“Miracle” of the Angel

May 20, 2012

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

Hagiographic literature is the biographical genre devoted to the lives and works of saints and holy men. Scholars of course object to this genre as an uncritical and exaggerated telling of the supposed wonders and miracles of the saints, usually written by the later disciples of their own Orders. I have always thought that the unvarnished lives of the saints did not need exaggeration, that their works of kindness and generosity and their words of insight, compassion and love were reason enough to cause us who follow after to emulate them as best we are able.

As much as the imagination wants to believe every word, I too had a problem with the supposed miracles portrayed in AttarHujwiriJami and the numerous biographies of saints.

And I have always considered myself a man of reason, as far as reason goes, so I do not know if I should even tell this tale, but since I had a part to play in what I can only call a miraculous event, I have asked for and received permission from the Master, Dr. Alireza Nurbakhsh, to relate it. He said that it may inspire those in search of the miraculous.

Of course, our late Master, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order, also had no taste for the exaggerated or miraculous, or for pretense in general. Even in his own biography, Bestower of Light, there appears no mention of extraordinary powers, only the charisma and attraction of the advanced Sufi, which is a form of Divine energy working through a darvish, of which he or she is only the agent.

Perhaps the real problem is with the word “miracle” itself, which for the rational mind is either logically explainable or impossible. For those on a spiritual path, however, life itself is a miracle without compare.

In fact, in his discourse on Constancy, he quoted Abu Ali Jauzjani, who said, “Practice constancy; don’t go looking for miracles, for it is your nafs that want miracles, while God wants constancy from you.” This constancy or steadfastness means to step out of yourself and stand firm in way of God on the Path of Love.

In the hope that this true story will aid in that journey, I pray that God bears witness to the truth of what I relate, and guides us all on the straight path. Amin.

And so…

1995 – The Toronto khaniqah was purchased and a Deeg Joosh, a special Sufi gathering was announced to celebrate the new khaniqah. Darvishes from all over the US were invited. I was living in Chicago at the time, and made arrangements to fly to Toronto. Taking a taxi from the airport, I gave the address and off we went. I was not certain which house was the right address on Lawrence Avenue, and I thought we had already passed it. I had the driver turn around and stop in front of a church on the other side of the street, thinking to walk across the street and find the house. When the cab left I looked around at the neighborhood and was struck by the huge statue of what appeared to be the archangel Michael in front of the church. It was bronze, I think, at least it had the color of burnished bronze, with a large pedestal. I could just reach up and touch the large foot of the angel, who stood with great arms outstretched and massive wings half open.

How appropriate, I thought smiling, that the khaniqah is watched over by an angel. And the khaniqah itself was lovely; the first thing one noticed was that the foyer ceiling was vaulted, resembling the inside of a taj, the conical hat worn on special occasions by darvishes of service. And the Deeg Joosh was a wonderful affair. I met many new darvishes, and went home happy.

2003 - I had moved to New York in 2000, and in 2003 I took my first trip to Banbury England to take part in another Deeg Joosh, which is held there every year around the summer solstice. The Russian translation of Master of the Jinn had just been published, and I was full of my own self-importance. What happened there to deflate my ego has already been related in a story entitled Meeting the Master, which you can read HERE.

However, during the days leading up to the Deeg Joosh, I happened to be sitting in the open area besides the kitchen, talking to a young darvish I had just met who mentioned that he was from Toronto.

“Ah, Toronto, I was there for the Deeg Joosh in 1995, when it first opened,” I said. “I remember the big statue of the angel across the street in front of the church. What a great place to have a khaniqah.

“Ha, that is actually how we found the khaniqah,” he said, and proceeded to tell the story. “Once Master had decided to buy a khaniqah in Toronto, he sent a group of us out every day looking in every neighborhood for a suitable house. It had to meet a number of criteria, including being close to public transportation, in a good, but not expensive neighborhood, and it had to have an open floor plan to allow for meetings and a possible Deeg Joosh if called for. We had a terrible time finding one. Every day we would look in different neighborhoods, and every night Master would call and ask, “Did you find a house?” We would say, “Not yet,” and he would say, “Keep looking.” This went on every day for many weeks. Each night we had to say we didn’t find anything, and each night he would tell us to keep looking.

“Finally, after five or six weeks, we dejectedly told Master that we had looked in every neighborhood in Toronto and had found nothing that was suitable for a khaniqah. He just said, “Keep looking. It is under the angel’s wings.” That was all. We just looked at each other and shrugged, but the very next day we somehow took a wrong turn and came upon a house for sale,  and of course saw this big angel statue across the street in front of a church. We called the real estate agent listed on the For Sale sign and he quickly came over show it. The house was perfect, and we immediately put down a deposit. Alhamdulillah!”

I loved this story of persistence and Master’s prescience. No one doubted Master had seen that the perfect house was waiting to be discovered. I have related another story of such ability in A Stop in the Desert, which can be read HERE. After years on the path it was rather taken for granted and not discussed among us that a spiritually advanced Sufi Master would have such a gift.

