Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Reality of Taswawwuf

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is an excerpt from “The Removal of Confusion” by Shaykh Ibrahim Niyas (q.s.).

Sufism, or taswawwuf as it is known in the Muslim world, is Islamic mysticism.  Shaykh al-Islam, Shaykh Ibrahim ibn Muhammad Niyas (q.s.) said such in his book, Kashf al-Albas ‘an Faydhat al-Khatm Abi al-‘Abbas, “The Removal of the Cloak from the Spiritual Flow of the Seal of the Saints Abi al-‘Abbas”, about the reality of taswawwuf, its ten basic principles, and the source of the method of teaching the adzkar.

Shaykh Ibrahim Niyas (q.s.) said, “Let me say first of all: Success is achieved with the Help of Allah (s.w.t.), for He is the Guide by His Grace to the straight path.  Where taswawwuf is concerned, there are ten basic principles to be considered: its definition, its subject matter, its founder, its proper name, its corroboration, its legal status, its propositions, its excellent merit, its relationship with other sciences, and its fruit.  Shaykh asw-Swawi (q.s.) said, ‘It is necessary for every student of an art or science to know and understand its ten basic principles.’”

As for its definition, Imam az-Zarruq (q.s.) has said, “Taswawwuf has been defined, described, and explained in approximately two thousand ways, all of them related to the significance of genuine dedication to Allah (s.w.t.).  They are only points of view in that regard, for Allah Knows best, of course.”

In Iqazh al-Himam, Imam ibn ‘Ajibah (r.a.) stated, “Shaykh al-Junayd said, ‘It means that the Lord of Truth Makes you die to yourself, and Causes you to live because of Him.’  He also said, ‘You Belong to Allah without any attachment.’  It has been said, ‘It means entering into every lofty trait of character, and exiling from every base trait of character.’  It has also been said, ‘It means noble traits of character which appeared in a noble time along with noble people.’  It has also been said, ‘It means that you do not possess anything, and nothing possesses you.’  It has also been said, ‘It means devoting oneself to Allah in accordance with whatever He Wishes.’”

One of the poets has said:

Taswawwuf is not the wearing of wool and shabby clothes;
Taswawwuf is rather the excellence of conduct and moral character.”

And another has said:

Taswawwuf is not the wearing of clothes that you patch,
Nor your shedding tears if the singers sing,
Nor crying out loud, nor dancing, nor making music,
Nor swooning as if you had become a lunatic.
Taswawwuf is rather your being serene without distress,
And following the Truth, the Qur’an and the religion.”

In Iqazh al-Himam, after a discussion previously mentioned in part, Imam ibn ‘Ajibah (r.a.) quoted Imam az-Zarruq’s (q.s.) commentary on the sayings of Imam Malik (r.a.), “He who practices taswawwuf without acquiring knowledge of fiqh, is a zindiq.  He who acquires knowledge of fiqh but does not practice taswawwuf, is a fasiq.  He who combines the two, has achiever the Truth.”

Imam az-Zarruq’s (q.s.) commentary on this saying is that the atheism of the first is due to the fact that he professes the doctrine of jabr, which entails the negation of wisdom and the rules of law.  The immoral depravity of the second is due to the fact that his conduct is devoid of the genuine dedication that prevents disobedience to Allah (s.w.t.), and of the sincere devotion that is stipulated for all actions.  The correctness of the third is due to his fulfillment in reality of his essential adherence to the Truth.”

As for its subject matter, he said, “It is the sublime essence of reality, because taswawwuf treats it with a view to revealing its true nature, either by logical proof or by experience and direct witnessing: the former in the case of the seekers, and the latter in the case of those who have arrived.”  It has also been said, “Its subject matter comprises the selves, the hearts and the spirits, because taswawwuf deals with their purification and their education, and because someone who knows himself knows his Lord.”

Shaykh Ibrahim Niyas (q.s.) said, “As for its founder, he is the Prophet (s.a.w.), to whom Allah (s.w.t.) Made it known by means of Revelation and inspiration.  Jibril (a.s.) came down him firstly with the shari’ah.  Then, once it had been established, he came down secondly with the haqiqah, so the Prophet (s.a.w.) used it to motivate some of his aswhab rather than others.  Of those who spoke of taswawwuf and demonstrated it in practice, the first was our master, ‘Ali (k.w.), and from him all the Sufis have received it through their chain of transmission, which is celebrated in their books, with the exception of our master, our patron, our shaykh and our means of access to our Lord, Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad at-Tijani al-Hasani (q.s.), whom Allah (s.w.t.) Blessed with receiving from the Prophet (s.a.w.) mushafahatan, without mediation of any of the shuyukh.  Our chain or authority stems from him, as you will discover in this book, with Allah's (s.w.t.) Permission.”

