Keeping Faith

June 22, 2006

Penelope, bereft of joy
Left by Odysseus for the walls of Troy
Kept faith

And neither Helen’s wanton lips
That launched in war the thousand ships
Nor Circe’s song nor Circe’s lore
Could stay him from the path he swore

Not forgotten by true heart
Are pledges made when lovers part

Thus I would not forsake my love
For anything less than what, as love, it was intended
Until that final day when our souls meet
With those in the past ascended

Then you and I shall also fly
As two hearts bound in this life might
And the world is ended

– Irving Karchmar, © 1990


Meeting the Master

June 21, 2006

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.

Song of the Heart

June 19, 2006

There is a true song of the heart
It is sung in the tongue of Angels
Unheard, except in whispers of their flight
Yet its harmony caused the darkness to depart
And the world to arise in light

Beauteous it is beyond compare
And every living creature has a part to share
In the joyous, wondrous sound
Commanded to the Seraphim, highest of the nine Angelic orders
Of which Cupid is the most renowned

Yes, Love is the eternal song,
And each star a celestial instrument
Orchestrated as they belong
To the moon’s accompaniment

Now when my beloved looks at me, and smiles so happily
I cannot but respond with love
Joining in the living song, two hearts aglow for however long
Repeated one hundred million times a day
By each lover that would the night prolong

– Irving Karchmar, © 1986

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!