PROPHET”S ACADEMY- INSTITUTE OF PRACTICAL ADVANCED SUFISM
PRACTICAL PSYCHOLOGY FOR SUFIS, INCLUDING MORBID CONDITIONS
Religion in an utterly practical and utilitarian sense is about self-ennoblement through self-study with a view to self-discipline. A truly and sincerely religious person is that rather rare person who has such a sensitive conscience attached to such a bright if sentimental mind that he won’t accept the average citizen’s standards of frank social attitudes or his immature pursuit of life’s grosser pleasures on which competition and clash is often inevitable. Although he must and will compete with rivals over many issues these shall always be measured and judged against a grand canopy of a very much refined and well-developed conscience which shall be the ultimate judge and represent God’s Voice in him for all practical ends and purposes.
The competition must be there and the effort to beat the rivals; otherwise standards of existing and living cannot be raised for all concerned. So we read Allah the Most Wise command:
“Race towards forgiveness from your Lord and gardens whose span is that of the heavens and the earth, prepared for the pious” (), and
“Race in the matter of good and charitable actions” ()
Now, by the above we do not mean only more prayers or alms. We also mean manufacturing better products, equipping better transport, training better law-enforcing as well as righteously fighting armed forces and deploying better diplomats capable of negotiating more civilised relations with others and juster and therefore more lasting solutions to international disputes etc. It even includes better intelligence services disinfected from real dirty tricks but necessarily retaining many wise and ultimately charitable tricks like our master the prophet Joseph detaining his brother Benjamin in order to engineer a joyful reunion of his family.
But most important of all should be the raising of very well ad properly informed inspired Muslims in constant if appropriately undulating contact with the Holy Spirit which type of Muslim we call Sufi. By ‘appropriately undulating’ I mean ‘properly adapted to each and every situation’ like addressing each situation as its realities demand or persons as their states of mind require for salutary results for all concerned. For example in a situation like two angry persons contesting something a well-meaning third person should not join in with his own angry reactions but should rather play a moderating and pacifying role. Likewise a depressed man should not be advised patience so much but should rather be given hope even it takes uttering a adequately skilful benevolent lie which may be turned into a truth and happy reality by the All-Merciful Lord: in fact psychological experience suggests that optimism can be a means to unexpected cures for many despairing souls and even lead to tangible material benefits badly needed by the agonized sufferer. It is common experience among the religious that many prayers about many in-principle realizable aims are realized a lot of the time and in the psychology course on which we are soon to embark we shall learn how and why.
Another and equally important aim of this course shall be enhancing our self-awareness, self-understanding and thereby understanding others. The following story humorously illustrates this point.
Two blind men were eating meatballs from the same plate placed between them. At one point one asked the other “Blind man, why are you eating the meatballs in twos?”. “Aha!” replied the other “Despite being blind yourself how did you know that I am eating them in twos?”. The other retorted “Why, very easy- I know from myself”.
So, when you know yourself well you can also know others better if never fully. When you know your excuses which make you to forgive yourself you can also imagine the excuses of others and forgive them or at least not judge them too harshly. Lastly there are those who are mentally inadequate from birth or become so later in life by contracting a mental illness like schizophrenia and mania, either of very variable intensity. Ranks of Sufis and other spiritual schools are like showcases of such mentally broken and dysfunctional persons alongside perfectly sane and honourable members attending because they find more means to more maturity inside them . I am excluding palpably false and crooked movements which are normally seen as cults and often involve a lot of money and other mean benefits changing hands as well some commission of serious crimes and abuses of persons. Laws applying to charities and freedom of religion are such that these areas have become potentially the easiest environments for criminals to operate with near immunity and prosper under the guise of humanitarian activities. They cultivate saintly images and fake miracles to succeed as criminal entrepreneurs and are notoriously very difficult to catch and convict. They basically brainwash and condition their victims who then think that ‘the master’ is both infallible and all-powerful to deliver either fabulous rewards or terrible punishment. In other words they steal psychological tactics from true religions and employ them to get the fabulous life of a great potentate over their ‘subjects’ without any of the risks facing political potentates.
Lastly there is the problem of mental illnesses of various seriousness, which the Sufi must be aware of and capable of handling when need arises- except serious cases when only a psychiatrist can cope with- not the least any of his own states of mind short of madness in which case he becomes beyond pale.
All these skills of understanding human mind and behaviour (beginning with one’s own) need some instruction in practical psychology which this post-graduate course shall attempt to provide.
WHAT IS NORMALITY
Psychological normality can be defined as the capability to cope with all commonplace psychological challenges as well as some extraordinary ones short of truly catastrophic or caused by organic changes in the brain of the person expected to cope.
