Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sufism: Shaikhs and Murids

In Sufism, the figure of a shaikh is very important because he is supposed to be a person who has superior knowledge of Allah and who leads his murids to such knowledge. According to Sufi concepts, murids are unable to arrive to this knowledge without a shaikh.

In the previous posts, I mostly used factual material about Chechen and Daghestani Sufis. In the books by Daghestani, Arab, and other Sufis, there is a lot of information about Sufi concepts regarding shaikhs and murids. For example, there is a book Sufi Ethics by Hasan Hilmi Afandi, Daghestani shaikh of Naqshbandi, Shadhili, and Qadiri tariqahs. He lived in the second half of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century and is very respected in Daghestan. His book Sufi Ethics contains 124 pages where he describes how murid has to act toward shaikh. Another respected book is Haqaiq `an al-Tasawwuf (The Truth of Sufism) by `Abd al-Qadir `Isa from Syria. I noticed that several authors of books on Sufism quoted him.

I think that for Western (especially, American) readers of my blog it will be more interesting to know what American shaikhs say rather than what Arab or Daghestani shaikhs do. There is a book Fundamentals of Tasawwuf written by Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, shaikh of Naqshbandi tariqah who lives and teaches in the USA. In this book, there is chapter entitled The Conduct of the Murid with His Shaikh where he writes:

There are two categories of conduct of the murid with his shaikh: internal conduct and external conduct.

Internal Conduct of the Murid

1. The seeker must submit to the will of the shaikh and to obey him in all his orders and advice, because the shaikh has more experience and more knowledge in haqiqat, in tariqat and in shari'ah. As the sick person gives himself to his doctor to be cured, so too does the murid, sick in his conduct and behavior, submit to the shaikh's experience in order to be healed.
2. The seeker must not object to the way the shaikh instructs and controls the murids. Each shaikh has his own way, which he has been permitted by his own shaikh to use. Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haythami said, "Whoever opens the door of criticism against shaikhs and their behavior with their murids and their actions will be punished and will be isolated from receiving spiritual knowledge. Whoever says to his shaikh, 'Why?' will never succeed." [al-Fatawa al-Hadithiyya, p. 55]
3. The seeker must know that the shaikh might make some mistakes, but that these will not prevent him from lifting the murid up to the Divine Presence. So the murid must excuse the shaikh, as the shaikh is not the Prophet (s). Only the Prophet (s) was free of error. Although it is rare, just as the doctor might make a mistake in treating a patient, so too might the shaikh make a mistake in treating his murid's spiritual illness, and that must be excused.
4. The seeker must respect and honor the shaikh in his presence and his absence, if only because the shaikh can see with the eye of the heart. It is said that whoever is not happy with the orders of the shaikh, and does not keep good conduct and adab with him, will never keep good conduct with the Qur'an and with the Sunnah of the Prophet (s). Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani said, "Whoever criticised a saint, Allah will cause his heart to wither."
5. The murid must be sincere and loyal to the company of his shaikh.
6. He must love his shaikh with an extraordinary love. He must know that his shaikh is going to take him to the Presence of Allah, Almighty and Exalted, and to the Presence of the Prophet (s).
7. He must not look to any other than his shaikh, though he must keep respect for all other shaikhs.

External Conduct of the Murid

1. He must agree with the opinion of his shaikh completely, as the patient agrees with the physician.
2. He must behave well in the association of the shaikh, by avoiding yawning, laughing, raising the voice, talking without authorization, extending the feet, and always sitting in a respectful manner.
3. He must serve his shaikh and make himself as useful as possible.
4. He must not mention from the speeches of his shaikh what listeners cannot understand. This might harm the shaikh in a way that the murid is unaware of. Sayyidina `Ali said, in a hadith narrated in Bukhari, "Speak to people at a level they can understand, because you don't want them to deny Allah and His Prophet (s)."
5. He must attend the association of the shaikh. Even if living far away, he must make an effort to come as often as possible.

In principle, according to Sufism, there is nothing unusual in this chapter. `Abd al-Qadir `Isa in his Haqaiq `an al-Tasawwuf (The Truth of Sufism) wrote almost exactly the same (I think Muhammad Hisham Kabbani used his book in writing this chapter). Muhammad Hisham Kabbani received Muslim education in Syria and this is where he learned these principles. `Abd al-Qadir `Isa is also from Syria and there are many Sufis there. So, these principles are from traditional Sufism, not from a kind of westernized version of Sufism. They give some ideas of the relationships between murids and shaikhs in Sufism. I think it is quite clear that in the case when a shaikh has authoritarian character, his group may easily become abusive.

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