[These are rough notes from the second day’s morning session of Historical, Intellectual and Spiritual Approaches to Islam conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in Karachi, during Jan, 2017]
Today I want to say some very important things to you about the Spiritual approach randomly. Not everything is in the title. We load it up a little bit just for fun.
The Spiritual Path: Effort, Humility & Sincerity
This is the asal (core) of the path. The whole purpose of tazkiya, tasawwuf, dhikr is ‘amal. Sometimes people get too caught up in the concepts and theories that they become an end in of themselves. There is only one end and goal — a’maal; taqwa, ikhlas, sidq, ibadat, akhlaq — there is a whole range of a’maal. Some people get stuck in the theory somewhere, or they get stuck in haal; this has happened to a couple of people.
You need to understand that in 1400 years of Islam, there have been very few people; Mansur Hallaj, Ibn Arabi, and a few others who got stuck in haal. Statistically you are talking about 0.0000001% of people, it doesn’t mean you leave the teachings for that. They got diverted from their goal. They got some feeling along the way, which is called haal or kaifiyah, and they started making that the goal. And they also made a bigger mistake perhaps of trying to make others make it their goal. That’s a problem we are still stuck with today. For example, fanaa fillah is just an Arabic phrase. It’s the same thing that Allah (swt) says in Qur’an:
وَاذۡكُرِ اسۡمَ رَبِّكَ وَتَبَتَّلۡ اِلَيۡهِ تَبۡتِيۡلًا
And remember the name of your Lord, and devote yourself to Him with exclusive devotion. [73:8]
Tabattul ilayhi tabteela means fanaa. It means that lose yourself in the remembrance of Allah’s (swt) name so that you remember His name to the exclusion of everything else. Arabs are like that, they just come up with different words. Like the Arabic word for head covering is khimar, today people call it hijab. Arabic word for the gown or the cloak that women wear is jilbab, today people call it abaya. The Arabic word in Qur’an for proper recitation is tartil, today people call it tajweed. This has happened in many other fields also.
The Arabic word in Qur’an is tabattul, people call it fanaa. But fanaa is not a goal itself that you train people to get fanaa. You train people to have the dhikr of Allah (swt) so they remember Him such that they never sin and they constantly do ‘amal. Yes, in the training process sometimes they may have a phase of fanaa.
For example, the purpose of western education is not to give you fanaa in that field. It’s to give you training and expertise so that you practice with proficiency in that field, but somewhere along the way, in final exams’ week or in residency, you might get fanaa; you might drown so deeply in your field that you just forget everything else except that particular essay that you are writing about. But that’s not the goal. That’s just an experience that occurs along the path towards the goal. The asal is ‘amal. The reason people lack in that is due to a lack of effort, or lack of humility, or lack of sincerity. These are the three things.
Some people think it’s because of their lack of concepts or lack of theories or a lack of dedication to the cause or that I’m not a hardcore enough sufi. That has nothing to do with it. You don’t have to be more sufi. You just need to put in effort, you need to have humility, and you have to have sincerity. If you do this, believe me your a’maal will go up. If you just increase your sufi identity or your sufi theory, your a’maal might not go up. I’ll even go further, if your a’maal go up only due to increasing your sufi identity and theory, that’s a delusion. You will not get istaqamat on such a’maal. That would be a fleeting, ephemeral, transitive stage.
Effort: sa’i; humility: ajz/ajzi; sincerity: ikhlas. Sa’i + ajz + ikhlas = guaranteed formula for your a’maal to go up. This is the summary of how Blessed Prophet (sws) trained the Sahaba Karam (ra). The accounts of Sahaba (ra) are captured in many ahadith. The amount of effort they made for their tazkiya, the amount of effort they made in their ibadah, the amount of effort they made in jihad fi sabil lillah, the amount of effort they made in dawah of deen; it’s phenomenal, so was the amount of humility and sincerity they had. This is the recipe.
If you are after something other than ‘amal, then I could have recited Iqbal’s poetry and Rumi’s poetry and talked to you about Ibn Al-Arabi and wahdat al-wujud, and gotten all philosophical and theosophical and you would have also said we have never attended a dars like this before. But that would not have benefited you. So I’m just using this title to tell you a couple of things.
- Imam al-Ghazali (rah)
- Imam ar-Rabbani Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah)
- Shaykh Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (rah)
- Shaykh Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah)
I’m going to talk to you about these four people. I’m just sharing with you my own individual journey. This is not all-encompassing. The authentic tradition of Islamic learning and spirituality has thousands of scholars. We are not a group of just 3-4 people. Thousands upon thousands of people have successfully found the path of ‘amal and have guided others to it. I’m mentioning these four for a number of reasons.
- Personally I have been able to benefit from them.
- These people have published works so it’s something that can guide us. Because we don’t have authentically attributed published work of a lot of great guides of the past.
- They have works that are accessible in languages that you people know which is English and Urdu.
Even for the above reasons, there are more than these four scholars available. Even the number of people I have benefited from in my life is more than four, obviously. The number of past great ulema and shuyukh who have their works in Urdu and English are also greater than four. This is just a beginning point. You could choose to begin with a totally different list. But I’m going to tell you some particular teachings of these four. You can find these teachings outside of these four. But the teachings are critical.
Imam al-Ghazali (rah)
Imam al-Ghazali (rah) came in a time in Islamic history when the ummah was ghalib (dominant), which was perhaps the most ghalib time in the history of Islam. We are talking about Baghdad at its prime. We are talking about when Europe was in the drudges of its dark ages. We are talking about an incredible moment in Islamic history.
The second predominant feature of his time was that immediately before him, in fact a century before him, notwithstanding the fact that the ummah was ghalib at that time, a lot of great learners and great minds of Islam started following Greek philosophy and neoplatonism. He comes after Ibn Sina — and Ibn Sina is not the first. There is a whole line of people before him; Al-Kindi, Al-Razi, Al-Farabi. These are big names. People are doing PhDs on these guys today. They had a huge impact. This was dangerous because while you had the height of Islamic civilization and, although there were some areas in philosophy that had nothing against Islam, you also had a lot of things that were departures from Islam.
First lesson from Imam al-Ghazali’s particular approach was that if there is a dominant epistemology in our age — for us today it’s called secular liberalism, in his century and the century that preceded him it was the Greco-Arabic tradition — what he did to the Greek philosophy is the same thing that we have to do to secular liberalism. There was a scholar of Ghazali studies that talks about this approach in American terms as the good, the bad and the ugly. So Imam al-Ghazali (rah) took all of the philosophy and he divided it into the good, the bad and the ugly. The ugly is outright kufr. The bad is bida’h. The good is perfectly acceptable. The same thing is true for secularism and liberalism; there are some things that are good, there are some things that are bad and there are some things in them that are downright ugly.
What Imam al-Ghazali (rah) did was an incredible thing in his century and that’s why — there is a hassan hadith of Blessed Prophet (sws) which mentions that there will be a mujaddid, a person, at the turn of every hijri/century, who will be raised by Allah (swt) from the ummah to renew Islam  — the overwhelming majority opinion of that century is that Imam al-Ghazali (rah) was the majuddid of his time.
