Saturday, 7 January 2017
Offering Prayers on the Prophet (s.a.w.)
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following is adapted from Offering Prayer on the Prophet (s.a.w.), which is excerpted from Ustadz Zachary Wright’s, “On the Path of the Prophet: Shaykh Ahmad Tijani and the Tariqa Muhammadiyya”.
Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani (q.s.) was particularly concerned with the explaining the benefits of offering prayer on the Prophet (s.a.w.), which he declared to be the best form of nafilah, supererogatory worship. He explained further, “As for he who perseveres in the prayer on the Prophet (s.a.w.), even if he is attributed all the faults committed by all the inhabitants of the earth, while adding to them without end, from the Creation of the world until its ending, Allah (s.w.t.) will Forgive him these faults in the Ocean of His Forgiveness and Grace.”
Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani’s (q.s.) emphasis on sending blessings on the Prophet (s.a.w.) is not lost on later Tijani scholars. Shaykh Muhammad al-‘Arabi ibn Sa’ih (q.s.) posited the practice as one of the primary reasons for the Tijaniyyah being called Thariqa’ Muhammadiyyah in the first place: “The axis around which turn the means of arrival in our Thariqa’ Muhammadiyyah is sending a great number of blessings and peace upon the Messenger of God (s.a.w.),” and he continued, “This, while seeking the presence of his noble countenance.”
According to Shaykh ibn Sa’ih (q.s.), sending prayers on the Prophet (s.a.w.) grants the Tijani aspirant the ability to actually be with the Prophet (s.a.w.). First, the aspirant will be thinking about the Prophet (s.a.w.) while sending prayers on him, then he will be visualising him before his eyes while sending prayers on him. Next, the Prophet (s.a.w.) will become continually present to him, both sleeping and awake, in the “eye of his heart.” Finally, the aspirant will see the Prophet (s.a.w.) with his actual eyes, in a waking state. This last group is divided in two: those who perceive the spirit, ruh, of the Prophet (s.a.w.), and those who see the reality of his person, dzat, as if they were with him in his life. In other words, swalawat ‘ala an-nabi within the Thariqa’ Muhammadiyyah Tijaniyyah is meant to link all aspirants with the actual presence of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). Here, I should point out that this is not exclusive to the Tijaniyyah, but is the feature of every single Sufi Order.
Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani (q.s.) was especially keen to enumerate, based on what the Prophet (s.a.w.) had told him, the benefits of Swalawat al-Fatih. Revealed on a sheet of light to Shaykh Muhammad al-Bakri (q.s.) during a retreat inside the Ka’bah in search of the best way to send blessing upon the Prophet (s.a.w.), this prayer is equivalent to the recitation of all prayers of glorification to God, tasabih, that have ever been said in the universe, all Sufi prayers or remembrance of God, dzikr, and every invocation, du’a, long or short.
The text of the prayer is as follows: “O Allah, bless our master Muhammad, who opened what was Closed, who sealed what had gone before; the helper of Truth by the Truth, the guide to Your Straight Path, and on his family, may this prayer be equal to his immense position and grandeur.”
The value of the prayer seems largely based on its Divine Origin and because of its description of the Haqiqah Muhammadiyyah, the light by which God Opened, or brought Creation from non-existence into being.
Wahhabis have taken the Tijanis’ love for Swalawat al-Fatih out of context to claim Tijanis believe this prayer is better than reciting the Qur’an or other obligatory acts of worship in Islam. Most often quoted in this regard is the statement, in Jawahir al-Ma’ani, that one recitation of the prayer on the Prophet (s.a.w.) is equivalent to reading the Qur’an six thousand times. The argument of course is that the Qur’an, being the Word of God, is better than any prayer created by men. It is important to contextualise the above statement concerning Swalawat al-Fatih with Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani’s (q.s.) own perspective on the Qur’an from Jawahir al-Ma’ani. In general, it is apparent that many of Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani’s (q.s.) statements recorded in the Jawahir al-Ma’ani were concerned with elaborating on the bounty of Allah (s.w.t.) connected with the specific Rewards for the recitation of certain prayers or verses of the Qur’an. He said, for example, that each letter of the Qur’an, contains the Reward of all the other prayers of Creation. There are certain chapters, such as Surah al-Fatihah, Surah al-Qadr and Surah al-Ikhlasw, to which he gave special weight, often quoting ahadits. Reading Surah al-Ikhlasw 100,000 times, for example, will protect a person from Hellfire. Although he often cited known ahadits, he emphasised that this knowledge of the great benefit of certain verses was gained directly from the Prophet (s.a.w.) in waking vision. And he did not limit himself to speaking of the benefit of the Qur’an, but also elaborated on the Reward for repeating the Muslim testimony of faith, shahadah, the canonical prayer, the night prayer, dzikr, fasting or giving charity, for example.
Despite the great value of Swalawat al-Fatih, Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani (q.s.) made clear it is not meant to take the place of reading the Qur’an. Offering prayer on the Prophet (s.a.w.) is a supererogatory act, while the reading of the Qur’an is obligatory. To leave reading of the Qur’an, being the basis of the shari’ah, is to incur the wrath of God, while Swalawat al-Fatih can be left or taken as the person desires. The relationship is further contextualized by Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani’s (q.s.) description of the benefit of saying Allah’s (s.w.t.) Greatest Name. Reciting this Name once is equal to one recital of the Qur’an’s opening chapter, Surah al-Fatihah, one whole reading of the Qur’an or saying Swalawat al-Fatih 6,000 times. By implication, as many later Tijanis have pointed out, reciting Surah al-Fatihah or the entirety of the Qur’an is 6,000 times greater than Swalawat al-Fatih.
In any case, insists Shaykh Hassan, it is true there is nothing better than the Qur’an, but in terms of the fault-filled servant of God, it is sometimes better for him to say any form of prayer on the Prophet (s.a.w.) than to read the Qur’an. This is because the Qur’an, according to hadits, can be cursing its reader if he is not obeying its dictates not to fornicate, steal, lie, back-bite, and so forth, whereas there is no such hadits that a person can be sending a prayer on the Prophet (s.a.w.) and it cursing him. To the contrary, one hadits states that Allah (s.w.t.) is Sending ten prayers on the person for every one he is sending on the Prophet (s.a.w.). A similar opinion was in fact expressed by Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani (q.s.) himself, who described two classes of readers of the Qur’an, one who acted upon what they read and another who did not. For the former, the Qur’an was the best for them, for the latter, prayer upon the Prophet (s.a.w.) was more beneficial.
The accusation against the Tijaniyyah in this regard suffers from the common polemicist tendency to quote one’s enemies out of context instead of examining the ideas and actions of Tijani scholars themselves. Tijanis have been some of the foremost advocates of Qur’an memorisation, recitation and exegesis wherever they have come to live. Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani (q.s.) himself urged his disciples to read two ahzab of the Qur’an every day. The Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani’s (q.s.) companion, Shaykh Ibrahim Riyahi (q.s.), reportedly used to require Tijanis to read a similar amount. Shaykh Ibrahim Niyas (q.s.) also used to ask his disciples to also read two ahzab of the Qur’an a day, and he himself used to recite the whole Qur’an twice every week, once reading and once from memory.