Selections from the Maqalat of Shams-i Tabriz,
Translated and edited by Refik Algan and Camille Helminski
Intensifying One’s Search
One’s longing, one’s search for the beneficence of God, must be so strong and intense that like the longing of Moses it allows no obstacle to stand in the way. When the Prophet Moses asked: “Who is more knowledgeable in the universe than I am?” his friend Joshua answered: “There is one person more knowledgeable than you are.” Moses didn’t get angry, he didn’t get offended; he didn’t say, “What kind of a thing to say is that!” But instead, “Oh, what was it you said?” he asked for information, because he was searching. Joshua was also a prophet, but he didn’t have worldly authority; in that era, the authority to judge belonged to the Prophet Moses.
This is also the way I see things; if I am searching for someone, I pay attention. I question, “Can I do this in this way, or should I do it like that?” so that no obstacle might arise in the way. Moses had told his friend (Joshua), “Aw amziya huqubaa” [Surah al-Kahf 18:60] “I will search for years.” This “huquba” is forty years according to one saying, and forty thousand years according to another, and eighty years or eighty thousand years according to another. This story of Moses is so hot that the heavens are aflame with its fire.
Today, there is an open hypocrisy and a hidden hypocrisy. May open hypocrisy be far removed from us and our friends, but one has to work hard to extract the hidden hypocrisy that is within the creation of the children of Adam. As it was said in the hadith, “The faithful are mirrors for each other.” More important than this is the hadith, “The Truth is the mirror of the servant, and the servant is the mirror of the Truth.”
The worship and work of Muhammed, may the Peace and Blessing of God be upon him, was immersion in Divine contemplation. He said, “The work is the work of the heart, service is the service of the heart, and servanthood is servanthood from the heart.” But one can reach that universe of divine contemplation and witnessing only through annihilating oneself in the Greatness of God. Muhammad knew that it was not possible for everyone to engage in the real work and worship. To very few of God’s servants has the happiness of divine contemplation been given. So he ordered his community to do the five times a day salaat and thirty days of fasting a year and the rites of the pilgrimage, so that the community might not be deprived of that witnessing of the miraculous manifestations of God in the hidden realm. This was so that they might be liberated and understand their place of benefit in relation to other communities, and so that perhaps the fragrance from that happiness of divine contemplation referred to might reach them. If this were not the case, what relationship would there be between hunger in fasting and servanthood before God? Of what use would be these open invitations of religion and worship?
The Blessed Prophet (may the greetings and peace of God be upon him) said, “For forty mornings, if a person serves God with all his soul and heart, springs of wisdom begin to flow from his heart to his tongue.”
While our Prophet was explaining these words among his companions, one of the friends went and occupied himself with prayers for forty days in solitude. Then he complained to the Blessed Prophet: “O Messenger of God!” he said, “Such a state has come to such and such friend that his eye, word, and hue have changed, and, while you were declaring that state, you mentioned the hadith[of “forty mornings”]. I went and made as great an effort as I could for forty days. And, as it has been said in the Qur’an: “God offers a burden in proportion to one’s capacity” [ 2:286]. There can’t be any lies in your words, God forbid.
The Blessed Prophet responded: “I said, ‘If he serves with all his/her heart and his/her soul.’ To really serve with all one’s heart and soul, is to do it only for God’s sake. Otherwise, it’s not real service or worship if it’s for the sake of other wishes or desires.”
O Human Beings! Beware of this Home of Phenomena!
O Human Beings! Beware of this home of phenomena!:
These are not just words, but a warning. Talking about such things is an ‘invitation’, a call to the other universe.
He said: “There is another universe, run there.” If you get busy with salat, salat leads you there; if you occupy yourself with perseverance, perseverance leads there.
Within the Heart of My Faithful Servant
See everything within yourself: Moses, Jesus, Abraham, Noah, Adam, Eve, Asiya (Pharoah’s wife), Khidr, Elias, Pharaoh and Nimrod, are all within you.
You are an infinite universe; what are the earth and the skies in comparison? Didn’t God say: “My heavens and my earth cannot contain Me, but I can be contained within the heart of a faithful servant of mine.”? You will not find Me in the heavens; you will not find Me on the Throne!
Crowing is the Rooster’s Business, and the Morning is God’s
Crowing is the rooster’s business, and the morning is God’s. Moses indicated this very thing when he asked, “O Lord, what is the use since Pharaoh isn’t going to accept?” He said, “Don’t give up because of that, just speak.”
