Thursday, March 31, 2005

Fear and the Sufi Path - Part 2

All aspects of created existence are governed by
laws, rules and principles. There are consequences
for violating these laws, rules and principles on
every level of existence -- from the physical, to
the social, to the spiritual.

If we befoul ourselves by transgressing various
aspects of the ordered character of the universe,
then, our own wretched spiritual condition which
becomes the consequence with which we must live
for having transgressed in such ways. Indeed, we
become our own self-created and self-imposed

God knows how the universe works. Divinity is the
One Who has set it up with the nature that it has.

God knows how human beings work. Divinity is the
One Who has given us our constructive spiritual
possibilities, as well as our potential for

If, by God's grace, we are able to realize our
spiritual potential - which alone is at the heart
of why we have been given existence at all -- then,
all praise for this is due to God. On the other hand,
if, by the grace of our own nafs, we are not able to
realize our spiritual potential, then we ourselves
seal and determine our fate.

God will not have to lift a finger against us on
the Day of Judgement. We will have done it all
to ourselves.

We will have inflicted grievous spiritual harm upon
ourselves, and God merely has to leave us to our
own choices and devices. In effect, we will be
told: 'Alright, if this is what you want, then, this
is what you will get -- in spades'.

People who have spent time in sensory deprivation
tanks, or similar situations, speak about a variety
of stages that an individual goes through during this
process. At some juncture, a stage may come in which
the individual is thrown back on to themselves and
they began to hallucinate, and their internal life
of fantasy and imagination becomes the woof and warp
of experience at that point.

We conveniently forget that everything which is
positive and interesting in our interior lives is
a grace from God. This includes fantasy, memory and

What would be the condition of our interior lives,
if everything positive were removed, and we only
had emptiness, darkness, worthlessness, loneliness,
and boredom for our eternal companions? In the
sensory deprivation tanks, people at least have
fantasy or imagination to fall back on, but what
if we were brought face to face with what we
actually have to offer independently of God's
grace -- namely, our own nothingness?

Furthermore, what if these "companions" were
bathed in an intense, unrelenting awareness both
of what the truth about ourselves is, as well as
in a realization of what might have been but, now,
is eternally lost? All of this, compliments of our
nafs and our free-will offering of allowing ourselves
to give in to the incessant whining and nagging of
the unending desires of the nafs.

While in this condition of deprivation, we will
not be able to go sleep as we can now when we get
too tired of ourselves. Moreover, while in this state,
we will not be able to distract ourselves, as we can
now, with various diversionary tactics in which -- in
addition to the participation of our own nafs -- the
world, Iblis and the unbelievers also are quite active.

Instead, all we will be able to do is experience the
full horror of our own being, devoid of all spirituality
and all of the positive supports, capacities, and
endowments which God has generously bestowed upon us
in this life.

We will not be able to idle away the time using our
intelligence and creative imagination to amuse ourselves.
Intelligence and creative imagination are gifts of God,
and these do not belong to us. They will be summarily
stripped from us, like the signs and marks of honor are
stripped from a disgraced officer who has been found
guilty of traitorous activities in a court-martial.

All we will have is our awareness of the wretched,
pitiful, foul, sickening, and agonizingly painful nature
of our spiritually and ontologically empty condition --
the one we have spent a life time on Earth in creating.
And, we will have the deep, abiding awareness that we
have brought ourselves to this lowly condition.

Our fear of God is the realization we have, however
dim this realization may be, that when we meet God,
then, God will let us know, in no uncertain terms,
what we have done to ourselves and just how we have
ruined all the good things which God had planned for
us. Divinity wanted to shower us with blessings, and
we said: "Thanks, but no thanks."

And, God may say to us: "Then, no thanks it is, and
in you go to the mother of all sensory/intellectual/
spiritual deprivation tanks: Hell. I hope you will
enjoy what you have wrought and bought with your
life." But, of course, we won't -- not even a little.

God has said of Divinity: "My mercy doth take
precedence over My wrath." Yet, God also has warned
us of what the consequences are for those who treat
the purpose of this Earthly life with contempt.

We should fear our meeting with God for the unwelcome
situation in which we have placed Divinity. Now, the
difficult decision must be made as to whether, or not,
God should permit the human being's capacity as a
free agent (as one who has been given the discretionary
power to make decisions in life) to take precedence
over God's mercy.

Should God honor our status as creatures who have
been entrusted with a free will? Or, should Divinity
save us from ourselves one last time?

Human beings are very quick in this life to take
exception with the possibility that God might be
interfering with our precious free choice. In
effect, many human beings are saying, if the
choice is really mine, then let me do what I
want, and I don't want any interference.

If this is how we want it in life, then, why
should God change the arrangement in the next
life just because we no longer wish to accept
responsibility for the consequences which go
with the territory of free choice? If God does
not change the arrangement, then Divinity permits
our freedom to take precedence over Divine mercy
-- but, remember, this has been our wish all

God loves us and doesn't want this for us. At
the same time, Divinity respects our individuality
and the way we exercise the free choice which is
at the heart of that individuality.

If we go to the mother of all deprivation tanks,
it is because we have chosen to do so and God is
merely honoring our wish. We did not want Divinity
to interfere on Earth, so now Divinity may stay out
of the matter in the next life as well.

We are alive now. Sooner or later, we will not be.

When our time is up, so are our opportunities. If
an individual will not do things for Allah's sake,
then, the individual might think about doing them
for her or his own sake.

Know that whatever transgression one commits, one
commits them, first and foremost, against oneself.
If one, for example, does not say prayers or does
not fast, then it is the soul of the one who is
abstaining from these things which suffers and no
one else - certainly not God. It is such a person's
soul which is condemning itself and bringing itself
one step closer to possible spiritual ruination.

Doing things as Allah wishes is the best way because
these methods serve as the spiritual protocalls or
algorithms, so to speak, which God has made available
to us for helping us to generate solutions concerning
what it is that God wants us to realize about our true
spiritual identity and essential spiritual capacity.
These Divine protocalls or algorithms are known by
Divinity to be effective in bringing about the
spiritual transformation of the individual -- as
opposed to our own philosophical and scientific
inventions which have no capacity for a spiritually
transforming efficacy whatsoever.

God has given us all a secret potential. This
potential is a partial manifestation, reflection
or expression of the hidden treasure alluded to
in a well-known hadith qudsi (a non-revelatory
saying which comes from the mouth of the Prophet
but conveys the communication of Divinity).

This treasure is the intention behind, as well
as the purpose of, existence. If one turns one's
back on this, then one is working in opposition
to the whole fabric and character of being.

God is longing for us with an unfathomable
longing. This longing is not for the sake of
Divinity since Divinity already has all that
can be had. God's longing is for us to come
and know and share in what Divinity already
knows and is.

This Divine longing is God's wish for us. If
we work in accordance with that wish, then,
we will find, God willing, that Divinity is
happy and overjoyed for our sake. If we work
in opposition to that Divine wish, then we
may find, God forbid, that Divinity is angry
with us for our sake - at what we have denied

As a Sufi once said, the real faqir (one who
practices austerities and denies himself or
herself) is not one who chooses God over the
world. The real faqir is one who chooses the
world over God.

A person must decide which kind of faqir he
or she wants to be.

Anab Whitehouse

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Fear and the Sufi Path

The following thoughts arose in response to
a question by an individual who wanted to know
if a Shaykh thought negatively toward those
seekers associated with the spiritual teacher
who did not fulfill all the requirements of
spirituality - whether exoteric or esoteric.
Furthermore, this person wondered how, or if,
a fear of Divinity fit into a Sufi framework.

It is not the business of a Shaykh to think
badly of one's mureeds (i.e., the seekers that
God has entrusted to the Shaykh's care). It is
the business of the Shaykh to assist a mureed.

This assistance may take a variety of forms in
ways permitted by God. The primary objective,
however, is to help, God willing, the individual
mureed, to discover his or her true identity, as
well as to help the individual, God willing, to
come to know one's essential, unique capacity for
knowing, loving, cherishing, worshiping and serving

Notwithstanding the love, compassion and concern
which, God willing, a Shaykh has for a mureed, the
foregoing should not be construed to mean that the
Shaykh does not see the problems a mureed creates
for herself or himself -- that is, for the mureed.
If the Shaykh sees, by the Light of God's grace,
something which is creating obstacles and veils
in the spiritual life of a mureed, then the thoughts,
efforts, and concentration of the Shaykh will be
toward working, God willing, on how to help the
person remove those difficulties.

A person's worship or non-worship of God does not,
respectively, make God a greater or lesser God.
This merely makes the individual a greater or
lesser, human being.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was once
asked about what the proper relationship should be
between hope in relation to God's Mercy concerning
our spiritual mistakes and fear of God's displeasure
with respect to our spiritual rebellion. The Prophet
responded that the two should be in balance with
one another.

The sort of balance to which the Prophet was referring
could be illustrated by the well-known Yin/Yang symbol
of the Taoist tradition. At the heart of each side of
the symbol, which is divided in the middle by a synodal
-like curve, there is a dot.

The color of the dot in each side is in opposition to
the color of the side it is in. Thus, within each side,
there is an element of the other opposing side.

