The following are brief notes from a series of nine speeches on Tasawwuf delivered by Shaykh Mawlana ‘Abdul Hafiz Makki (may Allah enlighten his resting place) that were delivered after the Tarawih prayers during the Sunnah i‘tikaf of the last ten days of Ramadan at the Centre Mosque in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 2012. I have revised the notes and also added a few additional points from some of the late shaykh’s other speeches on the same subject.
The importance of Tasawwuf
The importance of Tasawwuf was not unknown to the early scholars. Hafiz Ibn al-Qayyim mentions the concept of ihsan (that you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him or that He is seeing you) in his book Madarij al-Salikin and writes that whatever has been mentioned so far was regarding Tasawwuf and what shall henceforth be mentioned will revolve around ihsan.
Tasawwuf is to do with the heart. There is a famous Arabic saying that the heart is sovereign over the body (al-qalbu malik al-jasad). Meaning that if the heart were to be corrected then the affairs of the entire body would be set right. This is the concern of Tasawwuf, which is all about the affairs of the heart.
Purification (islah) of the heart from the lowly traits or impurities (radha’il) is compulsory (wajib) on every individual. In his magnum opus, Imam al-Ghazali has established a chapter entitled Bab al-Muhlikat or the chapter relating to that which destroys a person; in this chapter he mentions in detail a number of spiritual maladies that lead to a person’s destruction, including hatred for others, jealousy, vanity, backbiting, ostentation etc.
There is a famous hadith that Allah Most High will summon three individuals on the Day of Judgment: a martyr, a scholar who had acquired and imparted knowledge and read the Qur’an and a wealthy man who had been spent abundantly in the path of Allah. First the martyr will be brought forward and Allah will remind him of His favours which he will acknowledge. He will be asked what he had done at which he will say that he fought in the way of Allah until he was martyred. At this Allah Most High will tell him he has lied and that he only fought so people would say he was courageous and they had surely done so. The angels will then be commanded to throw him into the Fire and he will be dragged on his face and thrown inside it. Next a man who was a scholar will be summoned and reminded of Allah Most High’s favours and asked what he had done at which the man will say he taught many people and involved himself in the studying and teaching of sacred knowledge. Allah Most High will tell him that he had lied and that he had only acquired knowledge so that people may call him a learned man and that they had surely done so. He will also be commanded to be thrown into the Fire and will be dragged on his face into it. Then the wealthy man will be summoned who spent freely in the way of Allah. He will be reminded of Allah Most High’s favours at which he will mention what he had spent for Allah’s sake. At this, Allah Most High will tell him that he has also lied and that he only spent so people would call him generous and they had surely done so. He will also be commanded to be thrown into the Fire and so will be dragged face down into the Fire.
It is, therefore, critical that a person exerts effort in purifying himself from spiritual ailments. This is enjoined within our religion and is what the Sufis busied themselves in.
The founder of Tabligh Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalwi (may Allah have mercy on him) used to say that the person who spends three chillahs (four months in Tabligh work) while stringently adhering to the principles of Tabligh would have, hopefully, achieved the compulsory reformation (wajibi islah) that is required in our religion. Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya (may Allah enlighten his resting place) also mentioned the same in relation to those students graduating from the dawrah al-hadith (the final year of studies in the Dars-i-Nizami) that they would also have achieved their wajibi islah if they had spent their time properly while studying. It is no wonder that many of these students would, after graduating, spend a short time in the company of an accomplished (kamil) shaykh and receive permission to transmit the silsilah (ijazah). I have also seen the same in relation to those who spend their time properly while struggling in the way of Allah.
Incident of a Companion
Once the compulsory reformation (wajibi islah) is achieved, then there is a level of spirituality after this that is preferable (mustahab) to realise and that is reaching the level of ihsan; this is when the heart becomes enlightened with the remembrance of Allah (dil Allah ki yad meh munawwar howjayeh). There is the famous hadith of Sayyiduna Haritha (may Allah be pleased with him) that describes this highest level of Tasawwuf. In this hadith, the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) met an Ansari Companion and said to him: “How are you this morning, oh Harith?” The Companion replied, “This morning I am a true believer in Allah.” The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “Take care of what you say, for everything has a proof to it, so what is the proof of your belief?” He said: “I have turned myself away from this world by keeping awake at night and staying thirsty by day; and I can almost see the throne of my Lord in full view before me, and I can see the people of paradise visiting each other, and the people of fire wailing to each other.” The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “O Harith! You have realised (the truth), therefore cling to it.” Some versions add, “(This is) a believer whose heart Allah has illuminated.”
