Hello to my regular three readers!
Below, you’ll find a passage from a book that I find rather magnificent on the question of reconciling the nature of ‘Decree and Destiny’ from a mystical perspective.
It is worth noting that the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ is here understood as the ‘Tree of Love’, and that seems to be the starting point from which her discourse is rooted (pun intended)
Ref: Beauty and Light: Mystical Discourses by a Contemporary Female Sufi Master – the Shaykha Cemelnur Sargut – who I believe heads one of the branches of the Rifa’i order in Turkey. (Ed. Tehseen Thaver; Trans. Cangüzel Zülfikar) (Fons Vitae; Louisville, KY: 2017), pp 84-93.
Hopefully my transcription of this pages is faithful to the original – there will likely be several typographical errors, but I can’t find them now (so, good luck to you)
The latter half of the passage in particular is quite something, and gave me a lot of pause. I pray it affects you in profound ways, too. And also, if you can get a hold of the book for yourself, I guarantee (by the Grace of God, of course) that you will find it of profound spiritual value.
She is rather unique in terms of her public persona in terms of being a Sufi master, she has a science background, and has a following made-up predominantly of seekers who happen to be women (to the chagrin of her male followers, of course, who have to try and get more time with her when they feel somewhat sidelined – I paraphrase but it’s in the introduction).
The passages in the first couple of chapters on the stations of the garden of the heart are particularly striking, though since I’ve been in thought about the nature of the world, theodicy, decree and so forth, this passage really spoke to me. I wish you well in your explorations of this rather resplendent saint.
Much love, and God bless to you all.
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“Q: Was Adam punished because after being made the site of manifestation for God’s essence, he approached the tree of love and became attached to the attributes?
“A: Very true. From the essence, he became attached to the attributes. And perhaps it is on account of his going back from the essence to the attributes that Iqbal says, “The pleasure of paradise was inscribed in his heart, when he himself was the essence and paradise. This is why he was cast out.” But in my opinion, Adam did not commit a sin. He did what he had to do, and this is how he came to acknowledge and his own non-existence and nothingness. To reach the point of realising our non-existence and say, “We don’t exist,” we must first commit mistakes and errors [emphasis mine]. I was recently speaking to a friend who said, “I used to love drinking…but I gave it up; was my act of giving up the habit more worthy to God than the restraint of a person who never drank?” Of course not. You will make mistakes – accept that you have made mistakes, and then refrain from them for God. In the eyes of God, restraint and renouncement for His sake is admirable, because it requires struggle and effort. and God loves the struggle and effort of human beings when it is for His sake. Consider two individuals that profess their love for each other, but are unable to make any sacrifices for the other. Can this be called love? No, it cannot. Similarly, simply saying, “O God, I love You!” is not enough. The real question is how much are you able and prepared to sacrifice for your beloved. Do you fear that you might lose your beloved? Our relationship with and love for God should produce these concerns [emphasis mine]. Going back to Adam and Eve, it is as if God spoke those words to Adam. It is also as if God made human beings capable of and passionately inclined towards love, and pushed them towards it. Let us connect that point with the poem of Kenan Rifa’i. Wasn’t a similar thing said to Husayn, the Adam of his time? Most certainly, he was told, “Dear son, don’t proceed, else you will suffer immediately.” But just like Adam, Husayn too chose non-existence and nothingnesses. He chose to die for his beloved, and by doing so he chose to set an example for all believers. We are so fortunate to have such lovers of God, who make it possible for us to reach this understanding.
“The divine judgments inscribed in heavenly spheres and the stars are also inscribed in the Preserved Tablet and in God’s Book. All of pre-eternity and eternity can be found in the Preserved Tablet and in God’s Book, and the ink of the pen has run dry. Sura An’am (Livestock) says, “…nor is there a single grain in the darkness of the earth, or anything fresh or withered, that is not written in a clear Record.” So if everything is in God’s book, then the conflicting states of hardship and comfort, happiness and oppression, goodness and evil, are all inevitable. We must experience these through the course of our lives. Why? We cannot say, “Why does evil exist?” It exists so that goodness can manifest. Similarly, for God to manifest himself, non-existence is necessary. All things are known through their opposite.
