|Overview of the Shadhili Path|
The main emphasis of the tariqa may be characterized as attachment of the heart to Allah Most High. Allah describes the way to this in His command to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace),
To follow the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in his lifetime was a simple matter for his Companions, who but said, “We hear and obey.” As for afterwards, the Companions passed on their knowledge to those after them, and so on down to our own times, so that Allah’s remembrance might be preserved, both His word, the Holy Koran, and the other wisdom brought by the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). Allah Most High says,
which Allah, in His wisdom, has brought about through those who have borne the trust down through the ages, the scholars of this Umma. For the sake of scholarly quality and excellence we rely on the very foremost of them in each discipline, the Imams of the field, whether in Sacred Law, Koranic exegesis, hadith, Koran recital (tajwid), or the other disciplines. In this connection, our sheikh, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri, says,
One consequence of this is that all who are in the tariqa follow one of the four Sunni madhhabs (schools) of fiqh: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i, or Hanbali; as well as one of the two schools of tenets of faith, Ash‘ari or Maturidi. Our sheikh is a Shafi‘i, but accepts any other school that the student may wish. He prefers that all follow the Ash‘ari school in ‘aqida (tenets of faith),because he finds it sounder on some questions.
A second consequence is that we do not take our din or religion from those who are not Imams, especially orientalists or authors without a traditional Islamic education at the hands of the tradition’s sheikhs. University degrees, academic acclaim, and works in print all indicate the earnestness and effort of those who possess them, but cannot take the place, for religious purposes, of having an unbroken line of teachers extending back to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), who is the source of all religious knowledge (‘ilm). This is perhaps even truer of Sufism than other religious sciences. Ibn ‘Ajiba says:
In this regard, one may note that English literature on Sufism is plagued with efforts by the unqualified to write about the field, among them a group of authors dedicated to spreading the anti-Islamic concept of the universal validity of all religions. Besides being a lie against the high, pure way of Sufism, this idea is kufr that places those who hold it outside of Islam—in hell eternally, if they die on it—by negating the basic tenet of faith that Islam is the final religion that abrogates all previous religions. Their books are often as eloquent as dangerous, and one must know them for what they are, though we may at least infer how rare and precious the way of tariqa is from the number of highwaymen upon it to rob the unwary. The matter also points up the need for genuine Islamic knowledge, and the relevance of the traditional maxim “If the wali [friend of Allah] does not know the entrances the Devil uses, the Devil will enter.”
The true literature of the tariqa is copious, though mostly in Arabic, and consists, first and foremost, of the Hikam al-‘Ata'iyya of the second successor to Imam Abul Hasan al-Shadhili, Ibn ‘Ata' Illah (may Allah be well-pleased with them both), together with its many commentaries, among the best of which is the Sharh Ibn ‘Abbad [commentary of Ibn ‘Abbad (al-Rundi)], which Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman recommends for those who have not yet entered the khalwa or ‘solitary dhikr (invocation of Allah) under the sheikh’s supervision’; as well as the Iqadh al-himam fi sharh al-Hikam [The awakening of spiritual ambitions: a commentary on the Wisdoms], by Ibn ‘Ajiba, which he recommends after the khalwa, though it contains much valuable material, as he says, “for the person at the beginning, the middle, or the end of the spiritual way.”
From its inception, the Shadhili tariqa has been one of scholars and scholarship, and many excellent books exist in print by its sheikhs. Few books in Sufism are of benefit in the path besides those of authorized sheikhs, and it is more beneficial when they are from the spiritual line of one's own tariqa, preferably the more recent of them, among the best being the spoken lessons of one’s sheikh that have been taped. But the best way to take knowledge of Sufism is still the traditional way of sitting with the sheikh, listening, asking questions, and then applying the knowledge one has taken.
Masters have always emphasized that the tariqa, while grounded at every step in Islamic knowledge, is not concerned with words or books as such, but with spiritual sincerity, illuminating the heart with the love and knowledge of Allah that He bestows on those who follow the way of the prophets and purified ones in spiritual effort and dhikr. Now, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has said,
so Sufis engaged in spiritual works have always taken care to devote their intention, their whole mind, heart, and being—to Allah Himself, the limitless immensity of His greatness, His majestic exaltedness (kibriya' literally, “haughtiness”), and the thanks that is due to Him—not to the divine reward for such acts, or other ends of the self. Allah Most High says,
The rewards for acts mentioned in Koran and hadith, according to the masters of the way, are bestowed by Allah to manifest His limitless generosity to His servants if and only if these acts are for Him alone; not when reward as such is the reason for performing them. It is not suitable for spiritual works in the path of sincerity to be primarily for self interests, in this world or the next. Some scholars, such as Imam Ghazali in his Minhaj al-‘abidin, have even held that to seek nothing beyond an act’s reward nullifies its entire value with Allah. But the sounder position is that Allah in His mercy and kindness may inspire such a servant to eliminate the defective intention by disclosing to him the reality of his own self; that Allah alone created it and its worship, and that He has a better right to be what is intended therein. Superior still is that the sole devotion to Allah, as an “intention,” accompany only the beginning of the act, to be then superseded by one’s “absence” from the work, solely beholding Allah in the heart, for Allah loves those who behold Him.
