Memories of Pir Rasheed (Syed Mohammad Rasheed-ul-Hasan Jeeli Kaleemi)
Here are 18 recollections of Pir Rasheed’s teachings, may God embrace his soul with mercy. This bereft follower of his, Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle, collected these so that loving people who met him only briefly can benefit from his wisdom.
1. Pir Rasheed said, “God’s essence is within every person. God gives to each person regardless of what that person is like—Muslim or non-Muslim, good or bad. What a large-hearted being is God!”
2. Pir Rasheed was invited to a follower’s home for a meal but declined to come. The follower boasted, “Our house is big and our hearts are big!” Pir Rasheed laughed, “The big One is in my heart, what need have I for anything else?”
3. Pir Rasheed used to teach, “Doesn’t the Qur’an tell us that God says, ‘I created the jinn and human beings only to worship me’? How is it possible for a human being to spend each moment worshipping God through ritual prayer?… Only Sufis can give the real explanation of this verse in Qur’an, because they know that each breath—inhaling and exhaling—can be prayer if it is done with sincerity and mindfulness. This is the only kind of prayer that one can do in every moment, while still fulfilling one’s other duties in the world.”
4. Pir Rasheed taught that, “There is Sufism or mysticism in every religion. Hindus believed from the earliest times in the great spirit that rules over the world, creates it, nourishes it and sustains it. Different groups have given different names to this great spirit or pure essence. Jains, Buddhists and Hindus have given it different names and called it by different metaphors, but every group believes in the creative and sustaining spirit. Some people later made idols and statues in human form, and claimed that the great spirit resided in them or could be reached through means of them, but this is a later development. Then along came Islam just 1400 years ago—very recently. Islam, too, teaches the worship and reverence of the one great spirit that is called Allah. But Islam is very focused on maintaining the original purity and oneness of the spirit, in hopes to guide people back to the original belief that all shared. So the Sufism in Islam is the same in principle as mysticism in other religions.”
5. Pir Rasheed taught, “We must understand the five senses and where they came from. We experience the world through seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling and we can do no work in the world without them—but where did these powers come from? In Qur’an it says that God is One who sees (basir), One who hears (sami`) and One who knows (`alim). God senses like we do, but in an ultimate way. God knows not only all things we have done outwardly or thought inwardly or intended, but also knows all things we will do. So we can say our powers of sensing, when rightly understood, are granted by God. They are given to us by God, as poor reflections of God’s own powers of perception and sense and knowledge. By means of these five senses, we experience the world. We come to know things. We are enabled to think about things, not only what is happening now but what has happened in memory or could happen in our rational deliberation. God has given us thought, reason and mind in order to perform acts in the world. We have used the mind to create atom bombs or to fly to the moon… The ability to do these amazing things is given to us by God. We have the freedom to use our ability for good or for bad, and that choice is given to us by God as well.”
6. Pir Rasheed strictly followed the sharia but never imposed rules on others. He followed sharia as an expression of adab, good manner and respect, with regard to God. He used to say, “Sufism is in its entirety good adab. It is how you treat people and the environment and all things around you. Sufism is not about rites and rituals, customs and ceremonies. Some people think that Sufism is about having a long beard, or wearing a cloak, or putting a certain colored cap on your head. These things are not Sufism at all. They are customs. Sufism is an attitude of respect and benevolence toward all people and all things around you. It is adab and it comes directly from the heart. The person with the better adab is the better Sufi. It is in being kind and compassionate in all situations, being forbearing and forgiving with all people, and putting aside your own wants and needs to serve others. Everything else is a means toward this goal.”
