Bismillahi Rahman ir Raheem
“When those come to you who believe in Our signs, say 'Peace be upon you'; Your Sustainer has written upon himself Mercy. If any of you did evil in ignorance of the truth, and then repents and mends his conduct, surely He is oft forgiving, Most Merciful” (Holy Qur’an 6:54).
“Believers are only they whose hearts tremble with awe whenever Allah is mentioned, and whose faith is strengthened whenever His messages are conveyed unto them, and who in their Sustainer place their trust - those who are constant in prayer and spend on others out of what We provide for them as sustenance; it is they, they who are truly believers! Theirs shall be great dignity in their Sustainer's sight, and forgiveness of sins, and a most excellent sustenance” (Holy Qur’an 8:2-4).
“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]” (Holy Qur’an 30:41).
The Holy Prophet said Al Deen al Mu’amala; “The religion is good actions”.
For everything in life there is a code of conduct and certain behaviour which is acceptable and desirable for each particular situation. It is common sense that we behave in our homes with our families in a different way than when we are with our friends, in our working environment and other situations. The guidelines are different in every situation, but the difference is in degree, not in kind, as good manners are always desirable. Certain qualities are natural to some people and for others, they need to work to obtain such qualities. If the qualities that we have are truthfulness, sincerity, kindness, concern for others, honesty and the like, we earn the respect of those around us as everyone loves such qualities and respect the individuals who have them. But, as I said, for others, they will need to work in order to make these qualities part of their selves. We could fill pages or even books writing on the subject of the negative and positive qualities of the human being and the manners of conduct in every field of life, however, that would take us too far from our purpose of writing this Nasihah for the seeker of truth (salik) and specifically for anyone who is a visitor to the Centre or is part of the Islamic Sufi Order.
The purpose of establishing a Sufi Centre is to know Allah (God). This place is for those who desire and wish with their entire being to be nearer to the Source of Life, Knowledge and Love.
First, we would like to explain what the Sufi Centre is and what it takes to establish and to maintain such a place. We all need the means to buy, to sell, to do business; and we work so that we can maintain our lives. The same principle applies to spiritual places. The help of the Divine Generosity is there, but human beings who have a connection with a Sufi Centre also have the responsibility for establishing it, maintaining it, and looking after the Centre and especially the teaching they are given, for this is the purpose of establishing such a place.
What we mean by "looking after the teaching" is that you are each individually responsible to complete and maintain your own spiritual practices which include your five daily prayers, reading of the Holy Qur’an, following the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet and the completing of the practices which have been designated by the Islamic Sufi Order to which you belong.
When we look at the world today and we see programs on television, the mountains are there, the seas are there, rivers are there, animals are there and all different kinds of cities and countries. Airplanes, trains, cars, motorcycles and bicycles are all there on the screen. From the physical point of view, many things do not seem to have changed, but upon closer examination and investigation, we live in this new millennium with a completely different brain set and complex mental attitudes and behaviour that is totally off the chart from what used to be considered acceptable.
As we have said before in many of the things we have written - humanity has evolved dramatically in the technological realm. We are technologically advanced and modernised, but sadly the steps that need to be taken towards being civilised have not been taken. For this reason, all the new technologies available to humanity such as instant communications, internet, video and conference calls, and of course other technological advancements and entertainment options, have given us the illusion that we are intelligent and clever and that we know exactly what we are doing.
We cannot deny the certain degree of benefit for humanity with regards to technology. It has brought a degree of benefit and ease to our lives. But because of the absence of the moral component; the moral code which enables the human to evolve to become a human being and live in peace with himself, his environment, and with the world in general; we do not have peace or happiness or even a reasonably well-adjusted self. Most people are constantly in a state of strife - inward strife, outward strife, and peace and happiness just do not exist for them. You do not have to take my word for it; just ask the nearest one to you - even if it be a stranger - what they think of the situation of the world today. The answer will be "terrible" or something similar, without any hesitation. People know that humanity has taken a turn for the worse and they are heading towards uncharted territory and an uncertain future.
What will it benefit the intelligent individual who has a house full of the latest gadgets and new inventions if he does not have the spiritual awareness and concern for human life to bring happiness to others instead of increasing their misery? This detachment from caring and inner considering is one of our major shortcomings and a disastrous outcome of modernisation.
