THE SUFI'S SPIRITUAL COURSE
by Syed Mohamed Zauqi Shah (r.a.)
It is not intended to carry the reader here into complicated
technicalities on the subject and tire him with information
that may prove dry and uninteresting to a lay mind;
but in order to help him to catch a glimpse of what
Sufi's work is like, and what sort of attainment he
aspires to, a summary account of suluk, a Sufi's Course
will now be given.
As already stated, to begin with, you need the service
of one who knows, a teacher, a Shaikh, or a Murshid,
call him by whatever name you please. The initiative
must come from him. He initiates you into the Unseen
within you into harmony with the Unseen without. He
keeps a constant watch over you and saves you from slips
He acts as a medium between the high and the low, between
the Deity and humanity, between where you are and where
you ought to be, or in plainer language, between you
and your God. So the Shaikh or Murshid is an indispensable
necessity in the spiritual emancipation of man.
We spend a good deal of the earlier portion of our
life in physical bondage. Our libraries and laboratories
only tighten the bonds. Even independent thinking creates
fresh chains for us. The moment we come in contact with
the Shaikh, we enter upon a new era of liberation.
The ties are loosened, the chains are broken and the
journey begins. From the Seen we gradually move on to
the Unseen and after plunging into the fathomless depths
of the Unseen, we have to come back to the Seen to complete
our course. The following diagram will clearly illustrate
the beginning and the end of a spiritual wayfarer called
The Spiritual Course
In the diagram at left (Figure 1), B
is the starting point for the beginner. The arrows indicate
the direction of the course. B-C-A
is the upward journey which finishes at A.
You then make a further progress by coming down to B
via A-D-B. When you complete
the circle, you finish your spiritual courses and attain
It will be observed that B
is the point which is the first and the last, the point
where you start and finish. To a superficial observer,
you appear in the end what you were in the beginning,
but, as a matter of fact, you and others who know you
inwardly find in you a wonderful change.
At the start you know nothing about the circle and
nothing about your real self. At the end, you find that
you have traversed the entire circuit and have found
yourself; that you have personally been through all
the different gradations of life; that you have directly
known (of course, according to your personal capacities)
all the various forces of nature that move the universe.
You discover that all these forces are, in a way, centred
in you and ultimately, you realise that at point B,
you are in a comprehensible form from what you were
at point A, an incomprehensible
In short, you realise the sense, the force and the
significance of the religious phraseology that you are
God's Image or God's Lieutenant on earth and you understand
better the meaning and sense of the following passages
in the Qur'an:
"And thus did We show unto
Abraham the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth (high and low)
that he might become one of those who believe firmly"
"Hereafter We will show them
Our signs around them and within them, until it becomes
manifest unto them that it is the truth"
"And not without purpose did
We create the heaven and the earth and whatever is in
between them" [38:27]
"And verily, He hath created
you in diverse stages (i.e. He has brought you to your
present stage through a variety of conditions and states)."
"Unto thy Lord is the Ultimate
goal of it (i.e. of everything in the universe and of
knowledge about the time of such termination)"
"Such is God, your Nourisher
and Maintainer, there is no god but He, the Creator
of all things, worship Him (i.e. obey Him with love)
for He supervises everything and takes care of it."
At this stage, the powers of observation in a Sufi
and his perceptions help him considerably to realise
passages like the following:
"We are nearer to him (man)
than his jugular vein." [50:16]
"We are nigher unto him than
ye are, but ye perceive not." [55:85]
"And He is with you wheresoever
you be." [57:4]
is no secret conference of three but He is their fourth,
nor of five but He is their sixth, nor of less than
or more but He is with them wheresoever they may be."
"He is the First and the Last,
and the Manifest and the Hidden; and He knoweth all
"See ye not how Allah hath
brought under your subjugation and control whatever
is in heavens and earth (in the higher and the lower
planes) and hath abundantly poured upon you His favours
both visible and invisible." [31:20]
To return to Figure 1, the upward march, B-C-A
is a difficult and uphill task. The downward move, A-D-B
is comparatively easy. As a matter of fact B-C-A
passes through exactly the same fields as A-D-B.
In other words, you can observe during the upward march
what you do observe during the downward move, but your
observations during the upward journey are bound to
be misleading. You cannot understand properly anything
below point A, unless you
once reach the point A.
Unless you grasp the root properly, you cannot make
the branches your own. So the best teachers prefer to
carry their pupils up through B-C-A,
with closed eyes, as it were. They do not allow them
observation on their upward march. It saves time and
labour and prevents mistakes resulting from partial
and incomplete knowledge. The "eyes" are,
however, utilised when the downward course A-D-B
is traversed. This is the safest and the shortest way
All the various hard and fast rules laid down for the
completion of the spiritual course are necessary during
the first round only. When you complete the course and
finish, for the first time, the rounds B-C-A
and A-D-B, you are liberated.
