Before moving on to discuss the matter of the noble Chain, it is first necessary to perceive what tasawwuf, which is the arena of the perfect guides, is, with an exact definition that includes everything that it is and is not. Otherwise it will not be possible to fully understand the people of tasawwuf and their teachers, or the Perfect Guides (murshid-i kamil).

The origins of tasawwuf

Tasawwuf is the aspect of Islam which focuses on the heart, on its essence and spirituality. It is a path of spiritual purification and perfection in which one tries to integrate the teachings of the Qur’an and the sunnah of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) into every aspect of one’s life. It is the spiritual and sincere aspect of all of the religions that Allah has sent down. It began with the breathing of the ruh into the prophet Adam (peace be upon him) and peaked with the last of the prophets Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and is now continually reflected onto the hearts of those filled with love.

The ‘perfected human’ model that Allah desires from us was displayed in the blessed character of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Just as in every stage of his life, Allah’s Messenger constituted the best example (the uswat al-hasana), so too he was the best of ‘educators’ and ‘purifiers’. As a prophet he had great many duties and he was given great authority. Amongst these the following four responsibilities take precedence:

1)Receiving divine revelation:

The receiving of the revelation which came about through Allah’s will and favour was finally completed according to traditions with the verse: ‘This day I have perfected for you your Religion (with all its rules, commandments and universality), completed My favour upon you, and have been pleased to assign for you Islam as religion’ (Ma’idah, 5:3).

Since the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was the ‘seal of the prophets’ this duty ended when he migrated to the eternal realm.

2) Explaining the rulings and truths of the verses revealed in the Qur’an with his words and his actions:

This authority of knowledge was continued by the mujtahid scholars who gave their ijtihad (rulings) in the face of newly-encountered matters using original and derived proofs. This situation brought about the madhhabs (schools of law).

3) The prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)had political and managerial authority in which he applied and kept alive the commands and prohibitions of the religion, establishing them and ordering them:

This authority was taken on and continued by the caliphs (the ulu’l amr).

4) With his command over the spirit the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) trained and purified their inner worlds:

The succession of this duty and licence of the prophet from generation to generation constitutes the foundation of tasawwuf. Just as it is of the essence that all of the duties, apart from that of receiving revelation, were taken up and continued by those who followed him, it is also necessary that his duty of purifying and refining the inner world of human beings, in order to allow them to reach a stage of spiritual maturity, continues until the end of time by the heirs of the prophets, the Perfect Guides. For the believers are in need not just of outer cleansing, but of inner cleansing and this is only possible as a result of such spiritual education and training.

Thus, the main origins of the practices and principles of tasawwuf are the Holy Qur’an and the hadith, and must be continued at all times and in all places. That is, tasawwuf is the living form of the establishment of the spiritual and immaterial authority of the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). His spiritual authority lives on until this day, via his qualified Companions, Followers (tabi’een) and later generations.

The appearance of tasawwuf as, in its current definition, an organised and systematic science and a path to be travelled, corresponds to the events of his second year after the migration.

In the Age of Bliss the schools of theology, creed or law had not yet been established and had not been organised into various sciences. However, at that time, there were various rulings regarding beliefs and laws etcetera’s in existence and these were being applied and taught by the prophet’s Companions (May Allah be pleased with them). Later the ‘rulings’ (ijtihad) of the great scholars, who were considered authorities in the science of fiqh, were adopted by their students and systematised giving rise to various different methods that were later called ‘madhhabs’. They were named according to the name of those great scholars.

Just as with the other Islamic sciences, such practices of ‘zuhd’ (abstention) and ‘taqwa’ (God-consciousness), inspired by the profound nature of tasawwuf, were practiced in the Age of Bliss, in order to allow people to reach a stage of ‘ihsan’ and a relationship with Allah. All of the principles that form the foundation of a sound understanding of tasawwuf are present in the Qur’an and were in practice during the life of the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them).As time passed, pious scholars and gnostics continued on the prosperous example from that Age of Bliss and began to advice and counsel the people for the sake of earning the pleasure of Allah, to prevent people from yielding to the life of this world and sinking in to heedlessness. These individuals had no desire to blaze a trail or bring about a lifestyle. Their sole aim was to live Islam in accordance with its essence and carry out their worship in a state of ihsan and khushu, as dictated by the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

However, those who benefited from their words, their advice and their state, accepted them as their spiritual guide and teacher. These people then took their advice that is their method of training and purification, which allowed the believers to reach a state of spiritual maturity and to systematise it into a spiritual discipline. As a result, certain ‘tariqas’ appeared which took on the name of these teachers. Examples of these are Naqshibandi, Qadiri, Mawlawi and so on.

The name ‘tariqa’ is given to the method and practice followed by all branches of tasawwuf which take a person to Allah (swt). In time, various tariqas following various methods appeared. In this way, every believer has the opportunity to find a tariq that is suitable to their own character and nature, in order to be purified spiritually and reach a stage of maturity.

The need for tasawwuf

As we all know, the human being has two aspects, a spirit and a body. Both of these have demands related to their nature. Islam does not deny or reject these inclinations and tendencies, which are part of their nature. It accepts them as fact. In light of the basic principles that it puts forth it tries to encourage those inclinations that are acceptable and to limit those that are unacceptable. That is, Islam presents a balance between the physical and the non-physical. Worship cannot be carried out without the body. Prayer and fasting cannot be performed without the body. Other acts of worship also can only be carried out via a body. However, they likewise cannot be done without the spirit. When we remove the excitement felt by the spirit, passion, or the tenderness and sensitivity of the heart, religion becomes a dry skeleton, whereas Allah (swt) emphasises the notion of ‘taqwa’ in over 250 places in the Holy Qur’an;  taqwa is the sensitivity of the heart.

He says in the Holy Qur’an:

Prosperous indeed are the believers. They are in their Prayer humble and fully submissive (being overwhelmed by the awe and majesty of God)’ (Mu’minun, 23:1-2).

Tasawwuf is a method of training taken from the Holy Qur’an and the sunnah. It teaches one how to attain certain states of the heart, which are mentioned in the Qur’an, such as taqwa, khushu, tawbah, rida, and in contrast, how the diseases of the heart such as riya, ‘ujub, and kibr are to be removed.

If a human being remains in the realm of corporealism and observes everything from the perspective of materialism, they will see even the most removed events as personalised and within soulless moulds. This is in fact one of the main reasons that lie at the basis of the objections against tasawwuf.  However, tasawwuf in fact turns one’s attention towards the spirit, towards metaphysics and otherworldliness without rejecting our physical and outer needs. It thus shows a way of perfecting and satisfying the human spirit in accordance with a person’s capacity.

The Spiritual Masters say:

“To reach one’s physical provision is possible by the efforts of the limbs. Similarly reaching one’s inner provision is possible by the efforts of the heart”.

In accordance with Divine Will, Almighty Allah has created human beings with differing capacities, both physical and spiritual. He does not expect a servitude from His servants that is beyond their capacity; however, He has made them responsible for the degree of potential that He has bestowed upon them. Conversely, in assigning the obligations of religion which is obligatory on all of mankind, Almighty Allah has used the minimum degree of strength as the standard. Undoubtedly this is a manifestation of His endless mercy and compassion upon His servants. Together with this, He has left the door for spiritual ascension and perfection open for those who have, by their nature, the power, the enthusiasm and the potential to do more than the minimum requirement of the religion. That is, in addition to the duties required by the shariah, He has kept the door open by allowing those believers who have the potential to advance in the realm of the heart, to progress towards the peak of togetherness with Allah through various forms of worship, such as supererogatory (nafilah) worship, and virtues such as zuhd, taqwa and ihsan.

As is known, this is the path of tasawwuf.

We can illustrate this with the following example:

Shaykh Shibli was once asked: “How much zakat should be paid for five camels?” He replied:

“What is obligatory is one sheep; but according to us, all of them should be for Allah”.

He was then asked: “What is your proof for this?” And he replied:

“Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him). He gave his entire wealth for the cause of Allah. Whoever gives their entire wealth for the sake of Allah, freely and generously, he has the spirit and character of Abu Bakr. Whoever gives a large portion of their wealth and property, he is of the temperament and character of Uthman ((may Allah be pleased with him)… Knowledge that does not lead one to abandon the world (with one’s heart) is not true knowledge[1]”.

