The practice of courtesy, right conduct, and reverence in all traditions
FAB: Although the word adab is Arabic and associated with Sufism, this practice of courtesy, right conduct, and reverence is present in other traditions. How universal is this practice? It seems to me that the Native Americans with their emphasis on silence and respect are modeling it.
AH: Very much so. The Native Americans have great respect for diversity because they honor gay people, women, and people with all kinds of gifts. I think the shamanic cultures in general have profound adab in their relationship to the Divine as Mother and bountiful provider and their relationship to the Creation as being sacred in all its particulars. We need this native wisdom now.
We also need the authentic mystical wisdom because that, too, is adab in a radiant form. We very much need a mayahana understanding of the bodhisattva, for example. We very much need Francis of Assisi's vision of the creation lit up by the glory of God. We very much need Taoism with its sense of infinite harmony between things. And Jesus, of course, is a great teacher of adab Jesus in his love towards women, towards animals, towards all beings who were outcast.
We're discussing adab in Sufism but adab is something that all true civilizations occupy themselves with. In Chinese Confucianism, in the 18th century understanding of civilized living in France, in the English idea of the gentlemen, in the ideal of noble service that runs through the classical tradition, you have different cultures' attempts to discover the laws of true courtesy that enable a culture to survive and to be beautiful. It would be wonderful to bring together all of this wisdom Confucian and Taoist and Sufi and Christian and also secular to show that there are threads that run through it threads of respect, threads of refinement, threads of tenderness towards other beings, threads of delighting in friendship and deep relationship, and threads in the mystical sense of adoration and gratitude towards God. And this might help us redefine and renovate our civilization at this moment.
We need something that will really give people a sense not just of the etiquette of good behavior but a sense of the profound inner beauty and inner pleasure of adab, of politeness and courtesy, because it's isn't simply about respecting rules: it is about living a part of the tenderness of the life of God. To live with that tenderness is to have a whole different set of relationships with other beings. Without adab, how can you ever enter into profound relationship with a rose? How can you ever really attend to a piece of music or a piece of art? All of the great pleasures in life require this kind of refinement of being.
In Early Islamic Mysticism edited by Michael Sells, there is this passage from Tustari's Tasfir, an early commentary on the Qur'an, in which he says: "Among the most important kinds of refined relationship (adab) between him and God Most High are purity of heart and taking grace as nourishment. There is nothing more difficult than the preservation of adab." He was asked, "What is adab?" He said: "Make barley your food, dates your sweets, salt your tanning agent, milk your grease, wool your clothing, mosques your houses, the sun your light, the moon your lamp, water your perfume, cleanliness your splendor, precaution your adornment, being content your work, self-vigilance your provisions; your meals noctural, your sleep diurnal; remembrance your speech; meditation your silence and your care; admonition your gaze, lord, refuge and champion. In Him 'til death be patient."
Everything's there! The entire path. And an entire way of living.