Journeying with Sufi Writers: My Path to Rediscovering Faith

sufi spiritual sunrise

I’m far from an expert when it comes to spirituality or faith, but I’m someone who’s been on a journey of my own, and I’m still learning every day.

As someone who’s still learning and growing, I’ve found solace in the teachings of the Sufi writers, whose words have illuminated my journey in ways I could never have imagined. Their wisdom has humbled me and given me a sense of peace that I had never experienced before.

I hope to share what I’ve learned with you. If you’re on a similar quest, I invite you to join me as I explore the teachings of these spiritual masters. At the end of this post, I have included the books which inspired me and brought me back to faith.

Table of Content

✦  How My Grandmother’s Spirituality Shaped My Life
✦  The Pitfalls of Pride in Spiritual Practices
✦  My Journey through Many Spiritual Practices
✦  Drawn Back to the Core Tenets of Faith
✦  How I Found My Way Back to My Own Faith
✦  Rediscovering the True Teachings of Sufis
✦  Together on the Path: Sharing Spiritual Journeys
✦  Closing Thoughts
✦  My List of Sufi Books and Prayers

How My Grandmother’s Spirituality Shaped My Life

spiritual simplicity
Growing up I did not give much thought to the word ‘spirituality’. Salah connected us to God. Our faith gave us strength in times of need.

When my grandpa lost his job he came home so worried. My grandmother said: “Why do you worry? We are in the hands of God.”

Devout men and women are not necessarily protected from everyday problems. My grandmother lost ten of her fourteen children. She lost one daughter who was 14 years old, and many others when they were still kids.

Only a mother can understand that grief. But I never saw my grandmother bitter as a result of the hardships that she had faced. I never heard her complain. All her stories were about interesting anecdotes such as trying to find newspaper in a language that she can read or her experiences of new cuisine in a strange city far away from her hometown.

I was born when she was nearly seventy years old. She taught me how to fish and collected almonds for me to eat. Her smile was one of pure joy and innocence. Thinking back on those memories fills me with gratitude for the time I got to spend with her.

My grandmother never missed a single Salah and adhered to all the fundamental principles of our religion, such as fasting and reciting the Quran. The sincerity and modesty of her lifestyle evoked a sense of great respect.

The simplicity of grandmother’s life and the purity of her devotion was so apparent that individuals from different faiths sought her blessings. I have a vivid memory of a vegetable vendor, who belonged to a different faith, coming to my grandmother to seek her blessings for her son’s recovery.

I believe that it was her faith that gave my grandma strength. Spirituality was an intrinsic part of her life, even though she may not have used the term to describe it.

My grandma taught me the core tenets of faith and helped me to memorize Suras and essential Duas for Salah. My parents arranged for a very learned Maulvi to teach me Quran recitation. In addition to recitation he also taught me essential Arabic so I could recite with understanding.

The Pitfalls of Pride in Spiritual Practices and My Desperate Search for Regaining Connection with God

When I was a kid, I used to get really anxious during major exams. But I discovered that if I focused my mind and immersed myself in Salah and studies, I could completely quiet my mind. It was a powerful feeling of connection with God, and I realized that He would answer my prayers whenever I begged for His help.

I started to believe that I had found the perfect way to succeed in everything, and I became proud of my ability to focus my thoughts in this way. But I soon forgot that it was God’s will, not my own method, that made things happen.

Although I lost the ability to connect with God in the same way as I grew older, I am forever grateful for the blessings He has given me. Without His help, my life would have been truly lost.

I’ve had an intense longing to draw closer to God for as long as I can remember, and that longing has never faded. As I grew older, my mind wasn’t as focused as it used to be when I was a child. I became anxious to rediscover that same level of focus and connection with God. I was resolute in my determination to strengthen my relationship with God and experience His presence in my life.

