Paper Presented at the Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame, Feb. 7, 2012.
At the beginning, I feel obliged to thank God Almighty for giving me time and success to attend this gathering of truth-loving people, who seek nothing but the eternal truth.
According to the Islamic tenet that: “من لم یشکر المخلوق، لم یشکر الخالق” (whoever does not thank the created, he is not bound to thank The Creator), I would also like to thank
Dr. John C. Cavadini, the esteemed Mc Grath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life, upon his kind invitation I am attending this august gathering, and my dear friend Dr. Rasoul Rasoulipour who has kindly arranged everything for my presence, and the last, but not the least, all you dear professors, students, and most dear colleagues and spiritual leaders, without your valuable presence no such gathering would ever happen.
I am sure I will benefit a lot from your gracious presence and that this sincere gathering can bring our hearts closer to each other and to the Compassionate and Merciful God. Inshallah.
The Second introductory point is that my old specializations are petroleum engineering and business administration (B.S, and M.S. degrees respectively), but more recently, back in 1986, or more than 25 years ago, I have received my Ph.D. in comparative religious studies from Theologiska Institutionen of Uppsala University, Sweden. But, today, I am not going to talk to you from that perspective, rather from the perspective of a man somehow familiar with the Islamic mysticism, or as we call it in Arabic and Farsi, “عرفان و تصوف” (Irfan and Tasawwuf). I have written some books and articles in this area and have also translated some good books in this field too, including Annemarie Schimmel’s Introduction to Islam and Mystical Dimensions of Islam and Sachiko Murata and William Chittick’s “the Vision of Islam”.
Furthermore, in about half a century of my adult life, I have met quite a few of Men of God or “اولیاءالله” (Au’lia’ Allah) and have served at least three of them, one of which I am going to introduce to you afterward.
Nevertheless, all in all, I am a Shiite/Muslim scholar, and so everything I say or describe is basically from that point of view. Hence, although I am also familiar with some of the Men of God, old and new, and agnostic concepts in other religious traditions, yet I will not permit myself to talk about them at all and will leave their introduction to the representatives of those traditions present in our gathering.
The fourth and final point is that although the Men of God can be found under any guise (clergy, non-clergy, and even in military uniform) and with any profession (jurist, poet, philosopher, university professor, artist, craftsman, employee, student, etc.), yet in the Islamic culture they are collectively called “Urafa” and “Mutisawwefeh” (Gnostics and Sufis) and their path is called “Irfan” and “Tasawwuf ” (Gnosticism and Sufism) which, for the sake of simplicity and ease of reference, I will call them the same, accordingly.
- Gnosticism and Sufism in Islamic Sources
In order to be brief, we will only mention the Men of God (Aulia’ al-Allah) in the holy Quran, the sacred book of Muslims, and two other Shiite sources, thus leaving time for our main discussion of Men of God in day-to-day life and action, especially their outstanding characteristic of love and compassion towards their fellow men.
In Quran, “Men of God” are called “ولیالله” (Valiullah), “Vali” being from the root of “Vilayat” meaning friendship, custody, guardianship, etc, a qualification first and foremost attributed to the God Almighty, the prophet, and the holy Imams (Ahl al-Bait), which we categorize all of them under the title of “ولایت خاصه” (specific or particular Vilayat). When it comes to “ولایت عامه” or the “Vilayat” of the believers at large, which can be attributed to almost anybody who qualifies for it.
According to the Quran, what makes human beings to attain the high level of
“ولی الله” or the friend of God is perfect faith in God, piety, sincerity, recollection (Zikr), and service to others by doing good deeds.
Also, when the “Men of God” reach that spiritual level, what we notice most in their conduct is having no fear, anxiety or sorrow, resoluteness in word and action, complete satisfaction vis-à-vis God, being informed of other people’s thoughts and actions, hearing the praise of all the creatures, resemblance of word and action, denying all sorts of cruelty, and finally annihilation in God and thus attaining permanence in God.
For us, the Shiite Muslims, next to the sacred book of Quran and the holy Prophet’s tradition, the most important text is “Nahj al-Balaqa” (نهجالبلاغه) of Imam Ali, the first holy Imam of Shi’ites, which is a collection of his sermons, letters, and maxims. Amongst the many passages of Imam Ali on the subject of Islamic Gnosticism and the Men of God, I would like to quote the following passage which specifically deals with the subject matter.
Describing “السالک الطریق الیالله” (the wayfarer towards God), the holy Imam says:
“قد احیا عقله، و امات نفسه، حتی دق جلیله، و لطف غلیظه، و برق له لامع کثیر البرق، فأبان له الطریق، و سلک به السبیل، و تدافعته الابواب الی باب السلامۀ، و دار الاقامه، و ثبتت رجلاه بطمأنینه بدنه فی قرار الامن و الراحه، بما استعمل قلبه، و ارضی ربّه” Meaning: “The Man of God is one who has revived his mind and intellect and has killed his desires and passions, till his body become thin, his bulk turned light, and effulgence of extreme brightness shone for him. It lightened the way for him and took him on the right path. Different doors led him to the door of safely and his place of permanent stay…”.