You are now at liberty to go up and down as many times
as you like without observing the rules of procedure
you observed during your first round. You may go up
either way and come down likewise; you may go up half
way and return; or you may stop, for any length of time,
at any of the intermediate stages.
There have been people who have preferred to remain
permanently at point A, and have refused to climb down.
The luxury at the point A
is called Lazzat-i-uluhiyat,
which means Luxury of Divinity and is so great that
no earthly pleasure, whatsoever, can match it and everyone
is tempted to remain there for good; but human greatness
really depends upon descending to point B,
and faithfully fulfilling the functions of Perfect Man,
so long as the physical body retains the power of sustaining
the soul within.
Methods of Approaching the Goal
There are innumerable methods of approaching the goal,
but they may be divided broadly into the following three:
- Leading a strictly pure and religious life, provided
that the religion is correctly understood, properly
handled and duly observed. It is a lengthy and comparatively
dry course, but is generally recommended to the masses
because, though lengthy and dry, it is all the same
- Extra hard work, both physical and spiritual; i.e.
doing a great deal more than the irreducible minimum
prescribed by the shariat. It is shorter and more
interesting than the first, but more difficult. It
leads to better results.
- Cultivating and developing Love of God. It is the
shortest, the sweetest and the most interesting path,
leading to the best and the most valuable results;
but it is not within the reach of everyone and is
not always safe for those who are not meant for it.
There are people who combine in them the first two,
or the last two, or all the three methods, in different
Attraction and Work
Ordinarily, every worker in the field of spirituality
needs two things, attraction and work. He is attracted
towards the higher regions and he has to work to reach
the goal. Some are first attracted inwardly and then
commence work. Others start work and find subsequently,
that they are being attracted inwardly. In both the
cases, however, one of the two predominates.
Attraction is jadhb and the attracted is majdhub. Work
is suluk and the one who works and keeps on moving forward
is salik. So every practical student of Sufism is a
majdhub and salik at the same time. The difference in
names only signifies the predominance of one feature
over the other. The one who is strong and steady in
work and is not overcome by jadhb is called a salik;
while the other who is weak and unsteady in work and
is overpowered by jadhb is called majdhub.
The response to jadhb in a majdhub is so great that
he finds himself powerless to make further progress
in his work. His senses are affected, his self control
gone and not being able to move on, he remains stuck
to the point where the overdose of jadhb overtook him.
A beginner, at a later stage, is met now and then by
attractions in different forms. At this stage, he is
called a salik-majdhub.
In a more advanced stage, he remains constantly surrounded
by attractions of a superb nature, in a variety of conceivable
and inconceivable forms and feeling and yet he does
not allow himself to be deluded and overpowered by them
and does not allow the consequent 'intoxication' to
interfere with the necessary work. He is called a majdhub-salik.
He is a man of very superior sufi and always rewarded
with very high attainments.
The above description may help to throw some light
on the real Sufi and his work and may dispel, to a certain
extent, the mist that surrounds him. The poor Sufi has,
unfortunately, been the victim of various attacks levelled
against him from ill-informed quarters.
Sufism is the Life and Soul of Islam
It is wrongly supposed that Sufism has nothing to do
with Islam. In fact, it is the life and soul of Islam.
It is really Islam in its higher and practical aspects.
It is action and the consequent realisation. It is a
process of purification of the soul.
It is not an idle and unproductive philosophy. It is
not a set of fresh beliefs in any way different from
the teachings of Islam. It is not a series of secretive
teachings of any fantastic nature. It is work on proper
lines and, as a result of such work and consequent purification
of the soul; it is enlightenment and realisation.
With this improved outlook, wider knowledge and better
understanding, the Sufi becomes capable of higher flights
and better comprehension of Islamic teachings; and his
interpretation of Islam is necessarily more to the point.
His interpretations are not properly understood by those
who lack the proper insight.
It usually happens that the Sufi finds it difficult
to express himself in an ordinary language. The language
of miscellaneous humanity is not coined to give expression
to the higher subjects of Divine purity. He has therefore,
to express himself in his own special language which
can only be understood by those conversant with proper
Sufism and for whom his writings are really meant.
Limitation of language, sometimes compel him to use
ordinary human expressions to indicate extraordinary
discoveries in the domains of Divinity. For example,
in the description of the diagram given before (Figure
1), the following expressions have been used:
"...and, ultimately, you realise that at point
B, you are in a comprehensible
form from what you were at point A,
an incomprehensible formlessness."
This very important part of the explanation of the
diagram, is quite capable of misinterpretation and can
never be understood correctly by those who are ignorant
of the subject and who have not been personally through
Since most non-Sufis are not fully conversant with
the expressions and language of the Sufis, the Sufistic
writings are generally misunderstood and misinterpreted,
not only by ordinary people, but by those who are learned
in the subjects other than tasawwuf.
On certain points, it is true, the Sufi arrives at
results vastly differing from those arrived at by others.
Such divergence is due, not to a differing source of
information but to his cultivation of better powers
of understanding and to the acquirement of greater light
and wider horizon.