Interview with Sufi Islamic Sheikh Barry Flint
- Sufi works toward living the deepest meanings of the traditional way, beyond the form of religion.
- I don't think we understand everything. I think we live with that mystery and we trust in the beneficence and mercy of God. There are a lot of Sufi stories about how bad things turn into good. You know, it looks terrible, but some good comes of it. I can't quite see how that works in many situations, but it's not for me to decide. I just think we have to live with a certain amount of mystery in the world.
- One of the things we do that is not useful is that we argue with God, or we tell Him that He's not doing it right. That's never useful and it's not understanding what God is.
- What the Sufis say is that when good happens, that's God. When bad happens, this is human and humans are accountable for their actions.
- the Islamic point of view is that we are the keepers, or stewards, of the world. It's our business to take care of it. There's a very strong environmentalist component in this.
- The Sufis, I think, would say that it's that which we experience in our life. We experience the effect of our acts, every day, and when we commit destructive acts, or self-destructive acts, we suffer, and that's hell. When we commit beneficent acts, or charitable, or altruistic acts, that's heaven.
Ann: Shall we start with prayer? I think it's really important. Why don't you pray, since I am in your mosque?
Barry: Just something out loud?
Ann: Yes, something out loud.
Barry: I'll do something in Arabic.
Ann: Okay, but will you translate that for the tape after?
Barry: I'll just let it wash up. (Prayer spoken in Arabic).
Ann: Can you translate that, roughly?
Barry: Well, roughly it's, "In the name of God, most gracious, help us to stay on the straight path and to honor You and to be aware of You in all ways. Let us not be distracted by those things, which are distractions. Thee do we worship and Thine aid we seek"
Ann: So, what spiritual tradition were you raised in?
Barry: I was raised in a Jewish home.
Ann: In a Jewish home?
Ann: How many years did you follow that tradition?
Barry: Well, I did until I was thirteen, as a child. As an adult, as soon as I was thirteen, I took the Bar Mitzvah. I, then, put it aside and thought of myself as an atheist for many years.
Ann: How many years did you feel that?
Barry: Oh, probably into my forties.
Ann: Oh, a long time, then.
Ann: And what made you lose faith with your original tradition?
Barry: Well, it was nothing negative. It just seemed to me, at the time, not relevant to my life.
Ann: So you moved on. Have you studied other spiritual paths?
Barry: Oh yes, many. I practiced Zen Buddhism for a while, before this, for a few years.
Ann: How long did you do that?
Barry: Probably for about three, or four years before this.
Ann: How old are you now?
Barry: I'm sixty-nine.
Ann: I am, too. Gives you a lot of time to study!
Barry: I was just sixty-nine, about ten days ago.
Ann: Happy birthday!
Barry: Thank you.
Ann: Are there any other spiritual paths that you've studied?
Barry: I did in a casual sort of way. It's always been a subject of interest to me, but I didn't actually practice any others.
Ann: What was your work in the world, or do you still work?
Barry: Well, I have two parallel careers, one as a psychotherapist and one as an administrator of non-profit organizations. I started some, managed some, and was a consultant to some. I did that for most of my professional life.
Ann: Are you still doing that?
Barry: Perhaps. I am actually looking for a new gig, at the moment, but I have also had a psychotherapy practice, for many years, and I practice that very modestly, at this point.
Ann: Do you see anything harmonious between, say, Zen and being a Muslim?
Ann: Could you talk about that?
Barry: Well, they are both reaching for the Absolute. The next layer down in Zen, one practices getting closer to nothingness and that, really, is also at the core of Islam and Sufism. It is to shed all the layers of ego. There is purification in that and it opens the heart to the direct experience of God. In Zen, it is to the direct experience of enlightenment, or the absolute void.
Ann: Who have been your spiritual heroes and heroines, or even just authors of books? Who were the people who influenced you?
Barry: Well, Rumi is one whom I encountered many, many years ago. I've read books on Sufism for many years before I got anywhere near it, personally, and they were always compelling for me.
Ann: So is this a Sufi Center, specifically, or is it a Muslim Center?
Barry: Well, it is both.
Ann: Oh, it's both.
Barry: There are some people who call themselves Sufis who - I don't know what the analogy might be, but it might be like calling one's self a Franciscan, but not a Christian. It doesn't quite work, because Sufism is rooted in Islam and it, in no way, is a battle with Islam, or a reformation of it. It is an 'absorption' of it, in total. There are just some different emphases present in Sufism. The Sufi works toward living the deepest meanings of the traditional way, beyond the "form" of religion.
