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The Reality of Tasawwuf


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The Reality of Tasawwuf (Part 1)


Translated by Ismaeel Nakhuda

An Excerpt from Shari’ah wa Tariqah ka Talazum[1]



Questions surrounding the reality of Tasawwuf are plentiful. In this excellent treatise, one of the greatest Sufi shaykhs and hadith masters of the last century, Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalwi, writes at length how authentic Tasawwuf is firmly rooted in the fundamentals of Islam, sitting between two extremes — the way of those who reject it on the one hand and the way of those who practise it independent of Shari’ah on the other.


It has been mentioned above that Sayyiduna Jibril (may Allah grant him peace) asked the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), “What is ihsan?” The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) replied, “Ihsan is that you worship Allah as if you are seeing him…”[2]

Tariqah in reality is another name for ihsan, or the way to acquire the quality of ihsan. It is this that is called Tasawwuf and Suluk, or name it what you wish — these are all terms.


My grandfather, Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Kandhalwi sought a private meeting with Qutb al-Irshad Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (may Allah sanctify his secret). Once alone he said, “I gave bay’ah to Mawlana Muhammad Ya’qub Dehlawi and received instructions from Mawlana Muzaffar Husayn Kandhalwi. Their teachings were of the Naqshbandi tariqah and having acted according to their instructions, within eight days, my Lata’if al-Sittah (Six Spiritual Faculties) began to spin in the same way that a coil spins. However, I have since the beginning been fond of following the sunnah, and I diligently recite those supplications that have been mentioned in the hadith — such as the ones recited when going to the lavatory and when coming out, and when going to the market etc. It is because of this that I have very little interest in the exercises of the mashayikh. I used to sometimes meditate etc for ten or fifteen days. This is my situation. Now I am old and weak, and I would like your respected self to instruct me.” Mawlana Gangohi asked, “Have you reached the level of ihsan in your actions?” He replied, “Yes, I have.” Mawlana Gangohi said, “Fine, you are not in need of any instruction, for preoccupying one’s self with the exercises of the Sufis after reaching the level of ihsan is like one studying the book Karima[3] after he has finished studying Ghulistan and Bustan.[4] It is clear that doing so is only a waste of time. Because of this, for you to preoccupy yourself with the exercises of the Sufis is wasting time and sinful.” (Arwah-e-Thalathah, 299)


I have also heard this story from my seniors and heard that Mawlana Gangohi said, “Its example is that of a hafiz of the Qur’an who says, ‘I haven’t studied Al-Qa’idah al-Baghdadiyyah, teach it me.'” Qutb al-Irshad Mawlana Gangohi (may Allah sanctify his secret) said in another place, “The spiritual strength of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was such that the most unruly disbeliever would reach the state of ihsan by just saying La Ilaha Illa Allah Muhammad Rasul Allah (There is no deity except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah). An example of this is that of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) who would say to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), ‘How can we relieve and undress ourselves in front of Allah.’ This is the final stage; they were not in need of the different types of struggles (mujahadah) and spiritual exercises (riyadah). This strength existed in the Companions on account of the Prophet’s fayd (spiritual blessings), but this was less than what the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) had. It was also in the Followers (Tabi’in), but this was less than what was in the Companions. It was also present in the Followers of the Followers (Atba’ al-Tabi’in) albeit it had become very weak. To compensate for the shortcomings, the mashayikh developed forms of mujahadah and riyadah which remained for some time as a means (wasa’il) that were not the purpose themselves. As time, however, passed from the first three generations (khayr al-qurun), the means started to become the purpose and at times, according to necessity, other things were included in them on account of which numerable innovations (bid’ahs) relating to knowledge, actions and beliefs entered the faith. The research (muhaqqiq) Sufis have striven in rectifying this corruption. However, the only outcome of their efforts has been the lessening of bid’ah and not their complete end.” Mawlana Gangohi specifically mentioned the names of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Shaykh Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi, Mujaddid al-Alf al-Thani Shaykh Ahmad Sarhindi and Sayyid Ahmad bin ‘Irfan Shahid Barelwi (may Allah sanctify their secrets) among the reformers, and said that “these respected individuals carried out much reformation. The corruption was, however, not totally uprooted.”


He also said, “The Most High revealed to these respected individuals the way of the pure sunnah.” He then said, “From among the blessings of the noble Sunnah is that Satan has very little opportunity to cut off the salik’s path. It is clear that if a person was to diligently perform those actions that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) did, such as offering salah with congregation etc., and if a person was to stringently offer the fard, wajib and the al-sunnah al-mu’akkadah (emphasized sunnah) prayers then he would not experience waswasah (devilish insinuations) that he has become a wali and nor will people believe that he is from among the perfect (kamil) walis. However, if a person was to stringently perform those actions that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not stringently perform, such as the prayers of Duha,[5] Ishraq and the nafl prayers[6] after Maghrib prayers etc., then he would consider himself to be a wali and others would look to him as such.” Also among those things that he said was: “The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) made ihsan the purpose. The Sufis, however, made istighraq (immersion or absorption in ecstatic contemplation) the purpose instead.”


Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi writes in the footnotes to this: “Regarding his speech about the Companions — Imam Al-Bukhari has narrated in Kitab al-Tafsir (The Chapter of Exegesis) from Sayyiduna ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them) who said: ‘There was a group of people who were ashamed of relieving themselves and thus be exposed to the sky and [were ashamed of] going to their women due to fear of being exposed towards the sky. So this verse was revealed.’ In other words the verse: ‘Beware, they bend their chests to hide from Him. Beware, when they cover up themselves with their clothes, He knows what they hide and what they expose. Surely, He is All Aware of what lies in the hearts. [11:5]’ [Hakim al-Ummah continues:] “Regarding his saying, ‘However, the Sufis made…’ it is the non-research (ghayr-muhaqqiq) Sufis who are being referred to.” (Arwah-e-Thalathah, page 297)


I have already written that according to my seniors, Tasawwuf and ihsan are one and part of the pure Shari’ah. The writings of my seniors are filled with this. Mujaddid Alf al-Thani has stressed this greatly in his Maktubat. I have also published three of his letters — the first of them was written to the Sahibzadghan, the sons of Mujaddid Alf al-Thani’s shaykh and murshid, Khawaja Baqi billah. This is a very long and important letter that is worth reading. Mujaddid Alf al-Thani writes: “The acquisition of tasfiyah and tazkiyah (spiritual purification) are connected to completing righteous actions which are for the pleasure of Allah Most High. This is also dependent on the sending of the prophets. Hence, without their sending, the acquisition of the reality of tasfiyah and tazkiyah is not possible. As to that purification (safa) which is acquired by the unrighteous (ahl al-fisq) and disbelievers, then this is in reality purification of the soul and not the purification of the heart; the purification of the soul only leads to deviancy and loss. The unveilings (kashf) of some unseen matters that are experienced by the disbelievers and unrighteous in the state of purifying the soul is istidraj[7]…”


After stressing the need to correct beliefs (‘aqa’id), he writes, “Then, after correcting the beliefs, there is no escape from learning fiqh rules. It is necessary to learn the fard, the wajib, the halal, the haram, the sunnah, the mandub (preferable), the mushtabah (doubtful) and the makruh (disliked). It is likewise necessary to act according to the demands of fiqh. After having acquired the two wings of correct beliefs and actions, then — if a person has divine accordance (tawfiq) — the next step is traversing (suluk) the Path of the Sufis. This traversing is not to acquire something that is extra or new in beliefs and actions. Its purpose, rather, is to gain such firm conviction and assurance in those beliefs that the firm conviction and assurance do not disappear if a person was to place a doubt in it, and nor become obsolete by the coming of a doubt.

“In addition, the other benefit of Suluk is that it makes the performance of actions easy, and removes the laziness and rebelliousness which results from a soul that enjoins evils (al-nafs al-ammarah bi ‘l-suw). The purpose of treading the Path of the Sufis is not to view unseen images and forms, and lights (anwar) and colours; these are all useless play and entertainment (lahw and la’ib). What are the shortcomings of tangible forms and colours that one leaves them and undertakes mujahadah and riyadah with the hope of seeing unseen forms and lights? This is because these tangible forms and those unseen forms, and these lights and those lights are all created; they are signs bearing witness to Allah Most High’s existence.”


This lowly one has written at the beginning that the first lesson that Sayyiduna Jibril (may Allah bless him) taught was iman i.e. beliefs, the second lesson was Islam i.e. actions of Shariah, and the third was ihsan i.e. Suluk. Mujaddid Alf al-Thani has mentioned this sequence with much detail in his letter.


In another letter he writes: “Shari’ah guarantees all worldly and heavenly happiness, and Tariqah and Haqiqah are the servants of the Shari’ah.” He writes further: “Shari’ah is composed of three parts: knowledge, actions and sincerity. As long as these three parts do not materialise, Shari’ah will not materialise. When Shari’ah materialises, the pleasure of Allah Most High will be earned, and this is the pleasure of the Creator, it is loftier and above all worldly and heavenly happiness — “And the pleasure of Allah is the greatest” (Qur’an 9:72). The Shari’ah is therefore the guarantor of all of the happiness of both worlds. There now remains no purpose that one would be in need of something other than the Shari’ah [in order to acquire it]. Tariqah and Haqiqah, qualities with which the Sufis are distinguished, are both the third part of Shari’ah, i.e. they serve to complete the quality of sincerity. Hence, the purpose of acquiring them both is perfecting Shari’ah, not something other than Shari’ah. The hals (spiritual states), wajd (ecstasy), knowledge and gnosis (ma’arif) that the Sufis experience during their journey are not the purpose, their status is, rather, that of those thoughts with which the beginners of Tariqah are developed. One should move beyond all these things and reach the station (maqam) of rida (Allah’s pleasure). This is because this is the station in which the stations of ecstasy and suluk end, as the purpose of crossing the stations of Tariqah and Haqiqah is nothing except the acquisition of sincerity, and sincerity is a requirement for the happiness of the Creator Most High.


“From among thousands, there are few who pass the divine revelations (tajalliyah) and gnostic (‘arifi) visions (mushahid) to reach the wealth of sincerity and the station of pleasure (rida). The short-sighted consider hal and wajd to be among the goals [of Tasawwuf], and visions and divine revelations among those things that are to be acquired [in Tasawwuf]. It is on account of this that they remain captive in the prison of delusion and fantasy, and deprived of the perfections of Shari’ah. Yes, it is correct that the acquisition of the station of sincerity and the status of rida is connected to the materialisation of those states, wajd, and knowledge and gnosis. Hence, those states and wajd are preludes to [acquiring] the purpose and not the [actual] purpose. This reality became clear to me on account of his (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) blessings (barakah) after traversing this Path a complete ten years; and [it was then that] the Shari’ah appeared to me in a form befitting it. This in spite of me, all praise to Allah, not being — from the beginning — a prisoner to hals and wajd; there was no goal before my eyes except realising the reality of Shari’ah. However, after ten complete years, the reality became completely clear — Al-hamdu li Allah ‘ala dhalik hamdan kathiran tayyiban mubarakan fihi, mubarakan ‘alayhi.” (Tajalliyat-e-Rabbani, volume 1, page 53)


It is thanks to Allah that when Mawlana Habib al-Rahman Ludhyanwi, head of the Al-Ahrar group, asked this lowly one regarding the reality of Tasawwuf, I answered, “Tasawwuf is the name given to correcting intentions,” as has been mentioned in detail at the beginning of my autobiography, Aap Biti (volume 2). Many other stories relating to this subject have been mentioned in Aap Biti.

