The question usually arises from people in my immediate network "what is Sufism?” It is a path that must be experienced to develop a sound comprehension. It is a path trod by Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Baha'is, Wiccans, Buddhist, others of various faiths, and those of no faith tradition.
So lets begin at the beginning to answer this question and use a metaphor that most here in the west are familiar with to get a decent description of what is Sufism.
However, I must state that this is my understanding of the path and in no way is a definitive definition of Sufism. Nor is my use of the following metaphor definitive as the only interpretation of the verses it pertains to.
The Bible tells us that in the beginning our parents resided in the Garden of Eden. They were told to eat of everything good in the garden including the Tree of Life. But were warned not to approach the Tree of knowledge of good and evil.
For years I pondered that verse and when I accepted Islam I felt I no longer needed to concern myself with it as the Quran calls it an evil tree. Well if age has taught me anything it's that the more mature (spiritually) we become the more we can understand those things that eluded us in youth.
The Quran by calling the tree of knowledge of good and evil an evil tree is giving a more direct, less metaphorical, title to this apparition in the garden. So let's consider the metaphor, the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, to discover why it is an evil tree.
When we consider a certain part of the phrase "knowledge of" we can ask ourselves what does that mean. Well let's say I have an orange; I look at the orange an admire its color and see that it is appealing. I peel back the skin and a delicate watery pulp like substance appears before my eyes and has an appearance of invitation to taste it. So I bite it and enjoy the succulent fruity taste. Thus I have enough knowledge of the fruit to know I can enjoy it and find it refreshing and good.
However I don't know anything about the tree that produced it. Nor do I know it's germination cycle or what climate it takes to produce it. I don't care as long as I can enjoy it. If I delve into studying the orange then perhaps one day I would have wisdom of the orange and know all of its secrets like nourishment capacity, germination cycle and even why it makes a good cleaning agent.
To complicate matters further another person who has knowledge of oranges may despise them and say the apple is better. Another may like oranges but grade them differently from me. A chemist may say they are horrible to eat but "I know how to produce a good orange cleaner from them." Yet none of us display a clear wisdom of the Orange.
It is the same with our status of having knowledge of good and evil. We have knowledge, but few can affirm that they have wisdom of good and evil. And as such, in general, we have a multitude of differing and somewhat strong opinions on the nature of good and evil; some, if not most, of which are opposing philosophies and beliefs.
This is the legacy, in brief, of our partaking of the tree "of knowledge" of good and evil. As a planetary community, wisdom of what's right and wrong/ good and evil continues to elude us. We judge without wisdom.
Jesus addresses this fallacy when he says, " he who is without sin caste the first stone." Thus the problem becomes judging each other with our knowledge of good and evil and not judging with wisdom.
Some think that the tree of knowledge granted us awareness . In truth it crippled us with false perceptions derived from our racially (human) immature concepts of what's right and wrong.
And then there is the Tree of Life which the Divine has asked us to eat from. In the Bible, as well as the Quran, the Divine states that life was breathe into us. This is an intimate act from the Divine; we received the very breath of God!
This is important to understand as it relates to us one fact, that the Divine loved humanity so much in His unconditional way that He breathe self-awareness into us. Self -awareness, which is another way of saying sacred life, that can grow, evolve, and have the capacity to love the Divine and each other. This is represented by the Tree of Life in my use of it as a metaphor.
We are more then simple animals or beast of the field. We were never meant to be ruled by animal instinct or knowledge of good and evil. We were meant to be governed by the Divine Love that God has breathe directly into our very soul.
Love does not judge. Love does not hate. Love does not create laws and rules for itself and others in order to dominate. Love simply says "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's with this that Jesus calls us back to the Tree of Life. And once we return he implores us to "...Love God with all your heart and soul..."
This is the path of the Sufi; to not stand in judgement of others, but to partake in the Tree of Life which creates an overwhelming desire to Love the Divine and love what the Divine loves...Humanity. It gives us a heightened sense of compassion.
It is through the practice of meditative remembrance (dhikr) that the Sufi experiences Divine Love and bask in the shade of the Tree of Life.
For several weeks I have been following the reports in the media about President Barack Obama being a Muslim. I have been patiently waiting for someone to affirm that it is irrelevant to be concerned about his personal beliefs. Instead, most commentators and media personalities have tried to either criticize President Barack Obama for being Muslim or defend him against being Muslim. As a Muslim I take offense to both points of view.
