Where Angels Walk Uncloaked

Peace, one and all…

I was listening to a recent sohbet of Shaykh Kabir’s recently, in which, amongst other things, he spoke of the different levels of the human psyche/personality.  He described the ego (‘I’) as a kind of spectrum, in which we can operate at all sorts of diverse levels.  At the base of this pillar, so to speak, is what Shaykh Kabir described as the ‘conditioned soul’ (or the nafs, or Id).  At this level, ‘I’ is about the fulfillment of all sorts of conditioned desires and more or less automatic responses. 

As we grow, and draw towards the ‘middle’, the ‘I’ that moves is that a reasonably well-adjusted and balanced human being.  At this stage, we are no longer driven by our former conditioning.  That is, we no longer respond automatically to every passing whim.  We begin to develop our faculty of conscious choice, of will.  We can begin to choose where and how to direct our inward attention.

As we ascend, through struggle, effort and Divine grace, the living ‘I’ becomes capable of direct, unmediated communion with true reality (one of God’s names being al-Haqq, ‘The Real’), of encountering what is truly ‘timeless and spaceless’ to quote Shaykh Kabir.

Looking at the English letter ‘I’ itself offers an interesting insight in this regard.  At the base, ‘I’ is anchored firmly in the earth, in the animal nature of instinct and immediate response.  The climb towards human-ness can be seen through the letter’s narrow column: the way is hard and long; the path is straight and narrow.  But then, if ‘I’ is a difficult pillar to climb, it is important to note that it is also both ladder and rope.  There is a way to climb – a way based against all my former expectations, on mercy, compassion and love.  This ladder is God’s outstretched rope: it is the reality behind Jack and his beanstalk into the sky.  At the summit of ‘I’ comes a new expansiveness, a new overflowing growth, as the soul opens out into the limitless possibilities of infinity.  In other words, ‘I’ is a tree, whose roots bite deeply into the earth and whose uppermost branches open out into the stars of heaven’s vault, to the place where angels walk uncloaked.

Those purified I’s, those great souls who have opened out into the light, walk among us still.  Indeed, Sufi lore posits the existence in each age of the Qutb (literally, ‘pole’) – the axis around which the spiritual world turns – and poles reach down into the earth and ascend into the heights.  In Shi`ite thought too, this Qutb is the Imam of the Age (described variously as ‘Imam al-Zaman’ – Imam of the Time and ‘Sahib al-Zaman’ – ‘Master of the Time’).  Interestingly enough, the first letter of Imam in Arabic is alif (ا), which is also written as a simple, straight line.

If the ‘I’ of the Awliya (the Friends of God) is a pole, it is also a rope.  Perhaps this is why one of the Awliya’s greatest gifts is the gift of hope.  I have certainly experienced this myself.  When I reflect on the great ones who have gone before me, I am inspired and reminded that life is not hopeless.  This beautiful qawwal by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan really expresses this for me (from 8:25 to 8:55).

Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Allah, Muhammad, Char Yaar

The title of this song in English means: Allah (God), Muhammad and the Four Friends (4 of the most important Chishti saints).

Allah!  Help this ‘I’ in its journey to You, that one day ‘I’ too might gaze out open the stars of inward heaven.

And my last prayer is in praise of God, Sustainer of All Being.

Ma’as salama,
Abdur Rahman

28 thoughts on “Where Angels Walk Uncloaked

  1. As-Salaamu `Alaykum,

    Explicitly in the Qur’an, there are 3 dispositions of the psyche that are mentioned. They are the commanding soul (an-nafs al’ammarah), the self-accussing soul (an-nafs al-lawwamah) and the tranquil soul (an-nafs al-mutma’inah).

    The one that has found balance is the one, which will enter paradise, the tranquil soul (an-nafs mutma’inah) See last 3 ayaat in Surat Al-Fajr.

    The Holy Prophet (Prayers and peace be upon him and his purified household) said:
    لا يدخل الجنة إلا المؤمنون
    “None will enter paradise except for the faithful people.”

    He also said:
    لا تدخلوا الجنة حتى تؤمنوا، ولا تؤمنوا حتى تحابوا، أولا أدلكم على عمل إذا فعلتموه تحاببتم؟، أفشوا السلام بينكم
    “None of you will enter paradise until you believe. And none of you believes until you show love for each other. Can I inform you of an action that if you do it, it will cause you to love each other? Spread peace between you.”