Khawaja Muhammad Ma’sum Naqshbandi (may Allah mercy him) has also greatly stressed this in his letters. He writes in an epistle (60), “Perfect saintliness (wilayah)[8] is the outcome of [adhering to] the surah of Shari’ah and perfect prophethood (nubuwwah) is the outcome of adhering to the haqiqah of Shari’ah. Hence, there is no perfect trait from the perfect traits of both wilayah and nubuwwah that is outside the perimeters of Shari’ah and independent of it.”


In another letter he writes, “After correcting one’s beliefs, it is extremely necessary to agree with the correct opinion of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa ‘l-Jama’ah (which is derived from the Qur’an and sunnah). There is no escape from not performing the fard and wajib acts, and abstaining from what is haram. The foundation of Islam is on five (which have been mentioned in the hadith of Sayyiduna Jibril); if there is an absence of even one of these five, then the faith would be empty and incomplete. After correcting beliefs and [performing] actions, treading the Sufi Path is also necessary so that the realisation (ma’rifah) of the Truth (Allah) can be acquired, and one can be saved from the dangers of the carnal desires. I cannot understand how the slave who is void of the m’arifah of his Master (i.e. Allah Most High) and does not recognise him is able to live his life and be pleased with other things.”


He writes in another correspondence, “My brother Mulla Hasan ‘Ali has written an objection regarding one of my letters to ‘Ubayd Allah Bayg and asked for a reply. The objection is that the distinction of what is good and what is bad is mentioned in Shari’ah, and that he has read in some book that ‘in Tariqah there is reconciliation with all and friendship with everyone, whereas in Shari’ah there is [discourse relating to] warring with enemies and reconciling with friends…’ It is a strange and absurd objection. What is the comparison between Shari’ah and Tariqah? Where has the equal footing come between the two [that they can be compared]? Shari’ah has been established through such absolute divine revelation (wahy) that leaves absolutely no possibility for doubt and uncertainty. Its rulings cannot be abrogated or changed. These rulings will continue till the Day of Reckoning. Acting on the requirements of Shari’ah is compulsory and mandatory on all of the lay-masses and the elite. Tariqah does not have the ability to remove the rulings of Shari’ah and free the Sufis from the requirements of Shari’ah. From among the absolute beliefs (‘aqaid) of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa ‘l-Jama’ah is also this belief that an aware and conscious slave will never reach a state in which he is annulled from [adhering to] the requirements of Shari’ah. Whoever entertains a belief apart from this is outside the pale of Islam. Friendship and fidelity with that group which Allah Most High declares as his enemies and orders [to treat] severely and harshly is outside the base of Islam. This and the claim of loving Allah Most High and the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) cannot amalgamate in one place. This is because obedience of the Beloved, showing friendship to the friends of the Beloved and showing displeasure to His enemies are the requirements of love. Yes, it is true that some of the saliks sometimes perform such actions that outwardly seem to be in opposition to the Quran and sunnah. At such times, the salik should not let the rope of Shari’ah slip from his hand, he should cling on to it firmly, and — contrary to his kashf and ecstasy — while adhering to the Ahl al-Sunnah wa ‘l-Jama’ah opt to follow its beliefs and actions. At times, the rubbish on the Path of Suluk tries to move the poor salik away from the lofty objective and invite to his worship by crying out, ‘Indeed, I am Allah.’ At such times, the upright salik should say as Sayyiduna Ibrahim al-Khalil (peace be upon him) said, ‘I do not like those who disappear,’ (Qur’an 6:76) and, according to the demands of ‘I have turned my face…’ (Qur’an 6:79), run in the field of the unseen and completely follow the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) so he does not become a prisoner to looking at that apart from Allah.” (Maktub Khawaja Muhammad Ma’sum, letter 73, page 121).


The story to which Khawaja Muhammad Ma’sum has indicated toward in this letter has been mentioned in Aap Biti (volume 5, page 197) from Qasim al-‘Ulum Mawlana Qasim Nanawtwi from Arwah-e-Thalatha: “A woman brought her blind son to one of the saints, Khawaja Ahmad Jam, regarding whom it was popular that he was someone whose supplications would be accepted (mustajab al-d’awah), and asked he wipes his hand over her son’s face so he may be cured. At that time the situation of servitude (‘ubudiyyah) had overcome him and so, with much humbleness, he said, ‘I do not have the ability.’ The woman insisted and Khawaja Ahmad Jam answered the same. The exchange continued three to four times and when he saw that the woman was not accepting what he was saying, he stood up saying, ‘This work is that of Sayyiduna ‘Isa (peace be upon him), he would cure the blind and the lepers. As to me, I don’t have the ability.’ The shaykh had only walked a little when it was revealed (ilham) to him, ‘Who are you? Who is ‘Isa and who is Musa? Turn around and wipe your hand over his face. You are not able to cure and nor is ‘Isa. We do it (mami kunyam).’ On hearing this, Khawaja Ahmad Jam turned around and saying mami kunyam, mami kunyam wiped his hands over the boy’s face and he was cured.


