Some time ago, while I was visiting the Church of St. Paul in Rome, I came across an extraordinary person that handed me a list of books.
It definitely was a chance meeting. I exchanged a few words with the stranger and then just before we parted he presented me with a piece of handwritten paper.
Once back home, I had a closer look at the gift. There were listed forty-four books that ranged from The Fourth Way by Ouspensky to Confessions by Saint Augustine, from the Holy Koran to the Song of Songs. There were also listed a few Sufi books, some by mystic poets like Rumi. Two essays about the Sufis were written by Idries Shah.
I read almost all the books in the list. As for the Sufis, my wish was to meet them in person instead of knowing them only through books.
The opportunity came during my stay in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. I went to that city to volunteer. As soon as I arrived, I tried to get information on how to find the Sufis. My host family told me that it would be impossible for a non-Muslim to enter a mosque, but perhaps the Sufis would make an exception for me. The mistress knew their meeting place and offered to accompany me.
We went to a zawiya, a Sufi lodge. I tried to cross the threshold with nonchalance, but a person at the front door stopped me. “You cannot enter the zawija!” he said.
As the lady insisted, he said that I had to talk with a certain person before being admitted. The lady called the man over the phone and arranged an appointment for the following day.
We met at a coffee bar not far from the Italian embassy. The Sufi was tall, dark and well-mannered. He was a professor at the University of Rabat.
“Why do you want to meet the Sufis?” the professor said.
“I want to know whether there is life after death. I heard that the Sufis are mystic. Maybe they know truths that ordinary human beings cannot know,” I said.
“To know the truth you must purify your heart. Everything turns on purifying your heart. Only then you can get the answer to your question; even in this life! If you invoke the name of God, little by little you will purify your heart. The core of Sufism is ‘La ilaha illa Allah’ (there is nothing to worship other than Allah). You hold too many gods inside your heart: money, success, fame and so on. You have to drop all these gods from your heart and worship only Allah.”
Then, he gave me a CD and asked me to call him one week later, after watching carefully it.
One week later I was admitted in the Zawija!
There were people that read books written in Arabic. As for me, a Sufi recommended that I say continuously the words La ilaha illa Allah.
“You cannot know the truth without a master. For a Sufi the master is essential. Purify your heart more and more and then you’ll find your master inside you,” he said.
After a few hours we all sat on the floor to share and eat together their local dish, couscous.
I went to the zawija every Saturday for almost two months, then I left Morocco. Before leaving, one of the Sufis came close to me. “What is your name?” he asked.
“My name is Ettore.”
“My name is Torabi. Will you forget it?”
“I will not forget your name!” I answered.
“Well! Every now and then say my name in your heart and I’ll say yours in mine,” he said.
Now I am faraway from Morocco. A few months have elapsed. From time to time I think of Torabi and I am sure he is thinking of me as well.
Ettore Grillo, author of A Hidden Sicilian History