At the very top of Jabal Alam ( a mountain) is the shrine of Sheikh ibn Mashish, said by many to be the Grandather of Moroccan Sufism and one of the great Sheikhs of the Shadhili Darqawi Path.
This is a place I wanted to visit for a very long time. One of his grandson’s founded the town of Chefchaouen, the blue city that I fell in love with so intensely almost twenty years ago.
I wondered how we would get to the top of the mountain, I was nervous about just hiring a grand taxi and travelling a remote mountain road with few people and only wild cows for company! It seemed a bit reckless. But as it turned out, I need not have worried, one of the young men who worked in the place I stayed in Chaouen was from the town of Moulay Abdesselam and when I asked him about how to get there (not realising it was his family’s home town) he was very happy to be able to take us. So we travelled safely and later had lunch with his family in the town.
It was a really wonderful day and serves as inspiration for me now that I am back in the ordinary. There were difficulties that I now realise were really blessings. We set out with good intentions making sure to have wudu/ablution (ritual purity) but I lost it and after a series of events ended up at the summit without it.
Such a beautiful place. I need miracles. In my ordinary life my faith can fluctuate so much. At times when my faith is poor I remember these experiences. The summit of this mountain is an outpouring of beauty. I thought the trip was a disaster and I gave up all my expectations and I gazed out over the village below.
Then all encompassing Mercy, the most indescribable drenching in wonder, it is impossible to put into words and I only record it because of my struggles with faith. There is immense barakah in places like this and once experienced it can’t be forgotten no matter how stale we may become.
Our time at the top of the mountain was brief, we stopped by a roadside stall to buy some meat and then Muhammad took us to have lunch with his family. I sat with his aunt Aisha in this little dark room that looked out across the supremely beautiful vista across the mountains. I was quite overcome by the whole event and I couldn’t help but cry. I still cry thinking about it now that it seems so many lifetimes away.
The other day I came across the story of when Imam Shadhili first encountered Sheikh ibn Mashish and although I had read the story before I had not recalled the section about ablution. Reading it recently I was just overcome by gratitude and that incredible awe that you feel when you realise the marvellous patterns that God weaves in our lives. Some would call it coincidence but I don’t see it that way.
He went forward in reverence and awe to meet his Master, who greeted him with the words, “Have you made ablution (wudu)?” When Abu al-Hasan answered him saying, “Yes,” he was told, “You cannot come to us in a state of impurity. Return and make wudu.” So Abu al-Hasan returned to the bottom of the mountain, remade his ablution and climbed again to its top, and having reached the presence of the Shaykh, asked him if he would accept him as his student.
The Shaykh replied, “I told you to return when you had purified yourself with the ablution.” Once again Abu al-Hasan returned to the bottom of the mountain with the question for his rejection turning in his heart, until he was shown what was necessary for him to do, because he came to realize the meaning of this initial trial and test, and the depth of the purification which it was necessary for him to make before he could enter into the Path of Allah with this holy Shaykh.
This time, as he made his ablution, he emptied himself of everything that he knew, or thought he knew, or that he had learned and taken in from other teachers, and he destroyed all his attributes, pictures, and prejudices, until he knew that he was left with only a vast space of nothingness inside him which was waiting to be filled. He was now totally surrendered to whatever this Master, whom he desired with all his being, would send him.
He climbed once more to the top of the mountain, but before he reached its summit he was met by the Master who greeted him by pronouncing his full line of descent back to the Prophet Muhammad, may prayers and peace be upon him.
The Shaykh now embraced him with the deep Love of acceptance. He could find no words with which to return the greeting, but the Master said to him, “If you wish to fetch water, you take an empty bucket to the well to do so. A full bucket has no room for water.” With these words he took his beloved student by the hand and filled him to overflowing with the holy Water.
Afterwards Abu al-Hasan said: “Allah! I have washed myself of my knowledge and my actions so that I do not recognize any knowledge or action except what comes to me by the hand of this Shaykh.”
The knowledge of this ablution has become the habitual practice (sunna) for all those of this holy Path who have followed after him, because it is the only way to reach the knowledge of the Reality, and the Light from that meeting continues to pour out without ceasing to both the East and the West.