[All quotes in this article, unless otherwise specifically noted, are from the book “The
Sufi Orders in Islam” by J. Spencer Trimingham, published by Oxford University Press, © 1998. This book is a work of
extensive scholarship that shines an eye-opening light on the origins and practices of many of todays most established and
famous Sufi Orders. The author of this article in no way implies that the opinions and analyses expressed in J. Spencer Trimingham’s
work “The Sufi Orders in Islam” are the same as those of the author of this article.]
Some of this author’s readers are members of an established Sufi Order. Some readers are
considering joining one. Frequently, aspiring Sufis feel that their choices are limited in terms of how they should properly
Most aspiring Sufis eventually end up belonging to one of the major Sufi Orders. There they are told that they belong to a
tariqa with a silsila that has an unbroken
lineage (‘golden chain’ as called by some) reaching back to Imam Ali (a.s.) or Caliph Abu Bakr (r.a.). In reality,
no tariqa exists with an unbroken lineage that reaches back before the 13th century
These days, a Sufi is told that if he or she does not have a Sheikh, he or she has Shaitan as a master. It is made very clear to the Sufi of today that this Sheikh must currently be living in the
physical world. This flies directly in the face of the clear, historical record of the development of the dervish Orders.
Thousands of times, Sheikhs have received their ijazet (authorization to teach)
from a Sheikh, Saint, or Pir dwelling in the spiritual worlds. This connection is in essence unaffected by their passing from
life on earth to life in barzakh. Does the reader think that a Sheikh ceases being a Sheikh when he or she leaves the
cage of his or her physical body and soars to the Realm of Divine Beauty? Moreover, there is substantial evidence, which we
shall produce in this paper that the tariqa that the reader belongs to is made
up of many Sheikhs who did not have any direct, earth-plane, connection with the preceding Sheikh in the lineage.
If one simply takes a careful look at any silsila,
and adds up the number of Sheikhs in the lineage, then divides the number of years your tariqa
has been said to be in existence by the number of Sheikhs you have in your lineage, you will see an enormous number of individuals
who have life spans that stretch way beyond the normal human lifespan. Why? Because certain members of your tariqa, throughout history, knew that there were huge gaps between certain Sheikhs, and therefore to make it seem
that there was always a direct hand-to-hand transmission between Sheikhs, they deliberately fudged the dates of these Sheikhs
lives. It is not a pleasant fact to learn; but there you have it. To be a Sufi, one needs to stop being false. Speaking the
truth, done for the sake of Allah, is an act of worship. Hazreti Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, "Let not respect for people
prevent a person from speaking the truth
when he knows it." (Tirmidhi)
Many times in the history of the reader’s tariqa, the Pir or Grand Sheikh ceased his breathing practices without leaving a Khalifa. We will prove this in this article. Frequently, an individual in any part of the world would have a spiritual
visitation from the Pir or Grand Sheikh of such-and-such a tariqa that lacks a
living leader, and tell the individual that the mantle of the Order was being passed onto them. After that, the individual
would let it be publicly known that he was the new Sheikh of the such-and-such Order.
Let us consider the ‘Golden Naqshbandi Chain.’
This is the chain of sheikhs through which the Naqshbandi secrets and tariqat have
supposedly been handed down from one generation to the next. The chain is actually broken in at least two places. Jafar as-Sadiq is listed as the fifth sheikh in the chain. We are told that he lived between
83-148 A.H. and that he "passed on the Secret of the Golden Chain to his successor, Tayfur Abu Yazid al-Bistami. The naqshbandi.org
site mentions that Abu Yazid al-Bistami was "over seventy years old" when he died in 261 A.H. (actually, from al-Bistami's
statement at the end of his biography it is clear that he was 74 years of age when he died). This means that al-Bistami was
not born until around 187 A.H., some 39 years after Jafar as-Sadiq had already passed away. The other break relates to al-Bistami's
successor, Abul Hassan al-Kharqani. We are told that the "secret of the Golden Chain was passed from Bayazid al-Bistami to
Abul Hassan al-Kharqani.” Al-Kharqani died in 425 A.H. and we have already seen that al-Bistami died in 261 A.H. Their
dates of death are therefore separated by 164 years. It is impossible that al-Kharqani physically met al-Bistami unless al-Kharqani
himself lived for over 164 years. We will again discuss the meeting of these two saints later in this paper. Kwaja Baha' al-Din Naqshbandi himself is recorded as having
not only a living master, one Kwaja Kulal [d.1371], but also a dead Uwaisi elder, Kwaja Abd al-khaliq Ghujdawani [d.1179-80].
Before Naqshband there had been a line of 'Masters' (Kwajagan).
Another reason why so many contemporary Sufis feel that their choices are limited, or are being
limited without their knowledge, is that most dervishes, even the truly dedicated ones, are often only aware of a handful
of tariqas. They know of the Mevlevi, Naqshabandi, Rifa’i, Nimatullahi, Chisti,
Bektashi, Ruhaniat, Qadiri, Jerrahi, and that is about the extent of their familiarization with Sufi tariqas. This narrowing of their knowledge of other tariqas, and the
resultant focus on a few, make the few seem to have some kind of super-authority
and premium on truth. The author believes that many new Sufis would be amazed if they knew that tens of thousands of tariqas have existed since the 12th century, and
that even today many hundreds of tariqas exist throughout the world. An analogy
might be in order here. The United Nations Security Council consists of only a few countries. Five powerful countries sit as ‘permanent members’ along with ten other member states, elected for two-year
terms. Should one infer from this information that the countries that sit as ‘permanent members’ are the
best countries? What if your nation is not a permanent member of the Security Council but instead is a member of the United
Nations General Assembly? Many member nations of the General Assembly are great nations, peopled with heroic, bright and wise
men and women, with more ancient and extraordinary civilizations than many nations in the Security Council. The well-known
permanent members of the ‘United Nations Security Council’ are not inherently superior to other nations. Possibly
what you need or what you are looking for, is to be found in a lesser-known tariqat,
that is just as valid, and just as important as the well-known tariqas.
While oftentimes nations gain power and authority because of their military might, so too many
Sufi tariqas gained legitimacy and authority because they became bedfellows with
the mighty military powers of their times. In addition, these tariqas let it be
known that they followed every dot and iota of the Shariat, in order to garner
a legitimate status from the ruling Islamic authorities. Finally, these tariqas
connected themselves with the Guilds of the middle ages, in order to find acceptance from the common people. However, not
all tariqas were so willing to compromise their beliefs in return for being accepted
by all strata of society. Antinomian tendencies were strong among vagrant dervishes (Malamatis and Qalandaris), found usually
in Khorasan and central Asia, who were unattached to any recognized master or line. They still exist today, however by their
very nature, they are quite unknown for the most part, and will make contact with the student when they perceive (through
assistance from their Guides in the spirit realms) that the student is ready. Allahu ta’ala has a beautiful sense of
humor, for it is ironic that those individuals who are dismissed as not being ‘Sufis’ are the very ‘cup
bearers’ of authentic Sufism.
“Since legal Islam tolerated the secret character of the initiation and
oath of the guilds, it had to accept the implications of the act of allegiance to the Sheikh
at-tariqa . . .” It really was only with the growth of the Ottoman Empire, especially in the 15th century, that the organizational aspect of the tariqas
took shape. “To justify their teachings and practices, the leaders derived it from the Prophet himself or his immediate
companions to whom their chains are traced back. In addition, the founders of all Orders from the 15th Century, when they
acquired their definitive form, claim to have been commanded by the Prophet in a dream to found a new Way, an actual tariqa.”
Here then is how the ‘self-appointed authorities of Sufism’ explain
the universal occurrence of branching that has become known in Sufi history. More specifically, this is the way the authorities
justify the fact that their Pir broke rank from his Order to found a new Order. As with the Shi’ite Imams, Sufi Sheikhs did not always have a single successor, one whose authority was recognized
by all devotees of that order. The result was branching off of sub-lineages. Each branching off is the acknowledgment of multiple
authorities within a Sufi order. Yet each individual representation of the order will consider itself and its silsila
as a single uncontested chain of mastery.
While the genealogical
tree (the silsila, also called the ‘chain’) is probably the most elemental
representation of a Sufi order, it is subject to varied, and intriguing, elaboration. Some tree documents (chains) contain
brief biographical notes, often showing circles of minor disciples emanating from the major masters. Not all are presented
in book form. A simple document may be only one page long and easily presented by itself or as part of another document. There
are shrines in India and Pakistan where the genealogical scrolls of Sufi tariqas
extend to hundreds of feet. There exist more complicated diagrams requiring oral commentary to be understood. Eminent
masters of other orders are juxtaposed alongside the chief representatives of the tariqa;
the relationship of the branch to the trunk is suggestive but remains enigmatic. What is clear is that each document represents
a principal line of transmission, one that eventually reaches the disciple whose name is inscribed at the bottom.
You, the reader, are welcome to benefit from all the treasures of the great
Sufi Orders in existence today; but do not ever feel that you must be a member
of a Sufi Order to receive transmission. While you are welcome to benefit from all the wisdom and baraka to be found in these Sufi Orders, remember that a great deal of what you are taught by the representatives
of these Orders is affected by:
Ø the culture in which the tariqa dwells geographically
Ø submission to religious, political and legal authority
Ø the historical time in which the tariqa developed
You do have choices. The whole concept of the well-organized tariqa
is an invention of the Middle Ages, with their extensive hierarchies, secrets and pledges of allegiance. For many hundreds
of years, after the transition of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Sufism was more concerned with sharing methods and techniques
which worked, and which brought the seeker to his or her destination: Union, or as some more correctly believe, Annihilation,
in Allah. Only later, did there grow up an entire system of rules, elaborate costumes, and etiquette taken to extremes, Sheikh
worship, and the teaching that ‘our’ tariqa is the best tariqa. As René Guénon wrote: “Beyond al-fanaa there is fanaa' al-fanaa' the extinction of the extinction, and, by this ‘extinction’ the ‘divine station’
is reached (al-maaqam al-ilaahii), which is the central point where all the distinctions
inherent in the more outward points of view are surpassed and where all the oppositions have disappeared and are resolved
in a perfect equilibrium.”
New students are always told the founder of their Order was a great saint.
Most of the aulia whose names are connected with Orders, never actually founded
anything. This is as true of the four Madhabs as it is of many Pirs. The four Madhabs never had any idea that their writings would be taken as the ‘final
word’ in all things Islamic by succeeding generations. Something similar occurred with many Sufi saints. First, it must
be understood that frequently these ‘saints’ were only known as Holy Men or Women, Teachers or Sheikhs during
their lives, and only after they ceased their breathing practices, did others begin to regard them as saints. During their
lives, they never stated that they intended to branch off from the Order to which they belonged. They never indicated that
they wished to sever completely all ties with the Order to which they were a member and to begin a new tariqa. Oftentimes several generations passed after the saint’s completion of his work, before anyone started
a tariqa in his name. It is clear, these aulia
did not leave khalifas who they instructed to teach and transmit a new tariqa. An individual, usually a khalifa would decide on his own, first
that their Sheikh was a Waliullah, and then from that decision, conclude, or become
aware, that he (the khalifa) needed to branch off from the main line. The author
is not implying that anything scandalous was going on . . . but he wishes to point out that Pirs were frequently very dedicated
to their tariqa and expressed no wish to form a new branch, and that those truly
great and brave individuals who realized that their teacher was a walyullah never
had any ‘official papers’ or ‘official authorization’ from anyone to start a new tariqa. Quite the contrary, they were often branded schismatic.
