Allah Almighty says:
وَ اصْبِرْ نَفْسَكَ مَعَ الَّذِيْنَ يَدْعُوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ بِالْغَدٰوةِ وَ الْعَشِىِّ يُرِيْدُوْنَ وَجْهَهُ وَ لاَ تَعْدُ عَيْنَاكَ عَنْهُمْ
And keep your soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His Face, and let not your eyes pass beyond them (18:28).
يَأَيُّهَا الَّذَيْنَ ءَامَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللهَ وَ كُونُوا مَعَ الصَّادِقِيْنَ
O you who believe! Fear Allah and be with those who are truthful (9:119).
Allah Almighty has provided us with guides from very soon after our births. Our first guides with regard to speech and all forms of behaviour are our parents and all others with whom we have close contact such as our siblings. Under their guidance, we learn about Allah (ﷻ) and His Messenger (ﷺ); about what we can do and cannot do; the dangers around us and how to speak. In fact, we learn most of our behaviour during our early existence on this planet from imitation and being taught. Later our brains are programmed to be able to bring about certain forms of behaviour in us based on what we had imitated and learnt.
This continues throughout our lives. Whatever we learn, whether guidance or preparation for the future, is mostly under the guidance of others in the communities in which we live. Guides, supervisors, advisors, teachers or shaykhs are essential for the development of our personalities, the acquisition of skills and also the acquisition of different branches of knowledge. Of course, later as we have developed, we can obtain some skills and certain branches of knowledge through individual research and studies. We can also consciously try to replace blameworthy characteristics with praiseworthy ones or the other way round. As part of the religious development of humanity, Allah Almighty first provided thousands of Prophets (a.s.) with special heavenly messages to provide us with guidance for our return to Him. And so over historical time each nation received a Messenger (a.s.) to provide those nations with religious guidance from Allah (ﷻ). After the demise of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ), the period of Messengers (a.s.) came to an end. There were still three generations (the Companions and two generations of pious scholars after them) who guided the Muslim Ummah. And so, what then? We can say we are quite capable of looking after ourselves; of plotting our religious paths and of knowing what to do at all times and under all circumstances, because we have basic knowledge and basic skills. Perhaps we can say so, as so many do. So many are of the opinion that the kind of guidance they had during their lives is not needed anymore and they can decide themselves how to remain good or be bad, become pious or not. They say so.
It is interesting to mention that at the university where I taught, whenever students wanted to do advance studies, despite all their degrees, qualifications and experiences, they would ask me to help them or to supervise their work at the Masters’ and Doctoral levels. They could not do this on their own despite their ages and academic experiences. They still needed a “senior academic” to guide them “word for word” or “step for step” through their research for master and doctoral studies. I could have told them: “Go to the library, there are enough books on the subject.” But universities don’t work like that. Universities know that students need lecturers and supervisors. And so, I would help these students, or be their guide or shaykh until they had completed their degrees. Of course once they had completed a doctoral degree, for example, they know what to do and how to do it. And so they become shaykhs or supervisors. I would not dare tell a student at this academic level: “Go work on your own without guidance and help”. It is just not done. It is naïve to even think of this.
Coming back to our religious affairs, in the madrassah that I had, I used to teach the children how to recite – mouth to mouth teaching. Qur’anic recitation can only be taught this way. I would never have given a student in my madrassah a book on rules of Tajwid and told him: “Right, go learn to recite the Qur’an”. He would have thought I’m mad! When it came to the wudu for example, I showed them exactly what to do, just as Jibril (a.s.) taught Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). When it came to the salah, I also used to show them exactly what to do, again just as Jibril (a.s.) showed Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). Later, many of them went to other shaykhs or guides for further studies in Islam. Some even went overseas for more intensive studies. And so the whole system of education worldwide is based on a student-teacher relationship. Even up to today I often consult people with regard to my research on Islam. This student-teacher relationship is a universal phenomenon in all educational systems. My word! In Islam there are countless examples of students sitting at the feet of teachers for guidance with their studies. Unfortunately, when it comes to one’s preparation for Paradise, people say that this relationship is not necessary. This is one’s most important preparation and people want to do this on their own and be just guided by their desires. In my long study of very pious individuals, here and overseas, I have not come across a single individual who had prepared himself for Paradise and became intensely pious in the process without guides. Some had one guide and some had many guides such as Shaykh Yusuf of Macassar. I may also say that I have not come across people who have become intensely pious without guides. All the historical evidence is there for this. Some people become good Muslims on their own without any doubt, but definitely not intensely pious. I have not come across a single Wali of Allah Almighty, in South Africa, in my studies who had obtained Wilayah without a guide.
