Saturday, December 31, 2011

In Memoriam

Sidi Shaykh Buzidi 


Bismi 'Llahi 'r-Rahmani 'r-Rahim

I returned in the early hours of this morning from the funeral, in Nador, of Sid Shaykh Buzidi Bujrafi of the Shadhili-Darqawi-Alawi tariqa. I will not attempt to give an exhaustive obituary here - that should be left to one of his murids, I feel - but I would like to try and describe some reflections on the Shaykh and his passing while they are still fresh in my mind.

Upon entering the zawiya in Nador, the first thing I was aware of was timelessness, the timelessness of the place. Though I had not been there in two years or so, it felt as though I had never left. Sidi Nabil, muqaddam of the Oujda zawiya, said the same to me later on that day. In the zawiya of Shaykh Buzidi, there was no time. It was not Monday, Tuesday, Spring, Summer, December, July; it was only dhikr Allah, remembrance of Him who is beyond time.

Yet of course there was one crucial difference this time around: the Shaykh himself was not there to greet us; and this leads me to the second noticeable presence in the zawiya that morning: grief. We were greeted by Sidi Abd al-Rahim, the Shaykh's son, whose face was an image of grief and loss such as I have never seen. It was all we could do to embrace him, and add our tears to his, without any words being needed. We had arrived just in time to offer the dawn prayer with the congregation. Sidi Abd al-Rahim beckoned to Shaykh Sa'id of Salé to lead the prayer, but the Shaykh took off his woollen cloak and threw it over the shoulders of Sidi Abd al-Rahim, and bade him lead it. After the prayer, we recited together the surat al-Waqi'a and other litanies, and then withdrew to recite our daily wird individually. In gatherings of years past, the fuqara would usually take the two hours or so after this to snatch some sleep after their journeys, and the zawiya would echo with the sound of deep breathing and gentle snores. On this day, though, there was only the sound of muffled sobs and cries.

At around half past seven, a breakfast of olives and olive oil was brought out. Usually at this time, Shaykh Buzidi would come out clapping his hands and singing the Testimony of Faith to rouse the sleeping fuqara for a day of worship; today it was his memory that roused them. After breakfast and ablutions, we began the dhikr, singing the poems of the great spiritual masters of the Order. Many of the lines sung were, of course, those composed by the Shaykh himself. People began to trickle in through the doors of the zawiya, coming from near and far, many of them sobbing, almost all of them weeping. Shaykh Sa'id gave a short talk, quoting lines that would be repeated by many throughout the day, from a poem of the Shaykh al-Alawi:
My beloved ones, if you truly follow me,
Then here is the path: walk upon it behind me.
The path of the Shaykh remains, he said, and it is for his disciples to follow it. He also said that the death of a saint is a time of rejoicing, for it is only then that he is given his true life in the realm of the spirit, free of the chains of this bodily life. He then announced that instead of praying the Friday prayer and funeral in the zawiya, as had first been planned, he had advised the fuqara to bear the Shaykh to the mosque for the prayer, and then return him to the zawiya for burial. This, he said, was so that the funeral prayer would be attended by all, those who knew the Shaykh and those who knew him not, and also so that the people could observe the funeral procession and pay their respects.

At around eleven o'clock, the Shaykh's bier was carried into the zawiya, covered in a green cloth on which verses of the Quran were embroidered. The outpourings of sadness intensified; I do not feel you can know what grief is until you have seen elderly men, normally so stoic and calm, weeping and wailing for a man they loved solely for the sake of Allah. A hadra began, the circle made around the Shaykh once more as it had been so many times in his life. All the Jalal of Allah seemed to be manifested in the room, and it was too much for some, who collapsed into grief-stricken heaps upon the floor, clinging to each other for solace. La ilaha illa Allah. Such love.

