There should be a song called “COVID on my mind”, because that’s all that we are thinking about and talking about. Instead of “when will this end”, my question is now “will this ever end”? I suspect never, and that contrary to what we thought, life will be so different going forward; we thought life was different after 9/11, especially as American Muslims, but this shock (by nature instead of man) is incredibly more impactful. In one fell swoop, all of humanity has been humbled by God and nature. I believe we avoided many worse outcomes, such as climate crises, which at least have been pushed off a bit by the slowing down of economies. Let’s just hope that this collective humility is unifying and not polarizing, although every time I hear about somebody throwing a tantrum because they are told to wear a mask in a store, I wonder and feel sorry for their lack of humility.
When I think about humility, I cannot avoid thinking of most faiths and traditions – from Taoism to Islam, where humility is a foundational teaching. And when I think of humility, I am lucky to have the best example right in my backyard. Shaikh Yurdaer of Jerrahi Order of America and his order of dervaishes live by the principles of extreme humility, and I am lucky to observe and learn from them. Oddly enough, COVID has accelerated my learning through weekly Zoom and YouTube sessions, one of the amazing contributions of new technologies and social media in the COVID era.
From my observation and gradual participation, Sufis spend a lot of time remembering Allah and Prophet Mohammed and the beautiful attributes as expressed in the 99 names of Allah. And to clarify, there is no Sufism without Islam- the foundation is the religion itself with additional practices to deepen the spiritual path. They yearn to reach the eternal by using each attribute as a beacon for their own behavior. So, there is a lot of internal work and constant self-examination and reflection of how one is living those values. That process – in itself- is humbling. There is very little focus on others’ behavior, as the work is with oneself.
Every act of serving others is seen as “ibadat” or worship, so it is done with great pleasure and joy. So, the focus shifts from our own comfort, our ego’s pleasures, or the effort we expend to the joy or satisfaction we give to others. I love this one especially, as it takes away most complaints or issues in life- especially our petty first world problems- and on top of it gives incredible internal satisfaction. The caveat of course is not to do it for show or so that others appreciate or acknowledge you, because that defeats the purpose.
As eternal beings we are constantly wanting to be closer to our Creator, even in this temporal life. So, Sufis try to experience that closeness to the Creator by transcending the temporal and material. This does not mean withdrawing from ordinary life- indeed it means living in each present moment more fully but living purposefully too. It means thinking about our own purpose on this Planet and how we are fulfilling it, and how it is serving humanity. For me, this has caused me to constantly ask the question: how am I using this down-time in the worst pandemic we have ever experienced to refocus on completing my purpose here? What should I be doing, that if I don’t do now, I will regret when things get busy again?
So, humility is woven throughout Sufi principles, or indeed all faiths. Indeed, all faiths have some form of prostration to the Divine as part of their ritual, very much like the daily Muslim prayer where we touch our foreheads to the ground. The following quote helps contrast humility to pride from the sayings of Hazrat Inayat Khan (https://wahiduddin.net/mv2/IX/IX_7.htm):
“Although humility is painful to the pride of man, the joy of humility is never known by the proud. The effect produced upon a man’s own feeling is as if, by his very humility, he had opened the doors of the shrine of God which is in the heart of man. He who asks forgiveness of his friend, feels a joy that the friend does not know. And it must not be forgotten that it is not pride that gives joy, but humility, which gives a special joy.”