The Stages of the Self on its Journey to Realisation and Beyond
This interview was conducted at the Almiraj Sufi and Islamic
Study Centre with the Sufi teacher F.A. Murshid Ali ElSenossi. It follows on from a
previously published interview and forms part of a series of interviews and talks, which
form the work entitled The Vehicle of Light.
Questions and Answers
My Dear Murshid. I will greet you in the manner
befitting those who follow the Way of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (May the Peace and
Blessings of Allah be upon him) Asalaamu alaikum (Peace be upon you).
Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu (And upon you be Peace and the Mercy of Allah and
You have introduced the Chart of Knowledge
(refer to Treasure Issue 8) which is used as a means of meditation, contemplation and
visualisation. Each shape on the chart represents a door, and of these doors there
is one that forms the cornerstone of our practice as Muslims and followers of the Holy
Prophet Muhammad (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him). So my question
is, what is behind the Door of Prayer (Baab ul-Salat) on the Chart of Knowledge?
What you have said is correct. Prayer (salat) is the second pillar of Islam. The
first pillar is the Testimony of Ashadu an laa illaha illallah, wa ashadu ana Muhammadan
Rasulullah (I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is His
Messenger). For this reason, the prayer (worship) comes after the Testimony.
But remember, this is not worship in any way we like, but worship according to the way of
the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) and the Final
Teaching of Allah to humanity. The Holy Prophet said, Pray as you have seen me
The Door of Prayer is opened after performing the
ritual ablution (wudhu), which is the washing of the hands, mouth, nose, face, forearms,
head, ears, neck and feet. This is dealt with in Part 2 Section 1 of the Vehicle of
Light where we discuss the topic of water, its symbolism and the form of the ablution.
In prayer, which is the Vehicle of Light, is the means
of your spiritual transformation to the highest spiritual realm humanly attainable.
The prayer will be transformed from a prayer of time to become a prayer of connection
(salat as-sila). You connect to the Source and you enter the State of Unity
Unity of Time, Place and of Essence. This is the origination of the prayer when it
was first given to the Holy Prophet on the Night of Ascension (Al Isra wal
Miraj). It is the most precious gift that has been given to the Creation as it
contains tremendous and powerful secrets.
The Holy Prophet said,
The coolness of my eyes is in the prayer.
The prayer we
are talking about is the method as implemented by the Holy Prophet and in discussing it I
will try to explain a single cycle of prayer, known as one rakat. Each rakat is
made up of seven movements as shown in the following diagrams. I highly advise the
person who reads these details to find a book that deals with Islamic prayer to discover
how it is performed and the requirements for performing prayer.
The essential verses to be recited in prayer are the
Fatihah. Known as the Mother of the Quran this set of seven verses contains
all the secrets of the Holy Quran. It is related that the Holy Prophet
Muhammad said to one of his companions I will teach you a Sura which is the greatest
Sura in the Quran and it is Al-Sab'a Al-Mathani (i.e. seven repeatedly recited
Verses the Fatihah) and the Grand Qur'an which has been given to me.
The Holy Prophet said 70000 angels descended to earth to bring this chapter of the
Quran. It contains seven verses and each verse is related to each position and
movement of the Vehicle of Light. The seven positions of the prayer also relate to
the seven stations of the Self (maqamat al nafs).
And as there are seven states of consciousness, there are seven aspects of the human being
as explained by the Holy Prophet when he said, Allah created Adam in His
image. Bear in mind that Allah says in the Holy Quran, There is
nothing whatever like unto Him. (Holy Quran 42:2) However, this
image is based on seven names of Allah. This number seven is very important.
Also we have seven heavens and seven earths. We circumambulate around the Kaba
seven times. We prostrate in prayer on seven parts or bones of the body.
So you can see how complex this question has become.
Murshid, is it possible for you to explain further, in order
to make this subject easier to understand?
As you know the Holy Prophet is the final Messenger and Prophet of Allah
sent to humanity. Thus his system is the most complete spiritual teaching provided
for the benefit of all mankind. Being the last of the Messengers and Prophets he
completes the circle of Messagehood and Prophethood. Through him the Knowledge of
Divinity is complete.
The beauty and glad tidings that the Holy Prophet
brought to earth on the Night of Ascension, he aptly demonstrated to all humanity.
He demonstrated to all mankind that it is possible for a human being to perfect and
enlighten himself to such a degree that he completely spiritualises his body so that he
can travel physically through space and time.
This prayer that we perform in time and form has the
potential to take us out of time and form.
