By Dr A Q Khan
July 22, 2013
In one of my recent columns I reviewed two important books, one of which was written by Riaz Qadri on the lives of the great saints and mystics of Islam. Here I would like to expand upon the topic of mysticism and Sufism.
Many people feel that just to know a little about something is good enough to put it into practice. Had that been the case, Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Hegel, Bertrand Russell, etc would not have been outstanding philosophers but might have been considered saints for everyone to follow their teachings. Human nature is often very different to what people presume it to be.
Action and character have much to do with our inner lives, with heart, mind and conscience and, once imprinted, is not easily changed or reformed. Many of our intellectuals feel proud in copying the west, which is often reflected in the mention of western names in their writing. It is true that the western world has a monopoly on science and education, which they have used to strengthen their economies. This has resulted in the general impression that science and technology is the remedy to all evils. In short, it is felt that if you have mastered science and technology, you have won the game and have a free pass to heaven.
However, one should realise that science and technology alone do not turn a person into a fine human being, nor can they turn a brute into a kind soul. As a matter of fact, science and technology in the wrong hands can lead to what Hitler, Bush, Blair, Sarkozy, Obama, etc gave us in Europe, Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan, i.e. destruction, cruelty, violence, torture, etc.
In order to become good human beings we Muslims have the Divine Edicts, the examples of the lives of His prophets and, above all, the exemplary life of our beloved Holy Prophet (pbuh). The greatest achievement in the history of mankind is the enlightenment brought about by our Holy Prophet in the souls of mankind over a period of hardly 22 years. He transformed the prevailing wild, violent, polytheistic culture into a caring, tolerant nation, unheard of before and not surpassed even today.
It is worth considering how it was possible for such a transformation to take place. How did a wild people who killed each other and buried their infant girls become so law abiding and considerate in such a short time? This was definitely not achieved by money and might. For half the time the Holy Prophet preached he had no state, no money, no police or intelligence agencies, etc. Even while a state was in the making in Medina, there was no law-enforcing agency.
If a crime was committed, the culprit voluntarily confessed and asked to be appropriately penalised in order to save his own soul in the life hereafter. What ‘magical power’ was it that changed the total way of life of those who had accepted Islam – their way of thinking, prayer, behaviour, likes, dislikes, friendships, enmity, marriage, commerce, trade, etc? What was it that turned vice into virtue in the short span of hardly 22 years? All this manifested itself in the mixing and cohesion of refugees from Makkah to Madina.
This total change in attitude and behaviour has generally been ascribed to the soul searching that the Quran has described as being the purpose for which the prophets were sent. In Sura Juma (62:2), the Almighty said: “It is He who has sent amongst the unlettered an apostle from themselves, to rehearse to them his signs to sanctify them and to instruct them in scripture and wisdom”. Here we see that “sanctification” takes precedence over “scripture and wisdom”.
The miracle achieved by our Holy Prophet was that he changed the inner thinking, the way of living and the cleansing of the soul of all evil thoughts. After being cleansed, only then were they given scripture and wisdom. Our Holy Prophet gave a practical demonstration of sanctification and spiritual training through the example of the life he led. In doing so, he brought the souls of the people nearer to the Almighty. This act – the total absorption in the love of Allah – is ‘Tasavvuf’ (Sufism, spirituality). When one has reached this stage, one loses all fear and feels no pain.
In the Holy Quran (10:62), the Almighty has said: “Behold! Verily on the friends of Allah there is no fear, nor shall they grieve”. When one establishes such a relationship with the Almighty, everything else pales into insignificance. Full faith in Allah makes everything else useless. In other words, that person has become a ‘Wali Allah’.
Islamic history has many examples of people who have excelled in self-sanctification and achieved spirituality and who have helped rulers and commanders when they were facing difficulties. They inspired confidence and courage and gave hope. They taught that what was important was spiritual power, not worldly attractions. Contact with, and obedience to Allah, was what was important. The more one follows the Devine edicts and obeys Allah, the more one gains in spirituality.
The book ‘Tazkaratul-Aulia’ by Fariduddin Attar contains the history of many ‘Wali Allahs’ and describes their spiritual powers. It is not difficult to identify such pious people. They practice what they preach, lead sinless lives in accordance with the Shariah, are God-fearing, don’t indulge in back-biting, are kind to all living creatures, are not vengeful or jealous, remember the Almighty in every act of their daily lives and never forget that one day they will have to answer for each and every one of their deeds.
These are the people who are blessed by the Almighty with spiritual powers and who achieve the status of ‘Wali Allah.