Maktubat-e-Rabbani Session 1

[These are rough notes of a workshop conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in UK in 2011].


وَٱلَّذِينَ جَـٰهَدُواْ فِينَا لَنَہۡدِيَنَّہُمۡ سُبُلَنَا‌ۚ وَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَمَعَ ٱلۡمُحۡسِنِينَ
As for those who strive in Our way, We will certainly take them onto Our paths, and indeed Allāh is with those who are good in deeds. [29:69]

كُونُوا رَبَّانِيِّينَ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تُعَلِّمُونَ الْكِتَابَ وَبِمَا كُنتُمْ تَدْرُسُونَ
Be men of the Lord; as you have been teaching the book, and as you have been learning it. [3:79]

Before beginning the actual text, I would want to explain to you why I am here, and more importantly, why you are here.

Why you are here: There are too many misconceptions about tasawwuf and these workshops aim to elaborate on that.

Why I am here: I will be addressing your minds, but my target is your heart, so that is why I am here. I am being open about this; we do not believe that tasawwuf can be understood through texts and teachings. It can only be understood through practice. Therefore, want you to approach this topic non-academically.

Brief Introduction to Life and personality of Imām Rabbānī (rah)

Hadrat Mujjaddad Alif Sānī Imām Rabbānī (rah) is called Rabbānī because scholars and ʿawliyā have believed he has successfully become and taught others to become an Allāh wālā; Rabb wālā. What better way to learn this except directly from the person who lived his life like a Rabbānī and, more importantly, outlined for us a path for this purpose?

He lived from 971 till 1034 H i.e. 1564 till 1624 AD, thus passing away at the Sunnah age of 63 years, which also amounts to 60 solar years. In Islāmic history, the names of those who pass away at the age of 63 years are recorded because Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) also passed away at the same age. It is not a major point, but this point has been noted in his biography. This is something for everyone to think about; we should try to plan our life in such a way as though we are going to die at 60 years of age rather than planning our life as though we are going to die at 80 years. This is the most simple solution to the problems of the youth faced today; behave like you are 40 years old when you are 20 years old and behave like you are 50 years old when you are 30 years old.

Imām Rabbānī (rah) was born in India. The beginning of his religious education was undertaken by his father Shaykh ʿAbdul ʿAhad who taught him basic Arabic and Qurʿān, including its memorization. Then, he was sent to Siālkot — a part of Pakistan — as it was the major center of Islamic learning. There Imām Rabbānī (rah) concentrated on Philosophy, ʿUsūl, Logic etc., ; basically what we call the rational sciences. Then he returned to India and completed his studies of Hadīth and also started to learn dhikr under his father. His father was in the Chishti Silsila (explained later) and he trained his son according to that methodology.

Association with Mughal Emperors

By the time Imām Rabbānī (rah) was 36 years old, in 1007 H, he had begun to associate with the Mughal Emperors who had certain religious scholars in their court, most famous of whom were Abdullah Mubarak and his two sons; Abuʿl Faḍl and Abuʿl Faiḍī. They were both older than Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah). He associated with them, but then he had a breaking with Abu’l Faḍl because he had radically deviant Islamic beliefs; for example, he denied the need for prophethood and prophecy, denied the existence of ākhirah, denied the need for Hajj etc. As Abu’l Faḍl began to change, and his brother changed a little bit, then the whole environment at the Mughal court under the Mughal king Akbar began to change. This is the time when Imām Rabbānī (rah) withdrew and proceeded to go for Hajj.

Meeting with Shaykh Bāqī Billah (rah)

On his way to Hajj, he stopped in Delhi in 1597 AD where he met a person named Hadrat Khwāja Shaykh Bāqī Billah (rah), who was a Shaykh of Naqshbandi silsila and had migrated to India from Central Asia to teach silsila. In fact, Shaykh Bāqī Billah (rah) narrates about his ownself that he had received an inspiration from Allah (swt) to go to Delhi to teach the silsila, and he was told by Allah (swt) that he was going to find a student in India who would be a means of reviving and reforming and purifying the teachings of Islam throughout the entire empire.

Imām Rabbānī (rah) associated and stayed with Shaykh Bāqī Billa (rah) for two and a half months and after that he got nisbah in the language of tasawwuf i.e. attachment to Allah (swt) and detachment from sin. This process is called hasūl-i-nisbah. In the subsequent visit, the Shaykh bestowed upon him what we call Khilāfah i.e. the permission to teach dhikr was granted, in fact, it was imposed on him. The Shaykh even transferred some of his own students to him saying that I am sending these students under your guidance and supervision and care. In the final visit, Shaykh Bāqī Billa (rah) entrusted his own sons to him saying that now you will be their Shaykh, not me. Thus, Imām Rabbānī (rah) accepted to teach the teachings of Naqshbandi silsila, and he taught to students from all over the world. His students then disseminated to all over the world such that now we have the teachings and the shuyūkh of silsila Naqshbandi all over South Asia; in the Arab world in Iraq, Egypt, Syria; in smaller strands in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Black Africa, but the major area was Persia, Central Asia, South Asia and the Arab World.

Summary of Four Major Areas of Imām Rabbānī's (rah) Life

1. Teachings of Tazkiya and Tasawwuf

When he was bestowed the responsibility of khilāfah by his shaykh, Imām Rabbānī (rah) spent years teaching, writing and lecturing on tasawwuf. He engaged in a project of a very deep, wide-ranging and penetrating reform in the teachings of tazkiyah (spiritual reform). Few features are highlighted here, and these are his views some of which he feels have no space for disagreement, while others maybe legitimate to difference of opinion among different scholars of Islām. This is not reform; Imām Rabbānī (rah) was restoring tasawwuf to its original and inherently true location which is within the boundaries of shariʿah.