In other words, there is some quality of yin in yang,
and there is some quality of yang in yin. Neither side
is free or independent of the other.

Similarly, in Islam, and on the Sufi path, there is, or
should be, an element of hope in fear, and there should
be an element of fear in hope. From the human side of
things, neither hope nor fear can be, or should be,
independent of the other.

The nature of this fear, however, should not be
translated in terms of the emotion that people have in
trepidation of the consequences which are believed to
be forthcoming for having not been a nice, good, well
-behaved little boy or girl. The nature of the fear to
which the Prophet is alluding is rooted, partly, in
having a deep, abiding awe, respect, and heart-felt
awareness (according to our capacity) of being constantly
in the Presence of Divinity Whose sheer majesty,
incomparability, might, grandeur, unknowability, and
complete transcendence, renders human existence to
the level of insignificance and infinitesimal value,
except to the extent that God gives that existence
significance and value.

Will the gnat not tremble before the Sun? If the gnat
is ignorant and foolish, then, perhaps, not. But, if
the gnat is wise, then surely there will be trembling
before the Divine Attributes which are jalal (the
array of Divine attributes that are subsumed under the
general category of Might and Majesty) - and this
would be true even if the fate of our heart's did not
lie, as is indicated by one of the hadiths or sayings
of the Prophet, between the forefingers of a Divine
hand (metaphorically speaking) which can turn those
hearts in whatever direction is desired by Divinity.

However, our fear also should be rooted in the following
kind of understanding . More specifically, one of the
reasons why God may get angry with us is because, in
going astray from the sirat-ul-mustaqueem (the spiritually
straight path) which God has laid out for us with
indescribable care, kindness, compassion, wisdom and
consideration, we undermine all the spiritual goodness,
happiness, love, joy, felicity, nearness, and so on which
God wishes to lavish upon us.

We have to want what God wants for us. The stupidity of
human beings is that most of us believe that one can
equate what the ego/nafs wants with what God wants, and
that in pursuing the former, one is supposedly pursuing
the latter.

This can never be. Yet, we continually delude ourselves
into supposing this to be the way of things.

From Divinity's side, which really is the only side that
matters, God wants to give and give and give to us, without
end and without measure. From our side of things, which
is the only side which does not matter except to the extent
that Divinity wishes it to matter, we, in effect, are
telling God to drop dead.

In our arrogance, pride, ignorance, stubbornness, density,
darkness, rebelliousness, forgetfulness, heedlessness,
insincerity, ingratitude and meanness of being, we are
saying that we know better than the One Who has created
all the worlds and whatever is in them. We are saying
to God: despite what You have told us in Your books of
Revelation; despite the warnings of the 124,000 Prophets
who have come (from Adam to Muhammad, peace be upon them
all); despite the testimony of the Companions, both male
and female, of these Prophets; despite the teachings of
the people of insight and excellence; despite the evidence
of history for all nations and all times, and despite what
we ourselves know to the contrary from our everyday
experience, we are saying that our friends are: nafs (the
seat of rebellion in human beings), Iblis (Satan), dunya
(the realm of worldly desire) and the unbelievers (anyone
who denies the supremacy of Divinity in all matters).

Why are we saying this? We have allowed ourselves to
become habituated to, and hypnotized by, the belief that
the ways of Iblis, nafs, the world, and the unbelievers
are easier, more convenient, more interesting, more fun,
and more liberating than are the ways of Divinity.

As a result we command ourselves to follow the example
of the aforementioned unholy four, in preference to all
that is good, just, true, beautiful and noble -- within
us and without us. In doing so, however, we become bogged
down in a morass of spiritual and worldly false-economies
through which we have deluded ourselves into believing
that we are getting something for nothing when we align
with the unholy four, only to find out, subsequently,
that there are many, many hidden costs of pain, suffering,
and torment for having bartered away a spiritual way of
life for extremely ephemeral pleasures and comforts.

We should fear God because we Love Divinity. For, with
love, comes the fear of not wanting to let down or
disappoint the One we profess to love. We should fear
disappointing God or putting ourselves in this kind of
situation where such disappointment becomes the
inevitable result of our choices and actions.

We should fear having to be dragged before Divinity
in the chains of shame with which we shackle ourselves
through our acts of commission and omission. This fear
comes from the dread of having to face One Who has done
so much for us, Who has been so kind and loving and
giving and compassionate toward us.

When we look to the quality of Allah's love for us,
and, then, we look to the quality of our love for
Allah, should we not fear the Day when we can no
longer run away from the disparity between the two?
Does ingratitude not fear being reminded of its own

Should we not fear that appointed meeting when we
must stand mute before the magnificence of Divinity
and listen in agonized silence to the unseemly
testimony which is brought against us by our hands,
feet, eyes and other dimensions of being for having
squandered our spiritual inheritance in such
thoughtless, ill-conceived, greedy and grasping

Our fear of God is misdirected. we have nothing to
fear from Divinity and everything to fear from
ourselves. Yet, in a typically human sleight-of-
hand, we project our fears on to God because we
are in denial about what is the real cause of our

Since God is associated with our fears, we say
we fear God. In reality, we fear having to stare
into the mirror of Truth concerning ourselves, and
poor God takes the rap.

We fear God because Divinity knows the truth about
the many times we have soiled ourselves by betraying
the trust which has been extended to us. This trust
is not just the free will which has been extended to
us, nor the spiritual potential which God has secreted
within us, nor the responsibility of being God's
khalifah throughout creation.

No! God has trusted us to do right by Divinity; to do
right by creation; to do right by others, and to do
right by ourselves. We have trampled upon this trust.
Should we not fear the One Who serves as a reminder to
us of these facts, even if nothing at all should be
said when we meet with Divinity?

Relative to the bounties and blessings which God is
constantly injecting into our lives, very little is
being asked of us in return. Mostly, it is a matter
of demonstrating some sincere gratitude.

Sincere gratitude is that sphere of human endeavor
which is backed up with something beyond a mere
profession of the lips. Rather than bear witness
to the Oneness of Divinity, or say prayers, or fast,
or give zakat (a kind of charity), or do Hajj
(pilgrimage to the holy places in and about Mecca
during the early part of the twelfth month of the
lunar calendar) out of fear of God, why not do
these things out of gratitude to Divinity?

Once, after having spent, yet, another night in
prayer with, and remembrance of, God, the Prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon him) was asked if it was
true that God already had granted the Prophet
Paradise. When the Prophet replied in the affirmative,
a further question followed: "Then, why do you spend
all night in prayer and worship?"

The Prophet's reply was simple. "Should I not be a
thankful servant?"

If we are not appreciative of God's kindness to us,
God is not hurt or upset for the sake of Divinity.
Divinity does not need humanity or its thanks, or
lack thereof.

Instead, God feels hurt for our sake. Similarly,
God is angry at us for our sake.

God is upset with us because we have brought, or
are bringing, upon ourselves our own spiritual
demise. We are spoiling everything.

Go to Part 2

Anab Whitehouse

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Dogmatism, Truth, Validity + The Sufi Path - Part 2

In relation to dogmatism, people's understanding
is conceptually, rather than experientially (in
the mystical sense), driven. The former individuals
are convinced their understanding of things is
correct not because the Truth has experientially
visited them and shown them how things are, but
because their ego demands that things be such and
because their belief or value systems satisfy
certain emotional, ideological, behavioral,
habitual or vested interests.

The one who is dominated by dogma seeks to
dominate others in the same way. As such, they
need to have everyone force fit round blocks into
square and triangular holes.

Those who would remove the Sufi Path from
the context of Islam have no historical or
mystical justification for doing so. There
is absolutely no evidence that any of the
great Sufi masters of the past said that one
can pursue this mystical path independently
of Islam.

Some of these great mystical teachers have
said that not everyone who calls himself or
herself a Muslim is a follower of Islam.
Furthermore, they have indicated there is
more to Islam than just the mechanical and
lifeless adherence to a set of exoteric,
theological rules.

Unfortunately, there have been some individuals
who have taken what some of these teachers have said
-- sometimes with pointed humor and irony -- and
used such statements in a way that violates the
original spirit with which teachings were uttered.
People have done this kind of injustice because
they have their own axes to grind and agendas to

Quite frankly, I have not come across any of
these so-called modern versions of the Sufi path
which can demonstrate the truth of what they are
claiming or maintaining. They assert that what they
claim is so, but Truth is not a function of assertion,
rather whatever is asserted must be capable of being
shown how it accurately reflects, is consistent with,
and gives expression to, the Truth.

