Sufism, the mystical aspect of Islam, is the timeless yearning for union with the divine. Prophet Muhammad said, “Whoever knows himself self know his Lord.” This famous saying is at the heart of Sufi teachings. The quest to know oneself provides the light necessary to illuminate the dark corners of the soul. Those following the Sufi way yearn to discover the reality of God and embrace a path that leads to him. The Sufi path is an inward journey to understand who we are, where we come from and what happens to our souls after death.
Amongst the first steps of the Sufi path is detachment from the world and attachment to God. The Prophet said, “Man is asleep and when he dies he awakens.” When a disciple is initiated by a Sufi master, it is called an “initiatic death”, that is meant to be followed by an awakening. The disciple is supposed to die to his or her old self and be born anew. The concept of detachment in Sufism is to live with purity of heart and mindfulness.
Another important principle of Sufism is rida, contentment with the divine decree. Many people live with rancour in their hearts because of the way life has treated them. This denies God’s omnipotence and the acceptance that God alone decrees all things. No one has the ability to choose what will befall him, but we can choose our responses to tribulations that come our way.
Bayazid of Bistam told his followers, “If you have a friend whose relationship with you is at its worst, the relationship will improve if you act according to the right code of behaviour. If something is given to you, be thankful to Allah, because he alone turns hearts in your favour. If you suffer calamity, take refuge in repentance and patience, because your being will gather strength.”
Abu Said ibn Khayr, the 11th-century Sufi master said, “Sufism is glory in wretchedness and richness in poverty and lordship in servitude and satiety in hunger and freedom in slavery and life in death and sweetness in bitterness.” Those who love the Lord believe that both affliction and bounties come from God and that his mercy embraces all creations.
Sufi masters say that “arrogance” and “jealousy” is often at the root of spiritual maladies, for it indicates discontentment with the divine decree. Arrogance led Satan to challenge God and be condemned by him forever. The Sufis teach that if you are aware of your humility, then you are among the arrogant ones. Humility leads to gratitude because then we are able to recognise God’s mercy.
An effective way of being mindful of arrogance is to remember that we came from God and will ultimately return to him. Moses once asked God, “Who is the most deserving of your wrath and displeasure?” God replied, “It is the one whose heart is filled with arrogance, tongue abusive, eyes lustful, hands miserly and whose character is doubtful.”