Imam ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani (b. 898/1493) was one of the scholarly saints and revivers of Islam in the sixteenth century. His greatest contributions to Islamic spirituality and scholarship are his over three hundred books, one of which is al-Uhud al-Muhammadiyya (The Muhammadan Covenants), samples of which shall be reproduced here in a series of translations by Abdul Aziz Suraqah. Described as a spiritual hadith commentary, in each chapter Imam al-Sha’rani opens with saying “A general covenant has been taken from us from Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) that we... ,” and proceeds to mention divine commands and prohibitions given by Allah and His Messenger, as well as the spiritual benefits obtained by doing them (in the case of obligations) and the spiritual harms of violating them (in the case of prohibitions). He explains in his introduction the Covenants that the commands encompass the recommended (mustahabb) and the obligatory (wajib), and the prohibitions encompass the offensive (makruh) and the unlawful (haram).
Encouraging the Disobedient to Repent
A general covenant has been taken from us by Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that we encourage all of the people of disobedience (ahl al-ma’asi) to repent; that we speak of Allah’s mercy for them when they repent and inform them that no sin—besides polytheism—is so great that Allah will not forgive it; and that we speak softly to them and treat them with the utmost kindness so they can go back to their partners in sin and relay their experiences [with us], in hope that their hearts are softened for repentance. Likewise [a general covenant has been taken from us] that we do not despair from speaking to those who repent with kind words that will appeal to their conscience—such as using the word sayyid [sir, master], and that we deem them purer of heart than ourselves, since they are fresh from repentance (which, according to the explicit statement of the hadith, effaces the sins that came before it), unlike us, for it is likely that one of us has not fallen into disobedience in a long while, and has plentiful acts of obedience to his credit, so he says to himself, “It is highly doubtful that Allah Most Exalted would punish someone like me”—yet he fails to realize that he, holding that attitude, is from the most distant and remote of people from Allah’s Presence (Exalted and Sublime is He!), because his heart is not broken, while Allah Most High says [in a hadith qudsi], “I am with those whose hearts are broken for My sake.” This means: those whose hearts are broken because of disobeying Allah’s commands and being remiss in their obedience to Him do not see for themselves any special honor in the sight of Allah.
I heard my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas say, “When Imam al-Qushayri mentioned the spiritual masters in the first part of his epistle [al-Risala al-Qushayriyya], he began with Ibrahim b. Adham and al-Fudayl b. ‘Iyad. That was in order to strengthen the hearts of the spiritual seekers; because [Ibrahim] b. Adham and al-Fudayl [b. ‘Iyad] had both lived lives of spiritual alienation [qati’a]. It was as if the Shaykh was saying that sin will not harm the one who has received divine concern. He also [mentioned them first] so the seeker who has lived a life of spiritual alienation will not consider it farfetched that he receive abundant openings from Allah and erasure of all his sins.”
On another occasion I heard him say, “Those of the fuqara’ [needy spiritual seekers] who fail to taste the bitterness of spiritual alienation do not know how sweet spiritual union [wisal] really is.” For the faqir whom Allah wants to groom for the care and guidance of other seekers, it is from the perfection of his state that he falls into sin at the beginning of his spiritual journey, even if it was only the intention to commit a sin. That is so he develops forbearance with sinful people and patience when straightening out their crookedness. What’s more, by having fallen into sin, he will no longer have conceit with his good deeds and he will come to know Allah’s clemency for him and will be able to stand before Allah with humiliation, a lowered head, and with the etiquette required as dowry [mahr] for entering the Divine Presence. Had it not been predestined for him to fall into sin he would never know these things and he would have been destined to be like the one who uses his pious works like a financial transaction with Allah—as can been seen with one who is raised in an environment of scrupulousness and who is never tested with defilement; you will notice that he considers everyone but himself to be in a state of ruin, even though his attitude is the very essence of pride for which Allah casts the arrogant into Hell. This is supported by the hadith, “There was [in a bygone nation] a devotee who had worshiped Allah Most High for five hundred years in a deserted island. Allah Most High will say to him on the Day of Resurrection, ‘Enter Paradise by My mercy.’ The servant will say, ‘O Lord! Rather [I enter Paradise] by my actions!’ whereupon Allah Most High will say to the angels, ‘Weigh his five hundred years of worship against the blessing of [his] eyesight.’ When the angels weigh the two the blessing of his eyesight will outweigh his worship, and Allah will order him off to Hell, and then he will say, ‘O Lord! Enter me [into Paradise] by Your mercy!’—and then Allah will cause him to enter Paradise.”