We do not live in 1940 Germany, when the Jews were looked at as the social ill. We don’t live in the early colonial days, where people feared witchcraft. We no longer live in an era when blacks were looked at as 1/3 human; and we should not, in this modern day and time, scapegoat Muslims for the actions of the few misguided barbarians.
We live in a modern culture where Muslims are thoroughly integrated into today’s society. We are living in a day and time where, according to the Constitution, we have a country based on religious tolerance. Jews, Christians, Muslims, other religious and ethnic groups have contributed greatly to our country’s rise and development.
During the Golden Age of Islam, Muslims protected and cultivated the philosophy, mathematics, and medicine of the ancient Greeks; sciences which we now so diligently study in our schools and colleges. Our schools and colleges are now filled with Muslim professors and Muslim students, who are serving America as the Jews and Christians once served Muslim empires.
America is not solely a Christian country; it is a multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-religious society. From the very inception of America, our country has been filled with Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Native Americans, Buddhist, and Muslims.
Muslims are not a new, or recent, phenomena in this country. Yet, Quran clutching terrorist are a recent phenomena. They are ignorant of the faith they profess to believe in. However, they are no different than the Bible clutching witch burners, and slavers from our country’s past. But no one has ever, to my knowledge, accused Christianity of being an evil religion unworthy of producing a national president. Why is Islam so different?
The Quran states nothing to the effect that Muslims should blow up buildings or kill innocent people; it simply gives us permission to defend ourselves, just as the constitution gives us permission to defend ourselves. In such a case, we fight only those who harm us; as Americans, your enemies are our enemies. Islam is not your enemy; murderers, rapist, child-molesters, drug dealers, extremist, and terrorist are our mutual enemies.
Furthermore, God tells us in Quran Chapter 49:13 that, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you…” Every great civilization that has ever thrived has incorporated this idea of drawing knowledge, and qualities, from other civilizations and individuals in their mist.
Burning Qurans is simply the type of action that terrorist want non-Muslims to act upon. Islamophobia is the psychological state that the terrorist want non-Muslims to develop; and they want all of us to fear. Those engaged in such activities and, exist in such a mental state of fear are playing right into the hands of the terrorist. They are unwittingly and unknowingly pawns in a greater scheme; the scheme is for America to destroy itself from within through fear and suspicions of each other.
We as Americans are better than that. We are learned and intelligent, and fear (through reverence and awe) only God. We have a history peppered with intolerance, but have learned that tolerance and acceptance has made our country greater than the sum of its parts.
So what if President Barack Obama is a Muslim, or converts to Islam? He would not side with terrorist and extremist. He would remain an American and conduct himself just as all America loving Muslims in this country do.
President Barack Obama should be judged on Job Performance alone; just like any other public servant, employee, or American.
Perceptions of the Soul part III - The Highest Self
My apologies, to any and all, that are used to reading my blog in Holyground. It was necessary to take some time off to complete Imam Omar Hazim’s book titled, “Islam in The Heartland of America”; it will be available on November 11, 2010.
During my fasting for the month of Ramadan, I had time to reflect very carefully on what the final stage of spiritual development entails. I had the opportunity to study the third and highest state of spiritual levels as explained in the Quran; nafsi mutemienna.
The Quran states that at this level the soul is completely at rest. This can be understood that a person at this stage of their journey has peace in his/her heart. This peace is expressed in the very name of Islam, which comes from the root word, SLM, and itself means peace. Thus, Muslim is a word that comes from the same root as Islam, and means a person of peace, or one attempting to obtain peace in their heart through submission to the will of God.
This internal peace spawns many positive attributes in a person; among of them are love (spiritual), honesty, and compassion. The first two are obvious but the last one, compassion, deserves some investigation. It will also help our cause to remember what the Quran states about those of other faith traditions.
“Those who believe (in the Qur'an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Quran 5:69)
Islam affirms that members of other religious traditions will achieve the good pleasure of God through their sacrifices, worship, devotion and compassion. No one will be forgotten for their good deeds.
Thus, among these is compassion. Compassion therefore cannot be just for those in one’s own religious tradition. It must encompass all Godly traditions, and sectarian groups; it must cross racial boundaries to include all of humanity and the world we live in.
We often wonder how those who profess a profound spiritual achievement, and claim to speak for God himself, can be so uncompassionate as to propose the destruction of millions of lives for a particular cause. As well as we should wonder about the perverted teachers who preach hate to their congregations; so much so that they are willing to burn the religious books of another group of people simply for having a different opinion regarding some religious tenants.