To perform such spiritual practices is not the act of
someone who does it mindlessly or through imitation. To watch people pray it may
appear that they are doing the same actions. However, the Holy Prophet said,
You see two people praying but between them could be heaven and earth.
He is highlighting the importance of consciousness and awareness in the practices.
As you study the following diagrams of the movements of
the prayer notice the indications as to how awareness increases with each subsequent
movement. God willing, as you contemplate on the diagrams and the related aspects of
consciousness, you will enter into this Vehicle of Light the prayer and your
destination will be none other that Allah himself.
Of course this is just the blueprint of the prayer
without too much detail. God willing, details will be abundant when the book is
And when you have finished your prayer, remember God-standing
and sitting and lying down; and when you are once again secure, observe your prayers
[fully]. Verily, for all believers prayer is indeed a sacred duty linked to
particular times [of day].
Holy Quran 4:103
Be constant in [thy] prayer from the time when the sun has
passed its zenith till the darkness of night, and [be ever mindful of its] recitation at
dawn: for, behold, the recitation of prayer at dawn is indeed witnessed [by all that is
holy]. Holy Quran 17:78
Not so, however, those who consciously turned towards God in
prayer, and who incessantly persevere into their prayer. Holy Quran 70:22-23
The seeker on the
spiritual journey needs a guide to help him return. This guide is called the Murshid
and the seeker is called the disciple or murid. The murid tells the Murshid all his
experiences and the Murshid knows the value of these experiences and what they indicate as
to the murids progress along the way.
The Murshid sets
the disciple spiritual work appropriate to his state. Work that will
help the murid evolve as a spiritual being. The Murshid must be one who has already
undertaken the spiritual journey and knows its signs, its pitfalls and its destination.
Except as Allah wills: For He knoweth what is manifest and
what is hidden.
Holy Quran Al-Ala: 7
The following excerpt relates a story regarding the
development of the subtle centres of the heart called lata'if (see The Treasure Issue 2
The Zawiyya and the Seeker of Truth). The story shows how serious and
powerful is the remembrance of Allah and the method as practiced in the inner teaching of
Islam known as Tasawwuf.
The excerpt is from The Reconstruction of
Religious Thought in Islam by Sir Mohammed Iqbal, which describes an incident that
takes place between a murid and his Murshid.
The experience of the murid was described to his
Murshid as follows:
Earth and Gods Throne and Hell and Paradise have all ceased to exist for me.
When I look round I find them nowhere. When I stand in the presence of somebody I
see nobody before me: nay even my own being is lost to me. God is Infinite.
Nobody can encompass Him: and this is the extreme limit of spiritual experience. No
saint has been able to go beyond this.
To this the Murshid replied:
The experience which
is described has its origin in the ever-varying life of the heart (qalb); and it appears
to me that the recipient of it has not yet passed even one-fourth of the innumerable
Stations of the Qalb. The remaining three-fourths must be passed through in order to
finish the experiences of the first Station of spiritual life. Beyond
this Station there are other Stations known as Ruh (spirit), Sirr-i-Khafi (the Hidden
Secret) and Sirr-i-Akhfa (the Hidden of the Hidden). Each of these stations, which
together constitute what is technically called Alam-i-amr (the World of Command), has its
own characteristic states and experiences. After having passed through these
Stations the seeker of Truth gradually receives illuminations of Divine Names and Divine
Attributes and finally the illuminations of the Divine Essence.
Whatever may be the
psychological ground of the distinctions made in this passage it gives us at least some
idea of the whole universe of inner experience as seen by a practitioner of Islamic
Sufism. According to the Murshid this Alam-i-amr (the World of Command or Directive
Energy) must be passed through before one
reaches that unique experience which symbolises the purely objective. This is the
reason why I say that modern psychology has not yet touched even the outer fringe of the
subject. Personally, I do not at all feel hopeful of the present state of things in
either biology or psychology. Mere analytical criticism with some understanding of
the organic conditions of the imagery in which religious life has sometimes manifested
itself is not likely to carry us to the living roots of human personality. Assuming
that sex-imagery has played a role in the history of religion, or that religion has
furnished imaginative means of escape from, or adjustment to, an unpleasant reality, these
ways of looking at the matter cannot, in the least, affect the ultimate aim of religious
life, that is to say the reconstruction of the finite ego by bringing it into contact with
an eternal life-process, and thus giving it a metaphysical status of which we can only
have a partial understanding in the half-choking atmosphere of our present environment.
