Naqshi Boys Hit Sydney HarbourOn the evening of 3 June 2005, the waters of Sydney Harbour played host to a boatload of dervishes.
Actually, this article is not just about a sufi harbour cruise. You don’t believe me? Read on.
Some 10 years back, God blessed me with an opportunity to visit Canberra. Now normally I associate Canberra with excessive boredom. My father studied in Canberra, and as children we frequently had to endure boring trips where he would have reunions with his fellow academics. They would gas-bag for hours on end, boring us to tears with their exploits at various symposiums and who they met and what papers they had recently written.
Ironically, my 1995 trip to Canberra also involved an introduction to an academic. But this academic was no boring figure. This Professor was the leader of one of the largest Muslim movements in the Turkish-speaking world.
Professor Mahmud Esad Cosan (pronounced “Joshan”) taught history, literature and Islamic studies at Ankara University. He spoke fluent Turkish, Arabic and German. He was well-spoken, well travelled and very rich. He made much of his money from property developments, and his movement is the source of much of the “green money” that bankrolls moderate conservative parties currently ruling the Turkish roost.
Yet Professor Cosan was the complete opposite of all the professors I had met as a child. For a start, he made time for children and youth. One of the last public appearances he made before his death in a car accident was to go on a picnic with young people. He was seen jumping and running in a game of volleyball. He was seen laughing and joking and smiling with his running shoes on and his head uncovered.
My fondest memories of Professor Cosan were of him allowing his serious discourse to be disturbed by a young girl hardly 3 years old wanting to sit in his lap and recite a short surah. He would listen intently and then place a big kiss on her cheek before taking a toffee out of his pocket to present as a reward.
I am pleased to say that Professor Cosan, for reasons beyond anyone’s understanding, considered my not-so-good-self amongst his students. On the morning of 4 June 1998, I was getting ready to fly out of Sydney to visit a Brazilian girl I had met on the internet. She was a huge Rumi fan, and I had told her about my meetings with Professor Cosan who was also a huge Rumi fan.
On that morning, as I was making a life-changing journey, I whispered into the ear of one of my religious teachers that I wanted to declare my allegiance to Professor Cosan as my spiritual preceptor (murshid). Imam Muammer was pleased to hear of my decision. After the fajr (pre-dawn) prayer was completed, Imam Muammer asked Professor Cosan if he was prepared to accept me as a murid (student). Professor Cosan responded words to the following effect:
“You are already my student. You do not need any special ceremony. Muammer, show him how we do our wird and dhikr.”
When I started this article, I intended telling you all about us Naqshi boys hitting Sydney harbour on a ferry. Instead, I have gone onto a tangent about our Naqshbandi spiritual preceptor. So getting back to the topic …
Most of us there were of Turkish background. I am considered an honorary Turk, given that both my grandfathers had Turkish names and were of Mughal ancestry. Amongst our ranks were boys of all ages and sizes. We were joined by some 5 ‘hocas’ (pronounced ‘hojja’ and having the same meaning as the titles of imam or shaykh or mawlana). Each hoca was a young man of Turkish background. Our hocas had studied in different parts of the world, with one having 2 masters degrees and in the process of finishing his PhD at a university in Australia.
The program consisted of food, water and 8 “lucky-door” prizes. There was plenty of hommous, baklava and lots of other goodies to ruin my diet. But more delicious was the company.
I dunno what it is about sufis. They really are superb company. It doesn’t matter who they are or which tariqa they follow. I have never seen sufis do anything but smile and offer hospitality. And tonight was no exception.
I have no doubts I was the worst out of a very good lot. I kind-of felt left out. I was talking my usual nonsense, complaining and whinging about Muslims and how hopeless we are. And these brothers were just patiently listening and gently diverting my attention to the beautiful lights of Sydney harbour.
How do these brothers attain such peace? Are they, in reality, a bunch of rocket scientists?
These brothers all have troubled lives. They have divorces. Some have disabled children. Some have depressed and mentally ill family members. Some are out of jobs or have stresses of study and work. Yet whether I see them on a Naqshbandi harbour cruise or at the local kebab shop, they are composed and with faces beaming smiles.
I thought of all these things as I was being rocked by the harbour waves. Then I realised what it was.
These boys had made the same pledge that I had. They had allowed themselves to become students of the same shaykh, the same Professor Cosan. The only difference was that they had been true to their pledge. I had failed to be as true.
I travelled to Brazil, fell in love, was forced to fall out of love, carried on with my old ways, allowed myself to fall ill, failed to look after myself physically and spiritually and emotionally. I had missed countless prayers, had not kept up with my wird and my dhikr. I had used the inability of many of my Naqshi brothers to speak English (or perhaps my inability to speak Turkish) to keep away from their circles. I was the sheep that strayed away from the flock and was being devoured by the wolves of life.
But on this night, I had returned to the flock. Whilst gobbling down Turkish pastries and sweets, I had rediscovered the sweet spiritual presence of my shaykh in the company of his students. Amongst these well-dressed European dervishes in their smart leather jackets and nicely-trimmed beards, I once again felt like I had reached my spirit’s home.
Anyway readers, it is now 2am. I guess I had better go to sleep now if I am to have any hope of insh'Allah rising for fajr to renew my pledge.