Aspect of Islamic Mysticism

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 |

Mysticism is generally called tasawwuf in India and irfan (realization) in Iran. To me irfan is the most appropriate word, for mysticism, in actual fact, is another name for the realization of inner reality.

The word mysticism has been variously defined in academic works. By way of a simple definition, it means to penetrate one’s inner soul and to enable it, by developing it, to establish contact with God, the Greater Soul.
This process purifies the human personality, and the soul comes to realize itself. The latent natural potential of the soul is ultimately awakened; in the words of the Quran, it becomes the serene (89:27) or pure soul (87:14).
It is but natural that the personality developed by the mystic (or the Aarif) in this way does not remain enclosed within a boundary. His inner state also having its external manifestation, his personality finds expression in his social relations.
One who has realized himself will, at the same time, place a higher spiritual value on other human beings too. One whose heart is filled with God’s love, will necessarily be filled with the love of human beings — the creatures of God. One who respects the Higher Reality will surely respect other human beings. It is this aspect of mysticism which I have called its social aspect.
A Persian mystic poet has expressed the mystic code of behavior in these most beautiful words:

"The stories of kings like Alexander and Dara hold no interest for us. Ask us only about love and faithfulness."

Another mystic poet has this to say:

"The comforts of both the worlds are hidden in these two things: Being kind to friends and according better treatment to foes."

When a sufi or mystic is engrossed in the love of God, he rises above the mundane world and discovers the higher realities. He becomes such a human being as has no ill-feelings for anyone. In fact, he cannot afford hatred, as hatred would nullify his very spirituality. He cannot divest himself of feelings of love as this would amount to divesting himself of all delicate feelings.
Islam is the answer to the demands of nature. It is in fact a counterpart of human nature. This is why Islam has been called a religion of nature in the Qur’an and Hadith.
A man once came to the Prophet Muhammad and asked him what he should do in a certain matter. The Prophet replied, ‘Consult your conscience (heart) about it.’ By the conscience the Prophet meant his finer feelings. That is, what one’s conscience tells one would likewise be what Islam would demand of one as a matter of common sense.
What does human nature desire more than anything? It desires, above all, peace and love. Every human being wants to live in peace and to receive love from the people around him. Peace and love are the religion of human nature as well as what Islam demands of us. The Qur’an tells us, "...and God calls you to the home of peace" (10:25).
One of the teachings of Islam is that when two or more people meet, they must greet one another with the words, Assalamu-‘Alaikum (Peace be upon you). Similarly, Salat, or prayer, said five times daily is the highest form of worship in Islam. At the close of each prayer all worshippers have to turn their faces to either side and utter the words Assalamu-‘Alaikum wa rahmatullah (May peace and God’s blessing be upon you). This is like a pledge given to people: ‘O people, you are safe from me. Your life, your property, your honor is secure with me.’
This sums up the spirit of true religion, the goal of which is spiritual uplift. It is the ultimate state of this spiritual uplift which is referred to in the Qur’an as the "serene soul" (89:27).
Thus a true and perfect man, from the Islamic point of view, is one who has reached that level of spiritual development where peace and peace alone prevails. When a person has attained that peaceful state, others will receive from him nothing less than peace. He may be likened to a flower which can send out only its fragrance to man, it being impossible for it to emit an unpleasant smell.
An incident relating to a Muslim saint very aptly illustrates the spirit of the mystic individual. The story goes that once a Muslim Sufi was travelling along with his disciples. During the journey he encamped near a large grove of trees upon which doves used to perch.
During this halt one of the Sufi’s disciples aimed at one of the doves, killed it, cooked it, then ate it. Afterwards something strange happened. A flock of doves came to the tree under which the Sufi was resting and began hovering over it and making a noise.
The Muslim Sufi, communicating with the leader of the birds, asked them what was the matter with them and why they were protesting. The leader replied, ‘We have a complaint to make against you, that is, one of your disciples has killed one of us.’ Then the Muslim Sufi called the disciple in question and asked him about it. He said that he had not done anything wrong, as the birds were their foodstuff. He was hungry, so he killed one for food. He thought that in so doing he had not done anything wrong. The Sufi then conveyed this reply to the leader of the doves.
The leader replied: "Perhaps you have failed to understand our point. Actually what we are complaining about is that all of you came here in the garb of Sufis, yet acted as hunters. Had you come here in hunter’s garb, we would certainly have remained on the alert. When we saw you in the guise of Sufis, we thought that we were safe with you and remained perched on the top of the tree without being properly vigilant."
This anecdote very aptly illustrates the reality of a true mystic or spiritual person. One who has reached an advanced stage of spiritual uplift, having found the true essence of religion, no longer has the will or the capacity to do harm. He gives life not death, to others. He benefits others, doing injury to no one. In short, he lives among the people like flowers and not like thorns. He has nothing but love in his heart to bestow upon others.
There is another interesting story which illustrates this point very well. This is related to Sheikh Nizamuddin Aulia, a Muslim Sufi of the 13th century. He lies buried in New Delhi, the area is named ‘Hazrat Nizamuddin’ after him.
Fortunately I am also a neighbor of this great Muslim Sufi.The story goes that once a disciple of Sheikh visited him. He offered him a gift of a pair of scissors, a product of his hometown. When the Sheikh saw this gift, he remarked politely:

‘What am I to do with this gift. It would have been better if you had brought me a needle and thread. Scissors cut things apart while a needle and thread join things together. You know my job is to unite people, and not to separate them’.

Islamic mysticism elevates people. It makes them think spiritually rather than materially. This spiritual elevation generates tolerance. People feel good about forgiving others. They eschew taking revenge. They return love for hatred. This kind of temperament is bound to establish peace and mutual respect. In this way, Islamic mysticism, in the practical sense, is the key to a good and peaceful society.

Now I should like to say a few words about prayer and meditation. Let me begin with a quotation from the Qur’an:

"When My servants question you about Me, tell them that I am near. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls to Me; therefore, let them answer My call and put their trust in Me, that they may be rightly guided (2:186).

This verse of the Qur’an tells us that, in Islam, there is no need for any intermediary to establish contact between God and man. At any time and place man can contact God directly. The only condition is that man should turn to God with sincere devotion.
Islam believes in a personal God. God is an alive being, fully aware of His servants. He hears and sees. That being so, man must call upon God in all personal matters. Whenever he calls upon God with a sincere heart, he will find Him close by.
Meditation in Islam aims at bringing man closer to God. When man worships God, when he remembers Him, when his heart is turned towards Him with full concentration, when he makes a request or a plea, then he establishes a rapport with his Maker. In the words of the Hadith, at that particular moment he comes to whisper with his Lord. He has the tangible feeling that he is pouring his heart out to God and that God in turn is answering his call.
When this communion is established between God and man, man can feel himself becoming imbued with a special kind of peace. His eyes are moist with tears. He starts receiving inspiration from God. It is in moments such as these that man can rest assured of his prayers being granted by God.
According to a Hadith the Prophet Muhammad said the highest form of worship is to pray as if you were seeing God. We learn from this Hadith the true sign of a superior form of worship. The true sign is for man to sense the presence of God during worship, and feel that he has come close to God. That is when he can experience the refreshing, cooling effect of God’s love and blessings for man. It is this feeling of closeness to God which is the highest form of spiritual experience

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