Thursday, January 03, 2013

Quest for the Meanings of Existence / Sohbet with Naila Amat-un-Nur






Naila Amat-un-Nur is the Head of Pakistan Chapter of Sufi Order International, an organization dedicated to "Universal Sufism" founded upon the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan. She came upon the Path circa 2004 through the initiation of, first by Sufi Master Inayat Khan in a veridical dream and immediately afterwards by his grandson Pir Zia Inayat. This all occurred at a cross-road of time as 2004 was also the year of Pir Vilayat Khan's passing away from the world and veiling with the Beloved, may Allah be pleased with him.

Naila received the permission to teach as well as to initiate as a Sufi Teacher in 2008. She gives regular teaching classes and hold zikr gatherings at her home-run center in Lahore, Pakistan. She also holds a Masters in Comparative Philosophy: Islamic and Western.

Quite long time back I came across her website called Nazr-e-Kaaba (the Eyes of the Heart) where some of her writings are shared. In this Sohbet or spiritual conversation she has beautifully shed light on a number of areas such as her own spiritual journey, the very fascinating story of how her initiation on the Sufi Path happened in the inner plane even before on the outer plane of existence, her interests, her take on the relevance of Sufi Teachings in this time and more. I hope and pray that you heartily enjoy this interview as much or even more than the interviewer.


Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim, We begin in the Name of Allah Who is the Perfection of Mercy and Perfect Love. Before we start the Sohbet, let me share two passages from the Final Testament where God is addressing the human heart. The first passage is about the early Sufis (Ashab e Suffa) who lived at the Prophet's Mosque who are characterized as lovers of God who call upon their Lord ceaselessly seeking only His Face. The second passage is an striking one where both men and women are mentioned side by side and give the glad tidings equally for their virtues; pointing to the reality that in spiritual domain, both men and women holds the same potential for the reception of Divine bestowal.


And keep thy soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His Face; and let not thine eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this ephemeral world. ~ The Qur'an 18:28


Behold! For soul surrendered men and soul surrendered women, for faithful men and faithful women, for sincere men and sincere women, for patient men and patient women, for humble men and humble women, for charitable men and charitable women, for fasting men and fasting women, for chaste men and chaste women, and for men of abundant zikr and women of abundant zikr - for them has Allah prepared generous forgiveness and immense reward. ~ The Qur'an 33:35






~ The Sohbet / Sufi Conversation ~



Sadiq for Technology of the Heart: Those who do not know you, please give us a short introduction of yourself, a spiritual resume if you like, to describe your spiritual interest and heart's calling.

Naila Amat-un-Nur: My birth name is Naila Hayat Noon, and I acquired the surname “Tiwana” through marriage. My second or if you like “spiritual birth” name is Amat-un-Nur, given to me by my Pir, Zia Inayat Khan. The name “Amat-un-Nur” means the female servant of the Light, “ab‘d” (servant/slave) being the male expression of this noun as in “abd’allah” (the servant/slave of Allah). The fact that I received this name from my Pir is rather meaningful since “Nur” (Light) has always appealed to me as the medium through which I could reach and understand God, Truth or Existence. In other words the Ayat-un-Nur of the Holy Quran which describes God as the Light of the Heavens and the Earth has been a direct source of my inspiration.

When people ask me how I came upon the Sufi path I like to answer with the famous adage “Sufis are not made; they are born”. I can trace an inner longing for something greater than the world of senses to my earliest memories. I was a rather serious child for my years and remember falling into spells of deep inner reflection, trying to figure out the whys, hows and whats of existence.

Although it is said that one should not stereotype the way to higher consciousness as marked by pain, for some people have opened up to illumination in the very midst of joy as well, for me it has been a journey of deep agony; an agony which now is the sweetest gift that I could have received from the Divine because it was literally divine friendship that came disguised as a hideous scoundrel only to test the worth of this worthless creature. Alhamdolillah (Praise be to Allah), that I was guided by Allah’s grace out of the dark night of my soul into the bright daylight of His Wisdom and Courage. It is only when you become the Light yourself that you can serve as a torch to others who are floundering in the dark.

