Meeting the Master

On the day before summer 2003, I finally met the Master, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh. And though I had thought of him often and dreamed of him and talked to him in my mind, even missed him as though we were separated family, I had never actually met him nor spoken to him.

Over the years I have read all his books and heard many stories about him. And for many of those years I had written a Sufi novel entitled Master of the Jinn, a project whose research led me to read many Sufi texts, and whose unfolding became almost like a zekr as I worked on it for hours each night. For much of that time I was fortunate enough to live in the Chicago khaniqah, whose library and energy and knowledgeable darvishes helped enormously.

Now, I thought, I had created something worthwhile enough so as to be worthy of meeting the Master and being in his company. How little I knew of the Master, or of his loving-kindness.

And so, after ten hours of travel I arrived in England, and by chance met a fellow darvish who apparently was on the same plane. He saw my sleeping bag and guessed I was going to the same, very crowded khaniqah. There was to be a large gathering of darvishes from all over the world and many brought tents or sleeping bags. Together we traveled to the khaniqah by taxi.

Shortly after we arrived, the Master called us into his room, as he does all darvishes who come from a far distance. The Master was dressed in white and sat cross-legged, and we sat on our knees before him. He greeted us warmly, and as he looked at me his face lit up with wide-eyed surprise and joy, as if I were someone he was not expecting but happy to see. Perhaps it was my imagination, but my heart sang. I remembered well the tales of the Master’s glance and attention.

He asked how our trip had been.

“It was a good trip, one I want to make often, inshallah,” my companion said.

“Sufis are always inshallah (God willing),” the Master replied. “There is no need to say it.”

We nodded our heads at this advice, and after a few kind words, he smiled and said, “Welcome, then,” and waved us out.

As soon as we were outside, I felt a sharp pain in my left knee, as if I had twisted it, though I could not for the life of me remember how. I limped upstairs to get some aspirin, and found a darvish brother from Chicago there.

“Do you have another pair of pants with you?” he asked me.

“Only a pair of sweats. Why?”

“Because you have a large tear in yours, on the seat.” I turned my head to look, and groaned. It was a wide tear. “Get a needle and thread from someone and sew it,” he suggested.

“What the hell is going on?” I thought, taking the aspirin and changing into sweats for the time being.

Once outside, I met a Shaykh I knew walking on the grounds and I greeted him happily, kissing his cheeks. He asked how I was doing. “Well, I’ve been here for half an hour and I’ve already twisted my knee and torn my pants,” I said.

He chuckled, “Such things are common here.”

And so I borrowed needle and thread from one of the darvishes and walked to the sleeping area to mend the tear.

As I limped along the path, each painful step made me slowly realize what a fool I had been. I had walked in with pride, and limped out in humility. I had come in arrogance and received torn pants for my folly.

“Thank you, Master!” I said softly.

And the words of the great Sufi Junayd came to my heart.

“I will walk a thousand leagues in falsehood, that one step of the journey may be true.”


Note: Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh passed to the Beloved on October 10, 2008. Dr. Alireza Nurbakhsh is the present Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order. To read more about both of them and the Order, go HERE.

5 Responses to Meeting the Master

  1. matthew says:



    so, Almighty God Specifically Requests to say Godwilling for any action in the future

    Surat Al Kahf (18):23 : “And never say of anything, ‘I shall do such and such thing tomorrow. Except (with the saying): ‘If Allah wills!’ And remember your lord when you forget…”

    do you take the word of your sheikh over that of your Lord? of course not, so what’s really the issue?

    that being cut by an assumption strikes me oddly,

    additionally I imagined, saying “but I am not a sufi, so insahllah has more adab before Him (Glorifed Be He!) for me in my current state”

    I could never assent to the implication that I was a sufi off the bat!

    no offence intended brother Irving but what arrived in my soul immediately on reading your story

  2. Salaam Dear Brother Matt:
    You are quite correct, that is exactly what I thought also. I am as far from being a Sufi as the earth is from the sun. To a Sufi such as Dr. Nurbakhsh, who has no will of their own, but only God’s will, it may apply, as he would never forget Allah. I have thought a lot about him saying that over the years, and I think he did it for a specific purpose. Every time I say I will do something, or be somewhere, I think of that time and add, inshallah, even if I am writing a letter or an email. His saying that instilled the words in me very strongly, where I did not think to say them very often beforehand.

    Such is the Master’s attention to the heart of a darvish. He read my heart and knew what to do and say to be of benefit, especially since there were hundreds of darvishes there at the time, and I never got a chance to sit with him again. A twisted Knee and torn pants as a reminder to stop thinking of myself. Inshallah, to think always of God.


    and Ya Haqq

  3. Aaminah says:

    Asalaamu alaikum Matthew.

    Most respectfully,

    Are you not aware that sometimes one’s Shaykh will tell you something as a test or a means to an end in learning something that perhaps is not revealed at the present moment? Are you implying that brother Irving should have corrected his esteemed Shaykh? Aren’t you judging the Shaykh (and brother Irving) based on one small matter, of which you can never know the full purpose or intent?

    While I do not apply the term Sufi to myself and know that I will probably never attain that level, I would also never be so rude as to correct my Shaykh in any way. What he calls his murshid is between his heart and Allah, and I am not one to question it. And it may be that it is meant as an encouragement on the path, rather than a literal title.

    While you are very concerned with the adab of remembering to say “inshaAllah”, alhamdulAllah that you are so concerned, you have perhaps neglected the adab due to one’s teacher and guide, as well as to one’s fellow dervish who has accompanied you in this situation. It is not for you or I to understand the meaning behind the Shaykh’s teaching; that gift was for brother Irving. If by brother Irving’s sharing of the tale you are able to also get something, alhamdulAllah, but it may not be the same lesson. I found a very different kernal of truth within the tale than what you apparently saw.

  4. Ya Haqq

    That’s was too beautiful , also your explicate of a ordinary event. May God give me a help that I meeting the master of masters , givver of lights , Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh.


  5. kevin says:

    Surat Al Kahf (18):23 : “And never say of anything, ‘I shall do such and such thing tomorrow. Except (with the saying): ‘If Allah wills!’ And remember your lord when you forget…”

    This sura has much deeper meaning. Saying a word with the lips has no comparison to saying a word with the heart. The sufi says “inshallah” with his or her heart over and over, every moment, knowing deeply that there is no will but The Will. One can also attest to the saying “inshallah” silently with actions and deeds.

    But saying “inshallah” with the lips can also have profound effects and serve as a resevoir of remembrance.


    Irving, thank you for your beautiful narrative.

    Ya Haqq from Boston!

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