“Some questions might be raised: “What is the purpose of prophetic teachings?” “What are the benefits of prescriptions by doctors or the wisdom of sages?” “If everything is written in God’s book and is inevitable, why do we find the unjust shedding blood due to ignorance and disorder?” I have tried to answer these questions, but let me elaborate further with the help of some examples. The divine judgments that are inscribed in the heavens and the stars are not particular…Rather, those laws are universal… Similarly, in this world, the manifestations of the movements of heavenly spheres and stars are not circumscribed, but universal. Moreover, neither are the effects of the events caused by the movements of heavenly spheres and stars localised. To the contrary, again, those effects are universal.
“Thus when it comes to specific human actions, humans have the prerogative to choose. We decide what to strive towards and what to refrain from. As we said earlier, if we struggle in the way of God, He is content with us and through this we are able to realise our own meaning. Think of it this way: when these comes up, it radiates its light on everything equally. It cannot shine its light on some and not on others. At the same time, though, the sun does enable the maturation and ripening of some things, and the burning of others. Apply this analogy to our discussion: when the sun of God’s meaning rises, it can either cause us to mature and ripen, or to burn. The outcome depends on our abilities and inclinations. As Yunus Emre (d.720/1320) once said, “it is love that makes people crazy; it is love that brings disgrace on people.” What was he trying to say? That love is at once love and fire. [emphasis, mine] While it can strike one person and raise their station, on striking another person, it can make them lustful and lead to their downfall. So under God’s meaning, the orientation of each person corresponds to his or her abilities. People are affected by the same events in different ways, in accordance with their different abilities.
“Q: What are the factors that affect a person’s ‘ability’?
A: A good person is good from the time they are in their mother’s womb. The same is true for a bad person. The world is made up of these two groups. A good person refers to the lover of God. It refers to the person who struggles to reach God’s beauty. God manifests Himself through this type of person. A bad person means “sealed.” About this type, God says, “I manifest in these individuals as a drop, not as a whole.” Bad people exist in this world so that the good can be distinguished. They (the bad) carry no additional burdens for their sins. They will be given no other punishment. Their punishment is already with them. Consider the following story: when the donkey was taken to paradise, it said, ‘Hee haw hee haw!’ When it was taken to hell it said the same thing. On hearing this the people protested, “This donkey doesn’t understand a thing!” God replied, ‘When the donkey is already carrying its punishment on itself, why are you trying to recompense it further?’ The point of the story is this: say a man has a problem with another man and is constantly causing him trouble, to the point where all day he burns in the fire of his own jealousy. He is, at the very least, absolutely miserable. His entire day is spent in pain, as he conspires new ways to cause harm to others. Why would I need to curse such a person when he cannot be any worse off than he already is? He lacks the happiness and peace that I possess; he is in so much pain and discomfort.
The person who submits to God is happy and at peace; he remains unfazed by whatever may happen in this world. In contrast, those who do not submit are constantly burdened by worldly trials and tribulations. They are always in pain, as they themselves become a source of many other problems. I still remember once a woman said to me, ‘I have a weakness for jewelry; I envy even the tiniest piece of artificial jewelry you wear!’ This person carries the weight of her troubles with her, and constantly eats away at her peace. Perfected Humans show the true path to (less perfect) people like us who vacillate between peace and unrest. They serve as a reminder of the right path for us. Did the blessed Prophet ever give up on Abu Jahl? Never. Didn’t he know that Abu Jahl would never believe? He did. But it was as if he had resolved the following: “It is my responsibility to perform my (prophetic) duty as well is possible. The rest is in the hands of God.” So Perfected Humans convey and enjoin the good and what is true, as to him/her according to his/her own disposition.
