The realm of existence is upheld by love and rabitah; for rabitah is none other than the manifestation of love that constitutes the core of existence. It is the perpetuation of the vivacity and sparkle of love.
- MURSHID-I KAMIL
Progressing on the spiritual path, a believer encounters diverse manifestations. The heart is like an ocean. Sometimes its waters are calm and serene; yet there are other times when its waters surge to terrifying heights amid a sudden breakout of a violent storm. Equal to the need for a reliable ship to cross this turbulent ocean is the need for an able captain. Should the captain lose control of the ship whilst trying to sail through the rising waves, it will come to know the hard way just how uncompromising the ocean is; it will bury the ship in its depths. Such manifestations are usually unbeknown to those who are new to this journey. But as one continues to sail into the open ocean, certain spiritual signs begin to show their faces, spiritual twists differing in nature from one person to another, conditions like inqibad and inbisat, manifestations whose sources, whether Divine (Rahmani) or devilish, are unknown. Diagnosing them and taking the required precautions thus requires the guidance of a murshid-i kamil, a spiritually matured master.
To acquire this direction, each Muslim must come under self-discipline. The heart-world of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, the exemplar beyond compare for the ummah, must be emulated to the extent one’s capabilities and powers allow. His trust and reliance in the Lord, patience at the face of troubles and predicaments, his distance to the treasures of the world when they flowed freely in front of him and his exceptional modesty, must be put to practice as intensely as possible. To assail the barriers that stand on the path of spiritual development, one must therefore humbly and courteously request the assistance of the wise murshid-i kamils, the inheritors of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- and make a sincere effort to carry out their recommendations. Just as in receiving its light from the sun, the moon testifies to the existence of the sun even when it is hidden from the naked eye, saints enlightened by the Light of Muhammad -upon him blessings and peace- are witnesses and inheritors of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-.
The purpose of tasawwuf is to develop the spiritual potential, embedded in varying degrees in the natural predisposition of man. Each heart is like land concealing petrol underneath. The petrol never finds its way above the ground unless through being drilled out. The petrol that rests in the lower substratum of the ground is like the spiritual aptitude divinely given to each human being. As is the case with the intellect, it is found in varying degrees among human beings.
A murshid-i kamil is the one to spiritually drill this aptitude out and bring this treasure out into daylight. But for the petrol to make its way above, the drill must reach all the way to the layer where the petrol dwells. The drill must equally be strong and resilient, lest it hit upon a rock and shatter to pieces. This means that it is just as important that the murshid, to whose spiritual guidance one submits, be competent for the task. And this carries its certain conditions, on which we should briefly touch upon in passing:
A true murshid-i kamil is recognizable by three main traits:
The First Trait:
A true murshid-i kamil exerts a full-fledged loyalty to the Quran and Sunnah. His life and deeds consists of nothing other than bringing the morals of the Quran and Sunnah to life. Compared to other believers, the loyalty of a murshid-i kamil to the Quran and Sunnah is of greater intensity. His abidance by the two pillars is comparable to a man, who meticulously follows the footsteps of the guide in front of him on a snowy field, paying particular attention to step on the very ground the guide has treaded, lest he be bogged down in snow. A murshid-i kamil is thus rightly referred to as a warathatu’l-anbiya, an inheritor of prophets. It goes without saying that a loyalty of such intensity carries no room for a life that revolves around the ego.
The Second Trait:
A true murshid-i kamil reminds one of Allah, glory unto Him, both in his words and deeds. Because these saintly figures are recipients of the manifestation of Divine names and that they have been able to transform the Divine names of Beauty (jamali) names into moral behavior, they invariably remind others of the Lord. Indeed, when the Companions inquired the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- as to who the wali or saintly servants of Allah, glory unto Him, are, the reply they received was:
اَلَّذِينَ إِذَارُئُواذُكِرَ اللّٰهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ
“They are those whose sight reminds one of Allah the Almighty”. (Haythami, Majmau’z-Zawaid, X, 78; Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 4)
The sight of a murshid-i kamil must therefore evoke in one the thought of Allah, glory unto Him and the Hereafter, impart peacefulness onto the heart and carry him away to a spiritual realm. This is for no other reason than that they have embodied the morals of the Lord and the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-.
The most renowned names of the Allah, glory unto Him, are Rahman (the Merciful) and Rahim (the Compassionate). The saintly servants of the Lord, too, exert utmost compassion. The Almighty is Sattaru’l-uyub; He conceals sins. A murshid, too, does not investigate the faults of others and conceals them once made aware. The Lord is Karim, the Generous. A saint is likewise generous; he takes satisfaction from providing for others. Allah, glory unto Him, is Ghafur; the Forgiver. A murshid, too, forgives others’ faults. The Lord is Halim, the Forbearing; so are saints.
Being the companions (wali) of the Lord, such figures are hence different to other people in more respects than one. Their hearts are closer to Allah, glory unto Him. Their deeds of worship are solemn, focused. They pay painstaking attention to their behavior. As they trek the footsteps of the Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, their prayers are more acceptable than the prayers of others. Since their bodies are engaged in a continuous state of dhikr, affording vigor to their whole existence, they exude a refreshing effect on the places which they enter.
A genuine believer finds himself distressed by the overwhelming spiritual weight burdened through mixing with someone of a perverse nature. Inversely, accompanying a righteous human being brings him peace. Greater still, for a genuine believer, being in the company of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- is bliss beyond the wildest imagination. The spiritual pleasure of being present in an atmosphere graced by the spiritual majesty of the Light of Being -upon him blessings and peace- is simply inexpressible. Still, because a murshid-i kamil scrupulously follows the trail of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, abides consummately by his Sunnah and thereby comes the closest to the Prophetic morals, he carries a spiritual majesty and source of inspiration that comes from the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. Just as it is common to for a man, who makes contact with an electrical current, to shake, a true murshid must first shake the very pillars of one’s spirit, then reinvigorate him and take him away on a journey across spiritual horizons.
The Third Trait:
The final mark of a murshid-i kamil is spiritual designation. It is not enough for an assembly to convene and chose a murshid. Much rather, he must be designated by an authorized murshid-i kamil, who himself belongs to an authentic spiritual chain that reaches all the way to the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. Should this kind of designation be lacking, the chain then comes to a halt at that given point. When unable to find a successor of enough competence, many a murshid-i kamil therefore abstains from entrusting anyone with the duty of continuing their path. At times they leave one successor, at other times many, as was the case with Khalid Baghdadi -may Allah sanctify his secret-. The wisdom underlying this is known to Allah, glory unto Him, alone.
So in brief, maturing the heart so as to render it recipient to spiritual truths is possible through certain spiritual exercises. This requires acquaintance with and the practice of the paths of spiritual maturation. Overcoming the obstacles scattered along this path, on the other hand, requires the guidance of the righteous and pious servants of Allah, glory unto Him. Each potential disciple must search for a murshid to see his spiritual development through but at the same, be pay great attention to whether the suspected murshid, to whose he training he considers to submit himself, carries certain traits.
A Few Important Words of Note:
Since a murshid-i kamil, whose traits have been depicted thus far, is a distinguished servant of Allah, glory unto Him, and an exceptional man of integrity, he most certainly merits enormous respect and is required to be benefited from spiritually. But in showing this due respect and seeking to benefit spiritually from a murshid, one must take care not to be drowned in the torrent of excess. It must be borne in mind that even prophets, let alone the righteous and the pious, are above all servants of the Lord. They only possess whatever amount of the oceans of knowledge and wisdom Allah, glory unto Him, has privileged them with. A time comes when their eyes and hearts are exposed to the underlying wisdoms of both worlds; yet likewise, there are times when they may not be able to see what is in front of them.
In his Gulistan, Sheikh Sadi narrates:
“A man once asked Yaqub (a.s), ‘You, who are a wise prophet with an enlightened heart! How was it that you were able get a whiff of the scent of Yusuf’s (a.s) shirt as it was being brought from as far as Egypt, yet were unable to see it as he was thrown into a well just nearby?’
‘The Divine share of knowledge given us in this regard’, replied Yaqub (a.s) ‘are like lightning strikes. Hence, truths appear crystal clear at times, yet they remain concealed at others.’”
Once, in reply to a person asking him answers to some questions unbeknown to him at the time, certain that an enlightening Revelation would soon arrive, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- said:
“See me tomorrow when I shall give you the answer”. He did not complement his sentence with insha-Allah, or Allah willing.
