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My dear friend Taslim very recently wrote a piece on her excellent blog called: Four Words (which is well worth a read, in fact her whole blog is worth reading and bookmarking!). She ended the blog post with the following question:
“What four words would you choose?”
Although it was perhaps a rhetorical question, it did inspire me to think. What four words would I choose?
As Taslim mentioned in her blog post, words are powerful, and I fully agree with her in the sense that words do carry the power to affect us in a positive or negative way.
Towards the end of August, on a 5 hour train journey to a friend’s wedding in Glasgow, I reflected on words which impact me. I came up with many words which resonate with me, inspire me or perhaps describe my outlook on life. But since I could only choose “four”, I narrowed my selection down and wrote the four words which hold deep meaning, and impact me the most:
Prayer is a source of comfort. It strengthens belief.
Belief is a form of acceptance and submission, and it ignites hope.
Hope gives us courage and the strength to carry on moving forward. It encourages us to be positive and patient, and look forward to receiving that joy we pray, believe and hope for.
Joy is that feeling of pleasure, delight, triumph and gratitude, which leads us back to prayer, thanking our Creator for the blessing, because our belief and hope was in Him all along.
We pray to strengthen our belief, which then provides us with hope, and ultimately we are led to joy.
As you can see, the four words I chose are interconnected.
What four words would you choose?
I have been going through Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s commentary on the Miracles of the Qu’ran from chapter 6 of the Burda by Imam al-Busiri this Ramadan (1435/2014), and thought I would share the links to the recordings here so others can also benefit inshaAllah ta’Ala. In addition to the actual commentary, in part 6, towards the end (play from 42:00 onwards), Shaykh Hamza recites the English translation of the Du’a al-Nasiri (Prayer of the Oppressed) by Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Nasir, it’s really beautiful to listen to and reflect upon, especially in these difficult times.
As we draw the Luminaries series to an end, we would like to thank everyone that has contributed.
Uniting bloggers from around the globe and delivering this series has been an enriching experience. Furthermore, we really appreciate all the support we received from our teachers and friends who helped promote the series. Allah reward you all abundantly!
The great Shāfi’ī scholar, historian and biographer Imām al-Sakhawi said,
“Whoever records a biography of a believer, it is as though he has brought him or her back to life.”
That was our intention in this series, to bring a little of their light into your lives. The entire series has been an honour, a privilege, and a blessing.
If anyone has any queries with regards to the references, or indeed incidents that have been mentioned, please contact us.
Luminaries I– Imām Abū Qāsim al-Junayd
Luminaries II–Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība
Luminaries III–Shaykh Abū Bakr bin Sālim
Luminaries IV– Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké
Luminaries V– Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs
Luminaries VI–Imām al-Ḥārithal-Muḥāsibī
Luminaries VII–Sayyīda Nafīsa
“Verily, God and His angels bless the Prophet: [hence,] O you who have attained to faith, bless him and give yourselves up [to his guidance] in utter self-surrender!” -— Qurʾān [33:56]
May we receive all the divine treasures we seek.
May our hearts be healed by divine presence within them.
May we become God-Conscious Muslims.
May our emigrations and pilgrimages to Him be sincere
May we be scientists in the art of being Muslims.
May we become a speck of what the Sahaaba and ahlul bayt were.
May we all be illuminated by Sayyidina Mohamed to reunite under the shade of the ghilans (acacia trees) of paradise.
May this Light that we have attempted to bring into your lives, find a dwelling in our hearts and homes. May it resonate in our daily actions and interactions with all.
“O Allāh, shower blessings, peace and mercy on our master and chief – Muḥammad, the best of creation, and his family, with every glance and every breath, as many times as the number of all things encompassed within the knowledge of Allāh.”
Peace and prayers,
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Sayyida Nafisa: The Lady of Purity
It would be impossible for me to recount each and every woman that has inspired and touched my life in some way. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that some are luminary figures that have shed their light far and wide. It’s been in such blessed company, in the warmth of a friend’s home that I first heard of a lofty figure who has been inspirational through the ages: Sayyīda Nafīsa. As a community, we tend to be aware of the elevated rank of the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) or hear of the oft-quoted Rābiʻa al-ʻAdawiyya. Yet other towering women are barely whispered about, except perhaps in the closest of circles. It’s with this in mind that I wanted to share what I’ve learnt about the saintly Sayyīda Nafīsa.
Sayyīda Nafīsa was a remarkable scholar and saint. She was famously known as Nafīsat al-‘ilmī wal-ma’rifat, (the Rare Lady of Knowledge and Gnosis), and held many other titles including: Nafīsat al- Ṭāhira, (the Rare Lady of Purity), Nafīsat al-‘Ā’bida (the Rare Worshipful Lady), and ṣaḥibat al-Karamat, (the Lady of Miracles). She was a woman renowned for her devotion, piety, asceticism, and to whom miracles were attributed. She constantly recited the Qurʾān, prayed through the night and fasted perpetually. As narrated by her niece Zaynab b Yaḥyā: “I served my aunt, Sayyīda Nafīsa for forty years. I never saw her sleeping at night and I never saw her eating during the day, except the days forbidden to fast – the two ‘Eids and the Days of Tashriq (11th – 13th of Dhū l-Hijjah).”
