My mentor at the Reyhane dergah – the Sufi tekke in Berlin, where I remained for two years – was a Turk named Ahmed. He was my age, born in a town near Istanbul, who had moved to Germany in his twenties, first living in Stuttgart, and then coming to Berlin.
Ahmed spoke perfect German, despite being surrounded all the time by Turks. He had gotten into some kind of financial difficulties in Turkey, and were he to go back he would face a stiff prison sentence. This pained him because, for one thing, he missed Turkey, but also, he wanted dearly to meet his Sufi sheikh in Konya.
Driving to jummah prayers in Tempelhof, close to where he lived, Ahmed told me the story of his spiritual awakening – the financial difficulties he found himself in Turkey, being sent to prison, how he had been bailed out by a friend, and how these experiences had encouraged him to take a closer look at Islam – the religion he had been born into, but which he had neglected for most of his adult life as he moved from one superficial relationship to the next, indulging in all manner of drink and drugs.
Ahmed had always believed in a higher power. Perhaps one of the differences between someone who believed and didn’t believe was that the believer persistently asked himself the question: “Why am I on earth and what is my purpose?”
Ahmed had often asked himself this question.
Ahmed knew that when he died he would be called to account by Allah, the creator, for the things he did and didn’t do in his life. However this sinful world – the dünya – held him so inextricably. One busied oneself with making money, bettering one’s position in society. One got so avid for the worldly that one simply forgot about Allah. It just didn’t enter one’s mind, so busy one was with pursuing material gratification.
Periodically, though, Ahmed would have moments of doubt, moments of sudden lucidity when a window into his soul flashed open.
Ahmed had always worked on the hotel business. Once, he was sitting in a hotel where he was working, and he cast a glance over the lavish buffet in the hotel restaurant, all this profusion of food and drink, the people dressed in glitzy finery, who were coming to celebrate some private party, and the only thing he could think was: “How much longer? How much longer can we live like this while other people elsewhere are starving and living miserably?”
Ahmed had a sudden flash of spiritual insight. One had so much to be thankful for, it occurred to him. This in turn encouraged him in further introspection and led him to the realization of how sinful his life had been up until this point. He wanted to beg for forgiveness, put his forehead to the floor and say “Ya Rabbi. I am your servant. You have created me.”
Ahmed left the hotel and went home, lay down on his bed and thought about all the sins he had committed in his life. He was thirty years old now. When, he asked himself, would he start to pray? When would he make the pilgrimage to Mecca? When would he start to lead a life free of sin? He had never been to the mosque. Maybe he would go the coming Friday. He knew of a dergah somewhere in Wedding – a Sufi tekke – where he would feel comfortable going to.
And he began to pray for forgiveness for his sins.
After he prayed, as he lay in bed, shortly before drifting off to sleep, he suddenly had the peculiar sensation of being suspended in mid-air; he no longer felt the bed beneath him; his whole body became light as a feather. It was as though he were levitating from this earth.
Just then he had a vision of God’s mercy; that the gate of forgiveness was open till the Day of Judgment, till the day the sun would rise in the West, and then, as it had been written, the doors would be closed. But till then Ahmed had a chance to beg for forgiveness. And this is what he did. For the first time in his life he got down on his knees on his bed, and prayed fervently for forgiveness. And then he drifted off to sleep like a new-born babe.
Ahmed had a startling dream. In his dream he was standing before a big window with black curtains. The curtains were open and he was preparing to pray. He put his hands up to say “Allahu Akbar”, which meant as much to say “I give myself up to God and leave the world behind me,” and he folded his arms around his abdomen. And at that moment a figure came out from behind the curtain. Till this day Ahmed doesn’t know who it was, suffice to say was an old man with a radiant aura, dressed in a beautiful robe decorated with gold. And he took Ahmed by the hand and said, “Come, my son. I will show you how to perform namaz.” And the man took Ahmed by the back of his neck and caused him to make a prostration on his bed. When he was done, Ahmed had a final vision of the impression of his prostration on the white sheets of his bed.