Second lesson is something he did for tasawwuf. He extracted the good in philosophy and sometimes explained tasawwuf using that good philosophy because he thought that if I have to catch the philosophers in dawah, the closest way I can do that is by showing them that the virtues for which they love the philosophers so much are to be found all the more in the awliyah. I’m not saying that the only dawah in the world is the one done on the English speaking elites, but if you are going to do dawah on English speaking elites, it could be done in the same way in which Imam al-Ghazali (rah) tried to reach out to the people of his time, using something they could resonate and connect with.
Now I’m going to move quickly to his theories, concepts and practices of tasawwuf. Three of the main features of Imam al-Ghazali’s understanding of tasawwuf are as follows:
1. The way he talks and writes about yaqeen; it is one of the most beautiful articulations that when you embark on a path of dhikr and worship, when you start leaving sins, when you start becoming a person of practice, when you start having taqwa and sunnah, it’s only then that you will get yaqeen. A big misunderstanding we find today is that people say the reason I don’t practice is because I don’t have yaqeen. They have reversed it. You will only get yaqeen through practice. His own individual life story is about that. He wanted this yaqeen, he felt he didn’t have it, and he embarked on a journey to increase his own ‘amal and practice in order to get that yaqeen. That life-effort and sacrifice of his is also a big lesson to us. Sometimes you will have to sacrifice. Simply speaking, sometimes you have to pinch your dunya to get more deen. Sometimes you have to squeeze your dunya to get closer to Allah (swt). He was willing to do that. That was one aspect of his yaqeen.
2. His excellent explanation on naboowah. His understanding of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) and the concept of prophethood and prophecy is one of the most brilliant things that we have ever read. It shows that his love and connection with Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) is beyond just emotional. He views Syedna Rasool Allah (sws) as a murshid/shaykh/hadi. This was his relationship with the Sunnah and Hadith. He really took the Prophet’s (sws) entire sunnah, everything. The way he talks about one hadith of Prophet (sws) is the same way some people — and this is a big problem today that we don’t talk about the Prophet (sws) this way but if shaykh says something that blows the person away. He talks about the Prophet (sws) this way. It’s ajeeb when he talks about hadith, although, he wasn’t a hadith scholar and it’s not like he has huge hadith commentaries, but when he talks about tasawwuf and he talks about these hadith about practice, adab, akhlaq, the way he explains it and talks about it — it’s beautiful. It shows the way to get tarbiyyah from naboowah and tarbiyyah from the sunnah.
3. The way he talks about akhlaq. You will have to go a little deeper to figure this one out. Initially, you will feel uncomfortable that he is trying to use the philosophical explanation of virtue, ethics and character to rope in the philosophers. But when you see how deeply he understood the depth of akhlaq of Nabi-e-Karim (sws) and the refinement of character that Allah (swt) wants insan to have, that’s also amazing. His expositions on acquiring good character are also available as a whole book titled Ihya Ulum al-Din or The Revival of Religious Sciences.
These are the three things: yaqeen, naboowah and akhlaq. I’m not saying Imam al-Ghazali (rah) is the only person who has done that. I’m just using a few thinkers to highlight to you the real content matter of spirituality. You can get it from whoever you are comfortable with.
Imam Rabbani Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah)
Let’s look at the history. If you know your Mughal history, he was living first at the time of emperor Akbar, then Jahangir and finally, just at the latter moments, Aurangzeb. If you look at the history from Akbar to Aurangzeb, you will find a huge transformation. Akbar was a person who had gone way astray in terms of his deen, so much so that he made a new deen which he first called Deen-e-Akbari and later Deen-e-Ilahi. I mean, even to make a new deen itself is wrong. And to name it after yourself is also wrong. But then to call it Deen-e-Ilahi!
One element of that deen was that people should make sajdah to Akbar. I don’t think I even need to go further — that one thing is enough. There is a lot though, if you were to ever see, you would be stunned how it was all made possible, how anyone could incorporate all this. But because he was the Mughal emperor, he had the state, he had the enforcing mechanism, he actually implemented and enforced his deen on the entire South Asian continent — which is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.
If you know your history about Aurangzeb, he repealed and reversed all of that entirely and actually revived the Qadhi courts, Islam and Shari’ah. How did this transition happen? How did you go from an emperor like Akbar to an emperor like Aurangzeb? Literally, even Hindu historians write that this transition took place due to one man. It was a one-man show; Imam Rabbani Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi (rah). If you want to talk about bringing a systematic change, these awliyah ullah have done it. He’s not alone. There are other examples like this. There are awliyah ullah and mashaikh who have done it. That’s one of his major features. But right now I want to use some of his writings to highlight some concepts in tasawwuf for you.
1. He purified the aqa’id. He was able to entirely purge and purify tasawwuf from notions of wahdat al-wujud; that the world is a shadow of Allah (swt), and all these, what in fancy English they call theosophical concepts — trying to insert philosophy into theology. His writings have refuted each and every one of these things.
2. He cleared out the concept of bid’ah; which in English you call the innovative practices. So when you think you are doing practices and a’maal to get closer to Allah (swt), whatever you can think of even today, he has already spoken about it. Be it the concept of milad-e-nabi, tombs and shrines, all such things. He is the first person in South Asia to write about all the issues and to write about them forcefully. These things are still going on today, unfortunately, in many places. But you find that this person tried to stop it. And he was very successful and was able to, at least, save some of the rightly guided awliyah, mashaikh of his time who were beginning to show some of those tendencies. He was able to swerve a lot of them back on to the path of Shari’ah. In fact all of the Chishti, Qadri, Suhrawardiyya, the mashaikh of the time, are all indebted to him and they all acknowledge him like that. If it wasn’t for him, we would still be going that way.
3. He wrote extensively on the notion of Shari’ah. He views Shari’ah not just as law but as a way of life. He says the whole purpose of the path of tasawwuf is to live and practice Shari’ah. For example, in one of his writings he says that those people who live and practice and call others to a Shari’ah life are far better than the sufis who are simply doing their own dhikr for hours in the mountains. He understood that you can’t just benefit yourself. You have to benefit others. And you can’t just make dhikr. Dhikr is not an end in of itself. It’s a means. The goal of every believer is to follow Shari’ah.
Ihtiyat and I’tidal
Shaykh Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi & Shaykh Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah)
Now I will show you, it’s not just about tasawwuf, but in every part of religion, I think it may just be the nature of religion. Religion is a very delicate matter and there is always some slight, off-course wearings and leanings, and every now and then someone keeps having to steer the boat aright. That’s what happens in our own journey towards Allah (swt) as well. No matter how learned we might be, no matter how much we want to be sincere, every now and then we have a little bit of off-course leanings, a little bit of departure, and if there is somebody who is looking at us and tracking us, they will try to keep us on track. This is what these two had done, I’m combining them because it was a combined effort on their part as they are contemporaries of each other.