Nearly a decade ago I met my spiritual guide, Pir Zia Inayat Khan, and was initiated into the Hazeratiyyah Order of Pir O Murshid Inayat Khan. We belong to the Chishti school of transmission, specifically to the Chishti-Nizami-Jilli-Kalimiyyah line. Four years back in 2008 I received the ijaza (permission) from my guide to initiate mureeds and impart Sufi teachings.

Naila with Pir Zia

I am involved in organizing spiritual retreats and attending Sufi conferences and seminars. My special interest lies in rethinking Islam in the light of the teachings of great masters such as Shaykh al-Akbar Ibn Arabi, Shaykh al-Ishraq Shihabuddin Yahyah Suhrawardi, Mawlana Rumi, Hazrat Inayat Khan, Frithjof Schuon and other teachers of the perennial tradition. The breadth of vision that Hazrat Inayat Khan’s transmission has bequeathed to me allows me to drink from the spring of wisdom irrespective of creedal or religious identities. A natural corollary of coming to the understanding of the invalidity of chauvinism and factious divisions is my strong sensibility of gender-related unfairness that has been read into the meaning of the Quranic message.

It could be said that my significant interests include the re-interpretation of the teachings of the Holy Quran in a universalistic light, and spirit of progressive dynamism, as well as understanding and nurturing the neglected power of the Feminine as a necessary step in humanity's final evolution. I feel it would be a great disservice to our wonderful faith if we as awakened Muslims do not strive to clarify the distinction between Islam and Muslimism, the former being the message in its untampered, pristine form and the latter its representation by Muslims according to the level of their understanding and form of interpretation which I daresay has not been free of the imprints of cultural and regional influences. It takes a great being to rise above all such influences in order to receive the message in its pure form and to live it and present it as such to the world. Such a one would be him/her who like Raba al-Adawiyyah does not worship God for the love of paradise or the fear of hell but for Allah’s sake alone, for the purpose of existence is none other than His worship, His recognition.


S: What led you to meet Pir Zia and how would you describe your meeting with him. It is often said that when one meets one’s spiritual master / teacher / guide, there is an intuition of heart that triggers. Somewhere within we know that this is the person with whom I can form this sacred bond and every such encounter is unique for different seekers. Do you wish to share a little about your meeting with Pir Zia and the circumstances that led to your initiation?

N: Murshid Inayat Khan says “When the cry of the disciple has reached a certain pitch, the teacher comes to answer it.” And these are not just words but this is the way it truly is. My soul had been honed by life’s pains and disappointments to the level of knowing that what it wanted, what it sought, it could not find in the world of matter, the realm of endless desires and infinite hopes. I had tarried far enough and long enough alone, and now the time had come for someone to take me by the hand and make me cross the biggest hurdle of selfhood to arrive in the land of the soul’s freedom; the place where I could finally come to rest in the peace, contentment and joy that I had always been seeking but probably in the wrong places. As the Sufis say there are as many paths to God as the souls of humanity. Each soul is unique in its expression of the Divine Face and my positioning with regard to the location and the desired destination would determine the kind of guide and the nature of transport required to arrive at the goal and so it would be different for you according to your placement with reference to it; the guide or the transport that will carry me there will have to suit my needs of the journey and yours.

There is a Hadith which says that the souls who have once met on the higher planes before manifestation and have shared affinity lose sense of that knowing after incarnating on the material plane. But once they do meet again on this physical plane, they recognize an unknown connection and after realizing it in their souls, they will never forget again.

