Detailed Section - Information about Tasawwuf

Role of Sheikh in Tasawwuf

Need of a Sheikh

As commonly known that to become pious, one needs to keep the company of the pious ones. The regular training in tassawuf is possible only through a pious being who knows how to train others, his suhbut is useful because he has enjoyed suhbut of his predecessors in the field, and he is allowed to train others through a established and recognized silsila. No one can learn without a teacher is a natural law established by Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ . Therefore whoever chooses to step into tareeqat, he / she should find a spiritual guide for this purpose. Our ancestors have drawn this conclusion that completion of journey in tareeqat through a sheikh (credible guide) is the most easiest way and liked by Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ because great many people have succeeded in acquiring nisbut through this method thus stamping its genuineness.

Hazrat Thanvi RAH says that “No one can achieve this milestone through books only, it is a simple fact that all doctors require house job after completion of studies to gain practical experience and get adept in the field likewise tassawuf is a practical phenomenon and requires practice. If someone finds such a guide then with gratitude of Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ , he should begin following his path. This guide is called Sheikh in tareeqat. The literal meaning of sheikh in Arabic is old man but it means spiritual guide in tareeqat, who can help others to attain nisbut.”

What to ask him (Sheikh)?

Some people get confused that once everything is available in books in written form and things which are doable within our capacity are ought to be done by us and we need not to bother about things that are beyond our capacity. Also, once we understand the objective and non-objective of tassawuf and realize that sheikh’s suhbut is useful, then why sheikh’s guidance is necessary and if it is necessary, then what one should ask from sheikh. Hazrat Thanvi RAH while answering one of his disciples has said that objectives that are to be achieved and things from which one have to restrain are within one’s capacity but even after understanding all these aspects one can indulge in certain anomalies that will take one away from the real objective. For example, someone has already achieved required level of calmness / serenity in salah (prayers) but still considers it unattained and gets upset over it and looses his concentration, sometimes through these uninvited suspicions one looses his / her achievements. The skeptical behavior may make one think that he has not achieved total concentration in salah (prayers) and thereafter becomes reckless and intentionally does not try to keep himself focused and thus looses the level of calmness / serenity already achieved by him in salah. Sometimes people think that they have attained required level of patience but in testing times they loose patience and later to their distress, they find out that they were wrong. Those who have not gone through the training in tareeqat, oftentimes mistake one thing for another, consider something as achieved, when it is in reality not achieved, consider something as unachieved when in reality it is achieved, consider something unachievable when in reality it is achievable. The most common mistake in tareeqat is the determination that whether someone has achieved the minimum benchmark in behavioral qualities or got rid of character weaknesses down to a required level. In short, no one can cure him / herself just by reading the books of medicine. The above analysis establishes the need of a sheikh and why and how it is important to have a sheikh, it also tells that one needs to be in constant touch and expose all his hidden aspects of daily life to his sheikh and then accept sheikh’s verdict and genuinely act upon it. The salik (mureed) has to keep himself from suspecting sheikh’s skill / adeptness, trust him completely, and surrender one’s opinion against the opinion of his sheikh to learn something from the Sheikh. If you cannot trust someone to this extent, then do not make him your Sheikh, because in tareeqat it is a prerequisite that you give your sheikh his due respect. The mureed once establishes this level of trust on someone and appoints him as his sheikh, then he will find consolation / solitude in the advice of the sheikh and if he self-advices something, he would remain suspicious and will not be relieved. The salik in the absence of a sheikh may also choose a difficult path instead of a easier one and if he cannot gets through it, he will be disappointed. In contrast, the sheikh will not over burden the mureed, the mureed will be able to easily accomplish it and consequently will want to move further ahead towards the destination rather than getting frustrated.

When a salik (mureed) keeps his sheikh informed about his changing spiritual states, acts upon his advice and remains obedient to him, and this will only happen if he develops the required level of trust in him, then he will realize that without a sheikh it is next to impossible to achieve objective in tassawuf.

Recognition of a proficient Sheikh

Recognition of a proficient Sheikh is very important because choosing an imposter to guide one in this long and complicated journey of tareeqat will result in utter loss. In other words, choosing an imposter is like choosing a robber to guard one’s belongings. Sheikh should be able to understand spiritual illnesses, behavioral qualities and weaknesses, have expertise in judging the mistakes the salik make while going through tareeqat and can guide the salikeen through these mistakes, have knowledge of different phases of saluk and its ups and downs, is aware of satanic and nafsani effects, and can differentiate between divine and malakoti tasurafaat. Therefore a sheikh should be expert in this field, have an aptitude for this line of work, and can devise solutions to emerging problems in tassawuf (mujtahid) within the boundaries of shariah and in line with the procedures adopted by his predecessors. Thus those who have learn tareeqat through books or by listening to others are by no means fit to train others in the field, because they do not understand salik’s varying spiritual states, its ups and downs, and what to do about it as they themselves haven’t gone through this proceudre. Hazrat Ibn-e-Arabi RAH recognizes Sheikh with 3 brief traits i.e. very strong in religion to the level of Prophets, knows the art of politics to the level of kings, and have problem solving skills to the level of doctors.