My Journey through Many Spiritual Practices

spiritual wilderness
I started exploring many parallel spiritual ideas such as Vipasana, Chakra, Kundalini and Zen trying to find a way to realize that ultimate peace which I had experienced in my Salah as a kid.

Soon I acquired a roomful of books on so many different self-transformational methods.

I recall a time when I was able to attain a profound state of stillness by surrendering my mind to the enchanting flute music of Hariprasad Chaurasia. His music had a calming effect on me, and I ended up buying many of his albums such as the ‘Call of the Valley’ and the ‘Sounds of Silence.’

However, I soon realized that music could only bring me peace when I was already content. It didn’t have the same effect on me when I was upset or anxious. It didn’t provide me with the same sense of inner strength that I felt when I was able to connect with the presence of God.

I delved into the ‘Magical Passes’ of Carlos Castanada and interacted with individuals who claimed to have had mystical encounters with Castanada’s esoteric practices. Regrettably, despite reading almost all of Castanada’s books and joining a group in Toronto that practiced Magical Passes in a church basement, I didn’t experience any results.

I was much attracted to inspirational new-age philosophies such as Eckhart Tolles’ book, ‘The Power of Now.’ I got an audio version of his book and listened to it during my drive to work everyday.

I liked the idea of being present, but I didn’t know how to do it.

I continued my search and practiced zen meditation of simply sitting and focusing on my breath or on nothing at all. Zen masters encourage you to ask the question again and again, “Who are you?” and I tried it for a long time.

I was intrigued by Kensho, an enlightening encounter in the Zen tradition, that numerous individuals have reported experiencing during meditative retreats. Despite its brevity in comparison to actual awakening, I yearned for even a fleeting glimpse into the knowledge that could provide me with the fortitude to navigate a life that seemed to become increasingly difficult.

One of the Zen books that resonated with me was ‘Empty Cloud,’ an autobiographical work by Chinese Zen Master Xu Yun. Xu Yun meticulously describes his escape from home, living in isolation in the forest, and eventually gaining mystical abilities, including the power to see through walls.

I appreciated ‘Empty Cloud’ for numerous reasons. Xu Yun’s account of his journey appeared to be genuinely sincere, and I had no doubts about its authenticity. Unlike tales of bygone eras, Xu Yun lived in our time and passed away in 1959, making his autobiography an unblemished and genuine depiction of a sacred spiritual journey. It strengthened my belief that there is undoubtedly something beyond the complexities of everyday life.

Yet I continued on my search. To go beyond transient experiences of peace with Zen, I would need to go deeper in the practice instead of just focusing on my breath. Zen is a part of Buddhism and there are prayers and rituals that need to be followed.

I wasn’t prepared to abandon my faith and adopt another religion. Instead, I strongly believed that the issue lied within myself, and thus, I was determined to discover ways to enhance my own faith practice.

As I delved into various spiritual practices, I found myself craving more than just the typical advice on mindfulness and being present. I longed for a deeper connection with the spiritual world.

I needed something more than the mindfulness techniques to make my monkey brain quiet.

Drawn Back to the Core Tenets of Faith

islam is the straight path

During my journey, I had remained committed to practicing Salah. Many years back I had pledged to perform the five daily Salah prayers without fail, and I have always strived to keep that promise.

I did have some uplifting experiences in my prayers.

One day after Asr prayer my mind became completely serene. I no longer needed anything or worried about anything. Unfortunately that was very short lived and within a few minutes that experience completely dissolved.

One of my favorite books was one that had anecdotes from the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). When I used to be stressed, then reading the words of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) gave me peace. Once when saying Durood (prayer on the Prophet) something shifted in my mind and for several days I was completely at peace.

My father had purchased for my brother and myself, a copy of the Quran with translation and transliteration. I had also purchased many additional translations of the Quran. Once when reciting Ar-Rahman with full concentration, I sensed my mind becoming so quiet.

Achieving a quiet mind was not my end goal however. Quietude could be acquired through many ways, for example, by living as a hermit, by drugs and by meditation. Quietude in itself is no big deal.

