by Murshid F. A. Ali ElSenossi

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 Murshid F.A. 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

Q: 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).

A: Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu (And upon you be Peace and the Mercy of Allah and Blessings.)

In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Praise be to the Giver of Life and the Originator of All Existent Things, and praise be upon all the Prophets and Messengers of Allah. And Salutations and Peace be upon Ahmad al Mustafa, the Chosen, the Last and Final Messenger sent to All Creation.

Q: In the last issue of the Treasure (Issue 9) was presented the Door of Prayer. Before you explain the Door of Purification, or the preparation for prayer, could you provide us with more detail about the symbolism of the different daily prayers?

A: The symbolism is expressed through the number 3 and corresponds to the 3 dimensions we have spoken of earlier, Sharia’ (The Law), Tariqa (The Path) and Haqiqah (The Reality). Man has three corresponding aspects to his nature and these can be expressed using the terms:

Nasut: The Human Realm/ the physical level of the body
Malakut: The angelic Realm/the world of the intellect
Lahut: The Realm of Divinity. The spirit belongs to this realm.

There are five daily prayers. Two of these are performed in daylight hours and these correspond to the Nasut or human realm. Two are performed in the times just before sunrise and just after sunset. These are neither darkness nor light, neither human nor Divine - they belong to the Malakut or angelic realm. The night prayer is offered when the worshipper is alone with Allah. This prayer belongs solely to the Lahut or Divine realm.

The key to grasping these concepts is to keep in mind that all these terms are different in degree, not in kind. Then we will begin to understand that everything is a means to an end, not an end in itself. If this becomes imprinted onto our conscious awareness, then we will always be learning and improving. There is no end, because when we seek Allah, we are seeking that which is limitless and endless.

The Door of Purification

With regards to purification, within the teaching there are 2 different types of purification. When the knowledge came to us about the cleansing of oneself, the people of Allah knew immediately that there was the knowledge pertaining to the inner purification of the heart and the outer knowledge of purification involving the cleansing of the limbs of the body. The inward cleansing purifies the character of our selves, purifies the mind from wrong things and from the wrong formulation of that which is beyond the mind. Of course, the heights to which one can ascend are directly related to the extent to which he purifies his inner secret. The purification of the inner secret is to reach a state where one makes no associations with or gives partners to Allah (shirk).

For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean. Holy Quran Surah 2 v 222.

This is a condition of Love.

Sharia’ speaks to us with regard to the exoteric purification - that is ablution (wudhu), washing (ghusl) and tayammum (wiping of the face and hands with pure earth, sand or sandstone). Two of these are related to water and one is related to the earth, which our bodies are made of. Tayammum is performed when there is an absence or shortage of water or when a medical condition prevents the washing of the body with water.

Allah Most High says:

Remember how it was when He caused inner calm to enfold you, as an assurance from Him, and sent down upon you water from the skies, so that He might purify you thereby and free you from Satan’s unclean whisperings and strengthen your hearts and thus make firm your steps.” Holy Quran Surah 8 v 11.

This verse speaks of inner purification. As we take physical nourishment from the earth, likewise does Allah provide spiritual and divine food from above.

As we have mentioned previously, if one wishes to learn the ablution there are many books available which deal specifically with this subject.

We will explain why you have to wash the entire body, when the lesser ablution is sufficient and when Tayammum (the use of clean earth or sandstone) is appropriate. With the intention of always remaining in a state of ritual purity, it is recommended that one should keep a small stone the size of the palm of the hand close by, for example in the glove box of one’s car, next to the bedside and in the place of prayer and dhikr. This makes it easy for one to always remain in a state of physical purity (Taharah). The continuation of this activity will increase the awareness of our movements and increase ones awareness of Allah.

As the Holy Prophet said: “Our thoughts, movements and actions are according to the intention attached to it”. The intention is the first inward movement of any action. If we research the sayings of the Holy Prophet, we find that in the most authentic collection as compiled by Imam Bukhari, the very first saying presented, as narrated by Umar, deals with sincerity of intention.

Allah, Most High, says in the Holy Quran:

And We made out of water every living thing” Surah 21 v 30 and also “And there is not a single thing but extols His limitless glory and praise” Surah 17 v 44.

That is the universal Islam, but our topic deals with Islam al Uqul, The Islam of the minds. This means that we willingly and consciously accept the formula of the Shahadah (The testimony of faith) “Ashadu an La Illaha Il Allah, wa ashadu anna Muhammadan ‘abduhu wa rasuluhu” “I bear witness there is no god but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Slave and Messenger”. The outer meaning of this is that there is only one Allah. On an inner level this means that there is no Reality, and there is nothing but Hu. From the Qamus as-Sufi (The Book of Sufi Terminology) we have the following notes related to al ‘abd (the slave and worshipper); The slave is the one who is in a state of total and utter submission to the Will of Allah. After having been annihilated in Allah (fana’ fillah), where all duality vanishes and distinctions are erased, he returns to creation (baqa’) with perfect courtesy (adab) and with the Truth of Cerainity (haqq al-yaqin) that “the Lord is the Lord and the slave is the slave”. When ‘abd is translated as “servant” it carries the impliction that the servant can leave the service of his Master, if he so desires. However, the “slave” is in total bondage, being utterly dependent on his Master. All buying and selling transactions have been terminated. The ‘abd belongs to Allah, completely, perfectly and unconditionally.