With some people, the offering of sound advice produces the opposite effect; it increases the disbelief and makes them protest and say things like, “who do you think you are to teach me?” Whereas others would say, “everything I learn is beneficial for me; God has graced me with yet another meaning.” The objector or the one who says, “who do you think you are to teach me” is already in hell, while the other who embraces learning is in heaven. There is a lot of talk about terrorists these days. People endlessly ask and wonder, “Will they go to heaven or hell?” “Are they really killing people in the path of God?” It is so tragic that today, when the word Muslim is mentioned, terrorist is what comes to people’s minds. This is so painful. The West supports this, and that is how they want a Muslim to be portrayed. If a terrorist hadn’t already created hell for himself in this world, would they ever be able to detonate all those bombs? If a person has entered hell whilst still in this world, is it possible for them to go to paradise in the next world? If we are in peace, and if we are in the presence of God, it means that we are in paradise. If we are not in the presence of God, and are unhappy, we are in hell. If we are in hell, there is a Qur’an verse urging us to return to the presence of God. It says “…give alms…” that is join spiritual discourses, be a service to humanity again, and save yourself from the hellfire. For us to leave this world it is like the setting of the sun in this world, only to rise again in the afterlife. This means that the state in which you leave this world is the same state in which you will be resurrected. Thus, it can be said that people have Theo option of being good or bad. All prophets struggle to remind humanity of the right path and lead them to God’s presence. Everything inscribed in the Preserved Tablet will become manifest. In this regard, people do not make choices; they are not free. Whatever is written in the heavenly spheres and starts is God’s decree. The effects the are manifested through the heavenly spheres and stars are God’s destiny.
If a person wants to instruct a mill, they first decide where to put it up and think of the materials needed, like a stone, a wheel, and water. After this they obtain the materials, prepare what is needed for rotation, and then grind the flower. Note that there are three steps. First one must think of what materials to use; this is the decree, after which the person struggles to build. But first, it has to be imagined and planned. This act of imagining or picturing is the decree. Doing what is necessary for the decree to be carried out is destiny. The flour that is obtained at the end is also destiny. In the same way, God’s knowledge about the heavenly spheres, stars, elements and nature is His decree. The manifestation of the heavens and the stars in this world as they start turn is God’s destiny. Stars have a certain effect on this world, both inwardly and outwardly. In reality, all the planets and starts that appear to be outside exist in us. Horoscropes and stars affect us. That should not be interpreted -as is often done today- as the telling of fortunes. A Perfected Human comes, takes you from one sphere to another and directs you to the right path. This means that God has programmed you in a certain way in your creation. IF your decree is to become wheat, He causes you to be born in a season that will help you manifest your wheat-ness. The season is your horoscope. The wind and the rain of that season help you acquire the level of maturity as well as ‘wheat’.
The spiritual disposition with which you are born, will enable you, through your efforts, to attain that maturity. Even before you have a need for water, a spiritual teacher guides you to the water. This is what is most crucial. God grants His creatures what what is required and desired by their abilities. He assigns to them the appropriate name as their destiny; human form, spirit, abilities and attitude are written in the sperm of humans. People are bound to exist in their own form and spirit. They will necessarily have the abilities that they have, but they are free in their actions. So, while decree is predetermined, our destiny is determined by our actions. People say, ‘Your destiny is in your hands” without reflecting on what this means. Destiny is the fulfilment of decree. And the our destiny is lived out in our hands. (Emphasis mine)
Q: Could you please explain this with an example for us to understand it better?
A: Let’s say it is in a person’s destiny to become a beautiful person. But trial and difficulty is also written for that person for the sake of their perfection. If they endure the trials and show contentment, that destiny will make them beautiful. If on the other hand they get stuck in a state where with each difficulty and affliction they question, “Why has this happened to me?” then trial and difficulty will not work to perfect them. Instead, they will remain “unripe.” This is why we must learn to be content with everything that happens to us. The things that happen to us change our inner structure. They transform us into diamonds when we are just carbon and coal. If instead of transforming into diamonds we insist on staying as coal and say, “No, I will not suffer any pain in this world!” then we will remain at the level of coal. But if we are content with suffering, and if we treat pain not as pain but as a sign that the Beloved is with us, and if when difficulties arise we say, “Praise be to God, this is from my beloved; He has considered me worthy of this, and He has loved me,” then difficulties will become delights that transform us into diamonds. [Emphasis mine]… To be clear, I am not suggesting that we ask for hardship. I am talking about hardship that is already present and destined to occur.
Q: To be content with our destiny is the goal we should strive for, but how do we get to that station? How can an ordinary person get there?
A: Everything comes down to “love.” Spiritual discourses (sohbet) held by Sufis are there to increase our love; we need these discourses in order to realise our love. Spiritual discourse is needed to nourish a person’s love. What feeds love are the feelings a person has during a spiritual discourse. All our talk and discussion about love thus far has the same objective: to understand the meaning of God, to find that Beloved in ourselves, to unite with that Beloved, to meet with that Beloved, and to take each breath with the Beloved. The highest form of love is needed to achieve this, that is, to be content with everything, and to view every event as beautiful. Even when it is human love directed towards a man or a woman, if the beloved scolds the lover, the lover derives pleasure from this. Why? “Because they have spoken to me!” is the answer. It seems “they were upset by something I did.” When someone is reproached by their intimate friend, they experience much pleasure, and think, “if this person hadn’t loved me, they would not have reproached me!” Only and immature soul resents being reproached. But can the reproach of a true friend upset us? The reproach of a friend makes us happy. “If they hadn’t had love for me, they would not have called me,” they think. This is how our relationship with God should be. I, too, reflect on this from time to time. When something really difficult happens to me, I tend to say, “My beloved must have seen me as distinct from others and so He granted this difficult situation to me. He must love me so He has given me a more difficult test than He has to others.” This is the crux of it: to be able to establish a relationship with the beloved and to welcome whatever He sends us according to the best of our ability. And we should remember that with contentment there is reciprocity, such that after our contentment is the station where God is content with us.
Q: Is it a universal rule that everyone should be content with his or her destiny? Do people really have to be content with everything that happens?”
A: It is not easy for everyone to be content. Of course, being content with our destiny is tied to our abilities. It is related to the pre-eternal decree that is in the self. In fact, the best way for us to establish a relationship with God is to never judge the way others are content with their own destinies. Everybody is pleased to the extent that accords with his or her capacity. it is possible that no one will be content in the way I am, and I will not be content in the way that others are. I have said this many times already. dA very close friend of mine in Konya buried his ten children in a collapsed building last Eid. Can I ask, “Why can’t I be like him?” He has met the destiny that was decided for him in pre-eternity by God and God has made it easy on him. We might all see his situation the same way, and after acquiring a lot of information we might learn how to behave in such a situation. But when we actually confront that trial, how do we respond? That’s the question. How we respond is related to the favours that God has bestowed on us. So while the extent of our contentment corresponds to our capacity, the ability to respond well and to be content is only possible through God’s help and blessing. We respectfully bow before those who have such contentment.
Human beings act on their own spiritual predispositions. Did I say human beings? Sorry, every created being in the world acts on its destiny and fate. Let me illustrate this with a story. A mosquito approached the Prophet Solomon to register a complaint. “I’m so upset by this wind! Its continuous blowing is nearly killing me as it forces me along! Could you have a word with it so that it starts to show me some respect?” Solomon speaks to the wind, warning it that it might kill the mosquito and suggests that it be calmer. The wind replies, “O master! Movement is part of my constitution; it is how I was created. The same God that created me also commanded me to move. I simply obey the command; I don’t know what is or is not driven along by my movement. And there is nothing wrong in this because ultimately God has mandated that I, the wind, be blowing.” From this story we see that everything has a duty in this world. For some, the duty entails movement, which can be destructive, but it is their duty.
Such people destroy everything in their path without pausing to think about the consequences. Others courteously welcome all things and treat duty. It is to our place to ask, “Why is such and such person doing this or that?” Our ability to be content with the destiny that God has written for this world rests on our ability to be content with how others will behave accordingly to their own disposition. People are predestined to do what they do; it is their duty. You might do something good for someone, and they might be hostile in response. It is not my place to question this. The goal is to respect what others do. Now, you might ask, “Why do evil-doers get punished if everyone is responsible for doing their duty?” My teacher says, “This brings up a very subtle point.” God has opposite names: names that involve the granting of greatness and dignity, and names that cause abasement and despiability [sic]. With some of His names He guides and with other of His names He leads astray. He forgives, but He also takes revenge and punishes. All His names come into this world after their pleading with him, saying, “O God, please grant us a body.” When there is suffering and oppression, God sends a person who will carry the name of vengeance.To eliminate the qualities that lead one to oppress others, it is necessary for the person with those qualities to encounter vengeance. When they meet, the two names will control and discipline each other. That’s it.
Q: Thank you so much.