Meaning: “The Man of God is one who has revived his mind and intellect and has killed his desires and passions, till his body become thin, his bulk turned light, and effulgence of extreme brightness shone for him. It lightened the way for him and took him on the right path. Different doors led him to the door of safely and his place of permanent stay…”.
Along with this same line, let us quote another passage from the third Shiite Imam-Imam Husain- who is so famous in defending Islamic values against the corrupt Umayyides ruler Yazid, sacrificing the life of himself and all of his seventy-two companions.
“… انت الذی اشرقت الانوار فی قلوب اولیائک حتی عرفوک و وحّدوک، و انت الذی ازلت الاغیار عن قلوب احبائک حتی لم یحبّوا سواک و لم یلجئوا الی غیرک، انت المونس لهم حیث اوحشتهم العوالم و انت الذی هدیتهم حیث استبانت لهم المعالم، ماذا وجد من فقدک؟ و ما الذی فقد من وجدک؟ لقد خاب من رضی دونک بدلاً، و لقد خسر من بغی عنک متحولاً“
Meaning: “It is you the God that have set aglow in the hearts of your friends till they have attained the position of knowing you and attesting your Oneness, and this is you the God that have eliminated all others from the hearts of your friends, so that they do not love anyone except You and they do not take refuge in anyone except You. When the material world frightens them to the extreme, You are their true friend and associate, and when pseudo-signs and false arguments distance them from God, You guide them to the right way. If one does not find You, what else he has found; and if one finds You, then what remains that he has lost? Whoever satisfied himself with anything except You, he really sustained a big loss, and whoever asked anything except from Your door, he experienced a great loss”.
With this short introduction of “Gnosticism” and “mysticism” in Islamic sources, we like to add that some scholars, including intellectuals, orientalists, and even religious priests, have asserted that Islamic mysticism is a “foreign” / “imported” entity, having originated from Hinduism, Christianity, or Jewish mystical traditions which, in our opinion, is a totally misguided Judgment.
- Contemporary Men of God
Not mentioning the long history of one thousand four hundreds years of Islamic mysticism, with such renowned figures as Ibn-e Arabi, Ghazali, Mawlavi, Attar, Hafiz, and others, we come to the present age of Shi’ite Islam Gnosticism, again with great figures both among clergies and non-clergies, men like Seyyed Ali Ghazi, Ayatullah Shahabadi, Mirza Javad Agha Maleki, Ayatullah Khomeini, Ayatullah Keshmiri, Ayatullah Mujtahedi, Allama Tabatabai, Seyyed Hasanali Nokhodaki and others amongst the clergies, and men like Rajabali Khayyat, Elahi-e Ghomshei, head of many Sufi orders, Doulabi, Mirza Hassan Maragheie, Agha-ye Malaknia, Muhammad Mohseni, and others amongst the non-clergies which, as previously stated, I am somehow familiar with at least ten of them, and have accompanied/serviced at least three of them for about 20-30 years, one of which I am going to introduce in more details below.
But, before that, I would like to present my own definition of the Men of God or the perfect Men in Islamic mysticism.
- Men of God: A Definition
In Islamic “Irfan and Tasawwuf”, there are more than a thousand definitions for the term “Sufi” alone! Without going into any details of the difference between an “Arif” and a “Sufi”, following is my rather general definition applying to all of them:
Men of God , Aualiaye Ilahi” (friends of God, saints, etc) or Perfect Men are those graced people who, due to their perfect “iman” (belief), “Zuhd” (asceticism), “Taqwa” (piety), and “Fikr” (meditation), “Zikr” (recollection) and “Khidmat” (service to others), accompanied by the will of God, have eliminated all the veils of delusions and superficial appearances from their hearts and eyes, and so their (inner) eye is illuminated with the light of God, thus see what the others do not see and hear what the others do not hear. In other words, the eye of their hearts has opened up to the realm of intuitional presence and witness (of God).
مردان خدا پرده پندار دریدند/ یعنی همهجا غیرخدا هیچ ندیدند
The Men of God torn the veils of illusion. Meaning that they did not see anything but
God everywhere (Foroughi Bastami)
ره عقل جز پیچ در هیچ نیست / بر عارفان جز خدا هیچ نیست
The way of intellect is but a winding and twisting path. Near the Sufi saints, there is nothing but the God. (Sa’di)
- A Sample of the Garden of Islamic Mysticism
My dear friend Dr. Rasouli-pour has already informed you about Mr. Doulabi, one the great Sufi saints of contemporary Iran, who passed away recently. I knew him rather well, having met him in Sufi circles many times. Indeed, he was one of the ten renowned Sufi saints of present Iran whom I said I knew and had dealt with. Although he was not amongst the three Men of God whom I said I have met and serviced thoroughly.