Q: My Murshid, in the light of what has been said
about prayer and the diagrams shown to us, are there any verses of the Holy Quran or
sayings (hadith) of the Holy Prophet that you can give us for further contemplation and
Consider the forgiveness, knowledge and beauty of Allah in the following selection of verses from
the Holy Quran and the Hadith of the Holy Prophet and Saints of Allah. And may
Allah benefit us all.
From the Holy Qur'an:
And God's is the east and the west: and wherever you
turn, there is God's countenance. Behold, God is infinite, all-knowing. 2:115
He is the First and the Last, and the Outward as well
as the Inward: and He has full knowledge of everything. 57:3
Now, verily, it is We who have created man, and We know
what his innermost self whispers within him: for We are closer to him than his jugular
And remain conscious of God, since it is God that
teaches you [herewith] - and God has full knowledge of everything. 2:282
And We reveal of the Qur'an that which is a healing and
a mercy for believers though it increase the evildoers in naught save ruin. 17:9
In time We shall make them fully understand Our
messages [through what they perceive] in the utmost horizons [of the universe] and within
themselves, so that it will become clear unto them that this [revelation] is indeed the
For [thus it is:] We have not created the heavens and
the earth and all that is between them in mere idle play: none of this have We created
without [an inner] truth: but most of them understand not. 44:38-39
And if My servants ask thee about Me - behold, I am
near; I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto Me; let them, then,
respond unto Me, and believe in Me, so that they might follow the right way. 2:186
God is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
The parable of His Light is, as it were, that of a niche containing a lamp; the lamp is
[enclosed] in glass, the glass [shining] like a radiant star: [a lamp] lit from a blessed
tree - an olive-tree that is neither of the east nor of the west - the oil whereof [is so
bright that it] would well-nigh give light [of itself] even though fire had not touched
it: light upon light!
God guides unto His Light him that wills [to be guided]; and
[to this end] God propounds parables unto men, since God [alone] has full knowledge of all
And on earth there are signs [of God's existence,
visible] to all who are endowed with inner certainty, just as [there are signs thereof]
within your own selves: can you not, then, see? 51:20-21
And say: "The truth has now come [to light], and
falsehood has withered away: for, behold, all falsehood is bound to wither away!"
And seek aid in steadfast patience and prayer: and
this, indeed, is a hard thing for all but the humble in spirit, who know with certainty
that they shall meet their Sustainer and that unto Him they shall return. 2:45-46
They came to know with certainty that there is no
refuge from God other than [a return] unto Him; 9:118
Keep awake [in prayer] at night, all but a small part
of one-half thereof - or make it a little less than that, or add to it [at will]; and
[during that time] recite the Qur'an calmly and distinctly, with thy mind attuned to its
And so, [O Muhammad, say unto them:] "Flee unto
God [from all that is false and evil]! Verily, I am a plain warner to you from Him!
The seven heavens extol His limitless glory, and the
earth, and all that they contain; and there is not a single thing but extols His limitless
glory and praise: but you [O men] fail to grasp the manner of their glorifying Him!
Verily, He is forbearing, much-forgiving! 17:44
O men! It is you who are the poor, and He is the
rich, the One to whom all praise is due. 35:15
Yet, verily, it is not their eyes that have become
blind - but blind have become their hearts that are in their breasts! 22:46
And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger,
and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of [labour's] fruits. But give
glad tidings to those who are patient in adversity - who, when calamity befalls them, say,
"Verily, unto God do we belong and, verily, unto Him shall we return."
From the Hadith of the Holy Prophet
Allah said, "I was hidden treasure and I loved to be known, so I created the creations."
Verily, Allah is beautiful, and Allah loves beauty.
Who knows himself, knows his Lord.
All that is beautiful comes from the Beauty of Allah.
Qalb ul-mumin (the heart of the true believer) is the
Throne of God.
Allah said, O son of Adam, as long as you call Me
with trust in My Mercy, I shall forgive you for the sins you have committed with the
greatest of ease. O son of Adam, even if your sins extended to the horizons and you
sought My forgiveness, I shall forgive you with the greatest of ease. O son of Adam,
if you came to Me with an earthful of sins, without associating any other god with Me, I
shall come to you with an earthful of forgiveness!
Allah said, My heaven cannot contain Me, neither
can My earth. But the heart of My believing slave contains Me.
Allah said, My servant continues to come closer
to Me through the performance of supererogatory acts until I love him. And when I
love him, I become his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his
tongue with which he speaks and his mind with which he reflects. When he calls Me I
answer him, when he asks Me I give him what he requests and when he seeks My help, I help
Allah said, The most beloved thing by which My servant worships Me is being sincere to Me.