    From my studying and from the lessons of my murshid, one of the reasons why even some people who claim religion or spirituality never find inward peace is because of sanctimonous attitudes, the “me” syndrome. They are so caught up into themselves that they forget that their soul is directly connected and affected by other souls!

    In Arabic just as in English, by the way, it is grammatically incorrect to mention oneself firstly. John, Mary and I went to park. He spoke to John, Mary and me. Rabbukum wa rabbi huwa ALLAH (Your lord and my lord is ALLAH). Psycho-linguistics even tells us that it’s improper to be self-centered.

    WALLAHU `Alim.


  2. Wa alaikum salaam Dawud,

    Thank you for your detailed and interesting comments, as welcome and as helpful as ever. Allah bless you for sharing your insights.

    Yes, Shaykh Kabir was certainly referring to these three stages of the soul. As for the balanced soul, I think Shaykh Kabir was really just referring to a reasonably integrated normal person – in the sense of someone no longer fully compelled by their desires, rather than the nafs al-mutma’innah.

    I know what you mean about the ‘me syndrome’. Allah save me from such a thing.

    Your point about language and grammar is well made too. It’s as if, even in the structure of our human languages, we are reminded of this essential truth.

    And Allah knows best.

    Abdur Rahman

  3. Your hope in my heart is the rarest treasure
    Your Name on my tongue is the sweetest word
    My choicest hours
    Are the hours I spend with You —
    O Allah, I can’t live in this world
    Without remembering You–
    How can I endure the next world
    Without seeing Your face?
    I am a stranger in Your country
    And lonely among Your worshippers:
    This is the substance of my complaint.

  4. I saw myself in a wide green garden, more beautiful than I could begin to understand. In this garden was a young girl. I said to her, “How wonderful this place is!”

    “Would you like to see a place even more wonderful than this?” she asked.

    “Oh yes,” I answered. Then taking me by the hand, she led me on until we came to a magnificent palace, like nothing that was ever seen by human eyes. The young girl knocked on the door, and someone opened it. Immediately both of us were flooded with light.

    Only Allah knows the inner meaning of the maidens we saw living there. Each one carried in her hand a serving-tray filled with light. The young girl asked the maidens where they were going, and they answered her, “We are looking for someone who was drowned in the sea, and so became a martyr. She never slept at night, not one wink! We are going to rub funeral spices on her body.”

    “Then rub some on my friend here,” the young girl said.

    “Once upon a time,” said the maidens, “part of this spice and the fragrance of it clung to her body — but then she shied away.”

    Quickly the young girl let go of my hand, turned, and said to me:

    “Your prayers are your light;
    Your devotion is your strength;
    Sleep is the enemy of both.
    Your life is the only opportunity that life can give you.
    If you ignore it, if you waste it,
    You will only turn to dust.”

    Then the young girl disappeared.

  5. In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.
    Speech is born out of longing,
    True description from the real taste.
    The one who tastes, knows;
    the one who explains, lies.
    How can you describe the true form of Something
    In whose presence you are blotted out?
    And in whose being you still exist?
    And who lives as a sign for your journey?

  6. My peace, O my brothers and sisters, is my solitude,
    And my Beloved is with me always,
    For His love I can find no substitute,
    And His love is the test for me among mortal beings,
    Whenever His Beauty I may contemplate,
    He is my “mihrab”, towards Him is my “qiblah”
    If I die of love, before completing satisfaction,
    Alas, for my anxiety in the world, alas for my distress,
    O Healer (of souls) the heart feeds upon its desire,
    The striving after union with Thee has healed my soul,
    O my Joy and my Life abidingly,
    You were the source of my life and from Thee also came my ecstasy.
    I have separated myself from all created beings,
    My hope is for union with Thee, for that is the goal of my desire.

  7. “It is said that after Muhammad (p) and the prophets revelation does not descend upon anyone else. Why not? In fact it does, but then it is not called ‘revelation.’ It is what the Prophet referred to when he said, ‘The believer sees with the Light of Allah.’ When the believer looks with Allah’s Light, he sees all things: the first and the last, the present and the absent. For how can anything be hidden from Allah’s Light? And if something is hidden, then it is not the Light of Allah. Therefore the meaning of revelation exists, even if it is not called revelation.”