All through the ages, there have been men and women Sufis who met a Saint, either in body or spirit,
and then started a Sufi tariqa based on that saint’s name. Much later elaborate
silsilas were composed that try their best to construct an unbroken succession
of teachers from the present teacher all the way back to the ‘founding’ saint. However, the problem is that the
saint never ‘founded’ anything. There is no unbroken succession in most Sufi Orders, and no founding of anything.
Nevertheless, there most certainly are new and subtle spiritual transmissions that are vouchsafed to the right dervishes at
the right time throughout history. It is understandable that holy men and women who connect with these new spiritual currents
should want to start a formal method and center for this ‘current.’ Allah in His Munificence may open a channel
to a particular Sheikh, and the waters of life can flow through this channel. However, the effulgent Majesty of Allah Almighty
can never be confined to a particular tariqa, no matter how much that tariqa insists that it follows all the rules, and no matter how much that tariqa
acts in seemingly ‘holy’ ways.
Abu’l Fad’l al-Allamani in “A’in Akbari” writes, “There are
references to ta’ifas bearing the names of famous early Sufis. These may
sometimes have arisen through a teacher bearing the same nisba, or more commonly
through the desire of a master to relate himself with a particular tradition of the past, receiving confirmation in a dream.”
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is recorded as saying, “The dreams of the believer are 1/46th a part of prophecy (nubuwah).” Spiritual investiture through vision was common. Because of the result of a progressive movement
by tariqas toward courting respectability in all its forms: religious, political
and the prevailing winds of public opinion, tariqas have unwittingly squeezed the
very life out of themselves in order to fit into these ‘acceptable’ categories. Therefore, those who might dare
say that their spiritual investiture was “through a vision” would be laughed out of most ‘reputable’
Sufi conferences and forums. This is why this author believes that the dervish of today is frequently given only limited choices
by the major, accepted tariqas of today.
Professor Michael Sells writes: “Al-Nabulusi wrote out the chain of transmission (silsilah) of Muhammad al-Susi
(d. 1682) of Damascus in the ‘Muhammadan Handclasp’ (musafahah muhammadiyah). The chain begins with al-Baghurawi, who saw the Prophet in a dream. ‘Clasp my hand,’
the Prophet said, ‘for anyone who has held my hand will enter Paradise.’
When he awoke, al-Baghurawi could feel the imprint of the Prophet’s fingers in his hand. The next person to receive
the hand clasp from al-Baghurawi was Ibn ‘Arabi, who gave it to his stepson and disciple al-Qunawi.”
Yet, one must remember that the ‘founding saints’ of the various Orders, never personally
founded any Orders. We consider the case of the great and famous Sufi waliullah
Abd al-Qadir. He “left no system, let alone Path, to be introduced. Even the Bahja,
as Margoliouth has pointed out, does not support the claim that his sons propagated his Way throughout the Muslim world.”
Furthermore, “in the course of time a body of rules, teaching, and practice was formed, and some Sheikhs began to initiate
their pupils into his name because his fame as an intercessor was spreading.”
Sheikhs today speak about the tradition of silsila in
hushed tones, as if this is an undisputed fact about which the dervish must show complete faith. Yet, we have innumerable
examples of how silsila was repeatedly interrupted and broken, and furthermore,
sometimes there wasn’t even the remotest connection between one Sheikh and the next in a ‘chain’, for example,
Abd al-Qadir and the Sheikhs who created out of thin air a body of rules, teaching, and practice, and even initiated dervishes
in Abd al-Qadir’s name! This author is not implying that there is anything wrong with recognizing the value of a particular
saint, making contact spiritually with the saint, and transmitting his baraka.
Nor is there anything wrong with attempting to preserve a saint’s teachings through a formal system of initiating khalifas. However, this author is stating
that it is appalling to lead innocent and naïve dervishes to believe in a fantasy of a pure and unblemished ‘unbroken
line.’ Because this fantasy directly leads the new dervish to believe that transmission cannot happen, as Allahu ta’ala
wills at times, through a purely spiritual connection.
Let us go back to the very beginnings of Sufism. “Two contrasting tendencies came to be
distinguished as Junaidi and Bistami, or Iraqi and Khurasani (but most not be taken too seriously or called schools of thought)
after the two men, Abu’l-Qasim al-Junaid (d. 910) and Abu Yazid Taifur al-Bistami (d. 874), who captured the imaginations
more than any other of their contemporaries. These two are held to embody the contrasts between the way based on tawakkul (trust) and that on malama (blame), between intoxicated and
sober, safe and suspect, illuminate and conformist, solitude and companionship, theist and monist, guidance under a this-world
director (with a chain of transmitters to regularize in conformity with standard Islamic practice) and guidance under a spirit-Sheikh.”
Here we see, that reaching back to the very origins of Sufism, equally competing with those who
demand a chain of transmitters, was another form of Sufism that honored a form of guidance that emanates from the spirit worlds.
However, over time, the Junaidi path gained precedence. “Because he won the approval of orthodoxy as relatively ‘safe’,
al-Junaid comes to be regarded as the Sheikh of the Way’, the common ancestor
of most subsequent mystical congregations, even though many followed heterodox teaching; his inclusion in their genealogies
was a guarantee of orthodoxy, for a sound isnad can support a multitude of heresies.”
Isnad means ‘chain.’ Here we perceive that ‘sober’ Sufism
gained ascendancy primarily because Junaid (more properly his followers) won the approval of the Islamic orthodoxy. The stamp
of authority was gradually given to those who would make the least waves, those who (at least outwardly) conformed to the
prevailing interpretations of the meaning and purpose of the life of Muhammad (pbuh) and the Holy Qur’an.
Before this official imprimatur descends upon the Junaidi
way, let us examine how the Sufis conducted themselves. “There were no self-continuative Orders, but groups of people
possessing similar spiritual aspirations who had become disciples of an honored master with whom the bond of allegiance was
purely personal.” It must be remembered, that the “institution is a means of control.” Those from the right
and the left would agree to this and even the proponents of the institution believe that ‘control’ is a good thing.
“The earlier groups had been linked by enthusiasm, common devotions, and methods of spiritual discipline, with the aim
of stripping the soul and eliminating self to attain the vision of Reality. They were, therefore, integrated by spirit and
aim rather than by any formal organization, and were, in fact, very loose organizations.” Authentic Sufism is not intellectual.
You can read book after book, and attend conference after conference, but you know you have not really done your work. You
need direct experience.
The exploratory Sufi spirit was viewed with suspicion. “The dissociation of Sufis from recognized
religious leaders had always been suspected and resented by the ulama (doctors
of Islamic law), and provided a reaction to which Shihab ad-din Yahya as-Suhrawardi fell victim. This Suhwardi is to be distinguished
from the tariqa leader bearing the same nisba
by the epithet al-Maqtul, ‘the Martyr’. He taught in Anatolia at the court of Qilij Arslan II and his son, and
wrote a number of remarkable theosophical works before he was tried and executed, martyr to the fanaticism of the orthodox
ulama of Aleppo, by al-Malik az-Zahir at the Order of Saladin at the age of 38
in 587/1191. However, it was the formation of esoteric and mystical congregations outside the regular organization of Islam,
together with the liturgical organization of the sama, or spiritual concert for
inducing ecstasy, which was more likely to provide the reaction of the orthodox than suspect ideas. By the end of the fifth
century A.H. the change in the attitude of Islamic legalists towards a grudging and qualified acceptance of Sufism, begun
by as-Sulami and his disciple al-Qushairi, had been brought to a conclusion by al-Ghazali.”
Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghumari’s book al-Burhan al-Jali on the nisba (affiliation) of all Sufi Tariqas to Ali
ibn Abi Talib and the Manaqib of Ali – RadiyAllahu`anh – in which al-Ghumari claimed that the Naqshbandi
chain is broken because it contains three spiritual ‘Uwaysi’
links, and that it is impossible that al-Qasim ibn Muhammad, for example, can receive khilafa from Salman since the
latter died when al-Qasim was only five years old. There is near consensus among the hadith Masters that al-Hasan al-Basri
never heard any hadith directly from Imam Ali (r.a.), much less took the Sufi cloak (khirqa)
from him. Yet the chain of all the major Sufi paths claim this link, such as the Shadhili, Rifa`i, Qadiri, and others. Al-Sakhawi
said, "This chain is broken, but I narrate it for its baraka." His teacher Ibn Hajar, his colleague al-Suyuti, the latter’s
student al-Haytami, were all Shadhilis. Al-Dhahabi was Suhrawardi. Ibn Taymiyya was Qadiri. They boasted of these affiliations
although they knew that in external terms they were broken-chained.
The dissenting opinion is often the correct one. Societal evolution does not always produce the
best effect, e.g., the masculine default (men, mankind, etc.). As someone who at one time was very involved with Freemasonry
and attained the level of 3rd Degree Master Mason, this author can attest to the great similarities between the organizational
aspects of the Masonic Lodge and the Sufi Lodge, as well as the heavy emphasis on hierarchy, secrets and etiquette that exist
in both. Again, the Sufi who is new to Sufism and is being subjected to pressure from a Sheikh or Murids of a particular dergah or tekke, may now realize that it
is Sufism which has borrowed from the Guilds (such as the Masonic Guild). Therefore, there must have existed at one time a
Sufism that did not need, require or desire the pomp and circumstance of the Sufi Orders as we know them today. Do any pre-guild
Sufi teachings exist today? Does anyone, or any Order, carry on this unadorned Sufism? What are their veiled secret methods?
They are given quite explicitly in many places, but people rebel at the difficulty of some of the methods (note: we did not
say “complexity”). Other people rebel because the methods appear too simple, and hence (as people expect the methods
to be quite arcane and mysterious) they disregard and pass over the authentic revealed methods. The Light is Supremely Obvious,
yet dervishes are constantly asking for flashlights while they stand bathed in direct sunlight. Do you expect to find genuine
craftwork in any Major Department Store? Do you expect to find truly delicious food at any of the Major Restaurant Chains?
Do you expect to find political wisdom in any of the Major Political Parties? Why this need of ‘caché’ when it
comes to affiliation with a Sufi Order? Most people go to major department stores and major restaurant chains because they
fear encountering the strange and the unexpected. People go places where they will be COMFORTABLE! That is why true Sufism
has always been taught to each dervish in a unique way. Allah is not in any way like His creatures. The unique ones each travel
a unique path to the Unique One. A Sufi was martyred for uttering, “There are as many ways to Allah, as there are people
“From the beginning of the thirteenth century certain centers (if we think of the center
as being a man, not a place) became the sees of tariqas, mystical schools or teaching
centers.” Therefore, here then is the true beginning of the notion of tariqas,
and not some uninterrupted chain of men stretching back to the time of the Prophet (pbuh). Five hundred years after the Prophet
Muhammad (pbuh) completed his mission as Rasulallah, do we first see the beginning
of the process whereby the “creative freedom of the mystic was to be channeled into an institution.” Up until
this time, pupils traced their madhhab (method) or tariqa (course) to their revered teacher, for “he was their guarantee of validity and training.”
In Order to lend credence to the tariqa of a Master
(in other words, a revered teacher, a Sheikh, or Pir), the names of certain previous masters “were incorporated into
the mystical isnads of the tariqas.
The key figure in most tariqas is Abu’l Qasim al-Junaid (d. CE 910), yet
Dhu’n-Nun al-Misri, though continually quoted in support of mystical thought, is missing from the isnads. Similarly, Husain ibn Mansur al-Halaj is not normally found in them (though a Way was later attributed
to him), where al-Bistami is found in the chains of many Orders (for example, the Naqshabandiyya). Al-Wasiti, writing around
CE 1320 when the Ways were fully established, says that there were two distinct primitive sanads
to which all the then existing khirqas went back, the Junaidi and the Bistami.”