These three personalities were:
- Ali-Asgar Malaknia (Nasir Alishah) (1911-1998).
- Seyyed Ibrahim Khosravi (1921-2010).
- Seyyed Mohammad Mohseni (1927- …).
Considering the fact that the first two persons on the list have already passed away, I will briefly explain the third one, who is still a living contemporary Man of God.
The Sufi-saint, “al-Arif bi-Allah” (one who is knowledgeable about God), the murshid (guide) of the Sufi way, and informed about the truth secrets, divine man, whose very existence is a sign and proof of God on earth, the perfect Man of God, Seyyed Muhammad Mohseni (b. 1927), is an old rural man, not much educated, and very much busy with agriculture & farming. He is born from peasantry family in Dezful, a city south of Iran in Khuzestan province, eighty-five years ago. Mr. Mohseni still lives in Dezful, although makes a frequent trip to Tehran and other cities in Iran, especially the religious cities of Qom and Mashhad, and has a farm, a shop, a school, and most important than all, a big “Khanegah” (monastery) there. He has also recently constructed a huge restaurant and reception area in Dezful, for the poor people who can not afford to pay for their marriage ceremony costs. He also has tens of thousands of disciples both in that city and other cities of Iran. His followers come from all strata of the society and are a mixture of the old and new generations, young and the elderly, poor and wealthy, educated and illiterate, men and women, clergy and laity, etc. Mr. Mohseni has also constructed a big monastery and clinic in Tehran, and small monasteries in Shiraz, Isfahan, and other places.
Disciples of Mr. Mohseni have so far published three collections of his mystical poems, plus one or two pamphlets of his biography and some important sayings.
During my thirty years of encounter with Mr. Mohseni, I have heard a lot of valuable advises and have noticed many strange wonders which certainly can not be said all here.
Yet, I will try to quote some of his most influential utterances later on, so that it may benefit some interested listeners.
Following is a brief list of Mr. Mohseni’s main qualifications:
- The Traits of a Man of God, in practice
If I want to describe a few of the more important qualifications of the Reverend Haji Agha Mohseni, the following twenty-four characteristics will come to the mind first:
- Perfect belief in God, prophet, and holy Imams.
- The vision of these sacred beings, plus all other holy saints and divine prophets with an inner eye.
- The vision of the kingdom of heaven, angels, Jinns, the abode of limbo, and the Hell with the same inner eye.
- Seeing the light of the righteous good-doers and the darkness of evil-doers with the normal eye.
- Familiarity with the hidden worlds, the ways of heaven, the world of light, and in a word, the inner world.
- Familiarity with the secrets of mysticism and the way of conduct towards God and salvation.
- Passing through the visible aspect of the things and comprehending the inner truth of them “ربّ ارنی الاشیاء کما هی” (O God! Show me the things as they are).
- Complete sincerity in deeds and words.
- Full correspondence between what he says and what he does (avoiding all sorts of hypocrisy and false religiosity).
- Knowing the past, present, and future of people through divine knowledge
- Reminding, notifying, and, if necessary, warning the relatives, associates, and disciples of their wrong doings.
- Suggesting repentance and then giving “dhikr” (special prayer or invocation).
- Curing people (as divine physicists).
- Demonstrating compassion and mercy towards all creatures.
- Loving all the people regardless of their race, color, religion, or nationality.
- Enjoying an extra-territorial and international respect and popularity.
- Having the ability of depositioning, traversing, and night-Journeying.
- Arranging different sessions of religious/Sufi orientation and collective recollection.
- Performing public activities such as building monasteries, clinics, schools, etc.
- Helping the poor and needy.
- Propagating the true religion and the concept of “Vilayat” (God’s encompassing custody).
- Believing in and respecting all Prophets, Books, and Men of God, all over the world.
- Respecting with dignity every human-being, young and old, man and woman, learned or illiterate, clergy or laity, nobility or … persons.
- Providing service to all human beings, on the basis of the holy prophet’s saying that “الخلق کلهم عیال الله، و احبهم الیه انفعهم الیهم” (The whole humanity are like the family of God, and whoever is most useful to them, is mostly liked by the God).
- A sample of the words of Men of God
- Why you say things that you do not do it first yourself? (لم تقولون ما لا تفعلون).