Ann: So, I've heard it said that Sufism is the mystical aspect of Islam. Is that fair?
Barry: Well, that's fair, although that's not precisely what Sufism is about. Sufism is really an educational system. The Sufis established communities. They were teachers who gathered communities around them and created a place where one lived, what we think of as the true Islam. The Sufi communities are supposed to be modeled on Mohammed's community where he had people around him and he spoke to them, every day, and they consulted him with all their concerns, problems, and questions. He was available to them, all the time, and he was essentially a teacher for those in his immediate community. The Sufis try and do that and there is, at the head of each Sufi community, a Sheikh, a teacher who, by his life and behavior, as well as by his presentations and talks, is transmitting the tradition.
Ann: Are you the Sheikh for this community?
Barry: No, not at all. There is a man who is the Sheikh of this community, here.
Ann: But, you are a teacher?
Barry: Well, I have received an appointment, called a "Halifa.” Our main center is in Istanbul. There are two in the United States, one here and one in San Francisco and there are three, or four in South America. So, this title means that, technically, if I were to move to the United States, or anywhere else to where there isn't a Sheikh of our Order, then I would be expected to begin a community. I am supposed to be qualified to do that.
Ann: What is the specific name of this Sufi Order?
Ann: Does that word have a specific meaning?
Barry: It's the name of the founder of the Order, which is about six hundred years old.
Ann: What country was it founded in?
Barry: In Istanbul, Turkey, in the same building that we, now, still have. That was his Center.
Ann: What drew you to this specific Sufi Order, because there are a few?
Barry: Well, I had been reading about Sufism for a long time and wanted, very much, to meet some people who really practiced it. I was at a Humanistic Psychology Conference and there was a man there, who was the Sheikh of the San Francisco branch of our Order, whom I knew casually, from years before. He was a psychologist and the meeting was somewhere - where was it? I don't know. It may have been Woodstock, or somewhere within one hundred miles of here. So, I went up to him, after his talk, and I said, "You know, I'd really like to get to see a Sufi community" and he said, "What are you doing, tonight?" He said he was going down here, to Chestnut Ridge. On Saturday nights, we have a gathering where we all have dinner together and have ceremonies, and so on, and he brought me here. I listened to the Sheikh talk, watched what they did, and I came a few more times. Then, I went on a trip to the Middle East where I was given the name and location of the Center, in Istanbul. I went and visited and experienced that and then came back here and started to come regularly. Then, the senior Sheikh from Istanbul came here, for a few weeks, to teach. At that point, one night, I was just taken and moved to jump in. So, I asked if I could be accepted and, at the same time, to become a Muslim. They said, "Yes" and that was what happened. That was about fourteen years ago.
Ann: So, you've been invested here for a long time?
Ann: How does being a therapist weave in with being a Sheikh?
Barry: How does it weave in? Let me answer that in a couple of different ways. I started to do this before I entered the Order. So, when in the process of doing therapy with different people, if I felt that there was some kind of spiritual awareness, or some kind of self consciousness in the person I was working with, it always seemed helpful to tap into that, to support it, and to help people find more ways of connecting to that. I've seen many Muslim people and I've seen mostly non-Muslim people. With the Muslim people, I suppose it gives me a little more connection to a lot of what goes on inside them and an understanding of what they're wrestling with. With the others, it probably just gives me more insight into their spiritual workings, or something like that.
Ann: I just asked, because I worked in a psychiatric hospital for a while, for seven years, and, then, I found a spiritual path. I found that very hard, because they didn't want me to say anything about it. "Do not go there!"
Barry: Oh, no! No, well, I don't preach to people as a therapist. It's not my job.
Ann: Yes, and you can keep that separate, because there are practical worldly things and there are practical spiritual things.
Barry: Absolutely. Anyway, to many Americans, most of whom are Christians, or Jews, this is something sort of oddball and weird and quite removed from anything that they're working with. So, it seems to be presumptuous to even try. Although, there have been occasions when people have asked me about it and I've talked about it, and so on, but I don't, in any way, try to proselytize.
