“Never condemn sinners until you’ve learned for sure whether I have forgiven you.”
—God in a Holy Tradition
(Bursevi,  Ruh-ul Beyan, 9/806.)

“No father can give his child anything better than good manners.”
—The Prophet (Tirmidhi)
Sufi courtesy (adab) is the opposite of uncouth behavior. It is praiseworthy, admirable and even sublime conduct. Martin Buber is famous for advancing the concept of an “I-Thou,” as opposed to an “I-it,” relationship. In Sufi courtesy, you treat everything in the universe as a “Thou.” You could not, would not, even kick a can or a stone. You would treat the lowliest ant as a being worthy of respect.
For instance, the famous Sufi Abu Yazid of Bistam went on pilgrimage to Mecca. On his way back, he bought some safflower seeds in Hamedan. When he arrived at his hometown Bistam, he discovered that he had brought some ants along with the seeds. He felt that he had no right to dislocate the ants in this way. Hence, he went all the way back to Hamedan and released the ants there. (pp. 86-7.) In an age when the fastest mode of travel was on horseback, the distance between the two towns was (and is) some 725 km/450 miles!
This may be too extreme for us. But surely we can at least give our seat to an elderly person on the bus?
The Prophet of God said:
“None of you will have authentic faith until your hearts are made right;
nor will your hearts be made right until your tongues are made right;
nor will your tongues be made right until your actions are made right.”
This quotation tells us that spiritual growth must proceed from the outward toward the inward. Until our actions have been corrected, inner change is quite impossible, or at least impermanent. As the Ottoman poet Ziya Pasha wrote,
The mirror of a person is his works, to words pay no heed
The level of one’s intellect is reflected in one’s deeds.
The root meaning of adab (plural âdâb) comes from ma’duba, invitation to a banquet (of knowledge, or rather wisdom). The Ottomans called men of letters “the courteous” (adîb) and literature “matters of courtesy” (adabiyat), because literature was devoted to inspiring courteous behavior in members of society. For the follower of adab, life itself is a work of art (as both Peter Brown and Ira Lapidus have noted).

One of the best definitions of Sufi courtesy has been provided by the famous Sufi Ibn al-Arabi:
“He who has courtesy has achieved perfect refinement of words and deeds by weighing himself in the Scale of the Law. … S/he always puts things in their proper places, says the proper thing at the proper time, and acts according to the requisites of divine wisdom. It is s/he alone among all human beings who ‘gives each thing its due’.”
Adab is courtesy, respect, appropriateness. Adab is not formality. Adab helps to create the context in which we develop our humanness. Every situation and relationship has its  proper adab, i.e., between friends, in relation to family members, in relation to the Teaching, in relation to one’s Teacher. Adab also means ‘beautiful action’, i.e., the form of behavior that creates the conditions in which the attributes of God may be clearly reflected.

(Here, based on Adab: The Courtesy of the Path.)
The Tradition of the Prophet, “Adorn yourselves with the ethics of God,” thus actually refers to courteous conduct. Indeed, the Prophet also said: “My Lord taught me courtesy and perfected it within me.” Thus the Prophet is the exemplar for perfect ethics, for perfect courtesy (refined ethics).

The general meanings of adab are: politeness, courtesy, good manners, refined manners, good breeding, respect, reverence, correct behavior,  proper conduct, modest behavior, being courteous; discipline, correction, chastisement; the science of polite learning, culture of mind. According to Abu Al Najib Al Suhrawardi: “Nobody can properly enter the Way of the Sufis until knowing its fundamental beliefs, its rules of conduct (âdâb) and its technical terms.”  

The Creation of Adam
The purpose of religion is to earn God’s pleasure, and that can happen only by virtue of noble conduct. Right from the very beginning, human beings have not been able to do without courtesy. After God had created Adam, Master Ahmet Kayhan related,
God said to Gabriel, ‘Let’s give him something.’ He sent three
presents: Mind, Faith, Courtesy. He said, ‘Whichever one he chooses,
bring back the other two.’

Adam thought. He has no mind, no ideas, he’s a mudcake. Again this
isn’t Adam’s work, it’s God’s. There’s a Giver. He said, ‘I’ll take Mind.’
Gabriel said, ‘You chose the best.’ He said to Faith and Courtesy:
‘Come on, let’s go.’ Faith said: ‘Without me, Mind can’t manage.’ He
turned to Courtesy, ‘Let’s go.’ Courtesy said, ‘I’m the garment of these
two. Without me, neither of them can manage by themselves. I stay,
too.’ So they all remained with Adam.

Gabriel conferred with God. ‘What shall I do?’ God said,
‘Everything’s found its proper place, if he can use them. The trust has
found its place. Come back.’
(H. Bayman, The Teachings of a Perfect Master (2012), pp. 269.)


Here are some features of courtesy:
- To make our practices more and more inwardly sincere, rather than outwardly apparent.

- To recognize our own faults, rather than finding faults with others.

- To recognize our own ego and struggle against its manifestation by remembering that our greatest ally is Love.

- To limit our preoccupation, worry, vanity and ambition over the world and the worldly.

- To seek to heal any wrong we may have caused to another, and to correct any misunderstanding as soon as possible.

- To remember that no good will come out of the expression of anger or excessive hilarity.

- To be patient with difficulties.

- To recognize and remember that we all are members of the same [human] family.

- To avoid gossip and bad-mouthing.

- To be indifferent to favor or benefit for oneself, for “receiving one’s due.”

- To be free of [jealousy] and ambition, including the desires to lead or instruct others.

- To do what one does as service to the Tradition – not for the desire for reward or the fear of punishment.

- To accept with gratitude suggestions and criticism from one’s Teacher. 


Don’t Embarrass People

In matters of courtesy as in other things, the role model for Sufis is the Prophet. He had a very refined sensibility and was always careful never to shame people.

