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Talib, Murid, Salik, Wasil (The Seeker, The One Who Wills, The Initiate, The One Who Has Attained or Reached)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism-4

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Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi

God is the ultimate goal and human beings are travelers on the road to Him; there are as many paths that lead toward God as there are breaths taken by living creatures. The facts that human beings are favored with the manifestations of the Divine Names, that the travelers are endowed with innate abilities, which are God’s particular gifts to them, and that there is special attention and complimentary remarks directed towards them for services that will be rendered later are some of the signs that mark these paths. Without a doubt, the final goal is pleasing God or obtaining His approval and good pleasure; the greatest means of advancing towards this goal is the ability to recognize Him and to acquire knowledge of Him, as well as trying to inform others of Him. This is known as guidance. The differences in capacities and the great variety of human character and disposition have caused the creation of many efficient systems and methods of traveling toward Him. Those who travel toward Him according to these systems are able to make progress. Journeys can start at different points, but they continue through the same mansions or stations and culminate in some corner of the same “climate.”

The final station for every traveler depends on the individual capacity to rise. Every traveler starts journeying at one particular station, quarter, seaport, airport or ramp. The starting point differs. However, the mansions that are passed, the areas that are reached, the horizons attained, the states experienced and the stations at which the travelers stop to rest are all in the same space, but adorned with different designs, like the slopes of Paradise, and tinted with different hues. The paths advance one within the other, or side by side, through hills and valleys, narrowing at some points and broadening at others; sometimes the way is rough and sometimes smooth. Travelers journey along them in different ways or with different styles. Many begin traveling these paths while many others are reaching the final point in their journey. Despite these apparent differences, the journey has the same essential character. A point which is considered to be the final point for one traveler may be the starting point for another. There are many others who suppose they are advancing, but who in fact are unable to cover the smallest distance, while the number of those who travel through the horizons that stretch beyond time and space and who are determined to rise higher and higher is not a few.

In fact, so long as there are hands that clasp the Unbreakable Rope and eyes and hearts fixed on the explicit, incontestable principles and judgments of the Qur’an and Sunna, then all paths lead to God and all travelers are travelers toward God, the Ultimate Truth. Different attitudes in journeying and different types of traveling arise from the comprehensiveness and practicability of the Religion; they are also the result of the breadth and tolerance that exist in fields open to deductive reasoning based on the basic principles, the various manifestations of Divine Names, and the variety of capacities. In any event, travelers advance toward God and it is for this reason that they are described as the travelers to the Ultimate Truth.

Rather than calling the travelers who advance via different paths by different names according to the profundity of their belief, the soundness of their Islamic understanding and approaches, the depth of their consciousness of God’s omnipresence, the breadth and richness of their horizon of thought, the spaciousness of their conscience, the faultless operation of all of their internal and external senses, the optimum use of their mental and spiritual faculties, their capacity to rise while making their spiritual journey, their beginning their journey from the corporeal, created realm and continuing it based on the principles or commands of the spiritual realm and according to their sincerity, purity, resolution, steadfastness, and their faithfulness to the Ultimate Truth—rather than calling the travelers by different names according to these and certain other factors, I deem it more appropriate and practical to study them under the titles of “the seeker, the one who wills, the initiate, and the one who has attained or reached.” While mentioning travelers to the Ultimate Truth by these titles, which are different from but at the same time interrelated to one another, we will sometimes use the term “one who has true knowledge of God” in place of the “one who wills,” “the initiate,” and “the one who has attained” on account of their horizon of knowledge of God.

Now let us study these titles one by one:

The seeker

This is used for one who seeks, desires, and tries to obtain knowledge or some other blessing. As a term, the seeker denotes one who has newly begun their spiritual journey and who is trying to obtain primary information about knowledge, the knowledge of God, and truth; they are determined to attain that which they pursue. On account of being at the beginning of the journey, such a person may be deemed to be of little value or significance, but as all consequent advancements and blessings that come in parallel to these advancements depend on the demand and determination which the seeker has at the beginning, they are in fact a seed that is ready to sprout and flourish. In order to express the significance of such a seeking, the venerable Junayd al-Baghdadi says: “Whoever demands and seeks ultimately finds what he seeks.”1 This saying later came to be a popular adage.