But the expected Revelation did not arrive the day after; in actual fact, exactly fifteen days passed before it finally did arrive. Even the Light of Being -upon him blessings and peace-, for the sake of whom the entire universe had been created, was left helpless. When it did at long last arrive, it was with the following caution:
“And say not of anything: Surely, I shall do that tomorrow. Except adding if Allah wills. And remember your Lord when you forget, and say: It may be that my Lord guides me unto a nearer way of truth than this.” (al-Kahf, 23-24) (See, Ibn Kathir, III, 83; Alusi, XV, 247)
Considering that this is some measure even the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was commanded to follow, one must duly understand the degree of its applicability to human beings entire. Thus, it cannot be said that once a beloved servant of Allah, glory unto Him, says a prayer in general or for the recuperation of an ill person, the acceptance of that prayer is guaranteed. In order for the prayer to culminate in to what has been desired, not only must there be sincerity in both camps, the person offering the prayer and the person for whom the prayer is made, the prayer must also fall in line with Divine will. As is valid for prayers of all kinds, one must also remember that the acceptance of the prayer may in fact be adjourned to the Hereafter, instead of becoming manifest this life and that their acceptance or denial are completely dependent upon the Will of the Almighty.
Another important detail to take note of is that both prophets and saints possess distinct temperaments and dispositions and that one characteristic that comes to the fore in one prophet may not be found on the same level in another prophet. It would therefore be a mistake to expect from each and everyone them to be the same temperament and disposition.
As is mentioned in the Holy Quran, Musa (a.s) was given a kind of knowledge which Khidr (a.s) lacked; and inversely, Khidr (a.s) was privileged with a form of knowledge which was lacking in Musa (a.s). Comparably, one cannot expect a Jilani -may Allah sanctify his secret- to be a Rumi -may Allah sanctify his secret-. What has been given to both and what has been expected from both are distinct. Most certainly, however, the true purpose that underlies them all is servanthood and marifa. And the roads that lead to the Lord are indeed as numerous as the amount of breaths that belong to creation.
Also of great importance is the fact that no servant, bar prophets, is under Divine guarantee. Even if one was to reach the apogee of ideal servanthood, he still remains exposed to the constant threat of slipping by the wayside. One case in point is Balam ibn Baura. Formerly a righteous man, he wound up falling captive to his ego, inflicting upon himself an eternal dismay. The Quran refers to him as follows:
“And recite to them the narrative of him to whom We give Our communications, but he withdraws himself from them, so the Shaitan overtakes him, so he is of those who go astray. And if We had pleased, We would certainly have exalted him thereby. But he clung to the earth and followed his low desire, so his parable is as the parable of the dog; if you attack him he lolls out his tongue; and if you leave him alone he lolls out his tongue; this is the parable of the people who reject Our communications; therefore relate the narrative that they may reflect.” (al-Araf, 175-176)
Similar is the case of Qarun, or Croesus, whose account is made mention in surah al-Qasas. An exceptionally upright man at one-time, he laid waste on his eternal happiness by turning into a despicable man of rebellion. Together with the lavish wealth he so depended on and boasted over, the Almighty mortified him deep into the ground. Thus whatever the spiritual rank or superiority one may be privileged with at the time, the ego, which lies in wait inside man, may rise to strike at any unexpected moment and topple one from his throne. Not for no reason did the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- seek refuge in the Lord, by praying:
“My Allah…I am hopeful of Your mercy! Do not leave me alone with the desires of my ego even if it be for a split second! Rehabilitate my each condition! Doubtless, there is no god but You…” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 100-101)
The righteous servants of the Lord always take careful note of the meaning of the above hadith and never deceive themselves with the thought of ‘having made it’. Those who have given in to this delusion have always found themselves left high and dry, even if they had managed to complete their sayr-u suluk. In contrast, those who believed they were still ‘far from making it’, who constantly reminded themselves of their shortcomings and weaknesses, have been able to progress relentlessly on the spiritual path. Just to think that in spite of the brilliant manifestation of the perfected nature of his humanness, even Prophet Muhammad Mustafa -upon him blessings and peace-, the pinnacle of prophets, never stopped offering salat to the point of having swollen feet, responding to the astounded Aisha -Allah be well-pleased with him-a, inquiring as to why he felt the need, by saying:
“Should I not be a thankful servant, Aisha?” (Muslim, Munafiqun, 79)
Again, according to report of his honorable wives, following the Revelation: “Then celebrate the praise of your Lord, and ask His forgiveness; surely He is oft-returning (to mercy)” (an-Nasr, 3) the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- began to occupy himself with thanking and praising the Lord more with each gone second.
Therefore, regardless of the rank one attains to towards the path of the Real, he is never alleviated from the responsibilities of servanthood and may not, in any sense of the term, reduce his deeds or fabricate a self-acclaimed exemption from the duties that come with being a servant. All Divine principles and responsibilities are entrusted with human beings in all walks of life and will not be revoked up until to the moment they breathe their final breath on earth. A true murshid-i kamil thus strives to live his entire life abiding under the shade of the guiding command:
“Therefore celebrate the praise of your Lord, and be of those who prostrate. And serve your Lord until there comes to you that which is certain.” (al-Hijr, 98-99)
Spiritual guides of such caliber do not ask for even a tiny price in return for their services. They do not even expect a return for their servanthood to Allah, glory unto Him; for those who do, depreciate the value of their deeds and spiritual ranks. Despite fasting on three days in succession, Ali and Fatima -Allah be well-pleased with him-um handed their meal away to a poor man who had come knocking on their door from hunger on the first night, to an orphan on the second night and to a prisoner on the third, making do with just water on each of those nights, as they humbly responded to the thanks of their recipients by saying:
“We did not give our food expecting thanks from you. Our sole motivation is the pleasure of our Lord…”
In short, true murshid-i kamils are the high points of spiritual life, who continue prophets’ duties of training and teaching, by virtue of putting an exemplary character on display. Acquainted with the Lord and His Sublime Attributes, these righteous servants of Allah, glory unto Him, have, at the same time, reached a level of ihsan. They are thus given such blessings like the knowledge of the ladunn, wisdom and marifa. Yet none of them are on level par with a Companion. Neither is a Companion on level par with a Prophet, nor are prophets on level par with the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. And as for the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, he is first and foremost a servant of the Lord and then His Messenger.
One must therefore resist the urge to ascribe greater value to human beings than they merit and treat them in accordance with their give conditions. Uways al-Qarani or even Abu Hanifa, the compiler of Islamic jurisprudence, cannot be on level par with a Companion. As for the exaggerated respect and reverence, ‘supposedly’ a mark of devotion, shown time and again by the ignorant towards figures they are attached to, is beyond a simple error; it is downright deviation. This deviation is something of a strange case of behavioral excess that not only runs counter to the Will of the Lord, it also distances one further away from the truth. It is owing to a concern that people may fall into an error of this kind that the Beloved Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- forbade people from singing ignorant praises of others. And should the person being praised be wary that the praises will inflate his ego, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- advised him to:
“Hurl dust on his (the praiser’s) face!” (Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Musnad, VI, 5)
Praises that provoke the ego are but signatures of destruction placed on the heart.
The realm of existence is upheld by love and rabitah; for rabitah is none other than the manifestation of love that constitutes the core of existence. It is the perpetuation of the vivacity and sparkle of love.
2. METHODS OF SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE
a. Muhabbah (Love) and Rabitah
A look into the gist and purpose of tasawwuf reveals the fact that the prime catalyst in sayr-u suluk is love, while its ultimate objective is spiritual manners (adab). Love, here, is a means, while spiritual manners a result. One cannot possibly overemphasize the importance of these two concepts. When the love felt for someone intensifies, a certain degree of this love becomes projected to things around, seen as carrying a resemblance or a proximity (nisbah) of some sort to the person loved.
A disciple, for instance, who nurtures an extreme love for his murshid, cannot help but feel a similar love towards anyone who adopts a similar behavior to him, albeit in a more inadequate form. When he comes across an acquaintance of his murshid, he treats him like someone would treat a relative just returning from pilgrimage. Owning any single object, which his murshid had erstwhile used, uplifts his spirit. This is comparable to the joy felt by Uways al-Qarani upon receiving the mantle personally sent by the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-.
Parallel with the intensification of love, the proximity (nisbah) that gradually increases towards the beloved becomes, at the same time, comprehensive, so as to begin from the beloved, the strongest proximity, at its core, and expand in a way that encompasses the weakest. In tasawwuf, the eternally expanding the perimeter of this circle of love that has the beloved as its center, in a way that encompasses all proximities near and far, is called absolute love (ashk-i mutlaq). To recall the words of Yunus Emre,
Appreciate the created,
For the sake of the Creator
This is the state of lovingly and compassionately embracing all creation, no matter what their characteristics, natures and deeds may be, simply for the sake of the Creator. This is the final stage a lover can reach. Virtually, each station of love on the way thereto is metaphorical love (ashk-i majazi).