Sometimes, the sublimity of a response is in direct proportion to the grossness of the act that elicits it.
The Qurayshites around the Prophet drank alcohol. He said, ‘Don’t
speak ill of them because they drink.’ He regarded the drunkard with

There was a bedouin Arab tribe chieftain. That tribe had faith, they
had recited the Word of Witnessing. He said, ‘Let me go and see the
Messenger of God.’

He came, he asked, they said, ‘He’s in the Mosque.’ He went over
and introduced himself: ‘I’m from such-and-such a tribe. I’ve come to
see you.’ He said, ‘Sit down.’

There are lots of townspeople and strangers in the Mosque, he’s
listening to their troubles, he’s making inquiries. The man began to
fidget, he had to obey the call of nature. He said ‘Excuse me,’ the
Prophet said ‘Okay,’ but he didn’t say what his problem was. He went
to a corner of the room and relieved himself. They’re tribespeople,
they don’t know any better.

The Companions are upset, the Prophet of God looks, the smell
spreads all over the place, he signals them: ‘Don’t say a word,’ he says.
That man comes and takes his earlier place.

The Prophet cuts it short, ‘Come on,’ he says, ‘let’s talk outside.’
Without giving that man the slightest hint.

They get up, they step outside, he says: ‘Give me a dustpan, a broom
and some water.’ ‘Messenger of God, let’s …’ ‘This is my guest. He
came for me.’ They insist, he says ‘No. You go out, too.’

He takes the excrement, throws it outside, digs the ground, covers it,
smooths it over, then comes over to them. The Companions are again

They talk outside, he sees him off, gives him some money, ‘Goodbye.’

Three years later he comes again. The same man. They were sitting
in the Mosque again, he greets them. He sits down in propriety and
courtesy. Religion, good manners have spread everywhere.

He kneels, after inquiring how he is: ‘Messenger of God, with your
permission I’d like to kiss your hand.’ ‘Why, what for?’ ‘I came to you
once, and did such an unseemly act. Please forgive my error.’ ‘No, no,
no. Good for you, good for you.’
(H. Bayman, The Teachings of a Perfect Master (2012), pp. 306-7.)

Making Courtesy a Part of Your Life
Courtesy is manifested to the highest degree in the prophets and their successors, the saints (though not every Book extant today recognizes this). Prophets and saints are human beings, but spiritually they’re giants.
The Sufi concept of courtesy offers a refinement not easily available anywhere else. Note that in Arabic, khulq (plural akhlaq) means both character trait(s) and moral conduct. Thus, these terms can be used interchangeably. This means that traits such as kindness to all creatures, respect, compassion, avoiding gossip, and lovingkindness, need to be internalized until they become part of one’s innate character, one’s equipment. Otherwise, they will remain unassimilated and will be lost in the face of the first adversity.
This is the really hard part. Anyone can play-act or pretend. But can you do it when you’re choking? That’s the real test!
As the Prophet remarked, “The most perfect believer is the one with the best manners. And the best among you are those who are best to their wives.” (Tirmidhi 628; Riyad as-Salihin, 1.278.) He also said: “Nothing weighs more on the scales on Judgment Day than sublime conduct.” “Thanks to his noble character, a believer will attain the degree of one who Prays during the night and fasts during the day.” (Tirmidhi 2002 – Abu Dawood 2233.)
This last is very important. The Prophet is saying that beautiful behaviorthat is, moral conduct that inspires admiration in othersis as important as worship, and will even substitute for it.

Access to God
“but . . . can’t you tell me something good about Islam?"

Abdullah thought for a while. “In the end,” he said, “the best thing
about Islam is that it gives you access to God. Perhaps other religions do too,
but Islam does it better than any other I know. That’s the point of all these
rules—if you follow them, you can go places you couldn’t otherwise go. Ac-
cess to God is something that’s hard for many people to understand. Per-
haps you’ve felt something like it sometimes, perhaps while contemplating
nature. It’s a feeling that Freud called “the oceanic,” though he understood
it rather differently. [Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “peak experiences” and “self-actualization.”] Before I became Muslim, I once felt it sitting by the
edge of a lake during a beautiful sunset. Anyhow, that’s the point about Is-
lam: instead of happening by chance once or twice in a lifetime, that can
happen all the time.”

One can see something of this access to God—or to the oceanic—in
the faces of many Muslims in the Muslim world—in what the British poet
Kathleen Raine called “faces of radiant beauty and the joy of life.” In cities
like Cairo, despite the poverty and the disorder, it is sometimes possible
to glimpse something magically beautiful. The tawdry and ugly and com-
monplace is transformed into the special, the glowing. That, in the end,
may be the real point about Islam.

Mark Sedgwick, Islam & Muslims (2006), p. 228.
Hatim “the Deaf” and the Flatulent Woman

A woman came to the sage Hatim one day to ask him a question. At that moment she broke wind, she wasn’t able to help it. Her face changed color.

Hatim said to her, “Speak louder. I’m hard of hearing.”

This he said in order that the woman would not be put to shame. She raised her voice, and he answered her problem.

As long as that woman was alive, for almost fifteen years, Hatim pretended he was deaf, so that no one would tell the woman that he was not. After her death he gave his answers readily. Until then, he would say to everyone who spoke to him, “Speak louder.” That was why he was called al-Asamm (“the Deaf”). His secret was outed one day when it became clear that he was able to hear the buzz of a mosquito that no one else could. His hearing was better than anyone else’s!

The Sinners and the Saint

The story is told of a group of men who decided to test whether a certain person was a saint or not. Accordingly, they engaged a prostitute and a debaucher for their plan. The man, going his way, beheld the couple committing lewd acts in the middle of the street.