All of the above is done, they have yaqeen, tabiyyah through naboowah, akhlaq, pure aqa’id, elimination of bida’at, establishing and understanding that the true goal is Shari’ah. So they did all of that and a few more things. Not that they were absent in the others, but they added a few more things. I have been talking about this a lot and that is to combine the path of ihtiyat and i’tidal. This is the hallmark of Hadrat Gangohi and Thanvi (rah). Otherwise, normally a person in the name of ihtiyat loses their i’tidal. And sometimes in the name of i’tidal, they lose their ihtiyat.
What does that mean? Let’s take, as an example, the field of dawah in case of ihtiyat. I have traveled to some places, and without naming them, I have seen some circles in Pakistan that have become very closed-circuit communities. What happens is just 50-300 families, who are all ultra-conservative and ultra-orthodox, group together and basically they think everyone else is completely astray and doesn’t practice properly. Such communities are not able to help others. They are making the same mistake about which Imam Rabbani (rah) said that the individual sufi who is just making dhikr on the mountain — this is not an individual but a small community. That’s not the mission of dawah because Nabi-e-Karim (sws) did outreach.
On the flipside, it doesn’t mean you drop your ihtiyat, but you have to have i’tidal in dawah. Like I used to tease the kids that let’s say I call somebody on Jumu’ah to have a concert in the masjid right before Jumu’ah. In the name of concert you will all come and once I see you there, I will unplug the guitar, plug in the mic and give the azaan and then I got you. That would also be a way to do dawah, but there is no ihtiyat in that. So you have to have i’tidal. There is a certain amount of outreach you can do, and this is a very tricky thing, so I will give you an example.
Once I went to a country and one of these people who I think have ihtiyat, I celebrate and solute them for their incredible taqwa, but they don’t have the i’tidal. So he critiqued me because I do this radio program for South Africa on Thursday nights. The name of the radio is called Channel Islam International, just so you know, it’s an Islamic radio station. I also accept that there are a couple of things they do that may not be strict. They don’t happen on my program, but there are a couple of things they do that I may not necessarily agree with. Although they do have a mufti; they have a Shari’ah adviser who is actually known to be a fairly strict person in that country.
So this person started critiquing me that you are a shaykh and you speak on a radio. I say okay, Mufti Muhammad Shafi (rah) used to do a program on Radio Pakistan at a time when on Radio Pakistan there were also, not during his program, but there were musical programs, readings of dramas, plays and all types of things, which is much worse than anything Channel Islam International does — they don’t have any music. Why did Mufti Shafi (rah) do that? Because he had that i’tidal. In his own program, there is ihtiyat. But he is going to use that opportunity for dawah. He is going to do that outreach. He is not going to say that I’m not going to go on radio. This was their foresight. Mufti Muhammad Shafi (rah), as you know, is one of the great students of Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah). He is in that thanvi tradition.
Now that we have done the example of ihtiyat and i’tidal, there are three particular things: the concept of a Shaykh, non exclusivity and formal dhikr.
1. Clearing the concept of a Shaykh: It is a natural human tendency to do, what you can call, hero-worship or personality worship. There is a tendency towards shakhs parasti. Marx Weber captured this concept when he talks about charismatic leadership — there’s charisma, authority, attraction, persona, etc. Remember, ihtiyat and i’tidal. On the one hand, you need this to inspire and motivate people. If you lower them too much then people will view them as having no authority whatsoever and consequently they will not be able to inspire and motivate others. More importantly, they will not be able to do islah — they won’t be able to correct them. You will not take islah; rectification, correction, guidance, instruction, daant dapat unless somebody has some authority over you.
At the same time, you have to have i’tidal. If you elevate a person too much then there’s going to be a problem. The shaykh is a means, he is not the end, just like a professor is a means, he is not the reason you go to the university. He is a means to help and guide you as an instructor. He is not the end. He is a part of the process. He is not the process. In this particular concept, even more significant than their writings was their own practice. The kind of shaykhs these two were is really a role model for how to be a shaykh. I don’t know how to explain this to you because I am bringing you to this side of the table, so to speak. These are very personal things that I have personally benefited from. If someone wants to know how should a shaykh be, how should a shaykh interact, these two people are perfect role models for this. Nobody’s perfect, but they were near perfect, excellent role models for this. More than their writings, it was their own lived lives.
Sometimes you might experience this in your corporate jobs. If you had a really good manager and you thought that’s the way a manager should be, and if you trained under that person for a long time, then when you become a manager you will use the same managerial practices and things that you noticed in that good manager that you had the good fortune to train under. It’s important that we take an example from more recent past for that. Because Imam al-Ghazali and Imam Rabbani (rah) were living in times so different that to be a shaykh today like they were is just not going to happen. If we tried to do that, it would be very awkward. There would be a lot of, what we call, takalluf and tasanno; there would be a lot of formality and artificiality in that. These two i.e. Hadrat Gangohi and Thanvi (rah) are great examples in that regard.
2. Promoting Non-Exclusivity: I’m trying to address some misconceptions that exist in certain circles of tasawwuf. Non-exclusivity means that they were not exclusive — that you could only be their student or that they were the only shaykh or that they considered their method to be the only method. Interestingly, and I’m a very blunt person, everyone, including the traditions that I myself may belong to and respect, and even some of the people today in Shaykh Thanvi’s own tradition have fallen into this exclusivity. They say things like ham sirf Hadrat Thanvi ko mante hein. Jo Hadrat Thanvi kahein wohi sahi hai. That’s completely against his own mizaj.
Someone from his own line once told me that a person wrote to Shaykh Thanvi (rah) that I’m looking for a shaykh. He wrote back saying there is this one Chishti Shaykh, one Qadri Shaykh, and this one Naqshbandi Shaykh. Interestingly, first thing you notice is that he did not mention himself. Number two, he gave him recommendation from each of the three different methodologies that were prevalent at his time. Today were you to write to somebody, they will say we only accept Hadrat Thanvi — ham sirf unhi ko mante hein aur iss hi silsilay mein these 3-4 people exist in Pakistan and you should only go there.
There is a famous incident of a person who goes to Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi to become a student, he sends him to Shaykh Madni. Shaykh Madni sends him back to Shaykh Thanvi. They are just playing tennis with him! Even more importantly, by non-exclusivity they tried, even though some time after the person passes away, the legacy is not as intact as it used to be when they were alive, but they did try that being a student of a shaykh should not become some type of a separate group identity. It’s not sectarianism because sect means a difference in aqeedah and theology. But it sometimes becomes such a distinct group that the Arabic word tafarruqa; making of firqa — can apply, not in terms of theological sect but in terms of some distinct and differentiated group.
This is very difficult to do. I myself have not been able to 100% successfully do this. The sign for this non-exclusivity is what in Arabic we call adm-e-mugha’ira. Mugha’irat means that when two people are sitting, they should not feel ghair-ghair to each other. If I sit next to a person of tableeghi jama’at, I shouldn’t feel that he is in tableegh and I’m not. If I make him feel like that, or if he makes me feel like that, then one of us is guilty of being an exclusivist. Or, similarly, if I’m a student of one shaykh, and I meet a student of another shaykh, and if we feel that he is not my peer-bhai, and it creates a little, not animosity, but some slight fasal (distance). Having any group identity should not create any fasal — it cannot be a faasil in your ummah identity.
