By Netanel Miles-Yépez
When I was in my late teens and first learned the tale of Parzival, as told by the venerable Wolfram von Eshenbach, and witnessed in my mind’s eye the initial encounter between this famous Arthurian knight and his brother, the Saracen knight, Feirefiz, I was fascinated with the idea of such a meeting. I wondered: What code of chivalry must this Saracen know? How is a Muslim knight instructed in the ways of honor? Then, not long ago, I learned that Pir Zia Inayat-Khan, the son of Pir Vilayat Inayat-Khan and head of the Sufi Order, had just published a new book called Saracen Chivalry, and my mind immediately flashed back to that early image of Feirefiz, who accompanies Parzival to the Grail Castle, and I wondered: Was he perhaps a Sufi? To my astonishment, I soon learned that this was precisely the question Pir Zia had answered, giving us the book of counsels on chivalry originally given to the Saracen knight Feirefiz by his mother before he embarked on his journey!
But perhaps a little background is necessary. In the Parzival story, a Christian knight, Gahmuret, goes in search of adventure in the Holy Land and eventually enters the service of the caliph of Baghdad. Later, he wins the love of the “Black Queen of Zazamanc,” Belacane, and marries her. But the desire for adventure is still upon him and he eventually leaves her and returns home, where he marries another woman, Herzeloyde, and has a son named Parzival. Meanwhile, back in Zazamanc, he has also left Queen Belacane with a son, Feirefiz, who will one day go in search of his father.
This is what we know from the Parzival tale of Wolfram von Eshenbach. But Pir Zia tells us that, without his father to raise him, and knowing that Feirefiz would one day want to go in search of his father, Queen Belacane is left to instruct her son in the ways of chivalry, in the knowledge he would need to meet the adventure of life and not be found wanting. Thus, Saracen Chivalry: Counsels on Valor, Generosity and the Mystical Quest, is her testament to her son, the knight Feirefiz, to guide him on his journey through life.
It is a timely book. For today, as much as any other spiritual teaching, we need to talk about chivalry, about a sacred code of honor which can help to orient us through life. Having lost so many certainties, having witnessed the breakdown of so many culturally-determined values, we need to find new values of global import, universal principles that can help us create a new order of Saheba-e-Safa, ‘knights of purity,’ as spoken of by Pir Zia’s grandfather, Hazrat Inayat Khan, who first brought Sufism to the West. Thus I have asked Pir Zia to share a few excerpts of his book, Saracen Chivalry, with us here:
To reach Mecca from Zazamanc a pilgrim must cross the Red Sea. She will reach her destination if her ship stays above water. The inner pilgrimage is different. To attain the House of the Merciful you must suffer the calamity of shipwreck. Your boat, your worldly self, must be capsized, broken to splinters, and sucked into the whirlpool. You must drink the ocean down to its briny dregs. You must plunge into the abyss and wash up gasping on the other side.
The other side is the Holy House that every pilgrim seeks, be she Sabian, Jew, Christian, or Moslem. Here all are gathered, and all stand equal before the Lord. Outer distinctions are abolished; the throng is draped in white. Everywhere is heard the cry, “At your service!”
In the House of the Merciful, time slows to a standstill. Past and future are nothing; the present is all. Space rolls up like a scroll. Everything that was, is, and ever shall be—every star and tree and cloud and idea—confesses the evanescence of its form. So confessing, with shattering delicacy it unveils the eternity of its essence. From the first to the last of the centillion and one things, that essence is pure being, the boundless shining forth of the One.
“On the Greater Struggle”
When Adam and Hawwa dwelled in the garden, God the Most High was always before their eyes. Yet they were not dazzled; their hearts were not pierced. Strangers to darkness, they could not know the meaning of light. And so the Creator ordained exile, condemning them to the desolation of banishment that they might one day taste the elation of homecoming. What is to come is better for you than what has gone before. From oneness they fell into manyness, from union into separation. They lost the garden of being and found themselves in the jungle of becoming.
Knowledge of the world is the fruit that led man into the jungle and love of God is the fruit that ushers him back into the garden. It was Iblis’ duty to proffer the fruit of knowledge and it is the Messenger’s task to extend the fruit of love. Love’s fruit is like no other. At first it is sweet, then bitter, and finally bittersweet. It is poisonous, but also good medicine. The one who eats of it will suffer the agonies of death, but in time she will rise again more living than before. She will die to herself and rise again in the Real.
Eat the fruit of God’s love, my son, and return to his garden. Breathe the weather of the season of the rose. The names of the Most High are seeds. When they quicken in your inner ground, watered by worship and sunned by faith, the garden will spring to life in you. Like a bud, your heart will open, petal by petal, giving forth a ruby light and a heady attar. In your right breast you will then feel a flutter, and—lo!—another blossom, a white flower, more diaphanous than the last, a gossamer bloom of spectral beauty. When you inhale its delicate scent you will know it to be the essence of purity. To the commanding and blaming selves it is a somnolent drug. Let the antagonists sleep, and the tranquil self will awaken. A bud will now open in the middle of your chest. Its light is gold and green. As its petals tear apart, your primal nature will show itself. Summer will arrive in the garden. In your forehead and crown, in your belly and tailbone, in the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet, blossoms will unfurl. Your flesh will become fertile soil, your veins limpid streams. Butterflies will glide on the breeze of your breath.
When all is in bloom, all a riot of color and fragrance, from the tongue of every flower will come these words, and you will know that you have come home:
O you tranquil self,
Return to your Lord, well-pleased and well-pleasing!
Enter then among my votaries,
Enter then my garden!
Ambition knows no restraint. It seizes every advantage, caring nothing for honor and less for the protestations of the downfallen on whose backs it blithely treads. The law of self-interest, ruthlessly applied, can speed an egoist an untold distance on the path of power and privilege. Meanwhile the chivalrous youth lags distantly behind, murmuring at each bottleneck in the lane, “After you...”
But the wicked will not always flourish, nor will the good always languish. As ‘Isa, peace be upon him, has foretold, “The first shall be last and the last first.”
If in this world vice gains glory and virtue earns nothing but hardship, in the next world the tables will be turned. The mightiest tyrant will discover himself a lowly suppliant of God’s forgiveness, while the poorest of his subjects—those, leastways, that were true to the truth—will be laurelled with the fragrant benedictions of paradise.
My son, keep the Day of Judgment always before your mind’s eye. On that day, everything will be made clear and nothing will remain hidden. There will be no room for pretense on the day their tongues and hands and feet bear witness to what they had done.
Therefore, be patient. Strive continuously for justice, but know that the justice that earth cannot supply, heaven will provide. When someone offends against you, do not take offense. If he has acted unjustly it is he who will be called to account in the Sequel, not you. The injustice he has done is to his own self. So long as you guard your innocence you cannot be harmed. Yes, your worldly affairs may be impeded. You may even be injured bodily—even to the point of death. But if you have kept God’s pleasure, you will have lost nothing that cannot be honorably lost.
The wise Diyujanis* was once informed that a man had sworn to kill him. His only comment was, “It will do him more harm than it will me.”
Do not brood over the wrongs that have been done to you, nor seek the cold solace of revenge. Pray, instead, for the souls who wrong themselves by wronging you. They stand in need of your prayers.