Learning from the Damascene Sufi

Illustration by 50% Syrian

The Damascene Sufi is both bitter and sweet, he salutes you with a lot of love and understanding, but when you cross him, he breaks you in two.

Sufism is a path of pain and delight, mostly referd to by the Sufi tradition as al-Jalal wal Jamal. A seasoned Sufi Shiekh can inflict both on his mureeds to rid them of the rubble in their Nafs (ego). There are 5 stations for Nafs, the last of which is the most enlightened. The lowest form is al-Nafs al-Ammara bil soo2 (ego that tells its owner to commit wrong-doing). To reach the 5th level, one would have had to walk on broken glass and coal in defiance of Nafs’ desires.

Those desires transcend mere love for carnal pleassures and chocolate, desire is a very complex matter, it involves desire to harm, desire to be seen, desire to want, desire to be recognized as a seasoned Sufi, desire to control, desire to steer, desire to defy God’s Will, desire to desire, desire to go astray.

There are times when I close my eyes and so desire I never got here, if I had known life without all the trials I have been through, without having gotten into Sufism. Do you feel guilty when you reach this rock-bottom self monologue? Oh, well, you reach it many times along the way, that’s when your Nafs (a level of it) is dying. It is giving out its last breath, so it starts regretting whatever got it to this point where it is forced to let go of the things it has been carrying around for so long.

Becoming selfless, becoming “nothing” is what the Sheikh (Sufi mentor) wants you to be, and when you become nothing you become everything, because instead of your will, there’s God’s Will, and instead of your life goals, there is God’s mission for you to complete.

I cry nights from the pains of tests that shred me to peices; I cry out for Allah as my Nafs grips hard on desires long overdue, and lets go only when it has consumed its last bit of energy, its last bit of fight. I have died a million deaths, a million times, and everytime you think you’re done, and then find out the road to purity is steep, it is dotted with filters of every kind, starts out with filters with big holes and ends with miniscule ones that the eyes can barely see. The pain is one, though.

Pain comes from hanging on, clinging, getting attached… It’s not the test that pains us, its our inability to let go of concepts in our heads, expectations, wantings…

As I let go of you my Damascene Sufi, “I” enter my coffin and bid my dreams good-bye. Oh, my Shiekh Nazim, I am tired and worn out, this testing breaks my bones.


About 50% Syrian

What is identity? I was raised Arab (of varying origins), with a Syrian mother, and Moroccan, Lebanese and Tunisian great grandfathers and grandmothers. I always felt 50% Syrian, and this percentage mattered to me more than anything else. Love of my life, my late Sufi grandmother, is Syrian... all her bedtime stories were about her life in Damascus. Damascus is where the heart dwells.
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One Response to Learning from the Damascene Sufi

  1. Yaak says:

    It’s such a waste of precious time that we spend the first half of our life learning futile stuff and the other half unlearning it! Truely, the pain you described is mostly “in-house” made.

    St. Elizabeth of Thuringia once said: “The Fire of Hell is nothing but the Light of God as experienced by those who reject it.”

    Keep on writing and posting.

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