Stepping Forth on the Path of Wayfaring to the Divine Presence

Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad

[Excerpted from The Naqshbandi Sufi Tradition Guidebook of Daily Practices and Devotions]

Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani

The Station of Extinction

The station of extinction, maqām  al-fanā, is one of the primary stations on the Path of the Sufi towards the state of perfection, maqām  al-Ihsān. This station in fact is the first target of the seeker as he moves on the way of spiritual wayfaring, and while not the ultimate final destination, it attainment is considered the first foothold into the Garden of Sainthood—for one who reaches this has become of the Elect. It is for this reason that many identified this station as the final goal and declared that one who attained it had in fact achieved ultimate felicity, complete nothingness. Whereas in reality, this station, while of immense magnitude, is still a waystation on the ascent towards the Divine. For this reason the Naqshbandi Saints said, “Our Way begins where others leave off.”

In the station of extinction, the servant of God leaves his very self behind, and in abandonment of all that pertains to selfhood is cut adrift in the oceanic realm of God’s Reality. At that station, self-realization is achieved for the seeker has achieved the vision of Witnessing, ‘aynu ’l-mushāhadah, and is thus able to testify with true vision, as a witness of the One. When that is attained, the seeker is unable to identify him or herself as existent and sees all existence as a manifestation of the Oneness of God.

The Prophet Muhammad , who was the leader of humanity in seeking the Divine Presence, said, “I am the City of Knowledge and ‘Alī is its gate.”[1] In this statement is an affirmation of two realities:

·         The Prophet encompasses all knowledge granted to creation from the Lord of Creation.

·         ‘Alī ibn Abi Talib , the Lion of God, was chosen as the one through whom access to that knowledge was made possible.

As regards the first point, God said:

He discloses not His unseen (ghayb) to anyone, except only to such a Messenger as He is well-pleased with. (72:26)

Muhammad is the Crown of those messengers with whom God is well-pleased. As a prophet who brought reports from His Lord; as the one who ascended above the seven heavens and the seven Paradises to His Lord’s Presence by “two bows’ length or even nearer” (53:9); as the one who told of the events that attended the creation of all existent beings; as the one who saw the events after resurrection and Judgment Day, and as the one to whom was revealed the inimitable Qur’an, who is more deserving of such a boundless gift—the gift of Knowledge from the Divine Presence? If about a saint, as our master Khidr is regarded by many scholars, (while others assert he was a prophet), about whom God said, “We had taught knowledge from Our own Presence,” (18:65)  how would it not be befitting that the All-wise Creator grant the entire body of heavenly knowledge to His Beloved r. For the Lord of the heavens and the earth said of him:

And We granted you knowledge of what you knew not, and the bounty of Allāh for you has been infinite. (4:113)

And He, the Almighty said:

This is of the tidings of the Unseen which we reveal to you. You did not know it before this, nor your people. (11:49)

Also regarding the knowledge granted him by His Lord, the Prophet said:

My Lord came to me in the best image and asked me over what did the angels of the higher heaven vie, and I said I did not know, so He put His hand between my shoulders, and I felt its coolness in my innermost, and the knowledge of all things between the East and the West came to me.[2]

In this regard, a man from Banū Amir, asked the Prophet r, “Is there any knowledge left which you do not know?” whereupon the Prophet r  said, “God has taught me a great good, and there is a kind of Unseen knowledge which God alone knows…”[3]

The statement “I am the City of Knowledge and ‘Alī is its gate” means that Muhammad was the essence of the heavens itself; the fabric of creation itself in its entirety. The evidence of this is the famous hadith of Jābir , where it is related that Jābir ibn Abd Allāh t said to the Prophet , “O Messenger of God, may my father and mother be sacrificed for you, tell me of the first thing God created before all things.” He said:

O Jābir, the first thing God created was the light of your Prophet from His light, and that light remained[4] in the midst of His Power for as long as He wished, and there was not, at that time, a Tablet or a Pen or a Paradise or a Fire or an angel or a heaven or an earth. And when God wished to create creation, he divided that Light into four parts and from the first made the Pen, from the second the Tablet, from the third the Throne, then He divided the fourth into four parts [and from them created everything else].[5]

The light of the First Creation was the Muhammadan Reality and from that Light all other creation came into existence. It was in truth the creation of Muhammad which is the reason for the existence of all things, as God said, “If not for you [O Muhammad] I would not have created the cosmos.”[6]

All that is conveyed in the first revelation, Iqra – “Read!” for from its outwardly apparent meaning, “Read in the name of thy Lord who created” the mention of the Lord’s creation is first. This means, “I order you to read, O Muhammad, in My name, for I am the one Who created You, and from you all creation emerged.”

God’s Order for creation proceeded from the Divine Essence and resulted in the creation of the Muhammadan Reality, al-haqīqat al-muhammayyah. God is the One who caused it to emerge in the way that He liked. Thus the Prophet’s light exists in everything for which God said:

And know that within you is Allāh’s Messenger. (49:7)

Gabriel did not say, “Recite!” for recitation comes from what is already known and held in the mind, but reading refers to something that must first be seen in order to be read. If God was ordering Prophet Muhammad to read, it means before him was something which could be read – from it he was looking and reading. What was he reading? He was reading bismi rabbika alladhī khalaq – “in the name of your Lord Who Created.” It means, “O Muhammad! I am granting and then opening to you knowledge of the secret of creation; the secret of which was never opened before.”

