I grew up in a non-practicing Muslim family, but I always had an inclination towards religion and spirituality. I started praying and fasting at the age of 9 or 10, and I’ve always enjoyed the company of religious people. I also practiced several types of meditation and hypnosis. They were so helpful to mitigate the effects of the stressful life I was leading. They also helped me deal with some health issues.
Although I loved spirituality, I had never thought that I would walk the Sufi path because of certain misconceptions and stereotypes that I’ll mention in the next few paragraphs. But first, how did I decide to explore Sufism? What some may consider a coincidence, I believe was God’s plan; I heard a lot about a certain historical Turkish show on Netflix. I typed the title in the search box, but I guess I mistyped it. Without reading the title or description, I saw a man with a turban and thought that that was my show. I clicked and watched the first episode, the second, the third… I can’t remember how many episodes I actually watched before I checked the title. It wasn’t what I wanted. It was Yunus Emre. I thought to myself “how come I started watching without reading the title?!” But at that time I was already into the show and decided to continue watching. It was about a proud religious judge who believed in the scientific approach to acquiring knowledge and Islamic jurisprudence; he thought of Sufi shaykhs as unlearned people who misled laymen. In his capacity as a judge, he had several interactions with a Sufi shaykh, not positive ones in the beginning. However, after some time, he resigned and joined the shaykh’s lodge as a disciple. It was a tough journey at times, but the transformation I saw blew my mind. The difference between the old and the new Yunus Emre was a difference between day and night. I wanted such peace, selflessness, and closeness to Allah for myself. I went to Google and typed ‘Sufi Toronto’. I found a Meet Up group for Sufi Meditation. I thought “Oh great. I love meditation and I want to explore Sufism. That’s killing two birds with one stone.” May 23, 2019 was my first group meditation session and was my ‘spiritual birthday’. Allah showed me the way – through watching a show that I hadn’t intended to watch – and I decided to walk the path with His help.
I’d never thought that I would walk the Sufi path. I thought Sufis overvalue their shaykhs and saints, and that they almost worship them. Although I don’t fully understand who the saint is yet, I knew after I met Shaykh Hamid Hasan why Sufis love their teachers tremendously. When I met him in the retreat, he was radiating peacefulness and serenity. I asked him all kinds of questions in my mind. If I had asked some of those questions to a scholar, he might have advised me not to think about them and just to repent as such questions were from the devil. But Shaykh Hamid was so calm and confident; he listened to me patiently and answered me calmly. The more steps I walk on the path and the more sweetness I taste, the more I feel grateful to my Shaykh who is holding my hand to reach the most exalted goal, closeness to God.
I thought that Sufi disciples follow their teachers blindly. I thought that they aren’t supposed to think or to ask questions. Being someone who admires thinking, I believed that the mind was the only door to understanding the world and that one should never stop thinking. Learning the Sufi way has been different from every other learning experience I’ve ever had. Sufism is experiential, and that’s one reason why it’s so powerful. In Sufism, there are centres of consciousness that enable people to acquire knowledge that cannot be otherwise acquired through the mind. Surprisingly, after practicing for a while, I found out that the mind can actually be a barrier to understanding and acquiring knowledge because it’s not pure. It’s programmed by external factors that we are exposed to: family, society, media, politics, schools of thoughts etc. At times, I didn’t understand what the group manager was doing, or why he wasn’t answering some of my questions. But I decided to relax and wait as he advised me. He actually wanted me to find the answers on my own in the right time, and I did find them. Now I have so much trust in him. For me, my best time is actually the time I spend listening to him and learning from him one-on-one. Those conversations feed my mind, my heart, and my soul because they are about Allah, His love, how to get closer to Him, and how to present myself in this world the way He wants.
Another misconception I held was that Sufis spend too much time on spiritual practices in seclusion while Allah has created people to be khalifas (vicegerents) on earth. Therefore, they should be productive and beneficial to their communities. That idea proved false as well. Grand Shaykh, Hazrat Azad Rasool, stated, “It is said that the way to the love of the Lord passes through the valley of service.” What I have experienced is that the spiritual practices did actually prepare me and enable me to be a better person in this world. In addition, they are certainly not a waste of time because with the practices come barakah (blessings) in time and effort.
The Sufi practices have changed me; before starting the path I had anger towards certain systems in the community, for they failed to meet some of my needs and because of some injustices that I’d witnessed around me. That anger was a fire that could burn a whole city, but now that fire has been put out. Before starting the path, I thought I had known myself to a good extent, but with the practices I discovered a lot more about myself. I found out so many problems that needed to be fixed. I feel ashamed of my heart’s diseases, but Inshallah this encourages humility, repentance and closeness to Allah. My group manager once told me that I have a problem with guilt and fear which is good to some degree. However, beyond that, they cause disappointment and discouragement. He was so right. I’m still working on that now, but I’m more compassionate towards myself. Most importantly, I’m more conscious of the love and mercy of Allah. Furthermore, I was previously attached to material things that I’m not as attached to anymore. I feel like a slave who’s on her way to freedom. The real freedom is to be a slave to Allah only.
Besides the individual practices, group practices are essential in our Order. The group has become my second family; I have a sense of belonging and security there. Group members gather for a superior goal, to get closer to God and reform ourselves to be the best humans that they can be, or in Sufi terms ‘the perfect humans’ (Al-Insan Al-Kamel). They ask about each other and help each other whenever possible. The group manager was so supportive of me in my hardest times and was always so patient. I was once looking back at some questions I had asked him, and the comments I had made, upon reflection I found them so silly because now I know more. I asked him: “How do you put up with me sometimes?” He replied: “Because it’s not the real ‘you’, so it’s easy to put up with.” In addition, everyone in the group is accepted for who they are. Neither the Shaykh nor the group managers tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. That acceptance of human beings and the belief that we are at different stages was mind-blowing to me.
One year has passed since I have started my journey, and it has been so rich. It’s one of the greatest bounties and mercies that Allah has bestowed on me. I’ve just started and I’m looking forward to continuing the journey. I want to have a pure and sound heart when it’s time to leave this world and meet my Beloved. His pleasure is everything to me.
Ya Rabb [O Lord] my heart has darkness that only Your light can diminish, so fill my heart with Your light.
You are the Noor (light) of the heavens and earth.
My heart has forlornness that can only go away with Your remembrance, so help me to remember You, Thank You, and worship You with ihsan [perfection].
My heart is so hard and this hardness can only be melted with Your love, so I ask You for Your love and the love of those who love You and for the love of every action which will bring me closer to Your love.
Ya Rabb shower Shaykh Hamid and the group managers with Your love, light, mercy, and barakah. Give them the best of this life and the afterlife.
And grant the same to every person who guides people towards You.
Alhamdulillah (All praise is due to God).