I think that with regard to many of us, our original entry into Tasawwuf consisted primarily of “dabbling in the Unseen”. Our major interest at the time was what we could see or hear or smell, and long discussions were held by many of us on these matters. We learnt nothing and we achieved very little or nothing, because this discourse took us nowhere. There are still many groups whose primary concern is with what they think is Tasawwuf. It is very sad but in many groups this discourse is encouraged.
Fortunately, for many of us this has all come to an end. We are now in a serious Tariqah under the guidance of an authorized shaykh and what we can see, hear and smell are definitely not part of this discourse. Our engagement in Tasawwuf has become a very serious matter, because we have come to understand that our shaykh leads us through an “open door” to a deep consciousness of our Lord and to His Satisfaction. Our goals have become different. Whether we see, hear or smell, even if we do, have become peripheral in our striving. It is not part of our discourse neither does it bother us very much. We have come to learn that the path of Tasawwuf is a very serious one, one on which one is made to strive very passionately by one’s Lord for one or other special station. Sometimes, one knows about one’s station and one knows what Allah Almighty has granted one but one’s life continues and there is just a steady increase of one’s awareness of one’s Lord and one’s religious activities. And so the striving continues, the appeals continue and the deepening awareness of one’s Lord increases. There are very few other indications of one’s station.
You see, from my understanding, although the station is granted to one on this planet, the real appreciation and enjoyment of the benefits of this station occur in the Hereafter. If one has all this in mind, then all the childish games and prattles about what one can see and hear and smell disappear from one’s discourse and one’s mind. We must all be very careful of this. We must all try very hard to work for Islam, to carry out our different forms of ibadat and to strive after knowledge. In the combination of these lies the major key to spiritual stations. As one very pious scholar had said: “If somebody can fly, ask him what he is doing for Islam. If he is not doing anything, come away from him because he will waste your time.”
I read the other day that one of the great shaykh’s of the Shadhilli Tariqah said: “The shaykh of the Unseen is the Shaytan.” One day Shaytan came to Nabi Isa (a.s.) and told him to recite the tahlil (la ilaha illallah). Nabi Isa (a.s.) chased him away with the words: “I do not take instruction from you”. There is also the anecdote of how Shaytan came to tell Abu Hurairah (r.a.) to recite Ayatul Kursi prior to going to bed and then Allah Almighty will send an angel to protect him in his sleep. Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) then told Abu Hurairah: “That was Shaytan. He is a liar. I want you to recite Ayatul Kursi before you go to bed.” Abu Hurairah was not allowed to take instruction from Shaytan even if the instruction was correct. These two anecdotes tell us to be very careful about the Unseen. I think it was Ibn ‘Arabi who referred to the Unseen as a jungle. We must be careful not to dabble in things that we do not understand or know very little about. It is for this reason that in the Naqshbandi Tariqah all dreams or visions become less the longer one is in Tariqah; until they almost totally disappear. The aim of the Tariqah is to remove all distractions from one as one strives to get to the “open door” of one’s Lord. This is sometimes difficult for murids to understand; that instead of the dreams and visions increasing, their disappearance is an indication of spiritual progress.
Of course, there are times when certain information or bushra is revealed to one. Bushra is good news that one or others dream of one. This refers to good things or spiritual status. So, occasionally, those who are near to their goal might experience some bushra or others might experience it about them. But all of this is only occasional. It appears that the nearer one is to one’s goal, the less the spiritual experiences. This is the way of the Naqshbandi Tariqah but you see, we achieve in this way. Those who boast about all the things they see, or hear or smell might be under the control of Shaytan. They do not know and they think that they are flourishing on account of all these satanic experiences. What is in fact happening to them is a major spiritual reverse. The Naqshbandi Way protects one from all of this.
I always tell the murids that if one wants an indication of how one is by Allah Almighty then one has to ask how Allah Almighty is by one. If one’s daily activities genuinely concern one’s Lord, then that is what one’s Lord wants from one. And so the extent to which one is busy with one’s Lord tells one the extent to which one is by one’s Lord. In the same way, or in a similar way, one can judge one’s spiritual progress by the decrease in all those peripheral spiritual activities in one. These are the measuring rods. If one is considerably busy with one’s Lord on a daily basis and there is a decrease in all those peripheral spiritual activities, then one knows that one is doing well.
We always underestimate the power of the Shaytan. He is the cause in a certain way of having Nabi Adam (a.s.) and his wife ejected from Paradise through the power of his whispering. What about us? It is for this reason that Mawlana has advised me to recite the Isti’adhah forty times every day; as a protection against Shaytan. We should all do this and we should all also not underestimate the power of his whisperings. We ask our Lord for protection from Shaytan and his hordes, amin.