Belief in Qutb, Ghawth and Abdal

Q: In defense against those who believe that Islam is devoid of spiritual ranks of merit, mysticism, or miracles; what is the basis for belief concerning the awliya and their hierarchy? What is agreed upon as regards their existence and the existence of the Qutb?

Wa alaykum as-Salam:

The Holy Qur'an explicitly mentions the Awliya and describes them as the Believers who fear Allah:

أَلا إِنَّ أَوْلِيَاء اللّهِ لاَ خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلاَ هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

Behold! verily on the friends of Allah there is no fear, nor shall they grieve;[10:62]

So we must all agree that there are Awliya and that they exist co-terminally, which means co-everlastingly, with the Religion.

Next, the Holy Qur'an explicitly mentions that the Believers have "levels" (darajaat), and that "He raises" (yarfa`u) some of the Believers above others:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قِيلَ لَكُمْ تَفَسَّحُوا فِي الْمَجَالِسِ فَافْسَحُوا يَفْسَحِ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ وَإِذَا قِيلَ انشُزُوا فَانشُزُوا يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ

O ye who believe! When ye are told to make room in the assemblies, (spread out and) make room: (ample) room will Allah provide for you. And when ye are told to rise up, rise up. Allah will rise up, to (suitable) ranks (and degrees), those of you who believe and who have been granted (mystic) Knowledge. And Allah is well- acquainted with all ye do. [58:11]

and that:

وَفَوْقَ كُلِّ ذِي عِلْمٍ عَلِيم

 "above every knowledgeable one there is one more knowledgeable," [12:76]:

and that "those whom Allah has particularly graced" are defined as "the Prophets, the Siddiqs, the Shuhada', and the Righteous" in that order:

وَمَن يُطِعِ اللّهَ وَالرَّسُولَ فَأُوْلَـئِكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللّهُ عَلَيْهِم مِّنَ النَّبِيِّينَ وَالصِّدِّيقِينَ وَالشُّهَدَاء وَالصَّالِحِينَ وَحَسُنَ أُولَـئِكَ رَفِيقًا


and that some Prophets were exalted above others. So we must all agree that there is a hierarchy of Believers in general, and hierarchies of Awliya and Prophets in particular.

The early scholars of hadith were very interested in the topic of the Awliya' and they gathered not only the hadiths but even non-Prophetic accounts about their states and miraculous gifts, and even dreams. For example, Ibn Abi al-Dunya's al-Awliya and the compilations respectively entitled al-Awliya' and Karaamaat al-Awliya' by the two Hanbalis al-Khallal and al-Lalika'i, as well as Abu Nu`aym's renowned Hilyat al-Awliya.

These books are available to us but ignorance is human and people tend to be the enemies of what they don't know, including "those who believe that Islam is devoid of spiritual ranks of merit... or miracles." The Holy Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said that the only cure for the malady of ignorance is to ask.

The Companion Sufyan ibn `Uyayna said, "The learned scholar does not care for people's positions or feelings when he disseminates the Divine wisdom; if you accept he praises Allah, and if you reject he praises Allah." (As for the term "mysticism," it is best to steer clear of it since it is largely misunderstood to mean something ethereal or purely spiritual and tends to betray the fact that the Awliya are the most practical and act-oriented people of humankind.)

As for a specific terminology for the Awliya' the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, did use certain terms such as Abdal (substitutes), or certain qualifications of intercession such as the hadiths in which he refers to certain arch-intercessors such as our liegelords `Uthman ibn `Affan and Uways al-Qarani. Ibn `Asakir in his Tarikh (51:282) narrates with his chain that when Imam al-Shafi`i finished memorizing the Qur'an he said to himself: "You have obtained the Qutb al-A`zam" i.e. the greatest axis or authority around which the Religion revolves.

However, the terms "ghawth", "qutb" and the like to mean individuals among the Awliya' may have been devised as a convention among later scholars (see, for example, the treatises by al-Suyuti in al-Hawi lil-Fatawi and Ibn `Abidin in his Rasa'il) and are not binding upon the Muslims as terminology. As the scholars say, "la mushahata fil-mustalah," meaning: "Don't nag about how we call things."

GF Haddad & staff