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Divine Intoxication as Discussed by a

Sufi Shaykh and a Jewish Rabbi

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham Kabbani

25 February 2013 New Haven, Connecticut

Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life, Yale University (3)

Rabbi James Ponet, Event Host: Hopefully we’re going to hear some more soon! Shifting now. Shaykh Kabbani, our guest, welcome sir! Our conversation tonight is about divine intoxication which is another form of love and what is more intoxicating than love? Let me just say a few words for those who have not had a chance to meet Shaykh Kabbani...

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham Kabbani: It is not necessary.

Rabbi Ponet: I will just say a few things that I have on paper in front of me, that I have not yet committed completely to memory, these are the outside of the man whose inside you will see and you will hear, or maybe you already do see and do hear. One of the most renowned scholars in the world on the spiritual science of Sufism, hails from a respected family of traditional Islamic scholars from Lebanon, deputy leader of the Naqshbandi Haqqani Sufi Order. Shaykh Kabbani is authorized to issue religious edicts, fatwas, counsel students of spirituality. For over three decades Shaykh Kabbani has focused on building interfaith social harmony in the United States, was recently named one of the top 500 most influential Muslims. He is the founder of several organizations throughout the world that are dedicated to educating Muslims and non-Muslims about Islamic principles that promote peace, justice, social cohesion and civic responsibility. He has a Bachelors Degree in Chemistry from the American University of Beirut, and a degree in Islamic Divine Law from Damascus, Syria.

Tonight he will speak with us. God! You are my God-Song and my strength, and it strikes me that when one is in a state of exaltation, intoxication, one is filled with God-Song, so its appropriate that we began the evening thus. Shaykh, welcome to the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life, welcome to Yale University. Please allow the music within to come out.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: As-salaamu `alaykum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh. It is an honor to be here tonight and I don’t deserve that but since you invited me I came. If you invite me for dinner I will come!

About “Intoxication with the Divine,” I don’t know where to begin because it is something that we are looking for, we are searching for. It is not an easy way to be intoxicated with the Divine, although the way of Gnostics is seeking the journey to reach the Divine. If we want to look from the Muslim perspective, the Prophet (s) said, “I have been sent to complete and perfect the human behavior, the moral excellence.” Moral excellence is an Islamic principle and it is to make sure the human being is growing in the way to be intoxicated by God’s Power; in Arabic, we call it Maqaam al-Ihsaan, the Level of Perfection. I might want to meet President Obama and he might not open the door for me, saying, “Who are you?” or he might open the door for me, we don’t know. So in the love of the Divine, God might open the door for you or He might not, in order to reach where one cannot reach. That is why, if you allow me, with your permission I will say that Islam is based on three principles. We don't want to talk about Islam, but I want to come to...

Rabbi Ponet: I do want to talk about Islam, of course I do!

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: So the first level is the Five Pillars, that you have to pray, you have to fast, etc., and that is where the attention of most people goes, not more than that, and this is what they teach us in mosques, in places where Muslim scholars come together. They want to make sure that you study that well, but what is the benefit if you pray and you cheat, or if you pray and you deceive, or if you pray and you lie? So that is why the importance of the love of the Divine, the Divine Love that most of spiritual scholars, which we call in Arabic, “the scholar who teaches you how to purify yourself,” if you are not allowing yourself to ascend you cannot build the building. The building is a structure and I don't see anything decorating it on this side, but over here there is something [indicating the walls of the room], you have the structure of Islam, but you need to decorate it and to decorate it is with the level of faith, meaning: you have to believe in God, in His Books--all of them including the Psalms, the Torah, the Zaboor, the Bible, the Holy Qur’an--you have to believe in all the prophets and they cannot accept you in the Divine Presence when you deny one of these prophets, then it is as if you are denying the message of any prophets. So until you reach the third level, which is the Level of Moral Excellence, which is most important to discuss here tonight, Moral Excellence is the Maqaam al-Ihsaan:

أن تعبد الله كأنك تراه فإنك إن لا تراه فإنه يراك

an ta`budallah ka-annaka taraah fa in lam takun taraah fa-innahu yaraak.