7. Pir Rasheed used to say, “God has imposed limits. This is to force our minds to restrain, not to give into any old path that the five senses opens up for us as a possibility. This is to preserve our nobility, for the human being is the best model and image of God in this world. Our senses are reflections, though dim, of God’s power of perception and our reasoning is a reflection of God’s own knowledge and thought. Therefore we must keep these reflected qualities pure, clear and full of light… The power of electricity comes through all the wires in this room from a generator, and it powers the lights and fan here. If the generator is turned off, then it doesn’t matter how many of the switches in this room we turn on or off, no power will come and none of our appliances will work. It is God’s presence with us and will for us that provides us with our five senses, the knowledge that these bring, and our ability to think about experiences. We think of our senses as belonging to our body in our anatomy. Sight is in the eyes. Hearing is in the ears. Tasting is in the tongue. Smelling is in the nose. Feeling is in the skin. We think these parts and their powers belong to us, constitute us. But in fact, God is closer to us than these. In Qur’an it says that “God is closer to you than the artery in your neck.” God is with you and in you, and that is what gives you the senses and their powers. Without acknowledging that, the five senses and the thoughts which arise from them will mislead you.”
8. Pir Rasheed used to say, “In khudarat is there is khuda—meaning, in nature there is God.” [This is a pun that works in Hyderabad—where the word qudrat or “nature’s power” is pronounced as khudarat, and is sounds like khuda or “God.”] He would explain, “In every religion there is Sufism. All these mysticisms teach the same thing about the five senses: that you have to learn to control the five senses and know what is beyond them. But in Islam there is a teaching about where the five senses come from, which is not clearly taught in other religions. The five senses come directly from God. Each sense is a reflection of God’s quality. God sees, so we have the sense of sight. God feels, so we have the sense of touch. God hears, so we have the sense of hearing. These senses are not merely natural. They come directly from God, if you understand them correctly. In nature is a supernature. You come to understand that supernature which is God when you control your five senses. Then you begin to sense with your heart, to know that in your breathing is the divine spirit. When you control your senses, then you begin to focus on the heart. You hear the beating of your heart, and you hear that it is really saying alla-hu-alla-hu-alla-hu. It is pronouncing the name of God—Allahu. It is remembering the presence of God. Without that, you have no life, but you need to focus to realize this.”
9. Pir Rasheed used to teach about doing zikr in every breath, “When you begin to feel your own heart and hear it saying the name Allahu then your senses change. You begin to see with God’s own seeing. You begin to hear with God’s own hearing. You begin to will things with God’s own willing. Things begin to happen around you that do not seem natural, that are beyond natural. You think something and then it happens. You remember somebody and then they call you. You wish for something and then it occurs. These are gifts and signs. You should just keep focusing on your heart and remembering God but things around you will begin to change.”
10. Pir Rasheed told about his own life, “When I was young, my family fell upon hard times. I finished school and then went directly to work at the State Bank of Hyderabad. That was in 1950. I worked there until I got a better job at Saudi Airlines, so I moved to Jedda. There I worked for 18 years. All that time, I used to say so many durud, wishing peace and blessings on the Prophet Muhammad I used to love to recite durud from the book Dala’il al-Khairat, which gives so many beautiful prayers for each day of the week. But in my heart, I longed to have a durud that was more beautiful and rare, which is not found in any book.
Then once I went to Medina to the tomb of the Prophet and I was longing for some gift, some durud that would be mine forever. As I was coming out of the tomb, I was called over by one Shaykh al-Tabrezi who lived there. He was rais al-fuqara, who was responsible for all the faqirs who lived there at Medina. He called me over, speaking in Arabic. Now I am an unlettered man. I can read the Qur’an alright, but I can’t speak or write Arabic. Still, this man called me over and insisted on giving me a durud. In Arabic he said, ‘Take out a pen and paper and write it down!’ I ran to the market to spend one riyal on pens and one riyal on paper. He wrote out for me a durud, and signed it and dated it. He was commanded by the Prophet to give this to me. What a blessing that is! These are the only things that I cherish. I had no other desires in the world when I visited the Prophet’s tomb. I had given up everything, but I was asking to just have a durud that no one else had. On the Day of Judgment I will offer up only this—a durud. Nothing else I have and nothing else will matter. That day was the climax of my life.”
