Sufi Narratives and Lessons

Saints, who reach the core of companionship through the Lord, remain the companions of entire humankind for eternity.

Sufism, as has occasionally been touched upon in the preceding chapters, is a science pertaining not so much to words as to the perfection of one’s inner essence and mindset; it is therefore replete with beauties and inspirations that reflect onto life from the charming heart-worlds of saints. These beauties, which since times immemorial have been conveyed under the name of ‘narratives’, have undertaken an active role in maturing faith in the Lord, perfecting moral conduct, galvanizing the springs of Divine love and affection in the heart and nourishing sublime emotions like compassion, mercy and selflessness. The narratives frequently recounted by the Quran in fact set Divine blueprints to steer man to spiritual maturity in his journey in life; and effectively so, since the narratives themselves are taken directly from actual life experiences.

Encouraged by this Divine method and true to our purpose to convey the truths of Sufism not merely as they exist in written words but also, and more importantly, in the manner in which they exists in heart-worlds, we have so far quoted various narratives based on actual life experiences in preceding chapters, which we wish to complement in this chapter by citing further examples of such concrete experiences. We will moreover attempt to provide succinct interpretations of the core lessons comprised by these narratives, the cautions and lessons we are called upon to take on board. Our purpose in what is to come, in short, has been to extend to the reader a few drops from the vast ocean of moral and virtue straight from the hearts of various Sufis.

True Education

The great Sami Effendi had just completed his bachelor’s degree at the Faculty of Law, at the Daru’l-Funun University in Istanbul. Noticing his upright conduct and wonderful demeanor, a righteous man said to him:

“This education is fine, too, but you really should look to complete the real education, son. Let’s enroll you in the school of wisdom, where you can receive training in the sciences of the heart and the secrets of the Hereafter”, after which he added:

“I really do not know how they train one in that school and what they teach. But if there is one thing I know, it is that the first lesson of this education is to not hurt, and the last lesson not to be hurt.”

Moral of the Story:

Not hurting is relatively easy. But not being hurt is seldom in one’s control; for it is a matter of heart. Avoiding being hurt and heartbroken, therefore, is possible only by becoming immune the poisonous, heart-piercing arrows shot by mortals. The strength of this immunity depends on the level acquired in cleansing the soul and purifying the heart. On being stoned and insulted in Taif, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- was met with an angel, who assured him that he could, with a word, “…strike the two mountains, surrounding Taif together, and destroy the locals”.

But being the mercy to the worlds he was, the Honorable Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- not only declined that offer, he moreover turned towards Taif and compassionately pleaded for the eventual guidance of her locals.[1]

Similarly, as he was being stoned to death, Hallaj, a devoted lover of the Prophet, was heard pleading, “My Lord…They know not; so forgive them even before You forgive me!”

This is a mindset acquired only through education in its truest form; a mindset belonging to a heart purified through spiritual training.

On being asked about the traits of a purified heart (qalb-i salim), Abu’l-Qasim al-Hakim replied:

“A purified heart has three traits: It is a heart that does not hurt, a heart that is not hurt and a heart that does goodness only for the sake of Allah without accepting anything in return. For a believer reaches the presence of his Lord with dignity (wara), if he has not hurt anyone; with loyalty, if he has directed his heart solely to his Lord and protected it from being hurt by anyone; and sincerity, if he has not ascribed any mortal as partner to his righteous deeds.”

The poet says it beautifully:

The purpose of man and jinn on the garden of earth
Is to not hurt, devotee, and not be hurt!

The Method in Spiritual Training

Shah Naqshiband –may Allah sanctify his secret- explains the intricate details he observed whilst aiding others in purifying their hearts and cleansing their souls:

“We train a disciple in the most appropriate means necessary; that is, according the condition he is in. At times, we prefer the way of enchantment (jazbah), and at others, the way of a steadier path (suluk). We know that many a person comes to us with seeds of love in his heart, while many another carries none of these seeds whatsoever or they have been left to decay under the musty layer of the ego and its worldly desires. Our duty is hence to purge these mortal interests and to plant the seeds of love in their place; and should these seeds already be planted there, it is to ensure that they blossom to become a sapling of sincerity, watered by the rain of truth, under the rays of the sun of marifatullah.

As for teaching dhikr, it is like giving one a flint stone. Whether or not a spark of love is ignited depends thereafter on the prowess of the disciple in using it.”

Moral of the Story:

The diseases of the body come in various types and with a range of treatments; so are the illnesses of the spirit and the heart. Saints with foresight and prudence, therefore, diagnose and treat the spiritual illness of a person in accordance with his specific condition. Whereas some, like Ibrahim Adham, are advised to:

“Abandon your crown and throne”, in stark contrast, others like Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, are told:

“You will incur blame on yourself, should you abandon your crown and an inept person then comes to assume it after you”.

Some are trialed by water, some by fire. No matter how grueling the trial may be, curing a spiritual disease, as is the case with physical illnesses, requires a trust in the doctor and precision in using the recommended remedy; and more. Negligence in taking medication for a physical illness may only inflict harm that will, at worst, last as long as one lives on earth; yet negligence in taking the vital medication to treat an illness of the heart is tantamount to wasting a life of eternity.

Ibrahim ibn Adham and the Fawn

Ibrahim ibn Adham was previously a king in Balkh, lavishing in the luxury of the palace. The Sufis of the time used to counsel him, time and again, to save him from his destructive lifestyle and revive his eternal wellbeing. According to a famous report, while lying down on his bed on night, Ibrahim overheard some strange noises coming from the rooftop. Unable to sleep, he stuck his head out of the window and shouted:

“What on earth is going on there?” He was responded to with an odd answer.

“I am searching for my lost camel”, a man said.

“What are you thinking”, Ibrahim retorted, “searching for your camel on a rooftop?” This time around, the response was startling:

“You know very well, Ibrahim, that it is only foolish to search for a lost camel on a rooftop, yet you never stop to think how foolish it is to search for eternal happiness in the life of pomp and extravagance you lead!”

In comparison with the advices he had previously heard, these words left Ibrahim staggered. Nonetheless, all it took was a few days for him to forget and he carried on living his life as usual, without any noticeable change.

Many days had gone by when Ibrahim one day decided to set out from the palace, with his cohorts, to go hunting for fawns. At one stage, he rode off alone, in search for a good game. It was then he heard a whisper in his ear. ‘Wake up’, said the voice. He took no notice. But the voice reverberated again, and again. Suddenly, the voice became ubiquitous; it was coming from everywhere:

“Wake up before death wakes you up”, they echoed.

Ibrahim ibn Adham was both stunned and scared. But then, a beautiful fawn suddenly appeared before his prying eyes, which momentarily made him forget the voices. Gathering his poise, he enthusiastically took aim at the delicate fawn with his arrow, keen on hunting it down. He was only a fingertip away from letting go of the arrow. But then the fawn, directing its poignant stare at Ibrahim, murmured:

“Did the Merciful Allah create me so you could hunt me down, Ibrahim?”

Petrified, Ibrahim began to tremble, from head to toe. With eyes welled up with tears, he came down from his horse and fell prostrate on the ground in deep remorse and prayed:

“My Lord, whose grace and benevolence is infinite! For a long time, I have wasted the breaths of my life in lavishness and pomp! Wash my heart with Your grace, o Allah, and leave nothing therein except for Your love!”

Ibrahim ibn Adham’s eyes had now been awoken to an entirely different world; he found himself gazing deeply at a Divine realm. This truly beautiful sight erased from his mind all the conceptions of beauty he had previously entertained. The caftan of kingship, which he would don every morning with great care, and the pride of being the sultan of Balkh, had now suddenly lost all their glitter and significance. They suddenly appeared as awkward extras he could very well do without.

With eyes still moist from tears of repentance and a heart burning in the fire of remorse, Ibrahim ibn Adham set out towards the wilderness. He had walked a tremendous distance when he came upon a shepherd, wearing a woolen cloak as was customary. He approached the shepherd, without hesitation, and swapped his woolen cloak for his exquisite caftan. The moment Ibrahim put on the cloak, he felt an enormous relief. The shepherd, in the meantime, was astounded. “Our sultan has lost his mind”, he thought to himself. Yet, far from having lost his mind, Ibrahim ibn Adham had much rather come to his senses. He had gone hunting for a fawn, only to be awoken by Allah, glory unto Him, through a fawn.

