Chand Raat of Shaban 1444 – 21st February 2023: The Esoteric Path and The Polish of the Heart

By: Sadruddin Noorani, Chicago, USA

In the ginan (Gujarati Poetry) Eji Bindraa’re Van’ma Sukh’a Chare’re Gaavantri, attributed to Pir Sadar al-Din, we are presented with a dramatic scene. A lion approaches a cow who is grazing in the pasture and is ready to devour it. And yet, the cow convinces the lion to have some patience, so that she can first feed her calf before she offers herself to the lion for his meal. Upon hearing this promise, the lion grants her this request and she hurries towards her child who is sleeping. But the calf refused to suckle the milk upon hearing the story and instead accompanies her to the lion. The lion cannot believe his luck. Instead of one cow, the lion now sees two animals approaching him. The calf approaches the lion and sincerely asks him to devour her first before feeding on her mother. The lion is so impressed and moved by this that he lets the animals free and offers to be their protector from then on.

This story can be interpreted in a number of ways. As Ismaili Muslims, we are often inclined to not only take things at their face value, but to also search for their deeper meanings. We have heard Mawlana Hazar Imam (Aga Khan lV) speaking about the Ismaili tariqah (tradition) as an esoteric tariqah. And many of us are drawn towards the stories of Sufi poets and consider our interpretation of Islam as one which is aligned with the mystical path.

Mawlana Hazar Imam reminds us of our centuries old esoteric tradition, “it is an intellectual tradition, it is a personal tradition, it is a tradition that stems from Hazrat Ali (alay-hi salaam), and there should not be any compromise on the essence of those traditions.” The world is getting smaller, the interactions between different ethnic communities are expanding; it enters into contact with other traditions in Islam. There are those amongst us and amongst other traditions, who are seeking to understand their own traditions and who are seeking to learn.

We must ask ourselves what we understand when we hear the word, “esoteric“? For many of us, we equate the word “esoteric” with batin – something that is hidden or not at first apparent to us. Others take “esoteric” to mean that we are not bound by the zahir or forms of things. And yet, Mawlana Hazar Imam, and many Imams before him, have guided us and emphasized the need for balance in our daily lives and to adhere to a balance between both our worldly and spiritual responsibilities. Including in our spiritual responsibilities are our daily prayers for it is through prayer that we further our relationship with our Creator, but are also constantly reminded of Allah, and we allow Him to enter our thoughts at those intimate moments. But prayer for prayer’s sake is not enough. Our first Imam, Hazrat ‘Ali (a.s.) has said:

There is no benefit in recitation without contemplation; there is no benefit in worship without comprehension.

The Ismaili tariqah offers us many opportunities to communicate with our Creator. We have the daily Du’a, as well as many rites, ceremonies and also have the opportunity for personal reflection. Amongst Ismailis of different backgrounds, this is often referred to as bandagi and zikr, the better we become at it, the more we attune ourselves to that which we usually cannot feel or see, and the more receptive we become to what it may bring us. 

During certain months or seasons’ we may slow down from our daily worldly activities and take this opportunity to not only think about and reflect upon our spiritual lives, but also as an opportunity to do something about. It could be through increased attendance in Jamatkhana, through service to others or through engagement in bangdagi,zikr and reflection by consciously taking out time in our daily lives to do so. These moments of reflection will remind us of our Creator, “from Whom we have came and to Whom we will ultimately return.” [2:156]

Polish of the Heart

It is a time to think about our own spiritual journeys. In the Muslim tradition, spirituality is mostly associated with two sites. The first is the heart (qalb). The second is the ego (nafs). In Arabic the word qalb implies something that turns around, for it is the nature of the heart that it is constantly moving. Even when we are still, the heart continues to beat. But the heart is more than just a muscle that pumps blood through the body. It is a place/organ associated with love and affection. At the same time, the heart is the seat of more negative emotions such as jealousy and hate.

Like a mirror, the heart can be polished and cleansed. When it is polished, we can truly love others, including the Divine. One way to do this is through the remembrance of Allah or zikr-e Elahi. Zikr is the polish for our hearts. It helps to remove the accumulated residue that prevents the heart from feeling and seeing, and from reflecting that which it comes in contact with. God tells us in the Qur’an:

Verily, in the remembrance of Allah, do hearts find rest! [13:28]

However, zikr should be an important part of our lives. Just as we brush our teeth every day, the practice of zikr should be a daily and constant exercise to prevent our hearts from tarnishing.

There is a story of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) recorded in Sahih Muslim. When he was just a child, the Prophet was playing with other boys when the Angel Gabriel came to him, opened his chest and removed from within it, a black spot on his heart. The Prophet’s heart was then washed with the water of Zam Zam before his chest was closed once again. Over the ages, biographers of the Prophet have offered a number of interpretations to what this black spot may have been and why it was necessary for the angel to remove it.

Some say that the black spot represents the Prophet’s sins or the capability to do wrong. Others say that the spot represented doubt and prevented the heart from having faith and wisdom. And yet others speak of the black spot as being the whispers of devil (satan).

While the Prophet has an exalted status in Islam, our hearts in many ways, are like his. But we too must find a way to rid ourselves of the black spots that lie within them. As we reflect upon what those spots or impurities might be in our own lives, let us also consider the ways in which we might remove them. Sometimes, those spots might be those emotions that lead to destructive feelings and forgetfulness of our Creator, and also to negative actions. These shortcomings can prevent us from polishing our hearts. However, through constant zikr and reflection, we have the ability to wash away those negative emotions and feelings and bring ourselves nearer to the Divine.

It is incumbent upon all of us to live our faith every minute, every hour and every day and is essential to our spiritual progress and the overall well-being of the community, this will bring us closer to the One Who is above all else.

Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

4 thoughts

  1. Excellent explanation of all aspects of our regular prayers and constant rememberance of Allah to get better understanding of our Ismaili faith. Please share the article with others, young and the old. And, special thanks to the writer, Saddrudin Noorani for sharing his thoughts.


  2. What I specially liked about this article is the passage quoted in Quran [2:156] about our Creator, “from Whom we have came and to Whom we will ultimately return.” It has similarity to the passage in the Bible found in 1 Corinthians 8:6a where it says, “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live.” By this, we know that there is a commonality between the scriptures in Quran and the Bible. This just proves that we are all one in God. Amen!


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