The Holy Prophet once asked his companions whether a man who washes himself 5 times a day in a running stream would have any trace of dirt left on him. They replied, No, he would not. The Holy Prophet then said that performing the 5 times daily prayer removes all negative thought and bad actions from the one who performs it. He tells us “prayer cannot be valid without the presence of the heart”. Unless you bring your heart to full awareness of the prayer, then you are not praying, you are playing. The Holy Prophet said in a hadith qudsi (holy saying): “Allah does not look to your physical appearance or actions, He looks to your intentions and your hearts.”

Sayyidina ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son in law of the Holy Prophet had such an awareness. When he would perform the ablution in preparation for prayer, his face would change colour and he would turn yellow and tremble. When he was asked why this occurred he would reply “Do you know; before Who I am about to stand?” The preparation for the encounter with Allah would bring about a state of ecstasy in him. It is narrated that once Sayyiduna ‘Ali was wounded by an arrow in his thigh. It proved to be difficult to remove so he suggested to his companions that they wait until he was in prayer and to remove the arrow when they saw him performing the tashahud (testimony) near the end of the prayer. This they did and the arrow was removed. When ‘Ali had completed his prayer he asked them if they had done it yet.

To enter a state of wudhu (ablution) is to enter a state of muhasabah, or taking account of oneself. Done properly, this will bring about a state of visualisation (muraqabah) as well. The Great Master Shaykh Muhyi Din ibn ‘Arabi surpassed the other Sufis before him with regards to this by taking account of his thoughts as well. It is not necessary for us to go that far, but we can strive to reach that summit. When we begin by washing our hands, we should visualise any negative actions performed by them. Hands, in a sense, also represent power. First, the washing of the dirt from the hands, then comes the visualisation of the actions performed. The third stage of muhasabah is the connection to the power of Allah (qudrat Allah).

The hands are that which we use to receive with and in turn to give away again. Of the qualities that are related to your hands, one of the keys to success is the balance between miserliness and generosity. Allah tells us in the Holy Quran not to close the hand tightly nor to extend it totally so that we become destitute.

By starting with the hands and arms, we are retracing the actions backwards to their origins in the different senses. When we are performing the ablution - simultaneously activating our thoughts and visualising the actions that emanated from them, it is not necessary to think about every action from the smallest to the largest. It is sufficient to concentrate on one action which may stand out as the most negative, then concentrate on remembrance of Allah on the level of asking forgiveness (istighfar) for and correction of the mistake we have made. It is important to also turn away from the repetition of the action again in the future.

The power of speech is one of the most beautiful gifts of Allah to humanity. This capacity in the human is related to the Name of Allah - Al Mutakallim (The Possessor of Speech). The Holy Prophet said, “Purify your mouths because they are the highway of the Quran”.

Inhalation of water into the nose deals with the reception of knowledge as well. Water is Life and knowledge at the same time. A great honour given to this part of the face that connects directly to the forehead and is included as one of the seven parts that we prostrate ourselves to Allah upon.

Keeping our noses clean is not just related to the purification from dirt, but also to keeping our noses out of other people’s business. The Holy Prophet said, “The perfection of one’s belief is leaving that which doesn’t concern you”. The face is the physical part of the human being that Allah has mentioned in the Holy Quran where He says, “Faces will be looking towards the Divine Beauty”. For this reason the Holy Prophet forbade the hitting of the face, including those of the animals.

The motion of wiping wet hands backwards and forwards over the head is an indication to cleansing the mind from the accumulation of negative and useless information that brings no benefit to our spiritual endeavours. Placement of the prayer cap or hijab on the head in effect seals this action and indicates that we come before Allah without preconceptions and thoughts that relate to other than our spiritual self.

The main sense of the body, which is directly responsible for bringing us information, is the hearing. When one washes the ears, one can say the following dua’ “Oh Allah, let me hear the caller to a state of bliss”. On the Day of Resurrection, an Angel will emerge from the gates of Heaven and issue a call. Only those with this quality of consciousness will hear him and be able to enter at that time.

The feet are highly symbolic spiritually as Allah tells us in the Book of Return, The Holy Quran “Do not follow in the footsteps of Satan”. At the other end of the scale, we are told of the beauty and love which emanated from the companion of the Holy Prophet, Abdullah ibn Omar, when he used to walk in the mosque of the Holy Prophet, visualising the footsteps of the Messenger of Allah as he placed his own feet on the ground that his beloved Prophet walked upon. Allah says in a Hadith Qudsi (Holy Saying transmitted on the tongue of the Holy Prophet) “My slave continues to draw near to Me with voluntary spiritual work so that I shall love him. And when I love him, I become his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks”. Then he becomes a godly human being.

