[These are rough notes from the third session of the workshop conducted by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in UK, in 2011]
The last stage (i.e. baqaa), Imam Rabbani (rah) says, is that you will have a 100% attachment to Allah (swt) in your heart and you remain aware of Him 100% of the time. This is what Allah (swt) has described in Qur’an:
By the men whom no trade or sale makes neglectful of the remembrance of Allah [24:37]
It is a Qur’anic state. Tasawwuf is just a methodology to reach that Qur’anic state. Just like the Qur’an talks about tartil:
وَرَتِّلِ الۡقُرۡاٰنَ تَرۡتِيۡلًا
and recite the Qur’an clearly with tartil (in a distinct and measured tone). [73:4]
Tajweed is just the name of a methodology to recite Qur’an in tartil. The word tajweed is nowhere in Qur’an or Hadith, but the word tartil is. The word tasawwuf is no where in Qur’an and Hadith, but tazkiyah, qurb, marifah of Allah (swt) – all of these words are there.
Allah swt (says) in this ayah that they are such people that nothing in this world, literally, neither trade nor commerce — no trading, buying, selling, no commercial activity — nothing can distract them from the dhikr of Allah (swt). That is the last stage; keeping that awareness and attachment of Allah (swt) is ain-e-Qur’an; that is exactly in Qur’an. The fact that they are doing tijarah and bayah — that is the first 100%. They are engaged in the world, they are occupied in the world, in fact they are doing, what we call, a worldly activity; buying, selling, trading, negotiating, so that is the first 100%, it is not able to distract them from dhikr of Allah (swt) — that is the second 100%.
These are Qur’anic terms; the ayat of Qur’an-e-Kareem is explaining these states of human experience. Tasawwuf is just a method. It is not the necessary method. It is not a method. Just like any tajweed book is not necessary, but it is an attested, proven, established way at successfully getting correct Qur’anic pronunciation, this is attested, established, true way to get those feelings of Qur’an.
That’s why Imam Rabbani (rah), when he talks about these four stages, quotes another ayah from Qur’an:
قُلۡ هٰذِهٖ سَبِيۡلِىۡۤ اَدۡعُوۡۤا اِلَى اللّٰهِ عَلٰى بَصِيۡرَةٍ
Say, “This is my way. I call (people) to Allah with full perception [12:108]
That say that this is my path, that I call to Allah (swt) ‘alaa baseera; with an eye of deep insight. This engagement in the world, and the last stage of baqaa is the work of the prophets, it is dawah. This is the way dawah is done in tasawwuf; a person makes themselves a person of dhikr, they get this connection with Allah (swt), and they bring that connection to the dawah.
This is the way Hadrat Maulana Ilyas [Kandhlawi] (rah) used to make dawah. He was sahib-e-dhikr and sahib-e-nisbat. Today, people are trying to do dawah without dhikr. It’s not possible. Allama Shami or Allama Shafi’i (rah) wrote all of those books on the basis of their ‘ilm. If someone says I want to be like them, but I don’t want the ‘ilm, how can you do khidmet of deen the way they did it, without the ‘ilm that they had which enabled them to do that khidmet? Similarly, how are you going to do this type of khidmet of deen, i.e. dawah, unless you have that baseerah? That’s what the Qur’an is saying. In another ayah Allah (swt) says:
وَ لَا تُطِعۡ مَنۡ اَغۡفَلۡنَا قَلۡبَهٗ عَنۡ ذِكۡرِنَا
And do not obey the one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance [18:28]
You should not follow that person’s heart that is empty of dhikr. You should not listen to the dawah of that person.
Fanaa means passing away from the self and baqaa means abiding in God. These are loose translations. I don’t think it’s the translator’s fault. Arabic word fanaa is a concept that just took me two charts to explain to you, so it’s not easy to find that one English word that would do justice to this Arabic word. Just like when you give $1 and you get Rs. 85, so when you give 1 Arabic word, you should get about 85 English words for that.
So fanaa i.e. passing away from the self, let me explain it to you: losing awareness of everything that is other than Allah (swt), forgetting that knowledge voluntarily, deliberately so that you are un-learning everything; becoming unaware of everything. And baqaa is translated as abiding in God, but that’s not how we are going to talk about this because you are not abiding inside Allah (swt). Baqaa, those of you who know Urdu would know the word baqi, it means to subsist due to the will and command of Allah (swt).
Normally, what human beings engage in is called self-preservation. You are conscious of yourself. You are keeping yourself alive. At that stage of fanaa, you lose the consciousness of your own self. So what is keeping you alive is the wish and will and the hukm of Allah (swt). And then you realize that even when I was conscious of myself, the only thing that was keeping me alive was the wish and will of Allah (swt). I am utterly needy and dependent on Him. My being is dependent on His Being. Only His Being is independent. You do not become one with Allah (swt), so he is making it clear here.
Fanaa and baqaa are experiential, not existential. This is one of the most famous things that Imam Rabbani (rah) is known for. And he has written many letters on this topic. I haven’t given them to you because they are extremely long, detailed and complex. But they have an extensive critique of wahdat al-wujud, that they thought it was wujudi when it was actually shuhudi. Let me explain. The English here is good; these are the proper philosophical terms. Wujudi would be translated as existential and shuhudi would be translated as experiential. But this loose translation does not mean that you understand the concept.
Wujudi i.e. existential, what does it mean? Wujud, existentially means in actual reality. So in actual reality you have not passed away. You’re not fanaa. You exist. You cannot eliminate your existence. Even suicide doesn’t do that. Every human is eternal. It is the wish of Allah (swt), He has created us that way. There is nothing any human being can do that, from Syedna Adam (as) all the way to whoever the last human being would be, no human being has the power and ability to eliminate their existence. In reality, they cannot cease to exist.
If fanaa was wujudi, had it been wujudi, that’s what it would have meant; that you actually would have been able to erase yourself from existence, you could actually become non-existent, and then Allah (swt) would be the only one who was existent because you would have eliminated yourself. So he says that this is not a reality. What is it then? Instead, it is shuhudi. It means experiential, in perception. You go through an experience that makes you perceive as if you don’t exist anymore.
For example, like that Sahabi (ra) , it’s not that the arrow stopped to exist; the arrow existed, the blood existed, the wound existed, but, because he was unaware of it (shuhud), his perception and awareness of it did not exist. In his world of perception, he was unaware and not conscious of that arrow, just like that a person in dhikr, in ibadah can become unconscious of their own self.
I will give you the opposite example as well. You are sitting in class and you are not even aware of the itch on your nose. You just start praying, and then you notice it. You lasted two hours (in class) and it was completely fine. We are the opposite. We are so engrossed in the dunya that we are unaware. When you are deeply involved in something, you become unaware.
Forget even qalb, let me go to a lower faculty which is the human mind; it is lesser than your spiritual heart. Sometimes a person is so lost in their thoughts that they become unaware. You would say to that person snap out of it, because that person is so engrossed in some thought that they become unaware. You being unaware does not mean you stop to exist, you still exist, but your awareness stops to exist. It’s shuhudi. Fana-e-nafsi doesn’t mean that your self stops to exist, rather your awareness, perception, shuhud (from shahadah; testifying, witnessing) that stops to exist. Your self-awareness stops to exist.
He says that when these people came up with the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud, they misunderstood. Actually they reached a level where their awareness of their existence didn’t exist anymore, so they thought that nothing exists except for Allah (swt). When they re-opened their awareness of themselves, they perceived themselves to be Allah, and that was the mistake they made. The mistake they made was they thought fanaa and baqaa were wujudi, when actually they are shuhudi.
A human being does not become Allah (swt), and is not united with Him. Because that’s what they thought; you erase your existence, to become one with Allah. He says this doesn’t happen. ‘Abd (slave) is ‘abd forever, and Allah is Allah forever, remember the farq (absolute separation). There is no unity, ever.
There are wicked theorists who think fanaa and baqaa are wujudi, that the man discards his ontological limitations and unites with the primal source. Sometimes people who support wahdat al-wujud give this example that Allah (swt) is an ocean, and He created everyone out of drops from that ocean, and when we experience fanaa, we return to that ocean and become a part of that ocean again. And this is also, by the way, what Agha Khani Ismaili theology teaches, this is what they believe. That’s why they don’t actually believe in an afterlife. They think that they are going to be the drops that will become reunited with the ocean. So, this belief is incorrect.
