Friday, July 15, 2016

A Worthy Adversary Part 9, Putting Down Roots In this World

 Ramadan, at the very least, was a break from Iblis. But now that we have all returned to our normal schedules, guess who’s back? That’s right, you-know-who. In my previous khutbah, I discussed how the Suif world view envisioned Iblis’ involvement of mankind in both the physical (“Inna  ‘sh-Shayṭān yajrī min al-insān majrā ‘d-dam.”) as well as the psychological realms (nafs, and impulses-katir). For the Sufis, Shaytan was also clearly identifiable in the physical domain, and the title of my khutbah today is: Putting Down Roots in This World.

Ad-dunya, the world, is the term used to describe the exterior plane of Iblis. This is where Iblis operates. The connection between Iblis and the world is so closely intertwined that the Sufis often identify Iblis and ad-dunya as the same thing, as Al-Makki describes in his Qut al-qulub:

“The equivalent of the world is Iblis. God created him to set him apart and curse him, that He(God) might afflict him, and that he (Iblis) might afflict others, that He (God) might destroy him, and that he (Iblis) might destroy others.”

Because of this close identification of the world with Iblis, in Sufi literature you will find the world described as rotting carrion, a dead corpse with a dog (Iblis = dog) perched on top. God allows anyone who shows interest in this dead meat to become the minion of Iblis. Rumi borrows the dog motif, but compares Iblis to a vicious guard dog lying at the entrance of a Bedouin tent (the tent symbolizing God’s threshold), and this dog is waiting permission to pounce on a luckless stranger.

“O devil-dog, put (them) to the test, so that
   (you find out) how these people proceed along this Path.
Charge them , obstruct them, be watchful,
So (you will find out) who plays the woman with regard to uprightness and who the man.” –Mathnawi , Book 5 I. 2951-2952

The dog image may come from Quran 7:16-17, where Iblis asks God’s permission:

“Satan said: Because You have led me into error, certainly I will sit  in ambush for them (mankind) on Your straight path. After that I shall approach them from before them and from behind them and from their right and from their left, and You will not find many of them ones who are thankful. 7: 16-17.

Iblis leads humans away from the path of thankfulness and repentance. He prevents non-Muslims from finding their way to Islam by asking them, “How can you discard the faith of your fathers?” Iblis hinders the progress of people who would emigrate or engage in jihad by instilling doubt in their hearts, “How can you abandon the lands you know so well, or leave your women and property unprotected, vulnerable, ripe for rape and pillage?” – this according to both Al-Makki and Al-Ghazali.
In addition to the dog metaphor, Sufi literature is replete with the image of the hunter to signify Iblis, particularly a hunter who uses a net to trap his prey.  From Rumi,

“O distinguished fellow, commit no sin let you acquire a bad name,
If you are exalted and you sin, you become lowly,
Iblis has placed a snare on the road you travel;
Become not an evildoer lest you end up in the snare.”
-Rumi, Kulliyat-I Shams-I Tabrizi, ruba’i #1722

The hunter is sly, cunning, and stalks his victim such that the prey never sees the danger coming. Iblis is always present, patiently awaiting one careless misstep on the part of his victim. Once Iblis takes advantage of his prey’s mistake, Iblis drags him off to hell and everlasting torment.

For the Sufis, Iblis is constantly asking God for more deadly traps to ensnare men. His cry is “Grant me more!” (This may be derived from Quran 50:30 “On a Day when We will say to hell: are you full? And it will say: Are there more?”) Man’s desires, al-ahwa, provide copious material for creating new worldly idols to bind men in blind devotion to this world and block their path to God.
From Al-Makki:

There are some people who are in love with their passions, or with Iblis, the enemy of God, who urges them to greater ignorance and continued heedlessness of the love of God Most High.
Some of our learned men related that Abu Muhammad was chided for addressing everyone as “O Lover!” And I said to him, “this fellow is not a lover as you say.’ He whispered secretly in my ear, ‘This is no empty saying, whether the man be a believer or hypocrite. For if he is a believer, he is a lover of Almighty God, if he is a hypocrite, he is a lover of Iblis.’

External religious obligations are very important to Sufis, and this primacy is derived from their loyalty to the hadith traditions. The Sufis are concerned that Iblis will make people forgetful, hasty, confused or distracted in such a way that they perform religious or social actions that are not in keeping with hadith. The actions range from personal hygiene (ex. clean fingernails) to elaborate ritual prescriptions and du’a to proceed prayer, eating, drinking, sex, and other important activities. Iblis’ actions to undermine the act of prayer itself also worry Sufi theologians. They reiterate injunctions to guard against prayer interrupters (spirits or humans).

When it comes to sleep, Sufis are somewhat doubleminded about this process. On the one hand they are enthusiastic about all night prayers, vigils,etc, but on the other hand, they feel that dreams are important visionary experiences.  So while you have the hadith concerning the knotted cords and Iblis urinating in the ear of the man who sleeps all night which are found in many Sufi compilations, you have Sufis such as Al-Hujwiri who pointed out that deep sleep is a state of moral suspension where a Sufi performs neither good nor evil (his free will is temporarily non-functional). Therefore, some shaykhs do not consider sleep to be a time of heightened satanic activity. They believe that sleep has the potential for visionary activity and Iblis must wait for the waking state to resume his snaring activities.

