#22 Witnessing the Divine Face in the East and West with Dr Fawzia Al-Rawi

Fawzia Al-Rawi holds a PhD in Islamic studies. She completed her Arabic, Islamic and ethnological studies at the Universities of Vienna and Cairo. She then spent 12 years in Jerusalem where she brought up her children and worked at the Institute for the Promotion of Palestinian Agriculture and at the University of Jerusalem, while deepening both her theoretical and practical knowledge of Sufism under the guidance of Sidi Shaykh Muhammad Al-Rifai. She has been living in Vienna with her husband and their three children since 2001.

Fawzia Al-Rawi has been teaching Sufism for over 25 years. She holds workshops in various countries and works particularly with women. Her teachings draw on a wealth of experience from a bicultural environment which uniquely enables her to build a bridge of understanding between different cultures, open a space where these can meet and thus contribute to peace. Further details can be found on her website

Fawzia Al-Rawi · Fawzia Al-Rawi

In the latest episode of The Hikmah Project podcast, host Saqib engages in a profound conversation with Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi, a distinguished Sufi teacher and scholar. As Ramadan approaches, they explore a range of spiritual themes and insights that offer valuable guidance for both the holy month and beyond.

Themes and Insights:

  1. The Essence of Ḥaqq:

    • Dr. Al-Rawi explains the concept of Ḥaqq (truth and justice) as an all-encompassing reality. It is about living truthfully and striving to create a just society. She emphasizes the importance of reflecting divine qualities in our actions, making the world more just through our existence.
  2. Heart and Intellect:

    • Sufism integrates heart and intellect, where both play crucial roles. Dr. Al-Rawi highlights that true knowledge comes from Allah and feeds different parts of us—body, mind, heart, and soul. She stresses that intellect should serve the heart and guide us towards higher spiritual understanding.
  3. Masculine and Feminine Energies:

    • The podcast delves into the mature expressions of masculine and feminine qualities. Dr. Al-Rawi discusses how masculinity involves striving towards goals, while femininity focuses on unification and nurturing. She emphasizes the need for balance and mutual respect between these energies.
  4. Eastern and Western Spiritual Approaches:

    • Dr. Al-Rawi contrasts the Eastern approach, which emphasizes relationships and unity, with the Western approach, focused on individual aims and rationality. She advocates learning from both to enrich our spiritual journey.
  5. Universality and Particularity of Wisdom:

    • Discussing the universality of wisdom, Dr. Al-Rawi reflects on how Sufism embraces knowledge from various traditions while remaining grounded in Islamic teachings. She cites examples from Ibn ʿArabī and Rumi, who found universal truths in particular contexts.
  6. The Divine and Human Will:

    • The conversation touches on the interplay between human and divine will. Dr. Al-Rawi explains how aligning our will with Allah’s leads to a harmonious existence, where our actions reflect divine qualities.
  7. The Essence of Fasting:

    • As Ramadan approaches, Dr. Al-Rawi explores the deeper meaning of fasting beyond physical abstention. Fasting is a form of purification that weakens the nafs (ego) and redirects focus to the inner spiritual world. It is a practice done solely for Allah, with profound benefits for the soul.

The podcast concludes with reflections on the importance of sincerity and constant self-awareness on the spiritual path. Dr. Al-Rawi's insights provide a rich tapestry of wisdom that prepares us for a meaningful Ramadan and a deeper spiritual journey.

Listen to the full episode on The Hikmah Project podcast to dive deeper into these enlightening discussions with Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi.


Greetings and Welcome:
As-salāmu ʿalaykum. Welcome, everyone. My name is Saqib, your host on The Hikmah Project podcast on Prayer Your World as we approach another blessed month of Ramadan. Today, I speak to Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi, a Sufi teacher. More about her in a moment.

First, to give you a heads up, we are hosting a Ramadan circle on the chapter of fasting from the Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya of Ibn ʿArabī, where we will explore the mystical text and the various dimensions of fasting in Ramadan—from the sighting of the new moon to the inner meaning of Taqwa and the blessed night of Laylat al-Qadr. More details are available on the website. It begins on Sunday, 10th March. Recordings are available for those who can't make the time, so please do register if you're interested.