People who try to impose their own extra-Islamic value
system of likes and dislikes onto the Sufi Path cannot
prove that what they are saying truly reflects the
complete teachings of any of the great Sufi masters
of the past or even correctly reflects the very origins
of the term "Sufi". In stark contrast, however, anyone
who cares to take the time to research matters can easily
show that what historically has been known as the Sufi
Path is inextricably woven from the fabric of Islam when
considered in all of its (islam's) depth, breadth and

The burden of proof in this matter is not on those
who link the Sufi path to the proper practice of Islam.
Rather, the burden of proof is on anyone who would
attempt to argue that the Sufi Path is entirely
independent of Islam -- although, in so arguing, they
may concede, in passing, something to the effect that
there could have been a time when, for reasons of
historical convenience and circumstance, the Sufi Path
may, temporarily, have set up a liaison, of sorts, with
the Islamic religious tradition ... but nothing of an
a permanent and inherent nature

If these people of 'mysticism by assertion' are not the
ones who are being dogmatic, then, let them come forth
with their proofs to the contrary of what is being said
in the foregoing. Let them demonstrate that their
understanding is not merely a matter of "truth" by

These would-be Sufi teachers are counting on people
to uncritically swallow whatever is being said in this
respect. And, indeed, quite a few individuals have
accommodated themselves to this hope since many of these
latter individuals are all too prepared to accept such
stipulations as the gospel truth which cannot, and
should not, be questioned simply because these sorts
of stipulation fit in with their biases, prejudices,
assumptions and so on concerning the Islamic religious

Someone calling herself or himself a Sufi teacher may
offer certain practices and teachings which carry benefit
for an individual even though these practices and teachings
have, in various ways, been taken out of their original
and proper, spiritual, ecological context. Moreover, someone
who undertakes these practices or follows these teachings
in a sincere fashion may have certain mystical experiences
which, seemingly, confirm the truth of what is being said.

What many people fail to understand about the mystical
quest is that it is not, ultimately, about having such
experiences. The mystical path is about arriving at that
destination which allows one to have intimate and permanent
insight into the nature of one's essential identity as well
as one's unique capacity to serve God as God wishes and
not as a function of what we want or don't want.

Only when one is absent from the false self can one be
truly present to God. And, only when one is truly present
to, with, and for, Divinity, can one's essential identity
and unique spiritual capacities be unveiled.

One could have thousands of mystical or mystical-like
experiences (not everything of an experientially anomalous
nature can be considered mystical) and never be one step
closer to the goal of the Sufi path. When one takes
initiation with a Sufi shaykh, it is the goal, purpose
and destination of the mystical path which must orient
the teachings and practices.

A false mystical teacher may help, if God wishes, an
individual to take a few steps toward accomplishing the
purpose of the mystical quest. But, such a teacher will
never be able to transport an individual to the end of
the mystical line, no matter how much of what is stated
may be true (as far as it goes in its out-of-context
manner) in disclosing the nature of different facets
of the Truth.

Divinity has established certain spiritual paths for
the purpose of helping human beings realize the goal
of the mystical quest. These paths are variations on
one and the same thing, and, consequently, despite
whatever differences may exist from one variation to
the next, each of these paths that have been provided
by Divinity are, God willing, fully capable of
transporting the sincere and committed individual to
the desired destination when this person works in
conjunction with those who have been, or are,
established by Divinity as spiritual guardians of
these pathways.

If one does not enter the mystical path through
the doorways which have been provided by Divinity
-- both with respect to the authenticity of the
teacher as well as the authenticity of the Path
-- then, one will, sooner or later, begin to spin
one's wheels, spiritually speaking. Under these
circumstances, the individual has a tendency to
mistake circular motion on the horizontal plane of
temporality for being spiritual progress in an
essential, vertical realm which transcends

Sweeping dust from one place to another does not
make a room clean. Digging many holes does not
necessarily permit one to find the spiritual water
one is seeking -- irrespective of how welcome one
finds the constantly changing venue to be.

The proof of things is, so to speak, in the pudding.
This is where choice and freedom come into the picture.

People are free to make mistakes or choose correctly.
People are free to misguide others or be themselves
misguided. People are free to believe that they are
getting on a mystical train which they believe will
carry them to a distant destination and not realize
that the chosen vehicle is purely local and does not
have such destinations on its itinerary or within
its capabilities.

Ultimately, the issue is not whether one should,
or should not, label some given set of activities as
being "Sufi". Ultimately, the issue is whether, or not,
what one is engaged in is able, God willing, to help
one realize the purpose of life, the nature of one's
essential identity and one's unique capacity to love,
worship, cherish, know, reflect, and serve Divinity.

Whatever choices an individual makes in this respect has
a lot riding on them. This is so precisely because there
is falsehood and error, delusion and distortion, and so

Not every choice takes one closer to the Truth. Not
every choice leads to the same destination. Not every
choice will help one, God willing, to work toward
realizing essential human possibility.

If one could ascertain the truth of these matters before
hand, there would be no need for a mystical path, a
spiritual teacher, or Divine guidance. But, in reality,
we are not always able to distinguish the true from the

We need help in these matters. Our choice of who we
want to help us makes all the difference in the world
-- both with respect to this present world, as well
as in relation to the next world.

Anab Whitehouse

Monday, March 28, 2005

Dogmatism, Truth, Validity + The Sufi Path - Part 1

Someone wrote to me asking a variety of questions
concerning issues of truth, validity, and dogmatism
in conjunction with conflicting claims that the
Sufi Path is, or is not, integrally linked to the
Islamic spiritual tradition. In addition, questions
were raised about whether, or not, the newness or
antiquity of a tradition said anything of significance
about the validity of such a tradition.


A given mystical path is not valid simply because
it is based in antiquity. After all, there have
been many theories, mythologies, philosophies,
metaphysical belief systems and so on which have
come to us from antiquity but which are not
necessarily true just because of their seniority
or longevity.

A tradition -- whether spiritual, religious, or
mystical -- is rendered valid to the extent it is
rooted in the truth concerning the way Reality is
on some given level of being. If a system which is
new, relatively speaking, reflects, to whatever
degree, the truth, whereas another system which
is rooted in antiquity does not do so -- or does
so to a very small degree -- then, the newer system
has more validity or authenticity to it than does
the ancient system ... and vice versa.

The authenticity or validity of anything is a function
of the extent to which something gives expression
to, or manifests, the truth. This is true of modern
science, and it also is true of mysticism, religion,
and spirituality.

A mystical experience isn't valid -- or it is limited
in its validity -- precisely to the extent to which
it is not an expression of the Truth of things. The
issue has nothing to do with what is, or is not, more
rooted in antiquity.

The Sufi tradition holds (at least, my understanding
of it does) that while each of us is Divine in essence,
we are not -- either individually or collectively --
Divinity in Essence. Consequently, each of us is capable
according to our capacity to do so, of serving as a locus
of manifestation for certain attributive properties of

Furthermore, the masters of the Sufi way maintain that
Divinity never repeats manifested being in the same way
twice. Necessarily, therefore, each of us has something
which comes along only once in the history of manifested

This uniqueness which goes to the heart of who we are
individually is very personal. It doesn't get any more
personal than this -- indeed, this unique-never-to-be-
repeated-again quality of ours goes to the very heart
of our ultimate identities and the purposes for which
we have been brought into existence by, and through,

However, having said the foregoing, this is not the
same as saying that anything and everything we believe,
value, say, or do accurately reflects, or gives expression
to, what is most essentially, personal about us in the
above sense. In other words, all authentic, valid mystical
traditions make the distinction between the false self
and the essential Self. Whenever something we think,
feel, believe, say, or do is colored and oriented by the
false self, this is not a valid or authentic manifestation
of what is most essentially personal about us in the
mystical sense of the word which has been outlined

There are authentic modes or modalities of being, and
there are inauthentic modes or modalities of being. When
an individual personalizes a mystical tradition in order
to cater to, or satisfy, the whims and delusional forces
that are active within the false self, then, this kind
of personalization of the mystical is problematic because
it serves to veil and distort the truth rather than unveil
and give accurate expression to whatever dimensions of
the truth we have the capacity to reflect or give expression

The present moment is the only moment that matters, and
much rides on how we engage that moment. If we engage
it through the false self, then, all may be lost -- including
ourselves. If, on the other hand, we engage the present moment
through our essential Selves, then, we are realizing, God
willing, the purpose of our lives.

With respect to the issue of dogmatism, there are several
comments which can be made. First, one can as easily
argue that those who insist on separating the Sufi tradition
from Islam are as dogmatic as those who wish to claim that
the Sufi tradition is indigenous to Islam.

Secondly, in a sense, the Truth is inherently dogmatic,
although mystic masters certainly do not tend to be dogmatic
about this. The Truth is what it is, or Reality is what it
is, and no amount of sophistry or philosophical slight-of-hand
is going to change this, no matter what our ambitions and
hopes may be.

The challenge facing us is to attempt to determine, as best
we can, what the nature of the Truth is. The issue is not,
nor has it ever been, whether or not there is a Truth
underlying, making possible, and being manifested through
the various realms of existence.

Mysticism is not a relativistic enterprise in the sense
that the Truth must be prepared to bow down to our
individual agendas concerning what we are, and are not,
prepared to recognize as true. We must accommodate
ourselves to the Truth -- whatever that may be -- and
Truth has no need to accommodate Itself to us.

The Truth will remain what it is whether we recognize
it as such or not. Truth is not made more true or less
true as a function of our beliefs, likes, dislikes,
and so on.

