[These are the rough notes from the second session of the workshop conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in UK, in 2011] [Notes of Session 1]
[Audio is available here]
Purpose of Tasawwuf in this Day & Age vs. in Previous Times
After one has acquired the right beliefs and subjected oneself to the rules of Shari’ah, one should, if Allah swt wills, enter the path of tasawwuf. What does this mean? At the time of Imam Rabbani rah, tasawwuf was, in some sense, different from what it is today. Today tasawwuf serves a bit of a different function, in other words tasawwuf has an additional function today.
In his time tasawwuf was viewed as something for people who were already strong in their imaan and had the proper aqaid of imaan, were already observing faraidh and wajibat, had already subjected themselves to the Shari’ah and if they wanted they would be involved in tasawwuf. And for them love for ghaiullah simply meant love for fame and popularity, just like Imam Ghazali rah writes in his letter From Skeptical Doubt to Certain Conviction, which we had covered in an earlier course.
Imam Ghazali rah had left his teachings not because he was doing any sin. He was not engaged in anything that was haram. He had not failed to do anything that was fard or wajib. He did it because he wanted something even greater. And he felt embarrassed that he was not able to do that, that is why he left and joined the path of tasawwuf, and later returned to teaching. That is a whole separate discussion.
In this day and age, it has been felt by the mashaikh of tasawwuf that since the past 100 or 200 years, the same method of taking out love for the world, putting in love for Allah swt that enables a person who has already been staying away from sins and doing the fard and wajib, to reach a higher level of closeness to Allah swt, the same love for Allah swt actually helps the people who are sinners; who have not yet subjected themselves to the rules of Shari’ah; who are still engaged in lust, in greed and in envy; who are still not regular or consistent in their faraid and wajibat, and they want to make that journey to leave all the haram and prohibited and disliked things and start all the faraid and wajibat. The mashaikh felt the tasawwuf was extremely helpful in the latter also.
Just like we shared in a talk on last Thursday, which some of you may have listened to, that my own experience of 17 years with tasawwuf is that most people have fallen into sins that can only be cured by love for Allah swt. Because most people have fallen into those type of sins, that is why tasawwuf in this day and age is beneficial not only after one has subjected oneself to the rules of Shari’ah, but actually to enable a person to subject themselves to the rules of Shari’ah.
What Imam Rabbani rah meant here (when he mentioned that tasawwuf is optional) was not simply tazkiyah – it was not purification from sin. That starts at the outset. He meant the higher pursuits of tasawwuf: longer dhikr, longer nawafil, more ibadat, not living in abject poverty but really simple living, when should a person do those type of things?
That a person should do when they have already subjected themselves to rule of the Shari’ah; when they have firmly established the faraid and wajibat, and even then by saying InshaAllah – if Allah wills – he is making it clear that this is still nafl at that level.
The first level i.e. getting that love for Allah swt that will help you stay away from sin, getting that level of love for Allah swt that makes you consistent in Salah, that is fard. That is not optional. The other higher level is actually optional, it is nafl. The higher level should be done if the person is already following faraid and wajibat, and that they already have the proper aqeedah and imaan.
When one peruses this path, it should not be done to get something over and above the beliefs and practices of Shari’ah. There is nothing extra that you are going to get once a person is already on Shari’ah. Now the question may arise if the person is already on the rules of Shari’ah, then why would they need tasawwuf?
You need it to get those feelings i.e. to know in detail what you already know in brief; to feel nearness to Allah swt. As Allah swt says in Qur’an:
Or in the Hadith Qudsi that was mentioned earlier that a person draws near to Allah swt through faraid, and then draws even nearer through nawafil. When a person wants that qurb of Allah swt, wants the ma’iyyat from Allah swt, wants love for Allah swt, they would go into this. But that also is not something new. That is a part of deen. That is in the same guidance of Qur’an and Sunnah.
The purpose of following the path of tasawwuf, I prefer to use this term rather than “sufi way”, is to gain yaqeen in the object of faith that cannot be weakened by the doubts of a skeptic, or shaken by the remarks of an objector. It means to have Imaan in Allah swt, that is done, now I want so much yaqeen in Allah swt that if you lock me up with a 100,000 atheists for a 100,000 years, I will never even have one doubt.
Compare that to our young men and women who study in universities. I have had hundreds of emails (with such questions), or thousands probably over the years. It does not mean they are in a state of kufr, they are in a state of imaan, they do believe in Allah swt but do they have doubts? Are they skeptical about a particular verse or a hadith? Definitely they are.
If you look at it in that sense, this is another reason why tasawwuf in this day and age is needed especially amongst the university graduates and further educated people. Because they have exposed themselves to secular, liberal, atheist epistemologies which guise themselves in humanism, and then a person gets confused.
One of the goals of tasawwuf is to get that same imaan. You will not get anything new. But to increase the quality and strength of our imaan we need something called yaqeen.
The conviction found in arguments is not firm. Interestingly, this is exactly the same thing that Imam al-Ghazali rah has said; that imaan which you have in Allah swt which is based on arguments, is not firm.
Many times people ask questions, and yes, we will give you the answers. Because what you get in the answers, it will put you on a firmer footing than what you are already on. The person who is suffering from doubts and skepticism, when you give them an argument, you put them on a firmer footing. And then when you bring them to tasawwuf, you put them on an even firmer footing.
So there is a need for ilm, there is a need for the ulema to answer the questions on free-will and all of those things. There is a need for aqeedah, there is a need for kalam, there is a need for all of that. Because that would put a person on a firmer footing than what they are already on.
