The Inner Message of Islam
by John Wyborn
This is an account of a talk given at a meeting of the London Branch of the Churches Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies.
John Wyborn is a member of the CFPSS and the London Group.
Much of the world's trouble of today seems to be focused not only upon politics but on religion. We hear much about the ferocity of fundamentalism, especially within Islam which is not well understood within the K. Less heard about is the spirituality of the Muslim faith, a lot of which resides in the ancient beliefs and practices of Sufism. As part of our programme to share spirituality and friendship with those of other faiths we arranged a meeting some years ago between the London Branch of CFPSS and members of a London Sufi group, Khidrnatui Khadim (the name of the Group, which is Arabic for 'at the service of the servant' - the servant in this case being the Sheikh who founded the School and who termed himself the Servant of God). We first read a short extract from our own 1909 translation of the Koran which had fallen open at the page that morning and which seemed appropriate: 'God is the LIGHT of the Heavens and of the Earth. Light is like a niche in which is a lamp - the lamp contained in glass - the glass, as it were, a glistening star. From a blessed tree is it lighted, the olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would well-nigh shine out, even though fire touched it not! It is light upon light. God guideth whom He will to His light, and God setteth forth parables to men, for God knoweth all things.' There followed a period of silent prayer. We then told our guests a little about the Fellowship and invited them to tell us about the Sufi School.
Soraya Ramjane, who is the Training Director of the School in London (and also studies Human Rights Law at University College London), then outlined the history of the foundation, which was initiated in Mauritius in the Nineteenth Century by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba. Their founder practised love and tolerance towards Christians, despite the inevitable stresses of colonialism in the Victorian era, inviting his followers to 'compete with Christians in their love for Christ'. Christ is perceived as the Light of God and among the greatest of the Prophets. This is the doctrine of the Sufis in general, many of whom have existed for many centuries, even pre-dating the Prophet himself. Most Sufis are Sunni rather than Shia, but their primary concern is with the purification of the self, the soul. Whilst loyal to Islam, the Sufi seeks to go deep into matters of spirituality regardless of any particular religion. This may separate them to an extent from other Muslim groups - not unlike the Churches' Fellowship experience within some branches of Christianity.
At the Sufi School, students seek to learn how to work upon their own souls and personalities, which is hard to do unless one lives within a group. You work upon your strengths and weaknesses, not merely as an individual but also in your interaction with others in the group - especially those whom you find especially irritating or annoying. You learn to analyse why you respond in that way, and what this knowledge can teach you about yourself and your attitudes, and your sins and virtues. You learn the twelve steps to peace:
1. The historical level. Each of us is a child of our heritage. We inherit good traits and bad traits from our family, from our race and from the history of that race. We cannot deny these, but we need to learn to recognise them and where appropriate to compensate for them in our progression towards peace.
2. The parental legacy. The strengths we get from our parents and our home background, and also the weaknesses, especially if our upbringing has been interrupted or our parents delinquent. Thus plusses and the minuses have to be faced and adjustments made.
3. Action and reaction. Here the Sufi regards Reaction as negative. Violence is a re-action to the perceived wrongdoing or intemperate behaviour of others, and one is out of control. The student who has learnt Action knows how to initiate peace in response to the actions of others, and is therefore in control of a situation, not allowing the negative performance of others to dictate what happens.
4. Intelligence of the real rather than the imagined. In explaining this step, Soraya referred to the importance of the Present Moment — a theme to which Fellowship members can readily respond, especially those who have studied Dr Martin Israel's books and sermons.
5. The power of positive thought. Another theme familiar to those who have read the many Christian works on the Power of Positive Thinking.
6. Superiority and inferiority. Keeping the ego in balance; distinguishing pride from self-respect.
7. Understanding the emotions - notably anger, sorrow and fear. Recognising how these emotions, in ourselves and in others, may colour and frustrate our aims. Learning to accept but to compensate for them.
8. Competition and co-operation. Competition can be good, but only within a contest to do good. Co-operation, conversely, may have positive aims, as with all team work, or else it can merely encourage decadence, if the ambience or circumstance is negative, as within a corrupt regime or society.
9. The power of forgiveness. This is essential to peace. If you can forgive you are empowered. If not, you are handicapped.
10. Economy by peace. Examples were given of the actions of Mahatma Gandhi and others.
11. Democracy by peace. Everyone of equal value.
12. Service to humanity.
There is a Sufi saying 'when God loves you He tests you', and many find the answer is to have a spiritual master or guide. A wide discussion followed in which our guests revealed that they have a clear belief in life after death ('when you die you face reality') and they hold out the possibility of reincarnation, as and when it is the will of God. We were touched to read their entry in our Branch Register: It is a great pleasure for us to be amongst our brothers and sisters.