This Companion was an ordinary Companion of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). He was not someone well known; yet the condition of his heart was enlightened. His heart was so enlightened that he was constantly aware of Allah Most High and had His cognizance at all times (ma‘rifah).
The function of the khanqahs
The compulsory level of reformation or islah can be acquired through various channels as has been discussed. However, progressing to the preferential (mustahabb) levels of spirituality is done by means of the khanqahs and zawiyahs. When the heart becomes enlightened (munawwar), a person will automatically begin to detest sins. In such a state, if a sin were to be committed then the person would develop a feeling of detest. Once the heart is enlightened, the person would have the yearning (shawq) to perform good actions (‘amal). He would experience pleasure (lutf) in his worship; this is a type of pleasure that is not found in other forms of action. Fundamentally, however, the way to acquire that enjoyment involves cleansing the heart.
The experiences of those whose hearts are enlightened
Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya mentions in his book Al-Wabil al-Sayyib min al-Kalim al-Tayyib the sayings of some of the ‘arifs (knowers of Allah) who said: “We swear, if the kings and princes were to know what we have then they would fight with us” (Wallahi law ‘alim al-muluk wa abna’a al-muluk ma nahnu fihi labarazuna). In other words, if those of royal lineage who have at their disposal all sorts of comfort and pleasure were to know the spiritual treasure house that the knowers of Allah are in possession of then they would be prepared to wage war to acquire them. When a person achieves ma‘rifah then the troubles of the world begin to feel meagre. The example of this is that of a passionate footballer who lives the sport and is injured in the heat of a match. Despite his injuries, there is hardly a decrease in his passion for the game and if he were to be asked how he feels he would say, despite his injuries, he had a brilliant match and thoroughly enjoyed himself. Likewise, the person whose heart is enlightened would also feel like this – worldly difficulties are hardly of any importance for such people. Despite the difficulties he may face, he would be totally engrossed in experiencing immense levels of pleasure.
What the ‘ulama of the heart do
While the ‘ulama who are concerned with the exoteric sciences always keep a stern eye on their tongues, ensuring they do not utter something that is contrary to the Shari‘ah, the ‘arifs (the knowers of Allah who are concerned with the esoteric sciences) constantly keep check on their hearts to ensure no thought contrary to the Shari‘ah comes to their minds or hearts. To acquire this, the heart needs to be purified and cleansed after which light (nur) of different levels enters it. The important thing is that the heart needs to be purified and when that is achieved then the person will yearn and be eager to perform pious deeds.
Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalwi (may Allah have mercy on him) explains the hadith: “He for whom Allah intends good, then He grants him the understanding of religion” (Man yurid Allahu bihi khayra yufaqqihu fi al-din). Mawlana Ilyas explains that the meaning of this is that the person for whom Allah intends good, then He grants him the understanding of which action at which time is better for him, this is the meaning of yufaqqihu, that he grants him the understanding of religion. There is a saying in Arabic that al-Iman yazidu bi al-ta‘ati wa yanqusu bi al-ma‘siyyah, meaning that iman or faith increases with actions of obedience and decreases on account of sins. For one’s faith or iman to constantly increase, it is crucial to be involved in acts of piety.
Why the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was sent
Allah Most High mentions in the Qur’an in Surah al-Jumu‘ah a verse in which He says: “He is the One who raised among the unlettered people a Messenger from among themselves who recites to them His verses, and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and wisdom, while they were earlier in open error.” Everyone and everything has a purpose. There is a purpose or terms of reference for everything and the purpose of the noble Prophet’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) blessed mission (maqasid-i-bi‘that) is outlined in this verse of the Holy Qur’an. In this verse, Allah Most High exemplifies the mission that He designated and ordained for the Holy Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).
In this verse, Allah Most High mentions that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) “teaches them the Book.” This means that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) clarifies that which is in the Qur’an that is mujmal (non-apparent). The Qur’anic exegetists (mufassirs) explain the word wisdom or hikmah, as mentioned in the verse, in two ways: it could either mean the Sunnah or it could means words of goodness. The first meaning is, however, preferred, though there is no contradiction in either of the two meanings applying here. What is interesting is that the purpose of the Prophet’s mission (maqasid-i-bi‘that) has been mentioned in the Qur’an at several junctures and at each time all of the elements that have been mentioned in the above verse are included. Though the order of sequence may vary, Allah Most High always begins with a reference to the recitation of the Qur’an. There is an important point to note here; the Grand Mufti of Pakistan Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘ ‘Uthmani (may Allah have mercy on him) explains the reason why the order of sequence varies throughout the Qur’an by saying that the purpose of the variance is to stress the individual importance of all of the different elements mentioned in the verse that each of them are equally important.