To give an example: Two persons may be involved in the same challenging situation like a serious fire or accident. While one of them is able to keep his cool in a basic sense, i.e. despite some reasonable agitation, he can still think rationally, decide and prioritise his responses and execute his responsibilities more or less competently the other becomes shocked and almost paralysed and instead of a support for dealing with the situation he becomes another addition to it. Such overreaction to situations is called hysteria and is a mental handicap. Hysteria then will be one of the morbid psychological conditions we will study. Another and at least equally harmful condition is paranoia. A paranoid person suspects evil and treason from every quarter and direction and lives therefore in an inner hell of suspicion and fear. What is more sometimes the two conditions occur in one person in which case the person stands out from others with his or her sometimes unsociable behaviour.
Another type of morbid psychological is cynicism. A cynical person tends to put a negative label on many innocent and even salutary situations, events or behaviours. “Doctors are all after money” they keep repeating, a well-dressed person is after some sexual mischief or politicians are cheats by definition etc are their other ‘truisms’. Still more harmful cynical attitudes are those in a family. One partner may be so cynical that he or she will never take an explanation of a behaviour by the other partner as the frank truth but will keep suspecting foul play. “Today I see that you are exceptionally well-dressed sir” a cynical wife may say to her husband who is about to go out in the morning to work at his usual trade. Then she will add “It looks you found a new sweetheart”. No amount of protesting innocence will make the lady to budge. Of course men also do display a lot of psychological abnormalities although there is a discernible difference between the two sexes in the areas of psychological malfunctioning. Overall women are more prone to psychological malfunctioning because their physiology makes them more vulnerable overall to life’s various challenging situations. Will not a pregnant woman, for example, feel more vulnerable to the emergencies in her environment than a man and as a result act with more circumspection? After all, she has more at stake under the circumstances.
Another difference is seen in the attitude of the two sexes towards sexual opportunities. Because men have less at stake they tend to be more opportunistic in going for a conquest as they see it while women must think twice so-to-speak. But now that contraception is here and social attitudes to sexual dallying have become relaxed this difference is diminishing. It appears that, overall, self-interest, whether in the form of advancement of one’s material advantages or preservation of self and its security overrule other interests and concerns except when the subject identifies with somebody or something too much to keep material self-interest or instinct for self-preservation as one’s top priority. This is most often seen in a parent’s, especially a mother’s risking sacrificing themselves for the safety of their child and is so strong and fundamental that even animals demonstrate it. The child need not be born even: We see she-crocodiles, of all animals, guarding their eggs with supreme alertness whether from near or far and attack any animal which dares to show any interest in them. The otherwise ponderous and sluggish crocodile will then become as agile as a snake and as fast as a hawk and bolt forward to chase away the intruder. What do we have here? We have the mechanism of self-identification: An animal and especially a human can identify with another animate or inanimate being and will lay its or his life down for that identified-with object if necessary. Other than an offspring, this identified-with object may be a territory in both animal and human and an ideal like an object of faith or ideology in the case of the human. Hence our patriotism or dedication to a faith and the like. Dedication to killing others’ faith and imposing on them one’s own faith or secular ideology is also a strong self-interest in many people and accounts for a lot of strife and bloodshed throughtout history.
More relevant to Sufi psychology is people’s attitude towards and expectations from religiosity. While some see in a religious lifestyle a fulfilment of their worthiest spiritual ideals others may see it less in that way and more as a means to some mercenary gain or at least a way to enjoying a higher standing in the society or the religious part of it. In the worst case the person transferring to a religious lifestyle is after some worldly gain and the least guilty in this respect is that secular minded person who lives a life of perpetual poverty thanks to his lack of social skills. Those who sleep rough and depend on small handouts from others are the prime candidates for settling to a life of dependence in a religious community like a Sufi order and the sheikhs do not normally turn them out so long they more or less behave themselves. However, when temptation is too strong such underdogs can be very dangerous if not properly watched.
In view of all above it should be obvious by now that anyone who belongs to a Sufi order or is in a position to lead one needs be a rather competent psychologist and for his part a very decent person if he or she wants to succeed in his or her spiritual mission.
With that in mind we may now proceed to explore some more common psychological problems in people including ourselves wherever applicable.
NO PERSON IS PERFECT- AND THAT FOR A GOOD REASON
Many of us may declare ourselves perfect despite our very possible inner admission to ourselves that we are not good at everything under the sun. Most of us are honest and open enough about our shortcomings and that is as it should be- it is one sign of a healthy mind.
