Perhaps the most difficult thing on the path of Tasawwuf is to be able to listen and obey. I have written to you previously about this but I suppose, through the course of many months, we have forgotten the importance of listening and obeying and not saying: “No” or asking: “Why?” in our relationship with our Shaykh. Allah (ﷻ) in describing one of the qualities of His Prophets (a.s.), says in the Holy Qur’an:
وَ قَالُوا سَمِعْنَا وَ أَطَعْنَا غُفْرَانَكَ رَبَّنَا وَ إِلَيْكَ الْمَصِيْرُ
And they say: We hear and we obey: (We seek) Thy forgiveness, Our Lord, and to Thee is the end (ii: 285).
Allah (ﷻ) brings together a number of qualities that are exhibited, by what I always call “the cream of the believers”, i.e. the Prophets (a.s.). When it comes to the relationship with their Lord, they are always in obedience of listening and obeying, and so not listening to their Lord, or not carrying out the instructions, are not of their nature. Despite this, and despite the extremely high level of obedience, they still turn to their Lord, pleading for forgiveness, knowing full-well their return is to Him. The Prophets are very special people. One can almost say they are people of the heavens on earth, the true Rabbanis; those whose obedience to their Lord is part of their nature. They cannot be otherwise.
I have always been an intense admirer, like we all should be, of all those individuals who occupy special stations by their Lord. Part of this admiration is perhaps also part of the desire to fall in one of those categories or stations or darajat, which Allah (ﷻ) uses to describe the intensely pious. We cannot be like the Prophets (a.s.), but we can be like any of the other categories, the very numerous ones, that are mentioned in the Qur’an. The one outstanding characteristic of all the people in these categories is that they are intensely obedient to their Lord. Of course, some of these categories we can obtain. We can also become people who are intensely obedient of our Lord. It is not beyond us.
Part of the relationship with our Shaykh is to cultivate those qualities that we need to become individuals who are intensely pious. This cultivation of these kinds of qualities is very special, and can only be successfully undertaken under an authorized guide who has mastered these qualities. We must try very hard to understand this. True obedience of God can only be attained through intensive forms of worship under the professional guidance of individuals who have obtained that kind of obedience through such worship.
We do not have the time to play games in Islam. If we wish to be classified as individuals who spend our lives, or the largest part of it, in almost permanent spiritual prostration to our Lord, we must learn to listen and to obey intensely those things which Allah (ﷻ) instructs us to obey. But where do we start? We cannot start at the top. We can start at the bottom, and it is at the bottom that when we receive instruction, we obey it and we do not say: “No” and we do not ask: “Why?”
If we examine very carefully the statements made so far in this letter, you will see that I am talking about discipline. This is not ordinary discipline. This discipline has to do with relationships; the discipline of a relationship with one’s shaykh. It is an all-encompassing discipline involving strict obedience of all instructions that he gives, and all the suggestions that he makes, and all the encouragement that he gives in matters. All the time we have to say: “O my Shaykh, I have listened to you, and I shall obey what you have instructed or suggested or encouraged.”
You see, the discipline that is involved in obedience to the shaykh is also the beginning, and also an essential part, of obedience of Allah (ﷻ) and of His Messenger (ﷺ). Allah (ﷻ) says in the Holy Qur’an:
أَطِيْعُوا اللهَ وَ أَطِيْعُوا الرَّسُوْلَ وَ أُؤلِى الأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ
Obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and those in authority among you (iv: 59).
I worry a lot about some of our reactions to situations that we are in. I worry about respect and regard, about brotherhood and camaraderie, about humility and simplicity, and about decency. I know that all these qualities are the kinds of qualities we must cultivate on the road we are on. We all know that. We all know that we must imitate the qualities exhibited by the Messenger (ﷺ), and the qualities of those who imitate his (ﷺ) qualities. We all know this also, but we are not always aware of the implication of what we do or say. Our goal is to become people of spiritual chivalry, of Futuwwah, as we say; but how difficult is it not to become like this?
We all slip up on many occasions. In fact, Shaytan makes merry with many of us on those occasions. We talk of many things but we forget our characters and our personalities. We need to be gentlemen and ladies, Muslim gentlemen and ladies, with the most excellent characteristics, the most excellent behaviour. Many of us fall short in small ways, but many fall short in big ways. When one swears for example, contrary to how we are told to speak, then this is falling short in a big way. When one insults, or brags, or is sarcastic, or jeers at people, or dissects other people’s personalities, then one is also falling short in a big way. All of these are mainly because one is not prepared to obey, and to accept the discipline of Tasawwuf.
Of course, it is not easy. When one is asked to change a direction of one’s life, or to change the nature of one’s personality or to accept instruction without question, then it is extremely difficult, because we have been reared and educated to question and to want to know why. In the spiritual field, this is not on. It may be on in other fields. In fact, it is on in other fields and so we import from other fields into the field of spirituality, norms and standards which impede our progress to high stations. This even happens in people’s relationships with me. I know I am an ordinary citizen, like I always say. But how are we going to learn to develop intense humility in our personalities in our relationship with our Shaykh, if we are unable to develop such humility in our relationship with his representative. Such humility should also be all encompassing, because it becomes part of our nature, and so in all our relationships, we show lack of pride and the dominance of humility. We cannot demonstrate humility in relationship to God, and arrogance in our relationship with the Messenger (ﷺ). In a much smaller way, we cannot show humility to our Shaykh, but show arrogance to his representative. Of course, there are grades of humility; the most intense for our Lord and the least intense for our Shaykh’s representative, but it is still humility and there should be no strands of arrogance in it. We have to be careful, just as I have to be especially careful. At all times we have to watch our steps. We have not chosen this road because of desire for material things of this world. We have chosen this road because of a desire for special spiritual stations in the Hereafter and there is just no way that we can attain any of these stations without what I have mentioned in the first paragraph, i.e. we have to “listen and obey.” We ask Allah (ﷻ) to make us people who are recognized as being those who are in obedience to our Lord, amin.