The durud that he was given he passed on to his followers. It is in Arabic, but in English translation it reads: “O God, grant exaltations, peace and blessings upon our master Muhammad, to the extent of your boundless love for him. Increase us in love for him, O Lord, and by his greatness in your estimation remove from us all obstacles. O God, grant exaltations upon him and his family and his companions with blessings and peace. We do not ask you to revoke what you decree, but ask only for gentleness in it. Amen.” In Romanized characters, the Arabic reads: “Allaahumma salli alaa sayyidina Muhammad qadara hubbika fihi wa zidna ya mawlaaya hubban fihi. Wa bi-jaahihi indaka farrij anna ma nahnu fihi, salaa Allaahu alayhi wa aalihi wa as-habihi wa salim. Allaahumma la nasaluka radd al-qadaa, wa lakinna nasaluka lutfan fihi. Ameen.”
11. Pir Rasheed loved Qawwali, especially the songs about the visiting the Prophet in Medina. A favorite song was by Bedam Warisi, “A breeze arrived bearing the scent of Muhammad, may God bless him and give him peace / the heart is pulled by yearning for Muhammad, may God bless him and give him peace (Aye naseem-e bu-e Muhammad, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallim / kinchne laga dil su-e Muhammad, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallim). He would often rise in ecstasy and tears upon hearing its powerful final couplet, “Gentle fragrance spread, O Bedam, making fragrant the world of the heart/ When loose flowed the tresses of Muhammad, God bless him and give his peace.”
12. Pir Rasheed used to say, “Music is the very backbone of our tariqa.” Once I asked permission to learn Indian music. He responded by reciting a couplet by Maulana Rumi is often used to open Qawwali: “Dried skin, brittle wood and strung gut, from this how does my beloved’s voice come? Not from skin, not from wood or from gut, from beyond these does my beloved’s voice come” (kushk chub o kushk tar o kushk post, az kuja mi-ayad in avaz-e dost / na az chub o na az tar o na az post, khud-bi-khud mi-ayad in avaz-e dost). Then he said, “You should not only study music, but you must learn to play music! Music is the backbone of our tariqa. It is the very foundation of the Chishti order. Without music there would be no energy and no light in the Chishti path. The better one understands music, the better one can progress in the Chishti order.”
13. Pir Rasheed used to quote, during all his conversations, couplets form Urdu and Persian poems. One of his favorites was, “I have no desire for wine and its potency / I want night and day only that kind of ecstasy” (mai se nasha se mujhe gharaz nahin / in guna be-khudi chahiye rat din).
14. Another favorite couplet of his was from Maulana Rumi, “He is the pot and he is potter, he is the clay and the drunken reveler / Reeling up to the wine-vat to buy a cup, he smashes it and disappears” (khud kuza o khud kuzagar o khud gil-e kuza, khud rind-e sabu-kash / keh bar sar-e an kuza kharidar bar amad, bi-shikast o ravan shud). Once when reciting this couplet, he turned to us and asked, “Who was Maulana Rumi before he met Shams? He was only a maulana, a teacher. But once he fell in love with Shams-e Tabrezi and his teachings, then he became Maulana Rumi!”
15. Pir Rasheed said, “Love is the single most essential thing in Sufism, without which nothing one does is of any benefit. Love for God is the main thing, as expressed in awe and humility in prayer. Without this emotion, prayer is just movement, like exercise. It is not beneficial in that case, and in fact, it could be very harmful. Love for other people is also crucial, just as I love you, and you have come to love me and place me in the circle of your love. You should burn with love, like a candle. Its nature is to burn down, slowly dwindling away toward death but giving off so much light. Wherever it is, in whatever environment or surroundings, the candle gives off light. It may be in a mosque or temple, it may be in a party where people have gathered to celebrate, it may be in a bar where people come to drink in oblivion. Wherever it may be, the candle burns and in burning it gives others light. That is the way you must be.”
