The Sheikhs of the skullcaps
Bahaudin Naqshband (c. 1389A.D.) was approached by the sheikhs of four Sufi groups in India, Egypt, Turkey (Roum), and Persia. They asked him, in eloquently-worded letters, to send them teachings which they could impart to their followers.
Bahaudin first said: 'What I have is not new. You have it and do not use it correctly: therefore you will simply say when you receive my messages, "These are not new".'
The sheikhs replied: 'With respect, we believe that our disciples will not think thus.'
Bahaudin did not reply to these letters, but read them in his assemblies, saying: 'We at a distance will be able to see what happens. Those who are in the midst of it will not, however, make the effort to see what is happening to them.'
Then the sheikhs wrote to Bahaudin and asked him to give some token of his interest. Bahaudin sent one small skullcap, the araqia, for each student, telling their sheikhs to distribute them as from him, without saying what the reason might be.
He said to his assembly: 'I have done such-and-such a thing. We who are far will see what those who are near to events will not see.'
Now he wrote, after a time, to each of the sheikhs, asking them whether they had abided by his wishes, and what the result had been.
The sheikhs wrote: 'We have abided by your wishes.' But as to the results, the sheikh of Egypt wrote: 'My community eagerly accepted your gift as a sign of special sanctity and blessing, and as soon as the caps were distributed each person regarded them as of the greatest inner significance, and as carrying your mandate.'
And the sheikh of the Turks wrote, on the other hand: 'The community regard your cap with great suspicion. They imagine that it betokens your desire to assume their leadership. Some are afraid that you may even influence them from afar through this object.'
There was a different result from the sheikh in India, who wrote: 'Our disciples are in great confusion, and daily ask me to interpret to them the meaning of the distribution of araqia. Until I tell them something about this, they do not know how to act.'
The letter from the sheikh of Persia said: 'The result of your distribution of the caps has been that the Seekers, content with what you have sent them, await your further pleasure, so that they may place at the disposal of their teaching and of themselves the efforts which should be made.'
Bahaudin explained to an audience of hearers in Bokhara: 'The dominant superficial characteristic of the people in the circles of India, Egypt, Turkey and Persia was in each case manifested by the reactions of their members. Their behaviour when faced with a trivial object such as a skullcap would been exactly the same if they had been faced with me in person, or with teachings sent by me. Neither the people nor their sheikhs have learned that they must look among themselves for their choking peculiarities. They should not use these trivial peculiarities as methods to assess others.'
'Among the disciples of the Persian sheikh there is a possibility of understanding, because they have not the arrogance to imagine that they "understand" that my caps will bless them, will threaten them, will confuse them. The characteristics here are, in the three cases: Egyptian hope, Turkish fear and Indian uncertainty.'
Some of the epistles of Bahaudin Naqshband had meanwhile been copied as a pious act and distributed by well-meaning but unenlightened dervishes in Cairo, Hind and the Persian and Turki areas. They eventually fell into the hands of the circles surrounding these very 'Sheikhs of the Skullcaps'.
Bahaudin, therefore, asked one wandering Kalendar to visit each of these communities in turn, and to report to him how they felt about his epistles.
This man said on his return: 'They all said: "This is nothing new. We are doing all these things already. Not only that, but we are basing our daily lives on them, and by our existing tradition, we keep ourselves occupied day in and day out with remembrance of these things".'
El-Shah Bahaudin Naqshband thereupon called all his disciples together. He said to them: 'You who are at a distance from certain events connected with these four sheikhly groupings will be able to see how little has been accomplished by the working of the Knowledge among them. Those who are present there have learned so little that they can no longer profit from their own experiences. Where, therefore, is the advantage of the "daily remembrances and struggle"?'
'Make it a task to collect all the available information about this event, inform yourselves of the whole story, including the exchange of letters and what I have said, as well as the report of this Kalendar here. Bear witness that we have offered the means whereby others could learn. Cause this material to be written down and studied, and let those who have been present witness it so that, God willing, even reading about it might prevent such things happening frequently in future, and might even enable it to come to the eyes and ears of those who were so powerfully affected the the "action" of inactive skullcaps.'
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I received this from a reader in London, who does not have to deal with skullcaps! Thank you, if you are reading this. As you can see, true words always reach out.