Sufism: Talk given by Wequar Azeem at the Thinkers’ Forum’s monthly session on 10/27/13

My interest in Mysticism is of a remote nature borne out of personal curiosity, strictly at a layman’s level. I would like to present what I have gathered from
A-   published material and
B-    from companionship of limited duration in each case with some renowned Sufis such as
1.late Abdul Shakoor Qalander Baba of Swat.
2.His Holliness, Qudwatul Awliya Naqeeb ul Ashraaf Pir Syedna Tahir Allauddin alGillani alQadri alBaghdadi, the head of the Qadirriyya Baghdadia Spiritual Tariqah in his time. He was the custodian of the Shrine of Piran-e-Pir Ghous-e-Azam Dastgeer Hazrat Abdul Qadir Gilani.He too passed away in early 1990’s.
Hazrat Tahir Allaudding Gilani has been accepted by many as a reformer of Tasawwuf and Tariqat. He traced his lineage by seventeen steps to Abdul Qadir Gilani and 28 steps to the Prophet of Islam Hazrat Muhammad, SAW.
3.And last but not the least, Abdul Shakoor Qadri, whom all of you recognize as Sheikhul Islam Tahirul Qadri, founder of Idara Minhajul Quran. Tahirul Qadri is a disciple of late Tahir Allaudding Gilani. When Abdul Shakur Qadri took the baet with Tahir Allauddin Gilani and became his Mureed and Tahir Allauddin became his Sheikh, Abdul Shakoor Qadri changed his name to Mohammed Tahirul Qadri out of love, respect and devotion to his Sheikh Tahir Allauddin Gilani.
I had the privilege of travelling from New York to Makkak Mukarrama in the Ramadan of 1990, as a personal guest of Allama Tahirul Qadri for the rare honor of aitekaf-e-Kaaba with Tahirul Qadri Saheb for 10 ten days, and had the good fortune of listening to his dissertations to me about Tassawwuf, its role in the practice of religion and its impact on an individual’s spiritual life. A good part of my speech today is based on the indelible memory of my conversations with him, with his Sheikh, and with Qalander Baba of Swat, more than 22 years ago.
Let’s first deal with the definition of Tasawwuf. Tasawwuf is another name for Islamic mysticism or Sufi’ism. It is defined by the Sufis as the inner dimension or mystical dimension of Islam. Mysticism is a perennial philosophy of existence that pre-dates Islam and has existed in older major religions like Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and even in new religion like Sikhism. The manifestation and expression of Tasawwuf developed to full bloom within Islam. The word Tasawwuf and its derivative Sufi came from one of the four popularly believed sources. First source is an Arabic word Ahl-e-Suffah, which refers to the closest associates of the holy Prophet, notable among them being Ali ibne Abu Talib, his cousin and son-in-law, all of who performed the premier form of worship called Ehsaan under the imamat of the Holy Prophet. Ehsaan is the higher and uncommon form of Ibadah or Ibadat in which the worshipper imagines that he is in the audience of Allah and even though he cannot see Allah, Allah is seeing him. You know of course that Ibadaah, the regular form of worship, has been mandated for common Muslims. Ehsaan on the other hand consists of, among other things, Dhikr, a systematic and psychotomimetic chanting of the divine names of Allah by a group referred as Taifa or Halqa, in vocal unison as in a chorus. I’ll come to dhikr little later and explain what dhikr is. Another source for etymology of Sufi is ‘Suf’ meaning wool, and Sufis being the spiritual persons in the Middle East, in medieval times, who donned the long woolen cloaks and spent most of their time in worship and Moraqba. I’ll also narrate the meaning of Moraqba. The third source is the Greek word ‘Sofia’ which means wisdom and knowledge of the secret of hereafter. And the last probable source is the word Safa meaning pure or pristine of heart. While all Muslims believe that they are on the pathway to God and hope to become close to God in Paradise—of course after death and after the “Final Judgment”—Sufis believe that it is possible to draw closer to God and to embrace Divine Presence in this life, through Ehsaan and Tazkiya-e-Nafs, another term that I’ll explain as we go along. The chief aim of all Sufis is to seek the pleasure of Allah by working to restore within their selves the primordial state of fitra, described in the Qur’an, or simply put in Urdu as Fitri. In this state nothing one does defies God, and all is undertaken with the single motivation of Love of God. A secondary consequence of this is that the seeker may be led to abandon all notions of dualism or multiplicity, including a concept of an individual self, and to realize the Divine Unity with the Infinite Divinity itself.