What is the function of a guide in spiritual development? The first thing that one does with regard to one’s guide is to pledge to Allah Almighty on the hand of the guide that under his leadership and with his help one is going to work for piety. And so one of the first things we do, again with the guide’s help, is to set goals, using the student-teacher relationship to achieve that. The goal of one this time is Divine Satisfaction. Through his own personal experience, the shaykh, having attained piety under his shaykh, knows how to help one. He has achieved it all. He has even been given the ability by Allah Almighty to “read” individuals, just like medical personnel can read an individual after certain observations. The shaykh is different. He reads one’s heart. That is why on many occasions Mawlana Shaykh Nazim will say: “This is a good one.” He knows; he has read his heart. Many people say this is nonsense, but I allow them their opinions. The shaykh then puts one through an intensive cause of different forms of worship and working in the Cause of Islam. We have said on many occasions; let us say that everything that he had taught us is wrong, but what has he done with us? He has sent us back to our prayer mats to observe all possible forms of salah, to our rosaries, to celebrate the praises of Allah (ﷻ), to our Qur’ans to recite, and to the poor areas to go and work in Allah’s (ﷻ) Cause. In my long existence in the Cape Peninsula, I have not heard of any religious leader who has instructed his students or murids to do this. As a consequence of Mawlana Shaykh Nazim’s instructions, we find Naqshbandis building and upgrading mosques, feeding and clothing people, establishing madrasahs for both children and adults, spreading the remembrance of Allah (ﷻ) at all times of the day almost every day of the week. In addition, there are daily talks for us on websites. We had none of these things before we pledged on Mawlana Shaykh Nazim’s hand. We now have all these things after the pledge.
It is strange that I have never heard any lecture in any of our mosques based on those verses in the Qur’an and historical examples on pledging. This is most amazing! In decades of attending mosques, I have never heard this. The bay’ah has been silenced in our community. Why is this so? I have also never heard of any traditions being quoted and historical examples being given on the subject. I came to learn about the bay’ah much later in life.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the murid-shaykh relationship is the notion that the shaykh can impact on the heart of the murid. It is interesting that in the Qur’an Allah Almighty speaks about how the Evil Whisperer impacts on one’s heart (Surah cxiv). It is strange that we are prepared to accept that the Evil Whisperer (Shaytan) can, through his whispers, impact on a person’s heart as he did when Nabi Adam (a.s.) and his wife (a.s.) were in Paradise. He (Shaytan) sent a whisper to them. This whisper impacted on their hearts and caused them to disobey Allah Almighty. The intensely pious people (Awliya’) are able, through the graces that Allah Almighty had granted them, to impact on people’s hearts or also redirecting them to what is good and to a state of obedience to Allah Almighty. Mawlana Shaykh Nazim has said: “I can reach you wherever you are.” Of course, we find this strange, but we are quite happy to accept that Shaytan could reach Nabi Adam (a.s.) and his wife (a.s.) and they were in a different dimension. It is through these links with the hearts of the murids that the shaykh is able to raise their status. One does not know how it works. We just know that it does work. We have looked at the transformation of many of the murids here in Cape Town; how they have become more and more pious individuals on account of the extent that Mawlana Shaykh Nazim is working with them. It is this guidance that the murid receives from his shaykh that is the central aspect of the shaykh–murid relationship in Tasawwuf. Of course, this is an ocean of knowledge and understanding, which we know little about. We only see it working in ourselves and in others.
In the verses quoted in the beginning of this letter, we are urged to establish this relationship. Like with the example of bay’ah, these verses are also never quoted. They are also silenced in order to make way for discourses opposed to this relationship. We need not explain the verses. They are clear. We have to ask many: “Where are the truthful and pious people, the Siddiqin with whom you associate? Where are those people who follow those who turn to Allah (ﷻ) with whom you associate? Where are the persons with whom your soul is content and who appeal to their Lord, morning and evening? Where are all these people with whom we are supposed to have a relationship?”
It is unfortunate that those who accept this are today in the minority and so it appears that they are being misled. The discourses that are dominant in Islam today in this country, for example, are discourses that reject the shaykh–murid relationship in Islam. The exponents of these discourses, products of Wahhabi institutions, have taken over in most of our mosques and madrassahs, because they have studied in the Holy Cities, it appears that what they say is correct, and, because of their positions in the community, their views are accepted.
I have asked in so many mosques: “Give me the name of just one person who has become intensely pious and have received spiritual graces from his Lord, and did not have a shaykh?” I am still waiting for a reply. And the opposite? I can give dozens of names.
[Letters to Seekers on the Spiritual Path Vol 2 – Unpublished 2012]