And it was love, more than anything else, more even than grief, which was the dominant presence in the zawiya on this day. The Shaykh's bier was taken up by his sons and loved ones, and carried through the streets some distance to the mosque; the procession took perhaps half an hour. Those several hundred men who walked behind it were connected by nothing but love: love for Allah, love for His Messenger (upon whom be blessings and peace), love for those who love Him. If someone were to ask me what love is, I would attempt no definition, but simply say: Go to the zawiya of Sidi Shaykh Buzidi. If you cannot find it there, it cannot be found. The teachings of the Shaykh were simple: dhikr and mahabba. To describe his state would not take many words. What did he do? He invoked Allah. What did he embody? He embodied love for Allah and His Messenger (upon whom be blessings and peace). That is all. His poems of praise for the Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace) were marked by a love that was pure and sincere, with no artifice or pretension. It was these poems that the fuqara sang as they bore the Shaykh back to the zawiya after the prayer, as tradesmen and their customers stood at the doors of their businesses and bowed their heads in respect. The Shaykh was interred in his zawiya as the mourners recited the Ya Sin, al-Mulk, al-Ikhlas. A few people spoke as best they could, choked by their grief; and Sidi Abd al-Rahim, who now finds the zawiya under his care, was asked to speak, but could not quell his tears long enough to utter even a word. The Shaykh was in any case not a fan of words, preferring the dhikr Allah and the poems of the righteous to fill his zawiya with sound and life; and the fuqara then set about doing just that. They are doing it still as I write this, and will continue to do it thereafter. In the zawiya of Sidi Shaykh Buzidi, after all, there is no time.

Radiya Allah 'anhu.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Mysteries of Fasting

Al-Shaykh al-Akbar Ibn Arabi:

Know - may Allah aid you - that fasting (sawm) means both 'abstention' and 'elevation': sam al-nahar means 'the day rose'; Imru' al-Qays used the verb in this way. Because fasting is elevated in rank above all other acts of worship, it is called sawm. God raised it by making it incomparable, out of all the acts of worship, as we shall see; and He took it from His servants even as they worshipped Him by it, and ascribed it to His own Self; and He rewards those who do it by His own hand from His own vessel; and He connected it to Himself by calling it incomparable.

Now fasting is not really an abstention, not an action; and the fact that it is called incomparable makes it all the more apt to be connected with Him; for He says about Himself: "There is nothing like unto Him" (42:11). With this He negates that anything could be comparable to Him; and thus He is incomparable according to both reason and revelation. Nisa'i relates that Abu Umama said: 'I went to the Messenger of God (God bless him and give him peace) and said, "Command me with something that I can take from you." He said: "You must fast, for there is nothing like it."' With this, he negated that any other act of worship God established for His servants is like it. Anyone who understands that fasting is a negative attribute - since it means to abstain from all that vitiates it - will understand for certain that there is nothing like it, for it does not have any essence that could be rationally said to exist. This is why God says 'the fast is Mine', since in reality it is neither worship nor act. To call it an action is barely tolerable, just as to say that the Real (as we understand it) 'exists' is barely tolerable - for the existence ascribed to Him whose Existence is identical with His Essence in no way resembles the existence ascribed to us, for "there is nothing like unto Him."

Consider this Divine Hadith, narrated by Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurayra: The Messenger of Allah (upon whom be blessings and peace) said: 'Allah, Almighty and Glorious, says: "Every act of the Son of Adam is his, save for fasting, which is Mine, and I reward it." Fasting is a shield; and on the day when one of you fasts, let him speak neither obscenely nor loudly; and if anyone curses him or fights him, let him say: "I am fasting." By Him in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, the changed smell of the mouth of the one who fasts is more fragrant to God, on the Day of Resurrection, than the scent of musk. The one who fasts rejoices in two joys: when he opens his fast, he rejoices in it; and when he meets his Lord, he rejoices in his fast.'