The Companions remained in the company of the Prophet
When we look at the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them), the reason why they have superiority is not because they possessed knowledge but because they remained in the company (suhbah) of the Prophet and achieved purification (tazkiyah) of themselves through him. Later ‘ulama have written that the ‘ulama from among the Companions were few. Some have listed six, some hundred and some one hundred and twenty five. This is a small number when we consider that there were thousands of Companions. However, their remaining in the company of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) meant that he would continuously purify (tazkiyah) them. This is an interesting point that Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (may Allah have mercy on him) has mentioned in his book Al-Tasharruf bi Ma‘rifat al-Hadith al-Tasawwuf.
When we look at the life of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), we see that he carried out the purification (tazkiyah) of the Companions on an individual and collective basis. Imam al-Darimi mentions a hadith that there used to be two gatherings (halqah) inside the Mosque of the Prophet. One consisted of knowledge (‘ilm) and the second was concerned with remembrance of Allah Most High (dhikr). When the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) came across them both he said fi kulli khayr – in each there is goodness. In some hadith it is mentioned that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) then joined the gathering of knowledge and in some it is mentioned that he then sat in the gathering of dhikr. Allah Most High mentions in the Qur’an in Surah al-Kahf: “Keep yourself content with those who call their Lord morning and evening, seeking His pleasure, and let not your eyes overlook them, seeking the splendour of the worldly life.”
The formation of the khanqahs
It so happened that towards the end of the era of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them), Sayyiduna ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them) took up residence in Taif where he would deliver individual lectures on different subjects. This system he operated was similar to how we have madrasahs today. He would receive many students who would come to him to study different subjects. So, he would invite them all in individual groups according to which subject they wanted to study, those seeking fiqh would come together, those seeking hadith would come together, those seeking the exegesis of the Qur’an would come together and so on. Likewise, Imam Hasan al-Basri (may Allah have mercy on him) also had something like a khanqah or zawiyah in Basra. He would have a gathering in the Jami’ Masjid of Basra and, as has been mentioned by Hafiz al-Dhahabi, a special gathering aside from this for the elite in which individuals such as ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Awn, ‘Abdul Wahid bin Zayd, Habib al-‘Ajami and others would attend. They would speak about the knowledge of the heart (batin) and would not mention about other subjects at this gathering. If there was discussion about a subject aside from the esoteric then Imam Hasan al-Basri would reprimand them and stress that this gathering is specifically about the heart and related inner sciences.
The activities of the madrasahs and the khanqahs came into people’s homes during the time of the Followers (tabi‘i). This then progressed to actual madrasahs and khanqahs coming into existence during the era of the Followers of the Followers (tab‘ tabi‘i). Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah have mercy on him) has written in his Majmu‘ah al-Fatawa: “the first to build a small house for the Sufis were some of the companions of ‘Abdul Wahid bin Zayd, and ‘Abdul Wahid was among the companions of Hasan.” From this it can be understood that this system of there being dedicated buildings or khanqahs for the purification of the heart and madrasahs for the outer science began during the first three generations, in the era renowned for goodness (qurun mashhur bi al-khayr).
Three important centres of Islam
When we look at our elders, the ‘ulama of Deoband, we notice that they were engrossed in both types of knowledge, the esoteric and exoteric knowledge (zahir and batin). Both forms of knowledge have a basis in and a connection with the Qur’an and hadith. One of our elders, Mufti ‘Ashiq Ilahi Bulandshehri Madani (may Allah have mercy on him) used to say: “The religion of Islam has three fundamental centres (markaz): the madrasah, the masjid and the khanqah. This is something that we have heard our elders (akabir) mention.” (Din-i-Islam ki bunyadi towr peh teen marakiz heh: madrasah, masjid or khanqah. Humneh apneh akabir she yeh suna heh)
Knowledge and remembrance go together
Knowledge (‘ilm) and remembrance of Allah (dhikr) are both important, and it is because of this importance that when Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalwi (may Allah have mercy on him) developed the Six Numbers of Tabligh he placed ‘ilm and dhikr together at number three. At that time, some people advised him to separate them at which Mawlana Ilyas (may Allah have mercy on him) mentioned the example of a bird that has two wings with which it flies. Not having one of them would make it unable to take flight. Likewise, a believer is in need of knowledge and dhikr to progress, fly and achieve the closeness of Allah Most High.