That’s much easier said than done. I can’t even 100% manage this. But the point is to at least articulate that and to keep repeating and reinforcing it, and to try your best to practice it and lead by example.
3. Formal dhikr. There are two types of dhikr.
i. Those adhkar that are thabit min as-Sunnah — you can call them masnun adhkar. There are quite a lot of them; Subh’an Allahi wa bi hamdihi Sub’han Allahil Azeem, la hawla wala quwwata illa billah, la ilaha illallah — lots and lots of salawat, durud sharif, istighfarat, du’as etc. Muhadithin have compiled whole books on this. One of the greatest works on this, which was also recently translated into English, and is also available in Urdu and Arabic, is a book by the great Imam an-Nawawi himself titled Kitab al-Adhkar or The Book of Remembrances where he tried to gather a very large amount of the adhkar that are mentioned in the authentic, reliable hadith of Nabi-e-Karim (sws).
ii. The second type of dhikr, I’m coming up with this term myself, I’m not coining or formally launching a terminology, what you call wadha’ mein istilah, that you go and run with this, you can call it izafi dhikr or extra dhikr, maybe you could call it a training method or a tool. Bottom line is, this is that mode/method/form of dhikr which is not mentioned in the Sunnah. If I were to be more precise with you (I have talked about this in the last year’s workshop and established it from the sahih hadith, you can refer to it if you missed that, you can make dhikr that is not mentioned in the sunnah. Otherwise the first question that comes is that how can you make dhikr that is not mentioned by Nabi (sws) or is not part of the sunnah?
It has been established from the same sunnah that it is absolutely permissible and acceptable to do a form of dhikr that was not done by the Prophet (sws). Let me first tell you about the second type. You just have to trust me on this and see because I have established it through proofs and references in slides from last year. But even though it is permissible to do that extra dhikr, how you conceptualize that extra dhikr, how you emphasize and prioritize it, what role this extra dhikr should or should not play in your spiritual development, that is also a brilliant articulation of Shaykh Gangohi and Thanvi (rah). So I will share that with you.
1. It is permissible. They make that clear also.
2. Its status/darajah is secondary but in the initial stages, its benefit to you might be primary. This is a bit tricky. It’s a unique thing. The way they explain this is that this dhikr is being done first as ‘ilaj meaning it’s a cure. For example, let’s go back to the first type of dhikr which is the masnun dhikr, even greater than that is the fard dhikr, like salah. What happens is that someone even in faraid has an illness of ghaflah, waswasa and heedlessness which doesn’t go away by praying more fard salah, let alone by praying masnun dhikr.
What a person needs is something which is an ‘ilaj/cure. This secondary in status dhikr, which is the non-sunnah dhikr, which were methods of dhikr designed by awliyah ullah (hence vary which is why you have different terms like naqshbandi, chishti, qadri — these terms actually refer to different methods of dhikr) they are of secondary status in terms of their ajr; their sawab is much less than the ajr/sawab you would get from doing the sunnah dhikr, but in the beginning, they are done as ‘ilaj/treatment and they can treat the problem more than the mansoon dhikr because the masnun dhikr was for qurb, which comes later, mutlaq qurb, while these dhikr are designed specifically for specific ailments.
You can say, in terms of medicines, some are target medicines and some are general tonic. But because it is secondary in status, and because it is being used as an ‘ilaj, so it should never be a goal in of itself, it’s only a means and it’s a means to an end of being able to do the masnun adhkar without the ghaflah. That is its purpose. As soon as a person reaches that stage where they can do the masnun adhkar without the ailments and ghaflah, then they no longer need to do the adhkar of the silsila or the adhkar of the awliyah. They simply have to do the adhkar of Nabi-e-Kareem (sws).
Shaykh Gangohi (rah) was also very deeply inspired by Imam Rabbani (rah) — he wrote explicitly when talking about this naqshbandi method of dhikr that the beginner, the muqtadi, should initially do this type of formal dhikr to cure the illness of ghaflah, wasawa, lust, anger etc. Then, he says, for the person who is intermediate such that his major ailments have been resolved, should do more tilawat of Qur’an al-Kareem — that’s masnun. That’s thabit min as-Sunnah. He should do kathrat-e-tilawat, and should drop that formal dhikr to a very small amount. After that, the person should just pray nawafil; tahajjud, ishraq etc, as far as extra dhikr is concerned.
That was basically what the Sahaba Karam (ra) did. Their real extra ibadat was to pray long nawafil because that includes tilawat — you recite Qur’an inside salah, so it includes the tilawat, and it includes the first thing which is yad-e-ilahi. So you did the formal dhikr to cure the ghaflah in order to remember Allah (swt). Then you did recitation of Qur’an. Now you can pray salah while reciting Qur’an and remembering Allah (swt). He says that’s the best way to go. But it’s a process.
Imam Rabbani (rah) is also very firm on this third thing. In fact, Imam Rabbani (rah) took it one step further which is dawah, that even then when you have reached this level, better than doing a lot of nawafil salah is to do dawah. He is very focused on dawah. That’s why you find that the people who are from his line are more into dawah. And you find that the people who are in other lines are less subdued, let’s say, about their dawah.
Going back to non-exclusivity, one of the things that was there with Shaykh Gangohi and Thanvi (rah), which may not be here today in those who claim to follow any of these people, is that they would not judge others according to their own mizaj (temperament). For example, if there is one mizaj, or temperament, that most people shouldn’t make so much dawah. So, fine, I follow the temperament that you should try to make maximum dawah. If someone is on the temperament that I follow a line of shuyukh who don’t believe so much in making dawah, rather their focus is on own ibadat and that’s it. Fine, I’m not going to judge you on my temperament. That’s fine if your shaykh said that, you can do that. Don’t do dawah.
I was talking to you about tasawwuf, but when it comes to usul of dawah, then the greatest person for that is Maulana Ilyas (rah) and his fikr was that dawah should be as much as possible because dawah is what benefits the masses. He took this from his understanding of Naboowah — the anbiya (as) came not just to guide small groups of humanity to Allah (swt), the anbiya came to guide masses of humanity to Allah (swt), and the way to guide masses of humanity isn’t through darul uloom or madrassah, it isn’t through high level tasawwuf. The way to guide masses is through dawah. He is also basically in that mizaj of Imam Rabbani (rah).
The non-exclusivity thing is to not judge others who may have another valid, acceptable, no doubt different to yours mizaj. That’s also something very hard to do, it is much easier said than done. We have not been able to achieve or enact 100% success as I already told you, in the non-exclusivity thing. I will share with you something about that also. Once I asked one of my teachers, Maulana Manzur Ahmed Chinyoti (rah), who passed away a few years ago, a question pertaining to this non-exclusivity thing. I said, Ustad Jee, I notice this in people that whoever is in one line, he just thinks that his line is better. Let me just do this in Urdu first and then I’ll translate it in English for you.