We as human beings regardless of religious traditions have to be very careful as to who we put our faith in when searching for a leader, congregation or group who will point us in the direction of God’s Throne. We have to insure that those individuals who consider themselves to be among the very elite are not truly those who will lead us into the very gates of hell through their teachings of hate and terrorism.
Religion was never meant to control people and bend them to a particular person’s whelm or evil design; it is meant to free the souls of its adherents and create something beautiful in the world.
May God grant that all compassionate people come together and fight against hate and intolerance. Amen
There are three basic levels of how we as human beings perceive the world around us. In most religions and esoteric schools, including Islam, such perceptions are considered levels of the soul.
In Islam there are three basic levels to the soul; the lowest being the most materialistic perception and the highest is considered the level of self where God is pleased with the individual who has reached it.
In thinking spiritually, the second level of spiritual development is observable by the caring, and altruistic, nature of an individual.
An individual, who, compassionate to the core of his/her being, and who although makes mistakes but feels remorse and attempts to make amends, can be said to be at this second level of spiritual development.
The Quran cites a story about David and his dealings with two individuals who managed to get passed the king’s security and appear in his private sanctuary. In this story the Quran in Chapter 38 verse 23-25 states, "this man is my brother: He has nine and ninety ewes, and I have (but) one: Yet he says, 'commit her to my care,' and is (moreover) harsh to me in speech." (David) said: "He has undoubtedly wronged thee in demanding thy (single) ewe to be added to his (flock of) ewes: truly many are the partners (in business) who wrong each other: Not so do those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and how few are they?"...and David gathered that We had tried him: he asked forgiveness of his Lord, fell down, bowing (in prostration), and turned (to Allah in repentance). So We forgave him this (lapse): he enjoyed, indeed, a Near Approach to Us, and a beautiful place of (Final) Return.
Some scholars state that this verse is in connection with King David’s “acquisition” of Bathsheba from her husband. King David had desired her from afar, but she was the sole wife of another while he had many.
According to the Bible narrative it was Nathan the Prophet who delivered the above tale to David.
The Quran goes on to state that David realized his wrongdoing. He married Bathsheba after a series of suspicious events pertaining to the death of her husband. He repented to God and was forgiven.
Beyond the fact the David received a godly warning for his wrongdoing, this story represents the second level of spiritual development, where a person becomes truly remorseful of their actions, repents to God, and never commits such an offense again. However when a person repents and ask forgiveness then commits the same act again, it represent no development but only an attempt to escape punishment.
How often do we see people in this era involve themselves in shameful deeds? How often do they display their very shame before all of humanity without any remorse? They continue on in their work merely hoping and praying that they will be forgiven and not caste from the positions. They seek only the material world and experience no true sorrow, merely waiting for the opportunity to offend again.
We should all strive to wear the raiment of truth and righteousness so that we can progress at the spiritual as well as the community and personal levels of our lives.
We should all strive to reach levels of self fulfillment and development beyond our present state of being. The second level makes us conscious of the needs and feelings of others, helps us to abstain from shameful deeds, and create within us the desire to commit altruistic acts.
Recently I gave a speech about perceptions of the soul at the Islamic Center of Topeka.
I explained how one’s spiritual level creates its own perceptions of the world and people.
In Islam there are three basic levels of spiritual progress; in English they are called the selfish soul, the self accusing soul, and the soul at rest. All three are mentioned in the Quran.
The basic, or selfish soul, is simply the soul that concerns itself with physical desires and needs, and whatever it can get is “all good” regardless of the impact its activities has on other people. A person at this level may even be consumed with a passion for learning and helping people, but its goal is fame and money instead of altruism. Such people can be very deceptive.
Sometimes people at the level of lower self (in Islam called nafsi amara) will aspire to higher spiritual positions; like becoming a priest, rabbi, religious scholar, sheikh, or reverend (not to generalize, most people who become spiritual leaders are genuinely spiritually good people).
Such people at the level of nafsi amara may even believe themselves to be in higher spiritual ranks and their respective flock loves them dearly. Yet, eventually, the nature of such leaders will show itself through their abuse of power, adulterous affairs with congregation members, child abuse, hate preaching, or convincing people in their flock to murder themselves and others in terroristic attacks.
