It is not intended to carry the reader here into complicated technicalities on the subject and tire him with information that may prove dry and uninteresting to a lay mind; but in order to help him to catch a glimpse of what Sufi's work is like, and what sort of attainment he aspires to, a summary account of suluk, a Sufi's Course will now be given.
To begin with, you need the service of one who knows, a teacher, a Shaikh, or a Murshid, call him by whatever name you please. The initiative must come from him. He initiates you into the Unseen within you into harmony with the Unseen without. He keeps a constant watch over you and saves you from slips and pitfalls..
We spend a good deal of the earlier portion of our life in physical bondage. Our libraries and laboratories only tighten the bonds. Even independent thinking creates fresh chains for us. The moment we come in contact with the Shaikh, we enter upon a new era of liberation. The ties are loosened, the chains are broken and the journey begins. From the Seen we gradually move on to the Unseen and after plunging into the fathomless depths of the Unseen, we have to come back to the Seen to complete our course. The following diagram will clearly illustrate the beginning and the end of a spiritual wayfarer called salik (seeker).
The Spiritual Course
It will be observed that B is the point which is the first and the last, the point where you start and finish. To a superficial observer, you appear in the end what you were in the beginning, but, as a matter of fact, you and others who know you inwardly find in you a wonderful change.
At the start you know nothing about the circle and nothing about your real self. At the end, you find that you have traversed the entire circuit and have found yourself; that you have personally been through all the different gradations of life; that you have directly known (of course, according to your personal capacities) all the various forces of nature that move the universe.
You discover that all these forces are, in a way, centred in you and ultimately, you realise that at point B, you are in a comprehensible form from what you were at point A, an incomprehensible formlessness.
In short, you realise the sense, the force and the significance of the religious phraseology that you are God's Image or God's Lieutenant on earth and you understand better the meaning and sense of the following passages in the Qur'an:
"And thus did We show unto Abraham the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth (high and low) that he might become one of those who believe firmly" [6:75]
"Hereafter We will show them Our signs around them and within them, until it becomes manifest unto them that it is the truth" [61:53]
"And not without purpose did We create the heaven and the earth and whatever is in between them" [38:27]
"And verily, He hath created you in diverse stages (i.e. He has brought you to your present stage through a variety of conditions and states)." [71:14]
"Unto thy Lord is the Ultimate goal of it (i.e. of everything in the universe and of knowledge about the time of such termination)" [79:44]
"Such is God, your Nourisher and Maintainer, there is no god but He, the Creator of all things, worship Him (i.e. obey Him with love) for He supervises everything and takes care of it." [6:102]
At this stage, the powers of observation in a Sufi and his perceptions help him considerably to realise passages like the following:
"We are nearer to him (man) than his jugular vein." [50:16]
"We are nigher unto him than ye are, but ye perceive not." [55:85]
"And He is with you wheresoever you be." [57:4]
"There is no secret conference of three but He is their fourth, nor of five but He is their sixth, nor of less than or more but He is with them wheresoever they may be." [58:7]
"He is the First and the Last, and the Manifest and the Hidden; and He knoweth all things." [57:3]
"See ye not how Allah hath brought under your subjugation and control whatever is in heavens and earth (in the higher and the lower planes) and hath abundantly poured upon you His favours both visible and invisible." [31:20]
To return to Figure 1, the upward march, B-C-A is a difficult and uphill task. The downward move, A-D-B is comparatively easy. As a matter of fact B-C-A passes through exactly the same fields as A-D-B.
In other words, you can observe during the upward march what you do observe during the downward move, but your observations during the upward journey are bound to be misleading. You cannot understand properly anything below point A, unless you once reach the point A.
Unless you grasp the root properly, you cannot make the branches your own. So the best teachers prefer to carry their pupils up through B-C-A, with closed eyes, as it were. They do not allow them observation on their upward march. It saves time and labour and prevents mistakes resulting from partial and incomplete knowledge. The "eyes" are, however, utilised when the downward course A-D-B is traversed. This is the safest and the shortest way to success.
All the various hard and fast rules laid down for the completion of the spiritual course are necessary during the first round only. When you complete the course and finish, for the first time, the rounds B-C-A and A-D-B, you are liberated.
There have been people who have preferred to remain permanently at point A, and have refused to climb down. The luxury at the point A is called Lazzat-i-uluhiyat, which means Luxury of Divinity and is so great that no earthly pleasure, whatsoever, can match it and everyone is tempted to remain there for good; but human greatness really depends upon descending to point B, and faithfully fulfilling the functions of Perfect Man, so long as the physical body retains the power of sustaining the soul within.
Methods of Approaching the Goal
There are innumerable methods of approaching the goal, but they may be divided broadly into the following three:
1. Leading a strictly pure and religious life, provided that the religion is correctly understood, properly handled and duly observed. It is a lengthy and comparatively dry course, but is generally recommended to the masses because, though lengthy and dry, it is all the same quite safe.
2. Extra hard work, both physical and spiritual; i.e. doing a great deal more than the irreducible minimum prescribed by the shariat. It is shorter and more interesting than the first, but more difficult. It leads to better results.