After narrating this story, Mawlana Qasim Nanawtwi (may Allah sanctify his secret) said, “Foolish people think that he is saying mami kunyam from himself. This is not, however, his speech, but the speech of the Almighty. When one hears a beautiful poem, then one repeats it and takes pleasure from it. Likewise, he was repeating the Almighty’s word mami kunyam on account of the pleasure of that ilham.” Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi writes in the footnotes: “Regarding his saying, ‘But the speech of the Almighty…’ I say that this is the best interpretation of Mansur al-Hallaj’s saying, ‘I am the truth.'” (Aap Biti, page 197, volume 5)


I have mentioned in volume five of Aap Biti similar utterances of many mashayikh and written afterwards: “The purpose of all these writings is that a person should always preoccupy himself in examining his conscience and rectifying himself. He should not indulge in criticising and finding the faults of others, especially the seniors who are reliable and leading ‘ulama; one should not criticise their speech and actions. There is no following of anyone in matters that are contrary to Shari’ah. Their speech and actions, however, are not your responsibility.”


Khawaja Muhammad Ma’sum writes in another letter: “Make firm pledge to fulfil the rulings of Shari’ah. Make enjoining good and forbidding evil one’s practice and conduct. Consider reviving those sunnahs that are no longer practiced a mighty work. Strive to conceal each oncoming (warid) that comes to the heart. Do not rely on dreams and visions. If a person was to see in a dream that he has become a king or the qutb of his era, then what is the benefit? A king or qutb is he who reaches the status of being a monarch or a qutb in reality. And if it was assumed that the person has became a king and the world had come under his control, then what piety has he attained? Will it save him from the punishment of the grave and the Day of Reckoning?


“Those with lofty aims do not pay attention to such issues, and always strive to attain the pleasure of Allah Most High. They endeavour to annihilate their carnal desires (nufus) and veil unseen oncomings (warid). I hope friends such as you do not forget this sinner and seek mercy and forgiveness for this lowly one from Allah Most High.” (Maktubat-e-Khawaja Muhammad Ma’sum, letter 174).


In another epistle he writes: “At this juncture in time bid’ah is becoming prevalent and its darkness is encompassing the world on account of the distance from the time of Prophethood (Nubuwwah) and proximity to the Day of Reckoning. The sunnah has become strange and scarce, and its radiances (anwar) have become veiled. Strive hard to revive the abandoned sunnahs and propagate knowledge of Shari’ah. Take this issue as the greatest means of acquiring the pleasure of the Almighty. Also seek proximity to the Muhammadi Court through this work. It has been mentioned in a hadith, ‘Whoever adheres to my Sunnah when corruption prevails in my Ummah, then he will be awarded the reward of a hundred martyrs.’ The first stage of reviving a Sunnah is for one to act upon it oneself, and the loftiest stage lies in its promotion and advocation, and encouragement of others to act upon it.” (Maktubat-e-Khawaja Muhammad Ma’sum, letter 290).


Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (may Allah enlighten his grave) writes in Ta’lim al-Din (page 182): “With regards to rectifying the mistake that there is no need to adhere to the Shari’ah in Tasawwuf, it is mentioned in Al-Futuhat: ‘The Haqiqah (Tasawwuf) that is against the Shari’ah is irreligious and rejected.’ It is also mentioned in there: ‘Whoever says that here is a path to Allah different to what the Shari’ah has outlined, then he has lied. Hence, a shaykh should not be made of that person who has no adab (manners).’ It is also in there: ‘We have no path to Allah except that which has come by way of His Shari’ah, and we have no path to Allah except that which the Shari’ah has shown. Sayyiduna Bayazid al-Bustami (may Allah mercy him) said, “If you see a man who has been given the ability to perform miracles (karamat), so much so that he flies in the air, then do not be deceived by him until you see his state with regards to [his observance of Shari’ah] injunctions (amr) and prohibitions (nahi), safeguarding of limits and adherence of Shari’ah.” Sayyiduna Junayd (may Allah mercy him) said, “All paths are closed on the entire creation, except that path which follows the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) step by step.”‘ It is also mentioned in Al-Futuhat: ‘The one who does not know the injunctions of Allah has no standing in the eye’s of Allah, for Allah does not take an ignorant as a friend.’ It is also in Al-Futuhat that: ‘Acting wrong in spite of knowledge is better than acting with ignorance.'” Hakim al-Ummah explains this saying: “This is because if an ‘alim was to do something wrong then it would not be so wrong or bad that it reaches the level of disbelief (kufr) and shirk, and because he understands its sinfulness there is hope of repentance. This is different from an ignorant person whose necessary actions, such as prayer and fasting, are at times performed incorrectly; because of a lack of knowledge, he commits disbelief and shirk, and due to not being aware of its sinfulness there is no chance of repentance.” Hakim al-Ummah has written a very lengthy piece in Ta’lim al-Din.


My father (may Allah mercy him) was once performing ghusl in the summer months and he had two or three strong and ready students filling buckets and bringing to him. There was a man sitting there who said, “Oh respected one, is this not waste?” My father replied, “For you it is waste and for me it isn’t.” He then asked him, “And why is that?” He replied, “Because I am an ‘alim and you are ignorant (jahil).” The man said, “This is just like what is said that the mawlawi makes permissible for himself whatever he wishes.” My father replied, “Yes, this is completely true. These types of utterances perturb the mawlawis. One action, if an ignorant was to do it then, on account of ignorance, he would do it in an impermissible way. If an ‘alim was to carry out the same action then he would do it in a permissible way.”


