Shaikh Kabir Helminski

A Plenary Talk at the Sufi World Forum, New Delhi, March 18th, 2016

The Weapons of Beauty


Bismillah ar Rahman ar Rahim. Allahumma salli wa salim `ala ashrafi nuri jemil enbiya wal mursaleen wal hamdulillahi rabb il alameen.

O Our Sustainer, You are Peace and from You comes all Peace and our ultimate return is to You to Peace. O our Sustainer, continually You enliven us with Peace. Allow us to enter Your garden, the abode of Peace. With Your Peace You have exalted everything. We truly could not worship You as You truly deserve to be worshipped. Subtle are You beyond all knowing, You who are the only object of knowledge. We truly could not know You as You deserve to be known. I ask God for forgiveness for my mistakes, and I bear witness that there is no reality but Hu.

For about 35 years this fakir has been a Shaikh of the Mevlevi Tariqah of Jalaluddin Rumi, living in the far West in a culture very different from many of you.

It should be kept in mind always that Sufism, tasawwuf, is a living tradition. As such it will take different forms in different cultures and at different levels of cultural development. The dimension of cultural development is an extremely important subject. The tribal culture of ancient Arabia is quite different from, for instance, that of Silicon Valley, California. I come from the far West, and the way Islam will be transmitted in my environment and the problems we face are different, perhaps, from the conditions some of you face. I believe this applies to how we will understand Islam somewhat differently in different times and cultures.

I am happy to see that we are raising the banner of Sufism. Those who criticize Sufism are criticizing something they have imagined but do not know or understand. The best criticism of Sufism comes from within Sufism. For Sufism understands that true spirituality is about sincerity, right intention, and humility.

Where in today’s world will we find the Ahli Jamal, the “People of Beauty”? When what we see too often are the Ahli Narr, the “People of the Fire,” and the promoters of the Merciless Din, the Religion of Fear and Punishment. But there are also millions of souls who are the People of Beauty, who live the Din al Haqq, and belong to what Mevlana Rumi called the Madhabi Ashq. Our best weapons are beauty, friendship, music, poetry, and continual remembrance of Allah.

The greatest opportunity of the spiritual life is to become an expression of Divine Beauty through the Asma al Husna. And to make humanity aware of the beautiful and vast spiritual horizons which the human soul is created and designed to perceive. As you certainly know, Allah is beautiful and loves the beautiful.

If Sufism will be able to serve humanity, it will be primarily through the power of love and beauty. Isn’t that what brought you to Sufism? Did you not meet a human being who seemed to have an extraordinary beauty of soul?

How extraordinary it is that the Divine Revelation that brought unprecedented beauty, love, and mercy into the world should in time be so distorted as to be used as a justification for brainwashing, oppression, and violence. How extraordinary that the Revelation that told us, Let there be no coercion in religion, would be ignored and its name used to justify coercion, both violent and subtle.

But we must offer the hand of friendship to those who have lost their hearts and souls, who are burning in the fire of anger, rage, and violence. Sufism is the garden within the flames. Let’s invite them in with a generous invitation, just as we have been invited so generously to a path we never could have asked for because we wouldn’t have known what to ask for, we couldn’t have known the true extent of Allah’s generosity and beauty.

If the greatest possibility of the spiritual life is to express and live Beauty, the central problem of the spiritual life is human egoism and how it distorts reality. This is the problem that Sufism is meant to deal with. Sufism is a path of transformation in which the transformation of the human self is accomplished through consciousness and love. If, on the other hand, Sufism is used as a way of concentrating authority and privilege, if it becomes a way of narrowing the mind, if it merely increases the human being’s prejudices, it is no longer Sufism but merely a strategy of the ego, an assertion of the false self.

Sufism begins with presence, hudhur. In presence, we have a vantage point outside of the nafs, a perspective on our egoistic tendencies. We must teach the practice of conscious presence. From the vantage point of presence one can invoke the power of love and allow this power to tame the false self. As in Surah ar-Rum:

Turn your face with purity toward the primordial religion (din hanifa), according to the innate nature (fitrah) with which He has made humankind; do not allow what God has made to be corrupted. That is authentic religion, but most people do not understand.