As for its proper name, it is the science of taswawwuf, but the experts have held different opinions regarding its derivation.  According to Iqazh al-Himam, Imam az-Zarruq (q.s.) said its origin may be attributed to five things mentioned below.

It may be derived from swufah, a manager in charge of the Ka’bah, because the Sufi has no managerial power in relation to Allah (s.w.t.), just like the swufah who has been dismissed.  It may be derived from swufat al-qafa’, the downy hair in the back of the neck, because of its delicate quality, for the Sufi is just as docile and delicate.  It may be derived from swafa’, quality or virtue, since the term is generally applied to the possession of praiseworthy qualities and the abandonment of blameworthy characteristics.  It may be derived from swafa’, pure sincerity.  This opinion of the fourth has been substantiated, so that Shaykh Abu al-Fath al-Basil (r.a.) said in poetic verse:

“People have disagreed concerning the term ‘Sufi,’
But they have differed due to ignorance,
For they have supposed it to be derived from swuf (wool).
I would never give this name to anyone but a stalwart,
Who swafa’ (behaved with pure sincerity)
And swufiyyah (was requited with pure sincerity), so that he came to be called ‘the Sufi’.”

The fifth possibility is that it may be derived from the swuffah, porch, of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) mosque, which was a shelter for the Ahl asw-Swuffah, because the Sufi matches the description applied to them by Allah (s.w.t.), when He Said:


And keep thy soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His Face … (Surah al-Kahf:28)

That is the original source to which everything said about the subject can be traced and the best possibility according to Imam az-Zarruq (q.s.).

As for its istimdad, derivation, it is obtained from the Book, the sunnah, the inspirations of the righteous, and the revelations of the gnostic sages.  To meet the need for corroboration, they have incorporated elements of the science of jurisprudence in the science of taswawwuf, and Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) has expounded them in four books of ‘Ihya’ ‘Ulum ad-Din: Kitab al-‘Ibadat, Kitab al-‘Urfiyyah, Kitab al-Muhlikat and Kitab al-Munjiyyat.  As for its legal status, Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) said, “It is fardh al-‘ayn,” since no one is free from fault or sickness, except the prophets.

Imam ash-Shadzili (r.a.) said, “If someone does not become immersed in this science of ours, he will die as one who persists in the major sins, without being aware of his condition.”

As for the conception of its propositions, it is the knowledge and understanding of its technical terms and the words that circulate among the experts, like al-ikhlasw, asw-swidq, at-tawakkul, az-zuhd, al-wara’, ar-ridha’, at-taslim, al-mahabbah, al-fana’ and al-baqa’; and like adz-dzat, asw-swifat, al-qudrah, al-hikmah, ar-ruhaniyyah and al-bashariyyah; as well as the knowledge and understanding of the reality of al-ahwal, al-awrad, al-maqamat and other matters.

As for its excellent merit, it has already been mentioned that its subject matter is the sublime essence of reality, and that is absolutely superb, so the science devoted to it is absolutely superb, since it serves as a guide in its first stage to reverential fear of Allah (s.w.t.), in its middle stage to dealing with Him, and in its final stage to intimate knowledge of Him and total dedication to Him.  That is why Imam al-Junayd (r.a.) said, “If we knew that beneath the surface of the sky there was something nobler than this science, which we talk about with our companions, I would surely have raced toward it.”

Shaykh al-Miqlah (r.a.) said in his Anwar al-Qulub fi ‘Ilm al-Mawahib, “Anyone who believes in this science is included among the elite.  Anyone who understands it is included among the elite of the elite.  Anyone who expounds it and speaks about it is the star that can never be reached, and the ocean that can never be drained.”

Someone else said, “If you see someone who has been enabled to believe in this Spiritual Path, you must congratulate him.  If you see someone who has been enabled to understand it, you must be jubilant about him.  If you see someone who has been enabled to speak about it, you must revere him.  If you see someone finding fault with it, however, you must flee from him as you would flee from the lion, and stay away from him.  There is no science that cannot be dispensed with occasionally, except the science of taswawwuf, for no one can dispense with it at any time whatsoever.”

As for its relationship with the other sciences, it is comprehensive of them all and a prerequisite for them all, since there is no true science and no good practice without genuine dedication to Allah (s.w.t.), for ikhlasw is a prerequisite in every case.  This is from the standpoint of legal validity, the penalty and the reward.  From the standpoint of external existence, the sciences may exist in the superficial sense without taswawwuf, but they are then defective or of no account.  That is why Imam as-Suyuthi (r.a.) said, “In relation to the sciences, taswawwuf is like the science of rhetoric in relation to grammar.  That is to say, it provides them with perfection and embellishment.”