  8. Your true home is the seventh stage of spiritual growth, Illiyyun,
    Reached through purification and peacefulness.
    There, you are still in your body,
    And yet a living Master of the Essence.

  9. At every instant and from every side, resounds the call of Love:
    We are going to sky, who wants to come with us?
    We have gone to heaven, we have been the friends of the angels,
    And now we will go back there, for there is our country.
    We are higher than heaven, more noble than the angels:
    Why not go beyond them? Our goal is the Supreme Majesty.
    What has the fine pearl to do with the world of dust?
    Why have you come down here? Take your baggage back. What is this place?
    Luck is with us, to us is the sacrifice!
    Like the birds of the sea, men come from the ocean–the ocean of the soul.
    Like the birds of the sea, men come from the ocean–the ocean of the soul.
    How could this bird, born from that sea, make his dwelling here?
    No, we are the pearls from the bosom of the sea, it is there that we dwell:
    Otherwise how could the wave succeed to the wave that comes from the soul?
    The wave named ‘Am I not your Lord’ has come, it has broken the vessel of the body;
    And when the vessel is broken, the vision comes back, and the union with Him.

  10. I tried to find Him on the Christian cross, but He
    was not there; I went to the Temple of the
    Hindus and to the old pagodas, but I could not
    find a trace of Him anywhere.

    I searched on the mountains and in the valleys
    but neither in the heights nor in the depths was I
    able to find Him. I went to the Ka’bah in Mecca,
    but He was not there either.

    I questioned the scholars and philosophers but
    He was beyond their understanding.

    I then looked into my heart and it was there
    where He dwelled that I saw Him; He was
    nowhere else to be found.

  11. What Allah said to the Rose

    And caused it to laugh in full blown beauty,

    He said to my heart

    And made it a hundred times more beautiful.

  12. I will not say, O Brother, what the spiritual concert is,
    Until I know who is listening to it.

    If he begins his flight from the tower of the spirit.
    The Angels will not keep up with his soaring.

    But if he be a man of error, vanity and play,
    The Shaytan will grow more powerful in his brain.

    The Rose is torn apart by the morning breeze,
    But not the log; for it can only be split by an ax.

    The world feeds on music, drunkenness and rivalry.
    But what does the blind man see in a mirror?

  13. “My eye can see all that is in this world;
    The Entire world is within my net.
    I am only concerned with material things,
    What have I to do with spiritual matters?
    I can strike a thousand melodies,
    And openly proclaim all the secrets that I learn.”

  14. Peace Abdur

    What an interesting post, and response from dawudwalid.

    This reminds me also of one of the concepts of Enneagram teaching (the system of personal and spiritual development that I teach). There is a similar vertical progression of personality type, from what we term the unhealthy levels, through to the average and then up to the healthy levels. Progression up to the healthy – and ultimately to the highest – levels is based on the letting go of ego by means of true self-awareness.

    I’m reminded that Georges Gurdjieff, whose contribution to the development of the Enneagram system we know today is significant, spent a lot of time with Sufi mystics.

  15. brother AbdurRahman, the 4 friends mentioned in this qawwali refers to the first four righteous Caliphs, Abu Bakr Umar, Usman & Ali may God elevate their stations.
    so the qawwali is God, His Prophet, the 4 friends, and after them the Qutub is Hazrat Haji Baba Farid [the chishti saint]

  16. Salaams Fisabilillah,

    Thank you for your many beautiful quotes. Allah bless you always for sharing them with me.

    It would be more helpful though, if you could slow down a little, as it makes it very hard to digest the material you are posting.

    Allah bless you, now and evermore.

    Abdur Rahman

  17. Salaams Green Sufi,

    Jazak Allah for your correction. I know that the main line goes: ‘Allah, Muhammad, Char Yaar. Hajji, Khwajah, Qutb Farid’. Although, when I first heard it, I thought it referred to the khulafa al-rashidun (Allah be pleased with them), I thought the extra titles in the second line referred to Chishti masters, and that these were the 4 friends referred to.

    My mistake, and Allah bless you for correcting it. Do you, by any chance, have the text of this beautiful Qawwal, or know where it might be obtained?

    Ma’as salama,

    Abdur Rahman

  18. Peace Tess,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They are always appreciated here. I know little of the Enneagram system, though from what you say, there do seem to be many similarities. Yes, as far as I know, Gurdjieff was closely linked to a number of Sufi groups (though I know little about him in detail).

