Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Forty Sufi Gems


O Son, if Allah Wills I will someday either read out these forty books with you OR write a book about these forty sufi gems for you; the preface of which should read like this:
Sufism is a branch of Islamic knowledge which belongs to the third category after iman (faith) and Islam (submission to the Divine Will); it represents ihsan (excellence or virtue). Of all three, it gives the most emphasis on the inward (bathin) rather than the outward (zahir). As such, it is a subject that cannot be confined to a rigid definition. Nevertheless, for brevity sake we can interpret it as an effort taken by a wayfarer to internalise the consciousness of God's omnipresence, omnipotence, immanence and transcendence; all at the same time. The key word is internalise. It is an inner state. The Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. has said in a hadith: 'The Islamic jurisprudent (shari'a) is my word, the spiritual path (tariqat) my actions and the inner reality (haqiqat) my inner states.' Sufism is essentially about mastering the haqiqat.

The idea for this book is simply to share my thoughts on forty remarkable Sufi publications that I have been fortunate to discover. This book is a celebration of the efforts of so many authors, translators, publishers and booksellers from all corners of the world who have religiously laboured to make available such distinguished books on Sufism. The forty gems are grouped into four sections called 'The Path', 'The Journey', 'The Stations', and 'The Arrival'. From my experience, these are four typical milestones generally attributed to those people who desire to seek the reality of their being as creations, in relation to the Creator. They are commonly referred to in Sufi terms, as saliks or wayfarers.

'The Path' describes the road that one travels on in search of the Truth. Opening this section we will take a look at the fundamental background information written by Martin Lings in 'What is Sufism and Teachings of Sufism', translated by Carl Ernst. 'The Sufi Path of Knowledge' and 'The Sufi Path of Love' both written by William Chittick give an intimate view of the Path. A salik will soon learn that one of the most important steps is to transform the heart. Kabir Helminski's book on 'The Knowing Heart - A Sufi Path of Transformation' reveals some awakening wisdom. Travelling on the Path also demands obedience to 'The Doctrine of the Sufis'. Over time one can expect to learn the 'Inner Secrets of the Path' and have a sound comprehension on the 'Heritage of Sufism'. 'The Classical Islam and the Naqshabandi Sufi Tradition' provides an exclusive insight into the practice of one of the prominent tariqat groups. The last book featured in this section is a gem written by ad-Darqawi on 'Quranic Tawhid'.

Part Two is called 'The Journey'. Starting off, saliks should make an effort to understand 'The Journey of the Self', 'The Way of the Sufi' and 'The Way of Sufi Chivalry'. Along the journey thirsty souls may be quenched with 'The Nourishment of Hearts' and hold fast to the 'Risala' and 'Divine Governance'. One is also encouraged to contemplate on sufi prayers taught by Ibn al-Arabi in 'The Seven Days of the Heart'. As one wonders along, one's soul would naturally find solace from the words of encouragement in 'Letters of a Sufi Master', yet another profound writing by ad-Darqawi. When feeling worn out from the tiring journey, one might want to take benefit from 'Purification of the Mind' and 'The Illuminated Prayer'.

In Part Three: 'The Stations', readers are expected to have learned from their travels and start exploring the the 'Stations of Desire', or stop to smell the roses 'In an Eastern Rose Garden' crafted by Hazrat Inayat Khan. At higher stations, travellers can appreciate the simplicity of 'In It, Is What In It', an old classic by Jalaluddin Rumi and be dazzled by the 'Book of Brilliance' written by Abu Nasr al-Sarraj. Scaling up higher stations, a wayfarer may sojourn with 'The Reflection of the Mystics' and 'Bezels of Wisdom', or be perplexed by the 'Paradoxes of Love'. Further still, a salik might encounter treasures in the form of 'The Shape of Light' and 'Tales from the Land of the Sufis'. Experiences gained in this leg of the journey are best summed up in 'The Sufi Book of Life'.

Lastly, in Part Four: 'The Arrival', seekers can take a breather and rejoice with the 'Gifts for the Seeker', which is truly a gift from the venerable saint Imam al-Haddad. Next is learning the crux of Sufi teaching on 'oneness of being' that is fluidly captured in 'The Ocean of Unity'. Among the last signposts, one may observe the 'Signs of the Unseen' and unlock the 'Secret of I am the Lord' and the 'Secret of the Secrets' by al-Jailani. Coming even closer to the heart of the matters is Ibn al-Arabi's 'Kernel of the Kernel'. Taking a peep in 'The Niche of Lights', a classic by Imam al-Ghazali, leads to wonderful discoveries. Towards the end of the journey, with God's grace, a seeker may finally witness the 'Revelation of the Veiled', gaze at 'The Self Disclosure of God' and finally be 'Alone with the Alone'.

Readers will surely find these forty gems capable of providing relief to bruised souls, as they offer pristine guiding lights in the subtlest manner. Even then those who are serious about studying Sufism should look for a real guru, lest be misguided by the devils of their own fantasies, lusts and ignorance. We seek refuge in God, our best Teacher, the best Helper.

- E Ismail, Spring 2006

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