Once there was a heedless man who hated the friends of Allah. One day he passed by a dervish sheikh’s convent and wondered what was inside. He sneaked in and saw the dervishes gathered, listening to a suhbah or talk. The heedless man belittled their state and went on his way.
That night he saw a terrifying nightmare. It was the Day of the Last Judgement and demons were taking him to Hell. At that moment the Sheikh from the convent appeared and told the demons:
“Leave him alone, yesterday he showed up in our gathering.”
The demons replied:
“But he is a heedles man and deserves Hell!”
Just then, the man woke up. The first thing he did in the morning was to go to the convent and join the fellowship of the wise.
According to a hadith reported by Anas b. Mālik (may Allah be pleased with him), there are groups of angels that roam the earth looking for dhikr gatherings. When they find one, they circle around it and say:
“O Lord! Those servants of Yours are reading Your book, saying praises upon Your Prophet and asking from You their needs both in this world and in the hereafter.
Allah Almighty says:
“Be witnesses I forgive them all.”
The angels say:
“O Lord! So-and-so was in this gathering by mistake.”
Allah Almighty replies:
“They (righteous and truthful servants) are such a group that people who are with them will not be considered disobedient.”
The good tidings in the above mentioned reports encourage Muslims to be with the righteous and the truthful. On the Sufi path, it is necessary to be with the righteous and the truthful in order to benefit from their spirituality and protect the heart from mā siwā. Unlike other organs of the body, the heart operates involuntarily and it easily tends to assimilate its surroundings.
The heart easily takes on the color and characteristics of its surroundings. The influence of the environment can be either positive or negative. If the heart does not get the proper education and obtain a certain level of control, it faces serious dangers. Controlling love and hatred have determining effects on spiritual ascension or descent.
It is very important on the way of spiritual perfection to love what deserves to be loved and hate what deserves to be hated.
The importance of being with the righteous and truthful servants of Allah and living in their circle of influence is considerable for spiritual progress. However, the level of benefit depends upon the level of love for the beloved. Otherwise, just being together produces little outcome despite some benefits.
It is noteworthy that the words sahābī (Companion of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him blessings and peace) and suhbah (gathering) come from the same Arabic root. Indeed, the Companions exemplify the ones who benefited most from the suhbah of the Prophet through their abundant love and respect for him. In order to understand how they climbed so high in the spiritual realm we must see how they respected the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace). A sahābī states: “We listened to the Prophet’s (upon him blessings and peace) talk with such care that as if there were birds on our heads we feared lest they would fly away if we moved.”
The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) watered the Companions’ parched hearts with the rains of wisdom and mercy. Thanks to being with the Prophet, seeds of wisdom and knowledge leafed out from the soil of their hearts. The reflection of love and spirituality of the Prophet in their hearts produced their exemplary new personalities. The old personality of the Jāhiliyyah (the age of ignorance before Islam), who buried daughters alive and committed all other sorts of merciless acts, disappeared. In the very same bodies, crying, gentle, selfless and sensitive characters were formed.
They carried the paradigmatic life of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) everywhere they went. Narrations from their virtuous lives will show humanity the straight path forever. Allah Almighty praises the Companions with the following words:
وَالسَّابِقُونَ الأَوَّلُونَ مِنَ الْمُهَاجِرِينَ وَالأَنصَارِ وَالَّذِينَ اتَّبَعُوهُم بِإِحْسَانٍ رَّضِيَ اللّهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُواْ عَنْهُ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُمْ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي تَحْتَهَا الأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا أَبَدًا ذَلِكَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ
The vanguard (of Islam)—the first of those who forsook (their homes) and those who gave them aid, and (also) those who follow them in (all) good deeds, well-pleased is Allah with them, as are they with Him. For them has He prepared gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein for ever. That is the supreme triumph. (Tawba, 9:100)
The sermons and suhbahs (conversations and gatherings) of the believers borrow their beauty from the beauty of the Prophet’s (upon him blessings and peace) suhbahs. It is the Prophet’s (upon him blessings and peace) light that is reflected in the words of the scholars and friends of Allah. Muslims should be aware of the significance of those gatherings, because they are like the gardens of Paradise in which there are eyes and hearts crying for the love of Allah. We must attend such circles and try to be with the pious(sālih) and the truthful (sādiq) believers. This is the only way we can develop our spiritual well-being and adorn our hearts with the best qualities.
If a believer wants to protect his or her spiritual development from negative influences then he/she should avoid being with the sinners and the heedless. The wind blowing over a carrion or dumping ground spreads its repulsive smell everywhere it blows. Concerning this, Sheikh ‘Ubayd Allāh Ahrār warns his followers, “Companionship with sinners brings tension, desolation and lack of concentration to the heart.”
One day Abū Yazīd al-Bistāmī felt wretchedness in his heart. He could not concentrate his mind and asked the friends in his circle: “Is there anyone in our company who is a stranger (a sinner)?” His friends looked around but could not find anyone they did not know.
Abū Yazīd insisted: “Look carefully! Check the area where the walking-sticks are kept. There is the trace of a sinner in this meeting. Otherwise, I would not feel so uneasy and cheerless.”
They searched around once more and found the stick of a sinner. They threw it outside. Abū Yazīd found his peace of mind and his spiritual rapture came back.
On another occasion, ‘Ubayd Allāh Ahrār said to one of his close companions: “I feel something wrong with you. I think you are wearing the garment of a stranger.” His companion said with astonishment: “Indeed I am,” then he changed his garment and came back.
A different example of this can be found in the story of the Prophet Joseph and his father Jacob (upon them blessings and peace). The latter loved his son more than his other children, because he saw his own characteristics in Joseph. His love for him was so intense that when Joseph’s shirt was sent to him nobody else but he could sense his smell.
