Islam Basics, The 5 Pillars, and the 3 Levels of Worship
This is excerpted from a talk Sidi gave in Chicago in 2004, printed in the transcription book, The Sufi Realities. It was the first time Sidi gave an overview of the path from this perspective.
“Sidi in English: To understand the real Islam, know that Allah sent it to all of the prophets: from Adam to Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad, may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon them all.
Fethi translating for Sidi: Islam was revealed by Allah for all the people. The first Muslim was the Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him. Abraham is your father. Allah said that the Prophet Abraham was the one who gave all Muslims the name Muslim.
“To be a Muslim means to follow Allah’s orders and prohibitions and to carry the message of love, peace, mercy, justice and freedom for all the world.”
Allah says in His Book [Qurʾan], “Oh people, We have created you from male and female and We made you into tribes to know one another. Noble in Allah’s sight are the ones who walk in awe of Allah. (Qur’an 49:13)
Allah Loves Those Who Help Creation Most
The Prophet, may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him, says, “All in creation are the children (dependants) of Allah. Most beloved to Allah are the ones who benefit His children. (hadith)” Thus, it is important to join the ship of safety. This is the ship of safety. How can you save yourself, oh human being? You are suffering, you are being killed all over the world with no mercy. Humanity is suffering. No one is left alone to live happily. The enemies of Allah are the unjust ones who impose themselves on people.
I wish to read you a description of how to save yourself, how to ride the ship of safety, to save yourself from suffering. This is our message to everyone. We wish to clarify, with an outward clarification and an inward clarification, through this teaching.
The word “Islam” is rooted in the attributes of God which are “the Peace,” “the Trusting,” and “the Overpowering.” Islam is to surrender completely to Allah with all that you have, following the orders of Allah and staying within the prohibitions. This is not the Islam people imagine Islam to be. It is not the Islam people describe as the religion of terrorism and enmity. Islam prohibits killing, destruction, the cutting of trees, the polluting of the earth, the poisoning of the earth, theft and breaking the trust.
Islam is revealed in all of the holy books through the Prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Allah said in the Qur’an, “Know that there is no god but I, so worship Me. (Qurʾan 21:92)” Allah tells us not to kill, not to steal, not to lie and not to betray others. You have to be sincere, truthful and loving. You have to carry the message of love, peace and mercy.
Allah said to His Messenger Muhammad, may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him, “We have only sent you as a mercy to all of the creation. (Qur’an 21:107)” He did not say, “You are a mercy for those who claim to be Muslim.” No, He said, “You are a mercy for all the worlds.” This includes all the worlds Allah created, whether they are seen or unseen. Allah says in the Qurʾan, “Whoever kills one person, it is as if he has killed all of the people. And whoever gives life to one, it is as if he gives life to all humanity. (Qur’an 5:32)”
All the teachings of Islam are one, because all the prophets, all the messengers, carry one message.
It is said in the Qurʾan, “We make no separation between any of the messengers. (Qur’an 2:285)” They [the prophets and messengers] all said, “We listen to Your order and obey. We ask for Your forgiveness. (Qur’an 2:285)
The true message of Islam, of surrender, was first revealed to Abraham. It was then revealed to Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. All of these are one message, absolutely.
Any person who claims to be a Christian, Jew or Muslim and kills people, destroys homes or kills children is not in surrender to God. Quite the opposite! They are the followers of Satan. They are cursed in this world and the next, regardless of any rituals that they do: whether they fast, pray or do the pilgrimage. This is so because if the condition of speech is not backed by action, Allah does not accept good actions. The good actions of anyone who says, “I am a Muslim” and kills are not accepted. The good actions of anyone who says, “I am a Christian” and kills are not accepted. The good actions of anyone who says, “I am a Jew” and kills are not accepted.
Adam was a Muslim. Noah was a Muslim.
Islam is the religion for all humanity. Is Noah not the father of all humanity? Is Adam not the father of all of humanity? Adam carries the form of the reality. As Allah says on the tongue of His Prophet, “I created Adam on My form. (Hadith Qudsi)” This form is innocent, full of light and clear. All the prophets, including Abraham, may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him, carried the message of love, peace, justice, freedom and equality. If unjust leaders, wherever they are from, claim to be carrying the message of God, they are liars.
The people who carry the true message of God do not kill, do not betray others, do not pollute the earth and do not poison oceans. Allah created our oceans crystal clear and pure. No one who follows the religion of Allah, Islam, can cause such criminal acts.
The First Pillar: Witnessing God’s Unity
First, Allah wants us to regulate our relationship with Him. How? Through prayer. Through witnessing that Allah is one, with no partner, and that Allah has no father, mother, wife or child. Allah is not a created thing. Allah is the Creator. Allah is not material. Allah is as He wished Himself to be. Allah says,”Say: Allah is one, not giving birth, and not having been given birth to, nor with an equal. (Qur’an 112:1-3)”
After our personal affirmations of unity we need to unify all people. This does not only apply to humanity—all of Allah’s creation needs to be in unity. Allah says, “There is not a thing that is created that does not praise its God. (See Qur’an 24:41)” The animals have their form of worship. If you have subtle hearing, you can hear the animals praying. The dogs, when they bark, are saying, “Hu Allah, hu Allah.” It is their way of saying “It is God. It is God.” They are actually trying to remind people to be in remembrance of their God. When you hear the gurgling of water in streams, listen carefully. Listen to the water saying the sound, “Hu Allah,” again pointing to Allah.
Listen to the leaves in the trees and the sounds they make. These are all praising God in their fashion. Allah tells us that we do not understand their language—they do not speak English or Arabic. They have their own language.
Listen to the ant when it addressed Solomon. An ant said to its other ants, “Enter into your nests. Otherwise Solomon and his troops will trample you without knowing.” Solomon knew the languages of all animals and birds. Solomon said, “I was taught the language of birds. (see Qur’an 27:16)”
When Solomon heard the ant, he smiled. He said to his soldiers, “Stop. Stay away from the ant holes. Do not kill one ant.” Why? Solomon said this because he carried the unity. He carried the message of Allah. He did not allow his troops to kill even one ant.
The Second Pillar: Prayer (Salah)
Islam was revealed to regulate your relationship with Allah through acts of worship. Foremost is the prayer. Allah tells us that the prayer keeps us away from wrong and evil action. Someone may say, “I go to the mosque and I pray.” Another one goes to the church and prays, and another one goes to the synagogue and prays. However, when they leave their mosques, churches or temples they steal. They exploit others. They do not carry peace, love, justice or freedom in their hearts. Is their prayer of any use to them or others? These people speak nicely but their hands steal and kill.
The leaders all across the world talk and have tears coming out of their eyes, but their hands are stealing, their hands are killing. Their example is like the example of this hunter. Speech has to be backed by action. A person who prays but does not stay within the confines of Allah’s orders and prohibitions, is not a true worshipper. We need to exemplify and manifest our speech through our actions in daily life, because true prayers stop a person from causing injury and wrongdoing.
Takhliyyah (Letting Go) and Tahliya (Ornamenting Oneself)
What does letting go mean? First of all, you establish that you believe in the one God and you follow Islam, which is to submit to God. Letting go is to let go of every ugly character and quality, to let go of everything that does not please Allah, to let go of stealing, killing, destroying, lying, betraying and breaking people’s hearts. You have to let go of this.
Secondly, you need to beautify yourself. How do you do this? You beautify yourself taking on noble character traits. Be truthful, be sincere, be loyal, carry the love, be helpful to yourself and others, love for others what you love for yourself, make all people beloved to you, work with others in cooperation. Allah wants all the worlds, all of His creation, to be one nation—one nation in love with each other. He wants us to have justice in our relations with each other, to support each other and to be as one body.
If an organ is in pain, then the rest of the body comes to its assistance. The healthy organs are pained by the illness of one of its brothers. They are engaged in helping the sick, the destitute, the poor and the suffering. It is important to manifest the teachings of Islam truly upon the earth. To those not engaged in this we say, “You are not a Sufi.”
The Third Pillar: Fasting (Sawm)
First, you regulate your relationship with Allah through the acts of worship. You begin with witnessing, then move to the prayer and then to fasting. What is the meaning of fasting? Not as the people typically say—it is not just to stop eating and drinking.
For us, fasting is letting go of anything that displeases Allāh. To fast in the tongue means to abstain from backbiting, putting people down or betraying people by talking about them badly. Also, fasting is to let go of any slights towards people you may project through your body, heart, eyes, hearing or spirit. Do not to look down upon them, do not envy them and do not resent them.
If you do any of these things, you are not fasting. Fasting is to abstain from all wrong action. Maybe you did not eat or drink all day, but you betrayed others, you lied, you stole, you cheated and you performed evil acts. You backbit and you hurt people. Do you call yourself a person who is fasting? No!
The fasting of dogs is better than this kind of fast, because the dog does not hurt others. It is quite the opposite! The dog has seven qualities, and I wish we humans had them. They are loyal, they are truthful, they prefer others above themselves, they surrender, they accept and they are honest. Are these not divine qualities? If people were to carry these qualities would the world not be a better place? The people of wisdom said, “We wish the humans had the good character traits of the dog.” They are loyal to their owners, they protect their homes and they do not hurt anyone. Surely the dog is on a higher plane of consciousness than the people who do not have these divine qualities. The dog’s worship of God is much higher than most people’s worship of God. The dog does not hurt anyone. It does not kill anyone. Even a snake or a viper will leave you alone if you do not hurt or threaten it. It is clear from the way humanity behaves that Satan is our business. Human beings now are even bigger than Satan in what they do. Human beings are performing more bad deeds than what the devil is capable of performing.
The people of wisdom said, “We wish the humans had the good character traits of the dog.” They are loyal to their owners, they protect their homes and they do not hurt anyone. Surely the dog is on a higher plane of consciousness than the people who do not have these divine qualities. The dog’s worship of God is much higher than most people’s worship of God. The dog does not hurt anyone. It does not kill anyone. Even a snake or a viper will leave you alone if you do not hurt or threaten it. It is clear from the way humanity behaves that Satan is our business. Human beings now are even bigger than Satan in what they do. Human beings are performing more bad deeds than what the devil is capable of performing.
At this time all animals have a much higher plane of existence than humans. What we want as Sufis is to bring back the true message of Islam that was carried by all the prophets and messengers. Is the Holy Land not the heart of all the world? Is it not the place where all the prophets appeared? Then why are people making trouble in the Holy Land? Why is blood being shed in the Holy Land? Why are people not uniting to carry the message of peace and love? If we are sincere and truthful, we carry the message of peace, love, mercy and freedom for all people without discrimination or separation between black and white, poor and rich, or any other difference.
The Fourth Pillar: Pilgrimage (Hajj)
After fasting one takes on making the pilgrimage. What is the meaning of the pilgrimage? The Christians go to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. Is this not right? I see them carrying the olive branch and waving it. I have been living in Jerusalem for forty-six years. Every time I see them carrying olive branches I am pained; I pray that they may find the guidance necessary to carry the true message of Jesus. It is not right to only carry olive branches symbolically for a few days, and then throw the olive branches on the ground and trample them. It is important to carry the meanings of this symbol every day.
This is the meaning of what Allah revealed to Jesus. Jesus exemplified the teachings and methodology of love. Did he not offer his body as a sacrifice? He will come back to make peace, justice and freedom prevail all over the world. Jesus will come down carrying the message of Abraham, Moses and Muhammad. This is the true message, because this message does not make separation or discrimination. It does not say, “This is for me and not for you.” The people of truth say, “To Allah belongs dominion over the heavens and the earth.” This is the truth of our message as Muslims. Anyone who is in opposition to it is very far from it.
The Fifth Pillar: Annual Charity (Zakah)
After this we have zakah [almsgiving]. What is the meaning behind zakah? It purifies your body, children, property, spirits and heart by offering a financial sacrifice to benefit those who are destitute, poor and needy. This includes the sick, wounded and other categories. It is important to help them, feed them and house them, because they are your brothers in humanity, regardless of their religion or any other thing. They are human beings. They are your brothers and sisters. Are not all the people the same? Do they not share a common mother and father, Adam and Eve? This is your reality.
The Second Branch of Islam Organizes Your Human Relationships
Next, we come to the other branch of Islam. Islam first organizes your relationship to your Creator through acts of worship. Then it regulates human relationships, regardless of religion.
You need to be honest. You need to be truthful. You need to be sincere. You need to be gentle, with mercy. You need to be with people as Allah wishes you to be. Do not betray them. You need to give love and security. Do not to attack people verbally or physically. Do not kill them. Do not harm them. You need to help them, as best you can. The transaction between both of you should be within the confines of the divine orders and prohibitions. This is your brother; it is not permissible for you to transgress against him. If somebody asks you for help, you need to help him. If somebody is sick, you need to see what you can do to help him heal. This is the religion.
Then the religion regulates the relationship of the human being with his own self. How do you regulate your relationship to yourself? Allah created the human being and fashioned it in the best of forms. Allah created you and He put you in the form He desired. He gave you two eyes and a tongue. Is this not right? He gave you the form that He wished. He allowed you to walk on your feet. He did not make you on two hands and two feet. He gave you a mind, a brain. He made you the representative of Allah upon the earth.
Every human being needs to be clean. Do not use a substance that is not right for your body or your heart. You have no permission to kill others or to hurt yourself. Each person needs to use these limbs that were created by God, given to you in trust, in a perfectly honorable way. In this way you will attain happiness.
Islam: The First Level of Worship
This is Islam. The divine orders in the outward are what I have explained. It is not permissible for someone not to do the prayer. The one who leaves the prayer is in contradiction to the divine order. Allah tells us to do the prayer in its prescribed time period, otherwise we are left to our own devices. No one may leave the salah. The one who does not perform the prayer does not allow for the door of mercy to open. The Salah, the prayer, is for Allah. Through this action you receive Allah’s mercy. This is what protects you, your wife, your beloved, your home, your children and your wealth. Through the Salah you turn to Allah for divine care and protection.