He immediately found a large straw mat from close by and, without saying anything, covered them with it. This was in accordance with the principles: “Cover what you see, don’t tell what you haven’t seen,” and “In hiding the shames of others, be like the night.” For the same reason, it has been said: “The hearts of sages are the graves of secrets.” These in turn are based on the Tradition: “Whoever alleviates the need of a needy person, God will alleviate his needs in this world and the Hereafter. Whoever conceals the faults of a servant (of God), God will conceal his faults in this world and the Hereafter. God helps those who help their brethren, as long as they help them.” (Muslim (4/2074) No. 2699, etc.)
This also brings to mind the famous Sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi. As I related recently, Rumi once came upon some prostitutes, who showed him great respect. He told them: “You ladies are champions! If you didnt bear these burdens and hardships, who would subdue so much lust and so many carnal souls (Base Selves)? And how would the chastity and purity of chaste and pure women ever be known?”


Hospitality is one of the hallmarks of courtesy. A man came to the Prophet one day and said: “I’m starving.” The Prophet told those in his company: “Whoever hosts this man tonight, God will have mercy on him.” One Companion (Abu Talha) accepted. But when he went home, his wife told him they didn’t have anything to eat, there was only enough supper to feed the children.

He said to her: “Put the children to bed early. When our guest begins to eat, reach out as if to adjust the lamp, but put it out instead.” She did as she was told. In the semi-darkness, the husband and wife pretended to be eating, going through the motions, but they let their guest eat whatever food there was. They themselves went to bed hungry.

When they visited the Prophet the next day, he smiled and said: “God marveled at your conduct toward your guest last night.” A Koranic verse was revealed in their honor: “they prefer others above themselves, even though they themselves are in need. Those who overcome their stinginess—they are the successful ones” (59:9). (Bukhari 5.58.142.)
(Note: Many Traditions suffer from bad translation into English, to the extent that their actual meaning is obscured.)


Compassion, too, is a part of courtesy. There is a Tradition to the effect: “God does not show compassion to those who do not show compassion.” The opposite of this is also true.
Driving through a storm one night, a man saw a kitten drenched to the bone by the roadside. After driving a bit further, he turned the car around over the objections of his wife and rescued the kitten from its plight.
That night he had a dream: he saw the Prophet of God, who patted him on the cheek affectionately. And shortly afterwards, he was graced with a visit to Master Ahmet Kayhan, becoming one of his students.

Don’t Break a Heart
In this respect, it has been said:  “Break a Heart, you demolish the Kaaba. Mend a Heart, you build up the Kaaba.”
Don’t you hurt or offend a living being
You’ll burn up [God’s] Highest Heaven.
And again:
If you want to be esteemed among human [and other sentient] beings,
Neither hurt/offend anyone, nor be hurt/offended by them.
Even if you are offended, you should not offend.

Courtesy Toward the Enemy

Once the battle is over, a wounded enemy soldier is no longer the enemy, but a human being in need. Master Kayhan again:
After a battle outside Medina, the Prophet asked: ‘Two persons, one is a Muslim, the other is an infidel or a Christian. They both ask for water. Who do you give it to?’
‘We give it to our brother,’ they say. Omar asks: ‘What do you say, Prophet of God?’ ‘First to the enemy, if he’s dying. If possible, divide in two and give half to your brother first.’
(TPM, p. 306.)
 This is the hardest thing to accomplish: to treat someone who intends to kill you as if enmity between you didn’t exist at all. As I have written earlier:
This would be the point to remember the performance of Ali during the Battle of the Ditch. When he was fighting an opponent, as he was about to deal the final blow, the man spat in his face. Ali withdrew, lowered his sword, and said: “Stand up. We must repeat the fight.”
The man was shocked: “Ali, what’s going on?”
“At first, I was fighting you for the sake of religion. But as soon as you spat in my face, my Base Self rose up and interfered. If I killed you under those circumstances, I would have been doing it for the sake of my own ego and not for religion. Therefore, we must fight again.”

Try to See the Good Side of Everything
Walking down an alley one day, Jesus and his disciples came across the rotting corpse of a dead dog. The stench was so terrible that it left the disciples retching and gagging.
Jesus, however, knelt down and gazed at the dog for a long moment. Then he said: “Praise be to God, what beautiful teeth it has!” (Attar, Musibatnâma; Nizami, Khamsa.) (The same story is also told of the Prophet Mohammed. The important thing is the message, which is the deed itself.)

Don’t Get Embroiled in Arguments
An argument is a clash of egos, a battle between (Base) selves. Therefore, it is better to shun disputes altogether.
Once, while the Prophet was sitting with his Companions, someone used insulting words against Abu Bakr, causing him pain. But Abu Bakr remained silent. The person again defamed Abu Bakr, but Abu Bakr still did not respond. When this ignorant person offended Abu Bakr a third time, Abu Bakr gave him the reply he deserved.
At this point, however, the Prophet stood up to leave.
Abu Bakr asked anxiously, “Are you displeased with me, Prophet of God?”
The Prophet replied, “No, but as long as you remained silent, an angel had come down from heaven and was negating the man’s claims. The moment you started answering him, that angel departed and was replaced by a devil. And I can’t remain where the devil is present.” (Abu Dawood 041 4878.)
This is also why the Prophet said: “Whoever leaves an argument when s/he is in the wrong, a residence is built for them on the outskirts of Paradise. Whoever gives up an argument despite being right, a residence is built for them at the center of Paradise. Whoever beautifies his moral conduct, a residence is built for them on the highest reaches of Paradise.” (Ibn Majah 1.51.)