    Brother Dawud’s comment offers a good sketch of some of the main facets of the traditional Sufi vision of the personality. Shaykh Kabir Helminski (who oversees the Threshold Society) has written a book on this broad topic, called ‘Living Presence’. It’s an excellent read (though translated from traditional religious language into a more ‘psychological’ tone) and not that expensive.

    I would value learning more of the Enneagram system. Any pointers?

    Abdur Rahman

  19. Yes, you’re right, the extra titles can refer to the 4 great Chishti saints [altho’ char yar or 4 friends refers to the Righteous Caliphs for sure, as they were contemporaries]
    Hajji: Hajji Usman Haruni the pir of
    Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Ajmeri ‘gharib nawaz’, the pir of
    Qutub Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki of Dehli, the pir of
    Hazrat Baba Farid. [may God exalt their stations]

    I will inshaAllah post you the text soon,
    salam alaykum

  20. Salaam,

    The brother who says only the Nafs’e Motma’en enters Paradise needs to provide his proof. “My Garden” is one of the Gardens. There are more than one Gardens in Paradise, haven’t you read the Book that Makes things Perfectly Clear?

    Remember: ALLAH Swears by the Self-blaming Soul.

    And they will not remember unless ALLAH so pleases. HE alone is worthy to be feared and HE alone is worthy to forgive.

    In the name of ALLAH, the Gracious, the Merciful.

    Nay, I swear by the Day of Resurrection.

    Nay, I swear by the self accusing soul, that the Day of Judgment is a certainty.

    Now, who is this “Self accusing Soul” that ALLAH IS ‘swearing’ by?



    ALLAH IS The Forgiving The Ever Merciful.

    That said, it really made me wonder just who these “Great Ones” are who went before you, dear brother Abdur Rahman? Losing hope?

    `O my sons, go ye and inquire about Joseph and his brother and despair not of the Mercy of ALLAH; for none despairs of ALLAH’s mercy save the disbelieving people.’


    And they worship beside ALLAH such as have no power to bestow on them any gift from the heavens and the earth, nor can they ever have such power.

    No sleeping at all? Ever? Really? Probably don’t need to use the bathroom either?

    The Straight Path is the MIddle Path, the Path of Balance, according to Guidance.

    ” I went to the Ka’bah in Mecca, but He was not there either.”

    One wonders why? Perhaps the poet forgot to take his heart to the Ka’bah in Mecca …

    /& Salaam

  21. Salaams Joubin,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Allah bless you always.

    I don’t mean to suggest that I’m losing hope. Rather, I mean to say that the Sufi masters and teachers are a great source of inspiration to me. Their examples, patterned as they are on Islam, are a source of inspiration and hope as I wander along in the world.

    I can’t seem to find anything relating to not sleeping, etc. I don’t recall writing anything to that effect either. I certainly don’t believe that any human being, however purified they can become through God’s grace, can in any way measure up to God. I’m not sure I’ve said that they could. If I have said something that could be construed in that way, then I repent to God for my mistake – as it was indeed unintentional.

    I have not had the opportunity to read through all the poetry in the comments thread. It was posted by another brother.

    Salaams to you and yours

    Abdur Rahman

  22. Salaam brother Abdur Rahman,

    Certainly, much of the content addressed comments in this thread and not your direct comments; that should have been made clear in the previous post. Thank you for pointing it out.

    The 7th Sura, ‘The Heights’, is a very intriguing Sura, don’t you think?

    /& Salaam

  23. Salaams Joubin,

    Allah! Following your suggestion, I re-read the sura on my way home. May Allah bless you for pointing me towards it, at exactly the right time.

    Abdur Rahman

  24. salam alaykum AbdurRahman, alas! I have not yet located the text, and my Punjabi is not good enough to note it down from the Qawwali.
    However I’ve heard that this is supposed to be the kalam of Hazrat Ibrahim Farid RA, descendant of Baba Farid RA and the spiritual guide to Guru Nanak RA.
    God knows best.

  25. Wa alaikum salaam Green Sufi,

    Don’t worry brother. I’m sorry to have put you to so much trouble. Allah! It was not my intent.

    It is a beautiful qawwal and I will look out for the text. Insha Allah, it will reach us both soon.

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