What Mawlana Ilyas mentioned has also been explained before by Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari who wrote that Imam Malik said: The one who studies fiqh but does not study Tasawwuf will certainly become a fasiq, and the one who studies Tasawwuf but does not learn fiqh then he shall certainly become a heretic (zindiq), and the one who amalgamates both then he has then definitely realised the truth. (Man tafaqqah wa lam yatasawwuf fa qad tafassaqa, wa man tasawwafa wa lam tafaqqaha fa qad tazandaqa, wa man jam‘a baynahuma fa qad tahaqqaqa.) It is no wonder then that all of the elders of Deoband, without any exception, were diligent in following both ‘ilm and dhikr; they all embodied (jami‘) the Shari‘ah and Tariqah in that they were ‘ulama of the Shari‘ah and practitioners of Tasawwuf. In previous times, it was the case that the general masses were of the view that Tariqah and Shari‘ah were interdependent (lazim wa malzum). It was also the case then that those involved in any work of Islam would strive to purify and reform themselves to ensure that the religious work that they were involved in would not be harmed in any way.
Importance of Tasawwuf among the ‘ulama of Deoband
The Grand Mufti of Pakistan Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘ ‘Uthamani (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “We have seen that era of Darul ‘Uloom Deoband when all of those involved in the faculty of education, from the teachers of elementary books to the shaykh al-hadith,and within the institute’s administration, from the gatekeeper to the rector (muhtamim), all of them were people of piety with connection to Allah (sahib-i-nisbat buzurg).”
Mawlana Ilyas and khanqahs
It is said regarding Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalwi (may Allah have mercy on him) that after travelling for a Tablighi gathering he would spend some time at either the khanqah of Raipur or at the madrasah of Mazahir al-‘Ulum in Saharanpur. The purpose of these retreats was to allow him to purify his inner self from any spiritual impurities that may have arisen during his time at Tablighi gatherings where he would have met and spent time with lots of people. What this exemplifies is that during the time of our elders (akabir), there was an immense deal of diligence in practicing Tasawwuf.
Mawlana Gangohi revives Haji Imdadullah’s khanqah
Sayyid al-Ta’ifah Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki (may Allah have mercy on them) was by consensus the imam of this science, the science of Tasawwuf. He was the shaykh of many of our elders of Deoband who themselves were diligent in following the way of the khanqahs (khanqahi silsilah). After the 1857 Indian War of Independence, Haji Imdadullah took up residence in Makkah Mukarramah with the guidance and advice of his contemporaries. He established himself in the holy city and practiced Tasawwuf there. After this period, Imam Rabbani Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi occupied the khanqah of his ancestor Shah ‘Abdul Quddus Gangohi (may Allah have mercy on them) who also features in our chain of Tasawwuf. Thereafter, the foundation of Darul ‘Uloom Deoband was established. Mawlana Gangohi (may Allah have mercy on him) brought the khanqah of Gangoh to life; this was a very active khanqah where numerous men were prepared. Both Mawlana Ilyas and Mawlana Yahya (may Allah have mercy on them) spent some eleven years in that khanqah.
Shaykh al-Hind at the khanqah of Mawlana Gangohi
It is said regarding Shaykh al-Hind Hadhrat Mawlana Mahmud Hasan Deobandi (may Allah have mercy on him), who was the head lecturer at Darul ‘Uloom Deoband, that every Thursday after classes would finish he would set off from Deoband to Gangoh. He would leave before ‘Asar or after ‘Asar and would offer the rest of his daily prayers at various stops along the way. The distance from Deoband to Gangoh was twenty-three miles and Shaykh al-Hind would walk the entire distance. This was his habit for many years. The journey was long and would take several hours; as a result he would reach the khanqah of Mawlana Gangohi late at night. If the gate were open he would enter otherwise he would spread a sheet of cloth there and then at the doorstep of the khanqah and offer prayers as much as he could. If he were to feel tired then he would rest a little while but would not knock on the gate. Towards the latter part of the night at the time of Tahajjud, the gatekeeper would come and find Shaykh al-Hind there. He would often ask him why he had not knocked or called out at which Shaykh al-Hind would simply reply saying he was anxious that doing so would disturb his shaykh and the other murids inside the khanqah and felt it better to simply remain at the door rather than disturb those inside.
Mawlana Gangohi (may Allah have mercy on him) also had a habit of holding a gathering for the general masses before the Friday prayers. This gathering was well attended with the majority in attendance being farmers and labourers from the surrounding areas of Gangoh who would arrive in the khanqah very early in the morning and gather at the front of the masjid awaiting the arrival of Mawlana Gangohi. By the time Mawlana Gangohi would come, the area at the front close to him would be full leaving many of his close murids and khalifahs with only space to sit at the back close to the entrance. It is said that Shaykh al-Hind, who himself was one of the senior khalifahs of Mawlana Gangohi and the leading lecturer in hadith at Darul ‘Uloom Deoband, would humbly sit wherever he could at the back of the gathering without any inclination to come forward. He would only come forward if by chance Mawlana Gangohi noticed he was sitting at the back at which he would say, “Mahmud, come to the front.”
