The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship
Advice to Prisoners by the Sufi Teacher
A short talk give by Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, may God be pleased with him, on July 5, 1979.
An inmate on furlough from Graterford Prison:
Please ask Bawa if there is anything, any word, that I can take back in my heart that will strengthen the fellowship at Graterford.
M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen:
First of all say to them, "My brothers, the world has locked us away - some for offenses we did commit and were found guilty of, and others for offenses that we did not actually commit but for which we were pronounced guilty anyway. Now we find ourselves grouped together in this place as guilty ones."
"If we are among those who did commit faults, maybe even more than one, then we must ask for forgiveness from Allah. In addition, we must erase the intentions that drove us to do what we did and put them out of our minds completely, so that we will never commit such offenses again. If we are those who are in fact innocent, but have been put in jail anyway, then we must place our trust in Allah and hand over everything into His responsibility (tawakkul) saying, "O God! Please do not pass such a verdict on me ever again. Please save me from such a fate. Please do not ever make me suffer an experience like this again. Please bestow on me the wisdom to make me live as a true human being.""
Both groups must ask this of God and make such a determined commitment. We must also be sure to never repeat those wrongs again.
Secondly, tell them, "All the bad qualities that are within us - the obsession to strike back at anyone who has struck us, the quality of wanting to inflict pain on the one who caused us pain, and the quality of being bent on punishing the one responsible for our conviction. We must pluck these qualities out of us and in their place implant the quality of patience, unfurling it as an umbrella to shield us against whatever suffering may assail us, whether it be accidents, gales, or burning heat. In this way, we must try to practice the qualities of God and acquire a state of comfort and peace."
Thirdly, tell them, "Whatever weapon we hold in our hands with the intention of harming someone else, that very weapon will one day harm us. If we wield a sword, that same sword will cut us. If we tote a gun, that gun will shoot us. If we carry a knife, that knife will cut us. Therefore, we should not resort to using any weapons of bad qualities. The only weapon that we must carry in our hands is God. His qualities, His patience (sabur), His contentment (shakur) - these must be our only weapons."
Fourthly, say, "We must have faith in God." Tell them that God does exist. Bodies are subject to change. Lives change. Everything created keeps on changing. The wind and rain, the ocean, the world, religions and castes, all these change and take on new forms. The sun and the moon change, bringing about the alternation of day and night. Difficulties, hardship, joy, and sorrow keep on changing too. Hunger changes. One time you are hungry, another time you are not. We live, we die. Death and life alternate, as do wealth and poverty. All things must change. Everything that has been created is subject to change, coming and going in cycles.
There is only one thing that never changes. That is God. We must have faith
in Him. That is the only thing in man's life that does not change. That is
Allah, the One who never diminishes, no matter how much is taken from Him. We
must accept that One with absolute certitude. That is the only thing which does
not hurt us or cause us pain. Tell them to believe in that. If they believe in
God, then, whatever might happen at a particular moment, whether it be a loss or
a gain for them, they must say, "Al-hamdu lillah (all praise is to God)." If
they receive something good, tell them to say, "Al-hamdu lillah." Even if they
did not receive anything at all, they should still say, "Al-hamdu lillah," and
have contentment, or shakur.
What is happening right at this moment is all that we can know. What will happen at the next moment, we do not know. Therefore, for whatever is to happen in the next hour, or on the next day, we must say, "Tawakkul-'allah, O God! That is Your responsibility. For what happened to me just now, I praise You. "Al-hamdu lillah, shakur. I do not know what will happen in the next moment, therefore that is in Your charge."
Tell them that this is how they must conduct themselves. Every moment we must establish this state and hand over all responsibility to God. If we can do this, then God Himself becomes the Watcher, the Guardian for our life and our wealth. Then we can live in peace. Please tell them this.
A question was asked concerning choosing friends.
M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen: We have to reflect on how we conduct our lives. Man's life is like a desert. If we try to cross that desert by holding on to the tail of a donkey, it will drag us along and kick us with its hind legs. So do not hold on to the tail of a friend who is like a donkey. Friends like that will not help you.
Life is also an ocean of illusion (maya). We have to cross that ocean, but it is foolish to hold on to the tail of a water buffalo to swim to the opposite shore. A water buffalo cannot even help us across a river. In the middle of the journey, it will lie down in the mud because that is what it likes best, and we could drown right then and there. The water buffalo is used to the mud and knows how to free itself, but a man is not used to mud, and he may find it difficult to escape. Therefore, never take someone who acts like a water buffalo for a friend. Such a friend is not good for you.
Man's life can also be seen as a dense jungle which he must journey through. This dark jungle of ignorance (agnanam) is inhabited by wild animals. If you want to travel through this jungle, it is unwise to hold on to the tail of a tiger, thinking that it will protect you from the other animals. What will the tiger do? The moment it is hungry, it will turn around and gobble you up. That is the easiest thing to do: there is no need for it to go in search of food. So if we hold on to friends who are like tigers, we will never succeed in crossing the jungle. We must be aware of this.
In life, on one side there is light, and on the other it is night. The
darkness is intense in the jungle of ignorance (agnanam), false wisdom,
and illusion (maya). This is the world. In order to guide your life
through this darkness, do not rely on a torch made of rags soaked in kerosene.
That torch has a limit for how long it can help you. As soon as the kerosene is
used up, the torch will go out, and you will be stranded in the middle of the
dark jungle. The wild animals are used to the darkness. Many see best in the
dark of night, and they will devour you. So do not hold on to friends like that
- friends who live in the darkness of ignorance and illusion and who see best in
If you want to cross this dark jungle, you need to carry the light of wisdom. It will say to you, "It is nighttime and the jungle is dark. If we try to travel now, we may be attacked. Let's go in the light of day." The light of wisdom is essential for our survival in life. If we make our journey in that light, we can escape from many kinds of dangers. If we go in darkness, we will be subject to a lot of trouble. Do you understand? Please reflect on this a little.
There are many matters in your life that need correcting. Therefore, think well and choose the good path to walk on. Choose the company of good people, people of wisdom. Take up with good people who know the difference between right and wrong. Once we know the difference, we can choose the right path.
That is all that needs to be said right now. There is no need to talk further. If you can, think about these things. You are a good child. You have to extricate yourself.
- M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
September 11, 1973