A Mote of Dust

June 18, 2006

Alhamdulillah! We are but a mote of dust in the universe!

Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida has put up an awe-inspiring page on their site. It begins as a view of the Milky Way Galaxy viewed from a distance of 10 million light years, and then zooms in towards Earth in powers of ten; 10 million, to one million, to 100,000 light years and then it finally reaches a large oak tree.

If ever there was a witness to the wonder of God’s creation, this has captured it.

Once you click on the site, the software does all the work. Sit back and see the perfection of Allah’s universe! You can play it forward and backward. At the end it says AUTO… click on that and review the process in reverse!


Love Poem – Gladly Then did the World Arise

June 18, 2006

Gladly then did the world arise
By that one mighty word of power… Love!
From any other word quite apart
It rejoices in the willing heart
And binds the planets to their skies
And shines in You the brighter to my eyes

Night, come bring the dippers and Orion’s belt
To gird the firmament and bind us to His boundless will
That my heart, which has never felt such sentiment
May feel it then the deeper still

Give it not to chance then, nor say instead ’twas fate
That we have met in time who might have met too late
In the understanding of two hearts that may for earlier years amend
As our time flows like a river, unfelt til journeys end

- Irving Karchmar, © 1986

Taking the First Step

June 16, 2006

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

“O you who believe! let not your wealth, or your children, divert you from the remembrance of Allah.”
– Quran, Surah Al- Munafiqun 63:9

I have been asked to explain how one gets to take that first step on the Sufi path. What confluence of events and/or intention causes a person to be attracted to the path of Love, whether they are Muslim or not? The short answer is: God knows.

But I have come to realize over the years that all human beings have the potential for spirituality within them. Whether the desire for it becomes activated or not depends on a multitude of factors, or, only one: God’s will. I have known some darvishes who picked up a book of Sufi tales and were so moved by them that they sought out a Sufi Order. The tales spoke to their hearts. And there are those that come from a Muslim family where one or more of its members are darvishes, and they want to share in their path. I know of at least one darvish who came to the path in order to find a wife. He did, and became a wonderful darvish also.

And there are those that think: If I become a Sufi, I can get mystical powers and then people will respect me and look up to me, and I can get girls (or boys) to pay attention to me, and other people won’t frighten me as much.

Many are called, but few are chosen. In other words, there are as many reasons (cultural, romantic, selfish) to step onto the Sufi path (or any other mystical path) as there are darvishes. And most have no idea of how difficult the path is, or what it asks of you. Nothing of your self will remain hidden. Many drop by the wayside, or drift off to other pursuits. May Allah bless them and watch over them.

In the end, how surprised I was to find that all you need is love. Here, for what it is worth, is my own story.

I had lived most of my life in Chicago, and only moved near New York City six years ago, to be with my beloved. I have been a darvish of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order for over 14 years now, but I will never forget how I came to be initiated.

I had always been interested in mystical studies, and earned a Master’s degree in Philosophy from DePaul University. I had read about Sufism for some time, beginning with Tales of the Dervishes by Idris Shah, and was drawn to it strongly, but being wrapped in the cloak of my nafs, my self-absorbed ego, I never really did anything about it. Then one day I read a small classified ad in the local Chicago paper that said, Sufi Shaykh coming to Chicago. Anyone interested in meeting him, please call… and they listed the khaniqah phone number.

My wise girlfriend at the time went and became initiated, but I did not go. I was not ready. But over the next year I did accompany her to the khaniqah once in a while for dinner. The Persian food was excellent. A year later, Mr. Niktab, the Shaykh mentioned in the ad, returned. He was the Shaykh of Shaykhs of the order, second to our Master, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh. I wanted to meet him now, to see if he looked like what I thought a Sufi should. What a fool I was!

He was a thin old man, about 80 then, with a warm smile and gentle manner. Through a translator, he welcomed me warmly, asked a few questions, one of which was, “Do you believe in God?” When I said that I did, he said I was welcome to come back at any time.