As the Holy One has said: “At the end of the cycle, mankind will live in a state of war and rumours of war”. Day in and day out, we are bombarded with the news of killing, destruction of property, land, cities and countries, by forces both natural and man-made. Every country is armed to the teeth, or they are trying to arm themselves, for the sake of protection like the world is going to be invaded by aliens from outer space. The idea of "love thy neighbour" now falls on deaf ears. We sincerely wish that people who are able, or desire, to live in peace will be able to do so. Because of the lack of realisation of true knowledge, real knowing, of the purpose and the aim of our existence on planet earth, peace is elusive to most.
For this reason, a Sufi Centre is one of the real factors in laying foundations for individuals, communities and to a certain degree, brings solace and the Divine Pleasure to humanity in general. Such a place will not give benefit to anyone if the people who are directly connected to it, near and far, do not take the spiritual teaching which has been made available for them seriously, use it properly and practice it - practice regularly with sincerity, focus and harmony.
So, we come back to the title of this article – the Adab, or the Manners of the Residents and the Visitors to such a Holy place. How they should behave so that they could gain the maximum spiritual benefit from the time they spend and to awaken the sleeper within and develop great and powerful himma (determination). All of the aims that we wish to achieve will be ours to receive through the Grace of the Loving and Generous and Merciful Allah.
The Spiritual Centre is established by Allah, for Allah, so that we may achieve the ultimate and the beautiful destination of travel within Allah. (Kun Ma’a Allah, be with Allah). In this time and age that we live in, to find a Sufi Centre and to be part of that Centre, in comparison to what has been said earlier, one should consider himself truly lucky, truly successful and truly blessed. The Divine Hand has pushed you onto the right path, on to the Sirat al Mustaqeem - “the Path of those whom You have favoured and given success to”.
It has been said in the eternal language “He has brought you out of the darkness into the light”. This is indeed a Divine favour and one should be eternally grateful to the Loving and Merciful Allah for bestowing guidance upon us. Anyone who is a part of Islamic Sufism should have a good understanding of why they are connected to such a teaching because this great teaching can fill your heart with knowledge, with realisations, with peace, acceptance and the true purpose of one’s life.
The Holy Prophet has said “There is no shyness in spiritual teaching”. This means that if you do not know, you should ask and if you need help you should seek the appropriate assistance. With the sheer volume of knowledge that is available to us in the 21st century in books, talks, and online resources, there is no reason for anyone to be ignorant of this great teaching.
That being said, there is no substitute for a living teacher and the company of like-minded people with the same spiritual aim. It has been said "Whoever spends 40 days in the company of a group will become one of them". For this reason, suhba, or spiritual companionship, is one of the greatest and most blessed situations in life that one could find himself in. We are saying all of this again to jog the awareness and to remind ourselves why we go to a Sufi Centre, why do we visit such a place and how to achieve the maximum benefit from the time spent there.
A Sufi Centre is not a coffee shop, even though coffee is being served.
It is not a restaurant, even though food may be served there.
It is not a place to drop in to use the sanitation facilities, even though these facilities have been made available.
It is a place of learning.
If learning and increasing your knowledge is not your aim, then don’t go to the Sufi Centre and spoil the efforts of those who are sincere and genuine in seeking the higher teaching with your negative thoughts and actions.
I hope that by now, the question has arisen in your minds. So, ask yourself "Why are you here?" And when you have answered this question, then ask:
What should I do when I am here in this place of learning?
I am very glad that you have asked.
Let us start with the inward mechanism that is known as "intention". Traditionally, it has been said that all actions are based on intention. The deeper and more sincere the intentions, the more successful you will become in gaining the greater knowledge. We will put them in sequence in order to make it clear:
- When you arrive at the Sufi Centre, you should be in a state of ritual purity – having ablution. If you are not in a state of wudhu, immediately upon arrival, greet those who are in the Centre with a proper, respectful greeting and excuse yourself to make ablutions. If you do not know where the facilities are, ask.
- An Islamic Sufi Centre has similarities to the masjid (mosque), a place of worship. In such a sacred place, it is highly recommended to convey your greetings by offering two cycles (rakat) of prayer. This is known as Tahiyyat ul masjid - the greeting of the mosque.
- If prayer is taking place when you arrive, you should quietly join in. Do not say to yourself or others “I have already done this or that at home”. You are now on different ground. There is no harm in repetition, but there is spiritual grace and the offering of supplications and you should not cut yourself off from such activities. Every one of us, at one time or another have missed or forgotten a prayer so joining in will be of great benefit to you.
- If teaching is taking place when you arrive, the same etiquettes apply - offer your greetings with proper respect and then join in quietly, finding yourself a place to sit without disturbing the flow of what is happening. Do not ask anyone what you have missed as you will find that if you stay long enough, the teaching will embrace you and you will have gained the knowledge that you have missed earlier by the baraka and Divine Light and the presence of spiritual beings who surround such a gathering. You will have partaken of this beautiful celestial food.