Moral of the Story:

When faced with a choice between the Here and the Hereafter, those who choose the Hereafter become sultans of eternity, awarded with infinite rewards. As for those who choose the world, even though they may appear as kings on the outside, they are in reality beggars of a life of eternity, which they shall never lay claim to, regardless of how avidly they may beg. It was this secret that Ibrahim ibn Adham came to terms with; and once he did, he made the due sacrifice required to become a sultan of eternity. As for the external warnings he was encountered by in the lead up to this decision, they were, in a sense, brought about by the gem of sincerity he had carried in his heart up to that time. More correctly, the condition of his heart served as means in enabling him to meet the causes that were to trigger him to take a step through the threshold of spiritual enlightenment and bring about the enormous blessings of the Lord, which made a sacrifice as great as giving up a throne easy for him. And the moment he did, he became graced with innumerable blessings in return.

Not to Stain the Path of the Real

The path of Sufism is a glittering road shone upon by the light of the Real, which thus accepts no stain whatsoever. Those who are able to see the essence and appreciate the spirit of this path can never find anything there that contravenes the ethos of Islam.

The spiritual circle of Shah Naqshiband –may Allah sanctify his secret- abounded with a vast number of students from all walks of life. Prominent scholars of Bukhara like Khawajah Yusuf were always eager to attend his circles. Still, the popularity of Shah Naqshiband became a matter of controversy for some scholars, who began speaking ill of him, alleging his teachings were defiant of the principles of Islam. They eventually met with Shah Naqshiband and voiced their concerns.

“Listen while we explain our path to you”, Shah Naqshiband said to them. “Should you find anything contrary to the Quran and Sunnah, just name whatever it is and we shall abandon it!”

The scholars then listened to Shah Naqshiband explain to them what the great Sufi path was all about and thinking over them at length, they could not find anything to dispute.

“It seems your path is none but the upright path (sirat-i mustaqim). You will no longer hear any objections from us”, they concluded.

Moral of the Story:

Understood from the above incident is that the true Sufi path is delicate in its adherence to the Quran and Sunnah and carries a sensitivity of heart in upholding them. Advising his disciples to conduct themselves with uncompromising loyalty to this principle, Shah Naqshiband moreover underlines how integral it is to remain loyal to the Quran and Sunnah, when, instead of disputing the skeptic scholars, he invites them to point out the aspects of the Sufi way which they think contravenes the two principles, so he could forego them. It is therefore essential for the devotees of this path to conduct themselves with the same sensitivity in order not to stain what is otherwise a pure path. It should be noted that the scholars referred to in the above encounter are righteous scholars and not the wicked scholars (ulama bi’s-suu) who squander their knowledge, along with their hearts, in the way of evil, by acting in defiance of the commands of the Almighty, by failing to observe the measures of sincerity and piety, by rejecting the virtues of the righteous and in the words of the Quran, by selling the ayat of Allah, glory unto Him, in return for meager pleasures of the world.

Karamah

His disciples one day insisted Shah Naqshiband to display a karamah, to which the Sheikh responded by saying:

“Our karamah is clear. Just take a look: We are able to stand on our feet and walk on Earth despite the crumbling weight of sin we carry on our shoulders. Could there ever be a greater karamah?”

He then reminded his disciples that the gist of the Sufi path was not karamah but rather uprightness (istiqamah), stating:

“Even if you were to enter a garden and hear the trees proclaim, leaf by leaf, ‘Welcome, saint of the Lord’, you still should not take any notice, either internally or externally. You should instead intensify your perseverance in servanthood.”

Some of his disciples, thereupon, commented:

“No matter how much you try to conceal it, master, you still display some karamah, from time to time.”

“What you witness”, replied that great pillar of modesty, “is nothing but the karamah of my disciples”.

The Sheikh was so sensitive to keeping his spiritual standing a secret that he did not allow his disciple Husamaddin Khawajah Yusuf to record his words and karamah whilst he was alive.

Moral of the Story:

The greats of Islam were able to acquire their spiritual standing by embracing, not karamah, but uprightness as a standard. By showing karamah, they have said, one does not necessarily acquire a value more than that of a flying bird or a swimming fish; and that true marifah is not to imitate what, say, a bird or a fish can do with natural ease. It is rather to lead a life of integrity and uprightness devoted to the pleasure of the Lord alone and stirred by an intense consciousness of servanthood. This was what the spiritual greats underlined at every given opportunity and exhibited in their lives.

Affecting Ignorant Hearts

On a holy day in the year 1340 AH, there was a special event including Quran and mawlid inside the Ayasofya Mosque in Istanbul. The mosque was packed all the way up to the tiers. Present were numerous scholars and students, as well as a group of the most selected huffaz (memorizers of the Quran) of the time, reciting the Quran and mawlid to the eager audience.

Sitting somewhere near the pulpit was one Adil Bey of Beylerbeyi, a man of spirituality with a receptive spiritual insight. A while later, Adil Bey became overwhelmed by a state of spiritual constriction; strange, since an atmosphere filled by a recitation of the Quran really should have been the last place for someone to come under such spiritual distress. Adil Bey curiously looked around. Before long, he realized that sitting opposite to him was an ignorant, hardhearted man. They were facing each other. Adil Bey recognized that it was the negativity reflecting from the man’s heart that was culpable for his own constriction. He quickly changed spots. Relieved though he was, he still could not shrug off the affects for some time.[2]

Moral of the Story:

Just as the righteous exude peace and serenity, the unmindful reflect onto others instability and restlessness and a hardness of heart. Strolling inside a garden leaves one delighted with the wonderful scents of the flowers, whereas hanging around dirt smears one in stench. Concerning those whose hearts have decayed and therefore do give off anything other than bad influences, the Almighty therefore declares:

“And when you see those who enter into false discourses about Our revelations, withdraw from them until they enter into some other discourse, and if the Shaitan causes you to forget, then do not sit after recollection with the unjust people” (al-Anam, 68)

The subtlety of the Divine command above is more apparent to true servants who are governed by a sensitivity of heart. The more sensitive the heart becomes, the deeper the inner standards become; the sight begins to see the realities behind the curtain and sense truths hidden to most. A splendid example of this is provided by the experience of Seyfi Baba:

Seyfi Baba, who used to dearly love Sami Effendi –may Allah sanctify his secret-, was a man of profound spiritual insight.  He left his house in the Istanbul suburb of Topkapi, one day, to pay one of his usual visits to Sami Effendi. But the moment he stepped inside the Sami Effendi’s Erenköy home, he collapsed on the floor unconscious. The person, who had let Seyfi Baba inside, desperately splashed some water onto his face, enabling him to regain consciousness.

“We must call a doctor”, he afterwards suggested, only to be prevented by the exhausted Seyfi Baba, who said:

“There is no need for a doctor, son, for this has nothing to do with a medical condition. The rebellious people and the density of the places of rebellion I encountered on the way took their toll on me and the moment I stepped inside this door, I was struck by the intensity of the pure spirituality here…But my heart could not take that either. With the help of the beloved Sami Effendi and the blessings of the spiritual atmosphere here, I will be better in no time.”

Thus, similar to how the negativity generated by the unmindful leave a distressing and constricting effect on the heart, the positive and inspiring affects the righteous emit relieve and refresh it. Spiritually right-minded persons should therefore try and keep away from the unmindful, as much as they can, and keep with the righteous. Dawud –upon him peace- used to, time and again, pray Allah, glory unto Him, in the following:

“My Lord…Should you see me headed towards a gathering made up of unmindful people, break my feet before I ever make it there so I never end up joining them. It would truly be a great blessing for me if You do that!”

The Friend’s Door

“Prepare our mounts”, Abu Said Nishaburi –may Allah sanctify his secret- one day instructed his disciples. “We are heading to the town.”

The preparations were made and the Sheikh, accompanied by a group of his disciples, headed out. Some time later, they arrived at a village in Nishapur.

“What is the name of this village?” asked the Sheikh.

Dar-i Dost”, the locals replied, which means ‘the friend’s door’.

The Sheikh thereupon decided to stop over. After a day, some his disciples said:

“We thought we were going to the town, master. Aren’t we going to move on?”

Abu Said –may Allah sanctify his secret-, whose heart was brimming with the keys to many spiritual secrets, explained:

“It takes a long, grueling journey for the lover to reach the door of the beloved, the friend. Since we have reached the friend’s door here, where else could we need to go?”

They ended up staying for forty days, experiencing many spiritual events in the process. Many villagers made the most of the Sheikh’s inspiring company, repenting for their past sins and joining the group as his disciples. What the Sheikh had meant by ‘the friend’s door’ was exactly that: to win hearts…for opening the door of the Friend’s palace was possible only if one had the key: a heart that had been won over.

