Monday, August 21, 2017

Sufi Interpretations of Quran

Prophet Muhammad himself was the “speaking Qur’an” and the ultimate authority over the meaning and practical application of whatever he recited as qur’an (recitation) was always in his hands.

 When the Prophet lived, the Qur’an was not a “read text”; it was a prophetic “recitation” only directly accessible through him. This is why the Qur’an itself (verses 2:151, also 62:2, 3:164), when seen as a witness to history, declares that Prophet Muhammad “recites to you Our Signs, purifies you (yuzakkikum),  teaches you (yu‘allimukum) the Book (al-kitab) and Wisdom (al-hikmah), and teaches you that which you do not know

One area of disagreement for Muslim interpreters and exegetes of the Qur’an is whether the Qur’an has an esoteric, hidden or spiritual meaning that goes beyond the literal and surface meaning of the Arabic words. In pre-modern times, most Qur’anic exegetes from the Mu‘tazilis, Ash‘aris, Twelver Shi‘as, Sufis, Philosophers and Isma‘ili Shi‘as maintained that the Qur’an does indeed have hidden (batini) spiritual meanings and esoteric interpretations (ta’wil). 

Only the literalists and the Hanbalis disagreed with this. Today, however, many interpretations of the Qur’an, including those of the fundamentalists, literalists and even mainstream translations are impoverished because they remain at the literal and surface meaning of the Qur’an. 

Such a state of affairs was predicted by the Prophet Muhammad himself when he said:
There will come a time for my people when there will remain nothing of the Qur’an except its outward form and nothing of Islam except its name and they will call themselves by this name even though they are the people furthest from it. Their mosques will be full of people but they will be empty of right guidance.

.The Qur’an confirms that it has an esoteric and spiritual interpretation called “ta’wil”:
It is He who has sent down to you [O’ Muhammad] the Book; in it are clear (muhkamat) verses – they are the mother of the Book. And others are ambiguous (mutashabihat). As for those in whose hearts is deviation, they follow what is ambiguous from it, seeking discord and seeking its ta’wil (esoteric interpretation). But no one knows its ta’wil except God and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge (rasikhun fi’l-‘ilm), saying (yaquluna): ‘We believe in it. All is from our Lord.’ And no one will be reminded except the possessors of inner understanding (ulu’l-albab).
– Holy Qur’an 3:7

Certainly did God confer a great favour upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting His Signs, and purifying them, and teaching them the Book and the Wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error.
– Holy Qur’an 3:164 (see also 62:2, 2:129, 2:151)

And We have sent down unto you (also) the Reminder; that you may explain clearly (li-tubayyina) to mankind what was sent down for them, and that they reflect.
– Holy Qur’an 16:44 (see also 16:64, 14:4)

The believers are told to refer any questions and disagreements to God and His Messenger in order to obtain the ta’wil:

And if you disagree over anything, then refer it to God and the Messenger if you should believe in God and the Last Day. That is best and most beautiful for ta’wil. 
– Holy Qur’an 4:59

On the Day of Judgment, the ta’wil of all of God’s messages revealed through the Prophets will be shown to the people, including disbelievers, and they will all recognize this ta’wil and realize the inner truth of God’s revelations:

Do they await anything except for its ta’wil? The Day its ta’wil comes those who had ignored it before will say: “The Messengers of our Lord had come with the truth (bi’l-haqq), so are there now any intercessors to intercede for us or could we be sent back to do other than what we used to do?” They will have lost themselves, and lost from them is what they used to invent.
– Holy Qur’an 7:53

Hazrat Khidr performed a number of ambiguous actions before Prophet Moses – actions which have ta’wil (esoteric meaning) which Khidr explained to Moses before they parted:
[Al-Khidr] said, “This is parting between me and you. I will inform you of the ta’wil of that about which you could not have patience… And I did it not of my own accord. That is the ta’wil of that about which you could not have patience.
– Holy Qur’an 18:78-82

All of the above verses testify that the ta’wil of the Qur’an exists and Prophets and servants of God in the past were aware of the ta’wil – including the Prophet Yusuf, Hazrat Khidr, and Prophet Muhammad – and that in the present time, a special group called rasikhun fi’l-‘ilm are the possessors of the ta’wil of the Qur’an.

The Qur’an contains verses with words and expressions such that a deeper esoteric meaning (ta’wil) is required for the message in the verse to be true.

According to the Qur’an, God is both the outward (al-zahir) and the inward (al-batin) and His favours are given in both zahir and batin; thus, the Qur’an, as God’s revelation and His supreme favour, likewise has a batin (hidden) meaning revealed through esoteric interpretation (ta’wil).
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

There are also valuable works of ta’wil in the Sufi traditions of Islam. The various Sufi mystics and saints (awliya’) have produced works that disclose the ta’wil of the Qur’an in Sufi metaphysical frameworks and poetry. The Sufis have been responsible for transmitting some of the esoteric teachings that go back to the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq.

