I seek refuge with Allah, from Shaitan the Outcast. With the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. All Praise is for Allah-swt, the Creator of the Universe and the Source of all knowledge. He-swt, Who has concealed so many mysteries in every particle that no creature can claim to know everything, this (claim) suits His Majesty alone. Creation can know only as much as He-swt grants to whomsoever He-swt wills. Man is the masterpiece of His creation. Every straw, leaf and particle houses countless secrets within itself and each secret is a witness to Allah-swt Greatness. The more the revelation of such mysteries to a person, the more he acknowledges the greatness of Allah-swt, provided his human nature has not been corrupted. However, if his nature has been contaminated, every medicine will produce the opposite effect and the revelation of each mystery will mislead him and inflate his ego. May Allah Kareem grant protection from this malady! By Allah-swt Grace, I wish to put across some basic points. Possibly these may serve as a guide for a true seeker and help in the attainment of Salvation. I have no capability except that granted by Allah-swt . Tasawwuf(Sufism) and Sulook(Spiritual Path) is a subject that is as important as it is unique. It deals with the feelings of faith and belief and the inspirations on the Qalb(Heart). Many scholars have written that these people (the Soofis) wore woollen clothing (soof) and thus came to be known as Sufis. However, my opinion is different. In my view, Tasawwuf(Sufism) is the Persian translation of the Quranic word ‘Tazkiyah’(Purification), which means cleansing of the heart, it is included within Prophetic blessings and, in reality, something one cannot do without. I don’t want to write anything as its proof, since beginning with the Companions and the Khair ul Quroon, countless scholars have written about Tazkiyah(Spiritual Purification) and have proved it as the essence and the most important part of the Deen. If someone isn’t convinced by their writings, then what is my position and what difference will my writing make to him? The present day situation is reflected in the letter of a friend from India. He wrote that he visited Dar ul Uloom Deoband but did not find anyone there who knew about Zikr-e Qalbi(Remembrance by heart); I was shaken when I read this letter. The scholars, who laid the foundations of this institution, were all, till the very recent times, Sufis. However, their successors have shelved their works that not only contained the evidence of Sulook(Spiritual Path), but also contained substantial material on different methods of Zikr(Remembrance) and on guidance for seekers. From Hadhrat Nanotvi to Maulana Thanvi, which scholar was not a Zakir and a teacher of Zikr(Remembrance), and who did not write about the various forms and methods of Zikr? Our Shaikh ul Mukarram-rua himself made a valuable and worthy contribution to this resource in the form of Dalael us-Sulook. I wish to mention just a few of the books that are available in the library of Dar ul Irfan (as the whole list would be very lengthy). In addition to this, every Mufassir and Muhaddith has written about it in his works on Tafsir or Hadith. The few words that I wish to pen down here deal only with the feelings of the Lata‘if(Spiritual Organs) and the Maraqbaat (meditations), their effect on practical life and the ways to find or determine the reality of the Lata‘if(Spiritual Organs) and the Maraqbaat(Meditation). It is a very delicate subject and has probably never been addressed in this manner before. Every age has its own requirements and probably this hasn’t been a requirement of the previous times. When we learnt Sulook(Spiritual Path), we would not dare to even speak to Shaikh ul Mukarram-rua. Rather, at times, when two of us realized a spiritual feeling differently (although the difference was only in its detail and interpretation, not in its essence), we kept to our individual version for the rest of our lives, but wouldn’t dare to ask the Shaikh-rua(Spiritual Teacher). Today, the time and its people have changed. They want to know the logic and the reason behind everything and ask for its interpretation and explanation. This change occurred in front of us and we have to put up with it. Therefore, with Allah’s Grace, this Faqeer (humble soul) is trying to write, to an extent, about those feelings. The purpose is not to convince those who deny, but that the travellers of this Path may be guided and enabled to understand the feelings of their Qalb(Heart) and their effects. A list of books is attached for those who want proof; they can benefit. Those are only a few tittles of the books in the Dar ul Irfan library; indeed, there should be many more treatises on the subject. Along with the above, is a topic that requires much attention and that is about Kashf and Mushahidah (spiritual visions and observations). These (spiritual visions and observations) are not integral or necessary elements (of Tasawwuf), but belong to the category of rewards bestowed by Allah-swt. It someone is blessed with Kashf, he should consider it a Divine blessing and not an indication that his Zikr(Remembrance) is being accepted. Indeed, it is the feelings and effects noticed in one’s practical life that are the criteria for acceptance, since the results of an effort that is accepted, which in turn depends upon one’s sincerity of intention and purity of faith, most certainly become visible in one’s conduct; and this is a special Divine Favour. Some friends remain under the misunderstanding that as they have not been blessed with Mushahidah(Spiritual Vision), their Lata‘if(Spiritual Organs) are not illuminated; this is not the right impression. What is essential is that the effect of the Lata‘if(Spiritual Organs) and the Maraqbaat(Meditation) is reflected in one’s character.