Know that since, as the hadith of Nisa'i has established, God declared fasting to be incomparable, and the Real is incomparable, the one who fasts meets his Lord in the attribute of "there is nothing like unto Him"; thus he sees Him by it, and He is both the Seer and the Seen. This is why the Prophet said 'he rejoices in his fast', not 'he rejoices in the meeting with his Lord'; for joy does not cause joy in and of itself, but rather is the conduit of joy felt in something else. If the Real is one's sight when he sees and witnesses, then he sees himself only through His sight. The one who fasts rejoices in attaining unto the rank of incomparability. He rejoices in breaking the fast in this world because of the satiation of the animal self which innately desires nourishment for itself; and when the gnostic sees the need that his animal and vegetative self has for nourishment, and sees His largess in providing the nourishment he gives it, thereby fulfilling its right (haqq), as God obliged him to, he thereby acts with the attribute of truth (haqq). Thus he gives with the hand of God, just as when he meets the Real he sees It with the eye of God. Therefore he rejoices in breaking the fast just as will he rejoice in his fast when he meets his Lord.

(Al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya, Chapter 71)

Friday, August 05, 2011

The Inner Fast

Concerning God’s words

The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of guidance, and the Criterion. And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you; and (He desireth) that ye should complete the period, and that ye should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that ye might give thanks. (2:185)

Kashani says:

The month of Ramadan, the burning of the soul in the light of the Real, in which, that is, at which time, was revealed the Qur’an, the universal unitive knowledge which is called the ‘Qur’anic intellect’ and leads to the station of union: a guidance for mankind, guiding them to Unity in the form of union, and clear proofs of guidance and the Criterion (Furqan); that is, signs which form a connection between union (jam’) and separation (farq) – meaning the detailed knowledge that is called the ‘Furqanic intellect’.

And whosoever of you is present in this time, having reached the station of direct witnessing of the Essence,  let him fast; that is, let him abstain from any word, deed or motion bereft of the presence of the Real.

And whosoever of you is sick, his heart afflicted with the malady of psychological veils which prevent this witnessing, or on a journey, still travelling towards the vision of the Essence but not yet having reached it: (let him fast the same) number of other days; he has other stages to traverse before he arrives at that station.

Allah desireth for you ease in arriving to the station of Divine Oneness (tawhid) and drawing strength from the Divine Strength; He desireth not hardship for you, meaning the overburdening of the weak and feeble soul with deeds;  and (He desireth) that ye should complete the period to complete those stages and stations which lead to this one, and that ye should magnify Allah and know His magnificence and His might for having guided you to the station of union, and that ye might give thanks to Him for making you firm therein.

(Tafsir Ibn ‘Arabi)

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Tariqa in a Few Words

Sidi Ali al-Jamal:

All existence is like a single man, and you are like a single finger of this man. If you gain power over this finger (which is your soul), you will gain mastery over all of existence, conquering and overpowering it whether it likes it or not. You will then be able to act in existence however you please, and nothing will happen therein unless you please.

If you are overpowered by this finger (which is your soul), however, then all of existence will overpower you, dominating and conquering you whether you like it or not. All of existence will do with you whatever it pleases, however it pleases.

If you gain mastery over your soul, all of existence becomes your slave; if your soul gains mastery over you, you become the slave of existence. Now mastery over the soul can only be achieved by gaining knowledge of ‘those who know through God’ (al-‘arifin bi-Llah), and by keeping their company constantly.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Veil of Light

Imam al-Shādhilī (Allah have mercy on him) said: ‘I heard related to me the words of the Messenger of Allah (upon whom be blessings and peace), “Indeed my heart becomes veiled, and I ask forgiveness of my Lord seventy times a day”, and could not understand what it meant. Then I had a vision of the Messenger of Allah (upon whom be blessings and peace), and he said to me: “O blessed one! That is the veil of light, not the veil of contingent things!”’

