Awliya and Qutb

Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad


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? Can anyone recommend a book demonstrating how the idea of the qutb has been mentioned in the works of Ahl al-Sunnah throughout history;


Wa `alaykum as-Salam

The Holy Qur’an explicitly mentions the Awliya and describes them as the Believers who fear Allah. 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, and that “above every knowledgeable one there is one more knowledgeable,” and that “those whom Allah has particularly graced” are defined as “the Prophets, the Siddiqs, the Shuhada‘, and the
Righteous” in that order, 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.

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. 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.

The Risala of the Imam of fiqh and Sufi of superlative adab: Ibn `Abidin on these categories and their evidence, in print [in one such book]. Allah have mercy on him! It is part of his 2 volumes of Rasa’il. I got my copy in a
bookstore in Makka al-Mukarrama. It is sad and ironic that all other copies that I saw in Damascus have been expurged of that particular treatise as well as Ibn `Abidin’s treatise in defense of his Shaykh, Mawlana Khalid al-Naqshbandi.
There is no alternative that compares to the breadth and length of Ibn Abidin’s treatment since he recapitulates the dala’il and the entire literature with frequent reference to Shaykh Muhyi al-Din Ibn `Arabi, however, there is also the fatwa of Imam al-Suyuti in al-Hawi lil-Fatawi, entitled al-Khabar al-Dall `ala Wujud al-Qutbi wal-Ghawth wal-Abdal, which is a good start for brushing up on the proofs on the topic. This particular fatwa was also published by itself by Shaykh `Abd Allah al-Ghumari, Allah have mercy on all of them. See also the Yawaqit al-jawahir of Imam al-Sha`rani on which Inb Abidin also draws.

Ahadith Regarding Qutb, Abdal, Nuqaba, Nujaba, Awtad

Imam Jalaluddin as-Suyuti wrote an essay in his collection of fatwas, al-Hawi lil Fatawi, and called it: “The narrations which demonstrate the existence of the Qutb and the Awtad and Nujaba and Abdal.” At the beginning of it, he writes:
“It has reached me that some of those who possess no knowledge deny what is famously known among the noble Awliya’, namely, that among them exist Abdal (substitutes), Nuqaba (chiefs), Nujaba (nobles), Awtad
(supports, or pegs), and Aqtab (poles, or axial pivots), while there are numerous hadiths and narrations which affirm their existence and reality. So I have collected these narrations in this booklet to be of benefit. And know that the denial of the stubborn is not to be given any weight or importance… So I say, it is authentically narrated from (and then he lists 18 Companions and Followers), and those after them, innumerable reports which attest to the above.”39

Then for the next 15 pages he lists over 50 narrations to demonstrate his point, from which we will choose a few, also adding some that he did not mention.1) From Umm Salamah: “Disagreement will occur at the death of a Khalif and a man of the people of Madina will come quickly to Makka. Some of the people of Makka will come to him…and swear allegiance to him between the Corner (Rukn) and Maqam. An expeditionary force will be sent against him from Syria…when the people see that, the Abdal of Syria and the best people of Iraq will come to him and swear allegiance to him…” 40

This hadith alone suffices as evidence of their existence to the end of times.