There are five senses, one of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing associated with the human body; there is yet another, a sense of thought also. The information processed by them directly affects the Qalb(Heart). If the eye sees something beautiful, a beautiful flower, a lovely picture, the Qalb(Heart) also feels delighted; if it sees something ugly, the Qalb(Heart) also feels distressed. If the ear hears something good or bad, or if the tongue indulges in noble or loose talk, the Qalb(Heart) feels their effect. Similarly, the thought process of the brain also affects the Qalb(Heart). When, it is advised to close the eyes during Zikr(Remembrance), lock the tongue, move the body slightly and focus the mind on ‘Allah Hoo’, all these steps are aimed at reducing the external effects on the Qalb(Heart). If the Qalb(Heart) is distracted, it will divide its attention and consequently its connection with Zikr(Remembrance) Allah will be lost. It means the Qalb(Heart) can remain attentive to only one thing at one time. The ‘power of concentration’ is, in fact, one of the yoga practices and worship of Hindus. These are exercises of the brain that are similar to telepathy. This power is attained by focusing the entire mental energy at one point. Such people start with constantly gazing at the flame of a candle for five minutes in the beginning and gradually extend this time to several hours. Those who become experts can continue gazing at the sun for hours at a time. They do this to attain the ability to focus the entire mental energy at one point. Having attained it, they use this ability to transfer their thoughts to other people’s minds or to read their minds to some extent. During these times, you are using machines for similar purposes.
The holy Quran invariably associates guidance with illumination and reformation of the heart. It always ascribes the delusion of previous nations to the gloom of their hearts and also indicates the factors that contribute towards this malady. Similarly, it attributes guidance to heart’s reformation and also suggests the methods of its attainment. This point has not just been mentioned casually but this is the fundamental and focal point of all its teachings.
Different exercises are prescribed to keep each body organ healthy and fit. These exercises are practically taught in special schools of physical education. The patients who cannot do any other exercise are advised to stroll in their rooms to keep their organs agile and active. But it is amazing that we devote whole attention to our bodies and do not care about the health of our hearts. On the other hand, this important point has been repeatedly stressed in the Quran and it forms the basis of salvation in the Hereafter. The Muslim masses in general and the religious scholars in particular, ignore this important aspect as if it would come automatically. In our practical lives we never expect anything to happen by itself. No body leaves his children at large, hoping that they would be automatically educated by the society. On the contrary, he spends a lot of time and money to select a good school for them and despite best efforts, always remains concerned about the standard of their education. If you want to learn any profession, you would certainly have to devote a lot of time and effort. To learn a simple profession like masonry, driving, tailoring or shoe making, you would have to look for an expert and get his instructions. No body has ever argued that he can learn it on his own because all these professions are already being practised in the society. Had that been a correct contention, we would have learned to stitch our clothes, make our shoes or construct our houses, all by ourselves. No body believes this theory in his practical life. When we don’t expect even the smallest event to happen by itself, how can we ignore the most important task, which is the key to eternal bliss, and expect to acquire it without any effort.
The holy Prophet (Sall Allah-o Alaihi wa Sallam) has stated that there is a lump of flesh in the human body whose health reforms the entire body and its malady disturbs the whole physical balance. “Hearken”, he said “that is the Qalb” (heart). It is a miracle of the Prophets that the heart of every believer who attends their august company, attains to the acme of human excellence in a single moment. Even then, we find many Companions who specifically requested the holy Prophet-saw to give special attention to their hearts for greater reformation. Some requested him to move his blessed hand over their chest. In the words of Quran, every cell of a Companion’s body resonated with Allah’s Zikr(Remembrance). On their part, however, they didn’t feel satisfied about their achievement and remained worried about their shortfalls. Once the holy Prophet-saw praised Hadhrat Abu Bakr Siddiq-rau and said, “He is not superior to you because he excels you in worship but because of what I have poured from my heart into his. No other heart can acquire what his heart has acquired from mine.”
The indifference shown to this most important aspect is the malady of our modern times only. During the yesteryears even the common Muslims tried to require this blessing. If you read the biography of previous scholars, you would discover that each one of them, without exception, after completing his education, remained in the company of some Shaikh(Spiritual Teacher) for a definite period of time. It had been a regular practice of the religious institutions and scholars to dispatch their students to some Shaikh(Spiritual Teacher) for spiritual enlightenment and self reformation.
Some people object to our method of Zikr(Remembrance). We uphold their objection and concede that our method may not be necessarily correct. They should however, not stop us from Zikr (Remembrance) but tell us the correct method and the number of people reformed by their way. Otherwise, we would be justified to conclude that they are only trying to undermine the efforts of those who are serving this cause. Actually, Allah and His Prophet-saw have not forbidden any particular method of Zikr (Remembrance) . There is only one restriction; the form of Zikr (Remembrance) should not cross the bounds of Shari‘ah. No one can adopt a method of Zikr(Remembrance) which is evil or prejudices the rights of others or violates any injunction of the Shari‘ah. All forms of Zikr(Remembrance) which remain within these prescribed limits are permissible. You can perform Zikr (Remembrance) sitting, standing, walking or reclining. When Allah has given the permission, how can anyone else impose any restrictions? The form and frequency of Salah (prayers), Zakat (poor due) and Hajj have been defined by the Shari‘ah but no form has been prescribed for Zikr(Remembrance) . The Divine Command enjoins the believers to perform Zikr (Remembrance) continuously. It should be done at every moment and under all conditions, standing, sitting, reclining, sleeping and while awake. There is only one restriction. You cannot violate the limits defined by the holy Prophet-saw.