It was not unusual for completely artificial tariqas to be invented, like that
attributed to al-Hallaj, complete with “specific esoteric doctrines, dhikrs, and rules . . .” Masters would initiate
students into these completely artificial lineages. Nevertheless, were they “artificial” or, in actuality, the
way most tariqas originated? “At any time a Sufi might be told in a dream to convey al-Junaid’s Way. We read,
for example, that Yusuf al-‘Ajami al-Kurani (d. 768/1366) was the first to revivify the tariqa of al-Junaid in Egypt
after its obliteration.”
A great change came when a shift happened from the relationship of teacher-pupil, which had prevailed
thus far, to the fuller one of director and disciple. In other words, when a great waliullah
died, the students did not go looking for another teacher, but they began to venerate the memory of the dead master. Murshids appeared, guiding their own pupils along the way of the deceased master, along his Way, and in his name. “A new aura emanates from the master
as a wali (protégé) of God, which eventually . . . was to become belief in his
mediumship and intercessory status with God.” Now, Sufism was no longer focused on the immediate teacher-pupil relationship,
but an added ‘super relationship’ was superimposed on this relationship, that of the overseeing, disincarnate,
founding wali of the particular Way being taught. “The change came with the
development of such a collegium pietatis into a collegium initiati whose members ascribed themselves to their initiator and his spiritual ancestry, and were prepared
to follow his Path and transmit it themselves to future generations.”
The entire concept of isnad is not inherently a Sufi
concept, nor does it inherently hold importance for Sufis. It is an Islamic ideal that was supposed to convey a sense of guarantee
and authority. Sufis, through their close connection with Islam, noticed how Islam utilized this concept to demonstrate the
authenticity of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Sufis seized upon this idea and incorporated it, believing that isnad could also convey a sense of guarantee and authority for their individual tariqas. A significant feature of the change is that the groups, about the time of
Saladin, took over the Shi’ite custom of bai’a, initiation with oath
of allegiance to the Sheikh.
In his book "Sahar (Dawn)", Hazrat Moulana Shah Maghsoud describes how people, having destroyed
the stone-carved idols of the previous generations, have continued to worship the idols they have created by their imagination.
"It is true that people broke the existing idols in the temples, but they have practically replaced them with bigger idols
in their mind and thought, and worshiped them in pagodas, synagogues, churches, and mosques."
Might we also add tekkes and dergahs to the list of pagodas, synagogues, churches, and mosques? What are the idols being worshipped within
Sufi Orders today? This is a weighty question as it goes to the very heart of Islam. This author is certainly not on the side
of those who deify the shariat and thus condemn Sufism. It is appropriate to follow the
Way of the Prophet (pbuh); it is inappropriate and sinful to make the “Way of the Prophet” into a monolithic stone
idol. Nevertheless, there are aspects of the way that Sufism is practiced in many places today that approach idol worship.
One example is the icon of closed mindedness. A kind of badly informed Islam is practiced within some of these dergahs that completely ignores the role of the ‘People
of the Book’ (The Jewish people and the Christians), and the honor and respect that Allah and His Messenger (pbuh) afforded
them. These dergahs also sadly lack an informed awareness (substantiated by recent
academic research) of the major teaching role that women Sheikhas have played in
many saints lives.
Hazrat Moulana Shah Maghsoud is a 20th century Sufi and one of the members of the caravan of the Uwaysi Robe. Safa
Ali Michael Newman, an American student of two students of Hazrat Maghsoud, and himself under the Robe of the Uwaysi, writes
the following in his book "The Gift of the Robe": "For Sufis following the Uwaysi ‘mashrab’
(style or way of belief), no knowledge can be received except from the heart of their inner teacher, who is a mirror of the
divine light, nor can knowledge be understood except in the realm of the heart. As Uways himself said, ‘Be with your
heart.’ Indeed, if we carefully study the way of the Sufis and the principles of Sufism, we can see how the method of
Uways, the receiving of knowledge in the heart as understanding, is the only way to be a Sufi. All Sufis, whether they call
themselves Uwaysi or not, have become knowledgeable only by receiving the knowledge in their hearts by the Divine guidance
of an unseen teacher. A Sufi receives this guidance even if he or she has a physical teacher."
Thus, even today, a major Sufi Order, the Uwaysi, still believes in the “unseen teacher.”
Ibn Khallikan writes, “Yunus ibn Yusuf ibn Musa’id ash-Shaibani, Sheikh of the fuqara known after him as the Yunusiyya, was a holy man. I asked a group of his followers
who was his Sheikh and they replied, ‘He had no Sheikh, he was a majdhub.’ By this word they designate one who has no Sheikh but has been attracted to a life of piety and
sanctity . . . He died in 619 (CE 1222-3) in his village of al-Qunayya in the province of Dara, where his tomb is well known
and attracts pilgrims.”
For a certain period of time, the Sufi meeting house was not the home of a particular Sufi Order,
but rather a temporary stopping place for traveling Sufis, and a gathering place (a ‘garden of delight’) for those
following the Path. In one sense, Sufism was becoming a profession, in the sense that a profession is a calling that requires specialized knowledge and often long and intensive
training and specialized study. “Sufism
had now become a profession and the period is characterized by a great growth of unspecialized Sufi establishments. Saladin
welcomed Asiatic Sufis to Egypt and he and his followers founded and endowed many khanaqahs,
ribats, and zawiyas of which al-Maqrizi
gives a long list. Mujir ad-din has accounts of these places in Jerusalem, Hebron, and Damascus. Saladin in 585/1189 endowed
a Khanaqah Salahiyya in Jerusalem, diverting for this purpose the palace of the Latin patriarch.” Today, Sufism has
become, in many quarters, again a profession (but now a profession in the sense of an ‘occupation’). Individuals
enroll in Middle Eastern Studies or Islamic Studies programs in universities, acquiring advanced degrees. They then seem to
feel qualified to lecture and write books about Sufism, as well as acquiring tenured positions in colleges in the United States
and around the world in which they teach Sufism to naïve college students.
During these early years of Sufism, a bright light shown. Unfortunately, the male domination culture has largely snuffed this light out. Mystics, who were also women, had the opportunity
during this time to practice together. “Mysticism was the only religious sphere where women could find a place. There
were many women Sufis, of whom Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya (d. CE 801) is the best known. During this period, there are
references to convents for women. Al-Irbilli uses the term khanaqah for convents
for men and ribat for those of women. There were seven convents for women in Aleppo
alone, all founded between CE 1150 and 1250. In Cairo there was Ribat al-Baghdadiyya, built by a daughter of al-Malik az-Zahir
Baibars in 684/1285 for a Sheikha called Zainab ibnat Abi’l-Barakat, known
as Bint al-Baghdadiyya, and her followers, which still exists in ad-Darb al-Asfar.” Hints of these Sufi convents, and
their Sheikhas, still exist today. However, traditional male Sufi Sheikhs still teach that a woman cannot give baiat. What about the teachers of the Greatest Sheikh, Ibn al’Arabi? Were they not women? Camille
Adams Helminski writes, “Ibn Arabi, the
great ‘Pole of Knowledge’ (1165-1240 CE), tells of time he spent with two elderly women mystics who had a profound
influence on him: Shams of Marchena, one of the ‘sighing ones,’ and Fatimah of Cordova.” Helminski continues,
“Someone once asked the great Egyptian Sufi master Dho'n-Nun Mesri, ‘Who, in your opinion, is the highest among
the Sufis?’ He replied, ‘A lady in Mecca, called Fatimah Nishapuri, whose discourse displayed a profound apprehension
of the inner meanings of the Qur’an.’ Further pressed to comment on Fatimah, he added, ‘She is of the saints
of God, and my teacher.’” Perhaps this is why no one wanted to link their silsila
to Dho’n-Nun Mesri (Dhu’l-Nun).
Nevertheless, the more pertinent point:
how many great Sufi Sheikhas might there be today if only the Sheikhs and Sheikhas living today would make more of their female disciples
It does appear that a very small amount, maybe only one or two, tariqas did actually start with the founding saint. However, even in these cases, what later manifested as ‘The
Order’ (as we know of it today) bears little resemblance to what the founding saint taught. Ibn Battuta writes in 1939
about the city of Konya, “In this city is the tomb of . . . Jalal ad-din, known as Mawlana. An organization (ta’ifa) exists in the land of Rum whose members derive from him, and are known by his name, being called
the Jalaliyya, similar to the derivation of the Iraqian Ahmadiyya [= Rifa’iyya], or the Khurasanian Haidariyya. Around
his tomb is a large zawiya in which food is provided for all migrants.” These,
therefore, were Sufi ta’ifas in the full sense. However, while the Mevlevi’s
may have started with Mevlana, one may reasonably ask if the Mevlevi’s have actually continued to exist into the present
era (as they are more of a tourist attraction than an actual tariqa). Here, with
Rumi, some might vouch that his true tariqa is now being transmitted (sans lineage), but through such the assistance of Sheikhs from other Orders who have a direct spiritual linkage
with Jalal ad-Din Rumi. This author has reliable information that this is, in fact, what has been occurring for at least the
last thirty years.
While the Jalaliyya, or as we know them – the Mevlevis – may have had a direct descent
from Mevlana, there is yet something astonishing to be revealed. Students in all Orders are routinely told never to enter
into debate or dispute with their Sheikh. This is proper adab. However, many Sheikhs take this a step too far and imply that any thoughtful scrutiny on the part of the disciple
is infidelity. Therefore, clear-headed reflection and investigation into the legitimacy of an Order and an Order’s practices
are almost unheard of. In addition, trust is very important on the Sufi path, and again because of this, the atmosphere is
not conducive to asking probing questions of the authorities of the Order. Truly, the situation for the novice Sufi-in-training,
is a difficult one. He or she must develop trust in the Sheikh, yet at the same time, he or she must not betray his God-given
intelligence. It does not occur to dervishes to ever question anything they have been told. As the student is indoctrinated
into a point of view of complete submission to the Sheikh, gradually the student will not risk losing the love of his or her
Sheikh by openly investigating and challenging what he or she has been told is the history of his or her Order. Trust must
be earned, not given blindly just because a Sheikh sports a gleaming white turban, a long beard, and claims to have an unbroken
silsila stretching back to Imam Ali (r.a.) himself. While, it is true, adab must be maintained between Sheikh and disciple, there should be nothing to prevent the disciple (or for that
matter the teacher) from independent exploration (in a scholarly sense) of the earlier times of the Order. Only very recently
have individuals been researching the development of Sufis Orders, in a dispassionate historical manner, rather than just
accepting the fantastical fictitious accounts that so many dervishes have just accepted as ‘gospel.’
For example, only now is it becoming known that it was not until the 17th Century that the outer
turning of the Mevlevis, known as the whirling of the dervishes, began to develop and take hold. Prior to this time, Rumi’s
teachings evoked turning and whirling of an inward nature, a turning to the heart. Lesser students are often attracted by
stories of miracles and great feats performed by their Pir and Sheikhs. However, most of these reports are pure fiction. Moreover,
the person who manipulates and seeks to manipulate this ‘apparent’ world, has completely missed the point of Sufism,
which is to “die before you die.”
Freemasonry enthralls its members with talk of its direct and continuous line that traces back
to the time of Solomon’s Temple. Most Sufi Orders also enthrall its members by the same method of telling stories of
how ancient the Order is. Nevertheless, the truth is gradually being revealed, due to thorough scholarly research, and because
individuals no longer feel intimidated into believing without question the stories of their Sheikhs. One of these truths is
that while there was a great Sufi renaissance in the 13th Century, many of the Orders that we know today, only took their
present form around the 17th Century.