Ann: What would you see is the difference? I mean, you have been exposed to Judaism and, certainly, the Kabbalah, which is the mystical aspect of Judaism, exposed to Christianity, because we're in a predominantly Christian country, and, also, Zen Buddhism. Then, you moved on to be a Sufi Sheikh.
Barry: It's not something I can make a rational argument for.
Ann: No, I don't want to make a rational argument, but this site is for people who are seeking. So, I am trying, in my heart, to have people understand, to a very small degree, what these different paths are. We're going to have all sorts of links, so the interviews are just to open your mind and heart. Then, if anybody wants to go any further, they can go to these different links and study. Like my son, who is thirty-eight, who has been raised Christian. He is having a great time with Taoism just by using the site, which, he says, he wouldn't be able to really study, as he's very busy. So, I said, "Terrific!"
So, what would you say, to somebody who was a seeker, about what Sufism may have for them?
Barry: I guess I would really have to say for them to read, to listen, to go and hear someone who is an authentic teacher, and the rest will take its course. There is a Muslim belief that that everybody is a Muslim, really, but they just don't know it. There are people who, when they are exposed to it, they just do it. They're sort of taken by it. Sort of what happened to me. It's not something that I can say, "Well, if you want to be a better athlete, or be a better this, or better that.” The Sufi path, a sort of teaching community that the Sufis have developed, is really about spiritual growth and it is also about personal growth. A great deal of the Sufi message is about psychological health and we practice and teach about a way to live in relation to our communities, our families, our work, and about working with the darker aspects of ourselves, like our anger and arrogance. The Seven Sins of the Sufis are really the shadow side of what some psychologists would call, "The shadow side of our beings.”
Ann: Can you name those?
Barry: Well, let's see, arrogance, especially spiritual arrogance. There is envy, love of the world, and love of fame. Covetousness is a form of envy, or shadings of it, and pride and ambition.
Barry: No, it's not that, at all.
Ann: It's just that we have that in many religions.
Barry: Well, it's interesting, the whole Muslim approach to sex. You know, where did the Europeans go when they wanted to have a good time? They went to the Middle East and the Arab countries in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Right?
Ann: Really? I didn't know that.
Barry: Oh yeah, the belly dancers and all that.
Ann: Well, I've taken belly-dancing school. It's gorgeous dancing.
Barry: Well, you know, it's like the Germans and the English now go to Spain and southern Europe, but in pre-war days, in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, they went to the Middle East. They're sort of a lusty people and there is an absolute prohibition against sex out of marriage, but within marriage there is no guilt about sex. Muslims do not have guilt about sex.
Ann: I didn't know that. How beautiful.
Barry: It's very much an accepted and encouraged thing. For instance, the spiritual teachers are supposed to be married. You're not supposed to be celibate. It's because it's a part of life and to deny that part of life is to be incomplete.
Ann: I certainly agree with that. I never understood that distortion, because it just seems too painful.
Barry: One of the ways to understand a lot of the rules, if you will, is that they are ways to keep the communities together. As with all the Major Prophets, Mohammed was a social and political reformer. This was a tribal culture that was polytheistic. For instance, Mohammed established women's right to divorce that they didn't have before. He established a tradition of sharing the wealth. It's one of the tenets of Islam that everyone has to give a percentage of their assets to the poor, every year. If one does not have money, they can give service.
Ann: Is there a specific number?
Barry: Well, it's interpreted as two percent of the liquid assets, every year. That's the modern interpretation of it, but he and the people around him used to do much more than that. They thought that it was their responsibility to truly share what they had.
Ann: Also, no loans from money, I thought that?
Barry: No, it's not, "No loans,” it is "No interest.”
Ann: Oh, no interest. So, I can owe you any amount of money, but it's just as a gift and I don't have to pay you back with interest?
Barry: Yes, it's a loan, but you must not make money on it. You don't make money on money. You make money on your work, your labor, or your service, but the teachers are not paid. It's not permitted for a teacher to be paid. The teacher has to make his own living and have his own work in the world.
Ann: Oh, that's interesting.
Barry: People give teachers gifts, sometimes. The teacher can't ask the community to support him. It's not considered.
Ann: The Baha'i do that, too, and early Christianity, also.
Barry: Well, sure. The senior Sheikh in Istanbul had a catering business.
Ann: He had time to do both?
Barry: Yeah. Well, when he became the Sheikh, he was older, with a bigger business and people running it. The Sheikh, here, was a college professor and an artist, originally. He taught art at the Farleigh Dickenson University for twenty, or thirty years.