I have to give one in Arabic as you gave one in Jewish language! So it means, “To worship God as if you are seeing Him,” that is the goal, but it also says to you, “Oh, wait a minute! It’s not easy to see Him, but if you are not seeing Him, He is seeing you.”

So if God is seeing me I must be happy, I must call and invoke Him. If I am directing my way towards Him when I say to Him, “O my Lord!” then He must say to me, “O My servant!” because God is generous; you ask and He responds. But the importance is, do we hear His response? If we do not hear His response, it means that we did not yet ascend in the right intoxication with the Divine, we are still at the beginning. When we hear His answer, because He answers, you call Him now He answers. It is impossible that, in any religion, we must say when you call on Him that He will respond! But it depends, will you be responded to through inspiration or through revelation, and these are ways that might be blocked at certain places in our journey because we are doing something wrong and we have to clean it.

I will mention one of the most famous scholars of Islam, who lived in 4th century after the Prophet (s). He was so intoxicated with the Divine, and his name is Abu Yazid al-Bistami (r). He said, “O my Lord! Open for me Your Door! I want to come to You!”

And he heard a Voice saying, “O Aba Yazid, you cannot come to Me like that!”

And he said, “Kayfa ’l-wusool ilayk, how I can come to reach You?”

So he heard, “Leave your self and come to Me.”

You cannot come [to the Lord] with something that sometimes tricks you or takes you in the wrong direction. “You have to be pure when you want to come to Me.” So intoxication of the Divine is “Purification of the Self” and without purifying our self it is impossible to reach the reality of the love of the Divine. So the State of Ihsaan is the state of Moral Excellence, and Moral Excellence teaches us that the first step on the Way of our Lord is to be humble. So humility is the first requirement to be able to intoxicate your self with the Divine.

God loves humble people, humble creatures, humble human beings because He honored them with different specifications and that’s why without humbling our self we cannot ascend. We have to go to the first step and ascend, when we ascend we will be able to reach. Moses (a) did not ascend whenever he wanted to speak with his Lord to intoxicate himself with the Divine. Where did he go? He went to Mt. Sinai as it is a holy place, a place where the Divine appeared and spoke with him directly with no veil, no intermediary. He heard the Voice and he followed because he is pure, and pure and pure go back together.

I just opened this bottle of water, but is it all the same or not?

Rabbi Ponet: It is the same.

No, it is not, because if I dip my finger in it and pull out a drop, you see it is different now. You can see a form, the form of the drop. So when you are outside the ocean you have a form, but when you are inside the ocean you have none, you disappear. Intoxication with the Divine must make you, your self, disappear. How to do that is another question.

Rabbi Ponet: That is so close to the song he just sang, “I don't exist, you don't exist.” [Reciter: I learned it from the shaykh.] You learnt it from the shaykh! You sang it so beautifully. I love what Abayazid (q) heard when he called to the Lord, “If you want to come to Me, leave your self.” This is the way we understand Ibraaheem’s, Abraham’s call in the Book of Genesis, “Go into your self, or through your self, leave everything behind and come to Me.” So, “coming to Me” means leaving your self behind, which equals purifying yourself, which equals what some would say, “neutralizing” or “annihilating” your self, but that might be too strong a term. When you leave your self behind, when you let your self recognize you’re a drop and let that drop fall into the sea, there is instant intoxication, isn’t there? It’s joyous, so that you come to the Lord in joy, because the part of you that is not in joy is part of you that believes you are a separate self, the one that lives in this terribly difficult world always under threat, always finding enemies. But when you let that self go to come to the Lord, there is only joy. Is that true?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Of course that is true, and God said, “Rejoice in My mercy,” and His mercy is His generosity and it cannot be limited. So that is why the prophets were after God's generosity and mercy, (as believed) in every religion, in order that He would open that door for them. You said the word “annihilation” was a very strong word. Yes it is strong, but it is achievable; you can achieve that state. In spirituality you can achieve annihilation in three levels and to achieve it you must exercise in your self the Divine Love, the intoxication. That is the first level, the first step that you can achieve by praising Him and at the same time, for His Love you leave what He doesn't love; not to leave what you don't love, but what He doesn't love, you have to leave that. So when we begin to leave behind different bad characters and manners, the light in the heart that we call a pilot light, that light is always there, that light is never closed down, it is always shining. But there are veils around our hearts so that light cannot shine through, as if our hearts are in a box. You cannot see that light from outside, you have to break that box to go inside and then the light shines in your heart, as He said:

قلب الموءمن بيت الرب

Qalbu ’l-mumin baytu ’r-rabb

The heart of the believer is the House of Allah.

