Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Sufis and Airplanes

Traveling with Shaykh Taner pretty much guarantees that you will have the worst seats on the plane. I have been flying with him for several years and this seems consistently true. If there is a mother with a crying baby (or better yet twins) or a 300 pound guy with a bladder problem you know that they will be sitting next to you.

I did not understand why this was until a couple of years ago, flying back from Boston where Shaykh had been lecturing at a conference being held at Harvard.

We had boarded the plane and it was only two thirds full. The middle seat in each row was empty!!! I was looking forward to several hours of being able to spread out and be a little more comfortable than usual.

Just before the plane was to take off, one last passenger got on. The woman headed right to where we were sitting. Sure enough, she had the seat between us.

She was looking very embarrassed, I think she knew just how valuable an open middle seat is on a long flight. But Shaykh Taner welcomed her with a smile and a few kind words. When she has sat, he introduced us, asked after her, and generally made her feel comfortable.

An hour or so into the flight, the woman got up to use the rest room, Shaykh leaned over and said "Do you know why Allah put that woman in this seat?" "No Shaykh I do not" I replied.

I expected Shaykh Taner to tell me that she was in some sort of need, perhaps ill, and she had been put there so that he could help her. That has happened often enough.

But Shaykh said, "Allah put her between us because of all the people on the plane, we are the two who will welcome her rather than resenting her. If she had sat elsewhere she might have had to suffer through several hours of anger and resentment from someone's nafs. But it is a Sufi's job to welcome, so Allah put her here.

So the woman arrived at her destination feeling perhaps a little better than she would have otherwise, and no one had to spend a whole flight in a state of anger and resentment.

It occurred to me how powerful this one little action on Shaykh's part was.

Shaytan would have so loved to see all that anger, resentment and hurt being created over someone taking an empty seat, but because Shaykh Taner did not let his "I" think it was so important that it "deserved" more room, all that potential negativity never happened.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Miracles are an interesting subject when it comes to Shaykhs. All of them will tell you that they never do anything miraculous, but if you spend any time at all around a real Shaykh you begin to notice that very odd things happen.

Now I am not talking about just Shaykh Taner, you will find this with any real Shaykh.

For a case in point, many years ago I was asked to drive a Mevlevi Shaykh from the town where he was staying to a lecture he had to give at a university about a hundred miles away. As we hit the freeway we ran right into the mother of all traffic jams. A diesel semi had jack knifed, closing all lanes. By the time the road was open again we had an hour to travel the hundred miles rather than two and a half hours.

I told the Shaykh that we were going to be late and he said "Allah knows best. Just put your heart in the place we are going, do the speed limit (which was 55 mph at the time) and ignore the clock."

So I did just that, and for some odd reason, even though I never went over 55 mph we arrived at our destination with ten minutes to spare.

Don't ask me how, I don't know. But it did happen, and it was a very nice lecture.

Most of the miracles of Shaykh Taner seem to take the form of "meaningful coincidence", that is to say, interesting things just sort of happen around him with unusual frequency. I have lost count of the times I have been upset or struggling with something and have gotten a call from him, usually his first words are "What's wrong" or What are you so angry about?"

When I first moved to Africa I came down with the worst flu I have ever had. I suspect that it was "Asian Bird Flu" as that was going around at the time and Tanzania has a lot of contact with China. A lot of people got it around that time and several people died from it.

So here am I, all sick and miserable, when the phone rings. Someone answers it and I hear Shaykh Taner's voice coming out of the handset from across the room "What is wrong with Mushtaq Ali??!!" I talk with him and he says something to the effect "you have too much to do to let yourself be sick, you will feel better tomorrow", and sure enough I did. Everyone else was stuck with the flu for over a week.

During the times when I have had to travel this usually happens. About five to ten minutes after I arrive. I get a call, and it is someone from the office at the main dergah saying "Shaykh said you had just arrived and you need to do 'this or that' now that you are there".

This sort of thing happens so much that t I hardly notice it anymore. I suspect that there is some sort of "God field" that forms around a Shaykh because of his constant remembrance, something that lets him know how the universe is balanced at any given moment. Through it he can produce interesting coincidences at a frequency far greater than chance.

But sometimes things get a bit odder than that.

A few months ago Shaykh Taner's son Metin started having trouble walking, it was very painful for him to put any weight on his feet. A trip to the doctor, and we discover that he has developed Multiple cysts in both feet and they will have to be addressed by surgery.

Now Metin is an athlete and the prospect of not being able to walk or run for several weeks or months was not something he wanted to think about, and the surgery was not without some risk of permanent damage to muscle and nerves.

When Shaykh Taner returns that evening Metin tell him what the doctor found. Shaykh says "no, you will not have to have your feet cut" he sits down and makes a prayer over Metin's feet.

The next day Metin is walking without pain. The day after, Metin goes back for more ultrasound and such so that the surgeon can decide how to do the operation, and guess what, that's right there were no cysts to be found. The doctor was very upset and insisted that this was impossible.

Another example is more personal.

A couple years ago I was in the office one evening working on our computer. For some reason my hand slipped as I was doing something and I cut myself very badly on the sharp edge of the metal case. When I say badly I mean to the bone on my right index finger.

I put pressure on the cut and went into the main house. As I am washing it off to access the damage Shaykh Taner wanders in and asks what's up. I tell him that I need to go to the clinic and get a few stitches put in the cut.

He says "let me see", examines it for a second and says "no problem". He then takes a honey jar and pours some over the cut, makes a prayer and blows on the wound. He wraps it with a bandage and tells me to leave it on for two days.

Now you have to understand, I have a medical background, and my rational mind was telling me that this was a great way to get a massive infection. But I figured I should walk my talk and put my trust in Allah and my Shaykh's so I follow his instructions.

Two days later when I took the bandage off there was no cut.

If I looked carefully I could see a thin line of white scar tissue where the cut should have been, but that was it.

Now anyone who knows anything about wounds will tell you that this is wrong. A cut like that can not heal that fast. But it did.

When I ask Shaykh Taner about these things he tells me that he does nothing. That things happen by the will of Allah, who has all power to do and not by the will of Shaykh Taner who has no power at all.

I have asked Shaykh why he does not let people know that he can do these things.

His reply is always "I can't do anything. If Allah wishes for something to happen, then it does. If I think that I can do anything else it is my Nafs talking, and if I say I can do this or do that, then I am saying that "I" have power, which is not true. Only Allah has power, only Allah can"Do". To think anything else is saying that Allah has a partner."

Perhaps this is the biggest miracle of all.
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