16. Pir Rasheed told his followers, “When I die and they take out my corpse for the janaza funeral, I want there to be music! Make a note of that. There should Qawwals leading the procession.” I asked, “What song would you like them to sing?” He paused for a moment. Then he replied, “Why not those very lines—I became you and you became me?” He smiled and his face radiated pure joy. The whole poem by Amir Khusro (Ay chehra-e zeba-e tu rashk-e butan-e azari) is this:
Your beautiful face makes even Azeri idols seethe with jealousy
Whatever metaphor I employ surely falls short of your beauty
Beyond the horizons I have travelled, enchanting idols I pursued
Many beauties I witnessed but the likes of you none will ever see
I became you and you became me, I will be body if soul you will be
So none can claim that there be any difference between you and me
Khusro has come knocking doors begging through this town of yours
For God’s sake he’s on all fours, “Look after the poor” is his only plea
17. Pir Rasheed used to say, “Death could come at any time without any warning. One moment you are healthy and happy, the next moment you are dead. It is just like in the poem, “Life is a single turn away from death, life keeps making new turns” (zindigi ki ik karwat hai mawt, zindagi badal jata hai). Yes, it is just like in the Qur’an which says, “Every soul tastes death” (kullu nafsin dha’iqat al-mawt). The Arabic word for soul, nafs, is closely related to the word for breath, nafas. So with breathing in and out, the soul is tasting death for a moment. Death is as close to each person that the space between one breath and next. How easy it is to turn over while sleeping—just like that death is a small turn away from life. After breathing out, what guarantee is there that you will once again breath in?”
18. Pir Rasheed expressed toward the end of his life, “You cannot do just anything you like. You do things that God is willing you to do. I want to move back to the neighborhood where I grew up, were my ancestors lived near the Astana Kaleemi. But I cannot, not unless God wills that. No! It is not meant to happen. Not until and unless the superpower allows it to happen, it cannot. You see, I still desire things that are beyond me….” He laughed at himself and smiled.
Pir Rasheed yearned to acquire a small piece of land near the graves of his ancestors—one of whom, Sayyid Muhammad Hasan Jeeli Kaleemi, was the teacher of Sayyid Abu Hashim Madani who was in turn the teacher of Hazrat Inayat Khan. Pir Rasheed wanted to open a khanqah or Sufi Center there, where people could come to learn about Sufism. But this remained an aspiration. Hazrat Inayat Khan also dreamed of building a music academy in Hyderabad, where his teacher lived and is buried; that too remains an unfulfilled dream. Perhaps the next generation will fulfill these two dreams together.
Pir Rasheed Kaleemi left this world around midnight at the end of Sunday, December 22 (corresponding to 18 Safar 1435 in the Islamic calendar).
He was buried on December 25 at the Astana Kaleemi in Hyderabad, at the foot of the grave of his grandfather, Syed Mohammed Zia-ul-Hasan Kaleemi, and Qawwali singers lead the funeral procession.
His son, Syed Mohammad Mohamid Hasan Kaleemi known popularly as Mujahid Baba, succeeds him leader of the Kaleemi Sufi order in Hyderabad; on December 26 was the turban ceremony for his succession as sajjada-nasheen.
An important day of remembrance for him, the 40th day after his passing or chehelum, will fall on Jan. 31, 2014.
Pir Rasheed’s first urs, the yearly commemoration of his freedom from these early bonds, will be on 11 December, 2014 (his urs will be celebrated each year according to the Islamic calendar).
Scott Kugle is a research scholar in comparative religion and Islamic culture. He is Associate Professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian studies and has lived for many years in Hyderabad, India, where he does research, teaches, and participates in the Kalimi community of the Chishti Sufi order. Dr. Kugle is the author of Sufi Meditation and Contemplation: Timeless Wisdom from Mughal India (Suluk Press 2012).