Metaphorical love begins the moment the disciple pledges loving affinity to his murshid. This love, too, is metaphorical. Since in its nature the heart is reserved to Allah, glory unto Him, alone, it cannot have any other beloved than the Lord. Things, other than Him, to which one becomes attached, are like steps on this ladder, exercises acclimatizing the heart to Divine Love. Overall, this is the attempt to reach the Mawla, or the Lord, through Layla, if one may use the expression. The most inspirational stage in this attempt is to encounter a true murshid-i kamil and to experience the spiritual excitement of love and affinity with him. And the most propitious manifestation of this is rabitah. Rabitah is the very intensification of love, where it can no longer be compared to ordinary, trivial attachments.
Literally, rabitah denotes ties and interest. In this respect, there is not a single being in the universe detached from rabitah. Everything is interconnected. On another level, rabitah is the manifestation of love that forms the core of existence. It is the perpetuation of the vivacity and sparkle of love.
There are three kinds of rabitah.
1. Natural Rabitah
This is the natural love felt by a person towards whom he considers close. It is an outcome of man’s natural predisposition, like the love a mother feels for her child, and so forth.
2. Base Rabitah
This is to become attached to forbidden, devilish tendencies; like the gambler whose heart is ever hungry with the desire to gamble to the point where he even forgets about the livelihood of his own family.
3. Sublime Rabitah
Motivated by the loftiest of feelings, this is the rabitah that steers one towards means that will eventually deliver him to the Lord. It is to accompany, either physically or spiritually, those whose hearts have been garnished (tajliyah) and who have thus attained to the rank of mushahadah, in order to benefit from them spiritually.
Here, we shall expand on this, the third type of rabitah. This signifies the way in which the disciple, towards acquiring a certain aptitude, keeps the love of his murshid ever alive in his heart, with the aim of fully benefiting from him spiritually.
A method of Sufi training, rabitah comes in various names and ways of practice in each tariqah. Generally, however, it is for the disciple to call his murshid to mind, right in front of his eyes, and amid sublime emotions, to try to become one with him, by recalling his spiritual state of mind and behavior. Keeping the love and respect for the murshid ever alive in this manner, gives the disciple a spiritual vivacity.
Man lies exposed to influences. As is the case with many diseases, inner conditions or states of mind are also contagious. The transaction that takes place between spirits is an incontestable fact of life. Especially the strong spiritual characteristics shown by active and influential figures transmit to others around, in varying degrees. This transmission does not depend on whether the ‘transmitter’ exudes a positive or negative character. It takes place regardless, so long as there exists a mutual bond of love and affinity between the two.
The mindsets of utterly compassionate and selfless people, for instance, wield an influence on the people by whom they are surrounded. Rabitah, a manifestation of love, seeks to increase and accelerate these spiritual transactions of a positive, moral nature and transform them into concrete moral behavior in the recipient. Each Muslim with a right mind must therefore nurture love towards the pious and establish affinity with them and thereby maximize the reflection of their beautiful mindsets onto their own characters.
How strange it is that a batch of mud that splashes onto a pair of clean clothes causes a person greater discomfort than bad habits invading a heart remote from the guiding light of wahy and thus darkened beyond recognition from sin. Since he is numbed by the delusive whispers both egoistic and devilish, he does not even become aware of his spiritual plight. At the face of what can rightly be called the ‘transmission of character’, it is true that man has been left free to choose from among either positive or negative examples. Regardless, the Almighty has informed of the right choice in the Quran as follows:
“O you who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah and be with the righteous.” (at-Tawba, 119)
One thing that deserves attention in the above ayah is that the Lord does not command His servants to ‘be righteous’ but to ‘be with the righteous’, in order for them to safeguard their piety. The first step on the way of becoming righteous is indeed to accompany the righteous, to enter a loving affinity with them. Righteousness is the natural outcome of this connection. After all, one naturally takes after the other.
In reigning in the ego, accompanying the pious and the righteous acts like radiation, impossible to witness yet unquestionably effective. Being near the righteous, witnessing moment by moment their conduct and behavior and even just looking at their lit faces, are all included in this regard. It is for that reason having the opportunity to be in the presence of spiritual elders is considered a great blessing. Mindsets transmit. The smell of roses is bound to permeate the clothes of a person who hangs around a rose garden. An assembly of the righteous, similarly, is like a bazaar of spiritual transaction.
Ubaydullah Ahrar -may Allah sanctify his secret- says:
“The expression ‘be with’ in the command of the Quran ‘to fear Allah and be with the righteous’, means a perpetual accompaniment. As it has been given mention in an absolute sense, ‘being with’ has two aspects, one practical and the other legal. Practical or physical accompaniment is to be physically present in the assembly of the righteous, while legal accompaniment is to evoke their mindsets in their absence.”
Hence, as necessary as it is to maintain sublime feelings whilst physically in the presence of the righteous, one must also continue this accompaniment in his heart, in their absence. For physically accompanying the righteous may not always be possible. To continue accompanying them in the heart, one then stands in need of rabitah.
But as has been previously mentioned, the training of tasawwuf does not approve of a physical accompaniment that is ineffectual and vain. There is many a person who is within a whisker, so to speak, of a murshid, yet unable to reap his due spiritual share owing to his ignorance. In contrast, there is many a disciple in a land faraway that becomes blessed with exceptional spiritual gifts, inspirations and emotions, thanks to the deep respect, longing, love and attachment he feels towards his murshid. The saying, as expressed by spiritual elders, that ‘the one in Yemen is nearby, while the one nearby is in Yemen’ articulates just that. The important thing, therefore, is not to lose the feeling of the heart, wherever one may be at the time.
On the other hand, although spiritually competent people exercise a maximum power in correcting the mindsets of those around them, this on its own is not enough. The transmission of the mindset, in tasawwuf, is a spiritual flow of such a nature that deriving the maximum benefit of its flow depends as much on the spiritual aptitude of the disciple and his intensity of love as it does on the competence of the murshid. Thus not every disciple can attain to the same level, simply because he is a disciple. Much rather the difference of spiritual level between one disciple and another, stems from the level of aptitude and intensity of love in each. To illustrate this through an example, there is essentially no difference whether a person, intent on filling his bucket with water, dips it into a lake or a boundless ocean; in both cases, he will only obtain as much water as his bucket allows. The disciple must therefore be apt and more importantly be eager to realize the full potential of his aptitude.
Yunus Emre expresses this beautifully:
Should you place your cup,
By the tap to fill,
Even if left for a thousand years
Not by itself it will
Another method utilized in both rabitah and muraqabah is reading the silsila-i sharifah. This is carried out with a desire of receiving a share of the mercy that is hoped to descend onto the heart by mentioning the names of the righteous who make up this chain and a reflection of their beautiful mindsets. The great scholar Sufyan ibn Uyaynah has in fact said: “Mercy descends on an assembly in which the righteous are mentioned.” (Ajluni, Kashfu’l-Khafa, II, 70)
The compiling of various books that comprise certain hagiographical accounts of the righteous, in fact has no other motivation than to inspire others, in the said manner, who approach the righteous with love. Thus the aim of rabitah is to spiritually inspire and enlighten hearts by having them evoke the celebrated chain of the righteous that reaches to the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- himself. Upon getting hold of a chain of conjoint men, already quivering from a livewire in the hand of the first person in that chain, it is natural for a person to begin to shake uncontrollably from the voltage of electricity that falls to his share. Intensifying rabitah to the degree where it enables the disciple to embody the moral conduct of the murshid, by virtue of continuing the love and respect, shown to the murshid in his presence, even in his absence has been referred to as fana fi’s-sheikh, annihilation in the sheikh.
Beyond the station of fana fi’s-sheikh is the station of fana fi’r-rasul, annihilation in the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. Before becoming honored with Islam, many of the celebrated Companions, the stars of the Islamic sky, were leading lives contrary to natural disposition. But after receiving the light of guidance and having the spiritual emotions of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- reflect onto their own characters, they became the most virtuous persons among entire humankind. The spiritual enlightenment that has trickled from the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- himself to the murshid through a successive chain is likewise transferred to the heart of the disciple, through rabitah and sohbah. This way, the exemplary character of the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- becomes reflected onto the disciple’s character, as much as his aptitude can bear.
On this level, one conducts himself, at each and every moment, as if in the presence of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- and seeks to unite with his quintessential morals. To strengthen the rabitah or the spiritual bond with the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, it is necessary to reinforce it with salat-u salam and a passionate devotion to the Sunnah and thereby establish a line of love and affinity in the heart.
It goes without saying that in Abu Bakr -Allah be well-pleased with him- one can find the most exquisite realization of fana fi’r-rasul. In appreciation of his spiritual mindset, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- has even said:
“Abu Bakr is of me, I am of Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr is my brother both Here and in the Hereafter.” (Daylami, Musnad, I, 437)
Expressed beautifully by the hadith is the intimacy of the heart. Yet, a station even beyond this intimacy of the heart is the station of fana fillah, annihilation in Allah, glory unto Him. Tapping into the mysteries of the ayat:
وَهُوَمَعَكُمْ اَيْنَ مَا كُنْتُمْ
“And He is with you wherever you may be.” (al-Hadid, 4)
“…and We are nearer to him than his life-vein.” (Qaf, 16) are possible only through attaining the station of fana fillah.
