Can the Sufi Way be Pursued in
the Anti-Islamic West?
An Interview with Qutub Sarmouni


I have been reading books on Yoga, Zen, Occultism and the Sufis for some years now.  I have often found myself returning to the books of Idries Shah in particular, for it has always seemed to me that the Naqshbandhi Order of Sufis has something very important in it that is neglected by a certain kind of prejudice and blindness in virtually all other traditional systems even within the other Dervish Orders.  Yet I am reluctant as a Westerner to become involved with Sufis personally for fear of being persecuted for association with Muslims, who are all under suspicion of being violently fanatic.  How can I benefit from the Sufi way in this political atmosphere?


Qutub Sarmouni: 

On the surface, it appears that you are blocked off by prevailing circumstances.  In the depths, however, you have an access that your inner being is already utilizing and where you are inwardly a member of a Sufi circle.  It is your deeper, invisible Self that is already on the Sufi Way while your outer, visible self as a member of a reactive and oppressive society experiences fear and reluctance in these matters.  Your task right now is to become more awake in your deeper, more real Self where the principles of Sufi learning are effective for you without causing your outer everyday self to disturb the mechanism of surrounding society.  “The Secret Knows How To Protect Itself”, to paraphrase an old saying. 


Q: Then I do not have to convert to Islam to become a Sufi practitioner and develop myself?


Q.S: The principles of the Sufi way are applicable to persons of any religious or cultural background. The Sufi way includes Islam, but it also includes all other religions as well.       


Q: Then is it like the composite religion of the Ba’hai in Iran?


Q.S: No, it is beyond Ba’hai, which it also includes.  Appreciative inclusion is not the same as being a collection of included things on some level, such as religion, just as we cannot call a honey bee that goes to many different flowers a “collage of flowers”.  A bouquet, such as Ba’hai, is not a bee, such as the Sufi.  And do not forget, however, that Sufis, just as Ba’hais, have again and again been martyred by outer authorities of Islam after being branded as heretics.  The Sufi or anyone with a tendency of universal consideration has always been in some danger from the ignorance and violence of his or her society or nation of residence.


Q: Then the problem I am experiencing is not dissimilar from the ancient problem of Sufis having to conceal themselves or otherwise placate outer Muslim society in the near and middle East.


Q.S: Yes, it is an old problem taking a modern form.  The methods of dealing with the problem remain amazingly appropriate even today.


Q: Can you give me an illustrative example that would help me deal with the problem as I am experiencing it today?


Q.S: Happily.  In Idries Shah’s book, The Dervish Probe, you will find the following teaching story:



In a public square one day, some people were shouting:
                          “Down with the Throne!”
They were faced by a party of Royal Guards, who were trying to beat them and take them prisoners.
Sufi Zafrandoz, accompanied by a few students, was watching the scene.
‘Which party shall we aid?’ asked a pupil.
‘The cripples!’ said Zafrandoz.
‘Which are the cripples?’
‘Both.  The one party is incapable of ceasing to oppose authority.  The other is unable to cease opposing them.
‘People handicapped in such manner are in the grip of a disability which hampers them.  They are crippled in thought as surely as a lame man is crippled in body.  Why therefore, do we feel sorry for, and try to help, only the physically handicapped, who are such minority?’


     If you look at the present situation in Iraq where there is a battle even as I speak at Najaf between the American military occupation force and Sheikh Sadr’s Shi’ite insurgents, both sides are clearly the same kind of cripples as indicated in the story.  From the Sufi point of view, both the Americans and the insurgents are self-defeating, foolish and wrong in their behavior.  The people on both sides are having a terrible misunderstanding as to what is needed for their mutual well-being.  The Sufi by definition cannot be either an insurgent suicide bomber on the one hand or a partner in oppression with the Americans on the other hand.  Both sides should listen to the Sufi, but neither side will.  So the task of the Sufi is the Power of Silence.  Do you understand how this Godly power works?


Q: I know I understand it in my higher Sufi Self, but my everyday self feels anguished and helpless like the disciple in the story.  I wish I could bring both sides to their senses.


Q.S: From the beginning of time human rulers have oppressed people and oppressed human rebels have behaved in such a manner as to bring on crude acts of oppression.  It is indeed an old story that repeats itself periodically.  This is because general human nature does not and cannot change.  The rare individual who can change is a person on the Sufi way.


Q: Then how do we “help the cripples”?


Q.S: By being Sufis to the best of our potential, trusting that all human beings of all persuasions are given the shocks and lessons that will educate their souls to seek the Way to the Way.  Only those whom life has awakened can be instructed.


Q: This implies that we should not try to enlighten our neighbors, associates or even close relatives in the context of ordinary society.


Q.S: That is so.  Only those whom life has awakened, who are seeking the Way to the Way, such as yourself, can be further awakened and instructed.  The Guide is there to help the seeker be a student.  The non-seeker cannot be awakened or taught but through the blows of life.


Q: I believe I am beginning to understand, but I am still a little unclear about how to pursue the Sufi way as long as I live and work in my present society.


Q.S: I have already told you, but you are having trouble calming your everyday outer self, your Nafs, so that your deeper inner self, your Ruh or Spirit, can act upon the teaching.


Q: I do not know what to say or ask at this point.


Q.S: That is because enough has been said and asked for now.  It is time for us to return to the deep eloquence of Silence, the Language of the Heart.



A Further Conversation Later


Q: It was on the News that Sistani, the Shi’ite leader, brokered a ceasefire settlement between Sadr and the Americans in Najaf.  Was that a Sufi action of “helping the cripples”?


Q.S: It is obvious.  Why do you believe you had to ask?


Q: You expect me to see Sufi action for myself.  Is that what you mean?


Q.S: Obviously.  Do not blind yourself with your ability to temporarily receive my attention.  That I am willing to sometimes answer your questions does not mean that you should always have an authority figure to question.  Therefore, go now and keep your eyes open and alert, for most of what you need to learn comes not from verbal answers.