We are neither authorised to compel others to adopt our method nor declare a particular form as wrong. Similarly, no body has the right to ask us to leave our method. It is not the method of Zikr (Remembrance) which really matters, but the spiritual attention of the Shaikh(Spiritual Teacher) received by the seekers during Zikr (Remembrance) . That is the real blessing. Without this attention, continuous Zikr (Remembrance) of a whole lifetime cannot illuminate even the first Latifah (subtlety) Qalb(Heart). It simply cannot happen by itself. If someone has the land, water for irrigation, fertilisers and cultivation equipment, he still cannot grow any crop unless he sows the seed. Without the seed, his efforts would bring no fruit. The spiritual attention is akin to this seed. Even with the best of efforts, no spiritual growth can even be imagined without this attention. Reformation of the soul is one of the duties of Prophethood. The Taba’in reformed themselves in the company of the Companions and the Tab’a Taba’in acquired it from them. Just as a person has to go to a scholar to acquire knowledge, one has to similarly remain in the company of an accomplished Shaikh(Spiritual Teacher) and strive earnestly to acquire spiritual blessings.
Allah has mentioned that these people are not the first ones to inhabit the earth. Many generations have passed before them. Their predecessors also governed mighty empires and possessed huge property. Where have they all perished? If their forefathers could not perpetuate their existence, can these people live for ever? If they are following in the footsteps of their elders then have they prepared themselves for their onward journey? This single example is sufficient to teach a lesson. An infant spends his childhood in a family, becomes a father one day and ultimately a grandfather. His children know nothing about his grandparents, who had died much before the birth of his children. He doesn’t realise that after a couple of generations no body will remember him. Only those, who are in his own lap, know him, but he would cease to exist in the memory of his grandchildren.
Allah has warned mankind that He can grasp them instantly, if He so desires. Allah’s grasp is always instant but people do not perceive. Apparently, the heavens do not fall and the earth is not torn asunder, but actually, an extremely important change takes place unnoticeably: hearts of the evil doers are sealed; they do not perceive and cannot differentiate between right and wrong. It is not necessary that the Divine wrath should descend in the form of a visible calamity, as for the previous generations. The sealing of hearts and the loss of sense of discrimination is an equally grave punishment, because no amount of good advice can ever reform such a person. This deprivation, when accompanied by worldly affluence, has been graded as the greatest curse by the Quran. These townships, whose fables are included in the folk lore, similarly sailed to their ultimate perdition. A darkened heart cannot perceive. Although a person retains his outwardly human form, but inwardly, he turns more beastly than an animal. By Allah’s grace we are Muslims. Despite being delinquent, we still retain some honour and shame. But these human values are almost totally extinct in the non-Muslim societies. Their habits and relationships are not based on mutual human respect and consideration, but are driven by the animal instincts of selfishness, oppression, immodesty and the like. Apparently they are healthy, wealthy and strong people but their hearts are unclean. Like animals, they possess no sense of shame.
The Divine Book informs us that Allah never destroyed the earlier people before sending them guidance. His Messengers brought clear proofs to them but they refused to believe. Allah’s Book and words of the Prophets do not impress a heart that has lost its faculty of perception. How can that heart be affected by any other preaching, advice or book? Such people with ruined hearts do not remain trustworthy. Their loyalty keeps swaying between Faith and Kufr (disbelief), and they are blinded by the frenzy to satisfy their vain desires. Their hearts take to vice. Perversion of thought and practice completely shrouds their lives.
We know that the symptoms of physical diseases are similar throughout the world. No disease is restricted to a particular area but would definitely develop at every conducive place. AIDS is not restricted to UK or USA alone; if we don’t protect ourselves, it can invade our society also. The diseases are not related to colour, area or religion. They have the same effect everywhere. Similarly, when the hearts are ruined, they produce the same spiritual maladies at every place. We feel secure by presuming that only those nations whose heats are ruined will ultimately face their consequences. That is not a correct concept. If we fear the spread of physical epidemics and apprehend similar disaster as in other countries, why don’t we realise that this spiritual epidemic can also engulf us? The maladies of hearts can import the same disaster from other countries.
We have seen the effect of Tabligh (preaching) day and night. Although preaching is a religious obligation, whose importance cannot be undermined, but actually it is the vehicle to acquire the reformation of heart. If you keep preaching about food but don’t give someone a morsel throughout life, what good is your preaching for? I feel greatly surprised about the religious scholars. They accept the importance of heart reformation in their books and lectures but out rightly deny it in their practical lives.
When the Tartars ransacked Baghdad, it was a seat of great religious learning. Every street resounded with religious discussions and meetings. Its libraries stocked the most valuable religious books. But despite all religious preaching what was the end result? The entire city along with its people, libraries and civilisation was completely destroyed. The whole Ummah still laments the destruction of its literary treasure. Why did all this happen? It happened because their hearts had been completely ruined. They rendered only lip service to religion, without absorbing its blessings in their hearts, least realising that it is the heart and not the tongue which generates effect.
The same principle has been recounted here. Earlier generations and civilisations were destroyed as a sequel to the ruination of their hearts. Human beings of today should also examine their own hearts. Are their hearts alive? A live heart would try to obey Allah; that is actually its food, without which it cannot survive. If it does not demand this food, then it would at least be unconscious or sick, if not totally dead. No one can really succeed unless he devotes proper attention to the reformation of his heart. That is what I have understood by Allah’s grace. May Allah make it easy for us! Ameen!