Moral of the Story:

Opening the door of the ‘Friend’ ajar by winning a heart, has always been the sole desire of righteous servants burning with the love of the Real and the crown on the jewels of righteous deeds that enable them to attain to the eternal reunion. Shah Naqshiband –may Allah sanctify his secret-, for instance, used to exert his duty of enlightening others so caringly and with such exceptional effort that he would concern himself with all his students’ problems, regardless of how trivial they may have seemed. Whenever he would visit someone, the Sheikh would inquire the personal problems of whom he was visiting, then those of his family and even his mounts and chickens. He would thereby seek to win the person’s heart. If there was some food being served at a gathering, the Sheikh would personally serve its preparers with his very own hands.

To Obey, To Serve, To Advise

A righteous man, who used to frequent the sohbah of Dawud-i Tai, once advised Maruf-i Karhi against “…abandoning deeds, for they bring one closer to the pleasure of the Lord.”

“What exactly do you mean by deeds?” asked Maruf-i Karhi.

“To remain in a state of obeying the Lord under all circumstances and to serve and advise Muslims”, replied the man.

Moral of the Story:

A small deed offered with an obeying and submissive mindset is more valuable in the sight of the Almighty than mountains of deeds offered without. Servanthood begins with obeying and submission. After all, was not the devil expelled from Divine presence because of a lack of obeying and submitting to the Lord and not because of a shortage of deeds?

Serving, on the other hand, is so great a virtue that all prophets and saints have clutched onto it, abandoning it neither during times of illness, nor even on their deathbeds. For the people of wisdom, this is sufficient example of the proper way in which one should continue to serve. Serving, in short, is a hallmark of compassionate and benevolent hearts.

A mature believer is a serving person, a soldier of heart who having cast off his mortal existence, considers himself in the rearmost end of the army of servers. He is by the side of the ill and the troublesome, always close to the mourners, a call away from the dejected, the brokenhearted and the outcast.

Advising, in contrast, is characteristic only to its experts; for what is preached exercises an influence only to the extent it is practiced personally. It is therefore not right for just anyone and everyone to offer advice. The competent in this regard, that is those who have enshrouded themselves in prophetic conduct and morals, exercise a command to do so. Evading this responsibility despite being privileged with the command to advise, on the other hand, incurs enormous blame and liability; for the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- states:

“Religion is to advise (nasihah)”. (Bukhari, Iman, 42)

Therefore, to abandon the duty of advising is tantamount to destruction, to refer to the Divine warning given in chapter al-Asr. Not listening to advice is just the same; it is a cause of destruction.

Aspirants on the way of the Real must therefore accept obeying, serving and advising as indispensable standards and seek these eternal means to acquire the pleasure of the Lord.

Serving Creation

A righteous man saw Pertevniyal Valide Sultan, the benefactor of the Aksaray Valide Mosque in Istanbul, in his dream, shortly after she had passed away, where she had attained to high ranks in the Hereafter.

“Was it because of the mosque you had built that Allah lifted you atop this rank?” he asked her.

“No”, replied she.

“Then with which deed?” asked the man curiously.

“It was a rainy and muddy day”, she began explaining. “We were on our way to Ayyub Sultan Mosque when I noticed a scrawny kitten, grasping for breath inside a puddle of water on the side of the pavement. I had the cart stop and told the baji[3] next to me to, ‘Go and take the little kitten out of the water…lest the poor thing drowns.’

Disinclined to step out of the cart, she replied, ‘But my lady we will have our hands and clothes dirty should we step outside in this rain!’

So, without wanting to break her heart, I stepped out of the cart myself, and plunging myself in the mud, took the kitten out of the puddle. The poor thing was quivering. Feeling sorry for it, I placed it on my lap and warmed it up, not letting it go until it came back to its senses.

It is because of that small piece of compassion I showed to the kitten that Allah the Almighty graced me with this high rank.”

Moral of the Story:

The glittered path to the skies of spiritual maturity and perfection runs through the ladder of compassion and service.  Each Muslim must therefore make compassion and service a part of his nature and let them be his distinctive characteristics.

Courtesy in Saints

Musa Effendi –may Allah sanctify his secret- recounts:

“It was a season of pilgrimage. With the respected Sami Effendi –may Allah sanctify his secret- we were staying at the house of Abdussattar Effendi of Turkistan, in the Mecca suburb of Jiyad, close to the Kaaba. The room Sami Effendi –may Allah sanctify his secret- was staying in overlooked the street, while our rooms were situated on the opposite side of the house.

At midday during one of those days, Sami Effendi appeared before our door and said, “It seems there is someone outside in need of something to eat.”

I quickly prepared some food and rushed outside the door. But there was nobody in sight. Thinking the person had left without waiting, I returned inside. Ten minutes, give or take, had passed when Sami Effendi once again appeared outside of our room.

“That needy person has returned and is looking inside”, he said.

This time around, when I stepped outside with the food in my hand, I was finally able to see the person in need: a dog, looking tiredly through the door, panting from starvation. I instantly emptied the food out in front of it. It must have been very hungry, as it quickly ate it all up.

Moral of the Story:

Such is the courtesy and humbleness of spiritual elders. Sami Effendi –may Allah sanctify his secret- did not refer to the dog as a ‘dog’ but rather as a person. On most occasions, he would speak of animals not as ‘creatures’ but as ‘the servants of Allah’.

A beauty of moral conduct towards a created being for the sake of the Creator is, in essence, presented to the Creator Himself; it is the beauty of a purified heart attached unconditionally to the Lord. Reaching a purified heart, on the other hand, is to reach the inexhaustible, the infinite source of companionship, in the truest sense. Purified hearts pulsate with Divine pleasure, for they are precincts for the manifestation of the Real, magnificent artworks of generosity and compassion.

Will in Presence

A rumor had spread that Sheikh Muhammad Nuru’l-Arabi, a 19th century Sufi, was denying the existence of a particular willpower (irada-i juziyyah) in human beings. The Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid then ‘willed’ for the Sheikh to present in his case at the Palace, during one of the regular lessons of huzur.[4]• So, the Sheikh arrived and was asked for an explanation, on which he said:

“A person most certainly exercises a particular power of will; and that is the very reason for his responsibility before the Lord…but not everyone and not all the time. I, for example, possess a particular willpower and freedom of choice but I have come only because of the Sultan’s command. Even if I wanted to leave, it is out of my control. They say ‘Come’ and we come…they say ‘leave’ and off we go. So it is clear that my willpower means nothing here, concerning a certain choice of movement. Likewise, being in the presence of the Sultan, the things I can do are limited. In exact manner, there are some who continuously live in the consciousness of being in the presence of the Lord. Many a person, knowing that Allah the Almighty is omnipresent and that He watches everything, consider themselves in Divine presence only when offering ritual prayer. But there are those who have obtained a certain spiritual rank, who live with a genuine awareness of being in Divine presence at every moment. Now, it is up for you to decide whether such persons exercise a particular willpower or not!”

Much fond of his words, the Sultan saw the Sheikh off with generous gifts.

Moral of the Story:

A servant exercises a willpower given to him by Allah, glory unto Him. Even though the Will of the Almighty features in every happening, His pleasure rests only with the good. The aim of a teacher is to endow the student with knowledge that would enable him to pass the course. There is nothing a teacher can do if the student slacks off. Again, the duty of a doctor is to ensure that the patient is cured; yet, the patient has nobody else to blame other than himself should he neglect to take the required medicine. Over the negligence, the doctor may not be charged.

Submitting one’s willpower, on the other hand, to the Lord in whose presence we stand, brings about a far greater revenue than what is given. In other words, if the servant genuinely submits his vision to the infinite gaze of the Lord, his hands to His irrepressible Hand of Might, his tongue to His infinite attribute of Speech and his hearing to the endless Hearing of the Lord, his senses and comprehension will assume an entirely different nature. Simpler put, he will never be at a loss for what he has given. In contrast, each thing presented will transform into eternal blessings right from the heart of eternity. For that reason, in reference to His righteous servants who are unremittingly conscious of being in His presence and have been able to submit their particular willpower to his Will, the Almighty has metaphorically said, in a hadith al-qudsi:

“I will become their eyes that see, ears that hear and hands that hold”. (Bukhari, Riqaq, 38)

Propriety

Dawud-i Tai recounts:

“I accompanied Abu Hanifah for twenty odd years. It struck my attention that during this time, I never saw him bareheaded or putting his feet up to rest, either next to others or by himself. I once asked him what wrong could there be in putting your feet up when alone.

“It is better to have propriety in the presence of the Allah the Almighty” he replied.