 In Sufi terminology, the esoteric interpretation of the Qur’an [what Ismailis call ta’wil] is often called ta’bir (literally: “to cross over”), isharat (allusions) and rumuz (secrets). Some examples of Sufi esoteric interpretation of the Qur’an are found in the 

  • Tafsir of Sahl al-Tustari
  •  Lata’if al-Isharat of Abu’l-Qasim al-Qushayri
  •  the Meccan Openings (Futuhat al-Makkiyyah) 
  • Bezels of Wisdom (Fusus al-Hikam) of Ibn al-‘Arabi
  • the Mathnavi of Jalal al-Din Rumi
  •  Divan of Hafiz al-Shirazi. 

One branch of Sufi's interested in deciphering Quranic secrets was Harufi; students of kabbalah and Greek philosophy used numbers to divine the meaning of every Quranic surat. They believed Allah had revealed the Maktoob in numbers through Quran. Many eminent Islamic philosophers and mathematicians like Omar Khayyam and AlBeiruni were adherents.

Why, it was asked, were letters of the alphabet written beneath the headings of some surahs (scriptures), in a half-opened manner, like senseless scribbles. 

Eminent Islamic scholars who were engaged with “hurufi”, such as Mansur Al Hallaj (858-922), Ibn Al Nadim, Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) were always at the forefront to provide an exegesis of “Holy Texts”.  Hallaj Mansur was the first Islamic lettrist to discuss the secret content of letters and numbers in his tract “Kitab al-Tavasin” and his divan.

The 'science of letters'had nothing to do with divination or magic; it is merely a path to the discovery of the truths hidden behind the symbols. 

Muhyiddin Ibn-i Arabi demonstrated (point by point), vast numbers of lettrist abstractions in his seminal text “El Fütuhat El Mekkiye” (The Meccan Illuminations)

In his work Kitab khawass al-huruf (Book of the Characteristics of Letters), Ibn Masarra appears as an esoteric (batini) philosopher investigating the esoteric meanings of the nuraniya, the fourteen separate letters which introduce certain surahs of the Qur'an, basically following the tradition of Islamic gnosis. The mysterious letters, according to the Batini school, represented the universe so that its entirety is a book whose letters are God's words. n this he was inspired by the work of Sahl al-Tustari (d. ah 283/ad 896), the author of a similar work on the science of letters.

According to these sufi’s----Reflection (i'tibar) allows us to decipher the principles of all beings. The basic idea is to show that the different degrees that constitute beings, in general, correspond to the surah's fawatih (opening letters) as well as to the order of being. The letters are twenty-eight in number, equal to the length of the lunar phases. 

Fourteen are exoteric and the remaining fourteen are esoteric. These are used by God to manifest his knowledge: their secret meanings have been bestowed upon the Prophet Muhammad as expressed in the Qur'an, and consequently, the Qur'an is the source of all knowledge, old and new. The steps leading to paradise and salvation are equal in number to the Qur'anic verses and to the number of God's beautiful names, excepting the great name of Allah.

If for example, the names of the five letters constituting the name “Allāh” in Arabic script are written out in full, the total is fourteen, as is the case with the five letters that make up the name “Moḥammad;” the two names together thus have a numerical value of twenty-eight. Since these two names are pivotal to the creed (šahāda), it will be appropriate to add to them the four letters constituting ašhadu (“I bear witness”), leading to a grand total of thirty-two. 

This knowledge then started being used to write powerful verses to curse people and divining the future ( violating a clear law in Quran against the use of its verses for the purposes of magick) In these hexes, the curse is matched to the numerological properties of the subject; this was a very destructive use of sacred knowledge and the IlmUlHaruf started disappearing from mainstream discourse because of its misuse. 

However, the numerological tafsir of Quran can be found in many Sufi Tafsir and demands re-engagement; it opens up the brain to think in ways about the universe that a literal tafsir does not; any true seeker would find these readings invigorating. 

Quran contains great mysteries of the message of peace and mercy within it and yet----there are those who use its words to justify the murder of innocents and enslavement of women in sexual slavery ( ISIS).

Sufi's have always believed that the filter which lets us see the true meaning of Quran lies within us, therefore, the emphasis to purify the ego of greed and envy. 

Ultimately, it's the self which views the words and then subverts those words to fit its needs. Sufi Tafsirs can only counter the subversion of Quranic verses for political gains to create death cults of child soldiers and child brides.

May Allah grant us the clarity to read Quran and absorb its true meaning without succumbing to the whispers of the Ego!

Friday, August 18, 2017

In the name of Greed!

People do strange things in pursuit of money sometimes killing daughters on papers who are otherwise alive.

When I visited Pakistan recently, I discovered that my Father had illegally transferred my property in my step mother's name.

Property transfers according to Islamic inheritance law require that a man’s children, especially daughters, be informed of this transfer and their consent sought — -but in this case, my father showed me dead in the records. 

This wouldn’t be the first of my father’s crimes against me: in his life, he disowned me: I never received anything from him from my birth till his death n 2014 when I was 30( my grandparents raised and educated me) so it was logical that he would also disinherit me in death; it would complete the circle of his evil: he can take a bow in heaven now in front of God for killing his daughter in papers while she was alive.