As this example illustrates, with the elevated capacities of their hearts, each of the great Companions, with each of their particular characteristics, are considered to be imams and leaders in tasawwuf.

For the heart to reach a state of peace and tranquillity is dependent on the degree that one reaches spiritually. This is why it is necessary for the servant to pass through a process of spiritual training. For the heart to be filled with knowledge and wisdom, to become aware of the elevated truths of the religion, and for the servant to be perfected spiritually, is only possible after a series of various operations and procedures.

Likewise, even the prophets who were sent as examples for all of mankind passed through such a period of preparation before they received revelation.

Before the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was appointed with the duty of prophethood, he would retreat to the cave of Hira in the Mountain of Nur (meaning light). Before the prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) heard the first divine words, he spent forty days and forty nights, hungry and thirsty in the Mount Sinai. Likewise, before his conversation with Allah the prophet Moses (peace be upon him) fasted without a break for forty days on Mount Sinai, entering a type of abstention. The prophet Joseph (peace be upon him) was imprisoned for twelve years before he was made Viceroy of Egypt. There he was made to pass through various stages of pain, abstention, struggle and difficulty. In this way his blessed heart was cleansed of all refuges, havens, points of support and matters of concern other than Allah.

In tasawwuf, the idea of tawbah from masiwa, indicates a stage of preparation in which one shuns, in ones’ heart and spirit all things that distance one from Allah, and melt in nothingness and annihilation. This is because spiritual transformation begins when one reaches the point of nothingness and annihilation[2].

In addition, before the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) set out for his Ascension (Mi’raj) he was subject to the mystery of the chapter Inshirah from the Qur’an. As had happened to him twice before, his blessed chest was opened up and his noble heart cleansed and filled with the light of knowledge and wisdom. This was because he would encounter such strange and wonderful events and such Divine mysteries and subtle scenes, on the Night of the Ascension that would have been impossible for him to perceive with the denseness of human nature.

Whereas the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) had the purest heart of any human being who had ever lived or would ever live. Even the staunchest of pagans admitted this. In that case, if Allah made His most elect of servants, the prophets, pass through such a purification of the heart, then we can understand how much other people’s hearts are in need of such purification. It is impossible for one with a dense and hardened heart to approach Allah Almighty who is al-Latif (The Subtle One).

Another piece of evidence regarding this matter is as follows:

Almighty Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:

Abandon wrong action, outward and inward’ (An’am, 6:120).

Thus, just as the human being is required to stay away from outward sins he is also required to stay away from inward sins. In fact inward sins such as kibr, riya, hasad, spite, anger and miserliness are even more dangerous. The prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)is reported to have said:

“”Whoever has an atoms worth of kibr (pride) in his heart will not enter Paradise” (Muslim, Iman, 147).

To remove ugly traits such as kibr and hasad (envy and miserliness), which are diseases of the heart, is at least as important as staying away from outward sins.

In essence, outward sins are the products and results of inward sins. Moreover inward sins are more common. People generally make light of these types of sins and do not show the necessary attention and sensitivity to be freed of and protected from them.

The aim of tasawwuf, then, is to cleanse one’s outer and inner worlds with methods taken from the Qur’an, the Sunnah, our scholars of ijtihad and our perfect guides, and to reform the state of one’s heart and prepare the foundation for it to live with love and certainty of faith.

Thus we can state the following: tasawwuf is an inseparable part of the whole of the Islamic sciences. In particular, fiqh and tasawwuf, which secure compliance with Allah’s commands and prohibitions –both outward and inward-  are like the two halves of an apple, and like two brother sciences that complete each other.

In principle, tasawwuf, fiqh and aqidah (creed) are basically different aspects of the same Islam. Abu Hanifa defines fiqh as follows:

Fiqh is to know what from a religious perspective is to one’s advantage and what is to one’s disadvantage”.

Marifatullah’, or having a correct concept of one’s Lord and knowing Him through one’s heart is the most vital aspect of this knowledge and of the utmost importance for a person’s eternal happiness or destruction. This is why the text in which Imam Abu Hanifa’s views on matters of creed can be found and which has reached us today has been called ‘Fiqh al-akbar’, that is the ‘Greatest Fiqh’.

Even though this is how it was in the beginning, later with the development and growth of these kinds of sciences, the fuqaha, that is the scholars of fiqh, left rulings about aqidah, morals, and tasawwuf, outside of fiqh and limited it only to rulings about acts and lawful rulings. This is what we understand fiqh to mean today.

Tasawwuf is to know what is to a person’s advantage and to their disadvantage from both the inward and the outward aspects and to inculcate one to live one’s life accordingly. Just as fiqh informs us about the outward conditions for the soundness of act such as wudu (ablution), cleanliness, ritual prayer (salat) and fasting, tasawwuf inculcates the state of the heart which must be reached in order to be able to perform these in the most perfect way.

In this respect, tasawwuf has been called ‘fiqh al-batin’, which has the meaning of being the spiritual basis for the science of fiqh.

Learning the outward sciences does not free one from the responsibility of learning the inward sciences. Having learned the outward sciences, many of the scholars of the past and later, have come to believe in the necessity of learning the inward sciences through training and service and have become travellers upon this path. For instance, Hanafi scholars such as Ibn Humam, Ibn Shalabi, Shurunbulali, Khayr al-Din al-Ramli, Hamawi and others… also the Shafii scholars such as Sultan al-Ulama Izz ibn Abdussalam, Imam Ghazzali, Taj al-Din Subki, Imam Suyuti, Shaykh al-Islam Qadi Zakariyya, Allama Shihab ibn Hajar al-Haytami and others…also the Maliki scholars such as Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, Shaykh Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi, Shaykh ibn Ataullah al-Iskandari, Arif ibn Abi Jamra, Nasiruddin al-Laqani, Ahmad Zarruq and others… also from the Hanbali scholars such as Shaykh Abdulqadir al-Jilani, Shaykh al-Islam Abdullah al-Ansari al-Harawi, Ibn al-Najjar al-Futuhi and others…

(There are also many famous scholars such as Sayyid Sharif Jurjani, Molla Jami, Abdulhakim Siyalquti, Abdul Ghani Nablusi, Ibn Abidin, Shihabuddin Alusi and Zahid al-Kawthari, who entered upon the path of the Naqshibandis).

Like these, many great scholars have become learned in the inward sciences from Sufi masters after having learned the outward sciences. They have benefitted from learning such sciences and adorned themselves with beautiful virtues such as sound belief, sincerity (ikhlas), abandoning sin via conversation, service and sayr u suluq[3].

In the same way many learned scholars from the Naqshiband tariq have reached the peak of the outward sciences and received their licence (ijazah). These include Yusuf Hamdani, Shah Naqshiband, Alauddin Attar, Yaqub Charhi, Dervish Muhammad, Imam Rabbani and Khalid al-Baghdadi.

Imam Malik has said:

“Whoever occupies himself with fiqh (the religious legal sciences) and does not pass through a process of training in tasawwuf will become a sinner (fasiq). Whoever occupies himself with tasawwuf and does not learn the religious sciences will become a heretic (zindiq). Furthermore, whoever combines the two will have attained the truth”[4].

Since the integrity of the heart determines the spiritual quality of a human being’s deeds, which are his capital for the hereafter, the patent need for tasawwuf, which aims to gain for the heart an acceptable and perfect integrity, becomes apparent. In this respect then, the view of certain circles which try to see and present our elevated religion as being a mere compilation of dry rules and their subsequent rejection of tasawwuf becomes clearly unacceptable.

It is very wrong to judge and reject the reality of tasawwuf on the basis of the acts and approaches of certain ignorant or unworthy and incompetent people who think that they are practising it or those with ulterior motives.

Just as mistakes, errors and abuse can be found in all areas, so too they are present within those who practice the religious sciences. These can be easily distinguished by competent people. Just as there are various baseless madhhabs that have strayed from the truth, so too there are false and baseless tariqs that have strayed from the reality of tasawwuf. We must not confuse the true masters of tasawwuf with members of such false paths.

Another aspect of the need and importance for tasawwuf in our day is the method and style it follows in order to reform people. Today many people are in a spiritual crisis as a result of distancing themselves from religion and having committed many grave sins. For such people it is obviously easier to try to reform them and present them with an opportunity for salvation, showing them forgiveness, tolerance, mercy and compassion, rather than becoming angry with them.