I heard my brother Afdal al-Din say, “The disobedient person is like the rubbish tossed into an orchard: it sweetens the fruits and improves their taste. Or he is as rennet is to milk: despite its sweetness and pleasant taste, milk needs rennet (which has a foul and horrid taste) for its stability [when making cheese] and to preserve it from spoilage. Thus an intelligent person should ponder upon the creation of Allah (Exalted and Sublime is He!) and give every action its due according the balance set by the Sacred Law.”
There was once a quarrelsome man who frequented the market of Amir al-Juyush. He began to censure and criticize the merchants and auctioneers and declared their transactions void on account of things that have not been mentioned explicitly in the Shariah, and which have never occurred to most people. As a result of his behavior, the shopkeepers complained about him to me and in the presence of my brother Afdal al-Din. I said to them, “Allah willing, I’ll speak with him on your behalf.” But my brother Afdal al-Din said, “Speaking to him and his like will be to no avail. The only thing that will work with him is a divine jolt [sadma ilahiyya].” And sure enough, that very night he was found in a compromised position with his neighbor’s slave girl, so they [the neighbors] grabbed him and took him before the chief constable, and wanted to expose him by having the slave girl tied to his back, but then the shopkeepers and auctioneers gathered together and went to the chief constable and interceded for his release. They succeeded in getting him out after much difficulty and heavy fines [were paid on his behalf]. From that day forward he refrained from censuring the shopkeepers, and asked them to keep silent about him. My brother Afdal al-Din said, “By the honor of my Lord, his error was more beneficial for him than the worship by which he acted arrogantly over others.”
So beware, dear brother, of driving away those who have repented by using rough and insensitive words, or by not treating them well, for it is possible that Satan will say to them, “What benefit is there to be had in keeping company with these people of the Sacred Law and forsaking your old friends who loved you and kept your faults hidden? You are keeping company with people who hold you in contempt and who belittle you and expose your nakedness, and who wish to take you before the authorities!” If they lend an ear to Satan then they will assuredly want to go back to their previous state.
See to it, dear brother, that you offer encouragement to your repentant brethren and treat them exceedingly well, and remind them of the Quranic verses and hadith reports that speak of repentance being accepted. Do that, and you will be the sage of your time. May Allah guide you!
Imam Ahmad and others narrated in a raised [marfu’] tradition: “Verily, Allah has sent me as a mercy and guidance to the worlds, and has commanded me to destroy wind instruments and idols. [This refers to musical instruments and the idols that were worshipped in the pre-Islamic period of ignorance] And my Lord has sworn by His honor that ‘no one among my servants drinks a draught of wine save that I will pour out to him a drink from the boiling waters of Hell—and he will suffer torment or be forgiven. And no one pours out wine for a child save that I will pour out for him, in its place, a boiling drink from Hell; and no servant of mine forsakes wine out of fear of Me save that I shall give him a drink from the Paradisal wine of the Holy Presence.’”
And in a raised narration from al-Bazzar with a good chain: “Allah Most High says, ‘Whosoever gives up wine though he is able [to partake of it], I shall pour out to him a drink from the Holy Presence.”
Al-Tabarani narrated in a raised tradition: “Whosoever desires for Allah to give him a drink of wine in the Hereafter, let him forsake wine in this world.”
And in another raised narration: “Whosoever drinks a sip of wine, Allah will not accept any of his obligatory or voluntary works for three days; and whosoever drinks a glass of wine, Allah will not accept his prayers for forty days.”
And in the narration of al-Hakim and al-Tirmidhi (who declared it a good narration): “If he repents, Allah will accept his repentance, and if he returns, his prayers will not be accepted for forty days. If he repents again, Allah will accept his repentance, and if he returns a fourth time, his prayers will not be accepted for forty days.”
Al-Hafiz ‘Abd al-‘Azim [al-Mundhiri] said, “As for the hadith ‘and if he returns then kill him,’ it is abrogated, and Allah knows best.”
By Abdul Aziz Suraqah , 10 Sep 2014