Today, I speak to Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi, who is a Sufi teacher. She holds a PhD in Islamic Studies, completed her Arabic, Islamic, and Ethnological Studies at the University of Vienna and Cairo, and spent 12 years in Jerusalem. There, she raised her children and worked at the Institute of the Promotion of Palestinian Agriculture at the University of Jerusalem, deepening her theoretical and practical knowledge of Sufism under the guidance of her Sheikh and father-in-law, Sidi Sheikh Mohammed Jamal al-Rifai. Since 2001, she has been living in Vienna with her husband and three children.

I had the pleasure of meeting her for the first time early this year during a retreat in the UK, and I was deeply touched by her wisdom, humour, and creativity. She held the circle with elegance and spoke from the depths of her heart, embodying the feminine in a very dignified way. This podcast feels like a soft bid, a mutual heart-to-heart conversation. I have not edited out the silent moments because I feel they are integral to the conversation, allowing us to pause and reflect.

We discuss various topics, primarily around opposites or duality and how they come together in the plane of Tawḥīd or unity and oneness. We touch upon polarities such as human-divine, East-West spirituality, masculine-feminine, immature-mature forms of masculine and feminine, as well as other areas like the conflict in Palestine and her time with Sidi Mohammed Jamal al-Rifai.

Without further ado, let's start the podcast. Welcome, Fawzia. It's wonderful to have you with us today.

Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi: Thank you, thank you for the invitation.

Saqib: Al-ḥamdu lillāh, I’ve been really looking forward to speaking with you. It’s a great honour for me. I feel called to discuss with you opposites and unity as a theme and the different manifestations it has. I would like to first honour your work, or the work Allah has done through you, on the Divine Names. Your book, The 99 Healing Names of the One Love, is one of the best books I’ve read on the 99 names. The depth and beauty it brings are remarkable. There are many names, but I’ll pick one to begin with: Ḥaqq, a word Ibn ʿArabī uses quite often. People often say they are searching for Ḥaqq, the objective reality. Ibn ʿArabī also uses the term muḥaqqiqūn, those who have verified the truth for themselves. Could you kindly tell us about this word Ḥaqq, what it means to you, and who the muḥaqqiqūn are?

Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi: Bismillāh al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm. When we express the word Ḥaqq, it encompasses all reality. It is, if I may say, like the cloud that brings the here and the hereafter together. As a Sufi, it is important that when I live here, my sight overcomes the barrier from this world to the other. So, I always look at the ākhirah to live here truthfully, to be a muḥaqqiq here, to bring the Ḥaqq into my actions. Ḥaqq is not only truth, but it also signifies justice. One of the most important tasks for us as human beings on this earth is to develop a just society. Every religion has a specific task, and for Islam, it is to form a just society. How can I form a just society? A society is like a river formed of drops. Each drop is essential in its consciousness and behaviour. Life is like a wave, sometimes in the valley, sometimes like a mountain, and these movements are fed by our consciousness. We cannot choose where or when we are born, but we can choose how we deal with what comes to us. If I am connected to the Ḥaqq, knowing that I am living here for a limited time, my light, the jewel Allah has breathed into me, must be expressed in my human form. It is with heart, sight, and hearing concentrated on the ākhirah that I behave here. It is how I choose creation, with my manners, character, and the unique cocktail Allah has formed in me. How can I bring the most beautiful part of me outside? How can I make the world more just by my existence, through my drop reflecting the whole ocean? Through dhikr, divided into three parts: dhikr al-lisān, dhikr al-qalb, and dhikr al-rūḥ. It is in this development of dhikr that I come to be more and more a drop that reflects the whole ocean.

Ḥaqq helps us come out of relative reality because in life, everything is relative. The absolute is with Allah. When it comes to the world, everything is connected, and how we play our role in this connection matters. An example: a merchant buys from a man paying with false money, yet the man knows and accepts, thinking it's better he takes it to protect others. This can only be done when one has transcended the nafs, not seeking personal gain but the well-being of the whole. This is the reflection of the ocean in the drop.