Courtesy Toward God
Just as there is courtesy toward God’s creatures, there should also be courtesy toward God. For consider:
- There are some 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe (thats billion, not million),
- There are an estimated 100 billion stars in each galaxy,
- The sun, an average star, is about 1,300,000 times the size of the Earth,
- The Earth weighs about 6 sextillion (billion trillion) tons.
Thus, a galaxy is but a speck of dust with respect to the universe, a star is just a speck of dust with respect to a galaxy, the Earth is a speck of dust with respect to our star the sun, and we are much, much less than specks of dust with respect to the Earth.
Now God is the Creator of this entire universe. It thus becomes much easier to understand Sacred Verses like: “Do not walk arrogantly on the face of earth, for God does not love conceited and arrogant persons” (31:18). For the same reason, the Prophet said: “Those dearest and nearest to me on Judgment Day are those with the best manners. And those most hateful and distant to me are blabbermouths and the arrogant.” (Tirmidhi 631.)
On the other hand, humility is a virtue that God values highly. One should be humble not just toward God. True humility entails respect and, ultimately, love for all God’s creatures.
What should courtesy toward God be like? For one thing, it should be marked by steadfastness, by true constancy.
In the time of Moses, one of his people spent all his time worshiping God in seclusion. One day, God told Moses: “I have decreed that that servant of mine is among those who have strayed from the Path. This is so whether he worships Me or not. Go and tell him.” So Moses told the man. He replied: “I seek only to please God. If that is what He wants, what can I say? I don't know about such matters. Let Him put me in hell if He wants, as long as He is pleased with me.” So saying, he gave thanks to God.
Whereupon God transfers that man from among the Strayers to the Worthies. And He again tells Moses to inform him. In reply, the man says: “Well, I don't know about that either. I only wish to please Him. God knows best, as long as He is pleased with me. Whether He puts me in heaven or hell is His affair. I don't know such things.”
This is a good example of courtesy toward God. To be resigned to whatever God has in store for us is a mark of true servanthood.
In the Koran we find the Verses: “Contented Soul, return to your Lord, Pleased (with Him) and Pleasing (to Him)” (89:27–8). In Sufism, these refer to stages in the seven levels of selfhood: the Contented Self is Stage 4, the Pleased Self is Stage 5, and the God-Pleasing Self is Stage 6 (the penultimate stage). Now God has said: “I am pleased with My servants, as long as they’re pleased with Me.” (TPM, p. 50.)  This is a herald of good news: once the traveler reaches Stage 4, things become much easier, and God’s pleasure with us follows as soon as we’re pleased with Him.
The real hurdle, then, is for us to be pleased with God. And for this, we need to give much thanks to God, for He has also said: “I will increase the (causes for) thanks of whomever gives thanks to Me.”

Luqman’s Last Lesson

Luqman was a saint and a doctor who lived sometime between Jesus and Mohammed. He is famous for his saying: “I learned courtesy from the discourteous. I did the opposite of what I saw them do.”
Perfect surrender. To swallow poison as if it were honey.

That reminds me of Luqman. His teacher loved Luqman very much.
He came first among a hundred and fifty, two hundred students. He
admired his morality, his courtesy, his work.

In February or March, a student brought his teacher a melon, hard
to find in that season. But the melon had been punctured, and when a
melon is punctured, it becomes bitter like poison. The second day, the
teacher says to his servant, ‘Go and call Luqman.’ He wants him to eat
the melon because of his love for him. Luqman comes, kisses his hand,
they chat.

The teacher says, ‘Wash that melon and bring it over.’ They wash
and bring it to him, he gives it to Luqman with his own hands. Luqman
takes a bite, his mouth is filled with poison, but without the slightest
sign of discomfiture on his face, he eats it all. Finally, only one slice is

His teacher says, ‘You ate with great zest. It’s stimulated my appetite.
Let me eat this slice.’ ‘Of course,’ he says, ‘eat it.’ He puts it in his
mouth, bites and … throws up. Because he’s old, he passes out. Luqman
brings a towel right away, he wipes his mouth and chest. He brings
water, does a few things and revives him.

The teacher sits up, tears come from his eyes. ‘Why, I was killing
you because I loved you. How on earth did you eat that?’ Yes! ‘How
did you eat it with smiling face and such appetite?’

He again kisses his hand, ‘Teacher,’ he says, ‘I would give this life for
you. This is coming from your hand,’ he says, ‘no matter what it might

‘I almost killed you with my own hand. Do you want something,
something sweet?’ ‘No,’ he says, ‘I’m fine, I’m young, don’t worry.’

The next day, at school, the teacher fills out Luqman’s diploma.

‘Two lions can’t remain in one place,’ he says, ‘your studies with me are
concluded. Farewell.’ And he becomes Luqman.

These are very difficult. Very difficult to believe. To do the bitter
part. The other side is light, but to make honey out of bitterness. To be
human, to become Luqman.
(TPM, p. 291.)

The Scholars and the Sages

Civility reaches its summit in courtesy or sublime conduct (adab). Humility, harmony, and altruism are all aspects of courtesy, as exemplified in the following story.
A certain ruler was one day made aware of the existence of the People of Wisdom. The sultan had not heard of them before. He asked his vizier, who was highly intelligent and his guide in all matters, “What is the difference between a man of knowledge and a man of wisdom, a scholar and a Sufi, a scientist and a sage?”

“Your highness,” said the vizier, “this is best explained by watching the respective groups in action.” So they first went to a symposium of scholars and scientists—dressed up incognito, of course. They stationed themselves at the entrance. “Observe, your highness,” said the vizier.

As the worthies, each an intellectual giant in his own right, began to come in, the vizier asked the first one: “Who is the greatest among you?” “I am, of course,” came the reply. “Me, naturally,” said the second. The same question was asked, and the same reply received, from all participants in the symposium.

“Now, your highness,” said the vizier, “let us go to a Sufi convention.” Similar scene, different people, and the vizier addressed the same question to the first entrant.

“Behind me,” he answered, and hurried in. The second sage gave the same reply. So did the third, and the fourth . . . until the last one, who said, “They all went in before me.”

“Let us come back in the evening, when they’re all about to disperse,” said the vizier. Now both the symposium and the convention were occurring in buildings close to each other, and there was a river flowing in front of both—a shallow river with stones in it.The vizier gave instructions so that other roads would be blocked, and both the scientists and the sages would be forced to cross the river.