The heart of a murshid that has become annihilated in the Lord is spiritually enlightened by the manifestation of Divine names. Thus, the heart of a murshid is like virtually a lens that has gathered beams of light onto a single spot. The blessings of these manifestations burn all negativity to ash. Through rabitah, the disciple seeks to benefit from these blessings. Egoistic and selfish feelings thereby disappear from the heart and are replaced by the spiritual mindset of that model character. All things that until then had invaded the heart are banished and incarcerated where they truly belong.
This transmission of the spiritual mindset, from the murshid to the murid, signifies a progress towards spiritual unification. “One is with whom he loves”, states the hadith.
On this subject, the Sleepers of the Cave, whose experience receives some mention in the Holy Quran, is noteworthy indeed. The quality of loyalty reflected onto Qitmir, the Sleepers’ dog, because it kept watch over a group of pious and righteous men. And in return, it, too, will enter Paradise with the pious and the righteous. Considering that even a dog can attain to such a level by keeping company with the pious and the righteous, the spiritual progress that beckons for a true believer through accompanying the pious and righteous servants of the Lord, is glaringly obvious.
We would like to touch upon another aspect of rabitah, a practice of enormous significance in tasawwuf.
In tasawwuf, establishing a bond or a rabitah with the thought of death is referred to as the contemplation of death (tafakkur-i mawt). Thinking of death wields an enormous influence on one’s mindset and behavior. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- says:
اَكْثِرُواذِكْرَهَاذِمِاللَّذَّاتِ يَعْنِى الْمَوْتَ
“Frequently remember that which uproots all pleasures; that is death.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 4)
Reflecting on death undoubtedly reduces the desires of the ego and the love of the world that leave a person in discomfort. Excess love of the passing possessions of the world, ambition for prestige and pursuit of things the ego finds desirable, is the beginning of spiritual disease. Towards protecting the heart from becoming infected with this disease, recalling the grave and the tribulations of the grave to which we are to be exposed in the near future will direct us to a genuine repentance and enable us to exert our deeds of worship with earnestness, guarding us at the same time from worldly ambitions and vain desires. The dhikr and rabitah we continue to practice will become the means of our eternal salvation and happiness in the Hereafter.
It is reported that Ali -Allah be well-pleased with him- left the following words of advice to his son Hasan -Allah be well-pleased with him-:
“Son! Earnestly remind yourself of death and train your heart in its remembrance. Do not forget that whatever there is will eventually be reduced to nothing and remain in that nothingness! Remind your heart of the potential dangers of the world!”
Indeed, since time does not continue to flow undisturbed, like a straight line, one ought to be aware that times of trouble may quite well come to pass, just like times of joy.
Imam Ghazzali affords similar words of advice:
“Son…Live as long as you may, in any case, you shall one day die! Love who you wish, in any case, you shall one day be separated! Do anything you wish, in any case, you shall one day be called into account!
Son…Your sole purpose should be to mature your spirit, restrain your ego and prepare your body for death; for it is the grave that shall be your final station. The grave-dwellers are waiting in anticipation for the day when you will join them. Do not ever think of going there without having packed your food for the journey!”
Some of the advices Omar ibn Abdulaziz gave to Muslims in his final sermon are as follows
The Hereafter, which breathes fire, is terrible. Even prophets and angels with insight into the Jalali (Divine Wrath) mystery tremble before the tremor of that day of punishment. And who can ever keep his nerve, hold his strength together before the Wrath of the Almighty?
Still, do not despair the Mercy of the Lord, immeasurably boundless.
But know very well that deliverance in on the plain of Resurrection tomorrow is for he who fears the Allah, glory unto Him, refrains from rebellion and prefers the eternal to the passing, today. He who acts otherwise has fooled himself and has squandered the asset of life on unworthy investments, left empty-handed in the end.
Today, you have come to replace the people of the past. There will certainly come others to replace you!
As you can see, those who come depart and those who depart never return. This involuntary departure, this relentless flow in existence, is to Allah the Almighty alone.
Almost every day, you bid farewell to those who depart from amongst you to the Hereafter, carrying their corpses on your very shoulders…Do not you still take a lesson? You leave them in the bosom of earth, on their own without beds and pillows. How great a lesson there is in the mortals who have tasted the pain of death! They are gone to a realm they have no acquaintance with, separated from their loved ones, awoken from the dream of this passing life…They now see the Truth but all too little too late…The bird has flown from the cage and with it, all means of making amends…Nothing but righteous deeds remain in their otherwise empty hands. On that day of return, their sins grow in their eyes as they grievingly wait for their verdicts. Distraught, they tremor with the terror of that destined day of resurrection.”
Death is passage through which one awakes in another realm and comes to terms with the truth in its nakedness. Yet, being awoken then is of no benefit on its own, unless one awakens himself before death by tearing apart the veils of ignorance.
The contemplation of death acts as a shield that protects the murid from ambitions, from pinning his faith on the world and all other kinds of egoistic tendencies. Since the main objective of tasawwuf is to vanquish the ego, the contemplation of death is a method espoused exclusively by all Sufi orders.
b. Spiritual Gathering (Sohbah)
Assemblies of sohbah and dhikr are gardens of Paradise on Earth, soaked by the downpour of Divine mercy and serenity.
Among the most important means utilized by many a murshid-i kamil in order to positively influence the heart and spirit of the murid is spiritual gathering and speech or sohbah. The words of a person who has purified his ego and heart are overloaded with the emotions of his experienced mindset. Words uttered sincerely amid these emotions find a way to the heart of the listener, influencing him beneficially.
Ikhlas, or sincerity, is the most basic factor that renders a conversation influential. The speech of a murshid-i kamil, most sincerely striving to transfer certain spiritual feelings onto his subject, consists of a devotion to the Sunnah of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. The quality of ikhlas that wields this influence is brought about by putting what one knows to practice and to desire sincerely, from the bottom of the heart, that the listener adopts the advices given and implements them in his own life.
Another factor that makes speech influential is conciseness (wajiz). Achieving conciseness in speech, on the other hand, depends on mastery of the given language and a choosing the best possible words. The apogee of this power of conciseness is the Holy Quran.
In the Meccan era of Prophethood, the daughter of Imru’l-Qays, a celebrated Arab poet, was still alive. They read to her surah al-Zilzal. A woman very much conversant with eloquence, articulateness and concision, she became virtually petrified from wonder.
“Such words”, she then said, “cannot be the words of a mortal. No mortal has to power to express words on such a high level. It is not right for my father’s poems to still remain hanging on the walls of Kaaba when there are words like this on Earth. Please…go and bring those poems down!”
So states the hadith:
اِنَّ مِنَ الْبَيَانِ سِحْرًا
“There is surely magic in some speech.” (Bukhari, Nikah, 47) That is speech exercises a magic-like effect on the heart.
Offering spiritual guidance through speech, therefore, holds great importance. To properly come to terms with the extent of blessings of the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- brought about through speech, it is enough to ponder why that particular age, in which those speeches took place, and not any other in the history of humankind entire, is called the Asr-u Saadah, the Age of Bliss. A muakkad sunnah of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, that is a practice that the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- repeated consistently, sohbah holds a central place in all Sufi orders, especially in the Naqshbandi, as a means of transferring spiritual enlightenment from one heart to another.
Speaking of conciseness, one recalls the poetic words of Yunus Emre, which express the power of speech, both positive and negative:
With a word a war is ended,
With a word another beheaded,
A poisonous dish is turned,
To honey and butter with a word
The heart-worlds of the Companions, previously resembling an arid land, became inundated with blissful downpours of mercy through the speech of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. Thanks to this, their unique seeds of virtue and spirit that until then had remained concealed beneath the soil were able to flourish. The spiritual transaction of love reflecting from one soul to another enabled the emergence of star characters. The man of ignorance, hardhearted to the point of burying his own daughter alive, who recognized no rights whatsoever, melted away and disappeared. In the same silhouette there instead appeared a teary-eyed, selfless and sensitive man.
It is significant that sahabah, the Arabic term for companion, and sohbah are derivatives of the same word. Overflowing emotions of love and respect for the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- allowed the Companions to become the most consummate examples of the ideal benefit spiritual speech and training is hoped to yield. Yet, the state of spiritual peace and manners that would overcome them when in the presence of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was of such an enormous degree, that in describing it, they would say:
“It was as if there was a bird perched on our heads and we were afraid to scare it to take flight should we make the slightest move.”