Sayyīda Nafīsa was a direct descendant of the Prophet (ﷺ). She was the daughter of al-Ḥasan al-Anwar, son of Zayd al-Ablaj, son of Imām al- Ḥasan, son of Sayyīda Fāṭimah al-Zahra (r). She was born in Makkah on the 11th of Rabī’a al-Awwal but grew up in Madīnah since her father was the governor of the blessed city at the time.
Signs of her lofty station were apparent from a very early age; she memorized the Qurʾān and studied Islamic jurisprudence comprehensively. Her great intellectual ability enabled her to become adept in explaining the Qurʾān despite her young age. Furthermore, she used to pray the five prayers regularly behind her father in the mosque of the Prophet (ﷺ). It has been reported that her father used to take Sayyīda Nafīsa to the grave of the Prophet (ﷺ) and would address the Prophet (ﷺ) directly by saying: “Ya Rasūllullāh!, O Beloved Prophet of Allāh! I am pleased with my daughter Nafīsa!.” He repeatedly continued this until one day the Prophet (ﷺ) appeared to him in a dream saying to him, “Ya Ḥasan, I am pleased with your daughter Nafiīsa, because you are pleased with her, and Allāh is pleased with her because I am pleased with her.” Again, this particular event signified Sayyīda Nafīsa’s great status at a very young age.
At the age of sixteen, Sayyīda Nafīsa married her cousin Ish’aq al-Mu’taman, a direct descendant of Imām al- Ḥusayn, and they were blessed with a son named al-Qa’ssim and a daughter named ʾUmm Kulṯūm.
Sayyīda Nafīsa and Prophet Ibrahim (AS)
It is reported that when Sayyīda Nafīsa used to recite the Holy Qurʾān, she would pray: “O Allāh make it easy for me to visit the grave of Sayyidīna ʾIbrāhīm, al-Khalīl”. Many years later, Allāh answered her prayer and enabled her to journey to the Holy Land, Jerusalem (Palestine) to visit the grave of the Prophet ʾIbrāhīm (as). It’s narrated that when she arrived at the grave, she wept and recited the following verse from the Holy Qurʾān: “And whenʾIbrāhīm said: My Lord! make this city secure, and save me and my sons from worshipping idols:” [14: 35]
As Sayyīda Nafīsa sat in front of the grave of the Prophet ʾIbrāhīm (as), reciting the Qurʾān, she felt an intense presence, and saw the image of Sayyidīna ʾIbrāhīm (as) in front of her. Of that moment she said, “My heart began to beat harder and my eyes to blink.” She called upon him saying “O my grandfather! – Ya Jiddī! I came to you in body and spirit…. as my soul has come to you before many times, I now come to you in body as well. I seek your good pleasure with me and I seek your guidance and instruction in order that I may worship Allāh until my dying breath.”. At that moment she heard a voice emerging from the image of Sayyidīna ʾIbrāhīm which was before her saying, “Good tidings my granddaughter! You are chosen to be one of the sanctified, worshipful maidservants of your Lord. My advice to you is to recite Sūrah al-Muzammil, wherein Allāh says, “O thou folded in garments! Stand (to prayer) by night, but not all night…” [73:1] until its end and seek to meditate on what you recite. By reciting this chapter you will be guided to the forms of worship and devotion that contain no hardship, as Allāh said, ‘Allāh does not burden any soul with more than it can bear.’ O my granddaughter! The intensity of your worship has made your body weak – try to keep everything in balance.”
Relocation to Egypt
At the age of forty-four, Sayyīda Nafīsa moved to Cairo.
From every distant corner of Egypt, people came flooding to her house in order to take blessings from her, especially women who came simply to touch her and request her du’a. And it’s in Egypt where Sayyīda Nafīsa spent the remaining part of her life.
Sayyīda Nafīsa and Imam al-Shafi
Sayyīda Nafīsa taught most of the scholars of her time but most notably the great Imām al- Shāfi‘ī studied hadith from her. It is reported that despite Imām al- Shāfi‘ī’s incredible scholarship, he would visit Sayyīda Nafīsa to seek her blessing, and ask for her prayers. At times when Imām al- Shāfi‘ī was ill, he would send a messenger to the blessed saint to seek her prayers. Sayyīda Nafīsa would immediately make du’a, and by the time the messenger returned to Imām al- Shāfi‘ī, he would find him already cured. That’s how powerful her prayers were.
On one occasion, Imām al- Shāfi‘ī fell sick and as usual sent his messenger asking Sayyīda Nafīsa for her du’a. On this occasion, She sent him the message: “Tell him that may Allāh make his meeting with Him the Best of meetings and may Allāh lift him to His proximity.” Upon hearing this, the great Imaām understood that his death was imminent. He wrote his will and stated that Sayyīda Nafīsa should pray the funeral prayers over him.
When the great Imām passed onto his Lord, Sayyīda Nafīsa executed his will. Incapacitated due to her constant worship, Imām al- Shāfi‘ī’s body was brought to the house of Sayyīda Nafīsa. There she prayed the funeral prayer over him from the women’s section, following Imam al-Buwaiṭī, who led the prayer.