The quietude I had experienced at different times in life could simply be a trick of the mind. At best it was a side benefit of prayer not the end goal.

Being able to connect with God was my real goal.

As Hazrat Rabia (ra) wrote, “I worship Thee for Thine own sake.” She yearned for closeness to God, not for mystical powers or worldly goods nor even for heavenly rewards. I realized that deep within me, I had the same longing to be with God.

How I Found My Way Back to My Own Faith

coming back to islam
I had become wary of teachers and writers and as such I had been hesitant to explore Sufi teachings. A lot of their writings seemed to be well-meaning exaggerations. What was the reality? Where was the simple connection to God?

One day, as if by miracle, I came across a little known book called Sufi Light by Ahmed Javid. What made this book truly remarkable was its simplicity. There were no obscure practices or complicated philosophy. The language was plain, and the prayers were ones that every Muslim already knew. The author’s personal journey revealed the transformative power of following a straightforward path, leading to a profound closeness to God.

Reading his words brought to mind a passage from the Quran, where the people demanded a miracle from the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), and he responded by saying that the Quran itself was the miracle. Through reading Dr. Javid’s book, I came to understand the incredible power of faith in its simple yet profound essence.

Dr. Javid’s book is an exposition of Quran and Hadith. What makes the book special is the sharing of personal experiences by the author. The author also shares insight into the Zikr practices such as the special significance of the word ‘Allah’ and how constantly remembering God with his blessed name can transform our lives.

Dr. Ahmed Javid comes from a deeply religious family. He has outlined prayers and Duas which every Muslim already knows. He has shared his own Zikr practice which includes reciting the 4 Quls, remembering God through His glorious names and the importance of engraving God’s name Allah in our hearts. The core tenets of the faith such as Salah and fasting are considered foundational practices and the Zikr practices are the additional ways of prayers.

Dr. Ahmed Javid has shared his own mystical experiences including meeting with beings from other realms and visions of other worlds. He is a doctor living and practicing in New York today and he certainly has no vested interest in publishing experiences for the sake of making money. In fact his books are the most authentic books that I have come across but he has not made any effort to promote them.

Many years back I had read the words of Irina Tweedie, a Sufi sage and the author of “Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master,” that the “teacher finds a student when the student is ready.” I have never met Dr. Javid but came to see him as a teacher through his writing.

As I read Sufi Light, I found myself really drawn to the author, Dr. Javid. He seemed like such a genuine and devout Muslim. By remaining steadfast in his faith, he has been blessed with a profound connection with God.

It dawned on me that perhaps I had lost touch with my faith and the teachings that my grandmother had instilled in me. It made me realize that I too could benefit from revisiting my faith and reacquainting myself with the teachings my grandmother had imparted to me.

Another book which has given me renewed confidence in my faith is Journey Through Ten Thousand Veils by Maryam Kabeer Faye. Maryam Kabeer Faye has explored many different spiritual practices and religions. She has deep respect for each faith. And then eventually she was guided to embrace Islam. I am grateful that she has shared her story in such detail.

Rediscovering the True Teachings of Sufis: The Spiritual and Religious Practices

Even after reading Dr. Javid’s books it took me a long time before I could start having confidence in my faith.

I continued my journey of exploration but this time I was more focused. I made a list of all the essential prayers and relearned to pray properly. It started as a personal project but then I decided to publish it as a book: Essential Muslim Prayers & Living a Devotional Life: A Beginner’s Guide to Salah, Prayers from Quran and Spiritualism in Islam.

As I researched in the ancient libraries and read the biographies of the Sufis, their real lives were revealed to me. Sheikh Junaid is said to have performed many hundred cycles of Salah prayers every day throughout his life. Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani during his sojourn in the deserts of Iraq would recite the complete Quran after Isha prayer till Fajr. All this information is never available to the common man through the bookshelves of the big box stores. Many such biographies are unfortunately available only as academic research papers not as easily readable matter.

