Sunday, September 04, 2005
Advice From My Aussie Sufi Teacher
The first time I met this imam, I was the master of ceremonies at a large Muslim festival held annually during Eid al-Fitr (Malays and Indonesians call it “Hari Raya”) to celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The imam wanted to say a few words in Turkish. I was surrounded by numerous persons wishing to make announcements, and I ignored this Turkish man with poor English skills. He was patient with me.
Some years later, myself and a friend decided to start a small business importing and distributing English-language religious and devotional books to young Muslims. Our major customers were the new Muslim bookshops opening in Sydney and Melbourne. I met this imam at the bookshop, and he remembered me again. He could have complained about my rudeness at the festival, but he refrained.
Some years later, I went to a Muslim camp organised by a progressive Muslim youth group. I was a young lawyer and had fallen head-over-heels in love with a young Turkish girl who was studying law. I must have proposed to her 30 times over a period of 6 months. My Turkish friends told me that Turkish women keep saying no and rebuffing a boy to test how devoted he is. I took their advice to heart. One of my advisers was this imam, though he was in the background trying to set her up with someone else. He juggled and balanced the competing interests with enormous skill. He was a true diplomat.
I got over the Turkish lawyer and became infatuated with a Brazilian doctor I met on the internet. At the time, I was visiting this imam at his mosque with some friends. We would gather each Saturday night for a lesson and some zikr in the naqshbandi sufi style. This imam introduced me to a man from Turkey, a controversial history professor whose father-in-law dabbled in Turkish politics.
The imam used to lead us in zikr after the night prayer. Zikr is a kind of meditation that involves repetition of the names of God. In the Qur’an, God is given 99 names. Unlike its closest spiritual cousin (Judaism), Islam actively encourages its devotees to recite God’s names. Muslims name their children using these names. Worship and spirituality revolves around recognition and contemplation and osmosis of the meanings and characteristics reflected in these names.
I was corresponding with this Brazilian doctor, Adriana, for some 4 months. It was 1998, and I was a confident lawyer managing the Sydney office of a Melbourne law firm. My boss allowed me 2 weeks to go to Brazil and meet someone I hoped to be the love of my life.
Adriana was a huge fan of Sufism. She introduced me to Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. I told the imam about her fascination with Rumi, and he encouraged me to study Rumi. He also suggested I should consider becoming a devotee of the sufi path before leaving for Brazil.
On the morning of leaving for Brazil, I went to the dergah (sufi hospice) located in Queen Street Auburn. There, I met the imam. He knew I was leaving for Brazil. He and I joined the controversial history professor in zikr. I had seen this professor on numerous occasions, and was impressed with his demeanour which so resembled that of my own father (himself an academic).
I felt comfortable in the presence of Professor Cosan (pronounced “Joshan”). Remembering the words of the imam, I advised him that I was ready to swear allegiance to the Professor. As the Professor was getting ready to leave, the imam told him in Turkish of my intentions.
“He wants to be my murid [student]? Tell him I already consider him a murid. He needs no ceremony. Hoca [pronounced “hoja” and meaning “imam” in Turkish], give him the papers and teach him the wird [special zikr] of our tariqa [spiritual order].”
The imam gave me the wird and explained to me how to use it. For 6 or 7 months, I was regular in the wird. When I landed at Sao Paolo airport, I was reciting the wird. Each night at Aracatuba, after performing my isha prayer, I would perform the wird. I even showed Dr Adriana and her brother Fernando the wird.
Adriana and I did not join paths. She went off with a Lebanese Brazilian who had abandoned Islam for what he thought was a better life. He offered that better life to her and she accepted it. She left me. She was thousands of miles away. I could not handle the trauma. I was devastated and severely depressed. I dropped the wird.
But I never dropped my friendship with the imam. And he never lost faith in me. He knew I was erratic and sometimes arrogant. He knew I was loud and controversial. But he was patient with me. He was a true sufi, a living embodiment of Rumi.
Tonight, I saw him after perhaps 3 years. On previous visits to Melbourne, I would bump into him. Always, these were memorable visits. As was tonight’s visit.
The imam had been watching my media appearances on TV. He wanted me to speak on certain things. He said that I had to project a true Islamic image, that I had to raise the standard of the debate. And what was his advice? Here is my recollection …
“Brother Irfan, Muslims must speak the truth. But I see some imams speaking things that are against the sharia [religious law]. I see them justifying suicide bombing by Palestinians. Sharia is sharia. The sharia says that a Muslim must not kill innocent civilians. How can we justify killing innocent Israeli women and children?
“Brother Irfan, when the media asks you about suicide bombers, you must condemn them. You must condemn the people who flew the planes into the buildings on September 11. Even if the imams are against you, I will support you. And Allah will support you. You must stand up for the truth.
“Brother Irfan, you know that our late murshid, Professor Cosan, was not afraid to speak the truth even if many Turks and Muslims opposed him. If you are a true student of his, you must condemn the wrong and stand up for what is right.
“You must speak against suicide bombings. We are Muslims. We follow the Prophet of Allah who taught us to love all people. The Prophet used to inquire about the welfare and health of his Jewish neighbours. Today, some Palestinians are killing their Jewish neighbours. This action is haram [forbidden unde religious law].
“Do not allow your sympathy with Palestinians to cloud your vision. Sharia is Allah’s law, and we must not allow our emotions to affect our recognition of sharia. Our neighbours have rights over us. Jewish people have rights over us. If we kill their women and children, Allah will demand us to compensate for this on the Day of Judgment.
“Other Turkish Muslim cemats [pronounced “jemats” and meaning “congregations”] are trying to make excuses and nice statements in front of people. But Australian people are not stupid. They know when Muslims are being 2-faced. You must not be 2-faced. You must be firm.
“And you must also tell Muslims to stop their stupidity toward Israel. Why are we stupidly not recognising Israel’s existence? Does it matter what these undemocratic autocratic Muslim regimes think? These governments want us to hate Israel while they secretly do deals with Israel. But if Salahuddin [Saladin] were alive today, he would recognise Israel.
“Israel is weak. It relies on America. Why should we hate America? Look at us. We are Turks. Irfan, you are a Mughal Turk. Your ancestors were Turks. Do you know where we came from? From Mongolia. Our forefathers killed more Muslims than the Israelis and Americans could even dream of. But the Muslims of that time never hated us. And when we became Muslim, we took Islam to Europe and India.
“Brother Irfan, you are doing the right things and saying the right things. Now you must speak the truth. If Muslims do not recognise these truths, that is their problem. If Muslims want to support suicide bombings and terrorism and hating non-Muslims, that is their stupidity. Allah will continue to punish and humiliate them.
“Brother Irfan, if you are a true student and a true Muslim, you will speak what is right and best. You will tell Muslims to stop hating people. You will tell Muslims to stop justifying terrorism and saying one thing to non-Muslims while believing another thing in their hearts. You must remind Muslims of the sharia.
“Sharia does not teach us to kill innocent people. Sharia does not teach us to hate Jews or their state. Sharia does not teach us to hate Americans or Mongols or any other race. You cannot be a sufi without recognising and accepting the sharia. Brother Irfan, remind Muslim leaders and imams. Shame them in front of their fellow Australians.
“How embarrassing it is that non-Muslim Australians in the media and in politics promote sharia more than Muslim leaders and imams. How shameful this is. You must speak on these things when Allah gives you the chance. I will be watching you. But most importantly, Allah is watching you”.
© Irfan Yusuf 2005