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At the Station of the Master (II)

But of course preachers will insist on their right—nay, duty—to speak; because they claim that they have been directed to ‘convey from me, even it…

But of course preachers will insist on their right—nay, duty—to speak; because they claim that they have been directed to ‘convey from me, even it is but one ayah.’ And if this hadith is authentic, and if, presumably but unlikely, it is addressed to everyone, then the one who thinks he knows ‘one ayah’ from him [SAW] should say it and shut up; because knowledge of one ayah cannot confer authority on every ignoramus, no matter how eloquent, to delve into all other issues of which he has no knowledge.
It was Gabriel [AS] who said that this religion comprises of Islam, Iman and Ihsan. If the first aspect of Islam is acceptance of, and willing subjection to, the dictates of fiqh,the second, iman, which enters the being of a Muslim only gradually, is explained and clarified by kalam, the defence for its postulates, and which, not surprisingly, literalist superficiality denies; Sufism then is the crystallisation of ihsan which indeed is its proof and raison d’être. In the circumstance, it would have been greatly astonishing if Wahhabism didn’t deny Sufism, even though Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah, the man from whom it picked its idea for trichotomising tauhid, was himself a follower of—and he died following—Sheikh Abd al-Qadir Jilani [RA], the founder of Qadiriyyah, keeping in mind that Sufism of course didn’t and doesn’t need the subscription to it, or approval, of ibn Taymiyyah to validate its truth and authenticity.
If some people cannot see this, they shouldn’t blame it on the absence of proof; they should blame it on the blindness in their vision. Perhaps they shouldn’t rush to claim arrival at the gate of Iman when all they have done was to have entered the door of Islam, out of which they might already have inadvertently fallen out. If indeed some Sufis do or engage in certain practices that these critics deem outside of the Sunnah, will that be sufficient ground for condemning Sufism? It was not the conduct of anyone who claimed to be a Sufi that is Sufism; and, indeed, in history there were many charlatans who wreaked moral havoc in its name. It is not for nothing that it has often been said: ‘There is many a cloak that deserves the fire!’ But on the other hand, so do many non-Sufi Muslims commit acts contrary to the Sunnah, will that then be sufficient ground for condemning the entirety of Islam?
At the conference, Nigeria’s Sheikh Sharif Ibrahim Saleh al-Hussaini, who was clearly the leading star, presented a blueprint for the reform of Tijaniyyah social, intellectual and spiritual attitude and conduct, and for the gradualist reform of Muslim society, which was in essence quite unlike anything resembling the nihilistic faudha spawned by worldwide Wahhabi-Salafism, in the throes of one violent variant of which Nigeria is currently embroiled. When he spoke, all the Shuyukh listened; when he postulated, they affirmed; when he gave direction, they followed; when he took his position in the spiritual hierarchy, they could not but bow; because they knew themselves and they knew their pecking order.
On the second day of the conference, Mahmud Sanusi Rafindadi al-Subbhi and I were invited to be present at the Sheikh’s interview with an Aljazeera television crew; and we were in the room before time. When we arrived, he was speaking and sitting cross-legged before him were all the Tijaniyyah shuyukh from across the North African sub-region. There was pin drop silence in the room, broken only by the deep sighs and sobs of the more elderly scholars.
The Sheikh’s Wasiqat Fez, is at once a wake-up call to the brethren of the Tijaniyyah Order and an ambitious individual and societal reform programme for repositioning the Order and its adherents. After situating the cardinal principles of Sufism in the sources, the document takes a look at the task before followers of the Order. It places special emphasis on the pursuit after knowledge—knowledge of the Islamic sciences, knowledge of the Sufi Path, and knowledge of the contemporary world so that the Tijani adept is kept abreast of the times and his spiritual order retains its relevance to the everyday life of Muslims.
The goal is to recreate its heroic intellectual and spiritual past, uphold the sanctity of the personalities of the Holy Prophet [SAW] and the auliya which have been under attack from Wahhabism; and to rededicate itself to the idea of love and brotherhood so central to Sufi doctrine, nip all creeping innovations in the bud and address the issue of the rise of internal conflicts between brethren and external conflicts with Takfiris.