There are four bonds of love: the physical bond, which is the lowest form; the mental bond, a little deeper; the psychic or soul bond; which is deeper still; and finally the divine bond which is the spiritual bond between the soul and the divine and there is no higher or greater bond than that. The relationship between the Teacher and the initiate is one of a spiritual bond and that transcends every other kind of connection. One could say it is the God-connection, one’s soul’s very life-supply. And just as the child does not need to be told who it’s mother is as it recognizes intuitively, for when in infancy it is taken away from the mother’s lap and placed in a stranger’s arms it begins to cry, similarly each longing soul knows the smell, presence and touch of its Master. I longed desperately for my Teacher and it was during that time that I came across a book by Pir Vilayat by the name of “Awakening”. I was very moved by its simple, direct yet profound wisdom and especially its non-denominational character. Finding some information on the back-cover, I sent an e-mail offering to arrange a seminar by him in Pakistan where I lived. In reply I heard his secretary say that he was not in too good a physical state now due to old age and ill health to be able to take the strain of long travel but his son, Pir Zia Inayat Khan, who had been appointed his successor could be contacted in his stead. This was in 2003. Something told me to redirect the invitation to Pir Zia.

I received a very heartwarming reply from him in which he mentioned “your message reminds me of one of the last few words of my grandfather, Pir O Murshid Inayat Khan, who said “when the Message returns to the east our work will have just begun”.” He regretted not being able to come to Pakistan just yet but forwarded a kind invitation to his own seminar due to be held in Delhi soon in Feb 2004. Just before this communication with Pir Zia, direct air travel between India and Pakistan was barred but strangely enough (actually not so strangely) two days after receiving Pir’s invitation air travel opened up between India and Pakistan and there was a fresh impetus to developing a rapprochement between the two nations. Travel plans were successfully completed and I arrived in Delhi to attend the seminar, meet Pir Zia and participate in Murshid Inayat Khan’s Urs (death anniversary).

Painting of Murshid Inayat Khan
Before I left for India though I had a dream in which I had the good fortune of seeing Murshid Inayat Khan who gifted me with a chador (cloak). I was humbled by this magnificent gift through my dream.

On meeting Pir Zia I communicated my dream experience and he in turn explained to me the different kinds of initiations among which Owaisi (from Hazrat Owais al-Qarni r.a) was one of initiatic transmission received from a non-living master or on a spiritual plane only. He shared that my dream was a sign that I had already received an Owaisi initiation into the order directly from Murshid Inayat Khan.

Now if I needed to traverse the various stages of the spiritual path step by step I had to take hand with a living teacher to be instructed in the Way. It was understood that that decision had to come from the heart and soul of the would-be disciple. In the course of the next few days I reflected over my experiences and when we were seated at the blessed shrine of Murshid Inayat Khan on the day of his Urs , I received an overwhelming spiritual impulse to give my hand in the sacred hand of Pir Zia, whom my spiritual heart recognized as the destined Guide of my soul to its divine goal. And thus did I receive the greatest gift a human soul can receive in this world. I had been given physical birth by my parents years before but that day my Pir gave me spiritual birth. Alhamdolillah.

At the Dargah of Hazrat Inayat Khan


S: What are the unique characteristics of the Chishti School in general and what are the distinct flavor of your particular line of transmission which is Chishti-Nizami-Jilli-Kalimiyyah?

N: The Chishti Sufi Order is particularly known for its Love, Tolerance and Humanitarian Ideals. The common motto of the Order is “Love for all and malice towards none”. Although the initiatic heritage of Pir O Murshid Inayat Khan includes the transmission of the four-schools order that was prevalent in India, which is to say that initiation was given in the Qadiri, Suhrawardi, Naqshbandi and Chishti altogether, yet it was the Chishtiyyah traditions and practices that were followed and adopted more specifically in the line that he inherited. Similarly there could be others who upheld a specific line of transmission more than the others while having received a general initiation into all four schools such as those who followed the Naqshbandi or Qadiri or Suhrawardi specifically.

