Saturday, July 28, 2007

Authenticity of Sufi shaykhs

There are teachers and, then, there are 'teachers'. A teacher may, or may not, be a spiritual guide. The fact that one can learn from someone does not necessarily make the person from whom one learns either a teacher, a 'teacher', or a spiritual guide, for, among other things, teaching and guidance both depend on the presence of a certain kind of intention.

Although what I 'know', in some sense of this word, about E.J. Gold is limited -- and none of what I 'know' is based on direct experience with him - nonetheless, the dilemma with which he (along with many others) presents a seeker may be instructive. Moreover, all of this can be done without passing judgment on Mr. Gold - either positively or negatively.

Apparently, Mr. Gold is one of those rare individuals who is both multi-talented and quite intelligent. He writes, draws, paints, sculpts, makes jewelry, takes pictures, plays jazz, and does business - and, moreover, he does all of these with a great deal of skill, knowledge, and talent. In addition, he is a consummate speaker, a scholar of considerable resources, and a very insightful and intuitive observer of the human condition.

Jesus (peace be upon him) exhibited few of the foregoing, qualities, and with the exception of, possibly, the realm of business, neither did the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). So, I suppose, the moral of the story is that we should stop listening to such individuals like Jesus (peace be upon him) and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and, instead, follow those individuals who exhibit talent and, as a result, are capable of impressing us in one way or another.

People such as Mr. Gold lead very interesting lives. I am sure that his life experience and the understanding which has arisen out of that life experience are valuable resources for those with whom he comes in contact.

However, neither talent, intelligence, an interesting life, intuition, nor being a valuable resource make someone a spiritual guide, and this is true quite irrespective of whether such people speak, write, or teach about spirituality. A person can write books about spirituality, or go on speaking tours which focus on spirituality, or conduct workshops on spirituality, and none of this, in and of itself, makes someone a spiritual guide - and, this remains so, even if someone who reads a book, or listens to a lecture, or participates in a workshop with such an individual comes away with 'food for thought' which has a spiritual flavor to it.

There is only one factor which can make someone a spiritual guide - that is, someone who serves as a locus of manifestation for the concentrated and consistent transmission of barakah or Divine Grace through which self-realization of essential identity and unique spiritual capacity is, God willing, made possible. This sine qua non of the mystical quest is that the person who serves in the capacity of a spiritual guide has been appointed as such by Divinity.

Divine niyat is the sole key to the issue of someone's being, or not being, a spiritual guide, and the authentic Sufi masters have always alluded to this reality by, among other things, citing the Quranic ayat: "Enter houses by their doors." (2:189). Just as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "I am the city of knowledge, and 'Ali is the gate," so, too, every authentic shaykh (and God determines authenticity, nothing else) becomes a door to the mystical house to which a silsilah gives expression, and becoming such a door is only possible through a Divine decree that is made known via the mouths and actions of authentic shaykhs, just as Hadith Qudsi constitute the unveiling of Divine intentions by means of the agency of the voice of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Someone does not decide to become a spiritual guide. Someone does not take courses on how to be a shaykh, or become a shaykh by receiving a certificate or diploma from having successfully fulfilled the requirements of a given curriculum or program. Becoming a shaykh is not a matter of scholarship, research, intelligence, talent, or even knowledge since there are, by the Grace of Allah, many people who have become Self-realized who do not, thereby, become shaykhs.

There are no elections or balloting associated with becoming a shaykh. Zikr, fasting, seclusion, night vigils, prayers, community service, meditation, contemplation, recitation of the Qur'an, going on hajj, and the giving of zakat does not render one a shaykh.

The performance of 'wondrous deeds' which, seemingly, break the known laws of physics and/or biology does not make one a shaykh. Indeed, the final dajjal (i.e., imposter) will exhibit all manner of facility with respect to the manifestation of 'wondrous deeds' - including, raising people from the dead - but this does not make the dajjal a shaykh.

Others may proclaim one to be a shaykh. Others may even pay to read one's books, or attend one's workshops, and feel that they are getting good value for the money spent, but personal testimonies and written endorsements do not make someone a shaykh.