  • There is no musical audition in tasawwuf.
  • There will be no raqs or dhikr involving dance and movements; sometimes this is called haḍara.
  • There will be no dhikr bil jahr; out-loud dhikr; dhikr that is done in a very loud voice.
  • Extreme acts of disciplining the soul will not be a part of tasawwuf, such as fasting by only drinking water at the time of suhūr and at the time of afṭār and doing that repeatedly for months; extreme acts of worship; extreme acts of going without food or drink or sleep; wearing clothing that is extremely tattered; trying to live in a state of abject poverty even when you have the means to earn.
  • Seekers of tasawwuf will not try to seek wajd; they will not try seek epiphanies, ecstasies, raptures; they will not try to instill in themselves visions, and experiences; they will not chase lights or colors.
  • All kashf and ilhām is subservient and secondary to, completely dependent upon and prescribed by the Shariʿah.
  • The concept of wahdat al-wujūd as articulated by Ibn Arabī is absolutely and completely incorrect.

2. Reviving Shariʿah on Earth

This is called ʿihya-i-dīn, or tajdīd-i-Dīn, or ʿihya-i-Shariʿah; he began a project of renewal and revival of the dīn of Islām with a particular focus on Shariʿah which he accomplished through his teachings. Through his letters, he built up a network of students and deputed people for the work of khulafā. Some of these letters are focused on tasawwuf while others are political letters in which he directs his students on how to work in the government, how to work in the courts, how to revive dīn and how to bring the officials in courts towards dīn. All of those letters are preserved and some of them are covered here as well.

The word Shariʿah comes frequently in his letters; adherence to the law; enactment of the law of the dīn of Islām. The second word that he repeatedly uses is Nabuwwah; prophecy; it focuses on the teachings of Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws), the way of the Prophet (sws) and his sunnah. This is because one of the greatest fitnah of his time was that even some of the great so-called ʿulamā — people who had studied and acquired the learning of Islam — had begun to deny prophecy. He wrote an entire book on this called “ʿIthbāt al-Nabuwwah – The Affirmation and Establishment of the Reality and the Truth of Prophethood and Prophecy.” This is very similar to Imām al-Ghazālī (rah) when he had Ibn Sīnā who had come up with a skewed understanding of prophecy; he viewed prophethood and prophecy as the philosophy of the philosophers. Then Allāh (swt) raised up Imām Ghazālī (rah), who was also a great Mujaddid of his century, to revive proper Islamic concept of Nabuwwah.

3. Denouncing Bidʿah and Innovations

He denounced a large number of bidʿah and innovations that were taking place in his time. To give an idea here are some of the bidʿahs from that time — lest someone misunderstands the way in which the term bidʿah is used today:

  • People were making sajdah to shaykh in tasawwuf
  • People were drinking the left over wuḍu water of the mashaikh

He mentions these things one by one. He did a complete sociological study of what was going on in the practice of tasawwuf at that time and he singled out each and every particular thing that was against the Shairʿah and wrote and lectured about it, censured it and tried to eliminate it from practice. Not only did he take the concepts from the theory, he also focused on the practice and he purified the practices that were prevalent at that time.

4. Direct Engagement with Mughal Emperors Akbar and Jahāngīr

Mughal Emperor Akbar had established his own religion which he initially named Dīn-i-Akbarī but later changed it to Dīn-i-ʿIlāhī meaning the religion of Allāh. This religion started out claiming unity and respect for all religions including Budhism, Hinduʿism and Islām, but it ended up becoming extremely antagonistic towards the dīn of Islām. In this formulation, he was accompanied by his two puppet ʿulamā; Abuʿl Faḍl and Abuʿl Faiḍī. When he was just forming the theology of the religion, Imām Rabbānī (rah) worked actively to refute, both in word and pen, the theology of that religion. Later, Akbar started changing the practices; for example, he started making rules enacting laws in India one which was that there was no such thing as ṣalah at all. He did not prohibit people from praying, but he did publicly proclaim that in the Dīn-i-ʿIlāhī there was no ṣalah whatsoever. He also said there was no prophethood at all which Imām Rabbānī (rah) strictly opposed. Next, Akbar started banning things in public; since there was no prophethood, no one was allowed to mention the name of Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws); he only allowed people to pray Jumʿah on the condition that the khatīb should not mention the name of Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws) or the names of any Ṣaḥābah (ra).

Here, we see that Akbar is becoming more bold in dictating people how they should carry out their religious practices. The point to ponder is that what level had reached in the society that he had gotten so many corrupt scholars to ascribe this crazy religion of his that insisted there was no need for prophecy on such a level that in the entire Mughal Empire, on any Friday, no khatīb could even say the name of Syednā Rasūl Allāh (sws). Then he started to change the laws which under the reign of previous Muslim Mughal rulers had been according to Shariʿah; such as gambling, which had been prohibited before, was made legal; drinking, which was forbidden before, was made legal as well. This was the stage that is very much unemphasized by the dry non-Muslim academics of this time. In fact, some of them even demonize Imām Rabbānī (rah) quoting that he was, in their eyes, backwards and was rolling back the “progress” that Akbar had initiated.

