When a man comes to see you

A book on Sufism that I’ve edited came out several months ago and I put a copy thereof in the mailbox of a friend, who had made 2 of the photo’s that were used in the book. A week later I found out that he was not at home as I received a letter from Bokhara in Uzbekistan.

He had travelled to this place (he told me when he came to visit me) in order to go to Qasr-e-Arefin, where you can find the tomb of shaykh Bahauddin Naqshband.

You may know of the Khwajagan, the ‘Masters’, one of them being the murshid of Khwaja Abu Ishaq Shami Chishti, the founder of the Chishti order. Several centuries later Bahauddin Naqshband became an initiate of the Khwajagan and his contribution has been so important that his designation Naqshband (= ‘designer’) became the name of the complete Sufi order, the Naqshbandiyya.

Perhaps you have read the book of Sara Sviri called “The Taste of Hidden Things”. On its book-jacket you find a photograph of the tomb of shaykh Bahauddin Naqshband. Nowadays (according to my friend) there is a small gate surrounding the tomb so that people can no longer touch it. Present-day Naqshbandi’s frown on devotional practices around the tomb. They have even removed the cloth covering: everything is very sober. The ordinary people, however, still tie small pieces of cloth in the trees nearby in order to get blessings (baraka) or to have their wishes fulfilled.

The streets of Bokhara are rather quiet. You see little people and there is no heavy traffic. There is an atmosphere wherein you feel safe. People are very honest. When they do their shopping they leave the things they have bought unattended in the street and pick it up later. In Amsterdam you cannot do such things. The same thing happens when people pass on money to one another from the back of the bus to the driver in front in order to buy a ticket. The bus-fare really reaches the driver…

A foreigner only feels unsafe in Bokhara when being stopped by the police as they try to let you pay a fine for everything you do. This happened to my friend outside of Bokhara. He was visiting the graves of the several Naqshbandi teachers to be found in the surroundings of Bokhara. In Bokhara he had left his hotel and stayed permanently in a house he rented for $ 5 a day. Because he could not show a passport with a stamp of a hotel the police took his passport from him and gave him a large fine. Rules, rules, rules: Uzbekastan still shows some aspects of its being a former Soviet state. People of Bokhara helped my friend in regard to these problems.

It was easy for my friend to meet the Sufis in Bokhara as it is a rather small town. Most visitors only stay a short time, but his staying for a couple of weeks received the attention of the local Sufis. The shaykh pointed out to him that he could sit on his right side. He could not talk with the shaykh as the shaykh only spoke a certain dialect of Persian. But that did not matter much as the things you can speak about are not important and the really valuable things can never be put into words…