Her return to her Lord
The pious and saints are given the gift of being able to recognise the signs of when death is approaching them, and that’s exactly what happened to Sayyīda Nafīsa. When she began to feel her death was approaching, she dug up her grave with her own hands inside her home. It is reported that she would enter the grave and worship in it daily. She completed the Holy Qurʾān whilst sitting in her grave six thousand times, and granted the rewards of the recitation to all deceased Muslims.
Sayyīda Nafīsa became extremely ill at the beginning of Ramadan in 208 H, and despite being advised by her companions to stop fasting, she refused, saying, “I have been asking Allāh to die fasting for thirty years; now you want me to break the fast?”
When Sayyīda Nafīsa returned to her Lord, her husband wanted to take her body back to the blessed city of Madīnah where she was to be buried. However, the people of Egypt solicited and asked him to bury her in the grave she had dug up with her own hands in Egypt. They even went to the extent of collecting a large sum of money and offered it to him. The following day, they asked for his decision, and his reply was: “I have decided to bury her here. I saw the Prophet (ﷺ ) in a dream last night, and he told me, ‘Give them back their money and bury your wife in Egypt.'”
Her miracles (karamat)
Sayyīda Nafīsa was notorious for her countless miracles, both during and after her life. Here are a few of those miracles that have been narrated.
1. Curing a paralyzed girl
When Sayyīda Nafīsa first arrived in Egypt and settled in her new home, there was a non-Muslim family living in her neighbourhood whose daughter was paralyzed from the waist down. One day the girl’s mother brought her to Sayyīda Nafīsa to watch while she went shopping. She left her daughter in one corner of Sayyīda Nafīsa’s house. Sayyīda Nafīsa began making ablution and water from her ablution flowed towards the girl. As the water touched the body of the girl, she experienced something strange. She began to take the water from Sayyīda Nafīsa’s ablution and rub it on her paralyzed feet and legs. Suddenly by Allāh’s mercy, the paralysis disappeared completely and she was able to stand. Meanwhile Sayyīda Nafīsa was busy in prayer. The girl stood up and seeing her mother just returning from the market, ran to meet her to tell her what had happened. Her mother cried with joy declaring: “That woman is truly holy and her religion is the truth.” She came in, hugged Sayyīda Nafīsa, thanked her for healing her daughter and asked her to pray that she be guided from darkness to light. Sayyīda Nafīsa then taught her to recite the shahādah.
When the father of the girl returned home that evening, whose name was Ayyūb Abū Surraya, and saw his daughter cured, he was overjoyed. He asked his wife about what happened and she told him the whole story. He raised his head heavenwards saying, “O Allāh! You guide whom You like and I now know that Islam is the true religion, completing what we believe in.” He went to the home of Sayyīda Nafīsa, and speaking to her from behind a veil he said, “I believe in your religion, and I accept it. I testify that there is none to worship except Allāh and that your grandfather Muḥammad is the Prophet of Allāh.” That miracle was the cause for the entire tribe of Sayyīda Nafīsa’s neighbours to enter Islam.
2. Rive Nile failing to flood
In the year 201 H. (816 CE) the river Nile failed to flood, as is its normal annual custom. People went to Sayyīda Nafīsa asking her to pray that Allāh cause the Nile to flood since without the usual flood, no crops would grow. Sayyīda Nafīsa gave them her face veil telling them, “throw that in the Nile and by Allāh’s grace it will flood.” They took her veil and threw it in the Nile. Immediately the river began to rise and overflow its banks.
3. Stolen wool
There was an old lady who had four daughters. She used to spin wool into yarn, then take the yarn and sell it. One day the old lady set out for the market with the spun wool wrapped in a red package. Without any warning, an eagle dove out of the sky, grabbed the package in its claws and flew off. The old lady, overcome with fear and worry, fainted. When she awoke she began crying. People around her advised her to go to Sayyīda Nafīsa and narrate what had happened. Sayyīda Nafīsa said, “O Allāh! Exalted in Power and Owner of this creation: put right what the affairs of Your servant this lady fulana. She is Your servant and her children are Your servants and You are powerful over all things.” She told the old lady to return to her home and wait.
The old lady went home crying with worry for the sake of her young children. Night found her still crying. Suddenly a commotion was heard outside. It was a group of people seeking Sayyīda Nafīsa. They told her, “Something very strange just happened to us. We came to you because we have been ordered to do so.”
She said, “What happened?” They related, “We were on a ship traveling at sea. As we began approaching land, one of the planks suddenly sprung loose and the boat began to flood. Some of us did not know how to swim and we were in deep water still five hours from shore. The boat began to fill up and sink. All of a sudden an eagle appeared holding a red package in its claws. It threw that package, which was full of spun wool, into that crack filling it. The water stopped flooding and we managed to reach shore safely. We heard a voice saying, ‘Go to Sayyīda Nafīsa.’
The boat crew presented Sayyīda Nafīsa a gift of 500 dinars. Sayyīda Nafīsa began to cry, “O Allāh you are so merciful to Your servants.” She asked the old lady, “How much did you usually get for your wool each week?” The lady replied, “I used to get 20 dinars.” Sayyīda Nafīsa gave her the 500 dinars and she went home overjoyed. She told her neighbours what happened and they came in droves to see Sayyīda Nafīsa. Many ended up giving themselves over to her service.
