Shaykh Taner Ansari
Contemplations and Stories
Bismillah er Rahman er Rahim
Praise Allah Only but Respect the Shaykh
A student's relationship with his/her teacher is a very important one in getting close to Allah. One must follow certain principles in doing so. Shaykh is not your friend, shaykh is an employee of Allah who is helping you to have a relationship with Allah. It is your job to respect the door or the window or the means through which you are getting Allah's knowledge. The critical point is this: It is Allah who is teaching you through the Shaykh; you have to remember this. Your biat (initiation) is to Allah, your focus is on Allah, your target is Allah, your beloved is Allah, what you yearn for is Allah; don't forget this. And all praise is due to Allah, it is mentioned in Sura Al Fatiha.
Some people praise their shaykh because they are told Allah's light is shining through their shaykh's face. Seeing this yourself is one thing and being told that this is so is another thing. You have to act from your own level. Otherwise, you can fall into shirk (attributing partners to Allah). Even if you see Allah's light in your shaykh, your job is to praise Allah, no matter what. Because Allah The Most High says, "Look at the sun, but adore Allah Who created it." So don't go too far in praising your shaykh, just respect him or her. Simple titles will be sufficient, no shaykhs praise themselves, no prophets praise themselves, they all praise Allah. Why don't we all do that?
- So many of you visit holy places, thinking that you will receive some spiritual blessing just by being there. Yet you have no intention of changing your lives. When you attend your place of worship, you get blessings and feel good, but when you return home, you still do anything you want. You expect that closeness to God is going to come from attending church or visiting holy places.
- You visit a holy person so that he will pray for you or heal you. You expect him to help you without your having to do anything to maintain whatever benefit you may get from his prayers and healing.
What you don't understand is that it is you who has to make the changes on the inside, not the holy person praying for you or the holy place you visit. It is you who must take action in your everyday life when you receive the message of the Sunday sermon or the blessings of the holy places.
Listen to Your True Heart
Once, when I was in Istanbul visiting a museum where the holy artifacts of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) were, I encountered a multitude of people who wanted to see them also. Instead of entering the room in an orderly fashion, they were pushing each other into a room that could not hold all of them at the same time. Those who managed to squeeze in the room couldn't see the artifacts anyway because it was too crowded. At some point, through rabita (spiritual heart connection), I got a message from my shaykh, saying, "Arrange an order whereby a few people at a time will enter the room for a few minutes and then leave, letting the next group enter. Don't hold back. Act!" When I suggested this arrangement, I didn't think the crowd was going to cooperate. To my surprise they did! It was miraculous.
Every Sufi is a Muslim, but not every Muslim is a Sufi. When you say, "I am a Sufi," it means that you are taking a path and want to go all the way to Allah. You want to surrender to Allah's will and act with it. When you say, "I'm a Muslim," you mean you want to accept surrender. How much you are willing to surrender depends on your actions. "Why do some of us want to go all the way to Allah, and others don't?" you ask. Everybody's different in his or her willingness to surrender. For me, surrender is the only way and I may think everybody should do that, but then I realize that others don't look at surrender in the way that I do. I was surprised to find out that everybody doesn't have the same motivation. Why don't they? Don't they want to seek the truth?
Surrender and Obey
Our job, as Muslims, as Sufis, is to obey, to surrender to Allah, and do what He wants us to do. Allah is not looking for people to use their ideas. Allah does not have a lack of ideas that He's going to use your mind. He doesn't need your mind; he needs your obedience. Allah wants people who will obey Him, who will get out of the way, so He can do things through your body, in this world, through your hands.
Taking Action and Finding What Works
In 1966 when I was a student at the University of Michigan, we established the first Muslim Student Association with 30 members, but it wasn't easy. For three years I tried to get at least seven Muslim men together to hold Juma, the Friday prayer required by men to attend. Only I showed up to pray. The other men were sitting downstairs in the cafeteria, drinking tea, watching the girls. They wouldn't come. Finally, I got the idea of having dinners. It was through food that the students came together. We had potluck dinners, invited our friends, and had fun. After that we organized ourselves using the following steps.
For every situation you have to find what works. First, keep the Muslims as Muslims, bring them together. Then, give everyone a duty, elect the officers of the organization. It all happens if you want it to happen and Allah wants it to happen. It happens in Allah's time, so you have to be patient and persevere.
As a member of the newly-formed Muslim Students Association, I wanted to do everything for Allah. I got the idea of buying a house to make into a dormitory, so that the Muslim students could live in it. But nobody was interested. "What is the problem with these people?" I asked myself. But the problem wasn't with them. Did Allah tell me to do this? My focus was on me rather than Allah — I wanted the house, not Allah. It was a good thing to try to have a house, but when it didn't happen, it was better that I surrendered to Allah's will.