Essentially the goal is the same yet the methods of approach can differ depending on the capacities, demands and inherent inclinations of souls. For the Chishtiyyah the inspiration comes from the Madhab-e-Ishq or School of Love of the Persian mystics and poets such as Hafiz Shirazi, Ayna al Qudat Hamdani, Bayazid Bistami, Jalaluddin Rumi, Shams Tabrizi and the like. Music has always played a very important role in the Chishti way and the tradition of Sema or listening to spiritual verses has deep roots in this tradition. In India this led to the development of a unique style of spiritual music and singing termed as the Qawali which was originated by the Chishti Amir Khusraw who fused Persian and Indian music traditions to produce this genre of devotional music in India in the thirteenth century.

Pir Zia, Present Head of Sufi Order International, in contemplation at a Sufi Gathering


The Nizami-Jilli-Kalimiyyah line of the Chishti Order carries the mark of Wahdat-ul-Wujud or Unity of Being which conveys that there is only the One Being that is Absolute, and all other beings are shadow existences. Every being other than the One Being has a source from which it comes and that is the Absolute Being. From the birth of differentiation between the divine being of God and the lower beings of the cosmos was born the impulse of love or longing for reunion. Love further got divided into “ishq majazi” (temporal/relative love) and “ishq haqiqi” (real love). The Nizami-Jilli-Kalimi transmission specializes in taking the initiate from the bondage of the stage of relative love and setting him/her free in the realm of real love.


Shajara (Tree of Spiritual Transmission) of Chishti-Nizami-Jilli-Kalimiyyah lineage
 
The representation of the chain of transmission is called the Shajara (tree). In Sufism a Shajara is a tracing of initiatic ancestry rather than a representation of the full flow of baraka from the Source. It is worth noting that at any juncture, there may be several shaykhs authorized to carry on a lineage. This living transmission begins with Prophet Muhammad and reaches the present day head of Sufi Order International Pir Zia.


Hazrat Muhammad Rasul Allah

Hazrat ‘Ali Wali Allah

Hazrat Khwaja Hasan Basri

Hazrat Khwaja ‘Abd al-Wahid bin Zayd Basri

Hazrat Khwaja Fuzayl bin ‘Ayaz

Hazrat Khwaja Ibrahim ibn Adham Balkhi

Hazrat Khwaja Huzayfa Mar'ashi

Hazrat Khwaja Hubayra Basri

Hazrat Khwaja Mumshad 'Ulu Dinwari

Hazrat Khwaja Abu Ishaq Shami Chishti

Hazrat Khwaja Ahmad Abdal Chishti

Hazrat Khwaja Muhammad Chishti

Hazrat Khwaja Nasiruddin Yusuf Chishti

Hazrat Khwaja Qutbuddin Mawdud Chishti

Hazrat Khwaja Sharif Zindani

Hazrat Khwaja ‘Usman Harvani

Hazrat Khwaja Mu‘inuddin Hasan Sijzi-Ajmiri

Hazrat Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki

Hazrat Khwaja Fariduddin Mas‘ud Ganj-i Shakar Ajhodani

Hazrat Khwaja Nizamuddin Mahbub-i Ilahi Badauni

Hazrat Khwaja Nasiruddin Chiragh Dihlavi

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Kamaluddin ‘Allama

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Sirajuddin

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh ‘Ilmuddin

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Mahmud Rajan

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Jamaluddin Jamman

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Hasan Muhammad

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Muhammad Chishti

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Yahya Madani

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Shah Kalimullah Jahanabadi

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Nizamuddin Awrangabadi

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Maulana Fakhruddin Dihlavi

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Ghulam Qutbuddin

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Nasiruddin Mahmud Kale-Miya

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Muhammad Hasan Jili Kalimi

Hazrat Shaykh al-Masha’ikh Muhammad Abu Hashim Madani

Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid ‘Inayat Khan

Hazrat Pir Vilayat ‘Inayat Khan

Hazrat Pir Zia 'Inayat Khan.

