation, the b of the bismi'llah, the son became identified with the 'mighty slaughtering', a beautiful mixture of the mystical and Qur'anic interpretations.

As he passionately articulates in Persian:
Ramz-e-Qur’an az Hussain amukhtim
za-atish-e-ou shola ha andukhtim
I learned the lesson of the Qur’an from Hussain
In his fire, like a flame, I burn

Husayn  embodies all the ideas which a true Sufi should possess, as Iqbal draws his picture: bravery and manliness, and, more than anything else, the dedication to the acknowledgment of God's absolute Unity; not in the sense of becoming united with Him in fana as the Sufi poets had sung, but, rather, as the herald who by his shahada, by his martyrdom, is not only a shahid, a martyr, but at the same time a witness, a shahid, for the unity of God, and thus the model for all generations of Muslims.

For Iqbal, the position of Husayn in the Muslim community is as central as the position of the surat al-ikhlas in the Holy Book.It is true, as Iqbal states, that the strings of the Muslims' instruments still resound with his name, and I am going to end this blog with the  last verse of the chapter devoted to Hussain in the Rumuz-i bekhudi:
O zephir, O messenger of those who are far away
Bring our tears to his pure dust.
Ronay wala hoon Shaheed-e-Kerbala key gham men main,
Kya durey maqsad na dengey Saqiye Kausar mujhey
I am one who weeps at the plight of the Martyr of Kerbala
Won’t the reward be given to me by the Keeper of Kauser

But to tru;y understand why he went to Karbala and fought with an army of thousends after burying his sons, nephews & companions, you need to read the Prince of Martyres words yourself.

Some people worship God to gain His gifts; this is the worship of the merchants.  Some worship Him to avoid His punishment; this is the worship of the slaves.  Some worship Him solely to show gratitude towards Him; this is the worship of the free!

He gave a speech to people the day before his departure and said:

"... Death is a certainty for mankind, just like the trace of necklace on the neck of young girls. And I am enamored of my ancestors like eagerness of Jacob to Joseph"

Quran welcomes souls like him into heaven and says:

O The satisfied peaceful Soul return to your Lord pleased with His Goodwill. So enter among My (beloved) servants and  My paradise.
 (Surahe Fajr: 27, 28, 29)

Kings like Yazid had arraows rained on his funeral in Medina &  Abbasid  Caliph AlMutawakil disgraced Imam Hussain's Tomb; changed course of Euphrates in hope of his grave drowns and is never  found again but Hussain Ibn Ali lived in the hearts of poets & Sufi's ----and any heart which recognises the truth  be it that of a Christian and Hindu. Malcom X used to read Imam Hussain's biography in his last days and so did Khalil Jibran and Gandhi.

Pure Hearts recognise his courage to die for his beliefs. He never compormised on his integrity. He never bowed down to a tyrant aspiring to be a byzantine king. He is a north star for every revolutionary working for a just system; every woman fighting her abuser & every Sufi refusing to let materialism dictate his life choices. 

Aspire to walk in his path! 

Imam Musa Kazim came in dream of  Sufi and advised that: " When there is noone and the world has abandoned you & you must fight evil and your Yazid alone;  remember the Prince of Martyres and he shall  bless you with courage in your trial.

So many of you might be fighting your personal Yazids this Muharram because Yazid is a philopshy of opportunism; of power hungry megalomaniacs  preying upon the innocents & enjoying their pain---ask for courage from Imam & you shall recieve it! 

Never forget his sacrifice; his courage & his unwavering Allah Tawakul! 

Labiak Ya Hussain! 

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