finding solace in Sufism
I am proud of my Egyptian, Arab and Muslim heritage, but I feel I have been greatly enriched by encounters with other faith traditions and with the Western world. My spiritual journey has been exciting and unexpected, but has not spared me suffering or conflicts. Through my reading and study of the Sufi tradition I have learnt much that has helped me.
Western writers speak of Sufis as mystics who emerged about 200 years after the start of Islam. I would describe Sufism more as a philosophical path. The Sufis are rooted in the conventional tenets of Islam and its practices but seek to link the outer practice of the faith with an inner knowledge of God. Central to this inner knowledge of God is self-purification and self-knowledge.
Poetry has a long tradition in the Persian and Arabic speaking worlds; even 1600 years ago there were what we would describe as `poetry evenings'. So many of the great Sufis in Islam have used poetry to express their thought about the life of faith.
As you read the poems, some may touch you, others may challenge or cause discomfort. The meaning behind the poems which touch you more deeply could be the starting point for some personal reflection.
I used to think that sometimes, particularly in the West, we have a very narrow concept of `purity'. We often think of it in relation to personal relationships, especially relations between male and female. In the Sufi tradition purity is really about discovering God. I think we need to recapture this concept of purity if we really want to walk a meaningful life of faith.
`I am amazed at the seeker of purity
who, when it's time to be polished, complains of rough handling.
That harshness is not towards you, my son,
but towards the harmful qualities within you.' 1
`Be aware that on this path to make someone happy is a thousand times better than to indulge oneself, day and night, in prayers.' 2
One of the words which the Sufis use a lot is `unconditional'; everything that we do has to be unconditional. This has helped me to understand the word `absolute' and what it may mean in terms of applying moral standards such as love, unselfishness, sincerity and purity in everyday life.
`Beware that you do not tell others what to do or impose your views on others, for each heart has its own kind of connection with God and any such connection is worthy of respect'. 2
I can sometimes get really frustrated with myself because I repeat the same mistakes, or I make even more mistakes in my attempts to lead a spiritual life. I found it helpful when I read this:
`Spiritual progress is not measured in the same way that one measures other endeavours. One may spend years without anything happening, and then suddenly in a few days everything happens! In that slow period in reality a great deal of spiritual rust may have been removed.
Every heart contains a blueprint of truth. Our innate nature is like a spring of fresh cool water. During a person's upbringing the well fills up with rubbish, and the time comes when it is found that there is no more fresh water flowing because the well of his innate nature has been filled with debris. Many of those living in crowded and modern cities have to do a lot of digging and archaeological work before reaching the original foundation and the source of the spring of the well.' 3
I am a paediatrician. Many people say to me that it must be difficult work, but I absolutely love being with children and treating them. But it is true that you see a lot of pain, a lot of suffering. It's very challenging. I can more readily accept pain in people if it's self-inflicted. When it's children in pain and other people have inflicted it on them, then I can get really angry. I don't think the following passages make pain easier, but they give me the sense that there is always hope, and that helps me get through it.
`God turns you from one feeling to another
and teaches by means of opposites,
so that you will have two wings to fly with, not one.' 4
I think that in all faith traditions there are things that give one hope, the sense that there is always a Spring after the Winter, and it's just around the corner.
`The soil is faithful to its trust:
Whatever you have sown in it, you reap the same.
But until Springtime brings the touch of God,
The soil does not reveal its mysteries.' 4
Omnia Marzouk, Egypt
1. Rumi, Jalaluddin, trans. Camille and Kabir Helminski, Rumi Daylight, Threshold, USA, 1994.
2. Javad Nurbakhsh, Discourses on the Sufi Path, Khanigahi Nimatullahi Publications, USA, 1996.
3. Shaykh Fadhlalla Hauri, The Elements of Sufism, Element, UK, 1990.
4. Waddy, Charis, The Muslim Mind, Grosvenor Books, UK, 1990.