Sayyīda Nafīsa’s miracles continued on after her departure from this world. There was an occasion where some thieves entered her mosque and stole sixteen silver lamps. However, as the thieves tried escaping with the lamps, they discovered there was no longer a door and a way out of the mosque. They were trapped until the caretaker came the following morning and found them.
The miracles mentioned above illustrate the great spiritual power and strength Allāh Almighty provided Sayyīda Nafīsa with; to the extent that even to this day, people from all around the world flock to her blessed grave in Cairo to seek blessings, and to pray to Allāh for the difficulties within their lives to be removed.
Sayyīda Nafīsa was truly a great luminary. She was a great teacher, and lived a balanced life full of devotion to her Lord, and being in service of others. We can use her life story to draw inspiration and strength from, especially more so in the modern age we are living in. Sayyīda Nafīsa’s story also demonstrates to us the pivotal role of female scholarship, and how it was used in the cultivation of the religious sciences and Prophetic tradition.
Source: Excerpted from the Light of Ahl al-Bayt: My Spiritual Experiences Unveiled by Imam Metawalli ash-Sha`rawi
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Imām al-Ḥārith al-Muḥāsibī
It was during Iʿtikāf last Ramaḍān where I was sitting in our masjids library and I gazed upon a book my friend was reading, “al- Muḥāsibī’s Risāla al-Mustarshidīn” (Treatise for The Seekers of Guidance), by Imām al-Muḥāsibī. As he left, I picked up the book and started reading it.
Imām Abū ‘Abdullāh al-Ḥārith b Asad al-Muḥāsibī (may Allāh be pleased with him) was born in the great city of Baṣra, Iraq in the year 165 A.H./781 C.E – 243 A.H./857 C.E. The city which would plant the deep roots of the beginning of all Islamic Sciences to be. It is in the center of debates regarding new translated knowledge of the Greeks, Romans, and Syrian Christians etc that Imām al-Muḥāsibī would intellectually take part of, exploring the proper viewpoint of alienated knowledge and philosophies in the Islamic worldview.
Both a scholar and narrator of Ḥadīth, he held a high level of legal thought. He was a major speculative theologian (Mutakallim), who authored over 200 books and treatises. He was the teacher of great Luminaries such as: Imām al-Junayd, Sarī al-Saqaṭī, Aḥmad and Muḥammad b. Abi al-Ward, Aḥmad bin Muḥammad ibn Masrūq, and Muhammad b Ya’qūb al-Farajī. He influenced many theologians who came after him, including Imām al-Ghazālī and his Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-Dīn. He had a somewhat fractious relationship with Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal for his propensity to respond to the Rationalists using their own methods of reasoning, over the years this has led to some people overlooking his works.
He was called Muḥāsibī due to his constant reckoning of his own self, taken from the word muḥāsib, which means he who takes account of something. Therefore Imām al- Muḥāsibī ‘s major intellectual contribution was in the area of character reformation and human development, used essentially as a means in coming close to God. His work entirely focused on God-consciousness, that act which is necessary if we are to truly know and serve God. On the other hand, he emphasized on Divine Grace; it is Allāh who allows one to be on the path of truth; it is Allah who elevates the maqām of His servants; it is Allāh who allows one to be able to conquer and discipline his soul. Though he did not believe it to be completely passive, that it is through reflection, devotion, humility, and having a good opinion of Allāh that the hearts can become illuminated by the Light of Divine Grace.
His greatest work is considered to be ar-Ri ʿāyah li-ḥūqūq Allāh (Book of observance of the rights of Allāh); most of the themes in that book are dealt in al- Muḥāsibī’s Risāla al-Mustarshidīn (Treatise for The Seekers of Guidance) the book I laid my eyes upon.
The greatest of miracles, I believe, of Imām al-Muḥāsibī is his discourse on speculative theology and rectifying the self and that in and of itself has brought in much miracles and inspiration to later luminaries and nations to come by. You and I are both transformed by his works, one way or another. I definitely was since Ramaḍān benefited me well.
Selected saying sof Imām al-Muḥāsibī:
“One who rectifies his inner self with an awareness of God’s surveillance and sincerity; God adorns his outer self with devotional acts and adherence to the prophetic way (Sunnah).”
“Knowledge bequeaths fear, divestment from the world bequeaths comfort, and gnosis bequeaths self criticism.”
“Good character is bearing abuse, rarely becoming angry, a pleasant face, and sweet speech.”
“One who does not thank God for a blessing has called for its eradication.”
“The best person is one who does not allow his Hereafter to preoccupy him from his worldly affair nor does he allow his worldly affair to preoccupy him from his Hereafter.”
“The tribulation of the seeker of the world is the idling of his heart from remembrance of the Hereafter.”
“For indeed, the pleasure of the wise scholars is in their intellects, and the pleasure of the ignoramuses and beasts is in their desires.”