“Watch,” he told the sultan.

The men of knowledge were the first to leave. Seeing that there was nowhere else to go, they all tackled the river, each in his own haphazard way. They shouldered each other, there was rough play, pandemonium reigned. Shouts were heard, some stumbled and wet their garments, while others even fell into the river.

The vizier smiled. “Let’s hurry over to the convention,” he said to the sultan.

They arrived just in time to see the first sage emerge. Immediately taking in the situation, he said to the fellow behind him: “Follow in my exact footsteps,” and proceeded across the river, using the rocks as stepping stones. And so did all the rest, carefully using only the stones stepped on by their predecessor. They were across the river in no time; not even their shoes were wet.

“For our encore, your majesty,” said the vizier, “we shall have to make special arrangements. And we shall have to invite your subjects to dinner.” He gave orders for special spoons to be made.

A few days later, both groups received invitations from the palace to have supper. It was arranged so that one group would arrive earlier the same evening, the other later.

The scientists arrived first and were ushered into the dining room.

What they saw was this: a round table, in the center a pot of soup, and spoons set up around the table—spoons with a handle at least a yard long.

Doubtful as to how to proceed, they took their seats around the table. But when they tried to eat, they found it to be impossible. The spoons were too long to be held conveniently, and if they tried to hold one at a shorter length, its tip would intrude into the eye of a neighbor. There was a great commotion as the soup was spilled all over the table, to the accompaniment of shouts: “Watch out!” “Ouch!” and “I’ll show you!” Finally they went away, hungry, malcontent, and grumbling at each other.

Next it was the sages’ turn. They arrived, sat themselves around the table, took up the spoons—and began to feed each other, each person dipping a spoon into the soup and then offering it to the person directly across the table. The spoons, it turned out, were made exactly the right length for just this approach. They all supped in quiet merriment, thanked the sultan and the vizier, and departed in decorum.

“That,” observed the vizier to the sultan, “is the difference between a man of mere knowledge and a man who is truly wise, the difference between a scholar and a sage.”
(H. Bayman, The Station of No Station (2001), pp. 182-4.)
Needless to say, if everybody behaved with excellent conduct, all our social problems would be solved. All the utopias of those who long for a better world would be fulfilled.

Ah, Courtesy
(The following sayings regarding “courtesy,” or splendid moral conduct, have been culled from the Traditions of the Prophet and the aphorisms of the great saints. It was a sheet often distributed by the Master.)

What is courtesy?

“Courtesy is to act in accordance with the Prophet’s Way.”

“Courtesy is to train the self as necessary and to decorate it with beautiful morals.”

“Courtesy is to possess the knowledge and principles that protect one from all error.”

“True courtesy is to renounce the lower (Base) self.”

“The beginning of all courtesy is to speak little.”

“The least of the rules of courtesy is for one to stop when one senses one’s ignorance and to remedy it.”

“Courtesy is: not to overvalue one’s superiors, and not to belittle one’s inferiors.”

“Courtesy is to be in control of one’s hand, one’s tongue, and one’s loins [sexuality].”

Facts and statements related to courtesy:

“The difference that sets humans apart from the animals is courtesy.”

“A mind unadorned with courtesy is a hero without a weapon.”

“Without courtesy, nobility is naught.”

“Courtesy is a weapon that kills the devil.”

“Courtesy is the beginning of everything. The whole of Sufism is courtesy.”

“Courtesy is the first requirement of perfection.”

“One who abandons courtesy is not wise.”

“Fortify courtesy, renounce all else.”

“Who lacks courtesy has no trustworthy knowledge.”

“Truth is nothing but courtesy.”

“Cloak your shame with courtesy.”

“True beauty is beauty of knowledge, and courtesy.”

“The adornment of a human being is that person’s courtesy in its entirety.”

“An orphan is not one whose parents have died, but one who lacks knowledge and courtesy.”

“Those who fail to teach courtesy to their children will please their enemies.”

“The intelligent person learns courtesy from the discourteous.”

“With the honor of knowledge and courtesy, Adam was raised above the angels.”

“Satan was banished from God’s presence because he abandoned courtesy.”

“The discussion [of sages] is a body. The spirit of that body is courtesy.”

“In order to attain Truth, one needs Knowledge of Certainty; for Knowledge of Certainty, one needs sincere deeds; for sincere deeds, one needs to perform the Obligations of God; for this, one needs to follow the Way of the Prophet; and in order to do that, one needs to observe courtesy.”

“One who has not been trained by the Sufis cannot understand the truth of courtesy.”

“Everything loses value as it increases. But when courtesy increases, it becomes more valuable.”

“One who does not adopt the courtesy of one’s Master cannot adopt the courtesy of the Prophet’s Way and Traditions. And one who does not adopt these cannot adopt the courtesy of the Koran and its sacred verses.”

“There is no honor higher than courtesy.”

“One who would learn wisdom should act courteously.”

“One who seeks to possess good deeds should seek to learn knowledge courteously.”

“As long as the People of Love possess goodwill in the matter of love, their courtesy will increase.”

“Courtesy is the absolute source of virtue for a human being.”

“The friends of courtesy are: Modesty, Sincerity, Submission, Love, Intention, Obedience, Striving, Discussion, and Service.”

What is earned by courtesy?

“Courtesy makes a person sincerely loved.”

“Courtesy is the power that protects a person from shameful things.”

“Discourteous acts interrupt enlightenment, and drive their owner from the heart of the King.”

“Those who serve their Master courteously earn stations as high as the Throne.”

“Those who enter their Master’s presence with courtesy will earn boundless enlightenment.”

“Spiritual elevation is only possible with courtesy.”

“The stations of Paradise are earned by good works and courtesy.”

“Those who lack courtesy are driven from God’s doorstep.”