What does limitation and determination mean? It’s just a philosophical term that means human beings have bodily limitations and spatial limitations. To put it simply, you exist in time-space. Allah (swt) exists outside the realm of time-space. For you to even, hypothetically, unite with Him, you will first have to also become a being who transcends time and space, and you can’t do that. So on the side, he is giving a philosophical refutation as well.
That the drop of water loses itself and mingles in the ocean, it casts away its individuating limitations and becomes one with the absolute. May Allah (swt) save us all from their blasphemous ideas. Real fanaa (so what is fanaa in reality?) is to forget; to be unaware of ghairullah (which is called not-divine in English); to free oneself from the love of the world; to purify the heart from all of the desires and wishes (and what they mean by desires is obviously the unlawful desires) as is required of a servant.
That’s what an ‘abd is supposed to do. Fanaa is nothing other than ubudiyyah (slave-hood), that’s what he is trying to say. Earlier he had said that wilayat is nothing but ubudiyyah in totality. And now he is taking all parts of wilayat and showing that’s also nothing other than ubudiyyah. So fanaa is nothing but ubidiyyah.
And real baqaa is to fulfill the wishes of the Lord. There’s another way to understand baqaa; when I have erased all of my wishes, so how am I existing? Whose wishes am I fulfilling? What’s keeping me baqi? It’s the wish of Allah (swt). Now I fulfill Allah’s (swt) wishes. That’s why they say in Urdu jo Allah ki marzi, woh meri marzi ban gayi. They say that now I have no will and wish left, whatever is the will and wish of Allah (swt), that is my will and wish. That’s what is left. That’s what is baqi after I erased everything — just the will and wish that Allah (swt) has for me.
When I erased everything and became a pure servant and slave, so what’s left is just my slavehood, just my ubudiyyah. So what does an ‘abd do? Just like in this world, a slave does whatever his master tells him. The slave sleeps when the master tells him to sleep. He gets up whenever the master tells him to get up. If the master tells you to get up at 4 A.M., you will get up at 4 A.M. That’s called baqaa.
There’s another way to understand baqaa; I continue to exist, I have not erased my existence, I still exist, but my continuity in existence is only in the will and wish of Allah (swt). I am just an ‘abd now, that’s it. There’s nothing I can do, it’s not even in me to go against ubudiyyah, that’s what he means.
Real baqaa is to fulfill the wish of the Lord and to make His will one’s own will without losing one’s self-identity. That’s the key thing. This is the beauty of it, this is submission, this is tasleem, this is Islam; you are still who you are. You are still you, but you become a person who only does what Allah (swt) wishes, that’s why you get the sawab — it’s you who wills to only now will what Allah (swt) wills for you. You wish only that what Allah (swt) wishes for you. That’s what Allah (swt) has put us on this earth for; not to lose that self-identity, but to maintain that self-identity, and to erase anything in that identity that goes against the wish of Allah (swt).
When we do that (i.e. fanaa) then we continue to exist until death overcomes us (i.e. baqaa) only and only doing what is the will and wish of Allah (swt) (i.e. retaining our self-identity).
After writing this, he does mention that some of the writings by some of the sufis seem to suggest otherwise. Even some of the writings by the rightly guided mashaikh of tasawwuf sometimes just seem to suggest otherwise, so he is going to talk about that.
In the writings of some sufis, one comes across words like mahw (; to erase, efface) and izmehlal (; dissolution, to dissolve, to fade away). What they mean by these words is experiential effacement, not existential effacement. It doesn’t mean that they literally become erased from the map of the earth, it means their own wish and will becomes erased.
The identity of the person of tasawwuf disappears only from his vision. It is never abolished in reality. Now he is talking about when the person is really deep into that dhikr. For example, when you are in a dream, you forget who you are, but you are still you, aren’t you? In the dream-like state, your experiences in the dream are so overpowering that they can even make you forget who you are in reality. But in actuality, you are still who you really are, you don’t stop being you, it’s still you that’s dreaming.
Similarly in dhikr, sometimes a person has an overpowering experience that they forget who they are. They have an overpowering experience in ibadah. When some people go for tawaf, they forget everything, they are lost. They don’t remember who they are, where they are from; they are from Pakistan, they are from Syria, they are from Indonesia, they are a father, they are a mother, they are a daughter — all of it is gone. All the identities are gone. They don’t remember their national identity, they don’t remember their family identity, they don’t remember their professional identity. It’s completely out of their consciousness if they are a computer programmer, if they are a teacher.
That’s what it means to efface. In reality, he is a father, she is a mother, she can’t erase that reality, but she has entered a state now where she is unaware, she is not conscious of that identity. Normally, a mother can never forget her children, but the woman can be so lost in ibadah, she could actually forget them. It doesn’t mean neglect. Understand what I mean, she can enter a state that is so overpowering that all other aspects of her identity are gone, the only identity that remains is that she is an ‘abd. That’s what he is talking about.
It only disappears from his vision (; perception, awareness). It is never abolished in reality (he doesn’t stop being who he is). In fact to believe in the latter (to actually believe that he actually stops being who he is) that’s theoretical and wicked. A number of amateur sufis have interpreted these misleading words to mean existential dissolution and have been guilty of blasphemy. They have denied the punishment in the Hereafter. So what did they do? They said that there is no real punishment in Jahannam and there is no real reward in Akhirah, because they said you just go back to becoming one with Allah (swt), so as in their belief they once perceived it from unity to multiplicity. For example, these people misinterpret verses so they say:
اِنَّا لِلّٰهِ وَاِنَّـآ اِلَيۡهِ رٰجِعُوۡنَؕ
“We certainly belong to Allah, and to Him we are bound to return.” [2:156]
They say it’s in Qur’an; we are from Allah (swt) and to Allah (swt) we are going back. This is how they interpret it that we are literally pieces of Allah (swt) and we go back to Him. Imam Rabbani (rah) was making it clear that this is wrong. You are from Allah (swt) means your ruh came into this world from the presence of Allah (swt). Your body was created through your mother and father, your ruh was created by Allah (swt) directly. Allah (swt) mentions this in Qur’an that He gathered all the arwah; all of the human ruh(s) and He asked them:
وَ اِذۡ اَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنۡۢ بَنِىۡۤ اٰدَمَ مِنۡ ظُهُوۡرِهِمۡ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمۡ وَ اَشۡهَدَهُمۡ عَلٰٓى اَنۡفُسِهِمۡ ۚ اَلَسۡتُ بِرَبِّكُمۡ ؕ قَالُوۡا بَلٰى ۛۚ شَهِدۡنَا
(Recall) when your Lord brought forth their progeny from the loins of the children of ’Adam, and made them testify about themselves (by asking them,) “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Of course, You are. We testify.” [7:172]
And they all said qalu balaa, yes. This is Qur’an. Then every time a child a conceived in the womb of a woman, Allah (swt) sends their ruh in, that’s after the conception, ruh was there before. So where was the ruh existing before it came into your physical body, in fetus in the womb? The ruh is with Allah (swt), that’s what this verse means, we are all going back to Him. Back to and entering are two separate things.
Then he says, and this is also important to show you what Imam Rabbani’s main method is, some of these misguided people view this dissolution as the great Resurrection, and deny the real Resurrection, Judgement, Bridge, Balance — they deny all of these things. They say there is no pul sirat, there’s no meezan, there is no Yaum al-Qiyamah. It’s just reuniting with Allah (swt).
They have gone astray and they have led a lot of people astray. I saw one of them siting and supporting this view through following couplet of Abd ar-Rahman Jamī (who is an authentic and great scholar and a great shaykh of tasawwuf): our origin as well as our end is unity, and nothing else. We live in mist of multiplicity which is false and unreal. Imam Rabbani explains this, and this is exactly what you will see in the example, that sometimes the mashaikh of tasawwuf make statements that:
- can be interpreted in a correct way, and
- more importantly, and more dangerously, sometimes they mean it metaphorically/figuratively, but if you take it literally (which most people would normally do — most people take a person’s words at their face value) so then it is actually suggesting an incorrect belief.
How does Imam Rabbani handle this? He says what Imam Jamī really means by return to unity is return in vision and experience only. In other words, in the beginning when we were in alim-e-arwah, in ruh form, before Allah (swt) put us in our body in the womb of our mother, at that moment the only thing our ruh was aware of was You, the only thing our ruh perceived was You. And now that we have been put in this world, now we are perceiving all of these multiple realities. But when we go back into Akhirah again, we will be again given the ru’yat; the perception of You. That’s what he meant.