Moment by Moment
In front of us no one becomes a muslim all at once: he becomes a muslim, and then he becomes a blasphemer, and then again a muslim. Each time something comes out of him until that moment when he becomes perfect.
Someone said: “Come with us so we can stay up all night together.”
“Tonight I am going to visit the Christian whom I have promised I would visit tonight.”
They said, “But we are Muslims; he is a blasphemer. Come with us!”
I said, “No, he is a hidden Muslim because he is submitted, and you are not. Being a Muslim is to be surrendered.”
They said, “Come on, for submission is achieved through sohbet (conversation and companionship).”
I said, “there’s no veil on my side, no curtain, so go ahead in the name of God, try it!”
Gratitude Elicits Grace
One has to speak precisely and one has to listen precisely. There is love in hearts, there is love in tongues, there is love in ears. If there is a little light, it increases when one gives thanks for it. If gratitude is expressed with words, one says, “My God! Show us things as they really are.” And the answer comes, “If you are grateful, I increase my favors/abundance; if you are ungrateful, my wrath is stringent.” [3:7].
Revelation is a subtle thing. It makes a place for itself; if it needs a soul, it comes; if it wants to go it goes. I wonder what these people know about this Way of love of God, what? He is God who has created the heavens and the earth, and He has made the universe come into existence. They think that His love is easy, as if they were just talking with Him or just listening to Him. Is this some kind of tutmach sauce, that you would just take it, and slurp it up?
He Is the Truth
The words, “He is the Truth,” is a much higher expression than the words of Hallaj, “I am the Truth.”
A sheikh had gone into seclusion in Baghdad. The night of the ‘Eid holiday arrived and within his seclusion he heard a voice. This voice that came from another universe was saying, “We have given you the breath of Jesus; go out and manifest yourself to the people.”
For a while the sheikh plunged into meditation. What was the purpose of this voice? Was it a test? Is it to test what I want? Then a second time a more awesome voice rang out: “Give up your secret anxieties and doubts!” it said. “Go out; mix with the people. We have given you the breath of Jesus!”
The sheikh wanted to contemplate a little, he meditated a while to try to understand what the purpose of this was. But a third time a stronger and sharper voice thundered: “Be quick and get up and go out; don’t stay here; leap up!”
The sheikh sprang outside. It was the ‘Eid and he mixed with the crowd began to walk around in Baghdad. He came across a dessert-merchant who was selling halvah shaped like birds who was calling out, “Bird candies!”
“Let me test that halvah seller,” he thought to himself. He called to him.
People who saw this happening were watching in astonishment to see what the sheikh would do, because the sheikh didn’t eat halvah. He took the halvah shaped like a bird from the plate, held it in his hand, and breathed on it. As it had been said in the Qur’an, “Let me create a bird shaped creature from mud for you,” [Qur’an 3:43] the bird began to stir, and suddenly its flesh, skin and wings appeared, and it flew away.
People gathered and watched a few of those birds flying. The sheikh quickly got tired of this crowd of people, and the respect and adulation shown by the admirers who prostrated in front of him; he set out for the countryside. But the people kept following him, no matter how many times he said, “Don’t come! Our work is “Living in seclusion,” still they wouldn’t leave him alone.
He walked for a long time in the countryside. “O Lord!” he was saying to himself, “What kind of a miracle was it that has imprisoned me and left me helpless?”
At that moment an inspiration came to him: “Do something that will send them away.” The sheikh farted strongly. The people all looked at each other; they all shook their heads in disbelief, and left.
Only one single person remained; only one wasn’t leaving. The sheikh wanted to ask him him why he didn’t leave with his other friends, but a timidity came over the sheikh because of the brightness in the man’s longing and the light of his faith. Perhaps even awe filled him. Despite this, he asked the reason why he was staying. The man replied: “To begin with, I did not come because of the wind, nor will I leave now because of the wind. In my opinion this wind is better than that wind, because by this wind your blessed self has attained ease, while that wind only brought you pain and difficulty.
Your beauty is the grain
within the trap of troubles.
It is such a candle
That constantly it burns our moths.
O Darling! I love the chains of your hair,
Because they fit the feet of my crazy ruined heart.