- Why you call people to benevolence and ignore yourself? ( اتأمرون الناس بالبرّ و
- ِDont be as a “go-between” of cruelty and oppression! ( ان الذین آمنوا و لم یلبسوا ایمانهم بظلم اولئک لهم الأمن و هم مهتدون).
- If there was no religious law of the prophets, there would have been no mystical path of the Men of God.
- Don’t even think of a sin. As long as there is a thinking of sin, we are veiled and are
- Whoever walks in God’s way, eventually he will reach the (divine) goal.
- To walk through this path, you should first go through a perfect washing (cleaning).
- The closer you get to the Sun, the warmer you become. The closer you get to the “Vilayat” of God, the prophet, and the apostles (saints), the warmer you become religiously.
- There is no benefit in school discussions, you should recollect (pray) God, undergo mortification or severe asceticism, and provide services to all, in order to reach God.
- You have to “leave out” your own self, in order to reach Him.
- I take everything “you” have and, in return, give you everything that “I” (the God) have.
- The Men of God have to be under pressure! Live with pain and do not ask for medicine!
- It is a default of all of us that when we encounter a Man of God, we stop at his external traits and never reach out to his inner self (essence).
- Everybody has only one moment of “connection” in every 24 hours, be aware not to miss your “time”.
- Behave contrary to your will and wishes; eat less; you have to flog your “self” in order to make it obedient (to your soul).
- Ask God for concentration, then you will see God’s illumination.
- Stop eating dinner, or reduce its volume considerably. Keep your stomach empty, until you see the light of divine knowledge in it.
- Talk less, and do not pretend to be a pious person.
- In this path, you should not be afraid of anything, any ups, and downs.
- First, purify yourself, and then look at that cleanest entity.
- An idol-worshipper can never be a divine – worshipper.
- What counts is your inner part; there is no benefit in fake pretension.
- In the way of “Tariqat”, you can not trust on your piety or your knowledge.
- Be as steadfast in your faith as a mountain, then notice the wonders you will see.
- Leave all the material/secular pleasures, they will anyhow finish one day.
- In human perfection, the effect of God’s recollection is 40% and that of ascetic practices is 60%.
- In order to test us, God will at times make someone the most beautiful in our eyes.
- If you ask only one thing from God persistently, you will get it. But you ask for many different things simultaneously.
- Alas! Those whose heart (mind) is different from their utterances.
- If you lose a coin, you look for it. But you don’t look for so many days of your life that you are constantly losing.
- Every other night you spend with the family and every other night work on your spiritual perfection.
- Never retire from admonishing people. Since you do it for God, never be afraid of people’s reaction.
- Nothing will eliminate the sin but fasting. All gains are in fasting and giving up one’s habits. Sins will be corrected by ascetic pressures, you have to tolerate hardship.
- Go to bed early and wake up early. Then “He” will come.
- It is against human dignity that the Men of God ask Him anything but Himself.
- Why we cheat ourselves and hypocritically say that we love God!
- If you really like a Man of God and serve him, then the God almighty will like
- In every direction, Satan has spread a trap for you.
- Everything is in ethics and an ethical, decent behavior. Our Prophet had that good ethical conduct that he succeeded. First, correct your moralities and then serve the others.
- I want you to be relieved from bodily attachments; you have nothing in your mind but to nourish your body!
- Concluding comment
“I would like to finish my words with a short prayer that we Muslims recite it at least ten times a day:
“In the Name of God,
The compassionate, the Merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of the Universe.
The compassionate, the Merciful.
Ruler (King) of the Day of Repayment.
You do we worship and You do we call on for help.
Guide us along the Straight Path.
The Path of those whom you have favored, and not those with whom you are angry, and not those who are lost”.
Thank you very much for your listening. I wish you all good health, success, and God’s mercy and blessing all over your life.
. State University of New York Press, 1992.
. The University of North Carolina Press, 1975.
. Paragon House, New York, 1994.
. Holy Quran 66/2.
. Ibid., 5/55.
 .Ibid., 9/71.
. Ibid., 7/32.
. Ibid., 3/102.
. Ibid., 12/14.
 .Ibid., 13/28.
. Ibid., 7/196.
 .Ibid., 10/62.
. Ibid., 14/27.
. Ibid., 89/28.
. Ibid., 9/105.
. Ibid., 17/44.
. Ibid., 61/2-3.
. Ibid., 6/82.
. Ibid., 18/110.
. Nahj al-Balaqa, Faizul-Islam, Sermon 210.
. Qummi, Abbas, Mafatih al-Jinan, Tehran, 1984, pp. 497-8.
. For details see Mutahhari, Murtida, An Introduction to Islamic Sciences, book 2, Theology and Mysticism, Tehran, no date, p. 84.
. Foroghi Bastami.
. Holy Quran, 61/2.
. Ibid., 2/44.
. Ibid., 6/82.
. Quran,chapter one.