يا مبارك ذاك غين الانوار لا غين الاغيار


والحمد لله وحده

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ibn Ajiba on the Spiritual Virtues (6)

Love, Witnessing & Intellective Vision, and Gnosis

13 – Love is the permanent inclination of the fervent heart. This inclination is first manifested in the body in the form of servitude – this is the station of the pious; then secondly in the yearning heart in the form of purification and adornment – this is the station of the initiatic spiritual wayfarers; then thirdly in the spirit and the pure secret (sirr) in the form of spiritual firmness – this is the station of the gnostics. Thus the beginning of love is its manifestation in servitude; the middle of it is its manifestation in gratitude and fervour; and the end of it is its manifestation in tranquillity and sobriety, in the station of gnosis. Thus people are divided into three groups: the folk of servitude, the folk of spiritual states (ahwal), and the folk of spiritual stations (maqamat). Its beginning is wayfaring and servitude, its middle is attraction and extinction, and its end is sobriety and subsistence.

14 – Witnessing (mushahada) means to see the Subtle Essence in its manifested and coagulated forms; it is a question of the coagulation of subtle substance. And when love ascends higher, and the coagulated lights become subtle once more, this is intellective vision (mu’ayana)*; it is a question of the return of the coagulation to its subtle state. Thus intellective vision is more penetrating and complete than witnessing. The upshot of this is that the Essence cannot be seen unless Its subtle mysteries are coagulated into manifestations, for the subtle cannot be perceived as long as it is subtle. To see these manifestations in their coagulated form is called ‘witnessing’; and to return them back to their subtle origin by immersing them in the Ocean of Oneness is called ‘intellective vision’. Others say that mushahada and mu’ayana are simply synonyms.

15 – Gnosis (ma’rifa) means that witnessing becomes firm and perpetual; it is the permanent witnessing of the fervent heart. One sees nothing but one's Lord, and turns to none but Him, all the while maintaining justice and keeping to the formalities of the Sacred Law.

*Translator’s note: Sidi Ibn Ajiba is making the distinction here between the gnostic’s recognition of visible things as manifestation of the Real, which he calls mushahada, and the gnostic’s direct vision of subtle realities, which he calls mu’ayana. The term ‘intellective vision’ seems appropriate for describing this latter vision, which takes place via the vehicle of the ‘eye of the heart’ directly, without outward supports.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ibn Ajiba on the Spiritual Virtues (5)

Contentment & Resignation, Vigilance, Self-Reckoning

10 – Contentment (rida) means to meet misfortunes with a smiling face; or it means the happiness the heart feels as fate unfolds; or it means to forgo one’s own free choice and leave things to God’s plan and decree; or it means the expansion of the breast and the absence of any resentment for what comes to one from the One Invincible God.

Resignation (taslim) means to leave all planning and free choice by being still and tranquil as fate unfolds. Thus it is like contentment in essence, except that contentment is greater than it. It is said that the time for contentment is when things actually happen, whilst the time for resignation is before they happen. In this sense, resignation is the same as spiritual abandonment (tafwid). Its beginning is patience and effort; its middle is outward tranquillity despite feelings of resentment and unhappiness; its end is joy and peace without any resentment. The first is for ordinary people, the second for the elite, and the third for the elite of the elite. Even the first stage is not always possible for everyone, because of the human weakness that they, being human, cannot be free of; and thus they are forgiven if they fall short of it.

11 – Vigilance (muraqaba) means constant awareness that God is watching one; or it means to fulfil the rights of God both secretly and openly, without indulging any doubts or delusions, and with complete sincerity. This is the root of all that is good. Vigilance leads to beatitude and determines its power: the more powerful one’s vigilance is, the more powerful the beatific vision he experiences later on will be. Exoterists are vigilant by protecting their bodies from sin; esoterists are vigilant by protecting their hearts from indulging in vain thoughts; the elite of the esoterists are vigilant by protecting their innermost secret from inclining to anything but God.

12 – Self-Reckoning (muhasaba) means to censure oneself from wasting one’s breath and time on anything but obedience to God. It takes place at the end of the day, just as forming one’s spiritual intention (musharata) takes place at the start of the day. One says to oneself at the start of the day: ‘This is a new day, and it will bear witness against you; strive to fill it with that which draws you nearer to God. Had you died yesterday, you would have missed out on the goodness you have a chance to win today.’ One says the same thing as the night approaches, and reckons it when it passes. One continues to do this until he becomes firm in the Presence, whereupon his time becomes unified; this is to drown in the witnessing of the Divine, so that there is no longer anyone to reckon or to chastise. Thus forming one’s spiritual intention comes first, and reckoning oneself comes last; and vigilance must be constant, as long as one walks the path – and when one arrives, there is no longer any reckoning, nor any intention.