Source: Treatise for The Seekers of Guidance, al-Muhasibi’s Risala al-Mustarshidin translation, commentary, and notes by Imām Zaid Shakir
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Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs’s
Bismiʾllahi ʾr-Raḥmāni ʾr-Raḥīm wa ʾṣ-ṣalātu wa salām ʿalā Rasūlihi ʾl-Karīm
When we decided to create this series titled Luminaries, I was undecided as to whom I would write about. So I thought, what does Luminary actually mean? For me, a luminary is someone that has reached the status of sainthood and then gone that one step further. The word luminary is derived from one of two Latin words; lumen meaning “light”, or lucere meaning “to shine”. Interestingly, lumen is also a unit of measurement of; yes you guessed correctly, light (more specifically visible light). My teacher Dr ‘Umar Fārūq ‘Abd-Allāh says that a person’s heart is a receptacle of light, every time you do good, your heart fills with light. Hence, a luminary’s heart is full of light, to be specific: epiphanic light. This light is so strong that it radiates and illuminates all those that come into contact with it.
No one typifies this more for me than Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs al- al-Arā’ishī al-Alāmī al-Idrīsī al-Ḥasanī.
One of Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs’s students Imām Muḥammad ʻUthmān al-Mīrghanī wrote, “One time, toward the end of his stay in Mecca, I looked at him while he was sitting next to one of the doors of the Masjid al-Ḥaram. I look at the greatness of his spiritual state and the lights that surrounded him. I saw that such light was coming out of his noble beard, that if the light from a single hair of his beard traveled across the world it would turn all of its inhabitants into ʾawliyāʾ.”
Ibn Idrīs was born into a pious family in the suburb of Maysūr in the district of al-Arā’ish near Fez in Morocco in 1750. He was a direct descendant of Sayyidīna Ḥasan b. ʿAlī, the grandson of the Prophet (ﷺ). He is often referred to as the “enigmatic saint” as very little is known about him, and he did not leave behind a compendium of written work. It said he was also bestowed with another name, this time by the Prophet (ﷺ) himself, the name was al-Shifā’ meaning the healing. Most of the information available on ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs is through works compiled by his students.
Even before he had reached adulthood, Ibn Idrīs would seclude himself and devote most of his time to worship and contemplation. He memorized the Qurʾān and several other important Islamic texts before moving to Fez and attending al-Qarawiyyīn at the age of twenty. He excelled at Fez, and went on to become a teacher at al-Qarawiyyīn within 10 years. He became very close to a Mauritanian scholar called Muḥammad Limjaydrī B. Ḥabībullāh, he would go on to play an important role in the spiritual development of Ibn Idrīs. Shaykh Limjaydrī was impressed with Ibn Idrīs that he introduced him to his own teacher, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Wahhāb al-Tazī. Shaykh al-Tazī was struck by the eloquence of Ibn Idrīs and the tremendous power he had in his voice. Ibn Idrīs took three paths from al-Tazī the ancient Ṣūfī paths, the Shādhiliyya and Nasqshabandiyya as well as a new spiritual path called the Khaḍiriyya, which was initiated by the great Shaykh ‘Abd al-Azīz Dabbāgh. Both al-Dabbāgh and al-Tazī were saints in there own right, and had seen the Prophet (ﷺ) in many dreams, they themselves had taken knowledge, and paths directly from the Prophet (ﷺ); al-Tazī now wished to bring Ibn Idrīs to this level.
Ibn Idrīs recounts seeing the Prophet (ﷺ) in a vision and received his own litanies, three to be exact: a formula for remembrance, one for ṣalawāt, and the other to seek forgiveness from God. The Prophet (ﷺ) then said to him, “O ʾAḥmad, I have given you the keys of the heavens and the Earth; saying them once is equal to the greatness of everything that is in this world and the next, many times over.”
At the age of forty nine, Ibn Idrīs moved to Mecca, stopping on his way in Algeria, Tunisia and also Libya, he lectured whenever he could, the talks often centred on ‘ilm (knowledge) and Ṣūfīsm. His intention was to spend the rest of his life in the two holy mosques; he taught extensively in Mecca, but also in Madīnah and Ṭā’if. A common criticism of some Ṣūfī orders is that people believe they leave behind the Qur’ān and the Sunnah or deviate away from it altogether, however Ibn Idrīs was a staunch advocate of the Qurʾān and Sunnah. One time his student Muḥammad b.ʿAlī al-Sanūsī said to him, “Dictate to me your lineage so that I may record it.” He replied, “My lineage is the Book and the Sunnah. Look, and if you find me upon the Book and the Sunna, then say: ‘ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs is upon the Book and the Sunna.’ That is my lineage.”
He lamented the deterioration of Islam and Muslims in general; he wanted to revive forgotten practises and teachings of the Prophet (ﷺ) no matter how small. He would often send his best students as missionaries to Muslim lands to revive them and their societies; they were in essence healers, this would be his lasting legacy. Later in his life he moved to Yemen. He was ageing and felt obliged to pass on as much knowledge as possible. Some scholars have said that the revival of Ṣūfī thinking in Yemen was brought about by the arrival of Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs.
Ibn Idrīs was an independent Mujtahid, this is a term that we rarely come across now, but basically his understanding of the Qurʾān and ḥadīth was so succinct that he could extract his own opinions. His aptitude in ḥadīth was tested several times by Meccan scholars, much like Imām al-Bukhārī, they attempted to throw him by mixing the chains of narrators and Prophetic statements, but he answered each and every one of them with the correct chains all the way back to the Prophet (ﷺ). He had proved himself to be a master in the Islamic sciences.
