Hajj Mustafa Ali
came to Islam after a very long search for something, call it Truth,
Real knowledge or use whatever label you want.
I sought always in the outward but that elusive something
always evaded my efforts. The seeker and the sought are really one, and what I sought
was within, though I did not at first perceive this. Most of what I encountered in life was only a hindrance to
fulfilling that inward yearning and it prevented me from arriving
sooner at this present stage in lifes remarkable journey. So you who read this must look within yourself, if you are
still seeking this path, and not at my story, or me for these are
only signposts along the way.
was born in England in 1928 and was abandoned at an early age to be
raised by my grandmother, a simple, hard working, honest woman who
had great determination and courage.
We were poor and were helped by neighbors at various times
with fuel for the fire and food for the table.
We grew most of our own vegetables, and some fruit, gardening
organically as a natural way of life.
We generally managed quite well to stay healthy and sane.
There was never money enough for extra pleasures and we were
contented with what was around us.
attended a small church school in the village, sang in the choir
twice on Sundays and earned a few pence singing at weddings and
funerals. It was in
this environment that I was first touched by an awareness of
something infinitely beautiful, which lay just beyond my perceptions
but was intimately connected with them.
This feeling stole over me as I watched the slanting rays of
the setting sun move across chapel, blending the pattern of the
western stained-glass window into the cardinal-red carpet between
the choir stalls. Evocative,
fascinating and utterly removed from the subject of the sermon from
the pulpit in that hushed, attentive church.
This kind of experience was quickened at times by glimpses of
similar beauty as I watched the wind ripple the golden wheat field
against the backdrop of blue sea and sky; surprised by joy as C.S. Lewis said. Even more profoundly moving is the infinite sadness that
steals over the heart watching slowly; falling snowflakes melt into
the heaving gray sea.
Grammar School I struggled to learn the lessons while sensing all
the while that adults either knew nothing of lifes meaningful
experiences or else they did not care to share them with me.
I was uncomfortable with the clever arguments about Christian
Theology, which our head master taught under the title of
Divinity, and I questioned incessantly almost everything he
said. My constant
refusal to accept his well-rehearsed arguments was based on a clear
awareness that Theology and the Christian life were both
fundamentally at variance with my own experience and with the life
going on around me. There
was always this adult tendency to sweep arguments under the carpet
and out of sight, as though they did not exist, and to demand more
obedience to elders and to strive for more faith; then everything
would one day become alright.
I could not believe this to be true because my elders
themselves were obviously in some confusion.
Religion seemed at variance with daily life, as it was lived in
rural England, and had even less connection with the teeming life in
Nature and the awesome splendor of the starry night-sky, both of
which I had begun to observe more closely with ever deepening
satisfaction and with the immediate reward of discovery.
came a clear sign that helped to clear away some of the confusion
between an imposed Religion and a Life experience.
I saw clearly that the elders I questioned only thinly
concealed their ignorance and did not illuminate the mind.
They simply did not know the answers.
So I turned away from the learned, respectable people in that
class-conscious English society and began to seek knowledge
elsewhere. I sought
real knowledge that unifies everything and illuminates not only the
learning of the head but what the heart knows also.
Thus, by degrees, I was led to people who understood my
questions and the quest; but the answers were as elusive as ever
before. There was
neither a road to the goal of understanding this life nor any map.
along the way I learned two things of great value.
One is that an intense, burning desire for anything
will bring to one that which is sought, be it material possession or
knowledge. So beware desire because there is a universal law that
rewards exactly! Secondly,
I learned that deep within us awareness arises that thrills and
intensifies in contact with real, useful knowledge and accepts it
readily, on trust, until experience seals it irrevocably.
What is thus revealed to the inward eye is never lost nor can
it be taken away.
began the long search for knowledge of what IS, the seeking
of Lifes riddle of why am I here, from whence do I come and
wither do I go, naught knowing.
A search embracing about forty years of running back and
forth between one school and another, embracing along the way for a
while nearly all of the major religions and many of their splinter
groups. They all had
something to offer but I found no lasting satisfaction in any one of
them. One of the last
of these movements involved fragments of an unknown teaching
that was developed by Gurdjieff and pupil Ouspensky in the 1930s
and later expanded in England and America after the last world war.
I came to know more people it was apparent that most never start on
this journey because they are satisfied with what they know; and
what remains tantalizingly unknown to them is smothered over by the
cares of this world and the burdens of life.
Such people were my early teachers and they are the
self-satisfied and successful people who are the majority.
But Gurdjieffs teaching was for the dissatisfied who
knew it and, like myself, were searching; those who knew their
situation and wanted to wake up.
Some of the experience gained in this school was useful to
develop awareness and sensitivity to what is happening around one.
But work on oneself was a difficult discipline to
follow even at the school, and it was almost impossible to continue
alone outside the system.
now dimly realized that a magnetic center of some kind, well
established within, was pulling me onward toward some unseen,
powerful pole. If such
force is opposed by willfully not following the way one must go,
then the whole system is violently disrupted and chaos results.