Ann: It must make you very proud. I mean this is a wonderful concept.
Do you believe that when you are under some sort of spiritual authority, like to be a Sufi, or to be a Muslim, that there is some sort of spiritual protection around you?
Barry: Oh, yes.
Ann: Can you share any stories about how this has been for you, personally?
Barry: Well, I am one of those people who are very anti-authoritarian, generally, but here I am. I have set myself within a major religion whose authority I accept. It makes me feel at home. I feel connected to this and what I think of as an authentic tradition, which has been practiced for thousands of years - well, sixteen hundred years, or so. It's the stream of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which is one stream, really. We see it that way. Islam recognizes the Jewish teachings and the Christian teachings. Each of those religions changed what went before. Moses established monotheism. Our definition of the prophets is that these are people to whom God speaks directly. I mean, many people have Divine inspiration, but that's different. God spoke to Moses on the mountain a number of times. Anyway, he established monotheism in a polytheistic world. Jesus came along and established love as a central value and as being at the core of one's relationship with the world and to God. The basic, most fundamental tenet of Islam is that there is no other god, but Allah. There is no God, but God. Nothing is to be venerated, except the one, divine creator. Jesus, also, came along and threw the moneychangers out of the temple, reforming Judaism. His attempt was to reform Judaism. That's the result of what it was. As the presenter of God's teaching, the center of Mohammed's reform was to say that, in effect, Jesus was not God; Jesus was a prophet and a teacher. One of the great teachers of all time, but there is only one God.
Ann: I see. So, while Jesus was not God, he was just a prophet?
Barry: Well, the Christians believe Jesus to be divine, but the Muslims venerate Jesus. He is talked about in the Koran.
Ann: Mary, also.
Barry: Yes, they are prophets, but they are not divine. There is only one divinity. For some people, money is God, or sex, or whatever, but there is nothing that is on a level with God. God is supreme and encompasses everything else. So, that was Mohammed's shift. Now, why did I start to say that? What was your question?
Ann: I've lost it, but that's very important, too. Can you say something about the difference between being a Muslim and being a Sufi?
Barry: There is no difference.
Ann: There's no difference?
Barry: Well, the Sufis have some practices of chanting and elements of their worship that were frowned upon by mainstream Islam, during various times in history. Sufis were considered oddballs. For instance, their chanting and their movement was frowned on by the establishment as being like dancing, or too worldly. The Sufi practices led to ecstatic experiences.
Ann: Were the Whirling Dervishes of the Sufi Order?
Barry: That's one of the Sufi Orders. They are the Mevlevi. They're in Istanbul and they are really not functioning as an Order any more. There are still groups of people who have been trained by the last Mevlevi Sheikh, who died about twenty-five years ago. They were trained by him, his son, and by some of his teachers in the movement. They have sort of absorbed themselves into our Order. They participate in our ceremonies in Istanbul. Every once in a while, a couple of them come here.
Ann: What about you, personally, are you interested in mystical states through dancing, movement, and chanting?
Barry: Well, it's part of my practice.
Ann: It is beautiful. I have seen people go into ecstasy and it's beautiful.
Barry: Well, our particular Order doesn't turn in the same way. We have other ceremonies.
Ann: Do you have a ceremony that would bring you into an ecstatic state?
Barry: Well, sometimes, but there's a very interesting twist to this. People don't come here and "Ahhhhhh,” you know? There is a story about our Sheikh in Istanbul, the great Sheikh of the modern times, who died about fifteen, or sixteen years ago. Someone, a Sufi, came to visit him from another Order and was participating in our ceremony. He went into some sort of ecstatic thing and dropped on the floor and the Sheikh went over to him and poked him, saying, "We don't do that, here!" The idea is, number one, not to exhibit this, but, also, one always has to stay grounded in our practices. One has always got both feet on the floor. There may be these experiences, but, number one, our practices shouldn't be made into an exhibition and, two, they must not take us away from our life and our community. We can't surrender to that state, as a way of being, because we would not be grounded. We must stay grounded while we have the experiences. Does that make sense?
Ann: It makes a great deal of sense. I've been to many different types of services where people run into the ecstatic, through movement and sound, and one of my questions is, "How do you integrate that and use that?" I've certainly had some ecstatic experiences, myself, that just came upon me. Not that I was looking for them and they are quite wonderful, but, for me, it was that I really just have to work more in a grounded way. I just did an interview with someone who felt that he'd gone too far with the ecstasy and it was very, very difficult to come back.