It is only our varying, limited capacities to see,
understand and give expression to the Truth which
makes it seem as if Truth is a relative phenomenon.
What is relative is our individual perspectives and
not the Truth which is Absolute on every level of
being and throughout all of created existence.

Dogma is a conceptual phenomenon. People who get
caught up in their conceptual systems and ways of
characterizing or representing various dimensions
of reality tend to become dogmatic and narrow in
their understanding of any given issue.

"Dogma' and the 'mystical' are mutually exclusive
from one another. This is the case because the
mystical path is not rooted in concepts, but is
rooted, instead, in direct, unmediated (by any
set of theories or ideational content) experiential
engagement of some dimension of Truth or Reality.

Yaqueen, or spiritual certitude, comes from being
tied to Truth in an essential, experiential and
trans-rational manner. Being convinced of the
correctness in one's conceptual position does not
necessarily have anything to do with this
aforementioned state of yaqueen although many,
many people confuse the two.

When a person is in a state of yaqueen, the
experiential insights and understandings which,
by the Grace of God, accompany this state informs
or directs the way such an individual uses concepts,
and, consequently, the concepts which are chosen
by, say, a Sufi shaykh to describe -- where possible
-- a mystical perspective are rooted in mystical
experiences first and foremost, and concepts only
secondarily and derivatively. However, there
is a limit to how far this process of description
of a mystical understanding can be carried since
mystical experiences tend to outstrip or transcend
the capacity of language to accurately describe
the content, character, richness, and dynamics
of true mystical experiences.

Go to Part Two

Anab Whitehouse

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sufi, Sufism, Tasawwuf

The generally accepted technical term among many
Sufi shaykhs for the mystical dimension of Islam
is "tasawwuf". Unfortunately, for a variety of
reasons -- some historical, some cultural, and
some linguistic -- the "S-words" (i.e., Sufi
and Sufism) have gained ascendancy in the West,
and even in some parts of the East, to the
almost total exclusion of the term "tasawwuf".

Having said the foregoing, I ought to point out
that from the perspective out of which many silsilahs
operate, the term "Sufi" actually is more defensible
to use than is the other 'S-word' "Sufism". Although
there is some discussion which still goes on in certain
circles, most people who have the minimal requisite
degree of knowledge about this area of study tend to
agree that, etymologically, the word "Sufi" is likely
to have been derived from the Arabic word "Suf"(in
its transliterated form).

It is believed by some (e.g., al-Hujwiri) that the
use of the term Sufi arose as a way of linguistically
referring to those faqirs or ascetics who, among other
practices, wore coarse woolen garments as a means of
helping to undermine the body's desire for comfortable
garments. In addition, the wearing of these woolen
garments helped put a lid on the ego's inclination
to wear fancy clothes as a means of gaining approval
and acceptance in the eyes of other people as a person
of standing in the community.

In the early days of Islam, there were few terms that
had common currency within the Muslim community which
seemed capable of embracing the spectrum of types of
people who were drawn to the Sufi path. For instance
the terms "faqir" and "dervish" were often associated
with particular kinds of practices and cultures but
these usages tended, rightly or wrongly, to be too
narrowly conceived in the minds of many people to be
used as a more generic, more inclusive term.

Through a complex mingling of historical, cultural
and linguistic influences, the term "Sufi" seemed
to catch on, across a number of linguistic and cultural
regions, as the word to use when talking about those
who were interested in, or practitioners of, the
mystical dimension of Islam. Yet, among the followers
of this path, the term "Sufi" generally would be used
only while communicating with people from outside
the mystical path since it was the term with which
the latter (i.e., the outsiders) were familiar,
whereas among the practitioners themselves (the
"insiders" as it were) the term "tasawwuf" frequently
was used to refer to the mystical path of Islam.

In contrast to the foregoing, the term "Sufism"
really is misleading in a variety of ways, some
more crucial than others. First of all, the mystical
tradition of Islam is not an "ism" like, say,
capitalism, communism, socialism, idealism, realism,
fundamentalism, surrealism, and so on.

The Reality to which mystical language and practice
alludes is not the invention of some human being or
group of people. At the same time, one must admit
that there are those who do invent their own
particular hermeneutic, or theory of interpretation,
concerning the nature, meaning and purpose of what
the aforementioned Reality is supposedly all about.

The true mystics are those who become absent to
themselves (that is, there ego) and present to their
Lord. The "inventors" of mystical hermeneutics, on
the other hand -- that is, those who impose a theory
onto the nature of Reality -- insist on becoming
present to themselves (i.e., their false sense of
self) and absent from the Reality of Divinity for
which human beings have the God-given potential of

Actually, true mystics are scientists in the best
sense of the word. The pseudo-mystics are merely
philosophers who have projected their speculative
meanderings onto the Face of Reality and, thereby,
veiled themselves from the actual nature of
existence in the process.

To be a scientist in the mystical sense of the
word, one must be willing, if necessary, to put
one's physical life (but not the lives of others)
on the line in one's quest for the true character
of issues involving, among other possibilities,
being, identity, purpose, meaning, justice,
knowledge, integrity, and love. And, even if
one is not called upon to sacrifice one's physical
life, one must seek to sacrifice one's ego or false
self on the altar of submission to Reality. In
short, in one way or another, one must be prepared
to die to oneself.

Contrary to the opinion of many, the statements of
the true mystics can be empirically tested. However,
one has to go through an appropriate process of
supervised training in order to become a competent
and qualified participant, God willing, in the
discipline of mystical science.

If a person called oneself a physicist, a chemist,
a medical doctor, or an engineer without having gone
through the necessary education and training, few
would accept his or her statements concerning the
reality of these disciplines, and even fewer people
would entrust one's technical problems to such people.
Although anybody has the right to voice an opinion, not
all opinions are informed, insightful or qualified in
the required, minimal manner and, thereby, renders
those opinions worthy of being listened to as coming
from someone who knows, within varying limits, whereof
she or he speaks.

For example, one doesn't come in off the streets and
begin doing physics and, and as a result, immediately
grasp the breadth and depth of the relationship between,
say, experiments in particle physics and the theory of
quantum mechanics. A great deal of time and study is
required to be able to reach a point of understanding
why and how various experimental outcomes do, in fact,
help verify various aspects of quantum theory.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the mystical sciences,
many physicists, chemists, doctors and engineers do not
see the irony of their proffering opinions on various
facets of mystical science despite not having gone
through even step one of the long training and learning
process which is necessary to become, God willing, a
bonafide, qualified mystic -- someone who knows something
about the issues entailed by mystical sciences. Many of
the same people who would reject, out of hand, the
pronouncements of people who did not possess the appropriate
sort of credentials of expertise in their respective fields,
somehow seem to feel that all this should change when it
comes to their own pronouncements about a discipline like
mystical science in which they have no expertise, training,
education or credentials.

At the very least, such people are being very
inconsistent, if not hypocritical, in their use of
ideas such as 'expertise', 'competence' and 'mastery'
with respect to a given discipline. A more problematic
ramification is when such people attempt to use their
authority as scientist of one kind to cast aspersions
on scientists of a kind with which they are unfamiliar.
It is as if a non-mathematician were to ridicule
mathematics simply because such an individual had no
idea what the field actually involved due to a lack
of education, experience and understanding.

Of course, this very same kind of argument can be,
and often is, used by spiritual or mystical frauds
in an attempt try to cover up their spurious deeds
and pronouncements. Precisely because true mystical
science lies beyond the horizons of most
people, almost anyone can come along and say
something and claim that what they have said
is the truth.

If someone were to express skepticism in relation
to such behavior or statements, the come-back of
the pseudo-mystic can always be: "You just don't
understand. Unfortunately, there have been so many
of these charlatans, the whole area of mysticism
-- and in what follows I am taking poetic license
with a statement made by Winston Churchill in a
much different context -- is something of a mystery,
wrapped up in an enigma, surrounded by a seemingly
impenetrable cloud of unknowing.

One of the ramifications of this muddying of the
waters has been to lead many people to confuse
the occult, magic, astrology and spiritism with
the mystical path. The latter has absolutely nothing
to do with the former four areas of study, and vice

Furthermore, most people are not prepared to
take the time which is required to be able to
begin to sift out the true from the false when
it comes to mystical issues and questions.
Consequently, many people withdraw in utter
frustration from the whole area and consider
these matters to be mere figments of the

In some cases these people would be correct.
In other cases they would be quite wrong.
The ability to distinguish which is which
is a function of Divine guidance.

The mystical path is not irrational, but
it does have trans-rational dimensions at
its core which extend beyond the handling
capacities of linguistic and rational modalities
of logic. These trans-rational dimensions can
inform rational processes, and, thereby, help
generate, God willing, spiritual insight and
personal transformation, but rational analysis
has no access to these realms.

The mind can either work in concert with these
dimensions and, thereby, be in a position to make
use of the numerous treasures which can be brought
back from the realm of the Unseen for the betterment
of all creation. Or, the mind can act in opposition
to the trans-rational dimensions alluded to earlier
and, as a result, enter into a mind-set of oppression,
denial, and antagonism in relation to mystical issues.