However, to go on an even firmer footing, a person needs tasawwuf; a person needs to experience Allah swt; he needs to experience the meanings of all those ayahs in Qur’an; he needs to experience the meanings of the Hadith and Sunnah. He quotes an ayah from the Qur’an:
أَلَا بِذِڪۡرِ ٱللَّهِ تَطۡمَٮِٕنُّ ٱلۡقُلُوبُ
Listen, the hearts find peace only in the remembrance of Allah. [13:28]
That know it is only, and only through the dhikr of Allah swt, and only is there in Arabic, alaa is what we call a kalimatu tanbeeh. It means be well-aware. Bi zikrillah is what we call harf e muqaddam, [8:00] . That is where you get the only. It is in the grammatical construct. Be well-aware and informed, that only and only in the dhikr of Allah swt do the spiritual hearts find peace and tranquillity.
It means that the highest level of it’minaan can only be gotten from zikrillah. That is what Allah swt is saying in the Qur’an. Yes, there is a level of it’minaan you get when you get the answer. If you are confused about something, you ask somebody, you go through an aqeedah course, kalam course, you get a certain level of it’minaan. But if you want the highest level of it’minaan, that only comes through the dhikr of Allah swt.
He says that this is the object of the way of tareeqah and tasawwuf regarding belief. In terms of imaan what is tasawwuf trying to do? It is bringing a person to yaqeen. Regarding action, ‘amaal and ‘amaalu saleh, what is the purpose of tasawwuf? The purpose of tasawwuf is to make it easy and spontaneous such that you do not find it difficult.
If I say pray 20 raka’at, you would find it easy. If I say recite 1 juz, you would find it easy. If I say make du’a for 10 minutes, you would find it easy. If I say do a nafl fast, you would find it easy. Rather than spontaneous, a better word would be self-willed, you are doing these acts from your own initiative.
You do not need a huge bayan to make you do a nafl fast. You do not need a huge bayan to convince you to do 10 minutes of istighfar a day. You have your own initiative, your own energy, your own power, your own internal battery’s charged to remove your sluggishness and laziness.
We are lazy in our ibadah. We are lazy in our faraidh of Fajr and Isha. Or when we do pray them, inside we are lazy about them. We are happy when we are done. Literally, this is the state of our prayer that when we are done we are so happy and relieved that now we can sit down and comfortably surf for 2 hours, sleep late, and then miss our Fajr. This is our state.
To subdue the nafs is also a big aim of tasawwuf; to subdue the nafs, to put it in chains, to beat it into submission, to destroy the nafs e ammara. You will always have a nafs, but the nafs e ammara needs to be completely destroyed.
Things that are not the Aim and Goal of Tasawwuf
After outlining what the purpose of tasawwuf is, and again this is ain e deen, it is completely a part of the hidayah of Qur’an and Sunnah. It is a way to get and live that hidayah. Then Imam Rabbani rah makes it clear what is not the goal of tasawwuf. Likewise, the purpose of the path of tasawwuf is not to seek forms and images of transcendental realities. That I want to see the forms of the angels or I want to have dreams of the Prophets.
These things may happen to some people, no doubt, and if it does happen to someone, that person may feel tremendously blessed by Allah swt. For example, to see Nabi sws in a dream. But that is not the object. A person does not worship Allah swt for that. Remember the object was uboodiyah; we worship as we are slaves.
This is what we would call in urdu be-gharaz. In English this would mean with no expectations, no entitlement, we do not deserve anything. We are not trying to earn anything. We are slaves because that is what we are; slave without pay. That is what a slave is, otherwise it would be called an employee.
Employee is not the word selected by Allah swt in Arabic. He knew what a slave was. Slave is someone who does things which the master tells him to do without any remuneration, or any compensation, without any reward.
That is a separate thing that Allah swt has promised us a reward in Jannah. But our being a slave would mean we will do it anyway. That is the level of yaqeen that if Allah swt, just saying, Allah swt would never ever say that, but let’s suppose that Allah swt says that I have decided forget Jannah, that when you die you would just be disintegrated in the earth, you would still pray. That is what it means.
You would still do everything even if the promise of the reward was for some reason taken back from you. You would still live your life according to the wish and will and pleasure of Allah swt, for however long you have to.
To behold colours and lights, that is not the purpose of Tasawwuf. That I was doing dhikr, and I saw this colour, or I was doing dhikr and I saw this light. People say that. Now they maybe mentioning it because they saw it, but that should not be the purpose. How do you know seeing lights has become your purpose?
You would want to see it. You would think I heard so and so saw light, I also want to the light. Why don’t I see the lights? What is wrong with the way I am doing dhikr? There is nothing wrong with the way you are doing dhikr. If the dhikr is not changing your life and not bringing it closer to Shari’ah and Sunnah, then you can ask what is wrong with my dhikr.
You should not write in the e-mail that what is wrong with my dhikr because I don’t see the lights. You should write that what is wrong with my dhikr because I still cannot get up for Fajr.
The way you check the quality of your dhikr is not inside your dhikr. The quality and success of your dhikr is going to be checked outside of your dhikr. Is your life getting closer to Qur’an and Shari’ah? Then your dhikr is okay. It is going wonderfully. It does not matter if you are not feeling or seeing anything. It is going beautifully.
If your life outside of dhikr is still the same way it was, you maybe feeling something in the dhikr, you maybe feeling it honestly and genuinely, but it is not a good dhikr. Don’t you remember that Nabi sws made a dua for ilm: O Allah, I seek ilm from you, the ilm that benefits. I seek refuge from You from the ilm that does not benefit.