I was a child conceived out of hatred: my biological father Nisar Ahmed had chosen my mother as his meal ticket because my maternal grandfather was a prosperous civil engineer so this leech from a village in Sargodha deduced that by seducing a rich man's daughter---he would climb the social ladder.

He demanded a humongous dowry and made constant demands of money after I was born a girl ( a huge shame) he forced my mother to have a late-term abortion so that she doesn't deliver another bundle of shame — -and then abandoned her on a Catholic hospital bleeding to death as a result of a botched abortion because he had realized that now that her family had abandoned her, she wouldn't be a cash cow anymore.

Why my mother chose to marry a man who would eventually kill her and disinherit her daughter is a mystery that I have never resolved.

Today ( 30 years later) I wish that she had walked away from that marriage because then she would have been alive rather than dead at 24 in a maternity ward with no one by her side.But love clouds our judgment: And he seduced her when she was so young that she never learned the difference between love and control; she paid with death for her mistake!

Why my biological father envied my maternal grandfather so much that he killed his daughter, is a mystery I have never unraveled; though it was instinctive for my father to hate people above him socially because he was an envious psychopath; he had the perfect personality to be a dacoit instead he became a seducer of women; a male gold digger!

I only met him a few times in my 20’s after I came from States — - and every time I saw an abyss in his eyes, he was jealous of my looks and my intellect & my education & my independence of him; He looked at me and knew he couldn't control me so he hated everything that I was because I had taken after my mother. It was as though I wasn’t his daughter but an enemy which he had to annihilate. 

My father was an indifferent sadistic alcoholic who inoculated that sadism to my step siblings: my step siblings — -don’t believe that preying upon your sister and taking her inheritance or never inviting her to your house --is despicable because that’s the path to survival; it’s kosher to be a greedy douche bag. 

So evil perpetuates itself generation after generation!

With my brother, my father’s flowers of evil morphed into a more virulent form; he has so ardently wished for my destruction as though it would somehow validate his self-worth which hints at the extreme hatred of me that my father must have inoculated in him.

When I confronted my stepbrother, about defrauding me of my inheritance and never informing me of my father's death: he was jubilant; triumphant as though we were locked in a feud and he had finally vanquished me.

I was told to toughen up and get over it: as if I was not a victim and him not a beneficiary of this dysfunctional family dynamics my father erected.

It was more than clear what had transpired, and where blame should be placed.

But he chose to see it another way: not as myopia, but as intentionally applied blindness filter to rationalize his family’s greed. 

It was textbook my father's behavior: puckish and irreverent, unbowed and every bit the bully; bleed the weak and drink his blood because there is no judgment and fuck karma!

My stepmother wasn’t a born sadist like my biological father, rather after my mother — -she probably suffered more from my father’s hands than anyone else. She bore his infidelities and financial insolvency.
But selfishness has a way of aborting our emotional evolution: she could never transcend the Cinderella’s stepmother archetype; lying and stealing to protect her children without ever realizing that I needed protection too instead she identified me as the enemy who must be kept out so her children could get more share of the pie.

My step-sister morphed into a shallow materialist cliche incapable of empathy or a conscience-- when I wrote about my inheritance, she sent me harassing messages, calling me a greedy or dirty woman ( because I asked for what should have been mine by Quran's decree)-- demonstrating her emotional vacuum and bad grammar!

( this from someone who had lived in my father’s house; used his money and then defrauded me of my inheritance, Oh the irony

But she is so intellectually stunted after being gaslighted by my father that altruism is beyond her limited emotional range so I didn't shed any tears. 

What mystifies me about my step siblings is that: they were victims of a temperamental father just as I was; more than anyone else they could understand the insecurity of having no center in life. 

But these shifting sands created by our father in our lives did not make them more empathetic but rather crueler; it created a greedy mindset: focused on ensuring their own survival even at the cost of throwing another under the bus even if that another was their stepsister. 

I am sure they would throw anyone else in the abyss if it benefitted them monetarily. 

When you begin to think so amorally, it’s a Faustian bargain because then: transaction by transaction ---you barter pieces of your soul to satisfy your greed and eventually your greed replaces your soul until you are transformed into a howling pig ingesting everything; haram or halal--- which is how Quran has likened people who fraudulently take inheritance of orphans and promised them hellfire on judgement day. (But hey to believe in hellfire, you must first believe in God and that wasn't part of the syllabus taught at my father's house; Darwinian survival of the fittest was!)

Rather than anger, I felt the sadness of how people create narratives in their head to justify their ego's actions rather than rising above materialism and envy.
Even when someone is a victim of their greed, they patch together a shabby narrative to justify their selfishness. 

The ego always wins by dehumanizing the other to justify its hunger; it creates a filter to distort reality.

Being cut off from any ( financial or emotional) support from my father and withstanding emotional abuse from him — was the hardest thing in my life after my mother’s death. It’s a primal wound which keeps on bleeding. It hurt more than my mother's death because while

I could still idolize her but my father’s abandonment of me created a black hole of anxiety in my life which was never filled up until I became a Sufi and depended only upon God!