Jamī never means the existential return (doesn’t mean that you will physically become one with Allah (swt)). These people are just blind. They do not see that no matter how perfect one becomes, one cannot transcend their humanity (if nothing else, your very humanity will prevent you from becoming one with Allah (swt)); human limitations, imperfections, deficiencies etc. Hence the ontological return of multiplicity to unity makes no sense. If they think it will happen after death, they are infidels. They deny the reality of punishment in the Hereafter and they falsify the teachings of the prophets (as).
You may remember earlier that Imam Rabbani (rah) mentions sometimes when a sufi is in a state of ecstasy, he makes an utterance. These are called shat’hat, sometimes they are called shat’hiyat. In English you would call it an utterance; it means something someone says uncontrollably. Not words that are said with deliberation, not words that articulate someone’s aqidah or theology, rather words that erupt out of a person’s mouth when they are in a state of intoxication. I have discussed intoxication before — it’s the statement they say when their perception of reality is skewed, because they were overcome by a particular feeling that happened to them in some type of ibadah, some type of dhikr. It’s not meant to be taken literally. I will give you its example from a Hadith.
Syedna Hanzala (ra) [great Sahabi (ra)] starts running around in a frenzy , literally that’s what he says. And what is he saying? Nafaqa Hanzala, nafaqa Hanzala. At that moment when he was saying those words, he was not making an aqidah (creedal) statement that I have become a munafiq (hypocrite). Because, in aqidah, munafiq is that person who has 100% kufr in his heart, but claims a 100% iman with his tongue. The Qur’anic definition of munafiq was a person who genuinely disbelieved, he truly was atheist in his heart, but he pretended to believe on his tongue.
Syedna Hanzala (ra) is not saying that he has become like that, he’s not saying that I have stopped believing. And everybody knows that. No commentator of Hadith has ever suggested that these words should be taken literally. So the question arises what was it that made him say words that shouldn’t be taken literally, but are meant to be taken figuratively? Because he was overpowered by an emotional state. What was that emotional state? So later on the Hadith continues that when he goes to the Blessed Prophet (sws) and he explains his emotional state that he realized that O Rasool Allah (sws) when I am with you I am one way, and when I am separate from you (sws) my spirituality goes down. This loss of spirituality that happens to me when I am away from you (sws) compared to when I am with you (sws), that feeling of loss just overpowered me and that’s why I was saying nafaqa Hanzala, nafaqa Hanzala.
So it’s not an accurate description of that person’s reality. It’s an emotional statement they are saying when they are overpowered by feelings. This even happened to Sahaba Karam (ra) at the time of Syedna Rasool Allah (sws). Just like Syedna Hanzala (ra) never even had the slightest drop of nifaq in him, even for a smallest fraction of a second, just like that when some of these people in tasawwuf said something, they were not united with Allah (swt) even in the slightest of drop even for a fraction of second.
The example for this he gives you; Glory be to me. Abu Yazid al-Bastami said this. So normally we say sub’hanAllah. He said sub’han to himself. So the question is, if you look at these words technically, if you take them, again, at the surface value, then it should be an incorrect statement, because that is what we only say for Allah (swt). Now how will this operate? If you are looking at this as a scholar of aqidah and kalam, you would immediately get him off the hook of kufr anyway. Because these are words, even though it may not be appropriate, but you could use them for ghairullah.
For example, we say sub’han Allahi wal hamdulillahi wallahu akbar; praise is to Allah (swt) alone. Sometimes you praise somebody so you say you did a really good job, you tell somebody he was saying such high praises of you. It doesn’t mean a person is going against Sub’hanAllah. We say Allahu Akbar. But a person can say you did a great job, they actually use the word great for somebody, it doesn’t mean you are going against Allahu Akbar. So a theologian would get him off the hook using that method of husn-e-zan I had told you before. That was the fair reading.
But if you take the honest reading, however, then at that moment something was happening to Shaykh Bayazid Bastami (rah) because of which he said this statement. So the honest reading would be let’s try to understand what was happening to him. What was that emotion that made him say this? That’s what Imam Rabbani (rah) tries to do. He takes the honest reading just to understand what was the experience that was going on in tasawwuf.
So Imam Rabbani continues that I however think that Bayazid was informed about his shortcoming towards the end of his life for the time of his passing away he said, “I did not know You except after an unknowing (remember this whole concept of learn and un-learn), and I did not serve You except after the lapse of that period.” So what he’s saying that actually Bayazid Bastami had realized that I went through this phase where I made a mistake in terms of my knowledge of Allah (swt), and I had to unknow, I had to unlearn, I had to make tawbah and istighfar for that, then when I did that, I got the true knowledge of Allah (swt).
Then he explains, this is Imam Rabbani (rah) himself commenting, he does consider his first awareness of God a non-awareness, for it was not the awareness of Allah (swt) but the awareness of one of Allah’s (swt) shadows in appearances. Let me explain what he meant. The uses of the term ‘shadows in appearances’ is not a good translation for this.
- Allah (swt) and the world are separate (this is the view that Imam Rabbani takes)
- Wrong position: Allah (swt) and the world are the same.
- Second wrong position: the world is a shadow of Allah (swt).
So he says the correct position is that Allah (swt) is completely separate and the world is completely separate in terms of being completely distinct and different separate entities. But there is a relationship between the two and this is what is called the relationship of Allah (swt) to the world. This is the hidayah He sends on this world, the books, the prophets (as), the ilham that he sends to individuals, the madad, nusrat — so many words in Qur’an that Allah (swt) has used for this. His fadhl, His fayz, His karam, His rehmah, so many things that He sends.
In Arabic, they try to come up with just one word to encompass all of these things which are the relationship of the things that Allah (swt) sends on this world. For example, one is wardat, tajalliyat, one is shuyunat, ihtibarat, all of it means the way Allah (swt) relates with the world. He is completely different from the world, but He is not an absent Lord. He is completely dynamically focused on and engaged in that world. And those engagements, and that interaction and relationship, that is what Imam Rabbani says is the shadow.
Sometimes a person sees something and it’s not Allah (swt), that maybe the fadhl of Allah (swt), it maybe the Mercy of Allah (swt), it may have been the karam of Allah, or the nur of the hidayah of Allah but it wasn’t the nur of Allah (swt). So, for example, Allah (swt) uses this metaphor, very famous ayah they call it the ayat-e-nur and so many commentators have tried to comment on it. And Allah (swt) gives this whole long simile of the nur, and the lamp, and the lantern and the niche.
On one hand, Allah (swt) didn’t need to say this. There must be some reason Allah (swt) chose to say it. There must be some reason for His likening, using this example of nur, but it doesn’t mean that every time, because Allah (swt) also uses the metaphor of nur in Qur’an, He uses it for Himself, He also uses it for His hidayah. So the nur of the hidayah is a shadow of the nur of Allah (swt). That’s what he means when he talks about shadows. Because Allah (swt) is beyond everything, shadows and appearances mark the beginning of the way, they are only aids and means.
Praise be to Allah (swt) and peace be upon his chosen people. I received your letter which tells of your commendable attainments. I was very much pleased to read it. (So this is obviously a letter written in response to somebody’s earlier letter). In the path of love, in this path of muhabbah, a lot of strange experiences happen. You must pass over those experiences and changes and try to reach that One Being Allah (swt) who produces those states. By reach, by the way, he doesn’t mean union. Reach means qurb. This is a word in the Qur’an:
Those are the ones blessed with nearness (to Allah). [56:11]
i.e. you should not want to be close to your own spiritual state, you should want to be close to Allah (swt) who produced such a state in you. Let me show you from Qur’an that these states exist. Allah (swt) says in Qur’an:
So Remember Me, and I will remember you [2:152]
Now when a person does so much dhikr, that means Allah (swt) is going to be doing so much dhikr of them. You think a person is not going to feel that? That feeling a person experiences when Allah (swt) does azkurkum, as He promises in the Qur’an, when Allah (swt) does dhikr of someone, that someone feels something but are not able to explain properly in words what that feeling is. They can construct a whole set of vocabulary and terminologies, like I told you tajaliyat, anwarat, fuyuzat, wardat, to explain the dhikr that Allah (swt) was doing on them, but they can’t explain it in words properly.