2007 - A few years later, on a visit back to Chicago, I told this story to a darvish in the Chicago khaniqah, and he looked at me in wide eyed wonder. “That is exactly what happened to me in Koln, Germany.” And he told a very similar tale, only the angel was a small stone cherub in the backyard. “We looked for weeks for a khaniqah, and after every week’s failure, Master would say ‘Keep looking.’ until finally, after many weeks, Master said, ‘Keep looking. It is under the angel’s wings.’ We found the house that is now the khaniqah the next day.”

I have related this story also, in Under the Angel’s Wings, which you can read HERE.

Both amazing stories that fill the heart with love for the Master, and even for such an esoteric concept as the grand design of the universe.

2010 - Now I happen to tell the story to Patricia, my beloved, who was initiated as a darvish a few years ago. She is very curious about the statue in Toronto, which to her as a Catholic seems out of place in front of a church.

“We can go there sometime and you can see it for yourself,” I said.

“Or, we can use Google Earth and see it right now in real time on the computer,” she says, and I love the idea. The statue’s size and magnificence has stayed with me, and I wanted to see it again.

She opened Google Earth and I gave her the address of the Toronto khaniqah, which we found after a few minutes. She panned the camera across the street and there was the church… but there was no statue. We looked all around the property, but found only a small statue of the Virgin Mary on the right side of the church.

“How weird is that!” I said. “There is no statue! Maybe they moved it.”

So I looked up the name of the church and called the listed office number. A woman answered, and I asked what happened to the big statue of the angel in front of the church.

“What statue?” she asked?

“The angel statue. It is of the Archangel Michael I think, about 20 feet high. You can’t miss it,” I chuckled. “Was it moved?”

“No, there has never been a statue like that in front of this church,” she said seriously.

“Hmm, well, I was there in 1995, so it was 15 years ago. Maybe it was before your time. How long have you worked there?”

“No sir, I have been a lay secretary here since the church opened in 1990. There has never been any statue like that in front of this church. Catholic churches never have statues of angels in front of them.”

She hung up, and I sat there with the phone in my hand and my mouth open, literally speechless. “This is crazy,” I said to Patricia. “I saw it myself. I touched it.. It was huge!

“Well, you were a darvish and you saw what you were supposed to see,” she said.

“But other people saw it too, the darvishes that found the khaniqah, the ones who visited it for the Deeg Joosh. We talked about it for years afterwards,” I said.

“The Master said the khaniqah was under the angel’s wings. So of course the angel appeared for the darvishes. Why is that so suprising?”

She was right. I felt the strangest tingling sensation creeping up my spine, and for the first time in my life knew the feeling of awe. And I have no explanation for it to this day, except to wonder if the literature of saints and holy men were really that exaggerated after all. I know only that our late Master was the soul of loving-kindness.

Perhaps love itself is the only miracle.

God knows the truth.

Ya Haqq!


The Sufi Master and the Madman!

October 12, 2009

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

It is related that the Sufi Master, Shaykh Junayd Abul Qasim Baghdadi, once went for a walk outside of Baghdad, his disciples following him. The Shaykh then asked them how Bahlul was. They answered, “He is a crazy person, what do you need from him?”

“Bring me to him because I have a need for him,” he said.

The students searched for Bahlul, whose reputation was that of a mad mystic, and found him in the desert. They took Shaykh Junayd to him. When Shaykh Junayd went near Bahlul, he saw Bahlul lying in a state of agitation, with a brick under his head for a pillow.

The Shaykh greeted him with the salutation of peace.

Bahlul answered with peace, and asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Junayd Baghdadi.”

Bahlul asked, “Are you Abul Qasim?”

“Yes!” replied the Shaykh.

“Are you the same Shaykh Baghdadi who gives people spiritual instructions?”

“Yes!”

Then Bahlul asked, “Do you even know how to eat?”

“Yes!” answered Junayd. “I say Bismillah (In the Name of Allah). I eat what is in front of me, I take small bites, put them in the right side of my mouth, and slowly chew. I don’t stare at others’ bites. I remember Allah while eating. For whatever morsel I eat, I say Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah). I wash my hands before and after eating.”

Bahul stood up and shook the dirt of his garment on the Shaykh, and said, “You want to be the spiritual teacher of the world but you don’t even know how to eat.” Saying this, he walked away.

The Shaykh’s students said, “O Shaykh! He is a crazy person. Let him be”

Junayd replied, “He is a madman who is spiritually intelligent in his words. Listen to the correct statements from him.”

Saying this he went after Bahlul, saying, “I have a need for Bahlul.”

When Bahlul reached a deserted building he sat down. Junayd came near him.

Bahlul asked, “Who are you?”

“Shaykh Baghdadi who doesn’t even know how to eat.”

“You don’t know how to eat, but do you know how to talk?”

“Yes.”

“How do you talk?”

