Introduction to the book
by Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent, the Munificent
Praise to God, the Bestower of favors on His servants, the Perfecter of gifts and the Reviver of hearts. Greetings and prayers on the one both loved and beloved who God sent as a Mercy to humankind to enlighten the way for seekers and to guide knowers on His most upright path.
From its advent, true religion has been beset with enemies from within and without, who have tried to destroy its very foundations and pillars: sometimes through outright atheism but more often through free-thought and corruption. As a result, the spiritual world has always stood in need of effective thinkers and practictioners, who strive in its defence and who are steadfast and trustworthy in their advice to the Community, who make the clear the path of good and distinguish if from evil and error, who differentiate between what religion advocates and what it rejects, what is false and what is true, what is good and what is plainly corrupt.
In general, the spiritual people of today no longer have advisors and teachers who possess the calibre to counsel them and to train them in the teachings of spirituality and religion. Unfortunately, they do not find guides capable of leading them in the teachings of their religion on that high road of morality and ethics that constitute spirituality's essential character. On the contrary, today we see cases of would-be scholars and guides who are not only unscholarly, but are also ignorant and sometimes even corrupt. Indeed, in many places they have gotten the upper hand and now prominently occupy seats of religious authority, and positions of respect in formalized hierarchies. Sunk in lives of pleasure and good living, they play at the role of guiding, advising and preaching to the Community. Unfortunately in reality they have cast aside the simple lifestyle and regimen of self-denial practiced by the Prophets. Their Disciples, Companions and the Saints and Guides who are present in every time and place have inherited their secrets and their transmissions, may God shine His Divine Light of His Countenance on all of them. However in this time, they remain hidden, not because of lack of ability, because of the paucity of individuals able and willing to follow the path they have drawn. Confronted with this situation, how can we not ask: In which direction is our Community headed?
No doubt it is true that timely and proper measures could have been taken by the spiritual-minded to prepare good and wise scholars whose unstained lives would have allowed them to function as models and to undertake the mission of reminding the Community of the message brought forth in the revelations and inspirations of God, and the Ways and Practices of the Inspired Ones, the Prophet, Guides and Saints of every time. Then, our condition would have been spiritually enriched and we would have been rewarded and lifted to those stations that God ordained for us both in this life and in the Future Life.
But consideration of the present condition only causes to reflect. The situation in the world of spirituality was not always as I have described it. On the contrary, it used to be that this sacred mission, this great service of calling the Community to remembrance of its proper heritage framed by Holy Revelation and set out in the Paths and Characteristics of the Prophets (in Sufism termed Sunnah) was performed by devoted and sincere scholars of spirituality. It was in fact these individuals, who in time, came to be known by the name of "Sufi."
We know for example, that in the first century after the Emigration of Prophet Muhammad from the Favored City of Mecca, to the Holy City of Light, Madina, a regimen of self-purification (zuhd) grew up within the Moslem community. It evolved slowly and ended up as a school of practical thought and moral action endowed with its own structure of rule and principle. The latter in fact, became the basis used by Sufi scholars to direct spiritual aspirants on the Way. As a result, the Moslem world soon witnessed the development of a variety of schools of Sufi thought which spread throughout its breadth and width.
The Blessed Grave of the Messenger of God, Muhammad, may God's Peace and Blessings shower evermore upon him.
These schools served as a dynamic force behind the growth and fabric of Sufi education. This tremendous advance occurred after one century after the Emigration, to the seventh, in parallel with the development of the sciences of Tradition, Spiritual Exegesis (tafsir), and of Eloquence (al-balagha). Through the Imams these spiritual disciplines were developed into formalized and structured methods of discipline for both heart and body. Shortly thereafter, the bases of Faith (aqidah) were formalized through the great Sufi Imams and Shaykhs of that era.
Tariqat or "path" came to be a term applied to groups of individuals belonging to the school of thought pursued by a particular scholar or "shaykh" as such person was often called. Though these shaykhs applied different methods in training their followers, the core of each one's program was identical.
The situation is not unlike what we find in faculties of medicine and law today. The approach in different faculties may vary, but the body of law, the state of art in medicine remains essentially the same. When students gaduate from these faculties, each bears the stamp of its character. Yet, for that reason none are considered an less a lawyer or doctor. In a similar way, the student product of a particular shaykh will bear the stamp of that shaykh's teaching and character. Consequently, the names given to various schools of Sufi methodology differ according to the names and perspectives of their founders.
This variation manifests itself in a more concrete fashion in the different supererogatory devotions, known as litanies and chants (awrad, ahzab or adhkaar), used as the practical methodology of spiritual formation. Such differences however, have nothing to do with spiritual principle. In basic principles, all schools of Sufism were and still are essentially the same.
The Sufi regimen under which individuals undertook the path to God, was a finely-honed itinerary which charted the course of inward and outward progress in religious faith and practice (din). Following the tradition of the Companions of the Prophet (s) who used to frequent his company, Ahl as-Suffa [the People of the Bench], the practitioners of this regimen lived a communal life in the mosque-schools (zawaayah), border outposts (ribat) and guest-houses (khaniqah) where they gathered together on specific occasions dedicated to the traditional festivals of the religious calendar ('Eids and Mawlid) as well as on a regular basis in associations for the convey knowledge (suhba), assemblies to invoke the names of God and devotional remembrance (adhkaar) from the Prophetic Tradition, study Spiritual Sourcebooks, and to hear inspired preaching and moral exhortation (wa'iz).
