Role Model’s and Mentors in Muslim mystical world view

An important part of the Muslim mystical world view is to have a rich understanding of the historical background and progression of practices with a particular emphasis on understanding the life of those figureheads who best exemplified Sufi ideals. The Quran insists on the importance of studying roll models, chiefly The Prophet Muhammad, in pursuing a spiritual life of ones own. Learning from and mirroring the example of predecessors in the field of mysticism is a way of accessing a closeness to that person and by proxy intensifying one’s own relationship with God. The miraculous rigidity with which many of these figures lived their lives illustrates an ideal or underscores a Quranic principal. Sarraj provides the following example in the introduction to the seven stations, “a rigorism dramatized by the figures of Mushasibi and Bishr Al-Hafi whose hands (beyond the conscious intent of the two individuals) would literally refuse to reach for any food whose ritual and social purity was in doubt.” (pg. 198) Without being overtly moralizing this anecdote demonstrates and highlights the vehemence and strictness of the two men. Often times Sufis look to the life of these famed figures to see the cardinal virtues they epitomized. The universality of this quest is summarized in the first sentences of Chapter 3 in Eric Geoffroy’s book, “For Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad embraced all aspects of life completely and harmoniously. Each believer can thus find a response to his own aspirations in the example of the Messenger.” (pg. 65) His Companions were also of great spiritual import and followed paths unique to their temperaments. This allows for a multiplicity of vantage points and lifestyles all directed at attaining a higher unified consciousness. Different subgroups of Sufis emerged that showcased the spectrum of approaches, eternal weepers, intoxicated sufis and so on. There are many figures whose lives encourage a deeper commitment to specific themes in the Quran.

After the first few centuries of Islam, when Muslims were still freshly espoused in the prophetic presence, there became a need for a master to educate and guide young Sufis. This figure is called a shaykh. Ibn Arabi once stated, “It is through God that one knows masters, and through masters that one knows God.” The importance of a shaykh figure can not be understated as they disseminate spiritual direction in the way of the Prophet. There is a recurrent motif of directionality associated with shaykhs. A comparison is often drawn between a master and the qibla or direction of mecca, both serving as primary points of orientation for a disciple. This is a completely immersive connection that transcends the physical establishing a psychic bond between the student and teacher. This dissolving of the self into the other- or self-annihilation through total love for the master emulates the Prophets total devotion to God. In Nasr’s “Sufi Essays” he discusses the golden chain of initiation from master to disciple that selectively perpetuates the teachings and presence of the spiritual Way on earth. A beautiful quote by Rumi summarizes the importance of interconnection between master and disciple, “In the spiritual journey, whoever travels without a guide, needs two hundred years for a two-day journey.”. Practicing love, commitment and submission with a teacher is how one can train for submitting to the Beloved. The teacher is a facilitator not an idol.

Maqaam are the various stations a Sufi must pass through in order to get closer to enlightenment and God. You cannot move to one station without having completed the previous one. It is a cumulative and ongoing process of self-improvement. The journey from Repentance, Watchfulness, Renunciation, Poverty, Patience, Trust, Acceptance and finally a Spiritual State is crystalized path to a more universal closeness to god.