Even today’s scientists still do not know the secret of when the soul reaches the embryo in the womb of the mother. God gave that secret to Muhammad when He said, “Read!” where it means “see for I am showing you, so read and learn, and know that in My Name I am showing you My Creation.”

Creation of the universe is easy. But as God said, to create one human being is not easy. He said, “Who created the human being from a clot.” That clot has been identified today by scientists as the female’s egg fertilized by one sperm.

A woman normally produces three or four eggs at one time and at most eight. But the man gives forth 500 million sperm at one time. From that huge number God allows only one sperm to connect with the single egg. This secret and further secrets which have yet to be disclosed to mankind, were granted to the Prophet in that first revelation.

When Gabriel said “read!” the Prophet was unlettered (umīyyun), he did not know how to handle a pen, yet God ordered him to “Read!” The secret of this comes in the second repetition of the order to “read!” – “Read and your Lord is most Generous who taught humankind by means of the pen; taught humankind what it knew not.”

It means, “Read in the name of thy Lord who taught You O Muhammad, the original man, by means of the Pen.”

It was no ordinary pen that God mentioned to Prophet Muhammad such as those carried by people today. “Who taught humankind by means of the pen” refers to the Pen of Power (Qalam al-Qudrah), the Pen by the Beautiful Names of God were inscribed on the Preserved Tablet (al-lawh al-mahfudh). It is the Pen that wrote the destinies of all created beings before God brought them from the world of possibilities into the world of existence. About it, the Prophet r said:

Allāh inscribed the destinies of all created things before creating the heavens and the earth by fifty thousand years, while His Throne stood upon the water.[7]

It is narrated:

Before creating any of the cosmos God ordered the Pen to write, and it said, “What should I write?” and He said, “Write: there is no god except God (lā ilāha ill-Allāh.)” So for 70,000 years the Pen wrote lā ilāha ill-Allāh.

And then God said again, “Write!” And the Pen asked, “What should I write?” He said, “Write Muhammad is the Prophet of God (Muhammadun Rasulullah.)”

And so for 70,000 years the Pen wrote Muhammadun Rasulullah. The Pen asked, “Who is that Muhammad that you put his name with Your Name?” God said, “Silence! If not for Muhammad I would not have created creation.”[8]

Whatever God has created emerged from His Ocean of Power (bahr al-qudrah), and whatever exists in this universe is under the power and authority of Sayyidina Muhammad and all of that is contained in the Muhammadan Reality. Now whereas the Muhammadan Reality is in fact the essence and source of all created beings, therefore within himself our master Muhammad holds knowledge of all creation:

Say: “If the ocean were ink (wherewith to write out) the words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than would the words of my Lord, even if we added another ocean like it, for its aid.” (36:109)

And this is followed by a reference to the Prophet r himself, indicating that the Oceans of God’s Knowledge described in the preceding verse are in fact in his possession, despite his tremendous humility and sense of non-existence before the Greatness of His Lord:

Say: “I am but a man like yourselves, (but) the inspiration has come to me, that your Allāh is one Allāh: whoever expects to meet his Lord, let him work righteousness, and, in the worship of his Lord, admit no one as partner. (36:110)

And as the Prophet r is the holder of the Oceans of Divine Knowledge, Sayyidina ‘Alī is the link one crosses to ascertain that re’Alīty.

Thus those who seek to traverse in the Paths of God, must seek the means in our master ‘Alī and his teachings. Where are such teachings to be found? It is a truism that “who seeks finds” and thus the sincere seeker, immediately upon setting out with firm intention, will be guided to the Door of Knowledge and River of Truth which stems from the heart of Sayyidina ‘Alī and the hearts of the other three rightly-guided caliphs of the Prophet r.

When the Prophet described ‘Alī as the Door of the City of Knowledge it means, “I am the one carrying the secrets that God has given to humanity because I am the one from whose light God created creation. I am but a servant, but He gave me that honor.” So he r told our master ‘Alī, “Explain to them from those realities.”

From these wisdoms we know that even the Companions, despite all their high levels of spiritual attainment, none of them could understand the reality of Sayyidina Muhammad except two: Abū Bakr as-Siddiq and ‘Alī ibn Abi Talib . Sayyidina ‘Alī was given the task of explaining from these realities to the Companions. An example of that is:

It is reported that when ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab t performed pilgrimage and embraced the (Black) Stone, he said, “I know by God that you are a stone which neither harms nor benefits, and had I not seen God’s Messenger embrace you, I would not have embraced you.”

However, Alī ibn Abī Talib t said to him, “Abū Hafs, do not say this, for God’s Messenger r did not embrace it (the Black Stone) save for wisdom he knew: It has two eyes and two lips and possesses a keen tongue that testifies for those who fulfill their obligations to it.”[9]

So in fact Sayyidina ‘Alī was explaining to Sayyidina ‘Umar , reminding him of the hadith which he had forgotten. Both the modern scholars (almutaqqadimīn) and the scholars of old, whoever wants to understand the reality of this life must look at the vision of Sayyidina ‘Alī to Sayyidina Muhammad , that is how the Prophet appeared to him. You want to understand the reality of eternal life you have to go thru the heart of Sayyidina ‘Alī and the heart of the family of the Prophet for God told the Prophet : “Say, I ask of you no payment except love of my relatives.”

It means, “Love my near of kin in order to be granted from the Divine realities and secrets, for they are the vehicles of my light and carriers of my knowledge. They are the means by which to know what God has dressed me on the Day of Promises.”

