#20 Signs on the Horizons with Michael Sugich

 Michael Sugich, an American writer who was initiated into a traditional Sufi order over forty years ago and who lived for 23 years in the sacred city of Makkah Al Mukaramah, has kept company with some of the greatest Sufi saints of the age from many parts of the world. His book is a unique eye-witness narrative of a mystical tradition that today hides in plain sight, veiled by the turbulence and materialism gripping the Muslim world.

Podcast Summary: Signs on the Horizons with Michael Sugich

In our latest podcast episode, we had the honour of speaking with Michael Sugich, also known as Sidi Haroon, a renowned author and spiritual seeker. Host Saqib engaged Michael in a profound discussion about his book, Signs on the Horizons: Meetings with Men of Knowledge and Illumination, and his lifelong journey in traditional Sufism.

Michael Sugich embraced Sufism in 1972 and has since dedicated over four decades to the spiritual path. He has lived in various parts of the world, including Mecca for 22 years, and currently resides in Istanbul. His book recounts encounters with 40 saints, or awliyāʾ, offering hope and guidance to seekers of truth.

The podcast delved into the essence of finding an authentic spiritual path and teacher in contemporary times. Michael emphasised the importance of adhering to the Shariah and seeking guidance from genuine shuyūkh who embody the teachings of Islam without deviating from its principles. He highlighted the dangers of overemphasising the trappings of Sufism and stressed that the true path involves selflessness, love, and consistent remembrance of Allah.

Michael also discussed the misconceptions around spiritual experiences and openings, advising seekers to focus on their relationship with Allah and maintain good company. He shared personal anecdotes about his journey and the profound impact of meeting spiritually radiant individuals who exemplified humility and devotion.

This enriching conversation is a must-listen for anyone on a spiritual quest, offering insights into the timeless wisdom of Sufism and practical advice for navigating the spiritual path in the modern world.

Tune in to the full podcast episode for an inspiring exploration of faith, devotion, and the search for divine truth.

Transcript: Signs on the Horizons with Michael Sugich

Host: Saqib
Guest: Michael Sugich

Greetings, as-salāmu ʿalaykum. Welcome, everyone. My name is Saqib, your host on The Ḥikmah Project. I pray you are well. I am delighted to bring you another podcast, this time with one of my favourite authors and writers, Michael Sugich, or Sidi Haroon.

Before we delve into the podcast, just a few updates, inshāʾAllāh. We are developing online courses and are nearing the end of Level One Arabic. We hope to turn this into a self-paced study course, allowing you to study at your own pace and time, with some online support. We also plan to develop Level Two and, inshāʾAllāh, Level Three, creating a comprehensive course on learning classical Arabic through mystical texts, Qurʾān, and ḥadīth.

Your support is greatly appreciated, whether as a paid member or through contributions to the development fund, details of which can be found on The Ḥikmah Project website. You can also email admin@thehikmahproject.com for further details. We are also running the second workshop by Jamila Davis on writing from the heart. Al-ḥamdu lillāh, it’s going very well, and we hope to run it again in the near future. So, do join our social media or sign up as a free member to receive regular updates.

Moving on to the podcast with Michael Sugich, Sidi Haroon, who embraced traditional Sufism in 1972. He is the author of Signs on the Horizons: Meetings with Men of Knowledge and Illumination. He has been on the path for some 40 odd years and is a native of Santa Barbara, California, where he studied at the University of California. He then lived in Mecca for 22 years and currently resides in Istanbul. He is someone I contacted years ago when I was seeking a path, and he was a great support.

His book, Signs on the Horizons, is one of my favourites because he talks about his encounters with 40 saints, or awliyāʾ, in the Islamic Sufi tradition. Some of these figures are well known, while others are hidden and may go unnoticed by the average person. He encounters them, takes pictures, and writes about them, giving hope to seekers of truth looking for authentic guidance in our time. Without further ado, here’s the podcast.

As-salāmu ʿalaykum, Sidi Haroon. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the show again.

Michael Sugich:
Wa ʿalaykum as-salām. Thank you. Glad to be here.

So, Sidi, I read your book Signs on the Horizons many years ago. It truly inspired me and gave me hope that the awliyāʾ are present among us and not just people of the past. For listeners who are seeking, where should they look, and what are the signs of an authentic teacher and path?

