Persons who want a direct and personal account of actual day to day life and practice in a Sufi lodge, can Embattled Saints
by Kenneth Lizzio is superb.
mbattled Saints: My Year with the Sufis of Afghanistan Paperback – April 29, 2014
Lizzo described the life and career of a renowned Naqhshibandi pir, who was born in Afghanistan and had to leave after the Commununist regime change in that nation.
The history, and methods of Naqhshibandi sufi practice are described in detail in clear and lucid language. Lizzo notes how many Sufi teachers studied with masters in other lineages (Qadiri, Suhrawardi, Chishti), and how his Naqhshanbdi pir was able to assess the need of each disciple and knew how to prescribe methods from
a variety of Sufi traditions.
Professor Lizzo was trained as an anthropologist. He found that the frameworks provided by anthropology were insufficient to account for sufi life, and at great personal risk lived in the Khyber with disciples of Saif ur-Rahman and became a disciple himself.
Lizzo candidly tells us that he heard many stories and witnessed many things that could not be accounted for using academic catagories. He also makes clear how difficult and strenuous life was if one lived as a disciple in Saif ur-Rahman's khanqh
. The diet was meager in the extreme. There was little privacy at night. One rose before dawn and turned in at 10 PM.
In the days when more pirs were present to lead such events, all night
dhikr sessions took place Thursdays. By the time Lizzio came to live at the
Abu Murshid khanqh, most of these pirs were dead or too old.
The khanaqh (lodge) was open to all - it was not a swank, member's only establishment.
The pir (Sufi leader) did not surround himself only with those who agreed with him. Those opposed to Sufism visited regularly.
"Like the khanaqhs of the past, the Bara khanaqah was open to all. And so they came on a regular basis: spiritual wayfarers, Muslims seeking personal guidance or a blessing, politicians, clerics, even the pir's opponents
. (Corboy italics)
"..there were opponents of Sufism, usually fundamentalists, who came to debate
the pir. Some of them showed up, unannounced, and the debates were informal; others were formal, scheduled debates held under the verandah. Whatever the setting, the debates were always in Pashto, and always animated.Whereas his opponents were not well educated, the pir spoke Arabic, Persian and Pashto.
the debate, the pir would quote from this or that text, sending disciples here and
there to fetch books so he could quote from them at length. More than once,
the pir summoned me to show that his influence extended all the way to
America. Some of the debates became heated, and when guests began to raise their
voices angrily, everyone became uncomfortable, particularly the pir's bodyguards."
"Some Pakistanis came on Friday to pray in the company of a 'divine" by were not themselves Sufis. They either did not feel the need or were not prepared to make the kind of commitment required.
"Many mujahiddin (Afghanis who were fighting the Soviets) also came to see the pir. They came into the mosque on makeshift crutches or, if they were lucky, on crude prostheses made by a German charitable organization in Peshawar. They displayed not the least self-pity for their condition. The pir, however, was always visibly shaken to see his disciples in such condition."
Here is a page from Embattled Saints describing the routine.
Despite being in his seventies and very ill, Pir ur-Rahman kept a strenuous
Lizzo also tells how Sirhindi, a most important Naqshibandi Sufi took particular care to warn against importing servile veneration of Pirs, Murshids and Sheikhs, for he noted that this servility was a contamination of Hindu bhakti practice common in India and that this corrupted the disciple/pir relationship by turning the pir into an object of worship -- utterly forbidden in Islam and therefore true Sufism.Embattled Saints
also gives the reader valuable background in modern reform and revivalist movements in Islam which have led to persecution of Sufis or caused
deterioration into servile veneration of monarchical pirs and murshids. Lizzo noted that in Pakistan many sufi lineages have lost spiritual vitality and the successor pirs are merely rich landholdes who absorb money from disciples and
influence local politics.
"One time, an old Afghan man, impoverished and decrepit, came into the mosque during suhbat. He slowly crawled on his belly like a reptile toward the pir, sobbing and moaning. It was a heartbreaking display, and I imagined the man must have suffered a great loss in the war. I expected the pir to take pity on the wretched figure before him. Instead (the pir) chided him for his abject
behavior. Later, I was told that this kind of behavior --pir worship--is forbidden
by the sunna." page 188Embattled Saints
is all the more moving because we are given the social and historical context in which Lizzio's pir and his fellow disciples lived and practiced. Hundreds of thousands of sufis were singled out for extermination in Afghanistan after the communist takeover. Lizzo's pir escaped only because he had
a friend in government circles who gave him timely warning to escape.
The pir was Islam personified.
The pir lived by the daily routine of Islam - and added additional exercises.
"I never" Lizzio writes "I never saw the pir even once do something that contradicted teaching or that appeared to stem from a selfish whim or personal mood. Even though every disciple was at a different stage of his or her development, the pir's treatment of others was consistently measured by the extent to which they lived up to the teachings. Perhaps for this reason, he treated the more advanced practitioners more harshly...there was never any special treatment at the khanquah or favored treatment for advanced disciples."
The pir once spent 30 minutes berating a senior disciple for misquoting the Quran.
"What Mubarak Sahib said to one, he said to all."
"One Friday afternoon, for no particular reason, there was almost no one present for prayer. I later remarked to Ihsan how disheartening it was that more Muslims did not come to khanquah. "It doesn't matter" he said. "Whether there is one disciple standing behind him or one thousand, Mubarak Sahib will still come each day to the mosque and lead the prayer."
, pp 1919-192)
"Disciples never talked in the khanaquah about the pir's ability to perform miracles. Such talk was regarded as sensationalist and a distraction from spiritual work on ourselves. " (Ibid, p 195)
The pir lived with the anguish of having lost thousands of friends and disciples, and he cared for refugees and for disciples who were mujaheed. After relocating
in the Khyber, the pir and community endured increasing harassment by a fundamentalist community nearby; eventually the entire tariqua was ordered to leave, and they all relocated to Lahore.
Above all, Lizzo tells us in detail how "Mubarak Sahib" -- the honorific given to
Saif ur-Raman passed his days.
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 07/13/2017 07:47PM by corboy.