If these are the states of those at the end of the path, beginners, for their part, reach them by successive approximations, as a person after a long illness strengthens unused muscles by practicing walking a little farther each day, to be eventually able to walk as far as he wants.
There is little need to dwell on those who perform acts of worship out of habit, automatically, without having any particular intention in their hearts: they are neither worshipping Allah nor other than Him, and can expect nothing from their acts except to pass time.
Mujahada (Spiritual Struggle)
The main work of the tariqa is to steadfastly perform all acts that are obligatory (fard) and the confirmed sunna (mu’akkada), to eat and live from a lawful income, and to eliminate every blameworthy trait and acquire every praiseworthy one, with the Sacred Law as one’s guiding light.
The sphere of outward mujahada or ‘spiritual struggle’ in our tariqa is that one first strive to eliminate all that is unlawful (haram) from one’s life according to the standards of one’s own school of fiqh, and after this, to eliminate all that is offensive (makruh) in it. This is the foundation for all higher reaches of the path. If one succeeds at this, and the time and inclination to learn exist, one may go on to do the same with the other schools.
The sphere of inward mujahada consists in training the heart—by love, dhikr, and gratitude—as ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Dabbagh says,
Ours is thus not a way of hunger, thirst, and spiritual austerities, but of thankfulness to Allah and presence of heart. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has said,
In accordance with the teachings of Islam, those of our tariqa do not smoke, watch television, or countenance the mixing of men and women other than for business, education, or necessity: whenever and wherever possible, men sit with the men, out of view of women with the women. Sheikh al-Hashimi has said,
A cardinal principle of the tariqa is zuhd or ‘nonattachment to other than Allah.’ One should always leave what does not concern one, meaning one’s needs in this life or the next. Our sheikh often repeats two verses of poetry that mean:
This applies with special force to media such as advertising, entertainment, and the internet. Masters say, “Increase in the physical, and you will decrease in the spiritual,” and this pertains to everything but what benefits one, now or in the hereafter. This is why the salik or ‘traveller’ shuns the din of hucksters, prefers clothing devoid of writing or trademarks, unplugs from the internet except to buy, sell, or benefit the Muslims, and in a word, finds in the Absolute that which suffices him from the limitary.
WHEN one first takes the tariqa, the sheikh asks about one’s prescribed prayers during the previous forty days. If one has missed or delayed any past their lawful time, one’s first spiritual effort is to get forty days in a row without a single missed prayer.
After this, one begins a series of lessons in muraqaba or ‘spiritual vigilance’ that incorporate the “prayer of repentance” (salat al-tawba), from the rigorously authenticated hadith conveyed by Abu Bakr and ‘Ali (Allah be well pleased with them) that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
This sunna is practiced always, whether for each wrong committed, as is superior, or at least for the last wrong committed on that day, conjoined with a “general repentance” from all wrongs entirely, which is “valid without specifying them individually, even when one knows them” (al-Laqqani: It-haf al-murid, 255). It seems particularly useful to travellers in the spiritual way, which is one of continual repentance (tawba). Repentance is, the sheikh notes, “the soul of all spiritual stations,” and in this connection, it is noteworthy that one of the greatest benefits of taking the tariqa is that disciples take care to fulfill the rights that are obligatory upon them: giving Allah His due by making up any prescribed prayers missed since entering Islam; and giving others their due by paying off any debts and restoring anything wrongfully taken from them, whether before or after entering Islam. These are necessary to succeed in the path—and to meet Allah on the Last Day.
One should not entirely neglect any kind of spiritual work recommended by Sacred Law, for as Ibn ‘Ata' Illah says, each type of work has a spiritual light proper to it, and whoever leaves it unperformed will lack that light. One may fast days that are sunna to fast, such as Mondays and Thursdays, the Day of ‘Arafa, and so on, but the main emphasis of our way is not fasting, but rather dhikr, and learning Sacred Law and living it.
