Visitor: When did Muhammad live? Did Muhammad and Abraham live at the same time?
Sheikh Nur: Abraham lived maybe two thousand years before Jesus. Muhammad, upon him be peace, lived around the year 600 of the Common Era. But Abraham and Muhammad were twin brothers. Both believed in one universal religion rather than in separate religions. We adore Muhammad, upon him be peace, because he received the Holy Quran and is still helping us spiritually. He thought that sincere Jews and Christians would join with him. He did not think he was starting another religion. He thought it was very peculiar to separate different religions coming from the same root of Abraham. There are many people today who belong consciously to the universal religion of Abraham. They cannot see any essential distinction between Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other noble traditions. The Prophet Muhammad was like Abraham—just an upright person who did not think that he was founding a separate religion but was, by Allah’s decree, simply pointing out the one universal religion, as all the Messengers have done. Allah reveals in the Quran, “I have sent a messenger to every nation in history, bearing the same essential message.” There is no invisible border at the Mediterranean and on the far side of Syria beyond which no prophet has ever appeared. Every spiritual nation in history has received at least one prophet. Universal religion is that seamless prophetic vision of human history as already fully immersed in Divine Reality, however it may be expressed by different cultures.
I think such understanding would appeal to a modern individual. Perhaps the teaching of Prophet Muhammad may be especially relevant for a planetary civilization. He was a planetary person living before there was any genuine planetary civilization.
Muhammad and Abraham were both convinced by God that there is only one religion. At a certain point in the Islamic daily prayers, we ask Divine Peace to descend upon Abraham and Muhammad. We single out these two Messengers in particular. You had an intuitive sense about that. They did not have historical contact, but they do have important inner contact.
Visitor: When our soul leaves our body and we are in the gardens of Paradise, is there a community where we help one another again, or is it exclusively an experience with Allah?
Sheikh Nur: Certainly souls commune with one another in Paradise. They answer each other’s burning questions. Paradise is a communal experience. The picture of Paradise revealed by Quran is not individual yogis sitting in trance and communing only with Allah. The souls are seated together at spiritual banquets and drink together from spiritual springs. There is deep mutuality in Paradise consciousness. There is eternal companionship. Since there is no physical time in Paradise, there is no morning prayer or evening prayer. There is no sun in Paradise. Everything is radiating its own mystic light. But even without a temporal form of prayer, there is communion. There are dervish dhikr circles in Paradise. The circles of Divine Remembrance in Paradise are amazing. The inner circle is composed of the 124,000 prophets, with the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, taking the role of the sheikh. That is just the inner circle. Around it circle all the mystic saints, and around them, all the other lovers, and around them anyone who loved any of these human beings.
I was studying the Prophet’s oral tradition today. He reported something wonderful directly from Allah Most High. Allah has angels that go looking for gatherings just like this one we are experiencing right now, circles of Divine Remembrance—speaking about Divine Reality, invoking Divine Reality, contemplating Divine Reality, expressing Divine Reality. When an angel finds a place like this, he calls to the other angels, “Come to witness!” The angels come and surround this earthly circle of lovers, and their angelic wings extend into the heavenly realms. Allah now tells the angels, “You are My witnesses. I forgive and absolve everyone in this circle because of their intensity, because of their love.” One of the angels objects, “But Allah . . .”Angels can speak only from their angelic intelligence, which is limited. Human beings are much more exalted than angels. This is the teaching of both the Eastern Orthodox Church and Islam. Our task is not to become like angels. Our exalted spiritual task is to become true human beings, who have a higher station than angelic beings. Human beings are intimate in the Divine Play. Angels do not play with Allah. Angels are very serious. They do not taste the ecstatic union with Essence. They whirl around the throne and bring messages to the planetary plane. They are obedient and loving, but they do not have our potential spiritual subtlety. They cannot have the experience of merging with Reality and reemerging as eternal Divine Companions, as Light within Light. They are creations. The human soul, in an essential sense, is not a creation.
So the angel objects, from his limited angelic intelligence, “But Allah, there is a person in this circle who is not really part of these people. He came for a different purpose, with some other agenda.” Allah replies, “Everyone in this circle is part of the circle.” That covers us. We may think, I came here for another reason. Perhaps all of us do not feel that our motivation in coming here tonight was pure love or pure longing for truth. Maybe our mind was wandering. Maybe we do not think we are really part of all this. But Allah sees us as part of the circle. The people of remembrance, the Sufis who make these circles of Divine Remembrance, gather all their friends and loved ones, not only physically but spiritually. For instance, right here and now, all our parents are with us, whether they are still on earth or their souls have passed to the next world. Why? Because our parents are spiritually inseparable from us. They are always with us. Since we are thinking of them, consciously or unconsciously, they are here. Our friends, everyone our hearts are joined with, are together with us in this circle tonight. If you look in this room at this circle, it appears rather small, but if you add all family, all loved ones, and all people whose hearts are genuinely connected with everyone in this room, we would have more than a stadium full of people. This is what the sacred circle is. Allah says, “I forgive everyone in this circle for their intensity and their love.” You Noetic Sciences people do not have to come back here. The blessing is not incremental. One does not have to attend every week in order to be forgiven and transformed.