Most of life’s frustrations and failures come from our not knowing our limits and also not knowing our potentials. Therefore an accurate and correct self-appraisal of oneself is the main benchmark of one’s psychological maturity as well as their potential for success in life in one form or another. Overvaluing ourselves is as dangerous as undervaluing (or more so) and in this respect it is very advisable to have around us wise and sympathetic friends to comment on our strong and weak sides and us taking them seriously and investigating.
From this alone we may confidently rule that success in life very much depend- even for Sufis or even more so, seeing that pathetic loners are more represented among them- on the number and quality of our true friends. We need not be cynical- true friends do exist and life is usually long enough to accumulate a large number of them and keep in contact whatever it takes to do that. Humans are social animals and inadequate social bonding lie behind many mental sufferings and inadequacies and also physical and economical failures. The reason why many Sufi groups project a less than psychologically and behaviourally satisfactory image is that their populations often are mostly made up social inadequates and loners who remain so and may even get more sick after moving into the Sufi circle they move into. A true sheikh can only be a very social person and an expert in making his any poorly socialized disciples pleasantly and prolifically sociable and fun to be with under all circumstances except where sin, roguery and debauchery are involved.
To understand the human condition both as regards man’s individual and social life a Sufi must note that although every person is unique when taken in their entirety they are nowhere as unique as God. While Allah is ‘Wahid ul Qahhar’ (exhaustively, utterly unique) man is only relatively unique, that is to say in the sense that each man is ‘small-partially’ different from every other. In other words men share in far more things than they can possibly differ. For example all must eat food but what they like and what they eat may differ very greatly indeed. Similarly what things interest each man is largely different from the next man. So do differ their abilities and disabilities. And all this for a very good reason which is to make them to need each other which again means they must socialize if the want to realize their potentials and secure their safety and highest possible enjoyment of life provided they achieve a good level of jointly civilized lives like well-observed moral and ethical principles and humane government based on more voluntary consensus than forcible imposition.
But whatever we do we can never keep our personal and social lives problem-free. What is more often only problems can help us develop our potentials transcribed in our genes. No significant development can occur in a person put into solitary confinement from birth and kept just alive by feed and some basic care like a caged animal. Although this person is safe in a biological sense they will lag behind by light-years in comprehensive development which a normally family-raised child living in a society at large could attain. Stressing this point on a realistic scale we have the hadith of the Messenger of Allah sws “Living (exclusively) in a village is like being buried alive”. The bigger and more sophisticated a town is the more chances for its citizens to learn and develop more in innumerable way. We may extend this observation to add that the more friends you have of the right kind the more chances to develop your potential. Hence the Prophet’s sws dictum that “Good is in association and Allah’s hand is over the society (associating, socializing persons). This is also the motto of our Naqshibandi order as expressed by our founding master maulana Bahauddin al Naqshibandi al Bukhari may Allah bless his secret. He said “our tariqa is based on association” which means not on isolation on the part of anybody. Guess why Allah exposed our parents Adam and Eve (peace be on them) to the Satan’s temptation right in the middle of the Paradise and allowing their seduction expelled them and sent them down to a world of troubles and deprivations- if this was not for helping them develop their full potentials as complete deputies of Allah over the rest of material creation what was it? This is part of the symbolism of the earthly destiny of each and every one of us who survive infancy: we are put to many test whether we are royal children or paupers and there is no guarantee that royals shall get away with less troubles in life than paupers. Yet it is these very troubles of life that bring out from inside us our God-given potentials into our life history as new developments and their accomplishments.
In brief, life itself is the best school we may ever have and Islam with its Qur’an and other source instruction manuals our best textbooks and inspirations to help us negotiate life challenges and trials alongside other man-made manuals and life situations we may come across.
Ultimately it is our imperfections that provide the electrical potential gradient (voltage) which drive our soul motors to create momentum and acceleration towards newer and higher summits of personal development, from the skills of earning a living to founding and maintaining pleasant and mutually blessing friendships.
Solitariness or social withdrawal, call it what you wish, is half death and half of being a plaything of that most solitary and antisocial of souls: the Iblis Satan. The following is an almost infallible law of psychology: are you depressed? Then go out and seek a good friend; at no time you will cheer up. You see- association pays and pays promptly.
MANY ILNESSES ARE PSYHOSOMATIC
Stomach trouble, depression, back-pain... medical conditions caused or at least aggravated by poor states of mind are legion. It is even worse: Most doctors are convinced that all illnesses except accidental trauma have a psychological component either in its causation and the severity of its symptoms or both. Convinced of this it is usual in some advanced countries to promote an arrangement whereby mothers stay with their young children when children are hospitalized and help nurse them back to health. Observation is that children nursed by their own mothers recover quicker and more fully.