Just like that in dhikr we should make dua: O Allah, I want the dhikr that benefits. And I may have dhikr, just like I may have ilm. I maybe a person who has ilm but I do not follow it. I does not meant that I do not have the ilm, I do have it, but it is not benefiting me.
Just like I know the meanings of the ilm, you may experience the feelings in dhikr, but if it does not benefit you then it is not dhikr un nafe – beneficial dhikr. Benefit means that it brings you closer to Shari’ah.
Just like that aalim who does not do amal no matter how much he brilliantly understands the meanings, those meanings are not going to be of any benefit to him. Similarly the Sufi who does not do amal on the Shari’ah may get feelings during their dhikr, it is a mistake to think that if I was wrong I would not have gotten a feeling.
You will get the feeling. Just like that aalim who did get the meanings. What makes you think he does not know the meaning? What make you think that if I didn’t do amal Allah swt would have taken away the ilm? Allah swt does not work that way.
You will keep the ilm, you will still have it, but you will have to fix your sins. Getting ilm is not a proof that you somehow are not doing sin.
So to see images and lights, colours and forms is not the purpose of tasawwuf. This is nothing more than play or fun. This is what Imam Rabbani rah is saying. There were sufis of his time, and even in this day and age, who are into this stuff.
Material forms and physical lights are a lot more interesting if one wants to have fun. He is saying, if you want to see lights, go to a laser-light show. Why do you need dhikr to see the lights? Walk around at Christmas time and see the Christmas lights, if that is what you want. This is what he is saying.
Why should one leave them, and run after spiritual forms and lights? And take up difficult processes for that purpose, that I want to do dhikr because I want to “experience” something?
If you want an experience, go on a roller-coaster ride. They say I want to feel a trembling in my heart. You want to feel a trembling in your heart? Here’s a ticket, go. If that is what you want, that’s the easier way to do it. Why should you try to do hours and hours of dhikr? I could give you that feeling on a 10 minutes roller-coaster ride.
(They say) I want to feel haraqah, hararah, taharruq. These are words. They are there in Qur’an:
إِذَا ذُكِرَ ٱللَّهُ وَجِلَتۡ قُلُوبُہُمۡ
whose hearts feel fear when Allah is mentioned [8:2]
But you don’t do dhikr because you want your hearts to tremble. You do dhikr out of obedience and servitude to Allah swt. I am translating this into your terms “laser-lights” and “roller-coaster” so you would understand. At their time, roller-coaster was dancing, hashish, qawwali, going to tombs and shrines. That was their equivalent at that time, and it still is at some places today.
Forms, lights and colours, both physical and spiritual, are all created by Allah swt. He is trying to say that it is all makhlooq. Tasawwuf is about turning away from makhlooq and focusing on Khaliq. And your seeing of lights, and visions and colours is all makhlooq.
Tasawwuf is about turning away from ghairullah, towards Allah swt. And if you are interested in experiencing lights, that is also ghairullah. That cannot be tasawwuf. You have just traded one ghairullah for a different ghairullah. He transcends them altogether. Allah swt is above and beyond all of these things. They are nothing but His signs and proofs. All of the creation in this world are nothing but a sign of Allah swt.
Then he says, as you would find some “modernist Muslims” who like to suggest to you that music is okay in sufi’ism. If you are too sufi, you would be fine with music. I speak very openly, unfortunately now we have some people who call themselves “traditionalists sufis”. And they also believe that you can use music in your dhikr. They do it in a very sophisticated way. They have a nice background. There are nasheed artists, and performances, and concerts.
Listen to what Imam Rabbani rah is saying. What should I say about hearing songs, or performing dances, or entering into a trance, or inducing an ecstasy? All the states and experiences which are produced by unlawful means are, in my view, a kind of temptation with which Allah swt tests men.
They say, no the nasheed will hit the person in the heart more if I have the drum-beat in the background. We don’t want his heart to be hit by that. Why should his heart need that? It’s a prop; that’s an artificial stimuli.
What do you think is weak? Is the qalb of the mu’min so weak that it needs drums in order to feel love for Allah swt? No, you have underestimated the qalb of the mu’min. Or have you underestimated the dhikr of Allah swt? That the dhikr of Allah swt is so weak that it cannot effect a person’s heart lest you add the drumbeat?
Allah swt only gives them latitude in this way. It does not mean they are given rukhsah. It means Allah swt lets them slide into that sin. They undergo these states; they experience reunions, they have revelations and visions in terms of forms of this world. So they claim that they saw this or saw that, or they saw something in the future. The Brahmins in India, the Hindus, they had all of these experiences. You can read it in their books; they do all these type of things.
He says the signs of the validity of a person’s experience are that:
- It agrees with the doctrines of Shari’ah
- In order to have that experience, one does not commit anything that is forbidden by Shari’ah, and one does not commit anything which is doubtful in Shari’ah either
So a person says that maybe music is okay, but it is doubtful. It does not matter. We will still not use it. Nabi sws used drums with simple percussions, without any melody or harmony, in Jihad and in Walima. So if any “traditionalist sufis” ever go on a Jihad, I will personally come and play the drums. They may have to give me an advance notice. If I’m able to come, I will personally come and play the drums in the Sunnah way. It is just a simple beat, that’s it.
As far as Walima is concerned, I don’t know if I would offer my services for that. Because you see, that (beating of the drum) was also done for another reason; that was to get attention of the gathering. Many times the Nikkah was in the masjid, certainly there were witnesses, and the people in the Masjid knew.