To present Islam as a form of divine consolation, atonement, and treatment to those spirits which are suffocating under the tyranny of their minds and their nafs, to be able to throw them a life boat, to refrain from transferring the hate felt for the sin to the sinner but rather to view the sinner as a bird with a broken wing, and to approach them with kindness and compassion, is a much more helpful way of guidance.

On the other hand, throughout history tasawwuf has been a means to preventing or forestalling lethargy, laxity, and excess, and has ensured the continuity of spiritual vigour and vitality in times of both economic and social ease; and for those hearts that have become constricted in the confusion and suffocation of the periods of enemy invasion and oppression, it has opened up lofty windows allowing them to breathe; it has been a salve for wounded hearts, a consolation for exhausted minds, and a fountain for thirsty spirits.

Hence, this is a completely prophetic approach. Whenever the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) encountered any bounty or met with any success he said: “O Allah! The real life is that of the hereafter”, thereby preventing the heart from inclining towards this world or becoming overcome with pride and egoism. Furthermore, whenever he met with any suffering, pain or struggle he would again say: “O Allah! The real life is only that of the hereafter”. He thus warned the believers of falling into despair due to fleeting distress or complaining and becoming drowned in excessive sorrow and harming their state of contentment (rida). He gave his community a spiritual prescription for remaining content, at peace and in balance for all circumstances and situations.

In reality, as long as the human spirit remains distant from spirituality, it will not be able to free itself from being dragged into a state of depression, both in times of affluence or poverty. In the first of these situations a person is required to control himself while in the other he is in need of consolation. This is why the human being is in need of the teachings of tasawwuf, which are established on the prophetic method of education, both in times of ease and in times of distress.

However we need to state, before all else, that tasawwuf is not a theoretical science but rather an applied one.

That is, it is a science that cannot be perceived fully by merely reading words, but rather by experience. Muhammad Parsa has expressed this truth as follows:

 “The words of these Khwajagan people are not words that are passed down by rote, but are rather experienced states and tasted spiritual pleasures. This is why the people of discernment say about these words that they are fiqhu al-akbar (The greatest science of knowing Allah) and burhani-i azhar (the most obvious proof). The yaqin (certainty) that arises from contemplating on the words of these blessed people is better than the certainty that arises from witnessing miracles”[5].

That is, it is impossible to explain with the limitations of language, what tasawwuf, which can only be perceived by experience, really is. Now taking this into consideration, the friends of Allah, who have looked at the crystal of tasawwuf, which reflects light of various colours from each of its aspects have come up with many definitions of tasawwuf. This is why it would be more correct to state that tasawwuf is the sum of all of these definitions.

Definitions of Tasawwuf

 TASAWWUF: To abandon undesirable and objectionable traits and adopt good character.

TASAWWUF:   Purification of the nafs and cleansing of the heart. A sacred method of education and spiritual training in which one learns to keep under control the tendencies towards evil that are present in human nature and also allow the seeds of ‘taqwa’ to grow and flourish.

TASAWWUF: The art of reaching the state of ‘taqwa’.

TASAWWUF: The skill of living uprightly. Uprightness (Istiqama) is to firmly embrace the Book and the Sunnah, to perceive the divine and prophetic instructions in the depths of one’s heart and apply them with a passion to every stage of one’s life. It is when living with the spirituality of the Book and the Sunnah becomes the greatest form of pleasure for the heart.

TASAWWUF: A state of contentment and submission. It is to avoid becoming affected by the ups and downs of life, to maintain one’s equilibrium in the face of changing situations, to abandon complaint and reach a state of maturity, of being ever content with the decree of Allah.

TASAWWUF: It is the skill of being a righteous slave of Allah via love (muhabbatullah) and knowledge (marifatullah) of Him.

TASAWWUF: The responsibility felt by those believers who have perfected themselves both physically and spiritually, and approach other creatures with a selfless heart, trying to compensate for their deficiencies. It is when compassion, mercy, love and service for creatures on behalf of the Creator becomes a part of one’s nature.

TASAWWUF: It is a sacred journey that takes the servant to Allah, via true love and friendship.

TASAWWUF: It is to perceive in truth that the real life is the life of the hereafter and to free one’s heart from becoming attached to the nafs’ fickle and inconstant desires for the world.

TASAWWUF: To become one with the blessed life of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), both outwardly and inwardly and connect to him with a deep love. Tasawwuf is the ‘state’ of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), both his outward and inward manifestations. This is why tasawwuf consists of the struggle to take one’s share from the spirituality of the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

In conclusion, what we have tried to define as being tasawwuf, is a life of ‘taqwa’, lived by the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) and his blessed Companions (may Allah be pleased with them), in a state of ecstasy. Anything other than these (definitions), which do not take their essence and their standard from the Qur’an and the Sunnah are baseless and false, however they much they may be attributed to tasawwuf.

The principles of the Path of the Khwajagan [6] (The Masters)

The scholars of Islam derive their principles from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. So too the scholars of tasawwuf have also substantiated their views with evidence from the shari’a, just like the mujtahid imams.

However, in certain tariqas where the shaykhs have not been selected from people who have internalised and digested the outer rulings of the religion some slips have occurred due to the domination of Sufi drunkenness.

However, where the guides of various tariqas have been people of knowledge, that is scholars and gnostics who have also internalised the outwards of religion, they have been protected.

Likewise within the history of tasawwuf, the Naqshiband order has continued in the way of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and since its guides have come from the group of ‘Khwajagan’ that is they have been qualified scholars, this tariq has been known by this name.

Let us now mention the main tenets of the Khwajagan way and thus illustrate the necessary principles that a sound Sufi tariqa should possess.

1- The first principle in the Khwajagan way is to adopt the creed of the ahl al sunnah wa jama’. The Khwajagan way has throughout history, taken the Sunni Islam understanding as the basis of its tariq and thus preserved its members from certain esoteric (Batini) and Hurufi[7] trends.

2- The second principle of the Khwajagan way is a firm devotion to the Book and the Sunnah. It teaches that spiritual progress cannot be realised without a meticulous application of the Sunnah, however ‘minor’ it may appear, such as eating, drinking, sleeping and other daily acts. This is why the followers (murid) who enter upon the Khwajagan way struggle to follow the slightest indication of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), with great love and enthusiasm.

Bayazid Bistami has the following to say about this matter:

“Even if you see a person who has been given extraordinary powers (karamat) and is able to sit cross-legged, floating in the air, do not be taken in immediately. First of all check to see that he abides by the divine commandments and prohibitions, that he maintains the divine limits, that he properly carries out the rulings of the sharia’. If this is not the case, then this is not karamat but rather istidraj[8]”.[9]

Shah Naqshiband has summarised[10] his tariq as following the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) and the words of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them):

“Whatever we have attained (spiritually) by the grace of Allah, we have attained by acting upon the verses of the Holy Qur’an and the hadiths of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). In order to see the results of one’s deeds one must abide by the rulings of taqwa and the sharia’, to embrace azimah (firm and strict following of the rulings), to act upon the principles of the ahl al sunnah wa jama’, and to shun all innovations (bida’)”[11].

“Those in possession of wisdom and discernment who encounter certain spiritual unexpected acts or events will evaluate those acts on the basis of the sharia’. If these acts are in accordance with the standards of the sharia’ they will believe in them. If they oppose the sharia they will not give them any regard at all”

 One of the great scholars has said:

“I will not accept any word that comes from my heart without having it be inspected by the Qur’an and the Sunnah[12]

3- Another of the principles of the Khwajagan way is to act upon the ‘azimah’ rather than the ‘ruhsa’.

Abdulkhaliq Ghujdawani has said:

“Take the way of azimah and stay away from the ruhsah (taking licence), follow the way of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), apply his Sunnah and shun innovation (bida’)”.

During his journey of purification (sayr-i suluq) Shah Naqshiband always applied these commands and advice and said:

“To be Muslim means to devote oneself to the rulings of the sharia’, to comply with the standards of taqwa, to act with meticulousness and to avoid taking licence, to the best of one’s ability; it is in its entirety, light, ease and mercy.  All of these are means to reach the degrees of the saints and other great stations.

