The Tailor sat at the waystation with some other travellers.
“Where are you travelling, friend,” an Egyptian traveller asked him.
“Back to London,” he replied.
The fellow frowned and said: “Ah yes, I have just come from that city, because I heard that there are true Sufis there and wished to learn some of their Wisdom. But I entered a tekke (Dervish Lodge) where it became very clear that all the dervishes there were false in their dances. Their leader spoke about the Shariah and Law in a fashion that was even more strict than that of the Saudi authorities! For instance, he claimed the nikab (veil) is prescribed for the wives and that all who even taste alcohol will go to hell. He even said that listening to music is in the hellfire. All that, and similar nonsense: the kind of thing I would have expected from a Wahabi, but spouted by a self-professed Sufi sheikh. All this, while wearing the garment of Sufism! They are orthodox Sunni Islam wearing the garment of Sufism!”
The Tailor replied thus:
Yes, I know of this tekke. But you see the people around us at this waystation are friends and comrades, but they don’t understand your point. They have no background in Islam and are wondering why you would use the term “orthodox” in a negative fashion. Reading between your lines, clearly the orthodox view is something less preferable to a Sufi world view. A non-Muslim might ask: why? Do the orthodox Muslims reject Sufism? Are orthodox Islam and Islamic Sufism two competing sects? Well, to these interested parties, I would explain that many Sufis (but who still remain Islamic in their daily worship) today do feel threatened by the “orthodox” or mainstream of Islam. Quite rightly: I have been to mainstream mosques where hutbas (sermons) are given that are indeed very threatening toward Sufism! Not to sensationalise the problems of my ummah (religious group): the threat is mostly metaphysical rather than a physical one (although in some places and times the threat has certainly manifested as violence). But it is a threat, nevertheless.
I think it is true that most people in this waystation, whatever their vehicle, however they conceive of their destination, they all agree on one point: that there is a “deeper” meaning in our Holy Books — and in life — than that which is on the surface. Most of us here would be happy to be called “seekers”, in the sense that we would be happy to characterise our journey as one in which we seek this deeper meaning. The Light embedded within. Understanding. The Knowledge you were seeking in London.
And so here is a question everyone at this waystation might ask: “How does this understanding arise? How can we gain the Knowledge we seek?”
Now, returning to the Orthodox/Sufi distinction, I imagine that you (and many other Sufis) would say — the Orthodox are precisely not seekers. They do not seek. Instead, they see only surface. They are given a Matryoshka doll, but fail to realise the game inherent in the object. In contrast, the Orthodox would say of the seekers: they are misguided, because religion is structured like a state, not a cosmic Matryoshka doll.
The purpose of religion, for an orthodox Sunni Muslim (and similar “mainstream” brands of religions) is to submit and to submit alone — “ignorantly” submit, we might say. To recite the words and never to consider their meaning except in only the most cursory, superficial fashion. I went to a hutba (sermon) at an “orthodox” mosque recently where the imam said exactly this: he said there are some misguided muslims who would like to “philosophize” and think about the books, and they are being lead to the fire, because true Islam never thinks too much about itself. He wore ignorance as a badge of honour. It was blind submission to the Law of God that he held as the path to paradise.
So that’s their position. Fine: there are two Islams, just as there are two Christianities and two Buddhisms. This kind of typology recurs throughout the history of any religion.
But, interestingly, it is this very typology that holds the secret to how we should seek! The fact that there are two Islams is the key to gaining the Knowledge.
The hint is embedded in, let’s say, a deliberate “mis-reading” (or perhaps a hermeneutic analysis of its deeper truth) of your line that there are Sufis who are actually Sunni Orthodox Muslims clad in the garment of Sufism.
Recall that Sufism is indeed a garment: the term comes from “Suf”, which means wool. We are told that the original Sufis were ascetics who wandered the place clad in simple garments tailored from wool.
And recall why Cain killed Abel: it was the first religious war. Now recall that Abel’s “perfect offering” was one of wool, of sheep. Cain’s offering was one of the land, of something like linen. Abel’s offering was accepted and Cain got jealous and killed his brother. Clearly Cain must have valued God’s acceptance so highly that he was inspired to jealousy.
But what are Cain and Abel? They are aspects of Adam, who Muslims take as both the first man and the first prophet. This dialectic of warfare springs forth as a kind of breakage from the nature of the first prophet.
Cain is the mainstream we spoke of. Abel is clothed in wool, the first Sufi.
But each of us is derived from Adam. And so, within each of us, there is a Cain and an Abel. We journey, we seek. We seek a return: and the return is intimately associated with the beginning, with Adam.
So how can we return to the beginning? By manifesting Abel and supressing Cain? No, this breakage already happened: the murder has been committed, and this must be accepted.
So we return by repairing this damage, by reversing the effect of the murder? How? Well, cain took the woolen robe of his brother and now wanders the desert, baring the mark. Cain’s orthodoxy is clad within the garment. That’s a good first step, actually!
Imagine Cain wanders within ourselves, clad in his brother’s garment.
A transfiguration is possible, a forgiveness: God takes our blind, ignorant, jealous desire for God’s love and, through the robe of wool, transforms us.
What happens then? Imagine if the archetype of Cain is rotated now 180 degrees, he becomes transformed and metamorphoses into the other, corrected brother: Aaron. He is a priest: his nature was pure submission. He is whatever remains that is good within the “mainstream” of blind ritual and unthinking recitation: he is submission to God. And now what of the ghost of Abel? What if his archetype is now brought back and returned in the form of Moses: he is prophecy, the channel of Prophecy, the conduit of the Light. Now bring them together: the Light is channeled into Aaron, who receives it.
This transformation is possible precisely because there are two brothers. A repair is possible because their system was broken. The actions are made possible by permitting the brother within to wear that robe. So it is essential that we have mainstream people wearing the robe. Because it is through this wrapping that blind, submissive worshipful religion can gain access to the descent of the Light. It is through the transfiguration of Cain to Aaron via wrapping him within the woolen robe that we can gain access the Light via the transfiguration/restoration of Abel to Moses.
This process is something that must happen at a microcosmic level (within our own souls) and at a macrocosmic level (in my mosque, for example).
So, the next time you see someone Cain-like clad in a woolen robe, remember that the next potential phase in the transformation is truly magnificent, one that will deliver us into the light, and the goal of our search!