After graduating from the university, I moved to Indiana. Since I was not a student, I had a different approach to bring Muslims together and to establish another student association. First, I looked up names in the telephone book to see whose last name was Muhammad or some other Islamic-sounding name. Then, I called them and we met one-on-one.
Notre Dame, a Catholic university in South Bend, Indiana, had many Muslim students with whom we met to establish another Muslim Students Association on campus. We gathered in a hall under the dome at Notre Dame, where we had meetings with Muslims, secular Muslims, who didn't know how to pray, and non-Muslims. We taught Arabic, and after the students learned how to pray, we prayed together under that dome.
Years later, when I moved back to Kalamazoo with my family, I saw that the association at the University of Michigan had grown to 1500 students, and that Kalamazoo was like a Muslim town with Muslim shops, restaurants, other businesses, and mosques. So I asked myself, "What is the next step? An elementary school!" I presented my case, but the Kalamazoo Muslims did not think it was a good idea. One of them even said, "The next thing you're going to say is, 'Let's have a Muslim university.'" I replied, "So what's wrong with that?" He responded, "My kids are doing fine in public school, so I don't care." So what could I say? They didn't think the same as I did at the time.
Some time later, I taught English to Mexicans who worked in a slaughterhouse. The management thought that if their employees knew English, they would be able to read the manuals, thereby increasing production. So the management proposed the ESL course to the local adult education school, and I was hired to teach English to the workers. The class met in a room in the building. The first day 20 people showed up, the second day 15, the third day only 3. I wondered what to do. I found out where they gathered. The Mexican employees worked very hard, and after work they went to the cantina. So I got a cart, put all the teaching materials on it, and made a classroom in the cantina. The Mexicans couldn't escape. The news spread and a reporter from a Detroit newspaper wrote an article about it called "Teacher on Wheels."
All this shows that you can accomplish good things if Allah wills and you are flexible in your thinking.
A Story of Moses
Moses, peace be upon him, came upon a shepherd who was praying. He listened to the words the shepherd was using and heard him say, "O God, let me comb your hair and wash your feet." Moses was incensed that this shepherd was talking to God in such a familiar way, and attributing to God the need for hygiene. He scolded the shepherd and went on his way.
Then God spoke to Moses saying, "Did I send you to separate people from Me, or to unite people with Me?" God further stated that each person has his own method of worship that is unique to him or her, and it is "between that person and Me."
Moses realized his error and went looking for the shepherd. When he found the shepherd, Moses saw the shepherd's state of realization of God in everything and was humbled by it.
Another Story of Moses
May peace and blessings be upon Moses, who taught us many lessons. For example, he sees a shepherd, who prays by rolling down a hill. The shepherd climbs the hill and rolls down again.
Moses asks, "What are you doing?"
"I'm praying," the shepherd responds.
Moses replies, "Fool, you don't pray like that."
"How do you pray?" asks the shepherd with sincerity.
Moses shows him the correct way to pray. The shepherd thanks him and proceeds to pray in the way he has just learned.
As Moses, who can walk on water, was crossing the lake, the shepherd forgets what Moses told him. Running after Moses, across the water, he yells, "Moses! Moses! I forgot how I am supposed to pray."
When Moses sees him walking on the water behind him, he says, "Continue to pray as you had been doing before. You were doing just fine."
The Shortest Distance Between You and Allah Is Love
The stories of Moses are lessons in love. The shepherd in the first story loves Allah so much and shows his love by wanting to wash his feet and comb his hair. Someone who thinks he knows the "right way" to pray, comes along and spoils this expression. All of the proper praying is to make you attain the kind of closeness to Allah that these shepherds have already attained. Whatever brings you close to Allah is the right way. The goal is not praying. Allah didn't create us for that. The goal is not working hard. The goal is Allah. All these are means to get to Allah. Whatever you do, you are doing it for Allah's sake.
Surrender Is the Only Way
Allah says in Qur'an-i Karim, "Nothing else will be accepted but surrender." It is true because everything else is shirk, attributing partners to Allah. When you don't surrender, what is left is you. Allah has all the power. "La hawla wa la quwwata illa billahi ul Ali ul Azim." If all the power belongs to Allah, and you say, I can do it, too, are you saying you are Allah's partner? Then if so, you're in shirk. No matter how many good deeds you do, if you are in shirk, they will not be accepted. You have to do you good deeds with intention and with surrender.