Ibn Idrīs wanted people to receive everything directly from the Prophet (ﷺ), this is why he called his path al-Ṭarīqa al- Muḥammadiyya – in this path the Prophet (ﷺ) himself is the Shaykh. It is important to note that for all the orders, the leader is always inevitably the Prophet (ﷺ), but this path was ground breaking in the sense that Ibn Idrīs did away with intermediaries.
Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs’s originality lay in his humility, in his conscious effort in wanting to follow the Prophet (ﷺ) in every action with the utmost sincerity. He was a luminary that was intent on giving and reviving the Prophet (ﷺ) in people’s lives and homes. He wanted God and the Messenger (ﷺ) to be the centre of everyone’s life. I can’t help but feel this is precisely what we are lacking now: the presence of God and His Messenger (ﷺ) in our daily lives.
“…Our Lord! Do not punish us if we forget…” [2:286]
Ibn Idrīs left behind four core principles that although seem simple at a glance are notoriously difficult. They encapsulate his teachings and most importantly, his way, clearly.
- To remember, before every word or action, that God will question one concerning that action
- To perform every word and action for God alone
- To make one’s heart a home for mercy towards all Muslims, great or small, and to give them honour and respect, which is their right
- Good character, to treat one’s family and household and all of creation kindly and gently.
“The greatest portion of our aim is in following the Prophet (ﷺ) footstep after footstep.”
“Ṣūfīsm is to empty the heart of anything but God.” “Leave aside rest and sleep, and stand up for God, may He be praised and glorified, on the foot of sincerity.”
“May your tongue habituate itself to the remembrance of God Most High, so that it overwhelms your heart…” “Indeed there is nothing more harmful to a true faqīr than his hope in people, for hope in people is a sword which cuts man off from God.”
“We are slaves of God, journeying towards God, fearing nothing save God, hoping in nothing save God, clinging to nothing save God, and placing trust in nothing save God.”
Ibn Idrīs is a true luminary and the light he had can still be seen penetrating the hearts and minds of many to this day. This transcendent light today is carried through his students who went on to form their own paths, such as Muḥammad b.ʿAlī al-Sanūsī (d. 1859), ʾIbrāhīm al-Rashīd (d. 1874), Muḥammad ʻUthmān al-Mīrghanī (d. 1852), ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Maḥmūd (d. 1874), and among later figures, Ṣāliḥ al-Jaʾfarī (d. 1979).
One Harvard study said,
“The Idrīsī tradition gave birth to leaders of holy wars, men who established religious states, and a number of important centralised ṭarīqahs…. Its success was such that observers at the end of the nineteenth century felt that it was the source of much of the Islamic dynamism of the time.” In my opinion, the greatest gift that Ibn Idrīs left was given to him in a vision by the Prophet (ﷺ)
“There is no other God but God and Muḥammad (ﷺ) is his Messenger, with every glance and every breath, as many times as all that is contained in the knowledge of God.”
In one of his letters to his student Muḥammad al-Madjūb, Ibn Idrīs said, “…May God let you reach His Light, where there is no more darkness.” May this light penetrate our hearts and allow us to follow the way of Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs, the Muḥammadan way. (ﷺ)
Reassurance for the Seeker – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reassurance-Seeker-Translation-Al-Jafaris-Commentary/dp/1887752986/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394755545&sr=1-1&keywords=reassurance+for+the+seeker
Manifestations of Sainthood in Islam – http://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/SearchResults?tn=Manifestations+sainthood+Islam
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Shaykh Abu Bakr bin Salim
By Zara Nargis
Several of the `Alawī Imams were given good tidings of the coming of Shaykh Abū Bakr; Fakhr al-Wujūd. Shaykh `Abdullāh, the youngest son of Shaykh `Abd al-Rahmān al-Saqqāf, was one day wondering how he could ever reach the station and prominence of his two brothers, `Umar al-Mihdār and Abū Bakr al-Sakrān. His father read his thoughts and said to him: “That prominence will be in your progeny.” Amongst this blessed progeny was Shaykh Abū Bakr bin Sālim and all his blessed progeny. Shaykh Abū Bakr was born in Tarīm in 919 (1513). His father took him to the Imam of Tarīm at the time, Shaykh Shihāb al-Din, Ahmad bin `Abd al-Rahmān, complaining that his son was having difficulty in memorising the Qur’ān. The Shaykh said to his father: “Leave him and do not burden him. He will devote himself to it of his own accord and he will have a great affair.” It was as the Shaykh said: Shaykh Abū Bakr devoted himself to the Qur’ān and memorised it in around four months. Then he applied himself to learning the inner and outer sciences.
In his youth, he lived in the village of al-Lisk, East of Tarīm, and he would walk several miles by night to Tarīm to pray in its mosques and visit its graves. He would fill up the tanks used for ablutions in the mosques and fill up troughs for animals to drink before returning to pray the Fajr prayer in al-Lisk. He later moved to Tarīm but decided while still in his mid-twenties to move to the village of `Aynāt in the search of territory where he could spread the call to Allah and His Messenger (endless peace and blessings be upon him). He built a mosque and house there and began teaching and giving spiritual instruction. His fame spread and students started coming from different parts of Yemen and as far afield as India and North Africa. As a result, a new town grew up distinct from the old village of `Aynāt.
