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
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
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:
The Human Realm/ the physical level of the body
The angelic Realm/the world of the intellect
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.
Quran Surah 2 v 222.
This is a condition of Love.
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:
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.”
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
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
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
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
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.
no soul do We place a burden greater than it can bear:
Surah 23 V 62.
And also Allah recommends to us:
My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.
Surah 20 v 114
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
dressing, place the right hand, arm, leg or foot into the clothing first.
eating and drinking, always use the right hand to convey the food to the mouth.
you drink water or cool drinks, try to drink using three sips rather than one
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