Syed Ali Ashraf

This is an article written by the late Professor Syed Ali Ashraf (ra).  Shariah is the path that leads to water. In the context of existence in the desert, water is life.  It is the allowed and the disallowed in order to lead one safely to life, it’s law and regulations.  Tariqah is a path defined by a scholar who is a teacher and a guide who leads his students/disciples upon such a path.  There is no tariqah without shariah.  Thanks to Maulana Kavir Mohammed of Trinidad for the copy.

In the Name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful

God created the body of the first man, Adam [peace be on him], and breathed into it Spirit from his own Spirit, endowed him with the knowledge of the essence of entire creation in which every created object manifests some quality of God that some Name of God expresses a quality or attribute that God uses to create that object and thereby implanted within him all His attributes, except the Attribute of self-sufficiency. (Ghaniyun). He then offered to him the Trust of obeying God’s injunctions with the reward of progress and spiritual development and continued nearness to God, but warned him of grave punishment for disobedience.

Man was also told that before his creation God had made this offer to the skies, mountains and the Earth, rut they were too afraid to accept this burden. Hence the entire creations, including the angels were not free to disobey. They also were not endowed therefore with the knowledge that qualified Adam [peace be on him] to bear the burden. That was why Adam [peace be on him) was awarded the vicegerency of God on the Earth.

That was also why God says that everything on the earth was created for Man. The entire creation, He says in the Qur’an is placed under the authority of Man. But just as Adam (peace be on him|) forgot and was sent down from the Heaven to the earth, his descendants forgot the Covenant with God which they had made.

God in His infinite Mercy sent down revelations to his chosen people, the Prophets, through whom He reminded Man of this Trust and the method of fulfilling the obligations that the acceptance of the Trust has imposed on Man. The final, the most comprehensive and the complete message of God to mankind to remind him, help him to fulfill his obligations and make him aware of the methods and modes of doing so is the Quran and the final and most perfect human example to emulate and follow is to be found in the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him).

These two together form the Shariah. lt is thus a code prescribed by God, as the Quran says: “Then we put you in the right way concerning the matter (faith].” (45:17] Shariah, therefore, is the means of reaching the status of Khalifatullah. lt has an outward form and an inward virtue. True Shariah is a combination of the outward and the inward, the form and the substance. ln order to become a true  mumin external confession of Iman is not enough, nor is the formal practice of the arkan (foundation laws) of Islam sufficient. The confession and the practice must be based on the realization of Allah’s presence (ihsan). This realization must lead one to the extinction (fana) of ones self into the Love of God and the Prophet. When true Iman enters a man’s soul he loves God and the Prophet more than himself, his family, clan tribe or nation or entire humanity. That is what the Qur’an tells us when it says: “Say! if your fathers and your sons and your brethren and your wives and your tribe and the wealth you have acquired and the merchandise for which you fear that there will be no sale and the dwellings you desire are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and striving His Messenger and striving in His Way, then wait till Allah bringeth His command to pass. Allah guideth not the wrong doing folk.” (9:24)

The Prophet reinforces this statement by saying:
“None of you can be a mumin until his love for me is more than his love for his parents, children and all the people of the world.” It is only when this love enters the soul and real extinction takes place that a person worships God with all sincerity (Ikhlas).

Man has been created to worship God as God states in the Quran:
 “I have created Jinns and Man only to worship Me (or serve Me).” [51:56) The nature of this worship has been further explained in the Qur’an where God asks man to say: “Truly my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death are all for God, the Cherisher of the Worlds”. (6:162) When this complete self surrender takes place then only man can worship God wholeheartedly and see God or feel His presence. Then only he can fulfill the purpose of his creation and proceed in the straight path of achieving increasing nearness to God.

This process is the natural process of existence. As God has breathed from His own Spirit in us:

“He is nearer to us than our neck vein.” (50:16)
“He is present wherever we are”. (57:4)

lt is this Spirit that is the source of our intellect (Aql).