Barry: Yes, that's very much so. So, we move and chant in unison and one is not, in any way, encouraged to be innovative, or overly creative about that. It really is something that has to be experienced. It's to find the experience in that unison. There is a oneness to the business of having the experience of connection with all the other people who are doing it. It's not an individual thing; it's something we do as a group.
Ann: So, that must be quite beautiful.
Barry: Oh, it is.
Ann: It connects you in a profound way with everybody. That's very beautiful.
Barry: One of the extraordinary experiences a Muslim has is this business of the pilgrimage to Mecca. You know, the Haj? Once, in one's life, one is expected to do this, if you can afford it, at all. That is the experience of praying in unison with two million people and with the movements and what is said. It's an extraordinary thing.
Ann: Have you done it?
Barry: Yes, there is nothing like it. You look down the row, as far as the eye can see, at people who are moving in the same way as you.
Ann: Yes, I've seen photographs and movies of it. It's just awesome.
Barry: Yes, it is.
Ann: I remember, years ago, reading Malcolm X's book about his spiritual transition and he did that.
Barry: You're not the same after doing that.
Ann: Have there been any times in your life when you have been taken to a place of despair and were your spiritual practices of any help, or did you have any spiritual practices at that time?
Barry: It's relative. I have had periods of my life of real crisis, or struggle, and depression. Some of these while I have been a Sufi, and, yes, it's been very helpful. It connects me to something, to community, to God, and so on. Sure, it's very supportive.
Ann: That's one of the biggest lessons of life. I've worked in prisons for seven years and psychiatric hospitals for seven years and I could see, in both of those places, that if people had some sort of a path, it made all the difference. Within the prison system, they had created community and they had created religious service. Many were not able to hold that after they left, but it was certainly quite amazing how different they were. In my own life, I know that I was not raised with a real spiritual path, but a social and moral path. It was when I did open that door that I found that it is a great resource, if things get hard. That's what I'm hoping that people will get from this, as they read about these different paths, that there is this ability to have community around you with systems of support which, as you say, are thousands of years old.
What kind of spiritual practices do you have, yourself, as a Sufi?
Barry: Well, a Muslim one is to pray five times a day.
Ann: Okay, you specifically do that.
Barry: There is what are called the Five Pillars of Islam. They are the daily prayer, the Haj, the month of fasting during Ramadan. From sun up to sun down one doesn't take anything in, no food, no water, no medicine, no nothing, unless one's health requires something. Then, you don't fast, but it's not that you fast and make exceptions. It's okay if you don't fast, if you have an important reason not to, and no sex. So, all that occurs during Ramadan.
Ann: So, no sex during the whole of Ramadan?
Barry: Just during the day, same as food. At sundown, there is an elaborate, communal meal and it's a festive time. Sex, at night, is okay, but, during the day, one stays removed from the world.
Ann: You also go to work.
Barry: Oh, yeah. It's extraordinary. There are people who do manual labor, all day, with no food and water. The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar, so Ramadan changes and moves eleven days each year. So, over a space of a number of years, you do it through all the seasons. Now, in the winter, you have a short day, so it's a lot easier, but can you imagine working manual labor in the summer? A lot of people do it.
Ann: I know, they do.
Barry: A lot of people do this. It's not just a few cultural, or religious ones, but even people who don't go to Mosque, or go to services much, will fast during Ramadan. So, Ramadan was the third Pillar. The other Pillar is the declaration of faith. Then, there is the Zekot, the contribution to the poor. We collect from all of us, as a community, and sent this year's to Afghanistan.
Ann: You were telling me about that. Could you put that on the tape, because I thought that was profound?
Barry: What was that?
Ann: Well, you were telling me how much money your community of five hundred people gathered and you sent a tremendous amount. I was very impressed by that.
Barry: Well, it's a lot of people and you don't have to give very much to have it to add up. We do things like send clothing and medical supplies. We get this donated. We contact a lot of doctors, some of them Muslim doctors, and they can get medical supplies donated from drug companies, and so on. So, we get a lot of this stuff donated and we don't have to raise money for that, but we raise money for food and shelter. We built a school in Afghanistan and we support that.