Shaikh Allah Yar Khan was born in Chakrala, a remote village of Mianwali District of Pakistan, in 1904. He completed his religious education in 1934. The same year, he met Shaikh ‘Abdul Rahim, who took him to the shrine of Shaikh Allah Deen Madni. By Divine Will his spiritual connection was immediately established with the saint of the 10th century Hijra (sixteenth century CE) and he started receiving spiritual beneficence. His sublime education in Sufism, signifying progressive spiritual growth and advancement, continued for about twenty-five years, after which he was directed to undertake the propagation of Prophetic blessings – a noble mission that he accomplished with singular zeal and dedication for a period spanning half a century. Anybody who visited him was duly rewarded with a share of spiritual bliss commensurate with his/her sincerity and capacity. Shaikh Allah Yar Khan’s mission produced men and women of deep spiritual vision and eminence.
He authored eighteen books, the most distinguished being Dalael us-Sulook (Sufism – An Objective Appraisal), Hayat-e Barzakhiah (Life Beyond Life) and Israr ul-Haramain (Secrets of the two holy Mosques). He was undoubtedly one of the most distinguished Sufi saints of the Muslim Ummah and a reviver of the Naqshbandiah Owaisiah Order.
He passed away on 18 February 1984 in Islamabad at the age of eighty. Six months before his death, he nominated his most illustrious and spiritually gifted student, Muhammad Akram Awan, as his successor to lead the Naqshbandiah Owaisiah Order.
Islam, as a complete code of life or Deen, was perfected during the life of the holy Prophet Muhammad-SAWS. He was the sole teacher and his mosque was the core institution for the community. Although Islam in its entirety was practiced during that blessed era, the classification and compilation of its knowledge into distinct branches like ‘Tafsir’ (interpretation of the Quran), Hadith (traditions or sayings of the holy Prophet-SAWS), Fiqh (Islamic law), and Sufism (the soul purification) were undertaken subsequently. This Deen of Allah passed from the holy Prophet-SAWS to his illustrious Companions in two ways: the outward and the inward. The former comprised the knowledge defined by speech and conduct, i.e., the Quran and Sunnah. The latter comprised the invisible blessings or the Prophetic lights transmitted by his blessed self. These blessings purified the hearts and instilled in them an ardent desire to follow Islam with utmost love, sincerity and devotion. Sufism is the effort to acquire these Barakah (Blessings).
The Companions handed down his-SAWS teachings as well as blessings to the Taba’in. Their strong hearts were capable of infusing these blessings into the hearts of their followers. Both aspects of Islam were similarly passed on by the Taba’in to the Tab’a Taba’in. The compilation of knowledge and its interpretation led to the establishment of many schools of religious thought; famous four being the Hanafi, the Hanbali, the Maliki, and the Shafa’i, all named after their founders. Similarly, in order to acquire, preserve and distribute his blessings, an organized effort was initiated by four schools of Sufism: The Naqshbandiah, the Qadriah, the Chishtiah, and the Suharwardiah. These schools were also named after their organizers and came to be known as Sufi Orders. All these Orders aim at purifying the hearts of sincere Muslims with Prophetic lights. These Sufi Orders also grew into many branches with the passage of time and are known by other names as well.
The holy Quran has linked success in this life and the Hereafter with Tazkiyah (soul purification).
He, who purified, is successful. (87: 14)
Sufi Orders of Islam are the institutions where the fundamentals of Tazkiyah (soul purification) and its practical application are taught. They have graded programs in which every new seeker is instructed in Zikr-e Lisani (oral Zikr) and is finally taught the Zikr-e Qalbi (Remembrance in heart). However, in the Naqshbandiah Order, Zikr-e Qalbi is practiced form the very beginning.
Adherence to the Sunnah (Prophet’s way of life) is greatly emphasized in this Order, because the seeker achieves greater and quicker progress through its blessings. The essence of Zikr(Remembrance) is that the Qalb(Heart) should sincerely accept Islamic beliefs and acquire the strength to follow the Sunnah with even greater devotion.
‘If the heart is acquainted with Allah and is engaged in His Zikr(Remembrance); then it is filled with Barakaat-e Nabuwwat (Prophetic blessings) which infuse their purity in the mind and body. This not only helps in controlling sensual drives but also removes traces of hatred, greed, envy and insecurity from human soul. The person therefore becomes an embodiment of love, both for the Divine and the corporeal. This is the meaning of a Hadith, “There is a lump of flesh in the human body; if it goes astray the entire body is misguided, and if it is reformed the entire body is reformed. Know that this lump is the Qalb(Heart)”.’
(Asrar at-Tanzil by Ameer Muhammad Akram Awan [RH])
I would like to discuss Tasawwuf(Sufism) in this sitting; what is its definition, need and reality? Allah has gifted man with immense intellectual ability and he has invented innumerable machines and gadgets to make life comfortable. These machines do the routine jobs of his life and they have relieved him of much of his workload but they haven’t brought him any peace. When he was doing all of his own work, he still had time to relax and reflect, but now, after operating and maintaining these machines, he has no time left at all. This busy life leaves him with no time to attend to his mandatory obligations. It is becoming increasingly difficult for him to find time for religion, family or even rest. In such a situation, what is the need or rationale to burden him with yet another obligation such as Zikr(Remembrance), which would certainly demand some portion of his scarce time and attention?