Our intelligence, through our Spirit, connects us to the supra individual, transcendent source of our existence. Man’s spirit compels man to seek fulfillment in nearness to that Supreme Spirit from which it is derived. This urge for transcendence and this pleasure of fulfillment when man transcends what is earthly in man is innate, hence its naturalness is its rationality and justification. It is therefore the efflorescence of man’s true nature that Islam and hence the following of Shariah can make man achieve. He then realizes the Absolute of Truth, Justice, Righteousness, Mercy and Charity within himself. The Attributes of God within him begin to be realized. Through the Knowledge of these Attributes he starts understanding the essence of Nature and his own true relationship with it. That is how man realizes that everything in existence is an ayatullah, a sign or reflection of Reality. If we follow Shariah properly then only we realize why Islam is called the natural religion. {Deen al Fitrah).

Unfortunately, man is constantly being misled by an external and internal force. Though man’s spirit demands that Union with God his body in which God has placed his Spirit starts drawing its attention to all bodily demands.

Nafs, his self, which is the essence of his bodily existence, loves this world and tries to pervert Man’s intelligence by influencing it and making it concentrate its attention to the fulfillment of worldly egoistic aspirations. The other force that misled man’s forefather Adam (peace be on him) Satan and his followers – whispers within man’s breast in order to lead him astray, so that he remains imprisoned within his worldly self and forgets his true existence.

Forgetfulness is the natural weakness of man. Just as God has breathed in man from His Own Spirit, and thus endowed him with potential greatness and superiority over entire creation, He has put him in the path of trials by placing him in this lowliest of the low regions, by creating in him a source of temptation and by surrounding him with his enemies.

Allah has done this because He has given man the most distinctively Divine thing – Freedom however limited it maybe, and the most outstanding source of greatness his Spirit. That is why He does not want man to reach that high stage without passing through tests and trials. God wants man to see whether man clings to Him and wants Him despite all sufferings, I tribulations and deaths or whether he is too weak to resist temptations.

God makes man aware of these forces and tells man that he has within him an evil prone psyche (nafs i ammarah) and that he must avoid its desires and conquer it and purify the psyche. He also tells man that even when man becomes conscious of this evil force, he may not be able to resist it fully and may become a victim occasionally and then follow God’s instruction and repent. This is the stage of self-reproaching psyche (nafs i lawwamah)

God instructs man through the Quran and the Prophet now to reach the stage of contentment (nafs i mu`tmamnah). It is only when a man reaches that stage of consciousness that he can worship God wholeheartedly. `

Man must he on his guard till his death because even if he reaches that state of contentment, he may be misled by Satanic promptings or Satan’s false pretensions. In Kimyia Sa’adat and Ihya ulum al din, Imam Ghazali deals with all these psychic problems and suggests the  ways and means that he draws ultimately from the Quran and the Sunnah.

From such writings and the writings of great Muslims who have struggled in this path, suffered and conquered purified themselves we learn how subtle this psychic world is and how we need constant guidance to purify our qalb. During the days of the Prophet the inner and outer, the internal conditions and external conduct were integrally related in all his instructions and Shariah flourished in the real sense of the term.

The very physical presence of the Prophet was an incomparable blessing. He was the last but the greatest of the Prophets. He was in the Will of God (iradah) even before the Creation of Adam. He says: “I was a Prophet when Adam was still between water and clay.”

He was the first created Spirit. He says: “Allah first created my Spirit; He first created my light; He first created the Pen; He first created the spirit. He says; Light (nur), Pen (qalam) and Intellect (aql) refer to the same thing: the Spirit of Muhammad (ruh muhammadiyah) or (haqiqat muhammadiyah) the Essence of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

His light {nur) is that light which is purified of the attributes that are hidden under the might and wrath (jalaalah) of Allah. That is why Allah refers to him as rahmatul lil ‘alamin (mercy for entire creation] and bestows on him two of His own attributes – kindness {rauf) and merciful (rahim). Though he was firm and uncompromising with the unbelievers he was God’s mercy incarnate.

He is pen (qalam) because he spread wisdom and knowledge and poured knowledge into the realm of letters. He is also the Intellect (aql) because Truth was revealed to him and through him.

That is why he said;
“He who has seen me has seen the Truth”.

This seeing does not mean seeing his external features, but realizing internally his Essence.
He also said: “I am from Allah and all believers are from Me”.  Thus the spirits of the believers are integrally related to Haqiqat-i-Muhammadiya.