“The heart of the believer is the House of Allah, of God.” The House of God is in your heart, like the House in Mecca, the Ka`bah, and everyone knows it is the House of God for Muslims. He has another house, which is in the heart of the believer. So when you clean your heart, like this carpet, if I want to sit on it and perform a prayer, if there is something dirty on it I don’t pray on it. If I want to go see the president--we bring the president another time--and if my clothes are dirty, do they let me inside? So how can we come to our Lord with dirty veils on us? So we must get rid of them and how to get rid of them? Through love, as in this holy saying:

ولا يزال عبدي يتقرب إلي بالنوافل حتى أحبه، فإذا أحببته كنت سمعه الذي يسمع به وبصره

الذي يبصر به، ويده التي يبطش بها ورجله التي يمشي بها،

Wa maa yazaalu `abdee yataqarabu ilayya bi’ n-nawaafil hatta uhibbah. Fa idhaa ahbaabtahu kuntu sama`uhulladhee yasma`u bihi wa basarahulladhee yubsiru bihi, wa yadahulladhee yabtishu bihaa wa rijlahullatee yamshee bihaa.

My servant does not cease to approach Me through voluntary worship until I will love him. When I love him, I will become the ears with which he hears, the eyes with which he sees, the hand with which he acts, and the legs with which he walks (and other versions include, “and the tongue with which he speaks.”). (Hadith Qudsi, Bukhari)

So the love is important and we love God, but it is more important for Him to love us. (Adhaan is called.) See, He is responding; it is the right time for you and for me! So his love is what is important, and the first level of the ladder is love, mahabbatullah, the Love of God. The second level is when we love someone, we always feel their presence. I don’t know how long you have been married, but when you are teaching, do you feel her presence?

Rabbi Ponet: I do.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: That’s good! So in every moment in our life when we show our love to Him, we feel His Presence at that time and when we feel His Presence then we reach the Level of Annihilation, Maqaam al-Fanaa. Fanaa’un fi-Llah means not to see yourself, but everything you see it as Allah’s Will showing Allah’s Oneness, directing you to Him. So that is achievable, but we have to go through these three levels. I don’t know, are we remembering what I said or did we forget?

Rabbi Ponet: I must say, I can’t necessarily hold the three levels together, but when you asked me about my wife’s presence in my life, then I understand. When Maimonides[1] was asked what love of God is, he said, “It is like a man who is sick in love with a woman and he thinks about her when he lies down to go to sleep and when he rises up in the morning, he thinks about her when he eats and when he walks, he thinks about her and his heart is never free from the thought of her.” And he said, “Even more than that is the khayshek, the love with which it is proper to love God.”

I like what you said about receiving the Presence, knowing we are loved, to know that we are loved. I think that’s very hard for many people, to know that they are loved and lovable, that they are beloved. When we say, “So much of me is bad, I am unworthy,” if we take that too seriously we lose the sense of the goodness and innocence of our own hearts because of the thick box it is in and we forget that we are essentially good-hearted, and at this university, most of us most of the time forget this. When we forget we are good-hearted, then it is hard to believe we are lovable, that anybody could love us, not to mention God, but when we realize we are deserving of God's love, and maybe we are not, although I think we’d do well to think that we are worthy of it, that that’s what God is: to say, “I am not worthy of God.” It is like not believing in God. I am saying that as if I know the answer. I don’t, but I know that I spend a lot of time with many people here that don’t feel loveable, and I’m not just talking about them, I’m talking about me feeling not loveable, not worthy, not good, and they have much reason to feel much guilt, much sadness, a sense of failure, much fear. So to speak of love means somehow lifting oneself, feeling lifted above the sense of fear, the sense of failure, the sense of guilt, anxiety and sadness. I think I am making some sense to you.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: A lot of sense!