The description of these skills is as follows:

  • Has learned shariah knowledge about daily activities and other necessary rituals of life from a regular aalim (classified religious scholar) or through the suhbut of aalims.
  • Is permitted to train others in tareeqat from a proficient sheikh having valid silsila.
  • He should be pious and abstain from kabeera (severe) sins and try to avoid sagheera (common) sins but in no way replicate them.
  • The religious scholars and religious intellectuals of the time speak highly of him and seek guidance from him.
  • His suhbut is catalytic in diverting one’s attention toward akhira, can enhance love for Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ , and can keep one away from desire for worldly things.
  • Majority of his mureeden (followers/disciples) are moving toward shariah compliance.
  • He keeps an active check on his murideen, does not let them off the hook, advices them on things that demand his attention, knows when to say what and understand people.

The person who possesses these signs is proficient to be a sheikh and through his suhbut, people can correct their path and it becomes easier for them travel this path, and his company is a gift of Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ . Please understand that the possession of these qualities is a must for sheikh and if someone has them but doesn’t hold any other miraculous credentials, still he is fit to be a sheikh.

Mutual harmony with Sheikh

Experience tells us that (hidden) batini benefit is dependent upon synchronization of Sheikh and mureed because profiting relationships are ones in which both parties have cordial feelings towards each other. Often times Mashaikh ask their mureeds to go somewhere else if they realize not to have mutual understanding with the mureeds. Synchronization with Sheikh means that the mureed has warm feelings for his sheikh to an extent that he doesn’t get irritated with sheikh’s act and/or word. In simple words, mureed looks up to his sheikh and should like him in all aspects and sheikh does not get annoyed with the mureed. Please understand that this is a natural phenomenon that people who do not have anything in common with other people cannot develop a mutual beneficial relationship and this natural tendency has its bearing on sheikh-mureed relationship. It also tells us that tassawuf does not expect super human behavior from anybody. We can also decipher that synchronization between Sheikh and mureed is a must before someone undertakes this relationship and baut should only be done after fully realizing that one has developed this special bondage.

Advantages of suhbut of Sheikh

  • Mureed slowly starts copying his sheikh and steadily sheikh’s characteristics starts getting transferred into mureed as per the capability of mureed.
  • Full transformation of a person from shariah escaper to fully shariah compliant is a big thing. However, the suhbut at least enable one to see one’s weaknesses which is a key to full transformation.
  • Slowly and steadily the mureed starts following his sheikh with fondness and his character becomes replica of his sheikh’s character. Sheikh is granted this special skill from Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ to read mureed’s mind and teach him accordingly.
  • Humbleness is the key to modesty and it could be easily achieved in sheikh’s suhbut.
  • The company (suhbut) of people who love Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ help others acquire the same traits.
  • The barkat (divine hidden help) of Mashaik due to their good deeds is the main cause of usefulness of their teachings for their mureeds, however, if mureeds try to treat themselves through reading books only, it will not be useful.
  • Mashaikh are the loved ones of Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ on this earth and their suhbut is catalystic in transforming other people. The mureeds who have good spiritual condition will progress further and those having bad spiritual condition will also be benefited through sheikh’s suhbut and will get better.
  • Mureed who keep suhbut of sheikh extensively come to understand adeptness of their sheikh in shariah compliance with the passage of time and steadily starts imitating him. Simultaneously the sheikh comes to know of his mureed better once mureed keeps company of his sheikh regularly and thus it helps sheikh treat his mureed’s spiritual ailments in a better way, which speeds up the progress of the mureed.
  • Mashaikh have enlightened souls and this enlightenment affects the souls of their mureeds due to their suhbut. The enlightenment of (batin) soul removes the darkness and mureed realizes the greatness of Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ and his batini ailments become evident to him, which automatically helps in their treatment and suspicions in the mind of salik starts getting removed.
  • In the company of a sheikh, one often gets the chance to earn acknowledgment of Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ through sheikh’s focused attention.

The suhbut of a sheikh is very useful but if it is not troublesome for the sheikh, if it upsets the sheikh then it is very harmful for the mureed because sheikh himself is a human being and he needs time for himself and his family. Therefore it is advisable for the mureed to probe the available timings of sheikh and meet him during the reserved timings only.