While the door to Sayyidina Muhammad’s r city is Sayyidina Alī t, and there is only one door, but inside the city is what the Prophet has given to the Veracious One, Abū Bakr as-Siddiq t. He is inside that city watching over the jewels that are within its most valued treasure chest. The Prophet r is the knowledge itself. There is someone receiving and keeping that treasure and that is Sayyidina Abū Bakr as-Siddiq t.

Speaking of the station of extinction, Sayyidina ‘Alī said in verse:

Ra’āitu rabbī bi ‘aini qalbī

Fa-qultu la shakka anta anta


رأيت ربي بعين قلبي فقلت لا شك أنت أنت

I saw my Lord with the eye of my heart

I said no doubt it’s You! It’s You!

Anta-ladhī hizta kula aynin

Bi haythu lā ayna thamma anta


أنت الذي حزت كل أين  بحيث لا أين ثَمّ أنت

You are the One who encompassed every “where”

so that there is no “where,” except You are there

Fa laysa li ’l-ayni minka aynun

Fa y‘alamu al-aynu ayna anta


فليس للأين منك أين  فيعلم الأين أين أنت

“Where” has no “where” in regards to You

for “where” to know where You are

Wa laysa li ‘l-wahmi fīka wahmun

Fa y‘alamul wahmu ayna anta


وليس للوهم فيك وهم  فيعلم الوهم أين أنت‎

nor can imagination, imagine You

for imagination to know where You are

Ahatta ‘ilman bi kulli shayin

Fa kullu shayin arāhu anta


أحطت علما بكل شيء  فكل شيء اراه أنت

Your knowledge encompasses everything

so that everything I see is You

Wa fī fanā-iī fanā fanā’ī

Wa fī fanā’ī wajadtu anta


وفي فنائي فنا فنائي  وفي فنائي وجدت أنت

and in my annihilation, is the annihilation of my annihilation

and in my annihilation, I found You.[10]

So when we see this kind of poetry and this kind of love, this description of the state of fanā, annihilation, we see this kind of relationship between the human being and His Lord where then is room for human beings to spend on this worldly life? It is in that state of awe, and non-existence that the Lovers and Friends of God find themselves. And when they are in this state, no one can approach them.

Al-Hasan ibn al-Mansour said:

The identity of God’s elect servant becomes extinguished in the Divine Presence. No one bears such a person nor does that person put up with [standards of behavior] others [tolerate]. Still, the elect one among God’s servants is like unto the earth; it accepts every type of refuse and yet nothing issues from it but sweetness. Both the good and the sinner walk over and step on the servant of God. And the vilest of creation are they who pretend to be the elect of God when in fact they are stingy.

Ash-Shibli said, “the elect servant of God is cut off from creatures and connected to the Truth.”[11] Ibn Ajiba relates that it has been said, “Whoever owns states whose character indicates proximity to God is insupportable. The mountains carry him not.” Such is the aspect of whoever realizes the station of extinction, maqām al-fanā. Al-Hasan ibn al-Mansour wrote of the one who became extinguished (fānī) in the love of God [12]:

People find it difficult to tolerate the one who has lost any sense of self and who stands in awe stunned before God’s Absolute Existence. Whoever reaches that station (maqām ) and would in any way divulge its secret, will act differently from the commonality of humankind.

For that reason, the Friends of God (awlīyāullāh) who reach that maqām  hide themselves. The story in the Holy Quran about al-Khidr illustrates this truth. He did things people do not usually do; things that even the Prophet Moses found difficult to accept. God instructs us by means of that example, to learn, not because Moses u is lower in station for after all, he is one of the five greatest Prophets. No one attains the level of the prophets and the Prophet’s Companions (Sahaba). By informing us of Moses’ relation to Khidr u, the Qur’an wishes to give us the example of one brought near to God, one of His saints. Such individuals are just as the hadith qudsī describes them, “My saints are under My domes; no one knows them except Me.” God Himself hides saints, since they are exceedingly precious to Him. Another hadith illustrates this, “Whoever comes against a Friend of Mine I declare war on him.”[13]

In the midst of people, God’s Friends say and do things that others do not accept. That is the meaning of Ibn Ajība’s words, “No one bears such a person.” For the same reason, when the Prophet Sayyidina Muhammad r came forth, his people rejected him. All prophets were rejected by their people. Since that is the case of the prophets what then can be expected for awlīyā? It is natural that they will be rejected completely by common people, because awlīya are ordinary human beings upon whom God has bestowed heavenly power.

Today’s religious scholars (ulama) say there no longer remain any awlīyā. This is not true. Rather, these people have become blind so that they cannot see them. Why have they become blind? Because awlīyā have hidden themselves, especially in the present era. They know that no one will accept them and the power granted them by the Lord. If they display anything of what they have been empowered with, people come against them.

Thus the highest level of walī, is one who acts like normal people and does not appear different from them in aspect or behavior. Thus one of God’s friends (awlīya) behaves like others to the extent that people say about him, “He is like us. What is different?” What they don’t know about him is that he has been tested by awlīyā; by the Prophet r, and finally by God the Exalted. He passed his tests and was given his spiritual trusts (amanat).

Ibn Ajiba continues: Wa la yaqbalu ahad―“nor does that person put up with [standards of behavior] others tolerate.” This means he watches as they go astray, calling them to return to the Path, but they do not listen. After a while, the saint leaves them. Bayāzīd al-Bistami, one of the greatest saints of Islam, was constantly worshipping God, ascending in closeness, until he could even hear the angels. He arrived at a station where he sought the Divine Presence saying, “O my Lord! Open for me the gate to Your Divine Presence.” He heard a voice in his heart saying, “O Bayāzīd! If you want to enter My Presence, you must become people’s refuse pile.” Hence, al-Hasan ibn Mansour says here, “The elect servants of God are like the earth. They accept every type of refuse to be cast upon them and yet nothing issues from them but sweetness. Both the good and the sinner walk upon it.”