Saqib: Beautiful. Thank you so much. Another opposite, seemingly, I've encountered on the path, sometimes with Sufis, sometimes with others, is the mutual exclusivity of the heart and intellect. It’s almost as though in one school of thought, they can't be reconciled; you’re either in your mind or in your heart. Zen Buddhism, for instance, emphasizes emptying the mind. However, the Qurʾān, Ibn ʿArabī, Rūmī, and great sages teach us to think correctly. So, it isn't necessarily about doing away with intellect to be in the heart. I’m reminded of the Qurʾānic verse, "Do they not travel through the land so that their hearts may exercise intellection?" Could you say something about the relationship between intellect and heart on the spiritual path?

Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi: Sufism believes in Tawḥīd, oneness. There is one knowledge from Allah, al-ʿAlīm, feeding different parts of us: the body, mind, heart, and soul. Each has a specific role. It's not for us to say the body’s knowledge is less important. All are vital if we know where we stand and where we want to go. The divine name al-ʿAlīm encompasses using every part of us—senses, mind, heart—to reach what can't be reached by them alone. This is ʿilm in Arabic. Islamic sciences are built on this, showing no contradiction between religion and science. Science serves religion by deepening our understanding of creation, bringing us closer to Allah. For example, a scientist drinking a glass of water finds Allah at the bottom.

For a Sufi, intellect is part of many knowledges, used correctly. Attributes, when used rightly, are strengths; wrongly, weaknesses. The Qurʾān, al-Furqān, teaches us to distinguish because life constantly presents choices. For this, we need the knowledge of Furqān. The first verse revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) was "Iqraʾ bismi rabbika," highlighting the need for discernment. We must order our being, with outward knowledge (Sharia) leading to inward truth (al-Ḥaqq).

Saqib: Thank you. Another topic is the relationship not just of masculine and feminine, but the growth towards mature masculine and feminine. A quote from Robert Moore’s King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: "How often are we envied, hated, and attacked in indirect and passive-aggressive ways as we seek to unfold who we are in all our beauty, maturity, creativity, and generativity?" This touches on the need for mature masculinity and femininity, highlighting issues when governance and religion are in the hands of the immature. What does it mean to be a mature man and woman? Many women carry wounds from the immature masculine, sometimes projected onto men generally. Modern paradigms sometimes don’t serve us, with some feminisms reacting against men rather than responding deeply. What do men and women need to mature?

Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi: Allah has created everything in pairs. Masculinity and femininity are essential powers: masculinity separates to reach an aim; femininity unites, spreading like water. Without femininity, we become aggressive; without masculinity, we can't develop. Balance is

key. Masculinity should serve femininity, seeing it as integral, not lesser. For instance, a woman opening the door for her husband isn’t servitude but re-embedding him into existence. Taking off his shoes signifies returning to holiness. Feeding him brings sakīnah, peace, embedding him into unity. Women must be seen and acknowledged by men.

Men need to learn to serve femininity, understanding it as integral. For example, if something drops, it’s for the man to pick it up, acknowledging interconnectedness. Blessing men heals wounds and honours their power, calling them to virtue.

Saqib: Beautiful. Another apparent duality is the approach of Western and Eastern spirituality, or masculine and feminine forms of Sufism. For instance, your teacher Sidi Jamal established a Western healing approach, while you take a more Eastern one, yet both are from the same source, addressing different needs. Could you tell us about these two approaches?

Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi: Prophet Ibrahim had two sons: Ismail, the halīm, and Ishaq, the ʿālim. The path of Ishaq is knowledge and understanding; Ismail’s is the wisdom of the heart. Traditional Sufi teachers may not focus on personal drama but on expanding the heart through dhikr, letting everything heal naturally. Western people need to understand their pain to open to surrender, reflecting on the past for a better future.

The West’s approach is masculine, striving for aims; the East’s is feminine, focusing on relationships. Jerusalem is the joining point between East and West. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and we need to learn from each other.

Saqib: Another aspect is the universality and particularity of wisdom. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said wisdom is the lost property of the believer. Rumi, writing 800 years ago, is a best-selling poet in America, showing the universal in the particular. Ibn ʿArabī brings this beautifully, finding universal meanings in particular contexts. Could you say something about universality and particularity, remaining grounded while embracing the universal?

Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi: If I know where I’m standing and where I’m going, I can travel and drink from different cups. Multiplicity and ambiguity are signs directing us to oneness. Islam has never feared looking at other traditions. Muslims can understand and include other perspectives as enrichment. Islam is a frame within which we bring things together and separate them according to our consciousness. What makes the difference is taqwā, the consciousness.