By nature, a human being seeks and trusts the opinion of experts and specialists for his problems relating to every aspect of his life. He would refer his health problems to a doctor, although it is his own body. He would similarly trust economists for his business and engineers for the construction of his house. Exactly on the same analogy, he must ask questions about human life from a specialist of this field. Questions about the origin and end of life, the Creator, His Attributes, the nature of His relationship with man, the reality of life and death, and the nature of life beyond life, could never be answered by an historian, philosopher, scientist, or for that matter, any expert of any field, because these are beyond the realm of their knowledge and perception. Their total knowledge about human life is bracketed between ones’ own birth and death; what is before birth and after death, they cannot answer. All these questions and many more like them are answered by a distinct class of specialists known as Prophets and Messengers. They don’t acquire this knowledge from any college or university because no such institution exists in the world. All institutions necessarily get this type of knowledge from Prophets, yet there is no institution where one could learn this subject and become a Prophet. The Prophets and Messengers are directly educated by Almighty Allah Himself. Now, as a matter of rule, the opinions and advice of these specialists should be trusted and followed in all matters relating to human life.
There is a fundamental difference between a specialist of worldly knowledge and a Prophet. A specialist can explain the theoretical aspects of his particular subject, but can never inspire anyone to acquire that knowledge. A technician, scientist or a doctor for example, can explain even the minutest details of their speciality but cannot produce an urge in your heart to adopt their professions. On the contrary, a Prophet doesn’t discuss theory alone, but along with it he also inspires very special feelings in the heart. For example, if someone believes a Prophet about the Unity of Allah, the Prophet has instilled a sublime feeling in the depths of his heart. Thereafter, even if the whole universe tries to negate him, he would remain firm about the truth of his conviction. That is the basic difference between a Prophet and a worldly expert.
The holy Quran describes this process as Tazkiyah (purification) and mentions that the holy Prophet-SAW invites mankind towards Allah by reciting Divine Revelation unto them. Then he infuses a sublime feeling deep into the hearts of those who accept his-SAW invitation which produces a remarkable change within them. It inspires in them the desire to achieve Divine Nearness, for which they don’t hesitate to make any sacrifice. We too make many sacrifices for comfort and status. There is hardly a family in this country whose members weren’t killed in the Second World War, some died in Hong Kong, some in Singapore, some lost their lives in the Arabian deserts, while some became POWs in Germany and Japan. The majority of them hailed from urban areas, simple village folk who had no interest in world politics. Then why did they stake their lives for a foreign government – the British? The reason was that they wanted to earn even a small salary for their families in order to live honourably. This is because worldly requirements and demands have a definite significance in our hearts and minds. We learnt about their importance from our elders and confirmed it through our personal knowledge and experience – we can see only that far. Therefore we endure many sacrifices for their fulfilment. When someone’s relationship with his Prophet grows stronger, it extends his vision to perceive and realise the facts and requirements of the next world also. A common Muslim, even an illiterate shepherd living in a jungle, knows for sure that he has been created by Allah and that death is not the total end of life but an entry to the next life where he would be confronting the consequences of his worldly actions. This realisation brings a revolutionary change in the life of a believer and rearranges his priorities in life. The sphere of his effort no longer remains restricted to this world but it extends to cover the comfort and honour of the next eternal life. He desires similar eternal peace and respect for his family, friends and all. This realisation flows into him through his connection with the holy Prophet-SAW and motivates him to make sacrifices not for the good of this world but for the betterment of the next. The effort to acquire this inner feeling and realisation which establishes the importance of the next life over this life and inspires a man to sacrifice his comfort, status and even this life for the next, has been described as Tazkiyah by the holy Quran.
Tazkiyahis the focal point of all Quranic teachings. The holy Quran mentions it before knowledge, saying that the Prophet-SAW of Allah first purifies the believers and then teaches them the Book and the Wisdom, so that they can realise and comprehend that world which the Quran exhorts them to strive for. It is natural that human effort is directly proportional to the realisation of a requirement. Is not a mad person the one who doesn’t realise his needs; he doesn’t bother to eat, sleep or dress! If you try to convince him about the importance of food or sleep or dress, you would certainly gain nothing because he cannot comprehend his needs. The holy Quran has adopted a unique style which has first given the importance of a requirement and then enumerated the ways for its fulfilment. ‘Tazkiyah’ is the realisation of this requirement to achieve comfort and honour in eternal life, it is the building block of Quranic teachings. Without this realisation, the effect of Quranic teachings is no different than a lecture to a mad person, which is unlikely to achieve anything. Tasawwuf(Sufism) is the translation of Tazkiyah(Purification).