The Sufis use the term “the seeker” to indicate one who has begun following a Sufi path under the leadership of a guide. However, when a seeker has fulfilled whatever is required for being equipped with will-power, they can sometimes achieve a sudden transformation from being a “ seeker” to being “one who wills,” and then advance as far as the horizon of “the initiate” through God’s special favors and begin dreaming of reaching God. It sometimes occurs that a seeker remains restricted within the narrow horizon of seeking without being able to cover any distance despite their exhausting efforts to advance. We should also remember that there are conditions if a person is to be accepted as one who seeks. Every candidate is tested by a perfect guide in order to discover whether or not they have the character and manners that will enable them to make the journey. If they are found to be fit for the journey, they are then told, “Hold on to the hand of your guide and walk toward the Ultimate Truth.” Being a seeker and a candidate for the rank of “one who wills,” this traveler advances toward the realms that open unto their heart, and flies past the peaks that give way before their capacity. However, they should firmly clasp the hand to which they hold with the conviction that this hand is the means for them to reach their goal; they should fix their eyes on this “mirror” in their hands, in or through which they will be able to observe the manifestations of Divine Names, and they should avoid breaking it. They should also advance resolutely on the path they have taken, and remain devoted to it heart and soul. Muhammed Ali Hilmi Dede[2] puts forwards his ideas about the seeker as follows:

One who seeks holds onto the hand of a guide, Submitting their soul and tongue to the Ultimate Truth. One who wills girds a sword around their waist,[3] Clinging firmly to the girdle of their guide.

If the seeker is one who truly seeks the light and gift of God, they should be steadfast in following the path without any deviance, always remaining turned toward Him in love, so that they can be regarded as truthful and faithful in their quest and favored with the regard and attention of He Who is the All-Besought One. Such a degree of dedication and devotion is what is required of one who wills and of one who is determined to give their free will its due.

The one who wills or the willing one

According to the Sufis, the one who wills is one who after renouncing their personal desires and aims is attached to a guide in accordance with the religious rules and is under the guidance of this person for their spiritual training. This term is used to denote the dervishes who have not yet entered or who have been unable to enter the path of initiation; the first rank that will be attained by one who wills is annihilation in the guide.[4]

Muhyi’d-Din ibnu’l-‘Arabi[5] defines the one who wills or the willing one as one who has renounced looking, seeing, and willing on their own account, but has rather turned wholly to God. This definition differs from other definitions. According to Ibnu’l- ‘Arabi, one who wills sees their free will as belonging to God and as a manifestation of His absolute Will, thus perceiving all other forms of will or volition as being relative or of a nominal existence and nature. If this consideration by Ibnu’l-‘Arabi was a result of spiritual ecstasy, then no one has the right to criticize it. If this was not the case, then the scholars of essentials of religion would have had something to say about it. Even though those like the venerable Ibnu’l-‘Arabi attribute free will to human beings, in theory, in the sense of inclination, they venerate those who have renounced their free will in the face of the Divine Will. The reason why there is a variety of approaches in such matters is partly due to differences in individual spiritual tastes, visions, experiences and states, as well as in temperaments and dispositions.

No matter who the person that one who wills is attached to, their real goal is God, the All-Besought One. However, all of those who will are not at the same level and may have different manners. There are some, known as “one who is absolutely sincere in their seeking,” who never disagree with their guide and avoid manners that could be interpreted as opposing the guide. They do not search for evidence for the words and decrees of the guide in other places. There are others who, although they also follow the orders of their guide both apparently and at heart, and who do not feel the need to search for different ways or methods, are not as sensitive or as careful as the former in following or in attachment to the guide. Such people are called “one who wills figuratively.” There are still yet others, if they can truly be regarded as being among those who will, who, even though they apparently comply with their guide, always breathe opposition to the guide in their absence and in their secret considerations; these latter think that it is of no harm to behave differently, zigzagging along the path. The Sufis use the term “deserter” to define such people.