When a child is denied a true home, he or she never feels safe anywhere even if they are financially comfortable, an anxiety gnaws at his insides which hollow him out


No parent with a conscious should ever abandon a child; it’s a wound which never heals. 

I can only pray that my father has found a judgment for all he did to my mother and me!

Only a complete belief in God rescued me from that pit my father and stepmother had pushed me into; I tried to take inspiration from Hazrat Zainab, battling Yazid. There are many small Yazidis in our lives; common people who commit acts of greed and justify it to themselves; people who laugh at karma or divine justice at Yazid d

I am telling you my story as a morality tale; perhaps you are my step mother, protecting your children while confiscating the right of another motherless child; perhaps you are my father, disinheriting and disowning your own daughter to placate your wife; perhaps you are my step siblings, defrauding your sibling of inheritance and spending what was her right-----if you are any of these then stop and listen to your conscious because Karma and God's wrath will come after you in a mysterious way: your children will die, mysterious diseases wouldn't leave you alone and that ill-gotten money would bring you no happiness except misery and tragedy.

Don't listen to the voice of Nafs inside you which might ask you to commit these crimes. Momentary advantages of money are not worth ruining another person's life. 
Such sins cast very long shadows not just in this world but also in the next world. 

He will avenge the injustices that I have suffered in my life and my mother's murder; I believe in His mercy and His wrath because I have seen it fall on people. 

He is the ultimate justice giver and we can only reach out to Him to avenge ourselves when we cannot avenge ourselves.

The tales of Sufi's are filled with God's vengeance rained upon those who thought He is hidden in heaven and they would get away with their sins upon others; 

Therefore we must strive to be humans and not greedy pigs! 

May Allah grant us the power to listen to our conscience over our greed!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Sufi Influence on Kabbalah

Muslims and Jews further possess mystical customs -- Islamic Sufism and Jewish Kabbalah -- that are so close to one another that the presumption of mutual influence is inescapable.

Kabbalah; A medieval spiritual path is as central to Judaism as is Sufism to the practice of Islam. Like the Sufis and the Gnostics, Kabbalists emphasize seeking God through direct personal experience rather than through blind faith.What is virtually unknown, however, is how indebted is the Kabbalah to Sufism - and how the two systems are in fact intertwined at their roots. 

Starting with Abraham Maimonides, Sufism played a seminal role in the development of Jewish spirituality, strongly influencing the direction of the Kabbalah and, later on, the growth of Hasidism.

 As improbable as it sounds, the Sufi innovations in the Jewish religion begun by Abraham Maimonides were almost assuredly the single most important thing to happen to Jewish spirituality since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

There was a group of Jews in the 15th century the Middle East, while adhering completely to the laws of Judaism, began adapting and incorporating elements from within Sufism into their religious practices.Many Sufi teachers were pleased to disseminate their teachings among disciples outside the Muslim community. And in turn, many Jews were drawn to the philosophy, which did not necessarily put them in conflict with their Jewish heritage.

The medieval Kabbalah grew out of Jewish philosophers' study of Islamic mysticism, borrowing Sufi prayer methods, joyous forms of worship and even teaching stories from earlier Sufi antecedents. The means employed by the ecstatic Sufis and ecstatic Kabbalists are often identical: absorption in the repetition of the Names of God, accompanied by music and physical exertions.

Other practices included nightly vigils and fasting, the practice of solitude, solitary retreats and incubation, and “dikr of the heart”, that is, continuous remembrance of God. These last practices were nearly all transferred to Safedian Kabbalah which would rise from the dead a few centuries later Spain. 

These practices included, ablution of the hands and feet before prayer, prostration, kneeling, spreading of the hands (which can still be observed in Sephardic synagogues today), and weeping during synagogue prayers. Hasid practices still incorporate many sufic elements into them such as crying in the streets and attracting blame to one's self to starve the ego. 

In fact, to look for the provenance of this Jewish manner of ordering the world, a historian would have to plumb the teachings of philosophers with names such as Ibn Arabi, Ibn Masarra, al Ghazali and even the Prophet Muhammad, himself!

Yet the transmission of these spiritual doctrines and practices between them is still historically mysterious.

At certain points, there is evidence for the direct influence of Sufism on Jewish spirituality. 

Elsewhere, the path between the two is challenging to discern.Of course, the intermingling of these mystical streams has long since run underground, subterranean whispers from a time of mutual respect and mystical symbiosis between Islam and Judaism. But the stories of medieval Kabbalists, well known and unknown bear the mark of their work with the Sufis.

Al-Andalus;  where Jewish Kabbalah met Sufism and both were changed forever.
One place where this synthesis too place, in the most beautiful form, and two mysticism danced together and drew on each other was Andalusia, or Al-Andalus, developed an extraordinary culture of religious tolerance in medieval Spain that produced works of enduring spiritual and artistic genius.
Kabala its many practitioners knew…came alive from the grave …in medieval Spain. 