They thus carried the towering character and morals of the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- everywhere they went. They displayed numerous and exceptional feats of virtue whose memories will live until the Final Hour. Regarding them, Allah, glory unto Him, declares:
“And (as for) the foremost, the first of the Muhajirs and the Ansars, and those who followed them in goodness, Allah is well pleased with them and they are well pleased with Him, and He has prepared for them gardens beneath which rivers flow, to abide in them for ever; that is the mighty achievement.” (at-Tawbah, 100)
Every sohbah conducted in the feeling of worship is a reflection of many a sohbah of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-; for he is the center of all spiritual benefit obtained. Each sohbah immersed in spiritual excitement is a glimmer that successively shines forth from that center. Therefore, even if one attains a share of the light of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- through the medium of a righteous servant of the Lord, because the source of this light is one and the same, it is just as if he has attained that light directly from its source; just like burning other candles with the light of another. The flame that sets all candles alight is one and the same. Even the final candle to be lit reflects that very first flame, the source of the burning flame itself.
Assemblies of sohbah and dhikr are gardens of Paradise on Earth, soaked by the downpour of Divine mercy and serenity. The hadith states:
“If a group of people come together to remember Allah, the mercy of Allah will encompass them, serenity will descend onto them and Allah will mention them next to those in His presence.” (Muslim, Dhikr, 38)
The folk of the heart, the wise and the righteous carry their love and ecstasy to their sohbah. They reflect the light of the mysteries in their heart to those present. And as a result of spiritual reflection (inikas) and coloring (insibagh) hearts then become filled with the light of the inspiration of truth, in varying degrees according to their aptitudes. This just like the morning zephyr that, breezing through a garden adorned with roses, cloves and all other kinds of exquisite flowers, delivers the fresh scent of spring to wherever it goes.
The Almighty says:
وَ ذَكِّرْ فَاِنَّ الذّاِكْرٰى تَنْفَعُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ
“And continue to remind, for surely the reminder profits the believers.” (ad-Dhariyat, 55)
Having personified the above ayah in the most perfect manner, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- has said: “Religion consists of nasihah.” (Bukhari, Iman, 42) Nasihah has two meanings. The first is to invite to what is good, the second sincerity.
On seeing another Companion, Abdullah ibn Rawahah -Allah be well-pleased with him- used to say to him, “Come, brother. Let’s sit awhile for the sake of Allah and replenish our faith to Him.”
One Companion, who could not figure out what he meant, informed the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- of Ibn Rawaha’s -Allah be well-pleased with him- words.
“May Allah have mercy on Abdullah”, he commented. “He just loves the assemblies of dhikr which the angels praise.”
Also noteworthy in underlining the importance of sohbah is the following hadith:
A woman came to the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- and bemoaned, “It is always men who reap the benefits of your speech. Could not you perhaps spare a day for us so we can gather to learn from you what you have been taught by Allah?”
“Then gather at so-and-so place on so-and-so day”, said the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace-. Then the female Companions came together at that certain place, on a certain time, where the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- taught them. (Bukhari, Ilm, 36)
Female Companions, who with the blessings of the speeches became exemplary mothers for the entire ummah, would reproach their children given they neglected seeing the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- for a long time. One of them was Hudayfah -Allah be well-pleased with him-, told off by his mother, for failing to visit the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- for a number of days. He recounts the incident as follows:
“My mother once asked me how long it had been since I had seen the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace-. ‘It has been a few days now’, I said. Irritated, she reproached me heavily. ‘Alright, don’t get angry. I will now go and visit him and offer maghrib salat with him and kindly request him to pray for the forgiveness of both you and I’, I told her.” (Tirmidhi, Manaqib, 30; Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Musnad, V, 391-2)
Muhammad Ziyauddin -may Allah sanctify his secret-, a Sufi great, would at times gather children around him and give them sohbah. It was at the end of one such sohbah that his wife commented, ‘What could they understand of sohbah? They are still very young.”
“More or less they will benefit”, said he. “But my real purpose is not for them to understand. Assemblies of sohbah attract Divine mercy. I am only pursuing that mercy; the children are but means…”
The great Shah Naqshbandi -may Allah sanctify his secret- says: “Our path of spiritual training is paved upon sohbah. Goodness lies in accompanying the righteous for the sake of Allah. By continuing to be in the presence of their speech, one will attain to true faith.”
Scholar Jafar ibn Sulayman r.alayh tells of the benefits he was able to secure from accompanying the righteous: “Whenever I felt hardness in my heart, I would go next to Muhammad ibn Wasi, attend his company and simply stare at his face. My heart would then soften and my laziness would be replaced by a zest for worship. That zest would last me for a week.”
The words of Omar ibn Abdulaziz r.alayh are of a similar tone: “Being in the company of scholar Ubaydullah ibn Abdullah from Medina is to me better than the entire world and what is within. Being around people like him enlightens the mind, brings peace to the heart and helps one acquire manners.”
A student of the great saint Abu’l-Hasan Shazali -may Allah sanctify his secret- had abandoned his company. Some time later, he saw the former student and asked as to why he had left his sohbah.
“What I have reaped and learnt from you until now is enough”, he replied. “I no longer need you.” Upset, Shazali -may Allah sanctify his secret- said:
“Listen, my dear; had it been right for a person to rest contented with the spiritual enlightenment he received from another, Abu Bakr -Allah be well-pleased with him- would have surely been content with what he had received from the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. Yet he remained by his side until his final breath…”
Of course, it was not just Abu Bakr -Allah be well-pleased with him- who rushed to the sohbah of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- for spiritual enlightenment, but also the Companions entire. Anyhow, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- would encourage them to do so at every given opportunity; for sohbah provided one of his primary methods of training.
Equal to the importance of showing eagerness to acquire the beauties that beckon in a sohbah is to look out for the right place and time. On this subject, Abdullah ibn Masud has said: “To give us advice, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- would look out for the most appropriate time, so as to not make us weary.”
Abu Waqid al-Laysi, another Companion, recounts:
“One day, we were in the presence of the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- inside the Masjid when there appeared three people by the door. One turned back without entering. The other two entered and drew nearer to the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace-. One of them sat on an empty spot somewhere in the circle. As there were no remaining spots left, afraid he would cause discomfort, the other assumed a seat right behind the circle.
A short while later, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- said, “Should I inform you of the conditions of three men? The first, who sat within the circle, sought refuge in Allah the Almighty; and Allah took him in His refuge. As for the second, he felt embarrassed before Allah the Almighty and embraced haya (spiritual manners). And Allah the Almighty became embarrassed before His servant and secured him from His punishment. And as for the other who did not enter, he turned away from the assembly and Allah, too, turned away from him.” (Bukhari, Ilm, 8)
Muslim greats, aware of the wisdom underlying the above hadith, have allowed for the sohbah assemblies of the righteous to mold their hearts, never distancing themselves from such environments. Indeed, Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal (r.a), the eminent Muslim jurist, would frequently visit the great saint Bishr ibn Khafi -may Allah sanctify his secret- and converse with him. He was attached to him, in the truest sense.
Once, his students asked, “Is it proper for you to keep on visiting an ordinary man like him when you are a mujtahid of the sciences of the Quran and Sunnah?”
“True. I am more knowledgeable than him in what you have just mentioned”, replied the great scholar. “But he knows the Lord better than I.’
To lend an ideal service is to seek the pleasure of the Lord by approaching creation with a sincere, compassionate and selfless heart.
People of service must be courteous in all their conducts, as delicate as one tiptoeing around a minefield; for their objects are hearts, the focal point of the Divine Gaze.
Khidmah, or service, is of enormous importance in Sufi training. The most effective way of implanting feelings of modesty, selflessness (mahwiyah) and mercy for the created in hearts runs through service. All murshids have therefore considered it a vital means in training the disciple.
If we were to search for the pillar of Islamic morals, we would no doubt find it in turning to the Lord with love and sincerity, whose defining hallmark, in turn, is service. True to the principle ‘serve to receive grace (himmah)’, serving is an exceptional step on the ladder that delivers hearts to sublime peaks.
Such a step it is that the entirety of prophets and saints, blessed with Divine reunion and an eternity of rewards, have used for elevation. For a lifetime, they personified the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- words: “The notable of a tribe is he who serves it” (Daylami, Musnad, II, 324)
Thus the road to the peak and the acquiring of eternity lies in services lent with a genuine heart. There are times when a tiny service offered for the sake of the Divine can be superior to many supererogatory deeds of worship. To call to mind one such instance:
During a campaign under sweltering heat, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- had the Companions camp at a suitable location. Some were fasting, others were not. Tired, those who were fasting quickly fell asleep. Others, who were not, carried water for those who were and set up tents to shade them. When the time came to breakfast, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- said: “Those who did not fast today have received rewards greater than those who did.” (Muslim, Siyam, 100-101)
The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, who has presented countless spurs for his ummah to embrace service, carried stones on his back during the construction of the mosques of Quba and Medina, despite his Companions insisting him otherwise. The exceptional modesty and spirit to serve embodied by the Light of Being -upon him blessings and peace- lays out a unique example for all Muslims. Indeed, his entire life was a sheer case of serving the Real, humankind and entire creation.