In any event, because of the trans-rational, ineffable,
relatively inaccessible qualities which are associated
with the esoteric dimension of Islam, some people --
unilaterally, and, frequently, quite arbitrarily --
have taken it upon themselves to contend that if
'they' do not understand what the mystical tradition
is all about, then, it must be the invention of some
overly active imagination.

As a result, in the minds and hearts of such
people, the mystical realm tends to be reduced
to an "ism", like so many other conceptually
invented 'isms'. Whether we like it or not,
words have the capacity, both connotatively
and denotatively, to influence the way we
think about a variety of issues -- from
religion, to politics, to society, justice
and the nature of life.

The term "Sufi' has an actual historical root
which attempts to make identifying reference to
a specific kind of rigorous perspective, whereas,
in many respects, the word "sufism" has become
divorced from the historical and ontological
realities out of which the word "Sufi" originally
arose. Consequently, all too frequently in our
times, "sufism" has come to mean whatever any given
person wants it to mean, and, in the process, tends
to becomes conflated with the occult, the vague,
the magical, the mythical, the strange, and the

The best term is "tasawwuf". After that, the word
'Sufi' is more given to misunderstanding than is
tasawwuf, but is less problematic than the term
"sufism", and, moreover, the word "Sufi" is
historically and etymologically, more defensible
than is "sufism".

"Sufism" carries the connotation of all isms --
that is, of being made by human beings. Furthermore,
"sufism" is a derivation of a derivation and, therefore,
twice removed from the original situation. In being
twice removed, it has accumulated some questionable
philosophical baggage.

Unfortunately, the term "Sufi" is, by association",
becoming increasingly undermined in its meaning by
the problems surrounding many of the current usages
to which "sufism" is applied. Nonetheless, it is
better, in many respects from the other "S-word".

Nevertheless, until such time as the word "tasawwuf"
becomes more prominent, if it ever does, then, one is
kind of stuck with the lesser of two evils, so to speak.
For reasons outlined in the foregoing, one can use the
term "Sufi" rather than "Sufism" in order to engage
western vocabularies, and, in the mean time, whenever
one has the opportunity, such as right now, one can
indicate that "tasawwuf" is the proper word to use.

Anab Whitehouse

Friday, March 25, 2005

Sufi Study Circle

Just a note to let those who are interested
know that beginning tonight, Friday, March 25,
2005, 10:00 p.m., EST, the Sufi Study Circle
will be airing on Anab's Sufi Oasis Internaet
radio station, via The hour program
will also be aired on Saturday, March 26, 2005,
from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., and, again, on
Sunday, March 27, 2005, from 7:00 p.m. until
8:00 p.m.. In addition, new versions of the Sufi
Study Circle will be aired in the same time
slots during each succeeding week.

The link for the program is:

Anab's Sufi Oasis

The Sufi Study Circle is intended to explore some of
the essential ideas, principles, and values of the
Sufi mystical tradition through stories, essays,
discussions, interviews, poetry, and music. I hope
you will participate.

Anab Whitehouse

False Teachers, True Teachers and Truth

All of us have within us the capacity to recognize
the truth. When one encounters truth in the writings
of someone, like is attracted to like -- that is, the
truth within one is drawn to the truth within that
which one is reading.

But, let me pose several problems. Let us assume
someone is reading a book and there is truth in the
book and something within the individual recognizes
that truth as truth.

Is the truth which is recognized as true, true because
of who said it, or because of something in the nature
of what is being said, as well as recognized as being
true because of something inherent in the individual
doing the reading, and, therefore, the truth in what
is being read would be true independently of who said

False teachers are experts -- some more so than others
-- at being able to write things which contain, to
varying degrees, elements of the truth. Yet, such people
do not participate in, or have any gnosis of, such truths,
even though their books may contain such truths. Unfortunately,
we all, sometimes, have a tendency to confuse the message
and the one through whom the message may come. When we do
this, we tend to assume that the one conveying the message
is capable of conveying the message because the message
reflects what is within these people, but this need not
be so.

Some people abuse the capacity within them for recognizing
the truth and prostitute that ability for the purposes of
ego -- namely, the wish to be considered by, and treated by,
others as a spiritual guide and teacher ... as someone who
knows the truth in an intimate manneer. Such people may speak
the truth -- within certain limits -- because they are adept
at picking up on the truth spoken by others who are, unlike
themselves, one with the truth, so, that for a truly realized
individual, message and messenger are but different sides of
the same coin.

False teachers are parasites on the truth conveyed by true
teachers. As such, when a seeker after the truth consumes
any truth which may be transmitted by means of a false teacher,
then, like consuming any food infested with parasites, there
may be problematic consequences for those who swollow such
foods, even though the intentions of the one who is hungry
for the truth may have been quite innocent and sincere.

Recognizing the truth and conveying the truth are not
sufficient conditions to establish that someone is an
authentic teacher. The mystical path is not about ideas,
concepts, theories, or the like, nor is it an intellectual
exercise, and consequently, one can only get extremely
linited flashes of the reality of things through written
works ... even though these limited flashes may, within
limits, give expression to certain dimensions of the

Someone can write nice, uplifting, informative,
interesting, amusing, thought-provoking, and even
true books. However, this does not mean that such
people are capable of being the venue through whom
barakah or grace is transmitted to others, and this
latter facet of being a locus of manifestation for
the radiation of grace is the key to helping seekers
make spiritual progress through the lifting of
various kinds of spiritual veil.

In being drawn to the truth of something, one has
to understand Who is doing the drawing and who it
is that is being drawn. Moreover, one has to come
to have insight into just what it is that one is
being drawn to, and the means of one's being

Although we all have within us the capacity to
recognize the truth, we all also have within us
the capacity for veiling, distorting, turning
away from, and corrupting the truth. If the matter
were simply a matter of being able to recognize
the truth when we came into contact with it, then,
no one would need a teacher or spiritual guide, and
everyone would be a realized mystic.

Since this is not the case, the answer to the
mystery of Self-realization must lie elsewhere.
The answer must be more complex and subtle than
merely having a capacity for recognizing the

Truth/Reality is infinite. There are many forces
within us and without us which are dedicated to
ensuring that we never realize the full extent of
the truth for which we have been given the capacity
to do so by Divinity.

Consequently, sometimes what we feel or believe
or think to be the truth (e.g., because it seems
to resonate with something within us)is nothing
other than the ego looking at a mirror. So, one
of the problems with which a seeker is confronted
is this: how does one distinguish within oneself
that dimension of one's being which is capable of
recognizing the truth from that dimension of one's
being which is capable of veiling and distorting
the truth for its own non-spiritual purposes?

We read something in a book. It resonates with
something within us. Because of the experience of
resonance, or familiarity, or attraction which we
have concerning what is said, we may say: "Ah, this
is the truth."

But, is it? How do we know? How can we be sure? How
do we test it? What are the criteria of evaluation
which are to be used? What instruments are to be
used in this process? How are these instruments to be
calibrated so that we can trust the readings which
they give? Who will confirm our findings, and how
do we know that we can rely on such confirmation?

Who is doing the recognizing in any given case of
calling something the truth? Is it the true self,
or the false self?

None of the foregoing questions can be answered on
one's own -- at least, not without considerable help.
One cannot discern the truth of these matters merely
through effort, concentration and diligence. Much,
much more is needed, and this something "more" only
can be found by associating (spiritually) with an
authentic guide of the mystical path.

There are people who can speak and write volumes
about the mystical path. Much of this may even be
true (up to a point), but such individuals may not
have the least taste of the reality of Being to
which the mystical path invites each of us. The
process of realizing the truth of one's essential
spiritual identity and one's unique spiritual
capacity goes beyond what can be recognized as
true on the surface of things.

In fact, when one fully realizes the truth, all
of the authentic guides of the mystical path,
across spiritual traditions, have indicated
that the 'surface' of experience becomes completely
transformed in the process. What one recognized as
true, previously, is still true, but it becomes
something much more in the process -- so much so,
that one realizes that what one recognized as true
previously was itself really a tremendous distortion
of the Truth, even though it was true within its
own framework of understanding.

I can remember each time my shaykh, Dr. M. Qadeer
Baig (may God be pleased with him), used to come
out of doing a 40 day seclusion (and during my
association with him,he did more than 15 of these),
Dr. Baig would talk about revising the thesis he
had written as part his doctoral requirements ...
a thesis which A. J. Arberry, who was his external
examiner, described as being the best thing ever
written on the Sufi path in the English language.

The reason Dr. Baig wanted to revise his thesis
was because his understanding had changed as
a result of what he had experienced during his
seclusion. Furthermore, the desire to change
what had been written wasn't because what had
been said previously was incorrect, but because
his new understanding was more correct than
what he had said in the thesis.

So, with respect to the problem of recognizing
the truth, the answer depends on: what one means
by recognizing the truth of something: who is
doing the recognizing; on what level is the
truth being engaged; how did the truth come to
one, and what degree of noise-to-signal ratio,
so to speak, is involved in that which has been
received or recognized?