One may believe or feel that one has a calling to be a shaykh. However, the existence of such a belief or feeling is not sufficient to make someone a shaykh, and, in fact, there are a number of famous examples of people [e.g., Hazrat Qadir Gilani (may Allah be pleased with him) and the Prophet Jonah (peace be upon him)] who ran away from such responsibilities, not feeling adequate to the task to which they clearly were being called.

There is only one element which makes a person a shaykh. If this element is present - while intelligence, talent, scholarship, and accomplishment are absent, then, one is a shaykh, but if this element is absent, then, irrespective of whatever gifts, diplomas, or kudos can be listed next to one's name, one will not be a shaykh ... and this one element is Divine niyat or intention.

There is nothing paradoxical about the spiritual guidance of the Prophets or the saints or the great shaykhs. It is our ignorance which makes things seem this way.

There is nothing paradoxical about kindness, forgiveness, tolerance, empathy, compassion, love, sincerity, honesty, humility, modesty, poverty, steadfastness, faith, patience, gratitude, piety, wisdom, and friendship. Yes, there is something Divine about all of these qualities, but there is nothing inherently paradoxical about them, although, sometimes, those who seek to pass themselves off as teachers try to reduce mysticism to a series of paradoxical teachings.

There is a difference between a paradox and a mystery, and no matter how many paradoxes one may resolve, the mystery of Self will remain a mystery unless God wishes otherwise. Mysticism, unlike the Bastille, cannot be conquered by assault, but, instead, one gains entry only through inside help - help which has been appointed by Divinity and not help which has been self-appointed as a result of delusion and illusion.

When it comes to people like Gurdjieff or E.J. Gold, what others say about the spiritual qualifications of such individuals really is irrelevant, and, moreover, what those people themselves say about themselves in this respect, is also irrelevant. The only voice which counts is the Divine one.

Trying to discern what the Divine voice is saying to us is not an easy task. Whole lifetimes are often consumed with dealing with such a challenge, and, the result is not always successful.

Trying to step onto the spiritual path is an inherently dangerous activity. There are no guarantees even if one should be fortunate enough to discover, or be discovered by, an authentic teacher.

Furthermore, the problem of trying to differentiate between authenticity and inauthenticity is fraught with peril because we start from a position of ignorance about such matters and, as well, easily become confused due to the many forces acting on us, both from within and without, which have a vested interest in misdirecting us away from the truth in relation to this issue. Ironically, even though the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave many clues concerning the advent of the Latter Days, and even though every last one of the many minor signs indicating the nearness of this time have now come into evidence, and even though the Prophet clearly indicated that such times would be filled with spiritual darkness and all manner of dajjal, all too many people suppose that spirituality has never been more advanced than it is today and that almost any Tom, Dick or Harry who has a following qualifies as an authentic shaykh.

Truly, the human capacity for self-deception is seemingly bottomless. And, indeed, human kind continues to prove ourselves to be "extremely oppressive and ignorant," (33:72) and there is no one who is more oppressive and ignorant than someone who claims, or is claimed to be, a spiritual guide who has not been appointed by God - and, this remains true regardless of whatever intelligence, talents, gifts, wit, beauty, scholarship, or charm someone brings to the table.


emilystaubert said...

thank you for your work.

please consider information about e.j. gold, gurdjieff, etc. at

Faiz said...

haven't visited for a while anab.

great that you posted this dimension.

i would like to add that one of the ways fraudulent teachers get away with keeping their dominions is to mis-label and discourage the use of common sense, logic, and principled behavior and principled decision making under the pretext that whenever these latter indices appear violated in the perception of a student, these violations are justified in the name of mystery, or a supra-rational reason; so the seeker feels a slap on the wrist for daring to use his God given faculties to assess the situation. The reality of such a scenario is that the sourse of such violations are irrational, or infra-rational, and likely infra-psychic (demonic/satanic). It is simply a genus of reframing.

By this I don't mean to say that following the Sharia in a given situation need always comply with our sensibilities, or a conventional understanding of what the sharia would dictate. For example, when Abraham * left Hajara* in the desert, he was indeed following the Sharia of the moment, although today he would be arrested for willfull abandonment...but that was Abraham*, and the source for that dictate was indeed supra-rational.

In a similar fashion, when the shaykh told his mureeds to break their superogatory fast out of politeness and adaab for a host who had gone through great pains to prepare a meal for them - he was not guilty of violating the Sharia...he was actually complying with it.

*Peace Be Upon Them