But the Walima was a more broader broadcasting of the fact that the marriage had taken place in the community. And to make it even more broadcast, drums were beaten so that everybody knew. I don’t think that is required anymore. In fact, I think there is too much broadcasting as there are various functions and events.
This is a one-liner for you, this is a great WaliUllah who in one line is making clear his stance on sufi’ism on music:
Know that music and dance are but trivial as games. It is a game, a toy; it’s a play-thing. Why? Because it is ghairullah. In fact the best way to understand music in Islam is through tasawwuf. Remember, I said that the ulema can give you meanings and bring you on firmer footings. You can look up the hadith on music, it will bring you to a certain level. But then you realize also that this thing is ghairullah.
We should think that why am I so attached to it, so addicted to it that I cannot leave it? I am insistent on it, I am stubborn. I keep asking a 100 ulema so that maybe one will tell me it’s okay. Why am I addicted to ghairullah?
What should I say of the frivolous ideas of the sufis? He is not referring here to all the people of tasawwuf, he himself is a Shaykh of tasawwuf. It means he is calling those people, and using this term in a negative sense, who felt that wilayah was something greater than ubudiyah; those who were engaged in music and dance; those who wanted to see the colours and lights.
What should I say of their frivolous ideas, what should I say of their experiences? In the akhirah, their experiences and findings will not be worth even half a penny unless they are weighed in the balance of Shari’ah. And their revelations, and inspirations, kashf and ilham, will not be worth half a grain unless they are tested on the criteria of Qur’an and Sunnah. Yes, there will be those who pass that test. But those who do not pass that test, their experiences would be completely worthless.
The purpose of persuing the path of tasawwuf is to strengthen the imaan and the objects of faith, as stated by the Shari’ah, which is what imaan really means. And also to acquire the ability to perform with ease the duties of Shari’ah as ascribed in Fiqh. There is no purpose beyond that in the practices of tasawwuf. There is no other reason a person does dhikr, other than to make themselves follow the Shari’ah and Sunnah better.
As far as the vision of Allah swt, the ru’yat of Allah swt, the deedar, the vision of Allah swt is promised in the akhirah, it cannot be had in this life. And the revelations and visions which the sufis ravel, give them nothing but the pleasure of a shadow.
It means if they do experience a vision, it’s a shadow. It is not Allah swt. Ru’yat of Allah swt cannot happen in this world. It maybe one of His anwaraat, fuyuzaat, tajaliyaat, these are words that will come in a bit. It means these maybe manifestations of the Mercy of Allah swt, blessings of Allah swt. It is not possible to see Allah swt in this world.
So if a person really wants to have this experience, they should follow that life on Earth that will enable them to see Allah swt in the akhirah. They have to follow Shari’ah and Sunnah. That is the best way to get the vision of Allah swt. Allah swt transcends absolutely all the revelations and visions that the sufis have.
If I tell the truth about visions and revelations as it is, I fear that it may disperse the travellers of this path. He is saying that if I tell them, that all of these things which you experienced, that I did dhikr and I had this feeling, and I tell them that this feeling is nothing, then the person may not do dhikr. There are people who in their initial stages do dhikr for those feelings. If I tell a child that the sugar which is in your food which you enjoy is actually of no benefit to you, it may effect their ability to eat.
But on the other hand if I do not tell the truth, I fear that I maybe guilty of selling the untruth inspite of knowing the truth. So clearly you can see that he made the decision to tell it that is why he wrote about it. It is clear that he decided to tell people, and to wean them off from the false tasawwuf they were in.
You have this problem still today. I still meet people in Pakistan, and in England also, and they think they are sufi because they have had certain experiences. And I even recently heard about one these traditionalists sufi shaykhs. He criticized all the ulema of India and Pakistan, I will not take his name, he used the word “all” ulema and said that they do not understand tasawwuf because they do not have all of these experiences. He said that because they do not have experiences that is why they do not understand ibn Arabi and they think that wahdatul wujud is wrong.
Here I want to make a slight comment on ibn Arabi, though the details are coming later, but since I have brought this up twice already. Ibn Arabi rah has written many works and many of his words and phrases in those works were quite ambiguous. They were what we call in Arabic muhtamil ul m’ani – they are open to multiple meanings. Different interpretors have taken different meanings from that.
There are two things. One is husn e zann. It means that you should be optimistic and always think the best of the person. If you keep that in light, then almost everything that he wrote can be interpreted in such a way that wahdatul wujud did not mean that he thought that everything was equal to Allah swt, or that everything was the same as Allah swt.
He actually thought that Allah is Allah and creation is creation. He was talking about something else; about the unity of grand scheme of things. It simply means that what is that thing which links us all? That we are Allah’s swt creation.
What is it that links me to wood? There is nothing that links me to wood except for the fact that wood is the creation of Allah swt and I am also the creation of Allah swt. So there is a unity between all of the creation because they are created by Allah swt. But there is no unity between creation and the Creator. That is what we call trying to give him a very fair reading benefit of the doubt.
Second is trying to find a balance between the two – which I like to call an honest reading. That is if he is saying something, and he keeps repeating it, and he is even giving examples and similes to illustrate it, it is kind of difficult to ignore that, unless you are dishonest that you do so much husn e zann to the point of being dishonest. That can also be problematic. We are going to see later on how Imam Rabbani rah tackled this issue.