The Fortress of La illaha il Allah
Hasn’t it been said by the Prophet, “La illaha il Allah (there is no god but God) is my fortress. Whoever takes refuge in my fortress becomes secure.”? Whoever goes into this fortress of oneness; he did not say, “Whoever only says the name of the fortress.” To say the name is easy; you say, “I have entered the fortress,” or “I went to Damascus.” But if it were just a matter of the tongue, in an instant you could ascend from earth to the heavens or to the Empyrean and the Throne.
Blessed Muhammad said, “The faithful one who says “La illaha il Allah” with purity and from the heart, goes to Paradise.” Now you sit and say, “He is One.” But who are you? You are more than six thousand! Become One! Otherwise, is His Oneness your concern? You are a hundred thousand particles and each particle of yours is being carried off by some desire; within each particle of yours, you are carrying an illusion. The one who demonstrates purity of intention, and sincerity of action goes to Paradise. There is no need for a promise such as, “If he or she has been able to do this, he or she goes to Paradise.” If he or she has been able to do this, he or she is completely Paradise itself.
Remember that people are easily pleased when even hypocritically you flatter them; and when you pay attention to them, even just by listening to what they have to say, it pleases them. Otherwise, they quickly get bored with the conversation.
But even if people don’t get along well with us, we have to be honest. Always to behave with honesty is right for the human being. As God said to His prophet, “Be upright, as you have been commanded to be!” [Surah Hud, 11: 112; Surah Shura, 42:15]. You are honest and upright; stay honest. Demonstrate honesty!
No matter how often I call that which is crooked “straight,” it won’t change it.
The Gold of the Qur’an
A young man wanted to learn the Qur’an; though he had already borne many difficulties in memorizing it, still, a desire remained. “Where is one who recites beautifully?” he wondered. He was begging God to introduce him to someone who could recite from among the folk of the Qur’an who might also be one of God’s folk.
Suddenly, he heard about such a reciter in Baghdad. Immediately, he went to find him. He repeated every verse he had memorized for the teacher, and the teacher corrected him, saying, “Recite like that . . . or recite like this . . . .” This student of the Qur’an then saw that he had spent his whole life in vain and would have to begin his work all over again. “Whatever will be, let it be!” said the student, and he offered the following proposal to the teacher: “It is my father’s custom to give one gold coin for the study of each page.” The teacher responded, “Agreed.” He began to teach the secrets of the Qur’an to the young student. The student’s heart was pleased with it, and in return he gave his teacher the gold coins.
However, a day came when he had no more gold to give; he became saddened by this. Not long thereafter, he encountered an old man who noticed and asked him the reason for his sorrow. When he told him about the situation, the old man laughed and took him home with him, welcoming him as his guest, but he couldn’t eat anything because of his trouble.
The old man said to him, “That teacher of yours is my son, and the gold coins you have given him are under this carpet. My son doesn’t need gold. The blessed Prophet has said, ‘One who does not recite the Qur’an with a beautiful voice and harmonious state is not of us.’ Our gold is the Qur’an; our property, strength, and being is the Qur’an. We have not learned the Qur’an like this to be in need of anything else. This was only to test you. Look, all your money is here; take it,” he said and then left.
A True Heart
O heart! Go and be one of those who contemplate the end!
In the universe of strangerhood,
Be one of those of certainty!
If you want to ride on the morning wind,
Be the dust stirred by the saddlebeasts of the dervishes!
The Dance of the People of God
The dance of the people of God is subtle and light. They walk like a leaf on water. On the inside, they are like a mountain, they are weighty like a hundred thousand mountains, but on the outside they are as light as straw.
Patience and Practice
There was a rope dancer who would walk on the rope with eyes blindfolded, with wooden clogs on his feet, a water jug on his head and holding four things in his hands. He would walk forward on the rope making creaking sounds with his feet, and return again, then suddenly he would throw himself down, hold the rope with his feet and under his armpits, then hang himself by a single finger, and then jump back onto the rope again.
Meanwhile, his overweight friend kept falling. He would keep shouting at him while he was on the rope, “I’ve brought you here in the name of . . . such and such a teacher,” and begin to weep. Then quickly people would gather the balancing rods and offer advice.
They practiced tightrope walking at the seashore, so if they fell off the rope they would fall into the water. In this way, after long practice, people become master tightrope walkers, then they practice on land. Gradually they raise their rope higher and learn about the best ways to stand and walk on it. Just as patience is needed for the crescent moon to become full, for the rain on the rocks to turn them to rubies, and for the drops that rain onto the sea to turn into pearls, they also would become expert tightrope walkers through patience and practice.
With time, unripe grapes can become halvah.