A Sufi Novice in Shaykh Effendi’s Realm is inspired by the landscape and beauty of North Cyprus and a meeting and relationship with a very special man, Shaykh Nazim Effendi. The book is dedicated to him who passed away in May 2014.
Reviewed by Novid Shaid:
An Azad Kashmiri man once shared a piece of profound Urdu poetry with me, which started like this:
Dard Na Choorai
Loosely translated, this means “when you meet your true spiritual guide, the pain never leaves you”. And this pain, both its pleasures and its complexities, resonates in Abdul Wadud Sutherland’s A Sufi Novice in Shaykh Efendi’s Realm. This fascinating work, which is comprised of poetry and prose, reveals Sutherland’s subtle encounters with his own Shaykh, the late Naqshbandi spiritual master, Nazim Al Haqqani, may Allah bless him. There are also accounts of memorable meetings with imams in Cyprus, visitations of the tombs of Sufi saints and even powerful love poetry to the poet’s own wife.
Wadud’s descriptions of his shaykh are delicate and moving. With the Children depicts the Shaykh as a benevolent old spirit “with deep hidden pockets like Captain Kangaroo” cheerfully sharing sweets with the legions of children that live in the neighbourhood. AW’s Disease betrays the despair of being cut off and alienated from both the Shaykh’s good pleasure and the Divine Presence. “Who is that?” Asks the Shaykh, unable to recognize the novice under his layers of sin and mud. The Shaykh and the Dead Baby, introduces the Shaykh’s own suffering after the demise of his dear wife, may Allah bless her. Shaykh Efendi is an unshakeable reality in Wadud’s life and he manages to share this truth with undeniable power and clarity.
Wadud’s encounters with imams in Cyprus are a welcome addition to the work and remind many of us Western travellers to Muslim lands of our own humorous attempts to connect with ethnic peoples. AW’s Misplaced Jacket and Imam of the Empty Mosque feature Cypriot imams and their curious interactions with Wadud, showing the classic rendezvous between the archetypal energised convert versus the world-wearied mosque official.
The Adhan at the Twilight in Town beautifully explores the reactions of the local population to the adhan with powerful metaphors and intricate phrasing.
Entering the Land documents Wadud’s excursion to Hala Sultan in the forbidden zone between the Turkish and Greek realms of Cyprus. Wadud captures some of the spiritual phenomena that manifest around the area and the tomb with lucid prose: “its dome aligned with tall palms’ big-fanning sweeps; minarets rising behind graceful green; a vista across a dry-bottom lake.”
Then Wadud generously shares love verse for his wife, Sofina. I was particularly touched by “You sing – swirling / turquoise waves – a kind siren / who won’t shipwreck me”, I couldn’t help thinking of Captain Cat and Rosie Probert in Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, with Cat’s unforgettable weather-beaten request to his ancient sweetheart: “Let me shipwreck in your thighs”.
Wadud is also a weather-beaten old soul who came to Islam in 2004 and his book, which is a compelling read, is imbued in an indelible longing for his Shaykh, for his loved ones and ultimately for the Divine.