Rights of sheikh

  • One should trust his sheikh that whatever he will get from Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ, will come through this sheikh, he should always listen to his sheikh, if he assumes to be benefited from someone, he should invariably consider it as his sheikh’s barkat.
  • Having a firm believe that sheikh is the most useful resource for him / her in this world to establish his link with Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ is helpful but having totally fallen in love with sheikh’s personality is even more useful.
  • Only schedule zikr with shiekh’s advice and do not act on his self advice or other people’s advice.
  • One should always be focused on his sheikh and apart from faraiz, wajabaat, and sunnun, he should only get into mustahibaat with sheikh’s advice, if sheikh stops him from mustihibaat, he should instantaneously exercise abstention.
  • One should give preference to sheikh’s opinion over his / her opinion and do not criticize sheikh’s advice. If someone feels resentment against sheikh’s advice he should consider Hazrat Musa alai salam and Hazrat Khizar alai salam’s encounter.
  • One should not raise his voice over his sheikh’s voice but also should not lower it to an extent that hearing becomes difficult.
  • One should always tell his condition to his sheikh without hesitation and then act upon his advice.
  • One should always be focused on his sheikh and do not indulge in any individual acts like daily zikr while sitting in the company of the sheikh.
  • If sheikh stops one from anything, be it religious service of any sort, he should immediately exercise abstention. As we have already told that mureed should give preference to sheikh’s advice over his own.

Relationship between mureed and sheikh

Now-a-days people hardly understand this relationship and most of the misconceptions about tassawuf arose due to this misunderstanding, thus its clarity is very important. Sheikh is like a loving leader, teacher, and doctor, who teaches his mureed through his insightfulness. He advices his mureed to do certain things and abstain from certain things. Few things which are ought to be done are like medicine and if not properly done, they can make ailment of the mureed to grow deeper. While other things that are ought to be done are like spiritual nutritions. Things on which sheikh ask his mureed to exercise abstention are meant to build patience of the mureed. Thus medicine and nutritions without abstention from things that can harm the mureed may not prove to be useful but rather can harm the mureed to an extent that sheikh might have to increase the dosage of the mureed for further treatment. In short, sheikh is to teach his mureed on all aspects and mureed in turn has to follow sheikh’s advice and this two-way communication is a must for treatment of the mureed. We may reiterate that the trust on sheikh by the mureed is very important in this treatment procedure. Please note that like one cannot follow more than one doctor at a time because it will rather harm the patient instead of treatment likewise concentrating on more than one sheikh at a time is also very dangerous but rather fatal in treating one’s spiritual ailments. Binding oneself with a single sheikh and not looking on anyone else for that matter is called tauheed-e-mutlabi. Khawaja Mujzoob RAH give his account on the rights of a sheikh as follows:

Four rights of a sheikh are worth remembering

including information, practice, trust, and obedience.

Sheikh’s status

Some people wander around for years to find a big sheikh but fail to be benefited from a sheikh within their reach because they do not consider him big enough to guide them. Please note that whether a sheikh is a big one or not a big one is not a precondition for his usefulness to a particular mureed but rather mental synchronization of the mureed with the sheikh is the factor which effects sheikh-mureed relationship considerably. Big Mashaik are normally very difficult to keep in touch with due to their busy schedule and thus may not prove to be useful for a mureed as compared to a sheikh who is relatively not well known but easy to keep in touch with. Two things are important in this sheikh and mureed relationship; one is sheikh’s acumen in tareeqat and second is divinely help (barkat) the sheikh begets due to his link with a established silsila. Thus if a sheikh is a big one but its hard to keep in touch with him then without this link the mere barkat will not be useful or without any teachings the barkat element will again be useless. This is the reason that Hazrat Awais Qurni RAH status is very high among our great saints but it still is less than any sahabi-e-Rasool صلئ الله عليه وآ له وسلم’s status because sahabah have enjoyed the company of Hazrat Muhammad صلئ الله عليه وآ له وسلم, which is the biggest qualification of all. For the sake of barkat, Sheikh’s linkage with any silsila is enough because the barkat comes from this linkage only.

One also has to take care of delicacies of big sheikh and if one cannot understand how to deal with these delicacies then the suhbut of sheikh may often become useless for him. This is why it is pertinent to note that often times the person who is easy to contact to and is in reach is the most useful resource for obtaining training in tareeqat. The big Mashaik often times refer the salikeen to other comparatively less known mashaik due to their busy schedule. This aspect could be understood by the fact that a bulb when attached to the light pole will lit and its brightness will depend on the size of the bulb and no matter how big / powerful a pole one uses, it cannot increase the brightness of the bulb because bulb can only lit as per its capacity (voltage). Thus the benefit one gets from the sheikh depends on the capacity of the mureed and not on sheikh’s rank among other saints. In fact, the mureed sometimes even exceed the sheikh because sheikh is not the provider of benefit in tassawuf but the benefit comes from Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ and he can give more or less to anyone depending on that person’s level of commitment. Sometimes Allah سبحا ن ؤ تعا لئ unlocks special points of tassawuf on sheikh’s heart in accordance with the level of commitment of the mureed and even sheikh does not know these points beforehand and this is why some mashaik record whatever comes from their heart due to the devotion of the one sitting in front of them.