In another of his book, "Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah," Israeli writer Idel proposes the hypothesis that Jewish-Sufic tradition existed in the East, and likely also in Palestine. Kabala came to Spain through Jewish authors ,who developed a mystical trend under Sufic inspiration and was enriched by its encounter with Sufism. This contribution, ironically, was nurtured by Muslim mysticism.

This was the time when the Zohar, the seminal kabbalistic work, was compiled by Moses de Leon. It was also the period of Ibn ‘Arabi, the Sheik Al-Akbar, the greatest of Sufi teachers, while further north in Majorca the Christian philosopher, Ramon Llull, developed a form of wisdom that drew
from the deepest esoteric teachings of all three cultures

The central text of the Kabbalah, the Zohar, contains at least one reference to Sufi practice. It tells, with some measure of admiration, about the people of the east, the inhabitants of the mountains of light, who worship the pre-dawn light that shines before the appearance of the sun. They refer to this light as Allah of the shining pearls.

This expression is taken from the mystical terminology of the Sufis especially Sehrwardi, where the white pearl [al-durra-l-baida] refers to the highest emanation of divine intelligence through which power is channeled into our world: In the beginning, God created from his own precious soul a white pearl. Although the Zohar accuses those Easterners of directing their adoration to the light and not to the God who created it, it also acknowledges that it is based on an ancient tradition of authentic wisdom.

The earliest formulations of kabbalist ideology were Spanish Jewish mystics, often deeply impressed by Sufism and Sufi thought. 

1)  The first of these Jewish sufi Rabbi Bahya Ibn Paqudah in his Arabic treatise The Duties of the Heart:Bahya explicitly credited the tale to a Sufi source. Indeed, Bahya's central messages--that people waste too much time on the trivial details of daily life (which, for him, included a narrow focus on religious laws and rituals), and not enough on spiritual transformation --was very much in the Sufi spirit. ( for even a Muslim Sufi, it's a beautiful book to read)

2) Rabbi Isaac of Acre, active around the turn of the 13th century, provided a bridge between the eccentric, Sufi-inspired visions of earlier Jewish/Sufis and mainstream Kabbalistic thought. In his magnum opus  Sha'arei Zedek ,we find ideas borrowed from the Sufi concept of fana, or annihilation of the personal ego in that of God during divine union, expressing this mystical concept as a "moment of inversion, in which one's inner essence is seen as projected outside." Here,  he shows  his respect for his Muslim brethren by redacting almost verbatim a passage from Sufi philosopher Ibn Arabi

3)The Israeli scholar Moshe Idel, in his 1988 volume "The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia," analyzed the biography of a Kabbalist born in Zaragoza in 1240, after it had been retaken by the Christians. Abulafia's methods for attaining ecstatic union with the divine had parallels in Sufism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and yoga. These included reciting the names of God in combination with "a complex technique involving such components as breathing, singing, and movements of the head, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the traditional commandments of Judaism," in Idel's words.Yet these procedures are widely known in Sufism. Abulafia's ecstatic Kabbalah -- a requirement for pronunciation of the divine names while breathing out, rather than taking in air -- and finds a parallel between this and Chishti Sufi discipline which is inspired by Hatha yoga. 

4) one of the most prominent Jewish mystics and theologian of the Judaism; Abraham Maimonides(1186-1237), who was arguably the most eminent exponent of the medieval Jewish-Sufi synthesis. Rabbi Abraham Maimonides' treatise Kifayat ul-'Abidin [the compendium for those who serve God] advocated an ideal of sublime piety based on a discipline of mystical communion.
According to Abraham, the Sufis were the bearers of a tradition which they copied from the early sages of Israel – this was through the legends of the Rabbis which circulated the Islamic world under the name of Isra’iliyyat. Thus, Abraham was in fact retrieving an ancient Jewish practice which was safeguarded by the Sufis of Islam.

You can read the detailed biographies of these Jewish sufi's at ; and 

The links between Islamic Sufism and Jewish Kabbalah deserve to be studied and celebrated, and efforts should be made to resolve the enigmatic history of their parallel and common pathways toward achieving the transformation of the ego.

Sir Richard Burton: a NeoSufi

A friend recently told me that he idealizes Richard Burton which piqued my curiosity and I discovered spiritual emigre who traveled to far-off lands in his quest for Gnosis. 

He was a seeker of the Truth.

Sir Richard Burton, a contemporary of Madame Blavatsky, was a British explorer and spy master who fell in love with Islam and with Moorish culture. He memorized huge portions of the Quran and was so expert in abstruse points of Islamic theology that he could pass as a Muslim scholar.

Remembered today for his incredible exploits and magnificent translations of the Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra, Burton was also the first European to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca as a convert to Islam.

His fellow British officers called him the “White Nigger” and “that Devil Burton,” because of what they considered his ‘odd beliefs’ and ‘strange practices’.

The spiritual quest was central to Richard Burton’s life. His biographer Edward Rice tells us:

Burton’s adult life was passed in a ceaseless quest for the kind of secret knowledge he labeled broadly as “Gnosis,” by which he hoped to uncover the very source of existence and the meaning of his role on earth. 

