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İsmail GÜLEÇ
"The fish always stinks from the head downwards"
26 Mayıs 2009 Salı

"The fish always stinks from the head downwards" *




One day, Awliya and wali Vüheyb bin Ömer Sayrâfî (also known as Hazrat Behlül-i Dânâ) brought three skulls to the bazaar area and started shouting to the crowd: “I'm selling these skulls, is anyone interested in buying them?”. The curious crowd surrounded him and asked how much they were. He answered, “The first one is free, the second one is cheaper than water, but do not ask about the third one…that one is worth its weight in gold.” The crowd wondered why each of the skulls had a different price despite each looking the same. The wali responded:


Pointing at the first one he said, “This one is “Taşkafa” (“Stone-head”) it couldn't even imagine listening to any advice, and because of that it is worth nothing. The second one is “Boşkafa” (“Empty-head”), although it would ask for advice, it would never follow it, so it is worth a couple cents but after you buy it, it will remain unsold (no one will buy it from you). The third one is “Hoşkafa” (“Nice, gracious head”). We may also call it the head of al-kamil. It had both good deed and sincerity (Ikhlas)…its aim was only for the sake of Allah. Because of this, even its empty, dried up skull is worth its weight in gold.



They asked one of the Hodja Efendis who should be called “Hoş kafa”, “Taş kafa” or “Boş kafa”. The Hodja Efendi answered: “Hoş kafa” is the one that understands what is told to him and then acts according to that. When a person who is older or more experienced than him says something, he listens it carefully and does whatever is necessary.  “Boş kafa” are the ones who seem like they are listening but never respect what they are told. And the “Taş-kafa” are the ones that not even one word can pass into their ear. You may as well be speaking to a wall.


 The deeper meaning hidden behind the Hodja's answer is this: “Hoş kafa” are the well-mannered ones who both understand what their Murshid (teacher-guide) tells them and then take action with those words in mind. “Boşkafa” are the ones who love and are more than willing to attend sohbats (conversations and guidance from the wali), but when they leave, they either forget or ignore what they have been told and act the way they always do. “Taşkafa” are the ones who the idea of attending sohbat never even enters their mind.


There are also other examples of phrases using the head. These are: “Sermest kafa” (ecstatic head), “Serbest kafa” (free head) and “Serseri” (wandering head). The “mest” in the word “Sermest” is used to mean a state of being overwhelmed with ecstasy. The term “Serbest kafa” (free head) basically means someone who acts however they want without inhibition. So, what do these terms really mean? Let me try to explain.


“Sermest” are the enlightened, true lovers of Allah. They are lost in their ecstatic love for Allah. This state is also known as the maqam (state) of Majnun. These are the ones who drink deeply from the ocean of  ilm-e-ladunni (God-given knowledge, knowledge imparted directly by God through intuition and inner perception.) and yet their thirst can never be quenched. These are the ones who do not need a murshid nor a master.


 Despite the name “Serbest” (free), these people are actually tied down or dependant. This term is used to imply the ones who cannot reach God through their own efforts, so in order to reach God they are dependant on the help of a murshid. The notion of being dependant or tied down is like a draft animal being pulled by its leash in whatever direction its owner leads it. They are tied to their murshid by a rope of trust and necessity and listen to whatever he says. Because everything starts and finishes from the head, to tie up the head  also means to tie up the body. In this sense the head represents the soul and the body represents the nafs (ego). Nafs-e-Ammara / Commanding Soul commands us to commit sin. This sinful behaviour is lower than animals because they only behave according to the demands of nature. So because we must leash our nafs in order to control it, we must also tie down ourselves to the guidance of a murshid to keep from being distant to Allah. “Serbest” are the ones who reach salvation through the help of someone else. The serbest are much more common than the first group (Sermest).


 A “Serseri” (wandering head) is one who refuses to become a disciple in a tariqat or prostrate himself in front of a sheikh. They roam with no purpose and accomplish little in life. Their numbers are even higher than those of the “Serbest.”


As you can see, everything starts from the head. There is a reason why people say, "The fish always stinks from the head downwards".




* “The fish stinks from the head.” A Turkish proverb


wali: Walī (Arabic ولي, plural Awliyā' أولياء), is an Arabic word meaning "trusted one"; it generally denotes "friend of God" in the phrase ولي الله walīyu 'llāh[1] It should not be confused with the word Wāli (Arabic: والي) which is an administrative title that was used in the Muslim Caliphate, and still today in some Muslim countries.

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