The most important characteristics that are expected from one who wills are truthfulness, loyalty, trustworthiness, and straightforwardness. These are all the characteristics that belong to those who are stationed near to God. That is, among the attributes that one who wills should have are being true in words, actions, and thoughts, being mentioned as a trustworthy one in the heavens and on the earth, always giving the impression that one is utterly reliable, and being a person of steadfastness and resolution who gives their free will its due.

Despite being at the beginning of the journey, one who wills should always be respectful for the principles and criteria of the Shari‘a, possessing the sensitivity of an initiate and observing the norms that are generally accepted by the Muslim community, thus avoiding religiously detestable things. If they happen to commit a repugnant act, even once, or fail to observe an accepted norm, the traveler should immediately hasten to the fountain of repentance, penitence, and contrition, with the thought of giving no respite to anything that is sinful or to any stain caused by having committed something that is displeasing to God. Without delay, they should be purified of the filth or viruses that can open up wounds in their heart and spirit.

In addition, such a traveler who is traveling the path toward the Ultimate Truth and seeking God’s good pleasure should set their heart on the Ever-Besought One, thus cleansing their heart of attachment to wealth and earning, love of rank and position, desire for comfort, and interest in anything other than God. Moreover, they should regard being and not being, being favored with certain things and being deprived of them, gaining and losing, that which comes and that which does not come, that which remains and that which does not remain, and being accepted and being rejected all as equal. They should try to keep all these opposites equal in their world of the spirit.

As the final point for one who wills is annihilation in the Will of the Lord, complete obedience to the guide from the beginning is required. If one who wills is to continue to be favored with Divine regard, it is extraordinarily important that they obey the commandments given in accordance with the Shari‘a without objection, fulfilling whatever they are advised to do and never neglecting the devotional recitations that they have undertaken to do regularly. These are preparatory and encouraging duties that are to be fulfilled for the full observance of the Qur’an and Sunna. It is clear that a traveler toward the Ultimate Truth who gives their free will its due in loyalty to their guide will be sensitive in the observation of the orders and prohibitions of the Ultimate Truth. However, they should avoid treating the guide, who is the mirror through which the Sun’s rays— God’s blessings—are reflected as if he were the Sun, that is, God, and thus considering the means to be the goal.

The attitude of the willing one or of one who wills in the face of God, their view of themselves and other people, and their approach to Divine gifts and bounties are also of great importance. First of all, they should see themselves as being inferior to all people and so that this view is not without support, they should always control, examine and criticize their faults. They should try to be aware of any faults or sins that catch their attention, as if they have newly committed them, busying themselves at every instant, every hour, and every day with their own purification, as well as completely abandoning finding fault with others. If the one who wills think that they have any merits, they should tremble in fear that these are present as a means for gradual perdition, as they have not been purified enough to be deserving of such blessings. They should not attribute to themselves any part of their praiseworthy activities, from their greatest services for the sake of God to their sincerest acts of worship, or from their most unbearable sufferings to their most difficult attempts of initiation; nor should they have any extraordinary expectations due to such actions. Even if they are favored with showers of gifts and blessings, they should worry that these may be coming as a test, saying like Muhammed Lutfi Efendi:

That which I have—I am not worthy of it;
This favor and grace—why have they been bestowed on me?[6]

The traveler should never think that they are worthy of any such attributes, and in order not to be ungrateful to God for them, they should feel gratitude in their heart and then utterly forget about them, without ever recollecting them. Otherwise, that which could lead to triumph may end in a pit of loss and that which appears to be a gift may become the cause of frustration.

It cannot be thought that a willing one whose mind and heart are expectant of gifts and blessings, and whose feelings pursue unusual occurrences can have a sound relationship with God Almighty. How can it be thought that while they should actually be purifying their heart, the house of God, of anything other than God and always being concerned with God in their inner world, they are wasting their time on things that are outside the sphere of their duties and responsibilities, and thus constantly deviating towards disagreeable expectations?