The Chishti Mashaikh, even the Deobandi Chishti Mashaikh do not have a problem with him. I know one very big alim and mufti of Chishti silsila in Chicago, he actually teaches the books of ibn Arabi to his students. But the way he teaches them, like I told you, with a very fair reading of ibn Arabi. He does not teach the doctrine of wahdatul wujud as it is presented.
But in Imam Rabbani Ahmed Sirhindi’s rah times, what people had understood from ibn Arabi, and we will never know and only Allah swt knows best what ibn Arabi intended by those writings, but what people of his time understood from his writings were definitely the concepts such as the unity of beings and that the creation is united with the Creator. That is why he talks about it in such a way.
The object of the human beings’ creation is to worship Allah swt and obey (ibadah and ita’at). This is the whole purpose of life. The object of worship and obedience, what is the purpose of that? Why worship Allah swt? That is also a question that people ask that why do we need to worship Allah swt? It is to achieve conviction.
You see, the answer that tasawwuf gives is much more intense. Sometimes a university student would ask you, okay I understand that God does not need our worship, we need our worship. But why do we need it? You can try to explain to them that it is because you need Allah swt, you need to love Allah swt, you need to be a mu’min, you need to submit etc. And they may understand it and it might put them on a firm footing.
Even more firm footing is this that when you do the ibadah, you get yaqeen. You reach the end. You get that wilayah, you get the abdiyat to get the detailed understanding. You get to know Allah swt the way He has revealed Himself to be. You get to know Allah swt as He wishes Himself to be known. You feel Subhana Rabbi al’azeem in ruku differently, than you feel Subhana Rabbi al’Aalaa in sajdah. You will never get to feel the difference between al’Azeem and al’Aalaa if you do not do ibadah.
The more ibadah you do, the more you would feel those feelings. That’s why you do ibadah. Then he quotes an ayah of the Qur’an:
وَٱعۡبُدۡ رَبَّكَ حَتَّىٰ يَأۡتِيَكَ ٱلۡيَقِينُ
And worship your Lord until comes to you that which is certain. [15:99]
That you should worship Allah swt until you get yaqeen. Some scholar of tafsir have felt that yaqeen here means death. It means you worship Allah swt your whole life, until you die, until that certain inevitable outcome i.e. death overtakes you.
Other commentators have taken it the way Imam Rabbani rah is taking it here, and both of these meanings can co-exist simultaneously, that yaqeen also meant that you need to keep doing ibadah to get yaqeen in Allah swt.
This is very important because today we have been duped into thinking that faith is going to be acquired by reason. And Qur’an is saying that faith is going to be acquired by worship. Yaqeen – a level of certainty in faith. That is why you need ibadah because you need yaqeen. Every human being should feel that I need to feel all the feelings for Allah swt, I need to understand in detail all of His names and attributes.
So hat’taa introduces our purpose as it introduces an end. This is just a rule of Arabic Grammar that hat’taa comes for ghayah and gharaz. The verse may therefore be taken to mean worship and obey Allah swt in order to get yaqeen. In other words the imaan that a person has before ibadah and obedience is a formal one rather than the imaan that a person has after ibadah and obedience which means yaqeen.
You can look at it in terms of luke-warm faith and passionate faith. You will find this when you meet a non-practising Muslim. That term could never exist, but it does exist, and it is the case of majority; the majority of Muslims in the world are non-practising. If I were to choose to describe the practising Muslims just by one thing I would say that they pray 5 times regularly and consistently. If this is taken as the definition of practising, I can tell you that majority of the Muslims in the world are non-practising.
Just like Allah swt hides our individual sins, He hides the sins of this Ummah. Non-Muslims do not know that. You know what, they actually think that every Muslim prays 5 times a day. And they would give this example, in every book written on Islam they always talk about the 5 pillars.They always talk about the pillar of salah, and they always mention the 5 prayers.
If they had any idea that the majority of Muslims do not pray, they would definitely write it. That one of the pillars of Islam is praying 5 times a day, but 80% of Muslims do not even do that. They would have loved to write it, but Allah swt is as-Sattaar. It just does not occur to them. For some, the perception is hidden. And for others the awareness of that perception is hidden.
I can tell you when I taught in a university in Pakistan for 6 years, the estimates of our students was that 15% would pray 5 times a day regularly in the entire student body. My own estimate is 20 – 25%. No way more than 25% of university students in Pakistan pray 5 times a day. That is the situation.
And Pakistan is one of the more practising Muslim countries. And I don’t say this out of national pride. This is as far as larger ones are concerned. In smaller countries, I would say Somalia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, with smaller populations. As far as countries with massive Muslim populations are concerned, level of practise here is generally considered more.
This is for the university students. And in rural areas, as our tableeghi brothers who go to these areas in jama’at tell us, which is the bulk of the population, it is even less there. They are not kuffar. That is what I am trying to say here. They have imaan. They are not unbelievers. But their imaan is very luke-warm.
That person who does ibadah, who does worship, who does ita’at, who obeys Allah swt, they have a glowing imaan. They have a passionate imaan, they have a noor of imaan. When they have the noor of imaan, then they become munawar by that noor. That is the real light to get. The real light that we want to be illuminated by is the noor of the very imaan that we have in our own heart.
This is why Allah swt says in the Qur’an:
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ ءَامِنُواْ بِٱللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ
O you who believe, do believe in Allah and His messenger… [4:136]
Literally it means, O you who have imaan, have imaan. It means that O you who have adopted imaan on your tongue, or are Muslim in name, become Muslim in heart. Have the passion of imaan. This is what Imam Rabbani rah is saying, O you who have a formal belief, try to have a real belief by worshipping and obeying Allah swt as that Allah swt in whom you believe has ordered you to do as believers.