In thinking spiritually, it is up to every person to attain higher spiritual levels for protection of themselves and their loved ones. Because the higher the levels we achieve, the more we are able to perceive those who are not as “high on the totem pole” as they want everyone to believe. Hence their powers of deception over us will be lessened.
In such a higher spiritual state we don’t have to guess, or hope, if the person leading us in prayer is a good person. We intuitively know the nature of the person who stands before us. This is a gift which God has placed in our very souls. Thus, self development and its intuitive powers of perception are as important to our spiritual journey as a seatbelt is to our physical journey.
We can be sheep before our spiritual leaders, but even sheep know the difference between the sheep herder and the wolf.
We must strive to reach the second level of self which is called nafsi lawamma (the self accusing soul) so we can discern the nature of the person we follow in prayer and worship.
Of unfortunate statements made by public people, Pat Robertson topped the list last week. His statement about Haiti making a pact with the devil begs the question, "what should be the role of religious leaders?"
Religious leaders have a clear responsibility. This responsibility includes the guidance of the leader’s fellow adherents towards spiritual thinking and action.
Of course everyone has an opinion on how things ought to be, but religious leaders should speak and do those things that are productive toward the spiritual advancement of their flock. A religious leader should have the intelligence of mind, and heart, to know what is helpful and harmful.
Another responsibility of religious leaders is to help those in need. Sometimes that need is physical, as when Jesus healed the physically sick. Sometimes that need is spiritual, as when Jesus taught his flock in parables.
Pat Robertson’s comments fulfilled neither of these responsibilities.
Another responsibility of religious leaders is to understand that the judgment of God is not the same as the assumptions of men.
As an example, God can say that he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for a particular reason. However, if God never told us the reason He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah than we would not be at liberty to say that they were destroyed for their sins. We could only speculate but never make those speculations as something coming from the Divine.
As such, it is not my right, or any human beings right, to hint at, suggest, or believe that any modern day catastrophe is the judgment of God without clear guidance from the Divine source. Religious leaders may claim they possess such authority (prophet hood) but their claims remain unproven.
As such, Pat Robertson has no right to pass judgment on the poor and disenchanted inhabitants of Haiti.
Pat Robertson, and all leaders of the religious world, should be telling their flock to pray for, and aid in any way they can, those who have fallen victim to this and other disasters. That would truly be in the spirit of thinking spiritually.
May God have mercy upon the survivors and the souls of the deceased in Haiti. Amen.
I was in a conversation with a co-worker recently. The conversation turned to racial profiling in the wake of the recent terrorist attempt on a plane heading to America.
I thought about how the majority of would be terrorist are young males who are at the precarious age of self discovery. I thought about how they have been influenced away from the spiritual nature of religion.
I thought about how every religion has at some point in history went through its period of doctrinal war between the spiritual minded, and the structure minded.
Structure gives us a hierarchical of authority that at times can be represented by a prophet, priest or equivalent at its top level. Spirituality gives the believer a sense of communication with God, and symbolically hearing God in ones daily life.
When the system goes awry the structure minded and spiritual minded go to war. Examples of this can be found in practically every tradition. The question that is usually asked by the structure minded is, “what kind of rules and limitations do we impose upon the masses?” The question that is usually asked by the spiritual minded is, “how can we continue to move forward and reach God?”
When such questions are asked two or more camps are developed; one is the structured majority who establish a doctrine of do’s and don’ts. The other group stays small, and meets at particular times to meditate and pray. When these groups stay together the doctrine of Mizan (balance) remains intact.
In thinking spiritually, the intactness of the structure minded people and the spiritually minded people help to create a healthy doctrine where a community can grow and develop properly.
However, it is obvious that in some places in the world the lack of such a balance in the religious community has allowed the despicable viewpoint of extremism to fill the void. A void which is full of disillusioned young men who are manipulated by disillusioned older men.
In my opinion, only the reuniting of the spiritual minded and the structured minded will seal this rift. Such a reuniting will close the door to extremism as the structure of spiritual growth is once again implemented in the life of the believer, as it was in the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
With all the diversity among religions it appears that during this special time of the year for millions of people on the earth, we of the various traditions have something in common.
The Jews are preparing to begin Hanukkah, and the Christians are getting into the spirit of Christmas. Holidays such as these seems to bring out the best in people.
It seems that all the strife and ill feelings across religious divides is consumed in the heart of goodwill, as is evident by the many opportunities in Topeka right now for faith sharing.
Among the Muslims there is the celebration of Eid ul Adha. This celebration is in honor of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his firstborn son to God.