Moreover, the significance of such answers depends
on whether one has been opened up to the aforementioned
possibilities through an authentic spiritual guide
or through a spiritual charlatan. In the latter case,
the truth is like a Trojan horse which contains, hidden
within the external form, a virulent set of forces
which attacks our spiritual immunity system and
induces a variety of diseases of the soul ... some of
which are quite lethal. the way, Dr. Baig never actually got around to
revising his book. If he had, he would have re-written
the book more than 15 times ... instead, Dr. Baig
lived the truth, and as such, he was an amazing
reference work through which to engage the truth,
according to my own capacity to do so.

Anab Whitehouse

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Strangers in a Strange Land

A Christian wrote to me seeking the perspective of
a Muslim concerning the troubled times in which we
all live. More specifically, the individual was
wondering about how to deal with the considerable
intolerance and hatred which seems to surround us
today -- even within various religious traditions.
In addition, this individual was interested in
whether peace on Earth was realizable given the
extent of hostilities which exist in the world


George Bernard Shaw once said of Islam and Muslims
something along the following lines. Whenever I
read the Qur'an and look at the life of the Prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon him), my heart is filled with
joy and love, so I want to rush and become Muslim.
However, whenever I look to Muslims and see how they
live their lives, I want to run away from the religion

Many Muslims are fond of saying that Islam is the
fastest growing religion in the world. Whenever I
hear this I am tempted to say, and sometimes do say,
that Islam is also the fastest dying religion in the
world because more and more Muslims are losing touch
with the real spirit and essence of this tradition.

There is a huge difference between Islamic history and
Muslim history. Most people, however, both Muslim and
non-Muslim, confuse the two and assume that the latter
is synonymous with the former, and this is not the case.

For instance, one does not have to do a great deal of
research to demonstrate that vested western political,
economic, cultural and religious interests have played
a huge role in shaping what is going on in most Muslim
countries -- including the present 'crisis' in Iraq .
Nevertheless, notwithstanding these truths, Muslims need
to take a good, long hard look at themselves in the mirror
to understand what role they, themselves, have played in
bringing the Muslim world to its present unenviable
position - economically, legally, politically, scientifically,
environmentally, morally and spiritually.

I have started out in this way, because I want readers to
understand that the problems which people are facing within
the Christian tradition are not unique to them. Most people,
irrespective of their spiritual tradition, who are serious
about spirituality -- both in terms of its possibilities as
well as in terms of its responsibilities -- are deeply
concerned about the increasing size of the gap between what
any given spiritual tradition offers and what all too many
people are doing, or not doing, with respect to what is
being offered through our spiritual traditions.

None of what went on in either of the three Gulf Wars, for
example, can be reconciled with what Jesus or Moses or
Muhammad (peace be upon them all) taught. As the old rock
group, The Buffalo Springfields, once wrote in a song called:
'For What It's Worth', "nobody's right, if everybody's wrong".

The people on all sides of these conflicts try to justify
what they are doing with talk of principles involving
rights, freedom, democracy, truth, justice, fairness,
and so on. In reality, no such principles are involved.

It is all about money, resources, control, selfishness,
hatred, revenge, ignorance, pride, prejudice, illusion,
bias, false presuppositions, hostility, darkness, power,
authoritarianism, fear, greed, and stupidity. Sadaam
Hussein - to whatever extent the media demonization of
him is warranted - is not the only possible madman and
thug involved in the Iraq crisis.

The situation vis-a-vis the Gulf, and it appears that
this scenario may be played out again in the near future
in neighboring countries, gives expression, in miniature,
to what is going on throughout the world. The Gulf situation
reflects the ugliness of the human condition -- a condition
which is everywhere apparent on the world stage.

Some of this ugliness we hear about and know about now.
Some of this ugliness, we only come to know about later.
And, some of it - a great deal of it, actually -- we may
never come to know about - at least, not in this world.

For example, only recently, and quite by chance, did I
come to learn about the extent of the uncivilized
condtions which the tens of thousands of refugees of
Fallujah had to endure at the hands of so-called
coalition forces. These people who were forced, under
threat of death, to leave their homes prior to the
onslaught against Fallujah, were given little, or no,
housing, food, water, or medical assistance by the
coalition forces.

The foregoing report did not come from al-Jazeera but,
rather, from a private American citizen, Mark Manning,
who risked much to go there. His eye-witness testimony
belies the sort of manufactured news which one often
receives through the American media -- whether left
or right.

What does all of this have to do with the inquiry with
which this blog began? We live in insane times, and our
problem is that we would like everybody to live in
accordance with the principles of spirituality rather
than the rule of ego and the desires of the carnal soul
which, seemingly, are so much easier to abide by --
although, in reality, this is a totally false presupposition
... and we see the results of the reality beneath this
false presupposition all around us.

The challenge facing us, and people like us (that is, those
who are fed-up with all of the carnage and hostilities), is
how do we proceed in the midst of such insanity? How do we
proceed when confronted by the duplicity of what people
profess (especially so-called leaders) - whether Christian,
Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, or whatever
-- and what they actually do?

Part of the answer comes in realizing, as one of the
characters in the comic strip "Pogo" announced more than
thirty years ago, "We have met the enemy, and they is us.
We must understand, that there, but for the Grace of God,
go we, and even with the Grace of God, we ourselves sometimes
become caught up in the same insanity which so revolts us.

Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, the Buddha, Krishna, and so on
(peace be upon them all) were all hated in their times by
different portions of the population. Other people in their
times feared what these individuals were calling people to
-- in other words, to God, and away from the world, human
desires and vested interests.

Their times were insane as well, and, presumably, this is
why these individuals were sent by God -- to help people deal
with the insanity. And, even if the insanity only could be
curbed for a time, and not completely defeated, then, these
individuals, by the Grace of God, came to teach people how
to live in spite of, and in the midst of, such insanity.

I do not believe that it is possible to achieve heaven or
paradise on Earth. Indeed, if the aforementioned individuals,
who are the greatest among human beings to ever walk the face
of God's good Earth, could not, with God's help, establish
heaven or paradise on Earth, then, I think only the greatest
of arrogance could suppose that far lesser human beings could
achieve what such spiritually gifted individuals did not, and,
in fact, were not permitted to, achieve, by Divinity.

Whatever peace, joy, happiness, ecstasy, stability, harmony
and love is going to be realized must, God willing, come from
within. It will not come from without, except in very ephemeral,
limited ways.

The spiritual heroes and heroines were happy and loving
and compassionate despite the insanity. Indeed, they
ministered, each in their own way, to the insanity --
knowing, I believe, that even if one could not eradicate
the disease (the false-self), nonetheless, they could,
God willing, help some individuals to learn how to
fight-off and cope-with, this human malady and even,
if one were extraordinarily blessed, how to realize
the true Self - of which each of these individuals were
unique, magnificent, beautiful, wonderful, inspiring

In short, they taught that the source of the insanity
is within each of us. They also taught that the solution
to that insanity lies within as well, but at a deeper,
more essential level.

What inspires me, drives me, directs me, orients me,
guides me, informs me, colors me, sustains me, and
shapes me is my relationship with my mystical/spiritual
teacher. Such teachers carry on the work of the great
spiritual personalities who have preceded them.

In fact, such teachers are but different manifestations
of one, and the same, spiritual reality. The truth which
flowed through Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, and so on (peace
be upon them all), also flows through such individuals
according to the God-given spiritual capacity of such
individuals -- although not everyone who claims to be
such a teacher actually is (a problem to be discussed
at another time, perhaps).

Everything that I know about Islam, I know through my
spiritual teacher, Dr. M. Qadeer Baig (may God be pleased
with him) who was kind enough, while living in this world,
to take me on as a reclamation project many years ago.
Unfortunately, there are many Muslims who would claim that
what is being taught by individuals like Dr. Baig -- and
others like him -- is un-Islamic ... and the world is much
the worse for such rigid attitudes and dogmatism.

Anab Whitehouse

Monday, March 21, 2005

Evolution and Okham's Razor

What do you know about evolutionary theory? Or,
maybe there are two questions here: what do you
think you know, and what do you actually know?

In reality, if people are honest about the matter
- and quite irrespective of whether they believe
in evolution or they are opposed to it - most
individuals probably would have to acknowledge
that they know almost nothing at all about the
actual nuts and bolts of the issues at the heart
of evolutionary theory. Their belief concerning
this matter - whatever the character of that
belief may be - is, for the most part, rooted in
two sources: (1) a largely unexamined acceptance
of the opinion of others; (2) the extent to which
evolutionary theory makes continuing on with the
rest of their philosophical or religious perspective
easier or more difficult.

In addition, the controversy surrounding
evolutionary theory has been plagued by the
fact that most of the advocates for various
sides of this issue have been conducting the
discussion on the wrong level of engagement.
More specifically, people have been arguing
mostly in terms of the evidence of paleobiology,
or the anatomic/fossilized data that has been
drawn from zoological and botanical studies,
and, unfortunately, the matter cannot be settled,
one way or the other, with any degree of certitude
when approached in this manner.

On this level of discussion, one, at best, can
obtain data which is either consistent with, or
raises problems for, evolutionary theory. However,
there is no smoking gun (either for or against) to
be found - just self-serving and heated rhetoric
which is cast in the garments of apparent rigor.