Sayyiduna Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates: “Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) brought Burny dates to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), so the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘Where are these from?’ He replied, ‘I had some cheap dates, and I sold two sa’ (a measure) for one sa’.’ The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘O, this is precisely usury. Don’t do this. When you want to buy, then sell the dates for something then buy with that something.” (Muttafaqun ‘Alayh)

It is clear that the ignorant would not be able to differentiate between the two scenarios. He will simply think that one sa’ of Burny dates has been acquired in exchange of two sa’ of cheap dates. The ‘alim, however, will buy it in the correct Shari’ah way in that he will first sell his dates for two rupees and then purchase the one sa’ of Burny with those two rupees.




  1. This is a translation of the chapter titled “Tariqah” in Shaykh al-Hadith’s Shari’ah wa Tariqah ka Talazum. This translation was done using the original Urdu version of the book and an Arabic translation of the Urdu, Talazum al-Shariah wa ‘l-Tariqah, by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hafiz Makki, one of the senior khalifahs of the author. The Arabic version also includes references of hadiths, which have been produced in the translation above. The Arabic version of the book has seen two publications; the first publication can be accessed here (translator). []
  2. A translation of the complete hadith is as follows (translator): Sayyiduna ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates: “While we were one day sitting with the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) there appeared before us a man dressed in extremely white clothes and with very black hair. No traces of journeying were visible on him, and none of us knew him. He sat down close to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), rested his knee against his thighs, and said, ‘O Muhammad! Inform me about Islam.’ The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘Islam is that you should testify that there is no deity save Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, that you should perform salah, pay Zakah, fast during Ramadan, and perform Hajj to the House if you have the means for making the journey. The man said, ‘You have spoken truly.’ We were astonished at his thus questioning him and telling him that he was right, but he went on to say, ‘Inform me about iman (faith).’ He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, ‘It is that you believe in Allah and His angels and His Books and His Messengers and in the Last Day and in fate (qadar), both in its good and in its evil aspects.’ He said, ‘You have spoken truly.’ Then he (the man) said, ‘Inform me about ihsan.’ He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, ‘It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, and if you cannot see Him then He sees you.’ He said, ‘Inform me about the Hour.’ He (the Messenger of Allah) said, ‘The one being questioned knows no more than the questioner.’ So he said, ‘Well, inform me about its signs.’ He said, ‘They are that the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress, that you will see the barefooted ones, the naked, the destitute, the herdsmen of the sheep (competing with each other) in raising lofty buildings.’ Thereupon the man went off. I waited a while, and then he (the Messenger of Allah) said, ‘O ‘Umar, do you know who the questioner was?’ I replied, ‘Allah and His Messenger know better.’ He said, ‘That was Jibril. He came to teach you your religion.'” (Muslim) []
  3. Karima is an elementary book in the study of Persian (Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hafiz Makki). ]
  4. Ghulistan and Bustan is an advanced book of Persian literature (Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hafiz Makki). ]
  5. Also known as the chasht prayers (translator). []
  6. Also known as the awwabin prayers (translator). []
  7. This is opposite to karamat and can be best described as miraculous powers gained by a sinner on account of mujahada and purification of the soul (not the heart). The extraordinary physical or supernatural feats carried out by sadhus and practitioners of yoga fall into this category. Muslims should not be overawed by such occurrences, as they do not serve as a yardstick in measuring ma’rifah (translator). []
  8. Explaining these two terms (wilayah and nubuwwah), Shaykh Mufti Kamaluddin Ahmed, a khalifah of Peer Zulfiqar Ahmad, wrote the following in an email to the translator: “Basically, Mujaddid Alf al-Thani Imam Rabbani Shaykh Ahmad Sarhindi (may Allah mercy him) coined these two terms in his Maktubat. I am not aware of prior usage of them, but certainly Imam Rabbani (may Allah mercy him) elaborates on these concepts in his Maktubaat. The path of wilayah is the path of abundant mujahadah and also leads one to first experience fana-e-wujudi and then fana-e-shuhudi. This is the path that Imam Rabbani (may Allah mercy him) states that he himself follows. He later writes that Allah Most High inspired him with another path, the path of nubuwwah, that bypasses fana-e-wujudi and tawhid-e-wujudi, and he feels this is the preferred path.” []


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The Reality of Tasawwuf (Part Two)

by Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalawi



Translated by Ismaeel Nakhuda


Shaykh al-Islam Mawlana Husayn Ahmad Madani (may Allah enlighten his resting place) has also stressed in his letters that the original purpose of Suluk is ihsan. In one epistle he writes, “My respected one. The original purpose of Suluk is ihsan — ‘that you worship Allah as if you are seeing him’ (Al-Hadith). In other words an ingrained ability [of ihsan] should develop in the salik and this should be [the condition] at the beginning. As to [the condition at] the end, then that is acquiring the pleasure of He Whose Name is Powerful. (Shaykh al-Islam then writes a poem, the translation of which is as follows. Translator). ‘Why do you seek firaq and wasl? Seek the pleasure of the beloved, as wishing from the beloved something apart from Him is regretful.’