The Qurʾān includes all levels of consciousness, leading us to the highest consciousness. It reveals itself according to our state. Every time we read it, we find new meanings. The frame of the Qurʾān is like a wall, with each surah as a chapter. Running around the wall, we find a brick falls, and light touches us. The Qurʾān is a constant revelation, moving us through stories, divine names, and rules, leading us to surrender to something greater. It’s about being thankful, understanding our nature, and dealing with it with dignity.

Saqib: Speaking of drinking, I’d like to recite a poem by Ibn al-Fāriḍ, from his Wine Song:

شربنا على ذكر الحبيب مدامة ... سكرنا بها من قبل أن تُخلق الكَرْمُ

We drank, remembering the beloved, a wine which intoxicated us before the vine's creation.

The West has a big mindfulness movement inspired by Buddhism, emphasizing being present. Sufism, often unspoken in the West, has this dimension of drinking the wine of love, being intoxicated in a timeless realm. Can you say something about this dimension, the grace of the path, and the activation through the shaykh and the silsila?

Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi: The breath is essential on the path. Allah breathed into us a divine spark. Through breath, we return to that spark, allowing it to shine in our human existence. This is what is meant by drunkenness. We human beings are special, existing in non-manifested and manifested forms. We unite the seen and unseen, here and the hereafter, in our hearts.

Our hearts, facing the universe and Allah, embody unity and multiplicity. We can bring harmony into the world, even without belief, as we carry this divine spark. Sufis say, let us exchange and walk together in search of the truth, holding the core of all religions, understanding and including as enrichment.

The breath takes us to the pre-eternal state. We are the point where al-awwal (the first) and al-akhir (the last) meet. This state allows us to reflect the divine qualities in our actions. We need both logic and wisdom, masculine and feminine, to manifest the divine in our lives.

Saqib: On that note, I’d like to touch upon the divine and human will. Ibn ʿArabī often blurs this line, pointing to something beyond language. For instance, his philosophy is about transforming our will to unite with the Divine Will. How do we balance human and divine will, remaining active yet relying on Allah?

Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi: Allah has given us qualities like mercy, which we must manifest in our actions. For example, seeing someone being mobbed, our mercy drives us to act. How we act, aligning our will with Allah’s, is crucial. It’s not about correcting out of superiority but bringing everyone to paradise.

Our will, coloured by Allah’s Will, acts out of compassion. We acknowledge our role, knowing we are rays of the sun, manifesting divine qualities. Islam and Sufism emphasize taking responsibility, with constant supplication, asking Allah to guide us. The will is a constant movement, learning to surrender, seeing ourselves through Allah’s eyes.

Saqib: Thank you. Speaking of will, the hadith qudsi says, "Every action of the son of Adam belongs to him except fasting; it is Mine." As we approach Ramadan, your book provides a practical guide for navigating this blessed month. Could you tell us about fasting’s essence, beyond abstaining from food and drink?

Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi: Fasting has many levels. The first level is abstaining from eating, drinking, and other physical acts, taking us out of our normal rhythm, challenging the nafs. Allah knows it’s a challenge, which is why fasting is for Him.

Fasting weakens the nafs, allowing us to focus on the inner world. Higher levels include fasting from words and thoughts, leaving everything behind except Allah. Fasting is a purification on all levels, a special time for deep inner work. It’s a month of renewal, physically and spiritually.

Saqib: Speaking of introspection, Omar ibn al-Khattab asked if his name was on the list of hypocrites, showing deep self-awareness. What would you say to him, and what about the work on the nafs for those advanced on the path?

Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi: At advanced stages, the nafs becomes a servant of Allah. There is no longer a struggle but a constant fear of hypocrisy, always checking one's sincerity. We hold everything up with Bismillāh al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm, knowing Allah perfects our actions.

There is a balance between hope and fear, moving our hearts constantly. The fear of hypocrisy is a sign of deep sincerity and awareness, always seeking Allah’s pleasure.

Saqib: Thank you. Your insights are profound and deeply appreciated. As we approach Ramadan, your guidance helps us prepare for a month of inner and outer purification. Thank you for joining us on The Hikmah Project.

Dr. Fawzia Al-Rawi: Waʿalaykum as-salām. It was an honour to be here.

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