by Murshid F. A. Ali ElSenossi

The Stages of the Self on its Journey to Realisation and Beyond

This following words are from talks 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”.

The Seven Deadly Sins

"The Seven Deadly Sins" is a term for negative human vices that hinder and in some cases stop the development to being.
Mistakes, forgetfulness, errors, hatred and sins have been with us from the time of Creation.

In the words of the Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet: "If you do not make mistakes and repent God will remove you and replace you with others who make mistakes, repent and Allah forgives their sins.
The key to success from the deadly sins is to repent, return to God and transform the self to become a better human being.

Millions across the globe have embraced Sufism and use it as a means to find belief, knowledge and realisations of the truth and the Holy Prophet MuhammadSalutations on The Prophet mentions in the Traditions that Allah has sent 124,000 Prophets and Messengers of God to humanity. These special people were sent to show us the best and safest way to return to the Source of life, love and knowledge. The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet has made the statement that “The best which I have brought and all the Prophets before me is ‘There is no god but one God’ La ilaha il Allah. The Sufis take this formula of the Unity of Being as their starting point. They see that within this formula is the key to reach the ultimate aim, with Unity of the self, Unity of time, Unity of place and Unity of essence.

Every salik (traveller) on the path of Allah, travels through the seven stages of the self to reach the state of Realisation. All of these stages (maqamat un nafs) have been mentioned in clarity in the Holy Quran and in the practice of the Prophet of Allah, peace be upon him.

These stages begin with:

  1. Surrender (Islam)
  2. Belief (Iman)
  3. The Way to Perfection (Ihsan)
  4. The Knowledge of Certainty (‘Ilm ul yaqin)
  5. The Eye of Certainty (‘Ayn al yaqin)
  6. The Realisations of Certainty (Haqq ul yaqin)

The Stages of the Self and the Names of the Self in Each State

Animal Self Complaining Self Inspired Self Self at Peace Well Pleased Self Well Pleasing Self Perfect Self
First State Second State Third State Fourth State Fifth State Sixth State Sevent State
Journeying to Allah Journeying for Allah Journeying under the care of Allah Journeying with Allah Journeying within Allah Journeying from Allah Journeying by Allah
Her world is the manifestations of the senses Her world is the Isthmus Her world is the Angelic world Her world is the Reality of MuhammadSalutations on The Prophet Her world is Divinity Her world is witnessing Her world is multiplicity in Unity and Unity in multiplicity
Her place is the Chest Her place is the Heart Her place is the Spirit Her place is the Secret Her place is the Secrets Her place is the Hidden Her place is the most Hidden
Her condition is desiring Her condition is love Her condition is Divine Passion Her condition is Reunion Her condition is annihilation Her condition is bewilderment Her condition is seeing Allah established in everything
The method she requires is Shariah (the law) Her method is Tariqa (the way) Her method is Gnosis (knowing) Her method is Haqiqah (Reality) Because this is the state of annihilation there is no method Her method is Shariah (the law) Inclusive of all that has gone before
Her colour is blue Her colour is yellow Her colour is red Her colour is white Her colour is green Her colour is black She is colourless

The last stage that is not known to many in the lower circles of the teaching is called Hayat as shaur (the life of the senses). The life of the senses is the highest state of realisation of Allah. It is the seventh sense through which the entire body is spiritualised within Allah. It is the state of “seeing without eyes” and “hearing without ears” and “speaking without tongue”. All of the senses are activated and become operative through one sense alone. For example, when “seeing”, one also “hears” and “feels” through the faculty of sight. Allah “Sees” without Eyes. Allah “Hears” without Ears. Allah “Speaks” without “Tongue”. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (May the Blessings of Allah be upon him and Peace) indicated this Ultimate Life of the Senses when he said, “I see you from my back the same as I see you from my front”. “Hayat ash-shaur” is the highest level of baqa (abiding). All of the senses are Allah’s.

The next article is a talk given by Murshid F.A Ali ElSenossi. It is followed by three articles presenting different views on this subject of vice and virtue. The first looks at the modern view of vice as a psychological disease, arising from the environment and circumstances, to be treated by therapy. It is followed by two articles examining the question from traditional points of view.

