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Firar and I'tisam (Fleeing and Taking Shelter)
Oct 1, 2007

Firar, which literally means to run away from something, is used in Sufism to denote the journey from the created to the Creator, sheltering from the “shadow” in the “original,”1 and renouncing the “drop” of water in order to plunge into the “ocean.”2 Further, it means discontent with the piece of glass (in which the Sun is reflected) and the turning to the “Sun,”3 thereby escaping the confinement of self-adoration to “melt away” in the rays of the Truth. The verse flee to God (51:50), which points to a believer’s journeying in heart and in spirit, refers to this action of the heart, the spiritual intellect. The more distant people are from the suffocating atmosphere of corporeality and the carnal dimension, the nearer they are to God, and the more respect they have for themselves. Let us hear from Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, a loyal devotee at the door of the Truth, how one fleeing to and taking shelter in God is rewarded: Then I fled from you [Pharaoh] when I feared you, and my Lord has granted to me the power of judging (justly and distinguishing between truth and falsehood, and right and wrong) and has made me one of His Messengers (26:21).

Prophet Moses states that the way to spiritual pleasure and meeting with God, the Divine vicegerency and nearness to Him goes through a stage of fleeing. Ordinary people flee from life’s tumults and sin’s ugliness to take refuge in God’s forgiveness and favor. They declare or consider the meaning of: My Lord, forgive and have compassion, for You are the Best of the Compassionate (23:118). They seek God’s shelter in total sincerity, saying: I take refuge in You from the evil of what I have done.4 Those distinguished by their piety and nearness to God flee from their own lesser qualities to the Divine Attributes, from feeling with their outward senses to discerning and observing with the heart, from ceremonial worship to its innermost dimension, and from carnal feelings to spiritual sensations. This is what is referred to in: O God, I take refuge in Your approval from Your wrath, and in Your forgiveness from Your chastisement.5 The most advanced in knowledge and love of God and in piety flee from Attributes to the Divine Being or Essence, and from the Truth to the Truth Himself. They say: I take refuge in You from You,6 and are always in awe of God. All who flee seek shelter and protection. As the cons ciousness of fleeing is proportionate to the spiritual profundity of the one fleeing, the quality of the destination reached varies according to the degree of the seeker’s awareness. Members of the first group arrive at knowledge of God. They remember God in everything they see, mention Him, cherish desires, imagine things that are impossible for them to realize, and finally come to rest at sensing the reality of: We have not been able to know You as knowing You requires, O Known One. They always feel and repeat in ecstasy:

Beings are in pursuit of knowledge of You,
And those who attempt to describe You are unable to do so.
Accept our repentance, for we are human beings
Unable to know You as knowing You requires.

Members of the second group sail every day for a new ocean of knowing God, and spend their lives in ever renewed glow of Divine manifestation. However, they cannot be saved from the obstacles that block them from the final station, where their overflowing spirit will subside. With their eyes fixed on the steps of the stairway that leads to higher and higher ranks, they fly upward from one rank to another; however, they also tremble with the fear that they might descend. Members of the third group, freed from the tides of the state and drowned in amazement, are so intoxicated with the “wine coming from the source of everything” that even the Trumpet of Israfil7 cannot cause them to recover from that stupor. Only one who has reached this rank can describe the profundity of their thoughts and feelings. Rumi says: Those illusions are traps for saints, whereas in reality They are the reflections of those with radiant faces in the garden of God.8 The “garden of God” signifies the manifestation of Divine Unity-the manifestations of one, many, or all the Divine Names throughout the universe. “Those with radiant faces” denotes the Divine Names and Attributes focused on a single thing or being. So, the meaning of the couplet is this: The traps in which saints are caught are the manifestations of the Divine Names and Attributes. These manifestations consist of the illusions in the view of those blind to Divine truths. In the words of Sari Abdullah Efendi, the hearts of the Prophets and saints are mirrors that reflect the Names and Attributes of God. God also manifests His Names and Attributes as the Lord-Ruler, Sustainer, and Master -of the universe, making it a garden with ever-renewed beauties and charms that enrapture the Prophet and the saints.


1. Sufis view the creation as a shadow of the original, the meaning, the origin, in the Knowledge of God.

2. Sufis consider everything in the world as being no more than a drop, maybe even a mirage, of the ocean. Material existence and pleasures are regarded as having the meaning and worth of a drop of water, while the other world and spiritual pleasures coming from Divine knowledge and love correspond to an ocean.

3. The piece of glass signifies Divine manifestations in the world, while the Sun signifies God, the Origin of these manifestations.

4. Al-Tirmidhi, Dawa‘at, 15; Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Shu‘ayb al-Nasa’i, “Isti’adha,” in Sunan al-Nasa’i, 8 vols. (Beirut, 1930), 57.

5. Muslim, Salat, 222.

6. Ibid.

7. Israfil is one of the four archangels. He will blow the trumpet just before the end of the universe. This may be metaphorical.

8. Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi, Al-Mathnawi al-Kabir, 6 vols. (Istanbul, n.d.), 1:3.