One who wills has unshakable belief and confidence in the sufficiency of the Qur’an and the Sunna as the way of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. Even though they are not at a level where they can use these two basic sources themselves, they should be deeply devoted to them with perfect regard, always preserving their conviction that they will be able to attain anything they seek via the Qur’an and Sunna, and realizing what a great blessing living a life in a continuous relationship with the Qur’an is; in this way they are able to remain distant from trivialities and fantasies that are an illusion of knowledge, but which are of no use for the mental or intellectual and spiritual life.

Every traveler toward the Ultimate Truth who has turned to God under the care of a guide and who is a hero of will-power and discipline must be careful in all matters, from their personal life to their relationships with their Lord, not allowing any contradiction to occur between their heart and their actions, but rather always acting in self-possession, and eating, drinking, sleeping, and talking little, restricting these activities to only what is necessary, regarding anything superfluous as waste. One who truly wills is steadfast in their opposition to their carnal soul and regards this opposition as a means of approaching nearer to God; at the same time such a person will consider following the carnal soul as a means of failure and loss. One who lives at peace with their carnal desires and fancies is not regarded as one who wills. For after having set out to attain God, if one replaces guidance with the pursuit of the realization of carnal desires, this means turning back upon the path on which they have embarked. This is considered to be desertion. One who wills should always be steadfast, waiting at the door to which they have turned and continuing on the road on which they have embarked, always displaying a spirit of deep loyalty. One who has been defeated in the test of willpower at the very outset can never be considered to be one of loyalty, faithfulness, trustworthiness, or straightforwardness. Nor is it possible for such a person to be able to read Divine Acts correctly, or to understand anything of the Divine Names, or to make sense of or comprehend the Divine Attributes. Every thought will be no more than a guess or a conjecture, and their every attitude and act will be deviant.

For the one who wills, for all travelers toward the Ultimate Truth, the following points are of the greatest importance:

A traveler should see themselves as nothing in the sense of positive values. They should use the initial gifts of God that arrive during the journey to attain the goal; this is the reason that they have been sent. Such a traveler should have no desire for anything worldly, rather they should be content with whatever they have and they should have utter confidence in God; they should be oblivious of themselves when it is time to distribute rewards in return for services rendered and try to find causes and agents other than themselves for the good results of their endeavors. Such a traveler should feel responsible for any failure or negative consequences without trying to blame others.

Other points which have almost the same importance are as follows:

  • Piety and righteousness are provisions for the afterlife of the traveler. A person who intends to follow a spiritual path should always seek refuge in the “greenhouse” of piety, as decreed in the verse, Take your provisions for the Hajj (for any long travel). In truth, the best provision is righteousness and piety, so be provided with righteousness and piety (2:197).
  • A traveler should be utterly sincere in whatever they do and say, as if they were presenting themselves for the inspection of God Almighty, the holy Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, and other pure spiritual beings.
  • As decreed in Always be in the company of the truthful and loyal (9:119), the traveler should choose their friends and comrades from among the people of loyalty and trustworthiness. This is extraordinarily important for a safe journey. Being near to those who are near to God and keeping aloof from selfish, arrogant ones—provided that one refrains from causing the formation of conflicting groups in society— is important, particularly for the principle of preventing harm and evil.
  • Respect for the elderly, pity, care and concern for children, and compassion for all human beings are requirements for all Muslims and therefore are required when following a spiritual path.
  • A traveler should try to remain pure in the face of God, preserving their primordial nature that was bestowed on them in its purest form; if they should happen to lapse, they should turn to God in their heart, criticize themselves, and be purified with repentance; they should then ask for forgiveness, cutting off at the root the tendencies to evil in their soul, and always be alert to any further possible evil acts or lapses.
  • Ostentation, hypocrisy, affectation, and love of fame are regarded as being among the most lethal viruses from which a traveler must protect themselves. If a heart cannot remain distant from these, its balance is disturbed. One cannot search for any Divine manifestation with such a heart, and the bosom in which it nestles cannot be a pavilion for any Divine manifestations that might come.
  • The heart is a house of God. It must be kept pure for its Owner’s sake so that a traveler does not darken the most vital dimension of their being or cause any eclipses in their spiritual life while possessing such a source of light.