After the Friday prayers, Shaykh al-Hind would take permission from his shaykh and then return to Deoband on foot as he had arrived covering some twenty-three miles on the way back. Subhanallah, may Allah have mercy on them. This was his habit for many years as long as his shaykh was alive. Look at this love, respect and honour for his shaykh. It was not the case that Shaykh al-Hind could not afford a means of transport; he could have got a horse or a cart. This he could have, but this is the hardship he underwent out of respect for his shaykh and he did this with such respect, reverence and honour. May Allah have mercy on them all.
Mawlana Madani at the khanqah of Mawlana Gangohi
It is said regarding Shaykh al-Islam Mawlana Husayn Ahmad Madani (may Allah have mercy on him) that when he went to live in Madinah Munawwarah, he became involved in teaching. It was his habit that he would spend his entire day teaching and that also in the Prophet’s Mosque – what a noble opportunity and in what a blessed place. It is also said that he would perform the audible dhikr in the Prophet’s Mosque and that he would become so passionate when doing it that it would cause a commotion among people. As a result, he would wander out of Madinah at night and head to Masjid al-Ijabah, which in those days was outside the city with hardly any people around. Today it is located safely within the city. Mawlana Madani would go there at night and perform his dhikr with much force, devotion and passion.
It so happened once that while in Madinah he received a letter from his shaykh, Mawlana Gangohi, who in this letter simply expressed a desire to meet him. The letter did not contain a command or order; it was just an expression of desire. Mawlana Madani showed it to his father and sought his permission to visit his shaykh in India (may Allah have mercy on them). His father granted him permission and it was decided Mawlana Madani would leave the next morning. Mawlana Madani was, however, so stirred with passion to visit his shaykh that in the morning he bid farewell to everyone at home who was awake except his father who was resting and rushed off to outside Madinah in search for a caravan to Jeddah and then on to India by ship. He had thought he had permission and was free to leave. It is mentioned that when his father awoke, he asked for Mawlana Madani and was told by the other family members that having been granted permission to leave for India the night before he had left early in the morning. His father, however, became anxious and sent someone behind him as Mawlana Madani had forgotten to take along finances for the journey. The situation in their household was that Mawlana Madani’s father would look after the family’s finances and was yet to give him his travel expenses. Subhanallah, feeling such passion to visit his shaykh, Mawlana Madani (may Allah have mercy on him) had even forgotten to take money for the journey.
When Mawlana Madani reached India, and this was an arduous long journey in them days, he went to Gangoh and remained in the company of Mawlana Gangohi. Though he had been teaching advanced books in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, during his time in Gangoh Mawlana Madani was put to task fulfilling the chores of the khanqah. This involved bringing in firewood, serving visitors, setting out dinner etc. It is said that Mawlana Madani eagerly fulfilled all of these tasks and in the end after some time received khilafah from his shaykh and returned to Madinah.
The washermen at the khanqah of Gangoh
The situation of the khanqah of Mawlana Gangohi (may Allah have mercy on him) was also very unique. At any time there used to be around a hundred to a hundred and fifty people at the khanqah, which sat on the bank of a reservoir. On the other side of the reservoir was a masjid in which some of the other murids of Mawlana Gangohi would reside, including Mawlana Yahya and Mawlana Ilyas Kandhalwi. It is said that the dhikr majlis at the khanqah usually happened at Tahajjud time and that all of those in the khanqah would be involved in performing the audible dhikr of La ilaha illallah, illallah, Allah, Allah, Allah. While this took place at the khanqah, the same would be happening on the other side of the reservoir in the masjid where those resting there would also be involved in audible dhikr. So the entire area around this reservoir would be reverberating with the dhikr of Allah, Allah, Allah at Tahajjud time. It was also the case that a group of washermen (dhobis) would wash clothes in the reservoir around that same time towards the latter part of the night. As is the habit of dhobis, they often make an uff sound when washing clothes, especially when they slap wet clothes on stone slabs. Those dhobis, who consisted of both Muslims and Hindus, would however, as a result of the constant drumming of dhikr around them, join in the dhikr and also utter Allah, Allah, Allah instead of their customary uff sounds while washing their clothes. This is the effect of dhikr that the entire environment becomes full of Allah, Allah, Allah.