“Hence, it is necessary to strive until real love of Allah develops and it increases to a level that the heart disconnects from everything apart from He. This, its aids and means, all of them, are just mediums. The spiritual exercises (riyadah) and correcting manners (islah al-akhlaq) are also from this type. The earlier Sufis considered correcting manners more important and at times spent years on this, the outcome of which would be that at times death would come before they reached Allah and a person would have to leave the world deprived of this blessing. The latter Sufis pondered over this, they consider reaching Allah (wusul) and turning to the Pure Being more important, and encourage [the saliks] to engross themselves in joining [with Allah], which then results in [His] continuous presence (hudur), and by this the connection becomes strong and ingrained. On account of this, the reprehensible traits (al-akhlaq al-dhamimah) and spiritual illnesses (al-radha’il) disappear one after another. Anyway, strive to always remain attentive to the Pure Being — this can be solely to His Being or to a quality of His from His many Perfect Qualities — and establish the situation of ‘those who are regular in their salah‘ (Qur’an 70:23). It is natural for there to be shortcomings in man’s actions. However, it is incumbent upon man to strive to remove those defects and to sincerely recite ‘from You alone do we seek help’ (Qur’an 1:5) in each prayer. The Noble Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) would supplicate: ‘We have not recognised you as you deserve to be recognised and we have not worshipped you as you deserve to be worshipped.’ The purpose is that it is necessary that one always strives to complete actions and achieve perfect sincerity. Always sincerely seek forgiveness in the court of Allah while admitting shortcomings that are a reality. It is also necessary that, while hoping for acceptance, one always remains fearful of the anger of His Most High. ‘Faith is between fear and hope.’


“Adhere to the Sunnah at all times in all matters. Apart from the known meditations (muraqabah) and although there is no need for other dhikr, perform whichever dhikr you feel appropriate for strength and support. Study the book Sirat al-Mustaqim and Imdad al-Suluk.” (Maktubat-e-Shaykh al-Islam, volume 3, letter 66)


In another lengthy letter, he writes: “Always keep your eyes and heart focused on following the Shari’ah and the Sunnah of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) as much as possible. Do not be negligent in dhikr. Always remain repentant and remorseful over one’s negligence (ghaflah) and sins. Do not waste this precious life.”

(Shaykh al-Islam then writes a poem in Persian the translation of which is as follows. Translator).


“All that you do, save the dhikr of the Beloved, is worthless,

And all that you read, save the secrets of love, are worthless,

Sa’di, wash everything save from the Truth from the slate of your heart,

All knowledge that does not take you to Allah is ignorance.”

(Maktubate-e-Shaykh al-Islam, volume 3, letter 69)


In a letter before he writes: “Is it not true that you have abandoned the prescribed dhikr? Feeling energetic at times you do it for one or two months and then abandon it. Is it not true that you do not offer the five prayers with congregation? Is it not true that you allow compulsory prayers to lapse beyond their prescribed times? You sleep so much that the sun comes out. Do these types of occurrences not pain your well wishers and friends? Anyway, it is necessary for you to rectify yourself. Strive to follow the Shari’ah and revive the Sunnah. You become attentive when difficulties befall you and when Allah removes the hardships, you become free of worry. Make dhikr your habit as much as possible. (Maktubat-e-Shaykh al-Islam, volume 2, letter 70)


In another letter he writes: “The condition that your respected self has written is satisfying and one of hope. Al-istiqamah fawq al-karamah (Steadfastness is above miracles). Dreams, lights and revelations (ilham) etc. only come to the saliks to strengthen the heart in the same way children are given toys to keep them happy. The saying of the Akabir, tilka ‘l-khayalat turabba biha atfal al-tariqah (these are all thoughts through which the children of tariqah are reared) is well known. Persevering in worship and dhikr, and following the Sunnah and Shari’ah are those actions that we are required to do; acting upon them with determination and acquiring the status of ihsan is perfection of faith. Fear of Allah and hope are both signs of perfect faith. The prevailing [feeling] of crying and weeping is the appearance of the Chishti nisbah. Oh Allah, increase it more.” (Maktubat-e-Shaykh al-Islam, volume 2, letter 70)


In an epistle before, he writes: “Respected one. Worldly difficulties are also His mercy by which the slave is drawn towards Him or else the slave would, like Fir’awn, shout out without any basis that ‘I am your supreme cherisher’. The verse ‘Should Allah expand the provision for His servants (to its full extent), they would spread mischief on earth’ (Qur’an 42:27) is proof of this. In addition, tribulations and tests are existent in both situations — in the situation of worldly fortune and abundance, and in the condition of difficulty and hardship. ‘And We test you through bad and good (situations) with a trial’ (Qur’an 21:35). Allah Most High says at another place, ‘We tested them with good and bad times’ (Qur’an 7:168).


“The purpose of the above is that this world is a place of testing and a place where all sorts of tribulations come. There should be concern about passing them. There is none, apart from the real Master Who is eternal, to whom one should attach his heart. Whatever action you do, then do it with the proper intention and make it an act of worship. ‘Actions are according to intentions’ (Al-Hadith). Sleeping, eating, drinking and fulfilling one’s human needs can all become acts of worship. The means and channels for worship are all definitely acts of worship. The original purpose of dhikr and fikr is the pleasure of the original Beloved. As to acquiring some pleasure, the heart being purified, receiving some kashf or karamat (miracle), sensing lights and blessings, fana (annihilation) and baqa, and being a qutb or ghawth, then all of this is not the purpose. In fact, paying attention and aspiring to acquire them is very dangerous. (Shaykh al-Islam then writes a poem in Persian the translation of which is as follows. Translator). ‘Why do you seek firaq and wasl? Seek the pleasure of the beloved, as wishing from the beloved something apart from Him is regretful.’


“The above-mentioned issues are means and mediums. The original purpose is only the pleasure of Allah. It is incumbent on a slave to bring about the etiquettes of being a true slave of Allah (‘ubudiyyah). Continue to strive in this and make sincerity your purpose at all times.” (Maktubat-e-Shaykh al-Islam, volume 3, letter 59, page 129)


In another letter he writes, “This dear life and its moments are precious gems. We are wasting them in our unmindfulness — what will the result of this be apart from the wringing of hands in regret? What will happen when we will be told, ‘Did We not give you an age in your life in which a lesson could have been learnt by the one who wished to take lesson? And (furthermore) the warner had (also) come to you. So, taste, because the wrongdoers will have no supporter’ (Qur’an 37:35).