- If you have brought with you food to share with your brothers and sisters, you should place it quietly, nicely and properly on the kitchen bench or other designated place for such items. You should absolutely never bring food just for your own self and eat it by your own self. This is not acceptable and is bad manners of the highest degree. Do not write your name on items of food or drink in the Sufi Centre, whether in the kitchen, the refrigerator, the oven, or microwave because sharing with others and controlling one’s appetites will increase the will power and develop generosity. Eating alone when there are others around or bringing food only for yourself is not allowed. The exception being when you arrive as a meal is being finished, or has already been finished, and you are offered food. In this case, you should accept what is being offered, trying to avoid saying “thank you, I have eaten”, “I’m not hungry”, “I don’t like this”, “I don’t like that” or “I have never eaten that”. All of this is unnecessary and there is no call for it. You are here to learn and the learning begins in the kitchen. In the traditional Sufi Centre, the one who cooks and serves others and slaves over a hot stove for the sake of feeding others is usually the one who was brought to the gathering to make supplication to the real Giver, the Sustainer, our Beloved Allah. As the Holy One÷ has said “The servant of the group is their leader” Khadim al qawm Amirahum. In a nutshell, if you are hungry, eat, if you are full, have a few morsels for the blessing contained within them. Everyone nowadays has a house full of food and a supermarket nearby supplied with the best produce. The food is not the aim; it is a means to an end.
- If you find yourself alone in the Centre, you must know that you are never alone. As the Holy One÷ has said “If you cannot see God, then you must know that He sees you”. So go about your spiritual business, do your prayer, perform your spiritual practices if you have not done so, and then, one of the best things you can do for your spiritual Centre is to keep it clean.
- It has been said “Cleanliness is from the illumination of one’s belief” An Natafa min al Iman. Cleanliness is part of belief. If there are dishes to be cleaned, then wash them. If there is a table to be wiped, then do so. If vacuuming is required or the sanitation facilities need attention, then that also is your job. Look and see what needs to be done and do it. Do not come in like a whirlwind and if there is no one there, have a cup of coffee and move on. If you do this, your footprints will leave an unpleasant residue (athar). Be conscious, be respectful and be aware of where you are, who you are and to whom this place really belongs. It belongs to the Almighty Allah, the Seer of all things. It is the place of love, a place of kindness, a place of respect, a place to train the ego self to walk behind the heart, not in front of it. That is a Sufi Centre.
- In the Centre, there is always a spiritual event taking place. There are the daily prayers, the Friday prayer and there is the weekly gathering for the Remembrance of Allah. There are marriages taking place and there are guests who come from far away places for the sole reason of visiting the Sufi Centre. They need to be attended to and looked after with proper respect and hospitality.
- As a murid - regardless of whether you are working or not, there are two things during the week that you should do your utmost to participate in. One is the weekly gathering of Dhikr and the second is the Friday prayer. If you are a murid, you should never miss these two events. Rearrange your life so that you will benefit greatly by participating in such activities. Bend yourself to the teaching, do not try to bend the teaching to yourself or your schedule. If you do not do so, you must question your own sincerity and your motive for connecting yourself with the Sufi teaching.
- Everyone has family and work to do outside of the Sufi Centre. There are 168 hours in each week. The teaching asks you to sacrifice only a few of these for your own benefit. Four hours on Friday and four hours for the gathering of Dhikr (Remembrance of Allah). If you are not able to make this effort, then you are missing a great part of your celestial and spiritual sustenance. You really need to examine your life and set things straight, because there is something drastically wrong. We have said many times before that being on time or early is one of the good qualities of every Muslim. Those who are consistently late or leaving before the gathering has closed must also seriously question their reasons for being here at all.
- Etiquette of Proper Dress. Proper dress for men, women, and children who are nearing maturity is an essential part of the teaching. Modesty is a key to spiritual travel. Proper clothing for both men and women include loose garments which are opaque and do not have any imagery or advertisements printed on them so that they do not disturb others. Head coverings for ladies should cover the head, neck and shoulders, be opaque, and securely fastened to avoid the need for any adjustment. The same rules apply to any guests that you bring to the Centre. They should be advised before hand that proper clothing is a requirement of attendance. Do not feel embarrassed by asking them to dress properly. If you bring a guest into the Centre, you are responsible for looking after them. Do not embarrass them or yourself by neglecting this. There are change rooms available for both men and women in the Sufi Centre. Please ensure that when you enter the prayer area, you are already properly dressed. Do not ever use this Sacred Space as a change room.