The khanqah of Thanabhawan
The same is the case with Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (may Allah have mercy on him) who asked permission from Mawlana Gangohi to become bay‘ah while still a student at which he advised him to instead give the oath of allegiance to Haji Imdadullah (may Allah have mercy on him) saying that: Haji Imdadullah’s fruits are ripe. Mawlana Thanawi was from a wealthy family and he could afford to visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. As Haji Imdadullah was at that time resident in Makkah, Mawlana Gangohi advised Mawlana Thanawi to become bay‘ah to Haji Imdadullah, something that he did. It is said regarding Mawlana Thanawi (may Allah have mercy on them all) that he was teaching in Kanpur for many years when he felt the need to inhabit and revitalise the khanqah of his shaykh Haji Imdadullah in Thanabhawan. Haji Imdadullah had, several years before, left India for Makkah and his khanqah was now lying empty. This entire story is mentioned in Ashraf al-Sawanih where it is said that Mawlana Thanawi felt the urge to revive the khanqah and so wrote to his shaykh who advised him to think it through and then decide. The issue kept nudging at Mawlana Thanawi who then, without asking his shaykh, left his teaching position in Kanpur, went to Thanabhawan and started the khanqah. He then wrote an extremely humble letter to his shaykh explaining what he had done, seeking forgiveness for acting without his permission and explaining that he was overwhelmed with passion that he felt the need to go to Thanabhawan and start the khanqah. He also mentioned the structure of programmes during the day at the khanqah and profusely apologised for not informing him from beforehand. Haji Imdadullah wrote back expressing his extreme pleasure and happiness and that this is exactly what he wished for him to do, but had held back from ordering him to do so at the beginning because, judging from his initial letter, felt that Mawlana Thanawi was still not firm in his desire. This was the condition of our akabir, they did everything in consultation with their shaykh, everything. Examples like this are profusely found in the writings of our elders, something that exemplifies the diligence that they exercised for matters of Tasawwuf.
The khanqah of Raipur
In Raipur, Mawlana ‘Abdur-Rahim Raipuri, the khalifah of Mawlana Ganoghi, established a khanqah which was then inhabited by his khalifah, Mawlana ‘Abdul Qadir Raipuri (may Allah have mercy on them). I myself visited the khanqah of Raipur and saw it first hand in the late 1950s or early 1960s. I visited this khanqah in my teenage years in the company of Shah Nafis Sahib (may Allah have mercy on him). Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya (may Allah enlighten his resting place) sent me to Raipur with Shah Nafis Sahib. I know that Shah Nafis Sahib would wake up very early in the night every day and complete all of his ma‘mulat (litanies, recitations and dhikr prescribed by a shaykh of Tasawwuf) well before the time of fajr. I recall that during my visit to Raipur, being young and able to sleep well, Shah Nafis Sahib would wake me up a short while before fajr saying: “Wake up, wake up, everyone is awake except you. You’re sleeping alone.” I would feel embarrassed hearing this and so when this happened for a few days, I asked Shah Nafis Sahib to wake me up when the rest of the people in the khanqah would wake up. The next day, he woke me up at 1am. When I got up, I found that the vast majority of people in the khanqah were already awake with many people involved in dhikr, Qur’an, du‘a and Tahajjud.
Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Thanawi would say regarding the khanqah of Raipur, which was situated in a garden, that putteh, putteh seh dhikr ki awaz atee heh – that the sound of dhikr reverberates from each and every leaf. It was a blessed place, full of spirituality.
The final mission of Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Zakariyya
My shaykh, Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya (may Allah have mercy on him) saw all of these three khanqahs during their prime: Thanabhawan, Gangoh and Raipur. Mawlana Ilyas (may Allah have mercy on him) was bay‘ah to Mawlana Gangohi and remained with him for eleven years. He did not receive khilafah from him, but received it from Mawlana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri. Mawlana Ilyas would say that if someone were to say that in knowledge, fiqh, tafsir and fatwas such and such scholars are greater than our ‘ulama then I would not dispute them. However, in terms of connection to Allah (ta‘alluq ma‘a Allah) and selflessness there is none greater than our ‘ulama. Tasawwuf and tazkiyah was their special focus, something that they took very seriously.
In 1968, Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya (may Allah have mercy on him) stopped teaching and in that era the three khanqahs that he had seen – the khanqahs of Thanabhawan, Gangoh and Raipur – were sitting idle and he became concerned by this. He then began drawing the attention of all of our elders to this and also performed i‘tikaf in numerous places, including here in South Africa in Stanger, to revitalise the system of khanqahs. He was very concerned about this. Though he found it uncomfortable to travel, he still travelled from one country to another with this concern and the desire to see this crucial line of work revitalised.