If only I had access to the true teachings of the devout men and women, my wanderings in the spiritual wilderness would have been shorter. Regrettably, modern depictions of Sufis as poets, musicians, and dancers, or worse, misled me. I now know that they are individuals who have reached awe-inspiring spiritual heights.

The study of the Sufi tradition continues to be a very illuminating experience for me. In the following post, I have noted the evolution of Sufi thought and the chronological order of Sufi masters in the “Sufi Tradition Timeline Infopgrahic.

I aspire to present the lives and teachings of Sufi mystics in an authentic manner through my books, with the aim of making their wisdom accessible to all. My latest book, ‘The Lamps that Illuminated the World,’ delves into the mystical journeys of three revered Sufi masters: Sheikh al-Junaid, Hazrat Bayazid Bistami, and Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani. Through their incredible stories, readers can explore the profound wisdom and spirituality that continues to inspire people around the world.

Together on the Path: Sharing Spiritual Journeys

sharing spiritual journeys and personal spiritual experiences
The deluge of information pouring down on us about spirituality, religion and politics is very distracting. We are constantly pulled in so many directions ranging from good-intentioned events like mindfulness sessions at our work to divisive conversations about world peace and politics in the newspapers. There are many companies and vested interests who are selling products and apps for mindfulness.

The influence of such advertising can make us, and especially our children, vulnerable to seeking instant solutions for spiritual fulfillment. The new-age movement separates spirituality from religion. Easy to practice techniques that are supposedly free from any rituals such as meditation and mindfulness are presented as mental health cure-alls.

In a recent research nearly 60% of the meditation practitioners showed atleast one meditation-related adverse effect such as depression and trauma. According to Dalai Lama, this is largely due to the separation of the ‘spiritual practices’ from the overall framework of religion. Researchers agree that practicing ad-hoc mindfulness techniques may be as risky as consuming pills sold by a traveling salesman.

In this world of information overload, I am now trying to find my way back. The real-life experiences that the Sufis have shared helped me find my way back from the new-world philosophies.

I am thinking that there must be many more people who have had inspiring experiences of God. I believe we shall all benefit if we shared our personal spiritual journeys.

Following are some groups for sharing our experiences. Anything you share from your personal spiritual journey will be a blessing to everyone. We are all learning and have the same destination.

Closing Thoughts

There’s a certain magic in the early morning that always leaves me spellbound. I can still recall the breathtaking sight of driving down Iceland’s parkways with the sun rising behind me, setting up my art booth amidst the dewy grass at an early fair, and capturing the stunning beauty of swans bathed in morning light.

Although those moments left me exhilarated, there was always a nagging sense of something missing, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time.

It was only after I found my connection with God that I finally understood what I had been yearning for all along.

I have learned a lot in my journey so far. Initially, I had believed that the key to spirituality is quieting the mind – a feat I attempted to accomplish through yoga, music, and meditation. I had struggled to grasp the concepts of compassion and empathy in context of spiritual attainments. I primarily focused on achieving inner peace through silence.

It wasn’t until later on that I finally understood that becoming a kinder and humbler human being was the next crucial step in my personal growth. The story of The Sage and the Beggar made me think that for spiritual attainments, I needed to become a better person and not just have a quiet mind.

I also learned that I need God’s help in my prayers. It is His Kindness that He allows us to seek His blessings.

I need to get rid of my pride. I remember reading a story about how Mevlana Bastami in his humility stepped down from the road to allow a dog to pass. I, on the other hand, get annoyed if I need to make way for human beings. But at least I am learning to distinguish between right and wrong.

I wish I could say that I have reached my destination. Perhaps it is a never ending quest. However, the journey itself is sweeter now. I sense that God is always with me and with all of us. I feel confident in my prayers. I hope my story helps everyone in some way.

My List of Sufi Books and Prayers