How the Murid Should Behave Towards His Shaykh

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Imam al-Qashani (q.s.) is the author of the Persian handbook of the Sufis, Miswbah al-Hidayah wa Miftah al-Kifayah, “The Lamp of Right Guidance & the Key to What is Sufficient.”  To the muridun of the Suhrawardi, its contents is, perhaps, known to them as ‘Aw’arif al-Ma’arif.  This extract is adapted from the chapter on how a murid should behave before the shaykh.

We must know this.  It belongs to the most important rules of the murid that she or he takes care of behaving properly towards her or his shaykh, because of the fact that the guarding of the ways of behaviour creates love in the heart.  It so happens that the beauty of our spirit and the perfection of our intelligence can only be seen in the shape of the beauty of our way of behaviour.  If we are always courteous towards our shaykh, then because of the love that is created, we will win a place in the heart of our shaykh and then the Eye of the Mercy of Allah (s.w.t.) will Rest on us.  Allah (s.w.t.) always Looks with the Eye of Mercy and Care on the hearts of His friends.  If the murid finds a fixed place in the heart of his shaykh, then the blessings of the always lasting Divine Mercy will be his.  The acceptance by the shaykh will be the sign that he has no objection towards us and is the clear proof of the being accepted by Allah (s.w.t.) and His Messenger (s.a.w.) and all the shuyukh who are the linking-pins between our shaykh and the Beloved Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.).

Some of the duties towards our shaykh can only be realised by showing good manners.  By showing respect towards religious scholars and shuyukh, who are your spiritual fathers, we fulfil an important duty and if we neglect these things, then this is nothing else but negligence and disobedience.  In the ahadits, it is said, “Who does not honour our great ones and who does not show mercy towards our ‘little ones’ and who does not acknowledge the right of our scholars, is not from us.”  If we neglect the right of our shaykh, who as a mediator represents by his right the Sight of Allah (s.w.t.), then we also fail in our duty towards Allah (s.w.t.), because, if we show neglect towards our lowest lord, then we will not reach our Highest Lord.  The shaykh in the midst of his companions who gives them teachings is like the prophet in the midst of his companions.  When the shaykh calls us to the path of the imitation of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), then he is the representative of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.); “The shaykh among his community is like the prophet in his community.”

At the moment, there are fifteen rules for the muridun towards their shaykh present in my spirit.  These are both universal as well as particular rules.

The first rule expresses the conviction that only our shaykh should take care of our education, guidance, training and teaching.  If we should look towards someone else as being comparable to him or even more perfect than him, then our connection with our shaykh, based on love and inclination, is weak and because of that the words and the spiritual states of our shaykh will have little effect on us.  The way by means of which words get through to us and give us a connection with the states of our shaykh, is love.  If our love is more perfect, then the more our disposition will be open to be educated by our shaykh.

The second rule implies the fixed decision to persevere in the obedience towards our shaykh.  We should know that the door of Divine Mercy will only open because of our constancy in obedience and service.  Either we give our life at his doorstep or we will reach our goal.  A sign hereof is that we do not turn away, when our shaykh says no to us and when he keeps us at a distance, because a shaykh often tests us when he scans our spiritual states.

Shaykh Abu ‘Utsman al-Hiri (q.s.) had been of prime importance in the Sufism of Khurasan.  He came to Nishapur obeying his shaykh, Shah al-Karmani (q.s.).  Shah al-Karmani (q.s.) was a murid of Shaykh Abu Turab an-Nakhshabi (q.s.).  Shaykh Abu ‘Utsman (q.s.) came to visit Shaykh Abu Hafsw al-Haddad (q.s.), who was a malamatiyyah, that is he followed the path of blame.  When Shaykh Abu ‘Utsman (q.s.) saw the light of the sanctity of Shaykh Abu Hafsw (q.s.), his blessed look attracted Shaykh Abu ‘Utsman (q.s.) in such a way that he became a prisoner in Shaykh Abu Hafsw’s (q.s.) net.  When the time to return had come, Shaykh Abu ‘Utsman (q.s.) asked Shah al-Karmani (q.s.) if he could stay with Shaykh Abu Hafsw (q.s.).  At that time, he was in the midst of his youth.  Shaykh Abu Hafsw (q.s.), however, chased him away and said, “You are not allowed to sit in my company.”