The “earth” is characterized by strength. Whatever God Wills the earth accepts. It has no will of its own. In this respect awlīyāullāh resemble the earth: “every vile and ugly thing is cast upon it,” and it accepts. The ‘Arabī c word used, qabīh does not means just “vile” or “ugly” but rather, “rank” and “putrid” suggesting the worst refuse thrown on the earth. Yet, after he accepts it, the verse continues, “nothing comes from him except goodness.”

The Friend of God (wali) does not treat you the same way you treat him. Rather he returns good for evil. It is related that Bayāzīd tested the ulama, with extreme ecstatic utterances, until at last they elected to stone him. This was due to their lack of understanding the station from which he was speaking. Bayāzīd was not someone inclined to commit heresy, for even Ibn Taymīyya praises his piety. But his intention was to test them, for they in fact had tried to test him.

Finally, when they had stoned Bayazīd and left him for dead, his inert body was thrown in a garbage dump. Actually, he was still alive, but very weak. Eventually after lying injured in the dump seven days, he revived slightly and was able to move. He began searching about for something to eat. He found a bone, with a bit of fetid meat on it, probably thrown out one week before. When he took it a dog appeared growling and spoke to him, saying, “This is my territory, and this my food. You cannot touch it.” Thus did God reveal to him the understanding of animal speech.

Bayāzid relates, “I was beseeching God and saying, ‘O God! O my Lord! What I have sought I sought only for the sake of Thy love. I willed for them to kill me but Thou quickened me and caused me to live. And once I regained my life I wished them to put me to death yet again; and that then Thou wouldst quicken me once more, and they would stone me yet another time. And again wouldst Thou revive me, over and over, because each time they stone me I would pray for them that Thou, My God, wouldst forgive them of their sins. So whatever Thou hast granted me of rewards for prayer and spiritual struggle, do Thou, O Lord, cause them to share in that same reward with me.” This shows how much the Saint (wali) will love God’s servants when he enters into His love.

Today many Muslim scholars say, “There are no more awlīyā.” In reality, they exist, but since only a few will understand their states, they are hidden. Another saying of today’s scholars is, “Every mumin (believer) is a wali.” If that is the case, God would not differentiate between mumin and wali.

In any case, who can truly say he is a believer (mumin)? Do these scholars not recall God’s saying:

The Arabs say, “We believe.” Say, “Ye have no Faith; but ye (only) say, ‘We have submitted our wills to Allāh,’ For not yet has Faith entered your hearts. But if ye obey Allāh and His Messenger, He will not belittle aught of your deeds: for God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (49:14)

Who can grant one the certification that faith (iman), has entered his heart? Such certification is not given from one Muslim to another; it is given from God to the believer.

Wherever they find themselves, awlīyā build places of prayer, zawīyas, khaniqas or ribats (gathering places for spiritual training and practice). Once raised, people come from far and wide to visit them and they receive all in their meetings. They do not say, “We will not meet this one or that one.” Today people say, “These individuals are enemies. We cannot meet them. These people cursed us, we cannot meet them.” But the Prophet r came to all humankind―enemy or not.

We have not sent thee but as a universal (Messenger) to men, giving them glad tidings, and warning them (against sin), but most men understand not. (34:28)

If an enemy came to him r he was obliged to open his door. As awlīyāullāh, are inheritors of the Prophet’s states and character, their doors must always be open. Else what is the benefit of wilayat (sainthood)? God bestowed wilayat upon them in order to hear people out, to deal with them and to bring them to Islam. When you close your door and say, “I don’t work with those people,” you have isolated yourself and become a barrier to the Way. You have to work with people of any faith, any religion, and any group to convey them to Haqq (Truth). That is why Grand Shaykh Abd Allāh al-Faiz ad-Daghestanī met with everyone, and we seek to follow in his footsteps. You cannot close the door saying, “You are not a member.” Now everything is based membership―for money. They tell you, “Pay fifty dollars and become a member.” Nothing is done purely for God’s sake any longer.

“Both good people and the ugliest of sinners walk over and step on the elect servant of God.” That means he will carry burdens―he is everyone’s garbage disposal. And in return, he offers prayers for people; in order to turn their hearts round to God. The elect servants of God try to do their best for people although people do their worst for them. That is why the good and the bad step on them and walk all over them.

Ibn Ajība said, “And the vilest ones are they who pretend that they are an elect servant of God while failing in generosity.” An elect servant of God does not fail in generosity. He is not stingy. A servant of God is always generous with the gifts his Lord has granted him or her, by not withholding it. God is the Most Generous of the generous (Akram al-akramin).

Similarly, the Prophet r is described by God  as:

to the Believers is he most kind and merciful. (9:128)


We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures.  (21: 107)

This verse means that Prophet Muhammad r will ask God’s forgiveness on everyone’s behalf. In short, a servant of God cannot be stingy. The worst person is someone who pretends to be an elect servant of God and is stingy. Not stingy with his money, but stingy in carrying the difficulties of people and taking back for himself, whatever God gave him of hasanat (rewards), as gifts to them.

