You should know that the above-mentioned stages [of spiritual progress] can only be attained through genuine repentance [tawba nasuh], and with verbal instruction [talqin] from qualified experts. As Allah (Exalted is He) has said:
And He imposed on them
the profession of true devotion.
kalimata 't-taqwa. (48:26)
That is the profession: "There is no god but Allah [la ilaha illa 'llah]," with the stipulation that it must come from a heart that is truly devout, pure of everything apart from Allah, not like any statement heard from the mouths of the common folk. The wording may be the same in each case, but there is a difference in the meaning.
The heart is enlivened only when it receives the seed of the affirmation of Oneness from a living heart. It must be a perfect seed, for nothing grows from a seed that is immature. That is why Allah sent down the profession of Oneness [kalimat at-Tawhid] in two places in the Qur'an, once in connection with the outer expression:
When it was said to them:
inna-hum kanu idha qila la-hum
"There is no god but Allah,"
la ilaha illa 'llahu
they were scornful, and they said:
yastakbirun: wa yaquluna
"Shall we forsake our gods?"
a-inna la-tariku alihati-na. (37:35,36)
-and once in connection with real knowledge:
So know that there is no god but Allah,
fa-''lam anna-hu la ilaha illa 'llahu
and ask forgiveness for your sin,
wa 'staghfir li-dhanbi-ka
and for the believing men and believing women.
wa li'l-mu'minina wa 'l-mu'minat:
Allah knows your going to and from,
wa 'llahu ya'lamu mutaqabbala-kum
and your lodging.
wa mathwa-kum. (47:19)
This instruction [talqin], concerning the reason for the revelation of this noble Qur'anic verse [aya], is for the benefit of the special few.
According to the author of Bustan ash-Shari'a [The Orchard of the Sacred Law]: "'Ali (may Allah be well pleased with him) was the first to ask the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) to show him the nearest, the finest and the easiest of the spiritual paths. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) waited for inspiration [wahy], so Gabriel (peace be upon him) came down and instructed him to repeat this profession [of Oneness] three times. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) then said what Gabriel (peace be upon him) had told him to say. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) then instructed 'Ali (may Allah be well pleased with him) to do likewise. Then he came to his Companions and gave the same instruction to them all."
[In the wake of a battle with the unbelievers], the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said [to his Companions]:
We have come home from the lesser sacred struggle [al-jihad al-asghar].
We are returning to the greater sacred struggle [al-jihad al-akbar].
-meaning the sacred struggle with the lower self [jihad an-nafs]. As the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to one of his Companions:
The greatest of all your enemies is that lower self of yours, in there between your flanks.
The love of Allah will not be experienced until His enemies, the instigating self [an-nafs al-ammara], the censorious self [lawwama] and the inspiring self [mulhima], have been conquered in your being. You must purify your being of the blameworthy characteristics of domestic animals, like the love of excessive eating, drinking, sleep and idle play, and of those of savage beasts, like anger, abuse, assault and coercion. You must also purify your being of satanic characteristics, like arrogant pride, vain conceit, envy and malice, and of other such vices of the body and the heart. Once you are cleansed of these impurities, you will be cleansed of the root of sins, and you will be included among those who purify themselves and are truly repentant.
Allah loves those who are truly repentant,
inna 'llaha yuhibbu 't-tawwabina
and He loves those who purify themselves.
wa yuhibbu 'l-mutatahhirin. (2:222)
If someone repents, but only of the outer aspect of sins, the obvious conclusion is that he is not covered by this Qur'anic verse [aya], since he is ta'ib [simply repentant], but not tawwab [utterly repentant]. The form tawwab is intensive, so it refers to the repentance of the special few. If someone repents, but only of the outer aspect of sins, he is like someone who cuts the grass above the ground, and does not take the trouble to dig it out by the roots, so it is sure to grow again, even more thickly than before.
As for someone who is truly repentant of all sins and blameworthy traits of character, his likeness is that of someone who digs the grass out by its roots, so it will certainly not grow again, except in very rare cases. After true repentance, therefore, the necessary instruction [talqin] is to uproot everything apart from Allah (Exalted is He) from the heart. If the bitter trees are not uprooted, the sweet trees will not take their place.