For another year I would go to the khaniqah every so often, as the darvishes kept inviting me for dinner, though I really had no intention of joining. I was too self-absorbed to contemplate giving up my indulgences for a spiritual path. Yet I went to the dinners to please my girlfriend, and was drawn to the gentle courtesy, the adab of the path, and the wonderful Persian cooking. Another year passed and Mr. Niktab visited again. I went just to say hello to him once more. I was invited to his room again and will never forget the exchange between us.

I said, “It’s good to see you again.”
He said, “It’s good to see you again also. Come back tomorrow, you are being initiated.”

That was it. I just stammered, “Uh, yes sir.” I really had not had any intention of asking to be initiated, but I felt like I had been looking over a cliff to the enticing scene below and he came up behind me and kicked me off. I was sure a big footprint was now visible on my behind. I laugh when I think about it now. He read my heart truly, and my hesitation, and took action.

That night I was initiated as a darvish of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order, and placed in a corner of the meeting room and told to meditate silently. This is the time of mohasebeh, the balancing of accounts. As it is written in the Quran, “And verily, whether you manifest what is within you are keep it hidden, God will call you to account for it.” Thus we struggle to eliminate the selfish and petty deceits of the ego from our thoughts and deeds. And to come to terms with the past and ask forgiveness for all the lies, betrayals, hatreds, greed, envy, and jealousy of our past, and the hurt we have inflicted on others because of it.

It takes many years to do so, but with constant remembrance of God, the source of all love and forgiveness, the nafs slowly, slowly let go and allows love to enter to enter the heart, and then joy comes with each breath of remembrance (at the time of initiation, each darvish is given a word or phrase as their zekr, their remembrance of God, to be said with each inhalation and exhalation, so that each breath is a prayer and a blessing).

I wept for a year. And still do at the enormity of the gift I have been given.


Thank God! Without the path, I would have been cooked in the stew of my own nafs long ago. Mr. Niktab passed away a few years ago, but I will always remember his kindness and sincerity, and am grateful every day to him and to the Master for accepting this unworthy darvish.

I have a poet friend who lives in Switzerland and belongs to another Sufi Order. She is in the habit of going into her prayer room and slowly writing down verses of the Qu’ran. She says:

To learn is useful
but to be in love is sweet.

Those two lovely lines sum up the entire path from beginning to end. To answer the original question, when you are ready, it will happen, if it is meant to happen. Not everyone is willing to give up his or her comfortable, self-involved life. But that is what’s necessary, for love of God, and for love of all His creation, which is manifested in the adab of the path. Many fall by the wayside. Those who remain have taken the first step.

Ya Haqq!

The Adab of the Sufi Path

June 14, 2006

In his book, Discourses on the Sufi Path, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order, lists some of the qualities that exemplify the etiquette and ethics (called the adab) that a darvish strives to achieve. Only when all of them are perfected within a darvish can he or she hope to attain the polished heart which reflects only God's Love, and be called a Sufi. Here is the list.

1.   The Sufi gives precedence to all of creation over himself.

2.   The Sufi is fair to all, yet expect fairness from no one

3.   The Sufi is kind and helpful to all, yet expects help and kindness  from no one.

4.    The Sufi is never self-centered or egocentric.

5.    The Sufi serves all of God’s creation.

6.    The Sufi always observes the rights of others.

7.    The Sufi loves all of God’s creatures.

8.    The Sufi praises all things created by God that are beautiful.

9.    The Sufi harbors no resentment against anyone and regards no one as an enemy.

10.  The Sufi takes the trouble to make things easy for others.

11.  The Sufi never speaks with an acid tongue, always being kind and respectful toward others.

12.  The Sufi is never pessimistic or depressed.

13.  The Sufi never feels offended by anyone.

14.  The Sufi neither complains about anyone nor claims anything for himself.

15.  The Sufi is never mean or envious.

16.  The Sufi never gets angry or harsh with anyone.

17.   The Sufi keeps any promises he has made, even if his life must be sacrificed.

Many of these seem impossible to attain, which is why the Sufi path of Love may take a lifetime to achieve. And this is only a partial list. May Allah guide us on the straight path.