The awliyaullah (friends of Allah) reach the state of sainthood through the training provided by these attributes”[13]

4- The Masters of the Khwajagan way always acted very sensitively in the matter of lawful provision. Shah Naqshibandi shunned with intensity unlawful provision and also avoided eating anything doubtful and would not allow his students to eat from what was doubtful also[14].

He also viewed the food of state rulers as being doubtful and so he never ate at the table of King Hussain[15].

Baqi Billah insistently emphasised the crucial importance of eating lawful provision in order to advance in the path of tasawwuf saying:

“One should be content with little food and give much importance to the wood, water and pots that it is cooked with being lawfully gained. Also the one who cooks the meal should not be heedless and cook the food with the awareness of being in the presence of the Divine. Food that is prepared without paying careful attention to these matters will emit such a smoke that will block the channels of prosperity”[16].

In addition to a food being lawful or unlawful (halal or haram) even the mood of the person who cooked it can have an effect on the state, actions and the quality of worship of those who eat it. This thus presents the importance of the approach one takes towards one’s food.

5- In the Khwajagan way, much importance is also given to the supererogatory worship and righteous deeds in addition to the obligatory acts. Each kind of righteous deed is seen as crucial investment for one’s eternal life and to be able to carry them out is considered to be a great opportunity.

Junayd Baghdadi (may Allah have mercy on him) has said:

“We did not arrive at tasawwuf through gossip, altercation or quarrelling. We arrived through hunger, sleeplessness and embracing our righteous deeds in sincerity and devotion”.

6- The Khwajagan way aims to earn for its travellers the character of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him); it commands to treat people with the best of character.

The prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said in a hadith:

On the Day of Resurrection there will be nothing that will weigh more heavily on the Scales of the believer than good character. Allah Most High abhors the one who displays ugly behaviour or speaks an ugly word” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 62/2002).

“The angel Gabriel told me that Allah said:

“This religion (that is Islam) is a religion that I have chosen for Myself and that I am content with. Only generosity and good character befit it. As long as you live as Muslims elevate this religion with these two traits” (Haysami, VIII, 20; Ali al-Muttaqi, Kanz, VI, 392).

7- The reality of the Khwajagan way is to consider oneself in the presence of Allah, by remembering Him in one’s heart and via contemplation. The traveller must never be in a state of heedlessness of Allah and consider that he is ever in His presence and that Allah is with him always.

8- The Khwajagan way places great importance on beneficial knowledge. The traveller should learn and benefit from the religious sciences, live in accordance with it, and help others to do so also.

Abdulkhaliq Ghujdawani (may Allah have mercy on him) has said that it is only possible to reach the state of annihilation of the nafs by taking the Qur’an in one’s right hand and the hadith in one’s left and journeying in the light provided by these two[17]. When advising one of his students he said:

“Learn the sciences of fiqh and hadith and stay away from the ignorant amongst the Sufis”[18].

Bahauddin Naqshiband (may Allah have mercy on him) was a friend of Allah who was particularly learned in the hadith sciences and who gave great importance to knowledge and scholars. Due to this special trait of his, many of the teachers and students from the Bukhara masjid came to follow him and participate in his assemblies. When this began some of the outward scholars were anxious that the madrasahs would be emptied. In response Bahauddin Naqshiband said to those scholars:

“Let us explain our tariq to you and if you see any matter in opposition to the Qur’an or the Sunnah tell us and we will abandon them”. The scholars could find nothing and they said:

“Your tariq is upright (that is, it is the way of the Qur’an and Sunnah) and we have no objections”. Some of them said:

“The cap that you wear is a means to fame”.

Bahauddin replied:

“Since my cap is a means for altercation, it would be more proper not to wear it”. He then took it off and gave it to a poor person[19]. After this event the esteem held by the scholars for Bahauddin Naqshiband (may Allah have mercy on him) increased even more.

9- In the Khwajagan way there is no withdrawal to a life of constant seclusion and distancing oneself from the people. There is the danger of fame in such seclusion. Whilst amongst the people, the Sufi should seek any opportunity to serve the religion of Allah and His servants. Islam wills the Muslims to come together to form a community. A perfect believer learns to be together with Allah whilst being among the people.

The prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said:

The Muslim who mixes amongst the people and endures their pain (cares about their problems and attends to their needs) is better than the one who does not mix amongst them and does not endure their pain” (Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 55/2507).

The following words of Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) are filled with wisdom:

“There are two bounties of that I do not know which one pleases me more:

The first one is when a person comes to me with the hope of having his need met and asks me in all sincerity to help him.

The second is when Allah Most High uses me as a means to bring about or facilitate that person’s wish”.

 “I would prefer to relieve the distress of a Muslim than to possess a world full of gold and silver.” (Ali al-Muttaqi, VI, 598/17049).

Every Muslim is responsible for the state of affairs of the world, in accordance with their potential and the opportunities given to them. They are obliged to concern themselves with the concerns of the Muslims and make efforts to make Islam reign supreme. Those who live an individual and selfish life and remain indifferent to the problems of their Muslim brothers and sisters will be subject to the prophetic caution below:

Those who do not concern themselves with the concerns of the Muslims are not from them (that is they are not from the Muslims).” (Tabarani, Saghir, II, 131/1907/Bayhaqi, Shuab, VII, 361).

To remain indifferent to the pain of a brother or sister is a serious crime. Sariyy-i Saqati (may Allah have mercy on him) describes this lack of empathy and, having fallen into such heedlessness even for an instant and the person’s subsequent regret through this story:

“One day the market of Baghdad had burned down. One of my students came running up to me and said: “O Master! The entire market of Baghdad has burned down and only your shop was saved. Congratulations”. Not considering the shops of my other Muslim brothers I said “Alhamdulillah” on behalf of my own nafs. However for thirty years now I have been seeking forgiveness for that instant of heedlessness”[20].

10- The dress of those who enter upon the Khwajagan way must not be different to that of the other believers. There are no turbans or crowns or other distinguishing garments in this path. They do not give importance to looking or to form themselves different from others and they do not dress themselves differently. They prefer to live a life of modesty. Every disciple wears what is required of their profession and their form and dress is not different from their peers. To be a dervish is not via one’s form but via one’s heart.

Yunus Emre describes this truth well as:

What they call being a dervish is not through one’s robe or turban

If being a dervish was due to one’s turban or robe 

We too would buy them for 30 or 40 (coins)


Mawlana Khalid-i Baghdadi (may Allah have mercy on him) has said:

“The essence of tariqah is to embrace the creed of the ahl al sunnah wa al-jama’, that is the saved group (firqa’yi najat). It is to perform one’s deeds with meticulousness and avoid resorting to the licence, to turn to Allah always and consider oneself ever under His watch. It is to turn one’s face from the adornments and pleasures of this world, in fact from everything other than Allah (masiwa) and to reach an awareness of the state of ihsan, described in the hadith, that is, of being ever together with Allah (to minimize one’s carnal desires and perfect one’s spiritual potential to the best of one’s ability). This path consists of occupying oneself with dhikr and tafakkur as one does when one is alone, even if one is mixing amongst the people. In addition, it is learning the religious sciences and benefitting from them and benefitting others also by sincerely applying what one has learnt. It is to hide one’s spiritual state from the other believers by dressing as they dress, in order to avoid ostentation (riya) and arrogance (‘ujb)[21].

Thus, the Khwajagan way’s purpose is that, by complying with these and other similar principles, Islam is lived with great love, passion and enthusiasm of faith. The basic mortar of tasawwuf and its most important capital is love and the best manifestation of this is having good manners and adab. Without love or adab, it is not possible to advance spiritually. Otherwise what will be left over after worship? Behaviour towards others and character will be a dry cause and wasted fatigue. One will not receive any pleasure from one’s faith, worship or service towards others. Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi (may Allah have mercy on him) has the following to say about this matter:

“My reason asked my heart:

“What is religion?”

