Oh my Lord, I ask You to grant me understanding, and to enable me, Oh my Lord, to make others understand.
(A prayer of the Holy Prophet Muhammed, Peace be upon him)
Every time I address people I silently make this supplication, as I know that only he who himself understands can teach people anything useful. A visitor recently told me about a spiritual teacher whose lectures and writings were so difficult that only trained intellectuals could make sense of what he was saying. It is not a sign of a man’s understanding that his teachings be incomprehensible; a man of understanding will always try to make himself well understood by using clear and straightforward speech, adjusting to the level of his audience, and he will try to address as broad an audience as possible, otherwise his words will be scattered with the winds.
Even Allah Almighty, the Lord of all creatures, the Master of existence, in all His Glory and Greatness condescends to the level of His creatures. This is called “Tanazzulat Subhani” or, as close as it can be translated, “the Condescension of Glory” (or “the Condescension of the Glorious One”). You may find Him Almighty with His creatures on every level.
If He were not with an ant, and knew not the conditions in which that ant lives and what are its needs, He could not, by definition be the Lord of that ant. He, the Lord of all, in His knowledge, is even with microscopic creatures; so what about mankind, the most distinguished of His creatures, is it saying too much to say that He is with us? “Does the Creator not know what He created?” asks the Lord, that we may understand His Omniscience, and that being the Lord of all creation does not detract from His being with each individual creature.
The Holy Prophets and their Inheritors in every age have been endowed with knowledge of Divine Realities which is hidden from the rest of humanity, and it is their main duty to make these realities comprehensible to mankind in general, and to individual people in whatever way possible, in accordance with the respective levels and capabilities of those people. As the teachers of humanity they have been granted the ability to communicate in this manner: to speak directly to people’s hearts.
This they have been granted from the Attributes of their Lord. But only Prophets and their true inheritors may find such flexibility available to them; for others it is very difficult to address anyone other than those who share with them a similar background and manner of perception. But Divine Teachers may be to every people what they need, may say what they need to hear; that is why people of varying backgrounds and ranks in life may all find peace with the same man and follow him.
A Concorde could never land on the roof of this building, but a helicopter could. Most scholars are like Concordes: so proud of their immense wingspans, streamlined form and speed. Only a few statesmen and tycoons – men and women of distinction and endowed with great wealth – may enter and ride Concordes. So scholars may speak and write for the appreciation of other scholars. Concordes fly at tremendous speeds and require huge runways at international airports to land, but a helicopter can land anywhere, even sometimes at sea, and can always hover in mid-air while lowering a lifeline to people trapped by a fire. So Divine Teachers are accessible to everyone in every situation, whereas Concordes might crash in a place where only helicopters can reach to rescue the survivors. Therefore, I am not leaving them on the tops of Himalaya mountains, but bringing them to safety.
Seekers of truth must look for those qualities in a teacher who purports to be addressing subjects related to the Divine. Otherwise they will be pursuing useless studies, and, according to the Holy Prophet, a sign of a person’s perfection in Islam is his abandonment of useless activities (“that which doesn’t concern him”).
Our guest mentioned that this scholar was addressing the topics of “Fana and Baqa”,or ”Annihilation and Permanence in the Divine”. I think that no one except those who have arrived at these Stations is qualified to speak of them, otherwise his description will be like that of a person who has never tasted honey trying to describe its taste from what he has read about it to others who have been deprived of honey. Or it will be like asking a little boy about the pleasures of a honeymoon… useless.
These topics are Oceans. When you melt, dissolving in the Unity Ocean of Allah Almighty, then you may understand the meaning of “Fani-fillah” (Annihilation in Allah). When you abandon your position as a being in existence, when you become as a drop of rain falling from the sky and are immersed, united in that Ocean of Divine Unity, then no one can ask where that drop has gone: the drop became an Ocean.
As long as the drop is falling, it continues to say: “I am something”, but when it reaches that Ocean, it looks and says: “Where am I? I am finished. I am with Him. I am here, but not here; only He is here, but I am now with Him. I am in His Ocean. I feel this, but no more can it be said that I am a drop: this drop has become an Ocean”. That is only a very simple description of Annihilation in God.
“Baqa” or Permanence, is to be with Him always. In such a Station your personality does not appear; what appears is only Divine Existence. You have been dressed in Divine Unity. That is the “Station of Unity”, “Maqam at-Tawhid”. What Baqa means is that you will never lose sight, hearing, feeling, knowing, understanding – never, but they will be without limits. We must try to attain these Stations, but the Way is difficult and requires severe training.
One of the aspects of that training is to try and see everything as proceeding from Him Alone. This is the sixth pillar of faith in Islam: The belief that everything that happens in this world, the good and the bad alike, are from God. This is referred to as “Tawhid al-Af’al” or “The Unity of Actions”. The way to begin to realize this point is to remember the source of all events, Allah Almighty, when events occur, and not to occupy one’s self with blaming or lauding those who are not really the causes of events, only the instruments to their occurrence. This means that if Ahmed comes and gives you a pound coin and then Fulan comes and slaps you and takes it away, you don’t think of Ahmed as the giver of the money, nor of Fulan as a thief. If you think like this you have fallen from that high level of faith. You must perceive the hand of Allah behind both hands – that which giveth and that which taketh away as He is the creator of the actions of people.