You must therefore pay careful attention, O possessors of perceptive faculties, for then you may prosper and succeed. Allah (Exalted is He) has said:
And He is the One who accepts repentance
wa Huwa 'lladhi yaqbalu 't-tawbata
from His servants, and pardons evil deeds,
'an 'ibadi-hi wa ya'fu 'ani 's-sayyi'ati
and He knows what you are doing.
wa ya'lamu ma taf'alun. (42:25)
He has also said (Glory be to Him):
Except those who repent, and believe,
illa man taba wa amana
and do righteous work-
wa 'amila 'amalan salihan
in their case, Allah will change
fa-ula'ika yubaddilu 'llahu
their evil deeds into good deeds,
for Allah is ever All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate.
wa kana 'llahu Ghafuran Rahima. (25:70)
Repentance is of two kinds: the repentance of the common folk [tawbat al-'amm] and the repentance of the special few [tawbat al-khawass]:
1. The repentance of the common folk is returning from sinful disobedience to worshipful obedience, from what is blameworthy to that which is praiseworthy, from the Inferno to the Garden, from the comfort of the body to the hardship of [conflict with] the lower self, by means of remembrance [dhikr], dedicated striving and vigorous endeavor.
2. The repentance of the special few is returning, after the achievement of this repentance, from the virtues of the pious to the sources of direct knowledge, from the stages of progress to nearness, and from physical pleasures to spiritual pleasures. That means forsaking everything apart from Allah (Exalted is He), enjoying intimacy with Him, and viewing Him with the eye of certitude.
To enjoy the benefits of material existence is to be guilty of sin. In the words of the saying addressed to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace):
Your material existence is such a sin that no other sin can be compared with it.
According to the great elders (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon them): "The good deeds of the pious are the bad deeds of those drawn near [to the Lord]." That is why the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to seek Allah's forgiveness one hundred times each day, as Allah (Exalted is He) told him:
And ask forgiveness for your sin.
wa 'staghfir li-dhanbi-ka. (47:19)
That is to say: "for the sin of your material existence." This is the repentance called inaba, which means returning to Allah (Exalted is He) from everything apart from Him, entering into the safety of nearness in the Hereafter, and beholding the Countenance of Allah (Exalted is He). As the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) once said:
Allah (Exalted is He) has servants whose bodies are in this world, while their hearts are beneath the Heavenly Throne.
The vision of Allah (Exalted is He) is impossible in this world, where it is possible only to view the attributes of Allah (Exalted is He) in the mirror of the heart. It was 'Umar (may Allah be well pleased withim) who said: "My heart saw my Lord by the light of my Lord." The heart is a mirror in which the Beauty of Allah (Exalted is He) is reflected.
This witnessing [of the Divine attributes] is attainable only through the instruction [talqin] of an accomplished Shaikh, one who has been accepted among the predecessors, then sent back here to perfect the deficient, at the command of Allah (Exalted is He), in accordance with the example of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). The saints (may Allah the Exalted be well pleased with them) are sent to the special few, not to the common folk. This is the difference between the Prophet and the saint [wali]: The Prophet is sent to the common folk and the special few alike, and he is free to set his own independent example, whereas the spiritual guide [murshid] is sent only to the special few, and he is not free to set his own independent example, because he qualified only to follow his Prophet (peace be upon him). If he did claim independence, he would be guilty of unbelief [kufr].
When the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) made the comparison:
The scholars of my Community are like the Prophets of the Children of Israel.
-he did so because they [those Prophets] were the loyal followers of the Sacred Law of the Messenger, he being Moses (blessing and peace be upon him). Their task was to renew that Law and confirm its rules, without introducing another Sacred Law.
The same is true of the scholars of this Islamic Community, inasmuch as the saints are sent to the special few, in order to renew the commandment and the prohibition, to establish right practice with the utmost support, and to purify the basis of the Sacred Law, which is the site of direct knowledge in the heart. They transmit knowledge of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), just as the Companions of the Bench [Ashab as-Suffa]6 used to tell of the mysteries of the Heavenly Ascension [Mi'raj], even before the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) reported the news. The saint is the bearer of the sainthood [wilaya] of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), which is an element of his Prophethood, and his inner being is entrusted to his guardianship.
This does not apply to all those [scholars of the Community] who follow the outer aspect of knowledge, because they may be heirs of the Prophet, but only as relatives on the maternal side. The complete heir is one who is in the position of the son, because that is the closest of paternal relationships. The son is the father's secret being, both outwardly and inwardly. That is why the Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him) once said:
Some knowledge is like the form of the hidden treasure. It is known only by those who truly know Allah (Exalted is He). When they speak of it, the people of honor cannot deny it.