Can you do without Allah? You need to stand between His arms and substantiate your connection to Him. It is through the salah that your ego is polished and refined. The polishing and refinement of the ego has three axes. The first is the “nafs that order to evil.” The second is the “nafs that are reproachful.” The third one is the “nafs that are content.” I have explained the seven stages of the nafs in Music of the Soul and in The Path to Allah, Most High.
Iman: The Second Level of Worship
Then you move on to the rank of faith. What is faith? Faith is what is instilled in the heart and confirmed by the actions of the limbs. You say with your tongue, “I am a Muslim,” but you need to perform actions that confirm this statement. You need to translate this article of faith into action that confirms it. First, you need to clean your hearts from envy, resentment and hatred. Know that your heart is the throne of Allah. It is where Allah sits. Allah says on the tongue of the Prophet, “Neither My heavens nor My earths can contain Me. Only the heart of the sincere, faithful slave can contain Me. (Hadith Qudsi)
Because of this, you cannot fill your heart with impurities. Could you live in your house if your house was full of trash? It would be impossible! Then how can you be a person of faith, wishing to have Allah sit in your heart, when you have filled your heart with hatred, enmity and resentment? How can Allah sit in your heart when you have no peace or justice for others? We need to exemplify these teachings upon the earth. Then you have cleaned your house. How do you clean your heart? Again, the heart has seven stations. I have mentioned the stations. You need to walk the stations, one station after the other. You need to read and write and understand and enact. This is it!
Ihsan: The Third Level of Worship
Then you move on to the rank of excellence, ihsan. This is the place of purity. Here, this body, this outward body is changed. Allah gives you a new creation in your body. Then you move from the gross body into the subtle body. The subtle body’s size is seventy thousand times greater than this physical body. It is a whole other world. This is the real Sufi way that Allah has given us to understand through His Messenger, may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him.
You become a true mirror. You are a mirror in which Allah can see His attributes reflected. Then Allah will change your eyes. He will change your tongue. Your hearing will be a different hearing. Why? Because now Allah is manifesting His attributes upon you. Allah will make a theophany or manifestation of His attribute within you. He says on the tongue of the Prophet, “I hear through him and I see through him. (Hadith Qudsi)” If Allah did not lend you the attribute of hearing, you would not hear. If He did not lend you the attribute of seeing, you would not see.
The Significance of 99
Know that when Allah manifests all of His different ninety-nine attributes they are all manifest in you. They are all signed and sealed.
Stretch your hand like this. [Sidi opens wide the palm of his hand and stretches his fingers out wide.] You’ll find written on one hand the number eighty-one written in Arabic [Sidi points to his right hand] and eighteen [pointing to his left hand] written on the other. Eighty-one and eighteen are how many? Ninety-nine. These are not mere numbers. These are Arabic numbers. It is very old Arabic, more than four thousand years old. Then the Indians took it. Do you understand? I know where these numbers come from. The English numbers are not English. They were originally Arabic.
Ninety-nine is inscribed on your hands: eighty-one and eighteen. Why? Ninety-nine is inscribed on your hands because Allah’s attributes are ninety-nine. Allah makes manifestation of these attributes in you, oh human being: the Hearing, the Seeing, the Strong, the Rich. There are ninety-nine attributes. Be conscious of these attributes. Is He not Gentle? Is that not one of His attributes? Why are you not gentle? Allah says, “Allah is Generous.” Why are you not generous? We need to realize these attributes. If all people were to realize these attributes they would have a life that is greater than the lives of the angels. When Allah created Adam, He made manifestation of these ninety-nine attributes. His majestic name is inside Adam.
How To Become a Divine Slave
As I said, every person needs to occupy the station in which Allah has put him. In your spiritual walking, as you recognize and bring into effect the divine qualities, you become a slave established by the Lord. He says, “Whoever seeks Me, finds Me. Whoever finds Me, knows Me. Whoever knows Me, loves Me. Whoever loves Me, loves Me tremendously. Whoever loves Me tremendously, I kill (his nafs). Whoever’s (nafs) I kill, I become his ransom, meaning he becomes a slave established by his Lord. Then I become His hearing., his seeing, his hand and foot through which he moves. (Hadith Qudsi)
If a slave established by the Lord says to a thing, “Be,” it becomes. Know, oh human being, that if you follow and stay within the divine orders and prohibitions, if you become a slave to God, if you are one carrying the love, you will worship Allah as if you see Him with your own eyes. In this station the manifestation is clear upon you. You only move by the order of Allah. You follow the outward law and you follow the inside order as given to you by your state. You do not disobey Allah for even one moment, one breath. We do not judge by the outside cloak [i.e., appearance of things]. The Muslim is not stupid or ignorant. We need to know everything big and small. We need to be knowledgeable. We are against ignorance. It is impossible to be a Sufi and be ignorant. We have to be knowledgeable in everything, concerned with everything, working for the sake of people, carrying the love for people, and bringing the message of Allah.