Worse yet, are those of God’s servants on whom he has bestowed the gifts of knowledge of the religion and its inner meanings and who withhold this knowledge from those who are capable of receiving it. These are the ulama that tell lies about God and pronounce permitted what He has prohibited. Of these, we have many examples today. They say, for example, that God wills people to lay down their lives in support of the corrupt or, serve false causes or to propagate wrong doctrine. These servants are the spiritually stingy. Such persons never succeed and on the Day of Judgment, they will be reckoned among the losers. They are like a tree covered with beautiful blossoms in spring, but which is infertile and fails to yield fruits in autumn.

To be perfectly clear, the true authorized servant of God carries the sins of those who are under his authority by asking God’s forgiveness for those under him and by requesting God bestow whatever he received of rewards on them from whatever levels God has raised him to. That is for whoever comes to visit him.

The Prophet r said:

God has angels roaming the roads seeking the people of His Remembrance (dhikr),  and when they find a group of people reciting dhikr, they call each other and encompass them in layers until the first heaven …. And someone not from them, but who came only for a certain issue, sits with them. God said, “no regrets will come to whoever sits with them―la yashqa jalīsahum.”[14]

That means that anyone coming for only a few minutes, even if he is not one of them, will be rewarded for being with them. Anyone who comes to the wali, the wali will give to him from what God  and the Prophet r gave him. That is what it means―the opposite of stingy. It means giving what God adorned him with in the way of mercy. It means taking on and carrying the difficulties and problems of people who came to see him.

Now Ash-Shibli goes on to say, “The elect servant of God is disconnected from creation and connected to the Truth, al-Haqq.” He continues, “Munqati an il-khalq,” meaning “his heart is cut off from people and connected with the Divine.” At the most literal level, it means he severs himself from the creatures and connects himself spiritually with God’s Love. But at a deeper level it also means that he rejects all that is false and loves all that is true. The servant of God does not involve himself in issues that do not concern him or in what people do and say contrary to the Truth. He is connected with Truth. He likes everything about Truth and dislikes whatever is false. When he disconnects himself from falsehood, he veils it, as if he is not seeing it, even while being perfectly aware of it. At the same time, he does not backbite and draw attention to the falsehood and wrongdoing perpetrated by people.

He connects himself to Truth and disconnects himself from falsehood. He does this in order to balance their falsehood by bringing Truth to the other side of the balance. Otherwise, if falsehood goes unchecked, it will cause disaster both in the Ummah and in the world. Thus the awlīyā are like mountains in the Ummah; they balance everything, as the mountains keep the earth in balance:

And the mountains as pegs (78:7)

If falsehood were to increase unchecked there would no longer be any balance in the world and it would turn upside down. Thus, the awlīyā bring everything into balance. For this reason God said:

In order that ye may not transgress (due) balance. So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance. (55:8-9)

 These verses mean, “Make everything balanced in the scale.” If the awlīyā do not balance falsehood by means of worship, if they do not balance what the workers of iniquity perpetrate in the way of falsehood with truth, this dunya (world, material life) would have disappeared long ago.

Among the Signs of Last Days, Abd Allāh bin Amr ibn al-‘As t related that the Prophet r said:

God will not take knowledge from the hearts of the scholars but he takes the scholars (they die). There will be no more scholars to take their place so people will take extremely ignorant leaders. They will be asked questions and will give fatwas (legal rulings) without knowledge. They are misguided and they misguide others.[15]

The pious servants (salihīn) have been balancing everything from the time of the Prophet r. Indeed, throughout all ages, they are balancing falsehood with truth. But now that balance they have brought to the worlds is reaching its end so that there is no longer a balance. Indeed, the lack of a sense of proportion has become the dominant characteristic of our epoch. That is why today one sees so much killing. And while everyone speaks of peace, peace, peace, in fact everywhere people are dying. May God keep us under the wings of His pious servants whom He has endowed with knowledge and entrusted with the guidance of the community of Muhammad r and balance our deeds to be in a good way.

Balancing the Self

Balance begins with the self, for the self is the root of all spiritual troubles. In the approach to the Divine Presence, the seeker must build his or her divine aspect based on the spirit of the holy hadith:

…My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks…[16]

One may be fastidious in observing the obligations and in practicing supererogatory worship: making all the voluntary prayers and fasts, paying extra charityand practicing the Sunnah to excess. However, in the search for realities, even that is not enough. This is because often the worshipper will miss a critical step: that of self-examination – al-muhasabah.

Without this aspect, the very worship we do in the belief we are attaining higher levels can in fact become an obstacle to progress. How? When that worship is not absolutely pure, done for the sake of God Alone, and we continue to do it under the self-satisfied notion that we are doing all that is humanly possible to achieve spiritual progress. At that time, the self will have held sway for it relishes its “success” in spiritual work and discipline.

The House of Illness

Therefore, as with all illnesses – there is a cure. In entering this discussion, we note the relevance of the Prophetic saying:

The stomach is the house of all illnesses and the source of all cures is diet.[17]

Dieting means to be fully ware of what enters one’s mouth and arrives at the stomach. The first step in dieting is to impose controls on the ego’s desire to eat. This is found in implementing the hadith where the Prophet said,“We are a people who don’t eat until we are hungry and when we eat we don’t eat our fill.”[18]

True cleverness is possessed by the one who can prevent his hand from reaching out to eat more, such a person truly controls his ego. Egos always desire more – they are endlessly greedy. If God granted us a house, and the ego sees someone who owns a bigger house, it wants that house. The ego never says, “All praise be to God, we have a place to stay.”

If someone has one million dollars the ego wants two million; if he has two million, it wants three million.