Live like the mu’mineen, live like the allatheena amanoo, follow all the commandments of Allah swt addressed to allatheena amanoo. The objects of fanaa and baqaa, which are the essence of wilayah, is to acquire this conviction, and nothing else.
He generally said that the purpose of tasawwuf is to get this yaqeen. Now he is opening up different elements and features of tasawwuf; fanaa, baqaa and wilayah. And he is saying that even for these particular things, their only purpose is to get yaqeen. If one understands fanaa fillah, and baqaa billah. Fanaa fillah is fanaa in Allah swt. And baqaa billah in any other sense such as which would suggest a fusion, union, joining of humanity with Allah swt is a blasphemous distortion of imaan.
Many things come from the mouths of the sufi in the state of intoxication, which is his duty to eventually overcome, turn to Allah swt and ask for forgiveness. Ibrahim ibn Shebaan rah, one of the great sufis, has said that the real fanaa and baqaa consists in sincerely believing in the unity of Allah and honestly living as His servant and slave. Anything over and above it is sheer error and infidelity.
By Allah, what he says is true. His words witness to his rectitude that he was from amongst the Saliheen, and to his taqwah. Fanaa in Allah means effacing oneself in carrying out the will of Allah swt, you may understand it as sair lillah, or meditation leading to God, or sair fillah meditation on God on the same lines.
Explaining Fanaa and Baqaa
Now I have to explain to you all the terms; fanaa, baqaa, sair fillah, sair lillah what does all of this mean? This is what ibn Sheban rah said that real fanaa means to lose yourself in the fact that Allah swt is one, not that you are one with Allah swt. But that Allah swt is one, alone, singular, unique, perfect and incomparable; that is fanaa.
Real baqaa is to live yourself as His servant and slave; to realize that you are dependant on Him. He is the means of your subsistence. He is keeping you baaqi, He is maintaining you; subsisting you. And you are entirely dependant and needy on Him. You have no independency from His whatsoever.
This was the real relationship of the link between human beings and Allah swt. Not that we are one with Allah swt, but that Allah swt is one and we are wholly and completely dependant and needy of that One. Our existence is based only on Him giving us subsistence. Understand the difference. He is perpetuating and maintaining our existence.
Even though the human beings will also live for an eternity, this is due to the wish of Allah swt; that He has chosen to make human beings have an eternal life in the akhirah, that is why you will live forever. And for every single microsecond of that forever, you and I will still be needy and dependant on Allah swt. Even though we will have eternal baqaa, even though we will eternally subsist, we are eternally, infinitely dependant on Allah swt every second of that eternity.
Now I am going to make a chart for you which would explain to you fanaa and baqaa. There are two ways to draw this. In first, we draw a circle. There are going to be 4 stages. One is the beginning and the other is the end. Remember when we talked about tasawwuf, we were talking about a person being disconnected from their love for the world and having love for Allah swt. Becoming disconnected from following your own wish, will and desires of your nafs, and instead following wishes and pleasures of Allah swt.
Let’s take the extremes. First extreme is that the person can be 100% connected to ghairullah, and 0% connected to Allah swt. Their heart, mind, body, soul, personality is 100% attached to ghairullah. And they have 0% attachment to Allah swt. That would be an extreme situation. I am not saying this is kufr, we have Muslims like this. They have imaan, but their hearts are totally attached to ghairullah.
Were they to make a journey, that journey on this circle would comprise of 4 stages; they are going to try to flip it. Now I am going to explain fanaa and baqaa to you in several different ways. Firstly, making this 100%, which was engagement with ghairullah and this world, making this 100% into 0% is called fanaa. This is not a permanent station. This is a state. This is a haal; reaching a state of being in a way of existence.
Here the person will have 0% attraction, interest, love for nafs, material world etc. On top of that, not just making that 100% into 0%, but also making the other 0% (attachment to Allah swt) into a 100%. When you get these both things, that is called fanaa. They are called fanaa fillah in Arabic.
Fanaa literally means to become fani; to erase yourself; to become completely absorbed in something; to become completely ensconced on something such that you become oblivious to everything else. What happens is when you make what they call the return, you return to this world and you end up like this.
The return is also known as baqaa. On one hand of baqaa it means your 100% connection with Allah swt remains, even though you have been back and are engaging in the world. But there is a big difference between this state and the previous one.
They both represent 100% engagement with the world. But the previous was 100% engagement in what we call a 100% ghaflah with 0% remembrance of Allah swt; heedless, mindless engagement with the world; unstructured and ungoverned by the Shari’ah and Sunnah and Qur’an.
The later means you are engaged with the world. You are functioning in the society. There is no monasticism in Islam. The end is baqaa, the end is not fanaa. It is not in being a monk. But you have to be able to do that. Everyday, 5 times you have to be a monk, did you know that?
You cannot live the life of a monk, but in your salah that is what you are supposed to be. You are supposed to be doing this 5 times a day. During salah you are supposed to become completely unaware of anything other than Allah swt and to become completely and exclusively aware of only Him.
The path of wilayah is training the person to get that ability, but it does not keep them there. Keeping them there, and going to a monastery, is prohibited in Islam. But training them to have that ability to enter there, that is required in Islam. I will not say that it is fard in Islam, but it is part of our deen. That is the Qur’anic term; this is tabattul.
However this 100% is not toppled with a 0%, it is toppled with a 100% engagement with the world that coexists with dhikr. It is structured. It is only engaging with the world with what is permissible in the world i.e. the hasanat.
