The caravan of Sufis gathered together once again at the fifth annual Sufism Symposium. Individual Sufis came to the symposium from all parts of the world, people of many differing backgrounds and cultures, representing diversity in the depth of most honorable unity, sharing their wisdom on the topic of ethics and humanity, the theme of this year’s symposium.
We began our journey as friends together five years ago; since then, we have been growing as family — an extended family gathering at our annual reunion. It is wonderful to grow old and wise in the company of such an extended group of Sufis.
Seeing the beauty and warmth of these devout Sufis and their spirit of unity could take one back in time, to a sense of the days of the Prophet (swa), 1400 years ago. It was then that those select People of the Platform, the Ahle Suffa, from many cultures and backgrounds, came together to form the inner circle of the Prophet’s teaching. They used to sit on the Platform of the Mosque of the Prophet (swa) in Medina, engaging in discussion, meditation, and purification. Learning from the teachings of the Prophet (swa) and the instructions of the Holy Qur’an, they established one of the most celebrated schools in human civilization. At that time they did not call themselves Sufis, but time and history have recognized them as the founders of this inner path of Islam.
Sufism was flourished through their devotion, knowledge, and service. The history of Sufism is abundant with examples of the bravery, knowledge, and wisdom of the Sufis.
As the weekend of the Fifth Annual Sufism Symposium approached, all of us felt a great sense of anticipation. This was to be our fifth symposium, after all — a landmark year, a measuring rod. Every journey holds some means of measuring progress towards a destination; the Sufi’s journey is measured with every breath. How, then, could it be otherwise that we should be keenly sensitive to the passage of five full years? In our striving to find our true identity and the purity and unity of Allah, although the paths to this destination are as many as the number of human beings, we all came to this blessed weekend with a common experience: the shared anticipation that comes with the awareness of five years on the path toward unity, balance, and a harmonious community.
Indeed, the Fifth Annual Sufism Symposium could be well described by these beautiful words, “service, friendship, family, honor, and honesty.”
This year’s gathering made it clear that the Annual Symposium is not just an educational resource, nor simply a celebration of the Beloved we share, but an expression of deeper significance. This year marked a conscious, shared awareness that the Annual Sufism Symposium marks an international movement of great importance to all humanity.
From Friday night’s concert to Sunday’s closing sema, the whole weekend was an experience of great beauty that was the result of the energy, talent, and devotion of a great many people. The atmosphere of beauty that the artists and performers created for those attending this symposium increased our appreciation of the blessings that accompany alife of spiritual striving. What great service these Sufis performed in opening our hearts and our senses to these blessings! We are all greatly indebted to them for adding a measure of strength to our community, which continues to uplift us even now that the Symposium is past.
Opening Remarks by Seyyedeh Nahid Angha, Ph. D.
With the constant change in advancement of technology and machinery, with the isolation of individuals from each other, with the emergence of a new world order, when we are gradually losing our human touch and interaction, what can one say or hope for ethics; and honoring and respecting the rights of individuals, yourself and others.
The 20th century has been rightly characterized as an age of technology. Technology — the continuous process of the perfection of machinery, has as its basis constant change. The coming century promises to be no different. This is not a pleasant discovery, as much as the popular media try to paint this change in glowing colors. To the contrary, we suffer, for the organization of human life — your life as an individual, our lives together — demands continuity.
Without continuity, as the Hungarian philosopher Arthur Koestler pointed out, life becomes confused, and we cannot make decisions that hold promise for the future — our future becomes discontinuous, unconnected to our present and our past. The integrity of life dissolves into the quicksand of meaningless change.
It is no wonder that the basic integrity of individual and social identity is threatened by the culture of technology. The threat is ever-present, not merely psychologically, but in practice. The world of the technology is deeply hostile to the very concept of the uniqueness of individual identity. The individual has no value from the point of view of technology, apart from technical skills, where one is as good as another. What makes a person unique — his or her integrity, rectitude, taste, goodness — which are not the qualities of the technology.
In itself, technology is neither good nor bad — instead, it is a titanic force necessarily indifferent to human values. Technology brings us many benefits, but these are never unmixed blessings. Medical technology helps us live longer and healthier lives — but in the end, medical machinery dehumanizes and prolongs our deaths, so much so that demands for doctor-assisted suicide must be codified into legal rights. Electronic cyber space connects worlds and individuals together, allowing unprecedented magnitude of communication — but increasingly sophisticated central computer databases give the state an apparatus of surveillance, control, and punishment . Smaller communities are dissolving into bigger ones, a new world order is emerging, differences between cultures are diminishing. Religion has changed its name to spirituality or faith-tradition–in this constant changing of substitution we are expected to find peace and understanding.
And so we find ourselves estranged. We are living in an era where trust is missing, where conceptions of human rights change from the upholding of intangible values to their subordination to technological and commercial imperatives, to those who hold the highest technological weapons or tools. For many, seeking a simple life, a peaceful life can be no more than a romantic dream of escape.
In an order such as this, where we all are becoming strangers to one another, and indeed to ourselves, where the key to survival is finance, weapons and machines, and honor lies not in virtue but in financial security (however you secure it), what is there to be said for the integrity of human ethics, for the continuity that morality depends upon?