Imām Rabbānī (rah) tried his best until Allāh (swt) gave him an opening when Jahāngīr became the Emperor. Imām Rabbānī (rah) saw this opportunity and mobilized massive letters to many ʿulamā in India and his students to work with the local officials, because a vast majority of the local officials had remained on the Dīn of Islām. In fact, one historian has mentioned that only twenty people followed Dīn-i-ʿIlāhī in terms of true following of that false religion. Because Akbar had used the apparatus of Mughal state, a lot of things had been enacted upon the people who did not believe in them. Shaykh Sirhindī (rah) tried to ignite all those people who were unhappy with the rules that Akbar had initiated and who were in any way unsympathetic in the slightest of sense to Dīn-i-ʿIlāhī. He was very successful in this and in the first six years there was a complete roll-back of all of Akbar’s Dīn-i-ʿIlāhī policies.

At this point, there was another set back sent by Allāh (swt) that Jahāngīr married Nūr Jahān in year 1020 H. It is reported that she was from a Shiʿī background and won him over. To put it straight, women have been responsible for the rise of many men in history, but they have also been responsible for the downfall of many others. Jahāngīr, who for six years had been, to a relative extent, a proper and practicing Muslim and had rolled back all of the teachings of Mughal Akbar, after his marriage to this woman who had enamored him with her overwhelming beauty, gave up all of his decisions to her. However, she was a women who associated with the wrong type of people. Another thing that happened at this time was that a group who were the false practitioners of tasawwuf tried to seize this opportunity. In the early six years of Jahāngīr, Imām Rabbānī (rah) had also managed to roll-back all of the bidʿah and innovations. Multiple powers who had been kept at bay during this period, when Jahāngīr got married to Noor Jahan, they seized this opportunity.

They started poisoning Jahāngīr specifically regarding this network that Imām Rabbānī (rah) had created, so much so that in 1028 H, 1619 AD, Emperor Jahāngīr imprisoned Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi rah and kept him in jail for an entire year. But even from prison he managed to write letters and continued supervising the work of renewal of the dīn.After a year Jahāngīr himself released Imām Rabbānī (rah) with great embarrassment to himself and with great apology. He wanted to make amends with Imām Rabbānī (rah) so he gave him the option that he could either go back to his home, otherwise he would like to keep Imām Rabbānī (rah) with him at the court. Imām Rabbānī (rah) chose to stay in the court for a few years. During this time he was able to finish his work of complete revival of the dīn of Islam in the Mughal Empire.Up next was Aurangzeb, who in our history is Aurangzeb the Great, and by their history he is Aurangzeb the terrible. Because he completely brought everything back onto Shariʿah and completely enacted all the laws in the dīn of Islam. Imām Rabbānī (rah) passed away in 1034 H or 1624 AD, in other words 4-5 years after being released from jail.MaktubatIntroductionMaktubat has 3 volumes and it was initially written in Persian. Persian was the language of the Mughal court and Persian was the language used by the Muslim scholars in the Mughal India. It might be surprising as to why they did not use Arabic.All the ʿulamā knew Arabic, Persian and Urdu and all three languages were used by the ʿulamā in South Asia. But in terms of personal correspondence, they did that in Persian. You can see historically also that some of the great ʿulamā have used Persian. The letter Imam Ghazali rah wrote to his student which we did in Birmingham was also in Persian.These letters are called Maktubat. Maktub literally means that which has been penned down. It is a word that is used for letters. The volume number on the text refers to the original volumes that were written in Persian, which is daftar, so daftar e awwal is volume one.The letters in original Persian were not arranged according to subject topic. They have been translated to Urdu, Arabic and English. There is only partial English translation. There are only two English translations that I am aware of. The second one is better but more difficult and has been translated by Shaykh Wajiuddin (db).He has translated all of volume one. It’s difficult because the English used is of a very high level. He has tried to capture the high and eloquent Persian prose using high eloquent English prose and especially the way you people talk gives us the impression that your English is not that high or as eloquent, so you might get more confused. So we will be doing the other translation with you.The letters I selected for today, majority of them have teachings of Tasawwuf. My own feeling of this text is that you will not be able to read and understand this text on your own. In fact, there are very few letters that can even be taught in such a format in such a gathering.I have selected the letters that I feel could generally be taught to you given your varied background. We will most likely not be able to complete all of this text, but I would suggest to you, even though you are likely to read it on your own, to not do so because you will not be able to understand. But there is a hope that by the time we are done you would have hopefully acquired an understanding of Imam Rabbani’s rah thought that you might even be able to understand if there is any left.I also want you to know that personally I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this text as far as the analysis or conclusion by the translator goes.Stages of SulukHumanity has been created to love Allah swt. If the love for Allah swt is kindled in the heart of a human being, whether in the beginning of their spiritual journey or during the course of it, the purpose of that love for Allah swt is to disengage that human being’s heart from all things other than Allah swt. There are some terms I want you to pick up here.Sulook: The Arabic word sulook means journey and it can also mean a path i.e. the journey of path or the path of the journey. The person who is travelling on this path is called a saalik. The word sulook was used from an early period also for Tasawwuf and Tazkiyah, because it is viewed as a path that connects us to Allah swt, moving us away from the connection from the world.Ubudiyah: This means that the person has been created to serve Allah swt.