Ibn Abbas said, “There is nothing more annoying to Iblis than the sleep of a sinner. Whenever the sinner falls asleep he says, “When will he be awake and get up so that he may defy God?”

Another Sufi concern based on hadith literature is the localization of discord (fitna) and sectarian disputes in the East, where the sun rises. Al-Makki asserts that innovation (bid’a) and divisiveness are the most destructive of sins because they harden the hearts of those who succumb to them, rendering them incapable of repentance, which then allows Iblis to manipulate them.

The final hadith theme which Sufis emphasize is honesty and uprightness in commercial transactions as well as warnings against greed. Merchants are warned to be vigilant against the corrupt bargains of Iblis. The merchant should neither be the first in the bazaar nor the last to leave because Satan was born and grew up in the bazaar, so please do not emulate Iblis’ childhood.

Discussions of commerce are used as an introduction to the more important topic of the effects of greed on mankind. Sufis firmly believe that the desire to acquire money, honor, and power lead to the oppression of the weak and helpless. Al-Makki warns that greed arises from love of the world, and love of the world is the pinnacle of sinfulness- remember the dog Iblis sitting on that pile of dead meat?

Al-Makki has a story, which if this seems familiar to you, it might be because you have read something similar in your British Literature class. Geoffrey Chaucer modified it in his “Canterbury Tales”, and there is it referred to as “The Pardoner’s Tale”. The theme of “Radix marlorum est cupiditas” or The Root of Evil is Greed, holds true for each version.

And We related one of the stories of Jesus- may peace be upon him!- that he was journeying with a group of his disciples and they came upon some gold strewn on the ground. He stopped before it and said, ‘This is deadly, beware of it.’ Then he and his companions continued on their way. However, three stayed behind on account of the gold. Two of them decided to hand over some of it to the third that he might go buy some delicacies for them from the nearest city. Then the enemy whispered to them, ‘Are you content that the money be split three ways? Kill this fellow and you can split the money in halves.’ So they resolved to kill him on his return. Satan, in the meantime, came to the third fellow and whispered to him, ‘Are you really content within yourself to take a third of the money? Kill the other two and all the money will be yours.’ Thereupon the fellow bought poison and put it in the food. When he returned to them, the two of them fell on him and killed him. Then they sat down to eat the food. When they finished, they dropped dead.
  Jesus returned from his journey and he saw them lying on the ground around the gold. The gold was still as it was. His companions were astonished and said, ‘What happened to these men?’ And he related to them this tale.

Sufis saw the desire for material goods and worldly power as blinding people to the spiritually protective value of poverty and asceticism. If humans agree to Satan’s demands as long as their appetites are fed, this satanic food will lodge in their throats and choke them to death.

“His straw will stick in your throat for many a year.
  What is this straw? Love of honor and wealth.
Wealth becomes a straw, O fickle one, when it bars
  The way of the water of life into your throat.
-Rumi Mathnawi Book 2, I 132-133

 Furthermore, lusting after wealth and power can soon degenerate into a lusting after blood, for one can feed one’s greed only at the expense of others. Oppression becomes a way of life.If we examine our own country we might ask ourselves how can we continue to support and finance a military-industrial complex if there is no one left to fight? In such a system, we must always find an enemy.

“Devour no one out of anger
Lest God’s anger devour you;
Rise above this desire for creatures’ blood,
Lest it come down upon your own head.
Then judgment will turn away from you,
Because that satanic whisper comes not into your heart.”
-Rumi, Kulliyat-I Shami-I Tabrizi #717

Love of excess is the essence of the world’s attractions. Iblis can take even innocent pleasures and transform what was a passing fancy into a compulsive addiction. Al-Muhasibi warns that even a simple glance can bring down the most pious Sufi.

“I heard Abu Sa’id Al-Kharraz say, ‘I saw Iblis in a dream and he was walking away from me. I said to him, ‘Come here!’ He answered, ‘What will I do with all of you? You have purified yourselves from the very thing I use to deceive people!’ I said, ‘What is it?’ He replied, ‘The world.’ As he moved away from me, he wheeled around and said, ‘Except that I still have one subtle allurement in store for you.’ I asked, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘The companionship of youths.’ And Abu Sa’id said, ‘There are few Sufis untainted by this.’

Despite all these pitfalls, Sufi writings do offer remedies to escape Iblis’ snares, typically linked with the sacred word. The four basic protections from Iblis are masjids, reading the Qur’an reflectively, prayer, and an ascetical perspective. The formula “I seek refuge in God from Satan the Stoned” is especially potent: God destroys 360 devils lodged in the heart of the believer. Iblis becomes so frustrated when he hears this that he begs holy men not to teach others this prayer. Even though Iblis offers not to oppose them in their way to perfection, few accept.