 (credit)


S: We know that Sufis are sons and daughters of time. Their message is universal and yet exactly contemporary and very relevant in every age. We know that the greatness of the great Sufis were precisely their being very relevant to the time, who spoke the language of the time & space in which they lived and conveyed

From the perspective you being the head of Sufi Order International Chapter in Pakistan, what is your personal take on this being relevant to our present time and the country that you live in? Do you think Sufis in Pakistan are standing up to their sacred responsibilities as being educator, transmitter and carrier of the Message?

N: Verily, a Sufi is Ibn-ul-Waqt or Bint-ul-Waqt which implies that he/she is fully surrendered to the demands of the moment. There is no attachment to the past or the longing for the future. The Buddha said “Life can only take place in the present moment. If we lose the present moment, we lose life.” The Sufi al-Qushayri said “The moment is what you are in. Like a sword the moment cuts away everything around itself so that it can be free. The sword is gentle to the touch and its edge is sharp. Those who handle it gently are unharmed. But those who treat it roughly are injured.” The goal of all concentration, contemplation and meditation practiced on the Sufi path is to become fully present to the moment. It is only when we will be fully here and now that we will be able to give our best in response to what is being asked of us.

Abu Muhammad Muta’ish another Sufi Master says: “The Sufi is he whose thought keeps pace with his foot — i.e., he is entirely present: his soul is where his body is, and his body is where his soul is, and his soul where his foot is, and his foot where his soul is. This is the sign of presence without absence. Others say on the contrary: ‘He is absent from himself but present with God.’ It is not so: he is present with himself and present with God.” In my understanding this is a very crucial teaching which we need to adopt not just here in Pakistan but globally.

The culture we are living in is becoming increasingly materialistic and self-serving which is giving rise to multiple personal, social, economic and political issues that are disrupting the peace and order of societies and nations. We claim to be the Islamic Republic of Pakistan but the irony is that we as a nation have not even begun to understand the magnitude of the responsibility we carry as a representative Muslim people. While we recite the Kalimah-e-Tawheed with the tongue, its reality has failed to penetrate our souls. Had it penetrated our souls we would not lie, kill, torture and denigrate in the name of Allah. Traditionally the Chishtis have favoured the policy of not associating with the rulers and the powerful in order to safeguard the purity of spiritual culture which could be tarnished by worldly powers, however there have been others who have espoused national and political causes such as Amir Abdul Qadir al-Jazairi (d.1883) the champion of the colonial-overthrow in Algeria , Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi of the Naqshbandiyyah also known as Mujaddid Alf Thani or Reviver of the Second Millenium in India or the Sufi orders in Sudan that transformed themselves into political forces. In today’s world we are fast moving forward in the process of an evolutionary unfolding of a planetary consciousness which is going to prove obsolete and defunct all ideologies, whether political, economic, social or religious that prove inconsistent with the vibrations of a cosmic awakening which will herald the fulfillment of the Age of Unity initiated by the advent of Islam and the coming of the final Prophet Muhammad s.w.

I consider it a necessary step for Sufis also to step out of their cloisters and to enter into mainstream public teaching and interaction in order to manifest the change that is so vital. The difference between a Sufi and a monk is that the Sufi lives in the world to practice his/her spirituality and the monk gives up the world to practice his. The desired change that is to come can only come through the opened heart of the Wali and not the narrow dictates of the cleric.

Naila at a conference in Marrakesh, Morocco

A way to facilitate this transformation is to encourage as many Sufi seminars, symposia and dialogues as possible. It is important for the spiritually realized to now break the silence of mystic repose in order to actively direct the positive transmutation of the negative expression that certain ignorant people have given to Islam. If clerical dawa’ can be organized and methodically implemented so should Sufi education and cultivation be made available to people who are running about shepherdless and falling prey to the perils of erroneous beliefs and interpretations of faith. Sadly in Pakistan I have observed Sufism to have been reduced to a wish-granting gimmick as understood by the seekers who are not seekers of the Real but actually seekers of the world. Some of the Sufi practitioners or Pirs have also sold themselves to charlatanry and miracle-mongering which is more playing to the gallery for material gain rather than observing one's commitment to the spiritual ideal. And these I would not even like to call Sufi in the first place.

