By Sadia Dehlvi
By Sadia Dehlvi
January 7th, 2010
Although born a Muslim, I embraced true faith at the feet of my Sufi master who taught that religion is meaningless unless warmed by emotions of love. Thirty years ago, I took the oath of allegiance in the Chishti Sufi order, making the lifelong commitment to spiritual Islam.
Sufism, the accepted name for Islamic mysticism, is about awakening the higher consciousness through submission to divine will. Prophet Mohammad said, “Surely in the breasts of humanity is a lump of flesh, if sound then the whole body is sound, and if corrupt then the whole body is corrupt. Is it not the heart?”
The Sufi path is about purification of the heart. It’s about how to free oneself from the ego and realise God’s countless attributes within one’s own spirit. Sufis desire to unravel divine mysteries and remove the veils that separate mankind from God. Sufism is the eternal quest for union with God, the beloved.
The life of Rabia Basri, my favourite woman Sufi saint, best illustrates the philosophy of divine love. The 8th century mystic remained a celibate for her overwhelming love for God left no room for any worldly relationship. She wrote:
I have made You the companion of my heart,
But my body is available to those who desire its company,
And my body is friendly toward its guest,
But the Beloved of my heart is the guest of my soul.
Rabia’s remarkable spiritual achievements are illustrated in countless anecdotes. The most narrated story of Rabia is that of her running while carrying a torch in one hand and a pail of water in the other.
When people enquired the meaning of her actions, Rabia replied, “I am going to burn paradise with the fire and dampen the fires of hell with this water so that people love God for the sake of God and not for want of paradise or the fear of hell”.
Another tale recounts her meeting the renowned mystic Ibrahim Adham. He had taken 14 years to travel from his home in Balkh to Mecca. Finally, on reaching the Kaaba, he found the structure missing and heard a voice saying, “The Kaaba has gone to welcome a woman who is approaching the place”. A distraught Ibrahim questioned Rabia on her arrival, “O Rabia, what is this disturbance and burden you have brought in the world?” Rabia asked the former prince why he had taken so long to arrive at the House of God. Ibrahim explained that he had been busy offering prayers at every crossing on the road to Mecca. Rabia retorted back that she came to the House of God with pure love, while he engaged in ritual.
— Sadia Dehalvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam