Sheikha Fariha reads:
Whatever human beings say about reality, whatever advanced concepts they may hold, the Ultimate Source Who is now speaking will always be more exalted. All that is possible for any being is to praise Allah Most High, for none can describe Him. The very nature and function of Being Itself is to praise the Source and Goal of Being. The entire temporal universe, as well as the seven eternal realms and all the forms of consciousness they contain, are simply the living praise of the Ever-Present Source. To be is to praise Allah. Human beings fail to perceive this boundless praise arising spontaneously from all minds and hearts, or else they would understand instantly why such utter compassion and forgiveness flow to every being from the Source of Love. - meditation on Holy Quran 17: 43–44
Sheikh Nur: Human conceptuality is an amazing gift. It allows us to discover various levels of reality. But it is extremely important for being truly human to know that our conceptuality has a limit. Whatever advanced concepts one may hold, “the Ultimate Source Who is now speaking will always be more exalted.” The interesting point here is that the Source is speaking. The Source is affirming this limit to conceptuality. It is not human speculation. Here is the difference between philosophy and revelation. Each is fine in its own place, but revelation is obviously the crown. Our modern society is in danger of losing the whole overtone of revelation and staying with just philosophy and science.
“All that is possible for any being is to praise Allah Most High, for none can describe Him.” The modern person may think, This is depressing. We want to describe God. We want to describe everything. All we can do is praise? That seems like a lower position. In this modern attitude our true priorities have been reversed. To praise is higher than to describe. It is a more exalted and magnificent experience. It is fuller, more satisfying, and more true. We should definitely describe what we can describe. We should not dogmatically claim that no one will ever be able to describe how the electrons circulate around the atom. Why not? Allow science to describe that through mathematics or through some other brilliant method of description. But we must always maintain our relationship with the Source, which is indescribable by its very nature, and we must praise that indescribability. If we fill our lives with description and have no praise, we will be anemic, personally and culturally, like having no iron in our diet.
The Quran takes us further into praise: “The very nature and function of Being Itself is to praise the Source and Goal of Being.” I said earlier that creation is like an expansion and a contraction again to a point. The Source of Being is also the Goal of Being. The Source of Being is not something “way back there.” The Source of Being is also the Ever-Present Goal of Being. Everything about Being is continuously returning into its Source. As it returns, it praises. In fact, its return itself is praise. This Quranic passage goes on to say, simply, “To be is to praise Allah.” To be is to praise the indescribable Source of Being. So at this moment, just by being, we can consciously engage in universal praise. This is Sufi meditation. Just being! Our being itself is perfect praise. Of course, we are studying Quran together, so that study is also a form of praise.
All the hearts and all the minds in this room are now comprehending what I am saying. We are consciously participating in universal praise. Allah created the creation as a vehicle of praise, and we instinctively know this. “The entire temporal universe, as well as the seven eternal realms and all the forms of consciousness they contain, are simply the living praise of the Ever-Present Source. Human beings fail to perceive this boundless praise arising spontaneously from all minds and hearts.” Praise is spontaneous. We cannot say to someone, “You are not praising enough.” Praise is spontaneous and infinite. We cannot say, “Let’s take a course on praising.” It is spontaneous and unceasing, though of course we can attend a mystic order such as this one and learn to appreciate these spiritual facts. Praise is arising spontaneously from all minds and hearts in creation at this very moment. Teaching this, at this moment, I can feel my own awareness of universal praise expanding. The twenty million people around us right now in the New York City area are praising. Spontaneously. Whatever else they are doing. We do not have to take responsibility for whatever else they are doing; we can take responsibility only for what we are doing. But the fact is, they are all praising.
One can see how amazingly subtle this revealed book is. It has an almost playful way of turning back and expressing the same point from a different, surprising perspective. It says that if we truly perceived all this praise arising, we would not be surprised that infinite compassion and forgiveness are always flowing to every being from Allah, from the Source of Being. It is incorrect to think, “How kind Allah is! The universe and human beings are not praising Him, but He is still giving them sustenance and forgiveness.” The universe is praising Him—completely and absolutely. Even the most negative persons, through their very being, are praising the Source of Being. Even though they may be extremely confused and walking in the wrong direction, there is always this core of praise—their very being itself. On the Day of Judgment, Allah will strip away all their negativity. It may be a painful experience, just as any bad habit, smoking, for instance, creates pain when it is first taken away.
Our next meditation on the Holy Quran will be more elaborate. There are many histories of prophets inside Quran. This passage is the enlightenment experience of the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace. Those of you who are Jewish may know that a similar passage exists in Midrash, Jewish oral tradition.
Dervish Ahmed Munir reads:
The highest Truth, that the Ever-Present Source alone truly exists, was shown to the Prophet Abraham in this way. While he was immersed in solitary contemplation, within the vastness of the evening sky the first star suddenly appeared. To the pure vision of the Prophet, the star’s light revealed the entire universe as the luminous manifestation of Allah’s Majesty. While My intimate friend Abraham meditated on the bright mirror of My Creation, the evening star moved across the sky and disappeared behind the mountain. Perceiving this as clear teaching from the Source of Wisdom, he reflected: “Allah’s Majesty cannot be loved as totally as one loves His Essence.”
Then the full moon rose. Ascending further in contemplation, Abraham exclaimed: “Behold a mystic symbol for the transcendental beauty of Allah.” But his meditation on Divine Beauty also came to an end as the moon disappeared behind the mountain. Recognizing once more a teaching from the Source of Wisdom, he prayed intensely: “Most precious Allah, please guide me beyond Your Majesty and beyond Your Beauty, or I will remain among those who do not awaken to the highest Truth.”
Having supplicated the Supreme Source for guidance the whole night through, My intimate friend witnessed the magnificent desert sunrise. Perceiving the sun’s vast radiance as a teaching from the Source of Wisdom, he declared: “Behold a mystic symbol for the Power of Allah.” All day long he remained plunged in contemplation of Allah Most High as transcendent Power, but when the fiery sun finally set, his adoration of the Divine Attributes disappeared, and he awakened mystically into the Divine Essence alone. - meditation on Holy Quran 6: 75–78
Sheikh Nur: Abraham, upon him be peace, was undergoing an ascending series of spiritual experiences, sparked by the natural phenomena that surrounded him in his desert retreat. It is like the astronaut Mitchell. He was seeing the earth from the moon, a natural phenomenon, but it sparked something much more in him. It sparked the sense that the entire universe is loving and intelligent and purposeful. There is no way that just seeing a planet floating in space can create that experience. Mitchell saw the earth floating there as a Divine teaching. The noble Abraham did not have to fly to the moon to have this experience. He had it right on earth, as 124,000 prophets, upon them all be peace, and their families and followers have done throughout human history. It is we modern people who have become jaded with earthly experience. We have to go into outer space and look back to see earth as pure and sublime. Any particular way that Allah wants to show truth to us is good. One should not denigrate modern experience. But I want to emphasize that just seeing the physical phenomenon will not create the revelatory experience. We have to see the physical phenomenon as a radiant message or sign from the Source of Being. Then enlightenment explodes in our deepest awareness and we are taken to new levels of understanding.
The first level Abraham was taken to by Allah Most High was the contemplation of the evening star. This revealed to his purified vision that the entire universe is really the Divine Majesty. Maybe this is similar to the way astronaut Mitchell saw the whole universe as loving and purposeful. Gazing at this star opened the spirit of the Prophet so that he saw the entire universe as the perfect expression of Divine Majesty. He kept on contemplating the star and contemplating this transcendent fact. The star moved across the sky and disappeared behind the mountains. It took hours for this to happen, so the Prophet was in this state of Divine Majesty for hours. Probably Edgar Mitchell was in an exalted state of consciousness for hours as well, sitting in his capsule and looking out on earth. He saw that the universe was loving and purposeful—that is, the entire universe! He was not seeing that just this earth is loving and purposeful. His understanding extended far beyond to include the entire universe. This touches the edge of what the Prophet was experiencing.
When the star set behind the mountain, perceiving this as a clear teaching from the Source of Wisdom, Abraham reflected: “Allah’s Majesty cannot be loved as totally as one loves His Essence.” So the creation, as beautiful as it is, as purposeful as it is, cannot be loved as much as we love the Divine Essence, in other words, as we love the Source of Being out of which Being comes, out of which creation comes. Here is something that we modern people have not quite caught on to yet. We say, “I love the universe. It is purposeful. It is beautiful.” But what we really love is the Creator, the Source of the Universe. Through loving the universe, if our minds and hearts remain receptive, we can learn to love that Source. For the mystic, the universe becomes utterly transparent to its Source. The real object of our love is not the universe.
Abraham, however, was taking this much further. He was saying that one of the Divine Attributes, that of Majesty, cannot be loved as much as one loves the Divine Essence. It is hard for us to comprehend, but Abraham was actually going beyond the Divine Qualities, going beyond God as we can know Him, going beyond infinite Majesty. The Prophet was taken beyond.
Then the full moon rose. Abraham saw this also as a Divine Symbol, this time for the transcendental beauty of Allah. Beauty is more subtle than Majesty. Majesty involves all of this immense creation, but beauty can be found in a single flower, a single smile, or just the moonlight shining. Divine Beauty is much more delicate, much more elusive than Divine Majesty. The Prophet Abraham has now entered a much more subtle area of the Divine Attributes. Again, it is hard for you and me to understand these refinements, because what do we really know about the Divine Attributes? But this teaching is presented by the Holy Quran, so we have the responsibility to consider it deeply.
Lost for hours in the experience of Divine Beauty, Abraham suddenly saw the moon set behind a mountain. Recognizing this as a teaching from the Source of Wisdom, he prayed, “Most precious Allah, please guide me beyond Your Majesty and beyond Your Beauty, or I will remain among those who do not awaken to the highest Truth.” We can now sense how spiritually radical a prophet is. If we ourselves had even a glimpse of Divine Majesty or Divine Beauty, we would be intoxicated for the rest of our lives. There would be no question of going beyond, of praying to Allah, “Take me beyond Your Divine Attributes.” Abraham supplicated the Source of Guidance the whole night through. He did not think, “That was a wonderful experience. Now I’ll take a few hours of sleep and wake for the dawn prayer.” He went on supplicating, “Take me beyond! Take me beyond even Your Majesty, even Your Beauty!”
Finally, he perceived the intense radiance of the rising sun. He understood this as a symbol for Divine Power. He meditated the entire fourteen hours that the sun was in the sky. He did not contemplate the sun directly by staring at the physical manifestation. He meditated on Divine Power, which is totally inconceivable, by means of the sun regarded as a holy sign. We might say that Divine Majesty is somewhat conceivable and Divine Beauty somewhat comprehensible, but Divine Power points directly toward the inconceivable.
Then the sun set. This is when Abraham experienced enlightenment. He awakened into Divine Essence alone. It does not mean that moon, stars, and sun will never appear again or that the creation is somehow unreal. It does not mean that the mystic is ignoring Divine Majesty, Divine Beauty, and Divine Power. It means that the mystic has transcended both creation and Creator, plunging into the Source of these.
What happens when Abraham returns to his people? This is how it was revealed by Allah to the heart of His beloved Muhammad.
Dervish Ahmed Munir reads:
After returning from the wilderness to his people, the Prophet Abraham proclaimed: “I have always been free from religious practices that exalt forces of nature. But now I have been brought face to face with the Essence of Allah, the Only Reality, Who alone radiates the broad expanse of earth and heaven. I have lost myself and found my Prophethood in the truth that Allah alone exists.”
The people disputed bitterly with their Prophet, threatening him with the wrath of the various etheric forces which they worshipped. Displaying the utter calm of illumination, Abraham replied: “Do you imagine that any threat or argument could turn me away from the Ultimate Source when I am experiencing direct guidance from the Source Itself? I fear no powers in the universe, for I have always turned toward the Source of Power. Have you forgotten that the encompassing Awareness of Allah manifests and harmonizes the entire creation? How could I fear the hatred of any being when I am receiving constant inner assurance from the Source of Love? You are the ones who should be apprehensive, my people, having elevated your own limited concepts and experiences to the level of divinity. They can offer you no ultimate support or refuge. Consider carefully which of us is receiving true protection. Only those who turn solely toward the Source of Love and do not obscure their being by the slightest negation of Love are perfectly guided.”
My beloved Muhammad, such was the illumined insight that the Source of Wisdom transmitted through the Prophet Abraham for the instruction of all humanity. The Ever-Present Source alone draws hearts and minds to higher and higher levels of vision and understanding. Allah Most High is encompassing Awareness and complete Wisdom. - meditation on Holy Quran 6: 79–83
Sheikh Nur: Enlightenment is simply to enter higher and higher levels of spiritual understanding. This is one of the passages in Quran that confirm the mystical path, the evolutionary way. Islam is a path, not just five pillars, not just the basic beliefs and practices. Even the noble Abraham was taken by Allah through different levels of spiritual experience.
The Prophet returned to the prophetic struggle, to warning and instructing his people. Prophecy is always rejected by people who are complacent, who wield power in society, who have some phobia about the sacred, or who are rigidly attached to some religious form, worshipping the way they saw their mother and father worshipping, refusing to develop, to transform. The prophetic consciousness always struggles with the people lovingly. The people seldom treat the prophet lovingly.
Enlightenment was transmitted by Allah to the Prophet Abraham for the instruction of all humanity. We are being instructed now by this revelation, fourteen centuries later, in New York City. We are being inspired by what was revealed to Abraham. More than that, we are being called to follow the ascending path of Abraham’s own contemplation. This is Sufi meditation.
Visitor: After meditating on the sun from sunrise to sunset, why was he enlightened?
Sheikh Nur: He was enlightened not by meditating on the sun but by seeing the sun disappear, because he realized at that moment that no symbol, no image, not even any Divine Quality, can possibly be the reality that the Essence is, that the Source is. And he awakened as that Reality.
Visitor: Was he finding the inner sun?
Sheikh Nur: This was not just an external star Abraham meditated on. This was the inner star, the inner moon, the inner sun. Yet the Prophet discovered that there is a Reality beyond even the inner sun. This is the Source, the Essence, to which all creation is returning and which is the ultimate fulfillment of creation. Essence is not some blank, empty space. It is a super-saturated Reality, as Plotinus would say.
Are we not all profoundly honored to be with Abraham on his desert retreat, to go through the stages with him? You know how interesting it is to read retreat reports. Are we not astonished to be made intimate and contemporary with the noble Abraham’s retreat experience? To be called to share it with him? Abraham is the father of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. There were no Jews, Christians, or Muslims in the time of Abraham. The spiritually awakened people were simply called hanifa, the upright ones, the true human beings. There was no organized religion. But I do not consider Judaism, Christianity, or Islam to be organized religions either. They are organic, organisms that spontaneously evolve. Some people try to organize or control what is spiritually spontaneous. These controllers appear in every generation and cause a certain amount of havoc, but they cannot destroy the organic power of revelation, because these organic revelations are Divine Creations, like sun, moon, and stars. Mao Tse-tung tried to control the life of the Chinese people, but could he proclaim that the sun will not rise and the moon will not shine? Similarly, in Russia, an oppressive regime tried to destroy religion, to destroy the viewpoint of revelation, to destroy the prophetic spirit. They were unable to do that. Even seventy years of revolution in Russia could not do that. Gorbachev himself was baptized. His grandmother secretly got him baptized when he was an infant. Nothing can destroy organic religion. Mao Tse-tung and oppressive, anti-religious Marxist regimes are actually a strange form of organized religion.
Visitor: As Abraham meditated on the star and the moon and the sun, it filled his being with Presence, so when he had to go into the unknown, there was no fear. There is usually tremendous fear going to a place so completely unknown. Only when the whole being is full of knowing that Presence, can one go into the unknown.
Sheikh Nur: A beautiful way of putting it. Now, as astronauts, we are ready for lift-off.