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
I did not create the Jinns and the human beings except for the purpose that they should worship Me. We did not create Jinn and Man except to worship. He is trying to mention this. The letters of Imam Rabbani rah were almost always addressed to ʿulamā and they knew Qurʿān and Hadīth. When we read these letters today we may not understand why he is quoting the Qurʿān and Hadīth more.These letters are actually based on a presumption of a deep understanding and knowledge of dīn. It is understood that whoever reads the word “abdiyat” will immediately think of this verse. We don’t have that level of knowledge, therefore we need the footnotes, we need someone to explain this to us. Love is never an end in itself. Imam Rabbani rah is very clear about this. Love for Allah swt is a means. What is the end? The end is uboodiyah. The goal and objective of a human being is to become an abd of Allah swt. Even love for Allah swt which is a noble emotion that even in Qurʿān it is said:وَٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ أَشَدُّ حُبًّ۬ا لِّلَّهِ‌ۗ

those who believe are intense in their love for Allah [2:165]

But that love is not without purpose. That love has a mission and that is to bring a person to uboodiyah – to absolute servanthood and slavehood of Allah swt. Imam Rabbani rah is trying to target the people who claim to love Allah swt from the false sufi’ism of his age and the false sufi’ism throughout the ages who do not follow Shariʿah.He is targeting the people who claim to love Allah swt and think that the love for Allah swt somehow makes them above and beyond the need for Shariʿah.

Always remember there are two things in his mind:

  1. One is the general articulation of what he views tasawwuf to be
  2. And second is the rebuttal of the false sufi’ism of his time

This is why I say that love is never the end in itself. It is only a means to realize servant-hood, uboodiyah to Allah swt. One becomes a true servant of Allah swt when one becomes free from the love and bondage of this world.

This is love for Allah swt vs. love for ghairullah (other than God). Then we are talking about slave-hood to Allah swt as opposed to slave-hood to the world. This can mean slave-hood to the nafs also, because nafs is part of the dunya. We maybe a slave of our own desires and wishes, slave of materialism, a slave for the search for fame, popularity, celebrity, whatever it is all of it comes into dunya. Nafs, dunya, makhlooq.

This is a very important aspect of tasawwuf:

Tasawwuf is designed not for the pious person. It has been designed for a person who is stuck in sin and wants to reach taqwah.
That is the journey. Tasawwuf is the journey of that person who is a slave of his nafs but wants to become slave of Allah swt; has love for this world but wants to have love for Allah swt; has unlawful love in their heart and wants to trade and exchange that for the sake of Allah swt. This is the path of sulook.
Love is nothing but a means for an exclusive devotion to Allah swt. Exclusive here is ikhlas:مُخۡلِصِينَ لَهُ ٱلدِّينَ‌ۚ
with pure faith in Him [7:29]

How is a person going to get that sincerity and ikhlas and purity in everything they do and say and think such that it is only for the sake of Allah swt? They are going to do that by getting love for Allah swt. When love for Allah swt comes in their heart that is going to make them true and sincere.

The last stage in the wilayah – which is a particular reality attained along the process of sulook – This word is also used in Qurʿān:إِنَّ أَوۡلِيَآءَ ٱللَّهِ لَا خَوۡفٌ عَلَيۡهِمۡ وَلَا هُمۡ يَحۡزَنُونَ
the friends of Allah shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve [10:62]

Who are the ʿawliyā of Allah swt? ʿAwliyā is the plural of walī. It means a person who has wilayah this is a Qurʿānic reality. What is the end of wilaya? What does it mean to be a walī of Allah swt? It means to be an abd (slave). There is nothing beyond that. There is no rank or maqam that you can attain that puts you outside or beyond being a servant and slave of Allah swt.

In other words, it is not that beginning is with abd and then I become a walī. The end of wilayat is aboodiyah. The highest stage is to be an abd. That’s why in tashahhud in salah we say:واشهد ان محمد عبده – first and foremost an abd – ورسوله – then Rusul.So the greatest achievement of Nabi sws, even greater than that he was the greatest prophet of Allah swt, was that he sws was the greatest abd of Allah swt. And that is why Allah swt wants us in salah to first testify to the greatness of his uboodiyah. Beyond uboodiyah there is no stage. When a person reaches this stage of absolute uboodiyah that person finds no person between them and their Lord. Let alone thinking that they and Allah swt are one. It’s the complete opposite.

Explanation and Refutation of the Concept of Wahdat al-wujūd

Wahdat al-wujūd is presented as if it were the pinnacle of an achievement. Imam Rabbani rah is saying that what we are going to call a pinnacle achievement is what we call absolute difference and separation. No comparison – absolutely incomparable. That I and Allah swt are absolutely incomparable.

I will not even think that I have a little bit of generosity and He is AlKareem. It’s like what we do in mathematics: 1 billion over infinity is zero. Allah swt’s generosity is infinity. No matter how generous you may be, your generosity is incomparable. It is zero compared to the generosity of Allah swt.

We are mentioning this because sometimes along the way a person who is trying to come closer to Allah swt thinks that we are told in hadīth to adorn ourselves with those attributes of Allah swt which we are supposed to adorn ourselves with, a person may feel that I’m merciful. My mercy is a drop of Allah swt’s mercy, but it is something comparable and similar.It’s a process called tashbeeh to understand the Mercy of Allah swt – that when you are kind and merciful to someone you understand that this is what Mercy is and it helps you understand what it means that Allah swt is Ar-Rahman. But in the final stage the person dispenses from all of that.