Rabbi Ponet: So intoxication, on this campus for many people, is something they can only achieve by using alcohol, then they cannot find a way to be free from the burden of sadness. Some take long runs, some practice yoga, some chant, some play music, but we are a culture that has great difficulty with this and I think it has to do with feeling unloveable, not worthy of love. This teaching of Sufism, which is central to you, somehow has to break through the resistance to love that is so prevalent. Do you find this in your teaching as you travel the world?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: In my teaching? It is not my teaching...that is your teaching. (Rabbi laughs) Everyone wants to be loved and when you build this in their heart, after awhile they will change their character and their behavior and they become really rehabilitated. They might drink, but not to be intoxicated, not to become drunk. You cannot say, “No, don’t drink!” They drink one cup, two cups, I don’t know, but I am sober, I don't drink so I can say “don’t drink!” Too much drinking like an alcoholic is because a person feels, as you said, not loved. So when you build up in them that they are loved, and that is mentioned in Holy Qur'an that everyone is loved:

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ

Wa laqad karamnaa Bani Adam.

We have honored the Children of Adam. (Surat al-'Israa, 17:70)

What kind of honor did He honor them? He honored them more than He honored His angels because angels are infallible, they are always under orders and they are always responding; in the Islamic religion and in all religions they don't make mistakes except a few of them, but generally they don’t make mistakes and with all that, still God said about human beings, “I honored them.” How do you honor someone you don't love?

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُم مِّنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى كَثِيرٍ مِّمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلاً

Wa laqad karamnaa Bani Adam wa hamalnaahum fi ’l-barri wa ’l-bahri wa razaqnaahum min at-tayyibaati wa faddalnaahum `alaa katheerin mimman khalaqnaa tafdeela.

We have honored the Children of Adam and born them over land and sea, and provided for them sustenance out of the good things of life and favored them far above most of Our Creation.

(Surat al-'Israa, 17:70)

“We have honored them and We have elevated them higher than anyone else, although they are running away.” But where are you going to run? One day you are going to leave and go to Him. So why are you running in this life? After you become 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 120, 150 years old you are going to leave and where are you going to go? He is catching you there. When He catches you there, what will He do? He already honored you, so He will give you something that is totally unexpected: He will open your eyes to the reality that you were not able to get in this life and He will give you the reality of your existence! He will give you baqaa; what comes after annihilation is baqaa, Ever-Lasting Life, and He dress you with that dress and you become Ever-Lasting!

Do you think God has created His servants to torture them, to punish them or to make a movie of them like the show “Survivor,” to send them in the jungle and say, “I am going to find you and shoot you!” Is that what God wants from us? Does He throw us in the jungle and say, “Go by your self!” No, He sends messengers to show you the right way, for everyone, even someone sitting on the top of the mountain must have, if heavenly justice exists, there must be a messenger who can reach every person, even on the top of a mountain in Alaska. How did the American Indians in Mexico, in South America, who guided them, which prophet? Do you think there is no messenger? If there is no messenger and God punishes them because there is no messenger, what kind of justice is that?

So that’s why we have to understand that God’s justice is there, God loves everyone because, do you think if we run away from Him that we are harming Him?

Rabbi Ponet: We cannot harm God.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: So if someone does not get harmed, why does He have to judge?

Rabbi Ponet: If we know that we cannot harm God, I don’t think that everybody knows that, but I think I’ve learned that finally, Shaykh, we can’t hurt God. So then the notion that God is angry, that God wants to punish, that He wants to mete out justice by punishing, this is a mistake, isn’t it?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: No!

Rabbi Ponet: It’s not a mistake?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Because God is not punishing you; the meaning of punishment is to tell you, “You are far away from Me!” When you are far from your beloved, what do you feel? You feel you are punished.

Rabbi Ponet: Yes, you do.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: You feel you are punished, so He wants you to remember so that you come back to normal. It is not punishing you according to the meaning in your mind, to throw you in Hellfire. Cannot be punished...when He created you to punish you and then throws you in Hellfire, that is not justice. Many Sufi shaykhs or scholars or spiritual people believe that the heaviest punishment is not physical, but it is a punishment that He will show you that you are far away from His Love, as we mentioned at the beginning, the importance is His loving us, we love Him, but He has to respond by loving us, if that doesn’t come that means it’s a punishment, that is the punishment that is meant here.

