The journey of tarikat is very unique to each person; that is essentially why it works so well as a spiritual development path. The Guide is able to see us in our current form as well as our future potential, inshaAllah. If we submit to their guidance then we can achieve more than we ever dreamed possible for our present selves. Sheykh Lokman Efendi often reminds us that we can’t diagnose ourselves, we defer to doctors and experts, who have a much better view of us than we can gauge ourselves. This is the same for the spiritual self as well as the physical self: we need a diagnosis to get a good picture. Another less graceful way of saying this is, “you can’t fix your messed up brain, with your messed up brain.” Furthermore, as we begin the journey under the guidance of our Murshid, what keeps us on that path will likely change, just as we ourselves are changing. The progress we make and the needs we have should and must evolve with the journey (if we are to make progress at all).
As a convert I often reflect on how my view has changed since accepting Islam and then being given the gift of tarikat. At first I was interested in “defending Islam” from the haters and bigots, gathering scholarly writings and proofs of Islam’s egalitarian views on women, the correctness of monotheism and the shariat’s unyielding value of true justice. All of these things are still undeniable, beautiful truths, and essential to understanding Islam, but my focus has shifted to something beyond Facebook arguments and so-called conferences and “dawa”. Leaving behind the feeling that I had to defend and prove Islam to people that might question my choice happened as I began to realize that the spiritual development portion was missing from my practice. This realization in itself was a gift and also very freeing from the idea that we need to match the western paradigm and values pushed upon the world in modern times. It was only after this gradual growth that I realized how much more growing I had to do from the inside. This is impossible with “a messed up brain” and the feeling I had something to prove to people who didn’t share the same ideas, values, and goals. Elhemdullillah for progress that isn’t measured by anyone’s standard except the Awliyallah.
There is a famous poem by Sufi poet Bedil Dihlawi that says:
“Beware, the world starts with bloodshed,
They made Muharram the year’s head.”
This striking warning is in reference to the 10th of Muharram, or the day of Ashura, when there was a massacre at Karbala of Hazrati Hussein (RA) and many of his family members by the accursed tyrant Yazid. This horrendous crime against the grandchildren of the Holy Prophet AS was foretold by him AS in authentic Hadith.
Sheykh Lokman Efendi HZ brings this story into focus for us murids every year because of its relevance to the struggle against the evil inside of our ourselves: from our egos and nefs which are always trying to sabotage us and fulfill their desires for power, for dunya, which make us vulnerable to sheytan and the dajaalic system. We all want to identify with Hazrati Hussein and the other shahids in Karbala because we don’t want to admit that we too have Yazids, killers, lurking inside of ourselves. The essence of tarikat is exactly this: to find out and face the treacherous things about ourselves that keep us far from our true nature and submission to Allah SWT, Holy Prophet and our Sheykh. When we learn about the story of Karbala and the trials and tribulations that the family of Holy Prophet AS went through: starvation, thirst, violence, and murder, even of infants, our task is dwarfed in comparison. However, that does not diminish its importance in our lives as murids. When we stand up to the tyrants within ourselves and say no to their demands, we are at least on the side of haqq that Hazrati Hussein (RA) gave his life for. We can never compare ourselves to them but we can remember their courage and submission to Allah SWT and do our best with our comparatively tiny struggles. This year on Ashura let us really reflect on who we are and what are hiding from the light. May all of the stations of the shahids of Karbala be raised and may their support be with us, Amin!
The Islamic New Year has entered Elhemdullillah. The calendar of Islam is a holy and spiritual calendar, focused around marking time according to holy days and nights that Allah SWT has chosen. It is a refreshing way to think about the passing of time when compared to the western calendar, with its symbolically idolatrous names and interesting conventions like “leap year”. In Islam our calendar is based off of the blessed moon and it’s waxing and waning. As Sheykh Lokman Efendi says, “if you don’t understand the importance of the moon by now, you are missing something”. The moon not only helps us keep time, but without it, life on earth as we know it would be impossible to sustain. The moon’s presence maintains a gravitational balance with earth, affecting the tides, animals, plant growth, and also animal and human behavior. All of these things are important biologically and physically, but the moon also indicates so many things in Islam such as the start and ending of Ramazan, the sunnat fasts on the “white days”, as well as the sacred months mentioned in the Quran when fighting and war is forbidden. The light of the moon is different from sunlight and brings its own energy and life. The moon orbits around the earth, making its own kind of tawaaf, as both of them orbit around the sun. This relationship is ripe with symbolism as well: the murid serves his or her Sheykh and their relationship is in service to Allah SWT and his Holy Prophet AS. Hazrati Mevlana Celaluddin Rumi (KS) is perhaps the most famous of Islamic poets and he often speaks of the sun and moon in spiritually symbolic terms.