Moral of the Story:

When in the presence of a person of high rank, people do not act as they normally would and take great care to display behavior suitable to the environment they are in. Being in the presence of any given person, in other words, requires proper conduct. Because they live every moment in the consciousness of being in Divine presence, saints do not ever neglect proper conduct. Propriety, therefore, encompasses their entire lives, for they possess hearts of wisdom through which they see and feel, with certainty, that they are being watched by the Great Beloved at all places and times. They are accustomed to the secret:

وَهُوَمَعَكُمْاَيْنَ مَاكُنْتُمْ

“And He is with you wherever you may be…” (al-Hadid, 4); and they thereby live every moment in the presence of the Lord.

What we are basically trying to say is that, while there are some who feel that they are in the presence of Allah, glory unto Him, only during ritual prayer, who are guided to propriety so long as the prayer lasts depending on the depth in which they feel this presence, there are others truly righteous, whose every behavior and conduct is of propriety, as they prolong this mindset even outside ritual prayer. In honor of such people, the Quran states:

اَلَّذِينَهُمْعَلٰىصَلاَتِهِمْ دَائِمُونَ

“Those who are constant at their prayer” (al-Maarij, 23) Not only do they never neglect their ritual prayers, it is said they are in a constant state of prayer even when not praying. This denotes their ability to maintain the consciousness of being in Divine presence in and outside of ritual prayer.

Propriety in Serving

Abu Abdullah Rugandi says:

“Do not ever underrate any service you receive. After all, service is service; and it may just be that something which seems unimportant to you is regarded highly by the Lord for reasons you know not. It is unknown to us in which of service the pleasure of Allah is to be found. Therefore, continue to serve until you obtain your desire and your desire ought not to be anything than the pleasure of Allah. The blessings and advantages you attain to on the way should only intensify your gratitude to the Lord and your service.”

Moral of the Story:

It is not so important to simply offer service as is it is to offer it with a sincere heart and in the best possible manner. People who put their hands up to serve must therefore be motivated not just with the desire to serve but to embody a behavior that would acquire for them the pleasure of the Lord. Carrying out service only with a vested interest in return for winning somebody’s favor at the expense of turning a cold shoulder on all the other types of service seen as serving no personal ends, is tantamount to laying waste on eternal happiness. Although these people may end up winning the favor of certain others for whom they strive, the Mercy of the Lord is lifted from them and they consequently attract Divine Wrath.  Serving must not be motivated by the desire to acquire the praises and favors of mere mortals on Earth. Much rather, it should be driven with the desire to accomplish such deeds on Earth that would grant one a kingdom of spirituality in the Hereafter.

The aspirant must therefore treat every opportunity to serve as a lost and found treasure. It is possible that a service looked down upon by everyone on Earth could be hiding rewards greater than the earth and the heavens. To test the sincerity of His servants and to see where their hearts flow, the Lord does, after all, conceal many an ocean sought after in a drop.

Propriety…No Matter What

Ibn Ata –may Allah sanctify his secret- explains:

“It was not simply because of their ritual prayers and fasts that those who have progressed on this spiritual path have been able to do so. They progressed by complementing these obligations with virtuous deeds and behavior. The Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- in fact says:

“The closest to me from among you on the Day of Judgment is he with the most beautiful traits and morals.” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 71)

Moral of the Story:

The poet says it wonderfully:

Propriety…a God-given crown,
Wear it, lest in troubles you drown.

Another wise poet says:

Among the spiritually minded, I asked and sought out
All is accepted, they said, only with propriety no matter what.

True heroes of propriety and morals are prophets and saints, and also those who know how to follow in their footsteps, through which they exert a will for moral conduct. The pillar of morality is not something detached from a maturity of religiosity. Morality is to rescue one’s self from animalistic traits and to be adorned with human qualities in their place. Being Muslim in the truest sense is to embody the morals of Islam, to exhibit its beauties in behavior and conduct.

When viewed from the vantage of the intellect and wisdom, it is not difficult to see that the main theme of the Quran is propriety and morals. Even its narratives recounted from the depths of history are motivated towards conveying a perfection of behavior.

Mawlana Rumi –may Allah sanctify his secret- says:

“‘What is faith?’ asked my heart. My intellect kneeled down and whispered to my heart’s ear, ‘Faith is nothing but propriety.’ Improper people not only harm themselves…but through their improperness, they are perhaps setting the entire world on fire.”

The Morals and Service of a Saint

Ahmed ar-Rifai –may Allah sanctify his secret- used to greet every person he came across. On hearing about someone ill in a village or a town, near or far, he would use to the first opportunity to visit them. When he came across a blind person on the street, he would hold his hand and take him to his intended destination. Should he come across an elderly person, he would help him carry his load and narrate, to those around, the following saying of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-:

“Whoever respects and helps an elderly person will be granted but Allah the Almighty with someone to respect and help him in his elderly years.” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 75)

Upon returning from a long distance journey, he would head straight to the forest, chop some wood and carry it back to the town on his donkey. He would then personally distribute it among the widows and the poor.

He would run to the help of the mentally ill and the crippled, wash their clothes and sit with them, listening to their problems. He would then serve them food with his very own hands and ask for their prayers. He would say to his disciples:

“Visiting these vulnerable people is not just commendable (mustahab) it is obligatory (wajib).”

While playing on the street one day, a few kids had happened to walk past him. Scared of his awe-inspiring appearance, the kids ran off. But Ahmed ar-Rifai –may Allah sanctify his secret- quickly ran after them and hugging them compassionately, one by one, he even apologized, saying:

“As you can see, dear kids, I am a vulnerable soul just like you. Forgive me…I never meant to scare you!”

Moral of the Story:

The way of spiritual wisdom, proceeding on which one acquires the pleasure of the Real and the key to His reunion, is like blank sheet of white paper. The ink used for writing on this paper is also white and is read only by Allah, glory unto Him. For that reason, saints embark on a lifelong struggle not to drop a black stain on that piece of paper; so much so that they avoid harming even an ant and offer the moral conduct and service to the Lord as purely as they can, in order to attain to His pleasure. For, the Almighty declares:

اِنَّ اللّٰهَ يُحِبُّ التَّوَّابِينَ وَيُحِبُّ الْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ

“For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean” (al-Baqarah, 222)

Let the Immortal Know, Not Mortals!

During the first years of Islam, an unidentified person used to drop off a sack of food items in front of the homes of certain poor people. This continued uninterrupted for a long time, until one morning the poor woke up to find that nothing had been left in front of their doors. As they began thinking about the possible reason, Medina was suddenly shaken with the death of Zayn’al-Abidin –may Allah sanctify his secret-, the grandson of Ali –Allah be well-pleased with him-. The news sent everyone to grief.

They solemnly began performing the final services for this beloved grandson of the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-. When it was time to wash his body, the person entrusted with this honorable duty was taken aback by a number of blistered scars on the back of the corpse. He could not make sense of them. He decided to ask his family members and one of them, who had insight into the matter, said:

“Every morning, Zayn’al-Abidin would prepare sacks of food-items, carry them on his back to the doors of the poor and return without anyone noticing. Not even the poor knew the identity of the person leaving sacks of food in front of their doors. The scars you saw on his back were caused by the heavy sacks of food he carried.”

Moral of the Story:

Those who offer their deeds simply for the pleasure of the Lord, keep a tight lid on them, like a sworn secret, from the public. Deeds exposed to the knowledge of the public despite initially being carried out for the pleasure of the Lord, leave behind their value by the time they reach Divine presence, for they then assume an egotistic character and are exposed to the onslaught of pride and self-importance. Each righteous offered deed in the way of the Real should therefore be offered to ‘let the Immortal know, not mortals’; only then will it be accepted. And neither pens nor inks would be sufficient to record the rewards of a deed offered in such a mindset.

Blissful are the true heroes who, while striving to better the conditions of people through the genuine services they offer, seek the pleasure of the Real and not their egos.

Do Not Look Down On Anyone!

It is reported that one day Jesus –upon him peace- journeyed out of town, accompanied by a man regarded as righteous and looked up to by the Israelites. Another man, a notorious sinner known for his debauchery, followed them, beset with a feeling of remorse over his ways. When they stopped over somewhere for rest, the sinner sat someplace else where, brokenhearted, he sought refuge in the mercy of the Most Merciful and repentantly prayed:

“O Lord…Forgive me for the sake of that great prophet over there!”

Once the supposedly righteous man overheard his prayer, he looked down on him in despise and made his own prayer:

“My Lord…Do not resurrect me with that man on the Day of Judgment!”