A traveler with such important responsibilities should be under the leadership of a guide on this path, which is full of risks, while it is also on this path that travelers may be favored with as many precious gifts and blessings as are required for gaining eternal happiness. This leadership is important for both the safety of the journey and advancement without deviation. However, a guide is only a mirror and one who shows the way. Therefore, they should never be regarded as the actual leader that enables the traveler to advance or the source of the gifts and blessings that come during the journey. It is a deviance of creed to consider the guide as a supreme being or one having superhuman attributes, or the source of all gifts and blessings. Such a deviance also blocks the breezes of favor that originate from the Genuine Source. This does not mean that a traveler should not pay due respect to the guide; the guide is a mirror that reflects these gifts and blessings. The breezes of favor that come from the Realm of Mercy reach us in the atmosphere of the guide; Divine gifts and blessings are reflected on our spirits by means of the guide as a mirror and the guide functions as a veil before God’s Grandeur and Dignity. They serve their followers sometimes as light, sometimes as air, sometimes as water, and sometimes as food, functioning as a means for their rising. Let us finish this discussion with the following stanza from Anwari:[7]

The meaning of “You will never be able to see Me”:
I could not understand it without being
“Mount Sinai” in tearful love.
The mystery of the truth of the cloak that covers the Prophet’s Family.[8]
I could not understand this without being happy when meeting a guide.

Some Sufi scholars call one who has just set off on the spiritual path “the one who wills or the willing one,” and they refer to the one who has reached the end of the path as “the one who is willed or the willed one.” They see the former as a hero of suffering and hardship, and the latter as a hero of Divine grace who is favored with attraction and being attracted toward God. In my opinion, a traveler who has just set off on the path is the one who is on the way to being one who wills, while when they approach the horizon of the initiate in endeavors to reach God they have reached the final point of being one who wills.

O God! Guide us to the Straight Path. Shower on us from Your supreme Grace and pour on us from Your Mercy, O the All- Merciful, the All-Compassionate. Bestow blessings and peace on the one whom You sent as mercy for all the worlds, and on his Family and Companions, pure and clean.

[1] Junayd al-Baghdadi (d. 910): One of the most famous early Sufis. He enjoyed great respect and was known as “The prince of the knowers of God.” (Tr.)
[2] Muhammed Hilmi Dede (1842–1907): One of the famous Baktashi Sufi masters of the 19th century. He lived in Istanbul. He has a diwan, a collection of poetry. (Tr.)
[3] Saving one’s hand, tongue and waist (private parts) from sinful acts is essential to Sufi way. “Girding a sword around one’s waist” means that a seeker must strictly save their private parts from sinning. (Tr.)
[4] The one who wills or the willing one (murid) was discussed in the first volume of Emerald Hills of the Heart from another viewpoint together “the willed one (murad).”
[5] Muhyi’d-Din ibnu’l-‘Arabi (1165–1240): One of the greatest and most famous Sufi masters. His doctrine of the Transcendental Unity of Being, which most have mistaken for monism and pantheism, made him the target of unending polemics. He wrote many books, the most famous of which are Fususu’l-Hikam and al-Futuhatu’l- Makkiyyah. (Tr.)
[6] Muhammed Lutfi Efendi (1868–1956): One of the Sufi masters who lived in Erzurum. He has a Divan containing many beautiful, lyrical poems.
[7] Awhadu’d-Din ‘ Ali Anwari is a famous poet who lived in the 12th century in Iran and Afghanistan. Besides poetry, he was adept in logic, music, theology, mathematics, and astrology. His Diwan, a collection of his poems, consists of a series of long poems, and a number of simpler lyrics. (Tr.)
[8] Once the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, covered his daughter Fatima, her husband ‘ Ali and their sons Hasan and Husayn with a cloak, and said: “This is my Family.” So they have also been called the People of the Cloak. (Tr.)