Sweet as Honey are the Teachings from the Heart
Our Grandsheikh was speaking about people who instruct the community on the Islamic religion and topics relating to its practice. According to the command of Allah Almighty, there must be some people among each community who instruct people as to what they may do, as to what has been permitted for them by Allah Almighty (Halal), to warn them against those things which they must avoid, as they have been forbidden to them by Allah (Haram). Most people think that it is an easy job to address people: take a book and read it – finish. So many people think that it is only sitting and speaking; either reading to the people from books and explaining, or sometimes memorizing so that people think that he really knows a great deal – for one week they prepare to give a half-hour sermon – this kind of teaching is only of the imitative kind.
A really important point for an instructor of the community is to understand the wisdoms that he speaks about. The fountain of wisdom is the heart, not the mind. If you can’t use your heart, you can’t be satisfied. As long as you are giving lessons from your mind, you and the people you are addressing are on the same level, and so you cannot teach them anything; to teach the teaching of Allah and His Prophet, you must have learned to teach with your heart. If you teach from your heart, then the teaching will be like honey. But if you teach from your mind only – i.e. looking up information in a number of books and then reproducing it – then you resemble one who wings from flower to flower, like a bee, gathering the flowers’ nectar, then puts it in a jar and calls it honey, but it is not honey. Why not? – He says: “I saw a bee flying hither and thither collecting the nectar of flowers, so I did as he did.” But no honey comes from his jar. For honey to be made, the bee must eat the nectar, then the honey appears of itself.
Therefore, you must not let yourself be fooled by those people who speak for hours and hours on religion thinking they give honey, because the difference between what they give and real honey is like the difference between heaven and earth. People who claim to be teachers are of two kinds : one kind are like wasps who go from flower to flower like bees, but never produce any honey or beeswax. Even if they have attained the highest level of knowledge that the mind can encompass, if their teaching does not come from the heart, it isn’t honey. The other kind of teachers are like bees, their teaching comes from the heart and is like pure honey. How does one become such a ‘bee’? the Prophet says, if a person can keep sincerity (Ikhlas) with his Lord for forty days, then his Lord will open up fountains of wisdom for that person.
During the time that Sayyidina Ali was Khalipha in Kufa, he traveled to Basra and made his rounds of all the mosques in order to listen to the people who were teaching in those mosques. After visiting each of them and hearing every instructor speaking from his pulpit, he issued a decree ordering all except Hasan al Basri and Qadi Shureyh to stop preaching; he forbade all of them to address people in the mosques.
He said that all of the ‘instructors’ other than those two were only storytellers who parroted stories without understanding their real significance, even if they were claiming to be teaching people good. Seyyedina Ali gave permission only to those two to do any teaching in the mosques, - for the others, no need.
You may eat some rotten food, and your stomach might become upset and you will induce vomiting, but whoever listens to something no-good cannot get rid of it so easily, and it may stay with him until the end of his life. It is for this reason that our Grandsheikh cautioned his murids against listening to scholars who deny Tariqats and Mushids, for maybe they will poison you. If a person sits with such deniers, he must be prepared to carry a heavy burden of darkness and live with an injured heart for one year.
Our Grandsheikh told the following tale in order to describe people to whom you may, and indeed should listen: Ibrahim bin Adham, who is known as King of the Ascetics (Sultan az Zahideen), was a great king who one day heard the call to come to the way of his Lord. He left his kingdom and gave everything to his commanders, generals, princes and royal family. When he was just ready to leave the palace, he called one of his slaves, who had been the palace gardener, and told him to come; then he gave his royal cloak to that slave and asked him to give him his gardener’s coat in exchange.
The gardener was astonished at this and full of fear; he said; “How may it be possible for the lowest of servants to wear the kind’s royal cloak, and for the majestic king to wear these dirty old rags?” The king answered: “Oh my son, do you not know that last night your Sultan became a slave of a slave of a slave..? Now I am a slave of seven slaves, the top one of them being a slave of the Almighty.” See how quickly he came to the level of humility, how he regarded himself as being nothing, as being level with the earth.
Now our Grandsheikh says: “Oh Nazim Efendi, whoever desires to teach people in mosques and Sufi schools (Zaviya) must be very careful, especially in these times in which we are living. In the time of Ibrahim bin Adham, he counted only seven masters; now, in our times, if a person is not regarding himself as being on a lower level than many thousands of people, if he is not regarding himself as the slave of many people whom he deems superior to himself, then he will never be able to carry out his duty effectively: he will never make them believe in their Lord, or if they are already believing, he will never strengthen them in their faith.
For example, here we are in Damascus: if an instructor of religion can’t look at himself as being a slave to everyone, it means that he has some egoism, and that egoism will spread through his teachings to everyone who comes in contact with him.
Grandsheikh was saying that if a man who addresses people doesn’t humble himself, and won’t regard himself as being a slave in front of his audience of thousands, then those people whom he is proposing to teach will ‘look down on him’ and his teachings.
What I mean to say is that the people will hear so much good advice from that instructor, but they will do exactly the opposite of what they were advised.
To prevent this from happening is no easy matter, because everyone who is studying and learning and learning still more is, in most cases, going to become an egoist; and when people come to him and listen to him, they will go off and do as he does. So many big sheikhs never admit or realize the necessity of fighting their egos, they just continue amassing knowledge which benefits neither themselves nor anybody else.
Their knowledge feeds only their egos. They never consider, nor are they able to perceive that an important element is missing from their religious lives. And so, as they won’t accept training at the hands of a Grandsheikh, they find themselves, along with the teachings they have imparted being disrespected by those very people whom they were thinking to help. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for a person who wants to teach people to really see himself as their servant – to humble himself in front of the people he is hoping to teach.