My heart then whispered into the ear of my reason:

“Religion is manners (adab)”

Being educated by Tasawwuf: The journey of the spirit (Sayr-u suluq)

The Arabs of the jahiliyyah (ignorant) period were a community of people who had such hardened hearts and who had lost their humanity, so much so that they were able to bury their female baby daughters alive. They were a people devoid of compassion and mercy who believed that right belonged to the strong and that the weak should be deprived of all their rights. Through the spiritual training of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) this community became the most select and elite community in the world and founded a civilisation never before witnessed in history. By keeping fresh within their hearts the love they felt for the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), they were able to attain a spiritual vigour and vitality, and as a result their worship was filled with awe and reverence for Allah (khushu).

Words as precious as diamonds fell from the lips of those Blessed Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) who followed in the enlightened way of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). These words were a means of refreshment for those who heard them, like the harmonious flow of a river. These believers, with the good character they obtained from the character of Islam, were like newly blossoming flowers which attracted the hearts and tickled the spirits with their beauty, purity and pleasant fragrance.

This great revolution that the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) brought about in the spirits of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) and in the social conscience of mankind requires that we carefully analyse his method of guidance.

The method used by the people of tasawwuf was to take this prophetic method and apply it to their own time and background as required.  The prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) trained his Companions by conversing with them (suhbah), transferring the knowledge and wisdom of his heart at every opportunity. With his personal example he allowed the poor ahl al-suffa (the people of the bench) in particular, to reach an unimaginable state of perfection through zuhd and taqwa.

The distinguishing features of the Companions were eating little, sleeping little, speaking little, spending their time reciting the Qur’an, remembering Allah, supererogatory worship, and contemplation. A lifestyle of excessive spending, luxury and waste was unknown by the community of Companions. They were content with what was enough and gave away anything in excess of their need. They worked in order not to be dependent on others and rushed to serve those who were stricken and afflicted which gave the believing hearts much pleasure and joy.

As a result of the spiritual training that the Companions obtained they did not waver for a second even after the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) migrated to the next world. They spread throughout the world as soldiers of knowledge, wisdom, propagation and struggle in the way of Allah. They took the flames of their heart that were ignited in Madina to Samarkand, China, Iran, Anatolia, Istanbul, Africa and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, with the prosperity they received from the prophet. Their only concern was to seek the pleasure of Allah and be close to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) in the next world, the real world.

Abdurrahman ibn Awf (may Allah be pleased with him)narrates:

“Islam brought certain difficult commands which were unpleasant to the nafs. We found the best of the best to be in these difficult commands that were unpleasant to the nafs. For instance we left Mecca and migrated to Madina with the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). It was because of this migration that was difficult upon the nafs that we were granted superiority and victory and the road to success was opened for us. Allah Most High says in the Qur’an:

Just so, your Lord caused you to go forth from your home for a true cause (which He had already determined would be realized); and yet a group from among the believers were averse (to the direction that events took).

‘They argued with you concerning the truth (of the matter which God had already decided would be realized) even after it (the direction that developments would take) had been manifest, as if they were being driven toward death with their eyes wide open’ (Anfal 8:5-6).

As is described in this verse we set out for Badr accompanied by the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). Here once more Allah, Most High, gave us superiority and victory.

And so it was that we always encountered the best of outcomes, on account of these commands that our nafs found difficult” (Haysami, VII, 26-27).

As so these Blessed Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) went against the desires of their nafs and did what it did not want them to do and were personally trained by the teachings of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) through riyazat (abstention) and mujahadah (struggle).

The last expedition of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) to Tabuk was also filled with difficulty and hardship. The Muslim army had travelled for thousands of kilometres and then returned. When they arrived back in Madina they had practically changed form, their skin was taut over their bones, and their hair and beards were dishevelled. It was while they were in this state that the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said to them:

“You have come back in the best way. Now you have come back from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad”.

The Companions asked:

“What is the greater jihad?”

The prophet replied:

“The jihad (struggle) against one’s desires” (Bayhaqi, al-Zuhdu al-Kabir, p 198/374; Suyuti, Jami, II, 73/6107).

Another time the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) praised the righteous believers who struggled against their caprices and whims as follows:

 “The true mujahid is the one who struggles against their nafs” (Tirmidhi, Fadail al-Jihad, 2/1621; Ahmad, VI, 20).

The following words of Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) summarise nicely the station of the heart that the Companions reached under the spiritual training of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) and as a result of the struggle against their nafs:

“We reached such a state that we were able to hear the glorifications (tasbihat) of the food that we ate” (Bukhari, Manakib, 25).

Thus, tasawwuf in the hands of Sufi teachers (murabbi), who are the real heirs of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), and through the prophetic methods of training becomes like a spiritual school in which the nafs is refined and the heart is purified. Enrolment in this spiritual school and the steps taken in the process of becoming a perfect human being is called ‘sayr-i suluq’.

As a result of this sayr-i suluq everything that distances a person from Allah is renounced from the heart. This is such an arduous and demanding task that it is like panning tonnes of dirt in order to obtain one gram of gold.

The aim of tasawwuf, having gone through this process of spiritual refinement, is to allow the human being to live in a constant state of being together with Allah. It is to find Allah in one’s heart, to be united with Him in one’s heart and to reach the peak of happiness. In the eyes of those who reach this peak anything other than Allah (masiwa) falls short to its true worth. In the face of the spiritual joy that comes from being together with Allah, all other fleeting pleasures lose their value.

Ibrahim ibn Adham (may Allah have mercy on him), who rejected his worldly kingdom for the sake of the ocean of divine love that he later found, said:

 “If the passion and rapture found in the love we felt for Allah was something material, kings would have sacrificed their entire wealth and kingdom in order to take it from us”.

It is without a doubt then that the way to reach this peak of happiness is through perfecting the spirit; that is through sayr-i suluq.


Methods of training the spirit

There are many methods of training that are applied in sayr-u suluq, both general and specific. We will focus on some of the general methods:

  1. Suhbah (Spiritual conversation and togetherness)

Almighty Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:

But remind and warn, for reminding and warning are of benefit to the be­lievers’ (adh-Dhariyat 51:55).

The most fruitful setting for this reminding and warning is the suhbah of tasawwuf. The words ‘sahabi’ and ‘suhbah’ come from the same root, which shows the importance of this matter since one of the most important means for making the Sahaba (the Companions) was the benefit they received from the prophet Muhammad’s (peace and blessings be upon him)  suhbah (or conversations with them).

Thus we can state that suhbah is a ‘sunnah al-muakkadah’[22].

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) did not place a book in the hands of every Companion. Rather he gave great importance to suhbah and their hearts being together. The Companions were thus witness to the spiritual states of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) as they poured out directly from his heart. As a result of this spiritual reflection they received their hearts were filled with the spiritually of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). In addition to the words and knowledge of this interaction carried out in reverence and awe is also a transfer of energy from one heart to the other; that is a flow of prosperity and spirituality becomes active. As we just mentioned this is one of the most important mysteries of what made the Companions what they were. It is due to the result of this feature of suhbah that righteous individuals who came after the Companions would never be able to reach their degree, even if they worshipped more than the Companions.

Suhbah has a special importance in almost all of the tariqat and in particular in the Naqshiband tariqa, due to this transfer of spiritual energy and blessings from heart to heart.

Shah Naqshiband (may Allah have mercy on him) has said:

“Our way of spiritual training is founded upon the suhbah”. 

Assemblies of suhbah and dhikr are like gardens of paradise in this world, in which divine mercy and tranquillity (sakinah) rains down.

Abu Hurairah and Abu Said al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with them) reported that they heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) say:

“Whenever a gathering meets to remember Allah, the angels encompass them, divine mercy envelops them, a tranquillity descends upon them and Allah Most High mentions them amongst His superior servants (the prophets and the angels)” (Muslim, Dhikr, 39).

Allah Most High says about the ‘sakinah’ mentioned here:

He it is Who sent down His (gift of) inner peace and reassurance into the hearts of the believers, so that they might add faith to their faith’ (al-Fath, 48:4).

When Allah sends down His sakinah upon them, the believers in the suhbah increase in perseverance in their religion, faith, guidance and foresight. Their seriousness increases and they gain a spiritual grandeur. In this way their devotion and obedience towards the commands of Islam is strengthened and their reverence and love for Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) increase. The result is a spiritual peace, tranquillity and certainty (yaqin).

In that case truthful and righteous believers should consider such assemblies as treasures.

Another of the most fruitful benefits of these assemblies of subhah is that the positive energy and spiritual state of those present spreads to one another.