“Courtesy is the greatest art. It is food for the road that leads to God.”

“Courtesy is the guide and sign of the Friends of God. It is the cause of communion with God.”

I sought admission to the Assembly of Knowledge;
Knowledge was left behind—courtesy, just courtesy.

It covers the shames of humanity;
What beautiful clothing is the garment of courtesy.

I sought admission to the People of the Heart;
Every aptitude has value, but first place goes to courtesy.

Courtesy is a crown made of the light of God;
Wear that crown, and be safe from all calamity.

(Based on H. Bayman, The Secret Of Islam (2003), Appendix A, pp. 309-12.)



The tale of Pinocchio describes the transformation of a mechanical puppet into a real boy. In everyday terms, it represents the growth of a child into an adult. In Sufic terms, it symbolizes the metamorphosis of an ordinary person into a Perfect Human Being. As a consequence, we must look at it more closely.
 “Pinocchio” was published in 1883 by Carlo Collodi (whose real name was Carlo Lorenzini). The story, however, is rather dark, with the puppet dying in the end. Walt Disney reworked the story for his movie Pinocchio (1940), which has a much more meaningful ending. Kubrick & Spielberg’s A.I. (2001) is closer to the original story: it describes the impossibility of David, the robot child, ever becoming human. For this reason, it is also more pessimistic, despite its realism. This indicates, perhaps, Spielberg’s recognition that hi-tech robot consciousness is no different than low-tech puppet consciousness. It is Disney’s gloss on the original tale that we will be referring to in what follows.
A machine or a wooden puppet cannot become a human being. But a human being can become a Perfect Human (called True Human, Zhenren or Chen-jen, in Chinese).
Pinocchio describes the various situations encountered during one’s Inner Journey: from spirit to Spirit, from self to Self. Jungian psychology as well as Sufi psychology would agree that some parts of the Pinocchio saga resemble an initiation ritual: the collapse and disintegration of the former self, prior to rebirth as a new self. (See Prof. Jordan Peterson, 42:18 et seq. Among famed psychologists, Carl Gustav Jung is the one who came closest to Sufi psychology.) It is Pinocchio’s self-sacrifice and death in order to save his father that enables his rebirth as a real boy. Some highlights of the story are described below.
Pinocchio as Adam

In the beginning, giving life to Pinocchio is like the creation of Adam out of clay, about which God says: “I breathed into him of My Spirit” (15:29, 38:72).
What does this mean, exactly?
It tells us that human beings are endowed with some attributes that also belong to the spirit of God, such as life, knowledge, speech, will, sight and hearing, many of which presuppose consciousness. This is where consciousness, our consciousness, comes from. It is also what is meant by the “divine spark.” So there is a trail within us that leads to God. But we have lost sight of it. Mohammed, the Prophet of God, is the one who has travelled that inward path to its end, and for that reason is the trustworthy guide on the way that leads back to God. This is also why robots will never have consciousnessunless, of course, God breathes into them too (which, however, is not going to happen).
(Further details for those interested. In Islam, the “positive attributes of God” are: Life (hayat), Power (qudrat), Will (irâda), Knowledge (ilm), Creation (taqwin), Speech (qalâm), Sight (basar), Hearing (sam'). In Hinduism, Sat-chit-ananda or Being (Ar. wujud)-Consciousness-Bliss are the attributes of God or Ultimate Reality (Brahman).)

No-good Friends

One of Pinocchio’s mishaps is to make friends with a cunning fox (and his sidekick). So-called “Honest” John is, in reality, as crooked as they come. He does everything to lure Pinocchio off the tried-and-trusted trail. He is sly and sneaky, clever and deceiving. He will do anything for money, including throwing “friends” like Pinocchio under the bus.
A famous Sufi Master, Osman Badruddin of Erzurum, has said (and I summarize): “Imagine a decapitated human head. Then imagine a hundred hungry lions surrounding that head. What those hundred lions cannot do to that head, one bad friend can do to you.”
So one has to be very careful about whom one befriends (or is befriended by) in the pathways of life.

Pleasure Island
Granted that childhood is a special time most deserving of play, of fun and games, should some restrictions still not apply? “Never too much” was the motto of the Chinese sages. As the wise of all times and climes have agreed, the avoidance of excess is necessary, and so it is in this case, as well.

Herded by the Evil Coachman, the children run toward the entrance of Pleasure Island...

The Evil Coachman reveals his true face. 

With its mountains of ice cream and pavilions of candy, Pleasure Island is an amusement park and every child’s dream come true. Unfortunately, that dream also bears the danger of turning into a nightmare. Unknown to visitors, it actually serves as a trap. For the Base Self, fed to saturation and in the midst of a plethora of stimuli, runs riot. It is as Abu Bakr, the First Caliph, described: “My Lord, You first tested us with deprivation. We succeeded in that. Then You tested us with affluence, and there we failed.”

Pleasure Island caters to a life of hedonism, ignorance, instant satisfaction and the gratification of one’s basest desires. The children can eat and drink as they please, they can indulge in smoking (today we would add the use of drugs), they can fight and destroy whatever they want. It is a place of earthly delights, devoid of morals and knowledge (there is no school).
We can see a similar situation in the vacation resorts of our day. These are paradises for madmen of the belly. Wherever you go on their premises, you’re overwhelmed with an excess of enticing food and a profusion of mind-numbing alcohol. Sexual pleasure, Allowed or otherwise, is there for the taking. Under such conditions, the Base Self cannot fail to run wild. The result is that one will end up making an ass of oneself.

      From this...                                      to this. The ass is, of course, a prime symbol for the Base Self.