Those who are allergic to the word Tasawwuf might as well leave it – the word has not been revealed by Allah; yet nobody can ever deny the importance of Tazkiyah. If its significance is undermined, it would adversely reflect on Prophethood and the religion, and would practically render the whole system meaningless. How did the Prophets-AS purify their followers? Allahblesses every Prophet-AS with a strength and a light in his heart that can instantly illuminate the heart of anyone who decides to accept his invitation. The light is so strong that Prophet Musa-AS said to Pharaoh, “Do you want me to purify your heart, so that you can start seeing the path leading to your Lord? So that your heart may also establish a connection with Allah so that you will prefer His Pleasure over everything else and dread His Anger?” Which means that even a person like Pharaoh still retains the right to choose guidance for himself. Allah has given two basic rights to every human being, the first is the right to live – which means that nobody can kill a human being except by Allah‘s leave. If someone kills a person, for any reason or way other than the one permitted by Allah, it is … As if he killed the entire mankind (5:32). He shall be made to account for the murder of the whole of humanity. It is because the right to live has been granted to every soul by Allah and He Alone can take it back – we can’t deprive anyone of this right. The second human right is the freedom to accept religion. Allah Alone creates and provides for every soul, He blesses everyone with different qualities and gives them health or disease and whenever He desires, causes them to die. If He wanted to compel human beings to obey Him, could anybody ever stop Him? On the contrary, He chose to bless man with a unique capability of perceiving Him. The holy Quran mentions that Allah offered this sublime attribute to the earth, the heavens and the mountains, but they all expressed their inability and inadequacy to accept. However, man accepted the grand challenge, saying, ‘Give it to me. I shall observe Your Splendour and Greatness, and I shall try to gain Your Nearness.’
Every human being can thus perceive the Divine Being and His Attributes according to his own capacity. He can realise Divine Greatness vis-a-vis his own humbleness and decide to submit before his Lord and this independent decision grants him the ability to accept the truth. If he then finds the company of a Prophet-AS he becomes a Companion and within no time, can rise to the highest level of human greatness after Prophets. Companionship is not a mere adjective, it denotes that level of human excellence in belief, honesty, reliability, piety, Divine Nearness and Presence which a non-Companion can never achieve. In an instant, the most sublime human attributes are poured into his heart.
The earliest group to respond to the call of the holy Prophet-SAW in Makkah comprised of weak and poor people who had remained slaves for generations. They were the most down trodden class who could never dream of raising their heads in front of their masters. However, Islam infused great strength in them. It enabled them to perceive the Greatness of their Lord and they realised that they had no reason to fear their ‘so called’ masters who were also human beings like themselves. They also had to try to build the correct relationship with their Lord; if they had to face death, it didn’t really matter – it had to come anyway. This realisation made them so strong that all efforts by the Makkan chieftains miserably failed to break them.
Imagine the scene when Pharaoh called the magicians to compete with Prophet Musa-AS before a huge crowd wherein Allah blessed the magicians with the light of faith. We won’t divert from our subject to discuss the reason for this Divine Favour, because that is a complete topic in itself, but we will address only the relevant portion. The magicians received no opportunity to learn even the basic beliefs of their religion, they just cast their ropes which became snakes. Prophet Musa-AS also threw his staff which turned into a bigger serpent and swallowed all their snakes. Seeing this, they fell prostrate saying, ‘We believe in the Lord of Musa andHarun.’ That immensely annoyed Pharaoh, because just moments earlier, the same magicians were humbly requesting his favours as a reward for their victory in this grand competition and he had promised them seats of distinction and honour near his throne in his court. Previously they were reposing all their hopes in Pharaoh but as soon as they accepted Faith, the reflection from Prophet Musa’s heart to their hearts changed their priorities. When Pharaoh threatened them with dire consequences for their disloyalty saying, “I shall punish you severely and you will soon come to know who is more powerful. I shall cut your hands and feet on alternate sides and hang you on palm trunks.” they simply replied, “Do what you may. We don’t desire the power and wealth of this world but we want to please our Lord, Whom we have been disobeying so far.” No doubt it was the same Pharaoh with his might, awe and wealth for whom they were ready to sacrifice their lives only a short while ago, but now they were talking to him in a completely different tone. They said, “We can see what you can’t. Death is a reality which may come just now or after a while. Allah has given you the authority to kill us but our death will surely earn us Allah‘s good Pleasure and that is not a bad bargain – we are ready for it.” Those who had come for the reward of this life were now eager to embrace death. The rising sun had seen them bowing before Pharaoh but the setting sun found them slain in the way of Allah. The holy Quran has recorded their conversation with the Pharaoh. They told him, “We have to return to our Lord and account for all our deeds. It will be good that your swords cut our hands and feet which have been disobeying our Lord and you hang us by our necks, maybe that way we can attract His Mercy and earn His good Pleasure.” But who taught them about the Hereafter and the Final Accountability? It was the sublime reflection from the heart of Prophet Musa-AS which carried this knowledge to their hearts. They became the custodians of Prophetic knowledge and started talking about those facts which Prophet Musa-AS had not yet spoken. That is the difference between a Prophet and other experts. A Prophet does not only impart theoretical knowledge, he also saturates the hearts of believers with sublime feelings. The holy Quran calls these feelings as Tazkiyah and it has been translated as Tasawwuf.
People say Tasawwuf is not required, Tasawwuf may not be required but every Muslim certainly requires Tazkiyah which has been prescribed for him by the holy Quran. Now, what was the effect of Tazkiyah? It filled the purified heart with Allah‘s Zikr and His Lights forever and its every beat reverberated with His Name. The thought, speech and conduct of such a person reflected his realisation of Divine Greatness. His entire personality underwent a complete transformation. If you look at the lives of the earliest Muslims in Makkah, you will find that even though they were slaves or poor people, they were living quite peacefully before accepting Islam. But the three years of Shoab-i Abu Talib, following the acceptance of Islam, brought them intolerable hardships. They were compelled to live under the open sky in the scorching heat of the desert. They were driven to the extreme limits of thirst and hunger, where they had to eat the ashes of old and dry hides. They were the same people who could never dare to annoy the Makkan chieftains even for a moment but now they withstood their entire wrath patiently. They said, “We can endure every hardship but we can’t give up our relationship with Allah, for which we are being punished, in exchange for better food, drink or dress”. After all, there must be something that had changed the priorities of their lives.