It seems that this time of the year is about sacrificing of one’s self to bring joy and happiness to others. Sharing becomes the most desired trait in a person.
In thinking spiritually, I often wonder if I could sacrifice as much as Abraham. It’s not about taking a life it’s about laying everything I own, and care about, before God and make him the owner.
For in truth we own nothing. We have been given a gift; the gift of a soul and nothing more. When we meet our lord at the end of time the soul, and its light, is the only thing that will go with us.
As such, each and every one of us should make our intentions to pour our very essence into an effort to bring the utmost joy to those we come in contact with.
For the light created from sharing will travel with our soul to the next life. And the light we give to others will travel with those souls to witness to our generosity.
Happy Holidays to all in every faith tradition.
As a Muslim I am continuously appalled at what people do in the name of God. I see the worship of God and the gift of life that he has bestowed on humanity greater than any gift he has bestow on anything in creation. Not only do we live, breath and think, but He has bestowed within in us the ability to grow spiritually.
In thinking spiritually, every created thing on earth is brought forth from a state of death to life and maintained by God. That is to say that far beyond the need for rest, God stands beyond any needs from what He has created. Yet all of us need God.
When God gives the command for something to exist He but says “Be” and it comes into existence, without any effort or exertion on His part. However, what God brings into being means that He desires for that thing to exist. Thus, Muslims are commanded to cherish and desire good for what God has created. To be on God’s team we must protect the sanctity of life at all cost. To destroy something that God has created is to challenge His very sovereignty.
To God, and subsequently humanity, life is a cherished and sacred thing. I truly pity those who believe that the only thing that matters is the afterlife. Islam is far above being a cult of death. Those who believe Islam is a cult of death have strayed far from the path of truth and have abandoned God’s team.
As the Quran states, “ … We ordained…that if any one slew a person — unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land — it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” (Quran 5:32)
Can you imagine having to answer to the God of Muslims, Christians, Jews, the God of all people, and the God of Life and Love, why you have slain the entire race of humanity?
This is something far from what anyone would desire for themselves. Only someone with an unhealthy state of mind would utter that death is better than life. To utter such a despicable thing is to totally misunderstand the nature of God as taught from the Quran.
God, as a God of life, has stated in the Quran that, “Verily, all things have We created in proportion and measure. And Our Command is but a single (Act), — like the twinkling of an eye. (Quran 54:49-50)
Spiritual development is a beautiful thing that can only be performed in this world. Taking that gift from others ensures that the doer of evil, and destroyer of life, will not receive the reward of paradise promised to those who are on God’s team.
With today’s illnesses and deadly disease running rampant in society, let’s not forget to think spiritually. One of the things I have learned in life is the importance of staying focused and positive even in the face of extreme adversity.
When viewing the problems in society and how they impact the health of my family, I consider the obstacles that those who came before us had to endure.
I think about how Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, stood up and demanded that his people stop killing baby girls. How he demanded that men stop purchasing women to fulfill their lust. How he demanded that men live on an equal footing with their wives. I remember how he demanded his people to respect the rights of women and children. I also remember how he was chased out of Mecca for his demands. I remember how he had to tie stones around his stomach because of the unbearable hunger pains due to the embargo placed against him.
I also remember how Mary, peace be upon her, was shunned for having a baby with no clear indication about his (Jesus) father. I remember how Jesus, peace be upon him, turned his back on wealth and lived nearly in poverty in order to teach people about God. I remember how he willingly suffered for his teachings.
I wonder why they were made to suffer. Then I read the Quran, and it tells me "Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, 'We believe', and that they will not be tested?" (Quran 29:2)
Then I look at my life and realize that suffering, in an odd way, is part of growth. I would not be the person I am today without the suffering I have been privileged to experience.
The Quran also speaks to me of hope. "Verily, with every difficulty there is relief. Therefore, when thou art free (from thine immediate task), still labor hard, and to thy Lord turn (all) thy attention." (Quran 94: 6-8)
We will experience loss of health, wealth and comfort. Such suffering will make us cry out in despair. But in the end we must persevere in order to reach the heights of our spiritual growth and teach others how to cope.
Love, prayer and positive thinking are as powerful as any vaccine-filled syringe. Mizan (balance) must be maintained. We must pray for healing as well as obtaining medicine. Healing, often times, takes both.
Positive (spiritual) thinking is as potent as any needle. Remember to remember God in all that you do. For with God is our true salvation from every type of illness.