When the Evil Becomes Good, And the Good Becomes Evil

All of the revelations sent by Allah to humanity, in any shape or form, are to transform our negative base qualities to higher ones. As the Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophetsaid, “Have the qualities of Allah!” So, Allah willing, this series of articles and quotations will shed some light on the real and true sicknesses of humanity. We cannot take medication to cure our selves – we must find the Real Self within us and acknowledge that there is no god but Allah.

The final cure for our maladies is in following the practice and teachings of the last Prophet and Messenger of Allah to all creation – Al Mustafa (the Chosen One). The one who said in confirmation of this subject, “I have been sent to complete the higher moral ethics”. Allah says in the Holy Quran, “We have sent thee [O, Muhammad] to complete the higher morals”. We do not need to wait for the pharmaceutical industry to invent a new substance to drug us out of existence – we need to find Allah and He is very close. All we have to do is open our hearts and let Him in, and say Bismillah – In the Name of Allah!

The following hadith is related by Mu’adh bin Jabal. This most beloved and trusted companion of the Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophetreceived the following advice. He said:

“The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet took my hand and said, ‘I swear by Allah that I love you. I am going to give you some advice. Do not leave the prayer without making this supplication:

“O Allah, give me the capability to be conscious of Thee, to be thankful of Thee and give me the means to worship You in the best way”.

Hadith (A Saying of the Seal of Prophethood). The following conversation took place over 1400 years ago. As the Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophetgazes into the future of humanity, he sees the deterioration of the people of all faiths at the end of the cycle. He describes the horrible conditions that we live in now and he sounds the warning so that we make take stock of ourselves. As for his companions, they were traumatised and horrified by such revelations of what was to come and that the condition of people all over the world would sink to such a level. We all could contemplate and meditate upon the words of the Holy One, so that we may become lucky enough to save one individual - and that could be our own self.

Once when his companions were sitting with the Holy Prophet MuhammadSalutations on The Prophet (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) with great respect and courtesy and love, he uttered a few words that filled them with horror and fear. The beloved Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet of Allah was talking about the future condition of humanity. But his saying did not stop the companions from becoming vigilant and conscious of Allah and striving hard towards Allah’s Presence. This saying concerns all of humanity and if we look around we can see so clearly and vividly the signs. But yet we are watching and we cannot do anything. One thing we must do is to transform our selves and bring a powerful spiritual awareness of Allah into our lives so that we may be able to save our selves, and with the Grace of Allah and His Love and Mercy we may be able to change those close to us as well.

Mu’adh bin Jabal relates:

The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet said,

“What is your condition if your females become tyrants, and your youth sink into lower desires, and you leave spiritual struggles and efforts in religion?”

The companions were shocked to hear this and surprised. “Is this to happen, O Messenger of Allah?” they asked.

The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet replied, “Yes. And I swear by the One who holds my life in His hand that there is worse than this”.

“O Messenger of Allah, what could be worse than this?” the companions exclaimed.

The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet continued,

“What is your condition when the time comes when you cannot do any good nor stop anyone from doing bad?”

Again the companions were shocked to hear this. “Is this to happen, O Messenger of Allah?” they asked.

The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet replied, “Yes. And I swear by the One who holds my life in His hand that worse than this will take place”.

“O Messenger of Allah, what could be worse than this?”

The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet continued,

“What do you think of yourself when you see the bad as good and the good as bad?”

“Is this to happen, O Messenger of Allah?” the companions asked.

The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet replied, “Yes. And I swear by the One who holds my life in His hand that worse than this will take place”.

“O Messenger of Allah, what could be worse than this?”

The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet continued,

“What do you think of your condition when you will advise people to do wrong and stop them from doing any good?”

“Is this to happen, O Messenger of Allah?” the companions asked.

The Holy ProphetSalutations on The Prophet replied, “Yes. And I swear by the One who holds my life in His hand that worse than this will take place for Allah has said, ‘I swear by My Greatness, I will make evil disorder so attractive that even a holy person will become confused."

In the Holy Quran, Allah warns:

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace.

[Since they have become oblivious of God,] corruption has appeared on land and in the sea as an outcome of what men’s hands have wrought: and so He will let them taste [the evil of] some of their doings, so that they might return [to the right path].

Surah Ar-Rum (The Romans) v 4.