“My respected one! How foolish is it to waste these precious moments on account of friends and dear ones. Understand this having thought and pondered over it. These gatherings of play and merry seem nice today. However, when close to death and after death, one will curse them a thousand times over. Lessen them to a degree that is however possible. Contemplate [this verse] ‘O you who believe, your riches and your children must not divert you from the remembrance of Allah. And those who do that are the losers’ (Qur’an 63:9). Do not throw behind you [the verse] ‘Wealth and children are the embellishment of the worldly life, and the everlasting virtues are better with your Lord, both in rewards and in creating good hopes’ (Qur’an 18:46). This youth and the present health is an immense blessing. Do not let them go to waste. (Shaykh al-Islam then writes a poem the translation of which is as follows. Translator). ‘Every moment of this life is for your service and wishes to serve you. If you cannot understand this then this is your ignorance. Do not waste these excellent moments and do not spread heedlessness in the city of the soul.’


“The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: ‘There are two blessings in which many people are at loss: health and free time.’ Value this and increase [the exercise of] Pas Anfas[1] to such a degree that it happens at all times without any intention or choice and after that the dhikr of the heart begins to flow and the way to advancing in Suluk clears. Do not delay. Keep in view the following of the Sunnah in each action.” (Maktubat-e-Shaykh al-Islam, volume 2, letter 48, page 188)


The writings of the Akabir are explicit that the original purpose [of Tasawwuf] is acquiring the state of ihsan, and that the struggles and spiritual exercises that have been prescribed by the Sufis have been devised for the ailments of the hearts in the same way doctors prescribe new types of medicine for new forms of physical illnesses. In the same way there is no doubt regarding physical medicines that they may be bid’ah, to consider spiritual medicines bid’ah is ignorance. They are not the original purpose. They are special methods of remedy for particular illnesses.


‘Allamah Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah mercy him) has carried out a detailed discussion on the actions of the heart in his book Al-Tuhfah al-‘Iraqiyyah fi ‘l-‘Amal al-Qalbiyyah. He writes, “These are a few words explaining the actions (a’mal) of the hearts, which are defined as stations (maqamat) and spiritual states (ahwal). They are from among the fundamentals and foundations of faith and religion [and include] for example the love of Allah and His Prophet, trust in Allah (tawakkul), sincerity (ikhlas), thankfulness (shukr), patience (sabr), fear (khawf) and hope (raja). The imams are agreed that all of these actions are incumbent on the entire creation. People are in relation to them of three types in the same way that they are of three types in relation to the actions of the body: [1] zalim, [2] muqtasid and [3] sabiq bi ‘l-khayrat.


Zalim is the one who abandons that which he has been ordered and does that which he has been forbidden from doing; muqtasid is he who performs incumbent actions and avoids those actions that are haram; and sabiq bi ‘l-khayrat is he who gains proximity to his utmost by means of performing the fard, sunnah and mustahab actions, and avoids that which is haram and makruh. Even though the muqtasid and sabiq bi ‘l-khayrat can commit sins — which can be forgiven by way of tawbah (repentance), the performance of good deeds, or by the infliction of some difficulty — both of these [categories of people] are from the friends of Allah (awliya) who have been mentioned in the book of Allah in the verse, ‘Listen, the friends of Allah shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve, those who have believed and have been fearful of Allah’ [Qur’an 10:62/63]. Because of this, the friends of Allah are god-fearing believers. They are of two types: ‘Am (general) and khas (specific). The ‘am are the muqtasidin and the khas are the sabiqin bi ‘l-khayrat …”


After this ‘Allamah ibn Taymiyyah continues until the end of the book with a concise but detailed discussion on the esoteric actions. He writes that honesty (sidq) and dishonesty (kidb), love of Allah, being sincere to Him, trust (tawakkul) in Him and other esoteric actions are all, in terms of Shari’ah, imperative. Trust in Allah and seeking His aid takes a person to his goal. Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah then carries out a detailed discussion on tawakkul and outlines that the most supreme, greatest and sublime of things from among the duties of iman is the love of Allah and the love of His Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). He then mentions the characteristics of he who loves Allah and those who are His beloved, and that the love of Allah is the original action of faith and that hope (raja) and fear (khawf) etc. are the inevitable consequences of the love of Allah Most High. He also mentions the speech of the early Sufis regarding the love of Allah Most High, and that the definitive result of the love of Allah Most High is following His Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and that following the Prophet exoterically and esoterically creates the love of Allah Most High. He has written at length on other issues. The entire book is worthy of being read.


He has also mentioned in his fatwas (page 225, part 11): “And likewise he who says, ‘Certainly, Muhammad was sent with the exoteric knowledge (‘ilm al-zahir) and not the esoteric knowledge (‘ilm al-batin),’ then such a person has brought faith on a portion of what the Prophet has brought and disbelieved a portion, hence he is a kafir. This is a worse form of disbelief than those others. For the esoteric knowledge — which is the knowledge of the iman of the hearts and their gnosis (ma’rifah) and states (hal) — is the knowledge of the esoteric realities of iman; this is greater than knowledge of only the exoteric actions of Islam.”