According to Imam az-Zarruq (q.s.), “The relationship of taswawwuf with the religion is the relationship of the spirit with the body, because it represents ihsan, which Allah's Messenger (s.a.w.) explained to Jibril (a.s.) when he said. ‘Ihsan that you must worship Allah as if you can see Him,’ so it has no meaning apart from that, since it hinges on vigilant awareness after witnessing, or on witnessing after vigilant awareness.”

As for its benefit, it is the education of the hearts and intimate knowledge of the Knower of the Invisible Things, ‘Alam al-Ghuyub, or one may say, its fruit, tsamarat, is the munificence of the souls, the well-being of the breasts, and a good-natured disposition toward every creature.  We should know these facts about this science.  It is not mere blabbering with the tongue.  Its only contents are spiritual tastes, adzwaq, and conscience, wijdan.  It cannot be received from written documents.  It can only be received from people endowed with spiritual tastes.  It cannot be acquired by means of idle talk.  It can only be received from the servants of the men of distinction and the companions of the masters of perfection.  Shaykh Ibrahim Niyas (q.s.) said, “By Allah, no one who has succeeded has ever succeeded without the companionship of someone who has succeeded.  Allah is the Source of enabling grace!”

Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas at-Tijani (q.s.) was asked about the reality of Sufism.  He responded, “You should know that Sufism is compliance with the Commandment and avoidance of the Prohibition, both outwardly and inwardly, for the sake of Allah’s Good Pleasure, not for your own satisfaction.”

There is no possibility of achieving this without the companionship of a shaykh who is a perfect spiritual guide.  Allah (s.w.t.) has Said:


O ye who believe!  Do your duty to Allah, seek the means of approach unto Him ... (Surah al-Ma’idah:35)

The means of access to Allah (s.w.t.) are many, and one of them is following the Prophet (s.a.w.) in his words and his deeds, for Allah (s.w.t.) Told His Messenger (s.a.w.):


Say: “If ye do love Allah, follow me: Allah will Love you ...” (Surah Ali ‘Imran:31)

And according to the hadits qudsi, He Said, “And when I Love him, I Become him.”  The means of access also include the companionship of the consummate gnostic sage, al-‘arif al-wasil, for Allah (s.w.t.) has Said:


“… and follow the way of those who turn to Me (in love) ...” (Surah Luqman:15)

And included among them is the regular performance of the remembrances.  Allah (s.w.t.) has Said:


And keep thy soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His Face ... (Surah al-Kahf:28)

Among the people of the Spiritual Path, it is well-known that the remembrance which truly benefits its practitioner is the one received from the perfect shuyukh.

As for the source of the method of teaching the remembrances, adzkar, and the litanies, award; it has been reported by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.) in his Musnad, with an excellent chain of transmission, and by Imam ath-Thabarani (r.a.) and others, that Shaykh Ya’la ibn Shaddad (r.a.) said, “My father, Shaddad ibn Aws told me, in the presence of ‘Ubadah ibn asw-Swamit, who said he was telling the truth, ‘We were together with the Prophet (s.a.w.), and he asked, ‘Is there a stranger amongst you?’ meaning one of the People of the Scripture.

We said, ‘No, O Messenger of Allah,’ so he ordered the door to be locked.

Then he said, ‘Raise your hands and say, ‘There is no god but Allah!’  So we held our hands up for a while, then he said, ‘Praise be to Allah!  O Allah, You have Sent me with this declaration.  You have Entrusted me with it, and You have Promised me the Garden of Paradise on account of it, and You will not fail to keep the Promise!’  Then he said, ‘Be of good cheer, for Allah has granted you forgiveness!’’”

Imam ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani (q.s.) said, “It has been reported by Ahmad with an excellent chain of transmission, and by ath-Thabarani.”  He also cited this version, which contains some additional words, “Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.) then raised his hands and we raised.  Then he said, ‘Lower your hands and be of good cheer, for you have been Granted Forgiveness!’”

Shaykh Yusuf al-Kuzani al-‘Ajami (q.s.) reported in his Risalah that ‘Ali ibn Abi Thalib (k.w.) once implored the Prophet (s.a.w.), saying, “O Messenger of Allah, guide me to the nearest of the paths toward Allah (s.w.t.), the easiest of them for His servants, and the best of them in the sight of Allah (s.w.t.).”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) replied, “O ‘Ali, you must make a constant practice of remembering Allah (s.w.t.) in the places of private retreat.”

