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Khushu and Hurma (Reverent Awe and Respect)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism-4

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Khushu and Hurma (Reverent Awe and Respect)

It is a significant attainment and Divine favor that one is able to utterly annihilate themselves in respect of their carnality and egotism and traverses the distance originating in oneself and realizes “meeting with God” and “intimacy with Him.” However, it should not be overlooked that like all attainments, this may have certain negative effects on human faculties, for this horizon is the horizon where the dazzling signs of the most transcending and deepest meanings and metaphysical mysteries beyond all sight, hearing, imagination, and conception become completely manifested. Those who have reached this peak can neither discern nor discriminate between the things and events that they have so far seen, heard, and have come to know, nor conclude true judgments concerning them. Therefore, just as it is possible for someone in this state to fall into confusion, so too it is almost inevitable that they make some utterances which are not in compliance with reality. Even though those who seek refuge in the gracious assistance of God Almighty in every step and perceive safety and salvation as being found in dependence on the way of the master of creation, upon him be peace and blessings, are an exception, this risk has always been present. For when the Absolute Sovereign, Who has the absolute right to be “seen,” heard, recognized, known and mentioned, makes Himself felt wholly with His nearness, meeting and intimacy, everyone whose capacity and subconscious have not been perfected with the attitudes such as heart-felt veneration and reverent awe finds themselves left powerless to remain as themselves or to express themselves in a rational manner. Since those who have reached such a peak always live in intoxication in parallel with the height of their line of perfection, they frequently act led by these instinctive sensations and cannot discriminate their right hand from their left nor their front from their back.

In such an unusual state, those who are by nature open to intoxication and absorption trespass the limits drawn by the subconscious formed of good manners, respect, and reverent awe, and can go so far as to make utterances such as: “Glory be to me! How supreme my essential character is!” Some others, who only weigh the annihilation of everything in the lights of God’s Existence on the scales of the spiritual state and experience cannot help but utter: “I am the Ultimate Truth!” But it is not possible to reconcile this with the respect and manners that all must have before God Almighty. There are still others who breathe the following words, which we can regard as the expression of both the spiritual state and experience and self-possession and respect:

The space where I am has developed into no-space and there has been left no trace of me;
There is neither anything of my body nor anything of my soul;
I am from the clime of my Beloved.
I have discarded both of my eyes so that I see this world and the next fused into one single world.
What I know is one, what I see is one, what I speak of is one, what I seek is one.
Mawlana Jalalu’d-Din ar- Rumi[1]

Still others, enchanted by the feeling of attraction, the majesty of perceiving the Divine presence, and the awe of Divine manifestations, speak as follows in the intoxication of the wine of love:

A call has come to me from the Ultimate Truth:
“Come, O lover, you are intimate with Us!
This is the place of intimacy;
I have found you a faithful one!”
The place where I am has developed into no-space;
This body of mine has wholly become a soul;
God’s Sight has manifested Itself to me;
And I have found myself intoxicated with His meeting.[2]

There are still others who refer to “ annihilation in God” and “ subsistence by and with God” in a relatively more sober style, thus displaying a different state according to the content of their subconscious, saying:

I have submitted whatever I had to that Friend, so I no longer have a house;
I have been liberated from everything, so I have nothing in the name of the two worlds.
For God’s love has reached me and attracted me to itself;
It has opened the eye of my heart, so I am no longer intoxicated.
Ahmedi[3]

The saintly, purified scholars, on the other hand, such as Junayd al-Baghdadi, who traveled in the light of the Prophetic lamp, always acted with self-possession, breathed with reverent awe, and their eyes twinkled with heart-felt veneration, without causing those who were incapable of traveling a spiritual path to fall into confusion or deviation. Some other close friends of God, such as ash-Shibli[4] and those of a similar disposition, revealed their sensations under the influence of their nature, and caused those who had no connection with spirituality to be informed of certain secrets, thus providing an opportunity to criticize both these people and their way. However, they never behaved improperly or displayed disrespect in adherence to the essentials of the journey. As for the people of heart, such as al-Hallaj,[5] as-Suhrawardi[6] and Ibnu’l-Farid,[7] although they were sincere in their love and yearning, and were favored with a certain degree of attraction and the feeling of being attracted, they were not able to act with self-possession, due to their continuous intoxication and absorption, nor to remain distant from improper utterances that would cause misunderstanding, thus laying some ground for certain reckless acts and manners.

The true heirs to the Prophetic way have always traveled in self-possession, weighing up their visions and inner sensations on the balance of the Sunna, evaluating their spiritual unveilings according to the established truths and criteria of the Religion, and doing their utmost in order not to lead the common people into confusion. While they have attached great importance to nearness to God, they also have tried to show utmost respect in their relationship with Him, and have preserved their good manners, heartfelt veneration and reverent awe. Over time, with the reflection of their heart-felt veneration and reverence in their everyday acts, behavior, and words, they have become heroes of self-possession and the representation of Islam, acting as examples for others in their relations with both the Creator and the created.