One has to be pure to a very high degree before one can apply the term Sufi to oneself. The Sufi Way is a noble path which advocates simple living and high-mindedness. And the abysmal level to which humanity has fallen as evident through the numerous examples of violation of human rights and honour is proof enough that the spiritual powers in our society are not functioning in their true capacity. I sincerely hope for a spirtual revival just as we hope for a revival in the many other spheres of human life in our country.


S: Looking at the world and knowing that Sufis can be found in every major Cities in the world, what you think should be the priorities of the Sufis in order to honor the very essence of what it means to be the successor of the Messenger (warith ar-Rasul)?

N: Warith-ar-Rasul (Inheritor of the Prophetic Way) is a supremely responsible designation. The Awliya as Warith-ar-Rasul carry the trust of being the representatives of the Rasul s.w. In the Baya’ or the ritual act of initiation when the hand is placed in the hands of the initiator, the seeker does not give his hand to the person of the teacher but to the divine force that is active in the being of the teacher and that goes back, hand after hand to the blessed hand of the Prophet Muhammad s.w on whose hand is the very Hand of Allah Subhan wa Ta’ala, “Yaddullah”.

Verily, those who give Bay'a (pledge) to you (O Muhammad s.w they are giving Bay'a (pledge) to Allah. The Hand of Allah is over their hands (al-Quran 48:10).

There is a widespread misconception that Islam spread at the point of the sword but in fact it spread due to the charm of the Prophet Muhammad’s personality and the purity and light of his noble being, may abundant peace be upon him. He is known as Nabiyy-i-Kareem (the Gentle Prophet) and it was the great sensitivity of his being, his profound consciousness of human-ness that made him the “best exemplar for mankind”. “And verily, you (O Muhammad SAW) are on an exalted (standard of) character” (al-Quran 52:4).

It is a great privilege to be born as an ummati (follower) of the Prophet Muhammad s.w but simply being born into the faith does not fulfill the responsibility. We have to be born again as the true spiritual followers of this great being in order to do justice to the grace that he brought to us. It is a real irony when you see Muslims resorting to violent means in a bid to what they call an act of safeguarding the honour of the Prophet s.w (Hurmat-i-Rasul). If we truly feel that we are custodians of the Prophet’s honour then we need to focus on cleansing ourselves and elevating ourselves morally and spiritually to the degree where we become the living expression of the prophetic virtues and ideals. The honour of the Prophet is sullied by those who call themselves Muslims and act contrary to the true spirit and teachings of Islam not by those ignorant and wretched souls who act out of total insanity. Our responsibility as Muslims is great and as Sufis even more because a Sufi pledges him/herself to the highest ideals that the faith bequeaths. As they say Shari’ah is like a highway, everyone can travel on it, but Tariqah is that strait and narrow way that can be crossed only with a highly committed concentration, an exercise of great caution and a sense of skillful discipline. As they say the permissible (halaal) of the laity is among the prohibited (haram) of the elect.


In prayer at the shrine of Sheikh Ahmed Tijani (r)
S: You do organize Spiritual retreats. Could you please give us an inside view of what a Sufi retreat consists of, how it is structured and organized and what is intended for the participants to receive at or after their participation.

N: The term “Spiritual Retreat” itself gives away the meaning which is to retreat into the spiritual ground of your being. It is a time for deep communion with the Self. The Prophet Muhammad s.w said “ There s a polish for everything and the polish for the heart is Zikrullah (divine remembrance).” Most of the time we dwell in a very superficial and surface level of our being and due to that we tend to become identified with what is transitory, ever changing and fragile. This unification with the impermanent plunges us into the ocean of despair, desperation and helplessness. Overcome by these negative emotions we begin to drown in the flood of our illusory being. The true Self remains untouched, peaceful and perfect yet we remain oblivious to it as it becomes covered over by our imagined self.

