I have received many questions both online and offline about Sufism and while I always try to refer to book and citations, sometimes I feel compelled to share my opinion today I plan to share my opinion on two common misconceptions I have encountered in the questions I have been asked.
The Sufi Sheikh
Many of the people I have come across has had this idea of the Sufi Sheikh that is very contrary to my practice and experience. In saying this I am not referring to the concept I’ve encountered that Sufi Sheikhs can be only Middle Eastern, have to have a beard, etc. I am referring specifically to the idea that the Sheikh is someone who tells one what to do, this person who lords over you really. I have been asked how do I someone who can think for myself take advise from a Sheikh, how do I know if he is really honest or trying to get something from me? He isn’t a perfect human being how can you take anything he says at face value.
First I tell them that I am married/with someone who obviously knows a lot more than I do, so I cant say to think for myself. After I realize I am the only person laughing I say that there is no such thing as a perfect human being so to expect perfection in a guide is a bit preposterous.
The Sheikh is first an exemplar, someone who lives the ideals of the tradition in such a way as they never lose sight of their spiritual connection to the Absolute to God despite the ups and downs of life. Secondly, they are a guide. When I go to the Sufi house, the Sheikh doesn’t come up to me and tells me to do 10 push ups, or to invest in Facebook stock. Actually when I see him I greet him, and that’s it. Unless I approach him asking for some counsel there are no command no anything.
In the 4 years I have never been asked for money, for contributions, I have never been told to do this or that. When I actually have for advice, the sheikh gives me his opinion he reminds me that he doesn’t know every detail, that I should do my zikr and be open to whatever comes.
Issues with Authority
I feel in the west we have a strange relationship with authority. we project so much onto everyone who is an “authority figure“. We project our father or mother or boss onto someone and at no point do we try to see this person for who they really are. I have met many people who have said:
- I have a shaikh but I keep my distance from him, I dont know his intentions or if he wants something from me
- I can fix myself all buy myself, I don’t need a MAN to tell me what is right or wrong
- Yeah..I’m glad that works for you but I am too much of a free spirit to take advise from anyone, plus I had a spiritual awakening, a few years ago, stopped wearing expensive clothes/high heels/eating meat/getting $10 haircuts and no live a simple life and eat bland food with no taste.
Ok I embellished a little on the last one, well not really. I have heard those before. I think one’s relationship with a sheikh is a spiritual relationship and it is very different from a regular relationship. If there is no real sincere trust then one should run away I feel. Its like being in a relationship where one doesn’t really trust the person (I think there is a Destiny’s Child or Beyonce song about this) in time it harms both people.
There is a saying that while one can bandage and treat some wounds one cannot perform surgery on one’s self. A sheikh is a guide, and if one reads the Sufi poems which aren’t used on romantic dating sites, one can find the master or sheikh referred to as a spiritual doctor.
As someone who cooks I feel bland food is a crime against Nature. I also feel $5 haircuts from Supercuts aren’t that great either. I dont feel and it could be my own limitation, that the point is to abstract ourselves from life and eat boring foods and grow old and stale like bread.
Just my two cents