Then he woke up. The dream was so incredibly vivid, and lucid, he cast around in his mind, trying to determine what it meant. Before going to sleep he had made törbe, asking God for forgiveness. And then he had this dream. It had to have a meaning. And the meaning, he realized, was that he had to start praying.
At any rate, the dream was so powerful that he resolved to change his life drastically. He started visiting the Sufi dergah he knew. Through a brother there, he met a woman, a strict Muslim, who prayed five times a day and wore the hijab. Soon they were married. She was by far the least beautiful of all the women he had had, but she was by far the best one for him, urging him to pray mornings when he was too tired to get out of bed.
“Woman are there to protect men from fire,” said Ahmed.
Ahmed worked in a big hotel off of Friedrichstraße in Mitte. He was in charge of the kitchen staff and periodically he would bring African Muslims from the hotel to the dergah he frequented in Wedding. He never tried to proselytize to the uninitiated. However he was not above putting in a good word for Islam.
Ahmed told me about one fellow they had there at the hotel – a German – with whom Ahmed had gotten in a discussion about Islam. He was not a Muslim, in fact he was an avowed atheist, who turned down Ahmed’s offer to bring him to the dergah for fear that he would be “brainwashed”.
The fellow didn’t believe in God, however what he did believe in were aliens. He had researched the internet about aliens and UFOs and was convinced that mankind had had close encounters with extraterrestrial beings at various points in its history.
Wishing to establish some sort of common ground, Ahmed brought up the subject of Djinns – spirits or demons of Islamic theology. Ahmed said that it had been related that the Golden Mosque in Jerusalem, or Al Aqsa, was built by Djinns, and that after the construction the Djinns had absconded to another planet, where they presently reside and from where they periodically make return visits to Al Aqsa. In fact, explained Ahmed, there was photographic evidence of a blindingly bright ball of fire coming down from the sky and hovering over the mosque’s dome, only to disappear suddenly at a great speed. The German nodded his head eagerly. Now this was something he could relate to! The next day he explained to Ahmed that he had looked up the phenomenon of Djinns on the web and had found it interesting indeed. But still, it wasn’t enough to make him want to visit a mosque.
It is said that faith alone is not enough to ensure attainment of Paradise. One also needs good deeds. And one of the good deeds that achieves particular favor in Allah’s eyes is helping others in the path towards Islam.
I had been searching for Allah, at times consciously, at other times without knowing it, for quite some time now. I had often been poised on the threshold of making my shahada, but the time was never just right; things were never in the right constellation. Also I had the feeling that I had to overcome my bad habits first and purify myself in the sight of Allah, before taking the final step. As a Muslim friend of mine, who had spent years in the Balkan party scene before finally reverting to the faith of his forefathers, explained to me once, “One thing has to come to an end before another thing can start.”
So it was only a matter of time that I would perform my shahada. And yet time was also of the essence. I wasn’t getting any younger, and what if I died tomorrow without becoming Muslim? Was I secure in the belief that my soul would go to the right place?
In the end it was Ahmed who had led me in my shahada, and who had taught me how to perform abtest – ritual ablution – and the various necessary prayers for performing namaz. May Allah reward him for showing me the true way.
In the dergah, up on the wall opposite the quibla, where there was a honeycomb of names clustered around the names of regulars at the dergah indicating the people that the various murids had brought into the fold. Selami, the hoca at the Reyhane dergah, had stuck my name next to Ahmed’s. Symbolically we were bound now to each other. Ahmed had brought me to Islam, thus he would be accredited with all of my good deeds on Judgment Day.
I would only stay two years at the Reyhane dergah. After traveling to Konya and meeting the sheikh, I eventually started frequenting another Naqshbendi tariqat, more international in its scope.
Now and then I would bump into Ahmed, after prayers at Emir Sultan mosque in Schöneberg, for instance, I would say, once every two or three years. At some point Ahmed explained that his wife had cancer. And then she had recovered. Wherever you are now, Ahmed, I hope you and your wife are well and you are still shining in your faith.