Naturally, service becomes a defining feature of the wise who take that ‘sacred being’ as example. Each person in love with the Real and captivated by the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- is a person of service. People of service are like the sun and the moon, which only grow in brightness the more they light up their surroundings. The pallor of neither autumn nor winter can diminish their brightness in the least. They are like a river that traverses a great distance, serving animals, trees, the rose, the clove and the nightingale in its lengthy flow, whose delta can only be the Beloved’s ocean of eternity and reunion.
Those acquainted with this truth look upon themselves as servants, even if made a ruler over the public. On being referred to as ‘The Sovereign of the Two Holy Lands’ (Hakimu’l-Haramayn’is-Sharifayn), in the first sermon after having assumed custodianship over Mecca and Medina, Sultan Selim objected, behind eyes moistened with tears, declaring, “No; rather The Servant of the Two Holy Lands’. This can only be a manifestation of a sublime perception of service and a realization of the true purpose of servanthood to the Lord.
Ubaydullah Ahrar -may Allah sanctify his secret- in fact ascribes his spiritual level to the blessings of his service when he says, “We have not covered distance on this path solely from reading books of tasawwuf but from putting into practice what we read to the best of our capabilities and serving the public. Each is taken delivered from a certain path. We were delivered through the path of service.”
And this shows that knowing alone is not enough without putting what is known to practice through serving. Yet Divine acceptance of the service given depends on it carrying certain qualities. An accepted or ideal service, in this sense, is to seek the pleasure of the Lord by approaching creation with a sincere, compassionate and selfless heart. In other words, serving must not be marred with self-interest and must instead be offered genuinely, eyeing exclusively the rewards of the Hereafter. If carried out with this intent, then even ‘half a date’ is a potential means for eternal salvation, as is mentioned in the hadith.
Ubaydullah Ahrar -may Allah sanctify his secret- recounts:
“I was at the bazaar one day when a man approached me and said, ‘I am hungry. Could you feed me for the sake of Allah?’
I had no means at the time, except for an old, worn out imamah. So I went to a cook shop and asked him if he could feed the hungry man in return for it. ‘It is worn out but clean’, I said to him. ‘You might use it to dry your dishes’.
Not only did the cook feed the man, he also wanted me to keep the imamah. Despite his persistent efforts, I did not take it back. I waited until the man ate to his heart’s content, even though I was no better than him in needing a meal.”
With the blessing of Allah, glory unto Him, Ubaydullah Ahrar -may Allah sanctify his secret- ended up with great wealth; so great that there were thousands of workers laboring away in his fields. Still, he did not step a foot away from service. He again recounts his mindset as a rich man:
“I had taken upon myself the duty of caring for four ill persons in the Qutbuddin Madrasa in Samarkand. As their illnesses had become advanced, they had begun dirtying their beds. I used to wash and clothe them with my hands. Because I served without break, I soon became bedridden myself. But even then I continued carrying water with earthenware, cleaning the ill and washing their clothes.”
The lives of such great figures provide splendid examples, for us, of the virtue of spending and serving in the way of the Real. However rich a Muslim may be, he can offer what is due of his wealth only by increasing his spiritual strength and raising the level of his heart-world. Observing the standards of piety and abstinence (zuhd) the more one progresses spiritually and maintaining a perfect modesty despite of wealth may, then, carry a Muslim to the ideal point illustrated in the life of Ubaydullah Ahrar -may Allah sanctify his secret-.
Another level of service that is difficult to reach is highlighted in the below account of the righteous Maruf Karhi -may Allah sanctify his secret-.
An ill man, old and frail, had come to visit Maruf Karhi -may Allah sanctify his secret-. The poor old man was as pale as death; it was as if he was putting a spike through his fragile body with every breath. Maruf Karhi -may Allah sanctify his secret- laid a bed on the floor for him to get some rest.
Wailing and moaning, the old man was not able to get a blink of sleep until morning; neither could anyone else from his moans. To make things worse, he had gotten restless by each passing moment, taking his frustration out on those around. Able to put up with him only for so long, others in the house soon began heading out, in ones and twos. Maruf Karhi -may Allah sanctify his secret- and his wife were left alone with the old man.
To see to the old man’s needs and serve him proper, Maruf Karhi was spending the nights without any sleep. But one night, when his lack of sleep caught up with him, he involuntarily dosed off for a while. Seeing him asleep, instead of being of thankful to a man so graceful and compassionate to see to his needs, the inconsiderate old man began grumbling to himself:
“What sort of a dervish is this? People like him only have reputations. In truth, they are showoffs. Desire is the end their deeds serve. They are clean on the outside, yet dirty on the inside. They advise others with piety, yet neglect it themselves. That is why that man over there sleeps so comfortably without thinking of my condition. How can one who sleeps contented on a full stomach understand the troubles of a bedridden man who does not blink an eye from pain?”
Maruf Karhi had heard every single word. Yet, patient and magnanimous, he pretended to have heard nothing. But his wife could not put up with it any longer, as she whispered to her husband, “You have heard what the grumpy old man just said. We cannot have him at our house any longer. I cannot allow him to be a burden on you and cause you more discomfort than he already has. Tell him to fend for himself. Kind treatment is merited by those who appreciate it. It is bad to treat an ungrateful man kindly. It drives them even wilder. You do not just pamper and place a pillow under their heads. Severing them would serve them just right.”
Patiently listening to his wife’s outburst, Maruf Karhi smiled and replied:
“Why do the words he says hurt you, dear? If he has screamed, so be it. If he has acted rudely, it was against me. His mean words are pleasant to my ears. You can see that he is in continuous pain. Can’t you see that the poor old man cannot even blink an eye? Know that true finesse, true mercy and compassion, lies in putting up with the treatment of people like him.”
Sheikh Sadi, who narrates this incident, adds the below advice:
“Virtue in service is to bear the burden of the weak when strongest and healthiest, as a show of appreciation. A heart filled with compassion is forgiving. If you rest content with your dull image, with your body your name will die, too. But if you become a man of generosity, devoted to service, your life will continue even after death, in hearts where your generosity survives. Can you not see that there are many tombs in Karh, none more visited and renowned than that of Maruf Karhi?”
The righteous have already said it wonderfully: “Tasawwuf is to become adored, without being a burden”.
The gates of mercy are opened by compassionate and benevolent service. The value of a given service depends on the greatness of the sacrifice involved and it being carried out like it is a deed of worship. Again, an ideal service is that which is lent solely for the pleasure of the Lord, with a sensitive conduct that utterly avoids disparaging the person served. As said by Abdullah ibn Munazil -may Allah sanctify his secret-: “Manners in service are more important than the service itself.”
Mawlana Rumi -may Allah sanctify his secret- speaks in a similar tone: “Work for the love of Allah. Serve for the love of Allah. What is it to you if the public appreciates it or not? Does not Allah suffice as an auspicious customer in the bazaar that is the world? What can people possibly give you in comparison with what Allah shall give? So turn your gaze not to the thanks that come from the way of the people, but to the acceptance that comes from the way of Allah!”
This is exactly the beauty and greatness tasawwuf wishes to impart onto hearts. The words of advice given by Amir Kulal -may Allah sanctify his secret- to his student Bahaaddin Naqshbandi -may Allah sanctify his secret- for him to rid his heart of deep set egoistic tendencies are emblematic:
“Seek to win hearts; serve the vulnerable! Protect the weak and the brokenhearted! They are such that they receive no income from the public. Nevertheless, they remain in their frames of complete peace of heart, modesty and dejection. Search and find these people and serve them!”
During the first seven years of his initiation into the Sufi path, Shah Naqshbandi -may Allah sanctify his secret- in fact lead a life defined by khidmah, where he served the ill and weak, as well as injured animals, even sparing time to clean streets which people used, simply to reach the state of ‘nothingness’, the complete opposite of pride and conceit.
He recounts these years himself: “For a long time, I worked on the road as my master had commanded, fulfilling all services required of me. There came a point where, on seeing any creation of the Lord whatsoever, I would stand still where I was and wait for it to walk past. This lasted seven years all together. In return, I was engulfed by such a spiritual mindset that I could feel their inner moans of anguish, pleading the Lord.”
This is a concrete manifestation of serving creation for the sake of the Creator and looking upon them through eyes of Divine love.
About righteous Muslims, the Almighty states:
“They compete with each other in what is good” (Al-i Imran, 114). The most exceptional fruits this competition has yielded are waqfs or charity trusts.