The shaykhs exhorted their students to actively respond to God and His Messengers, (may they all be Blessed), to cleanse their hearts and purify their souls from the lower desires prompted by the ego and to reform erroneous beliefs. All this was accomplished by cleaving to the outward Forms of practice and the inward manifestations of Perfected Character (Sunnah). The methods of remembering God which they instilled in their students were and still are today, the very same methods passed down through direct spiritual lineages, from the Prophet and his Disciples. In this way, they propagated upright behavior both through word and deed; while they encouraged the aspirant to devote themselves to God Almighty with their whole hearts. The aim of their endeavor then was nothing less than obtaining God's satisfaction and inspiring love for His Prophets, may God Bless them all. In short, what they aimed for was a state where God would be pleased with them even as they they were pleased with God.
As a result of such teaching and training we find that many students of Sufi shaykhs, graduated from their course of studies empowered to carry other people's burdens, even as they strove to illumine the way of Truth. Furthermore, through their training and self-discipline they had developed the manifest and decisive will to do so. For genuine scholars and teachers of tariqats leave no stone unturned in conducting their spiritual warfare. And I mean here both the physical warfare and the spiritual jihad against the unseen allurements that entrap the soul. It is in following the famous Tradition of the Messenger Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be on him, "We have returned from the Lesser form of Warfare, on the battlefield, to the Greater form of Warfare, the Warfare against Earthly Attachment and the Gravity of the Ego."
History books are filled with the names of Sufi spiritual warriors and martyrs that have devoted their lives to confronting the enemies of spirituality and holiness; who, for His sake, called mankind to the Ways of God, as well as calling back those who had deviated from the path of love of God and the Way of Unity as exemplified in the blessed personages of the Prophets and the Exalted Spiritual Masters. They accomplished this with wisdom and they were effective. Their names and stories are too numerous to list in the interval of time at our disposal. Besides to do so would take us away from the specific aspects of Sufism I would like to talk about today.
It suffices to say that the lives of these Sufi Shaykhs are insurmountable evidence that Sufism, far from encouraging escapism and quietism of the soul that causes social progress to founder, upheld the highest values of social consciousness as well as religious inquiry and science. In fact, they provide adequate testimony to an unremitting warfare and struggle against social injustice and social inaction that took place in Islam over the centuries.
The Naqshbandi Sufi Order was a school of thought and practice that stood in the vanguard of those that disseminated Sufism and defended Sufi communities where the armies did not reach, especially in Central Asia and India where these communities numbered in the millions. I specifically mean the Naqshbandi Sufis who took up political, social and educational roles in their communities, acting according to the Divine Revelations and Inspirations and following the Tradition of sincerity and Perfect Moral Character of the Prophets and Saintly Guides, may God grant them ever more from His Divine Lights.
The Naqshbandi Sufi Order traces its roots to the first of the Successor of Muhammad the Messenger. His name was Abu Bakr Siddiq, and he was the closest friend and Disciple of the Holy Messenger of God. He was followed by Salman al-Farsi, the Persian, who as a seeker had spent many years in the path seeking the men and women of knowledge and gnosis, before finally finding his way to the side of the Prophet and Messenger of his age, Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be on him. He in turn passed the secret of this path to his successor, Qassim bin Muhammad bin Abu Bakr, the grandson of Abu Bakr Siddiq, mentioned above. From there the secret was passed to the great Imam, the Master of Gnosis and the Spiritual Beacon of his Age, Jaf'ar as-Sadiq, the Trustworthy, respected as Imam and Master of the Way by both Sunni and Shi'a, Moslem, Jew and Christian. He was the fifth generation of descent in the familial lineage of the Messenger of God, and he inherited his spiritual trusts both from his mother's side, who was a direct descendant of Abu Bakr, and from his father's side, who was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter, the Blessed Fatimah.
Following as-Sadiq in the transmission of the Secret of the Order is Bayazid al-Bistami whose grandfather was a Zoroastrian. Bayazid practiced ascetism at par excellence (zuhd). He was the first of the Sufis to formulate the concept of Annihilation in God, fana'un fillah.
The name of the Order is the word Naqshband, which means "to engrave the Name of God in the Heart." For this reason, the Imam of this Sufi Path was called the King of Engravers, famous for not only having inscribed the spiritual presence of God in his heart, but for actually having the word "Allah" physically inscribed on his chest, found when he died. This miracle occurred due to his intensity when reciting the holy name of God "Allah." To him are attributed countless miracles, blessings and statements about the love of God, His Oneness, and the requirements of the Path to His Divine Presence.
He said about the Path named after him: "[it] is the easiest and simplest way for the student to understand Divine Oneness. It urges its followers to seek a state of complete worship of God both publicly and privately by keeping the complete code of conduct of the Prophetic Path. ... It does not demand of its followers perpetual hunger or wakefulness. ...we say that our way is the Mother of all Paths to God, and the guardian of all spiritual trusts. It is the safest, wisest and clearest way. It is the purest drinking-station, the most distilled essence."
There followed in succession, from the Prophet, peace and blessings of God be on him, a lineage of 40 masters. In each time there was one Master in this lineage whose spiritual accomplishments and master made him known was the Pole and the Ghawth of his age. The masters were so powerful in propelling their followers to the Divine Presence, that people would emigrate to their locales simply to be in the aura of their physical presence. Their ability to project their spiritual power through time and space was the cause for millions of people to reach the Divine Presence, many without ever encountering the master in physical form.
We hope in the above pages that we can benefit the reader and the viewer and the listener with a glimpse of the beauty, the sweet perfume of the most Blessed Naqshbandi Sufi Way.
From God do we come and to Him do we return.