 2) From Abu Sa’id al-Khudri: “The Abdal from my nation did not enter into Paradise with their actions, but rather through the mercy of Allah, through the unparalleled generosity of their souls, the fact that they hold no grudge or hatred against anyone and their hearts being at peace with everyone, and through mercy for the entirety of Muslims.” 41
3) From Abu Darda’: “The Abdal have not come to be greater than the rest of the people by performing much fasting or prayers or tasbih, but rather by excellent morals, being true in their scrupulousness, their sound intentions, their hearts being at peace with all Muslims, and giving others sincere counsel for the sake of Allah.” 42
4) Abu Darda’ said: “When Prophethood ended – and they were the supports (Awtad) of the earth – Allah substituted their places with 40 men from the nation of Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him), who are named “Abdal” (the Substitutes). Not one of them dies except that Allah replaces him with another one to take his place, and they are now the supports of this earth. The hearts of 30 of them contain the same certainty (yaqin) which
Sayyidina Ibrahim (asws) had. They did not succeed or rise above the other people with much fasting or prayer…but rather through being truthful in their scrupulousness, having noble intentions, having sound wholesome hearts, and giving all the Muslims sincere counsel, desiring by that the Pleasure of Allah, with patient forbearance, and a merciful core (of being), and humility without being meek. They do not curse anyone, or harm anyone, nor
do they see themselves as being higher or nobler than anyone under them, or envy those above them. They do not fake their humility, nor fake their being dead to the world, nor are they ostentatiously impressed with themselves. They do not love the world, nor love for its sake…” 43
5) Hudhayfa ibn Yaman said: “The Abdal in my community are in Syria, and they are 30 men on the way of Ibrahim (asws)… And the group (of righteous Awliya’) in Iraq are 40 men… 20 of them are on the way of ‘Isa (asws), and 20 of them have been given some of the instruments which the Khalifa Da’ud (asws) was given.” 44
6) From ‘Ali: “The Abdal are in Syria, and they are 40 men. Whenever one of them dies, Allah substitutes another in his place. By means of them, Allah brings down the rain, gives victory over enemies, and diverts punishment from the people of Syria.” 45
7) Also from Imam ‘Ali: “Do not curse the people of Syria, for the Abdal are among them, but curse their injustice.” 46
8) Also from Imam ‘Ali: “The Abdal are from Syria, and the Nujaba’ are from Egypt, and the elite righteous servants (‘isaba) are from Iraq.” 47
9) From Anas: “The earth will never be empty of 40 men who are similar to the Intimate Friend of Allah (Sayyidina Ibrahim). By them rain falls and victory is granted. Not one of them dies except that Allah replaces him with another.” Qatada said, “We do not doubt that Hasan al-Basri is one of them.” 48
10) From ‘Ubada ibn Samit: “The Abdal in this community are thirty, their hearts like the heart of Ibrahim (asws) the Intimate of the All-Merciful. Whenever one of them dies, Allah substitutes another one in his place.” 49
11) Also from ‘Ubada: “The Abdal in my community are thirty. By them, the earth is established (bihim taqum al-Ard), and by them you are sent rain, and by them you are granted help and victory.” 50
12) Abu Hurayra said: “I entered upon the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him) in the mosque, and he said to me, “O Abu Hurayra, in this hour, a man will walk through this door, who is one of the seven people of the world through whom Allah diverts punishment from the Earth’s inhabitants.” Just then a Habashi (Ethiopian) entered in through that door. He was bald and maimed, and was carrying a container of water on his
head. So he said, “O Abu Hurayra, that’s him,” and then said to the man three times, “Welcome to Yasaar (other versions mention Hilal).” This man used to sweep and clean the Mosque, and he was a servant of Mughira ibn Shu’ba. 51
13) From Abu Qilaba: “There will never cease to be in my Ummah seven, and they will never ask Allah without Him answering them. By means of them, you are given rain, victory, and protection (from enemies, harm, etc…).” 52
14) Abdullah ibn ‘Amr narrated that the Prophet (salla allahu alayhi wa sallam) said: “In every generation of my community, there will be Sabiqun (forerunners).” 53
15) “The land of greater-Syria (Sham) is the quintessence (safwa) of Allah’s lands on earth, and to it He draws His elect (safw) worshippers.” 54
16) “The folk (Ahl) of the Qur’an are the folk of Allah (Ahl ul-Laah) and His elect.” 55
The previous two hadiths support the meanings of the previous hadiths, which state that Allah has special elect servants, and that they are concentrated in Sham, among other places.
17) From Anas: Allah said, “The most beloved of My worshippers to Me are those who love each other purely for My sake, who frequent the masajid, and ask forgiveness in the predawn hours. These are the ones whom I would bring to My attention when I wish to punish My creation, and then I divert My punishment from My creation because of them.” 56
18) From Abu Hurayra: “Verily, there are supports (Awtad) for the masajid, whose sitting companions
are the angels, seeking them out. So if they are in need, they (the angels) help them; and if they fall ill, they visit them; … and when they are present (in the masajid), they say, “invoke Allah, may Allah invoke you.” 57
19) Another hadith which supports the meaning of many of the above narrations is related on the authority of Sa’d, which states: “Indeed, Allah supports this Ummah by their weak members, through their prayers, supplications, and sincerity,” and in another narration, “Is it not through the weak among the Ummah that you are granted provision and victory?” 58
Abu Hurayra and others also related that the Messenger of Allah (asws) said: “Were it  not for servants of Allah bowing, infants feeding, and animals grazing, then Divine wrath would pour down upon you.” 59
And from Ibn ‘Umar: “Allah repels calamities from 100 households due to the presence of one righteous Muslim amongst them.” 60
20) Finally, Ibn ‘Asakir (1:299) and Ibn Abi Khaythama narrate that Uthman ibn ‘Ata was having a conversation with his father, who told him, “The Abdal are forty Insan (humans).” So he said to his father, “Forty men?” and his father replied, “Do not say men, but rather say humans, for there could be women among them.” 61
This indicates that this hierarchy of Awliya’ is not only occupied by men, but also by women. Hafiz Sakhawi in his Maqasid al-Hasana (p. 10 #8) and Hafiz Suyuti in his Hawi lil Fatawi (2:250-51) state that Ibn ‘Asakir (Tarikh Dimashq 1:300) and Hafiz al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad 3:75-76) both relate that Abu Bakr al-Kattani said: “The Nuqaba are 300, the Nujaba are 70, the Abdal are 40, the Akhyar are 7, the ‘Umud (supports) are 4, and the Ghawth is 1. So the dwelling of the Nuqaba are in the Maghrib, the Nujaba in Egypt, the Abdal in Sham, the Akhyar travel throughout the Earth, the ‘Umud are in the corners of the Earth, and the Ghawth is in Makka. So when a need arises among the commonality, the Nuqaba plead to Allah to fulfill it, then the Nujaba, then the Abdal, then the Akhyar, then the ‘Umud, and if they are answered by Allah (it stops with them), and if not, then the Ghawth pleads, and he
does not complete his request until it is answered.”Shaykh al-Yafi’i wrote in his book Kifayat al-Mu’taqid (“Sufficiency of the Believer”):