Most certainly, service comes in various forms. All efforts made for the pleasure of Allah, glory unto Him, are included in service. The important thing is for hearts to lend a service, be it spiritual or financial, as much as is allowed by their aptitudes, powers and suitability. The Lord has entrusted each person with a distinct kind of service to lend and has made each person suitable for the task. And no less, He has endowed each person with the required means, spiritual and physical.
There were approximately 120,000 Companions present in the Farewell Pilgrimage. Over a 100,000 of them ended up going to various lands on Earth, near and far, offering their lives as trusts in the way of the Lord, passing away in those lands. Just to cite one example among many, the tombs of the sons of Othman and Abbas -Allah be well-pleased with him- are in fact in Samarkand. Istanbul itself is home to the graves of many Companions. An overwhelming majority of those who remained in Mecca and Medina, in turn, served to protect the hubs of Islam, continuing their services there.
One of the most illustrious feats of leaving no stone unturned in calling people to guidance and striving genuinely for their happiness in Here and in the Hereafter is vivid in the life of Khalid ibn Zayd Abu Ayyub al-Ansari -Allah be well-pleased with him-, who twice arrived at the fortified walls of Istanbul, despite his old age. The love of serving and the battle to salvage their eternity steered them to four corners of the world.
Another colossal personification of the spirit of service is Wahb ibn Kabshah -Allah be well-pleased with him-. The tomb of this celebrated Companion is in China. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- had entrusted him with the duty of carrying the light of guidance to China. Considering the circumstances of then, China was at a year’s distance away from Arabia. After spending many years there, the Companion set out to Medina, in hope of appeasing the longing for the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- burning within his heart. He made it to Medina after a grueling one year journey, only to find that the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- had passed away. He was thus unable to see him. But fully conscious of the sacredness of the mission given him by the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, he returned once again to China and served until he ultimately passed away in that land.
These are magnificent portraits of khidmah only an ecstatic faith can explain. Their love for and spirit of service are like stars that light up our skies of eternal salvation.
There is no doubt that the Companions were able to attain to this level by minutely abiding to the nine principles of service below, in the light of the exceptional training of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-:
1. Serving Allah, glory unto Him and wholeheartedly abiding by His commands and prohibitions.
2. Serving the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-; loving him from the bottom of the heart and leading a life according to his Sunnah.
3. Serving the spiritual elders of Islam, loyally and lovingly.
4. Serving parents; striving to gain their blessings without retorting even an ‘ah’.
5. Serving the children by ensuring they are raised as righteous Muslims.
6. Serving relatives; visiting them and seeing to their needs.
7. Serving Muslims, sharing their joy and pain.
8. Serving entire humankind, striving to be beneficial in both speech and action.
9. Serving entire creation; taking all beings under their wings of compassion.
There is great lesson in the following words of Ali Ramitani -may Allah sanctify his secret- concerning the performance of all the above mentioned services: “There are many who mix their services with insult. But there are only a few who appreciate how great a blessing it is to serve. If you treat the opportunity to serve as a blessing and be thankful towards whom you serve, everyone will become satisfied with you and there will only be a few who complain.”
Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all searching for spiritual peace and serenity. And that is a profound treasure that may only be attained through services offered with the passion one has whilst offering a deed of worship. A believer who has a penchant and spirit to serve therefore always knows how to find the opportunity and means to do so. The keenness he shows in his sacrifices in the way of Allah, glory unto Him, is more intense than the ambitions of those who pursue worldly interests.
Once the desire to serve, which is nourished by the climate of love, becomes fixed in the heart, it renders one a wayfarer of eternity. The heart sheds its hardness of Hajjaj and enshrouds itself in the gentle cloak of Yunus. Knowledge, art and morals obtained in this state of mind, achieve an enrapturing life of eternity. A genuine and true service is thus a masterpiece of a mature heart. And it is such hearts that are the focus of the Divine Gaze.
How massive a loss it is then to lay waste to a life, away from the qualities of the heart! And how great a joy it is for those truly able to fill their hearts with the love to serve!
d. Favorable Inclination (Tawajjuh)
Tawajjuh is for the murshid to direct all his spiritual powers onto the murid and thereby pass his spiritual mindset onto him; it is the act of devoting spiritual attention. To say the same thing in another way, it is for the murshid-i kamil to transfer his beautiful states, in their entirety, onto the murid and hence exercise a positive effect on his heart and spirit. Tawajjuh has various means, both primary and secondary. Among these, we will talk about two in particular: the eye (nazar) and the essence.
The eye is a means of seeing. The effect that comes about through seeing is conventionally referred to as ‘the eye’, meant by which is what the eye actually does, that is the act of ‘looking’. In everyday language, ‘the look’ (nazar) is used more to refer to the negative effect brought about by looking, that is ‘the evil eye’. The term ‘evil eye’ (nazar or isabatu’l-ayn) is commonly used to express the physical and spiritual damage incurred from the look or the eye of another. This kind of ‘looking’ has been made mention in some ahadith:
“The evil eye (nazar) is real.” (Bukhari, Tibb, 36)
“The evil eye sends man to the grave and a camel into a pot (kills it).” (Suyuti, al-Jamiu’s-Saghir, II, 60)
Knowledge based on experience on the effects of the eye is a fact accepted by all. Yet the effects of the eye are not just negative as commonly accepted; they may also be of a positive nature. The reason that brings about this effect is that the eye emits a ray onto whosoever it looks, whose nature is not quite known. And the effect is shaped according to the positive or negative nature of the ray. Facts presented by contemporary physics on rays are developed to such an extent that they leave no choice than to accept them.
The laser beam, discovered only in this century, is also a type of ray. It is now common knowledge that laser beams are used in diverse tasks of a difficult nature, from cutting thick steel to performing medical operations. Known from even way before was the diverse reactions shown by various objects, especially their colors, on exposure to rays of light.
The effects caused by the rays emitted from the eye on physical objects are not always on the same level of intensity for the looker and the recipient. Just as some eyes emit rays, both positive and negative, that are of a more intense nature than others, some recipients are prone to being affected more. Some possess a greater inclination for being affected, while others do not. The public usually refers to persons identified as emitting strong yet negative rays in their looks as ‘evil-lookers’ and does their best to avoid their looks.
Nazar is valid even in animals. The look of an adder, for instance, is so affective that it can result in miscarriage and even in the death of some living organisms.
‘The look’, with which the public is intuitively or traditionally –albeit not scientifically- acquainted, plays a vital role in the training of the disciple in tasawwuf. As a legacy of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- whose inheritor he is, a murshid-i kamil is a person whose power of vision has reached its furthermost extent of influence, as a result of his spiritual training and inner purification.
Coming right behind the chain of Prophets in the spiritual rankings of humankind are the Companions. The term sahabah, the Arabic equivalent of ‘Companion’ which shares the same etymological root with sohbah, is used in reference to those who were honored to be in the inspirational presence of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, in a state of having believed in what he brought. Yet, even though they owe their respect and honor, by and large, to having been in the presence of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, the main cause is essentially the privilege of having been subject to his ‘look’. Notwithstanding the various criteria put forth in determining the eligibility of being considered a ‘Companion’, the most widely accepted among them is for a person to be subjected to the look of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, to have looked at him and to have been looked back on.
Even a top of the tier saint cannot, in any way, be compared to a Companion, even if he be a Companion of the lowest degree. This is because each Companion carries a distinct quality that comes with being subjected to the look of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, a quality incomparable to any other, which has no other substitute. Because Muslims subsequent the generation of Companions were not privileged with this look, they were not able to attain to the privileged status of ‘companionship’. Still, those fortunate to see those who had seen the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- are referred to as Tabiun and their successor, Taba-i Tabiin.
With that said, being the spiritual inheritors of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, saints possess an authority and power incomparable to any of their contemporaries. To fully benefit from a murshid-i kamil, it is therefore not enough to simply be a number among those who feel affection for him. One must furthermore seek to attain the inspirational honor of becoming subjected to his enlightening gaze.
The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- says: “Beware of a believer’s perception; for he looks with the light of Allah.” (Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 15) The perceptive power of each Muslim corresponds to his depth of iman. Having a maturity of faith, the perceptive powers of saints therefore exceed that of other Muslims.
The word ‘beware’ mentioned in the hadith is meant as a caution against entering the presence of mature Muslims with hidden agendas and a confused mind, as with the help of an exceptional power of perception, they will sense that which one tries to keep hidden. As external veils are parted for those whose perceptive powers have reached such a level, they instantly acknowledge things for what they are. Religious manners thus demand one to keep hold of his tongue in the presence of a scholar, and of his heart in the presence of the wise.
Since ‘the eye’ is one of the most important means a murshid utilizes to train a murid, being fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of that look has been considered an enormous privilege.