The aim and object of Sufi’ism is therefore to demolish the individuality and selfishness of inner self, the constant urge for personal aggrandizement, to bypass the milestones of worldly gains and materialistic accomplishments. Sufi’ism teaches the way to merge one’s separate existence into the Infinite Whole, The Whole which is the originator of all things, concrete and abstract, the one and only Divine Power that brings all things into existence just by willing it. Under the Sufi thought all individuals are like scattered drops of water, separated from the ocean. Tasawwuf guides the drop to spiritually merge back into the vast ocean. When the drop, through Tasawwuf, merges into the ocean, it ceases to be a tiny drop, it becomes the ocean itself, the Sufi thus becomes one with the Deity. You must have read about a famous Sufi, a Muslim mystique named Mansoor Hallaj who yelled “Ana Al Haq” meaning “I am the Ultimate Truth”, The Ultimate Truth is also euphemism for Allah and hence the people decided to punish him for heresy and the Sufi went to gallows with a smile. Another example is of Sarmad who was executed by the order of Moghul Emperor for same reason.As Allama Iqbal said “nishaan e mard-e-momin ba tu goyam  –  ChooN marg aayed tabassum bar lab-e-oost”.
Tasawwuf prescribes several different paths, any one of which can be travelled to break free from worldly desires and worldly ambitions, to attain a nirvana of sorts, and to become one with the Infinite Whole. Those paths are called Taruq or Asluk plural of tariqah and Slook.  Another word used for tariqah is silsila. All Taruq were conceived and practiced by different Master Sufis and are named after the Sufi that introduced them. The more famous Taruq or Asluk in the sub-continent are the Chishtiya, Qadriya, Suharwardiya, Junaidiya, Naqshbandiya. The most famous Tariqah in the Middle East is the Mevlevi Silsila of Maulana Rum.
Every Tariqah, on the physical side, entails marathon sessions of Ehsaan, a non-mandatory but premier worship which includes Muraqba, Dhikr with Zarb, praying in solitude, non-mandatory fasting, nursing and healing the sick, helping the infirm, feeding the hungry by giving away their own food etc. in addition to the mandatory Ibadah. The Dhikr is psychedelic chanting of Allah’s name in chorus, while standing in a circle called Halqa or Da’ira, at night, often in complete darkness, night after night, year after year. The ritual is led by the Pir or Sheikh of the Khanqah and he teaches the technique of chanting the divine name from the depths of the chest, and not just from the vocal chords, to create the environment of spiritual hypnosis. The Dhikr is intended to train the adept, also called a Salik in Sufi lingo. Salik means a person walking on the path that is tariqah or slook. The salik is taught how to clear his mind, of all worldly thoughts, and to concentrate on the Infinite Might of the Almighty. The end object is to install the chanted name of Allah in the heart of the disciple. This is rather interesting because in mysticism, the brain is deemed to house the logic of the thought process while the emotions and sentiments and Ego, together called Nafs, are lodged in the heart. In order to make room in the heart to install the presence of Creator in it, the resident emotions of greed, passion, lust, anger, jealousy, ill-will collectively called the Ego or Nafs have to be ousted first. The cleansing of heart is accomplished through many arduous exercises. The process is called “Tazkiya-e-Nafs”. Those exercises, also called mashaqqat include, among other things, the “Dhikr-e-Qulb”, remembrance of Allah by heartbeats. The basic idea in this mashaqqat is to visualize the Arabic name of God, Allah, as being written on the disciple’s heart, and that takes years of consistent practice. The other Mahaqqaat, beside Dhikr-e-Qulb for repossessing the heart from the clutches of Ego to accomplish “Tazkiya e nafs” is loyal, docile and untiring servitude to the Sheikh, just like the service a Master of Shaolin Temple receives from a Trainee. The Mashaqqat includes taking care of the sick and elderly and feeding the hungry, in the Khanqaah’s flock or the parish, to borrow the terms from christianity, cook, clean the Takiya or Khanqah, live on mere survival portions of ration and perform lots and lots of Praying and worshipping. Muraqba is praying in solitude while observing silence, similar to the meditation in Yoga. To perform Muraqba the disciple has to focus his full consciousness towards Allah while saying three times: “Ilahî anta maqsûdî wa-ridâka matlûbî—my God, you are my Goal and Your pleasure is what I seek”. Then he brings to his heart the Name of the Essence—Allâh—and as it courses through his heart he remains attentive to its meaning, which is “Essence without likeness”. Mashaqqat also entails long episodes of sleep deprivation due to countless hours of worshipThe concept of such Mashaqqat is known as “Tariq us sabr”. However Imam Shadhili, founder of the Shadhili Tariqah recommended Tazkiya-e-Nafs without the self abnegation. It allows its Salik to enjoy all that Muslims have been allowed in Quran, but insists on focused worshipping and rendering self-less service to fellow men. This tariqah is called “Tariqush Shukr”. Few other practices include  recitation, singing, the most well known being the Qawwali, instrumental music, devotional dance, most famously the Sufi Whirling of the Mevlevi Order, incense, meditation, ecstacy, and hypnotic trance manifested by Dhammaal, a dance performed by devotees at Sufi Saints’ shrines and tombs. The Saliks thus lead a life of physical hardship without ever complaining or harboring