Mein ne poocha k mein ne dekha k har banda apne kaam ko afzal samajhta hai. Tou unhoun ne farmaya k dekhein haqeeqat ye hai k ham deen ki khidmat k har shobay ki fazeelat k qaail hein, kisi eik ki afzaliyat k ham qaail nahi hein. Mein ne kaha Ustad Jee yehi to muamla hai k har banda apna hi shoba, apna hi mizaj, apna tareeqa, apna shaykh, apna idara, apna manhaj, apna maslak — jo bhi hai — uss hi ki afzaliyat k qaail hein.
Unhoun ne kaha k haan, iss zamanay mein aisa hai. Waja yeh hai ab iss zamanay mein logoun ka imaan kamzor hai. Un k imaan ki kamzori ki waja se woh chal nahi sakte jab tak woh apni uss line ko afzal na samjhein. Tou aap un ko na cherein, unko apne iss junoon mein chor dein, aur jo kisi bhi kaam mein nahi lage hein, aap unki fikar karein k woh kahin lag jaein. Jo lagey hein, bhaley hi thora sa tuasib un mein ho, thora sa junoon un mein ho, ya thora sa woh apne hi tarz ko afzal samajhte houn, kam az kam woh uss mein lag tou gaye. Jo nahi laga hai un ki fikar karein.
Alhamdulillah, I had so much sukoon from this answer. That’s the way I even managed exclusivity, because I told you you cannot eliminate it. For the people who are listening in the other countries who know English, my teacher said that we believe in the virtue and merit of every single branch of deen, and every single way of serving and guiding and practicing deen, but we don’t believe in the unique and exclusive superiority of one way over all the rest. When I said this is exactly what I’m asking. This is what I have seen in people that whatever they practice, whoever they are affiliated with, whatever group they have a membership in, wherever they study, or whoever their shaykh is, they view that to be superior to others. He said that yes, this is a problem in the current age because the imaan of people is weak. Because their imaan is weak, they will not be motivated and inspired and stimulated to do ‘amal unless they think their way is better.
If you think about it, it’s kind of true in your dunya also. When you choose to major in physics, why would you study all night to become a scientist — if that’s your goal? It must be because you think physics is better than economics. And if a person is stuck thinking I don’t know what to major in, I don’t know if I should do physics or economics or philosophy or history — he’s stuck and he keeps going around in circles. Then if the guide says this is the better way, he will quickly make the decision.
That’s a nice, beautiful way and this is why you need the living tradition also, you really need to sit with living mashaikh, shuyukh and ulema. This one nugget, this one sentence from this one person has helped me for years. It was from a 10 minutes conversation. This conversation happened in 2003. For 13 years this 10 minutes conversation has given me immense guidance. There are not many people like that left on this earth that you spend 10 minutes with them and you can be guided for 10 years of your life.
So I jumped back to the non-exclusivity. And I ended up with Imam Rabbani (rah) taking it even one step further — to dawah. There are different understandings. I have already talked to you about dawah in terms of the i’tidal and ihtiyat. The purpose of this was not to confine you to just these four, but to show you that there are very real, substantive things to be learnt from this tradition. I just showed you what I learnt from these four. And I think all of you would agree that that was some real learning that took place. This is real help for us, real guidance and tarbiyyah.
In order to do practice, there are two things. I’m going to do these very quickly for you. The first is the training — to be trained to do a’maal, and the second is for me to tell you what those amaal are, which is called practice.
Training is the motivation, inspiration and learning to become a person of ‘amal and practice is to describe concretely and discreetly what are those a’maal and practices that we should be trying to do.
There is a lot of emphasis on sohbah in our deen. This is something I did in a bit more detail last year, so I’m not going to repeat it, but I would just say those verses and hadith for you.
يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ وَكُوۡنُوۡا مَعَ الصّٰدِقِيۡنَ
O you who believe, fear Allah, and be in the company of the truthful. [9:119]
It might be difficult, no doubt, to find out who are as-sadiqeen. But you might be able to find at least relative to yourself, that this person has more sidq (truthfulness) than me. That’s enough for you to benefit from a person. You can actually benefit from a person who may not be 100% siddiq, but if he is more siddiq than you, you can benefit from them tremendously. Whenever there comes the time that you are no longer able to benefit from that person, Allah (swt) will take you onward and guide you further. The words kunu and ma’a — both of these Arabic words are intense. Kunu, as you know, is from kun fayakun. It talks about your very wujud (your Self). That’s an intense level of company — that to what extent you will align your wujud with that person’s wujud. Ma’a is from ma’iyyah which is the most intense and intimate companionship.
Al mar’u ‘ala deeni khaleelihi fal yantur ahadukum man yukhaalil
A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so each one of you should look whom you befriend. [Sunan Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi]
A person will be on the deen of whoever they choose to make their khalil — which, again, is what we call a bosom buddy; your real best friend. So Prophet (sws) further said that each and every one of you should reflect and consider carefully, man yukhaalil, who you choose to make your khalil. Make that a wise choice. This is enough; one verse and one hadith will be enough to establish it.
How does sohbah work? It’s slightly different for men and women. It’s significantly different for men and women. For men, in the good old days, when there was no travel, there were no airlines for Shaykh Thanvi (rah) to fly all over the world to. I’m sure if there were airlines in his time, although his mizaj was not at that level of dawah, but still he would have traveled to some extent. Normally the students would themselves go and travel and spend some time in the sohbah of a shaykh.
That’s another beautiful thing about these two — especially Shaykh Rashid Ahmed Gangohi (rah), that when he felt a person had benefited enough from his sohbah, he would actually prevent him from traveling to him. There’s a beautiful letter between one of his students and him, and you can tell that the student is desperate to go but the shaykh is writing refusing, and this is going on. The Shaykh then finally writes him agar aap ko wahan beth kar mujh se faida nahi mil sakta, aap ko mere pass aa kar bhi faida nahi miley ga.
He said if you are not able to benefit from all that I have already taught you, and instructed you in, and all our prior companionship and sohbah, and sitting in your own home-town if you haven’t reached that level yet (it wasn’t a first time, it was after an association of sohbah), then you are not going to benefit any further by coming to me. He didn’t let him come. Their letters and their lives are a very good behind-the-scenes look at how shaykh-student relationship is when you look at these two shuyukh. Of course bayan, workshops, courses, all of these things are sohbah. For women, it’s confined to that — bayan, workshops, online bayan, recordings etc. There is no question of being in the front row or in physical proximity, physical company or traveling with shaykh etc.
Ta’leem means that you need the teachings. There are teachings in our deen that if you read them they will have an effect, but if you are taught them they will have a deeper effect. There are teachings on how to control your gaze, how to control your anger, how to improve your concentration in salah, teachings about love for Allah (swt) and love for Nabi-e-Karim (sws). Being taught those things has a deeper effect than simply reading them on your own. That is one aspect of training — to be in a relationship where there is somebody who teaches you.
