Key Concepts In The Practice Of Sufism
The aspect of Fethullah Gülen’s “mission” or personality as a trainer of the human soul may be seen most profoundly and comprehensively in Emerald Hills of the Heart or Key Concepts In The Practice Of Sufism, a four-volume compilation of his writings that were published over the years in the monthly periodical, Sızıntı. In this series, Gülen introduces and describes the various stages of the Sufi path or elucidates the principles of Sufism; to be more exact, he portrays the spiritual and moral dimensions of Islam. This is done via a conceptual framework. Those who follow the articles can immediately see that this enunciation or style of analysis of the subject is different from the methods followed by others who have laid emphasis on Sufi concepts. See M. Fethullah Gülen & Emerald Hills of the Heart
Those readers who are not familiar with Islam or Sufism should notice the following points.
First, men and women begin to follow the Sufi path when they sense there is something more in and to Islam than what appears on the surface or that they should get nearer to God. They act on this desire by following a stricter way of self-purification in order to penetrate the “inner” dimension and meaning of Islamic acts of worship, to reach a deeper understanding of the meaning and purposes of the Divine Acts, and to acquire thereby knowledge and love of Him. When this point has been reached, God begins to draw them to Himself at a pace appropriate for that particular individual. With the help of a spiritual guide, who does not force but rather only suggests and clarifies matters for the aspirant, the novice Sufi begins the journey back to God by means of the instructions and techniques required for progressing on the path. As the aspirant’s will becomes ever-closer aligned with God’s Will, it is the individual Sufi who freely chooses to progress further. There is no external force or pressure.
Sufism does not consist of only obeying orders, submitting to a spiritual leader, engaging in constant self-criticism sessions, and employing various methods to “reform” or “cleanse” one’s character or mind. It is not a “cult,” in the current pejorative sense that this term has acquired in the West. Although these elements are present in Sufism, no one is predestined or commanded to engage in them. One cannot be coerced into following the Sufi path by threats or promises, whether made by God or another Sufi. God is not a “master” who orders individuals to do what is impossible for them and then punish them when they cannot comply with His “demand.”
But, most important of all, Sufism is a life-long process of spiritual development. The reader will notice throughout this series that each stage or station is a gift of God. This does not mean, however, that the aspirant can sit back and wait for it to be bestowed. Quite the contrary: An individual must actively prepare himself or herself to receive the gift through the method given by his or her spiritual guide. When the individual has accomplished this, the gift will be bestowed.
Second, the author emphasizes such concepts as human innate poverty and powerlessness. These concepts have specific meanings in Sufism, all of which stem from the belief that God is the source of everything. For example, one cannot have true power because all power belongs to God. Therefore, in reality he or she is powerless. One is helpless, because there is no one who can provide assistance other than God. One’s perception and admittance of one’s helplessness and destitution before God, the Source of everything, is the real source of his or her power and wealth. An individual is powerful by the Power of God, and wealthy by the Richness of God.
Understood in this context, one sees immediately that Sufism is a path demanding the individual’s active participation in his or her spiritual growth and development. One is not allowed to be passive, hoping that God will bestow this or that blessing or station. Rather, one does what is necessary to grow spiritually, and God bestows the blessings and stations when the individual is ready to receive them.
Emerald Hills of the Heart, from one vantage point, erects a framework, while from another vantage point it abolishes all limits and frames. As the spiritual life has more of an “inward” nature and as proceeding on the “inward” track is both difficult and strenuous, such a journey must be undertaken within a specific framework. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, a twentieth-century Turkish scholar and reviver, warns that all the factions that have digressed (on the Sufi path) have been led astray by their leaders, who have set out into the inner dimension of existence, who made some progress, but because they did not comply with the Sunna, presumed that what they had received meant that they had reached the apex, and thus regressed, misleading both themselves and others. Since journeying on the spiritual path is risky and this path contains many special characteristics, those who enter it must observe the principles of Islamic jurisprudence strictly and try to advance in the lights it provides in order to be able to avoid possible deviance. Throughout history, stemming from partial ignorance or neglect of these principles, or simply from dissociation with them due to some theoretical considerations, many Sufi sects, deceptive in their inward inclinations, have emerged, while many other deviant sects or factions have sought a safe haven under the protection of Sufism. Hence, for spiritual or Sufi life to advance on the basis of Islamic principles or along the guidelines of Islamic jurisprudence without causing or suffering any digressions, Emerald Hills of the Heart delineates the limits of the spiritual path, illuminating it at the same time with floodlit projectors that it has placed at every stage and station.
While sketching such limits on the one hand, Emerald Hills of the Heart, as we have indicated, destroys, on the other, all limits and borders imposed before the spiritual journeying. Such a spiritual progression is virtually infinite, and is comprised of as many stages and ranks as there are believers, from the most honorable of all creation, Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, to the most ordinary Muslim. Furthermore, although on the one hand this path is accessible to all, from another perspective it has particular lanes, along which only very few human beings are able to walk. The school of Muhyi’d-Din ibnu’l-‘Arabi, or the doctrine of Wahdatu’l- Wujud, which literally means “the Unity of Being,” for instance, may be considered to be among the most particular of these lanes. The spiritual path also contains various distinguishing subtle characteristics or particularities that can only be comprehended by those with the ability to brave these rough terrains. Emerald Hills of the Heart, however, is able to evaluate these characteristics within both the boundaries and limits of the Islamic measures and the enormous profundity and infinity of spiritual life.
Emerald Hills of the Heart also presents God through all His Attributes and Names, thus profusely illuminating the way. This feature allows for the sciences of theology, Sufism and wisdom, or Hikmah, as it is termed in Islam, which is different from philosophy, to emerge from within Emerald Hills of the Heart as a science of Ma‘rifah, or knowledge of God. These sciences in unison expound a detailed synoptic map of the Divine manifestation and the relationship between the Creator and the created, which are often alluded to in Islamic Sufism in the shade of certain mysterious symbols and expressions that are difficult to comprehend. In addition, both through the concepts and subjects mentioned and certain other concepts and subjects it discusses such as “Heavenly Realms,” “Metaphysical Realms,” “Archetypes and the World of Representations or Ideal Forms,” Emerald Hills of the Heart presents ontology and a “Sufi” cosmology, drawing a metaphysical road map that can shed a light on physics and astrophysics. In addition to these, by way of utilizing such spiritual ranks as Talib (the Seeker), Murid (the One Who Wills), Salik (the Initiate), and Wasil (the One Who has Reached), and Nujaba (the Nobles), Nukaba (the Custodians), Awtad (the Pillars), Qutb (the Pole), Qutbu’l-Aktab (the Pole of Poles) and Ghawth (the Helper), Emerald Hills of the Heart discusses the relationship between God and His human creation with the most unique and sensitive aspects of this relationship, while at the same time it focuses on human identity as of the best stature and the perfect pattern of creation by making use of the concept of the Perfect or Universal Man.
Another important attribute of Emerald Hills of the Heart, at least as important, if not more so, as the other attributes mentioned above, is that it presents the Islamic spiritual life that constitutes the core of Islam not as a theoretical subject but as lived by the Companions of the Prophet, may God be pleased with them all. It presents this life as a profound experience of the heart, mind, and body described and appointed by Islam. It also investigates how it has taken shape throughout history. Emerald Hills of the Heart bequeaths to future ages—a time in which perhaps apparently different realms of religion and reason, science, technology, rhetoric and welfare will, in cooperation, make unprecedented and inconceivable progress—the legacy of Sufism, with all its dimensions, or the spiritual life of Islam in its immense entirety as a safe and sound road that has been protected against all manners of deviation.