‘Ali (k.w.) then asked, “Does this excellent merit of the remembrance depend on its being practiced by all people?”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) replied, “O ‘Ali, the Final Hour will not arrive, so long as someone on the face of the earth is saying, “Laa ilaha illa Allah.”

‘Ali (k.w.) then asked, “So how should I perform the remembrance, O Messenger?”

To this, he replied, “You must close your eyes and hear it from me three times, then you must say it three times, while I listen.”  The Prophet (s.a.w.) then said, “There is no god but Allah,” three times, closing his eyes and raising his voice, while ‘Ali (k.w.) listened.

Then ‘Ali (k.w.) said, “Laa ilaha illa Allah,” three times, closing his eyes and raising his voice just as the Prophet (s.a.w.) did, while the Prophet (s.a.w.) was listening.”

These two ahadits have been cited in the ar-Rimah of Shaykh ‘Umar Futi Thal (q.s.).  He stated that ‘Ali (k.w.) taught them to Shaykh Hasan al-Baswri (q.s.), who then taught it to Habib al-‘Ajami (q.s.), who then taught it to Shaykh Dawud at-Ta’i (q.s.), then to Shaykh Ma’ruf al-Karkhi (q.s.), then Shaykh as-Sari as-Saqathi (q.s.), then to Imam al-Junayd al-Baghdadi (q.s.).  They have been transmitted since then to the masters of spiritual training, and the process will continue until whenever Allah (s.w.t.) wills.  They are the source of the method of teaching the awrad and the adzkar.

As for the necessity of seeking the shaykh who is a spiritual guide, in the poetic words of the erudite scholar, Shaykh Ahmad ibn ‘Ashhir (q.s.), the distinguished spiritual guide, “(The salik) must keep company with a shaykh well-versed in al-masalik, who will protect him from the dangers on his spiritual path.”

That is because, if we wish to acquire the knowledge and the practice required on the Path, we simply cannot do without him.  As for acquiring the benefit of lofty aspiration and the spiritual state, we are told in ash-Shamil that Anas (r.a.) said, “On the day when Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.) entered Madina, every part of it became radiant, and on the day when he died there, every part of it fell into darkness.  Before we had shaken the dust of his burial from our hands, we had already disowned our hearts.”  He clearly meant that the presence of his noble person was of benefit to them in their hearts, and that is what is referred to as the benefit of lofty aspiration and the spiritual mate.

It is well-known that the religious scholars are the heirs of the prophets, so the quest for nearness to them is absolutely essential, since they have said, “If someone is affected with a condition that he cannot cure, they will coax him out of it.”

Imam al-Qushayri (r.a.) wrote in his ar-Risalah al-Qushayriyyah, “It is necessary for the seeker to be educated by a shaykh, for if he has no teacher, he will never succeed.”

Shaykh Abu Yazid al-Bistami (q.s.) said, “If someone does not have a teacher, his teacher is Satan.”

The following question was put to our master and our teacher, Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad at-Tijani ash-Sharif (q.s.): “Is it strictly incumbent on every single individual, or on some but not others, and what is the reason in any case?”

According to Shaykh Mukhtar al-Kanti, “As for the reality of the litanies, they are contracts and covenants, which Allah has Imposed upon His servants by means of the shuyukh.  If someone reveres the shuyukh, complies with the contracts and fulfills the covenants, he will therefore be entitled to the benefit of the two abodes [this world and the Hereafter].  On the other hand, if someone belittles the shuyukh and neglects the contracts and the covenants, that will be a cause of his going astray and sinking the ship of his religion.”

Allah (s.w.t.) Said:


In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
O ye who believe!  Fulfill (all) obligations ... (Surah al-Ma’idah:1)

And He has Said:


Among the believers are men who have been true to their Covenant with Allah: of them some have completed their vow (to the extreme) and some (still) wait: but they have never changed (their determination) in the least: That Allah may Reward the men of Truth, for their Truth and punish the hypocrites if that be His Will, or Turn to them in Mercy: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Surah al-Ahzab:23-24)

This explains why the Prophet (s.a.w.) would not engage in any good work without tackling it decisively and persisting in his commitment to it, for that is one of the signs of determination and the perfection of resolve.  These Qur’anic verses have been the sources of the litanies from the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.) until this day of ours.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “If someone would normally perform a litany in connection with ritual prayer, fast, or some other religious observance; but he is prevented by a sickness, or a journey, or a bout of senility, he is fully entitled to the reward.”  He also said, “You must venerate the shuyukh, for the veneration paid to them is part of the reverence due to Allah.”


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