رَبَّنَآ ءَاتِنَا فِى ٱلدُّنۡيَا حَسَنَةً۬ وَفِى ٱلۡأَخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً۬
Our Lord, give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter [2:201]
In the hasanaat we ask for the noble, virtuous, pure things of the world; to be a functioning member of the society; to be a functioning member of our family; to be an earning member of the society; to be a contributing member of the society; to be a guide for the humanity; to be a guide for the ummah.
This is the khidmat type of engagement. The previous was the ghaflah type of engagement. In the later, the person is a 100% engaged in the world, but not only with the world. You cannot let the other 100% (remembrance of Allah swt) go down. Once you get it, you should not want to lose it. So you are going to re-engage in the world, but you can only re-engage in those things that will not touch this 100%.
Obviously, if a person wants to retain their 100% (remembrance of Allah swt) they are not going to engage in any sin, or even in anything that is disliked. One Shaykh in Pakistan used to say that taqwah means to leave the things that are prohibited, disliked, and also things that are permissible but useless.
And that is one of our big problems that there are so many useless things that we do, that is why we are not free for dhikr. One problem is the sin that we do. Second problem is the stupid things that we do; the pointless things that we do; the useless things that we do. Idle-time, wasteful-time, your trivial wasteful idle pursuits and games.
The ruling from that verse derived by fuqaha is not that it is haram. But this what the people of the dunya, people in this material world call an opportunity-cost. That time you could have maximized your profit, what were you doing? Why do you give 30-minutes lunch break to the factory workers, you could have generated so much more output. That is how they think.
Just like these people try to maximize their dunya, Muslims should try to maximize their akhirah. This whole world is a factory of ‘amaal us saleh and we are the factory workers. We are on a shift, we are on duty. Just like the factory worker is not supposed to have a slack, me and you are also not supposed to have a slack. That’s the word “slack”; slackers. Now do you get it?
Taqwah means to stop doing what is haram, stop doing what is disliked, and stop slacking. Imagine a person who thinks like that, the person who has that attitude towards life, that is called a waliUllah.
The process to get this, generally, is called wilayah. This is the way of wilayah; to attain fanaa. You stay there for sometime, long enough that it becomes an inseparable part of you, and then you must return and re-engage in the world. This is called baqaa.
You can think that the sunnah equivalent of the state of fanaa is what Rasool Allah sws was doing in the Cave of Hira. He sws was entering into a state of fanaa. When work came upon him sws, he sws was in the state called baqaa. That is why when a person is on this stage, they have to do the work of the prophet, the mission of nabuwwat; guiding humanity; teaching deen, guiding people towards Shari’ah. That is the work that they have to do. This what the hadith means: Ulema (scholars) are the heirs of prophets.
Ulema who have the baqaa, they have to do the work of the prophets. Now you understand fanaa and baqaa.
Explaining the 4 Stations
There are some other terms: sair fillah, sair anillah, sair fil ashiya – these are particular terms that have been used in the Persian tradition of tasawwuf. Fanaa and baqaa are Arabic terms.
I have made 4 lines on the board. These are 4 journeys. So I told you that sulook is a journey. The circle we made was disconnecting from ghairullah and connecting to Allah swt. The journey all the way, full circle is that you are 100% connected to Allah swt, and connected to the world a 100%, you are functioning in the world but in the name of Allah swt, in the nisbat of Allah, for the sake of Allah, lillah fillah.
That same journey that we drew with the circle, we are going to break that same journey into 4 sub-journeys. One of the words in Persian used for journey is sair. So these are called the suyoor e arba’a i.e. the 4 journeys.
First one is called sair illallah. ila means towards, so this is for a person who is at a 0% connection with Allah swt, and he wants to make a journey towards the connection with Allah swt. He wants to have more awareness of Allah swt, he wants to be more mindful of Allah swt, he wants to have more fear of Allah swt, he wants to have more love for Allah swt, he wants to have more closeness to Allah swt. All of these words are in Qur’an.
Taqwah, khashiyah, muhabbah, qurb; these are all in Qur’an. Qur’an has described the feelings that a person is supposed to have for Allah swt. In sair illallah, they are making a journey to Allah swt. How are they going to make that journey? They will make that journey by climbing down from the 100% connection with the world. First part of the journey is to bring the 100% down to a 0%.
That involves, at one level, to lose their attractions, and attachment to ghairullah. It also involves losing their awareness, and perception, you can even call it knowledge. They are trying to un-know. You know, like sometimes we have this thing in learning that you should un-learn, then learn and re-learn which you tried to un-learn. This is exactly that.
Imam Rabbani rah says exactly this. That they must lose the knowledge of all that is, he uses a fancy term, munqith ul wujud instead of wajib ul wujud. That they must lose, do nakeer of the munqith ul wujud, and only retain ilm of the wajib ul wujud. It simply means that they must lose their knowledge, learning and awareness of all that is ghairullah.
When the person is trying to remember Allah swt 100%, there is going to be a process that is going to enable him to do so. That is first level of the journey that they are trying to make themselves unaware. You know, a lot of these sinful feelings we have is because we are too aware of this world.
If you were unaware, you would not feel lust. That is why Allah swt has told us to lower the gaze, because He is trying to protect us from being aware. When you lower the gaze, you are unaware. And when you are unaware, then you will not feel the feelings. But when you are aware, you are going to feel it. Just like if you touch something hot, you are going to feel hot. But if you never touch it, you will never feel hot. Another way to understand this is that this is a kind of detox – spiritual detoxification.