The Lord thereupon revealed the following to Jesus –upon him peace-:

“Inform my two servants that I have accepted both their prayers. I have forgiven my sinful yet remorseful servant and made him bound for Paradise. As for the other looked upon as righteous, I have banished him from Paradise for not wanting to be in the company of someone I have forgiven.”

Moral of the Story:

Looking down on any servant of the Almighty apart from those who have already met Divine wrath, is a murder the heart commits. Only hearts of stone, distant from Divine Love, can commit this murder. By looking down on another, one does not bring him down; he only serves to bring himself down and signal his own self-destruction. Indeed, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- states:

بِحَسْبِامْرِِئٍ  مِنَالشَّرِّأَنْ يَحْقِرَ أَخَاهُ الْمُسْلِمَ

“Looking down on and despising a Muslim brother suffices as sin.” (Muslim, Birr, 32)

The poet says it eloquently:

Do not despise the men of sin
For many treasures are hidden in ruin

Do Not Condemn Anyone!

Khamdun Qassar –may Allah sanctify his secret- says:

“Should you see a drunkard staggering along, beware not to condemn him…for it is possible you might one day find yourself on the same boat!”

Moral of the Story:

The Sufi way and training is grounded in compassion and mercy; it allows for no contempt, belittling and hurting others’ feelings. The Lord reveals that His servant is a mystery from His Eternal Power. It is therefore important to look upon a sinner as a jewel that has fallen in a swamp, waiting to get picked up. Contempt would only mean that the jewel is pushed further down the mud. In commanding His servants to avoid such a destructive attitude, the Almighty states:

“O you who believe! Let not (one) people laugh at (another) people perchance they may be better than they, nor let women (laugh) at (other) women, perchance they may be better than they;” (al-Hujurat, 11)

Rather than weighing the sins of others, which is thus prohibited by the Quran, one must weigh up and come to terms with his own, personal sins.  Furthermore, it has been frequently observed that people who spend all their time judging others with contempt end up falling into the same position themselves. Not for no reason do they proverbially say, “Laugh at your mate, suffer the same fate.”

Cheering Up an Orphan

Sari-i Saqati recounts:

“On eid day once, I saw Maruf-i Karhi collecting date seeds on the street. I asked him what he was going to do with the seeds, to which he replied:

‘I saw a small kid crying over there. When I approached him and asked why he was crying, he told me that he was an orphan who neither had the clothes nor the toys his peers had. Before he even finished his sentence, he began crying again. His situation was heartrending. So I decided to collect the seeds which you see. I shall sell them and with the money, purchase the clothes and toys the kid wants.’

His word touched my heart, too, and I insisted the Sheikh to allow me to ‘…personally take care of the child.’ He was kind enough to let me, on which I took the kid to the bazaar and purchased his needs.”

Sari-i Saqati further adds the impact this righteous deed had on his soul:

“The blessings of my serving the orphan engulfed my heart in such a light, with which I felt spiritual zests I had never before experienced.”

Moral of the Story:

Cheering up orphans and protecting them is an initiative strongly encouraged by Islam, the rewards of which are unimaginable. The following promise of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- for those who take up this initiative is enough to put hearts in a sweet trance:

“He who protects an orphan of his own or of another shall be side by side with me in Paradise just like this.” As he was narrating this hadith, Malik ibn Anas –Allah be well-pleased with him- reenacted the hand gesture the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- had made as he said ‘just like this’, by joining his index and middle fingers together. (Muslim, Zuhd, 42)

The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- further says:

“Should a person caress the head of an orphan simply for the sake of Allah, he will receive ten rewards for each strand of hair his hands make contact with.” (Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Musnad, V, 250)

‘Caressing the hair of an orphan’ implies taking close interest in all his needs, be they material or spiritual.

Friendship

Sahl ibn Ibrahim explains:

“We were friends with Ibrahim ibn Adham. I was once struck down by a severe illness, whereupon Ibrahim spent all he had, simply to ensure that I regained my health. In time, I slowly began to recuperate. There was one occasion when I felt like eating a few things, so I asked him if he could obtain them. Because he did not have any means at the time, it turned out that he sold his donkey in order to purchase the things I wanted. It was only later on when I got back up on my feet that I found out about this. I needed to go somewhere, for which I decided to borrow his donkey. When I asked him where the donkey was, he replied:

“We have sold it.”

As I felt the burden of the journey would prove too much for my health, I asked him:

“What am I to do now?”

“No stress, brother”, he said. “I will carry you on my back!” He ended up carrying me on his back across three villages.

Moral of the Story:

In good times, everyone is a friend. But true friendship shows itself only in bad times and its value is incomparable with any other. The secret of sainthood, therefore, lies in remaining the friend of Allah, glory unto Him, His Messenger and righteous persons, in the often difficult and unpleasant days of our lives.

Sacrifice and philanthropy especially towards Muslims who are in need attracts the mercy of the Lord, who is infinitely merciful and compassionate towards His servants, and who has sent His Messenger –upon him blessings and peace- for no other reason than for him to be a mercy to the worlds. The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- says:

“Allah shows mercy to people of mercy and compassion.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 58)

The Purpose of Friendship

Abdullah ibn Mubarak –may Allah sanctify his secret- had gone on a journey with a man with certain bad habits. When their journey came to an end and both went their own ways, Abdullah ibn Mubarak began weeping. His friends affectionately asked the reason behind his tears:

“Despite such a long journey”, he explained behind misty eyes, “I could not mend any of the bad habits of my friend for the road. I could not help him improve his behavior. And now, I cannot help it but think it could have been because of my own shortcomings that I was unable to be of any benefit to him…If it is because of my own error that he was unable correct himself, what is to be of me tomorrow when we are resurrected?” He then continued sobbing helplessly.

Moral of the Story:

Friendships should always be constructed upon a spiritually beneficial purpose. Accordingly, befriending and accompanying the righteous should be with the aim of benefiting from them and befriending persons of spiritual weakness and shortcomings should be with the intention of offering them spiritual help. Friendships established purely upon passing pleasures and oblivious to spiritual benefit are tantamount to laying waste to the happiness of both worlds. Even the least damage one is inflicted with through such friendships can never be taken lightly: behavior and action rubs off from one friend to the other.

Yet, should all attempts towards bettering them prove unfruitful, the method to be followed in attempting to correct persons with shortcomings is not to hurt their feelings by laying the blame on them. One should instead question himself to see whether the fault in fact lies with him. For if it is because of our own shortcomings and flaws that we have been unable to set another person right, it means that we are seriously accountable in the Hereafter. The purpose is not to act as a veil but to part all veils and point to the truth.

Full Submission

The Quran recounts how the Almighty commanded Musa –upon him peace- to:

“Go to the Pharaoh; for he has indeed transgressed…” (Taha, 24)

As Musa –upon him peace- could not think of anyone to leave his family and sheep with, he asked:

“What about my family and sheep, o Lord?”

Allah, glory unto Him, thereupon reminded His messenger of being the best of protectors, declaring:

“What else can you wish for, Musa, after you have found Me? Run to fulfill My command! Become attached to Me and show submission! If I wish, I could place a wolf to shepherd your sheep and angels to guard your family! What is it that worries you, Musa? Who saved you when your mother threw into the river? And Who reunited you with your mother afterwards? Remember the time you had killed a man by accident and the Pharaoh was after your head…Who protected you from him at that time?”

Attentively listening in the meantime, Musa –upon him peace- was answering each question by saying:

“You, You, You, my Lord!”

Moral of the Story:

Musa –upon him peace- was of course at the peak of submission, like all prophets. But since prophets act as exemplars for humankind, the Lord makes transpire through them many important and enlightening standards for us to take note of and behave accordingly when faced with similar situations. The lesson expressed by the above narrative is that no personal excuse is valid at the face of the commands of Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. With Him is to be found all the blessings and protection one may ever need when striving to execute His command. If a servant genuinely struggles to fulfill a Divine command only for the pleasure of the Lord, he will see that the Lord does help him whatever the circumstances may be. The Absolute Protector in fact had Musa –upon him peace- raised in the Pharaoh’s palace, immersed Ibrahim –upon him peace- in a garden of roses amid the scorching fire of Nimrod, put the righteous young men of the Cave into a slumber of over three-hundred years to protecting them from the harm of tyrants and safeguarded Muhammad Mustafa –upon him blessings and peace- from many a threat, including concealing him from the prying eyes of his enemies in the Cave of Sawr. The poet expresses this beautifully:

I expect the help of no other, let the Lord be my guard,
In Him I trust, ‘for Allah is the Best Protector’[5]

                                                                           Sayri

Receiving the Prayers of a Believer

It was a day when Maruf-i Karhi was fasting voluntarily. Just as he was walking past the bazaar late afternoon, he saw a water-bearer, praying:

“May Allah treat him, who drinks from this water, with His blessings and mercy!” So Maruf heeded the call; and breaking his fast, he drank from the water the man had to offer.

