Dr. A. M. M. Sahabdeen: The Circle of Lives | Sunday Observer

Dr. A. M. M. Sahabdeen: The Circle of Lives

Dr. A. M. M. Sahabdeen: The Circle of LivesDr. A. M. M. Sahabdeen, my grandfather, presented me with a pinnacle of philosophy, in its truest and traditional sense, as the love of wisdom, which cannot be separated from the spirituality of a person.

He seemed always to speak from a perspective that was universal in scope, so that the difficulties of ordinary life would be measured against the most fundamental values of the human being; namely, his or her intrinsic morality, and the relationship between the human being and the cosmos itself. Often, this would have the effect of dissolving whatever problem one brought to him at its root, and my experience was that of suddenly addressing the issue at hand from a place of tranquility.

He was first and foremost a man of mystical disposition, infused with the natural Islamic mysticism that was a part of his childhood, and which indeed is synonymous with the Islam of Sri Lanka.

His grandfather belonged to the Qadiriyya Sufi order, founded by one of the greatest of Sufi saints, the Shaykh Abdul Qadir Al-Jilani, who according to tradition, met the mysterious figure of Al-Khidr, the ‘Green Man’, in Kataragama.

Al-Khidr has a special association with Islamic esoterism, and mention must be made in this regard of Adam’s Peak, which was the attraction for many Sufi saints, and which my grandfather loved dearly for its universal and primordial spiritual significance. What was also essential to his outlook was the poetry of the Sufi saints of South India, which became the subject of his doctoral dissertation, ‘The Sufi Doctrine in Tamil Literature.’ His love for Hinduism was particularly deep, forming the basis of his cosmological outlook, but his love for Buddhism and Christianity was no less profound.

In the years leading up to his death, there were several occasions where my grandfather temporarily lost consciousness. The family would rush to his side, and when he recovered he would tell us, as if he had seen it with his very own eyes, ‘There is a Mind behind it all!’ His last words to my aunt, uncle and cousins were, ‘There is no beginning and no end, only Eternal Light’, which he asked them to repeat three times. I have no doubt that he did in fact have access to that mystical insight, even for just a timeless moment.

Sometimes, in life we are blessed in encountering a person whose very essence we recognize as our own, and so it was with my grandfather. His interests were mine, without my having to feign anything.

It was not only an occasion of learning when I spent afternoons and evenings with him discussing philosophy, it was a pure spiritual relief to find my kindred spirit, and in none other than my own grandfather. We had many conversations which touched the deepest part of my soul. His first and greatest love was mysticism, and, at the end of our discussions, it was always the fragrance of the mystical way which remained in the air.

Our family had the blessing of being with my grandfather at the time of his death. We performed mystical litanies, recited the Qur’an, and sang songs of praise. In the days leading up to it, I noticed the deep peace that would dawn over him when we recited prayers.

His whole life had been an anticipation of this moment, the meeting between him and his Creator, the return to the source of all Beauty. What better way to leave than with the accompaniment of prayers and songs and the love of family, as we willed for him an easy and graceful journey home.

In the following days, the deep debt of gratitude I felt towards him was complemented by my happiness that this man who had spent so much of his life contemplating the Supreme Reality was finally experiencing it for himself.

There were many moments to be grateful. The sight of one of his employees, a gentleman of over ninety years, Mr. Thiru, coming out of loyalty to recite a Hindu prayer in his ear was one of them, as was the love and tears of the children whom he had helped with his charitable endeavours.

The house was blessed with the sounds of the Qur’an and the litanies of the Shadhiliyya and Qadiriyya orders. I met people of all religions who felt gratitude towards him, which was the greatest tribute that could be paid to him, for his good works went beyond particular denominations and communities.

The one thing which had concerned me about my grandfather was that he had been alone as a philosopher in Sri Lanka. I had often wondered why he had never thought of moving to London where his daughter and grandchildren were. My grandfather’s final teaching to me was about the sacred beauty of my own home, an island where universalism traced its history back to antiquity, and where the fragrance of Paradise was infinitely near. How blessed its inhabitants are.

Verily we are from God, and unto Him is the return.

Raaid Sahabdeen


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