“Some nights stay up till dawn,
as the moon sometimes does for the sun.
Be a full bucket pulled up the dark way of a well,
then lifted out into light.”
As we enter in this new year with the himmet of our Sheykh Lokman Efendi, let us be full of the love of Allah SWT and His Holy Prophet AS and the love of our Sheykh, who reflects the jamal and jalaal of Sahib El- Saif (KS) and the unending beauty of this Naksibendi way, Amin.
Sahib El Saif’s mission was to spread the light of Islam to every house in America and later that expanded to the whole world. Born in Cyprus and raised by his blessed father Hajji Fouat Al Rabbani, he was always kept in the presence and service of Sheykh Mevlana Mohammad Nazim HZ. Eventually he would be given a task by Sheykh Mevlana to bring Islam to a new continent as revealed in a vision of our GrandSheykh Abdullah Faiz Daghestani. He traveled to America as a young man who had already lived a full life as a Gazi, or veteran, of the Cyprus war where he was injured defending Islam. He came at just 19 years of age with the sole mission of spreading the words and mission of his Sheykh Mevlana Mohammad Nazim KS.
He carried that mission through hardship and ease with beauty, strength, haqq, and honor. He gathered hearts that were thirsty and filled them with peace beyond the confusion of this dunya. On May 19th Sheykh Efendi Sahib El Saif in Fajr sohbet announced that he would be traveling. This was after the finishing the construction of the main masjid in Dergah, a seed that bore fruit after years of struggle. It is not just a masjid, it is the foundation of Islam in the western hemisphere. His vision was established and the mission finally realized. It was a miraculous day, full of signs that in retrospect clearly pointed to his union with his Lord Allah SWT. The sadness we feel at missing your smile, your presence, your washups, the echoes of your voice we still hear in the Dergah, is soothed by none other than Sheykh Lokman Efendi Hz. A righteous person, a true lover, the best example, the most humble, the most giving, the most caring, a fearless leader, truely a gift to us. A gift to the world. Even in your separation, you didn’t leave us alone and provided for us. Elhemdullillah shukr for our Sahib El Saif HZ and his Waris Sheykh Lokman Efendi HZ, Amin. Fatiha!
The Hajj season is here: May we all make an intention to complete Hajj this year and may our intention be accepted, Amin.
Dhul Hijja culminates in the sacrifice or “Qurban ”, commemorating Hazrati Ibrahim AS total submission to Allah SWT and sacrificing his first born son Hazreti Ismail AS. Additionally it shows the total submission and sacrifice that Ismail AS showed in agreeing to and even encouraging his father to fulfill the commands of Allah SWT. These two images show in one event the holy relationship between Allah SWT and his holy Prophets as well as the echo of that relationship between a Sheykh and his murids.
Submission is a lifelong process and everyone struggles with it. The example of Ibrahim AS and Ismail AS is an endless inspiration to imitate their submission. Tarikat is a special path that elaborates on these images of submission and sacrifice: it demands that you discover yourself by agreeing to obliterate your idea of yourself. It can feel scary, but it’s something that must come about eventually if we want to achieve the control of our egos and rise to higher stations with the permission and blessings of our Sheykh.
Though we will never reach the station of Ismail AS in his submission, it is incumbent on us to try and imitate that willingness to cease being “ourselves” according to our understanding in exchange for our spiritual selves. We also cannot comprehend the level of submission and duty of Ibrahim AS, but we can see the echo of that in the duty given to our Sheykhs: the difficult job of having to bear the truth about us, to us, with love and discipline. This is not an easy task: the ego refuses and lashes out when confronted, or lives entrenched in angry denial that is so stubborn to shatter. Our Sheykhs stand firm in the firing line of the lower beasts within us, often enduring rebelliousness and abuse. Still our blessed murshids carry on in the tradition of telling hard truths that breaks our egos but heals our hearts, wrapped in the mission of the Holy Prophet AS, to save our souls. May we be ready to sacrifice for the sake of our Sheykhs, the Holy Prophet AS and the most supreme pleasure of Allah SWT, Amin.
