25. Dhul Qadah 1438  Jumu'ah
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THE DEGREES OF THE SOUL [1]

 

The aim of religion is to reunite man with his Creator.  Reunion occurs in Paradise, once the believing servants are safely past the dangerous events that follow the Resurrection, so that God bestows upon them, each according to his degree, the supreme reward: the beatific vision of His Countenance.  For the elite, however, the thought of reunion has more immediate implications, since they are the fortunate few who need not wait until they enter the Garden to experience the delight of that vision; for they are given to enter the inward Garden of direct knowledge while still in this world.  This is the highest purpose of man’s existence, and the way to achieve it is consequently the most precious thing that anyone may wish to learn.  Hence at the heart of every revealed religion there exists a central core representing its profoundest and most precious aspect, namely those teachings and practices which together carry the seeker beyond theoretical knowledge and up the spiritual ladder to the direct experience of the Divine Presence.

The core of Islam, its central and most profound aspect, is called Sufism, which is that method of spiritual realisation whose doctrinal and ritual supports are those of Islam.  Thus there can be no true understanding of Islam without at least some degree of understanding of Sufism; neither can there be any real understanding of Sufism separately from Islam, nor is it possible to have a form of Sufism laying outside the boundaries of Islam.  An Islam without Sufism would be a body without a heart, a body deprived of that which pulsates within it and suffuses it with life; while a Sufism outside Islam would be a heart without a body, an organ deprived of the material support upon which its own life depends.  Just as the body and the heart depend entirely on each other for survival, so do Islam and Sufism stand in relation to each other.  This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the most celebrated Sufis have typically been reputable orthodox scholars, a pattern which has been maintained to this day.  The efforts of certain orientalists to cost doubt on the provenance of Sufism and their attempts to ascribe to it an origin foreign to Islam are inevitable and their motives obvious.  Being unable or unwilling to acknowledge the truth that the most profound aspects of any doctrine must be impossible to grasp from the outside, they are victims of the spirit of our times, which has led a whole civilisation to labour under the delusion that anything at all can be understood by reading about it and subjecting it to a ‘rational’ evaluation (‘rational’ here meaning conforming with the idiosyncrasies and prejudices of that same civilisation).  Less obvious, but also less excusable, are the motives of those Muslims who, themselves lacking all spiritual aptitude, cannot bear to see it in other and thus proceed to deny and combat it with surprising vehemence.  The first represent an attempt to undermine Islam from without, and the second, its no less inevitable complement, the assault from within.  Both would feel much more comfortable with a dry, one-dimensional Islam requiring from its adherents no more than the shallowest doctrinal understanding and a correspondingly superficial ritual conformity allowing no room at all for the quest for inner purity and enlightenment.

This process leaves in the end nothing but an empty shell, a mere form devoid of all meaning.  None of the great religions has been spared these assaults, for these are nothing but the inevitable and thus predictable response of the lower worlds to the light descending from above.  The stratagems used during the various phases of such wars are innumerable, and we shall perhaps have the opportunity to discuss them in detail in another context.

Once a religion loses its power to reunite people with their Lord, experientially and in this life, it becomes simply a matter of time before its vitality dwindles further to the extent that it also loses its power of salvation and then disintegrated.  Left behind are no more than valueless fragments resembling those of a broken mirror, the pieces of which are so small that they are no longer capable of fulfilling their original purpose, yet are still identifiable as part of the particular mirror and hence of being claimed as operative parts of the original.  This is the situation of the modern West following the disintegration of Christianity.

One of the major proofs that a religion still nurtures its living, pulsating heart is the presence within its fold of the finished product of its realizatory method, namely the ‘arriver’, the saint who has entered the Divine Presence and has thus become capable of guiding others along the same route.  These are those human beings in whom the Adamic potential for sainthood and gnosis has become actualized.  Their presence being the irrefutable criterion of the vitality of any given religion, it is not only the manifest failure of the Christian world to produce a single gnostic for centuries, but also its loss of the knowledge of the method to do so, that has led so many Muslims to regard Christianity as irretrievably defunct.  In contrast, such ‘arrivers’ abound in the Muslim world and are still relatively easy to find despite the spiritual bankruptcy of a majority immersed in crude physical pursuits and dazzled by the material expertise of the West, and despite the efforts of most Sufis to remain in obscurity in such a hostile climate.

In the context of Sufism, Imam al-Haddad placed people in one of three categories when he wrote in Gifts for the Seeker: ‘Every human being is either a traveller, an arriver, or a non-traveller’.  By ‘non-travellers’ he obviously refers to the heedless Muslim majority, but this may be extended to include the non-Muslims.  The present volume, being an exposition of the stages of spiritual realisation by a master who has completed the entire journey successfully and also taken innumerable disciples through it, must arouse in anyone with the slightest spiritual inclination a yearning for the return to God.  To be spiritually inclined is to fell, however vaguely and discontinuously, that there must be something beyond the material word, that to take this world at face value cannot possibly be the ultimate purpose of a human being, that there must be meaning within every form, that there must be some way in which those meanings can be grasped – in short, that there is something in man that requires more than mere animal survival, something capable of reaching for the Absolute.





[1] Introduction to the book “Shaykh Abdal-Khaliq al-Shabrawi” by Dr. Mustafa Badawi