“Why did you break your fast?” asked those next to him.

“So I could attain to the blessings of the man’s prayer”, he answered.

After Maruf-i Karhi passed away, a friend of his saw him in his dream; and recalling the incident, asked him, “How did Allah treat you?”

“Because of the blessings of the water-bearer’s prayers”, he responded, “my Lord forgave me and treated me with compassion.”

Moral of the Story:

There is many an outcast, whose heart is constantly with the Lord, whose prayers can at times be more precious than the rewards of voluntary deeds of worship. But it must be borne in mind that voluntary fasts broken with the hope of attaining to a greater virtue must be compensated at a later date, as completing an unfinished fast is obligatory (wajib), even if it may have been voluntary to begin with. Underlined by the above incident is to be able to choose something more important over another thing of lesser importance. For there may come a moment when seemingly small things may be loaded with enormous benefits. On the other hand, just as there may be treasures buried inside desolate buildings, there may also be persons, who although may look as if they are desolate on the outside, may in fact be precious gems on the inside. One must beware not to ignore such persons. This is splendidly voiced in the below couplet:

Consider each night a Qadr, every person a Khidr,
You are being watched, the eight Heavens awaiting

                                                                      Sayri

The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- says:

“Should I tell you of those who are Heaven bound? They are those who nobody takes seriously, as they are weak and are seen as weak; yet if they were to vow that ‘such and such will happen’, Allah would surely make their vows come true.

Should I tell you of those who are Hell bound? They are the hardhearted, the rude, the miserly and the conceited, who swagger as they walk.” (Bukhari, Ayman, 9; Muslim, Jannah, 47)

A Majzub and the Cure of an Ailing Heart

Bayazid-i Bistami –may Allah sanctify his secret- came across a doctor preparing some medicine and asked him:

“Do you have a medication, doctor, for my illness?”

“What is your illness?” counter asked the doctor.

“Sin”, replied he.

Helplessly extending his arms to both sides, the doctor then said, “I do not know of a medication for the illness of sin.”

Meanwhile, a young majzub nearby, who overheard their conversation, interrupted and said:

“I know of some medicine for your disease!”

“Tell me, young man”, urged Bayazid joyously. Despite being looked upon as deranged, it was evident that the young man was in fact a man of wisdom. So he began describing the ingredients of the medicine to cure sin:

“Take ten dirhams worth of remorse roots and ten dirhams of repentance! Place them onto the tray of your heart and beat it up with the gavel of tawhid. Then sift it through the sieve of fairness and knead some tears into it. Afterwards, cook it in the oven of love! You will acquire a paste from which you should take five spoonfuls a day. Do as I say and soon, you will have nothing left of your disease!”

Bayazid-i Bistami heaved a deep sigh and remarked:

“Pity the fools who think you are deranged and suppose themselves to be intelligent!”

Moral of the Story:

When perception in the sight of the Lord becomes more important, for one, than public reception, the paths of maturity and wisdom become wide open. One’s sight, hearing and feeling then begins to assume a profound and mysterious depth. Many a person of the kind becomes something of an Uways al-Qarani, ignored by the public and looked upon as deranged. But in reality, it is only because he has attained to the special friendship of Allah, glory unto Him, and His Messenger that he appears that way.

The above incident further reflects the blessings of the Divine command, “Accompany the righteous!” (at-Tawbah, 119) As was seen in the young man’s words of wisdom, the medicine given by the righteous provides a cure for many an ailing heart, binding it to the Real, healthier and stronger than ever.  Further, the fact that Bayazid-i Bistami asks for a medicine for the heart in spite of possessing a spiritually alive and healthy heart himself, is a manifestation of his own humbleness, and no less, it is motivated with the aim of actually curing the doctor’s heart.

Faces like Angels

With the late Sami Effendi and my late father Musa Effendi –may Allah sanctify their secrets-, who was accompanying him, we were returning from Bursa to Istanbul. To board the car ferry at Yalova to cross to the other side of the Marmara Sea, we were about to line up with the rest of the cars. The attendant at the dock, assigned with the task of making sure that the cars lined up in neat rows, suddenly caught sight of Sami Effendi and Musa Effendi, as he was signaling the proper position for our vehicle. Astounded, he paused. He then came closer. Taking a curious look inside the car, he heaved out a deep sigh and remarked:

“Good Lord, what a strange world! There are faces like angels…and there are faces like the Nimrod…”

Moral or the Story:

The above incident shows that the sign of being a ‘friend’ of Allah, glory unto Him, is for the heart and face to be enlightened by His Divine Light. In other words, saints are those who, when seen, remind one of the Lord, insofar as their path is the path of the Divine. They are upon the towering morals of Prophet Muhammad Mustafa –upon him blessings and peace-, the great guide of the entourage of truth. Indeed, simply the Prophet’s –upon him blessings peace- face and expression were inviters to the Lord, without him needing to put the invitation to words. In fact, the moment he saw the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- Abdullah ibn Salam –Allah be well-pleased with him, an erstwhile prominent scholar among the Jews confessed:

“Such a face cannot lie”. This alone was enough motivation for him to embrace Islam. (Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 42; Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Musnad, V, 451)

Everywhere he goes, each servant thus leaves an almost endless amount of impressions, be they positive or negative; his behavior and mindset speak for themselves and he comes under numerous glances, both attentive and inattentive. There is not telling how many people will take a liking for the way one conducts himself in public and take it as an example.

It must be born in mind that the universe is the source of Divine joy, whose wonderful manifestation the beautiful mystery we call man is. The righteous and the mature souls, who are comprised in the content of this Divine joy, are people who are never consigned to the rubble of history; their lives continue after their death, as a reward of having led exemplary lives for humankind.

The Condition of the Heart during Charity

Musa Effendi –may Allah sanctify his secret- recounts:

“We were on a journey with Sami Effendi –may Allah sanctify his secret-. Somewhere in the town of Ürgüp, a man stopped the car and asked for some cigarette money. In spite of the silent protests of some of the journeymen, Sami Effendi said:

‘Since he is asking for it, we must give him what he wants’, and ensured the man received the money. Receiving the money, the delighted man then had a sudden change of heart and remarked:

‘I will now go and but bread with this money instead’. He was visibly happy as he walked into the distance.”

Moral of the Story:

Actions executed simply for the pleasure of Allah, glory unto Him, find ways inside a person’s heart and serve to better their morals. What is therefore important in charity is not the inner condition of the receiver but the inner condition of the benefactor. The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- states:

“A man once promised to himself that he would give charity. At night time, he left his house with the charity in his hand and unknowingly gave it to a thief. The word on the street next day was ‘…how strange it is that a thief was given charity last night!’

Hearing this, the man said, ‘Thank you, my Lord. Surely, I will offer another charity.’

He, again, left his house with the charity in his hand and unknowingly placed it inside the palm of a prostitute. Next day, people were chitchatting about the oddness that ‘a prostitute was given charity!’

‘Thank you, my Lord’, responded the man, ‘for handing me the opportunity to give charity even if it were to a prostitute. I will surely offer another charity.’

That night, he left his house once more with the charity in his hand and again, unknowingly, handed it to a wealthy man. ‘What is going on?’ grumbled the townsfolk the next day. ‘This time a rich man was given charity!’

‘Thank you Allah’, the man said, ‘for allowing me to give charity even if was to a thief, a prostitute and to an affluent!’

In return for his sincerity, it was said to the man, in his dream:

‘The charity you gave to the thief may perhaps make him feel ashamed of his thieving and make him abandon it. The charity you gave to the prostitute may perhaps make her leave her ways and lead her to virtue. And the rich man may perhaps draw a lesson from your charity and dispense from his wealth to the needy!’” (Bukhari, Zakat, 14; Muslim, Zakat, 78)

Since the influence of a given charity is only as great as the benefactor’s sincerity, the benefactor must therefore be in a state of gratitude towards the Lord.

The Righteous Deed that Reaches the Throne

One day a disciple of Dawud-i Tai, who was seeing to the personal chores of the Sheikh, said, “I have cooked some meat. Would you like me to bring some?”

Seeing his master remain silent, he then brought a plateful of meat and placed it in front of him. But without throwing even a little glance at the meat in front of him, Dawud-i Tai –may Allah sanctify his secret- asked:

“What about the so-and-so orphans, my dear?”

The disciple sighed and to indicate that they were without sufficient means, replied, “Their situation is the same, master.”