Rabbi Ponet: So my punishment is my inability to experience the intimate, present love of God? Yes, that makes sense.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: That makes us all surprised, how much we are running away. Run away and He is still coming to us.

Rabbi Ponet: Yes. I run away because I am scared of losing my ‘self,’ which I need to leave behind if I want to come into the Presence of my Beloved?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: No! Because He dresses you with Ever-Lasting Life in this life.

Rabbi Ponet: So I am running away from Ever-Lasting Life?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Yes, this is the spiritual, the Sufi perspective.

Rabbi Ponet: Why do I run away from the opportunity to reach Ever-Lasting Life now?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Because you are not mature yet.

Rabbi Ponet: Yes.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: You are drunk in the love of bad desires.

Rabbi Ponet: Yes, which I realize I will have to give up if I want to live now forever.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: If you are really a gentleman and you stand up for your dignity, you don’t go to the bad desires and the bad desires is according to what your mind will tell you, “This is bad,” or “This is right,” so not according to someone else telling you, “Do this, do that.” You can think about it: “If I do this is it wrong or is it right?” If your mind says it’s wrong, leave it. Any alcoholic or anyone who takes alcohol, as you mentioned, let him consider, “Is is it going to harm me or not? Is it good to drink or not?” If his mind says not to drink, then stop. It means that drinking is going to affect your life and you might lose your liver, you might lose your body that God gave to you and honored you with (as a trust). So you didn’t keep the trust that God has given to you.

إِنَّا عَرَضْنَا الْأَمَانَةَ عَلَى السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَالْجِبَالِ فَأَبَيْنَ أَن يَحْمِلْنَهَا وَأَشْفَقْنَ مِنْهَا وَحَمَلَهَا الْإِنسَانُ

إِنَّهُ كَانَ ظَلُومًا جَهُولًا

Inna `aradnaa al-amaanata `ala ‘s-samaawati wa ‘l-ardi wa ‘l-jibaali fa-abaynaa an yahmilnaahaa wa ashfaqnaa minhaa wa hamalahaa ‘l-insaanu innahu kaana zhalooman jahoola.

We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the Mountains, but they refused to undertake it, being afraid, but Man undertook it. Lo! He has proved a tyrant and a fool.

(Surat al-Ahzaab, 33:72)

“We have offered our Trust to Earth and Heavens and they said, ‘No, we cannot carry it, it is too much.’” The Trust of God, trusting in you (to carry it), but the human being said, “Okay, I will take it.” He was ignorant and foolish. It would have been better if he had said, “If Heavens and Earth didn’t take it, I cannot. No, I don’t want it. Give me Your Love, that is enough without giving me anything as a trust for You at the end.” So he took it and because Sayyidina Adam (a) took it, now we are all in the situation that we have to return that Trust as clean because we took it, and how can we do that?

Rabbi Ponet: Is that trust our own lives, the lives of our brothers and sisters?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Yes, it is the entire worldly life. With all that, if we cannot return a trust still Allah (swt), God, is merciful with us. He is going to take us back as He sent us in this life. So in any religion and any belief, they believe there is another cycle of life. He will take us back clean, as we were before.

Rabbi Ponet: And we get another chance to do it all over again. There is a lot of comfort in that thought, isn’t there? (Yes.) For some yes, but for some it might be a source of terrible pain.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: It might be they are happy that God is going to call them and speak with them on the Day of Judgment. (Yes.) And the appearance of God on the Day of Judgment, that is enough for everyone to be happy! Rabi`a al-`Adawiyya (q), do you know of her?

Rabbi Ponet: No, I don't.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Yes, but I know of her. She died 1,000 years ago. She was a very strong worshipper and it is mentioned by many scholars that she was a very spiritual, saintly lady. She was always remembering our Lord and she often said:

O my Lord! I didn’t worship You to send me to Paradise, and I didn’t worship You or remember You or become intoxicated in Your Divine Presence, or for You not to put me in Hellfire, and I didn’t worship You for anything in return! I worship You because I love You! If You want to put me in Paradise it is Your choice, and if You want to put me in Hellfire it is Your choice, I surrender.