Yahyā bin Yahyā, a student of Imam Mālik, asked him for advice. Imam Mālik gave him three recommendations, each of which comprises a treasure. He said:

I will compose all the medicine of the physicians, and the entire fruit of the science of medicine in one sentence: withdraw your hand from eating as long as you have desire to eat.[19]

Following such advice one will never see sickness in his life. More importantly that is training the ego to listen to and accept to say the truth. For the battle with the ego begins with a conversation, a debate between the soul, which yearns for spiritual attainment, and the ego, nafs, which always seeks satisfaction in the basest desires. The soul will ask the ego, “Are you done eating?” To which it replies, “No, I want another bite, for this food is so tasty.” At that time the reproachful-self (an-nafs al-lawwāmah) will say, “But you are not keeping the Sunnah of eating.” That is the decision point: to observe the Sunnah, or not; to keep discipline or not; to control the ego or not.

It is for this reason that the Prophet r said:

Contemplation for one hour is better than seventy years of worship.[20]

What you achieve by contemplation tafakkur, also known in ‘Arabī c as murāqabah, is to achieve what you cannot achieve even if you are performing voluntary worship for seventy years. It means that what is gained by meditation is unattainable through worship alone, for even Iblīs, the condemned, busied himself with worship constantly such that not one handspan in heavens and earth remained without the traces of his prostration. Yet in the end he failed due to his rebellious ego, and spurred on by self-conceit he disobeyed a single order of His Lord and thus fell from grace.

Shaykh Abūl Hasan ash-Shādilī said, “The fruits of meditation (murāqabah) are the Divinely-gifted talents.”  But meditation cannot be done amongst the people, it must be done in isolation (al-‘uzlah). That in fact, is the primary reason people sit in isolation: to do meditation.

Such meditation, completely secluded away from all other eyes and ears, will allow you train the ego, to ride it, as a horseman rides his mount. Then once you ride the ego, it can no longer control you. When you say, “I am not eating,” it will say, “I hear and I obey.” On the other hand, if you have not trained it you will be overcome by your ego.

That is why a master may try his students by giving them excess food to eat. Such a trial is actually to combat the ego’s desires to not eat, which comes about when the stomach is full and the food is not particularly delicious. In keeping the ways of Sufism nothing must accord with the ego’s desires. So should the Shaykh order you to eat an entire pot of bland and tasteless food, you must do so willingly, for it is in obedience to the order that he will raise you.

However, if the Shaykh dispenses more food to you—food which is blessed by his hands, his prayers and his preparing it while invoking God and praising His Prophet —and you indicate in even the slightest way, “That is enough,” you are displaying your disobedience, struggling in fact to say, “No, I will not eat any more.” Consider, if that is your reaction to something that cannot harm you what do you think if the Shaykh puts you to a more difficult trial?

This is all in regard to physical nourishment. If we observe dieting in regard to our physical constitution, what are we doing in regards to our spirit, for it too is nourished and it too has its source of food?

Dieting for the Soul

Dieting for the soul means to prevent oneself from doing anything originating in bad desires; it will be a cure for one’s spiritual dimension and a preparation for the afterlife.

People today do not diet for the soul. They are not examining the desires of the self and asking “How am I going to face God the Almighty and Exalted, on the Day of Examination, where He is going to ask us, ‘Did you stop yourself from being greedy, from jealousy and from envy?’”

If someone is receiving his provision from God, then no one can prevent him from receiving his destined portion. If God has granted you one thousand of something then you will get your one thousand, even if one thousand others are seeking it; and if God has written for you ten, then it may be that someone else will get one thousand and you will get your destined ten. Never worry that someone else will eat your provision. With that in mind, jealousy and envy can never arise.

Thus it is said, “Dieting is the head of all cures[21]

Himyah means dieting but in this context it means preventing yourself from doing anything outside the bounds of Islam. Whatever you are doing that contravenes the Divine Law you must stop doing, else you will end up in a situation that you are happy in this life but in the afterlife you are full of regret.

The heart is an organ but its nourishment is not through eating, Rather the heart uploads and downloads. Its food is gossips, dark whisperings, and evil promptings with which you fill it up. If you give it bad spiritual food, it will be demolished, but if you are giving it healthful spiritual food, it will flourish, and each person must choose.

Just as the stomach is the house of physical maladies, the heart is the house of spiritual malaises. So just as one diets as a cure for the physical body so to will observing the nourishment intake of the heart enable one to receive God’s light.

It is related that God said:

Neither My heaven nor My earth could contain Me, but the soft, humble heart of my believing servant can contain Me.[22]

There cannot be two within the heart. God does not accept association, though He may forgive anything less than that. What does He accept? Oneness. God does not accept that anyone share with Him, for He is the Ultimate Sovereign King. God wants Absolute Oneness to be attributed to Himself. If there is even the slightest aspect of filth or impurity in the heart then no light will penetrate into your heart from God’s lights. That would be unacceptable for God’s lights can only be for Himself.

For this reason, the dieting of the heart consists of listening to a guided and guiding master, a murshid, who has the skill to disconnect the seeker from his own self-aggrandizing self and then, like a heart surgeon, carefully reconnect the seeker to his reality in the Divine Presence.

