Friday, July 17, 2009


Abbas Husain

Diversity of Thought in Islamic Shariat, Tariqat & Culture
29th July 2007
Aiwan-e-Iqbal Complex


"Nothing that can be put into words is common to all sufism" (Sufi saying)

1. Tariqat means Experience
Nothing that can be put into words is common to all Sufi Saints. Tariqat is Sufism for this conversation..language while it is a powerful medium, it is still a medium. Spirituality is Sufism. Tariqat means experience. Experience is ineffable and unspeakable so we are speaking about the unspeakable. A contradiction. We are talking about what most people are silent about so actually we are glorifying silence by talking about it! So ultimately please understand these are very personal private understanding of things and in that sense nothing that can be put into words is common to all Sufis. All great Sufi masters are dealing with experiences and that is the common point. The verbal equivalent. I intend in the following to share with you some insights on the goals, techniques and challenges of the inner path today. My own credentials are very humble: I can only speak of some grace/faiz (of suhbat and reading) that I have received (and continue to receive) from my Teachers some in this world, and some not

2. Sufism: The Spirituality of Islam
Sufism may be called the spirituality of Islam. And I know that there are powerful forces that seek to exclude it from the purview of relevance in the modern world. But if one can say that Sufism seeks to address the interior dimension of each of us, the domain of intentions and aspirations, then it is obvious that all of us need to know its teachings. We need to hear these words:

"Which of you can by taking thought add a cubit to his stature?" ---Jesus Christ

I cannot deal with the History of Sufism, nor its place in Islam, nor the way you can seek a Sheikh for yourself in modern times, nor what to do with the claims of someone who claims to be a Pir, and cure many diseases…These questions are outside of our discussion today (sorry!) My topic is Diversity in Tariqat i.e. What resources do the inner path and its teachings have to offer to deal with “the other”. Or simply put: If Sufism is essential knowledge, why are there different silsilas? So let me briefly offer some definitions of the five major orders and then offer a way of looking at them as attempts to deal with the diversity.

3. The Major Sufi Orders
The Indo Pakistan Sub-Continent has had the presence of the four major brotherhoods: With a fifth also present here but its spread has been mainly in Africa. The Chishti, The Naqshbandi, The Suhrawardi and The Qadri.

The Qadriyya Order is connected to the great saint Hazrat Abdul Qadir Jilani (RA). Insisting on the Shari’a, it offers a most vigorous set of practices that truly involve the body, mind and soul.

The Suhrawardiyya trace their lineage to Shaykh Abu Najeeb Suhrawardi. Strong on the Shari’a they follow the illumination path and seek the lights whereby the fruits of their practices may be recognized.

The Naqshbandiyya may be called the intellectual path: they offer a set of practices that are later grasped intellectually. Hazrat Bahauddin Naqshband was an intellectual giant and his teachings have left a permanent imprint on the spirituality of Central Asian region and beyond.

The Chishtiyya are famous for the music, the qawwalis, the devotional songs that many see as “outside” the Shari’a…It must be recalled that Chishti Masters have said: “If lion flesh can be declared halal to cure a sick body, what must be done for a sick heart?”

These four you may be familiar with but the fifth major order is now vastly better known for its international fame: The Shazliyya after Shaykh Abul Hasan Shazli.

4. There are as Many Paths as there are Breaths of Men
Please recall that all these impressions are simply personal…You may not agree with any or all of them…But I am making these points to get to the crux of my topic: All silsilas may be seen as responding to the great diversity of human natures. Consider this profound saying : There are as many paths as there are breaths of men.

5. Self discovery
Consider that spirituality not only recognizes variety in social class, or race, or language, or ethnicity or gender, but accepts the uniqueness of each individual human being. If the revelation of Allah is an absolute for mankind, so too is his/her revelation to Allah a sign of acceptance. Self discovery, and the remarkable tools of self knowledge offered by all the Sufi orders form therefore a priceless heritage for all mankind. And in an age where action matters, improving the world matters more than anything else,

Perhaps some of us need to heed the words of the Prophet’s great disciple Hazrat Ali (a.s.) revered by all Sufi Orders as the Fount of the Initiatic Chain:

"Man arafa nafsuhu faqad arafa rabbohu": Whoever knows himself knows his Lord.

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