This search led him to investigate the Kabbalah, alchemy, Roman Catholicism, a Hindu snake caste of the most archaic type, and the erotic Way called Tantra, after which he looked into Sikhism and passed through several forms of Islam before settling on Sufism, a mystical discipline that defies simple labels.

 He remained a more or less faithful practitioner of Sufi teachings the rest of his life, seeking the mystical heights denied all but the elect, what certain Muslims define as Insan-i Kamil, the Perfect Man, who has attained the most profound spiritual goals.

For Burton, Sufism was the most pure form of Gnosis, the secret knowledge passed down from the ancients, the Zoroastrians, the Hindu yogis, the Platonists, and the Essenes, the followers of the Secret Path having continued “up to the present time, under diverse mystical appellations, with tenets modified by the ages in which they live. They formed from the ‘archetypes’ of existence, a regular system of spiritual creation anterior to the material.”

Early in his military career, Richard Burton learned to keep certain opinions and interests to himself and became a master of the Shia Muslim practice known as taqiya – dissimulation or concealment – in which one’s private religious practices are kept hidden.

This practice can be traced back to the Prophet Muhammad and even further to the Gnostic communities of the early centuries of the Christian era. 

Many of Burton’s biographers ignore or play down his spiritual pursuits, principally the several years he spent among the Ismailis and his initiation into the Qadiri order, a Sufi brotherhood.

Burton was the first European to publish accurate material about Sufism based on an insider’s training and direct experience, gained under the guidance of Sufi Masters in India and the Middle East. 

Burton wrote:

The merit of Tasawwuf [Sufism], is its beau ideal of goodness as connected with beauty, and universal charity and love as flowing from the source of all goodness…. The Koranic ideal of the human soul or spirit, for instance, is similar to [the Christian]; but the Sufi, deducing the doctrine of the soul’s immortality from its immateriality… and convinced by reason that nothing can be at once self-existent, immaterial, and unbounded by time except the Deity, concludes that the spirit of man is nothing but the breath, the particle of the Divine soul lent to mankind, the noblest of God’s works.

In the last two decades of his life, Burton found other esoteric subjects to investigate: Theosophy, Spiritualism, Hermeticism, and Extrasensory Perception (Burton was the first to use the term “ESP”).

Despite his private studies, Islam (what he called “the Saving Faith”) dominated his writings. 

In his essay “El Islam” Burton explained why he embraced Islam and Sufism:

The world is the Muslim’s prison, the tomb his stronghold and Paradise his journey’s end.”… To the Muslim, time is but a point in illimitable eternity, life is but a step from the womb to the tomb…. He has no great secret to learn. The Valley of Death has no shadow for him; no darkness of uncertainty and doubt horrifies his fancy…. As in Christianity as in El Islam, eye hath not seen, nor hath ear heard, nor hath fancy conceived the spiritual joys of those who in mundane life have qualified themselves for heavenly futurity."

As for the Sufi Path, Burton says:

The whole practice of the Sufi consists of seeking the Divinity, not as the “popular prudential and mercenary devotee,” but from fervency of love to God and man. He “proclaims the invisible truth above visible comfort”; his entire resignation can face the horrors of eternal death inflicted by divine Will; “he has something higher even than everlasting gain.”

Burton’s spiritual quest often bewildered his family, friends, critics, and admirers who only saw him as an adventurer.

Indeed, his religious pursuits can only be understood in the light of his life-long commitment to Gnosis.

He wanted Gnosis, the secret knowledge that unlocked the mysteries of the universe, and if it came in his teenage investigations of the Kabbalah or a Bombay cage or a Catholic chapel in primitive Baroda or the Arabian desert, it did not matter.

He was a true seeker! 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Everything belongs to Allah!

In simple words garnering a firm belief that everything belongs to the God is true detachment in the real sense. The story related to Shams Tabrez, the spiritual Master of Maulana Rumi is related. Once Mahatma Shams Tabrez was passing through a place where a young boy had died and his mother was crying inconsolably. Some people who knew Mahatma Shams Tabrez spotted him and requested him to give life to the dead body. Seeing the pathetic condition of the mother, Shams Tabrez ’s heart got filled with compassion. He asked the dead body “Kum-be-Ijnillah” (get up by the order of the Almighty), but the dead body did not respond.

Shams Tabrez then kicked the dead body ordering him “Kum-be-Ijni” i.e. if you do not get up by the order of the Almighty, get up by my order.

 The dead body immediately got up. 

This matter reached the ears of the Emperor of Multan who held Shams Tabrez to be a Kafir and ordered his skin to be peeled off. The Emperor’s servants were afraid of  Shams Tabrez and could not dare touch him. Seeing their condition Shams Tabrez himself caught hold of his skin by the hair on the head and ordered his skin to leave his body. The skin of his body from toe to head came into his hand which he handed over to them and went away.

On hearing this incidence another Fakir came to Multan and asked a goldsmith to make a ring for the finger of the Almighty. On being asked by the goldsmith he showed his own finger for the measurement. 