Ya Haqq!

Believe Not in Astrologers

June 14, 2006

Believe not in astrologers
Who tell fortunes by the stars
Nor in dark-eyed women in black silk robes
Who turn the Tarot cards

Believe not in the witch’s curse
Nor in sorcery of any kind
The shaman seeks to steal your purse
And the voodoo man to steal your mind

Believe not in Satanic spell
Seek not solace in the Gypsy’s ball
Planets will not the future tell
Nor black magicks one lost soul recall

Believe instead in Love, my friend
For by its harmony the world endures
Without certainty, perhaps, yet without end
As proof, the moon ensures

Believe in courage and desire
Leave the mystery in life, my love
Be gladly warmed by mortal fire
Embrace the eagle and the dove

For this I know by my heart’s blood
What we may be may not be told
Yet each of us, though born apart
May each the others heart enfold

Before this crystal truth, let each spirit, naked, stand
That human hope and laughter are bought with human tears
Yet we may walk in starlight, hand in hand
And live, and love, and have no fear


- Irving Karchmar , © 1986 

Love, Mercy, and the Sufi Path

June 13, 2006

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

In answer to Saly’s two comments on The Merciful Heart post below, I offer the following. As to the great Muslim that killed the mouse, I do not know his heart, and he may have truly felt it was an act of compassion. I cannot judge him. But here is a true story that happened a few weeks ago.

When I walked into the kitchen of the khaniqah in New York City before majlis, the twice-weekly gathering for dhikr (or zekr), I noticed that there were many ants all over the counter by the windows. They had apparently found a way in through a tiny opening left by the air conditioner placed in the window. I asked the Dood i Dar, the tea-master, if she was spraying or had set any ant traps. “The place is clean, there is no food for them and they will leave soon,” she said, picking up a book and slamming it down on the table. I laughed and hugged her. She way trying to scare the ants away with a loud noise. 

She would not kill them. That is my answer too. After majlis, almost all the ants were gone. Alhamdulillah!

As for an introduction to the Sufi path, “Sufism for Dummies,” well, I am just as much of a dummy as anyone. All I can tell you is that I feel love and compassion a great deal more than I did before I became a darvish, when I was cooking in the stew of my own nafs. So love is the answer, I think, to your question.

“Know, O darvish, that love is the foundation and principle of the way to God, and that all states and stations are stages of love, which is not destructible so long as the path itself remains in existence. Do not ask for explanations. Love cannot be explained. The explanation of love is not love, for love is beyond mere words…”

The above quote (from Master of the Jinn) says it far better than I can. In writing the book, I could not bring myself (actually, I did not dare) to put words onto even a fictional Sufi Master’s tongue, so almost all the words he speaks in the book are paraphrased from real Sufi Masters. I forget which one said the above, but the words are true in my experience.

I began to be interested in the Sufi path by reading Sufi tales. Tales of the Dervishes, by Idris Shah, was the first, then Sa’di, Attar, Rumi, and on and on. They give you an idea of what is possible to every human being if he/she has the inclination and intention. And my heart loved them. Many can be read online, and the books are inexpensive to buy.

There is an excerpt of Master of the Jinn that appeared in the Autumn, 2005 issue of Sufi magazine that was also published on the Persian Mirror website. It gives an idea of a zekr, and the Sufi path guided by a Master. For what it’s worth, here is a link. http://www.persianmirror.com/community/2005/books/masterofthejinn.cfm

Ya Haqq!

The Merciful Heart

June 12, 2006

Have you heard of St. Isaac of Nineveh? He was born in Bet Qatraye, near present-day Bahrain, and was one of the early (Seventh Century) Saints of the Christian church. Just after the rise of Islam, George, the Patriarch of the East Syrian Nestorians (there were also West Syrian Monophysites and Chalcedonians), made him Bishop of Nineveh, but he resigned after only five months. The reasons for his resignation are hinted at in letters of the time. His view was much too extreme.

He loved mercy.