Shaykh Abu ‘Utsman (q.s.) then obeyed this decision and retreated, walking with his back towards the door, until the shaykh could no longer see him.  Shaykh Abu ‘Utsman (q.s.) then decided that he would dig a hole near his door and to remain sitting in it and not to come out except if Shaykh Abu Hafsw (q.s.) would accept him and call him.  When Shaykh Abu Hafsw (q.s.) saw his honest determination, he called him, made him one of his special companions, married his daughter to him and appointed him as his successor.  After the death of this shaykh, he sat for thirty years in his place.

The third rule implies that we submit yourself to the choices of our shaykh.  As a murid, we should accept every decision of our shaykh dealing with our person or with our possessions and we should obey every decision being submitted and content.  This is the only way that we can win the jewel of his attention and his love.  Only by this measuring rod the quality of our sincerity can be determined according to the advice present in the following Words:

But no, by thy Lord, they can have no (real) faith, until they make thee judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against thy decisions, but accept them with the fullest conviction. (Surah an-Nisa’:65)

How do we know that we can trust our shaykh or shaykh-to-be if we are not yet his murid?  As we know, there are many charlatans around who are only interested in our money or are eager to increase their power over other persons.

The fourth rule stipulates that we should not criticise our shaykh.  The murid should never occupy himself, neither inwardly nor outwardly, with criticising the choices and decisions of his shaykh.  Each time, when something is unclear regarding the behaviour of our shaykh, then we should think of the story of Moses (a.s.) and Khidhr (a.s.) in Surah al-Kahf, wherein Moses (a.s.), in spite of being a prophet, his great knowledge and his passionate devotion to Khidhr (a.s.), criticised several of the acts of Khidhr (a.s.), but he changed his ideas after hearing an explanation of their inner meanings.  If our shaykh does something which we cannot understand, then we should say that it is because of our limited understanding and knowledge and in no way has it to do with a wrong behaviour of our shaykh.  Thus we will be free of the possibility that the relationship with our shaykh will suffer and that love may diminish.  A murid of Imam al-Junayd (q.s.) asked him a question and then criticised his answer.  Imam al-Junayd (q.s.) then said:

“If ye believe me not, at least keep yourselves away from me.” (Surah ad-Dukhan:21)

The fifth rule demands that we decline from making our own choices.  The murid is not allowed to undertake anything - neither religious nor worldly, universal or particular - without finding out what the shaykh wants and chooses.  We should not eat nor drink, nor dress ourselves, nor give presents, nor sleep, nor take, nor give but with the permission of the shaykh.  We should not perform any religious practices without the permission and the specification of our shaykh, like for instance fasting or taking food, voluntary devotional practices or limiting ourselves to those practices which are obligatory or the remembrance of Allah (s.w.t.), the recitation of the Qur’an and being absorbed in something.

It so happened one night that the messenger passed the house of Abu Bakr (r.a.) and overheard him reciting the Qur’an in his nightly prayers with a low voice.  Then he passed the house of ‘Umar (r.a.) and heard him recite the Qur’an in his nightly prayers in a loud voice.  When the two of them came to the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) in the morning, he asked Abu Bakr (r.a.) why he recited the Qur’an in his nightly prayers in a low voice.  He answered. “I listen to the One with Whom I converse.”

He asked ‘Umar (r.a.) why he recited in a loud voice.  He answered, “I drive away Satan and I awake the one who is sleeping.”  Then he ordered them that they should not recite in a too soft voice nor in a voice that is too loud; they should follow a middle course.  Then the Qur’anic verse was Revealed:

… “Neither speak thy prayer aloud, nor speak it in a low tone, but seek a middle course between.” (Surah al-Isra’:110)

This is a proof that when we have a spiritual guide, we should not follow our own insight.  This is also true when this concerns a true insight.

The sixth rule implies the observing of the thoughts of our shaykh.  The murid is not allowed to undertake anything, which rejects the thoughts of one’s shaykh.  We should not consider them to be of little importance, because we rely on the kindness, the perfect clemency, the friendliness and the forgiveness of our shaykh.  What enters the consciousness of shuyukh because of rejection or acceptance has a very strong influence on the person of the disciple.

