Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen.Not any religion or cultural system. I am not from the east or the west,My place is the place-less, a trace of the trace-less.Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved,have seen the two worlds as one.
Monday, July 27, 2020
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?