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


Anonymous said...

Dear Anab,
This is my first reading on your website show that you are a much balanced and advanced seeker of the sufic path.A tiny correction on the proper salawat and salam after mentioning the Prophet name should be 'blessing of Allah and peace be upon him or in arabic 'sallaLlahu alahi wasallam'(S.A.W) not 'peace be upon him (PBUH)/alaihi salam (A.S)that is for other Prophets. This is a recent modernist deviation or error,rarely occur in classical texts but abounded in english/translated texts. Even the Shia used alaihi salam to Sayyidina Ali radhiAllahu anhu.
May Allah purify our hearts from hidden defects that put us far from His Witnessing and Love and made us die on the Path of Sunna and longing to meet Him.
wassalam cai jian zhen zhu baoyuni.
Abdal Halim shin

Jalaledin Ebrahim said...

Beloved Anab:

I am exploring the depths of al-Fatiha and wondered if you would be willing to offer an interpetation or a meditation on any aspect of it. The concept of Divine Wrath is one that I have been very shy of. Perhaps, your reading on that topic? My blog can be found at
Kindly use my personal e-mail in response:
Love, light and shadow,

Fouad Oodian said...

I have love very much your blog.