(The author keeps altering between the word sufi and mystic, but I will not use the word mystic. Because mystic has a lot of connotations. I hear the word mystic and I’m thinking magic, spells, new age spirituality, budhism, hinduism. I’m not thinking about abdiyat). This is Qurʿān:

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلنَّاسُ أَنتُمُ ٱلۡفُقَرَآءُ إِلَى ٱللَّهِۖ وَٱللَّهُ هُوَ ٱلۡغَنِىُّ ٱلۡحَمِيدُ
O men, you are the ones who need Allah, and Allah is Free-of-All-Needs, the Ever-Praised. [35:15]

You are faqir. The end is abd and faqir. Whereas Allah swt is Ghani-ul-Hameed – He is absolutely self sufficient. Allah swt is absolutely independant. I’m completely dependant. Allah swt has no need whatsoever. I am just a creature of need. I am a living embodiment of need and dependency on Allah swt. Allah swt is Mustaghni in His essence – in His own being, as well as in His attributes. And also in his application of attributes.Sometimes people say how can Allah swt be Khaliq before He created anything. That is a misunderstanding. That is a suggestion that Allah swt needs an object of creation to become the Khaliq (Creator). Allah swt never needed makhlooq to be Khaliq. He was Khaliq before he “created” anything. All this is more relevant to the discussion of theology.

These days it’s a big vogue in England to have Aqeedah courses. In our understanding you should study Kitabul Imaan, the Sahih of Muslim and Riyadhus Saliheen and Mishkaat in books of Hadīth and you should understand what Imaan is, you should understand the articles of Imaan.

As far as the discussion is concerned regarding the nature of Allah swt’s attributes we should go to the mashaikh of tasawwuf for that because they are the ones who have actually understood Allah swt the best. Theologians maybe able to explain Allah swt to the rational intellects best, but the ones who have understood Allah swt the best are the mashaikh of tasawwuf.

So the end of wilayah is that the person sees nothing in common between his siffat (attributes) or his being and Allah swt’s siffaat and His being. He sees no similarity between his acts and acts of Allah swt, as opposed to people who used to be intoxicated they used to feel that my walking is Allah swt’s walking, my talking is Allah swt’s talking.Know that your acts and Allah swt’s acts are completely different. He even avoids saying that the world is a shadow of Allah swt. In one of his letters Imam Rabbani rah speaks of how people have three views:
  1. The world and Allah swt are the same. This is wahdat al-wujūd and he says it is wrong.
  2. The world is a shadow of Allah swt. That the creation in some sense reflects the Creator. It’s there in the Qurʿān. Allah swt talks about about His signs of the Creator in the creations. The signs of Khaliq in makhlooq. Some understood those signs and took it a bit further and said that this world is like a shadow of the Creator.
  3. This is the view that Imam Rabbani rah articulates and ascribes that the world is not even a shadow. It is completely nothing as compared to Allah swt. It’s not even a shadow – not even a shadow like relationship. It is completely different. Allah is Allah and dunya is dunya and that’s it.

He in the other long letter mentions these three views and mentions his arguments and refutes the first two and puts forth arguments for the third one. That’s why he is saying that the end of wilayah is aboodiyah. And Imam Rabbani rah will later articulate this also that there were some noble sufis who did say certain things.

He actually does not link it to kufr like other ʿulamā did – he says Ibn Arabi will go to Jannah but that he was mistaken, he was erroneous because he had not reached the end of wilayah. He got stuck on the way and when you get stuck on the way you make mistakes. And he made sure people will not get stuck on the way by changing the whole nature of tasawwuf.The person who reaches the end and does not get stuck even avoids saying that the world is a shadow of Allah swt. This requires comparison and analogy and Allah swt is beyond that. Maarfat, i.e. deep understanding, is that I understand Allah swt is Khaliq and I’m makhlooq, beyond this he claims nothing.

Some people on this path see no actor besides Allah swt. This is now Imam Rabbani rah speaking of one aspect of wahdat al-wujūd, that those people felt Allah swt was the only actor. There are two words used for this in Arabic: Faa’il and kaasib. The doer and the perpetrator of events. Allah swt is the ultimate doer of everything. But these people took it to a further level and said that Allah swt is the perpetrator of everything.

It’s difficult to understand this slight difference between faa’il and kaasib. Allah swt alone is the faa’il e haqeeqi. He is the true Faa’il. He ultimately does whatever He intends. That’s why in Hadīth e Qudsi Allah swt says My servant draws near me with that which I have made obligatory upon him. And he continues to draw nearer to me by the nawafil that have been made optional on him. Until I become the eyes through which he sees, the ears through which he hears etc.What does that mean? At the ultimate level, Allah swt is the ultimate doer. But in terms of perpetration of acts, you actually do the things that you do. The people who had the concept of wahdat al-wujūd took it to that level that we don’t even actually do anything. They will say you are not raising the cup. Allah swt is raising the cup. That’s because they felt that the person and Allah swt are one and the same.The mashaikh of the Naqshband silsila know that Allah swt is the creator of acts i.e. Khaliq e af’aal. But he is not the kaasib e af’aal – the doer of the acts. This is a very delicate area of theology.

You can view it like this that the act of raising and drinking from the cup requires some ability on my part, it involves an intention on my part to raise the cup, it involves the ability to drink from it. All of these things are created by Allah swt . The ability to intend to touch the cup; the ability to touch and lift it; the ability to drink from it, all of that has been created by Allah swt. But it has been done by me.

The doctrine of one act however viewed that Allah swt is the doer of acts. Suppose that there is a juggler sitting behind a screen, he produces some wonderful movements in different forms of objects. The people with penetrating eyes know that the creator of the movement is the man behind the screen. This is like the puppeteer’s example. Hence they say it is the forms that move, and not the juggler.

Sukkar is a word sometimes used for liquor and alcoholic beverages. But it is also used for a state of intoxication that sometimes comes in a person due to spiritual exercises. There were some people that because of their engagement in dhikr they reached a state of sukkur.What happened was that some people of tasawwuf had this understanding that they had to negate their nafs. That’s obviously true, nafs e ammara has to be negated. But they went so far that they tried to negate their ownself, their very being itself. When they negated their own will and being, imam Rabbani rah would explain it that it was just a matter of perception, that the only thing they were able to perceive or be aware of was Allah swt.