That, however, is an existential reality. That’s a real thing. Allah (swt) really does dhikr of a person because He said it in Qur’an, and a person will really feel it. They may not understand that feeling sometimes, they may not be able to express those feelings in words sometimes, because feelings and words are two separate things. Feelings cannot always be expressed in words.
For example, Imam al-Ghazali (rah) loves to give example of a fruit. If we take a mango, can you really express how mango tastes in words? You can’t. I can say it’s soft, succulent, sweet, juicy, fleshy — but let’s say somebody has never eaten a mango, those words can give them an approximation of that feeling but they can never capture the feeling of taste. If something so mundane as your tongue and something so low as just the feeling of what a fruit tastes like on your tongue, even that cannot be captured in words, then when Allah (swt) does azkurkum or when he says in Qur’an:
وَمَنۡ يُّؤۡمِنۡۢ بِاللّٰهِ يَهۡدِ قَلۡبَهٗؕ
And whoever believes in Allah, He guides his heart. [64:11]
That He sends hidayah on a person’s qalb (spiritual heart), so you don’t think the qalb has a sense of taste? Just like when a mango comes on your tongue, your tongue can experience it, if the hidayah of Allah (swt) comes on your heart, your heart won’t experience it? Just like this one cannot be perfectly captured in words, the other one can also not be perfectly captured in words. The big problem in this is — and that’s why we don’t normally like to read and teach the text of tasawwuf — that if the person has never felt it, the person is looking at the words and they are trying to understand.
I’m saying this because you are going to see, we are going to talk about a particular feeling in the next letter. And you will never be able to understand it by the words. You will never understand. My only aim today is to make sure you don’t misunderstand; to help and prevent people from misunderstanding the words of tasawwuf. You can never understand the words of tasawwuf through words. You will only understand the words of tasawwuf through feelings.
For example, let’s go back to the mango, and let’s say if I was a brilliant poet, and I wrote you a poem on the mango, you would enjoy every line, you would understand the word succulent, immediately your experience of the mango taste comes to your mind. If I say the word tasty, it comes to your mind. If I say the word sweet, it comes to your mind. The word sweet, because you have experienced sweetness, produces an understanding in your mind, not because of the word, but because you have experienced sweetness.
Just like that, when they are going to say words here, Imam Rabbani (rah) was writing to people who had experienced these realities, so the word is just a marker — and this is all what philosophy of language teaches anyway — word is just a marker and a place-holder for a meaning, and the person who knows the meaning, understands the meaning from the word. You all know the difference in how orange and apple juice taste. You know that because I am pretty sure almost all of you here have drank both. So I would say the word ‘orange juice’ or ‘apple juice’, and you will immediately understand the difference. If I tell you ikhlas and tawakkul, these are also two words, but do you know what the difference is in feeling them? You won’t know unless you experience them.
In this path of love there are a lot of strange experiences, that happens because Allah (swt) is an amazing Being, when He does dhikr of a person, it’s going to be wondrous. Actually, the word here used is strange. If you know Urdu, the word is ajeeb. Ajeeb can hold the meaning of wondrous, amazing, mind-boggling, inexplicable, not capturable in words. That’s going to happen when Allah (swt) does dhikr of a person, guaranteed.
If afterwards you are given true knowledge, you would be really fortunate. Mind one thing, everything that comes to you in vision and understanding (all of your feelings, inspirations, kaifiyat, ahwal, kashf, ilham) negate all of it. This is one of the highest teachings of Imam Rabbani (rah) he says that’s also ghairullah. Everything is ghairullah, your own kashf, your own ilham, your own kaifiyat, your own ahwal, feelings, states, stations, experiences — all of that is also ghair.
Today people don’t understand that. Sometimes some murids are so into these experiences that the shaykh produces in them. I was once visiting someone recently, and within one minute the person just started telling me, this is all he wanted to talk about, that my shaykh did this and that, and he produces this feeling or that feeling in a person’s heart. And he didn’t realize that these are like the lower, the baby-things of tasawwuf. But this person’s understanding was that this was the height of tasawwuf, that when my shaykh did dhikr, so-and-so cried, or so-and-so said that I felt something in my heart like I have never felt before. This is like the elementary stuff of tasawwuf, but they couldn’t get over it.
This causes problems. People don’t understand that the shaykh was the person who was supposed to give you taqwa. They thought shaykh was the person who was supposed to give me spiritual feelings. So now they run around looking for feelings. Then what happens is that suddenly they stop feeling these feelings from one person, then they go to the second one, then he makes them feel the feelings, then they go to the third, then fourth, then the fifth one. They are just like spiritual groupies. They are running around looking for one thing to another.
I see them in the bayans, they are always sitting at the back and I know they are not listening to me, they are not looking at me, rather they are listening to and looking at the crowd. That’s how they decide whether they like the bayan or not. They look at the crowd’s reaction; how many people felt this way or that way. They don’t understand what deen is about. Yes, these feelings happen to a person, they get these feelings. We are emotional creatures and Allah (swt) has structured deen in such a way that it will move and motivate you emotionally. But all of that is for ubudiyyah, for the servant-hood and slave-hood to Allah (swt).
So, he says, negate your vision and understanding; even the vision of union and multiplicity for the real unity does not appear multiplicity. Allah’s (swt) wahdaniyat (oneness) is never going to be contained in the multiplicity of this world, never. Allah’s (swt) wahdaniyat is something completely separate, it has nothing to do with world. What actually appears is a reflection that we are His creation. When you see a unity in creation, you are just looking at the fact that we are all His creation, you are not perceiving the wahdaniyat of Allah (swt) Himself, the Oneness of Allah (swt), the singularity of Allah (swt) Himself, you cannot witness that in this world.
So the best thing for you at this stage is to repeat the words la ilaha illallah. This is the great kalimah of tawheed. There’s nothing that you should heed other than this. This is why Imam Rabbani (rah) used to teach this later instead of starting dhikr at la ilaha illallah. For example, in sufi silsila in other silsilas, the first lesson they give a person is la ilaha illallah. In Naqshbandi silsila, the first lesson that is given is what we call ism-e-zaat, dhikr of Allah, Allah. So the person is getting love for Allah (swt) in their heart, and they are getting detached from the love of the world.
In that process, what happens is that they have the love for Allah (swt), they have these feelings, experiences. So he waits and when the person has taken out all of the love for the world from their heart, and is filled to the brim with love for Allah (swt), you can imagine a person like that will have a lot of emotional experiences, then he would tell him to do la ilaha illallah, to wipe off all of those emotional experiences, so that you shouldn’t feel emotional ecstasies. You should just have the pure, servant-hood love for Allah (swt).
When a person reaches that, and this person has obviously written that he had all of these experiences, so now he is giving him the punch line; now you are having the experiences, you wrote me a letter, I commend you that you lost the love for the world, you have love for Allah (swt), you are following Shari’ah, you are regular in tahajjud, so you felt some it’minan in your dhikr, you felt:
اِذَا ذُكِرَ اللّٰهُ وَجِلَتۡ قُلُوۡبُهُمۡ
those whose hearts are filled with awe when (the name of) Allah is mentioned [8:02]
You are saying you got taharuk, hararat, now what you should do is la ilaha illallah. Take the sword of la ilaha illallaha and run it on all of those experiences. You had a vision, or a dream, and the murids they love — this is not the letter they want — they want a reply that mashaAllah you had such a great dream. You have such a higher ruhani maqam (spiritual stature), you are such an elevated person. That’s what the murid wants. That’s what they love. Imam Rabbani knows so he says do la ilaha illallah, keep doing it. You should go on repeating this kalimah until nothing is left of your ilham. Finish it.
You come to hairat (unknowing) in jahl (ignorance), and you think you’ve got marifah of Allah (swt)? Rather you’ve become a jahil (ignorant), that’s what he’s saying. You think you know Allah (swt)? Keep repeating la ilaha illallah and you will realize you are completely ignorant of Allah (swt).
This is exactly the same thing that Imam al-Ghazali (rah) wrote in his Risala fi bayani Ma’rifatillah, he said that knowing Allah (swt) is to know that He is unknowable. Knowing Allah (swt) is to know that you can never know Him. To ultimately know Allah (swt) is to know that you can ultimately never know Him. This is called ajz (humility), to be ajiz. Real ajz is real marifah, and real marifah is real ajizi.
And then the only experience that you feel is hairat. This is a word we cannot understand, it’s a feeling. The only thing that is left is complete awe, amazement, wonder of Allah (swt), that’s it. That’s what you will be left with. You will just be awe-struck by Allah (swt), that’s Azmat of Allah (swt). It’s His Majesty, His Greatness, His Might and His Power, it leaves a person humble and completely awe-struck.