He had a great concern, like his predecessors, for the visit of the Prophet Hūd. It was Shaykh Abū Bakr who first established the great annual visit in Sha`bān, it being previously arranged according to the date harvest. In his old age he would be carried to the visit and when he was asked to compile a work on the merits of the visit, he said that the fact that he was still making the effort to visit in his old age was sufficient proof of its merit.
Shaykh Abū Bakr was immensely generous. He would supervise the affairs of his famous kitchen and distribute food with his own hands. He would bake a thousand loaves of bread for the poor every day – five hundred for lunch and five hundred for dinner. This was not including food prepared for his numerous guests. A poor dishevelled woman once came to give a small amount of food to the Shaykh. His servant turned her away saying: “Caravans are bringing goods to the Shaykh from far off places and he is not in need of what you have brought.” The Shaykh, however, was listening and he welcomed the woman, graciously accepted her offering and gave her a big reward in exchange. He then chastised his servant, saying: “The one who does not show gratitude for small things will not show gratitude for great things. The one who does not show gratitude to people does not show gratitude to Allah.”
He would fast the three hottest months of the year and for the last fifteen years consumed nothing but milk and coffee. The Shaykh loved coffee and there are numerous stories regarding his preference of it. He never left praying the eight rak`āt of the Duhā prayer and the eleven rak`āt of the Witr prayer, even while travelling. He was also never seen leaning on anything, nor was he comfortably seated, but he was solely in the position of one who is reciting tashahhud during his prayer.
He also composed a number of litanies and prayers upon the Prophet (endless peace and blessings be upon him), the most famous of which is Salāt al-Tāj (the Prayer of the Crown) which is widely read in the Indian Subcontinent.
A year before his death, Shaykh Abū Bakr led the visit to the Prophet Hūd and thousands crowded around him, almost fighting to kiss and touch him. When he saw this, he wept profusely and repeated Allah’s words: He is but a slave upon whom We have bestowed Our blessings. (Al-Zukhruf, 42:59)
Shaykh Abū Bakr finally breathed his last in Dhū’l-Ḥijjah 992 (1583). He said during his life that he would place secrets in the sand dune in which he is buried, and its blessed sand has been used time and again for healing purposes.
It suffices to say that Shaykh Abu Bakr bin Salim was chosen due to what he said and thus what came about from the visits to his abode of rest:
أَوَمَا عَلِمْتَ بِأَنَّنَا أَهْلُ الوَفَا
ومُحِبُّنَا مَا زَالَ تَحْتَ لِوَانَا
نَحْنُ الكِرَامُ فَمَنْ أَتَانَا قَاصِدَا
نَالَ السَّعَادَةَ عِنْدَمَا يَلْقَانَا
“Do you not know that we are people of honour, and that the one who loves us will always be under our banner?
We are generous people so whoever comes to us seeking will attain felicity when he meets us.”
References and Further Reading
Imams of the Valley – Amin Buxton
A Blessed Valley Volume One – Mostafa al-Badawi
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Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība
By Dawud Israel
Imām al-Junayd said that the stories of the righteous are the marshaled soldiers of God. I found the autobiography of the 18th century Moroccan Ṣūfī Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība to be full of stories and lessons that motivate one to strive as if they were a soldier of God. Beyond usual hagiography, Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība gives us an account of the details of his life, his upbringing, how he struggled, his spiritual development, and his miracles. I found many aspects of his life similar to those of the early Imāms of Islam – his learning, his imprisonment, his traveling, and his routines. He brings much of the early days of Islam back to life, when the himmah (exertion) for Islam was far greater. This is relevant to our time when due to the chasm of time it has become difficult to bring that level of zeal to our diīn.
His grandmother was a majdhuba and had numerous miracles attributed to her serving the people of Tetuan. When his mother was carrying him she often repeated: “Oh God grant me virtuous progeny!” and repeated this after each prescribed prayer and during the whole month of Ramadan. Her prayers were answered and from the time he started going to school he would go to the mosque in the middle of the night and remain there until dawn.
He had zeal for Islamic knowledge and received ījāza from his teachers to teach in various Zāwīyas. The Ḥikam of Ibn ‘Aṭā’illāh had piqued his desire for taṣawwuf early on and after spending many years as a student of Islamic learning (aalim), he desired to delve deeper into taṣawwuf.
In the mornings he would read ¼ of the Qurʾān in the day and ¼ of the Qurʾān at night in addition to making dhikr of God’s Name. Then he became connected to prayers of peace and blessings upon the Prophet (endless peace and blessings be upon him) until he could repeat the whole Dalā’il al-Khayrāt by heart. He desired to possess the Qurʾān, learned to read it in the 7 modes of recitation and would complete 14 khatms of the Qurʾān every month. This lasted for 3-4 years. Then he married and started teaching while continuing this routine for 15-16 years before meeting Shaykh al-Buzidi.
What we can take away from this is that many years may pass in a high level of ibādah until one’s soul becomes ready to undergo a greater transformation. From this we can see how much perseverance and exertion is required in coming near to God. Rather than relying on a murshid in the beginning, he sought God with whatever means God had given him, for God is enough for His servants. This can be seen as preparation for his spiritual opening later on at the hands of Shaykh al-Buzidi.