The ‘tomb’ of the walyullah becomes extremely
important at this point in time. The tomb now becomes part of the physical structure of the Sufi meetinghouse. “Iranian
regions do not seem to have developed the officially sponsored khanaqah and the
change of their Sufi hostels to representation of a holy line was not marked by any change of name but by the addition of
an honored tomb, though more commonly the later khanaqahs were new foundations
in association with a tomb. Later Turk and Mongol rulers rebuilt the tombs of famous saints and associated convents on more
magnificent lines.” The presence of the tomb creates an intensifying of the baraka
present in the Sufi meetinghouse. The tomb’s benefits are immense: it lends an ever-present awareness to the dervishes
that their own deaths are right around the corner. Moreover, the symbolical ‘presence’ of the saint, helps the
dervishes to be aware that Allah is always watching them.
Subtle branching from an Order occurred for several reasons in the Sufi world, none of the reasons
being disreputable. “Sufis trained in these institutions founded daughter lodges in their own countries or in entirely
new pasture grounds, especially in India. They rarely maintained direct contact with the mother institution and became independent
schools with their own characteristics and tendencies.” Perfectly respectable Sufis were initiated and came out of these
lodges as khalifas.
It seems that it is a particular characteristic of the latter part of the 20th Century and the
first part of the 21st Century, to:
question a Sufi’s right
to call him or herself a Sufi
question a Sheikh’s or Sheikha’s
right to use that title
question the validity (or right
to exist) of a Sufi Order
While, as we said before, we must use our intelligence for matters that our intelligence can help
with, there seems to be an obsessive compulsion to tear down anything that does not have all the ‘official’ stamps.
Dear reader, when has authentic Sufism ever had anything to do with ‘official stamps’? These are the concerns
of the minor public official, not the friend of Allah. Officialism takes the place of annihilation. Control, regulation, manipulation,
and official paper work are hallmarks of Sufi bureaucracy.
One of the truly remarkable and astonishing (at least to this author) facts concerning the evolution
of Sufi Orders was the discovery that their organization is directly copied from the ancient system of medieval Guilds. “The
organization of the Orders, however, owes much to that of the guilds. These guilds had flourished under the Fatimid and other
Shi’ite states and with the triumph of the Ayyubids and Seljuqs over political Shi’ism, the necessity for recognizing
them was accepted by the Sunni doctors. From then, when defined lines of mystical tradition had emerged, the organization
of the khanaqahs, which were also secular associations in some aspects of their
relationship to the life of the community, drew more and more features from guild organization. As the latter had a grandmaster
(‘arif, amin, or Sheikh al-hirfa) and a hierarchy of apprentices, companions, and master-craftsman, so the religious Orders acquired
a hierarchy of novices, initiates, and masters. Since legal Islam tolerated the secret character of the initiation and oath
of the guilds, it had to accept the implications of the act of allegiance to the Sheikh
at-tariqa when Shi’i practice was maintained.”
“And now we find manifestations of spiritual power becoming associated with the Orders.
No clear distinction can henceforth be made between the Orders and saint-veneration, since God’s protégés (awliya li’llah) are within the Orders. Not merely the great Sheikh but his successors who inherited his
baraka (spiritual power) were mediums of his power. With this was associated ziyara (visitation) to saints’ tombs. The mystic carries out a ziyara for the purpose of muraqaba (spiritual communion) with the saint,
finding in the material symbol an aid to meditation. Nevertheless, the popular belief is that the saint’s soul lingers
about his tomb and places (maqams) specially associated with him whilst he was
on earth or at which he had manifested himself. At such places his intercession can be sought.”
The blending of the saint-cult with the Orders and a new reverence for the Prophet is one aspect
of the changes that happened with Sufi Orders in the early 1200’s CE. “With this development is associated a new
reverence for the Prophet, which not merely brought him into the category of wonder-workers at the popular level, but also
led to the popular equivalent of the belief in the Spirit of Muhammad as the Logos, guardian, and preserver of the universe.”
In addition, at this time, something significant happened which many of our readers may be taking for granted: membership
in Sufi Orders was extended to lay adherents. These ‘working people’ took the oath with the Sheikh or more usually
his representative (khalifa). These lay members continued to follow their ordinary
mode of life. Most members of Sufi Orders today, including the khalifas, hold regular
jobs and are, in a sense, lay adherents. Only the Grand Sheikh in the larger Orders, is presently afforded the privilege,
or right, of not living a lay existence, in other words, working a job in the mundane world, and so forth and so on. Significant,
however, is the fact that in certain more undisclosed Orders, it is the Sheikh who serves the disciple and not the other way
This paper seeks to make the Sufi of today more conscious and aware of the way that Sufism has
been practiced since the time of Muhammad (pbuh). Sometimes what the reader learns is inspirational, and sometimes what the
reader learns is shocking. However, shock is often very helpful in spiritual development. Trimingham discusses the very prevalent
study of the occult sciences amongst Sufis. “Along with the development of new forms of devotion and their acceptance
parallel to ritual prayer went the process of accommodating the sciences of astrology, divination, and magic – techniques
which professed, not merely to reveal the secrets of the unseen world, but to control them. This development is especially
associated with the name of Ahmad ibn Abdallah al-Buni (d. 622/1225), who put the seal to the work of his predecessors operating
less openly by finally systematizing the sciences of divination, astrology, and magical invocation. Popular works brought
all this within the range of the ordinary practitioner and became part of the equipment of the Sheikhs and brethren.”
While some Sufis may find this shocking, a perusal of many of the books written by famous Sheikhs
about the 99 Names of Allah, will reveal that they are often filled with all sorts of mundane uses for which these names can
be employed. Examples of these mundane uses are: protection from violence, free from need of others, honor, riches, making
people obey you, protection of crops, protection from fire, finding lost objects, destroying one’s enemy, enlightenment,
a long life, all the way to promising that any desire will be granted to the one
who recites a particular divine name.
“The Orders stressed the power of the Word of God, and hundred of booklets have been written
on the virtues and properties of the names of God, of phrases like the Basmala,
or Qur’anic verses (Ayat al-Kursi), or chapters (sura Ya Sin). The association of these ‘words’, as in ash-Shadhili’s Hizb al-Bahr or al-Jazuli’s Dala’il al-khairat, gives these
“All the same, the ideals of the Orders were maintained, however much they were compromised
in practice.” Moreover, this seems to be an ever-present situation. Sufi Sheikhs will flatly state that Sufism has nothing
whatsoever to do with magic. So too, devout Muslims will deny any involvement with magic. Yet many Muslims, with no affiliation
with Sufism whatsoever, utilize the magic for personal gain. Islamic magic bowls appear suddenly in the 12th Century (metal,
engraved with figures) which were inscribed with the names of diseases and afflictions for which they were said to be useful
and from which the patient or the patient's proxy drank water. There are reports that when the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was
asked about the use of incantations, he said that one should use the Qur'an, for otherwise it would be a dubious procedure.
In some countries, Europe and the United States included, Muslims walk around with numerous ‘magic
squares’ on scrolls attached to their bodies. Magic squares play an important role in Islamic talismanic designs. The first appearance of such a square (called a wafq in Arabic) in
Islamic literature occurred in the alchemical writings attributed to Jābir ibn Ḥayyān. This early magic square was recommended as a charm for easing childbirth. So, let not the traditional Muslim fault Sufis
for what they themselves practice! Much of the ‘Islamic magic’ used in Muslim countries concerns the Jinn (protection
spells against them, or spells to call them up). Magic in the form of Qur’anic numerology (in relation to letters),
amulets, scrolls carried on the body, and the repetition of various Names of Allah a specific number of times, is still widely
practiced by some Sheikhs and women Sufi healers throughout Eastern Europe, the Middle and Near East. A favorite contemporary
Muslim amulet consists of a square-inch miniature of the Koran enclosed in metal and worn around the neck. Another great favorite
amulet is the ‘Hand of Fatima’ which is also known as the ‘Hand of Miriam’ in the Jewish religion.
Much of Islamic amulet lore is based on the need to use all possible means to protect oneself against the ‘evil
eye.’ A popular internet Islamic jewelry
store sells ‘silver effect’ cylindrical taweez lockets. Diameter 7
mm. You can purchase pure silver taweez lockets also.
Islam has had a notable tradition of alchemical writers. Renowned Islamic alchemists such as al-Iraqi,
Rhazes, Maslamah al-Majriti, Bakr b. Bishrun, Ibn as-Samah, and Jabir Ibn Hayyan, have often performed alchemical transformations.
However, the author would like to note that Islamic Alchemy used in its purest sense it practiced to expand the soul so that
the consciousness of the Prophet Adam (‘Alaihi Assalam), the pure and harmonious interconnection of Humanity and Nature,
is known. The author is not suggesting that one or the other form of practice is good or bad. However, the author would like
to see the emphasis placed on annihilation rather than the acquiring of benefits
in the ‘apparent’ world. “Earlier Sufis had been concerned with ascetic-mystical theory, or, if they were
poets, with illuminating their search and the states they experienced.” What reason does the reader have for asking
for anything, since the reader does not exist?
At this time, greater systematization now was seen in the prayer and ritual manuals now being
produced as guides for the director and his pupils. “These manuals show that the ritual is now a traced-out Way, a rule
of life, by following which the novice may attain union with God, founded upon a series of observances additional to the common
ritual and duties of Islam. It involves a novitiate, during which he receives guidance from a Sheikh, and it is now that the
saying that the novice must be in the hands of his director like the corpse in the hands of the washer of the dead becomes
popular. This culminates in initiation, which includes investment with a khirqa,
mantle, and headdress [turban].”
Now, this brings up some fascinating points. Some traditions have been kept within Sufi Orders,
when it seems that these traditions have suited those in authority, and other traditions discarded, when it seems that the
traditions threatened (in some way) those in authority. For example, while the khirqa,
mantle, and headdress [turban], traditionally were granted after a period of study (usually three years), today, only very rarely is someone granted these symbols of recognition.
Rather, Sheikhs will keep pupils, as pupils, for decades, or even for their entire
lives, without ever granting them the khirqa. This has resulted in a dire lack
of qualified Sufi teachers in the world today! Major cities, states, and even countries, do not have any properly recognized
Sufi Sheikh or Khalifa. Because of this lack of khalifas, we now have been seeing
for last twenty-five years the invasion of pseudo-Sufis, who have little or no training (formal or otherwise). They may have
read a few books and have gone to a few ‘Rumi Whirling’ weekend workshops. They are purveyors of ‘Sufi Lite.’
These pseudo-Sufis, who put out a shingle billing himself or herself as a ‘Sufi Teacher’ or some such thing, attract
the innocent, spiritually starved public who knows no better! These shysters often charge exorbitant amounts of money for
lessons, or ‘conferences,’ in Sufism. Of course, they cannot teach Sufism as they try to pass off grape juice
in place of wine. Sufi Masters never charge money for training a student.
However, who is ultimately to blame for this terrible state of affairs? Well, astagfirullah, power-hungry
Sheikhs want to keep their disciples in a perpetual state of discipleship, and themselves in a perpetual state of authority
and power. A terrible result of holding back competent dervishes from investiture as Sheikhs
or khalifas is that the few authentic Sheikhs in the world begin to acquire
thousands and hundreds of thousands of disciples. This is unfortunate, as the disciple of such a Sheikh may never get a private
audience with his or her Sheikh in his or her entire life! The Sheikh is unable to provide individual guidance to each individual
disciple; the disciple is deprived of private spiritual instruction. Of course, this can be transmitted spiritually, but how
many dervishes-in-training can receive direct instruction via the spirit realms? A quick glance around the Sufi world today,
reveals that there are several of these ‘mega’ Sheikhs. A kind of ‘Sufi Stardom’ is the result; and
millions are the poorer for it (spiritually and financially).