Breaking the Ego’s Pride

As we said earlier, the seeker may make great strides of progress in attainment by means of voluntary worship. However, he or she will reach a limit that cannot be crossed, and that is the blockage of the self, for the self will use any means at its disposal to intercept the upward progress of the seeker. The cause of this is arrogance, for the self does not allow the soul to take precedence, claiming, on the pattern of Pharoah, “I am your Lord most high!”(79:24). For this the guide must use drastic means, like emergency surgery, to eliminate the tyrannical self. This is illustrated in another story about Bayāzīd:

There was a man in Bistam who was always in Bayāzīd’s assembly and he never separated from him. At the same time the man was a renowned scholar of the region. Once he said to Bayāzīd, “O master! For thirty years I have been fasting in the daytime and remained standing at night in prayers. I have left all my passions. But I feel in my heart nothing at all of what you are talking about, although I believe in what you say and I know that you are telling the truth.”

Bayāzīd replied, “Even if you fast for three hundred years and keep standing in night prayers for three hundred years while you are (in the state in which) I see you, you will not experience one atom of this knowledge.” The man asked, “Why, O master?” Bayāzīd answered, “Because you are veiled by your own self.”

He asked, “Is there any medicine by which to remove this veil?” Bayāzīd told him, “Remove the clothes (of the scholar) that you are wearing, put on this (ragged) cloak, attach a bag around your neck and fill it with chestnuts. Then gather children around you and say at the top of your voice, ‘O children! Whoever will slap me once I will give one chestnut. And whoever slaps me twice I will give two chestnuts. And whoever will push me so I fall down I will give three chestnuts.” Go the place where you are most respected and let everyone who knows you see you like this. Begin with this before all else, so that first you fall from prestige (jāh) and cause your self to be humiliated.”

That man (who was a scholar of renown) said, “Ya SubhanAllāh! Alī mithli yuqālu hadhā?” meaning, “O Glory of God! Is it to someone of my stature you say such a thing?” Bayāzīd replied, “Stop, stop, stop! Now you are committing the irreparable sin of association with God, shirk

He continued, “Stop now, you see how loose your tongue is. Even with thirty years [of struggle in the Way] yet you cannot control it. When you control yourself by humiliating yourself and make it known that you are truly a Sufi, then you will be accepted.”

Bayāzīd said, “After you do this I shall let you know what is suitable for you.” The man said, “I am unable to do this!”

Bayāzīd had sought out the defect in his disciple’s character, and exposed it to him, for when he said, “Ya subhanAllāh,” it was as if he was putting himself besides God, as if to say, “I am above that as God is above His Creation.”

This story illustrates the need to create a new way in your life, as mentioned to that scholar, by humbling and demeaning yourself.

Therefore justify not yourselves: He knows best who it is that guards against evil (53:32).

Do not ever uplift yourself or give excuses to yourself. For the Best of Creation, Sayyidina Muhammad , the Master of masters, the Seal of Messengers, the perfect human being was humble. God gave him everything: He gave him intercession; He made him the first in creation; He made him the last to be sent; He made his nation the best of nations; He forgave his nation their sins large and small and vouchsafed for them Abode of Safety in the afterlife; He made him the first to be resurrected on Judgment Day; He made him r the first to enter paradise, along with his entire nation. All this and yet the Prophet said, “I am the Master of the sons of Adam on Judgment Day and I say it without pride (wa lā fakhr).”[23] For God’s Messenger had no pride, therefore despite being the greatest of all, he was most pleased when His Lord called him “My servant,”  abdee.

Imminent Events

The Prophet of God said:

After me come caliphs, and after the caliphs come princes, and after princes there will be kings and after the kings, there will be tyrants. And after the tyrants a man from My House will fill the earth with justice, and after him is al-Qahtani. By the One who sent me with the Truth! Not a word less. [24]

We see that the caliphs are spoken of in this hadith are “the Rightly-Guided Ones”: Abū Bakr, ‘Umar, Uthman and Alī, may God the Exalted be pleased with them all. The princes are the Umayyad Caliphs of Damascus and the ‘Abbāsid Caliphs of Baghdad. As for the kings, they are the Ottoman Sultans of Istanbul. Following the kings, according to the hadith, are tyrants, and that is what is commonly seen today.

God’s Friends are not looking to the future, mentioned in such hadith, as far away. Rather they are communicating to those who would learn from them, that these hadith are signposts for mankind on the road to the Hereafter. If we act as the blind, ignoring what is apparent in the signs of the times, then of what benefit is such luminous guidance? The duty of the Saints, as inheritors of the Prophets, is to remind, give glad tidings (bushrā) and to warn.

Let us heed then, the clear guidance that the Prophet r has brought us, and prepare for times of tribulation. Following these trials, we hope to be present in a Golden Age of Prophetic civilization, the like of which the world has never witnessed.


[1] Narrated by al-Hākim and rigorously authenticated (sahīh), also from at-Tirmidhī with chains from Jābir and ‘Alī; at-Tirmidhī and as-Suyūtī declared it to be good (hasan).

[2] Related on the authority of Mu’adh ibn Jabal by Tirmidhī (hasan sahīh) and Baghawi in Sharh al-Sunnah. About the wording, “My Lord came to me in the best image (sūrah),” ‘Alī al-Qari observed, “God is exalted from possessing a body, a form (sūrah), and directions with regard to His essence.” when wrote about this hadith in the chapter on the Prophet’s turban in his book Jam al-wasāil fi sharh al-shamāil, a commentary on Tirmidhī’s Shamāil or Characteristics of the Prophet. He also said:

Whether the Prophet saw his Lord during his sleep or whether Allāh the Glorious and Exalted manifested Himself to him with a form (bi al-tajallī al-suwari), this type of manifestation is known among the masters of spiritual states and stations (arbāb al-hāl wa al-maqām), and it consists in being reminded of His qualities (hayātihi) and reflecting upon His vision (ruyatihi), which is the outcome of the perfection of one’s inner detachment (takhlīyatihi) and self-adornment (tahlīyatihi).