Once you give in to all the demands of the Base Self, you have effectively placed a Tasmanian Devil (called “Taz” in the comics) in the driver’s seat. After that, heaven help you!
Jiminy Cricket, who acts as Pinocchio’s conscience, sings: “Always let your conscience be your guide.” The problem with this, however, is that conscience is a faculty that needs to be trained and cultivated. For conscience presupposes a knowledge of good and evil. But what is good (pleasing to God) or bad (displeasing to God) is not easily intuited. How do we distinguish the still, small voice of conscience from the deceits of the Base Self? “Follow your heart,” we are told—but are we following our heart or the Base Self? For this, one needs to accept and become knowledgeable in a true religion. Armed with such a moral compass, conscience then can, indeed, serve as a reliable guide—but only afterwards.
Every time Pinocchio lies, his nose grows longer, clearly alerting everyone to the deed. It symbolizes that one lie paves the way for the next one, until you are left with a whole chain of untruths.
You won’t lie if you don’t do things that need to be lied about. The Prophet said: “Be truthful. Truthfulness leads to virtue, and virtue draws you to heaven. Beware of lies. Lies lead to immorality, and immorality leads to hell.”

If the Base Self is given enough leeway, it will erupt in anger. After that, it will burn down and destroy everything within its reach. The Prophet said: “Anger is of the devil, and the devil was created from fire.” When his second wife, Aisha, became angry, he told her: “This is the Fire that has been called (by God) the place of the devil.”

“The one within me... seeks revenge.” Ghost Rider in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, S04 (Eps. 1, 2, 6).

In the former Tradition, the Prophet continues: “Fire is extinguished by water. So if one of you gets angry, let them get up and take an Ablution.” And in another Tradition, he said: “The true wrestler (champion) is one who controls his (Base) self when he gets angry, not one who throws his opponent to the ground.” When someone asked him for a single, short piece of advice, he said: “Don't get angry.” He himself was always calm and serene. He was vexed only if something was especially offensive to God.

In order to tame the Base Self, the exact opposite of overindulgence is needed: to avoid excess in everything, and to occasionally engage in asceticism: to starve the body of nutrients (don’t overdo it! As the Master said, one mustn’t exceed a week). Only then can the wild oscillations of the Base Self subside, and the spirit be allowed to come to the fore.

One should avoid excess even in religion. According to  a well-known Tradition, three Companions of the Prophet decided they would go all the way. One said: “I’m going to stay awake and perform the Prayer every night,” the second said: “I’m going to Fast every day of my life,” and the third said: “I’m going to practice sexual abstinence from now on.”

When the Prophet heard of this, he upbraided them, saying: “I’m foremost among the Godfearing, yet I sometimes Pray at night and sometimes I sleep. I sometimes fast and sometimes I don’t. And I marry women. Anyone who turns away from my Path is not one of mine.” He is also recorded as saying, “Who goes to extremes is ruined.” Moderation is key.

Speaking of, let me clarify one point. We tend to imagine the Prophet as some kind of warlord—always on the warpath, rushing from one battle to the next. This is a very big mistake. (Historians like to dwell on wars a lot because these are the highlights and gamechangers of history. They are also events that have the best chance of being recorded.) On the contrary, the Prophet’s battles totaled less than a month in a life of 63 years, and those were forced upon him.

There are two periods in his life: the periods in Mecca and Medina. His biography is truly a tale of two cities. The Meccan period comprised the revelation of the religion, the Medinan period was devoted to its consolidation. But its most important part had already been revealed while he was still in Mecca. The Master always told us to study the Prophet’s Meccan phase with care, because that was where the essentials of the religion were revealed.

The Belly of the Whale

In search of his missing “father” Gepetto, Pinocchio is swallowed by Monstro, the giant whale.  
 Now where have we heard of this before? That’s right: Jonah and the whale! It’s in both the Bible and the Koran. 
 Regarding this, Master Kayhan said:

It doesn’t digest him. It takes and regurgitates him on land. His clothes were melted, he was left naked. He covers himself with something. But he doesn’t live long after that. Human beings kill him. There are very delicate points here. Don’t bother about them, they’re not for you to understand.

(H. Bayman, The Teachings of a Perfect Master (2012), p. 290.)

Leaving aside meanings beyond our ken, let us rather focus on one we can fathom. Jonah’s emergence from the giant fish is a symbol of rebirth. And Pinocchio, too, dies as a result of his encounter with the whale and is subsequently reborn as a real boy.  
 In another sense, Pinocchio emerges from the dark, dank belly of the whale into daylight, from darkness into light. That is, he achieves Illumination. It’s like escaping from a buried coffin. (For a similar initiation experience in Hermeticism, go to the latter part of this.) Just like Jonah, about whom the Master explained:

From the belly of the whale, he repeats over and over again: ‘There is no god but You. Glory be to You. I have been of the wrong-doers’ [21:87]. They say that with this prayer, Jonah made his Ascension in the belly of the whale. (Ibid.)

Whenever you’re in a fix (a tight place), if you repeat the same Verse as Invocation, it is to be hoped that Divine Aid will reach out to you, too.
In short, Pinocchio recapitulates the sagas of at least two prophets: Adam and Jonah.
From Plato’s Cave to Aladdin’s Cave
In some respects, the cavernous stomach of Monstro calls to mind the famous cave of the philosopher Plato. Without enlightenment, Plato said in The Republic, we are like prisoners chained to the bottom of a dark cave. Strange, incomprehensible shadows parade before our eyes, yet we have no way of apprehending the realities they correspond to.
From this, let us move on to another famous Disney movie, Aladdin (1992), inspired by the tale from the 1001 (or Arabian) Nights. In search of the fabulous Lamp, Aladdin descends into a cave: the Cave of Wonders.

Like Plato’s Cave, the Cave of Wonders is a symbol for the world we live in: more precisely, the external world accessible through our five physical senses. Pay no heed to the treasures lying at your feet, wonderful though they are. You must walk through these as if they were dust, and concentrate only on one goal: reaching the Stairway, at the top of which is the Beam-up (miraj: stairway or Ascension).