In his letters he constantly reminds us of the love one should have for mercy, which he believes is the foundation of adoration and humility. Here are his words:

And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for all of creation, for men, for birds, for animals, even for demons.  

Even for demons.  Such mercy is unfathomable to most human beings. Isaac himself lived as an anchorite after his resignation as Bishop and eventually went to the monastery of Rabban Shabur in Iran, near the Persian Gulf. There he studied scripture so much he became blind and had to dictate his writings, many of which were on the stages of approaching communion with God. Such concepts are familiar to every darvish.

The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) himself is said to have had a special fondness for East Syrian Christians, since it was apparently a Nestorian priest (Cyrus of Edessa) who had prophesized his mission.

Alhamdulillah, that such men existed.

I began this post with a question. I will ask another. Have you heard of anyone living today who is such a man or woman of mercy?

The Unveiling of the Veiled

June 11, 2006

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

 O Lord, bestow on us mercy from Thyself, and provide for us a right course of action!

Praise be to God, who has revealed the secrets of His kingdom to His saints, and has disclosed the mysteries of His power to His intimates, and has shed the blood of Lovers with the sword of His glory, and has let the hearts of Gnostics taste the joy of His communion! He it is that brings dead hearts to life by the radiance of the perception of His eternity and His majesty, and reanimates them with the comforting spirit of knowledge by divulging His Names.

I have been rereading Hujwiri, and this invocation in the beginning of his seminal work, The Unveiling of the Veiled (also called the Revelation of the Mysteries) always touches my heart with what is possible to those who follow the path of Love if Allah’s mercy is indeed bestowed upon us.

He also said, “Know that in this our time, the science of Sufism is obsolete, especially in this country. (He lived in Lahore from 1039 AD until his death in 1073 AD) The whole people is occupied with its lusts and has turned its back on the path, while those who pretend to learning have formed a conception of Sufism that is quite contrary to its fundamental principles. High and low alike are content with empty professions: blind conformity has taken the place of spiritual enthusiasm. The vulgar say ‘We know God,’ and the elect, satisfied if they feel in their hearts a longing for the next world, say, ‘This desire is vision and ardent love.’ Everyone makes pretensions, none attain to reality. The disciples, neglecting their ascetic practices, indulge in idle thoughts, which they call ‘contemplation.’” 

I have heard that my Master, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, made a similar statement as to the quality of Sufism in the world today. I do not doubt him. It is the most difficult and painful spiritual path one can take. Nothing of your Self remains hidden. Yet he is the soul of loving-kindness and turns no one away who aspires to the path of Love. And after fourteen years, though I have taken only the first step on a lifelong journey, I thank God every day for the blessings He has bestowed upon this unworthy darvish. In the end, it is Allah that chooses whom He will accept as a lover, but, in the words of Hafez, “Strive, O heart, as much as you can.”  And so, a poem/song from Master of the Jinn.

            O Beloved, Your arrows sting the heart

            Unmercifully. Yet I shall ever be

            A relentless target

            To the golden bow and endless quiver.

            Allah! Allah! Allah!

            No sorrow have I but You,

            No hope but You, no joy but You,

            You are the pain, and You are the cure!

            Allah! Allah! Allah!           

The Song of Love

June 10, 2006

Hear, O darvish, the song of Love
the unending tale of the heart.

God whispers “Be!” and infinity
takes eternal flight.

Love commands the darkness to depart,
and the world to arise in light.

Mountains, seas and stars bear witness,
The east wind cries out on the wing.

La Illaha illa Allah,
O Sufi, the universe sings.

- Irving Karchmar, © 1992 (From Master of the Jinn: A Sufi Novel)

The Peace of Dawn is Not Illusory

June 9, 2006

Everywhere on the tongues of birds
and in their song
your name emerges,
flutters near my temples and comes to rest
in my chest.
I speak it with them,
embrace it as dearly as if it were you
this name
this gathering of consonants
and vowel, each sound a pearl dropping
into my hand and each day
the treasure mounting.

              – PBSweeney


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