الصوفي لم يُخْلَق

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Life and Death, Tears and Laughter

Remember that when you were born, you were crying while all around you were laughing.
Die in such a way that, though all around you cry, you shall laugh.

-Mawlana Rumi.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Moulay Arabi and the Kittens

Moulay 'Arabi al-Darqawi was walking along one day through the streets of Fes with a disciple of his, when they came across a pair of kittens playing in a doorway.

'Look at these kittens, master', said the disciple, 'and how they love each other unconditionally and purely. If only the fuqara could be that way!'

'Indeed,' said Moulay 'Arabi. 'Let us see.' He went over to a nearby butcher and asked for a sliver of meat, which the butcher gave him. He returned with it to the kittens and threw the scrap of meat down to them. Immediately they began to fight and scratch and yowl, each one trying to claim the meat for itself.

'Thus it is with the fuqara', said Moulay 'Arabi.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Ibn Ajiba on the Salat ‘ala an-Nabi

The blessing (salat) which God sends upon His Beloved is His love and affection for him, and His drawing him nigh and electing him; and the peace (salam) He sends him is a salutation and generous ennoblement, and an expression of utmost kindness and favour.

In the invocation of blessings upon the Messenger of God (upon whom be blessings and peace), people are divided into three groups:

First there are those who send blessings upon his human form; these are the people of rational arguments and proofs. They envisage him in their hearts as they invoke blessings upon him, and as they invoke more and more (with presence of mind), the noble image becomes firmer and firmer in their hearts. Thus they see him often in their dreams; and perhaps his noble spirit might take the form of his blessed body so that they see him in a waking state.

Then there are those who invoke blessings upon his illuminating spirit; these are the people of witnessing who travel the spiritual path. They invoke blessings upon his light which flows down from the Realm of Domination (al-Jabarut), and they witness him most of the time, as long as they have presence of mind and vision.

Then there are those who invoke blessings upon his primordial light, which is the light of all lights; these are the people of spiritual firmness and mastery, they of direct witnessing and vision. The Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace) never leaves them for a moment, which is why Sheikh Abu Abbas [al-Mursi], God be pleased with him, said: ‘Were the Messenger of God (upon whom be blessings and peace) to leave me for the blinking of an eye, I would no longer count myself a Muslim.’ In saying this he was alluding to his own firmness and mastery in the Presence, and his having come back to the station of subsistence (al-baqa) wherein one witnesses the Intermediary. Such people’s thoughts roam through the World of Dominion (al-Malakut), and their spirits are connected to the World of Domination (al-Jabarut), and in them is synthesised all that is lacking in others, as the Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace) said: ‘All prey is in the belly of the wild donkey’; for the wild donkey is the fattest of all hunted animals, so that whoever catches one is as fortunate as he would be to catch them all. And the poet said:

It is not beyond God in the least
To combine all worlds in one man.

(From al-Futuhat al-Ilahiyyah.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ibn Ajiba on the Spiritual Virtues (4)

7 – Scrupulousness.

Scrupulousness means to hold back the soul from indulging in anything with blameworthy consequences. Ordinary people are scrupulous by avoiding all that is plainly unlawful; the elite are scrupulous by avoiding all that disturbs the heart with ugliness and darkness, as summed up by the words of the Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace): ‘Leave that which makes you doubt for that which makes you doubt not’. The elite of the elite are scrupulous by refusing to be attached to ought but God, and closing the door to desire for ought but God, and channelling the aspiration towards God, and being content with nothing but Him. This is the scrupulousness of which Hasan al-Basri was speaking when he said: ‘The essence of religion is scrupulousness, and the bane of religion is greed.’ Now the scrupulousness which is diametrically opposed to greed in every way is the scrupulousness of the elite of the elite; a single bit of is worth thousands of prayers and fasts. Thus (Ibn ‘Ata ‘Illah) says in the Tanwir: ‘The servant’s understanding is not proved by his having much knowledge or by his adherence to his litanies; his illumination and understanding are rather proved by his being satisfied with his Lord, and his heart’s being attached to Him, and by his breaking free of the thrall of greed and adorning himself with the robe of scrupulousness.’ (He is speaking of the scrupulousness of the elite of the elite.) God knows best.