It is easy to blame technology for our faults and lack of morality, but doing so further impoverishes our understanding of morality. Morality is not a wealth of having, but a wealth of being. As a gift from God, its integrity is fundamental. Before a human being seeks a religion, before a human being chooses/converts to a religion, before a human being becomes enlightened by a religion, a human being is first a human being, and a human being has the rights to be. This is the essential law of the Eternal Existence. You have the rights to be. Honoring this law is ethical and moral. This rights cannot be replaced by technology, nor by any human likes or dislikes. If technology has displaced our integrity, it is due to our own weakness, to the confusion of our understanding. Especially in the world of technology, a human being must struggle to be an ethical being, should respect and honor his or her own rights as well as others. Rather than to sink into the technological lifestyle, it is up to us to rise above it. Human being is first a human being, but certainly not whoever walks on two feet can be called a human being. Instead, a human being is the one who is aware in understanding — one who knows the law of Being. S/He understands the divinity of every being, and reveres such rights. These rights includes not only civic, legal, social, geographical, and the honoring of boundaries, but also honor and respect — indeed, all that has been given to us by the hands of the Eternal Being. In this design of being every particle has an irreplaceable part. A human being is the one who recognizes such importance.
In older times, when life was simpler, there were teachers of humanity who taught for the sake of humanity. These teachers accepted hardships so that humankind would understand the wealth of being, and learn to serve all humanity. In the monotheistic religions we hear of Moses, who commands his nations and nations to come the basic rules of ethics and morality: you shall not steal, and you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor and many more of rules of ethics, are rules for the sake of humanity, what differentiates the human being from the being of animals.
When one understands the rule of: “you shall not bear false witness”, then one will see that truthfulness applies in all faces of life, it applies in every moments and every aspects of one’s life, to every human being. One lives more peacefully when one lives in the light of truth. One begins to trust others by becoming trustworthy. Such a rule of truthfulness is a key to a just society. It is the responsibility of all to practice truthfulness, and every individual needs to understand and honor the law.
And so we will have to learn the rules of the Divine, if the rules of humanity are to remain. Prophet said: I have been appointed as a messenger to complete the ethics and announce the law of unity, la illaha illa Allah, there is no god except Allah, there is nothing except the Divine, all there is, is but the Divine, a Divine Unity. We all are a part of that Unity, and so we will not see each other as a stranger, as someone we may harm. We will not lie or steal, or cast a stone, we shall try to be helpful when we can, and respectful when we cannot help. Within that Unity, we both are honored and respected, and have rights that have been given to you and I as gifts from that Unity.
Hazrat Mir Ghotbeddin Mohammad, a Sufi master of the nineteenth century said: honor and respect every gift that has been given to you by this most generous Being, and treat each gift with great justice.
And Saadi, the Persian sage said: Human beings are like the limbs of the same body As we all have been created from one essence. When one limb is hurting, the entire body will hurt. If you are unaware of the hurts of others, How can you be called a human being?
Let us promise each other that to stay away from the traps of inhumanity, from the enticements of those who would take us to the abyss of the unknown. Let us promise one another that we do not call ourselves praiseworthy and others wicked , let’s be respectful to humanity and remain honorable ourselves.
Let us begin the reinvigoration of morality from within ourselves. Let us individually and together honor our humanity. In honoring our own rights and the rights of others, let us show that we respect humanity, the endangered species.
Sufism and Psychology Panel Discussion
Friday afternoon began with Sufism and Psychology panel discussion, cosponsored by the Sufism and Psychology Forum and the Marin Healing Center. The panel of Sufi psychologists and researchers addressed the topic of the Alchemy of Tranquillity. Each participant focused on an important issue.
The World Sufi Music Concert
Friday night was an evening of Sufi music and poetry. The Sufi World Music Concert, presented together with beautiful poems from ancient Sufis, moved many to tears with the beauty of the divine melodies. On stage that night a rare and powerful assembly of musicians performed, including a Sufi singer Musa Dieng Kala of Senegal; oud player Nejati Celik of Turkey; Mohammad Saeed Nejad, a virtuoso Persian musician; and Taneen, a California Sufi music ensemble which combines Western and Middle Eastern music with Sufi poetry and practice. The many musical elements were woven together into a whole with Seyyedeh Dr. Nahid Angha reading special selections from the works of the great Sufi poets.
The entire musical evening was so gracefully arranged that the crowded audience sat enraptured, as if by a beautiful story. As the evening unfolded, we entered into the enchantment of the Sufi poems and prayers, and the magnificent music of many lands. It was a night devoted to enriching the heart, an experience generously offered which embodied perfectly the aspirations and accomplishments of the Annual Symposium.