3. Cultivating and developing Love of God. It is the shortest, the sweetest and the most interesting path, leading to the best and the most valuable results; but it is not within the reach of everyone and is not always safe for those who are not meant for it.
There are people who combine in them the first two, or the last two, or all the three methods, in different proportions.
Attraction and Work
Ordinarily, every worker in the field of spirituality needs two things, attraction and work. He is attracted towards the higher regions and he has to work to reach the goal. Some are first attracted inwardly and then commence work. Others start work and find subsequently, that they are being attracted inwardly. In both the cases, however, one of the two predominates.
Attraction is jadhb and the attracted is majdhub. Work is suluk and the one who works and keeps on moving forward is salik. So every practical student of Sufism is a majdhub and salik at the same time. The difference in names only signifies the predominance of one feature over the other. The one who is strong and steady in work and is not overcome by jadhb is called a salik; while the other who is weak and unsteady in work and is overpowered by jadhb is called majdhub.
The response to jadhb in a majdhub is so great that he finds himself powerless to make further progress in his work. His senses are affected, his self control gone and not being able to move on, he remains stuck to the point where the overdose of jadhb overtook him.
A beginner, at a later stage, is met now and then by attractions in different forms. At this stage, he is called a salik-majdhub.
In a more advanced stage, he remains constantly surrounded by attractions of a superb nature, in a variety of conceivable and inconceivable forms and feeling and yet he does not allow himself to be deluded and overpowered by them and does not allow the consequent 'intoxication' to interfere with the necessary work. He is called a majdhub-salik. He is a man of very superior sufi and always rewarded with very high attainments.
Sufism is the Life and Soul of Islam
It is wrongly supposed that Sufism has nothing to do with Islam. In fact, it is the life and soul of Islam. It is really Islam in its higher and practical aspects. It is action and the consequent realisation. It is a process of purification of the soul.
It is not an idle and unproductive philosophy. It is not a set of fresh beliefs in any way different from the teachings of Islam. It is not a series of secretive teachings of any fantastic nature. It is work on proper lines and, as a result of such work and consequent purification of the soul; it is enlightenment and realisation.
With this improved outlook, wider knowledge and better understanding, the Sufi becomes capable of higher flights and better comprehension of Islamic teachings; and his interpretation of Islam is necessarily more to the point. His interpretations are not properly understood by those who lack the proper insight.
It usually happens that the Sufi finds it difficult to express himself in an ordinary language. The language of miscellaneous humanity is not coined to give expression to the higher subjects of Divine purity. He has therefore, to express himself in his own special language which can only be understood by those conversant with proper Sufism and for whom his writings are really meant.
Limitation of language, sometimes compel him to use ordinary human expressions to indicate extraordinary discoveries in the domains of Divinity. For example, in the description of the diagram given before (Figure 1), the following expressions have been used:
"...and, ultimately, you realise that at point B, you are in a comprehensible form from what you were at point A, an incomprehensible formlessness."
This very important part of the explanation of the diagram, is quite capable of misinterpretation and can never be understood correctly by those who are ignorant of the subject and who have not been personally through the suluk.
Since most non-Sufis are not fully conversant with the expressions and language of the Sufis, the Sufistic writings are generally misunderstood and misinterpreted, not only by ordinary people, but by those who are learned in the subjects other than tasawwuf.
On certain points, it is true, the Sufi arrives at results vastly differing from those arrived at by others. Such divergence is due, not to a differing source of information but to his cultivation of better powers of understanding and to the acquirement of greater light and wider horizon.
Sufism is not total renunciation of the world
Sufism has generally been associated with renunciation of the world. In fact it is renunciation, but merely on a limited scale for a limited period, with a particular object in view; and this is what everyone does when he sets before him an object of somewhat difficult attainment.
In that case, he has to devote his time and energy exclusively to the attainment of the object in view. A student has to leave his family and home; has to dissociate himself from interfering friends; has to isolate himself from other attractions; has to travel to a university town; and has to put himself in a boarding house.
He has to lead a simple life and devote himself exclusively to his studies. When he finishes his university course and obtains his degree, he comes back to his home, family and friends and freely mixes with the world. It is the same with the Sufi.
The Sufi's renunciation is not a total renunciation. It is not the renunciation of a Hindu Yogi, a Christian Monk, or Buddhist Lama; it is only a temporary renunciation, with the object of completing his most difficult spiritual course. After finishing his course, there is nothing to prevent him from coming back to the world with his light and culture to serve humanity. Accomplished Sufis do return to the world with a fresh light and it is they who are referred to in the following passages of the Qur'an:
"Shall he who hath been dead (having died the death of ignorance) and whom We have since restored unto life (of knowledge), and unto whom We have ordained a light whereby he moves about in the midst of people, be like him who is immersed in the darkness (of ignorance) and is determined not to come out of that darkness ?" [6:122]
To understand Sufism look at the real Sufis
To form a correct estimate of Sufism, one must look to the real tasawwuf , rather than to miscellaneous set of people pretending to be Sufis. A mere pretension is not guarantee of Sufism. Real Sufis of the best types have lately been few. The many pretenders infesting the various durgahs, khanqahs, and zawiyas, are either mere pretenders, or have gotten stranded in the way.