Michael Sugich:
Firstly, thanks for inviting me to your podcast and for your interest in the book and the path. Signs on the Horizons was initially something I wrote for my children, to document incidents that had a significant impact on me. I had no idea how it would be received by a broader Muslim readership, so it’s gratifying to hear that people are touched by it.

Meeting these awliyāʾ was the most important experience of my life, especially in the beginning. Religion can become calcified, routine, and dogmatic without role models who exemplify what a human being can be. I was profoundly impacted by these encounters, as were my brothers and sisters who were with me at the time. We were fortunate to meet such people, which had less to do with any grand desire of mine and more to do with divine providence.

These individuals, mostly men, were incredibly radiant and sure in ways I had never seen before. It took me decades to process these encounters fully. What becomes clear over time is that their egos are extinguished. They do not get angry in the way we do; their sternness or harshness is infused with love and is for the sake of others. They live selflessly.

One thing to note is that these people are firmly attached to the practice of Islam. They do not deviate from orthodox practice and belief, which is confusing to some Muslims and Westerners who see Sufism as separate or even heretical. In 2022, Peter Sanders and I published a set of nine books titled Exemplars for Our Time, funded by the John Templeton Foundation. One of these books serves as a handbook on identifying a spiritual guide, explaining sainthood in Islam.

Allow me to read a passage from Ibn ʿAjība on effacement (fanāʾ) and subsistence (baqāʾ). He says that effacement refers to the disappearance of blameworthy qualities, while subsistence refers to the persistence of praiseworthy qualities. This defines a living saint and allows us to recognise one without necessarily understanding their inward attainments. The illuminated men and women who have reached the goal of maʿrifa embody beautiful qualities of character associated with saintliness.

Signs on the Horizons is a series of stories from when I was very young and knew almost nothing about the spiritual path. Each encounter taught me something significant. Subsequent books might be more sophisticated, but Signs on the Horizons resonates deeply with young people because it addresses the real problem of living in the world and realising one’s Islam.

Sidi, I wanted to ask about something Dr. Mustafa Badawi mentioned—that this is ultimately about the divine calling seekers to Him. As a seeker, how do we find an authentic path and teacher, especially when it seems like the calibre of shuyūkh has changed over the years?

Michael Sugich:
This brings up several issues. We are indeed in a very dark period, which has been worsening. The lie of progress has misled many; despite our comforts, we face environmental and psychological costs. The Prophet ﷺ said, "Have ṣabr, because you will not come to a time that isn’t worse than the one before it until you meet your Lord." This means things are not getting better, which is why people are so distressed.

People often think the world should be perfect, but we live in a world of tribulation. Young people reading ancient texts might have unrealistic expectations of intense practices that are not feasible today. Imam al-Haddad, in the 18th century, advised his disciples to focus on maintaining obligatory acts, avoiding prohibited things, performing manageable supererogatory acts, and helping others. This is more practical and attainable in our times.

Too much emphasis is placed on the trappings of Sufism rather than its essence. True Sufism involves adhering to the Shariah and being in good company. An authentic shaykh helps you navigate the path without placing themselves between you and Allah. They guide and protect, but it’s ultimately about your relationship with the divine.

People should discern an authentic shaykh by their adherence to the Shariah. If a shaykh deviates even slightly from it, walk away. The real challenge today is that people are distracted by the world and not genuinely interested in the spiritual path.

Sidi, you mentioned the importance of good company. For young seekers who might be intimidated by joining a ṭarīqa or are unsure, what does it mean to receive a transmission from a lineage and experience an opening?

Michael Sugich:
There is often too much emphasis on Sufi orders and the trappings associated with them. A ṭarīqa is essentially the legacy of a living teaching shaykh who can guide you spiritually. The connection with a shaykh is written and destined. It’s important to have a basic understanding of the Shariah before seeking deeper spiritual experiences.

Transmission from a lineage means being part of a spiritual chain that connects you to the Prophet ﷺ. An opening is a spiritual gift that can happen unexpectedly. If it does, you should keep it to yourself and continue on the path. Authentic shuyūkh focus on protecting and guiding you without overwhelming you with intense practices.

It’s crucial to have ḥusn al-ẓann (good thoughts) and maintain a loving relationship with the shaykh and fellow seekers. Love is what accelerates the path, and this love extends to all creation.

Thank you so much, Sidi Haroon. It’s been an honour having this conversation with you. Wishing you a blessed Ramadan. Until next time, inshāʾAllāh.

Michael Sugich:
Thank you. Al-ḥamdu lillāh. It’s good to be with you. Thank you very much.

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