During his days, therefore anyone who had seen him with faith had got transformed. To see him even in a dream is to be saved from hellfire. What a great blessing then it was to see him in flesh and blood and get grace and light from him directly. He was sent by God to “lead those who believe and do righteous deeds from the depths of Darkness into Light”. As he was the channel of Knowledge and Truth, he was granted internal and external meaning of the Quran.

He was granted direct audience by God when he went on Mi’raj (ascension) and he could reach the Throne of God with his body and spirit. His body was therefore purified enough to undertake that journey. He demonstrated that Allah had granted him control over the creation by cleaving the full moon into two halves simply by moving his forefinger. Animals came to get justice from him. His command therefore spread over the entire creation by the order of Allah. It was therefore entirely unnecessary at that period   have any specialization in any particular sphere.

Even during the time of the Righteous Caliphs, this total integration of the outer and the inner dimensions was complete. They were not merely ruling the empire, they were also guiding the spirit of the believers and transforming the newcomers. But in a later period this inner dimension of Shariah was difficult to enforce and the caliphate had become more a worldly administrative unit rather than a spiritually competent and religiously active institution    .

Like Imam Jafar Sadiq and Imam Abu Hanifa many religiously and spiritually advanced ulama tried to retain their academic and spiritual freedom by not accepting government posts. Thus Shariah came to be understood as the Law of Life whose external enforcement was the job of the authorities and whose internal obedience and the real purification of nafs was     left to the individuals to achieve    .

It is during the time of Hasan Basri that a large number of spiritually advanced ulama became the source of inspiration and instruction for people who felt the dire need for spiritual advancement. The disciplining of the self, the realization of ihsan (Virtue, Way of seeing God or of realizing that God sees you) required great care and also command and authority. Just as a person needs a degree to be allowed to teach, or give a fatwa, in this field also specialists were needed to lead people from “darkness to light” those who had received authority from their teachers.

That the Prophet had given special training to some people and that some people had reach a much higher stage of consciousness is evident from the way the Prophet described some of his companions, such as Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Fatima, Ayesha and Khadija,(may Allah be pleased with them).

The statement that he was the “City of Knowledge and Ali was the gateway”, to that city is one such statement. Abu Huraira, (may Allah be pleased with him),said “I have kept in my memory two large quantities of learning from God’s Messenger, one of which I have disclosed among you; but were I to disclose the other, this bul’um, meaning the food tract, would be cut.

The Qur’an testifies to the existence of such knowledge and of such learned people. When Sulaiman (peace be on him) wanted that the throne of Queen Bilquis should be brought immediately, it was brought within the twinkling of an eye by a person who had this special wisdom. The other instance is that of Khidr (peace be on him) about whom Allah had said in the Quran that He had given him knowledge directly from Him (Ilm i-Ladunni). Moses (peace be on him) was another prophet but he did not have that knowledge. This is an extreme case in which God has shown us that there is another sphere of knowledge and duties which do not conform to the methods of Shariah.

As Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) combined both spheres of knowledge, in Shariah both were integrated. The separation of the two spheres of knowledge demanded the speciality and permission to use it for the benefit of mankind. The Prophet himself has said that among his Ummah there will be some people who would have the knowledge and abilities of the Prophets of Bani Israel. Thus the sphere of Spiritual knowledge needed a special process for preservation and transmission.

As qalb is the source of all knowledge, it is both the source and means of preservation and transmission. That is how the process of tariqah or the Sufi way emerged. Just as the Revelation descended into the qalb of the Prophet, this knowledge is transmitted from qalb to qalb. To understand the internal meaning of Shariah a man’s qalb must be purified.

The conflict that is noticed today between ulama al zaheri and ulama al bateni is a result of a misunderstanding on part of those who prefer only the exteriorization of Shariah and neglect its internal meaning.

It is, of course, true that people have been misusing the tariqah but that does not prove that it is not legitimate or right or that such knowledge and such knowledgeable people do not exist. It is only through such people who have real knowledge that the haqiqat of Shariah is preserved, maintained and transmitted and kept alive.

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