“In that case, take this meat to them!” advised the great saint.

“But it has been a very long time since you ate meat, master”, said the disciple, genuinely wanting his master to consume the food he had prepared for him. Yet adamant, Dawud-i Tai said:

“If I were to eat that meat, my dear, it will only find its way outside. But if the orphans were to eat it, it would find its way to the Throne of the Lord!”

Moral of the Story:

Just as it is impossible for the sun not to provide warmth, it is impossible for high-spirited human beings not to feel sorry for others and to remain indifferent to their pains and troubles. Compassion is a Divine treasure effervescent throughout the universe. The hearts of the righteous, for that matter, are inexhaustible chests of the treasure of compassion. In their eyes, the awaiting profit in casting aside the fleeting interests and desires that only serve to aggravate the ego and focusing on good deeds that not only nourish the spirit but also serve to eternalize the deeds is infinitely more beautiful. The greatest profit a human being can ever acquire on Earth is through righteous deeds. Other gains are merely trusts placed temporarily in the hands of man, as is testified by the below incident:

The family members of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- once had a sheep slaughtered. After most of its meat was handed out in charity, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- inquired what was left of the sheep.

“Only a single shoulder blade”, informed Aisha –Allah be well-pleased with her-.

“That means”, declared the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- “all is ours except for a single shoulder blade!” (Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 33)

A Constant Awareness of the Real

Abdulqadir Jilani –may Allah sanctify his secret- recounts a personal experience:

“A light, one day, appeared right in front of my eyes and soon covered the entire horizon. Still trying to make out what it was, I suddenly heard a voice coming from the light:

‘I am your Lord, Abdulqadir’, it said. ‘I am so pleased by the righteous deeds you have offered until this day that, from now on, I have made all that is haram, halal for you!’

But as soon as the sentence finished, I realized that the voice belonged to the cursed devil and said:

‘Go away, you wretched creature! The light you show is nothing but eternal darkness for me!’

‘You have gotten away from me once again through the wisdom given to you by your Lord’, he said. ‘Yet, to this day, I was able to deceive hundreds of people with this trick!’ The light then subsided.

I lifted my hands aloft and thanked my Lord, knowing that this was a blessing from Him.”

Hearing him recall this incident, a man asked, “How did you know that the voice belonged to the devil?” Abdulqadir Jilani –may Allah sanctify his secret- replied:

“When he said, ‘I have made all the haram, halal!”

Moral of the Story:

In all times and places, there have always been people who have maliciously tried to obscure the religion of Allah, glory unto Him. At times when this destructive activity becomes more intense than ever, the criterion or the ability to discern right from wrong, the good from evil and the beautiful from ugly gains an added importance for a believer. Today, the above incident is reenacted in similar fashion, with supposed scholars acting with vested interest who strive to transform the harams of Islam to halals and vice versa, damaging the social fiber in the process. The prudent attitude and acute judgment of Abdulqadir Jilani –may Allah sanctify his secret- is therefore of special importance for all of us. In fact, his method of approach is unmistakably clear: The Almighty never privileges anyone with a right He has not privileged even the Prophet with. Could the devil and the pretentious scholars, who are virtually the human embodiments of the devil, exercise greater insight into the nature of the halal and the haram, the right and the wrong, the beautiful and the ugly than the Prophet? No way! The Almighty sends a stern warning to people who think the contrary:

“Say: “What! Will you instruct Allah about your religion? But Allah knows all that is in the heavens and on earth: He has full knowledge of all things.” (al-Hujurat, 16)

The Karim is All I Need

Bayazid-i Bistami explains:

“One day, I needed to cross to the other side of the Tigris. When I came near the shore, both sides of river joined together to ease my path across. Quickly coming to my senses, I said to myself:

“I will surely not be fooled by this; for the boatmen deliver one to the other side of the river for half a dime. But by coming together, you are asking for my thirty years of righteous deeds! Sorry to say but I cannot waste the deeds I have prepared for the day of resurrection in return for as little as half a dime! The Karim (the Generous) is all I need, not a karamah.”

Moral of the Story:

Karamah, for which the ego takes a liking, poses a really sensitive problem for saints. The price to be paid by brushing aside karamah is either a temporary tiredness, a little cost out of one’s pocket or to go unnoticed in the public eye. But the price of seizing karamah, on the other hand, may at times be as much as the entirety of the righteous deeds offered up until that time, a spiritual bankruptcy that leaves nothing in the hand to take to the eternal realm. Except for the karamah whose exhibiting was necessitated by the Will of the Lord, saints have always consciously shunned all interest in showing such feats, which are tantamount to gaining public approval and applause, focusing instead on acquiring the pleasure of the Lord, the ever Karim.

Meaningful are the below comments made by Sahl ibn Abdullah at-Tustari on the issue:

“Changing bad habits with good ones is the greatest of all karamah. Indeed, some karamah are like toys given to appease a crying child. Saints never desire this; only the ignorant do. They amuse themselves and often many others with it.”

The most important point above all, therefore, is to:

“…stand firm on the right path as you are commanded” (Hud, 112)

The Responsibility of the Forerunners

Imam Abu Hanifah one day came across a child walking in the mud. Throwing a compassionate smile at the child, he said:

“Watch out, dear, so that you do not trip and fall!”

The child turned to the Imam with eyes gleaming with intelligence and gave the following unexpected reply:

“For me to fall is no big deal, Imam. But it is you who should be careful…for should you trip, those who follow you and hang on your every word will fall and helping them up would be awfully difficult!”

Captivated by the prudent words of the child, the Imam began to cry. He turned to his students and said:

“Should you receive  stronger evidence on a given issue, do not follow my ruling. That is the sign of maturity in Islam…and only by this means will your love and attachment to me transpire…” (Khashiyat’u Ibn Abidin, I, 217-219, Dimashq, 2000)

Moral of the Story:

Being at the forefront on the way of truth comes with a blessing, though also with a great responsibility. Forerunners influence others through their good characteristics; yet their errors and evils may often be misconstrued as correct and good and find a breeding ground. Thus, the greats of Islam like Abu Hanifah have not only taken note of this delicate aspect whilst passing legal judgment, they have also led their lives strictly within the measure of piety. In fact, after being spotted cleaning a tiny speck of dirt from his shirt, Imam Abu Hanifah was asked:

“According to the ruling you have made on the issue, Imam, the size of the dirt on your shirt does not prevent you from offering ritual prayer. So, why do you make such a fuss?”

“That was a ruling”, replied the Imam. “But this is piety!”

Such is the sole standard, sufficient to turn all the obligations to the Creator as well as the created into reasons of the joy in the eternal life of the Hereafter!

Attending the Invitation of the Lord

Hasan Basri –may Allah sanctify his secret- says:

“Sheep are more sensitive than men, for when a shepherd calls, they stop grazing and pay attention. What could be said to a man who fails to take a lesson from this and ignorantly remains deaf to the invitation of the Lord?”

Moral of the Story:

An invitation can be of many kinds. If the call is made by someone disliked, the situation would be different compared to the call of a beloved friend. Attending the call, the invitation of Allah, glory unto Him, should therefore be with an exuberant heart overflowing with the joy of submission. We must especially weigh the excitement and enthusiasm of our hearts, on the scale of Divine love and attachment, in heeding to the invitation of the adhan heard five times a day. Mawlana Rumi voices this beautifully:

“Get your act together! Since the Lord demands you, turn your head into feet, if that is what it will take, and run…for His invitation exalts man, gives him spiritual exuberance and eternal blessings!”

The Importance of Halal

A financially wealthy disciple of Abu Abbas Nihawandi –may Allah sanctify his secret- one day asked the Sheikh who should be the worthy recipient of his alms.

“To whomever your heart warms to”, advised the Sheikh.

The disciple took this advice to heart and left. On the way, he came upon a blind man begging on the street. Taking a liking towards the man, the disciple took out a pouch full of gold coins from his pocket, the sum total of his alms, and gave it to him. Inspecting the pouch with his hands, the blind beggar walked away delightedly. The next day, while he was walking through the same street, the disciple happened to overhear a conversation between the same beggar from yesterday and another blind man.

“A gentleman gave me a pouch full of gold yesterday”, the man was saying to his friend. “And I went to the tavern and got blind drunk…”

Annoyed and disgruntled, the disciple headed straight next to Abu Abbas –may Allah sanctify his secret-. He was just about to recount the incident to him, when the Sheikh, without giving him an opportunity to speak, handed him a dime he had received from selling his taqiyah, telling the disciple to:

“Give this dime to the first person you come across!”