In our method, teaching is bayan. Because when you are taught something then many times, but not necessarily always, I can completely confess I don’t think my teaching has an effect on everybody, but generally when I was taught by my teachers, being taught by my teachers was more motivational and inspirational to me. In other words, it led me to ‘amal — the asal is practice. Being taught made me practice it. Sometimes reading it wouldn’t make me practice it. That’s the kind of person I was. If you are a person like that, this is the system for you.
Tarbiyyah is slightly different than ta’leem. The way we do this is that ta’leem is bayan and tarbiyyah is majlis. Majlis is a more intensive type of training for those people who really want to be pushed. This is also islah — for someone to be corrected, rectified and molded. One is that I want my practice to change, I need ta’leem for that. Second is that I myself want to change, I need tarbiyyah for that.
If I want my practice to change, I need some instructions on how to practice and some motivation and inspiration to practice that. Second is that I want myself to change, that is tarbiyyah. When a person comes to you with that intention, that’s what I call a majlis. Again I’m not launching a new terminology. Personally this is when I feel there are a bunch of people sitting in front of me or I want to gather a bunch of people who are coming with that intention, that we have been listening to bayans and learning about the practices, now we want ourselves to change. I also call it ragra; islah/tabiyyah.
In English it means purification. The reason I put it last is because it’s the asal. All of the sohbah, ta’leem and tarbiyyah is to purify oneself of sins and to purify oneself of anything that is even slightly displeasing to Allah (swt). That’s the asal of all these things. In other words, these three things are done for the sake of ‘amal, practice, and for the sake of purification as well. Because the big aspect isn’t just to do good a’maal, but it is to leave the bad a’maals as well. That’s what we are talking about when we talk about tazkiyah. And obviously you need all three. Sometimes being in good company helps you stay away from sins. Sometimes learning how our deen guides us to stay away from sin helps us stay away from sins. Sometimes you might realize that a sin is so deeply ingrained in me that I will never be able to leave it unless I change. It’s not just about changing my company and increasing my ‘amal. Until I change, the sin won’t leave me.
This is another aspect of training, but it is coincidental, it occurs along and during the process of this training, during the sohbah, ta’leem and tarbiyyah, which was done for the sake of tazkiyah and for a’maal. Naturally, the longer you associate with any professor, you sort of get to know them and they sort of get to know you. Then a relationship starts, then it develops, then it builds. It takes place overtime. This also has to have balance.
Purpose of the shaykh is sohbah, ta’leem and tarbiyah for the sake of tazkiyah. The purpose of the shaykh isn’t ta’luq that I want to be in a relationship with the shaykh. I’m obviously talking about men, because some of them look at us with puppy dog eyes and they just want to be in this deep relationship with the shaykh. For them that’s what it’s about. This can also have some negative consequences. Then they start noticing that who is closer to shaykh, who did the shaykh pick to make the slides, why didn’t he pick me to make the slides? Then all types of negative externalities and crazy things start coming up — why did he go on his car, why didn’t he go on my car? He remembered his name, he still doesn’t yet know my name.
The ta’luq is not the asal. These tags can be used for different things so focus on the concepts and forget the tags. It’s not about your personal friendship with the shaykh. That’s a coincidental or incidental, non-essential, ghair-maqsudi thing that can happen. And it might not happen. I benefited from so many teachers in my madrassah about whom I cannot say I had a personal ta’luq with or that they had a personal ta’luq with me. In fact, two teachers just popped up into my mind — one who I did have a personal ta’luq with and second who I didn’t really have a personal ta’luq with, but in terms of ilm, I benefited equally from both of them. That was the asal. That’s why they were my ustad so I would learn ilm of deen from them.
So this is coincidental, incidental, it can happen, it may happen, it may not happen, it might sometimes happen, it may not always happen. Maqsud is tazkiyah and a’maal, as long as you are making progress in that, that’s the asal. Still, the question remains that if the ta’luq happens then what is it? There are aspects of that ta’luq beyond that who makes the slides and in whose car do you go, and whose house do you stay in. That’s totally irrelevant. There is something that to some extent is beneficial in tazkiyah and that is the level of correspondence, a level of individual guidance, a certain aspect of individual counseling, that can and may take place. Two of the structures for that are as follows in terms of Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah):
It’tila means that when you have someone who you can inform about any spiritual hiccups, any problems, any obstacles, seeking some individual guidance, counseling, but that ittila will only have benefit if you do it’tiba i.e. you follow the naseeha that is given to you. The proof for this is that Nabi-e-Karim (sws) said:
Religion is sincere counsel. [Muslim]
That all of deen consists entirely of good counseling and advice. For that to work, for naseeha to be deen, there must be somebody giving the advice, there must be somebody hearing the advice, there must be some following of that advice and there should be some change and transformation in ‘amal due to that advice. Some people would call that islahi ta’luq.
For example, my teacher of Bukhari Sharif, who was also a shaykh — Shaykh Sufi Sawwar — he doesn’t do it anymore because he has become quite old, but back when I used to study he had this rule that if you want to be my student in tasawwuf, you first have to write me 20 letters and you have to get 20 replies and he might not always reply to every letter. Once you write 20 letters and get 20 replies then I will know you are serious in your desire to change because 20 times you would have reached out and consulted and tried to learn, and 20 times I would have guided you and understood and then I will decide whether I feel there is munasiba, affinity, compatibility, and then I will decide whether to take you as a student. Different shuyukh have different ways of admissions, enrollment, registration and education.
I am very deliberately sharing these things with you so that those who actually are students can understand. It was a failure of ours to not explicitly explain these things to our own students and therefore some of them ended up with their own understanding of these things. This is also a duty of ours. I am still unsure about this because for me personally I have always had a lot of affinity with Imam Rabbani’s and Maulana Ilyas’ (rah) feeling about dawah. That’s why what I used to do was that anybody who would ever come to me, I would think Allah (swt) has sent them, I have to take them because how can I say no to somebody who wants to learn anything?
Anybody who wants to enroll, we don’t have anything — no fee, no criteria, there is nothing, we have open admissions and enrollment — in academics, tasawwuf, dhikr, everything. But overtime, I thought about this and I told you that I also do view Mualana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Mualana Gangohi (rah) to be very excellent examples of ideally how a person should be a shaykh. Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah) had much more hurdles placed which you would have to pass before you could become their student. There was some criteria to become their student.
Then I reflected (this is also a good way for you to see why I always say historical, intellectual and spiritual — because you have to look at all things) for every person, for every thinker, other than Nabi-e-Karim (sws), what they think is partly due to their context. So I tried to think that although Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rah) wouldn’t accept everyone as a student, but if he was in this context advising me, would he advise me the same thing?
I found several differences in the two contexts. The first was that in his time there were many shuyukh. If you turn someone away and tell them to find a local shaykh, who also has the same amount of munasibat with them, he would actually be able to do that, because there were hundreds and hundreds of shuyukh. That’s not so much the case in this day and age. Second, the vast majority of people who used to go to him, with notable exceptions, were very practicing, pious people of deobandi adherence. Many times people who come to me, again not all, but a large number who come are people who are not from very religious family backgrounds and maybe from English educated elites, and if I turn them away where are they going to go? And I would be scared to do that.