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace.

You are obsessed by greed for more and more until you go down to your graves. Nay, in time you will come to understand! And once again, in time you will come to understand! Nay, if you could understand [it] with an understanding [born] of certainty, you would indeed, most surely, behold the blazing fire [of hell]! In the end you will indeed, most surely, behold it with the eye of certainty: and on that Day you will most be surely be called to account for [what you did with] the boon of life!

Surah At-Takathur (Greed for More and More).

“Hast thou ever considered [the kind of man] who makes his own desires his god…”
Surah Al-Jathiyah (Kneeling Down) v23

Making A Virtue Of Vice
In a world whose motto has become ‘You mustn’t blame yourself’, sin has been replaced by sickness.

Once upon a time there were seven deadly sins. They were called deadly because they led to spiritual death and therefore to damnation. The seven sins were (and are): lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride. Now all of them, with the exception of pride, have become medical conditions. Pride has become a virtue.

A secular society always feels uncomfortable with the moral imagination associated with the seven deadly sins. The Enlightenment replaced the idea of sin, which is deemed to be an offence against God, with the idea of crime, which is an offence against other people. But the rationalists still shared with religion the belief that individuals are responsible for their wrongdoing. However, these days we do not simply feel estranged from a religious universe; we also find it difficult to attribute the act of sinning to human behaviour. Today, the notion of personal guilt, which underpins the concept of the seven deadly sins, exists only in caricature. That is why Western culture can only make sense of the act of sinning as a symptom of a regrettable psychological disease. Actions that were once denounced as a sin are no longer interpreted through the vocabulary of morality but are diagnosed through the language of therapy. The deadly sins have become behavioural problems that require treatment rather than punishment.

There are no longer sinners, only addictive personalities. Take lust. Those who would have previously been called lustful are now described as ‘addicted’ to sex and in need of therapy. The American Association on Sexual Problems has estimated that between 10 and 15 per cent of all Americans — some 25 million people — are addicted to sex. Through the confessions of a number of high-profile sex addicts (.....) what used to be called promiscuity has acquired a medical label. Friends and former lovers (of an ex-President of America) have also jumped on the bandwagon, and assert that he, too, is the victim of this addiction. Organisations such as Sex Addicts Anonymous insist that this condition is very difficult to cure. This was affirmed in a report written by an American doctor, Martha Turner, who claimed that sex addiction is the hardest psychological illness to treat, with high relapse rates and low levels of recovery. So what can you do? ‘Your sexual behaviour is out of control and you want to get help’, is the advice of Spirit of Recovery, an online organisation offering therapeutic advice.

Gluttony has also been transformed into an addiction. Gluttons no longer gorge themselves; they are simply suffering from one of a variety of eating disorders. Sections of the addiction industry even insist that compulsive eating is a psychological disease with a biological cause. One food-addiction expert contends, ‘It is a physical disease characterised by obsession with food, obsession with weight and loss of control over the amount eaten.’ These compulsions are represented as the outcome of a physiological or biochemical condition of the body, which creates ‘cravings for complex carbohydrates’. Some go a step further, and argue that obesity is not really a problem since it is biologically based, and therefore natural. Charlotte Cooper, the author of Fat And Proud, believes that people are fat because ‘genetic heritage determines our metabolic rate’, and the problem is that society forces people to diet. ‘I question our ability to choose our body shapes,’ writes Cooper. So you might as well reconcile yourself to your genetic heritage.

Anger is deemed by some to be the most powerful emotional addiction. ‘Have you ever been so angry that you felt like you could breathe fire?’ asks Spirit of Recovery. If you have, ‘you are truly addicted to this state of being, this emotional chemical trap that now determines your every action and feeling’. Conditions such as ‘road rage’, ‘computer rage’, ‘trolley rage’, ‘golf rage’ or ‘air rage’ suggest that this disease can afflict the individual in diverse settings. The therapeutic lobby claims that the solution to this emotional addiction is the application of stress- or anger-management techniques. Major public and private institutions invest in anger-management therapy, and sometimes insist that employees go on courses that allow them to come to terms with their emotions.