When someone is generous or kind to you, you must remember that it was your Lord who sent him with that favour, and you must thank your Lord. But at the same time you are going to say: “Thank you” to that person, as without giving thanks to the carrier of that blessing your thanks to its origin is not going to be complete. Therefore the Holy Prophet said: “Who thanks not people thanks not Allah”. Our Prophet, upon whom be peace, is advising us strongly that we should not allow our vision of unity to distract us from perfecting our politeness with our fellow men. But you know that it is your Lord who sent him, and you are not forgetting that under any circumstances. And when you see that Ahmed has filled your hands with gold, you must say to him: “Oh Sheikh Ahmed, thank you so much! And firstly thanks to your Lord, who sent you with favours for me, and thank you for faithfully delivering what was entrusted to you”.
And when that robber Fulan comes, hits you and takes all the money, don’t be angry with him! Yes, the Divine Law, the Shariah, permits you to retrieve that money if you can, and prescribes a Punishment to be meted out by the society as well, but if you are on the way of Unity, then you must regard that action as coming to you from Allah Almighty too. He Alone sent that man to rob you, because the Creator of every action is only One: Allah Almighty.
Because it is not possible for all people to aspire to this high level of faith in which God’s Hand is seen behievery event, Allah Almighty in one verse of the Holy Qur’an, condones “a life for a life” in the case of murder, and goes on to call those who are capable of it to “turning the other cheek”. These are the levels, respectively, of Shariah, the Law, and Tariqah, the Path. Based on this verse, therefore, the Islamic Law concerning murder is balanced, making concession for the normal human feelings for vengeance in the face of such an abominable crime. Islam allows for the execution of the duly convicted murderer, and in this way assuages the feelings of the close relatives, thus preventing extended blood-feuds. The law also allows for the payment of blood money in lieu of execution, to be paid to the victim’s close relatives. Lastly the verse calls those who are seeking the highest level of faith and unity of vision to forgiveness, saying: “And whoso forgives and promotes understanding, his reward is incumbent on his Lord”.
What Allah is saying to seekers of absolute truth is: “Now forgive him, because I sent him to do that action”. Then you realize that, in reality, there is no question of guilt nor need for revenge. But that is not the common level. That is the level to be striven for, and it is beyond us to forgive in such a manner because our egos are like volcanoes.
Now people may be very polite in their everyday dealings, as long as everyone behaves in accordance with their expectations and everything falls into place according to plan; but should, God forbid, the smallest thing go wrong – for example a small error in driving, even one that causes no accident – for such a small reason one may hear the ugliest obscenities pour from their mouths like a lava eruption. That ego makes people dangerously ill, and now that people are totally under their egos’ command, where can you find the tolerance described in that Holy Verse of the Qur’an?
So much hate and frustration is pent up in people – I see it in their looks – and so often a scapegoat is sought upon whom to release that torrent, and the best, the tried and true scapegoat throughout the world is always the “foreigners”; so I am quick to assure people here in the West: “We are just here as your guests. This is your homeland.” But is it? You can’t stay here either except in your graves. Your homeland is the grave, not above ground. Thank God, no one is begrudging us cemetery plots, no one is trying to prevent our being buried. The gravedigger wipes the dirt off his hands and goes away, and the Earth accepts us indiscriminately; but people on the Earth are Once I was in Mecca with our Grandsheikh making Tawaf (circumambulating) the House of Allah, the Kaaba. Grandsheikh said to me: “Look up!” When I looked I saw above the heads of the people another group of worshippers performing their Tawaf; but these people were of a different class: calm, peaceful and graceful. They too were of mankind, not Angels, but they were the ones who had reached the level of seeing every action as issuing from Allah Almighty, therefore they left the level of earthly struggle.
But, meanwhile, back on the ground, amidst the throng, with those who lack such certainty, we were being pushed, shoved and trampled upon, Some groups locked arms and shoved straight through the crowd, full-speed ahead, sending all who were unfortunate enough to fall in their path flying through the air, like discarded banana peels. Elbows in my ribs, heels on my toes… but above us, the ones who concur with God’s Will have no need for earth under their feet. Now, perhaps, you are thinking that such a thing is impossible. that I am telling a “tall tale”, but Yet, when you are told that airplanes fly you think nothing of it. If man can make metal fly, cannot God make man fly? They are at peace with their Lord and with everything in creation, therefore, everything carries them.
And so, we have been shown a higher way, the vision of Unity, and we have been asked to be patient with those events that are not to our liking, remembering their source. This is the best training for our egos. Undergo this training or you will struggle fruitlessly – up to the grave. We are being trained by our Lord to recognize the Unity of Actions, so that we can come to understand the Unity of His Holy Names, which leads us to the knowledge of the Unity of His Holy Attributes; that knowledge will prepare us for that ultimate dive into the Unity Ocean of Allah Almighty’s existence – essence. That is the final goal: that raindrop falls, and it will not emerge again ever – and it is content because it has just gained everything eternally, forever.
Therefore, Allah Almighty addresses mankind, saying: “Oh man, verily you are striving towards your Lord, and you will meet Him”. He Almighty is teaching us that all our striving on Earth, our running from East to West, here and there, night and day, is, unwittingly, nothing else than our race towards our Lord’s endless Unity Ocean, but we can’t now understand. Our souls long for our Lord, therefore we move, and there is nowhere to move save towards the One.