Sheikha Fariha: Each one will find happiness?
Sheikh Nur: Not a single person in this room will fail to achieve complete fulfillment. It’s not that some are along for the ride and will receive only a partial blessing. No. Everyone here will achieve complete fulfillment. All of humanity is circling around the Messengers. We are all part of the circle of Abraham, the circle of Moses, the circle of Jesus, the circle of Buddha, the circle of Krishna. This has already been accomplished by Allah. This is Allah’s infinite Mercy. No amount of human stubbornness and stupidity can impede infinite Mercy.
Dervish Farhad Fatima: When souls meet and talk to each other and commune with each other, is there gender?
Sheikh Nur: Physical gender is like the star and moon Abraham saw. The star indicated magnificence, and the moon indicated beauty. So let’s say that masculine physical gender might indicate certain divine qualities and feminine physical gender might indicate certain other divine qualities, or different configurations of the same qualities. Everything in the so-called physical universe is a living symbol, a teaching about what is beyond. In this biological existence, our gender is a teaching and a symbol of something beyond. There is also gender in Paradise. Of course, it is not biological gender. It is a spiritual quality that remains without any biological implications but with implications for ecstatic love and union and the special relationship between souls. It is hard to imagine Paradise. Since all the souls there are facets of one infinite diamond of Awareness, we might say that all souls in Paradise are married to each other, and they experience the delight of union that in earthly life husband and wife experience together. Quran says that the delight experienced by lovers on earth is a mirror reflection of the delight experienced in Paradise. Any genuine Tantric practitioner will tell you that. Gender and sexuality are symbols for much greater levels of experience. There are husbands and wives in Paradise, but it is not an exclusive relationship, as it is on earth, and it is certainly not a biological relationship, yet it manifests much more intense delight than its earthly counterpart.
Basically, everything that is of value on earth—every structure of value—is recreated or re-manifested in its essentiality in the realm of Paradise. If when you were twelve years old you happened to be walking in the woods one winter and saw a rabbit crossing a fresh field of snow and it looked pure and pristine and free and you remember that and cherish that, it will be in Paradise. This does not mean there will be snow in Paradise or a rabbit. The essential reality of that experience will be in Paradise. Allah willing, every human being that you have known intimately and loved will be in Paradise in an essentialized, purified way.
Paradise is not just a little garden somewhere. It is not a story to tell children. It is a vast expanse of all the moments, structures, and beings of value that have ever manifested in time anywhere in the universe. That is really what Paradise is. The Prophet, upon him be peace, reported that the Archangel Gabriel once flew upon his wings of unobstructed intuition—these are not physical wings—the Archangel once flew in every direction to find the border of Paradise and could not find it. That is how big it is. The Prophet walked over the far boundary of Paradise and stepped into the Garden of Essence. This is what all of us must do. This is why human beings are higher than angels and archangels. Angels cannot even find the border of Paradise, whereas we human beings have to go to that border and cross it.
Archangel Gabriel was with the Prophet, upon him be peace, at that ultimate moment of crossing during his mystic night journey, his miraj, because the Archangel was always with the Prophet. They were inseparable companions, beloved companions. Miraculously and suddenly, by Allah’s Permission and Mercy, the Prophet reached the edge of Paradise, which the Archangel could never find on his own. Then the Archangel addressed the Prophet: “I cannot cross that boundary, because I am part of creation. That is beyond creation. Paradise is still part of creation. I cannot go across that boundary. I would be incinerated. I do not have the Divine Permission. I am a creation, but you, O Muhammad, are the very embodiment of the Divine Essence.” All human beings are the Divine Essence breathed by Allah into the most beautiful form. Muhammad, upon him be peace, never suggested that he was structurally different from any human being. The Archangel proclaimed, “You are the embodiment of the Divine Essence. That is your homeland over there. Go!” The Prophet did not remain in the Garden of Essence, however. He went and he came back again as Mercy to the Worlds. That is the whole point of Islamic mysticism or Sufi meditation. One does not remain in the Garden of Essence. One merges and then reemerges as the Divine Energies, or Attributes, in the beautiful play of eternal companionship.
