THE TRAINING OF SUFISM (SAYR SULUK)

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What is Sayr-u Suluk? What does it means sayr-u suluk in Tasawwuf? You can read and find everything about the training of Sufism Sayr-u Suluk…

Human beings are created in various capacities with the potential talents and abilities each possesses. Sufi masters, therefore, use a variety of training methods compliant with the aspirant’s spiritual talents and disposition.  It goes without saying that it is impossible to subject human disposition to a complete change; yet it can be matured to a certain important extent if trained by and guided through Divine instructions.  Islamic law (Shariah) establishes the same general regulations for all Muslims. In addition to and based on these general rules, the Sufi path promotes particular methods of spiritual training in accordance with the personal characteristics of the wayfarer.  Here, we need to clarify a subtle and frequently misunderstood point: Sufism does not promote any principles that contradict the Shariah. The relationship between the Shariah and Sufism may be comparable to a compass. The stable leg of the compass is the Shariah, while the other, moveable leg is Sufism. Though the distance between the two legs may increase depending on personal disposition and abilities of the wayfarer, the moveable leg is nonetheless always bound remain loyal to the fixed leg, and never moves beyond its control.

On the other hand, this delicate criterion is applicable only to those who thrive in observing the commands and prohibitions of the Almighty.  For this reason, true Sufis are those who rectify their outward aspects while at the same time directing their attention to maturing their inward qualities.  Such Sufis constantly strive to embody advanced characteristics, both externally and internally, in a delicately balanced manner.  Not only do they acknowledge the importance of correcting and perfecting the external human qualities, they emphasize the significance of improving internal human characteristics, namely the heart; as human actions come into effect through the will, which, in turn, is controlled by the heart.

One of the subtle principles the Blessed Prophet followed -upon him blessings and peace- in spiritual education was to never reproach the interlocutor, even if he be guilty at all fronts. Much rather, the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- would caution the person in an indirect manner by ascribing the fault to himself. There are numerous reports that detail the admirable and exemplary attitude the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- would show in such situations. On many an occasion, for instance, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- would express his disapproval of an unpleasant behavior by simply saying, in a very gentle and polite manner, “What is wrong with me that I see you do such and such?” Emulating this exemplary attitude, Sufis call themselves to account on a regular basis but treat others with utmost leniency. Since they are too occupied with inner purity and spiritual education, they approach others, even sinners, with affection and tolerance. Sufis thus strive to get rid of all kinds of sin, though certainly not the sinners themselves. Before correcting negative human characteristics, Sufis try to soften the hearts of their interlocutors through the spiritual power and blessings that emanate from their gatherings, and prepare hearts for the awaiting process of correction and betterment. Sufis, therefore, help others tone their anger and rage while at the same time lend them a helping hand in restoring their sense of repentance.

An incomparable example of spiritual refinement can be found in Yusuf’s -upon him blessings and peace- treatment of his brothers. During his reign in Egypt, his brothers, who had once attempted to kill him by throwing him into a deserted well, came to ask his help. To ensure they did not feel uncomfortable, Yusuf -upon him blessings and peace- hid his real identity from them and gave them everything they requested; treating them with dignity, honor, and hospitality. Remember that by that time, Joseph -upon him blessings and peace- had all the power to exact his revenge from his brothers and settle all accounts. But, instead, being the exemplary spiritual guide he was, he displayed an utmost forgiveness, putting everything aside for the sake of the Lord. The Quran recounts the assuring words Yusuf -upon him blessings and peace- said to his brothers once his true identity was revealed: “No reproach this day shall be on you; the Lord will forgive you; He is the most merciful of the merciful.” (Yusuf, 92) Seeing this noble act, Yusuf’s -upon him blessings and peace- brothers felt a deep regret for what they had done many years ago and repented, there and then, of their grave sin. They acknowledged Yusuf’s -upon him blessings and peace- excellent qualities and testified to his spiritual merits; the desired result was achieved through this process.

Another exemplary manifestation of the spiritual methods of education Sufis have followed in history is as follows. A group of heedless young men were sitting by Tigris River, drinking, and enjoying their day, when Maruf Karhi, a prominent saint, happened to pass by them. When they saw him coming, the young men thought that the Sheikh would see their inexcusable situation and curse them. Understandably, they felt uncomfortable. Frustrated, however, one man from the group stood up and called out, sarcastically, “Why don’t you start your cursing right away, Sheikh, so that we are drawn into the ferocious waters of Tigris and perish once and for all?” Yet, without showing the least sign of irritation, the Sheikh raised his hands up mercifully and prayed, “O Lord! Let these young men be happy in the world to come as well, just as You let them enjoy their time in this world!” Surprised by the Sheikh’s reaction, the baffled young men asked “What are you talking about, Sheikh? Your words do not make any sense!” Maruf Karhi, whose simple prayer had already touched the hearts of the young men for its sincerity, replied “Sons…If the Lord wants you to be joyful in the world to come, He leads you towards repentance.”  Seeing such an unexpected and affectionate response, the young men were sent into a deep contemplation. Overcome by a deep remorse, they ended up giving up the bottle and their musical instruments, repenting for all their previous misdemeanors to become seekers of happiness and salvation, both in this world and the world to come.

As mentioned above, another basic principle of Sufism in spiritual education is to utilize various pedagogical methods in accordance with the disposition of the seeker. The reason why we have a variety of Sufi orders is to be explained by this aspect of human psychology; as depending on the types of personal dispositions, Sufi orders employ a range of educational and instructive methods. For instance, a seeker with an enthusiastic disposition would find greater appeal in the Qadiri type of tutoring, which would allow him to proceed on the spiritual path with greater efficiency. A seeker with a poetic, artistic, and romantic temperament, on the other hand, would find himself more at home in the Mawlawi order. Likewise, a seeker with a sober and calm nature would find the Naqshbandi order more suitable. Therefore, in his spiritual training and progress, the seeker searches and finds the avenue most suitable for his temperament

Human disposition cannot be reset completely. Acknowledging this fact, Sufi masters see themselves responsible only for helping their disciples to become aware of their positive and negative personal qualities, and lead them to heavenly directions through this awareness. Sufi masters work diligently to introduce specific methods for each disciple in treating his personal, spiritual problems.

The Arabs of pre-Islamic times were extremely uncivilized and hardhearted, to such an extent that they could even bury their infant girls alive. They were members of a merciless society in which human rights belonged only to the powerful, while ordinary people had to undergo all kinds of suffering. Through Prophet Muhammad’s -upon him blessings and peace- spiritual education, this society found the guidance that would make them the most civilized and distinguished human beings on earth. Thanks to the unspoiled spiritual energy in their hearts, which was inspired by their unconditional love for the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, they offered their acts of worship in an admirably sincere fashion. Celebrated as the Noble Companions (Ashab- i Kiram), they left a lasting legacy of exemplary religious and moral standards to the following generations.

Under the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- guidance and education, the Noble Companions reached the highest points of spirituality. Abdullah ibn Masud describes their unparalleled spiritual progress, when he says, “We reached such a level that we were able to hear the morsels, going down our throats, praising the Lord.”

Sufism, therefore, represents the educational method by which the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- trained his Companions in guiding them to religious and spiritual purification. Sufism refers to a spiritual school in which the heart and soul undergo a process of refinement and purification under the guidance of real educators, who are, in effect, the heirs of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. And the training of Sufism (sayr suluk) is the term used to describe this spiritual school and the progressive path of becoming a perfected human being.

He who knows his soul knows his Lord.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, Sufism, Erkam Publications

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