Furthermore, contrary to what many people believe,
Darwin has nothing at all to say about either the
origins of species or the origins of life in general.
The entire argument in his universally known, but
largely unread, book is not about the origin of
species but about the plausibility of a form of
argument which alludes to such a possibility
without ever spelling out the mechanism.

Natural selection acts on what is. It presupposes
what is.

Natural selection does not cause what is, but,
rather, helps determine which aspects of what is
will continue to be. Natural selection introduces
nothing new into the evolutionary picture, but
only says something about the aspects of that
picture that are most consonant with the existing
dynamic of interacting natural forces.

Therefore, the cause of that which natural
selection comes to act upon still stands in need
of an explanation. You cannot use natural selection
as an explanation for that which natural explanation
clearly presupposes without becoming entangled in
completely circular thinking, and this certainly
does not constitute an explanation of any kind.

Moreover, the idea of the accumulation of small
variations does not really account for either
the origins of life in general, or for the
origins of the different biological blueprints,
so to speak, on which the notion of species
difference is based. Since variation presupposes
that which is capable of such variation, what
needs to be explained is the origins of the
capacity for variation.

Genetics is not the science which provides an
account of the story of the origins of this
capacity. Rather, genetics is merely the science
which delineates how such a capacity operates
once it has arisen.

Only with the advent of modern molecular and
cellular biology have we finally come into
contact with the sort of information which
allows one to make insightful judgements
about the plausibility of evolutionary theory
as an adequate account for the origins of life
on Earth. When one integrates the disciplines
of molecular and cellular biology with data
derived from geology, hydrology, meteorology,
and cosmology - along with what has been
learned about organic and inorganic chemistry
- then, one is in a position to work toward an
informed understanding concerning the questions
which surround and permeate the possibility of
whether the modern neo-Darwinian theory of
evolution offers an acceptable paradigm through
which to establish defensible explanations
concerning origin of life issues.

With respect to the foregoing comments, one might
wish to ask something along the following lines:
"Isn't one obligated to defer to long- standing
guidelines, like Ockham's razor, when engaging
issues such as the debate between evolutionists
and creationists, and, if so, doesn't this mean
that one should accept evolution as being the
simpler of the two accounts concerning origins?"

For those who may be unfamiliar with the idea of
Ockham's razor -- which, sometimes, is referred to
as the principle of parsimony -- this precept (first
stated by William of Ockham in the 13-14th century)
maintains, in effect, that: assumptions, terms, and
concepts should not be multiplied beyond necessity.
One of the problems facing this principle is that
we cannot always be sure by what is entailed when
the phrase: "beyond necessity" is used.

Theories are, by nature, projections onto a body
of data, and, in the process, theories seek to
make coherent sense of such data. Unfortunately,
the fit between the form of a theory and the
structural character of a given data set is,
usually, not precise since there tend to be both
empirical and logical lacunae in a theory which
leave a variety of facets of the data unexplained
or associated with questions that cannot be
adequately addressed by the theory - that is,
so-called anomalous results, facts, or data.

In addition, over time (both short and long term),
assumptions, vocabulary, and concepts all change,
and, among other things, this makes comparisons
between even similar, scientific theories rather
difficult, let alone between relatively different
approaches to a given body of data such as is the
case in relation to evolutionary and creationist
accounts of the origins of life on Earth. Consequently,
trying to determine which of two theories has, or has
not, multiplied terms, concepts, or assumptions 'beyond
necessity' is a complex problem, and, often times, an
issue that cannot be easily, if at all, resolved.

Furthermore, implicit in the idea of 'beyond
necessity' is the assumption that, in any given
instance of phenomena, we know what is going on
and, therefore, we know what is, and is not,
necessary as far as description, understanding,
and explanation are concerned in such cases. In
truth, we rarely are in a position to be able to
ascertain the boundary conditions of necessity
with respect to that which is to be treated as
requisite - i.e., necessary - terms, conditions,
and assumptions.

Now, the 'reality' of 'things' is all there
is. And, certainly, no theory should impose
something on to 'reality' which does not belong
there and, as such, would be 'beyond necessity'.

However, there is nothing which obligates one to accept
any given application of Ockham's razor as an expression
of universal truth. Ockham's razor is a working principle
that, loosely speaking, indicates there is a certain
desirable symmetry in having our understanding exhibit
congruence - which is itself an ambiguous idea - with the
'data' to which our experiential engagement of reality
gives rise. Nevertheless, simply because a theory claims
to give expression to this principle, this does not,
automatically, mean the principle in question has been
served - indeed, a lot of things have been claimed in
the name of Ockham's razor, and not all of these claims
are necessarily legitimate expressions of this principle
in action.

For instance, to work from the assumption of randomness
is not necessarily any more parsimonious than to work
from an assumption of Divine design. In fact, one can
never prove anything to be a function of random events
since there always could be some unknown algorithm which
is capable of generating a given structure that, heretofore,
has been assumed to be an expression of random phenomena.

Alternatively, there is no inherent contradiction in
proposing that evolution does occur, and, yet, simultaneously,
argue that such evolutionary transformations give expression
to Divine design. There has been more than one theistically
oriented thinker who has taken this sort of stance (e.g.,
deChardin and Matthew Fox) - and, one can note this fact
quite apart from the matter of the ultimate tenability of
these particular theories.

One of the crucial issues - a primary 'sticking'
point, as it were - underlying the evolutionist
versus creationist debate turns on whether biological
origins and/or change is, or is not, a function of
purely random events, or, considered from a slightly
different perspective, is a function of events
that may be determinate but are, in some sense,
self-contained and, consequently, quite independent
of any need to invoke a theistic dimension to either
account for such processes, or to set them in motion,
or to regulate them.

If there is no God, then, assuming a Deity in order
to account for phenomena which are 'purely' natural
is, according to this way of thinking, a violation
of Ockham's razor. On the other hand, if there is a
God, and God created the physical universe, then,
assuming a purely physical account (whether of a
random, or a determinate, but non-linear kind) to
explain phenomena that, ultimately, are rooted in
Divine dynamics of creation is also a violation of
Ockham's razor, for it has construed things in a
way which takes them 'beyond necessity' --
necessity being established by reality, not

Even if one were to demonstrate there were a set
of physical, chemical, biological, and thermodynamical
laws which were capable of adequately describing and
explaining the origins of life on Earth, such a set of
laws, in and of itself, does not preclude the possibility
that a Deity or Supreme Being has authored, generated and
established those laws. In other words, the existence of
a complete scientific theory concerning the origins of
life cannot be used as grounds for invoking Ockham's
razor in order to disallow the possibility that the
existence of those laws is due to Divine activity. This
is so because the idea of Divine creation could be seen
to be fully consistent with such a set of laws and,
therefore, the former cannot be either empirically or
logically precluded by the presence of the latter laws.

The matter is rationally indeterminate as it stands.
And, Ockham's razor is incapable of deciding the issue
because what is 'beyond necessity' cannot be settled by
a philosophical or methodological principle that cannot,
by itself, determine the nature of 'necessity', and,
thereby, establish a baseline against which 'beyond' can
be measured in any reliable, undeniable fashion.

Aside from what has been said above, there is
a further difficulty with the use of Ockham's razor.
More specifically, this principle tends to presuppose
that the idea of what constitutes 'necessity' is
something which is capable of being resolved through
rational means - in other words, use of this principle
tends to have a rationalistic bias to it ... or, at
least, this is how the principle tends to have been
employed down through the years, and, moreover, such
a bias reflects the phiosophical orientation of its
'inventor', William of Ockham, who was a proponent of
scholasticism - a form of thinking that was deeply
influenced by the logic and metaphysics of Aristotle.

If, however, the nature of reality is such that it
is not capable of being reduced to, or completely
circumscribed by, rationalistic methods, then, one
has to question the meaning and value of bringing
Ockham's razor into the discussion. One cannot assume
one's conclusions, and through one's desire for
'rational' accounts of the universe, demand that
reality fit into one's rationalistic molds.

One must take 'reality', whatever this might be,
on its own terms - as best one can. Maybe, some
levels of 'what is' can be understood through
rational modalities - as far as the terms,
assumptions, and concpets of such modalities go
-- and that these modalities are, more or less,
accurate, or useful, ways of talking about such
phenomena - and, indeed, the successes of science,
mathematics, and technology are consistent with
this sort of perspective.

On the other hand, there may be some dimensions
of 'what is' that fall beyond the horizons of
rational discourse -- not because such realms are
irrational, but because they supercede the limitations
inherent in the capacity of reason to grasp the nature
of 'what is' within such dimensions of Being. If so,
then, to invoke rational principles to explain what
is supra-rational is a violation of the spirit of
Ockham's razor even though, for the most part, this,
usually, has not been part of the mind-set underlying
use of this philosophical principle.

For a much more technical discussion of the origins of
life issue, take a look at:

Evolution on Trial

Anab Whitehouse

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Many of us have experienced the condition of spiritual
malaise. Although this malady can assume many different
shapes and forms, all of these forms tend to flow from a
sort of spiritual unhappiness, accompanied by feeligns of
alienation, as well as a sense of emptiness or lack of
interest and commitment to spiritual matters.

