Obeying the principle of “Futuwwah” is one of the most difficult things in Tasawwuf. By Futuwwah we mean to have the proper adab (etiquette or refined behaviour) on all occasions. Because of the way we have been reared, and the way we live, these principles have never really been implemented in our lives. The person who exemplified Futuwwah the most (other than Nabi Muhammad ﷺ) was Sayyiduna Ali (r.a.). He was known for his generosity, selflessness and granting honour to others. And so his adab became an example to all of us of proper adab. Of course, Nabi Ebrahim (a.s.) was called a “fata” in the Qur’an at the time when he destroyed the idols. And so the destruction of one’s bad characteristics and replacing them with admirable characteristics, are also part of Futuwwah. The destruction of the idols represents the harnessing of the lower passions or the ego.

One of the great difficulties we all have, because of our backgrounds and, because of the principles in terms of which we live, is that we find it very difficult to “listen and obey”. Allah Almighty characterizes His Prophets (a.s.) as those who could listen and obey. We are asked to do the same. Of course, we expect our children to listen and obey. And so when we give them an instruction, we do not expect them to discuss their correctness or otherwise of the instruction, neither do we allow them to assess the instruction, to consider it fair/unfair, to present their arguments against the instruction or refuse to obey. In our lives as adults we are supposed to have a similar relationship with Allah Almighty. When He instructs us in the Qur’an or through the Sunnah of His Prophet (ﷺ) or through inspiration to His pious authorized representatives, it is expected that we obey the instruction without question. Our social training and our education and the bad habits that we have picked up over the years, cause us to want to argue or to present our case. I think that the first thing that all of us must try very hard to do, is to tell ourselves that: “If any teaching comes our way, we will obey it without question.” We think that if all of us can start with this step, it will be a major step in our spiritual growth.

The other principle that we should adopt almost immediately is that of “husnudh dhan”. So whatever people do to us or to others from the point of view of Tasawwuf, we will always think good of that person and find an excuse to pardon him/her. Can you just imagine the impact of the adoption of this principle on all our human relationships? We will become the most forgiving people, the most considerate people, the most loving people. And when our fellow murids commit even an atrocious transgression, we’ll put our arms around that murid, forgive, help and guide.

Perhaps it is about time also that we use each other as mirrors to assess our own personal characteristics. When we see our fellow murids committing any transgression or exhibiting favourable characteristics, we should ask: “Are we also like that?” And so we can assess our own personal characteristics by looking at the way other murids exhibit them. If a murid for example is very generous, we should ask: “Are we also like that or are we stingy?” The answer will tell us about ourselves.

Today [2012] when I meet Mawlana Shaykh Nazim and I see the way he exhibits his personal characteristics, I feel so ashamed. This very ordinary man at one time has developed into one of the most important spiritual figures of all time by dedicating his time to Allah (ﷻ) and today he is a Sultanul Awliya’. When I consider my own characteristics and judge them against his, what can I say: “A giant and a gnat?” There’s no other comparison. But still, by looking at him and striving, perhaps we can all acquire even a little bit of the characteristics that he exhibits. We ask Allah Almighty for that. And we ask Him for that, as perhaps the weakest servants on earth, freeing ourselves of the trappings of this world.

Of course, part of the teachings of Tasawwuf is also very valuable teachings of relationships. These are our relationships with Allah Almighty, with His Messenger (ﷺ), with our shaykh, with fellow murids and with fellow Muslims. Through these relationships we give expression to our Islam and to the way our personalities express that Islam. Our most important relationship is the one that we have with Allah Almighty. This was established very firmly on the Day of Promises when He asked us: “Am I not your Lord?” This was not, because there was any doubt about His Lordship, but, because He wanted to establish in our hearts His Lordship and our relationship to Him as servants. It is almost as if He said: “I want you to know that I am your Lord”. It was asked in the form of a question for us to understand the relationship between Him and us, the Lord and His servants. When we said: “Yes truly, Thou art our Lord”, this was our first act of obedience. And so the first act of obedience was not a form of worship, but the expression of the relationship; the relationship based on adab that is the most acceptable behaviour under all circumstances or what is called “Futuwwah”. What is even more interesting in our reply was the depth of our humility. When we said: “Yes, Thou art our Lord and we are Thy servants”, we were not only in a state of initial faith but also in intense humility by recognizing the overwhelming Lordship over all of existence by Allah Almighty.