complaining thoughts. It takes a lot of personal sacrifice and self-denial over many years, without respite, to kill the demon of ego or Nafs for good. The guiding Sheikh is a hard task master and he makes sure that the disciple is fully imbibed with the love of God and devotion to God, and entertains no desire for worldly pleasures. A stage eventually comes when they say that the disciple possesses a wish-free heart, “Dil-e-be-mudduaa”, or “Raazi ba Raza-e-Ilahi” under most trying circumstances. The adherents of tasawwuf are promoted to ascending levels of sufiism called Darjaat or muqamaat, as years go by and disciple goes on demolishing the ego. The Salik must keep scoring higher Darjaat through utmost devotional worship and selfless service to the humanity at large. Concurrently with the frugal and colorless life of a hermit, the trainee sufis or saliks have to pray and learn the Holy Scripture in the way mystiques do. The Quran has the text for common Muslims called Ibara or Ibarat to be read and complied with and that leads to Eemaan or Islam, meaning an acceptance of Oneness of Almighty that is Tawheed-e-Ilahi. Quran also has Ishara, which is the message enshrined in between the lines, to be learned by the disciple under tutelage of the Sheikh. Isharah leads the Salik to Eeqaan. Eeqaan denotes that the disciple not only has the Eemaan or acceptance but also firm belief with certainty in the Oneness of Almighty. The Ibara is the external comprehension called Ilm-e-zahiri, but the study of Ishara leads to Haqiqah or Hikma and Eeqaan, the deeper knowledge of God’s Oneness…  Tawheed. The next Darja is Irfaan, also called iIm-e-baatini or Maarifat. All of these expressions denote comprehension of the inner reality or the invisible truth of the Oneness and limitlessness of His Being. The essence of Maarifat is that God Almighty pervades through the entire universe; every animate and inanimate object and the entire Universe is an insignificantly tiny particle of the mystery named Allah. He exists in every grain of sand, every blade of grass and every drop of ocean, and yet He is just one and only in His Infinite Existence. The concept is called “Wahdat al Wajud”   and it was presented by a Master Sufi Ali Ibn Arabi in the sixth century Hijri. The old question whether everything is from Him, or everything put together is Him, was debated among the Persian and Turkish Sufis a millennium ago under the expressions of “Hama Oost” and “Hama az Ost”. It was not settled by the “Wahdat al Wajud” of Ibn Arabi and the debate still continues.
To set foot on the path of Sufi’ism, it is imperative that a Sheikh who is a Pir-e-kaamil is found, to train under. A Pir-e-kaamil is one who has authority, called Ijaza, to teach, by a Master of the Tariqah in an unbroken succession (Silsilah) leading back to Prophet Muhammad PBUH. It is the transmission of the divine light from the teacher’s heart to the Seeker’s heart, under a process called ‘seena ba seena’ that allows the adept to progress spiritually in Darjaat rather than acquiring theworldly knowledge transmitted from mouth to ear. Therefore, it is up to the Sheikh to transfer the spiritual knowledge to his disciple by taking him in an embrace where the two hearts are in touch. The sheikh decides to do that when he is satisfied that the disciple has successfully served him and his Khanqah and complied with the Tariqah. In addition, the genuine teacher has to be utterly strict, first in enforcing adherence to the Divine Law of Ibarah called Shari’at, and then in enforcing therules of the Tariqah or Tariqat, based on Isharah.  According to standard Sufi concept there are four principal degrees of human perfection or sanctity; namely:
1. “Shari’ah”, i.e., strict obedience to all ritual laws of Islam, such as prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, almsgiving, ablution etc., all of which is the lowest degree of worship, and is mandatory for all
2. Ṭariqah, which is accessible only to voluntary adherents of Tariqah or Slook and hence called Salik. A Salik, while strictly adheres to outward or ceremonial injunctions of religion, rises to an inward perception of mental power and virtue necessary for approach to the Divinity through hardship of Tariqah.
3. “Ḥaqiqah”, the degree attained by those who, through continuous contemplation, meditation or Moraqba, internal devotion, and ascetic abnegation of worldly pleasures, and untiring service to humanity have risen to the true perception of the nature of the visible and invisible; who, in fact, have recognized the Godhead, and through this knowledge have succeeded in establishing an ecstatic relation to it; and
4. “Ma’arifah”, a state in which the Sufi communicates directly with the Deity.
The gradual ascension of a Salik, in the ranking or Darjaat of Tasawwuf, is divided in three phases called “Fana fi Sheikh”, “Fana fi Rasul” and “Fana fi Allah”. The celebrities or Saliks from the world of poetry and literature who progressed to the position of “Fana fi Rasul” are Hafiz, Jami, Rumi, Saadi Shirazi and perhaps Iqbal and Ghalib. Those belonging to the sub-continent who are said to have reached the zenith of “Fana fi Allah”, attained Ma’rifat and Vilayet and hence popularly revered as Vali and Arif. There are many such aulia in the sub-continent like Baba Bulleh Shah, Data Saheb Ali Hajveri, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Shah Jalal Baba, and a host of others.
Thank you for listening. I would like to conclude my say on Tasawwuf with a personal remark that it is not an exact discipline and there are countless grey areas, and hence it is not the cup of tea for the skeptics, myself included.