Their hearts, where their perception of God’s Grandeur, Majesty, and Dominion were combined with their admission of their innate impotence, poverty, neediness and essential nothingness, always beat with utmost respect and adoration. This state was manifest in their acts and speeches. They always acted properly and preserved their good manners and respect both at the beginning and at the end of the path, breathing reverent awe and remaining humble and modest even when they reached the level of angels. However, this does not mean that all of them were of the same level in their knowledge of God. Rather, there were considerable differences among them in this respect. Among them were those who pulled themselves together and bent double in reverent awe whenever they remembered God, and there were those who breathed self-possession and vigilance with the consideration that God saw them in whatever state they were or with whatever task they busied themselves, as they spent their life in complete awareness of God’s omnipresence.

In whatever stage of the journey and at whatever degree of certainty they may be, a traveler toward God should never fall short of reverent awe and heart-felt veneration. It should be pointed out here that having reverent awe is different from appearing to have it. God always wants His servants to try their hardest to deny themselves in profound modesty and the admission of their essential impotence and poverty, thus confirming Him with His absolute Power and Riches. Appearing to have more reverence and awe than one really feels in their heart is hypocrisy and disrespect for God. If reverent awe is a requirement of servanthood to God—and there is no doubt that it is—it is the arm or wing of the traveler in their journey toward the Ultimate Truth; it is their greenhouse and their shield, their safety belt and lifeline. Those who advance with such an arm or wing, who manage to enter this greenhouse and use this shield well as a means of Divine protection, those who fasten this safety belt and hold fast to this lifeline continuously advance on the path without slipping; they are able to act in self-possession and show respect to God on the path that goes towards Him. When they reach the end of the path by which they can meet and achieve intimacy with Him, they are under the influence of this subconscious attainment, which they have developed into a significant depth of their nature. For they have come to know what they should know—they have come to know this in the way the heroes of knowledge of God know. As declared in the verse, Of all His servants, only those possessed of true knowledge stand in awe of God (35:28), only those who are able to recognize or know Him with His Attributes of Glory and All-Beautiful Names and who are able to travel in the horizon of living as if seeing God or in awareness of the fact that God sees whatever we do and say, are able to feel the required respect, reverence, and adoration for God in whatever state they may be. However, they differ in the degree of their knowledge according to the capacity and certainty of each.

servant’s self-possession and adoration of God and their manners are proportionate to their recognition and knowledge of God. The most knowledgeable of the knowledgeable, upon him be peace and blessings, reminds of this fact by saying: “I am the one who has the greatest awe of God and who is the most God-conscious.”[8] The conclusion of the verse mentioned above also corroborates this. The conclusive statement, Surely God is All-Glorious with irresistible might, All-Forgiving, which combines hope and fear and encouragement (toward good) and discouragement (from evil), moves the spirit with feelings of reverent awe, respect, and adoration. For the All-Forgiving gives the glad tidings of pardon and brings relief, while the All-Glorious with irresistible might warns that God has the power to do whatever He wills, is absolutely undefeatable and irresistible, and is the sole Sovereign on the throne of sovereignty. Therefore, in accordance with the Qur’anic declaration, (He) feels awe of the All-Merciful, though unseen (beyond their perception) (36:11), a traveler toward God’s presence who is to be honored with vision of Him always considers His Majesty and Grandeur, trembles and never abandons themselves to carelessness with the excuse that God is the All-Merciful. At the same instant, when such a traveler thinks of God’s being the All-Forgiving and the All-Compassionate, they are startled by the pronouncement, I surely am the All-Forgiving, the All-Compassionate, and My punishment—it is indeed the painful punishment (15:49–50), and they always breathe with feelings of reverent awe and heart-felt veneration.

In addition to being a safety belt for those who are at the beginning of the path, reverent awe and heart-felt veneration are a powerful dynamo of warning for the heroes of intimacy with God in the horizon of meeting with Him, acting as a break against recklessness and improper utterances. It is only with this feeling that while those who are at the beginning of the path can traverse the most dangerous stages of the journey with the least difficulty and without being entangled in anything, those who have reached the end of the path can fulfill what is due to their position and are saved from the pitfall of changing meeting into separation and intimacy into isolation.

Whoever one is, to the extent that one is able to make their spirit feel heart-felt veneration and reverent awe, they are neither shaken by tedious fear of others nor do they have to bow before them in worry. As a matter of fact, in addition to ordering us to love Him and love others only on account of Him, God Almighty wants us to channel our feelings of fear into fear and reverent awe of Him. The Divine command, Do not fear them but fear Me! (3:175) is sufficiently explicit in this respect.

The following lines by the author of Lujja beautifully express the same point:

If you fear the punishment of God, establish yourself in the Religion more firmly;
Trees are rooted more firmly in the ground for fear of violent storms.

There are ignorant ones who are unaware of where the path they are following in the world is leading them. They eat, drink, sleep and finally roll down into the pit of death which has been formed by their life and opinions of life and death.

There are others who see knowledge, religious acts and responsibilities and the end that awaits them in a murky, smoky, misty way, as if they are observing them from behind a foggy piece of glass. They have neither knowledge of the beginning and end of the world nor fear or reverent awe. When it is time to die after a life spent in indecision, they are dragged to their pitiable end with their shaky belief and actions.