The second journey is called sair fillah. Do not misunderstand this. This is not literal Arabic. This is something that we call in Arabic mudhaf maudhoof. Literal translation would be journey in Allah. It does not mean journey in Allah swt; you cannot be inside Allah swt. It is all about knowledge and awareness.
It is journeying inside the realm of the awareness of Allah swt; inside your awareness and perception of Allah swt. First aspect of the journey was to reduce your awareness of the world; your own awareness; your knowledge and perception of the world from 100% to 0 %.
Second was to increase the journey inside the realm of awareness and knowledge of Allah swt. You are within a realm; that I am 100% aware of Allah swt or I am 0% aware of Allah swt; these are the limits of the realm. I am journeying in that realm. Sair fillah simply means that I am journeying inside this realm.
Why is it called fillah? Because you have brought this dunya down to a 0%. In some sense, right after the first stage, you end up at 0% awareness of the world, while your awareness of Allah swt was already 0%. So you end up at 0-0.
The awareness of world, you have closed that. So now there is only one realm left for you i.e. the awareness of Allah swt. Now you are going to journey into that realm. This should be clear. You are not journeying in Allah swt. You are journeying in the realm of the awareness of Allah swt. What does journeying mean? Journeying means going from a 0% to a 100%. So journeying from 0% awareness of Allah swt (if you are on that extreme), to a 100% awareness of Allah swt, that is called sair fillah.
The third stage is sair minAllah. Now you will make the journey from Allah swt, again not literally. It means to journey from that position where you are only aware of Allah swt, and you have no awareness of anything else. But not to lose that awareness, you have to keep that awareness with you. Sair anillah billah; to make journey from that state where you have awareness of Allah swt alone, and taking that awareness which you have acquired of Allah swt with you.
Imagine you are at the top of a mountain. For sometime, you stay there. Now you are stationary. This part is not a journey. You stay there for sometime so it becomes deep in you that now you have negated your own awareness of your existence to get to 0%, now you stay there till your existence has become:
أَنتُمُ ٱلۡفُقَرَآءُ إِلَى ٱللَّهِۖ
You are the ones who need Allah [35:15]
You are actually living embodiment of absolute need and dependence on Allah swt. Your existence is only subsisting due to Allah swt’s will and wish. That is the reality actually for all of us. But we are not aware of it. Me and you only breath and exist because of His will and wish. But we do not feel like that. We do not think like that.
The reality is that Allah swt is the only truly existing one. We are all dependent on Him. Me and you actually do exist. But He is the only one what we actually call a non-contingent being. He is the only necessary existing being, which in Arabic we call wajib ul wujud. And we are munqith ul wujud.
This concept is a bit difficult to grasp. In the third journey, at the end we are still actually 100% connected to Allah swt, and 0% connected to the world. But the difference between the initial 100% awareness of Allah swt, and later 100% awareness is that after you get that, you cannot come back. You cannot join the world with that. You have to bring that awareness back down.
This is the most difficult stage to explain to people. When you have reached a 100% awareness of Allah swt, you have touched fanaa, then you stay in there, till you get something called baqaa. You got that 100% but you stay there till you reach that super intense level such that you realize that now I am completely nothing, and Allah swt is everything. Not that you and Allah swt are one. This is the complete opposite of that. That Allah swt is everything and comparably I am completely nothing.
Now we have to bring that baqaa 100% back down to the fanaa 100%. Because you can never return to the world when you reach that level. That level you will live with inshaAllah in the akhirah. That level of awareness a person will have in jannah that I am completely nothing.
You bring that 100% down, then you re-learn and re connect with the world and everything that is permissible. You re-open your horizons to the awareness and perceptions of the world. You re-engage in the world knowing it is a place of asbab. In surah Fatiha we pray:
إِيَّاكَ نَعۡبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسۡتَعِينُ
You alone do we worship, and from You alone do we seek help.
That O Allah swt we only ask You for help. But actually we ask others for help all the time. You ask your parents for help, you ask your friends for help, you ask your siblings for help, you ask your teacher for help.
Iyyaka na’budu; we worship You alone. We mean that. Not that we worship You alone and also sometimes we worship our friends, or our teachers. No. In that case it’s an absolute – we worship Allah alone. And in iyyaka nastaeen, we seek help from Allah swt alone. Yes, but this has partners. We can join asbab. We can seek help in the world.
The type of 100% in baqaa can exist with the asbab. Just like in the nastaeen relationship with Allah swt. There is another type of 100%. That cannot co-exist with asbab. This is very important to understand. Some people get stuck over here. They cannot co-exist with asbab. This is the sufi who walks on water. It does not mean that somebody walks on water all the time. It is not like that. But sometimes when they get stuck up there, but in reality they are still down here, they are still existing, so sometimes Allah swt makes some type of a karamah happen through them; it is a type of a miracle.
In Fatawah ibn Taymiyyah it is written that Karamat e awliya haqun that karamat at the hands of awliyah are truth. It is a universally acknowledged reality. That Allah swt has given some few awliyah some few miracles, in a few, special, specific circumstances. One reason that happens is when somebody gets stuck over there.
The person who’s travelled through these 3 stages now goes to something called sair fil ashiya – journey within the realm of things. In sair fillah you were journeying within the realm of awareness of Allah swt. Now you journey within things; you increase your awareness and perception and the knowledge of things. You turn the 0% awareness of this world back to a 100%. Now you are completely aware of the world, but your awareness of it does not overshadow your awareness of Allah swt.