Just suppose you are able to make an interview with shaykh Ghawth ‘Ali Shah (1804-1880). What would you ask him? Perhaps some of your questions are similar to the ones as given below:
Q: Why are you called a gift to the Ganges?
A: My mother was not well after giving me birth, so a wet nurse was found, who called me ‘Ganga Bishan’.
Q: You are a sayyed, as you belong to the family of the Prophet. Is it not strange that you as a Muslim have attended a Hindu festival in Hardwar? Is it not true that God is present in Islam and everywhere?
A: I have taken a sacred bath in the Ganges on behalf of and for the benefit of the Pandit whose wife was my wet nurse during my infancy.
Q: Is it true that in your life a convergence can be seen of Sufism and Vedanta?
A: It started when I was four years old. My mother began to teach me to recite the Qur’an and the Pandit I have just mentioned made me familiar with the Hindu scriptures. The other wife of my father taught me Persian, while her father gave me the first lessons in Arabic. I have great love for all my teachers, particularly the wife of Fazl-e-Imam of Khairabad. She has treated me with such love and generosity that soon after her death I gave up learning from books. She taught me that true knowledge can only be found in a loving heart.
My father was my first spiritual guide. I have been initiated into the inner life by 19 spiritual teachers, 11 of whom were Muslim and 8 of whom were Hindu. My uncle was one of the Fools of God. He earned his livelihood by entertaining people during festivals. Members of my family tried to dissuade him from his profession, but he persisted and said that the ‘Rose of Baghdad’, i.e. shaykh ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani had appeared in a dream to him and had ordered him to act like a fool. My uncle has strongly influenced me.
My grandfather took me to Hajji Lal, a Chishti-Nizami Sufi, who was in Delhi then. When he saw me he said: ‘I have been waiting for you for a long time. Whatever I have kept for you as a trust for you, please take that from me’. He showed me utmost kindness. Later on Sayyed Fida Husayn Rasul Shahi accepted me in the Sohrawardi order. Mir Azam ‘Ali Shah also accepted me as his spiritual disciple in the Qadiriyya order. I also became a disciple of Mian Habibullah Shah, who belonged to the Naqshbandi order. I went to Hazrat Amiruddin Shah Chishti to become his disciple.
Q: How about your mother?
A: When I was 10 years old I got angry with my mother. I ran away from home and stayed some 30 kilometres away with an imam who knew my family. I had not told anyone where I had gone. My family was worried and searched for me. After a month they located me in the village of that imam. Then my uncle was sent to bring me home.
The imam said: ‘There is no problem. This is also his house. He can stay here and study with me if he wishes’.
Then my mother sent another man of the village, now with a threat that if I did not come home she would come and take me home, slapping me all the way back. When I heard of this threat I somehow recognized my fate and returned home. For quite some time I was so frightened of her that I did not dare to go into her presence. Somehow I gathered courage, came before her and immediately fell upon her feet. At once, she forgot her anger, lifted me up and showered me with a thousand kisses.
Q: Have you also attended the musical sessions of the Chishtiyya Sufis?
A: One day my father took me to a Chishti pir. During a musical session this Chishti pir looked at me with such concentration that although I was neither conscious nor unconscious, I felt that all my knowledge had been wiped out. For nearly nine days I could not gather my senses. The benefit of that experience was such that whenever someone tried to look at me with a similar concentration, I remained impassive and, even when I was shaken for an instant or two, my knowledge was not touched.
Q: There is a story of Moses and a shepherd in the Mathnavi. Moses silences a shepherd and gives him a lesson in theology. God then makes it clear to Moses that he was sent to humanity to bring them closer to Him, not to widen the gulf between God and His creation. One night this story was being read in your company. Your disciple Gul Hasan has said that for the first time in his 18-year association he saw that you were so deeply touched that tears started rolling down your face… My question has to do with our creation. Why have we been created?
A: Once Moses was sitting in a house when a lizard scuttling across the roof urinated and a few drops fell on Moses. Irritated Moses raised his hands to God and said: ‘For what purpose did you create that creature?’ God replied: ‘Moses don’t you know that every day this lizard asks me: ‘Why did you create that man and what is his purpose?’
Q: Why do you answer a question with another question?
A: Why not?
Q: One of your disciples, Gul Hasan, was quite able as an interpreter of dreams. One day you told this dream of yours to him: You had seen three of your friends who had already left the world. They were all pious and God-fearing men. They told you: ‘Your house is ready and we have the keys. You may come and see it’.
You replied: ‘Friends, we have not made any house anywhere. Wherever we lived, we lived homeless and whenever we left, we left no traces behind. Like snakes we passed through houses built by others. So, to what sort of house are you referring?’
But they insisted. So you accompanied them. They brought you before a beautiful mansion and opened the door for you. As you entered you found yourself under a dome, and there you saw a locked casket. One of your friends said: ‘We don’t have the key, for only your touch can open the casket’.
As you opened it, you found inside a multi-coloured ball made of silken wrappings. You started unwrapping the strange object and finally, at the end of the last wrapping, found a beautiful case. When you opened it, it was filled with musk with a fragrance that was so enchanting that you said to your friends, you would like to stay. But they said: ‘Wait for a few more days. Still a few more people have to benefit from you. Don’t make haste’.
You have narrated this dream to Gul Hasan. What did he tell you about its meaning?
A: He said: ‘The mansion you saw in your dream is the world. The dome represents your grave and the casket your body. The little beautiful case inside the coloured silken wrappings is your heart, and the musk can be nothing else but the nameless name of God’.
Q: Gul Hasan was rather sad when interpreting such dreams, was he not?
A: To be distressed is to disagree with the divine decree!
Q: The dream also makes clear that you have been a homeless on this earth. Can you tell us about your travels?
A: I have made extensive tours and travels. I have visited every part of the subcontinent of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. I even went beyond the seas. I have visited Egypt, Baghdad, Jerusalem, Najaf, Mecca, Medina, Syria and other parts of the world. I was very fond of meeting dervishes. I have met eighty-nine dervishes, who were considered as having attained spiritual perfection. Besides the dervishes I also met many sanyasis and saints belonging to other religions.
Q: Anything else you want to say?
A: May your journey be blessed!