The goldsmith was stunned. He told the Fakir that a few days ago another ‘God’ has lost his skin and now it is you who want to lose life by showing your finger as the finger of the God. The Fakir, however, started shouting more loudly as he had deliberately entered into this discussion. Listening to this dialogue many people gathered there and the Emperor also was informed of this new incidence. 

The Emperor called the Fakir and told him “look, I am prepared to give to you whatever you want, but do not utter these words like a Kafir.” The Fakir told the Emperor that before asking for anything he wanted some of his questions to be answered by the Emperor. The Emperor agreed to answer him. The Fakir asked the Emperor, what are those things which the Emperor was authorised to give him.

Emperor: All the land, treasure, animals, servants, army, the palace etc. everything is mine, which I can give to you.

Fakir: Who owned all these things before you were born.

Emperor: These were owned by my father and prior to him by my grandfather and so on.

Fakir: When these were with your father, he would also be claiming them to be his and similarly your grandfather must also be claiming them to his.

Emperor: Yes. They must be claiming so and after me my son or who-so-over will be the Emperor will claim them to be belonging to him.

Fakir: Then think over and tell me from where have these things originated and where shall these end.

Emperor: What is there to think about? All the things, the entire world has originated from the Almighty and these shall end also in the Almighty. I am fully convinced of it and this is also, the truth.

Fakir: Ok, then be alert and be firm on your words. If what you have said is true, then whose skin was it which was peeled off and whose finger is this for which I was asking the goldsmith to make a ring?

The Emperor was speechless. He bowed his head down and started thinking. If he admitted that the skin belonged to the Almighty, he will be charged of the offence of getting the skin belonging to the Almighty peeled off. Besides, the claim of the Fakir to make a ring for the finger of the Almighty also was right as everything belonged to the Almighty. The Emperor fell at the feet of the Fakir begging him to be pardoned. 

He requested the Fakir to explain him the difference between a devotee and a Kafir. The Fakir explained that a Kafir claims everything to be his own or belonging to others, forgetting the Almighty; whereas a devotee takes everything to be belonging to the Almighty and acts accordingly. The Emperor had understood his mistake

On the path of the Beloved

The story of Sheikh Sanan in the book Mantiqu’t Tayr (Conference of Birds) written by the great Sufi Master Fariduddin Attar, of whom Maulana Rumi said; ‘Attar traversed the seven worlds of Love while we are standing only at the corner of one street’, reflects the idea of the supremacy of love in a very touching manner.

Sheikh Sanan had devoted his life to serving God and His creation. He had four hundred faithful disciples living with him. One night, Sanan had a dream in which he saw himself bowing to an idol in the city of Rum. He ignored the dream initially but when it recurred, he decided to visit Rum. His disciples also insisted on accompanying him. All of them left for Rum and after some days they arrived at the outskirts of Rum, near a temple. At the temple Sheikh Sanan heard a heart-touching female voice singing a sad love song. On following the voice, Sheikh Sanan saw a young beautiful Christian girl singing that sad song. Her charming beauty overpowered Sheikh Sanan’s heart. 

In a moment his heart slipped away from his hands. He was dumbfounded and felt as if he had no existence of his own left any more. He could stand on his feet no longer. He sat down with tremors rocking his body. The fire of love made him forget all about himself. 

The fire of love incapacitated Sheikh Sanan so much that he forgot that he was a Sheikh of so many disciples, who were witnessing his strange condition. Nothing was important to him anymore except seeing the face of that young girl again. The young girl had left the temple without noticing the Sheikh but Sheikh Sanan decided to stay there through the night in the hope of seeing her again the next morning. His disciples tried to persuade him to go to the city with them but it was of no avail. The pain of love was growing stronger and stronger in Sanan’s heart. He was crying in this agony. His disciples were confused, unable to understand how their Sheikh could behave like that. 

Sheikh Sanan was possessed by the love for the Christian girl. Nothing existed for him except his beloved. The next day came and then the night, the Sheikh could not have a glimpse of the girl again. He became exceedingly restless. His disciples tried to take him out of this obsession. They asked him to perform ablution for clearing his soul, offer prayers (Namaz), and to repent for his sin. 

The Sheikh answered that they knew nothing of his condition and that he had done his ablution with the blood of his heart for his beloved.  He was repentant not of his love but of his Sheikhood.  He regretted that he did not fall in love earlier and said that his prayer now was only for her.

Not understanding what their Sheikh had said the disciples requested him to forget everything that had happened and to go back with them to Mecca and its Kaaba.  Sanan replied that his Mecca now was that temple where he found his love and its Kaaba was his beloved, the Christian girl. His disciples asked him whether he had no shame uttering these words and what face would he show to the God?  The Sheikh replied, ‘The God himself has made me to fall in love. How can I act against His will?’

The helpless disciples left their Sheikh at the temple in the hope that time will heal the heart of their Sheikh and they found a nearby place for themselves. They thought that perhaps their Master might change his mind and return back to Mecca with them. Days passed in waiting both for the Sheikh and the disciples. Sanan started living on the path opposite the temple from where he could see the girl crossing him in the hope that one day she would notice him. He started addressing her with an imaginary name in his poetry, which he started composing as a result of pain of love in his heart and he would sing the same in sad melodies.