So that is true love. Although for herself, she was convinced that wherever He wants to put her He can put her, in punishment or forgiveness, but with that she said, “I am worshiping You because I love You.” It means, “I am remembering You because I love You.” So that is one of the highest levels of intoxication in the Divine.

Rabbi Ponet: Knowing that you are beloved no matter what circumstances you live in, whether you are sick or healthy, whether you are rich or poor, whether you are in prison or free, etc., that is gigantic!

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Of course! That is why Sufis attained the Level of Purity and the Level of Presence and the Level of Annihilation; when they reached annihilation it means finished, they are submitting totally.

Rabbi Ponet: When you reach annihilation, in Hebrew it is called, “bitool hayyaaish,” a term that the khatidam use. When you enter bitool, annihilation, is it a one-time entry and you are there, or is that forever or does it change, go in and out, or we forget?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: No, it will escalate. You are in an ascension, in levels, like when someone gives you an injection and at first you can take medicine in one milliliter, you cannot take more. If you take more at that level you might get a heart attack. When they see a sickness that needs a dose of two milliliters and you can take that and absorb it, as you get stronger you can get three milliliters. So it is an ascension in annihilation. First they open for you one veil, then another, then another.

Rabbi Ponet: So there is always more to annihilate?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Yes, it doesn’t end because God’s Creation does not end and you are ascending in His Creation.

Rabbi Ponet: Why did God bring us into this world of brokenness and sadness and war?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: He didn't, He gave you Paradise! Ask Sayyidina Adam (a) why he brought us there! (Laughter.)

Rabbi Ponet: “Adam” is you and me. So we created, or he gave us Paradise and we turned it into a parking lot!

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Yes, worse than a parking lot, a flood of snakes!

Rabbi Ponet: Didn’t God put a snake in the Garden?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Satan came in the form of a snake and whispered in the ear of Adam. (Yes.)

Rabbi Ponet: Why did God create Satan?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: That is a good question. He knows best. Because you disobey Satan, God raises your level and if you disobey Satan you reach annihilation. He created him as a test for us.

Rabbi Ponet: So we can use the snake, we can use Satan to achieve annihilation.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: They asked one person, “Where did you learn discipline?” He said, “I learned from the one who has no discipline.” Satan has no discipline, anything that he whispers in your mind and you see it is wrong, don’t do it. That is the key for annihilation.

Rabbi Ponet: I sometimes think the key we have is to recognize just that; that’s our freedom. (Yes.) You can’t make Satan silent, but you can say no.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: There is a great saint in Egypt known as Ahmad al-Badawi (q), and every year millions go to visit his shrine in Tanta. He, like his friend Abayazid al-Bistami (q), was asking God to open His Door. Every day he praised his Lord through qaseedah, poetry, and he was expressing his feelings, his love in so many ways of divine love as he was really intoxicated and if there is a word beyond intoxicated, use it to describe that state. [Majnoon!] Yes, that is crazy. So he was so much in love with God, asking Him to open the door.

Finally, one day he was asking God and a man knocked on his door and he asked, “O Ahmad! Do you want the key to the Divine Presence?”

Ahmad al-Badawi (q) said, “No, I won’t take the key from you, I will take the key from the Keymaker. I want the key from God.”

The man said, “Okay, as you like. You don’t want it from me, so go take it (directly).”

And so the man left. And Ahmad continued to ask and ask, more and more intoxicated.

And one day he heard a voice, “O Ahmad! You needed the key? I sent you the one who has the key. You did not respond to him, you didn’t want it. Don’t you know that I created this world by cause and effect? If you do this, you will get that. Go and seek him and get the key from him.”

And Ahmad al-Basawi (q) found that one and said to him, “I want the key you have to My Lord.”

That one said, “I need you to pay the price.”

Ahmad al-Badawi (q) said, “I don’t have anything except my robe and a house, and I will give it to you.”