The whole purpose of the spiritual process, then, is to know and preserve our innate spiritual purity, our essential self, and this means being able to transcend the false self through self-awareness, higher consciousness. If we forget that Islam is about self transformation, we have effectively abandoned the religion.

O you who have attained to faith! If you ever abandon your faith, God will in time bring forth [in your place] people whom He loves and who love Him (biqawmin yuhibbuhum wayuhibboonahu) — humble towards the believers, proud towards all who deny the truth: [people] who strive hard in God’s cause, and do not fear to be censured by anyone who might censure them: such is God’s favor, which He grants unto whom He wills. And God is infinite, all-knowing.[Surah Maida, 5:54]

This is evidence that the most important thing is love, and it is a two-way reciprocal love. The highest criterion for evaluating whether progress is being made on the spiritual path is whether our capacity for love is increasing. If we do not see the Light of Muhabbat in a teacher, a community, or a path it is probably not a genuinely spiritual path. Someone may talk of love, but if you listen with the heart, and instead of a lover hear a growling dog, you should ask, “Where is the ashk?” Mevlana Rumi says, “The mistakes of the lover bring more good than the so-called righteous actions of the prideful.”

We are living in a time when many Muslims have abandoned the Religion of Truth for the Religion of Fear and Judgment. The spirit of Islam has been corrupted by those who focus on superficialities, externals, rules, and punishments. While such people may claim to follow the sunnah of the Prophet, they are actually denying the true sunnah which is mercy, flexibility, and sincerity. The Qur’an itself warns us very clearly against a complex and oppressive religious law:

Say: “Have you ever considered all the means of sustenance which God has bestowed upon you from on high — and which you thereupon divide into ‘things forbidden’ (haram) and ‘things lawful’ (halal)?” Say: “Has God given you permission – or do you, perchance, attribute your own guesswork to God? (qul allahu athina lakum am ala Allahi taftaroona?)”[Surah Jonah, 10: 59]

We are living in an era when the relationship between man and woman is being rebalanced, when the spiritual qualities of the feminine need to be appreciated in order to correct the imbalances and distortions of male egoism and misogyny. The disrespect of women is predictably associated with extremism and fanaticism. Do you think the boys being educated in extremist madrasahs ever know the beautiful guidance of women? Sometimes the best Islam is the Islam of grandmothers. The marginalization of women in the official life of Islam has impoverished all of us. I believe strongly that we need to visibly honor the feminine and re-integrate feminine leadership in our Ummah. In today’s world, women are in the forefront in so many areas, and their absence from the visible leadership of institutional Islam, and even in the Sufi orders, is another sign that we are failing to keep the balance, al Mizan. Consider this:

The faithful men and women are awliya (friends, protectors, and saints) for one another (waalmuminoona waalmuminatu baduhum awliyao bad). They will enjoin what is right, as what is required of Haqq, and prevent each other from what is wrong.[Surah at Tawba 9:71]

How do we please God? We may teach our children to observe the details of spiritual practice, of the right way to do salaah, to fast, etc. But ultimately what matters to al Haqq is our inner sincerity, our humility, and our love. When asked, “What is sin?” our beloved and noble Prophet said, “Sin is what troubles your heart. Leave it behind.”

May we find the Din al Haqq that shines upon all religion. The Din al Haqq that unifies all of humanity.

Finally, what is the best defense against terrorism? Reviving the heartbeat of true Islam. That heart is beating in each of us, but we need to quiet the mind, still the desires, and go deep into the sirr, the secret place where you are closest to God. If we go deep enough and learn to live from that sirr, we may discover the truth of these words by Mevlana Jaluddin Rumi:

In generosity and helping others
be like a river.
In compassion and grace
be like the sun.
In concealing others’ faults
be like the night.
In anger and fury
be as if you have died.
In modesty and humility
be like the earth.
In tolerance
be like a sea.
Either appear as you are or
be as you appear.