Ann: You were saying that, over the years, you have the resources to get the materials to where they need to be, because when things are sent, oftentimes, they don't get to their destination.
Barry: Well, we have established networks in strategic countries, like when we can't send stuff to Iraq from here. We've been sending aid to Iraqi children for a few years. So, what we do is send it to Turkey and we have people in Turkey who get it into containers to deliver it to Iraq. We can do it that way. Everybody donates their time to this, you know? Nobody gets paid for this.
Ann: Well, I have found that all spiritual paths, whether it's Christianity, Judaism, or Baha'i, all those paths have ways for people to give. I think that's one of the profound things about a spiritual path, because if you're not connected, even though you may want to do something, it's not easy to do. With community, it's a possibility.
Do you have a regular meditation practice?
Barry: Yes, but not like Zen. We do the prayers, every day, and there is a meditative aspect to that, but the Sufis encourage quiet meditation, also. Not with quite the same rigor with which we do the other prayers, but I do it, partly because I have done it before and I find it helpful.
Ann: Do you use a mantra?
Ann: Just the still and quiet.
Barry: Quiet, yes.
Ann: What does that do for you to have a meditation time?
Barry: It quiets my life.
Ann: Step out of the chaos of it.
Do you think that the divine can hear us?
Ann: Do you have specific prayers that you believe can be answered, if you pray to the divine, or God?
Barry: Well, it depends on the divine.
Ann: Well, say more about that.
Barry: It means that I don't control it. We can ask for something.
Ann: So, you can ask?
Barry: Sure, anything, but we don't control what happens. Only God controls that.
Ann: Have you had a sense that God has spoken to you? Have you had a spiritual answer, personally, to you?
Barry: There are times when I feel inspired, but I don't hear voices, or that sort of thing.
Ann: Do you feel a presence?
Barry: Oh yeah.
Ann: We, now, have millions of people praying for peace around the world and this war is going ahead, anyway. What do you feel, spiritually, when millions of people are praying for peace, whether it's Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists? Do you have any thoughts about that?
Barry: It can't hurt. I don't know. It creates a certain energy, maybe, which has some power and I think it's important for the people who do it. I went on a march, in Washington, about six, or eight weeks ago. I'd been in marches in the sixties and seventies, and all that, and I just wanted to go on this march. There are people who would say things like, "Well, if we had another hundred thousand, maybe Bush would change his mind,” but I just don't believe that.
Ann: It's not the numbers.
Barry: I don't believe that God works like that. I mean, Bush is not interested in what other people think and certainly not what the demonstrators think, but I'm not sure if that's your question. However, I think it's a good thing for people to do. I'm not sure it has a direct effect on the actual shooting, bombing and so on.
Ann: Some of things that I've studied say that, on this worldly level, there are currents of dark and light and that we are working against the principalities of darkness. So, will it always be, in this realm, that there will be light and dark?
Ann: So, that's just another answer to that question. So, you would choose which side?
Barry: Oh yes. You know, a lot of it is a mystery. A lot of it is not something we understand. I don't think we understand everything. I think we live with that mystery and we trust in the beneficence and mercy of God. There are a lot of Sufi stories about how bad things turn into good. You know, it looks terrible, but some good comes of it. I can't quite see how that works in many situations, but it's not for me to decide. I just think we have to live with a certain amount of mystery in the world. We do what we can do, how we can do it, and where we can do it. So, don't get caught in despair, because that is just paralyzing and, then, we have no effect on anything. I mean, I think we can feed poor people, help each other, and support each other. That is basic to our existence and, if we get caught in despair, or hopelessness, we become useless.
Ann: Yeah, I felt like that, yesterday. I was just lost. I'd been doing a lot of work and really want to help create peace and justice in the world and I just got a little lost, yesterday. So, I just rested and took it easy and I got up, this morning, on fire, again.
In this great chaos that is going on, there is tremendous creativity. So, that is one thing about chaos that can be good, as you say if you don't fall into despair.
So, this is a similar question: What would the Muslims, or Sufis, say about a really good person with something terrible happening to them?
Barry: It's not for us to judge.
Ann: So, how do you garner your strength? Say you've lost a child, or a wife?