I am still working this out. Should I still keep the open admissions and teach whatever I have learnt, although what I have to offer is limited, because I am over stretched and over committed nor do I live in one place? Mostly it works. But every now and then Shaytan tries to play with somebody’s head — that you did join and now you are not benefiting, aap ne uss waqt eik jazbe mein kiya, and now shaykh is not in Karachi and you are wondering and you are left to your nafs and shaytan. This happens less than 10% of the times, but it sometimes happens to people.
I accept this is one of the elements of nazool in our times that just like the society is not perfect, the system is not perfect, nothing is perfect. There is no perfection left anymore. There is no perfection in tasawwuf. There is no perfection in ilm. We are all imperfect people living in an imperfect time with imperfect relationships. The question is how to make the best out of it?
For me the easier position, and I still think it’s the true position and that is to do tawwakkul on Allah (swt). And I still think if Allah (swt) puts someone in front of me, Allah (swt) put him there, Allah (swt) is making him say this to me, so I would say yes. Allahu Aalam how it’s going to work out practically. But Allah (swt) is the ultimate guide, and that I have seen with this online audience. That’s an amazing thing so I address all of them. We have people who are online students, who have never ever even been maybe in the same country as me in their life, and the way they write in their emails, and the way they benefit — I’m amazed.
That’s Allah (swt) guiding, it’s not me. It shows me what I told you — effort, humility, sincerity — and that doesn’t come from the shaykh. That’s entirely in the student. You can’t even ride on the shaykh’s humility, effort or sincerity, it’s your own effort, entirely your own humility and your own sincerity that will do it for you. And I have seen that in not just a few but a dozen. Sometimes I’m amazed and I confess this to them also that sometimes I get so busy so I catch up on emails altogether. Sometimes there will be a person whose 2-3 emails I would be reading together, because I couldn’t read them all as they came in.
Let’s take the example of a woman, for example, there’s a woman who wrote that please make du’a I want to start wearing the hijab. I wouldn’t even have read that email, so I didn’t make du’a. Next email that I started hijab, make du’a I wear niqab. Third email Alhamdulillah I’m wearing niqab. I’m reading all three emails together. Clearly you can see it’s not my du’as that make it happen. And there maybe women who may have heard hundreds of bayans of mine in Karachi and they may never think of adopting more haya. It’s not always about only the sohbah and only the ta’luq, without negating these things, it’s much more about a person’s effort, humility and sincerity. In any case, the goal is ‘amal, and the goal is tazkiyah.
The very last thing to show you today are practices. I’m just going to give you headers. Each one has a lot of instructions, ta’leemat and tarbiyyah about it.
The first one is leaving sin. We have several bayans on this topic. You can go and listen to them on our website. This is a constant and a lifelong ‘amal, because we keep sinning. It’s very rare that a person reaches that level of taqwah that they actually say that they stop sinning entirely. At that level there is no concept of leaving sin, because there would be no sins to leave. I would even go further, even if someone reaches that, they wouldn’t know that about themselves, and if they ever think that about themselves, that’s a bit dangerous. That could itself be a door that could very much open into sin.
Second is ibadah. One greatest ‘amal in our deen is still ibadah. Don’t underestimate ibadah. Don’t overestimate khidmat (service) and akhlaq (refinement of character) so much that you think they are substitutes for ibadah. Don’t overestimate good akhlaq that you think it can compensate for bad ibadah. These are very big misconceptions that people have. There is nothing like that in this world. For example, you can be the greatest husband, but that wouldn’t compensate if you are a bad father. Your kid will say, look, I know you treat mom very well, but you are terrible to me. You would say but I’m a great husband. He will say it’s irrelevant. It does not compensate for the fact that you are a terrible father.
Similarly, the most amazing akhlaq cannot compensate for poor ibadah. That’s not the meaning of those hadith. This is why you need to be taught hadith formally. When Nabi-e-Karim (sws) said those hadith about the virtue of akhlaq and khidmah, he (sws) wasn’t negating ibadah. You have to also look at those hadith that talk about ibadah. They are all there and no one is negating or cancelling the other. You have to have a holistic and complete understanding.
Two ways to increase ibadah:
1. In the masjid
For the men, you should try to increase your ibadah in the masjid. Sometimes sit a little bit before salah, sit a little bit after salah, do intezar of salah, that’s also a hadith, that also gives a person reward. When you sit after salah, you linger in the after affects of salah because Allah’s (swt) gaze of mercy falls on the person while a person prays salah, it doesn’t stop when a person does salam, it stops when they get up, they do airaz, when they move away from the place where they prayed salah. As long as you remain sitting in that place where you prayed salah, you are still in shower of the radiant nur of Allah (swt) even if you have said salam. It’s only when you get up and move, which is called airaz, it’s only then you exit from the shower of nur.
You should go before and you should linger after. This is what you do when you go to the dawat of a friend. We like to get there early and we hang out later. You need to have that feeling sometimes, not in every salah as you have to go back to meeting or your class, I understand that, but there are many times we pray salah when there is absolutely nothing that we have to do afterwards and we came from doing absolutely nothing. In a few of those nothings, try to linger. Those who want to do more, sometimes try to sit from fajr to ishraq. Sometimes sit from asr to maghrib, or another time when you get a chance.
2. At home
Second is that you should try to establish some environment of ibadat in your home. For the women it’s only the second one, and for men they should also try to establish the second one. That’s also something your children will see. The children will not see the ibadah you do in the masjid. They don’t see the bayans you give in the workshops. They see how you are at home. You have to have some level of ibadah at home. It was the practice of women in earlier Islamic communities that they would designate a part of their home which they would call masjid al-bait. This is a formal term in the works of the fuqaha which means that they would have a corner or a room where they would have their musallah and it would be their ibadat khana.
We have so many places in our houses; mehman khana, bawarchi khana etc. This is also a place and it helps because you are not that strong and you have to be honest about it. We are not that strong that we feel spiritual in our bedrooms and living rooms. That’s a problem. What is wrong with the interior design of our living rooms and bedrooms or what is wrong with the a’maal of ghaflah that we do that we don’t feel the dhikr of Allah (swt) there? But if you can’t change all of that right now, at least have some room which you can call no-ghaflah zone. This is the room where no ghaflah can take place in the house. When you designate that place, you will feel more closeness and connection with Allah (swt). This is especially for the women, but the men also should do this as a family.
Nafl Ibadah: Group/Individual
Next is group and individual ibadah. Individual ibadah is clear. There has always been a question among the jurists about the extent to which group nafl ibadah is permissible and there is a range of opinions of jurists on many different matters. Here again I will say practice i’tidal and ihtiyat; don’t do entire nafi of it, but don’t be exclusively reliant on it either. Some people only do dhikr when they do it in a group. You should be doing individual dhikr. Yes, occasionally you might join group dhikr. So I gave you a relative ratio for that.