In spiritual assemblies of suhbah the hearts benefit from each other just like in the Law of Communicating Vessels[23]. Transfer of states and transactions of influence take place.

In time the hearts begin to resemble one another. The pleasures felt, things despised, feelings and opinions become the same.

However one condition for this benefit is that one participates in these assemblies of suhbah with the ecstasy of intention of worship; one listens with love, respect and courtesy; and one keeps one’s heart receptive and awake. This is because true suhbah takes shape according to the state of those who are listening. Unexpected events occur in accordance with the state of the hearts of those listening. It is from a true suhbah that each person can take his own spiritual prescription, having realised his own defects and faults and try to reform them. In this way his enthusiasm and efforts in his journey to closeness to Allah increases.

A suhbah that does not bring about these results turns into a fruitless gathering within four walls.

  1. Dhikr/Awrad

According to some linguists, the wordinsan’ (human being) comes from the word ‘nisyan’. Nisyan is the opposite of dhikr (which means remembrance) and indicates forgetfulness which is one of the greatest weaknesses of the human being. Our Lord warns us of submitting to such a weakness as follows:

And do not be like those who are oblivious of God and so God has made them oblivious of their own selves.  Those, they are the transgressors’ (al-Hashr 59:19)

The best way to minimise the weakness of forgetfulness is through dhikr.

The ability to be a true servant of Allah and thus reach a stage of marifatullah (knowledge of Allah) is in accordance with the degree that dhikr is established and its depth felt in one’s heart.

Dhikr is the most pleasing of acts to Allah and the best means for those servants who wish to be together with Him. Out of all of the duties of the human being, dhikr has a special place as is indicated by the fact that the word ‘dhikr’ is mentioned in over 250 places in the Qur’an.

In many verses in the Qur’an Allah, Most High, commands His servants to remember Him much. He tells them not to remain heedless of dhikr even at the most sensitive and precarious of times, such as on the battlefield[24].

In Ibn Abbas’s (may Allah be pleased with him) commentary on the verse: ‘O you who believe, remember and mention God much’ (Ahzab, 33:41), he says:

“Allah Most High has placed a certain limit on those acts of worship which are obligatory. He has accepted the excuses of those who have an excuse. However dhikr is an exception. Allah Most High has not placed any limits of dhikr. He does not accept the excuse of anyone who abandons it, unless they have lost their mind. Allah Most High has commanded that people be in a state of dhikr under all circumstances”[25].

How instructive it is for us that when Allah, Most High, sent His two prophet servants Musa and Harun to warn Pharoah, He said to them:

But speak to him with gentle words, so that he might reflect and be mindful or feel some awe’ (Ta Ha, 20:44).

Thus, He even warned two of His prophets and all of mankind on their behalf of being neglectful of dhikr.

         This is why in tasawwuf, those followers who wish to reach Allah, are advised to perform various forms of dhikr and awrad at certain times, thus demonstrating an important path to reaching spiritual perfection.

Dhikr, allows a person to take on the attributes of Allah. A name takes on its meaning. As a person continues to invoke the Beautiful Names of Allah (asma al-husna) they progress towards taking on the divine attributes.

Dhikr is the greatest aid to help the servant be together with Allah. The believer who remembers and contemplates upon the name of Allah and His attributes reaches the awareness that Allah is always with him and always sees him. In time his character is enhanced and made beautiful and the love for Allah increases within his heart.

Dhikr is a refuge in times of sorrow and distress. In times of joy, it is a means for an increase in spirituality.

Dhikr is to breathe in the air of Paradise while still residing in this world. In Paradise people will be in a constant state of dhikr since there is no heedlessness there.

All of the awrad and adhkar taught in the schools of tasawwuf are very effective prescriptions for the diseases of the heart.

Dhikr is the most important infusion that the hearts are so in need of and Allah Most High says in the Holy Qur’an:

Be aware that it is in the remembrance of and whole-hearted devotion to God that hearts find rest and contentment’ (Ra’d, 13:28).

Muhammad Parsa (may Allah have mercy on him) says:

“The purpose of all worship is to remember Allah, MostHigh, that is dhikr. Those people who migrate from this world with love (muhabbah) and intimate knowledge (unsiyah) of Allah dominant in their hearts will have migrated to true happiness. There can be no love or intimate knowledge without increase in dhikrullah (that is without perfecting one’s dhikr and delving deep in contemplation). The origin of Islam, ‘La ilaha illallah’, that is the declaration of the oneness of Allah is the essence of dhikr. All other worship is done to strengthen this dhikr and give it spirituality…

A sign of real and perfect dhikr is to not forget Allah in the divine commands and prohibitions and always be prepared and willing to obey His commands at all times and in all places. Otherwise a person’s dhikr will not be more than the whisperings and temptations of the nafs. This is why the essence of beginning dhikr is to sincerely repent from one’s sins in regard to Allah and to other people; those committed both openly and in secret. There can be no real effect of a person’s dhikr, if that person’s deeds and character are in opposition to Allah”[26].

  1. Muhabbah (love of Allah)

When we look at the core of education in tasawwuf we see that its real capital is muhabbah and the form of its best manifestation is displaying adab[27].

As the love for a being intensifies, everything related to that being earns a share in this love to the degree of its closeness. For instance a murid who loves his murshid feels love for anyone who possesses similar characteristics -however deficient they may be. If he encounters someone close to his murshid he compliments him as if he has met with a pilgrim recently returned from visiting the Ka’bah. To possess any object that his murshid uses brings about an unparalleled joy in his spirit. This is similar to the joy felt by Uways al-Qarani when Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) sent him his blessed robe.

Ibrahim Dasuqi (may Allah have mercy on him) has said:

“Allah increases the spiritual rank of the one who cherishes love in his heart for his shaykh. However the following should not be forgotten: If the shaykh was not merely carrying out the function of being a ladder to allow his followers to reach Allah, then Allah’s wrath would have descended on those hearts which harbour love for other than Him. Allah is very possessive or ghayur[28] in this matter, and wills that all love be directed to Him only”[29].

All love for other than Allah (ghayr) is metaphorical because the heart belongs to Allah in the absolute sense. Consequently, the real beloved cannot be any other than Allah. All other things that are loved and the states that arise are like the steps that lead to the palace. These are the steps taken for the heart to prepare it for love of Allah. The most prosperous stage in these efforts is to meet with a Perfected Guide and experience the spiritual excitement of familiarity and love with him. The most effective tool for this is rabita[30]. To reach an elevated stage in which love for a spiritual guide in one’s heart is felt and strengthened and reaches a stage which cannot be compared to the most ordinary and base of connections.

The prophet Muhammad’s (peace and blessings be upon him) grandson Hasan (may Allah be pleased with him)  expressed his spiritual state after asking his step-uncle Hind ibn Abi Hale for a description of his grandfather:

“My uncle Hind ibn Abi Hale would narrate the hilya[31] of the Messenger of Allah very beautifully. It would give me great pleasure to listen to him tell me about the Messenger of Allah so that my heart could remain devoted to him and I could follow in his footsteps” (Tirmidhi, Shamail, p. 10).

These words express rabita in its active state. To listen to the description of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is one of the best means for establishing devotion of the heart to him.

The dictionary meaning of rabita is connection and bond. In this respect then there is no creature in the universe that is without connection. Everything is connected to everything else.

 Consider a mother whose son goes to the army. She thinks about him constantly. Whenever she cooks a meal she says: “O how my son would love this”. Or when a young man gets engaged he cannot stop himself thinking about his future wife.  Whenever he sees something beautiful he thinks: “If only my fiancée could see this too”. If he is brought a delicious meal he thinks: “If only my beloved could eat this too”. So if there is such a bond of love in such worldly and fleeting cases then we cannot imagine this bond not to be present in spiritual matters. On the contrary, as one’s spiritual state increases the bond of love in one’s heart is strengthened. This is why the Blessed Companions would find great pleasure and joy in being able to say to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him): “May my life, my wealth and everything be sacrificed for you o Messenger of Allah”. They felt it to be an obligation to be able to sacrifice everything they had for the cause of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him).

This bond in tasawwuf is to keep alive the love felt for a Perfected Guide and imitate his righteous deeds and good behaviour.