Barry: You grieve and then you go on living. One of the things we do that is not useful is that we argue with God, or we tell Him that He's not doing it right. That's never useful and it's not understanding what God is. We are given a certain life and a certain world and that's it. We can try and change it and improve it, but we have to make sure we don't fool ourselves about what we're doing and how we're doing it. This is true in many traditions, particularly the Eastern ones where it's more explicitly true, and it's that "One must be with what is,” as a sort of starting point. Saying, "I'm not going to do anything constructive, because it's all a waste, anyway,” I mean, it's not a waste. We need to see that the creation has its own life and we look out on the creation and we see animals killing each other. Some people are uncomfortable with that and some people are uncomfortable with us killing animals, but that's the way the creation behaves. When something bad happens to us, we would, you know, defend ourselves and protect ourselves in whatever way we could. We get lawyers. We would act, ourselves, in ways that would protect us, but it's not a matter of blaming God. There are many things that we don't understand and why they are happening. That's just the way it is. It's not a matter of blame; God is not wrong.
Ann: It's humankind that is wrong.
Barry: Yes. What the Sufis say is that when good happens, that's God. When bad happens, this is human and humans are accountable for their actions.
Ann: That's our consciousness not being fully aware.
Barry: Well, it's our behavior.
Ann: Our behavior that comes from our consciousness.
Barry: Yes, sure.
Ann: These are huge questions.
Ann: What do you feel humankind's place is in the world? Is there something special about being human?
Barry: Yes, well, the Islamic point of view is that we are the keepers, or stewards, of the world. It's our business to take care of it. There's a very strong environmentalist component in this.
Ann: Is there? I didn't know.
Barry: Yes, we are God's representatives in the world and that means that we are responsible for seeing that His creation is cared for and tended. It's sinful to destroy it, or to do violence to it, or to do violence to other humans. Those are sins. You know, Bin Laden is the last thing from a Muslim. It's like the guys who shoot abortion doctors. I mean, are they Christians? It's the last thing a Christian is, in any sense of the word. Our job is to try and take care of it in as clean and pure a way as possible.
Ann: What do the Sufis and Muslims say about life after death?
Ann: There is one?
Barry: Oh yes.
Ann: Is there a heaven and hell?
Barry: Oh yes. You know, everyone understands that differently. What is heaven and what is hell? A couple thousand years ago, people described heaven and hell in a certain way. The Arabs described heaven as having a lot of water there in the desert! We all do that and I don't know how we do it, now, but it's not about big houses, jewels, or water. It's about, what you might call, a state of consciousness. The Sufis, I think, would say that it's that which we experience in our life. We experience the effect of our acts, every day, and when we commit destructive acts, or self-destructive acts, we suffer, and that's hell. When we commit beneficent acts, or charitable, or altruistic acts, that's heaven. We are centered and we are healthy. Heaven and hell, I think, has that kind of power to it. The literal sense is that heaven is a place where one is close to God. There are levels of heaven where those people who are closest are closest and those that are not are there. It's where everything is wonderful, but our intention, or goal in life is to be close to God. The more authentic, integrated, and positive that our life is, this will bring us closer to God. This will occur after a period of rest, after we die, and there will be ultimate realization of that place.
Ann: Is there any sense of living many lives, or is there just one?
Barry: One life. This is it.
Ann: It's not like the Buddhists where there are ten thousand lives.
Barry: No, there is no reincarnation.
Ann: This is it.
Ann: I think Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all believe there is just one.
Barry: That's right.
Ann: What would you, personally, like to share with somebody who is seeking and who has come on this site? We have fourteen religions from which they can get an overview with all sorts of links, if they want to study more. What would you say to somebody who really is looking?
Barry: To look at them all and go to where you are led.
Ann: To go where your heart leads.
Barry: I don't want to sell mine.
Ann: No I didn't mean to sell it.
Barry: No, I know, but an authentic path will give everyone the same realization.
Ann: So, you're saying to pick any path?
Ann: So, it's your devotion to that.
Barry: Well, it depends what the path teaches. If it teaches the importance of community and of following God's precepts, then, yes. Paths that have been around a while will tend to do that. I'd say, "Look and you will find your way.”
Ann: That you'll be drawn. I mean that's what I found, that the door just flies open and that is what you're supposed to do.
Barry: Well, it may fly open, or it may fly open a little bit, or it may take a lot of struggle, but if you want to find it, then look around and you'll find it. Read all the messages on your site and start there and, if one attracts you, or pulls you, in any way, then pursue it, look further and find a guide who practices.
Ann: Thank you very much. I appreciate your time.