The man said, “No, I don’t want that. This we do not need, we have a lot of that. God said, ‘We have made subject to you whatsoever is in the Heaven and on Earth.” It is in your hand, in the hand of a human being. He granted you to travel through this universe and this is a miracle of the Holy Qur’an, to know that people may go up (travel) in the universe and give you the world under your control to do with what you want. So I don’t want your money, I want your knowledge.”

Ahmad al-Badawi (q) said, “How can I give you my knowledge?”

He said, “You built this knowledge on your ego, showing to people that you know better than them, and that kind of knowledge we have to take away because it is not going to give you any benefit. Your base, your foundation is already rotten because it is mixed with your ego and bad desires. I want that knowledge.”

Ahmad al-Badawi (q) said, “How?”

That man said, “Look into my eyes.”

And he looked into his eyes and, like a vacuum, that man sucked all the knowledge out of him and he was not able to speak even a word without making a mistake; he was not able to lead the prayer and he was the Grand Mufti of his time! He did not leave him even knowing one word of Holy Qur'an! And he left him like that for six months in the street, not knowing anything, not a professor or leader! But as we said at the beginning, you have to humble yourself. Then he appeared to him again after six months and said, “Now look in my eyes.” He looked in the eyes of that saint, who poured the divine knowledge back, not the worldly knowledge that is full of theories, because knowledge is of two types: Knowledge of Taste and Knowledge of Papers.

Now you are tasting the water. If I write a paper in a Chemistry class on the “Theory of Water” and how it is formed, you don’t get the taste from that, but now you are tasting. So he gave back to him the Knowledge of Taste. And so after that his eyes were giving out light stronger than a spotlight and no one could look at his eyes and he used to cover them when people came to him. So all this was only to humble him, in order that he would attain the real love of God that would take him to the annihilation process.

Rabbi Ponet: That is particularly powerful story for a place like Yale University, where all of us here take great pleasure in what we know and in demonstrating what we know and perfecting what we know, and identifying ourselves with what we know as, “I am chemist,” “I am an astronomer,” “I am a philosopher,” “I am a physicist.”

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: I am a Sufi; I need to come here to Yale University! (Laughter.)

Rabbi Ponet: O Shaykh Kabbani! I am thinking of Imam Ghazali who lost his speech, as did Saint Paul in the Christian tradition and Moses was heavy of speech, unable to speak and had to have his brother Aaron speak for him, and Moses is said in the Hebrew Bible to be the most humble of people.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: He was the strongest and the most humble.

Rabbi Ponet: These go together, yeah.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: So I am not considering what I was learning; I studied chemistry and I studied medicine, it is not written there, but when we go to a Sufi perspective then there are too many historical stories about Sufis that gave up their lives and their miracles, whatever happened with them. It is not easy and it is very difficult for young people to understand is it real, or not? But it is real, it has happened, and many things happened in their lives. You might find a homeless person on the street asking for a donation. I have been taught that you have to keep money in your pocket and any homeless person on the street asking for money, you give him money, you never turn anyone down as it might be God is sending someone in the image of a homeless person to test your generosity. Just as God does not turn anyone away from His Door, we must learn from that and we must not turn anyone away from our door. This kind of respect you cannot find very much today, only among a few.

Rabbi Ponet: It is rare, maybe because in order to be generous you have to feel generous, you have to feel abundance, that you have more than you need for yourself. And I find so many people, so many times we feel, “I don’t have enough for me, I don’t have anything to give.”

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: You have a lot, ask your wife! (Laughter.)

Rabbi Ponet: I am very lucky man and my wife reminds me of that all the time!

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: I think a homeless person will take anything, even a coin. (Yes, even a handshake or a hug.) So keep one dollar in your pocket in coins so you can give to them and don’t turn back anyone. So even if we are poor, still we go to a movie theatre and spend $30. (Yes.) I am not saying don’t do that, but if can want to find some money in our pocket (for entertainment), then we can find it to give (to the needy). We are ordered to give even to the one who boycotts us; we must extend our hand to the one who doesn't extend his hand to us. These are from the good manners we have been taught, to connect to the one who left you.