Because learning Arabic is necessary to gain sound Islamic knowledge, it too enters into the mujahada of our Shadhili path. Sheikhs often test disciples with something that represents a challenge, and in our tariqa it is learning Arabic. The benefits are many. First, the path of a Sufi is not a path at all, but the work of a lifetime, in which knowledge plays a key role. Because of the baraka or ‘spiritual blessing’ of knowledge, at the end of the path one finds a world of difference between, say, a good-hearted soul who knows only the Fatiha and a few suras, and another who is conversant in Arabic and has cultivated himself and benefited from the recorded experience of centuries of previous masters. Moreover, the Arabic Koran is the Islamic revelation, and therefore the book par excellence of the Sufis. Great as the reward may be for reciting it without understanding, it is not like that of someone who recites it as it has been revealed and is changed by it to the very core of his being. As Allah says in Surat al-Zumar,
Finally, the purpose of a true sheikh is not to gather an army of followers around himself, but to produce Sufis who can ultimately walk on their own two feet in the path, able themselves to distinguish truth from falsehood, whose din does not disappear when the sheikh does—all of which requires that they be close to the primary texts of the Koran and sunna.
To summarize the whole matter of mujahada in our path,the wali or ‘friend of Allah’ is someone whom Allah has made victorious over his four enemies: the ego, this world, caprice, and the Devil. Because this victory generally entails spiritual struggle, the difference between the Shadhili path and others is not that it lacks all mujahada, which all paths must have; but rather in its attitude towards it. In other tariqas, spiritual struggle and its resultant change are regarded as a means to reach Allah. In the Shadhili path, reaching Him itself is regarded as the greatest means to this change.
The touchstone of the spiritual way is a heart occupied with nothing besides Allah, and its sign, in the words of al-Junayd, is “that Allah (al-Haqq) slay you from yourself and give you life through Him”; that Allah, in the fullness of one’s destiny, free one of all low traits and adorn one with high ones. The tariqa is not concerned with the possibility of this happening as a miraculous gift, all at once, but rather with the means that normally bring it about. Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman emphasizes that the two strongest ones are dhikr, making remembrance of Allah, and mudhakara, learning traditional spiritual knowledge of the din in its three pillars: Islam (shari‘a), Iman (‘aqida), and Ihsan (tariqa).
Operationally, one strives to attain the states of the Koran—explained in the famous hadith of ‘A'isha (Allah be well pleased with her) as the character traits of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) (Ahmad, 6.91. H)—first by hearing about, then living, and finally internalizing each trait as a permanent station (maqam). One needs high aspiration (himma) for this, though our sheikh cautions that blind haste can deprive the path of spiritual blessing (baraka), and ultimately success, since love and knowledge of Allah reach their perfection only in a balance between the faculties of the soul, without blameworthy extremes.
The Shadhili tariqa has never had any distinctive dress or apparel; initiation into the tariqa rather meant to change, much in the way described by the Sheikh al-Akbar (Muhyiddin Ibn al-‘Arabi) in his explanation of the conditions for donning the patched garment (khirqa) of the Sufis:
The conditions for this well known garment resemble the form manifested by Allah for covering one’s shameful parts: One clothes the shame of lies in the garment of truthfulness, the shame of faithlessness in the garment of keeping one’s word, the shame of treachery in the garment of loyalty, the shame of showing-off in the garment of sincerity to Allah, the shame of base character in the garment of noble character, the shame of blameworthy traits in the garment of praiseworthy ones; clothing every low attribute in the garment of every high one, exchanging attachment to worldly means for the unity (tawhid) of relinquishing them, exchanging reliance upon things for reliance on Allah, and exchanging thanklessness of blessings for gratitude to the Bestower (al-Ghumari: ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, 127).
In short, taking the tariqa means to transform the soul, the means for this being somewhat different in the Shadhili path from others. For there are perhaps two basic approaches to Sufism—considered as the knowledge of the divine entity, which it grasps through direct vision. The first, the way of many tariqas, consists of uprooting bad characteristics from the heart, one by one, and so eventually to become pure enough to behold the divine presence.
The second is the way of our masters, and consists of the sheikh initiating the disciple into the divine presence through the invocation of the Supreme Name, a means through which Allah may grant ma‘rifa or direct knowledge of the Divine to the disciple, who in virtue of this knowledge then frees himself of low traits, one after another, but less by way of spiritual struggle than out of gratitude before the majesty of God. Attaining ma‘rifa in our tariqa is thus not a diploma certifying one is “finished,” but rather one perfection of the way that is a key to others, in a sense, the beginning of the Shadhili path. And its centrality to the din is emphasized by the well known hadith about spiritual excellence (ihsan)
Here, the means of seeing is not the eye, which can only behold physical things like itself; nor yet the mind, which cannot transcend its own impressions to reach the Divine; but rather the ruh or spirit of a human being, the subtle faculty in each of us which is not bound by the limitations of the created universe. The food of this ruh is the remembrance of Allah.