When a person goes to such a deep level of dhikr, it can be understood from the analogy of a dream. Let’s suppose you have a nice dream. You saw that you were in Makkah Mukarama and you were making tawwaf, and you were sitting after tawwaf and you were looking at the ka’aba, and the dream goes on and on in dream time. The second you wake up from the dream, for the first moments or minutes there is a lingering feeling.It will take you sometime to reorient yourself and realize that you are not in Makkah Mukarama, that you are unfortunately in your room in East London. During those few moments and before you have that realization, you will be in a state of intoxication. For the first few moments you may still think you are in Makkah mukarama, that is sukkur.

This word has been translated as intoxication because usually this word is translated as such in it’s usage in Arabic language, for being drunk on alcohol and liquor. But when it’s used for when you move from one state to another, the first moments after making that transition, you still feel like you are in the first stage.The analogy of dreaming and coming out of dream state is like being in dhikr and then coming out from the state of dhikr. Imagine a person goes deep into dhikr. Allah swt mentions in Qurʿān:

وَٱذۡكُرِ ٱسۡمَ رَبِّكَ وَتَبَتَّلۡ إِلَيۡهِ تَبۡتِيلاً۬ 

And remember the name of your Lord, and devote yourself to Him with exclusive devotion.  [73:8]

Make dhikr of the name of your Rabb and enter the state of tabattul. That’s a haal which means to become completely oblivious to all except Allah swt and to be completely aware of Allah swt. When a person enters that states, like that Sahaba ra who was praying salah and he was completely oblivious to the fact that had been shot, when he leaves his salah then he will become aware, then he will start feeling the pain.After he left the salah, maybe there was a lingering moment in which he was still absorbed in the dhikr of Allah swt but then first he would have become aware of the blood, maybe his sight would make him aware of that, then he would become aware of the arrow, and he would start feeling the pain. But he didn’t feel this pain during salah, that’s a change from one state to another. It’s a change in awareness and perception.A person was so absorbed in the remembrance of Allah swt that their perception of ownself was numbed. Sometimes their own awareness even becomes zero. However when they come out of that ibadah, gradually or sometimes instantly, that awareness and perception is restored.So what happened was that when this person entered the state of dhikr and lost all perception of everything other than Allah swt, for a moment when they came out of that dhikr, even though they may have been looking around them, but still everything in their mind was still Allah swt, just like when you open your eyes you think your room is makkah.When they opened up their eyes to the world they thought the world was Allah swt. When they regained the perception of the world they thought the world was Allah swt. When they regained the perception of themselves they thought they were Allah. Here Imam Rabbani rah is explaining how did people arrive at this concept of wahdat al-wujūd.

Again understand that explaining does not mean justification. This is an incorrect doctrine. But the question arises why did the person think that he was Allah. These people who were thinking this weren’t doing so because they were trying to come up with a new religion, or they had a new theology or aqeedah. It was because of sukkur. It was because of their state of intoxication. Intoxication means that you cannot perceive reality. Your perception becomes skewed. You end up losing your grip on haqeeqah, that is also one of the reasons why intoxication is not allowed in Islam.

There are two relaities: one is the reality of Allah swt and one is the reality of the world. This person negated the reality of the world and was so lost in the reality of Allah swt so their perception of Allah swt was correct. But their perception of the world became skewed. That’s why this is not kufr. This is imam Rabbani rah’s beautiful way of explaining because he does not view it as a perception of Allah swt.

This is the issue of intoxication. Means the assertion of one actor believes in wahdat al-wujūd is the act of a person who has a skewed perception of the reality.

That perception was skewed due to dhikr. You can get a skewed perception of reality through liquor, drugs, dreaming, sleep walking, and you can actually get a skewed perception of the world through dhikr.That’s not entirely a bad thing. This particular view that we have discussed is a bad thing, but otherwise having a skewed perception of the world sometimes saves you from being attracted to the world. The truth is that there are many actors. Me, you, everyone here is an actor, has agency i.e. they do things. But the creator of those acts that is only One i.e. Allah swt.

One actor is one aspect of one being. It is a product of intoxication and ecstasy. They negated their own existence so they felt the only thing that existed was Allah swt. Let’s look at it this way, let’s assume that if you take the position that the only thing that actually exists is Allah swt, and then secondly I tell you my finger exists, so you will say well your finger must be Allah. Because to you the only thing that exists is Allah swt.

This is how they came up with this notion of wahdat al-wujūd that they felt the only thing that existed was Allah swt. This was a skewed perception. They had turned off their perception of ghairullah in dhikr. And they were not able to turn it back on. They turned their eyes back on, but could not turn their awareness back on. So this is incorrect.

Purpose of Tasawwuf and Correctness of its Ideas

Now Imam Rabbani rah mentions the correctness of all ideas of tasawwuf how will we know whether they are correct or not? They must agree with and be in conformance with Shariʿah. If they diverge a hair’s breadth, there is sure to be a point of intoxication. So how do I know whether this is the true idea of tasawwuf, true understanding of Allah swt that came to me in dhikr, or is it a false understanding that has come to me in my dhikr?

You will just use Shariʿah; the Qurʿān and Sunnah. And if your understanding deviates from Qurʿān and Sunnah even one hair’s breadth then it means whatever understanding that came to you during dhikr is wrong. You should make tawbah and flee it. And if it is not against Shair’ah then it is fine.

