Reading the “Poem of the Sufi Way” as the final work this semester, seems the most fitting way to end a course that captured the varied life experiences of these ancient mystics. From Rabi’a to Ansari, the philosophies and practices of numerous Sufis came to life in al-Farid’s prose. From this poem al-Farid connects all Sufi fraternities into one great whole; there is no separation of belief, just separate methods of expression. Perhaps the most compelling stanza in his poem is found on page 141. Stanza 237 reads:
For after I fought, I witnessed
that he who made me see,
my guide to me, was me—
me, my own example.
The first line implies a struggle against some force. The opposing force is not defined as each Sufi will encounter their own struggle in their own time. Whether that struggle comes in the form of power, wealth, fame, hunger, abuse, or even a lack of faith, each person on the Sufi path will only have a witness after they struggle. It would appear that the victory over the struggle is not the important part, for there is no mention of a win, but the glory is found through the tribulation and not around it. This means that the seeker must come to accept what is placed before them and not try to avoid it or become something that they are not. The Sufi must not only accept the world in which they live, but they ought to also forge through the obstacles that stand in their way.
The line “that he who made me see,” implies the existence of a force outside of oneself that has significant power over the individual. To force one into seeing something that was not already known reveals that the revealer comes from beyond the realms of the known world. When the seeker acquires the knowledge that can only come from beyond the known realms, they have transcended into a new sphere of existence. This transcendence is a true religious experience as they are now left to interpret the unknown witness into the known language of those that surround them.
Al-Farid reveals the revealer in the next line: “my guide to me, was me—“. This captures the Sufi principle of union between the Creator and the creations. When one moves beyond their profane knowledge into the realm of the sacred, they have joined with the source of all knowing. This line also shows the importance of the individual along the path to attain union with the divine. While there may be many fraternities to join and masters to learn from, the most important teacher to be found along the path is the student who wants to learn. This is reinforced with the final line “me, my own example.” No matter what a person may want to learn from another further along the Sufi path, there is no greater teacher than the very student in learning the correct way to travel, for there are many different ways to get to a single destination.
The reason this stanza resonated with me more than any other in the poem is because this captures my own personal and religious philosophies more than any other. It is important to learn from others, but they can never be a suitable substitute for what I have to teach myself. The union that one seeks to find with the Divine will not be found in following the path of others, for the Divine speaks to each in their own way. The masters who have gone on before are great to use as a general template for life’s path, but they ought not to be used as the only source of knowledge. Why should the Divine communicate to and elevate a person who cannot communicate to and elevate themselves? The struggle that each of us face is unique therefore the path we choose must be unique also. The emphasis on the individual found in al-Farid’s poem truly embodies the many varied works of the Sufi masters who preceded him.