This is the secret that was lodged in the heart of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) on the night of the Heavenly Ascension, in the innermost of the thirty thousand inner compartments. He did not reveal it to any of the common folk, but only to his closest Companions and the Companions of the Bench. The blessing of that secret is the implementation of the Sacred Law until the Day of Resurrection.
Esoteric knowledge guides one to that secret, for all the academic sciences and skills are the shell of that secret. As for the exoteric scholars, they are inheritors, so some of them are in the position of the owner of material properties, and some are in the position of relatives on the maternal side. They rely on the shells of knowledge, in order to summon people to Allah (Exalted is He) with good advice. The Sunni Shaikhs are linked by their spiritual chain [silsila] to 'Ali (may Allah be well pleased with him), at the station of knowledge at the gate of knowledge, inviting people to Allah (Blessed and Exalted is He) and giving wise advice. As Allah (Exalted is He) has said:
Summon to the way of your Lord with wisdom
ud'u ila sabili Rabbi-ka bi'l-hikmati
and good admonition,
wa 'l-maw'izati 'l-hasanati
and dispute with them in the better way.
wa jadil-hum bi'llati hiya ahsan. (16:125)
What they [the Shaikhs] say is basically the same, though there may be differences in detail.
Three meaningful elements are combined in the Qur'anic verse [aya], and they are likewise combined in the essential nature of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). No one can carry all that after him, so it is divided into three parts:
1. Knowledge of the spiritual state [hal]. This is the kernel, which is granted to real men, and which is the aspiration of real men. As the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) once said:
The aspiration of real men is the uprooting of the mountains.
What is meant by the mountains is the hardness of the heart, which is eradicated by their supplication and their humble appeal. As Allah (Blessed and Exalted is He) has said:
He gives wisdom to whomever He will,
yu'ti 'l-hikmata man yasha':
and he to whom wisdom is given,
wa man yu'ta 'l-hikmata
he has truly received abundant good.
fa-qad utiya khairan kathira. (2:269)
2. The second part is the shell of that kernel, which is given to the exoteric scholars. It consists of good advice, commanding what is right and proper, and forbidding what is wrong and improper. As the Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him) once said:
The scholar preaches with knowledge and good manners, while the ignoramus preaches with aggressiveness and anger.
3. The third part is the shell of the shell, which is given to the worldly rulers. It consists of external justice and the government indicated by His saying (Blessed and Exalted is He):
And dispute with them in the better way.
wa jadil-hum bi'llati hiya ahsan. (16:125)
The worldly rulers possess the outer means of control, and the means to preserve the good order of the religion, like the red shell [the husk that protects the shell]. The esoteric scholars are like the kernel within the shell.
The Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him) once said:
You must frequent the company of the scholars, and listen to the speech of the wise. Allah (Exalted is He) revives the heart with the light of wisdom, just as He revives the dead earth with the water of rain.
He also said (blessing and peace be upon him):
The word of wisdom is wandering astray. The wise man snatches it wherever he finds it.
The words in the mouths of the common folk have come down from the Well-kept Tablet [al-Lawh al-Mahfuz], which is on the level of the realm of Omnipotence [Jabarut]. The words in the mouths of real men, those men who have reached their goal, have come down from the Greatest Tablet on the tongue of Holiness, without intermediary in the realm of Nearness.
Everything must return to its original source. That is why it is a compulsory duty to seek the expert instructors, for the sake of the life of the heart. As the Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him) once said:
The quest for knowledge is a strict obligation for every Muslim man and Muslim woman.
That knowledge is the knowledge of direct experience and nearness. As for the rest, there is no need for the exoteric sciences, except when they contribute to the performance of religious duties, like the science of jurisprudence [fiqh] in relation to acts of worship. As al-Ghazali (may Allah be well pleased with him) said in poetry:
The life of the heart is knowledge, so preserve it,
The death of the heart is ignorance, so avoid it.
Your best provision is true devotion, so provide it.
This advice of mine is enough for you, so heed it.
Allah (Blessed and Exalted is He) is well pleased with those of His servants who make the transition to nearness, and attach no importance to degrees of rank. As Allah (Blessed and Exalted is He) has said:
Say: "I do not ask of you a fee for it,
qul la as'alu-kum 'alai-hi ajran
except love in close kinship."
illa 'l-mawaddata fi 'l-qurba. (42:23)
In this context, according to one interpretation, what is meant by qurba [close kinship] is qurba [nearness (to the Lord)].