Home Articles and Notes Tasawwuf Islam and Spiritual Awakening by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks

Islam and Spiritual Awakening by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks

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Tasawwuf is a central aspect of our Din and I am privileged to have this opportunity to share my insights and understandings of it, small as it may be, with you the reader. It is common in our time to hear people complaining about a lack of meaning in their lives. Everywhere people are looking for "something" to overcome this inner vacuum. A wide spread need is felt to restore the imbalances which usually accompany and is in fact evident in our lives as we relentessly work to satisfy our material needs. Now what has all of this to do with Tasawwuf you might well ask. The truth is Tasawwuf or the lack of it, has everything to do with this crisis. Tasawwuf is the life blood of this Din. It runs through this Din like the blood that flows through our bodies. Loss of blood, as it happens when someone is seriously injured, will lead to the death of the body.

The Din has three distinct defining components as the answer of the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, to the questions put to him by the Archangel Jibril indicates. ‘Umar, may Allah bless him, relates that on the certain day a stranger appeared in Medina, dressed in white clothes without any sign of travelling evident on him, came to the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, and sat in front off him. The man placed his knees against the knees of the Nabi and asked, "What is Islam?" The Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, replied, "To bear witness that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger, to perform Salah, to give Zakah, to fast the month of Ramadan and perform Hajj". The stranger replied, "You have spoken the truth". He then asked again, "What is Iman?", and the Nabi answered, "To believe in Allah, and in His angels, and His books, and His Messengers, and in the Day of Judgement, and to believe that both good and evil is by the Decree of Allah." The stranger replied, "You have spoken the truth." The stranger then asked again, And what is Ihsan, the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, replied, "To worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not see Him then know that He sees you." The man then again said, "You have spoken the truth." The stranger, after another question or two, finally departed from this apparently bizarre encounter, bizarre to the Companions because who is he to say to the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, "You have spoken the truth" after each reply. ‘Umar, amy Allah bless him, built up the courage to enquire about all of this and the Nabi, may Allahs peace and blessing be upon him, said: "That was Jibril who came to teach you your Din." [Narrated by Imam Bukhari]

From this hadith it is apparent that the Din has three basic components, Islam, Iman and Ihsan. We can compare these three elements to the three parts of an egg. Islam which is the practical outer practises, we can for example see people performing Salah or performing Hajj, of the Din corresponds to the hard outer protective shell of the egg. Iman which are the basic beliefs and world-view of the Din, corresponds to the white unseen part of the egg. And finally Ihsan corresponds to the yolk of the egg, its heart and from which eventually a life will evolve. Ihsan according to the words of the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, has two aspects;

Mushahadah (spiritual vision), or the inward vision of Allah. We are instructed to worship Allah as if we see him. The crucial question is, what is mushahadah and how does one attain to that high darajah. How does one develop the ability "to worship Allah as if you see Him". One point about shuhud has to be noted. This is a state that is tasted (dhawq) and not a logical inference. While busying ourselves with spiritual purification we gradually develope the capacity to "taste" Allah's Greatnesss, Nearness and Power and so forth for the rest of His Names and Attributes. Allah was and nothing was with Him. And He hasnt changed since then. The entire path is really a process of us becoming more spiritually aware and knowlegable the Allah. The traveller eventually moves beyond the station of "tasting" the Names and Attributes, to a station in which he "tastes'" the effacing ahadiyyah of Divine Essence.
Muraqabah (spiritual vigilance), or awareness that Allah sees and watches us every moment and in every place we might be. It is wajib according to the hadith we quoted above, it is incumbent on every Muslim to develope this awareness or rather this knowledge, "and if you do see Him know that he sees you.". According to the scholar Imam Murtada Zabidi muraqabah is of three types. The first type is knowing that Allah watches us and so we strive to confirm to His law, publicly and privately, the second type is contemplating the effects of his Names and Attributes and striving to arrive at a "tasting" of His Presence and "enjoying" communion with Him, and the third type is the unveiling of the secrets of his Names and Attributes and vision of the manifestations of the Divine Essence. With the manifestation or "tasting" of the Divine Esence (dhat) all else disappears and the slave is effaced into his Lord.

Let me summarise all of this. The first aspect, the outer practises of Islam, is covered and dealt with in the books of Fiqh, and the second aspect, the belief system of our Din, is studied in the books of Tawhid or ‘ilm al-kalam. And finally Ihsan, and the path of moral transformation and of character building necessary to realise the station of Ihsan is precisely the subject-matter of Tasawwuf. Shaykh M.Amin al-Kurdi gives the following definition of Tasawwuf in his great book "The Enlightenment of the hearts"; "It is the knowledge of the praiseworthy and blameworthy traits of the self, of the methods of purifying it of the blameworthy and embellishing it with the praiseworthy ones, and knowledge of the methods of travelling to Allah and of fleeing to Him." Tasawwuf, therefore, deals with the character building that is as obligatory as salah is obligatory. The anti-Tasawwuf mutterings one often hears in certain quarters of the community is utterly bizarre. The Din will be like an empty egg-shell or like a dead corpse drained of its blood without Tasawwuf.

(from the Boorhanul Mgazine: January 2000)

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