Years ago, in the Fifties, a movie director, Don Siegal,
did a film called the 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'.
It starred Kevin McCarthy and, I believe, Dana Wynter.
About thirty years, or so, ago, a remake of this movie
was made. It featured a couple of Canadian actors -
Donald Sutherland and Art Hindle, and the picture also
starred Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams, Angela - or was
it Veronica - Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy.

The director of the earlier version, Don Siegal, even
had a small role in the re-make as a taxi driver who
has a menacing presence. Robert Duvall also had
an uncredited, non-speaking cameo in the remake
as a priest on a swing whose general ambience at
the beginning of the film helps set the tone for the
movie which follows.

In any event, the basic premise of the story was,
and is, this. From deep space comes a form of life
which somehow drifts to Earth and lands in the form
of spores which take root and begin to go through
their life-cycle.

Part of the life cycle of these alien spores is the capacity
to latch onto sentient, conscious, intelligent life forms of
Earth and withdraw the life force, bodily characteristics,
intelligence, personality, and consciousness of Earth
creatures -- especially human beings -- and assume the
identities of those whom they 'take over'. This transfer
and transformation takes place when the spores
have grown into plants that gave rise to large pods out
of which the pseudo-human would arise when the pod
is placed near to a human being who is asleep.

In every way but one, these alien duplicates are
identical to the bodies they snatch. The body-doubles
have no emotions.

The way the aliens see things is that they are the
solution to human problems. They feel that most, if not all,
of the turmoil and tragedy of the world is due to the way
in which emotions adversely affect life. Since there
would be no jealousy, envy, hatred, selfishness, greed,
pride and so on, when the alien life forms assume human
identities, then, the world would, finally, experience
peace and harmony.

The human beings who stumble onto the invasion
conspiracy, however, have a different read on the
ontological challenge facing humankind. According
to them, if there were no emotions, then, there would
be no love or passion connected to life either, and
they believe such emotions go to the heart of what
it is to be a human being.

For the human heroes and heroines of the film, the
"offer" of getting inner peace, as well as world
harmony, in exchange for losing the essence or soul of
what makes human beings human is just too high a price
to pay and, consequently, humanity will just have to
try to work, or stumble, toward peace and harmony in
some other way. Naturally, this human perspective leads to
a life and death struggle with the would-be alien antagonists
and, therein, lies the dynamics of the story as it unfolds
during the course of the picture.

In the original movie, the character played by Kevin
McCarthy is finally able, with a bit of the coincidental
luck of dramatic license, to convince the authorities
that he is not crazy and that the story he has been
recounting is the truth. More specifically, humanity is
in imminent peril of destruction should the invasion of
the body snatchers be allowed to continue unchecked.
However, in the remake of the movie, the end of the
story is much more ominous, and the movie-goer is
left in an ambiguous state concerning whether or not
humanity is going to survive the invasion.

What has all of this got to do with the issue of
unhappiness concerning one's spiritual state and
the accompanying feelings of emptiness and lack
of emotion concerning spirituality, family, friends
and life? People who experience spiritual malaise
-- and we all do go through this from time to time
-- are, in a sense, being invaded by, among other
things, a body snatcher known as "nafs".

Spiritually, while in such a state, we are drifting
between sleep and wakefulness. While we are
asleep, nafs latches onto our being and begins its
process of transforming us according to its pre-
programmed agenda.

Like the alien forms of life in the 'Invasion of the
Body Snatchers', the nafs is offering us a form of
peace -- the peace that comes from not struggling
to realize that which is most essential to the human
being -- namely, spiritual love and passion for
Divinity and the purpose of Creation. Just as in the
movie, however, the price which must be paid for
accepting this offer is the lost of that which actually
defines our essential, human identity and spiritual

While in a state of spiritual malaise, the deadening
of one's feelings for family, friends, and life are signs
of the kind of peace nafs has in mind for one. However,
unless the transformation process of the nafs has been
completed, one, by the Grace of God, still has the
opportunity of snapping out of this state from time
to time -- either temporarily or permanently.

This process of 'snapping out of it' takes place when
there is some degree of spiritual awakening which comes
to us through whatever means -- whether in the form of
prayers, zikr, fasting, Fatiha, or in some other way. To
the extent we are awake in this sense, then, the
transformation process envisioned by nafs cannot
proceed -- in fact, it is forced to reverse course, to
some degree.

On the other hand, when, spiritually speaking, one
goes back to sleep, the process of spiritual imperialism
and colonialism starts up again and seeks to take over
more and more of our humanity through guile and, if
necessary, force. This battle takes place in our hearts
or the qalb.

One of the meanings of "qalb" in Arabic is "that which
turns". The heart has the capacity to turn, on the one
hand, toward the nafs, dunya and Iblis, or, on the other
hand, the qalb can turn toward the realm of spirit and

When the qalb turns, by the grace of God, toward
the spirit and Divinity, it begins to wake up. When the
qalb turns toward nafs and so on, it goes to sleep.

Sleeping, spiritually speaking, aides the cause of nafs,
dunya and Iblis. Awakening invigorates the quest for

What we each must come to understand from the
bottom of our souls is that we are being forcefully
invaded by an alien presence within us when we begin
to feel a sense of spiritual malaise. This is not science
fiction ... it is life.

An authentic shaykh plays the part of Kevin McCarthy
and, among other things, tries to warn people of the
imminent danger to which their spiritual lives are
being exposed as a result of the invasion of the soul
snatchers within and around us. Of course, few people
believe such a person and consider the words of the
spiritual guide to be the rants and ravings of a mad
person or a possessed individual.

Moreover, because there are many "people" in the
world who already have become transformed and,
therefore, no longer are human, in any essential sense,
but, now, are alien, in nature, these allies of the invaders
help to work against any attempts which are designed to
assist people to awaken from the horrors of the nightmare
which are all too real. Consequently, there will be many
who will beckon us to go back to sleep and seek to convince
us that we will feel much better when the transformation
is all over and we, too, have become an alien in human

Just like the heroes and heroines of the movies, we
all are engaged in life and death struggle for our
spiritual survival. If we go to sleep too deeply and/or
for too long a period of time, we may, very well,
spiritually die. If, with God's grace and the assistance
of those whom God has appointed to serve this
purpose, we struggle to wake up, then we have the
chance to stay human and resist becoming alien to
our essential Self.

One of our problems is that we often don't know
which movie, so to speak, we are in. Are we
participating in the original version where the hero
-- in this case, hopefully, oneself -- finally convinces
the authorities (that is, one's intelligence and
motivational capacities) that steps must be taken
to avert the tragedy which is threatening human
existence (namely, ours)? Or, are we playing a part
in the re-make of the original version of 'Invasion of
the Body Snatchers' in which all may be in the
process of being lost to the onslaught of the alien
invasion going on within us, both individually
and collectively?

Each of us is the script writer, director, actress
and producer of the film. The ending is ours to

We should be very clear, however, that this film
which is being made, even as we speak, is not
fiction. It is real, and it is unfolding before our
eyes -- both internally and externally, both
spiritually and physically.

To borrow from another film, Lawrence of Arabia,
I am reminded of the words which Omar Sherif's
character says to the Peter O'Toole character as
they are crossing, I believe, the Nefu desert, where
to go to sleep can mean death. His Arab friend sternly
cautions Lawrence: "Be warned, you were drifting",
as Lawrenceis caught napping while riding a camel.

A similar caution could be directed to each of : 'Be
warned, you are drifting' as we cross the great desert
of dunya or worldly entanglements created by the
dynamic interaction of our collective desires, ambitions,
and destructive emtions.

We cannot afford to go to sleep, or we risk losing
everything of value, even if opuor physical lives
remains intact. We each need to wake up to the
horror of the alien life form which is within us, and,
as well we need to be mindful of the dangers to
spiritual life that are lurking all about us - any, and
all, of which can destroy us - as might be true of a
person journeying across a physical desert.

We need to hold tightly to the hand of friendship
which, God willing, may be extended to us during
our journey through life. On the Path, we need
company to help keep us awake and alert to the
dangers which are hiding in the night and waiting
to pounce upon us should we relax our vigilance
and forget the purpose or destination for which we
have undertaken the journey.

Unfortunately, and to add a further twist to the
plot lines of our lives, not everyone who claims to
be capable of guiding one across the deserts of
dunya, nafs, and Iblis is capable of doing so. In fact,
like Leonard Nimoy in the remake of 'Invasion of the
Body Snatchers', sometimes the people to whom we
go for help and guidance have already been
transformed into alien creatures who have no love
for humanity or the human soul, despite having an
exterior form which suggests otherwise, and despite
their willingness to serve as a trusted guide across
the deserts of life, or to serve as a physician of the
heart who can assist us to rid ourselves of our
spiritual malaise.

Caveat Emptor. Let the buyer beware, for,
sometimes, truth can be stranger, trickier, and
more sinister than fiction. The choice is before each
of us: do we struggle to become fully human or do
we permit ourselves to become Pod-people ...
human-like on the outside, but spiritually dead
inside. Be warned ... sleep is close at hand.

Anab Whitehouse