Visitor: Are Paradise and the Garden of Essence separate?
Sheikh Nur: Yes. Two different planes of reality, let’s say.
Visitor: Is Paradise unlimited?
Sheikh Nur: Paradise is unlimited from the perspective of the Archangel. Gabriel cannot find the limit of it. But it is limited, because there is an end to it, because it is a creation. Allah created it. Creation is not infinite. Only the Source of Creation is infinite, although creation mysteriously mirrors the infinity of its Source.
Visitor: So creation is a certain limited area. Can you bound it? Can you measure it?
Sheikh Nur: Well, if Archangel Gabriel could not find its limit, we might have trouble doing so. Certainly, the scientists will not be able to bound or measure creation with their empirical tools or their mathematics. But the point is that the Prophet, by Allah’s permission, could do it. He was representing all human beings. Our calling is not just to Paradise. This is a misunderstanding. “All I want is Paradise. Get me out of this world.” This is not the Sufi attitude. Paradise is a stepping stone to the Garden of Essence, which is our true home, but we immediately come forth again from that state of merging and are manifest subtly throughout all planes of being in companionship with all beings and the radiant Source of Being.
Visitor: When you die, you go to Paradise?
Sheikh Nur: Unfortunately, when persons die they can go to some illusory places that they have dreamed up themselves through their own discord and negativity—bizarre, terrible, deceptive places. The Quran calls this the experience of hellfire.
Dervish Medina: After the merging into Essence, there is the reemerging into the state of Paradise. Paradise is created. How can the soul, which has merged with Essence, reenter creation?
Sheikh Nur: The soul becomes Paradise. It is not really reentry. When the soul merges, there is no more soul and Lord. There is only Supreme Reality. Supreme Reality is manifesting right now as the earth-plane and as the Paradise-plane. Supreme Reality is not “entering” creation. There is only Supreme Reality.
Dervish Medina: But you said before that the light of the soul and the Light of the Essence still coexist at that point.
Sheikh Nur: Yes, but this coexistence is a play that the Divine alone is performing. The Divine is transparently playing as soul and Lord. We now no longer imagine that we are separate souls engaging in this play of coexistence. There is a subtle difference here from souls on the spiritual path who are seeking their Lord or even meeting their Lord. This nondualistic coexistence is our deeply sought Sufi meditation.
This dervish meeting hall is a laboratory. We are much more advanced here in our considerations than the most advanced atomic physicists or the most advanced mathematicians. We are discussing here dimensions that are way beyond the ken of their disciplines. They are wonderful people and are doing good work, but we have to be honest about this difference in level. We are presenting here a level that only the most exalted revelation touches. We are not patting ourselves on the back and saying, “Aren’t we great.” We are simply saying, “Isn’t it wonderful that normal human beings like us can sit together and talk about this!” We cannot really talk about the depth of modern physics unless we spend ten years studying advanced mathematics. But any human being, through scriptural guidance, can comprehend the deep nature of Creation, Paradise, and Essence, which is infinitely more advanced than the study of physics or mathematics.
Our meeting tonight is like being companions in the circle around the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace. This is just the kind of spiritual discussion they held together in the ancient desert of Arabia. This process of deep questioning is exactly what the Hadith, the oral tradition of Islam, came out of. Our discussion is not one bit less profound, because we are basing it on Quran and Hadith. This moment is revelatory. We do not usually speak of our evenings here this way, because we do not think about it, we just do it. But since the Noetic Science Association is visiting, we looked at it for a second from your eyes. Tonight is not an introduction to Sufism; it simply is Sufism. This is why we decided to meet here. This is why I did not come to your place. I thought, “Why not bring them to the mosque? Bring them to the laboratory and show them the way we work.” Now you see what we are investigating. Now you feel it for yourselves. This is total Sufism.
Visitor: It has been a wonderful experience.
Sheikh Nur: For us, too. You bring something special. All of you. You bring a presence and a vibration of something very pure. Our Sheikh Muzaffer Ashki, who passed away from the surface world in 1985, would be overjoyed to meet with you and talk with you because he was interested in introducing Islamic Sufism on a universal plane, not in a ghetto situation with Muslims here, Christians over there, Jews over there, and atheists over there. He wanted to introduce Islamic Sufism in a way that would be accessible to everyone who had the heart, not as a segregated religion. He would be very happy to meet all of you. Through me, he is meeting you tonight and you are meeting him.
Masjid al-Farah, October 10, 1994