Firar and I’tisam (Fleeing and Taking Shelter)

Firar, which literally means to run away from something, is used in Sufism to denote the journey from the created to the Creator, sheltering from the “shadow” in the “original,”[1] and renouncing the “drop” to plunge into the “ocean.”[2] Further, it means discontent with the piece of glass (in which the Sun is reflected) and thus turning to the “Sun,”[3] thereby escaping the confinement of self-adoration to “melt away” in the rays of the Truth. The verse flee to God (51:50), which points to a believer’s journeying in heart and in spirit, refers to this action of the heart, the spiritual intellect.

The more distant people are from the suffocating atmosphere of corporeality and the carnal dimension, the nearer they are to God, and the more respect they have for themselves. Let us hear from Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, a loyal devotee at the door of the Truth, how one fleeing to and taking shelter in God is rewarded:

Then I fled from you [Pharaoh] when I feared you, and my Lord has granted to me the power of judging (justly and distinguishing between truth and falsehood, and right and wrong) and has made me one of His Messengers (26:21).

Prophet Moses states that the way to spiritual pleasure and meeting with God and Divine vicegerency and nearness passes through fleeing.

Ordinary people flee to take refuge in God’s forgiveness and favor from life’s tumults and sin’s ugliness. They repeat or consider the meaning of:

My Lord, forgive and have compassion, for You are the Best of the Compassionate (23:118).

They seek God’s shelter in total sincerity, saying:

I take refuge with You from the evil of what I have done.[4]

Those distinguished by their piety and nearness to God flee from their own defective qualities to Divine Attributes, from feeling with their outward senses to discerning and observing with the heart, from ceremonial worship to its innermost dimension, and from carnal feelings to spiritual sensations. This is referred to in:

O God, I take refuge with Your approval from Your wrath, and with Your forgiveness from Your chastisement.[5]

The most advanced in knowledge and love of God and in piety flee from Attributes to Divine Being or Essence, and from the Truth to the Truth Himself. They say:

I take refuge with You from You, and are always in awe of God.

I take refuge with You from the evil …

All who flee seek shelter and protection. As consciousness of fleeing is proportionate to the spiritual profundity of the one fleeing, the quality of the destination reached varies according to the degree of the seeker’s awareness. Members of the first group end in knowledge of God. They remember God in everything they see and mention Him, cherish desires and imagine things impossible for them to realize, and finally come to rest at sensing the reality of: We have not been able to know You as knowing You requires, O Known One. They always feel and repeat in ecstasy:

Beings are in pursuit of knowledge of You,
and those who attempt to describe You are unable to do so.
Accept our repentance, for we are human beings
unable to know You as knowing You requires.

Members of the second group sail every day for a new ocean of knowledge of God, and spend their lives in ever renewed radiations of Divine manifestation. However, they cannot be saved from the obstacles blocking them from the final station, where their overflowing spirit will subside. With their eyes fixed on the steps of the stairway leading to higher and higher ranks, they fly upward from one rank to another; however, they also tremble with the fear that they might descend. Members of the third group, freed from the tides of the state (see the chapter: Hal and Maqam) and drowned in amazement (see the chapter: Dahsha and Hayra), are so intoxicated with the “wine coming from the source of everything” that even the Trumpet of Israfil cannot cause them to recover from that stupor. Only one who has reached this rank can describe the profundity of their thoughts and feelings. Rumi says:

Those illusions are traps for saints, whereas in reality
They are the reflections of those with radiant faces in the garden of God.

The “garden of God” signifies the manifestation of Divine Unity the manifestations of one, many, or all Divine Names throughout the universe. “Those with radiant faces” denotes the Divine Names and Attributes focused on a single thing or being. So, the meaning of the couplet is this: The traps in which saints are caught are manifestations of Divine Names and Attributes. These manifestations consist of illusions in the view of those blind to Divine truths. In the words of Sari Abdullah Efendi, the hearts of the Prophets and saints are mirrors that reflect the Names and Attributes of God. God also manifests His Names and Attributes as the Lord Ruler, Sustainer, and Master of the universe, making it a garden with the ever renewed beauties and charms that enrapture the Prophet and the saints.

In short, those heroes of “fleeing” and “taking shelter” have fled from everything and, as stated in (They) have indeed taken hold of the firm, unbreakable handle (2:256), it is not conceivable that they will, by God’s leave, no longer turn back and deviate. For the One to Whom they turn and in Whom they have put their trust is the truly Great One, Who lives eternally and sees everything incessantly. They have found Him, held fast to His unbreakable handle, and been saved from falling and perdition. As declared in the Qur’an (2:257), God is the Guardian of those who believe, bringing them out from all kinds of darkness into light and keeping them firm therein, all kinds and veils of darkness have been removed from them. They see the truth with their eyes and hear the truth with their ears. The heavens smile at them with their stars, and the sun and moon have otherworldly deepness in their sight, and everything from minutest particles to galaxies become each a book for them to study and a scene to spectate. Springs laugh with joy, summers sing touching melodies, pains and grieves go away, and spiritual pleasures flow from everywhere. The pleasure of existing as human beings are felt in full satisfaction.

Those who would like to feel these limitless spiritual pleasures forever and ever always flee and emigrate from whatever displeasing to God to whatever pleasing to Him, from His prohibitions to His commands, and are fully determined to ask from Him whatever they will ask for and fully aware that wherever favor they receive is from Him. This is the truth of taking shelter.

O God! I ask You for all good which Your Prophet Muhammad asked You for, upon him be peace and blessings. And I seek refuge in You from whatever Your Prophet Muhammad sought refuge from.

By M. Fethullah Gulen


[1] Sufis view the creation as a shadow of the original, the meaning, the origin, in the Knowledge of God.
[2] Sufis consider everything in the world as no more than a drop, even a mirage, taken from an ocean. Material existence and pleasures are regarded as having the meaning and worth of a drop, while the other world and spiritual pleasures coming from Divine knowledge and love correspond to the ocean.
[3] The piece of glass signifies Divine manifestations in the world, while the Sun signifies God, the Origin of these manifestations.
[4] Al-Tirmidhi, “Dawa’at,” 15; Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Shu’ayb al-Nasa’i, “Isti’adha,” in Sunan al-Nasa’i, 8 vols. (Beirut, 1930), 57.
[5] Muslim, “Salat,” 222.

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