During retreat we are given the opportunity to reconnect with this true Self and this retrieval of our true nature can bail us out of the perdition of imposed selfhood. In other words you could say a spiritual retreat is a time for revival, revivification and renewal of life in every sense. The practice has its origin in the tradition of the great Prophets, Saints and Masters of humanity. The Ahle-Kahf in the Holy Quran (see Surah Kahf) are the people of introspection, Prophet Musa a.s was called to Mount Sinai for a forty day period for divine communion before he received the divine commandments., Prophet Yunus a.s stayed in the belly of the fish, Prophet Zakriyyah was sworn to a fast of silence for three days, Hazrat Maryam retreated to the wilderness when she became pregnant with the Divine Logos and Prophet Muhammad s.w retired into the Cave of Hira.

This practice is emulated by the Sufis and the withdrawal from the distraction of the world is necessary to re-align oneself with the divine light and inspiration. By retreating into the sacred cave of the Self we dig the spiritual treasure of divine grace so that we can see and then be the Face of the Beloved.

The traditional Sufi retreat is of forty days but since we live in a time when everything is fast-moving, people do not have the luxury of taking out so much time so we provide the possibility of weekend retreats which are spread over two or three days. The entire time from dawn to dusk is devoted to Zikrullah in various forms. There is Sohbet (spiritual dialogue), Taa’m (breaking bread together), Zikr (divine remembrance through chanting of sacred Names of Allah), Muraqibah (Mindfulness and Meditation), Sema (listening to sacred Sufi music) and the practice of Adab (spiritual courtesy through discipline) during the course of the retreat. What I am talking about here is a group retreat. The routine of an individual retreat would be different and more prone towards seclusion.


S: You have significant interest in the re-interpretation of the teachings of the Holy Quran in universal light and spirit of progressive dynamism. With the exploration that you’ve made in this avenue, to your view, what we missed in the last few hundred years when it comes to the field of interpretation of the teachings of the Holy Quran and what should be done to progress forward?

N: The Book of Allah, the Holy Quran, inasmuch as it is our sacred scripture, it is also a Handbook for daily living. We Muslims need to develop a constant rapport with this Great Book. The revealed Quran is the Quran-i-Tadwini while the cosmos is the Quran-i-Takwini. One is the scriptural writing and the other is the beautiful calligraphy of nature. Both are reflective of each other and there is an intrinsic harmony between them. This is what Allah intended. Man on the other hand reading false meanings into the text out of his limited and ignorant way of seeing things has constructed barriers between the textual Quran and the living Quran of nature. By doing this he has committed the grave sin of obstructing the universal flow of grace. The Quran clearly warns us “And surely this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher. Therefore be conscious of Me and no other. But people have broken their religion into sects, each group rejoicing in that which is with them. But leave them in their confused ignorance for a time." (23:52-54). Allah also says “ Their Lord responded to them: "I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female - you are equal to one another. Thus, those who immigrate, and get evicted from their homes, and are persecuted because of Me, and fight and get killed, I will surely remit their sins and admit them into gardens with flowing streams." Such is the reward from GOD. GOD possesses the ultimate reward. (3:195). And “As for those who lead a righteous life, male or female, while believing, they enter Paradise; without the slightest injustice.” (4:124).

Further “The submitting men, the submitting women, the believing men, the believing women, the obedient men, the obedient women, the truthful men, the truthful women, the steadfast men, the steadfast women, the reverent men, the reverent women, the charitable men, the charitable women, the fasting men, the fasting women, the chaste men, the chaste women, and the men who commemorate GOD frequently, and the commemorating women; GOD has prepared for them forgiveness and a great recompense.” (33:35). In the light of the above verses we have ample evidence of the just, equitable and egalitarian character of Islam. However, we have failed to see this noble ideal of musawaat (equality) implemented in Muslim societies. There is clear-cut infringement of human rights. Religious minorities, women and the perceived ‘other’ who does not fit into a certain personal definition of ‘Muslim’, are rendered lesser human and outcasts.