The seventh rule demands of us that we ask our shaykh to give an explanation of our visions.  The murid should depend on his shaykh in regard to the explanation of visions, no matter if they come in our sleep or during our wakefulness.  We should not independently decide on our own that there is no harm in them.  It is namely possible that such visions come about because of secret desires in our soul, but that we are not able to see them as such and that they are judged to be harmless, which may not be the case.  When we, however, speak about it with our shaykh and our shaykh by his rich knowledge gets really acquainted with it, then we have the opinion of our shaykh to help you to realise it in a practical way when it is harmless.  When it may mean an injury, then this has also become clear.

The eighth rule demands that we give an attentive ear to the words of our shaykh.  The murid should wait and be attentive in regard to everything that comes from the lips of his shaykh.  He should see his tongue as a means of expression of the Speech of Allah (s.w.t.) and be convinced that his shaykh speaks by means of Allah (s.w.t.) and that his speech does not stem from his own desire and that he has reached the station of “He is Speaking by Me.”  We should see his heart as a boisterous sea, filled with all kinds of pearls of knowledge and precious gems of gnosis, a sea which every now and then - because of the blowing of the winds of pre-eternal providence - may cast some of these pearls and precious stones on the shore of the tongue.  We should therefore take care and be attentive, so that we are not excluded from anything from the words of our shaykh, which may be useful and beneficial to us.

We should also try to harmonise every word of our shaykh with our own state.  We should imagine that we are formulating a request for our well-being at the Door of Allah (s.w.t.) with a receptive tongue and in the measure of our receptivity, a speech coming from the unseen descends to us.  When we are speaking with our shaykh, we should keep away from our own ego, we should be far away from hypocrisy by showing our own knowledge and gnosis and by presenting ourselves as beautiful and perfect.  Because when we try to speak ourselves and when we are waiting for the opportunity, then we remove ourselves from the position of a murid and the ear of our heart will become deaf to the words of our shaykh.  In their explanations of the reason that the following Qur’anic verse was Revealed:

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
O ye who believe!  Be not forward in the presence of Allah and His messenger, and keep your duty to Allah.  Lo!  Allah is Hearer, Knower. (Surah al-Hujraat:1)

Some commentators have written that there have been people in the company of the Messenger of Allah (s.w.t.) who, when someone asked him a question, developed the habit to give their own opinion, this until Allah (s.w.t.), by means of this verse from the Qur’an Made it clear that this was wrong and Forbidden.

The ninth rule demands that we should lower our voice.  When we are together with our shaykh, we should not speak with a loud voice, as it is not courteous.  It is as if we put down the robe of dignity.  In order to teach something, the following verse in the Qur’an had been Revealed:

O ye who believe!  Lift not up your voices above the voice of the Prophet ... (Surah al-Hujraat:2)

Thereafter, their words were difficult to understand as they were lowering their voices too much.  That is why the following verse from the Qur’an was then Revealed:

Lo!  They who subdue their voices in the presence of the Messenger of Allah, those are they whose hearts Allah hath Proven unto righteousness... (Surah al-Hujraat:3)

The tenth rule implies that we do not show negligence in our behaviour.  A too free type of behaviour in the contact with our shaykh is not allowed, neither in words nor in deeds, because if we just let it all go, then the veil of modesty and the dress of worthy behaviour are Taken Away and the flow of Mercy then gets Interrupted.  We should use respectful terms when addressing him.

In the beginning, the companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.) did not use respectful terms when using his name.  They said, “Muhammad” and “Ahmad” until this was Disallowed in the Words of Allah (s.w.t.) that was Sent Down:

… nor shout when speaking to him as ye shout one to another, lest your works be rendered vain while ye perceive not. (Surah al-Hujraat:2)

Thereafter, they addressed him by using “Messenger of Allah” or “Prophet of Allah.”

Representatives of the Banu Tamim, in order to get him out, shouted out in front of the inner apartments of the Prophet (s.a.w.), “Muhammad!  Come out to us!”  Then, these Elevated Words were Revealed:

Lo!  Those who call thee from behind the private apartments, most of them have no sense.  And if they had had patience until thou camest forth unto them, it had been better for them.  And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Surah al-Hujraat:4-5)

Just as we should not be to free in our speech to our shaykh, we should see it as our duty to honour and respect him in our acts.  That is why, when we are in the company of our shaykh, we should roll out our praying-carpet only during the times of the ritual prayers.  When listening to Sufi music, we should refrain from making movements and we should not call out, and as long as we have the power to control ourselves, we should not move when we are in the company of the shaykh.  We should also refrain from laughing.