Struggling against the nafs and fulfilling ma‘mulat
There is a verse of the Holy Qur’an in which Allah Most High mentions: “As for those who strive in Our way, We will certainly take them onto Our paths, and indeed Allah is with those who are good in deeds.” (Al-‘Ankabut: 69) The main point in Tasawwuf is about exerting effort. The word mujahadah that has been translated here as ‘striving’ means “to exert as much effort as possible within us” (hatta al-imkan koshish kurna hamare under). There is a need to strive hard in working against the carnal desires (nafs) and reforming one’s self spiritually.
The Sufis say that al-ahwal thamarat al-‘amal – in that the spiritual states (hal and ahwal) are the fruits or outcomes of actions (‘amal). This means that in this path it is necessary to act and take action. When a person takes action, fulfils his ma‘mulat and strives against the nafs then he will achieve his goal, which is the nearness to Allah Most High.
Two types of actions in Tasawwuf
In suluk and tazkiyah there are two types of actions: adhkar or litanies and ashghal. According to the Sufis, the adhkar comprise the Sunnah dhikr, voluntary (nafl) acts of worship and the recitation of the Qur’an (tilawah). The ashghal, on the other hand,include those actions (mashghalah) that are a part of the Sufi’s prescribed practices (ma‘mulat) and these are prescribed when the purification or cleansing of the inner self cannot be achieved through the adhkar. Examples of this include the audible forms of dhikr (dhikr bi al-jahr), the pas-anfas and the various forms of meditation (muraqabah).
Popular ashgal in the Chishti Tariqah
Within the Chishti tariqah, the popular form of ashghal is the audible dhikr known as the Bara Tasbih. This entails the movement of the head with a focus on the heart and consists of two hundred la-ilaha illallah, four hundred illallah, six hundred Allahu-Allah and then a hundred Allah. Shah ‘Abdul-Quddus (may Allah have mercy on him), one of the scions of the Chishti Tariqah, would daily perform the dhikr of Allah, Allah (the ism-i-dhat) a hundred thousand times a day. It is said regarding Mawlana In‘amul-Hasan (May Allah have mercy on him) that he would perform the dhikr of Allah, Allah forty thousand times a day as has been mentioned in his biography. So this is something that many of our elders were involved in.
Mawlana Thanawi has answered objections against ashgal
People who do not have any familiarity with Tasawwuf object to the ashghal. However, Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (may Allah have mercy on him) has answered all of these objections in his writings. Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalwi (may Allah enlighten his grave) has also answered these objections in his book Shari‘at wa Tariqat ka Talazum. The fundamental issue is that these litanies are not actual dhikr, but rather tazkiyah or purification though they may seem in form to be dhikr.
An important principle
So, why is it that the shaykhs developed them? Following the demise of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), several fitnahs came to the fore and Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) countered them. In the Battle of Yamamah some twelve hundred to thirteen hundred Companions were martyred with many of them being hafiz of the Qur’an. During the lifetime of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) some four to five hundred Companions were martyred. Once the fitnahs came to an end, Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) ordered that the Companions busy themselves in the conquest of Al-Sham (the Levant) and that the senior Companions should remain in Madinah al-Munawwarah. It was during this time that Sayyiduna ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) asked that with several hundred Companions who were hafiz of the Qur’an martyred, what would happen to the Qur’an. He suggested that the Qur’an be preserved in written form. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) objected asking how he could do that which the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not do? The two Companions continued their discussion and it is said that Sayyiduna ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) spent three nights explaining the matter to Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) until he became convinced of Sayiduna ‘Umar’s point of view. A committee of Companions was formed and the written copy (mushaf) of the Qur’an was prepared. This was the first consensus (ijma‘) of the Companions. This written Qur’an was prepared and, later on, there was a difference of view over its forms of recitation (qira‘ah). Thereafter, Sayyiduna ‘Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) created six copies of the written copy that had been prepared in the time of Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) and it is because of this that it is often referred to as Mushaf ‘Uthmani.
From the above, a principle (usul) of religion can be derived: in relation to that which has been commanded (hukm) in the religion and is in itself the purpose (maqsud bi al-dhat), it is fundamentally permissible to adopt a means to achieve that, even though the Companions did not adopt that means. In other words, it is permissible (ja’iz) to adopt whichever means there is in achieving that which is in itself the purpose; there is, however, a condition and that is that the way adopted in achieving this should not be impermissible according to Sacred Law. This is a principle that all of the ‘ulama have adopted. Its example is like learning Arabic, which is a precondition (shart) to study the Qur’an and the hadith. This principle (usul) came into existence during the time of the Followers (tabi‘i) and the Followers of the Followers (atba‘ al-tabi‘in) because this was the era in which many conquests occurred into lands that were not Arabic speaking and people who were not of Arab stock came to accept Islam, such as the conquests into Al-Sham (the Levant) and the Maghreb (North Africa) led to people there entering Islam. Another example is the usage of modern weapons in war. In the time of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), people used swords, spears and bows and arrows.