تصل مَنْ قطعك، وتعفو عمن ظلمك، وتُعطي من حرمك

Tasila man qata`k, wa ta`foo `amman zhalamak, wa tu`tee man haramak. (Narrated by Bayhaqi)

Don’t say, “I don’t want to talk,” try to talk to him or her and build bridges. That is why interfaith is very important because it builds bridges; if you don’t do interfaith you are not building bridges.

I will mention one thing that many Muslim scholars, not Sufis, but many others don't pay attention to, but it exists. The Prophet (s) used to pray towards the East, from Mecca towards Masjid al-Aqsaa in Jerusalem and one of big scholars in the 7th or 8th Hijri century, which is the 15th century (Christian Era) in explanation of this verse said that the Prophet (s) was directing his face towards Jerusalem for 17-18 months, expecting to reach the Jewish and Christian communities and he was trying his best. So our duty is to extend ourselves in our daily lives, to build bridges with others who are different, and that is why the Prophet (s) said, “If there is a bridge or a gap between different faiths, try to build a bridge.” We are not the people of fighting, we are the people of respect and love, so we feel we are obliged to do that. And now if there are scholars who have a different opinion, that is for them, it is not for us.

I will also say one more thing that I hope scholars will touch on. In the book ad-dawaa ash-shafee by Ibn Qayyim Jawziyya, who was a student of Ibn Taymiyya, to whom the Salafi scholars have a strong attachment, in that book he mentioned a hadith of the Prophet (s) narrated by Abu Hurayrah (r) in Sahih Muslim, and part of that hadith I will narrate:

The first that God will judge on the Day of Judgment are the martyrs, the Shuhadah. And God calls the shaheed, martyr, and shows him the favors He prepared for him and He asks him, “What have you done in your life to get these favors?”

He shows him the favors and this is an authentic hadith, which I don't know why scholars don’t touch on it.

He says, “I fought in Your Way and got killed to raise up Your Name.”

God says, “You are a liar!”

Now think, many Muslims and non-Muslims think when we say martyr in Arabic, we consider that person will go to Paradise, is it not? (Yes, its a widespread view.) But according to Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, the student of Ibn Taymiyya, the head of today’s Salafi movement whose teachings were in the 15th century, mentions that saying from the Prophet (s) where the martyr says, “I died for You,” and God says to him, “You are a liar.” That is like today’s suicide bombings and people say they are martyrs, when they are not martyrs! So Allah will say to them, “You are liars.”

God says to that one, “You didn’t kill yourself for Me, but you did that to let people say you are courageous, and for people to mention your name and for people to think about you and to say you are a great man! You didn’t do it for Me.” Then He orders angels to take him to Hellfire.

This is something really extraordinary and a strong evidence that suicide bombing is completely not allowed, but I never saw a fatwa touching on this saying of the Prophet (s). That is why our way, the Sufi way, is to build bridges. And today too many Muslims, although they are not Sufi, are building bridges and they are doing programs, but it has to be increased, and sldo to enlighten people and educate that martyrdom is not to kill innocent people that you don’t know, and this is the saying of Prophet (s). So we have to be careful.

Such meetings make everyone to benefit and we benefit. When we see how they are paying attention, you get benefit of that spiritual connection from heart to heart, which is not visible but is there. This is how to increase the love from people to people and different races.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

Ya ayyuha an-naasu inna khalaqnaakum min dhakkarin wa unthaa wa ja`alanaakum shu`uban wa qabaa’il li-ta`arafoo, Inna akramakum `ind-Allahi atqaakum. inna Allaha `aleemun khabeer.

O Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (Surat al-Hujurat, 49:13)

God said, “We have created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes to know each other, not to fight each other.” This is in the Holy Qur’an and we hope that this will happen.

Rabbi Ponet: Ameen, kirataum, let it be. That is a place to stop, although I feel we could go on forever. I think we should end with music.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: No problem, they are waiting to hear more.

Rabbi Ponet: Now, perhaps with the song of annihilation, the real kind of annihilation, not false martyrdom.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: I know this professor, (attendee) Omar Salem. Sometimes his views might not always go along with my views, but it is good to hear different viewpoints so that we learn from each other. I have known him for twenty years and I like to learn from him.



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[1] Preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the most prolific and followed Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages.