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SUFI TRAVEL

This is a Persian proverb:

Az maa-st ke bar maa-st, meaning: What comes from us, returns to us.

It has entered the Persian language, because of Nasir Khusraw (d. ca. 1077). He has written poetry, esoteric material and also a Safar Nama (a book describing his travels). This is a curious anecdote from his book about travels:


"I arrived at an area called Sorda, while sitting on a camel. The inhabitants drank the milk of camels and ate the meat of camels. This was their normal drink and food during all of their life. They had the idea that everyone in the whole world took the same food and drink... Everyone considered himself to be a sultan. Everyone was a thief and was waiting for a traveller to rob his money, clothes and shoes. God helped me. I met the thief of thieves.


This thief stole my camel and searched my coat in order to find some money. I had no money and my shoes were in the poorest of states. I handed over to him my latest poem. He had difficulties in reading this poem. He read it again and did not understand it. He read it a third time, smiled, returned my camel to me and found me a pair of shoes. He shook my hand and let me go".


Evliya Celebi’s written legacy is the Seyahatname or Book of Travels, comprising no less than 10 volumes. At the age of 20, Evliya (d. ca. 1683) attests, his life of travel began with a dream in which he met not only the Prophet, but also his companions and the first four caliphs of Islam, along with a host of Islam’s lesser personalities. Overwhelmed by their presence he became tongue-tied and instead of asking for sefa’at (intercession) Evliya asked for seyahat (travel) and was granted both.

As he was told later in the dream: “You’ll travel through the whole world and be a marvel among men. Of the countries through which you’ll pass, of their castles, strongholds, wonderful antiquities, eatables and drinkables... the extent of their provinces and the length of the days there, draw up a description which will be a monument worthy of you”.

The prediction of the whole world includes cities outside Islamic countries, like Amsterdam and Vienna. He is very impressed when he visits Cairo: “There is no city in the entire world..., that is such a sea of men and with such a productive land as this.

Evliya never seemed to be alone or to feel loneliness. His book of travels is a celebration of new friendships as much it is of new places. This friend of mankind appeared to be writing from his heart when he remarked: “I gave thanks to God, mindful of the proverb <<First the companion, then the road>>”.

The blessing that Evliya received in his dream at the age of 20 came true: “May he be present at many wars, may he be a dervish, may he fear nothing, and may he dance in the sand and never strike his foot on a stone”.


Ibn Battuta was a Muslim traveller of the 14th century. He began his travels as a lonely pilgrim, but he later rose to the position of qadi (judge) in the Sultanate of Delhi and envoy to the emperor of China. Travelling scholar, diplomatic envoy, companion of princes and dervishes, victim of highwaymen and pirates, Ibn Battuta led a life of high adventure.


He tells in his “Rihla” that he “met in Brusa the pious shaykh ‘Abdullah al-Misri, the traveller, and a man of saintly life. He journeyd through the earth, but he never went to China, nor to the island of Ceylon, nor to the Maghrib, nor al-Andalus, nor the Negrolands, so that I have outdone him by visiting those regions”.


Ibn Battuta met shaykh Burhanuddin, the Lame, in the beginning of his journey in the city of Alexandria. It was in the company of this Sufi that he got a first inkling of his destiny. The shaykh, perceiving that Ibn Battuta had in his heart a passion for travel, suggested that he’d visit three of his fellow Sufis, two of them in India, the third in China. Ibn Battuta recalls the incident: “I was amazed at his prediction and the idea of going to these countries having been cast into my mind, my wanderings never ceased until I had met these three that he named and conveyed his greetings to them”.


Ibn Battuta arrived in Multan, which now is in Pakistan, seven years later. Multan was also known as the headquarters of the Suhrawardiyya order. Ibn Battuta was introduced to shaykh Ruknuddin Abu’l-Fath, the shaykh of this tariqa, thus fulfilling the astonishing prediction of the Egyptian Sufi. On the road from Multan to Delhi he met the Chishti shaykh ‘Alauddin Marw-e-Darya. This Sufi was not quite the second of the three Sufis he would meet in India. Rather it was his grandson.


According to the dictum ‘seek knowledge, even in China’, Ibn Battuta also visited China, but I wish to share a final anecdote taking place in Mali. He made an error, calling the river he saw there the Nile, but made another more dangerous error by underestimating a certain danger:


“One day I had gone to the Nile to accomplish a need when one of the [people] came and stood between me and the river. I was amazed at his ill manners and lack of modesty and mentioned this to somebody, who said that he did that only because of he feared for you on account of the crocodiles, so he placed himself between you and it”.

Travels thus also imply their hardships: You have to leave your beloved ones, you leave comfort behind, it is uncertain when there is food and there is even the possibility of becoming food yourself.

Voyaging is victory. In leaving home you learn about life, yet a journey is bit of Jahannam (hell). Let us now turn to Richard Burton, a.k.a. Hajji ‘Abdullah (1821-1890). Burton was a rebel, a sceptic spy, an outsider, a non-conformist, a nomad on four continents, he hated England, burocracy and insinserity. He suffered from insomnia, was at times depressed and only when travelling he was happy.

Impelled by wanderlust, the spirit of adventure and aided by an extraordinary facility in Eastern languages, he was one of the great traveller-explorers of history. He was the first European to enter the capital of Somaliland and the first European to discover the great lakes of Central Africa.

But it is his hajj, his pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, that Burton is best known. He has written a detailed account of his hajj in two volumes called “Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to al-Madinah & Meccah”. Burton was an initiate in the Qadiriyya tariqa. He made the hajj as a wandering dervish.

This is what he tells about it: “After entering Meccah we bathed, and when the noon drew nigh we repaired to the Harim for the purpose of hearing the sermon. Descending to the cloisters below the Bab al-Ziyadah, I stood wonder-struck by the scene before me. The vast quadrangle was crowded with worshippers sitting in long rows, and everywhere facing the central black tower [...]

Nothing seemed to move but a few Darwayshes, who, censer in hand, sidled through the rows and received the unsolicited alms of the Faithful. Apparently in the midst, and raised above the crowd by the tall, pointed pulpit, whose gilt spire flamed in the sun, sat the preacher, an old man with snowy beard.

The style of head-dress called Taylasan covered his turban, which was white as his robes, and a short staff supported his left hand. Presently he arose, took the staff in his right hand, pronounced a few inaudible words (in fact: Peace be on you and the mercy of Allah and His blessings!), and sat down again on one of the lower steps, whilst a Muézzin, at the foot of the pulpit, recited the call to the sermon.

Then the old man stood up and began to preach. As the majestic figure began to exert itself there was a deep silence. Presently a general “Amin” was intoned by the crowd at the conclusion of some long sentence. And at last, towards the end of the sermon, every third or fourth word was followed by the simultaneous rise and fall of thousands of voices.

I have seen the religious ceremonies of many lands, but never – nowhere – aught so solemn, so impressive as this.”

Travelling is considered to be a spiritual practice amongst the Sufis. It is not for nothing that shaykh Sohrawardi dedicates a complete chapter in his Awarif al-Ma’arif to travel.

Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti has made long travels before finally settling in Ajmer, India. Dr. Zahurul Hassan Sharib in his “Khawaja Gharib Nawaz” gives a detailed description of this part of the life of this important Chishti Sufi, which is mostly hidden under the veil of legends.

He lived the life of a wandering dervish and often stayed at lonely places. In case people found out about him, he travelled on.

During his travels he met a Sufi in Syria who advices him: “It is necessary that you should be devoted to the service of dervishes, so that you may earn respect and receive blessings.”

Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti journed to Kirman together with shaykh Awhaduddin Kirmani. They met a dervish who was very absorbed and lost in contemplation:

“Having reached near him, I offered my respects to him and made a salam. He was very lean and thin. He used to talk very little. The idea struck me all of a sudden that I should inquire from him as to why he was so weak and frail in health.

He could read my thoughts. Before I could inquire, he himself said thus: “O, dervish! It so happened one day that along with some friends, I happened to pass a graveyard. I sat near a grave. We were all merry-making and out of jest and joy I laughed very loudly.

Suddenly a voice came out from the grave: “O sleeper! How can you laugh at all, when you have to reach the grave at last, you, having as your enemy the angel of death, you, having serpents as your companions underneath the ground”.

On hearing this, I at once stood up and kissing the hands of my friends bade them farewell. Coming to this cave, I stayed on till today.”
The dervish described tawba, his return to God. During his travels Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti reached Multan. He himself says this about it: “Here in Multan I met a dervish. The dervish, during the course of conversation, said: The tawba of those trading in love is of three kinds:
Firstly it is due to shame
Secondly to avoid sins
Thirdly to purify themselves from anger and tyranny”.


Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti was once on the road from Baghdad to Mecca. He travelled in the company of his spiritual guide, Khwaja ‘Usman Haruni: “We at last reached a city where we saw some dervishes, who were dead drunk of the wine of the love of God and who were very much absorbed. We stayed for days in their company, but they did not come to consciousness”.

Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti continues thus: “During our journey we met in Ush a dervish named shaykh Bahauddin Ushi. He was a great sage and wali. Thecustom prevailed in his Sufi centre that whoever came therein would never be allowed to go empty-handed. In short we enjoyed his company for some days. He presented us with this valuable piece of advice:

O, dervish! Whatever you may get, spend it in the way of God. Never hoard money. Feed the hungry and the poor, so that you may become a friend of God”.

This advice has been followed by Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti, so much so that he became known as the Patron of the Poor, i.e. Gharib Nawaz.

When reaching Bokhara during one of his travels, Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti tells: “We met the outstanding dervishes of the place. They were in the higher realm of spiritualism. No words are adequate to describe their accomplishments. I accompanied my spiritual guide for full ten years on this travel. Subsequently my murshid returned to Baghdad and passed his days in contemplaton and seclusion”.

Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti says that “once Khwaja ‘Usman Haruni, shaykh Awhaduddin Kirmani and myself were proceeding towards Medina. We broke our journey at Damascus. In front of the mosque of Damascus there are laid to their eternal rest some twelve thousand prophets. Here people get their heart’s desires. We paid homage to the tombs of the prophets and we came into contact with a number of awliya (friends of God)”.

After having served his spiritual guide and teacher for twenty years in travels Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti was separated from him at the age of fifty-two.

On this occasion Khwaja ‘Usman Haruni made him his spiritual successor (sajjada neshin, lit. the one who sits on the prayer carpet) and confided to him the holy relics of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), which were handed down from one to another in the Chishti order.

Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti describes the details thus: “My spiritual guide and teacher Hazrat Khwaja ‘Usman Haruni said to me: O, Mo’inuddin! I have done all this work for your sake. You should follow these teachings. He indeed is the real spiritual son and successor who is absorbed in the teachings of his murshid, who gives them a prominent place in his spiritual genealogy and completes them to his utmost skill, so that he may not feel ashamed on the Day of Judgment.

After saying this my murshid gave me the stick that was placed before him, and then honoured me by confiding me the robe, sandals and the praying carpet. Then he said:

These holy relics are the sacred possessions of our spiritual ancestors, which we have received from the prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and I have given them to you. You should keep them with you as we have done. Whomsoever you may find a real seeker, entrust them to him. Do not hold any hope from the people. Live far from the people and do not demand or ask for anything from anybody.

Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti continues thus: “Having said these words my murshid embraced me and kissed my head and said: “I have entrusted you to God!” Then he went into an inner state and I departed”.