Unless you reach wonder and unknowing, you will not attain fanaa. Fanaa doesn’t mean that you know Allah (swt) intimately. Fanaa means that you know yourself intimately that you can never really know Allah (swt). His reality is unknowable to you, and you will just be lost in a state of wonder and amazement of Allah (swt). So what you think to be fanaa is actually nothing. It is certainly not fanaa. So first reach unknowing, then you will realize fanaa. This is the first step on the way. And don’t think of arriving in Allah (swt) or meeting Allah (swt). And then he quotes a poet:
How can you reach swat [?]
There are mountains in the way
And high peaks, and deep ditches.
So he says your experiences are right, it’s good what you’ve written. We don’t know what he wrote, but I’m assuming that he wrote that I’m feeling this, and you will have feelings on the path. You will have feelings when you fall in love with Allah (swt). You will have experiences. This is correct. There is nothing against Shari’ah in that. That’s what he’s making clear. That look there wasn’t anything against Shari’ah, but even when you have experiences and ilham that fall within the bounds of Shari’ah, even then you should negate that with the kalimah. That’s how you go to the next level. That’s what he is teaching. So here you are getting a very inside look into a sort of this advance teaching of tasawwuf of Imam Rabbani (rah).
But you must go beyond those experiences. Blessed are those who follow the guidance and walk in the path of the Blessed Prophet (sws). And that is to come out of all of those experiences and do the work of dawah, the work of khidmet, the work of ihya-e-deen (revival), tajdeed-e-deen (reformation), khidmet-e-deen (service).
My second advice to you, (so the first advice was to negate the experiences that were within the bounds of Shari’ah, but you should negate them all anyway) stick firmly to Shari’ah and judge all of your experiences that you have had, and may have in the future, on the principle of Shari’ah. If you feel any slightest disparity in word or deed with Shari’ah, then you should fear that it may be your undoing (you will lose everything). This is the way sufis are rightly established (that they do these two things). And my best wishes to you.
Ever changing states and experiences are not to be relied upon. Those are momentary. These are called ahwal and kaifiyat in Arabic. You’re not always going to feel like that, you’re not always going to have a particular feeling in dhikr, you’re not going to cry every time you read that verse. So yes it’s good that you cried this time when you read that verse, but don’t get attached to that, don’t celebrate it, don’t inside be so happy that look I’m crying on Qur’an, because it’s not going to happen to you every time you read that verse.
Don’t get attached to experiences and feelings that are just fleeting, are momentary, are occasional. Don’t care for what comes and goes, is said and heard. The goal is altogether different. It transcends whatever you hear or see, because the goal of tasawwuf is not something that can be heard, seen or felt or experienced. Because the goal of tasawwuf is to make yourself the slave of Allah (swt).
These things are just like sweets and cookies to please the children of suluk. That’s what he says, that Allah (swt) does it to keep you going. He gives you tawfiq, it’s His grace, favor and mercy that He made you cry when you read that verse. But that was to make you read more, that wasn’t to make you focus on your crying. And think about it — you are focused on Qur’an and you were able to cry, so you shifted your focus to crying? You left Qur’an for such a small thing? For your own tears?
Sometimes we do this, and it is especially true for people who do do dhikr, and they do get feelings, you will get feelings, you will feel feelings of taqwa, you will feel feelings of sabr, but look at Sahaba Karam (ra) — Syedna Umar’s (ra) life is full of two things: full of his own taqwa and full of how till the end of his life he never felt he had taqwa. They had the feelings, but they were always negating the feelings. This is exactly describing what the Sahaba (ra) were like. They felt all of these feelings. But they didn’t revel in them, they didn’t chase them. They were unaware, they just kept negating them. They kept thinking I’m nothing, Allah (swt) is everything. That was their whole life.
If you look at the great mufassarin, muhadithin, fuqaha, usuleen, mujtahidin, the awliyah kamileen, siddiqeen, saliheen, you will find exactly the same thing. You read about them, especially towards the end of their life, acting as if they never had a moment of taqwa in their life, they are so terrified, talking about themselves as though they are truly nothing, although in our eyes they were amazing. But they weren’t faking that humility. That was the type of a human being they were, that despite all of those feelings, they viewed themselves to be nothing. They felt the feelings of tawakkul, sabr, shukr, ikhlas, they felt all of the sifat-e-mu’mineen mentioned in Qur’an, but they still viewed themselves to be nothing.
And today’s sufi doesn’t feel any of these things, and he gets to pray tahajjud one night, and he’s on cloud 9. One day the shaykh may say something that moves his heart, the next time he meets anyone he tells the whole world that my shaykh can move people’s hearts.
The real thing to seek is different from these petty things. He is calling these ahwal and kefiyat petty. He was doing this to train the person. Don’t get too caught up in these things, because they are unreal, like a dream. If in a dream you see that you are a king, you do not become a king.
Muftis here cannot put up with Punjabi and Siraiki poetry, but there was one wali who used to address himself like this — you wake up in the night, why do you celebrate yourself? Don’t you see that the dogs and the animals themselves are awake also? What’s the big thing in you? So you are up every night, you pray tahajjud, so the rooster is also up every night at tahajjud as well. That’s how they used to think. They didn’t let their a’maal and ibadat let them think highly of themselves. This is real humility. We don’t even have those feelings and we still can’t be humble. And those people were humble despite their accomplishments.
The dream offers hope, it’s a promise. That’s why you do get the feeling, Allah (swt) wants to give you an enticement, He wants to give you hope, He wants to spur you on. In naqshbandi tariqat, visions and experiences are not to be counted on. You will find this couplet in the books that mashaikh of tasawwuf use to explain this: I love the sun, I sing of the sun. I’m not night, nor do I love night, so I never talk of dreams. In other words, dreams, or these feelings, take place in the night. But what a person is in love with is the sun. The sun is symbolic for the nur and the Majesty of Allah (swt). Because you love the sun, you wouldn’t even talk about the things that happened to you at night.
When one state comes, the other goes, there is nothing to be sorry for, there is nothing to be happy over. This is an important teaching that the mashaikh used to teach that some people, when they do dhikr, they feel something. Next day they do dhikr, they don’t feel anything. They get sad. So he is saying that happiness and sadness are not about feeling and not feeling. Happiness should be that today I was according to Shari’ah, sadness should be today I slipped and sinned against the Shari’ah. That’s something to be sad over.
We do find that the practitioners of tasawwuf are less sad over their sins, and they are more sad that they don’t feel. They are less likely to send an sms that they missed fajr, they are more likely to send an sms saying I did dhikr today and I didn’t feel anything, please make du’a for me. They are worried about that. But when they commit a sin, they are not worried about that.
We are going to pause here to take some questions. I actually empathize with a lot of you because, except for a handful of you, you absolutely had no idea whatsoever is in Maktubat-e-Rabbani. So you may have not actually signed up for all of this theoretical stuff. But I wanted to show you that sometimes when you see something in its full force, it makes you appreciate it. And maybe sometimes for people to appreciate tasawwuf is to actually see it in full force.
Though we may not be able to experience these things, we may not be at that level yet to experience it at a full force ourselves, but — look, can you even imagine, we would be even lucky to have the experiences this person wrote about, let alone moving to that stage where we negate those feelings with la ilaha illallah. There are very few people alive today who probably even had the experiences he wrote about in the first place.
It just shows you how deep deen is, and how deep these people were. And if you really want to understand or appreciate any person in any field or discipline of learning, sometimes you have to look at the accomplishments of excellence in that field. So one way to look at Physics is to look at first year university stuff, and one way is to look at what Einstein’s Relativity is really about, and then you will be amazed that Physics is actually something quite phenomenal, it’s not something trivial.
The real power of deen of Islam is to make a human being even on earth close to Allah (swt). Today we want to revive the economic power of deen, or its political power. We have underestimated the spiritual power of deen. We don’t know what power Allah (swt) has put in Qur’an and Sunnah; what type of a human being can be created by this deen. So when we get a glimpse into some of these people who are on the right path, and how they were working and training trying to create people who are like that, we get quite amazed.
With regards to dreams, what can be the response to a friend who believes their dreams came true?