What is at play here is ‘morale’, that sense of heightened security caused by love and motivation: when morale is low so is the prospect of success. A Sufi should therefore understand that he must take extra care to cultivate and keep his morale high by concentrating on all things holy, happy and meritorious while playing down, despising and dismissing all things profane, unhappy and criminal. This is what Allah calls ‘tazakki’ (purification) in His Qur’an when He All-Gracious describes His saved servants:
“Indeed saved is one who purifies himself and celebrates the Name of his Lord and prays. (Unfortunately) you but prefer the (materialistic and hedonistic side of the life of) this world while the Hereafter is better as well as enduring. This (message) is indeed in the scrolls of old, the scrolls of Abraham and Moses” (87: 14- 19)
SUFISM TREATS SOUL’S ILLNESSES BY FOCUSING MAN ON THE MOST PLEASANT AND EXHILERATING THOUGHTS FORDED BY BELIEF IN, CULTIVATION OF THE LOVE AND GLRORIFICATION OF GOD
As it does so practice of Sufism may also help with any existing bodily illnesses and what is even better help prevent any prospective illnesses simply because, under best of circumstances it keeps the mind on the positive in an existentialist sense. In other words, the Sufi learns to be overall happy about the existence despite many sad and disappointing sides to it and that is because he detects something ultimately good and even funny behind existence, a goodness and funniness which nevertheless are never fickle or profane but noble and profound.
Of course one may be afflicted by an upfront illness- sometimes from birth- or contract one out of genetic necessity or some inevitable insult to the body (may Allah protect us all the same) but in the case of a true Sufi the impact is at least relatively both cushioned and partially anaesthetized thanks to an image of God both sharing and smiling dimly from a background of ground level existence. So, the Messenger of Allah, in his last illness did suffer a lot but never stopped enjoying Allah’s nearness and immediacy and pleasing promise and his soul flew to Him All-Gracious with only too much enthusiasm. At his last moment he pointed to the heaven and uttered the words “To the Highest Companion” after which his hand fell down and he was gone. His face became even more beautiful than when he was alive which fact his first post-mortem visitor Abu Bakr RA noted when he moved the covers from his holy face, wept and said “You are beautiful o Messenger of Allah both in your life and in your death”.
Why our Prophet was so strong and successful in every good thing? The answer should be clear by now: He was a friend of Allah and Allah is all about power, success and ultimately happiness. That is exactly what a Sufi is about.
Obviously a Sufi- if he is a true one- is ever aware of Allah, aware both with love and fear -for a majestic beloved inspires as much fear as love- and the holy fear nurtures the Sufi as much as the holy love possessing him. This is the case even in true and great love between to human beings: Each fears offending and therefore losing the other and if one of the lovers is the greatly weak party this weak party is desperate both in his or her fear of and love for the strong party. What is more there is an eerie, irresistible beauty in this available at nowhere else. Almost all great literature sang the glories of such epic love and Sufism contains it at its fullest. What is more, the Sufi’s love, unlike in other cases, is returned in full. Read if you wish: “Indeed for those who believe and do good works the All-Gracious shall appoint for them a passionate love” (19: 96) and also “They love Him and He loves them back” (5: 54). Is not love the medicine of all ills?
A TRUE LOVE OF THE TRUE GOD CAN ONLY CREATE TRUE FRIENDSHIP AMONG THE LOVERS
Because almost all rewards for loving Allah are postponed to a next and eternal world and also because the rewards accruing to one does not in the least detract from the rewards accruing to others believers in Allah can only be non-jealous but all-loving and supporting friends. Now please keep this in mind at all times when assessing yourself or others, yur Sufi group or other groups: The more loving, peaceful and mutually supporting and non-jealous a Sufi or members of Sufi group the more successful they are in their spiritual achievements. Therefore avoid in-fighting and hierarchically organized groups in which political divisions and contests flourish and dirty tricks fly around and big egos conduct among themselves
Jurassic Park type fights (you know those films about dinosaurs which end when the monsters turn on to each other and fight to death) and also avoid disciples who attempt to bring into their group this abominable, satanic contesting spirit. As soon as accusations fly around in a Sufi group that group is as good as dead and infected with the Satanic. Lovers of Allah can only love each other- never forget this first law of Sufism. Although occasional misunderstandings are inevitable even among the prophets (remember Moses and Aaron discussing the responsibility for the improvised cult of the golden calf) love of Allah inevitably ensures mutual understanding and forgiveness.