I will even go further, you will only get benefit from the group dhikr if you are a person of individual dhikr. If you never make your own individual dhikr of Allah (swt), you just randomly, arbitrarily, occasionally attend group dhikr, it’s not going to change you in terms of tarbiyyah, it’s not going to remove you from sin in terms of tazkiyah, it’s not going to change your ‘amal. It will still be good — you will get reward, you will stay away from ghaflah, you will get certain benefits from it, but it wouldn’t be able to take you all the way. If a person does individual dhikr regularly, then if they sometimes do group dhikr, it can really give them a boost.
Nawafil Adhkar — Guided Regimen
Next is the nawafil adhkar. Here for example the question is what do I do? If I sit from fajr till ishraq, if I sit from maghrib till isha, what am I supposed to do in that time? We suggest to people that you should follow some guided regimen so that you do it systematically. For example, if someone makes the intention to improve their physical health, they don’t just randomly workout. They do some research or they go to some fitness trainer and they make a plan of action, they decide the exercises, the weights, and they follow that plan of action systematically under some level of guidance and instruction.
If you were to look at Imam an-Nawawi’s (rah) Kitab al-Adhkar, there are so many adhkar out there, and then especially for those of us who are at that earlier stage in that we need a cure for ghaflah and sin, then this means are there any extra, secondary adhkar of the awliyah that actually could directly cure my illness of ghaflah and sin so that I can move on to the adhkar of qurb and wilaya? This is the guided regimen.
We are going to start with masnun soon with a focus on du’as. I want to do the tafsir with you of every du’a in Qur’an. You learn those du’as and you know the translations but you need to understand it to really feel the feelings of du’a. This is one example of masnun adhkar.
Secondary adhkar is tazkiya, qurb and thawab. The secondary adhkar are done for ‘ilaj, but the qurb and thawab of the masnun adhkar is greater than the qurb and thawab that you get through the secondary adhkar. It should also be clear that masnun adhkar are not empty of tazkiya. That’s a general tonic, you get general tazkiya through the masnun adhkar.
For example, a person goes to a shaykh and says that I know the Blessed Prophet (sws) has said in many ahadith that you should remember death but I’m not able to do it. Shaykh tells him every night before you go to sleep, they call it muraqaba-e-maut (contemplation of death) for a few minutes imagine that you have died, you are lying there as a mayyat and people are praying janaza over you. People are taking you up, putting you in the grave and then they are putting mitti over you. One by one each person is walking away and you are left all alone in your grave. When he comes back after a few days of doing this, he says, shaykh can you undo this? Because I can’t work and all I’m thinking about is death.
Now you understand the ‘ilaj part? It kicks a person. This concept of muraqaba-e-maut is not in the sunnah. The Blessed Prophet (sws) never told any Sahaba (ra) that. Some mashaikh and ulema say the answer it’s because Sahaba (ra) already had these things so they didn’t need to be told — they had suhbat-e-Rasool (sws). When they heard about these things live, then:
وَقَالُوۡا سَمِعۡنَا وَاَطَعۡنَا
and they have said: “We have listened, and obeyed.” [2:285]
We don’t have access to that so sometimes we need a little jolt. Again, if you start doing that for the rest of 40 years of your life, there is no need for that. This was a tool. Once you get that remembrance of death, you can go back and do some masnun adhkar.
Husool ‘Ilm — Guided Curriculum
There is some place where you should begin. There should be a process for you to attain and acquire fehm — an understanding and knowledge of deen.
Purification of the Heart
This means two things:
- Remove Bad Attributes: Can be unlawful lust, envy, jealousy, pride, anger, laziness, negative opinions, doubts, skepticism, there’s a long list.
- Adopt Virtuous Attributes: The good feelings in the heart of compassion, softness, gentleness, love for Allah (swt), love for Blessed Prophet (sws) etc.
In these two things the sohbah, tarbiyyah and ta’leemat are very effective. It’s very beneficial to get the training, learning and the practice to do these things.
The initial part of practice was all about you and Allah (swt). But don’t think a’maal is confined to that. There is another aspect of a’maal as-Saleh and that is about you and others. People love to talk about haquq Allah and haquq al-ibad — but that term is misleading also. It’s not just about the rights. You have to go beyond your rights. It’s not that I will only do what people’s rights are on me. Maybe some things I’m telling you are beyond the rights they have on you.
It can be marriage, siblings, parents, children, these are the family relations. It can be employees, employer, colleagues, fellow students, teachers — any human interaction, let me rephrased that, any human interaction that Allah (swt) has placed you in has certain adaab, usul, and could be used as a means of pleasing Allah (swt). That’s also a learning, training and a practice.
Professional Societal & Humanist Ethics
This is about how you earn; to earn virtuously, lawfully which Allah (swt) has mentioned as halal and tayyib.
يٰٓاَيُّهَا النَّاسُ كُلُوۡا مِمَّا فِى الۡاَرۡضِ حَلٰلًا طَيِّبًا
O people, eat permissible good things out of what lies in the earth [2:168]
That’s basically what I’m calling ethics. Halal is a shari’ah matter — it’s permissible and legal. Tayyib means it should be virtuous. I have spoken about this a lot in the previous session. Basically, you should have compassion for the mazloom, the poor, and the uneducated — this is just the beginning. These are societal responsibilities, it’s not their haq necessarily, but it doesn’t matter. You are a member of the society and you try to become a person of khyr — of good in the community. I should also add the word ummah. So it’s about practicing ethics in your profession, your circuit, then in the broader sense of society, then in an even broader sense of ummah, and an even broader sense of humanity.
This is a major thing. I’m very much in this mizaj of dawah on your friends, colleagues, neighbors, family, random rickshaw drivers — this is a new field of dawah that I’ve jumped into — Uber and Careem drivers. And they are very receptive also. I can just be quiet or talk on the phone the whole time. But Allah (swt) put me with a person for 30 minutes of my life, probably I will never meet him again until the Day of Judgment, may be on that day Allah (swt) decides to send me to Jannah based on those 30 minutes with that guy. It’s quite possible. So having the spirit and feeling of dawah is also important. Maybe another thing to add here could be du’a, because dawah and du’ah work together. You have to do both. They are almost like lazim and malzum as we say.
There has to be some element of service. No doubt, if someone has an opportunity of service right at their homes with elderly, needy or sick parents, you could get it right at home. But if you don’t have it at home, then search for it. It can be orphans, widows, elderly, poor, illiterate, oppressed, refugees, homeless — there’s a whole long list and each one has millions in it.
You will not be able to do all of this instantly. I just gave you the list and some of you, especially the younger people, should not make the mistake of trying to do everything. This is a common mistake so don’t set a plan of action for yourself that is outside your reach. Reach for what is in your range and Allah (swt) will put that which is out of your reach in your range. That’s how it works, as opposed to reaching for what’s outside of your range, falling flat and sitting and crying — which is something, I’m sorry to be blunt, a lot of men in their 20s are stuck in. What I did right now is called ragra — in case you wanted to know what is islah and tarbiyyah.
 Surely, Allah will send for this ummah at the advent of every one hundred years a person (or persons) who will renovate its religion for it. [Sunan Abu Dawood]