So-called addictions to emotions such as anger often receive the medical label of an ‘impulse-control disorder’. Avarice and envy have been recast as the inevitable consequence of modern consumer society, and are also sometimes diagnosed as an impulse-control disorder. It is claimed that ours is an addictive society that compels individuals to be envious of one another. Spending addiction, ‘shopaholism’ and compulsive gambling are represented as diseases that are comparable to alcoholism and drug addiction. Spending addiction, sometimes called the ‘plastic disease’, gets you intoxicated so that you simply cannot help what you are doing.

Sloth has become medicalised. Conditions such as chronic fatigue continually invite people to make sense of their lassitude through a medical label. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder provides an all-purpose explanation for individuals who are reluctant to focus or concentrate. But sloth need not be a wholly negative condition. Some forms of sloth are upheld as an antidote to stress-related illnesses. Hard work is often castigated as a risky enterprise. There is a great risk of contracting workaholism if you take your job too seriously. The positive virtue associated with work has given way to the conviction that work makes you ill.

And finally we come to what the Church considered to be the most deadly of the seven sins: pride. Of all the seven deadly sins, pride is the only one that has been completely rehabilitated. That is why pride is never diagnosed as a disease. The American sociologist Joel Best has observed that it is the absence of pride that constitutes a serious psychological problem. These days virtually every social and psychological problem is blamed on low self-esteem. The solution to poor educational performance, teenage pregnancy, anorexia, crime or homelessness is to raise the self-esteem of the victim. In our self-oriented world, society continually incites people to take themselves far too seriously. That is why pride has become one of the prime virtues of our time.

It should be noted that the therapeutic imperative alters the concept not only of sin but also of virtue. In the Middle Ages, practicing the seven contrary virtues — humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, liberality, diligence — was believed to protect one against temptation towards the seven deadly sins. Today, people who practice some of these virtues are just as liable to be offered counseling as those who are tempted by sin. Kindness? Too much kindness may lead to compassion-fatigue. Diligence is sometimes dismissed as the act of someone suffering from a ‘perfectionist complex’. Humble people lack self-esteem, and chastity is just another sexual dysfunction. Virtue is not so much its own reward as a condition requiring therapeutic intervention.

A medical diagnosis is applied not just to the classic virtues but also to the religious faith that underpins them. If you have too much faith you may be suffering from religious addiction. Father (...) is. He is a spiritual adviser at a psychiatric centre in Canada. As well as being a recovering religious addict, he is a recovering alcoholic. In his book When God Becomes a Drug he writes, ‘In essence we have become addicted to the certainty, sureness or sense of security that our faith provides.’ If any readers of this magazine are worried about their faith, they can help themselves by dipping into Toxic Faith: Understanding and Overcoming Religious Addiction by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton. Therapeutic definitions of addiction elevate the sense of human powerlessness to a level unimaginable in mediaeval times. From the standpoint of our therapeutic culture, powerlessness becomes not merely an episode in one’s biography but its defining condition. From this fatalistic perspective, treatment acquires a passive, even fatalistic, character. Addicts are told that they will never be completely cured. We have recovering sex addicts, recovering religious addicts and recovering alcoholics. No one ever really changes.

The Truth of the matter is that as humans we have shortcomings and are bound to make mistakes. But given the choice of being powerless in the face of God or an impotent client of a therapist, we choose the side of God. Because, after all is said and done - it is the 'Face of God' that we have to face. That’s why I say bring back the idea of transcendence. Sin is a process of learning and that's where free will lies. Until we make the right choice, our shortcomings will present themselves at every turn. We may give it whatever name we like, but the truth in the 21st Century post modern age is that we have come to the end of our rope. If we do not take stock of ourselves, all of the sacrifices of humanity from the beginning of time will be totally lost. Because we have deliberately cut ourselves off from the true traditions that can bring us back and make us become real Human Beings. A Real Human Being is one who thinks, and what he thinks he says, what he says, he does, and what he does brings harmony, peace and benefit to all of creation.

We are situated in the end of the cycle, and perhaps the die has been cast. It is the duty and the responsibility before God of any decent human being that he should make an effort to salvage and save this sinking ship of ours that we call earth for we all are on the same boat. We supplicate for the help of the Merciful, and Loving Creator and His last Emissary, the Chosen One. We believe that if He has chosen one, He has chosen all.

And only Hu knows best