So I ask what kind of Islam are we practicing? The Islam that Prophet Muhammad s.w gave to humanity was the Islam of love, courtesy, respect, tolerance, peace, harmony, liberation, nobility, grace, God-consciousness, tenderness of heart, sympathy, forgiveness and last but not least selfless service. The only measure of preference allowed in Islam is taqwa (righteousness). Islam does not teach parochialism and nor is it misogynistic. By imposing such meanings onto its Message we reduce it to another religion while it is vastly greater than that; it is the deen-i-fitrah, the perfected mode of belief entrusted to mankind through the instrument of the final Messenger s.w. No matter how hard we try we cannot imprison air or the inifinitude of space and similarly the perfection of Truth cannot be put in the moulds of human understanding and be marketed as the ultimate Truth.

We have entered into the Age of Culmination, the last Epoch and it is inevitable that the barriers of human constructs breakdown before the irresistible force of Unity, of Oneness, of Tawhid. Only he/she will survive the winds of change that have begun to blow already who will awaken to the divinity within and recognise the essence behind the form and so see the only Spirit, the one Reality that is behind the various masks of different forms. All differences and prejudices will become meaningless in the Era of the New Humanity.

In the past centuries there can be noted a growing trend towards interpreting the Quran in narrower and exclusive terms. Yet, the present times sees the rise of scholars and the learned, male and female, who are moving towards a more balanced and equitable reading of the Quran. I welcome the entry of female scholars like Laleh Bakhtiar in the arena of Quranic interpretation and would hope that more women train to become Quranic exegetes. If we could receive one-third of our faith from a woman (Hazrat Ai’shah r.a, ummul-momineen) then why are we skeptical about giving free and equal access to women in the spiritual and religious spheres of functioning and development? The time is here to challenge the multiple erroneous beliefs that have been institutionalized over centuries on false religious and historical grounds. The time has come to declare with courage “Waqul jaa alhaqqu wazahaqa albatilu inna albatila kana zahooqan” (Say: Truth has come and falsehood perished; for falsehood is by its nature bound to perish) (al-Quran,17:81).

Wa Akhiro Daawana-ho-Alhamdolillah-i-Rabbil-Alimeen, Wa SalawaatuLlahi Ta’ala ala Nabiyyi Rahmah wa Khayr-ul-Mursaleen. (For the People of Paradise) the conclusion of their supplication will be, "Praise be to the Divine Being, the Lord of the worlds." And peace of God be upon the Messenger of mercy and the Best of those who were (sent to mankind).

Ameen.



# Further:
* Amat-un-Nur (Naila Tiwana) may be connected via her Facebook
* Nazr-e-Kaaba / writings and collection by Amat-un-Nur
* Sufi Order International
* House of Remembrance, Lahore



# Past Sohbets:

* When Dreams Begin Our Quest / Sohbet with Noor-Malika Chishti

* In Quest of My Oasis / Sohbet with Amatullah J. Armstrong

* Quest in the Province of Ecstatic Exchange / Sohbet with Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

* In Quest of A Friend Beyond Compare / Sohbet with Carol Sill

* In Quest of a Naked Intent Toward God / Sohbet with Barbara Flaherty

* Sohbet with Hilary Hart / Author of The Unknown She

* Quest of Meeting the Great Artist / Sohbet with Dominique Dubrule

* In Quest of the Truth that will set us free / Sohbet with Sheikha Maryam Kabeer Faye

* Quest of a Dusty Traveler / Sohbet with Brenda Wentworth

* An American Sufi Quest / Sohbet with Mansur Johnson

* Painting with Bawa / Sohbet with Denise Sati

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