One day, when Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti was absorbed in prayers in the Ka’aba, he heard a voice saying: “O, Mo’inuddin! We are greatly pleased with you. You are given salvation. Ask for anything you may like, so that We may grant that to you”.

He submitted respectfully: “O Great God! Give salvation to the followers and disciples of Mo’inuddin!”

Came the reply: “O Mo’inuddin! You are Our accepted one. I’ll give salvation to your followers and disciples, and also to those who may enter your fold till the Day of Resurrection”.

After performing the pilgrimage Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti reached Medina. Here he was engaged in prayers in the Quba mosque. It is the oldest mosque in the world. Its first stones were positioned by the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) on his emigration from Mecca to Medina and the mosque was completed by his companions.
Muhammad used to go there, riding or on foot, every Saturday and offer a two rak'ah prayer. He advised others to do the same, saying, "Whoever makes ablutions at home and then goes and prays in the Mosque of Quba, he will have a reward like that of an 'Umrah." This hadith is reported by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, an-Nasaí and Hakim an-Nishapuri.
Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti received these directions from the court of the prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.):

“O, Mo’inuddin! You are a helper (Mo’in) of my religion (din). I entrust to you the country of India. Proceed to Ajmer and spread there the Gospel of Truth”.

Receiving this mandate he was immensely pleased, but wondered as to where Ajmer was situated. In the meanwhile he felt drowsiness. He was blessed by seeing the prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) in a dream, who showed him the city, the fort and the situation of Ajmer. He was bidden farewell by giving him a pomegranate from heaven.

A Chishti pir attributes the following teaching about travel to Khwaja Mo'inuddin Chishti:

Travelling is of four kinds. It may be travelling which is good and proper for the time being. It may be contented travelling. It may be customary travelling and it may be real and just travelling.

Travelling which is good and proper for the time being is to go out for your own work and business.

Contented travelling is to undertake travelling for the pleasure of Allah. This type of travelling is undertaken by the qalanders, the dervishes, the faqirs and the contented.

Customary travelling is that undertaken for the pilgrimage to the Kaaba. But the sincere travellers do not find any smell of the gnosis of Allah therein.

Real travel is not possible without the training and direction of the perfect spiritual guide. It is acquired by following rhe prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and by living ever in the vigilance of the nearness of Allah.

It is said that shaykh Sa’di (d. 1292) spent his first twenty-five years or so in gaining an education and establishing himself in Shiraz and elsewhere, the next thirty-odd years in far-ranging travels, and the last thirty or more, in saintly retirement and lierary production in Shiraz.

Let us concentrate on shaykh Sa’di’s travels and pilgrimages by recounting one anecdote he himself describes in his “Gulistan”:

“Having become tired of my friends in Damascus, I went into the desert of Jerusalem and associated with animals till the time when I became a prisoner of the Franks, who put me to work with infidels digging the earth of a moat in Tripoli, when one of the chiefs of Aleppo, with whom I had formerly been acquainted, recognized me and said: ‘What state is this?’ I recited:

I fled from men to mountain and desert,
Wishing to attend upun no one but God.
Imagine what my state at present is,
When I must be satisfied in a stable of wretches.
The feet in chains with friends
Is better than to be with strangers in a garden.

He took pity on my state and randsomed me for ten dinars from the captivity of the Franks, taking me to Aleppo where he had a daughter and married me to her with a dowry of one hundred dinars. After some time had elapsed, she turned out to be ill-humoured, quarrelsome, disobedient, abusive in her tongue and embittering my life:

Alas for a bad consort, alas!
Preserve us, O Lord, from the punishment of fire.

Once she lengthened her tongue of reproach and said: “Are you not the man whom my father purchased from the Franks for ten dinars?”.

I replied: “Yes, he bought me for ten dinars and sold me into your hands for one hundred dinars”.