To quote Shams-i Tabrizi in “Me & Rumi: The Autobiography of Shams-i Tabrizi”,
“Beware, do not be satisfied with the sheikh just because of this beautiful form, beautiful words, and beautiful acts
and character traits, because beyond all these is something else. Seek that.”
It must also be said that being a disciple of one of these ‘mega’ Sheikhs permits
one to hide behind the many books, videos and recordings of these Sheikhs, while never having to experience a personal encounter
with the Sheikh. Whether in the apparent world, or in the spirit realms, one must encounter the Sheikh, as frightening as
that may be.
While many Sheikhs, who court authority, love to quote the saying that the dervish should be “like
a corpse in the hands of the Sheikh,” the origin of this saying has nothing to do with Sheikhs. The original, which
is attributed to Sahl ibn ‘Abdallah at-Tustari (d. CE 896), referred instead to Allah:
“The first stage in tawakkul (trust in Allah) is that the worshipper should
be in the hands of Allah like a corpse in the hands of the washer, he turns it as he wills without impulse or initiative on
its part.” Isn’t this interesting? Somehow, a teaching about the need for the dervish to put his or her complete
trust in Allah is twisted into meaning that the dervish should completely submit to his or her Sheikh!
The 14th Century saw the proliferation of Zawiyyas. “The Moroccan Woman and Tasawwuf in the Eleventh Century”
by Mustafa 'Abdu's-Salam al-Mahmah states: “Zawiyyas were built
by Sufis when they took a residence for worship, retreat and spreading tasawwuf among the individuals of society who
desired to learn religious knowledge. They used to try to provide food and drink and provide them with a place to spend the
night. They encouraged them to build zawiyyas on roads and places where people could stay either temporarily or permanently
so that the message of teaching tasawwuf would continue and knowledge would be continued to be taught.” For many
centuries it was considered of great importance that the message of Sufism be disseminated as widely as possible. It was normal
and desirable that students, after completing a certain course of study with a Sheikh, would be granted the mantle of authority
to teach. These new Sheikhs would travel on foot throughout the world. The sword did not spread Islam; it was spread by traveling
Sufis. Today, Sheikhs make it so difficult for anyone to be invested with the khirqa
(mantle) that these Sheikhs are in effect, blocking the spread of Islam. The virtual
Sheikh has stepped in to fill this role. These are the ‘TV Evangelists’ of the Sufi movement, the ‘mega-Sheikhs’
who have huge professionally designed websites. These ‘mega-Sheikhs’ have large public relations departments that
constantly, ad nauseam, post speeches of these ‘mega-Sheikhs’ in a variety of text, audio and video formats all
over the internet. These ‘PR Dervishes’ also constantly upload pictures of these Sheikhs on nearly every Sufi
and Islamic website on the internet. They create web sites that are quasi-official and also web sites that are subtly deceptive,
confusing the viewer into thinking that the site is about one subject and later the viewer discovers it is a disguised advertisement
for the ‘mega-Sheikh.’ It seems that everywhere one looks, one sees the face of these ‘mega-Sheikhs. This
spreads a ‘kind’ of Sufism.
As the reader can see, however, that this form of dissemination of Sufi ideas is limited to the
teachings of a very few Sheikhs. Some of these ‘mega-Sheikhs’ seem to be ‘losing it,’ in other words,
they seem to be intoxicated by their fame and are starting to preach very bizarre and questionable teachings. Again, the fault
lies foursquarely at the feet of the Sheikhs who block their doors so that their disciples never “graduate.”
However, let no one think that during the great age of Sufism that there existed a basic understanding
and teaching, underlying everything. “There were great variations too between the Sufi establishments. Some were rich
and luxurious, favored by authority, whilst others followed the strictest principles of poverty and unworldliness; some had
no Sheikh, others were under the authority of one leader and had become attached to one silsila;
whilst others were governed by a council of elders. Then there were wandering dervishes such as the qalandars who made use of these hostels, and had their own rules and linkage but no organization.”
If today, a dervish were to say that his Sufi group was run by a council of elders, snickers would
erupt from his audience. If the dervish said that his Order had no Sheikh, he would promptly be told that he then had Shaitan
for a Sheikh. If the dervish said that his fellow dervishes did not believe in organization, quiet inquiries would be made
into the suspected anarchist leanings of these individuals. Yet during a great age of Sufism, all these were perfectly valid
Ways of practicing Sufism. Who can say that he or she knows that this was not Sufism? Allah knows best.
According to Sheikh Fadhlalla, a renowned Islamic jurist and himself a Sufi, in his book “The Thoughtful Guide to Sufism,” “Generally, Sufi Orders tend
to be cyclical in nature, and last for about two to three hundred years before weakening and decaying. Whenever a need is
felt, a Sufi Order arises, and reaches its climax and eventually disintegrates.”
Branching of Orders has always been the norm and tradition within Sufism. There are many valid
ways to practice Sufism, therefore, do not let anyone attempt to force you into believing there is only one, or that their
way is the best way. Some Sufi Orders, who may only be a few hundred years old, and who exist because their Pir branched from
some other Order, will try to make you believe that they are the best. Spiritual seekers all want to make sure that they are
studying with the best and most authentic teacher and Sufi Order. Unfortunately, seekers often are most influenced by what
they see around them and what they are told, rather than listening to their deepest inner feelings for inner confirmation.
If you hear ‘we are the best’ enough times, maybe you begin to believe it. However, sometimes the ‘best’
is found in humble and unexpected places. The question is: do you have the courage to follow your heart rather than the firm
advice of men who seem to have your best interest at heart?
No intellectual discussion leads to enlightenment, yet everywhere we find Sufis who relish the
long and involved sobhets of their Sheikhs. Sufism is transmitted from heart to
heart. No talking is necessary. No talking at all! Just sitting with your Master in silence and love is enough. So again,
beware of the tendency to be ‘wowed’ by the Sheikh who is an impressive speaker. More importantly, ask yourself,
“Can I sit with my Sheikh without talking for several hours?” This last practice wildly frustrates intellectual
disciples. Also, disciples who believe that the Sheikh exists to ‘answer questions’ and to ‘clarify matters’
are also frustrated and annoyed by the suggestion that just sitting quietly with one’s Sheikh is sufficient for complete
Sufi transmission. It is the Sheikh’s ‘being’ that you need to be in contact with, not his or her words
Now, to hear some people tell it, Abd al-Qadir, formed a great tariqa. Yet, Taqi ad-Din al-Wasiti wrote, “Abd al-Qadir was renowned during his lifetime for his sermons
and courses or religious instruction, but he never at any time propagated any kirqat
at-tasawwuf.” Amazing! He never at any time propagated any kirqat at-tasawwuf.
“Because it was suspect Abd al-Qadir’s silsila
rarely figures in other than Qadiri lines, for instance, in the attributions in Sanusi’s Salsabil (we read of fuqura tracing themselves to Ahmad ar-Rifa’i,
but no such attributions to Abd al-Qadir). The Order attributed to him produced few famous Sufis or Sufi works; the award, teaching and other material found in Qadiri manuals, being largely borrowed. His later followers attributed
to him a line of mystery teaching he could not possibly have taught. An inspired Qadiri would attribute to his master the
miracles he ought to have done . . .” Sheikh Ilhan Aydoner al-Jerrahi recently said to this author, “Our Sheikhs
don’t fly. We are realistic. Dervishes of other Orders say their Sheikhs fly. Our Sheikhs don’t fly.” This
is an amazing and extremely helpful teaching coming out of the Jerrahi Order. Rather than trying to impress students with
stories of miraculous feats, Sheikh Ilhan Aydoner al-Jerrahi brings the listener back to what is really of importance.
“Abd al-Qadir left no system, let alone Path, to be introduced. In the course of time a
body of rules, teachings and practice was formed, and some Sheikhs began to initiate their pupils into his name because his
fame as an intercessor was spreading.” Again, if you are stuck in your tiny slice of time you call your life, it is
sometimes difficult to see the larger picture. The fact is, that probably the students of these Sheikhs were being told that
all these rules and so forth, were the sacred and true teachings of Abd al-Qadir. This author is sure these students faithfully
accepted their Sheikhs teachings. Yet, many of these Sheikhs knew that this whole Path was an invention. Does that necessarily
make it un-fruitful? No. Does that necessarily make it lacking in puissance? No. Any effort that is performed in sincerity
with beautiful intentions bears spiritual fruit. However, please, dear reader, disabuse yourself of any sense that your tariqa is the one true tariqa, or that
there was (or is) any kind of rational tidiness in the development (past and present) of Sufism.
The Mevlevi’s continued and preserved the teachings of their Pir faithfully. “Ibn
Battuta, whose visit to Qonya in 1332, refers to the Way as the Jalaliyya. The Way developed as a self-perpetuating organization
immediately after Jalal ad-din’s death in 1273.” Other revered and well-respected Orders, like the one fabricated
after the passing of Abd al-Qadir, were also completely artificial. For example, the Chishtiyya, is more a work of fiction
than reality. Mu’in ad-din Hasan Chisti, born about 1142 CE, was attracted early to the errant Sufi life and served
his master, Uthman Harvani, during some twenty years of wanderings, and then continued them on his own. Nothing reliable is
known about his life. His biographers (late and untrustworthy) claim that he met and was given initiatory authority by most
of the celebrated Sufis of this formative age, including not only Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani but others who were dead before he was born.”
Rarely do students check out the authenticity of the stories told to them by their Sheikhs, accepting
them on face value. If the Sheikh says that the founding Pir was received and given initiatory authority by various Orders,
this is just accepted with blind faith. People spend more time and effort investigating the best car to buy, the best house
to buy, the best financial investment, then they do to investigate the fantastic claims of their spiritual teachers!
“Whilst tariqa is the method, ta’ifa is the organization, and though khanaqahs were correctly
described as tawa’if (plural of ta’ifa),
since they were organizations of separate groups, they were still not the Orders as we know them. The completion of their
development as ta’ifas or Orders in this specialized sense during the fifteenth
century coincided with the growth of the Ottoman Empire.”
“During the Seljuq and early Ottoman periods heterodoxy was the evident characteristic of
many representatives of Islam, especially in eastern and southern Anatolia. Another Turkish tendency arising out of the haze
from the Tabriz region, displaying strong malamati inspiration, became distinguished
as the Khalwatiyya and Bairamiyya. These remained decentralized and fissiparous, spawning many distinctively Turkish Orders.”
It is of particular interest to this author that by its very nature, the Khalwatiyya was fissiparous.
Now in the 21st Century, when we are again seeing this nature (of breaking away from a main body) manifest itself, many are
running around acting as if this is an outrage that has never happened in the history of the Khalwatiyya line. Branching in
the Khalwatiyya has been the norm, not the exception.
“In Turkey under the Ottomans relative harmony was achieved through toleration of three
parallel religious strands: official Sunni legalism, the Sufi tekke cult, and the
Folk cult. Shi’ism, which was not tolerated, was forced to seek asylum within Sufi group, among whom the Bektashiyya
gave it its fullest expression.”
The student must beware of something: the country from which your Sufi Order originates is not
an intrinsic part of the value of spiritual transmission. So often, students gradually and subliminally start to think that
the politics, language, customs, and ‘aura’ of a country are as important as are the teachings of the tariqa! These students listen with rapt attention to anyone who has the correct foreign accent of the country
in question, and who affects an air of authority.
