Sufi teaches tradition
He says even Muslims sometimes misunderstand mystical ideas,
07/21/2001 - The Dallas Morning News
By JEFFREY WEISS / The Dallas Morning News
In some ways, the portly man with the long beard would have seemed familiar
to his Orthodox Jewish grandparents. Praying and chanting in a Middle
Eastern language, lecturing on spirituality and theology, he might have
been mistaken for a rabbi.
But the language is Arabic, not Hebrew, and he wears a pointed turban,
not a yarmulke. Abdul Haqq is a Sufi shaykh, a disciple of a Muslim mystical
tradition that is more than 1,200 years old. Twenty-five years ago the
spiritual seeker from Chicago - then named Peter Sazanoff - was transformed
in an instant into a fervent Sufi, he said last week.
One day he met Shaykh Nazim, a Sufi master from Cyprus. One look in the
elder shaykh's eyes was all it took, said Shaykh Abdul, 54. "I knew
I was in the presence of someone who understood me completely," he
For much of the past 20 years, Shaykh Abdul has been doing what he did
in Dallas, Irving and Austin last week. He travels around the country
explaining Sufism to non-Muslims and, according to his tradition, carrying
a spiritual power to fellow Sufis.
Because he has been designated a senior disciple by a Sufi master, Sufis
who sit, talk and pray with Shaykh Abdul believe that they gain spiritual
blessings just by being in his presence, he said.
"Our way is that by being associated with the shaykh, the blessings
come on the group," he said.
Most Americans know little about Islam. If they know anything about Sufism,
they may have heard of Rumi, a still-popular 13th-century poet and Sufi
Even many Muslims don't approve of Sufism. Veneration of the masters,
the use of music during prayers and some other customs are considered
un-Islamic add-ons by some Muslims. But Sufis say they're passing along
their faith in the style that their prophet, Mohammed, and his direct
followers first taught about Islam.
Battling ignorance and disapproval is a "daunting task," Shaykh
Abdul said. "There's a bit of Don Quixote in it."
Sufism is a tradition with similarities to Jewish Hasidism and to some
Christian religious orders. It suggests that the highest spiritual growth
cannot be attained simply through logic and study of the sacred Muslim
A saying on a local Sufi Web site reads: "Someone who seeks God through
logical proof is like someone who looks for the sun with a lamp."
Sufism teaches that experience of the divine can be found through contact
with Sufi masters who receive their titles in an apostolic system from
their predecessors. There are many dozens of Sufi orders in the world,
each led by its own master.
Shaykh Abdul belongs to the Naqshbandi order, which can trace its roots
back more than 600 years.
The orders are not exactly competitive. While each believes its master
is best, members aren't supposed to speak against any other master or
On July 13, Shaykh Abdul spent his prayer time with members of another
order. The Algadria Almukashifia follow a Sudanese Sufi master, but they
gave Shaykh Abdul a warm welcome. More than 50 people showed up for Friday
afternoon prayers at a storefront Sufi center in Irving.
The long room was sparsely furnished. A small partition marked the area
in the back for women. A few pictures and hand-written posters adorned
the walls. Padded rugs covered the entire floor where the faithful would
kneel while they prayed. Clocks at each end of the room signaled the time
for prayer. Burning incense perfumed the air.
They prayed in a fashion similar to any variety of Islam. Shaykh Abdul
delivered a short sermon emphasizing the sacredness of God - Allah in
Arabic. And then the congregation took up a chant that is particular to
Mohamed Mohamed, the Sudanese-born president of the Sufi center, offered
a rhyming prayer that was half-sung, half-chanted as other members of
the congregation kept time on drums: "Always listen to my advice.
Be wise and always be nice."
That was a new method of Sufi worship for Shaykh Abdul. A few days later,
he quoted a sacred saying that supports novel ways to communicate with
"Allah says to make the way wide for people," he said. Mr. Mohamed
"is trying to make his way wide for people. I think it's a good thing.
I wish some of our ethnically inward-looking communities would make similar
This week, he went home to Chicago. But soon he'll be back on the road,
teaching and praying. Not that he expects to ever find universal acceptance
for his message. He quoted another saying: "Saints are like an oasis
in the desert. They are able to make green around them, but there is this
huge desert," he said. "What can you do?"