- Children in the Sufi Centre. Sufi communities in general are very loving, kind and caring people. Having children in the Sufi Centre is always a welcome occasion so that they can see and learn from their encounters with the elders of the community. Anyone who brings children has the responsibility of looking after them and to make sure that they do not cause any damage or break anything or make a racket while they are there. Children are always welcome, but there are also responsibilities towards them and the Centre. If we are in prayer or in the Circle of Dhikr or in study, you should make sure that they are safe and looked after, and that the noise is kept to a minimum and does not become a disturbance to the gathering. It is good for them to be encouraged to participate in the prayer and dhikr.
- At the Centre, there is order. In the Sufi teaching in general there is order, so one must ask permission for certain things. There is the Shaykh or the Murshid of the Zawiyya and there may also be a Khalifa or a Wasi or one of the elders who has been appointed to look after things. These people should be asked about any concerns or questions that you may have and an answer should not be expected or demanded immediately. Go through the proper channels and it will be better for you. If you need help, it is very wise and a good decision to ask for it. As we have said earlier, if you do not know, ask.
- Very Good Advice: The Holy One said “When a believer speaks, he tells the truth, when he promises, he keeps his promise and if he is entrusted with something, he keeps his trust”. This indeed is beautiful and wonderful advice to implement not just in the Centre, but in our everyday lives. In the Sufi Centre, a library of books and audio visual material is available for study within the Centre, so please make good use of them, but make sure that, as with everything, when you leave, leave things in as good or better condition than when you arrived.
- We live in this world and we have responsibilities and duties in this realm. It would be nice if we could shut them off, but the truth is that we cannot shut them off totally from our lives while we are in the Centre. However, it will be of great benefit to you if you do not cloud your thoughts and your focus with talk of useless and worldly topics. If you have the honour of sitting in the presence of the Shaykh, pay close attention to what is being said, take notes and use those notes to study, follow up on clues that you are given and acquire further knowledge. At no time should murids be engaging in conversation in the presence of the Murshid unless they are directly asked to speak. When sitting with the Shaykh or Murshid, your tasbih should be put away. Any personal spiritual work should be done at a time when you are not sitting in the presence of the Shaykh.
- We said earlier that the Sufi Centre is similar to the masjid or mosque in that it is a place of worship, prayer and the Remembrance of God. It is a sacred space and should be treated as such. Look after your Centre and your Centre will look after you.
- Even billionaires worry about money. The more that we are disconnected from the Beloved Allah, the more these worries increase, regardless of whether we have or we have not. The Holy Prophet recommended that we should respect his Companions and learn the teaching from them, because they are the inheritors of knowledge. As Sayyidina Omar ibn al Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, the second successor to the Holy Prophet said: “The sky does not rain gold or silver” and the Holy Prophet has said that there will come a time for humanity that no one will be able to live without money and every one of us knows this quite well. Your contributions towards the running of the Sufi Centre are a duty, but they also contain tremendous spiritual blessing. You must remember that whatever contribution you make in the Centre will be of great benefit to you and will put spiritual blessing into your life and success in whatever you do. So, in reality, you are not giving, you are receiving. Never see yourself as being short, but that you are increasing in tremendous spiritual deeds and illuminations of your heart.
- Last, but not least, you should always speak highly of your place of learning with honour, dignity and respect. You have been given the opportunity today to be in the Centre. In the future there will be others who will come after you to learn and to drink from the Celestial and Divine Water of Life. You should know that Allah is the First and the Last. He is the Inward, He is the Outward and He encompasses all things.
- The foundation of the Centre is Ashadu an La ilaha il Allah, wa ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasul Allah and stay on the Straight Path.
All of the fragrant and beautiful salutations and peace be upon the one who has been sent as a Mercy to all of the creations and among his family and his wives, the mothers of the believers, and his companions until the Day of Judgement. And the last of our supplications is Alhamdulillahi Rabbil Alamein. All Praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the Universe.
Different aspects of Adab or proper manners have been addressed in several different articles: Conduct among murids, The Adab of a murid upon himself (The Treasure magazine, Issue #1, Adab at Tariq, Spiritual Courtesy of the Path of Allah (The Treasure magazine Issue #21), The Ethics of a Sufi Study Centre (CD lesson #8), Rules for attending Dhikr, Personal Hygiene and others. If you do not know where to find these additional resources, please ask.