Keeping alive love and respect for one’s guide gains for the disciple a spiritual vitality. Love of righteous individuals is just as effective and beneficial as their discourse. Love and familiarity are like a channelled flow between two hearts. The strength of this flow determines how much the state of the murshid spreads to the murid.

According to a narration, one time the great Bahauddin Naqshiband (may Allah have mercy on him) was leaning against a mulberry tree in the garden of Shahrisabz. Learning of this event years later Ubaydullah Ahrar (may Allah have mercy on him) bought that garden and would go there from time to time to observe that tree[32]. This is a manifestation of the love leading to adoration felt by a follower of the shaykh of his shaykh.

Love is essential if one wishes to advance spiritually. In order to imitate the behaviour of the murshid and be able to reflect his spiritual state the murid must be bonded to his murshid. This occurs through love because a person will only imitate and wish to resemble the one they love.

Through this rabita the transfer of spiritual state between murshid and murid indicates a development in the direction of the murid becoming one with his murshid. It is said in a hadith:

“A person is with the one he loves…” (Bukhari, Adab, 96)

This togetherness is of course more a bond of state, behaviour, of feelings and thoughts and of attitude and direction, rather than a physical togetherness. It is doubtful whether a love that does not bring about such a bond of togetherness is real or true love.

Through this rabita the murid is able to prosper from the spirituality of his murshid and preserve his state of peace by cleansing his heart of worldly thoughts.

 On the other hand it is highly likely that people who do not attach their hearts to a spiritual guide will lose their hearts to their carnal desires and follow lowly guides in accordance with the truth that “One’s nature does not accept emptiness”. This is why Allah, Most High, encourages the believers to keep the company of truthful and righteous people:

“O you who believe! Fear Allah and be with the truly sincere’ (Tawbah 9:119).

Khwaja Ubaydullah Ahrar (may Allah have mercy on him) said:

“The command to ‘be with’ in this verse indicates a constant togetherness. Since this togetherness is mentioned in the absolute sense, it indicates both an active and a nominal togetherness.  Active togetherness is to be actively present with one’s heart attentive in the assemblies of the righteous. Nominal togetherness consists of envisioning their states while being absent from them[33].

Thus the first step in becoming righteous is to keep the company of the righteous; that is to be with them in a state of familiar love. A natural result of this situation is that one becomes righteous.

The saying ‘a grape becomes darker by looking at other grapes’ is an expression of this truth of maturation as a result of reflecting each other’s attributes.

One time the Companions asked the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him):

“Who are the real friends of Allah?”. He replied:

 “The friends of Allah are those who when you look at their faces they remind you of Allah” (Haysami, Majmau al-Zavaid, X, 78; Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 4)

Thus being together with the friends of Allah and observing with etiquette their blessed faces is a means for the prosperity, spirituality and expansion of the heart.

The purpose of rabita is to strengthen one’s spiritual bond via the chain of friends of Allah which goes back to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) and to benefit from this togetherness.

When people stand in line holding an electric cable, the last person in the line will also be affected by the current in accordance with his potential.

If in addition to this spiritual togetherness there is also a physical togetherness then this is ‘nur un ala nur’ (light upon light).

However in tasawwuf training a mere physical togetherness is not acceptable. In truth there are some who can sit at the foot of a Perfected Guide but not take their share due to their heedlessness. On the other hand there are those sincere murids in distant lands, who due to the deep respect, longing, love and bond felt for their murshid, are subject to unique openings. Some of our great scholars have said: “The one in Yemen is here with me whilst the one next to me is in Yemen”. Thus the important thing is that one should not lose the togetherness of the heart, wherever one may happen to be.

         As is the case in every other matter, displaying adab is essential in rabita. Khwaja Abdulaziz (may Allah have mercy on him), one of the murids of Khawaja Imkenegi (may Allah have mercy on him), expressed that in rabita it is more in accord with the adab of tasawwuf, that rather than the murid imagining his shaykh coming to him, he should imagine himself going to enter the presence of his shaykh[34].

         Rabita is a very important method in Sufi training, and is applied in practically all of the Sufi orders, even though its name and way of application may differ.

         However, from the 19th century onwards, rabita has been intensely criticised and debated whether it is a matter of belief or unbelief. Whereas, the fact is that, as stated above, rabita is a natural psychological outcome. It has no connection with unbelief. Ubaydullah Ahrar (may Allah have mercy on him) has the following to say about this matter:

“… the one whose heart is attached to worldly things such as property and wealth and constantly thinks about them is not considered an unbeliever, so why should attaching one’s heart to a believer be a cause for unbelief?”[35]

In short, rabita is to keep constantly alive the love a murid feels for his murshid. In no way does it indicate any sort of deviance such as attributing some sort of divinity to one’s murshid. Islam rejects all matters that open the door to shirk (associating partners with Allah), such as the idea of priesthood in Christianity.

Let it not be forgotten that all human beings, apart from the prophets, are weak and imperfect. Even the prophets have erred due to the fact that they were human beings. However, since they were subject to divine support their actions were divinely corrected. Thus, however necessary it is to show love and respect for our spiritual great people, it is also of the utmost necessity to abide by the limits of the sharia in refraining from elevating them.

  1. Serving others

The greatest fruit of faith is mercy and a natural result of this is serving others. To have mercy and feel for other people is a great favour of Allah. It is only possible to speak of a heart, discernment and a conscience for the one who can feel for other people. It is said in a hadith:

Have mercy on those on the earth so that the One in heaven will have mercy on you” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 58).

Mercy is to offer something that you have to those who do not have it. In other words mercy is to try to compensate for the deprivation of others and run to their aid.

In the Holy Qur’an, our Lord most often makes mention of the attributes ‘Rahman’ and ‘Rahim’. Consequently we cannot conceive of a heart that believes in Allah being lacking in mercy, giving out and serving others. A perfected believer cannot remain indifferent to the voiced or silent cries of any creature, and of a human being in particular, and will not refrain from doing whatever they can to help them.

Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi (may Allah have mercy on him) has said:

“Shams taught me something: “If on the face of the earth, even only one believer is cold, then you do not have the right to warm yourself”. I know that there are many believers who are cold; and I can now no longer warm myself…”

That is, Shams instilled in Mawlana (may Allah have mercy on them) a sensitive conscience that shuddered when thinking of people who were cold. It is possible to warm the body with clothes. However to warm the conscience is dependent on the heart approaching Allah and by serving others with mercy and compassion.

This example is like a template which can be used in the face of the deprivation of every creature. This is why all instances of disaster and squalidness should cause the conscience, before the body, to shudder. In this way all shudders of the conscience that are upon righteousness are means for the hearts to become warmed up and find peace.

In Sufi training the importance of serving others is great. The most effective way of adorning the heart with feelings such as humility, modesty, and mercy and compassion towards other creatures is to serve others for the sake of Allah. From this respect then all Perfected Guides have perceived serving others as crucial progress in the training of their students and have said:

“The one who serves will also be served”.

Serving others is a unique and elevated step that allows the heart to reach the peaks of spirituality. It is such a step that all of those who were subject to divine togetherness and endless reward – the prophets, the saints, the abrar and the asfiya – were all elevated on this step.

That is, they were embodied examples of the following hadith of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him):

 “The master of a people is the one who serves them”[36]

Ubaydullah Ahrar (may Allah have mercy on him) has said:

“Our shaykhs would keep those whose future they were hopeful about, occupied with serving others”[37].

“It is necessary to occupy oneself with whatever is the requirement and necessity of the moment. Dhikr and contemplation (muraqaba) is done when one cannot find a Muslim to help or serve. Serving others which is a means to relieving the distress of a person and winning their heart takes priority over dhikr and contemplation (muraqaba). Some people think that occupying oneself with supererogatory worship is more important than serving others.

The fruit of serving others is the blossoming of love and peace in the heart. The following saying illustrates this: “The hearts have been created in a way that they naturally love those who are good to them”. The result of supererogatory worship can never be equal to that of gaining the love of other believers. I did not learn this by reading the books of the Sufis, I learned it by serving the people”[38].

Just as the body has requirements for physical nourishment so too the spirit has a need for spiritual nourishment. Worship, behaviour towards others and good character are the most vital and necessary forms of nourishment for the spirit. Serving others, which is one of the social responsibilities of the believer, is an act that completes these others. The believer should try his best to avoid neglecting any of these.