“I talk in moderation and to the point. I don’t speak without purpose or too much. I speak so the listeners can understand. I call the world’s people towards Allah and the Prophet. I don’t talk so much that the people would get bored. I care about the deepness of inner and outer knowledge.”

Then he described whatever was connected with manners and etiquette.

Bahlul said, “Forget about eating, you don’t know how to talk either.”

He stood up, shook his garment on the Shaykh and walked away.

The students said, “O Shaykh! You saw, he is a crazy person. What do you expect from a lunatic!”

Shaykh said, “I have a need for him. You do not know.”

Again he went after Bahlul until he reached him.

Bahlul asked, “What do you want from me? You who don’t know the manners of eating and speaking; do you know how to sleep?”

“Yes, I know.”

“How do you sleep?” Bahlul asked.

“When I am finished with Solat-e-Isha’ and reciting supplications, I don my sleepwear.” Then he described the manners of sleeping which were transmitted to him by the learned people of religion.

Bahlul then said: “I understand that you do not know how to sleep either.”

He wanted to get up, but Junayd caught hold of his garment and said, “O Bahlul! I don’t know; so for the sake of Allah, teach me.”

Bahlul said “You claimed knowledge and said you knew so I was avoiding you. Now that you confessed your lack of knowledge, I will teach you.”

“Know that whatever you described is secondary,” said Bahlul.“The truth behind eating meals is that you eat lawful morsels. If you eat forbidden food even with one hundred kinds of good manners, it won’t benefit you, but will be the reason for blackening the heart.”

“May Allah grant you great reward.” remarked the Shaykh.

Bahlul continued, “The heart must be pure, and have good intentions before you begin to talk. And your conversation must be to please Allah. If it is for any worldly or useless work, then however you express yourself, it will become a calamity for you. That is why silence and quietude would be best.”

“Whatever you said about sleeping is also of secondary importance. The truth of it is that your heart should be free of enmity, jealousy, and hate. Your heart should not be greedy for this world or its wealth, and remember Allah when going to sleep.”

Sheikh Junayd then kissed Bahlul’s hand and prayed for him. The students who saw this incident and had thought that Bahlul was crazy and nothing more, realized the error of judging by appearances and their spiritual states increased.

- This tale is posted on many websites, but all of them without naming a source. It most likely came from Attar’s Memorial of the Saints.

Ya Haqq!


The Yellow Dog

November 15, 2007

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

A yellow dog came to visit today. He was friendly and young and full of energy, perhaps a year old, a Labrador retriever, his nose to the ground sniffing for a familiar scent. He circled the house and my wife saw him through a window out of the corner of her eye; a lean, hungry yellow dog by the look of him, his ribs plainly visible.

Fortunately, the previous tenant had left a couple of cans of dog food, and as my wife enticed him with a piece of bread, I opened both for him, along with a big bowl of water. He ran up onto the porch without any prompting, being obviously used to people, and ate it all happily and drank most of the water. He seemed so happy to see us, and to be treated like a welcome guest. He sniffed us both and circled the house again, and then was off, following whatever scent he had picked up. I thought he was lost, or got separated from his owners, and was making his way back to them. He looked as if he had been on the road many days. I have read that lost dogs sometimes travel hundreds of miles to their old home.

We were happy to help him on his journey. My wife grew up on a farm and has an affinity with all creatures great and small. And ever since his appearance, my heart has had such a feeling of love and gratitude that I can hardly describe it.

I think it came from the yellow dog.

Even though we didn’t do anything extraordinary, this chance encounter, if chance it was, was a blessing for us. We had in a small way helped one of God’s creatures on his journey home, inshallah. There is an old Persian saying: “A guest is God’s friend.”

It may have come from this old Sufi tale:

There was a darvish who one day sought a guest from God. “O Lord of the World,” he said in his heart, “may a guest come from You tomorrow, so that I may treat him as befits one of Your friends.” The following day he made preparations for his guest. The darvish cleaned his small home and prepared a meal fit for a Friend of God.

As he was keeping a lookout in all directions while waiting outside for the guest to arrive, a thin and hungry mongrel dog wandered by and, smelling the food, begged for a morsel. The darvish chased him away, not out of meanness, but in his anxiety that nothing should spoil this occasion. And so he waited and waited, but despite all his expectations, no one came. He finally fell asleep in a heartbroken and agitated state.

“O self-absorbed one,” said God in a dream, “I sent along a dog as one of My own, so that you might make him your guest, but you heedlessly sent him away.”

Alhamdulillah! That the friend of the Friend was made welcome here, and our hearts were gladdened by his visit.

Ya Haqq!

NOTE: The Sufi tale is originally from Fariduddin Attar’s Mosibat-Nama (Book of Adversity), and can be found in Dogs from a Sufi Point of View by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh. It is also told in a slightly different version, about Moses and the beggar, in the first chapter of Master of the Jinn, which you can read as an excerpt on the book’s website by clicking HERE.


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