That is the distinction of a Prophet that he pours these feelings into the hearts. The custodian of these feelings is known as a Companion. The holy Prophet-SAW transferred the whole religion to his Companions before his departure from this world. He-SAW didn’t teach them only theory, but he filled their hearts with these feelings and realisation. Similarly the Companions didn’t pass down only religious knowledge of the Book and Sunnah but they also transferred these feelings to those who visited them. Their hearts were also purified and they came to be known as the Taba’in. Anyone who couldn’t get the company of the Companions might have become a very good Muslim otherwise but he couldn’t become a Tab’i. He couldn’t remotely achieve the state that was produced in the presence of a Companion, he was like the one who couldn’t meet the holy Prophet-SAW. He may have become a good Muslim warrior, scholar or a pious person, but he couldn’t become a Companion – it is a reflective process of the hearts. Only that heart which came near, absorbed the reflection – others could not. The group of Tab’a Taba’in is similarly distinguished in the Ummah. Their qualification was that they had met the Taba’in and their hearts had also absorbed the excellence radiated by the hearts of the Taba’in. After their time, the religious knowledge was classified into various branches like Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh and many people devoted their whole lives to learn each branch. You will however, observe that each one of them, without exception, whether a Mufassir, Muhaddith or Faqih, also acquired these inner feelings of the heart. Name any of them, Imam Abu Hanifah or Imam Ghazali-RUA(call them Sufis or not) they all were the custodians of these feelings – Tazkiyah has always remained a prerequisite. If you study the life of religious scholars, you shall find that after completing their religious education, all of them spent some time in the company of an accomplished Shaikh. The point to ponder is that if they had already acquired complete religious knowledge, why did they waste their time with a saint? In fact they didn’t waste their time, but tried to get the blessings radiated by him, which he had in turn acquired from his Shaikh, so that their knowledge could be transformed from abstract information into perceptible feelings or an inner state of the heart. There is certainly a lot of difference between knowledge, news or information. According to a Persian proverb, Knowledge which does not lead to truth, is actually ignorance.
We have some friends from the press here journalists who collect news about the whole world, and everyday they receive assorted news about numerous murders, robberies, marriages, deaths, changes in governments, political victories and the like. All of this is nothing more than news which they write only to sell their papers. They collect and convey this information as a matter of routine, it doesn’t affect them any way. They neither cry over any death nor rejoice about any marriage. Similarly, someone may learn all of the knowledge of this world but if it fails to affect his practical life or produce any feelings within him, that is not really knowledge but information. Knowledge is that information which produces specific feelings in the heart, may it be a small sentence. Sad news causes grief and happy news fills the heart with joy. Information about something good arouses the desire to acquire it, and the news of an impending danger produces the urge to protect oneself against it – that is real knowledge. The collection of information is not knowledge but it requires Tazkiyah to convert that information into knowledge. Some fortunate ones found Tazkiyah from the same teacher from whom they had gone to get knowledge. However, those who couldn’t find them both at one place, went to an accomplished Shaikh for Tazkiyah after completing their education, and the information that they had gained was then converted into real knowledge. During the present time when we have become extremely busy in the pursuit of our requirements, the importance of Tazkiyah has also multiplied manifold; only that person whose heart contains some Tazkiyah will remain on the right track. It is not correct to argue that Tazkiyah is an extra obligation; on the contrary, it is the base and the foundation. It has assumed an even greater importance today, because a human being won’t then forget himself and his Lord in this busy life, and will then acquire the strength to reform his conduct according to the Will of his Master. New ideologies, orders and revolutions of the world should fail to impress him and his heart should remain occupied by only those thoughts and feelings which please his Lord.
You can see that since the time our hearts are bereft of these feelings, nothing seems to affect us. We are neither reformed by Tabligh (preaching) nor Hajj, our prayers also fail to influence our practical life, we only discharge our religious obligations as a matter of routine. Isn’t it correct that when we go to the market, we expect a similar level of honesty from two shopkeepers, the Hajji as well as the thief? There should have been at least some difference between a person who has performed Hajj and offers Salah, and the one who gambles and never prays. However, our apprehensions about both of them are absolutely similar and we don’t feel confident to trust either one of them. Above all, why isn’t there any difference between the two? The reason is that neither one of them has passed through the process of Tazkiyah. Therefore, the hearts of both of them are possessed by the lust of this world. The first one was weak and mild, so he chose the safe and easy way to earn the world; while the second one being courageous, adopted the difficult course to the same goal. We praise the first and condemn the second, whereas in actual fact their aim had been similar, only the methods were different. Their hearts remained alien to the feelings which Allah, His Messenger-SAW, and Islam wanted to infuse, for that reason, their conduct remained identical in practical life. However, if you pass the same thief through the process of Tazkiyah, it would reform his heart, correct the priorities of his life and purify his intentions. He will remain a thief no more, but will become better than many pious people.