A perfected believer should have:

-the attributes of the ahyar; they should place importance on worship and supererogatory prayers through taqwa,

– the attributes of the abrar; they should race to serve others and suffer their nafs to be trained and purified.

– the attributes of the shuttar; they should try with all their might to perform their duties of worship and serving others with great passion, ecstasy and spiritual rapture.

Ahmad Qasani summarises the importance of serving others with such a heart.

 “This world is the place of service. The hereafter is the place of qurba, or closeness to Allah. The degree of a person’s closeness to Allah is dependent on the degree of his service to others”[39].

Through their service, the friends of Allah train and refine those who love them and also bring them closer to Allah. Thus we can state that “tasawwuf is the path of service”.

The author of Rashahat, which is a biography of the Naqshiband masters, Ali ibn Hussain Safi, one day rose to take his ablutions. His nephew wanted to fill his urn with water however Safi prevented him from doing so, saying:

“The Khwajagan way is the way of serving others, not being served by others”[40].

In conclusion, a believer who wishes to progress should seek out the ways of serving others for his eternal gain, and seek Allah’s pleasure in every act, big or small.

There are many other methods of training other than suhbah, dhikr, muhabbah and serving others in sayr u suluq, the pathway to spiritual purification and perfection.  The methods mentioned here are only a few of the general methods. These methods of training and purification can vary depending on the conditions of the time and place and the person’s character and personality. In the sharia there are rules that are general and applicable to everyone, whereas in tasawwuf, in addition to the rules of sharia, there are also personalised methods, just as there are unique prescriptions for glasses in accordance with the degree of the person’s sight.

The kingdoms of this fleeting life are destined to come to an end. However, the spiritual kingdoms of the friends of Allah continue in the hearts with the same grandeur, even after they die. A patent proof of this is in the number of visitors who flock to the tombs of Shah Naqshiband, Mawlana, Yunus Emre and Aziz Mahmut Hudayi (may Allah have mercy on them) among others, as is the great attention and interest shown in their works.

We should consider that these individuals did not hand out money or worldly treasure to these people; nor did they bestow on them worldly ranks or positions. However, by transforming their hearts into refuges of mercy and spreading prosperity, spirituality and peace from those hearts to the peoples’ spirits, they became sources of healing for their diseased hearts. This is why they continue to live on in the hearts of the people even though their mortal lives have come to an end.

[1] Ahmad Zarruq, Qawaid al-Tasawwuf, Qaida:33

[2] Nothingness (mahfiyah) here meaning feeling one’s nothingness compared to Allah and annihilation (fana) means giving oneself entirely to Allah, so that no sense of self remains, independent of Allah.

[3]. See Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Hani, Adab, Istanbul 2009, p 8-9.

[4]. Ali al-Qari, Mirkat al-Mafatih, Beirut, 1422, I, 335.

[5]. Muhammad Parsa, The subhah of Muhammad Bahauddin, (translated by Necdet Tosun), p. 19, Erkam Publications, İstanbul 1998.

[6] Khwajagan is a Persian title for “the Master”. Khwajagan is a word often used to refer to a chain of Central Asian Naqshiband Sufi Masters from the 10th to the 16th century (Translator’s footnote)

[7] Hurufism was was a mystical kabbalistic Sufi doctrine, which spread in areas of western Persia, Anatolia, and Azerbaijan in later 14th – early 15th century. The word ‘huruf’ literally means ‘letters’ (Translator’s note).

[8] In contrast to karamah, istidraj are the extraordinary acts performed by unbelievers, sinners and mutashayyikh (certain individuals who pretend to be saints even though they are not). These states are a divine test and will drag them to their destruction.

[9] Bayhaqi, Shuab, III, 304, Qushayri, Risale, p 58.

[10] Muhammad Bakir, Makamat-i Hazreti Hace Naqshiband, Bukhara, 1328/1910, p 58

[11] Yaqub Charhi, Risale-i Unsiyye (thk. Muhammad Nezir Rancha), Islamabad 1983, p. 14.

[12] Muhammad Parsa, ibid p 62-63

[13] Muhammad Parsa, ibid p 24-25

[14] Muhammad Qadi Samarkandi, Silsile al-Arifin wa Tazkira al-Siddiqin, Suleymaniye Ktp, Hajji Mahmud, nr. 2830, vr, 175b

[15]. See Salahaddin ibn Mubarak al-Bukhari, Anisu al-Talibin wa Uddet al-Salikin, p 66 p. 66, Iz Publications, Istanbul 2003.

[16]. Rushdi, Malfuzat, p 34, (in Kulliyat-i Baqi Billah, pub by Abu’l Hasan Zayd Faruqi and Burhan Ahmad Faruqi, Lahore 1967).

[17]. Abdurrahman Jami, Nefahatu al-Uns min Hadarati al-Quds (rev. Mahmud Abidi), Tahran 1375 hijri solar/1996, p. 384.

[18]. Abdulkhaliq Gujcduwani, Vasaya, Bayazit Devlet Ktp., Valiyyuddin Efendi, no. 3229, paper. 11a.

[19]. Salahaddan ibn Mubarek al-Bukhari, ibid, p. 278-279; Abu al-Qasım, al-Risalet al-Bahaiyya, paper. 74b-75b; Muhammad Bakır, ibid, p. 79-81.

[20] Hatib al-Baghdadi, Tarih, IX, 188; Thahabi, Siyer, XII, 185-186.

[21]. As‘ad Sahib, Maktubat-ı Mevlana Khalid, Istanbul 1993, p. 121-122, (4th letter).

[22]. Sunnah al Muakkadah: These are the acts done continually by the prophet Muhammad, but which he would occasionally abandon only in order to demonstrate that there was no binding definite command to carry them out; acts that are not obligatory (fard) and necessary (wajib).

[23] Law of Communicating Vessels: When either two or more different vessels are connected at the base they are called communicating vessels. Whenever some liquid is placed into any of the vessels, there will be a flow of the liquid between vessels until each has the same amount of liquid. This is because their base is the same the characteristic of one vessel becomes the same as the others.


[24]. See Nisa 4:102-103.

[25]. Tabari, Jami al-Beyan an Te’vili Ayi’ al-Qur’an, Beirut 1995, XXII, 22; Qurtubi, XIV, 197.

[26]. Muhammed Parsa, ibid p. 45-46.

[27] Adab, in the context of behavior, refers to prescribed Islamic etiquette: “refinement, good manners, morals, decorum, decency, humaneness”. To exhibit Adab would be to show “proper discrimination of correct order, behavior, and taste” (Translator’s note).

[28] Ghayur– has the meanings of being very jealous, but also earnest concern, vigilant care. Ghayr also means ‘other’. So in this sense when Allah is said to be ‘ghayur’ it means that He is not content with His creation loving other than Him and is earnestly concerned about this (translator’s note)

[29]. Imam Sharani, Counsel from Ibrahim Dasuqi,, (trans.Erdoğan Baş), Istanbul 1996, p. 64.

[30] Rabita means keeping a spiritual link/attachment with the Master (Translator’s note).

[31] The hilya is a written, eloquent description of the prophet Muhammad’s character and appearance.

[32]. Muhammed Hashim Kishmi, Nasamatu al Quds min Hadaiqi al Uns (ed. Munir-i Jihan Malik), Tahran University, Faculty of Literature. (Unpublished doctoral thesis) 1375/1996, s. 167.

[33]. For details see Rashahat, p 453.

[34]. Kishmi, Nasamat al-Quds, p. 340.

[35]. Ali ibn Hussain Safi, Rashahat Ayn al-Hayat (ed. Ali Asgar Mu‘iniyan), Tehran 2536/1977, II, 636-637.

[36]. Bayhaqi, Shuab, I, 334; VI, 334; Daylami, Musnad, II, 324; Ali al-Muttaqi, Kanz, no: 24834.

[37]. Kishmi, Nasamat al-Quds, p. 244.

[38]. Mir Abdulawwal, Masmu‘at, Istanbul 1993, p. 16, 89; Safi, Rashahat, I, 94, II, 407-408.

[39]. Ahmad Qasani, Adab al-Saliqin, Istanbul Un. Book, FY, pub. 649, issue. 53b-54a.

[40]. Kishmi, Nasamat al Quds, p. 213.