Applying the principle on purifying the heart
Likewise, the purification of the soul (tazkiyat al-nafs) is incumbent (wajib) and so is the purification of the heart. If this can be achieved by way of the Sunnah adhkar then this is laudable (nur ‘ala nur). However, this is in the main not the case. The example of this is like when someone has an upset stomach and is asked to eat chicken tikka or kebabs; such a person would not be inclined to indulge in such delicacies and even if he were to eat them then he would not find them enjoyable. However, if he were to cure his stomach by taking appropriate medicine and then, once he is feeling better, were to be presented with these dishes then he would fully enjoy them. This is like drinking beverage from a glass. If you were to bring a filthy glass, fill it with stones, grass and other matter, and then pour sweet milk into it, then the person drinking would not get the full pleasure of the drink. What he would need to do is to thoroughly wash and clean the glass using a detergent. Then, if he were to drink the milk from the glass he would get the maximum flavour and taste. This is the condition of the heart – first the heart needs to be purified from the impurities that is inside it and then one would be in a position to get the full pleasure of the various forms of worship that is prescribed in our religion.
Historic precedents of breaking the nafs
Examples of the system of reformation that the Sufis adopt in breaking the nafs of the murids can be found in the first three generations. It is well known that during his khilafah Sayyiduna ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) often adopted different measures to reform and correct the people he appointed to different government posts. Someone once complained about one of his governors at which Sayyiduna ‘Umar summoned him to Madinah, investigated the matter and finding them true, made him wear clothes made from coarse cloth and appointed him to herd, feed and water livestock. This was a governor who had been demoted as a way of correcting the condition of his heart. These were measures that Sayyiduna ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) adopted to spiritually reform those under his command.
Tasawwuf has a basis
Mawlana Gangohi (may Allah have mercy on him) said that the Bara-Tasbih is necessary (wajib) for purification (tazkiyah) and likewise the rest of the actions (ashghal) of Tasawwuf. It is a shame that innovations (bid‘ah) and tribulations (fitnah) are today being spread in the name of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. There are rules pertaining to the knowledge of Qira’ah and these existed in the time of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). However, they were not written or codified. It was the scholars of the latter times that codified them and defined what they were, and the reason why they did this was to protect the Qur’an. Whatever new way is created, it shall be considered to be permissible (mubah), not impermissible (haram). The Bara-Tasbih is wajib for those who have not yet reached the level of purification, those who are purified then this form of dhikr becomes permissible for them. Also, if a person was not diligent in performing his duties, then his condition will change. He will progress forward and then move back. Nowadays, objections are raised relating to everything that has been mentioned. And so it was that for three days, Sayyiduna ‘Umar explained the matter to Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with them). It is the case that issues are not understood immediately. It takes time. Likewise, Sayyiduna ‘Umar explained the matter of writing the Qur’an down for three days and then Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with them) understood.
A final word – the fitnah of this era
There is a fitnah in each era. The fitnah of today is that people involved in the various efforts of religion assume that their field of work is the complete faith in its entirety. However, this is not the case. It should be remembered that the faith will only be complete when all of its different fields are revived. The different efforts in Islam are like limbs of a person. Only when all of the limbs are operating will the person’s body be complete. For one group to say that another is useless is extremism (ghulu) and due to a lack of understanding. So, it is a form of extremism and moving beyond the boundary for anyone associated with the madrasahs, for example, to consider all other efforts of religion to be useless and only their line of work to be correct, or for those involved in Tabligh to say the same. What we are saying is that individuals involved in any effort of religion should continue in that effort. However, for one effort of the religion to compete with another is in fact trying to compete with Allah and His Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). I mention at all gatherings that all of the efforts of religion are one and part of our religion. Their fadha’il (virtues) are mentioned. To denigrate any one of them is to look down on Allah Most High and His Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).
May Allah protect us from extremism (ghulu) and from exceeding the limits. The Companions are our exemplars and they had a part to play in every effort of religion. Individually, they excelled in a particular effort of Islam, but they had a part to play in them all. Have respect and reverence for all the efforts of religion and pray for them all. Every line of work has shortcomings and there will be something in each of them. However, pray for them all and participate in each of them as much as you can. Disputing among yourselves (ikhtilaf) is extremely bad. That house in which there is love and agreement will see divine mercy descend on it. Likewise, if the various efforts of the religion were to be in agreement and in love then there would be divine mercy and blessings. May Allah Most High accept them all and allow Islam to prosper.
Shaykh would then conclude the i‘tikaf with the common message to all to embrace each field and to show interest in its development and progress. The progress of any field of religion is the progress of the entire religion.