We live in a day and age when all children are told they are special. Certainly children as a group are special, but the emphasis on the self as basically an object of worship has really emerged in the last decade or so, with a lasting impact on children and young people. The idea that “my rights are the most important” has overtaken culturally and socially, and this is reflected in the entitlement of young people today. As a teacher in the public school system, I can confirm that narcissism, selfishness, lack of empathy, and attention seeking behavior of all kinds are at an all time high amongst teens and tweens. It is so rampant that I find myself struggling to like my students on days when they show their ugliest sides of non empathy and disinterest in anyone’s feelings or well being other than their own. This has grown from the idea that everyone is special, therefore competing versions of special-ness amongst children are at war, and parents and peers are often left as the arbiters of who wins the battle, not an unbiased party such as a teacher, society, or religious guide.
This is one of the many reasons I am thankful for our Sheykh Lokman Efendi. As humans we always want to be special in one way or another. But there is a phrase that Seyh Efendi always says that rings in my ears when I find myself in this self centered, self pitying space that my ego loves to drag me into: “you are not special, you are unique”. This hits to the very heart of egoism and entitlement to a perfect, unbothered life. When we say “why me?”, the implication is always that WE shouldn’t have to be bothered by such problems in our lives. Remembering that you are unique but not special is such a grounding reminder that we can change our childish questions to “why NOT me?”. Why should I be spared the normal pains of life, and in fact, the first world problems that would be a luxury to some? I am unique in my spirit and soul, but I am not above the human experience and the vulnerability to my own nefs and ego. May we all remember the refrain of “unique not special” and bear it with the patience of a true murid for the sake of our Sheykhs, Amin.
Elhemdullillah we have made it to another stage of the procession through the holy months: Zhul Qaida, the gate to Zhul Hijjah. In the third and fourth weeks of June 2023, millions of prospective Hajjis will embark on their journey to the holy cities, seeking to fulfill the fifth pillar of faith. As a young convert to Islam, I was fortunate enough to be chosen for a sponsored trip to Hajj. At the time I was bewildered at my good fortune and blessing, but I also did not understand remotely at that point, the magnitude of what I was about to perform. I had only been a Muslim for 2 short years and simply didn’t have any knowledge of the rituals and rites involved. I was also scared to travel internationally for the first time. Perhaps most significant of all about my spiritual state at that time, is the fact that I had never even heard of tarikat or Sufism except as some “bad offshoot group or practices” that we should steer clear of. Hence my only understanding of what we were about to do was made from wahhabi sources and sheikhs, people who sucked the life right out of the spiritual pilgrimage I was about to embark on.
Dear reader, I wish I could say that my experience of the hajj was not the wahhabi controlled and dictated one, but sadly that’s what happened. My inexperience and limited knowledge, was in fact taken advantage of by “guides” who had a very specific job and a definitely limited view of what was permissible and good. I was basically discouraged from visiting the grave of the Holy Prophet AS, with it barely be mentioned and then instantly labeled as “a sunnah” and not essential to the hajj journey. I had no foundation to know better and furthermore, I had no spiritual development from these people that was focused on loving the Holy Prophet AS more than anyone. So as I was tired and ignorant, I missed the opportunity to go and didn’t even understand what I had missed until years later. This is by far one of the greatest regrets of my life, and I think about it often now that I have a beloved Murshid, who teaches us the real meaning behind all of the rites of Hajj and the significance of Rasullullah AS in our hearts and lives. This dwarfs all of the other mistakes I made on that Hajj journey, like getting angry, or being impatient. InshaAllah, Allah SWT will still accept from me in that ignorant state I was in, but I often dream of returning to Hajj and fixing all that I did wrong, with the himmet of our Sheykh Lokman Efendi HZ. Amin.