Recently an individual posted the following on a Sufi newsgroup,
“Historically, Naqshbandi Master teachers with Divine super consciousness have assimilated useful elements from diverse
sources, sometimes quoting the Hadith, ‘Seek knowledge even in
China.’ ” What sort of education might
one receive if one only reads the works of a single author? What kind of cook is it who cooks the same recipe repeatedly,
and never tries to vary and improve the recipe by incorporating herbs and spices from faraway places? What kind of cook is
it that is afraid to experiment with new seasonings? The cook does not believe in changing the recipe for change sake, but
change for the sake of perhaps improvement or perhaps just to remind the guest what he or she is eating.
From the beginning, Khanaqahs
have been defined and regulated by the state. This is the price they paid for official recognition and patronage. This capitulation
to the authorities compromised the true teachings of Sufism. Over time, “the Way became paved and milestoned. From this
period, except in Persia, Sufi writings cease to show real originality. They become limited to compilations, revisions and
simplifications, endless repetition and embroidery on old themes, based upon the writings of earlier mystics.” There
is great truth in this. Any unique and original Sufi teaching today is met with outrage or denial. Often the Sufi community
pretends that the original work does not even exist.
Many ta’ifas began
in the 15th Century. From these, quite a few branched out into hundreds of derivative ta’ifas.
“One aspect of the change, even if not an integral one, was the tendency for the headship of many Orders to become hereditary.
Formerly, the superior designated a disciple to succeed him, or failing this, he might be elected by the initiates, but now
his successor was increasingly designated or elected from within his own family.” In addition, gradually the Head Sheikh
ceased to teach directly “but delegated authority both to teach and initiate to representatives (khulafa, sing. khalifa). A special cult surrounded the Sheikh’s
person, associated with the power emanating from the founder-saint of the ta’ifa;
he becomes an intermediary between God and man. If we characterize the first stage [of the development of Sufism], as affecting
the individual, as surrender to God, and the second as surrender to a rule, then this stage may be described as surrender
to a person possessing baraka, though of course embracing the other stages.”
The wisdom of the Sufis does not always fit comfortably into a religious
matrix. “The difficulties of reconciling these ideas with the dogma and law of Islam had long been evident; the Orders
had been bitterly attacked by zealots like Ibn Taimiya, but now a parallel developed in practice. The founder and his spiritual
heirs affirmed their loyalty to the sunna of the Prophet as a necessary first stage
in their code of discipline.” Thus, they protected themselves from the violent and murderous attacks of the Islamic
jurists. “To justify their teaching and practices, the leaders derived it from the Prophet himself or his immediate
companions to whom their chains are traced back. In addition, the founders of all Orders from the fifteenth century, when
they acquired their definitive form, claim to have been commanded by the Prophet in a dream to found a new Way, an actual
tariqa. Such a tariqa acknowledges its
dependence upon the parent silsila and is distinguished from it in only minor aspects,
a different way of carrying out the dhikr, and, more important, a new wird delivered to the founder by the Prophet.” According to the widely-accepted hadith, Muhammad (pbuh) declared that one who sees him after his death, it as if
one has truly seen him, “because the devil cannot ‘wear my shape’” (Bukhari, Sahih, “Ta’bir”).
“In Turkey proper, the most important Orders were the Khalwatiyya,
Bektashiyya, Mawlawiyya, and the Naqshabandiyya, though, since ‘the ways to God are as manifold as the souls’,
there are many thousand ways and religious Orders.” However, in an effort to “affirm their loyalty to the sunna,” (in response to contemporary spiritual trends), the Orders are today saying that while there are
as many ways to God as there are human souls, all these souls must enter by the ‘Door of Muhammad.’ New Sufis,
most living in the West, are hearing this saying about the ‘ways to God’ for the first time. Sheikh Muzaffer ‘Ozak’
Ashki al-Halveti al-Jerrahi phrased it this way: “There are as many ways to the top of the mountain as there are humans
on earth.” American Sufis are taking Sheikh Muzaffer’s words at face value and understanding the meaning correctly.
However, now the traditionalist Sheikhs jump in, who are so afraid that this might open the door to the realization that perhaps
Allah has bestowed his wisdom on peoples other than the Muslims, and so add the proviso, “but they must enter by the
door of Muhammad.”
“The Khalwatiyya was a popular Order, based on reverence for the leader with power, a reputation
for strictness in training its dervishes, and at the same time its encouragement of individualism. Consequently, it was characterized
by a continual process of splitting and re-splitting. It is regarded as one of the original silsilas, or source-schools. Its origins are obscure, for it had no original teaching personality behind it like
the other Ways, but rather an ascetic association in the Malamati tradition.” From this, we understand that the Khalwatiyya
(or Halvetiyya or Halveti Order) never had a founder, head, or center. In addition, we see from scholarly investigation that
‘splitting’ or ‘branching’ has been the norm, and not the exception, in the Halveti line.
“There came into existence a mystical school which placed it main emphasis on individual
asceticism (zuhd) and retreat (hkalwa).
The Khalwati tradition initially had strong links with the cult of Ali – the Ithna’ashari or Twelver form, as
is shown by the legend that Umar al-Khalwati instituted the twelve-day fast in honor of the twelve Imams – but finding
their strongest support in Anatolia the leaders had to reconcile themselves to a Sunni dynasty and their ‘Alid teaching
was modified or relegated to their body of secret teaching.”
There were many Khalwati (Halveti) ta’ifas, but
the principal ones were:
Jarrahiyya (also called Nuraddinis)
founder: Nur ad-din M. al-Jarrah (d. 1146/1720) in Istanbul.
“The complete integration of saint-veneration with the Orders characterizes this stage.
The ta’ifa exists to transmit the holy emanation, the baraka of its founder; the mystical tradition is secondary.”
Unfortunately, the repression and tyranny of Islamism, prevented subtle exploration, development
and dissemination of the techniques of illumination. “What really happened is that the clamp placed on the exercise
of the mind was effective in suppressing speculative Sufism, so that little genuine insight is to be expected from Sufi writings,
but official condemnations had no effect upon popular practices of the Orders and especially the cult of saints.”
We are taught today within the tariaqas that Shi’ism
was (and is) a movement engaged in by a very small, misguided minority, and that the dervish-in-training needn’t concern
him or herself about Shi’ism. This is another example of how the tariqas deliberately
withhold information from their members, and by design veil the record of olden times. “Shi’ism under a Sufi cloak
formed a powerful undercurrent within the Kubrawi, Khalwati, Bektashi, and Bairami Orders. In the Ottoman Empire, it had to
remain under cover, but in Persia there were various Shi’i Sufi movements, though with the formation of Shi’i
states Sufi Orders and their Sheikhs did not in fact fare very well. Sunni Orders were naturally resented by the Shi’i
mujtahids as having abandoned the Imam for the murshid/qutb, but Shi’i Sufis also suffered.”
It is a veritable and unexpected fact that often, quite accomplished and brilliant Sheikhs are
so caught up in their particular world, that they are unaware of the activities and interests of other official parts of their
Order. Frequently, the activities of those who are present at the Headquarters (the main dergah
of the Grand Sheikh, where the Pir is entombed) are amazingly diverse, including frequent visits to other Orders dergahs, and participation in numerous ceremonies honoring Sunni and Shi’a holy days. In other words, it
is possible to receive an incomplete vision of the scope of a Sufi Order, merely by attending the meetings of one Sheikh of
the Order. As travel is essential for the Sufi, the author states that travel to the head degah
is mandatory, for each Sheikh is a particular flavor, but to taste the soup one must go to the kitchen.
Let us briefly look at the Tijaniyya Sufi Order. Abu’l-Abbas Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Al-Mukhtar
at-Tijani was born in 1150/1737 at Ain Madi in the south of Algeria. He became affiliate to many Orders and a muqaddam of the Khalwatiyya. He received the call the found his own independent Order: “The Prophet gave
him permission to initiate during a period when he had fled from contact with people in order to devote himself to his personal
development, not yet daring to claim Sheikhship until given permission, when in a waking and not sleeping state, to train
men in general and unrestrictedly, and had had assigned to him the wird he was
to transmit.” At first, he adopted the Khalwati line for his chain of succession, but this was eventually discarded.
“His followers were strictly forbidden, not merely to pay the ahd of allegiance
to any other Sheikh, but to make invocations to any wali other than himself and
those of his Order: ‘When the Prophet had given him permission to found his apostolic Way and he had received divine
power through his mediumship the Prophet told him, “You owe no favor to any of the Sheikhs of the Path, for I am your medium and provider in very truth. Abandon all that you have taken in anything concerning the Path.”
Tijanis consequently have only one silsila going back to the founder. Sufism is
wild with diversity. Repeatedly, innocent students are attacked with the club of coercion that claims, “Ours is the
best way. Our Saint is the best Saint.” Some Orders claim that they are comprehensive, and invent various ways to state
that they are the culmination of all the other major tariqas, or that all the other
major tariqas have honored them by sharing major aspects of these other Order’s
formal practices (such as permission to whirl).
For example, Muhammad Uthman who lived during the early 1800’s, not even one hundred years
after the death of Nureddin Jerrahi, claimed that his tariqa is comprehensive,
embracing the essence of the Naqshabandiyya, Shadhiliyya, Qadriyya, Junaidiyya, and the Mirghaniyya of his grandfather; “therefore
anyone who takes the tariqa from him and follows his Path will link himself on
to the chains (asanid) of these tariqas.” Muhammad ibn ‘Ali (1787-1859) claimed “that all the silsilas of existing Orders had been brought together and unified in himself, and
in his book Ar-Salsabil al-ma’in fi t-tara’iq al-arba’in he describes
their dhikr requirements to show how his Way fulfills them all.”
The novice is then faced with the question: which Pir/Sheikh/Khalifa is telling me the truth?
Is there truly one Order that is superior to all other Orders and subsumes the essence of them all? On the other hand, is
this just another example of the boasting of human beings, and their need to be ‘number one’ at any cost? The
author strongly suggests that the would-be Sufi shop around, with a humble, God-fearing attitude, while at the same time praying
earnestly to Allah to guide him or her to the ‘Spring of Enlightenment.’ Just as some students fair best in illustrious
universities like Harvard or Cambridge that boast of their distinguished histories, other students advance better in schools
such as Hampshire College, a school that has a new educational paradigm that emphasizes each student’s curiosity and
motivation; broad, multidisciplinary learning; and close mentoring relationships with teachers. Living cannot easily be separated
from learning at Hampshire. The house system is designed to encourage participation by residents in a variety of social and
intellectual activities. Students who share an academic interest may create informal study groups that develop into friendships;
one's social or political involvements often surface as substantive intellectual questions in one's academic work. This integration
of academic and community concerns is part of what makes it unique among liberal arts colleges.
“With Muhammad, Khatim al-anbiya (Seal of the
Prophets), the cycle of prophecy was closed, but God did not thenceforth leave His people without guidance on the way of Himself.
For the majority, the guide was the revealed Law (Shar) which is for the whole
community, and the ulama were the inheritors of the prophets as the guardians and
interpreters of the Law. For others, those who came to be known as Sufis, direct communion with God was possible. Their mission,
though an individual search, was to maintain among men a realization of the inner Reality that made the Shar [Shariat] valid. This Way normally involved a guide, but of these
there were many . . .”
Behind innumerable spiritual transmissions, one perceives the ‘Servant of the Fatiha’
al-Khadir (a.s.) himself. “The Sufi guides, like the Imams, also possess esoteric knowledge, but, unlike the Imams,
their esoteric knowledge has come to them, not by genealogical, but by spiritual progression. In fact, it came to them by
a twofold action of God: by transmission from Muhammad, through a chain of elect masters, and also by direct inspiration from
God, often through the mediation of al-Khadir, like Gabriel to Muhammad.”