Saturday and Sunday
The first full day of the Sufism Symposium began as Sheikh Ahmed Tijani ben Omar, a delegate from Ghana, called us to prayer. His words echoed in the conference area, reminding us in our hearts longing for the Beloved, and so brought us to the state of meditation. The spirit of devotion was pervaded throughout the weekend, this spirit was manifest in workshops and lectures; from sema to the understanding of poetic metaphor in relation to the Sufi path. In the exhibitors hall artists and publishers equally attracted much admiration with their beautiful calligraphy, painting, publications and productions. The celebration of love for Allah in visual art was given its own special place this year by the Sufi Women Organization, which for the first time held an art show in a quiet room away from the crowded corridors. The show displayed works by 15 artists from around the world and offered some pieces for sale to benefit the Sufi Women Organization. For example, Sufi Women Organization chapters in Indonesia and Hong Kong contributed their own unique regional crafts.
The culminating event of a weekend of artistic expression was reserved for the incomparable experience of the Mevlevi Order Whirling Dervishes led by Jelaluddin Loras and accompanied by their own orchestra playing traditional instruments. The greatest artistic achievement of the entire weekend was pointed out by Murshida Batul Martha Burk, who during the Sunday afternoon panel discussion on the woman’s way, observed: “I look around me this year and I see the most beautiful faces. They are all so divinely beautiful. This is a great accomplishment.” Indeed the face of our entire community is actively becoming increasingly expressive of the beauty and grace of Allah. Alhamdelela!
The Practice of Submission and the Experience of Unity With Sufis from more countries than ever before, many cultural traditions and orders came together on this weekend. This coming together expressed the miracle of mutual respect and understanding shining through the differences — only possible because of the sharing of belief in the one light of Allah. On Saturday evening Dr. Ali Kianfar gave an explanation of ethics as the practice of submission to the Divine rule and the experience of unity with the Divine. This central truth was expressed in a variety of presentations by different teachers during the symposium. From Sheikh Raqip Frager’s discussion on the different stages of nafs in the course of the Sufism and Psychology Panel, to Ahamed Muhaiyaddeen’s morning lecture The Foundation of Ethics, in which he explored the miraculous nature of being able to distinguish good from bad, speakers encouraged attendees to practice diligence, purity, and love in the observance of their faith through prayer and remembrance.
Shaykh Ahmed Adbur Rashid spoke of the failing of Western ethics, extending an invitation to a new but timeless perspective; Shaykh Nooruddin, in his moving speech, focused on the foundation of Sufism in the reality truth, as opposed to the false advertising of the religion of the marketplace. Nawab Pasnak, coming from Canada, gave an interesting talk titled “From Reciprocity to Renunciation.” Shaykh Taner Ansari discussed how adab stood at the core of Sufism.
On Saturday night we came together for the Zekr, to sit in remembrance of Allah with Sufis from around the world. These precious moments when we join together in remembrance and submission to the Divine are the goal of all the explanations and creative expressions that are presented, just so that we may unite in our longing and make it that much stronger.
Raising Up Our Brothers and Sisters
A remarkable aspect of this Symposium was the number of ways in which our Sufi family undertook responsibility for and service to all members of the human family.
Numerous specific calls to action were heard, including that of Shahid Athar, M.D., who said, “The role of the Sufi is to come out of their hujra (enclave of meditation) … to identify the problems and confront them with the preaching of belief and with their own character.” He suggested that to oppose evil, people do not have to resort to violence but should use the weapon of love and service. Reverend Gibbs hailed the spirit of the 5th Annual Sufism Symposium and asked that Sufis contribute their leadership to the United Religions mission of providing a forum for addressing human needs and avoiding human conflict worldwide.
Sufi Women Organization
One of the greatest of these blessings is the remarkable vision of the Sufi Women Organization, which has answered the call to foster leadership, protection, education, and respectful reverence for the essence of the human being. The great beauty and wisdom was most manifest at this Symposium in the increased numbers of Sufi women behind podiums speaking from the profound experience of their hearts and addressing the subject of ethical conduct in ways the world has never seen before. From the topics of Moral Cultures, Women’s Contribution to the World Civilizations, and Conflict Resolution, to our up-to-year accomplishments, the contributions of the Sufi Women Organization were all received with great enthusiasm and appreciation. Of particular significance was a document produced by the Sufi Women Organization and read to the Symposium by Seyyedeh Hamaseh Kianfar. This is a document of a profound beauty, clarity, and power. Born from the experience and devotion of individuals who came together with the purest of intentions and the result of many years work, the Code of Ethics created and honored by the Sufi Women Organization is an achievement that will increase in influence with every passing year. The Fifth Annual Sufism Symposium provided attendees the rare experience of participating in the resolve of these brave women.
The message of unity has never been so urgent as it is today. With each passing year, the horizon of our Sufi community grows wider and our vision becomes clearer. We are all apart of this great blessing of awakening, which is the call of humanity to its purest and highest potential. Let us remember the accomplishments of this year and seek to extend them. Let us continue to strive to make this world a more beautiful expression of the great richness of being. Let us continue to perfect our conduct and to practice unity with and submission to the Divine, Allah. And let us continue to serve each other, to raise each other up as brothers and sisters, all of us acting with humanity towards one another. Finally, let us share the vision of this symposium with as many as we can so that next year we will each bring another brother or another sister and the number of our hearts will increase, just as the strength of our hearts has increased in this past year. In the name of the most gracious, the most merciful, it was a beautiful, blessed symposium.