A forest is green because individual trees within the forest are green. Similarly, world peace can only be achieved if individual humans are at peace with themselves. This is how Dr. Art Buehler described Sufism to a group of university students in 2005. He further explained that duality has caused the human psyche to think of itself as a separate being to the Whole and the Sufi way strives to remove the veils that conceal this truth.
Human beings are members of a whole
In creation of one essence and soul
If one member is afflicted with pain
Other members uneasy will remain
If you have no sympathy for human pain
The name of human you cannot retain.
— Sa’adi of Shiraz
I was born in a secular and intellectual household in an Islamic country. In my early years I didn’t have a conscious longing to be spiritual or religious. I took pride in my atheism and misled many of my peers in the process. I was well versed in debates that found flaws in religious thinking. When I was a young man and already living in the west for some time, I took a trip to my birth country. I met a cousin of mine who told me of his Murshid (Shaykh) who was a dervish. He told me at length about the Sufi path and the importance of having a guide. I was able to see that his view of the politicised organized religion was aligned with the flaws I had perceived too. He helped me see he didn’t believe in the god that I didn’t believe in either. He paved the way for me to see that the mystical view of God and spirituality is not the same notion of the old man with a long white beard sitting in the clouds condemning humans.
O Lord, if I worship You because of fear of hell,
then burn me in hell;
If I worship You because I desire paradise,
then exclude me from paradise;
But if I worship You for Yourself alone,
then deny me not your eternal beauty.
— Rabia (r)
Upon my return, I started my spiritual journey. I tried several different schools of thought and every time spent money in even greater sums. I tried many new-age techniques, spiritual healing systems and even became a disciple of a yoga guru. My yoga guru thought of the Sufis very highly and always acknowledged their authenticity and often told of their stories. I worked with kundalini and chakras intensely for five years and eventually found myself deep in the yoga philosophy, which originates in Hinduism. I was still not satisfied. I could not relate to the ideas of renouncing the world and “guru worship”. My desire was God, not a human. Having known the Sufis strive to be in the world but not of the world and worship none but God, I sincerely prayed to God to send a Sufi to New Zealand!
A few months later Dr. Art Buehler informed me of the arrival of a representative of Hazrat Shaykh Hamid of the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi tradition of Hazrat Ahmed Farooqi Sirhindi (r). I was able to meet Hazrat’s representative in 2008. During the first meeting, despite my numerous prior spiritual experiences with other systems, I was not able to experience anything at all. I was disappointed and convinced that I would not return, but I forgot my favourite jacket behind…
A week later, I phoned him hoping to pick up my favourite jacket at the door but was invited inside instead. Not knowing that through the transmission of the Shaykh, a seed had been planted in my heart a week prior, my vision started to change as I was looking around. I had some spiritual experiences that are hard to describe. They were unlike anything I had experienced with other systems. These experiences flowed effortlessly without having to put myself into a trance or follow rigorous physical movements. Simply, I just had to be in the presence of what I later understood to be the “transmission”.
After a few months, I stopped doing the practices of all the other systems. Sufism satisfied my soul and my search for a teacher had come to an end. I met Hazrat Shaykh Hamid later that year at a retreat. I remember walking past Shaykh Hamid and his representative and thinking to myself, “what are the chances of being in the presence of two such great souls at the same time?” I was further fortunate enough to meet some of the students from the Australian groups who had been doing the practices for a long time. Everything about them was beautiful, their faces full of light and their amazing charisma would be felt from metres away. These were further confirmations this path was all I was seeking. A year later Shaykh Hamid formally accepted me as his murid. I felt liberated and found peace. I had started on the path with many intentions and presumptions of what could be achieved but Hazrat shifted my attention from all the by-products of the practices, to their Source; God.
O God, You are the original source of peace; from You is all peace, and to You returns all peace. So, make us live with peace; and let us enter the garden: the House of Peace. Blessed be You, our Lord, to whom belongs all majesty and honour.
— attributed to Hazrat Khadija (r)
As the years passed by, my relationship towards religion and spirituality started to be transformed. During one of the retreats with Hazrat, I had a vision of the holy vicinity of Medina and the magnificent light emanating from the green dome. With Hazrat’s blessing, my wife and I prepared to undertake the journey to Mecca. The decision to perform the Hajj was a moment of reckoning for me and people who knew my past self. How could a devout enemy of Islam undergo such a transformation to find himself on this journey. There was not a single speck of doubt in my heart that from within me, the calling to Mecca was real.
Circle the Kaaba of the heart
if you possess a heart.
The heart is the true Kaaba,
the other is just a stone.
God enjoined the ritual
of circling the formal Kaaba
as a way for you to find a heart.
— Rumi (r)
My journey continued and I experienced the highs (states of expansion) and the lows (states of contraction). Whenever challenges arose and I sought the Shaykh’s help, the help always arrived from the unseen and helped me in my day to day life. Once I was in a very low state for several weeks and finally decided to email Hazrat. The next night, I had a dream of Hazrat Shaykh Hamid accompanied by the crown of saints, Hazrat Abdul Qadir Jilani (r). They came to help me. A sequence of events took place in this dream. I woke up the next morning as if nothing had ever happened in my life and all my ill thoughts and depressions were gone. This was an important experience for me to understand the role of sainthood in the Sufi tradition and understand even though the saints have physically left this material world, their holy souls live on in the service of humanity and their manifestations are reflections of the shaykh’s lataif.
Sometimes the teacher, drawing from the resources of his or her own being, lifts the student’s state to assist in his or her spiritual travel. Imagine that you are walking with a child, and you come to a brook too wide for the child to jump over. What do you do? You pick up the child, then cross the brook. Similarly, the teacher lifts the student spiritually over obstacles, from one stage to another. These obstacles might be likened to locked doors. The student progresses some distance, then confronts a door that is firmly sealed. The doorkeeper says, “You cannot go beyond this point. You will never open this door unless you apply more effort and perseverance.” But the teacher comes to help, declaring that such a true seeker does not need more practice. He or she takes hold of the student’s hand and escorts the student over the threshold.
I give these examples to clarify the difference between a formal relationship and an informal, heart-to-heart, spiritual relationship. The physical presence of the teacher is not necessary. The teacher may be miles away, but if a bond exists between hearts, his or her presence will be felt and be effective. There is a Sufi saying: “Heart works with heart.” Heart is connected to heart, and when the shaykh and student meet, it is a meeting of hearts.
~ Hazrat Azad Rasool (r)
It is said that home is where the heart is and the way to the love of the Lord passes through the valley of service. After moving from country to country and city to city, my wife and I eventually decided to settle in Canada. At the time, there were no groups in Canada. Hazrat warned us that without the motivation one receives from the group, our zeal might be lost. With Hazrat’s blessing we eventually made the move and new students from all walks of life started to show interest in our practices and gradually a group was formed. Many of the new students had been waiting for years for an authentic Sufi group to be established in Canada. There were other Sufi groups at the time but they were either outwardly very Islamic or had severed ties with their roots altogether and therefore only suited certain individuals. The Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi Sufi order on the other hand, has always been able to keep the perfect balance of modernity and authenticity through its continued renewals over the ages. This appealed to the true seekers and with God’s blessings, the group thrived and many more people joined the order.