Though I respect all the mystical orders and affirm the Qur’anic and Prophetic basis of their programmes, perhaps I need to add that I do not personally belong to any of the Tariqahs—and perhaps I need to be condoled and pitied over this great misfortune—but I am under obligation to state the truth as it is; and if this constitutes some sort of defence for Tariqah against people of theological, but especially spiritual, dilettantism, so be it—that was indeed the whole point of the Fez conference.
In practical terms, Sufism is simply to make wajib on yourself the nawafil that the Shariah enjoins on you only as a Sunnah or a mustahab; and your goal is to willingly empty yourself of your own volition, and the pleasure of the Lord replaces your will, so that the Almighty becomes your eyes, ears and limbs. The ultimate goal of all Islamic spiritual purification is to just convince your heart—that substratum of quiddity, the fountainhead of man’s existential essence—through repetitive action of devoutness, to believe, accept, and practice what your intellect knows and has already accepted.
In essence, therefore, Tariqah is the attempt to capture and make an integral part of one’s make up and daily experience that fleeting bliss recounted in Hanzalah ibn al-Rabi’s hadith of that continuous, all-consuming God-consciousness experienced by the Companions [RA] and which was available to them only in the blessed presence of the Messenger [SAW].
The benefit in all this is yours, because Allah stands in no need of your celebrating His glory and praise. It is you who stand in need of the doing: by praising God, you elevate yourself to merit, and hopefully receive, His grace. And by sending salawat upon His beloved Prophet [SAW], you render yourself worthy of divine love.
And it is only through zikr, istighfar, solitary tahajjud and the doing of good to all that man rises to become emptied of volition and be safeguarded and preserved from the snare and the wasawis of the ego, so that he becomes free from, and indifferent to, the allure of the material world and all that it contains; and become elevated above the plethora of human desires before which the majority of mankind today lies prostrate in eternal worship.
You do not get to this high station by merely becoming a Muslim, or by reciting the kalimah, or by learning Arabic, or by learning the terminology of a false tauhid, or by discovering the makharij of  tajwid, or by disparaging the auliya, or by insulting other Muslims, or by the mere amassing of knowledge, even if it fills the entire earth. You get to earn purity only through devoutness and undertaking the difficult task of self-purification, which is what Tariqah is all about.
These were some of the issues that were discussed on the sidelines of the conference; and at its end, it was time to go to his graveside and say farewell. With the din of salawat wafting through and rising above the narrow, winding alleys of the Medina of Fez, away from the secular bustle of the Ville Nouvelle, the Friday spectacle as the mausoleum of the Master is a thing to behold.
The sight of the multitude lost in soulful rendition of litanies of glorification to God and benedictions of praise upon the Holy Prophet [SAW] brought to many eyes tears of the joy and epiphany that come with the satisfaction of seeing the right and important thing being done exceptionally well; and here, by the unsolicited effort of the brethren of the Tijaniyyah Order, especially if, as in this case, it also serves as an effective practical negation of all the anti-Sufi and anti-Zikr polemics of that tendency in Islam noted only for its exemplary ignorance, its notorious lack of scholarly achievements, the superficiality of its understanding even of the simple issues, the shallowness of its pseudo-logic and the general bankruptcy of its ideas.
These have tended to promote a do-it-yourself Islam—an Islam that has been emptied of all spiritual content, deprived of every bit of its compassion; an Islam in which all its icons, including the Holy Prophet [SAW] have been made victims of a spiritual Prophetic vaticide and stripped of all spiritual prestige, an Islam that has been defaced and is being effaced from Muslim popular culture through deliberate destruction of its cultural heritage.

[CORRECTION—Last week, I wrote that it was Sheikh Umar al-Futi who wrote Rimah al-Hizb and Jawahir al-Ma’ani. Even though they are often printed together, it must be noted that while Sheikh Umar al-Futi wrote the former, the latter was in fact written by Sidi Ali Harazim, on the instruction of Sheikh Ahmad al-Tijani [RA]. The attribution error is regretted.]

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