"Said he, 'I wield the sword for the sake of the Truth,
I am the servant of the Truth not the functionary of the body.
I am the lion of the Truth, not the lion of passions,
My action does witness bear to my religion.
" 'Ali is said to have been the founder of chivalry (futuwwah in Arabic and jawanmardi in Persian), and this story bears witness to what constitutes the very essence of chivalry, namely, sincere and detached action devoted to a noble cause. Chivalry combines action with selflessness, actions devoid of worldly motifs or tainted by vices such as anger, covetousness, lust for power, or thirst for revenge. It is far from accidental that in Islam orders of chivalry became integrated into certain schools of Sufism and that within the Sufi tradition it is expected that those who aspire to march upon the path to the Garden of Truth possess the virtue of chivalry.
"There is much talk of jihad today, both in the West and among certain Muslim extremists, most of whom are unaware of their own tradition. The word jihad means not war but exertion in the path of God. And then there is, according to a well-known saying of the Prophet, the inner or greater jihad, which is the constant battle of the followers of the spiritual path to correct the imperfections of their soul and make it worthy of inhabiting the Garden. This is the highest form of inner action. There is also the lesser jihad, which can include war to defend oneself, one's family, one's nation, and one's religion. From the spiritual point of view, however, even this kind of jihad must be selfless, detached, and not caused by anger or hatred. The fact that this story about 'Ali takes place on a battlefield, as does the great Hindu classic the Bhagavad Gita demonstrates that selfless and detached action must extend to even that most trying and violent form of human action that is war.
"Detachment from the fruits of one's actions is not unrelated to the Chinese doctrine of wu-wei, that is, to act without acting. Our ordinary actions plunge our souls into the cosmic chain of actions and reactions, or the chain of karma, as the Hindus would say. But that is because of our attachment to the fruits of our actions and the loss of the contemplative spirit, which reduces the soul to a substance that identifies itself solely with acts rather than with being, with preference for action over contemplation. But to act without acting requires also that one die before dying, as asserted in the famous Prophetic tradition, 'Die before you die.' It means to detach our will from our passions and impetus toward external actions and surrender it to God. The sage acts without acting like a lamp that illuminates its surroundings by simply existing. The sage contemplates and lives in the dimension of inwardness and by virtue of that interiority has a sympatheia with the inner reality of beings and then acts upon them in the deepest sense without external action. The sage demonstrates in his or her reality the precedence of being over all external accidents and the priority of contemplation over action. But the sage nevertheless does act, and his or her acts are selfless, detached, and based upon sincerity, goodness, compassion, and truthfulness.
The Spiritual Significance of Traditional Courtesy (Adab)
"A term often used by Sufis is found also in most of the major languages of the Islamic peoples. It is adab, which means at once comportment, courtesy, culture, refined speech, literature, correct ethical attitudes, and many other concepts. It is really untranslatable and perhaps should be used in English in its Arabic form like terms such as karma and guru, which have entered English recently from Sanskrit, or jihad from Arabic. All traditional societies have tried to inculcate their own forms of adab within members of society from childhood, and Islamic civilization is no exception. For traditional Muslims, adab encompasses nearly all aspects of life from greeting people to eating to sitting in a gathering to entering a place of worship. As for quintessential adab, it has always been associated by Sufis with the actions and words of the Prophet himself. Adab is the means of controlling the passions, which affect and often originate human actions. It is also a way of formalizing human actions in such a way that they display harmony and beauty rather than disorderliness and ugliness. Adab even disciplines the body and brings out its innate dignity and its theomorphic nature and teaches us how to carry ourselves in a manner that is worthy of the human state. Its goal is to control the ego and the passions and to inculcate the virtues of humility and charity within the human soul as well as bring out the majestic aspect of our existence. It is therefore closely related to spiritual discipline and is of great value in performing acts of goodness. It teaches us to discipline ourselves and to prepare the soul for that supreme sacrifice of its will and being before the altar of the Absolute, which is also Truth, Beauty, Love, and Goodness, qualities that are reflected in one way or another in the quintessential adab of traditional Islam beyond all cultural and ethnic idiosyncrasies. No one on the path to the Garden can be devoid of adab."