Hafiz Ibn Qayyim (may Allah mercy him) has mentioned the prerequisites of the shaykh in Al-Wabil al-Sayyib min al-Kalim al-Tayyib, a treatise on the condition of the Sufis and their dhikr, litanies and merits(page 69): “When a person intends to follow a man then let him see: Is he from among the people of remembrance (dhikr) or the people of heedlessness (ghaflah)? Are [his] desires (hawa) in control of him or revelation (wahi) [in control of him]? If [his] desires are in control of him and he is from the people of heedlessness then his behaviour has exceeded the limits … It is hence advised for a man to look at his shaykh, his exemplar (qudwah) and followers. If he finds him as such then he should remain far from him. If he finds him from those upon whom the dhikr of Allah Most High and the following of the Sunnah is supreme, and not extreme in his matters but prudent, then let him hold tight to him. The only difference between the alive and the dead is by way of dhikr. The example of he who remembers his Cherisher and he who does not is the example of the alive and the dead.”


Hafiz Ibn Qayyim has also mentioned that Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said, “Dhikr for the heart is like water for the fish. What would the condition of the fish be when it leaves water?” He also mentioned: “I was once in the presence of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah. He performed the Fajr prayer and then sat in the dhikr of Allah Most High until close to midday. Then he turned to me and said, ‘This is my breakfast; if I wasn’t to take my breakfast then I would lose strength’, or some words similar to this. He once said to me, ‘I do not leave dhikr except for the intention of giving my nafs strength and rest so that I may prepare for the next dhikr,’ or some words similar to this.”


Hafiz Ibn Qayyim wrote Madarij al-Salikin on Tasawwuf which is a commentary of Shaykh Abu Isma’il ‘Abd Allah al-Hirawi al-Hanbali al-Sufi’s (d.481) famous book on Tasawwuf, Manazil al-Sa’irin. This book in its entirety is regarding Tasawwuf and the condition of various Sufis. He writes: “The servitude of the man is divided over the heart, the tongue and the remaining limbs of the body. From among those issues that are incumbent on the heart there are: sincerity (ikhlas), trust (tawakkul), love (muhabbah), patience (sabr), penitence (inabah), fear (khawf), hope (raja), firm belief (tasdiq al-jazim) and true intention (al-niyyah al-sadiqah). The Ummah has agreed that these actions of the heart are incumbent (wajibat).” He then mentions some disputed incumbent actions such as being content with destiny (rada bi ‘l-qada), serenity in prayer (khushu’ fi ‘l-salah), and whether it is incumbent to repeat a prayer if there is no serenity. After this he mentions those actions that one should abstain from. He writes: “They are of two types: disbelief (kufr) and disobedience (ma’siyah). Examples of kufr include having doubts, hypocrisy and polytheism etc. And disobedience is also of two types: major and minor. Major disobedience is such as making a show (riya), vanity (‘ujub), pride (kibr), boasting (fakhr), haughtiness (khuyala), feeling hopeless [of the mercy of Allah] (qunut), to not fear the punishment of Allah, pleasure when a Muslim is harmed, expression of joy when they are afflicted with trouble, to spread indecency among Muslims, to be jealous of Muslims, and other such sins that are worse than adultery and drinking wine etc. If the heart is not cleansed then it will become foul and when the heart becomes foul then the entire body will also become foul. The rectification of the heart comes before the rectification of the limbs. If the heart’s purification is ignored then the heart will become filled with illnesses.” He has carried out a detailed discussion until the very end. It is for the rectification of these very issues that the shaykhs of Tasawwuf instruct their murids to carry out spiritual exercises and struggles.


Mawlana ‘Ashiq Ilahi Mirathi writes in Qutb al-Irshad Mawlana Gangohi’s (may Allah enlighten his grave) biography, Tadhkirah al-Rashid (page 11, volume 2): “I came across a paper that Qutb al-Irshad Mawlana Gangohi (may Allah sanctify his secret) wrote with his own hand when he was young. It is unknown why he had written it. It is as follows, ‘The knowledge of the Sufis is the name given to the exoteric and esoteric knowledge of the faith and strength of belief; and this is the loftiest knowledge. The condition of the Sufis is rectifying manners and always being absorbed in Allah Most High. The reality of Tasawwuf is qualifying [one’s self] with Allah Most High’s qualities (al-takhalluq bi akhlaq Allah), negating [one’s] desire and remaining in the pleasure of Allah Most High. The manners (akhlaq) of the Sufis are those that were of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) according to the Qur’anic verse, “And you are surely on an excellent standard of character” (Qur’an 68:4), and what has come in the hadiths. The details of their manners are as follows: (1) Humility (tawad’u) in opposition to pride (kibr); (2) to be gentle with the creation and tolerate the creation’s harm against one’s self; (3) dealing gently and with good character and abandoning anger and rage; (4) being beneficent and giving preference to others while showing extreme compassion to the creation, and this involves giving preference to the rights of the creation over his own lot; (5) generosity; (6) forgiving and excusing mistakes; (7) being cheerful and buoyant; (8) being gentle and good-natured; (9) abandoning ostentation; (10) spending without stinginess and not to such a degree that one becomes needy; (11) relying on Allah (tawakkul); (12) to suffice on a little dunya; (13) abstinence; (14) abandoning fighting, disputing and rebuking except in truthful matters; (15) abandoning malice, rancour and jealousy; (16) not desiring wealth and glory; (17) fulfilment of promises; (18) forbearance; (19) farsightedness; (20) to love and have good relations with one’s brothers and to remain aloof of others; (21) to be thankful to a benefactor; (22) and to spend one’s wealth on Muslims.


“‘The Sufi refines his manner exoterically and esoterically, and Tasawwuf in its entirety is manners. The manner of the godly presence is turning away from all except He in bashfulness, veneration and awe. The worse sin is speaking to one’s nafs (tahdith al-nafs) which is a means of darkness.'”



  1. Pas Anfas (Guarding the Breath) is a Sufi shughl (exercise) designed to enable the Sufi to perform the dhikr of Allah with each breath (translator). []


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