Elhemdullillah we completed the month of Ramazan with our Sheykh Lokman Efendi’s himmet. It was a very unusual month here in upstate New York. As Sheykh Efendi said, we experienced every season this Ramazan, winter, spring, summer and fall. The weather changed from one day to the next even as the days grew longer, and the sun migrated more northerly bit by bit. Now we are officially in the “mud season” of early spring as Shawaal enters with its own gifts and blessings. Mud is a good reminder of our dirtiness as fallible human beings. Our mistakes might appear as fine as dust to us, easily shrugged off or cleaned up, but mud clings to everything. It isn’t easily scrubbed or blown away by a light wind. Just as some habits stick to us and with us, even past the merciful deluge of Ramazan. So what do we do, if we failed to become fully clean in Ramazan? The answer is clear as Sheykh Efendi always tells us: keep doing the work of taking account of ourselves, of cleaning the dirtiness through hizmet, through refining our character in the service of others, through fasting the six days of Shawaal and fasting from all the things we did manage to leave in Ramazan for the sake of Allah SWT. Fasting six days of Shawaal have a great reward as promised by Holy Prophet AS and the good news is, if you took a break from fasting right after Ramazan, you have the whole month to take part in gathering the blessings of the voluntary fast. Some of us are not able to fast for health reasons and this can be sad and disappointing when we hear about the great blessings but there is much we can continue to fast from, as we did in Ramazan. This world has no shortage of polluting activities that we can continue to avoid. The first one (and I say this to myself first) is the phone you are likely holding in your hand as you read this blog. The addiction of technology runs rampant through our lives and while we often use it to access Islamic content, along with the access comes a whole host of temptations and haram things. As Sheykh Efendi frequently says, social media often dominates far too much of our attention during the day and creates feelings of disconnection to Allah SWT and entanglement in this dunya. The longer you can be without your phone, the healthier and happier you will likely feel. If it’s hard for you, as it is for me, this is pointing to the place we should begin to work on in these blessed days, seeking the pleasure of our Lord. May it be easy for us all to keep the spirit of Ramazan alive in this month and strive to enhance what we learned and protect what we gained for the sake of our Sheykh, Amin!
In this last week of the holy month of Ramazan, we observed the holy night of Laylatul Qadr under the guidance of our Sheykh Lokman Efendi Hazretleri. It was a beautiful and memorable night where we had the opportunity to kiss the Sakl Sherif, the blessed beard hairs of the Holy Prophet AS. Additionally we observed special prayers for Laylatul Qadr as practiced by our GrandSheyks, led by Sheykh Lokman Efendi HZ. May all of the intentions, duas and good deeds of the Muslims be accepted for the sake of the Holy Prophet AS.
Though we always have a delicious meal for zhikr nights each Thursday, there is nothing like the Ramazan iftar! They will be missed.
The mesjid is being prepared for the Eid tomorrow with beautiful flowers and special decorations to mark the Eid as the unique and holy day that it is. Sheykh Lokman Efendi HZ gives a sohbet reminding us of what we must keep from Ramazan: the spirit and energy of worship, thankfulness, and controlling our desires and egos. May our efforts and intentions be accepted and may we reach another Ramazan under the guidance of our Sheykh, Amin!
The third week of Ramazan has arrived and the believers must prepare themselves for the home stretch inshaAllah: the last 10 nights are coming and everyone is excited and preparing themselves to finish strong for the sake of Allah SWT.
Since the Islamic calendar moves throughout the year by 11 “Gregorian days”, we have had the added blessing of celebrating Sheykh Lokman Efendi’s birthday or Mevlid for the last couple of years during Ramazan. Our beloved Murshid doesn’t make a big deal of his birthday but we as his murids love to celebrate it and express our happiness and gratitude that our Sheykh is with us and guiding us. We are thanking Allah SWT for the existence of our Sheykh and celebrating that day in this holy month with extra blessings and duas for a long life, strong life and healthy life for him, Amin.
The weather has started to improve and the days have gotten longer, and so we were able to have one of the last zhikr and sohbets outside in the open air which is a lovely blessing. It’s simply astonishing how fast the time moves when you don’t want Ramazan to end! As we finish the third week, may we prepare ourselves for the last 10 nights properly with our Sheykh’s himmet, Amin.