“The developed silsila of the Orders embraces
two divisions: silsilat al-baraka (chain of benediction), connects the present
Sheikh through the founder of the ta’ifa with the founder of the tariqa; whilst silsilat al-Wird (chain of initiation) connects the
tariqa-founder with one of the first khalifas and the Prophet.”
A sense of awe and veneration in one’s soul is important if one aspires to become a dervish.
The greater the sense of awe, the greater the degree of disappearance of the self. Therefore, for some aspirants, stories
of the venerableness of a Sufi Order serve the purpose of developing these qualities. However, for others who have already
developed these qualities, the stories are completely useless. One person requires one medicine, another person requires a
different medicine. Some aspirants need to hear the truths spoken by a Sheikh in a foreign accent, so that by virtue of the
foreign accent, the aspirant truly hears what is being said. The aspirant thinks
that because a foreign Sufi expert is uttering these words, they must be important,
so he or she listens more carefully than he or she might otherwise listen. Others will listen without the need for someone
to speak in a foreign accent. Some people require all sorts of ‘stage effects’: thunder, lightening, rain, wind,
clouds, angels, Deus ex Machina, and so forth. While
others have no need for such appearances, and prefer to go directly to the heart of the matter.
It is thought by some, that to be a Sheikh, one needs an ijaza
(license). “There are three types of ijaza. The first is that given to a
dervish or adept giving his qualifications and permitting him to practice in the name of his master; the second is given to
a khalifa or muqaddam authorizing him
to confer the wird, that is, admit others into the tariqa; whilst the third type simple affirms that the holder has followed a particular course of Sufi instruction.
The fact that Sufis claimed several initiations and possessed a number of ijazas
has caused confusion and misunderstanding, for many ijazas were only concerned
with announcing that the recipient had followed a course, perhaps absorption of a Sufi book, and been given a license to teach
it, or to recite a word of power, such as ash-Shadhili’s Hisb al-Bahr with
power. In India even choirmen (qawwals) were given a singing license.”
Sir Richard Burton translated a ijaza which, he said,
gave him authority as “Darwish Abdallah” to act as a murshid in the
Qadiri Order, but in fact it simply says that he has been given instruction in the Saying of Unity with authority to recite
it 165 times after each farida (obligatory ritual prayer) and on any other occasion
according to his ability. This ijaza was four feet five inches long and about six
and a half inches broad. The length of this ijaza is not at all extraordinary,
nor perhaps the very flexible way Sir Burton utilized his ijaza for his own personal
Many Sheikhs never wrote an ijaza-nama for anyone.
So their statements gained crucial importance after their death. For example, Munis Ali Shah, the great Nimatullahi Sheikh,
also known as Dhu’l Riyasatayn ‘Lord of the Two Masteries’ for his knowledge of both exoteric and esoteric
Islam, did not write an ijaza-nama for anyone. He refers in one of his writings
to Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh as my “sole spiritual son.” Published five years before his death, the words “my
sole spiritual son” in fact, today provide the only indication or announcement as to whom Munis Ali Shah wanted to inherit
the Ni’matullahi mantle. Therefore, contrary to popular opinion, one does not need an ijaza (license) to become a Sheikh, as no one can possibly call into question Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh’s qualifications
or claim to the title.
We are not claiming to have been commanded by the Prophet in a dream to found a new Way. We are
only pointing out that transmission occurs at all levels in Sufi training, and that this transmission of ‘heart knowledge’
occurs by the Divine guidance of an unseen teacher or ‘spirit-sheikh’. In addition, the bestowal of a physical
ijaza, has been impossible throughout the history of Sufism, when the invisible
teacher initiates a khalifa. The entire notion of an ijaza was non-existent for saintly and pious Sufis for hundreds of years after the Prophet’s passing, until
Sufism took on most of the practices of Guilds. The new student of Sufism may choose to ponder why he or she may place such
a strong emphasis on something visible like an ijaza,
when he or she is in the business of searching for the invisible.
When Jalaludin Rumi started to recite his couplets of wisdom, it is reported, people had not had
enough time to form any opinion of him. Some were interested, some were not. Others, following an inevitable human pattern,
resented him. They said, "We hope that you do not think that you are a second Æsop or something." Many members of traditional
Sufi Orders absolutely refuse to believe that any improvements can be made in their Order, and consider it unthinkable that
another waliullah might appear within their ranks. Yet, of course, where did all
the Sufi aulia appear since the 13th Century? They appeared, for the most part,
precisely within the ranks of dervish Orders.
The author asks that you permit him to pose a few questions. Do you feel immersed in love within
your tariqa? Do the people in your Sufi group go out of their way to befriend you,
to get to know you without judging you? Do the members make you feel comfortable and included in group activities? Does a
sense of ease and spontaneity pervade your gatherings? Do people from the group contact you and come visit you when you are
in need or are sick? Does the fellowship of the group extend beyond the confines of the weekly meetings? Is the Sheikh’s
presence the only reason you gather? Even if the Sheikh is not present, do you still feel in your heart a desire to spend
time with the group members? Do you actually visit with them, going out for a coffee together, for example? Do you feel your
fellow Sufis want to add to your knowledge and take the time to explain what they know to you? Most important, does your heart
feel joy when you are with the group?
On the other hand, is your tariqa filled with tension,
rigidity, jealousy, guarded behavior, and jockeying for position? Do you feel a constant gnawing fear of not doing something
you should be doing or doing something you should not be doing? Do people frequently tell you, in a grouchy way, that you
have done something incorrectly? Do people question you about whether or not you are faithfully performing your religious
practices? Do you notice that there are certain cliques of dervishes who are invited certain places (sobhets, jumma, etc.) with the Sheikh, events which are not made known
to the general community of dervishes before the event? Do you wonder where everyone goes after the group meeting? Do you
only concern yourself with whether or not the Sheikh loves you? Are you only mildly interested in the community’s love?
Shams-i Tabrizi said, “When something needs to be said, I'll say it even if the whole world grabs me by the beard and
tells me not to. Even if it be after a thousand years, these words will reach those for whom they're intended.” In the
spirit of Shams-i Tabrizi, this author continues to say what needs to be said, even though he may earn the contempt of certain
sheikhs, tariqats, and dervishes for his outspokenness. What needs to be said is
that the above warning signs indicate that your group is spiritually dead. They thirst not and would not be called people
like us. These warning signs indicate that you are not sitting among the Table of Lovers.
In short, your group is not teaching you love, they are teaching you separation,
the principle of negation. If you notice these warning signs in your group, the author strongly suggests that you have nothing
to do with these people.
Many Sheikhs from various Sufi Orders require a great deal, in terms of respect, attendance and
obedience, from their dervishes. Yet, the author asks, what is given in return? It seems that, in recent times, many tariqas have a poor record of accomplishment with regard to helping their students achieve illumination and enlightenment.
It is easy to fail to notice this all-important fact because the dervish-in-training is quickly caught up in the hubbub of
activity taking place all the time in these groups. People invest so much time, and become so involved in an Order, that psychologically
they reach a point of no return, and then they do not want to delve into the issue of enlightenment. They come to an Order
seeking the waters of life, and amazingly, end up satisfied with honoring others in the past who have found the waters of
If your intention is to join an ‘official’ Sufi tariqat,
then it is reasonable to insist on superior personal instruction from this Order, for this Order will require a life-long
commitment from you. After all, in spite of all the ways tariqas deflect the student
today from his or her true purpose, the reason you join a tariqat is transmission.
What does the author mean by an ‘official’ Sufi tariqat?
Such a tariqat is a traditional, conservative, and established Sufi Order that
a vast body of rules and regulations
an extensive hierarchy
exceedingly meticulous adab
much formal pageantry
various robes, mantles, turbans,
hats, belts, boots, walking sticks, and other accoutrements, all according to one’s position in the organization
rituals for all sorts of occasions
initiations and the swearing of
an observed adherence to all the
rules of Islamic shariat
a requisite that one be a Muslim
for admittance to the Order
Yet, in actual practice, the dervish-in-training receives very little superior personal instruction,
precisely because while everyone is so involved with performing nonessential activities, the essential is all but forgotten.
The author believes that these nonessential activities are also a smokescreen, in other words, they are a way that a Sheikh
can make his or her disciples feel that they have received something valuable, thus permitting the Sheikh to successfully
hide the fact that he or she knows nothing about how to enlighten his or her disciples. The most personal instruction some
dervishes receive for years is to practice tesbih (repeating the names of God on
a rosary) a certain amount of times each day. Being handed a book of devotions, or a manual about meditation, is not a substitute
for the heart-to-heart transmission that takes place between Sheikh and Disciple.
Through fasting, retention of the breath, remembering Allah (Zikr),
and conscious suffering, one opens the heart to receive the keys to Ma’rifat (Gnosis). Transmission occurs through Allah’s permission and
within Allah. Sufis say: "By the Light of Allah I see Allah." Transmission, or knowledge of the light of the heart, may occur
a direct vibration from HU, the God-force, example: majdhubs
a visitation by the Prophet Muhammad
(pbuh), example: Pir Muhammad Nureddin al-Jerrahi
a visitation by any of the Prophets
of Allah (upon whom be peace), example: a book by the Sufi master Javad Nurbakhsh of the Nihmatullahi order entitled “Jesus in the Eyes
of the Sufis,” states that Sufis look to Jesus (pbuh) much more than to Muhammad (pbuh) for inspiration, guidance
and example. There are Sufis who are said to be upon the foot of Jesus (Isawi)
like the first physical teacher of Ibn al-'Arabi, others are upon the foot of Moses
(Musawi), but as they are following the Islamic shariah they are having their specific emphasis (Isawi, Musawi) because of Muhammad (pbuh).
the Friends of Allah, example:
Jalal ad-Din Rumi received transmission from Shams-i Tabrizi
Pirs, Saints and Sheikhs in the
Spirit Realms, example: Abu al-Hasan Kharaqani (may Allah be pleased with him) [d.1034] was initiated by the spirit
of Bayazid Bistami; the nonphysical binding of two likeminded Sufis shows up with particular force in the Sabiri branch of
the Chishtiyya. It is Sheikh Abd al-Quddus (d. 1537) who declares himself to be the beneficiary of an Uwaysi initiation through the spirit of the deceased Sheikh Abd al-Haqq Rudawlavi (d. 1434). Al-Nabulusi firmly
believed that initiation in a Sufi order could be given by the spirit of a deceased Sheikh during sleep.
al-Khadir (a.s.)., example: a
number of famous Sufis who have been initiated by the deathless Prophet Khadir (a.s.). He figures in the silsilas (chains of authority) for many Sufis. Rahman Baba (1650 – 1715 CE) wrote, “On the path which
I travel to see my love, make holy Khizer and Ilyas my guides.” Makhdum Ali Mahimi (1372-1431 CE) acquired knowledge from al-Khadir, whom
he met in secret on the Mahim seashore every morning (al-Khadir is regarded as patron saints of travelers and is a mysterious
figure connected with initiation and the highest sources of mystical inspiration ).
By seeing Allah's Nur (Light) in the depths of one’s heart, the soul is drawn like a magnet
back to the Place of the light. In this precious jewel that is called the heart, the Sufi has found
that which is more effulgent than the sun.
What does it mean to be fully enlightened? Do we measure perfection
with a human yardstick or a divine yardstick? Elizabeth Lesser writes about her work at Omega Institute, “I have met thousands of people from all walks of life. I have yet to meet a ‘normal’ one, if normal means
consistently sane, contented, and capable. And yet most of us hold ourselves up to an unattainable standard of human perfection.
