The history of my religious quest begins with the study of the Quran itself. It had its germ in the testimony of the Quran to the books of Moses, David and Jesus, which appeared to me to be very striking, and I began to wonder where they could be found. Again and again I would read references to Moses, David and Jesus and to their books and wonder what their teachings could be!
The writers of mysticism speak of the two eternal passions of the self, the desire of life and the desire of knowledge: severally representing the hunger of heart, and that of the intellect for ultimate truth. If my desire to get acquainted with the teaching of God's revelation granted to previous prophets corresponded to the hunger of intellect, the desire to know more about Him, the hunger of heart for Him, was awakened in me by the study of books on Islamic mysticism. The result of it was a growing dissatisfaction with the form of religion based on legalism.
By observance of the rituals of Islam, so far I had derived the sense of self-satisfaction which comes to a man who has fulfilled his obligations which he is expected to do, but in the depth of my soul the real hunger and thirst remained unsatisfied. There existed now an urge for a search for something unknown and unnamed. I had come to realize that the true satisfaction of soul was not to be attained through a legalistic system or formal beliefs but by an inner experience. The study of mysticism had informed me that it was through the esoteric knowledge and practice of mysticism alone that the true knowledge of God could be attained. Nevertheless I stuck to the religious practices with greater tenacity, for thus had the saints of Islam done. Finding regular hours of prescribed prayers inadequate for the satisfaction of my soul, I added extra hours to them. Now I began to spend hours in Mosque and cemetery. There was a restlessness in my heart and I was seeking to have it satisfied.
Mysticism was now to be the goal of my life, and a search for its knowledge now started. My unguided study of mysticism must have been of a strange character. For my early acquaintance with mysticism was through that class of its literature in which it is mixed up so much with magic and incantation, and naturally such a study would prove fascinating to an average boy of my age. From the sources of Islamic literature I had learnt already a good deal about the existence of the invisible beings such as jinn and angels, and that these mysterious and subtle beings were capable of influencing human destiny. The study of books on the lives of the Muslim saints showed that they had a wonderful power over these
beings who were at their beck and call. In fact, the saints of Islam in their practice of supernatural deeds were associated so closely with magic and jinn, that to be able to write effective charms and to have the invisible beings at one's command to me were the signs of great mystics and saints. The study introduced me to a new world which was of an absorbing interest to me. An eager hunt, therefore, started for such literature; books, manuscripts and pieces of paper containing some magical secrets were added to my collection, and soon it grew to be of such a magnitude that any magician could have been proud to possess it. I was then only a boy of thirteen! The books were not enough to satisfy my desire for such knowledge, and I went about seeking men who knew this hidden and mysterious knowledge. Moreover, the secrets were not fully divulged through printed or even written materials, so I was given to understand, but must be learnt directly from the masters who were adept in them, and so I began to mix freely with people who had any reputation of knowing the art.
In my mad search for magic, one evening I had a strange experience which greatly enhanced my enthusiasm for jinn and magic. I was accosted one evening by a stranger who on the pretext of having me read something to him took me to a house. There behind the closed door of a room I was introduced to a man sitting on a charpoy with a book opened in front of him. The man directed me to take my seat on the floor in front of an earthen lamp placed on a brick. At his instruction as I fixed my gaze at the steady flame of the lamp I saw in a few minutes things which, looking back now, seem to be an impossibility, yet I
personally experienced them. In that flame I saw an open ground being swept by a number of men. This being reported to the magician, I was told to ask the men sweeping the ground for the favour of the assembling of the tribunal. Soon a table and chairs were fetched and placed in order; next came a number of dignified men in procession who took their seats round the table, and one occupying its head in the manner of a presiding officer. I was asked to convey the salutation of the magician to them, and then they were requested to produce the thief who had stolen the property of so and so, along with the articles stolen by him. The thief was next brought and made to stand facing me, and the stolen articles were displayed on the table. The magician closely questioned me as to the description of the thief and the list of the articles thus exhibited. Next I was asked to request for the name and address of the thief to be written and shown to me. This was done, but the writing was illegible to me, and so at my further request it was exhibited in a clear and bold handwriting which I remember to this day! When finally the thanks and the salutations of the magician were conveyed to them, the entire scene in the flame vanished, and nothing remained but the steady flame of the lamp.*
This experience led me to study and practice charms with greater zest. Neighbours and friends began to look upon me as a magician and would surround me for amulets for all kinds of things; a man
*Mr. Lame in his book "The Modern Egypt" has described a similar seance at which he himself was present and had himself asked for Lord Nelson and a friend of his to appear through the medium, and has given the charm used on this occasion and the method used for such a seance.
in search of an employment or seeking promotion in his office, a wife to win back the lost affection of her husband, a father for the return of his runaway child, mothers for the recovery of their children suffering from some unknown disease, and many others with diverse needs and wants would come to me with requests for prayers and amulets.
The study and practice of magic, however, proved to be a stepping-stone to something higher and nobler than mere theurgy or a desire to attain to the position of thaumaturge. It indicated the deep conviction within me that there are other planes of being than those which senses report to man. It was an indication of the belief that behind the surface phenomena there is a supernatural world unperceived by sensations but realizable in the soul's experience.
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