The truth is what has been established by the ʿulamā. Where am I going to get the Shariʿah from? Not from ʿawliyā, but from ʿulamā. And this is a common theme in Imam Rabbani rah’s writings that the ʿawliyā are dependent on ʿulamā for understanding of Shariʿah, just as the ʿulamā are dependent upon the ʿawliyā for undertsanding of Allah swt. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. It is a reciprocal relationship.

So what is established is not by the ecstatic utterances, ecstasies and raptures of the people of tasawwuf – that is not the truth. The truth is what has been established by the ʿulamā of Ahl’al Sunnah wal Jama’a. All else is the product of intoxication and ecstacy.

The perfect agreement with Shariʿah is only possible through aboodiyah. The only way you can have perfect agreement with Shariʿah is when you become a perfect abd. So you must reach the end of wilayah to get that aboodiyah. Before that final stage there is always an element of intoxication.

Until you are the complete slave of Allah swt, you may come up with ideas on your own. It is only when you become a complete servant and slave that you can feel that your experiences in dhikr are according to Shari’ah.

Someone put a question to Shaykh Bahauddin rah that what is the purpose of sulook and of these exercises. He replied that the purpose is to know in detail what you know in brief and to perceive and envision what you know through arguments. I would rather translate it as to experience through perception what you know through arguments.

1. The purpose is to know in detail what you know in brief.

What do you know in brief? For example you know that Allah swt’s name is Ar Rahman, that He is the All Merciful One. But what is the detailed meaning of that? What does it mean that He is Ar Rahman? What is it supposed to mean to me? What is it supposed to mean to my heart? How am I supposed to change given the fact that Allah swt is Ar Rahman? This is called to know it in detail. And that is exactly what Allah swt says in Qurʿān:

ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنُ فَسۡـَٔلۡ بِهِۦ خَبِيرً۬ا
The Beneficent! Ask anyone informed concerning Him! [25:59]

Know that I am Ar Rahman. He declares Himself to be Ar Rahman. And says that it is not enough to just know that. There is no tilawat you can do to get it. Allah swt could have said faqru i.e. recite and read. He could have said ponder upon the verses. But He said go and ask.

Fassal, you must go and ask details of that from a ghairullah who is khabeer: deeply aware and informed what it means that I am Ar Rahman.

It means the path of tasawwuf is that asking. You can make the intention that I’m doing the amal on this ayah that fassal bihi khabeera. And everyone should try to do amal on every ayah of Qurʿān. It’s not a question of whether it’s fard, or nafl or wajib. If Allah swt says you should ask, then we should want to ask.Is it fard for you to ask or will you be punished if you don’t ask? No, it’s not fard. You won’t get asked on the day of Judgement that did you ever ask anyone what does it mean that Allah swt is Ar Rahman? You will not be punished for not doing this. It is not obligatory in that sense.But it’s Qurʿān! It’s the message of Allah swt. It’s our book of hidayah. It means that you will not be a sinner but you will be deprived of the complete Hidayah of Qurʿān unless you ask. Tasawwuf and sulook is taking a person beyond the level of mere fard and wajib and trying to bring them to that extra hidayah that is in Qurʿān and is guided by Allah swt in Qurʿān through other sources.

2. The other purpose is to perceive in vision what you know through arguments.

It means to experience the reality in your heart what you learn through words and your mind. For example, I can tell you using Qurʿān that there are 3 words that Allah swt has used for nafs: Nafs e ammara, nafs e lawwama and nafs ul mutma’inah. I can give you a talk on that. I can give examples on that.Now you know there are 3 types of nafs and you know the descriptions and attributes of all of those through words and arguments. There is a second level of knowledge that is to perceive inside myself which nafs I have. To perceive those attributes in myself.Another example is of hassad. Allah swt said in Qurʿān:

وَمِن شَرِّ حَاسِدٍ إِذَا حَسَدَ
And from the evil of the envier when he envieth. [113:5]

The envy of the envior has an evil. I can define the word envy to you. I can give you examples of envy such that you would understand what envy is. But unless you have felt envy yourself, I will say you don’t really know what envy is until you have felt it regardless of how I describe it to you. That is to know it in brief. So to know it in detail is when yo

u feel and experience it yourself and you have an awareness and perception of those feelings and experiences. That is the purpose of sulook.

Shaykh (Imam bahauddin naqshbandi) did not say that the purpose of sulook is to acquire the truth that is beyond the truth of Shariʿah – he is not saying that. It means tasawwuf does not add anything to the dīn of Islam. Wahdutul wujud is not there. It’s an addition therefore it cannot be a part of sulook. Tasawwuf means that the things that are already there to understand them better.

However it is a fact that a person who is engaged in tasawwuf i.e. mutasawwif, receives different ideas. They think different things, they feel different feelings. They get thoughts about Allah swt during their sulook. But when they reach the end all of those ideas disappear. Afterwards I will also show you that Imam Rabbani rah came up with another way of tasawwuf which is called the mujaddadi tareeqa and it saves a person from even going through these superfluous ideas.One thing is that the end of wilayah is aboodiyah, but in order to get there you have to go through a process. During that process some people may get superfluous ideas. One solution to this is that the person has a Shaykh to guide him out of that. And I will later show you how that works also.

Imam Rabbani rah is saying there is another way to get to that wilayah if abdiyat such that you are not even exposed to those superfluous ideas. That is the way Prophet sws taught the Sahaba ra. He also distinguished between these two different paths.