I heard that a sheep had by a great man
Been rescued from the jaws and the power of a wolf.
In the evening he stroked her troat with a knife,
Whereupon the soul of the sheep complained thus:
‘You have snatched me away from the claws of a wolf,
But at last I see you are yourself a wolf’.

A journey means going from a residence or place towards a goal by traversing and crossing different phases and stages. It is either outward, which needs no explanation, or spiritual. Mulla Sadruddin Shirazi has described the spiritual journey. It is of four kinds:
The journey from the creature (khalq) to the Truth (Haqq), through the tearing of the veils and darkness and light that exists between the traveller and his spiritual reality.


Another way to describe the first of the four journeys is to say it is an ascent from:
The station of the ego (nafs) to
The station of the heart (qalb) to
The station of the spirit (ruh) to
The outermost goal (al-maqsad al-aqsaa) and the supreme splendour (al-bahjat al-kubraa). If the traveller reaches the goal the veils are lifted, the Divine Beauty is contemplated and (s)he is annihilated in Him. For this reason it is often called the station of annihilation in the Essence (al-fanaa’fi’l-dhaat) and therein are contained the innermost consciousness (serr), the hidden (khafiy) and the most hidden (akhfaa’).


Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi refers to this in the poem:

Haft shahr-e-‘eshq raa ‘Attaar gasht
Maa honuz andar kham-e-yak kusha ayim
'Attar has passed in his travel the seven cities of love,
We are still at the corner of the first street.

If the traveller becomes annihilated in the Divine, the first journey comes to an end and his being becomes a true being.
Upon ending the first journey the traveller begins the second journey, which is the journey from the Truth to the Truth by the Truth.


This journey takes place by the Truth because the traveller has become a friend of God (wali) and his/her being has become real being.

(S)he begins this journey from the station of the Essence and goes to the Perfections one after the other until (s)he contemplates all the Divine Perfections and knows all the Divine Names except over which (s)he has no dominance.

His/her friendship with God becomes perfect and his/her essence, actions and qualities become annihilated in the Divine Essence, Actions and Qualities. (S)he hears through His Hearing, sees through His Sight, walks by His Aid and strikes through His Striking.

The serr (innermost consciousness) is the annihilation of his/her essence, the khefaa’ or hiddenness the annihilation of his/her qualities and actions, and the ekhtefaa’ or disappearance the annihilation of these two annihilations. Or you could say that the serr is annihilation in the Essence, which is the end of the first journey and the beginning of the second journey. Khefaa’ is the annihilation in the Divinity (al-oluhiyyah) and the akhfaa’ is the annihilation of these two annihilations and therein ends the cycle of friendship with God (daa’erat al-welaayah) and the second journey. His/her annihilation is terminated and the third journey begins.
The third journey is the journey from the Truth to the creature with the Truth.


The traveller journeys at this stage through the states of actions. His/her annihilation comes to an end and (s)he attains complete sobriety. (S)he subsists through the subsistence (baqaa’) of God. (S)he journeys through the worlds of jabarut, malakut and naasut and sees all these worlds in their essence and exigencies.

(S)he gains a taste of prophecy and gains knowledge of the Divine sciences from the Divine Essence, Attributes and Actions. But (s)he does not possess the prophetic function in the sense of bringing a sacred law. (S)he only brings tidings concerning God, His Attributes and Actions. (S)he is not called a prophet; rather (s)he follows the injunctions and laws of the absolute prophet and is obedient to him. Here ends the third journey and begins the fourth.
The fourth journey is the journey from the creature to the creature with the Truth.


The traveller observes creatures and their effects and exigencies. The traveller knows their benefits and their evils, temporally and spiritually, that is in this world and the next. The traveller knows of their return to God, the manner of their return... The traveller brings knowledge of the subsistence of creatures, their harms, their benefits, what causes them to possess felicity and what brings them misery. In all this the traveller is with the Truth, because his/her being has become veridical and the attention paid by him to the creature does not distract his concentration upon the Divine.

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