This relationship found further expression when Allah Almighty gave Nabi Adam (a.s.) and his wife Sayyidatuna Hawa (a.s.) certain instructions with regard to their life in Paradise. Their disobedience of these instructions was not only the first disobedience in Paradise in the Divine Presence but it was also the first negative expression of their relationship with Allah Almighty. This relationship is based on obedience and their breaking of this principle caused them to be ejected from Paradise. It was meant to be so in terms of the Divine Decree. The principle of obedience of the servant to his/her Lord has come down during the course of time in all Divine Revelation. It is also the extent to which we obey this principle that will determine, with the Mercy of Allah (ﷻ), our passage in the Hereafter.

Allah Almighty has also given this principle two facets for us – obedience to Him and obedience to His Messenger (ﷺ). The two are so interconnected that disobedience to the one means disobedience to the other. Disobeying the Messenger (ﷺ) is disobedience to the Creator. We must come to understand the overwhelming nature of this relationship between us and our Lord, which includes that of the Messenger (ﷺ), in the context of our religion. Islam in a sense means submission, which is in fact obedience to the principle embodied in our relationship with our Lord. This relationship also gives us an understanding of always being conscious of Him. Our consciousness which we all strive for through the different forms of worship that we do when we say in Suratul Fatihah: “Thee alone do we worship”, is not only the recognition of the principle of a relationship, but it is also an attempt to establish the goal in this relationship, and that is consciousness of Him.

What is our Futuwwah with regard to Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ)? He (ﷺ) is, amongst other things:

  • the final Messenger,
  • brought his (ﷺ) final message,
  • placed the seal of authenticity on all previous revelations,
  • the greatest human being,
  • the most beloved by Allah Almighty,
  • the greatest of all Messengers

And we can go on endlessly with all his attributes, historical functions and religious importance. He (ﷺ) stands out as an Everest of the embodiment of spirituality during the long cause of human history, from the beginning of time till the end of time.

It’s extremely difficult when one looks back and forward to the course of human history to put into words the best form of respect that one can show to an individual of such immense spirituality and historical importance. A classic example of his (ﷺ) spirituality lies for example on the impact of the recital of the Salawat.

When one recites Salawat on Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ), then one is supplicating to Allah Almighty to place blessings and peace upon the Prophet (ﷺ). This means that our Salawat is a supplication to Allah (ﷻ). When we do this, there are a number of remarkable responses. There is a Divine response in terms of which a number of the transgressions of the reciter are erased, he/she is granted a number of merits and he/she is raised in station. There is also an angelic response. The angels appeal to Allah Almighty for forgiveness for the reciter. Then Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) also responds. He (ﷺ) raises his (ﷺ) hands in supplication, asking Allah Almighty to satisfy the needs and desires of the reciter. The Salawat for Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ), as we know it, is exclusively for him (ﷺ). There are also other Salawat for others, but those Salawat do not have this impact. For him (ﷺ) it is very special, because the responses are so special. Of course, one of the major consequences of recital of Salawat is that one’s abode in Paradise might be placed near to that of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). This is also exclusive. The exclusivity of the Salawat requires a response from us that is exclusive. There cannot be an ordinary response. It must be something very special just for him (ﷺ).