The answer to the question of ablution ranges from a very basic understanding of what is required to a highly complex level of conscious awareness. The easy way is to wash each of the necessary parts three times. The inner travel we leave up to the individual as to how far they wish to go. There are limitless meanings and endless knowledge available behind the performance of ablution.

On no soul do We place a burden greater than it can bear: Surah 23 V 62.

And also Allah recommends to us:

Say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge. Surah 20 v 114
Above one who knows is one who knows more.

All these verses and sayings indicate that there must be humbleness within oneself and not to be arrogant or proud. These are catastrophes on the path of knowledge.

Performing the ablution (wudhu) with consciousness and awareness with regards to every limb of our body will increase the sensitivity of our being so we will be able to experience the primordial self in the presence of Allah. For this reason the beloved of Allah, the Holy Prophet Muhammad said that it is better to wait for 40 years than to disturb the one who is in a state of prayer (salat) and to turn to ashes is better than to pass in front of him. When you stand before Allah in a state of purity, with empty hands and recite ‘Allahu akbar’ ‘Allah is great’, He looks to your heart. If what he sees there is in accordance with what you have said, a corridor of light is opened between Allah and His worshipper. Disturbing this energy flow amounts to interfering with the reflection of the Divine in the mirror of the heart. As is related in a Hadith Qudsi “Neither My heaven nor My earth contain Me, but the heart of My believing slave contains Me”. Containment is not within space because Allah is beyond space and time; it is containment of His knowledge (ma’arifa).

Brief description of the different modes of purification and when each is required to be performed in order to enter the Vehicle of Light.

Wudhu (ablution)

It is required to be repeated when the seal of purity is broken by the discharge of something from the body, for example, the passing of wind or answering the call of nature. Indulging in improper speech also breaks the seal and requires that the ablution be renewed.

Ghusl (washing of the entire body)

It is compulsory to perform ghusl after marital relations, in the case of wet dreams and for women, after the completion of the menstrual cycle or postpartum discharge.

As we know, everybody creates with his imagination before creating in the physical realm. An example of this is art. Even though the inspiration for creating artworks comes from a higher realm, we ascribe it to ourselves and this is the point at which we lose the Reality of the art itself. The highest form of creation is the human being because he has been given the potential and capability to know the Divine. Because of this factor he has been placed as the vicegerent of Allah on earth.

The most powerful energies we carry as human beings are the spiritual energy and the physical energy which manifests itself as the sexual drive. When we utilise this energy, we enter into a state of creativity and forget ourselves. Were we to direct this natural energy towards a spiritual purpose, it would bring great benefit to our spiritual development. When this energy is lost, one is required to wash the entire body to bring us back to the state of awareness which was lost during the physical act.

Tayammum (using sandstone or pure earth)

As we said earlier, Tayammum involves the use of clean sand, earth or natural sandstone for the purposes of purification. The only restriction on Tayammum with regards to prayer is that you must renew the Tayammum for each compulsory prayer. There is no limitation on the number of voluntary prayers one may perform without repeating the Tayammum. This is the difference between using water and earth for purification. When we use earth, we are using the element that our bodies are made from - it is related to the Nasut, or physical realm. Water is of a higher nature - relating to life and knowledge. Allah says, “We have made from water everything alive”. For this reason it has been said that the intention is not necessary when making ablution with water, but when using sand or earth, it is required to state our intention to purify ourselves for prayer and worship. In effect we are purifying the body with the same elements that comprise the human body. This is why it must be renewed.

Ways to spiritualise our daily activities

Allah tells us that we are asleep during the night as well as during the day. The following are simple exercises recommended by the Holy Prophet to awaken the consciousness and to keep us in a state of awareness in our everyday movements so that nothing is taken for granted. The Holy Prophet said: “People are asleep and when they die, they awake”. He has also said: “Die before you die!”

Our human bodies are divided into the right and left sides. The first step in awareness of this is to know which is our right and which is our left. We should train ourselves to use the right side of oneself in the proper manner. For example:

When washing, always wash the right side first.

When dressing, place the right hand, arm, leg or foot into the clothing first.

When eating and drinking, always use the right hand to convey the food to the mouth.

When you drink water or cool drinks, try to drink using three sips rather than one long draught.

In other words, all positive actions should be conducted with the right hand, and actions that come on the negative side should be commenced with the left. Cleansing of the private parts should be done with the left hand. Entering the House of Allah or spiritual place should be done with the right foot first – this applies to our own houses as well. We enter the bathroom with our left foot and exit with our right foot.

As with everything that we do, all of these activities should be preceded by saying ‘Bismillah ar Rahman ar Raheem’ (In the Name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful).

All of these exercises and actions are recommended to humanity by the Last Prophet and Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (May the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him), in order that our lives become totally spiritualised and we move closer to the nearness of Allah with every breath, as Allah wills. This is the Door of Purification that opens from the Door of Prayer.

Allah is the One who favours with opportunities and grants the strength to conform.