The eleventh rule implies, that we should recognise the right moment to speak.  In case the murid would like to discuss important religious or worldly things, then he should first ascertain whether the shaykh is willing to use his own time in such a way, is willing to listen to him or not.  We should not be in a hurry to talk to our shaykh.  We begin by concentrating on the Almighty and asking Him for His Grace and Help from His Divine Glory, so that we may not make any mistakes in regard to the proper rules of behaviour.

It is also proper, when coming thus near to Allah (s.w.t.), to give something away in charity.  This is just like what the companions of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) had to do if they wanted to speak with him, as is Said by Allah (s.w.t.) thus:

O ye who believe!  When ye hold conference with the Messenger, offer alms before your conference.  That is better and purer for you.  But if ye cannot find (the wherewithal) then lo!  Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Surah al-Mujadilah:12)

ibn ‘Abbas (r.a.) said, “The actual cause for the Revelation of this verse of the Qur'an was that the people in their contact with the Messenger of Allah asked him too many importune questions and thus wearied him.  That is why these words have been Revealed.”  Thus, it is possible to see who is a friend and who is a hypocrite.

It is said that ‘Ali (k.w.) was the only one to practice what was said in this verse.  He always gave a dinar and thereafter he spoke with the Messenger (s.a.w.).  It is said that ‘Ali (k.w.) claimed the following: “In the Book of Allah, there is a verse and no one has acted on it before me and no one will act on it after me.”

The twelfth rule implies that we should guard the boundaries of our own spiritual station.  The murid should, when asking questions to the shaykh, preserve the limits of his or her own station.  Only when something is hidden to ourselves concerning our own spiritual state, should we ask for an explanation.  We do not ask questions about other things, and this is also true regarding things not related to our station nor to our state.  So we do not speak about these things, as it is not useful to do so and possibly even harmful.  We ask about those things which are necessary because of your spiritual state.  The Qur’an, while Forbidding superfluous questions, Gave the following advice:

O ye who believe!  Ask not of things which, if they were made known unto you, would trouble you; but if ye ask of them when the Qur’an is being Revealed, they will be Made Known unto you.  Allah Pardoneth this, for Allah is Forgiving, Clement. (Surah al-Ma’idah:101)

The profitable word is that which we utter to the degree of the understanding of the hearer.  The profitable question is that one which corresponds with the station of the hearer of the response.

The thirteenth rule implies that we keep silent about the secrets of our shaykh.  Supernatural powers, visions and other things, concealed by the shaykh, for its divulging we should not ask permission.  Because in concealing it, our shaykh has seen a religious or worldly advantage and we are not always able to be aware thereof.  In divulging the same damage may be caused.

This rule also implies that the secrets of the murid, which are known by the shaykh, belong to the secrets of the shaykh.  The following lines describe his situation:

“There are many sincere and noble people,
Whose secrets I conceal from others,
As I hide them all in myself.
In every heart there is a corner, which is free,
A realm for intimate conversations,
And their revealing is not desirable.”

The fourteenth rule implies that we should reveal our own secrets to our shaykh.  It is not permitted for the murid to hide his secrets from the shaykh.  Every gift of grace and each other gift, as has been Willed to be ours by Allah (s.w.t.), should be shown in clear language or explanations to the shaykh, so that he can be the judge thereof.

It is like this, that when in our consciousness a personal secrets remains hidden, then in our inner being a knot may form itself, which may make it impossible to receive advice and help from the shaykh.  When we present it to our shaykh, then the knot opens up and the impediment is removed.

The fifteenth rule implies that what we tell about our shaykh, or when we tell something that comes from our shaykh, it should be compatible with the understanding of the one we tell it to.  We do not pass on those things, which are unclear or very subtle, as the one who listens to us cannot understand the same.  A speech, from which the listener cannot derive what the one who has been speaking has meant, is useless and can be harmful.  The one listening could form a bad opinion about our shaykh.

When the disciple observes all these rules, then the acquisition of the lights of the Divine Mercy and the Descent of Allah’s (s.w.t.) Boundless Blessing, towards which we aimed, will be Revealed in our outward and inner being, and we will take our place in the inner circle.  We note that the aim of the aforesaid rules is only to realise the proper behaviour in order that teaching and learning can take place.  Every Sufi order and every shaykh modifies the above according to the place, the time and the people concerned.


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