Based in Birmingham, Midlands Sufi Circle is part of an international network of zawiyas (Sufi centres of meditation and learning) in the Moroccan Sufi tradition.
The Sufi path is all about mindfulness. Mindfulness of what we do and how we do it; mindfulness of our intentions; mindfulness of how we speak to one another and mindfulness of how we interact with the world around us.
Sufism is the esoteric aspect of Islam, often referred to as the science of the interior (‘ilm al-bâtin). The Prophet Muhammad tells us that excellence in religion (ihsan in Arabic) is “that you worship God as if you see Him, for if you don’t see Him, know that truly He sees you”.
At the heart of the Sufi tradition is this mindfulness of God in every living moment, with every breath. One of the central pillars of the Sufi path is the practice of dhikr, or remembrance of God, the contemplative practice of meditating on the names or attributes of the Divine reality in order to cleanse the heart of all other concerns.
If we are to ‘remember’ God as the term dhikr implies, then we might ask what it is that separates us from Him in the first place. The acclaimed 13th-century Sufi scholar Ibn Ata Allah Iskandari provides us with a clear answer to this question: “The only thing that stands between you and God” he tells us, “is yourself”.
Another celebrated 13th-century Sufi figure, the much loved Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi reiterates this truth when he says of dhikr “in reality there is nothing to remember, it is enough simply to forget oneself”.
The Sufi path is thus a kind of homecoming, a return to our essential nature or source which is the Divine Truth. The practice of dhikr is a striving to lift the consciousness from the temporal to the Eternal, from the relative to the Absolute. It is a letting go of the past, the future and our relative concerns.
By letting go, we’re allowing God’s attributes to be experienced directly, for Sufism is pure experience, it’s not a theoretical science. We can differentiate between belief and certainty, and Sufism is often referred to as the science of certainty. Certainty born of experience. We could use any number of elaborate metaphors to explain what a fresh fig tastes like, but our description, however effective it might be, would be very pale in comparison to the direct experience of tasting a fresh fig for oneself.
With regular practice, as we continue to home in on the here and now, focusing exclusively on the Divine Truth, we begin to experience flashes of inspiration, Divine epiphanies, as if a breeze momentarily stirred the curtains and the sunlight came flooding through, just for an instant. These flashes of Nur or Divine light that momentarily illuminate the heart are what we refer to in the Sufi tradition as hal – or spiritual states. With time and continued practice, these hal become more stable and durable and we refer to these lasting states as maqam – or spiritual stations. It is these spiritual stations that are the rungs on the ladder of our progression along the Sufi path. With each station, another veil is lifted from our hearts, God’s attributes increasingly shine through and our direct understanding of the Divine Reality deepens.
In the words of Saint Augustine, “You must be emptied of that of which you are full, in order that you might be filled with that of which you are empty.”