Sometimes a genuine Sufi gets marooned in one of the intermediate stages in his course. A student of Sufism in an intermediate stage is like a house in the course of construction. Such a house can neither serve the purpose of an open space, nor supply accommodation to any one who wants to live in it. At present, it is of no use. It would be wrong for a student of the comparative study of religions to judge Islam by looking haphazardly at Muslims in streets, public houses, or jails; or to judge Christianity by looking at the daily growing crime in European countries. Similarly, proper Sufism is to be judged by the correct standard only, and not by what the wrong exponents of it declare it to be.
The Muslim Sufi is different from a Western Spiritualist
A closer knowledge of the subject will convince a discriminating observer that a Muslim Sufi is quite a different man from a Western Spiritualist. The Western Spiritualist has no faith to start with, no set of beliefs to guide him, and no fixed goal to direct his steps. His work is experimental throughout.
Bred and brought up in an atmosphere of doubt and distrust, he starts with scepticism and winding his way through a long and circuitous route of doubts, delusions, experiments, surprises, and disappointments, he very often finds himself stranded in the midst of unexplored fields.
He imposes upon himself a double duty. He is his own leader and his own follower. He does not want to be guided by the experience of others. With him, it is not a question of realisation, but of test. He has nothing to realise, because he has no faith to stand by. He has first to find out the truth and then test it.
His initial estrangement from spiritual subjects, makes him an easy prey to foreign influence. Some of the very ancient and antiquated Eastern religions, which have lost their original glamour and primitive glory, possess a novelty for him and attract him easily. His materialistic tendencies clog his footsteps during his spiritual march and beset his progress at every turn. Development of will, concentration, and other spiritual powers, are readily employed by him to secure some brilliant worldly success. Any valuable information, obtained from a higher source, is willingly utilised for a materialistic end. Higher attainments are ungrudgingly employed to secure lower ends.
Instead of sacrificing the low for the high, he thoughtlessly rushes in the opposite direction and feels no compunction in sacrificing the high for the low; not knowing probably, the extent of damage he is thereby inflicting upon his own talents.
These earthly tendencies keep him earth-bound and, instead of moving on and fast, he finds himself entangled in the meshes of "communion with the dead", where he is very often baffled by the inconsistencies of the results. Having no proper standard of judgment, he cannot draw a correct line of distinction between the spirits belonging to this side of the grave and the spirits belonging to other side of it, and the result is a hopeless confusion.
Table-turning, planchettes, telepathy, tele-'vision', and his similar other achievements only tend to tie him down to earth, instead of helping him to soar into the heavens of spirituality. Spiritualism in the West, has come to have quite a different meaning from the one indicated by the spiritualism of the Sufi.
The Sufi's Journey is based on firm foundations
The Sufi is a different man altogether. He starts with faith. He has certain established beliefs to urge him forward, an established goal to draw him on, and a personal guide to help him in his undertaking. Many have gone the same way before him and many have worked likewise with unanimous results. His predecessors have marked the line of march for him and have left a series of shortcuts for his facility.
He has to create no new theory, to establish no new truth, to formulate no new creed, and to unseal no forbidden knowledge. He does not stand in need of light from any foreign source, does not stand in need of new experiments, and does not require any old truth to be put to a new test.
Everything for him is cut and dried. He has simply to realise, simply to taste the sweets ready in store for him.
He never likes to deviate from the path ordained for him, never sacrifices the high for the low, never seeks to astound the world by his miracles or miraculous powers, and never loses sight of his ultimate Goal. The following words of the Holy Qur'an are ever before him:
"Say: verily, my prayer, and my sacrifice, and my life, and my death, are for Allah, the Lord of the worlds." [6:162]
The article is originally published at Moon over Medina | a slightly concise version is shared here.
About the Author Maulana Syed M. Zauqi Shah
Maulana Syed Muhammad Zauqi Shah (1878-1951), radhiAllahu was a Muslim scholar and considered a Waliullah or Sufist saint. He graduated from Aligarh University in India. A member of the Chishti Order of Sufi, his work combined merits of Islamic scholarship and modern knowledge. He was the author of several books and articles in English, his masterpiece being Sirr-e-Dilbaran, an alphabetical encyclopedia of Sufism, now available in English.
He returned to his Beloved Lord in 1951 on the day of Hajj (the pilgrimage) in Mecca (what a blessed and elevated pilgrimage is sanctioned for him indeed!) and was buried in Arafat, the prayer ground of Hajj. He was succeeded by four khulafa (caliphs/successors): Maulana Umar Bhai (Bombay); Shah Shahidullah Faridi (Lahore, Pakistan, originally from the UK); Captain Wahid Baksh Rabbani (Bahawalpur, Pakistan), and Maulana Abdus Salam (India).
His discourses were compiled by his khalifas Shah Shahidullah Faridi and Wahid Baksh Sial Rabbani under the title "Tarbiyyat-ul-Ushaq" (Training of the Lovers) and published in English and Urdu. May Allah bless the soul of His noble servant, Maulana Zauqi Shah and benefit us from his transmission.