If the spiritual states of the friends of Allah penetrate even the nature of material things, how much more significant is it to scrupulously take care of the heart, which is undoubtedly more sensitive than material things? The leading figures of the Sufi path say:
Even unliving beings are affected by the actions and morals of people. Praying in a place where all sorts of sins were committed is very different from praying in a place where good deeds were performed. For this reason, the reward of a prayer performed in the Ka‘ba is greater than the prayer performed anywhere else.
We can gather another example from the life of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace). One day when he (upon him blessings and peace) was passing through the valley of Muhassir, which is a place between Arafat and Muzdalifah, he started to speed up his walk. The Companions wondered, “Messenger of Allah, why did you start rushing all of a sudden?’’ He answered: ‘‘Allah Almighty destroyed the tyrant Abrahah and his army at this place.”
On another occasion, the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) was returning from the campaign of Tabūk. The Companions were very tired, so they wanted to have a rest. They stopped at the place the nation of Thamūd had once inhabited. The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said, “Allah Almighty destroyed the nation of Thamūd here. Do not take any water from this place so that their grief will not affect you.” They said: “Messenger of Allah! We have already kneaded the dough with its water, and also filled our bags with its water.” Upon that, the Prophet ordered them to feed the camels with the dough and pour out the water.” (Bukhārī, Anbiyā’, 17)
These and similar ahādīth show that even inanimate objects are influenced by the good or bad incidents that took place around them.
Likewise, the friends of Allah spread their spiritual blessings, their love and ecstasy to the people in their gatherings. The light in their hearts is reflected in the others. We should not forget that as material things influence each other, similarly spiritual circumstances and objects affect others. To the extent of its reflection and transformation, the heart gets filled with wisdom and truth, just like the morning breeze carries the sweet smell of roses, musk and other fragrances wherever it blows. Hence we must do our best to benefit from the spiritual perfection and the good states of the righteous and the truthful. Concerning this Allah the Exalted states in the Qur’an:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ اتَّقُواْ اللّهَ وَكُونُواْ مَعَ الصَّادِقِينَ
“O you who believe! Fear Allah and be with those who are truthful.” (Tawba, 9:119)
In order to perfect one’s faith, one needs to befriend those who are honest in their words and deeds and truthful to Allah in their loyalty and love. If we love such friends of Allah we can more easily attain the spiritual stations they have reached. One day a man asked Abū Yazīd, “Advise me of a good deed which would bring me closer to Allah.” Abū Yazīd answered, ‘‘Love the friends of Allah and they will love you too. Try to find a place in their hearts. For Allah looks into the hearts of His friends three-hundred and sixty times a day. If he finds your name in one of their hearts, He will forgive you.”
For that reason, in Sufi training, rābitah (connection) establishes a spiritual link between disciple and master of the path. When the disciple establishes this link with the friend of Allah (whom he has accepted as his model), his love and obedience to his advice are always kept in mind. Through rābitah the disciple attains perfect affinity with his master, and he or she may gain all sorts of spiritual blessings.
Rābitah, with the intensity of love, creates high spiritual sensitivity in the heart. Through this sensitivity the disciple starts to advance in the path of “sameness” (‘ayniyyah) with the master.
Through love and spiritual attachment, the lover loses himself in his beloved. Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī explains this state in the following way:
When the river meets the sea it becomes the sea. It is no longer a river. The bread we eat is dissolved in our stomach, and becomes part of our body. Similarly, the lover is annihilated in his beloved to the extent of his love for the beloved.
Rūmī explains this state of annihilation saying:
Love filled my veins and skin like blood. It took me from myself, and filled my existence with affection. My friend covered all of the parts of my body. The only thing left from me is my name the rest is He…
This is known in tasawwuf as fanā’ fī Allāh and baqā’ bi-Allāh, annihilation in Allah and eternal union with Him, respectively. However, it is not an easy task to be able to possess love for Allah directly, without undertaking the necessary spiritual practices. The heart needs to be ready to bear such a heavy state.
Abū Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) loved the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) very much. Even in his presence his love and longing for him were increasing instead of decreasing. When he gave away all his possessions and his wealth, the Prophet praised him. Abū Bakr said, “O Prophet of Allah, may my life, my wealth, my everything be ransomed for you!” Rūmī, reflecting on this very idea, says, “What is gold, what is life, what are pearls and jewels if they are not spent in the way of the beloved?”
It is narrated that Abū Bakr said on the pulpit that even in the places of washing and cleaning he felt shy before Allah. It is in return for this excessive love that the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said on his deathbed, “Let all the doors be closed except the door of Abū Bakr.”
Sheikh Sā‘dī Shirāzī explains the mutual influence of the states as follows:
The dog of the companions of the cave was honored by being with them. It is even mentioned in the Qur’an and became part of history. However, Lot’s (upon him blessings and peace) wife chose to be with sinners and infidels.
Sheikh Sa‘dī metaphorically explains the achievement of “sameness and oneness” as a result of being with the righteous and the truthful in the following story:
“A man goes to bathhouse. One of his friends gives him scented clay to get cleaned. The nice smell of the clay spread to every part of the bathhouse. The man asked the clay:
– I love your smell; tell me, what are you, musk or amber?
The clay replied:
– I am neither musk nor amber, just ordinary soil. However, I was under a rose tree and got washed with its water. My scent comes from those roses.”
As these examples clearly show, we must sincerely submit ourselves to the friends of Allah. In this way, we can reflect the divine lights which dwell in their hearts, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun.
O Lord! Resurrect us together with those who are truthful to You in their devotion and belief. Bestow upon us goodness linked to the gatherings of the Prophet and the Companions.
. Some people at that time had private doors opening to the masjid and the Prophet wanted them to be closed, only excepting Abū Bakr’s door so as to honor him.