At last, one day the girl noticed him and asked him why he was living there on a street, without home, in the company of dogs. Sanan replied that he had fallen in love with her and would stay there until she responded. The girl was astonished looking to his old age enough to be her grandfather and asked him retortingly whether he was not ashamed of himself to fall in love with a young girl.

Sheikh Sanan was unperturbed. He replied eloquently that love knows no age.  Whether young or old, love pierces the heart of the lover the same way. Not knowing what to say, the girl asked him to abandon his Shakhhood, convert to Christianity, drink wine and renounce his faith in his holy book and all obligations hereunder to be eligible to deserve her favour.

For Sanan, his only faith was his love. He did what the girl had demanded of him gladly. He sang and danced with rejoice proclaiming that he had become nothing for love; he had lost his honour in love and asked the young girl what more he could do for her? She was more than amused. She asked him to buy her gold and ornaments and if he had no money, not to waste his time on her. The Sheikh replied that he had nothing left with him except his heart that too he had already given away to her. 

He could not live in separation and would do anything she desired of him. The girl put her condition to be his wife that he should look after her pigs for one year. If he tends the pigs to her satisfaction, she would be ready to become his wife on completion of one year. The Sheikh gladly accepted her wish and took up his residence in the pigsty and started tending the pigs with love and care.

Sheikh Sanan’s disciples were utterly disappointed. Their faith in their Sheikh was completely shattered and their hearts were broken. They were confused and they did not know what should they do now? Should they stay in Rum or should they return to Mecca. They asked Sheikh Sanan what should they do? Did he want them also to convert to Christianity as well? They will stay with him, if he asked them to do so. Sheikh Sanan, however, told them to do whatever they wanted and that he wanted nothing from them.  If any one asked them about him, they should tell the truth.

The disciples returned to Mecca. They had no courage to tell anything about their Sheikh to anyone. However, one of their colleagues who could not go to Rum, being on journey, on return to Mecca and not seeing their Master, asked his colleagues about him.  They told him the entire story from the beginning to the end.

On listening to what had transpired, he asked his colleagues how dare they judge their Sheikh as having done something wrong? He cried for his Sheikh from the depth of his heart. He told his colleagues that they did not know the etiquettes of the path of love. If they truly loved their Sheikh, they should have remained with him and followed him.  If the Sheikh had torn off his Sufi robe and put on a cincture, they should have done the same. They should have stayed with him in the pigsty. He said this is what the true love demands.

This faithful disciple remembered and cried inconsolably for his Sheikh day and night. On the fortieth day he had a vision.  He saw his Master Sheikh Sanan standing in the presence of God with a dark cloud of dust from the temple hanging between Sheikh Sanan and God. Suddenly, the dust blew off and the Divine Light embraced the Sheikh. Then he heard an eternal voice saying: ‘When the fire of Love burns one of all his possessions, only then he becomes worthy of seeing the Eternal Beloved. Nothing has any value in the creed of Love except the selfless love. Until the mirror of the soul is cleared of the dust of existence one cannot see the reflection of the True Beloved in it.’

When he told of his vision to his colleagues, all of them decided to proceed to Rum, where they found their Sheikh with his forehead on the ground in salutation to the God. Sheikh Sanan had travelled beyond religion and was liberated from all bondage. He had truly become nothing in the love of his True Beloved. The Sheikh had become one with his true Beloved. He was silent but filled with bliss. The disciples gathered around him and all of them started back for Mecca.

Meanwhile, the young girl also had a dream. She saw a glimpse of the Almighty in her dream. She had realised that it was He who was the true Lover. It aroused an intense desire in her heart to be united with that Eternal Beauty. The pain of love and separation had also captured her heart. It was now revealed to her that it was only the Sheikh, who could show her the way to the Eternal Beloved.

She rushed to meet the Sheikh and on learning that he had left for Mecca, ran into the desert in order to catch up with the Master. The pain of love had melted her heart, which was pouring down in the form of tears from her eyes.  For days together she ran barefooted in the desert, calling to her Master with love and devotion. The fire of love had reduced everything in her to ashes leaving nothing behind.

Sheikh Sanan had known in his heart that she was running in the desert to see him. He sent his disciples to look for her. On seeing the great Master, the young woman threw herself at his feet. Holding his feet firmly, she said, ‘My Master, I am burning with love. I am dying to see my Beloved, who has disappeared after showing a glimpse and arousing 

this fire of love in my heart. I cannot see Him anymore. Help me to see my Beloved again.’  

The Sheikh took her hands gently and looked into her eyes deeply as if he was peeping into her soul, conducting it to her Beloved through his own soul. The young girl met her destiny. She screamed, ‘O Beloved, I cannot bear Your separation any more’ and with these words she united with her Beloved leaving her mortal remains behind.

Sheikh Sanan stood still for a while and then said, ‘They are fortunate, who reach their destiny and meet with their Beloved. They live eternally in union with Him.’ He then paused for a moment and added, ‘But those who are left behind to guide others to their goal must sacrifice their bliss of communion for the sake of His pleasure!