Here he is still talking about the first path that when he comes out of those superfluous ideas he perceives the same truths that he knew in brief, now in detail. And comes out from the narrow enclosure of reason to open space of kashf. Kashf is not something outside of Qurʿān and sunnah. People think that Qurʿān says one thing and kashf says another thing.The subject matter is Qurʿān and Sunnah, one is that I’m trying to understand it using my aqal (intellect) and second is that I’m trying to understand it through kashf. It means that I’m trying to understand it through my qalb (spiritual heart). Third is that I’m understanding it through my own efforts as opposed to through some meaning that Allah swt bestowed on my heart. That’s the difference.Kashf is in no way opposite to, or in contrast to, or in rival to Qurʿān and sunnah. Qurʿān and sunnah is the subject matter of dīn. It’s a revelation of Allah swt. Now one can understand them on the basis of their mind and/or they can understand them on the basis of their heart. One can understand them on the basis of their own intellectual exertion and effort and brainstorming or one can maybe receive insight into their meaning from Allah swt. That is called kashf and is also called ilham.

For example, when you want to make a decision, dīn of Islam has taught you to do two things: use your mind, brainstorm, exert your mind to understand what is the best decision for you, and secondly make dua istikhara. What is istikhara? You are asking for kashf. It is kashf and ilham. You are asking Allah swt to inspire your heart with an insight into what is the best decision for you.

For example the decision you want to make is whether you should go to Kuwait or not to go to Kuwait. There are two ways of analysing that subject. If I gave you the option that either I can give you a mind that will have the most brilliant rational analysis of all the pros and cons of that decision, and then you can use that mind to make that decision. Or I will give you a heart that is guaranteed to get an inspiration through istikhara that you will get ilham and kashf from Allah swt as to what the meaning of the best decision is for you, and you will be able to perceive that ilham. Which one will you pick?

If I gave you the same choice that here is Qurʿān and Hadith, and I give you two choices again. I can give you an aqal that has the highest level of ijtihad. Or I will give you a heart such that Allah swt will inspire that heart with what is the meaning of Qurʿān and Hadith. Which one will you pick?

Is there scope of error in ijtihad? Yes. And there is scope of error in kashf. Who checks the error in kashf? Ijtihad. The check on the errors of kashf is the Shariʿah itself. So if a person thinks that I have understood a meaning, but the meaning is against Shariʿah, then that meaning is Batil. It is false.

The person who reaches the end of wilayah which is abdiyat, now perceives the same truth that is the subject matter of Shariʿah. But now they perceive it and are aware of it in detail whereas before they only knew it in brief. He came out of that narrow enclosure of aqal, that was the brief, into the detailed understanding which is the kashf and ilham through dhikr, ibadah, taqwah and ikhlas. This what Allah swt says in Qurʿān that He gives ilm from His own behalf to people.

All the prophets received the same truths – detailed ones through wahi. That was maximum detail. So here Imam Rabbani rah is articulating that kashf and ilham is greater than aqal but lower than wahi. In other words wilayat is lower then nabuwwat. This is obvious to us, but it was not obvious to some of the people of his time.The sufi receives the same truth through ilham from the same source. He is not saying that the walī becomes a nabi. The walī does not get wahi. The walī gets the haqeeqat of wahi.

Let’s take the example of mercy of Allah swt. How did the Prophet sws get to know the Mercy of Allah swt? He didn’t fassal bihi khabeera. He did not go ask somebody. He got that from wahi – directly from Allah swt.

Let’s call this X. So X means the detailed understanding of the Mercy of Allah swt as placed in hidayah that Allah swt wants us to acquire. How did Prophet sws get that X? He sws got it from wahi. How did the walī get that X? He got it from ilham. What was the source of that wahi? Allah swt was the source. What is the source of ilham when you do istikhara? Allah swt.It does not mean that you become a nabi. You do istikhara, do you become a nabi? No, receiving ilham from Allah swt does not make you a nabi. But he is saying the source is the same. The person of tasawwuf receives the same truth from ilham from the same source i.e. Allah swt. Where do the ʿulamā get it from? (Some ʿulamā are also ʿawliyā).Here he is separating out 2/3 types of activities. There are three ways to get the same understanding: Prophetic revelation, inspiration that ʿawliyā get and ʿulamā who get understanding from ilm. ʿUlamā get this from their ilmi activities, from deduction, analysis, tafseer, Hadith commentary, Qurʿānic exegesis then they get the same thing. There are three ways to get it.

Prophet sws received the understanding in details and so do the people of tasawwuf when they reach that end state of wilayah, they also understand. But they don’t understand at the level of Prophet sws. Prophetic level is greater than the level of the walī but he also gets the details. But there is a difference.

The former truth depends on itself. The truths of the prophets (as) are self dependent, whereas the truths of the walī depends on the truths of the Prophet sws and is subject to its authority. This is where Imam Rabbani rah is making point for the need of nabuwah even for ʿawliyā i.e. the walī is nothing without their Nabi sws. The walī is nothing without the sunnah.The nabuwah of Nabi sws is itself a proof that whatever was revealed on Nabi sws is the truth. But when a walī receives ilham from Allah swt, that ilham in itself is not a proof that it is true. That walī is not a proof that it is true. It is dependent on Nabuwwah. In other words, the walī’s ilham must conform with Sunnah and Shariʿah. He needs to get the prophetic stamp on his ilham. The walī only operates in the world of Sunnah and Shariʿah. He cannot go outside of that.


Cont’d in Session 2

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3 thoughts on “Maktubat-e-Rabbani Session 1

  1. Pingback: Maktubat-e-Rabbani Session 2 | Marajal Bahrain

  2. Pingback: Maktubat-e-Rabbani Session 3 | Marajal Bahrain

  3. Pingback: Maktubat-e-Rabbani Session 4 | Marajal Bahrain

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