8 – Asceticism.

Asceticism means for the heart to have no attachments save to the Lord; or for the life of this world to be alien to the heart and worthless to the soul. Ordinary people are ascetic by leaving all that is above their needs; the elite are ascetic by leaving all that distracts from the act of drawing nigh unto God in all situations; the elite of the elite are ascetic by refraining from looking towards anything but God at all times. In all cases, the essence of the matter is that the heart is alienated from all but God, and from any desire save for the Beloved. Thus, asceticism engenders love, as the Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace) said: ‘Be ascetic in the world, and God will love you…’ It also engenders spiritual wayfaring, and is the means of arriving at its end; for the heart cannot undergo this journey whilst it is attached to ought but the Beloved.

9 – Reliance.

Reliance means for the heart to trust in God so that it depends on nought besides Him, and to be attached to God and consign all things to Him, secure in the knowledge that He knows all things. Or, it means to trust what is in God’s hand more than what is in one’s own. Its lowest level is to be with God as the deputy is with the kind and compassionate commissioner; its middle level is to be like the child with his mother: he turns to no one but her for anything; its highest level is to be like the dead body in the hands of the washer. The first is for ordinary people, the second is for the elite, and the third is for the elite of the elite. Doubt may enter the head of the first; the second is without any doubt, but he only attaches to his mother when he needs her; as for the third, there is no question of either doubt or attachment, for he is annihilated from his own self, and at all times he sees nothing but what God does with him.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Renewing One's Initiation

I recently came across this passage in the book al-Ira’ah by the Tijani scholar Hajj Lahsan Ba‘qili, and it moved me deeply; I feel that had I read this some years ago, it would have given me immense benefit and saved me a lot of anguish; but that was not Allah’s will. Nevertheless, I reproduce it here in case it may benefit others and save them from falling into a demonic snare which has claimed many a Sufi aspirant over the centuries. The Sheikh says:

(The passage uses certain expressions of more use to Tijani disciples; I have taken the liberty of modifying them, so that it is of more use to those who are not members of that particular blessed order, as I am not)

…Many times people are initiated by a sheikh or muqaddam who has spiritual blessing, but then meet someone else who is more qualified, and renew their initiation with him, and then they neglect their relationship with the first one even though he was the one who first brought them into the order and began their blessed path. And they might even slight him by saying, “I was initiated by so-and-so,” naming the second, and when you press them they say, “I entered the order at the hands of so-and-so,” speaking of him as though he is unimportant and distant. By neglecting the first wellspring of their success in the order, they end up suspended halfway: neither disciples, nor otherwise. They are like someone who makes ablutions for the midday prayer and then retains his state of purity until the afternoon prayer: it is recommended for him to renew it anyway, for the sake of performing a recommended act, so he renews his ablutions. But if after he prays he remembers that the first ablution was actually nullified before he made the second, his prayer is invalid. It does not matter that he made ablutions the second time, since when he did so he only intended the blessing of it, and not to cleanse himself of his impure state, and nothing more. Likewise, when someone renews his initiation with another sheikh but still remains tied to the first initiation without honoring it properly, his initiation is invalid and no one else will benefit him, even if he were to meet with every sheikh in the world. The only way to avoid this is to repent and explain the reasons for the separation, and be given permission by the new spiritual guide; and then his intention should be to enter the order from the beginning again. And you find that those who go through this endure many difficulties and suffer from worry, sorrow and paranoia.