In such a situation a person risks serious disorder both
physically and mentally. Illness
then comes as a great blessing, if recognized as a balancing and
restoring agent, and is a clear signal to stop and to review what is
occurring. Thus it was
that I fell seriously ill to the point of death and learned a third
thing of value. Death
is absurdly easy to accept after intense suffering.
All ones values previously held are seen from an entirely
new perspective. The
inevitable end seems easy to accept to the one who suffers, but is
harder on those who are left behind.
So grieve not for the departed but for those who remain.
passing this stage I turned back again to Christianity and
re-entered the fold to immerse myself completely within that
community. I found the
old arguments were still being discussed superficially, but they
were even more obviously threadbare, torn to tatters by the winds of
looked like a beautiful polished nut with no kernel, and it was moldering
away from within. All
the social activity had the usual missionary zeal, and was well
intended and well directed. But
at heart Christianity had no unity, no cosmology, no depth and no
reality. It was
at best superficial socialism with outworn creeds whichever fragment
one examined. So I
turned away from religion, for the last time, and looked again for
the sources from which useful knowledge had come.
I reread the works that in the past had moved me profoundly,
the Sufi poets, and the works of their modern counterparts.
I was surprised one day to read that one
could not enter a Sufi school except by way of Islam.
This was a new direction in which I had never looked before,
though I had once read the Quran in English without receiving
much lasting impression. I
remembered too the hours I had once spent in the British Museum
Library researching the subject of Alchemy.
The arcane terminology, the symbolic language and the
fragments of Arabic I never thought I could ever come to understand
had fascinated me. I
had once wanted to learn Arabic, to better understand the sources of
Alchemy, and now I felt strongly impelled to start again in this
direction. The Quran
was the key. I knew I
simply had to get a copy of the Quran with Arabic and English
text together and I could make a start!
sequence of events that now occurred looks like a kaleidoscope in
retrospect, but the main fragments are clear enough.
That strong desire moved heaven and earth to bring me to the
goal, more swiftly than any scheme that I could concoct.
A busy career in science very soon carried me to Vancouver; a
city I knew only vaguely from passing through at other times on the
way to other places. I was convinced that a four hour delay in the start of our
business meeting would give me just time enough to enter the city to
find an Arabic/English Quran.
I set off at once certain that I would find what I sought.
After three false starts in different bookshops I found a
large shop with a good selection on Islam, but no Quran.
It was there I met a woman who had just returned from the
East who gave me an address of a shop specializing in religious and
related matters. Armed
with a set of bus numbers and sketchy map I had located the shop in
twenty minutes and stood before a section labeled Islam.
In front of me was a pile of large, green covered volumes,
and I picked up my first Arabic/English Quran.
At my feet were copies of a quarterly called Islam, a
journal of the Darqawi Institute.
I collected these together and paused for a moment to look at
a book by a Sufi entitled The way of Muhammad, and a curious
little work close by which I thought would suit my wife, The Book
of Strangers by Ian Dallas.
I left the shop in great haste and returned quickly to the
hotel with minutes to spare before the beginning of the business
meeting. For the moment
the books were forgotten, but the die was cast!
was not until I was on the plane and five miles above the Rocky
Mountains that I opened and read a little from the journals and
The way of Muhammad. I
read and I was instantly transfixed.
It seemed that all I had ever sought lay suddenly open before
me. I read on and was
transformed. Here was
knowledge of another order revealed in startling clarity.
The tremendous impact of that moment did not fade for days; I
moved like one in a dream but all the while open, sensitive, alert
and aware. The impression was crystal clear. I had to find the source of these writings.
Over and ever again the feeling welled up in the heart that I
must turn back, look homeward to some distant origin.
The outward flight from life was finished and for a moment I
rested on some pinnacle far removed from the the source.
Like a spent rocket that soars up and up, I rested for an
instant in suspension, stopped in space and then plunged to the
source. I read the
Qur`an as though for the first time and knew that no matter how
much I read and understood, it was an infinite ocean.
I could not go wrong, even though nobody was there to explain
it to me. The Qur`an
and the books I had bought were like pearls of great price
encountered unexpectedly. Here was real knowledge and here were real people living by
every word of it. The
journey of more than forty years was nearly at an end.
An inner prompting warned not to approach Muslims in North
America but to seek the source of this inspiration.
stimulus this experience had engendered was more than enough to
propel me on yet another business trip to Europe.
After my work was completed, I found my way to Norwich in
England and to the Ihsan mosque.
My long journey ended in the month of Ramadan when I repeated
the Shahada before the assembled fuqara and Imam
Abdus-Samad. I stayed
with these good people for two weeks, living the deen,
learning Arabic and the salat.
I had never met their like before nor had I ever experienced
such illustrious company . . . al-Hamdu lillahi WA Shukru lillah.