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In Quest of My Oasis | Sohbet with Amatullah J. Armstrong

Take one step
away from yourself
and behold!
the path awaiting
to lead you to a secret Oasis!

Welcome to the new series, In Quest of My Oasis at Inspirations and Creative Thoughts. This hopefully will turn out to be short dialogues with seekers & lovers of Sufi path. The Mystic Master Prophet Muhammad said, "at-turuqu ila 'Llahi ka-nufusi bani Adam", 'the ways to God are as numerous as the human souls'. The Quran states in the verse 2:148, "And for everyone there is a direction towards which one turn." The reason it is titled as 'My Oasis' because this will be, God willing, about inspiring personal, individual journey to the Goal.

An oasis is a lush green garden in a desert or wasteland. Here Oasis symbolizes both the sufi journey and the path. In the arid desert the oasis carries the water of life, spring gushes up from the heart of the earth that delights the soul. Rumi has hints for us:

Search, no matter what situation you are in.
O thirsty one, search for water constantly.
Finally, the time will come when you will reach
the spring.

In this series we wish to engage with contemporary seekers who are drawn to that Quest. We hope to know them, connect with them, share their beautiful journey in the spirit of what sufis call Sohbet. The first episode of In Quest of My Oasis is blessed by the presence of Amatullah Jyly Armstrong, may Beloved's graceful glace be upon her heart. Amatullah presently resides in South Africa and she frequents Zawiya Ebrahim for her access to the Oasis.

Amatullah Armstrong sitting
Even though it’s the most illusive question for this human existence and its journey, but let us do Bismillah with this question. Who is Amatullah J. Armstrong?

Good question!! I don’t know who she is!

However, a nutshell version of who Amatullah J Armstrong is. I am Australian. Born in Sydney into a Christian family. Normal childhood, sprinkled with a dash of the poetry of Omar Khayyam whom my father always recited and loved: a lasting influence on me although it lay dormant for many years. Immersed in the hippie generation of the 60s and 70s. Trained as an Art Teacher. Married an artist, lived on our farm in northern NSW, Australia and then started travelling throughout the world, living for several years in France. Studied yoga, Zen, Essene practices. In 1981 undertook a monumental 5000km bicycle journey from Paris to Tunisia, where I initially encountered Islam. After two years of intense research into Islam and Sufism I embraced Islam in the Sahara Desert in Algeria. Entered my first Sufi tariqa in 1990 – a branch of Shadhiliyya. Wrote several books on my personal experience of the Sufi journey. Performed Haj in 1997. Lived in Pakistan 1998-2008, where I connected to Chishti tariqa. Came to live at Zawia Ebrahim in South Africa in 2008. Connected to Shadhiliyya/Darqawi tariqa through Shaykh Ebrahim Schuitema.

That is a tiny nutshell version!

Tell us how you began your journey in sufi path and the circumstance of how you met your Shaykh?

During the years of study prior to embracing Islam I was drawn to Sufism. It was the writings of the Sufi Masters that inspired me to delve deeply into the inner realm of Islam. Soon after becoming Muslim I met the man who was destined to be first Shaykh five years later. I was his murid from 1990 till 1998. In 2002 in Pakistan I connected to a Chishti Shaykh who passed away in 2005. Then, in 2008 I met Shaykh Ebrahim when he was visiting Karachi. He invited me to come to Zawia Ebrahim in South Africa. I have found my true Shaykh.

What you believe as the best gift you've received in the path since you are on the journey?

Amatullah sitting at langarkhanaEach moment is a gift, each moment is an unfolding of new, fresh experiences – the greatest gift is to know this within one’s own heart and to truly be able to “be in the now” and “live in the moment”. Because NOW is all we have. And if we can’t be in a state of amazement and awe in the moment then we have totally missed the essence of life. In actual fact, we are miraculous beings walking through THE MIRACULOUS! But generally we have our eyes closed! The greatest gift is to be in awe of the miraculous in each moment.

Once someone is attracted to Islamic Spirituality, what advice would you give to westerners who due to language, cultural differences have a hard time diving deep into it? What role a living Murshid or Sufi Master can play in this regard?

Firstly, one must differentiate between culture and Deen (the sacred way of life). There is much confusion over these distinctly different realms. One can delve deeply into Tasawwuf (Sufism) without ever knowing even one sufic term. Tasawwuf is concerned with the spiritual development of the human being. It is not cultural. It is not Arab or Pakistani or Turkish or Moroccan or whatever. Tasawwuf, in its essence, addresses the very core of being human. So, I would advise people who are attracted to the spiritual path to take one step at a time. To only do those things which enhance the sense of connectedness with the Divine. Not to overload oneself with rituals and place burdens upon oneself. The path is to bring one closer to Allah, to open the way to awe and love. It is not burdensome at all. Yet, so many people fall into the trap of thinking the path is all about rigidity and sitting for hours on end doing spiritual practices. It is not.

A living Sufi Master, man or woman, is important. But one must be aware that at this time there are many fake Sufi masters masquerading as true Shaykhs. A true Shaykh is not necessarily an “iconic” figure. I believe the time of “iconic” Shaykhs has passed. If one can benefit from the teaching and advice of a Shaykh then one should stay connected to that Shaykh. However, if one feels that there is no longer benefit in the relationship it is best to move-on. And don’t be mislead by cultural embellishments such as long robes and flowing beards, turbans and veils etc. A Sufi Master can be walking around in a three piece suit or in jeans. A Sufi Master does not necessarily live in his ivory tower dispensing wisdom. He can be involved in the doings of this world. In fact, it is desirable to have a Master who is involved with every day life, living side by side with people of all beliefs, classes, races. When you encounter a Sufi Master who does not allow himself to be put on a pedestal and be served, but actually serves the other, you can know that this is a true Sufi Shaykh.

What’s your favourite and frequently practiced sufi practice?

There are many sufi practices, each tariqa having it’s own specific forms of dhikr, meditation etc. In the Darqawi we practice the Wird (dhikr) every day, we meditate every day and once a week we gather for Hadra. And we have khalwa or spiritual retreat, which certain murids undertake for specific periods of time, sitting for days in isolation to meditate. And perhaps khalwa is my favourite practice, when all agendas are shut down and one goes inwards to enter a state of connectedness.

Guest Photo Credit: Amatullah J. Armstrong


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Technology of the Heart: In Quest of My Oasis | Sohbet with Amatullah J. Armstrong
In Quest of My Oasis | Sohbet with Amatullah J. Armstrong
Technology of the Heart
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