The son of Abdul Qadir al-Gilani was a famous learned man in his time, but he was not humble and did not surrender to his father’s superior knowledge, as he regarded himself as being much more learned and of a higher station than his parent. He was always astonished when he saw how the multitudes of his father’s disciples flocked to the Grandsheikh’s lectures, and how, when he began to speak, so many seemed to swoon away in apparent ecstasy. Whenever he witnessed that amazing spectacle he thought to himself: “My father’s knowledge is not as great as mine, I am seven degrees higher than he is; so, if the people swoon in such a manner upon hearing his discourse, what will happen to them when I speak? I fear that if I address them they might have to be carried out dead!” So he thought.
Now, Grandsheikh Abdul Qadir was listening to all these thoughts passing through his son’s heart; Awliya know so many things that are happening in the hearts of people because Allah Almighty has given them that power of perception. They may listen, but they are not in need of always exercising this power. – Only when a particular situation arises in which someone may well benefit from it will they put the power to use. For instance, they many listen to and then answer a question which might have been in someone’s mind without that person having ever said anything about it. By this unsolicited answer, that person might be taken unawares and be able to learn something.
My Grandsheikh had such powers of perception, but concerning them he said to me : “Oh my son, the power of perception is not really such a great and miraculous power that one should covet and seek to gain, for it comes naturally to a saint; however, this power was also given to Satan, so that, if goodness comes to us, he easily knows it and seeks to turn us away from it. So we cannot say that this power is very miraculous for the saints, nor are they particularly interested in it, but if they are ordered by the Prophet, then they may use it.”
And so, Abdul Qadir was sometimes listening to what went on in his son’s heart and could understand that his son had a nagging desire to speak in public. So one day he said to him: “Oh my son, tomorrow I am going to be very busy, and since our followers, spiritual sons and loved ones will be gathering at the great mosque, rather than sending them away, perhaps you could address them in my place, so that they may be pleased with you and not disappointed that there is no one to speak to them.”
Needless to say, the son was very pleased about this and looked forward to the chance of showing the people exactly where he stood in the way of knowledge as compared to his father.
The next day, when the time for Abdul Qadir’s discourse arrived, his son mounted the pulpit in his stead and, closing his eyes, began to speak like a fountain, gushing out torrents from the highest level of his knowledge. He spouted for about ten minutes with his eyes closed in intense concentration; then, upon hearing not even the sound of breathing coming from the assembly, he thought: “perhaps they have all died from such sudden an exposure to this overwhelming knowledge.” So he opened his eyes to see what had happened, and there he saw the assembly, not dead – but sound asleep. Not one was awake, and now, as they fell deeper into their sleep, a number of them began to snore loudly, like saws cutting trees.
Since no one was awake to hear his lesson, he quickly finished, came down from the pulpit and moved through the mass of sleepers, carefully stepping, and left the mosque. When he arrived at his father’s house, he complained to him: “Oh my father, do you know what happened? I am amazed at the condition of these people!” Abdul Qadir asked him, “What happened? Did anyone die or faint?” The son replied: “No, all of them fell fast asleep, even when I left the mosque, no one was aware of it – and this despite the fact that I was speaking to them on a level seven degrees higher than your teachings; I cannot understand what happened.”
Then this Grandsheikh said to his son: “Oh my son, who was sitting there on the pulpit?” The son, surprised, replied: “I was, of course.” “Ah, you see, therefore, as you were sitting there, they all fell asleep.” “Oh my most venerable father, why should it be like this when I sit there; don’t you sit on the pulpit in front of them the same as I did?”
Then Abdul Qadir explained to his son: “No, my son, I don’t sit there, I leave that pulpit to Allah Almighty and His Prophet and seat myself in the audience among the people in order to listen to Allah and His Prophet – when a verse is read, we hear Allah speaking to us, and when a hadith is read, we hear the Prophet speaking. When in this way I put myself among the assembly and leave the pulpit to Allah and His Prophet, I leave myself behind, no more Abdul Qadir, just Allah and His Prophet speaking through Gilani, but no more ‘I’ is there. For this reason alone, Divine Outpourings (Fuyudat) are filling people’s hearts and they can’t keep themselves; they become happy and contented like fish in the sea. But you are sitting there yourself, saying ‘I know’, and you are appointing yourself deputy of Allah and His Prophet, and so there is no true harmony emanating from your words, nor any Divine Aid (Inayah) with you – that is why all the people fell asleep. You killed them with your ego which prevents any Inayah from coming to that assembly, so no benefit is possible from that meeting; they are like fish thrown out of the sea, and it is your fault.”
“And thus, virtually every learned person is thinking that he is like a deputy of Allah Almighty or the Holy Prophet; so their address to the people is full of pride. They see the people as being on the lowest level and themselves as being on the highest. But, if you put yourself on such a high level, how can your words possibly reach to those lowly creatures whom you hope to benefit? Allah Almighty Himself, in His Essence, is with every creature, as it says in the Holy Qur’an: ‘And He is with you wherever you are.’ So if Allah Himself sees it fit to be with His creatures through His Power, Knowledge and Divine Will, how shall you mount yourself high and mighty upon a throne of pride and look down at the rest of the world? You miscreant! You monster! You are killing them with your pride!”
Thereupon, full of shame and remorse, the son said to his father: “Oh my father and my Grandsheikh, please guide me to the path you are on so that I may follow you in it.” He begged forgiveness of his father and followed him on his way until he reached his heavenly station.