His (ﷺ) importance lies in the impact that he (ﷺ) has had as an individual on the course of the history of humanity. Other than this, some scholars are of the opinion that after his (ﷺ) demise, he (ﷺ) has been in a state of witnessing his Lord. I do not know what this means, but it must be something very special for him (ﷺ) to be in the Divine Presence. How do we show respect to him (ﷺ)? Or perhaps more correctly, what is the best form of respect that we as human beings can show to an individual who has an incomparable impact on the spiritual lives of people and the course of human history? No other human being can in any way be compared to him(ﷺ). Even the Reader’s Digest in an article placed him(ﷺ) first as an individual that has had the most impact on historical events. How can each one of us, as simple ordinary human beings, show the best Futuwwah that we are capable of towards him (ﷺ)? What can we do? Some people today, possibly, because of their lack of understanding of his role, refer to him(ﷺ) as an ordinary man who should be treated in an ordinary way. I do not know what they mean by this. I do not think that they know what they mean by this. One day I was sitting in a mosque when one of the religious leaders, newly out of one of the Wahhabi educational institutions of Mecca/Madinah, referred to Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) as an “ordinary man”. Perhaps he did not know better or perhaps he was advocating an understanding of Islam that undermines the status of the Messenger of Allah Almighty (ﷺ). The question that we are posing in this letter is:  “How can one show one’s deepest respect to an individual for whom Allah Almighty has the highest regard?” When one considers this, one does not consider how products of Wahhabi educational institutions consider him(ﷺ). I look at what the intensely pious people do, because they are the Sadiqin (intensely pious and truthful people whom we are instructed by Allah (ﷻ) to associate with), and they are those whose way we are asked to follow, because they’ve turned to Allah (ﷻ) [xxxi: 15].

The intensely pious have the most comprehensive understanding of Futuwwah with regard to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). This is, because of their deep consciousness of the Divine and their closeness to Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). This closeness is there despite the large historical period between them and the Prophet (ﷺ). They have developed this closeness through their obedience to Allah (ﷻ) and His Messenger (ﷺ) and through the consistent recital of Salawat. They are part of the “best company”; the Prophets, the siddiqs, the martyrs and the pious people. They show us how Islam has to be practiced, because they have achieved. Those who have not achieved, do not know. Those who have achieved, do not only know, but they are also living examples of the faith and practice of Islam. What do they do? When they mention his name, they very seldom leave out the words Nabi, the Prophet, or the Messenger. And so they very seldom say just “Muhammad”, but they will say Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). They show so much respect even just to his (ﷺ)’s name. When I sit in lectures and people refer to him (ﷺ) as just “Muhammad”, I cringe. How dare they just refer to him by name in this way? Many of the pious people also stand when they recite Salawat on him (ﷺ). This is their way of showing respect, because they can’t show it in any other way. Some even go so far as to stand when just his name is mentioned. Again they do not know how else to show respect to someone who is in the Divine Presence. I also do this, when I am able to, and I feel that even just standing, does not express the respect in my heart. I feel my heart calling out to him (ﷺ) with love and regard, but my physical movements cannot show this.

The pious people are pious, because of the spiritual status they are at; stations they have achieved through their hard work with different forms of ibadat and their hard work in the Cause of Islam. Their desire to show respect, in some form, to the seal of the Prophets (ﷺ), is part of being of this station. Part of the expression of their intense piety is to stand when they call on Almighty Allah to send blessings and peace on Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). If this is their piety, then I also wish to do that as a humble seeker on the Path.

Those who reject this or refer to it as an innovation have no understanding of the nature of innovations and their introduction of certain innovations out of special needs in the Muslim nation; so they repeat statements of which they have very little knowledge. The pious people have achieved, they are the Sadiqun and they are those whom we’ve been instructed to imitate. And so we imitate their standing when they call for blessings and peace upon Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) and when his (ﷺ) name is mentioned. The critics are not part of this blessed company of pious people and do not understand the inner workings of piety in the hearts of these people. That is why they make foolish statements. To a truly pious man or woman to stand in du’a to his/her Lord, calling with all the passion at his/her disposal that his/her Lord should bless the Prophet (ﷺ), is an expression of what goes on in his/her heart. What I wish to say is that part of the Futuwwah with regard to Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) is to show him (ﷺ) the deepest respect in whatever way we are capable of showing. We ask our Lord for guidance, and He knows best. Amin.

[Letters to Seekers on the Spiritual Path Vol 2 – Unpublished 2012]

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