By Sidi Mounir Qadiri Boutchichi (Morocco)
It is hardly necessary to remind ourselves that industrialisation and technological development have enabled us to explore new dimensions and to reach a high level of scientific and social knowledge. Globalisation, communication and innovation have had an impact on our day-to-day lives in more than one way. Nevertheless, one question, which imposes itself, is, ‘Are we happy?’
Whatever the answer, we need to remind ourselves that material and technological achievements have unfortunately been detrimental to our spiritual consciousness. Consequently, we have lost our identities, since we have become truly machines of consumption, feeding the desires of our bodies, but always to the detriment of the true desires of our souls and hearts. This has led us to a ‘spiritual void’, resulting in a state of human disequilibrium. The manifestation of such disequilibrium can be witnessed through the social crisis that characterizes our societies today, which includes family breakdown, drugs, social distrust, hate, hypocrisy, stress and other diseases, all of which are driven by a dangerous spiritual thirst in our hearts and souls.
Into all these insoluble social dilemmas that have kept arising in our societies and amongst our people, comes ‘Sufism’, which specializes in the healing and purification of an essential part of our human creation – ‘the heart’. Sufism focuses on the heart because it is the ‘commander’ of all our behavioural senses and it is the source of all the intentions and reactions of the mind and body. It is also the mirror of our personalities and it is the only place where our Creator, Allah, looks. The Prophet Muhammad, GOD’s peace and blessings upon him, said, “Know that Allah does not look at your face, nor does He look at your body, but He looks at your hearts.�?
Such is the importance of the heart, that Sufism has concentrated all its educational efforts on opening this heart, enlightening its darkness and making it soft after being hard, closed and blind. Sufi spiritual masters, may GOD be pleased with them, as specialists in the ‘medicine of hearts’ (tib al-koloub), orient the hearts of their companions to Allah and reconnect them to their original state of purity and light. “Hearts become softer with the remembrance of Allah.�? Qur’an.
To emphasize the importance of remembrance and invocation of Allah, the Prophet, GOD’s peace and blessings upon him, said, “The example of those who remember Allah and those who do not is like the living and the dead.�?
Remembering Allah in the Sufi path is supported by some necessary educational methods, varying from the companionship of a spiritual master to individual and collective invocation and meditation. Companionship (sohbet/company) of a spiritual master (Shaykh Nazim) is very important in purifying the heart, putting it into communication with Allah after it has been blind without any connection.
Sufism, in purifying the heart, ensures your ‘spiritual safety’, thus protecting you from the various desires of the ego (annafs/al hawa) and of evil. When you feel this state of spiritual safety, you become more productive in your social life, more balanced in your actions and behaviour, looking at yourself and the outside world with the eyes of your open heart. Experience has taught us how Sufism has changed people throughout history by purifying their hearts, connecting them with their GOD and changing them radically from bad to excellent elements of society.
Another question we may ask is how Sufism fits into this new age of Internet and globalization. Before giving an answer, let us correct some misconceptions that have for one reason or another been attributed to Sufism. Some people think that Sufism is simply a philosophy or a culture identified with the early centuries of Islam. Others think that Sufism finished with Imam al-Junayd, Jala-Din Rumi and Ibn Arabi. One may also imagine Sufism as a path encouraging people to isolate themselves or to push themselves towards extremism. Others imagine it is all about poetry and secular dancing. Contrary to all these misconceptions, Sufism is still alive in these times and giving its people their spiritual dimension. Today, only Sufism is capable of holding the torch of the way of peace, the way of good character, and the way of balance and communication with everybody from all over the world.
Because Sufism is interacting with each generation, adapting itself to all its needs and expectations, it is said that the Sufi is “the son of his time�? (assoufiy ibn waqtih). Looking back in history to early Sufi paths, spiritual education (tarbia rouhiya) was known to be based upon long retreats (khalawat) and detachment from the day-to-day material life. Examples of this picture are Imam Ghazali and Rabia al-Adawiya. Early spiritual masters imposed on their disciples (muridin) a number of conditions that had to be met, in order to test their motivation and commitment to following the Sufi path.
Today, however, Sufism accepts without condition people with different levels of knowledge. Everybody, Muslim and non-Muslim, is welcome to the Sufi path, as long as they want to purify and enlighten their hearts and souls. This is exactly what is meant by the ‘University of Sufism’. There is a Sufi saying: “Do not hate a Jew or a Christian, but your own ego (annafs) that is between your sides.�?
It is the new era of Sufism now which is based on flexibility, love and beauty. It is easier to follow now than before but this does not mean that it has lost its value. The addition of flexibility to spiritual education has attracted the hearts of disciples from all over the world. Today, Sufis are more integrated into their social lives. They can enjoy the Sufi experience without it affecting their social rhythm or losing their social identities. One aspect of the Tariqa Qadiriyya Boutchichiyya, as explained by its spiritual master Sidi Hamza, is that the retreat of the Sufi is inside the heart (alkhalwat fi al-qalb). Sufis do not need to isolate themselves in order to find their way to GOD. On the contrary, they can participate in their social activities as much as they can without affecting their beautiful spiritual experience, providing they are ‘happy in their hearts.’
Another aspect of Sufism today is manifested in the companionship of the spiritual master. In the past, disciples seeking spiritual knowledge and purification spent a long period of their lives searching for the right master to follow. Today, the spiritual master himself is looking without condition for new disciples.
While explaining aspects of the Tariqa, Sidi Hamza said that the path is based on ‘beautification then detachment’ (at-takhliya ba’da at-tahliya). The meaning of this important aspect is that the Sufi first tastes the sweetness (tahliya) of the remembrance of GOD (dhikr) then moves to another stage of purifying the heart and detaching it from its darkness and diseases (takhliya). Sidi Hamza may Allah be pleased with him, gave a beautiful explanation of this aspect: “Stability of Allah’s love inside the heart, then moving to the practice.�? In the past, however, the Sufi needed to purify his heart before entering the path and following the master.
Sufism is a universal spiritual school where thousands are purifying their hearts each day, learning the love of Allah and connecting with their origins. The Tariqa, with its disciples all over the world, is a living example of good character, love, social bonding and spiritual blessings.
We need to look after our hearts in order to attain happiness and spiritual equilibrium. Sufism is all about good character and good manners.
To discover Sufism, it is up to you to take the first step to drink from the sources of divine love. It is like honey - you cannot enjoy its sweetness if you do not taste it. In order to taste it, you have to go through the experience and companionship of the spiritual master. This latter is the guide of hearts - he makes you remember GOD and he teaches you how to love infinitely and passionately.