“The righteous (Saliheen) are many, and they mix with the common people for the sake of their worldly and other-worldly benefit. And the Nujaba’ are fewer in number than the righteous, and the Nuqaba’ are fewer in number than the Nujaba’, and they mix with the elect servants. And the Abdal occupy the great countries of the earth. They only occupy a country one after another, so blessed be the people of a land among whom are two Abdal. And the Awtad are 4, one in Syria, one in Yemen, one in the East, and one in the West. And Allah causes the Qutb to travel the four horizons of the Earth, just as the constellations travel their course across the sky. And the states of the Qutb are veiled from the common and the elect, out of Allah’s jealousy for him, except that he is seen to be (at the same time) knowledgeable and ignorant, dim-witted and intelligent, taking and leaving, near and far, gentle and harsh, safe and dangerous…(meaning that he combines in himself the opposites). And the states of the Awtad are revealed to the elect. And the states of the Abdal are revealed to the elect and the Gnostics (who are under the elect). And the states of the Nuqaba’ and the Nujaba’ are veiled from the common, but they are revealed to each other. And the states of the righteous are revealed to both the common and the elect, so that Allah’s plans may be enacted. The number of the Nujaba’ are 300, and the number of the Nuqaba’ are 40, and the number of the Abdal is said to be 30, or 14, or 7 (and this is the most correct number), and the number of the Awtad are four. So when the Qutb dies, Allah replaces him with the best of the four Awtad. And when one of the four die, Allah replaces him with the best of the seven Abdal…and so on. And when Allah desires to start the Day of Judgment, He takes the life of all of them. Because of them and through them, Allah sends down rain from the sky and averts His punishment and tribulations from His servants… And the Qutb is the one mentioned who is upon the heart of the angel Israfil (upon him be peace), and his relation to the rest of the Awliya’ is like the center of the circle in relation to the circumference, and thus it is through him that Allah sets right the affair of the world… the Prophet (upon him be blessings and peace) did not mention anyone as being upon his heart, since Allah never created anyone whose heart could be comparable to his heart in its luminousness, subtlety, and nobility. So the hearts of the remaining Prophets and Angels and Awliya’ are to his heart like the light of the distant stars compared to the perfect light of the proximate Sun.”

This was repeated and confirmed by Ibn Hajar al-Makki al-Haytami in his Fatawa Hadithiyya (p. 322-23), and by Ibn ‘Abidin al-Hanafi in his fatwa on the Abdal called “Ijabat al-Ghawth.” Hafiz Sakhawi states in his Maqasid (p. 9 #8):
“…And what strengthens these hadiths (about the Abdal) and confirms them, and indicates their prevalence among the ‘Ulama is that Imam Shafi’i would sometimes comment about someone and say, “We used to count so and-so as one of the Abdal,” and Bukhari would say, “They would not doubt that so-and-so
was one of the Abdal,” and other Imams and Huffaz 62 who would describe people in such a way.”
This shows that it was a known and accepted truth among the Salaf that these categories of Awliya’ existed. For more examples, see Suyuti’s Hawi lil-Fatawi (2:251-55).
Finally, Ibn ‘Abidin quoted Hafiz Ibn Hajar who said in his Fatwas:
“The Abdal were mentioned in numerous narrations, some of them authentic (Sahih), and others not authentic. As for the Qutb, he was mentioned in some later narrations (Athar). And as for the Ghawth – in the description given him common among the Sufis – it is not established (in any authentic narration).”
Then Ibn ‘Abidin commented:
“We will quote in what follows Imam Shafi’i’s explanation of the Ghawth as being the Qutb, and this proves its being established and that they refer to one and the same thing, so know this. And the intention of the Hafiz (Ibn Hajar) was that mention of the Ghawth is not found in any Sahih hadith, but the fact that it is widespread and well-known, and frequently mentioned among the people of this pure path (the Sufis), is enough to indicate its established basis.”
GF Haddad


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