The Light of God "comes to the distance of two bows/arcs, or even closer"  (53:9)

In order to activate this process, you have to polish the lamp, which is a symbol for your Heart. The Prophet said: “There is a polish for everything, and the polish of Hearts is the Invocation of God.” Moreover, the Invocation (dhikr) or remembrance of God is embedded in the Formal Prayer (namaz, salat), which is the very thing the Prophet called “the Ascension of the faithful.” If, like the Prophet, your “attention does not stray, nor does it swerve” (53:17) for even an instant, then God will “reveal to His servant what He reveal(s)” (53:10). If you are able to attain such laser-like concentration, your sins will drop away like autumn leaves, and you will find yourself in the elevator (they call it jazba, “divine attraction,” in Sufism and “tractor beam” in science fiction) that leads to the Divine Presence. 

The Ship of Saints

(Copyright Aga Khan Museum)
Gold calligraphy on chestnut leaf in the form of a ship. The inscription reads: “And say: ‘Lord, grant me a good entry and a goodly exit, and sustain me with Your power (17:80).
The Ship of (Sufi) Saints is an analogue of Noah’s Ark: it is the instructions, protection, aid and blessings of a Perfect Master, which enable a student to brave high and dangerous seas and safely reach the other shore of Realization. In the term ilm al-safina, another meaning is revealed: this refers to the knowledge obtained from the Books, i.e. the revealed books, the instructions of which help us to attain salvation.
 (As an aside, to my knowledge there are two books bearing this title. The first is Dara Shikoh’s Safinat ul-Awliya (Arabic, 1640), dealing with the biographies of Sufi saints. The other is Hüseyin Vassaf’s much larger Sefine-i Evliya (Turkish, 1925), in which he relates the lives of almost 2000 Sufi saints.)

The Penultimate Stage 

In Sufism, the self of the traveler progresses through seven stages that begin with the Base Self and culminate with the Purified Self. Years, perhaps decades, of preparation are needed to climb this mountain, for the conditions of the world do not permit an easy ascent without constant struggle. For brevity, let us skip some of the intermediate stages and focus on the last two.
To the mature person at the sixth stage, the first good signs of the great viceregency begin to appear. At the end of this process he is dressed in all the regalia of that rank. The servant knows all the subtle secrets of things through the knowledge given him by His Lord. God has informed His servants of these secrets with the proclamation: “I taught Adam the names of all things.” There are secrets associated with this stage that cannot be expressed in words. It is impossible for anyone not possessing this state to comprehend these, for they do not have correlates in the external world to which they might be compared.
(H. Bayman, The Station of No Station (2001), p. 141.)

(C. Spiegel-Verlag, 24/2014)
The Universal Man or Cosmic Human are two other names for the Perfect Human Being (insan al-kâmil). Such a person has transcended petty boundaries and established kinship with all that is. S/he has become brethren with everything in the universe. Thus, a Friend (wali, pl. awliya) of God is a friend of all being. As the Turkish Sufi poet Niyazi Misri sang:
“I used to think that in the world, no friends were left for me
I left my me behind and knew: no others are left for me.”

The Seventh Level

This level in the stages of selfhood corresponds to the culmination of the inner journey, yielding the Perfect Human Being, also known as the Universal Man or Cosmic Human. As I have written elsewhere:
The human self that has risen to the seventh station is called the perfect self because it has reached the pinnacle of maturity, and the purified or pure self (safiya or zakiya, after 18:74, 87:14, 91:9) because it has become completely purified. The seeker can rise to the sixth stage by struggle, but the seventh can only be bestowed on him by the grace of God. This is the final stage of human evolution, where all human potentials manifest themselves in full bloom. It is also the level at which the mystery of Unity is fully revealed. The consciousness and knowledge that obtain at this stage have been called “objective consciousness” and “objective knowledge” because there is no trace left of the delusions generated by the Base Self.
The seventh station is the highest and most exalted station of all. The Inner Kingdom (the Kingdom which, as Jesus said, “is within you”) has reached perfection, and the struggle is finished. Asceticism and self-restraint are no longer necessary. It is enough to avoid excess in all things. The possessor of this stage has no desires left, for they have all been granted. He still continues, however, to wish for the pleasure of his Lord.
The actions of the perfect human being at this stage are all goodness and worship. His sweet breath is power and grace. His gentle speech is knowledge and wisdom, sweetness and light. His blessed face radiates peace and joy. His sweet and effective speech is soothing, peaceful, and affectionate.
The person at this stage is never without worship, even for a moment. He worships with all his bodily organs, with his tongue, hands, and feet, or solely with his heart, and is never heedless of his Lord.
Such a person repents frequently. He is extremely humble. The tendency of people to seek God pleases him greatly. He is sad and offended if they neglect God. He loves those who desire and love God more than he would love his own child. Both his love and his anger are not for his self, but for God alone. Everything he does is right. He acts with justice in everything. His every wish is in accord with God’s wishes... he is one who has attained “the Station of No Station.”
(H. Bayman, The Station of No Station (2001), pp. 141-2.)

The Sufi Saint

Let Master Kayhan have the last word:
The saint is a person who has gathered the attributes of the four poles, who combines within himself the qualities of the sun, water, earth and night. He is like the sun in loving-kindness, like water in generosity, like the earth in humility and like the night in hiding sins. An ant is his life and soul. A blade of grass is his life and soul.
The saint has taken the universe in hand. If I were to sit in the shade and say: ‘Bring me the sun, bring me wind,’ you couldn’t. One has to be like that. The easiest miraculous feat is to talk with the dead. Go ahead, talk! You have to die before you die, then it’s possible. Whatever is difficult for your ego, do that. If one is in possession of those truths, one is not a prophet, but one is fulfilling the morality of the prophets.
(H. Bayman, The Teachings of a Perfect Master (2012), p. 345.)