A Personal Memory
It was during the years I was a student at the Imam-Hatip Lyceum when I met Ahmed Can, a man of a beautiful heart. He was a Pakistani who had a deep affection for the honorable Mahmud Sami Effendi -may Allah sanctify his secret-. He was no less devoted to my father Musa Effendi -may Allah sanctify his secret-, never wanting to leave his side. He would thus frequently come to Turkey to visit Mahmud Sami Effendi -may Allah sanctify his secret- and stay in the guesthouse in our garden.
He was animated by such a profound love that even on the days where there was no sohbah, he would still burn with an undying desire to see Mahmud Sami Effendi -may Allah sanctify his secret-, walking around his house in hope of catching a glimpse. One night he recounted how this love came to be:
“It was a season of hajj. I was sitting inside the Masjid of Medina, in an area referred to as Ashab-i Suffah within the Rawdah. At one stage, I noticed an elegant man with a clean face, whose appearance reminded one of Allah, glory unto Him, walk towards where I was sitting, with a group of amicable people behind him. Just as he was walking past me, he threw me a look.
That look, angelic and radiating, instantly carried me away to another climate, a world of another kind. Everything had suddenly changed. The spiritual pleasure I received from that look had me on the verge of losing consciousness. Moments later, when I regained my senses, I got up, intent on finding that man. But the renowned crowdedness of the Rawdah made that impossible.
Yet, hoping he would come back around to that same spot, I began waiting near where I had originally been seated. And thankfully, my hope was realized. I began following him, joyously. Those around him must have thought I was a beggar, as a few of them approached me, wanting to give me charity. True, I was not a rich man; yet the blessings of that man’s look made everything lose value in my sight. I felt like I had begun swimming in an ocean of contentedness. They eventually reached a house and began stepping inside. When I followed them in their wake, they, quite naturally, wanted to prevent me, as they did not know who I was. But Mahmud Sami Effendi -may Allah sanctify his secret-, that great man of wisdom, turned around and invited me inside. That day, I was exposed to many a spiritual manifestation of that man, many a look and attention (tawajjuh).
Alhamdulillah, my life has since changed for the better and I have become a totally different man, striving only for the life of eternity. To save up money each year to come here, in hope of benefiting from his look and attention, has now become my heart’s exclusive reason for joy.”
The use of ‘essence’ is the most shortcut and effective means utilized by a murshid to manage the murid’s heart and spirit. This is effectuated by virtue of the murshid, referred to as quddisah sirruh (may Allah sanctify his mystery), implementing his sirr, or mystery. The nature of this means is known only by him who uses it. As such, it belongs not to spoken tasawwuf (qal) but to its spiritual mindset (hal). Hence, detail of it cannot be found in books.
e. Prayer (Dua)
Prayer is another means put to use by the murshid-i kamil in directing the disciple to the better. This, too, has its roots in the Sunnah of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-.
It is well known that right before becoming Muslim, Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him- was bent on committing the most evil crime thinkable, murdering the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace-. But the blessings of a prayer the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- had previously made on his behalf, turned him away from carrying the deed out, becoming honored with the guidance of Islam instead. There are many similar examples in the life of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-.
Also renowned is the time when the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was asked during the siege of Taif to curse the Thaqif Tribe, who had exacted so much harm on Muslims. The Prophet of Mercy -upon him blessings and peace- instead prayed for their guidance, a compassionate plea whose blessings soon enabled the entire tribe to arrive at the Blessed Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- presence to announce their wish to enter Islam.
Shaybah -Allah be well-pleased with him- recounts the following:
“I was present by the side of the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- in the Battle of Hunayn, not because I had become Muslim or accepted the Prophet but because I just could not stomach the fact that the Hawazin Tribe had mobilized an army against Quraysh. During a heated moment of the battle, to the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- who was right beside me, I said:
‘I see black and white horses!’
‘Shaybah’, said the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace-, ‘only nonbelievers are able to see those horses that have come to the aid of Muslims.’ He then patted me on the back and added, ‘Lord…Give Shaybah guidance!’ He did this three times. On the third, as he lifted his hand from my back, there was suddenly nobody on entire Earth, dearer to me than him.” (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah, IV, 333)
In spite of having rejected numerous offers of guidance made by her son, the mother of Abu Hurayrah -Allah be well-pleased with him-, the eminent hadith narrator, ended up becoming Muslim thanks to the Blessed Prophet’s prayer. A prayer made by a spiritual inheritor of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- also exercises a maximum affect; and this acts an abundant means of spiritual rehabilitation.
Under all circumstances, a prayer reaps a result. Should a prayer be contrary to ‘absolute providence’ and therefore be left hanging, its compensation will be given in the Hereafter, as testified by numerous ahadith.
On the other hand, it is not necessary that the prayer be made by a righteous man of spiritual standing for it to reap a blessing, so long as it is made sincerely, coupled with a serious desire. Hence, even a prayer made by a sinful Muslim on behalf of his brother is of enormous value. For no matter a how sinful His servant might be, Allah, glory unto Him, never forsakes him. If that were the case, backbiting (ghiybah) that is speaking of a misdemeanor of another behind his back, would not have been declared a great sin.
For that reason, it is not right for a person, who for one reason or another cannot manage to stay away from sin, to remain behind from praying for the ummah and their loved ones, falsely thinking that their prayers are of no worth because of their sinful conditions. They prayer of even the most sinful person for another may be accepted, given it is made with a sincere heart, as if wanting the thing for himself. The Lord accepts the prayers of who He wills.
On this note, there lies further benefit in talking about other characteristics of prayer.
The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- encouraged Muslims at every opportunity to pray for one another, both in each others presence and absence. To Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him-, who came to ask permission to perform umrah, the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- had even said:
“Do not forget us in your prayer, brother!” (Tirmidhi, Daawat, 109; Abu Dawud, Witr, 23)
“I became so happy to hear that”, Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him- later said, “it was as if I was given the universe.”
The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- is doubtless the most honorable being in the sight of the Almighty. In spite of this, he still asked his Companions to pray for him. This is an indication that people of maturity may benefit even from the prayers of those who are of a lower spiritual rank.
The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- again said the following to Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him-: “The best of the Tabiun is a man by the name of Uways. If he were to make an oath on the name of Allah, Allah would surely render his oath valid. Should any one of you come across him, ask him to pray for your forgiveness.” Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him- did meet Uways al-Qarani some time later and asked him to pray on his behalf.
It is thus clear that asking the righteous and pious for a prayer to repel troubles and distress and attract what is good, is something the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- actually advised the ummah with.
 Inqibad and inbisat are two opposite states that take a disciple in their grip. Inqibad is a spiritual constriction brought upon by fear or like anxieties, while inbisat is a spiritual relief through hope.
 See, al-Insan, 8-11; Wahidi, p. 470. Zamakhshari, VI, 191-192.
 The Holy Quran emphasizes the need for Muslims to love Allah, glory unto Him, more than any other: وَ الَّذِينَ اٰمَنُوا اَشَدُّ حُبًّا لِلّٰهِِ “…those who believe are stauncher in their love for Allah” (al-Baqara, 165). This intense degree of love is referred to in everyday language as ‘Divine Love’.
 Silsila-i Sharifah is the term given to the chain of murshids that reach all the way to the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-.
 See al-Kahf, ayat 9 to 26.
 For relevant information, refer to Ismail Hakkı Bursawi, Ruhu’l-Bayan, V, 226.
 See, Abu Dawud, Sunnah, 23-24.
 See, Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Musnad, III, 265.
 There is also a post (maqam) attributed to Saad ibn Abi Waqqas -Allah be well-pleased with him- in Guangzhou, China. Historically renowned is the fact that the graves of Companions and the righteous, more often than not, play a vital role in keeping the religious feelings of locals animate. There are many such extant examples of this in the Central Asian towns like Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent.
 In some libraries, they lay green covers on reading desks, to prevent the eyes from getting weary. Looking at the sea or the horizon has a soothing affect on the eye; much the same is the case with looking at something green. The reason as to why people usually wear white in summer is due to the capability of the color to reflect back what the sunrays it receives. Black reacts in the complete opposite. Far from reflecting the sunrays back to whence they came, darker colors absorb them and hence keep the body warm. While wearing white, the symbol of purity, inside the hospital, surgeons are seen wearing cyan green inside the surgery. This is due to the exact same reason: green exercises a soothing effect on eyesight. Dark tones of yellow and blue, on the other hand, again have an innate tendency to absorb the rays they receive. This must be the reason as to why children are made to wear blue amulets or gold coins to repel the negative influence of sinister looks.
 See, Bukhari, Badu’l-Khalq, 14.
 See, Ibn Hisham, as-Sirah, IV, 103.
 See, Muslim, Fadailu’s-Sahabah, 158.
 See, Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Musnad, III, 18.
 See, Muslim, Fadailu’s-Sahabah, 223-225.