The 12th-century Sufi poet Rumi called this phenomenon the ‘Open Secret.’ He said each one of us is trying to
hide the same secret from each other—not some racy or evil secret, but the mere fact of our flawed humanness. We expend
so much energy trying to conceal our ordinary bewilderment at being human, or our loneliness in the crowd, or that nagging
sense that everyone else has it more together than we do, that we miss out on the chance to really connect, which is what
we ultimately long for.” Beware of Sheikhs that pretend they are perfect and deliberately make you think (and feel)
that you should live up to this impossible standard. The only result of this type of perfectionism is a crushing sense of
guilt, shame and repressed anger. Hazreti Pir Nureddin al-Jerrahi prays in his ‘Wird al-Sharif,’ - “Heal
our brokenness and transform our impoverished consciousness into a wealth of love.” The Sheikh who openly admits his
or her human frailties, instead of expending huge amounts of energy to portray him or herself as perfect, is the Sheikh you
should choose as your Murshid.
Sheikha Fariha Fatima al-Jerrahi speaks about looking at the “innate
perfection within,” and urges us “to be truly who we are.” She teaches that each human is innately perfect.
Yet, part of being a dervish is to take responsibility for the flaws in ourselves. The dervish takes complete responsibility
for his or her life, instead of blaming other people. We do not wait around for the ‘perfect master.’ We can say
with certainty that perfection was achieved by one human being, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), because he was called the insan kamil. There have been, and are, others. The title insan kamil does not mean these human beings are without error or fault; that title means they have realized a
certain station within Allah, so that their faults, their wrongs, their defects become virtues, become mercies for other people.
That is the station of insan kamil. There is only one Master, that Master is Allah, and so we are the servants. A Sufi Master, a Sheikh, is actually a slave.
How can Allahu ta’ala manifest His Attribute of Mercy if people
have no faults? The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught us to say astagfirullah precisely
so that Allah may manifest His Quality of Mercy to humanity. Yet, how many disciples believe that their Grand Sheikh has no
faults? It is true, is it not? These Grand Sheikhs walk around in a very pious manner that leads their disciples to believe
they are perfect. Sheikha Fariha al-Jerrahi teaches, “We are perfect as Allah permits humanity to be perfect.”
To be a teacher, a Sheikh, does not mean that one is perfect. A Sheikh makes a great mistake to act or pretend he or she is
We need to seek for an Order that embodies the eternal realities but which has teachings that
show new trends and adaptations for life in a changing world. What is of assistance and valuable from traditional Sufism we
hold on to tightly; what is merely cultural and political accretion we discard. As Arthur Smith, Ph.D. writes, “Some of what worked a hundred
years ago is less effective now. To be of use Sufism must operate in the time and culture in which the pre-illuminated find
themselves. This means, in part, that techniques must take into account cultural bias and make use of current technology when
helpful. Just as we use e-mail as one way to communicate, we should not fear or discount modern technology when useful to
our endeavor.” Allah Most High is constantly
renewing his own creation. Therefore, authentic Sufism continues to renew itself and will appear in guises that are often
pleasantly surprising (to those who love Allah), threatening (to established tariqas)
and shocking (to those who look to Sufism as a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon).
The price of immortality is so cheap, yet so few people buy it.
As we were told by our Grand Sheikh Muzaffer “Ashki”
Ozak Efendi al-Halveti al-Jerrahi (rahmetullah aleyh), "We have to read our Qur’an
All mistakes in this article are the fault of the author. All truths
that humans express are only partial truths. Allah knows best.
© 2005 Sheikh Abdullah Muzaffer Laurence Galian
A.H. – The Islamic calendar or Muslim calendar
(also called "Hijri calendar", Arabic) is the calendar used to date events in many predominantly Muslim countries, and used
by Muslims everywhere to determine the proper day on which to celebrate Muslim holy days. Islamic years are also called Hijra
years because the first year was the year during which the Hijra occurred—Muhammad's emigration from Mecca to Medina
in 622 CE. It is a purely lunar calendar having 12 lunar months in a year of about 354 days. Because this lunar year is about
11 days shorter than the solar year, Muslim holy days, although celebrated on fixed dates in their own calendar, usually shift
11 days earlier each successive solar year, such as a year of the Gregorian calendar. Thus each numbered year is designated
either H or AH, the latter being the initials of the Latin anno Hegirae (in the
year of the Hijra).
Astagfirullah – “forgive me Allah”
Awliya – friends of Allah.
Baraka – blessings; sanctity or blessing, obtained through saints or saints tombs; originating from Allah
and then passed to the Prophets and from them to the saints and Pirs; progress will not be made without the attention
of the Sheikh [living or spirit-sheikh] because the baraka leading one along the
Sufi path is transmitted only through him or her.
Barzakh - A limit or boundary separating two things is called barzakh in Arabic, which explains why the
intermediate realm that separates the temporary and evanescent life of this world from the eternal life of the hereafter is
also called barzakh. Definition courtesy of Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari.
CE - The Common Era (CE), also known as the Christian
Era and sometimes the Current Era,
is the period of measured time beginning with the year 1 until the present. The term is used for a system of reckoning years that is chronologically equivalent to the anno Domini (AD) (Latin for "in the year of [our] Lord") system, but with less overt religious implications. Although common era was a term
first used by some Christians in an age when Christianity was the common religion of the West, it is now a term preferred
by some as a religiously neutral, and academically correct, alternative.
Dergah - "Royal court," the tomb of a saint and also the center that serves as the headquarters of a particular branch
of an order.
Faqir – see ‘fuqura’.
Fuqara - While the classical translation of fuqara` (Poor, sing faqir) implies
poverty, it is different for the word ‘miskeen’, which also means poor,
implying poverty but signifying an irreparable lacking of means to recover. The Sufis use the word ‘faqir’ to signify one who is acutely aware of his dependence upon Allah for all things, and in another to
signify a dervish, or one belong to a Sufi Order. In this significance, the Sheikh, master or teacher of the order is the
'owner of the house, the host at the table of whom sit the guests, the ‘fuqara`’.
Hadith Qudsi - Hadith Qudsi (or Sacred Hadith) are a sub-category of hadith, which are sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Hadith
Qudsi are said to be the words of Allah, repeated by Muhammad (pbuh) and recorded on the condition of an isnad (chain of verification by witness(s) who heard Muhammad (pbuh) say the hadith). A hadith containing words
of Allah that were narrated by the Prophet (pbuh), but which do not form part of the Qur'an.
Ikwan – brethren.
Isnad – chain.
Khalifa - Khilafath is the process in which a Sheikh identifies one of his disciples as his successor (Khalifa). A Murshid (Sufi Teacher or Sheikh) can have more than one khalifa.
Madhab - a method; a method of interpretation of religious
material in the three major areas: belief, religious practice and law. Formed before the most authentic hadith (sayings of the Prophet)
collections like Bukhari and Muslim were gathered. The hadith, used by such madhab
founders as Abu Hanifa and Malik as a basis, are not always satisfactorily authentic. The scholars of the madhabs living after its founder sometimes significantly altered his rulings. Many were in existence before 1300’s,
but afterward, only four remain official: the schools of thought of Malik, ash-Shafi’e, Abu Hanifa, and Ahmad.
Maqamat – stages.
Mushahada – contemplation.
Mashrab – style or way of belief.
Nisba – affiliation.
Radiallahu an - means 'Allah's blessings be on him'; sometimes abbreviated
as ‘r.a.’; blessings here means
Allah's acceptance on everything that they do.
Radiallahu anha - means 'Allah's blessings be on her'; sometimes
abbreviated as ‘r.a.’; blessings
here means Allah's acceptance on everything that they do.
Rasulallah - literally this means ‘envoy’ or ‘apostle’ of God. Muhammad
(pbuh) was a rasul; Rasul is also an Arabic word that is derived from the
word, Risalat, meaning, to send. Thus, the meaning of Rasul is, one who is sent
from Allah; Rasul is a type of nabi (prophet).
Shariat - the Arabic word for Islamic law, also known as the Law of Allah. Islam classically draws no distinction between religious and secular life. Hence Sharia covers not only religious rituals, but
many aspects of day-to-day life, politics, economics, banking, business or contract law, and social issues. Fascinatingly,
the term itself
refers to ‘way to water’ or a ‘break in a riverbank allowing access to water. ...’
Silsila - writing out the names of the masters of the order; what resulted was a filial tree,
Sufi - A devout follower of School of Sufism; Sufism is a mystical and spiritual sect of Islam;
the words ‘fakir’ (Arabic), ‘تصوف taṣawwuf’
(Arabic), and ‘dervish’ (Persian) are sometimes used to refer to Sufis.
Sufism develops an inner way to mystical union with God. It frequently wears the cloak of Islam, and is sometimes seen as
the esoteric dimension of the Islamic faith. A Sufi may or may not embrace Islam, but will be respectful of all faiths, seeing
the path of truth that lies within their core. A Sufi is a human being who seeks direct experience of Allah.
Ta’ifa - this word has the specialist technical sense of a Sufi order.
Tariqa – Way or path; the path followed by mystical schools of interpretation in Islam; the Arabic word tarika or Tariqa: طريقه (pl.: turuq:
طرق) means ‘way’ or
‘path’ and, in the Sufi tradition of Islam is conceptually related to Haqiqa,
or Truth, the ineffable ideal that is the pursuit of the tradition. Thus, one starts at the Sharia, the exoteric or mundane practice of Islam, and adopts a tariqa
towards the Haqiqa. The term has commonly come to be used to designate a Sufi Order.
Taṣawwuf - Sufism (Arabic تصوف taṣawwuf) is a system
of esoteric philosophy associated with Islam. In modern language, it might also be referred to as "Islamic spirituality" or
"Islamic mysticism.” Some non-Islamic Sufi organizations also exist, especially in the West.
Tekke - Literally "corner" (Turk.); lodge; synonymous with Khaniqah (Pers.) and Zawiyya (At).
Ulama - doctors of Islamic law; Islamic legalists.
Uwaysi - Uways al-Qarani embraced Islam in Yemen, and greatly desired to travel to Medina to meet Prophet Muhammad
(pbuh). But his old mother wanted him to stay home and take care of her. She gave him permission to go on the condition that
as soon as he got to the Prophet's house, he would turn around and come right back without going anyplace else. The Prophet
Muhammad (pbuh) happened to be out when he reached there. But Uways was obedient to the promise he'd made to his mother, so
he never did get to meet the Prophet. For his love for the Prophet and his filial piety, he was raised to the same spiritual
station as the Sahabah, the Prophet's Companions. The concept is that he received
his initiation into sainthood in a purely spiritual way, without a face-to-face meeting. So when a Sufi receives by the grace
of God a spiritual initiation without physical contact with a Sheikh, he is said to be an "Uwaysi."
Wali – see Waliullah.
Waliullah - Arabic word, literally meaning
protector or guardian. In the spritual tradition of Islam, a Wali , or Waliullah/WaliAllah is a friend of Allah. Usually these people are members of Sufi (mystic) communities who are considered to have a special relationship with Allah. Famous Walis include Ali (a.s.), son-in-law of Muhammed (pbuh); Fatima (a.s.), daughter of the prophet.
Zawiyya - The term zawiyya appeared in the Maghrib around the 13th
Century and was synonymous with ribat, i.e. the minaret where the wali
retreated and around which his students and murids lived. Ibn Mazruq says, "This zawiyya is the term for what
is called ribats, khanqahs and khanaqat in the east." The
terms dergah, ribat, khanaqah, tekke, and zawiyya
are so close in meaning, that anyone should be excused for using them interchangeably.