We are living in a day and age in this ummah where there is no single aspect of Islam that has not been misunderstood. You will find people who misunderstand every single thing; whether it be about the clear-cut prohibition of interest, people even misunderstand that and some of them think that’s okay. Even in terms of faraidh, and haram, which are complete black and white cases, people have misunderstood those things. So when it comes to stuff like this, a lot of people have misunderstandings.
My own experience has been that sometimes Allah (swt) tests a person who has such a misunderstanding, and sometimes Allah (swt) can also punish such a person who has such a misunderstanding by making that misunderstanding appear to be true. Allah (swt) explains this in Qur’an:
يُضِلُّ بِهٖ ڪَثِيۡرًا وَّيَهۡدِىۡ بِهٖ كَثِيۡرًا
By this He lets many go astray, and by this He makes many find guidance. [2:26]
He has the ability to yahdi, and yudhillu, He guides and He also misguides. What does it mean for Allah (swt) to misguide? A lot of the mufassirin have written in detail, because this is a very important concept, and it is also something that comes up in the whole predestination and free-will debate, as in how much free-will do you have if Allah (swt) misguides you? When I was in college, I wrote a paper on this. I gathered all of the ayat of Qur’an where Allah (swt) uses this concept for when He misguides. When I did that study, I saw that every single time Allah (swt) talks about misguiding, He is talking about misguiding someone further who has chosen already to be misguided and has refused repeated calls to come back to the path. Sometimes, in that case, Allah (swt) can make things happen. It can be tarot cards, it can be palm reading, it can be, quote unquote, reading the future. It’s actually a source of misguidance, it’s not guidance.
My point is that being correct or incorrect is not necessarily the measure of whether someone is rightly guided or incorrectly guided. Obviously, there are people who will try to couch and explain their visions and experiences in the authentic language, and it is difficult to tell. So, as far as we are concerned, you don’t need to know about anyone else’s visions and experiences, they are irrelevant to us because they are not going to help us in our life in following Shari’ah and Sunnah.
Anyone who themselves feel that I saw something in a dream, and it came true a month later, obviously that’s something that would disturb a person and would make that person want to ask. They can ask someone who they believe is authentic and capable of guiding them, they can seek guidance on that on how their response should be to that. Because, as it genuinely happens, every time they get a dream, they are going to get worried if it would come true or not and it could lead to a whole set of psychological and emotional tensions. That person should themselves seek guidance.
As far as the theory goes, those people who do get such a vision, the Islamic understanding of this — and it is an extremely rare thing, extremely rare that Allah (swt) would unveil to someone some piece of knowledge about what is going to happen in the future — the rule that governs this is that a person can never know with certainty; because kashf is not what we call qati’, it is zanni. It is not a certain, authoritative, guaranteed proof in deen. It’s just a possible source. So nobody can think that what I have been shown is going to happen definitively, they can just think that it may possibly happen. If the event actually happens, the course of the event confirms the thing that they saw.
How does this happen? The way it is understood is that Allah (swt) gave a person a piece of knowledge that the person didn’t have themselves, and was not able to acquire themselves. Where did they get it from? They got it from the knowledge of Allah (swt). The knowledge of Allah (swt) exists outside time and space. It’s actually incorrect to say that Allah (swt) knows the future. There is no such thing called future for Allah (swt), because He exists outside of time. Just imagine if there was a line on the board, the first third was your past, the middle third is your present, and the last third is your future. You can see the whole board in one shot. That’s how Allah (swt) sees us. It’s quite an amazing concept. It’s not that Allah (swt) sees your future as clearly as He sees your present, as clearly as He saw your past.
It’s something to think about when we sin also, and also when we pray, that the moment when we sin Allah (swt) is simultaneously — so to speak, that word itself doesn’t properly apply to Allah (swt) because that implies a unity in time and Allah (swt) is beyond time — but He also saw, or, quote unquote, simultaneously, saw us pray. And when we pray, He also sees us sin. This is His hilm, this is His attribute of al-Haleem; He is that being who knows so much about you that He would be very well in His right to punish you, but He doesn’t. He holds back and lets this whole system of linear time play itself out in your life.
So when Allah (swt) gives a person a piece of knowledge, or ilham, it’s not knowledge of the future as far as Allah (swt) is concerned, it’s a part of His knowledge, which encompasses everything from past, present and future. Sometimes a person may see something, but in reality, a person who actually sees something like this, they may see it maybe once or twice in their entire lifetime, and such people maybe 5 or 10 on this earth.
That’s why, with all the statistical probability, your friend is not one of them. But the number of people who think they have such experiences, there’s no shortage of that. The point was to show you today what Imam Rabbani is teaching that even people who maybe from those 1 or 2 of billions, even they should negate it, they shouldn’t be worried about it. So, at least from our perspective, that person who genuinely has an experience or vision, even if he is being told that he should just forget it and ignore it, if Imam Rabbani would tell that to somebody who may have themselves been a wali, you could just say the same thing to your friend. You can just say that we have been taught that even if such visions and experiences are true, we should ignore them, and we should focus more on getting hidayah, on getting deen.
Can you repeat the three positions on wahdat al-wujud?
These are not three positions on wahdat al-wujud; these are three views regarding Allah (swt) and the world.
- One view was that Allah and the world are the same. And some people have used the term wahdat al-wujud for that.
- The second was the view that Allah and the world are separate, but the world is a shadow of Allah (swt).
- Third was that Allah (swt) and the world are separate completely; the world isn’t even a shadow of Allah (swt).
Then Imam Rabbani (rah) explains that the shadow doesn’t mean creation. The term shadow zil in Arabic can only be used for ayat sha’a’irullah that are on earth; the signs of Allah (swt) on earth, because He talks about them in Qur’an and He Himself is sha’a’irullah, meaning He made a nisbat to Himself. So Imam Rabbani says the term like zil, shadows, can only be applied to something like that. Or it could be applied to the way Allah (swt) engages with this world; the way He sends His madad, His nusrat, His barakah.
How can the case of the Throne be explained in terms of wahdat al-wujud?
Allah (swt) cannot be the same as His creation. The throne issue is a whole separate discussion. There are ayat in Qur’an where Allah (swt) speaks about what is called in Arabic istiwa; which means — and it’s very difficult to try to translate this because I personally feel you can only select a word accurately when you really know the meaning, and I don’t think anyone knows the meaning of this, so when they select words in English, they are selecting words inadequately — some of them say Allah (swt) is established on the throne, He is sitting on the throne, His sovereignty emanates from above the throne. So He is a sovereign means He is Malik. His being Malik emanates from above the throne. All of these are just guesses in my opinion.
The position I follow in aqeedah and kalam is istiwa; it’s something that we believe in just like we believe in Alif Lam Meem. We believe in everything in the Qur’an, but we say we don’t know all of it, what we call the bi-la kaifa position, where we have no idea whatsoever that means. Point was that Imam Rabbani (rah) is not saying that Allah (swt) and the world are separate because the world is under the throne and Allah (swt) is above the throne. It’s not a spatial difference. It’s not a location difference.
How do you go from 100% engagement in the world to 0% engagement in the world?
That’s a very good question. There are two ways to do it. One way is accessible to everyone, and the second way is accessible only to a few people. So if you asked this question, for people with worldly engagements, you can do the first one. First one means practicing dhikr along with functioning in the world. When you do dhikr — and this is 99% of how tasawwuf is taught today — using this method, you are still a university student, you keep working as a software programmer, you keep working as an English professor, you keep doing all of that, but now you add something additional to your day that is the dhikr of Allah (swt). And you keep working on the quality of that dhikr. You try to increase in its quantity. You reduce your sins. And you increase your Sunnah, and you keep doing these things.
Each of these things will take down your attachment from what is unlawful in this world, and your awareness of that which is unlawful in this world. For example, as a person does more dhikr, more Sunnah, has more taqwa, they will be able to lower their gaze more. Second, they will start becoming unaware. They can actually say that today I went in the tube and I didn’t even realize. Before I would have been able to say within two minutes who was a pretty woman on the subway car. Now I sat there, I was so absorbed in my dhikr, I have no idea who’s pretty. So they are getting more and more absorbed in Allah (swt). They can even change — they may say there’s a woman who is my boss or my colleague. Before I used to notice that she’s pretty. Now that I have started following Shari’ah and Sunnah and left other sins and made dhikr, I still interact with her, she is still the secretary, let’s say, or the boss, whatever she is, but now I don’t even notice her looks anymore. I’m completely oblivious to her.