Unable to utter even a word, the disciple left the scene to fulfill the charitable task he had been given. Compliant with the request of his Sheikh, he handed the dime to the first person he saw on the street. Yet, with a gnawing curiosity, he decided to follow the man. Eventually, the man ended up at the outskirts of the town, where he entered a derelict house. There, he took out a dead quail from his inside pocket and left it on the ground. He was just about to leave the scene when the disciple confronted him and said:

“For God’s sake, tell me the truth. What is the dead quail that you just left on the ground over there, all about?”

Suddenly confronted by the disciple by whom he was given the dime, the man stuttered as he explained:

“For seven days, I was not able to find anything to feed my family. My wife and I were doing our best to keep patient but our children could not take it anymore…Still, begging people was something I could never get myself to do. While craving in agony, I found that almost decayed and rather inconsumable dead quail. Out of desperate need, I was on the verge of taking that to my children, for them to eat. But in my mind, I was pleading the Lord, beseeching him to help me…And that was when you appeared and gave me the dime. For that, I thanked the Lord and came here to drop off the dead quail. I now intend on heading to the bazaar to buy something for us to eat…”

Almost petrified, the disciple wasted no time to go to his Sheikh. Before he could even utter a word, the Sheikh said:

“Son, it seems then that you did not pay enough attention to whether your earnings were muddled by the haram and the doubtful. Hence, you alms were squandered for wine, even though you did take care to find the right person. The way you earn something is the way it ends up being spent. The reason as to why a single dime of mine found the hands of a righteous man in contrast to your pouch full of gold that ended up in the hands of a drunkard, is only because it was the fruit of elbow grease…in other words, it was halal.”

Moral of the Story:

Everything gains and loses value in accordance with the positive or negative characteristics it possesses. This fact is more conspicuous with regard to the halal and the haram. There is an old proverbial saying pertaining to wealth and property that catches hold of the inner gist of fact:

“What comes from Hayy, goes to Hu.” (Haydan gelen huya gider)

This has two meanings. Firstly, that which comes from Hayy (the Alive) or the Lord returns to Hu, literally to Him who is again, no-one other than the Lord. The second meaning is ‘easy come easy go’; that is, earnings acquired on the back of impermissible or doubtful means eventually go to waste. In short, while halal engenders nothing but halal, haram only brings about another haram. Voicing this fact are the evocative words of Abu Bakr Warraq –may Allah sanctify his secret-:

“When I wake up in the morning, I observe people around and realize who is living off halal and who is living off haram”.

“How so?” he was asked.

“On seeing someone”, he explained, “who scuttles into vain talk, backbiting and cursing as soon as he wakes up in the morning, I just know that this state is caused by the haram he consumes. And whosoever wakes up in the morning and busies himself with the remembrance of the Lord and remorseful repentance, is able to do so only because of the halal he consumes. Both the halal and the haram transpire in people’s behavior according to the specific characteristics they possess.”

Halal Earnings

Imam Abu Hanifah was quite a wealthy man, who made a living as a merchant. Being a busy scholar, however, he would manage his business through his proxy and personally inspect and see whether his business transactions were undertaken according to halal standards. So sensitive was he to this issue that on one occasion, before sending his partner-in-trade Hafs ibn Abdurrahman to sell some fabric, he advised him to:

“Sell these at a reduced price, as the fabrics are slightly defective.”

Hafs ended up selling the fabrics at the price specified by the Imam, yet forgot to inform the customer about the flaws of the goods he had purchased. On finding out, the Imam asked Hafs whether he knew the customer so they can get in touch with him. It turned out that Hafs did not know the man. So, wary that the legitimacy of his earnings might be clouded, Imam Abu Hanifah gave the entire money he had made from the transaction as charity. The Imam’s level of piety accrued for him enormous blessings in all his transactions, both financial and spiritual.

Moral of the Story:

In order to find out whether someone is an upright and pious person with a clean heart, one need not look so much at the deeds of worship he offers as to the spiritual level with which he offers those deeds. More specifically, one must observe and see whether or not his behavior complies with the morals of Islam and his earnings are made in a halal way. Upon hearing a person speaking highly of another man, Omar –Allah be well-pleased with him- asked the person whether he had done any of the three things that would justify his praises:

“Have you neighbored him, traveled with him or traded with him?”

When the person replied in the negative for all three, Omar –Allah be well-pleased with him- went on to say:

“In that case, do not praise him, for you do not know him properly!”

Sufyan-i Sawri –may Allah sanctify his secret- has therefore said:

“The piety of a person is to the degree of the halal-ness of his earnings.”

He was once asked to explain the virtue of offering ritual prayer, in congregation, in the first row.

“First look at where you earn your bread from, brother” he replied. “As long as your earnings are halal, feel free to pray in whichever row you want…no trouble.”

The late Musa Effendi –may Allah sanctify his secret- would recount a personal experience of his in underlining the vitality of ensuring that earnings are made through halal means and are kept distant from the corrupting elements of the haram:

“We used to have a neighbor. Earlier a non-Muslim, he had later converted to Islam. When I one day asked the motivation behind his embracing of Islam, he explained the following:

‘I became a Muslim thanks to the business ethics of my land neighbor Molla Rebi in Acıbadem. Molla Rebi was a man who made a living by selling milk. One night, he came to our house with a container full of milk and said:

‘Here…this milk is yours!’

‘How can that be?’ I asked. ‘I do not remember asking milk from you!’

That is when the graceful man began explaining:

‘One of my cows sneaked into your land and grazed and it was only later that I became aware of it. For that reason, this milk belongs to you. Plus, I will continue to bring its milk to you until its digestive cycle comes to an end…in other words, until the grass and weed it consumed from your land completely exits its system.’

‘Do not even mention it, my friend’, I said. ‘Grass is grass. You owe me nothing…’ But Molla Rebi would not take that as an answer.

‘No way’, he said. ‘This milk is part and parcel yours!’ So he placed in my hands the container of milk and many more over the next few days, until the cow’s digestive cycle came to an end.

I was exceptionally moved by his conduct. Consequently, the veils of ignorance that had clouded my sight until then made way and the sun of guidance dawned in my heart. I just thought to myself, ‘…a religion that imparts such grand morals must surely be the most sublime religion; and nobody can doubt the integrity of a religion that raises such elegant, sensitive, just and wholesome people.’ So I pronounced the kalima-i tawhid and became a Muslim.’”

These lessons of wisdom make evident the sensitivity and precaution we must take on board with regard to making a halal living and shunning the corrupting elements of haram. For halal earnings, are among the fundamental pillars of piety. The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- therefore states:

“An honest and reliable merchant is in the class of prophets, the righteous (siddiq) and martyrs.” (Tirmidhi, Buyu, 4)

A merchant with a sensitive heart, who has acquired the privilege of being mentioned in the same breath as prophets, the righteous and martyrs, becomes a means of peace and blessings for those around and at once, acquires for himself the joy of both worlds, Here and the Hereafter. Yet, those who fall victim to worldly greed are doomed for poverty in the eternal life, however much they may seem to be leading a glittered life of riches in this passing life on earth.

The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- further says:

“There will come a time when a person will not pay the slightest attention to whether his earnings are halal or haram.” (Bukhari, Buyu, 7, 23)

Thus, in this day and age, where the dangers the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- had indicated are running rife, and where they do not seem to let go of a person however great the person may strive to get away from them, abiding by the halal becomes the most primal issue and the greatest of all deeds of worship.

Hearts triumphant in fulfilling this deed of worship and remaining steadfast in a state of abidance and submission to the command of Allah, glory unto Him, provide sources of goodness and inspiration, much like a rose that weaves through dozens of thorns to blossom. Contrastingly, hearts immersed in the haram and doubtful are as such that they have settled for a place among the thorns, relinquishing their potential to blossom; and as such, they have become hotbeds of evil and immorality.

May Allah, glory unto Him, protect is all!

Amin…

[1]        See, Bukhari, Badu’l-Khalq, 7; Muslim, Jihad, 111.

[2]        The affects of ritual prayer is only as great as the condition of the heart. In chapter al-Maun, the Almighty declares, “So woe to the worshippers…who are unmindful of their prayers”. It is therefore natural to find the unmindful, that is persons ill-of-heart, or even hypocrites, inside mosques.

[3]        In the Ottoman palace, Sudanese women were employed as caretakers of valide sultans, whom were referred to as a baji. Being known for their honesty and integrity, the Sudanese were especially chosen to serve in the Palace.

[4]        The huzur lessons were scholarly meetings conducted in the presence or huzur of the Sultan; and hence the name.

[5]        A reference to Yusuf, 64.