There are still others who advance toward their end with knowledge and actions and act dependent on certain degrees of knowledge of God. They sometimes breathe with love, but since they are unaware of heart-felt veneration and reverent awe and are unable to adorn their actions with sincerity, they confuse white and black with one another and usually leave the world suffering losses, despite the opportunities to gain they were given.

There are still others: they have perfect knowledge, knowledge of God, and love, and travel their path in sincerity. However, since they suffer from a lack of sufficient fear and reverent awe, they may feel dizzied by some attainments. Even though they maintain their position by acting in accordance with it, they may display carefree attitudes and make improper utterances that cannot be reconciled with modesty, humility, and the sense of nothingness that are the foundations of servanthood to God. They provide material for certain frivolous souls.

For this reason, all believers, in particular those who have dedicated themselves to the Ultimate Truth, should scrutinize themselves in respect of fear and awe at every step of their journey, examining to what extent reverent awe and heart-felt veneration have become a part of their subconscious so that they may be preserved from carefree acts and manners and not darken the way of gain with loss. The author of Mizanu’l-‘Irfan[9] says the following things in this respect:

O initiate, make your soul know fear, so that your soul may weep with fear.
The debased soul should fear God so much so that it should be left weak and helpless.
The low-down soul should not be carefree, thus impelling you to act freely.
Believers do not speak recklessly, nor do they dare not fulfill their duty.
Be always fearful of the Ultimate Truth, and let your knowledge of Him lead you.

Heart-felt veneration, reverent awe, and the feelings of fear and awe which they generate in the heart are extraordinarily important for everyone, and are not only the most significant fruit of true belief, but are also the most valuable result of certainty that is bestowed on a person due to their continuous turning to God. A hero of truth who has been able to pick up this fruit and obtain this result can be regarded as having gained everything they can be expected to. For since they have turned faithfully to the Being Who has the reins of everything in His Hand, they are a candidate to be favored with all His gifts. In a saying that is related as a hadith qudsi, our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, declares:

God Almighty says to His servant: “Make a present of your heart-felt reverence and the tears of your eyes to Me, and then ask Me for the gratification of whatever needs you have so that I may answer your call. For I am near and I answer the call of everyone who prays to Me.”

O God! We ask You for whatever good Your Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, asked You for, and we seek refuge in You from whatever evil Your Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, sought refuge in You from. We ask you for everything good, whether immediate or postponed, and we seek refuge in You from everything evil, whether immediate or postponed. We ask You for Paradise and whatever word and action which will make us near to it, and we seek refuge in You from Hell and whatever word and action which will make us near to it. Amen! And bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad and on his Family and Companions, altogether.

[1] Jalalud-Din ar- Rumi, Mawlana (Mevlana) (1207–1273): One of the most renowned figures of Islamic Sufism. He was the founder of the Mawlawi (Mevlevi) Order of the whirling dervishes, and famous for his Mathnawi, an epic of religious life in six volumes. For Western readers, ar- Rumi is a powerful voice among the poets of Sufism. (Tr.)
[2] Imadu’d-Din Nasimi (1369–1417), Azerbaijan’s outstanding poet of the 15th century, wrote in Turkish along with Arabic and Persian. He was very successful in lyric poems. (Tr.)
[3] Emir Muhammed ibn Emir Ahmedi lived in the same age as Jalalu’d-Din ar- Rumi. He lived in Bayburt, in the Eastern Turkey. He was also the leader of the Ahis (The Brotherhood of Craftsmen and Tradesmen) in the region. (Tr.)
[4] Abu Bakr ash-Shibli, of Khorasan by origin but born in Baghdad or Samarra, son of a court official and himself promoted in the imperial service, as Governor of Demavend. However, giving up governorship, he joined the circle of Junayd al- Baghdadi, and became one of the leading figures in Islamic Sufism. He died in 846 at the age of 87. (Tr.)
[5] Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (244/857–309/922) was one of the most famous of Muslim Sufis. He was born in Shushtar in western Iran and lived in Baghdad. He is famous for his utterance “I am the Truth.” He is also famous for his austerities.
[6] Shihabu’d-Din Abu Hafs ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdullah as-Suhrawardi (1145–1234) was a Sufi theologian. ‘Awarif al-Ma‘arif is about the Sufi way. He also criticized the philosophers following the ancient Greek Philosophy. (Tr.)
[7] ‘Umar ibnu’l-Farid (1181–1235) is one of the most venerated poets in Arabic, whose expression of Sufi experiences is regarded as the finest in the Arabic language. He studied for a legal career but abandoned law for a solitary religious life in the Muqattam hills near Cairo. He spent some years in or near Makka, where he met the renowned Sufi as-Suhrawardi. (Tr.)
[8] (Sahihu’l)-Bukhari, “Nikah” 1; Ibn Hibban, as-Sahih, 2:20.
[9] The author of Mizanu’l-‘Irfan is Mustafa Fevzi ibn Nu‘man (d. 1924). The author was a writer and poet following the Naqshbandi way. He was among the disciples of Hasan Hilmi (1825–1912), a famous 19th century Turkish Sufi guides. (Tr.)