The earliest people who were transformed by Islam, were neither imported from abroad nor created from any different material, and as such, were given to the holy Prophet-SAW. They were the same people who belonged to the most notorious society of the world. But when Tazkiyah set in their hearts, they became the torch bearers of civilisation and spread the light of peace and justice to all corners of the globe. This grand edifice of excellence was erected on the strong foundation of Tazkiyah. If you discard the word Tasawwuf and adopt the actual word Tazkiyah, it would further enhance its importance and necessity. The fruit borne by Tazkiyah is described by the Quran as, ‘Their skins and hearts soften at Allah‘s remembrance’. It indicates that Allah‘s Name didn’t penetrate only their hearts but it suffused each cell of their bodies right from the outer most skins to the inner most self. That was the fruit of Tazkiyah. It is an established law of nature that the fruit of every tree is also its seed. In the case of the Companions, the seed of Prophetic blessings bore the fruit of continuous Zikr. Therefore, Allah ordained continuous Zikr for all Muslims, including the Companions, to acquire the fruit of Prophetic blessings. Each chapter and page of the holy Quran contains an explicit or implicit Divine Command to perform Allah‘s Zikr, and also highlights the disadvantages of eluding Zikr.
While discussing Zikr, the Quran addresses the whole of humanity and not men alone. Once some women submitted to the holy Prophet-SAW that the Quran addresses only men and not women. He-SAW replied that the Quran, being a book of guidance for the entirety of mankind, addresses humanity as a whole, therefore, men and women are both equal members of the human race. Allah liked their observation and the Quran included women in the detailed description of laudable human attributes. It began with, Men who surrender (to Allah) and women who surrender, and men who believe and women who believe, and men who obey and women who obey, and men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth, and men who persevere (in righteousness) and women who persevere, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their modesty and women who guard (their modesty), and it climaxed at, Men who remember Allah much and women who remember, for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and immense reward (33: 35). The Quran recounted these praiseworthy qualities like prayers, fast, piety, honesty, trust and modesty as the root, trunk, leaves and flowers of a tree, and compared Allah‘s Zikr with its fruit, thereby implying that Allah‘s Zikr is the fruit of all worship. Here, the Quran has placed men and women as equal because both are human beings. Their duties and responsibilities may be different but as human beings both are equally important and answerable and their deeds will be judged under the same law, by the same Lord.
We forgot the basic concept of leadership given by Islam that the departing Amir or the public should appoint the most suitable and capable person to manage the affairs of the state. Islam had prescribed ability alone and neither colour nor creed as the pre-requisite of leadership. But once one of us seized power he ensured that it was passed down his line. This practice introduced all sorts of good and bad people who affected the system in their own way. We treated Tasawwuf in exactly the same way. When a real eminent Shaikh, who illuminated the hearts of a host of people with his enlightened heart died, we didn’t bother to appoint his best student to succeed him, but brought his son to succeed the father in spite of the fact that the son never cared to even greet his father and acquired nothing worthwhile from him. Such successors who didn’t possess anything real, had to portray something, so they concocted baseless rituals and customs. They introduced music, songs, feast and the like. Truth was relegated to the background and rituals and ceremonies dominated the scenario. Such rituals certainly caused damage and the knowledgeable scholars rightly criticised them. This criticism spread so far and wide that now Tasawwuf appears to us to be the root cause of all evil. Actually, our actions which cast evil effects are diametrically opposite to the teachings of Tasawwuf and Tazkiyah, but we hold Tasawwuf responsible for all our problems and advocate its discard. On the contrary, Tasawwuf offers the fundamental protection against this nonsense. It is the real attribute of a Muslim which makes him a better human being. A Muslim is not a recluse, but an outstanding member of his society who maintains an excellent relationship with Allah and His creation, while a Wali is an outstanding Muslim who has an even better relationship with Allah and His creation.
Tasawwuf was our basic necessity. It was the guarantee for our survival and the nectar of our life, without which we can never exist as good Muslims or good human beings. It has assumed an even greater significance in the commotion of the present time. You can try it yourself. If you start performing Zikr, you will certainly feel the difference. Those of your friends, who may have been offering Salah since a long time, would also discern the difference of feelings in their prayers after performing Zikr. The criterion for the delinquents like me is that, if I start committing nine sins daily instead of ten, I have started improving. My journey towards the good has begun and I can see a ray of hope at the far end of the tunnel. For a healthy person, a temperature of 102 degrees will signify high grade fever but for a patient who has been running 104 degrees for years, it will indicate a sure sign of recovery. Everyone doesn’t transform into an angel overnight, a human being shall always remain a human being, ever prone to error. The process of Tazkiyah will however, revive within him the realisation of his relationship with his Creator and would inspire him from within to strive for His Pleasure. Previously, we unwillingly forced ourselves to offer Salah, but now we will feel an urge to pray because that is our requirement. We may not have been telling the truth in the past but now it will become our natural habit. We may have been dodging work and wasting our time, unwatched at the office, but the light of Tazkiyah revives the sense of responsibility and bestows the realisation that The Omnipresent, before Whom I am answerable, is always watching me. This realisation redirects life on the path of goodness. I think Tazkiyah is our essential requirement, without which a Muslim can’t really survive. In the absence of Tazkiyah, we can’t fully absorb and adopt the grace and excellence that Islam bestows on us. Although our names are still like Deen Muhammad, but we have seen that, without Tazkiyah, the essence of the Deen of Muhammad-SAW has disappeared from our lives. Tazkiyah is our requirement which has become even more important for us today. May Allah grant us this realisation, faculty and blessing!