So the person will keep increasing the quality of their dhikr, and sometimes a bit more quantity, maybe 1 hour, maybe max 2-3 hours a day, but obviously they are still functioning in the world. But their attachment and love of the world, that’s going from 100% to 0%. So outward engagement is still there, but their inward engagement is going down. Obviously then if the person keeps doing it, it’s going to take time. It’s going to take years using this method. But that’s okay, it took years to get a B.A. You can call it B.A. in dhikr, or B.A. in taqwa. Same thing, the harder a person works, they get a distinction in their taqwa, they may get a second medal in taqwa.
The second way, which is today 1%, but at that time it was more, was that a person would go in what we call khalwah. It means they would actually withdraw themselves from society at large, and due to certain reasons in Qur’an and Hadith, they would prefer 40 days or 4 months, but these are not set in stone. The tablighi jama’at has taken it from tasawwuf; this concept of 40 days and 4 months. So they would go in the period of khalwah in seclusion from this world. The two prophetic incidences of this is Blessed Prophet (sws) going in Mount Hira, and second is the Sunnah of ‘itikaf, which is the 10 days in the month of Ramadan, and there is also nafl ‘itikaf. This is part of deen and you can do it any time you want.
So you can put it this way then, because maybe people are a bit unfamiliar with terms like khalwah and chilla, they used to go into nafl ‘itikaf for 40 days or for 4 months, or for some other period of time. That’s quick because then it doesn’t take years. They wanted to get it done faster. Just like in dunya, you can do things part-time, so a person can say that I’m doing this course part-time. If I do it in half-time, it will take me 6 years. If I do it for full-time, it will take 3 years. So they have to look, and it depends on financial constraints, it depends on what haqooq al-ibaad are over them, but there were some people in that day and age who, while maintaining full haqooq al-ibaad, like a person goes for a 6 months course, they leave everything saying I will be back in 6 months, so they would actually go for that. Some people would get it done in 40 days, for some it took 4 months. For Imam Rabbani (rah) it took 22.5 months [1:11:57]. But that’s because he did it day and night.
So in this method, people go into nafl ‘itikaf. Just like in Sunnah ‘itikaf, nafl ‘itikaf means all you do is ibadah, dhikr, tilawat, salah, ‘ilm, du’a, istighfar, durud salawat, listening to bayan, dars-e-tafsir, dars-e-hadith, etc. That’s all you do day and night. That was a quicker way. This is the clarification I tried to make in the beginning that I couldn’t make in detail. And that was why I have to give you the bidah workshop audio, which is about 3.5 hours long. So that’s our gift to all of you. That answers this question in detail.
Let me make it clear. Following Qur’an, Sunnah and Shari’ah — remember tasawwuf is not something separate — Qur’an and Sunnah is the thing, that is the subject matter of deen. Tasawwuf is a methodology that helps you internalize and follow that. In that methodology, there will be dhikr practices that are not found in hadith. Just like in tajweed methodology, there are exercises given to do on your tongue which you will not find in hadith. Just like that in hadith methodology, there are categories, and labels, and terms, and texts that are not found in hadith. Just like that in tafsir, that’s probably the greatest example I could tell you.
People have this misconception. It’s a very emotional concept that if the Blessed Prophet (sws) did not do it, it’s not deen. This whole workshop actually shows from Bukhari and Muslim, that in the lifetime of the Blessed Prophet (sws) and after the Blessed Prophet (sws) passed away, Sahaba Karam (ra) used to engage in all types of nafl ibadah, and dhikr which the Blessed Prophet (sws) never taught them. I have documented this completely on the workshop with complete references.
Why this is allowed is because it is nafl ibadah. In fard, wajib, and Sunnah ibadah, you cannot add anything other than what Blessed Prophet (sws) himself did. But in nafl ibadah, and there are many types of it, but the two most prevalent are dhikr and du’a, and Sahaba (ra) added in front of the Blessed Prophet (sws) and he (sws) approved it, and after the Blessed Prophet (sws) passed away, Sahaba (ra) added, and nobody censured them right up to Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya no one censured that for them.
Actually when we talk about salaf, the real understanding of salaf saliheen means this; whatever the Sahaba (ra), Tabi’in and Tabi’ Tabi’in allowed for themselves, that is allowed for us. I have documented this on that 3.5 hour workshop that Sahaba (ra), Tabi’in and Tabi’ Tabi’in (rah) allowed for themselves, without anyone in the history of Islam ever censuring, reprimanding any one of them, they allowed for themselves to do new types of dhikr that were not found in hadith, and make new types of du’a that were not found in hadith.
The greatest example is tafsir. You will find tafsir written by Tabi’ Tabi’in and later mufassirin, and they are telling you that the meaning of this verse is abc, and there is no hadith that the meaning of that verse is abc. If you will confine your understanding of tafsir to just the hadith, so let’s take Kitab at-Tafsir from Sahih Bukhari, it’s about maybe 20 pages long, depending on the font size and editions, it’s very small. Those who have studied Bukhari would remember. If you look at any tafsir, even of the great mufassiroon from the earlier times, it’s quite big. It’s like 20 volumes, forget 20 pages. And if I say show me that tafsir from hadith, no way you can do that.
So when tafsir al-Qur’an has been allowed by the entire ummah that you can make tafsir and say things that the Blessed Prophet (sws) never said about Qur’an, why could you not engage in nafl dhikr, and nafl du’a? So the definition of bidah when it comes to nafl ibadah is not that is it found in hadith or not. That is the definition of bidah for fardh, wajib and Sunnah ibadah. For nafl ibadah, definition of bidah is is it against Shari’ah? If it’s something against the teachings of Shari’ah, then it’s haram. As long as it’s nothing against Shari’ah, so that’s what the mashaikh of all the silsila teach, definitely, I would not want to leave any misrepresentation.
Naqshbandi mujaddadi silsila teaches many dhirk adhkar that have been derived from Qur’an and Hadith, and also teaches dhikr adhkar that have been designed by different mashaikh of a time and names of those mashaikh are in something what we call, quote unquote, shajra. Just like in Hadith, we have a sanad. And different muhadithin have commented on Hadith differently over time. For example, there are four major commentaries on the Sahih Bukhari, by Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Imam Badr al-Din al-Ayni, al-Kirmani and al-Qastallani (rah). Quite often, they have disagreed on the meaning of a hadith. So you have hadith commentators giving different meanings of hadith. And we all have sanads and chains that go through them. Just like that, you will have different methods of doing dhikr. The criterion for accepting whether a dhikr is acceptable is:
- No one should claim to you that it is sunnah. If they claim it is a sunnah way of doing dhikr, then they have to show you the hadith. If they claim it is fard, or wajib, then they have to do even more. So they must view it to be nafl ibadah, even if they do it very regularly.
- There must be nothing in that dhikr that is against the Shari’ah, so like the music, the dance; the things that Imam Rabbani (rah) has pointed out.
Every Muslim has a shajra going back to the Prophet (sws). Let’s say you converted at the hands of a Muslim whose father, or grandfather, or great grandfather must have also converted at the hand of some Muslim, everyone then converted at the hands of Sahaba (ra) who all took Islam at the hand of Blessed Prophet (sws). In that sense, everyone has a chain, or a shajra. We may not know it, but everyone has it. We are all converts or descendants of converts. Sahaba (ra) were also all converts.
Now, everyone is part of the chain, everyone is part of the ummah. Being part of the chain is like having teachers and all that. But nothing makes a person beyond error. The only thing that makes a person beyond error is a strong adherence to the Shari’ah. For example, I could give you people who studied hadith under a hadith scholar, who in turn had studied under another hadith scholar. So how can they make a mistake? It’s because they have a nafs. Their nafs, just like everyone else’s nafs, made them sin. The fact that their nafs made them sin is not a stain on their teachers. It doesn’t mean that people should stop studying hadith or that teaching of hadith is flawed. It just means that this person did not successfully purify their bad nafs.
What were Shah Wali ullah’s (rah) views on this debate of wahdat al-wujud in the discussion?
At this point, I don’t want to touch that. There are different people who teach Maktubat in different ways, I’m not teaching it using an intellectual-historical approach. There are people who don’t even do dhikr at all and they teach Maktubat-e-Rabbani. I’m offering something different. Shah Wali Ullah (rah), very briefly, he tried to join the two, but he wasn’t joining the side which Imam Rabbani (rah) was critiquing. He was trying to join those Chisti mashaikh who interpreted ibn al-Arabi’s words in such a way that wahdat al-wujud did not mean union and unity with God. So that’s a different type of wahdat al-wujud. They used the same term, but what they meant by that term was different.