Around this time he saw Shaykh Abū’l Ḥasan as-Shadhili in a dream saying “Persevere! By God, there will be 44 learned men who will receive knowledge from you!” Many times we may feel escapist, as if its best if we just abandon the dunyā and simply worship God in khalwa. Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība felt this way too and even though he sought to abandon everything for spiritual pursuits, God intended for people to benefit from him. The lesson from this is that God may plan something different for us, for us to benefit people in a way perhaps no one else can benefit them. It may also suggest that guiding and teaching people the dīn is a crucial part of one’s spiritual development.
What his Shaykh said about him
Shaykh al-Buzidi said about him: “Sidi Aḥmad has the qualities of detachment, scrupulousness, trusting God, constancy, forbearance, contentment, serene submission, piety, compassion, generosity and magnanimity.”
To which Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība replied: “Master you are already talking about Sufism!”
Shaykh al-Buzidi: “That is just exterior Ṣūfīsm, there is still interior Ṣūfīsm which you will know later God willing!”
Here the Shaykh is talking about a view of taṣawwuf and tazkīyya that is different from the usual Muslim discourse of the outer and inner, the Ẓāhir and the bāṭin. Here he is speaking of layers to spiritual purification beyond what is outer and inner, but what is even more inner and even deeper than what we understood the spiritual to be.
His miracles in his own words
“I remember once when I was invoking God’s name in my house. The books were sitting on a shelf above me. Just then I saw a little bird up there, completely devoid of feathers as if it had just been born. He was moving his beak vigorously, opening it and then closing it over and over again, such that I realized that he was also invoking. I stood up and got closer to him, but he kept up with his invocation. When I tried to reach out to him, he withdrew and disappeared from my sight. I looked everywhere in the room, but the bird was not to be found. One of my disciples was there, sitting across the doorway. I asked him, but he assured me that he had seen nothing. That is when I realized that the bird was an angel.”
I had gone to pray in a room near the tomb of Sidī Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Fahhar during Laylatul Qadr and found myself alone in the dark room, when I was suddenly surrounded by birds: there were in front of me and behind me, with others fluttering above my head. I paid no heed, but I knew that they were angels that had come to greet men during that night.
One day when I went to visit my mother’s people, in the mountains, noon came earlier than I expected, but I could not find any water. I thought to myself: “There are saints who have had miracles happen; for example, they have seen water flowing out of a wall. Oh God, provide us with water so that we might perform ablutions!” Just then, I heard the trickling of water above the road and went toward the spot: water was flowing down the mountain and I did my ablutions. When we reached the spot in question, I told my brother that I had found water there; but when we looked we could find nothing but dryness.
While I was exercising in the Casba mosque – I was still a bachelor at the time – it happened that I finished my teaching of a book. To celebrate the event, I gave the muezzin, Sidī Muḥammad al-Sagir, two or three small bushels of flour with which he prepared a meal. From sundown to the evening prayer, he did not stop serving guests: one group got up, and another replaced them. Mysteriously, enough food was left that the mu’addin took it home. His family and his neighbors ate it, after which he told me: “It was a true marvel! And to think that I was under the impression you were not giving me much flour at all!”
Another time when I had gone to the Qarawīīn Mosque in Fez during Laylatul Qadr, I remained to make invocation after the dawn prayer and suddenly saw a man walking between the columns saying “La ilaha illallah; the market is finished (insarafa l-suq)!” I retorted: “There is still the Living One, who does not die!” He then disappeared from my sight and replied: “What you say is true!” Then he added: “I composed a book in which I wrote, ‘so and so said,’ ‘so and so said’ and did I get results?” Then he continued: “If you want to write, let it come from you!” I understood that he was referring to a work that I was writing in which I was repeating lots of things the ancient authors had said; he was bringing my attention to the fact that I should use my own faculties of thought to take out what was inside me.”
Select advices from his letters
“Wandering is indispensable for the faqīr who is beginning the way. Travelling reveals faults and purifies souls and hearts; it expands one’s character and, thanks to it, knowledge of the King and Creator is broadened. In fact, the traveler contemplates a new ray of divine light every day, and encounters aspects that he did not know and that were unfamiliar to him. His knowledge and his intellectual horizon are stretched. They say that the faqir is like water: if he stays in the same place too long, he stagnates and putrefies.”
Every time you see someone indulging in one of these practices, using hashish or tobacco, for example, flee and say, “I take refuge from him in God!” The person is a demon among the human demons, sent by God to try the initiates, to see if they remain firm on the straight path or if they stray. Beware of following them, of allowing yourselves to be seduced by their words or of letting yourselves be trained by them toward easiness or toward arbitrary interpretations, for you would risk seeing your good actions invalidated and would be running toward your loss.
Know how to restrict your means of subsistence as much as you can, and be content with the subsistence that becomes your lot. Subsistence of the body is, as a matter of fact, guaranteed and, however paltry it might be, and it suffices. Do not be greedy except for subsistence of the spirit, which is the invocation of God, visiting Shaykhs and brethren, and the service one renders them: of this subsistence do not be satisfied with either less or more; any more than with meditation or contemplation, if you have an aptitude for it, because they are the means of acquiring the Great Richness, the Supreme Success which is obtained only by intense dedication of the heart and of the body. Peace!
Peace and blessings be upon Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība!
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