[3] Ahmad narrated it and Ibn Kathīr mentions it in his exegesis of Surat Luqman. Al-Haythamī said in Majma’ al-zawā‘id (#116): “Abū Dawūd narrates part of it, and all of the sub-narrators in Ahmad’s chain are trustworthy and they are Imams.”

[4] Literally: “turned”

[5] Abd ar-Razzāq (d. 211) narrates it in his Musannaf. Bayhaqi (d. 458) narrates it with a different wording in Dalā’il al-nubūwwa according to Zurqāni in his Sharh al-mawāhib (1:56 of the Matbaa al-amira in Cairo) and Diyārbakri in Tarikh al-khamis (1:20).

[6] al-Ajlūnī, Kashf al-Khafā, ii, 164; ‘Alī al-Qāri, Sharh al-Shifā, i, 26.

[7] Narrated from Abd Allāh ibn Amr ibn al-As by Muslim in his sahīh.

[8] A version similar to this is related in Lore of Light, Vol. 1, Hajjah Amina Hāttun, and yet another version is related by as-Sufuri in Nuzhat al-Majālis as:

When God created the Pen, He said, “Write My Oneness: ‘There is no god except God.’” Then He said: “Write, ‘Muhammad is the Messenger of God.’’’

When the Pen heard the name “Muhammad,” it prostrated and said in its prostration, “Glory to the One Who is characterized with generosity; Glory be to the Gracious, the Most Compassionate. I have known your Greatest Name, so who is this Muhammad whose name You have joined with Yours?” Then God said, “Keep good manners O Pen! For by My Glory and My Majesty, I did not create My creation except for the love of Muhammad ÿ.”  The Pen then split due to the sweetness of Muhammad ÿ and said, “Peace be upon you, O Messenger of God.” But it found no one to respond to its greeting, upon which God said, “And peace be unto you, and My mercy and My blessings.”

[9] Reported by Imam Ghazālī, Ihyā Ulūm al-Dīn, and, Hajjah Amina Adil, Lore of Light, volume 1, p.24, with additional wording.

[10] From The Commentary of the Hikam of Ibn Atāillāh as-Sakandari by Ibn Ajība, (‘Ikaz al-himmam fee sharhi al-hikam li Ahmad bin Muhammad ibn Ajība al-Hasanī).

[11] From The Commentary of the Hikam of Ibn Atāillāh as-Sakandari by Ibn Ajība, (‘Ikaz al-himmam fee sharhi al-hikam li Ahmad bin Muhammad ibn Ajība al-Hasanī, p. 4.)

[12] maqām ―what the servant realizes in his station in terms of spiritually-perfected manners, adab, and what is communicated… [al-Qushayri]

[13] Even the rigorous Ibn Taymiyya verified this hadith.

[14] Sahīh Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim.

[15] Sahīh Bukhārī 1:33, “Kitāb al-‘ilm.”  Sahīh Muslim #157, “Kitāb al-‘ilm”.

[16] Related by Abū Hurayrah in sahīh al-Bukhā .

[17] The first part is a hadith, but the second, while often attributed to the Prophet is in fact as as-Sakhāwī noted in his Maqāsid, “not attributed to the Prophet ÿ, rather it is the words of Hārith bin Kaldah, a physician of the Arabs or from someone else.” Al-Hāfiz as-Suyūtī said the same in his al-Hāwī and his own commentary of the hadiths he used in his exegesis ad-Durar, attributed it to a Tabi’ or a hākim (physician) or an Israelite tradition and he added at the end of the saying, “and the head of every fault is the love of the world.” Ibn ‘Arabī mentioned it in his Futūhāt, Ibn Ata-Allāh in his Hikam.

[18] Related from ‘Umar bin al-Khattāb. Ibn Kathīr says its chain is weak, but the meaning is true.

[19] An tarfa yadak ‘ani t-ta’am

[20] As-Sufurī in Nuzhat al-majālis from both Ibn ‘Abbās and Abū Hurayrah through Miqdād ibn al-Aswad. Another version is: Contemplation for one hour on the alteration of the night and day is better that eighty years of worship. (ad-Daylamī related it from Anas) Yet another version is related: “Contemplation for one hour is better than sixty years of worship.” (Abū ash-Shaykh in his Azamah from Abū Hurayrah.)

[21] Al-himyatu rās ad-daw.

[22] Al-Ajlūnī says, “Al-Ghazālī mentioned it in Ihyā Ulūm al-Dīn.” Al-Sakhāwī said in al-Maqāsid, following his shaykh al-Suyūtī in al-Laali, “There is no known chain from the Prophet for it, and its meaning is that his heart can contain belief in Me, love of Me and gnosis of Me.” And it is similar to the Israelite tradition Ahmad has related in al-Zuhd from Wahb bin Munabbih who said that God opened the heavens for Ezekiel until he saw the Throne, so Ezekiel said, ‘How Perfect are You! How Mighty are You, O Lord!’ So God said, ‘Truly, the heavens and the earth were too weak to contain Me, but the soft, humble heart of my believing slave contains Me’.”

[23] Related by Tirmidhī, Ibn Mājah and Ahmad.

[24] Naim bin Hammad in Fitan from Abd ar-Rahman bin Qays bin Jābir al-Sadafi. Kanz al-ummal, hadith #38704.