Imam Rabbani (rah) keeps using the word union, it shows that he is attacking that wahdat al-wujud term which was being used to present the view that a human being unites with Allah (swt). Later on there were some people who felt, rightly or wrongly, that they were also being unfairly attacked because they were using this term in a different way, and not to explain the unity with Allah. So Shah Wali Ullah (rah) advocated their side that they were using the term wahdat al-wujud for the same meaning that Shaykh Ahmed Sir Hindi was using for wahdat as-shuhud. What they used to call wujudi was the same thing he called shuhudi. There was no real difference.
If these extra dhikr practices are beneficial, why did the Prophet (sws) did not himself tell the Sahaba (ra) to do it?
I could say the same thing about tajweed. If these tajweed exercises that the qaris have come up with are so beneficial, why did the Prophet (sws) not tell the Sahaba (ra) to do it? Or if all of these tafsirs that the whole ummah reads; every single person who becomes an ‘alim in the world has to go through these classes of tafasir, and all of them have to read the 15-20 volumes, were I to ask you, if those meanings and understandings and explanations of Qur’an were so beneficial that you feel it’s required for becoming an ‘alim, why didn’t the Prophet (sws) teach all of these things to Sahaba (ra)? What would your answer be to that?
So one answer can be that you are right, we have been totally duped. All the mufassiroon are totally bidatis. People take the same answer for dhikr that we have been totally fooled. All of tasawwuf and dhikr is bidah so take it all out. So why don’t you use the same approach with tafsir? In fact I would even say that dhikr is nafl and everyone agrees it is nafl, but tafsir is Qur’an. You are telling me the meaning of KalamUllah and you can’t give me hadith to back up what you are saying? If I use the line that show me the hadith, all tafsir is finished, except for those 20 pages. Then what will we do?
People don’t realize that it’s a very emotional thing. I know it’s very difficult for converts to Islam because they don’t know who to trust, there is a big trust issue. And then definitely it does seem like a safer path, and there is nothing wrong with it, by the way, because dhikr is nafl. So if a person comes to me and says that look, I’m only going to do what’s in the hadith, I say it’s fine. I could even tell you, for you, as an individual, if you only want to follow the words of Qur’an and the words of hadith, I don’t feel you will get access to complete hidayah of deen, but can you get sufficient hidayah of deen to save yourself from Jahannum? Yes, I think you could. But I would respond to the question that there are things of great benefit in that tafsir.
If you look at the hadith commentary, even Ibn Hajr Asqalani (rah) sometimes wrote pages on the meaning of a hadith, so if someone says to me that why didn’t the Prophet (sws) tell us the meaning of these words? How can I accept that Ibn Hajr is going to tell me what the Prophet (sws) meant? Who is he to tell me? Show me the hadith, brother Ibn Hajr. You are saying this is the meaning of this hadith, show me the hadith. So Ibn Hajr will have to go away. You will have to throw out all of the muhadithin. Once you are done throwing out all of the mufassirin and the muhadithin, then you can come to fuqaha on tasawwuf. But the deception is that they make you throw out the fuqaha and the scholars of tasawwuf, and they don’t touch the mufassirin and the muhadithin.
That’s something to think about if you look at what would be the greater sin; to speak about Qur’an and hadith without prophetic backup or the nafl ibadah? So it’s not a sin. Allah (swt) has continued the understanding of Qur’an, but the subject matter is fixed. I’ll tell you something and it will shock you and you may not be able to digest this. But if you think about it calmly, you will realize that it is factually true. There will be, let’s say, whoever you think is the greatest tafsir scholar, we cannot pin-point, but let’s say hypothetically there’s a person of that rank. He may know certain things about certain ayahs not every Sahaba (ra) even knew. It’s possible.
The question is what is that amount of hidayah which we need for salvation, and what is the entire pool of hidayah? The entire pool of hidayah is very vast. I don’t think there’s any mufassir, alive or dead, or even any Sahaba (ra) who could say they knew every single meaning of Qur’an. Let’s take all of the tafsir books that have been written, and let’s take any Sahabi (ra), let’s say Syedna Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra), because you don’t really need to know every single possible meaning and grammatical and linguistic analysis of every single letter and word to get hidayah. The asal (core) is hidayah. The worlds of ilm and dhikr are very vast. You will need part of that to get hidayah. No one can say they know everything about ilm, and no one can say they know everything about dhikr. Don’t you see that in Qur’an Allah (swt) says to Syedna Musa (as) who was the nabi of his time that even you don’t know everything, you will have to go to Khizr (as), and he will do things that you will not be able to understand. But Musa (as) was a nabi and as a nabi he was superior — so superiority is based on taqwa. Allah (swt) says in Qur’an:
إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ
Surely the noblest of you, in Allah‘s sight, is the one who is most pious of you. [49:13]
So the superiority of Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) to every other Muslim is his taqwa. It’s not because he was the greatest muhadith, or the greatest mufassir, or the greatest dhikr person, it’s not like he was the greatest qari or he had the best tajweed ever in the history of Islam. It’s his taqwa. Ilm and dhikr are not end in of themselves, they are a means to taqwa. However much dhikr a person needs to get their taqwa, they should partake of it.
The questioner has specifically asked that if the naqshbandi dhikr of the heart is so beneficial, why didn’t the Prophet (sws) do it, why didn’t he (sws) tell us to do it? That’s why I am saying, there are things that are beneficial, whether it’s in the ilm of tafsir, ilm of hadith, ilm of fiqh or ilm of tasawwuf. Just look at the usul of ijtihad. The Prophet (sws) didn’t teach us Abu Hanifa’s usul, Shafi’i usul, Maliki usul, Ahmed ibn Hanbal’s usul. What are these usul? They are a way of understanding Shari’ah. And the Prophet (sws) didn’t teach us that. Imagine if I tried to trick you up with that. You would be like oh my God how could Nabi-e-Karim (sws) not teach us a way of understanding the Shari’ah?
Allah (swt) inspires the mujtahidin with their ijtihad. Allah (swt) inspires the mufassiroon with their tafsir. Allah (swt) inspires the muhadithin with their hadith commentaries. Just like that, Allah (swt) inspires the mashaikh of tasawwuf with the nafl dhikr practices that they teach. All hidayah is from Allah (swt). The greatest hidayah Allah (swt) gave was through the Book and the sunnah. But Allah (swt) continues to give hidayah, that’s why in Surah Fatiha you say:
اِهۡدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الۡمُسۡتَقِيۡمَۙ
Guide us on the straight path [1:05]
You wouldn’t need to say ihdina, you could just make the du’a that Allah (swt) make me read hadith. You ask for hidayah. Ibn Taymiyyah (rah) received hidayah. There’s majm’ua of khitab of Ibn taymiyyah (rah) and, depending on the print, it’s 32 volumes. Not everything that he said has a hadith to back it up. He also did types of ijtihad. His ijtihad is also a part of hidayah from Allah (swt), it’s part of deen.
 Referring to the incident of Syedna Abbad ibn Bishr (ra) at the valley in Najd.
 I met Abu Bakr. He said: Who are you? He (Hanzala) said: Hanzala has turned to be a hypocrite. He (Abu Bakr) said: Hallowed be Allah, what are you saying? Thereupon he said: I say that when we are in the company of Allah’s Messenger (sws) we ponder over Hell-Fire and Paradise as if we are seeing them with our very eyes and when we are away from Allah’s Messenger (sws) we attend to our wives, our children, our business; most of these things (pertaining to After-life) slip out of our minds. Abu Bakr said: By Allah, I also experience the same. So I and Abu Bakr went to Allah’s Messenger (sws) and said to him: Allah’s Messenger, Hanzala has turned to be a hypocrite. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (sws) said: What has happened to you? I said: Allah’s Messenger, when we are in your company, we are reminded of Hell-Fire and Paradise as if we are seeing them with our own eyes, but whenever we go away from you and attend to our wives, children and business, much of these things go out of our minds. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (sws) said: By Him in Whose Hand is my life, if your state of mind remains the same as it is in my presence and you are always busy in remembrance (of Allah), the Angels will shake hands with you in your beds and in your paths but, Hanzala, time should be devoted (to the worldly affairs) and time (should be devoted to prayer and meditation). He (the Holy Prophet) said this thrice. [Sahih Muslim]