Imam ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani (b. 898/1493) was one of the scholarly saints and revivers of Islam in the sixteenth century. He is generally hailed as a reviver of Islam and is considered one of the most prolific writers in the early Egyptian-Ottoman period, composing legal, spiritual, and theological works that continue to enjoy wide circulation throughout the Muslim world. One of his ancestors, Musa b. ‘Imran was the son the Sultan of Tlemcem, Algeria and a student of the famous Algerian spiritual master Abu Madyan (d. 594/1197). Musa b. ‘Imran’s grandson Ahmad moved to a village in Upper Egypt called Saqiyat Abu al-Sha’ra, whence the ascription “al-Sha’rani”. Imam ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani went on to study the Islamic sciences in al-Azhar University, and was a student of Shaykh al-Islam Zakariyya al-Ansari. His spiritual teachers include Shaykh Ibrahim al-Matbuli (d. ca. 877/1492) and ‘Ali al-Khawwas, both of whom were illiterate, albeit spiritually illumined masters. His greatest contributions to Islamic spirituality and scholarship are his over three hundred books, the most famous of which include his al-Mizan al-kubra (The Supreme Scale), Lata’if al-minan wa al-akhlaq (Subtle Blessings and Qualities of Character), and al-Uhud al-Muhammadiyya (The Muhammadan Covenants), samples of which shall be reproduced here in a series of translations by Abdul Aziz Suraqah.
The full title of this work is Lawaqih al-Anwar al-Qudsiyya fi bayan al-‘Uhud al-Muhammadiyya, or "The Fecundating Holy Illuminations in Clarification of the Muhammadan Covenants". 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).
Encouragement to Act in Accordance with the Muhammadan Sunna
A general covenant has been taken from us by Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that we follow the Muhammadan Sunna in all of our statements, actions, and beliefs. So if there is a practice for which we do not know a supporting proof in the Book [the Quran], the Sunna, scholarly consensus [ijma’], or analogical deduction [qiyas], we refrain from practicing it and wait until we give it further consideration. If it has been deemed positive by some scholars, we seek the permission of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in it and only then do we act upon it—out of propriety [adab] for those scholars. This is because of our fear of innovating [something] within the purified law [Shariah], which would result in us being among the leaders of misguidance.
I had once sought the Prophet’s counsel (Allah bless him and give him peace) regarding the opinion of those who say that a praying person should utter during the prostration of forgetfulness [sujud al-sahw] “Glorified and exalted is He who neither sleeps nor forgets!” and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “It is good.”
It should also be obvious that seeking permission from Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) depends on the servant’s spiritual station in the moment he wishes to carry out an act: if he is from those who enjoy the Prophet’s presence (Allah bless him and give him peace) directly and in a wakeful state [yaqzatan]—as is the station of the people of spiritual unveiling [kashf]—then he should seek the Prophet’s permission [directly], and if he is not from them he should seek the Prophet’s permission with his heart and await what Allah Most High will create within it, whether inspiring him to consider the act good or to leave it.
I once heard my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas (may Allah have mercy upon him) say, “When the senior masters encourage [others to] act in accordance to the Quran and the Sunna, their intention is only that one should be with Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) in that action, for they know that the Real [Allah] only keeps their company within actions that are legislated by Him and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace). As for actions which have been innovated, neither Allah nor His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) keep their company within them—those who innovate them, whether scholars or an ignorant people, sit by themselves.”
Thus it is known that the People of Allah do not make the attainment of divine reward or other Afterwordly gains the objective and aim of their worshipful acts [‘ibada]. This is because they are slaves in both this life and the Next, and a slave does not possess anything in this life or the Next alongside his Master. A slave merely eats, covers himself with clothing, and enjoys the wealth and plenitude that his master graciously bestows upon him. And had Allah Most High given the slave “something” then he would be obliged to relinquish ownership of it, and would be required to ascribe it to his Lord, since it is impermissible for him to consider himself an owner even for the blinking of an eye. Because of this station of witnessing, the People of Allah have forsaken all ulterior and egoistic motives in their acts of worship, and as a consequence their pleasure with their Lord is absolute, and His pleasure with them is absolute—“That is the bounty of Allah that He bestows on whom He wills, and Allah is the Possessor of immense bounty!” [Quran 62:4]
Know, dear brother, that whosoever intently practices this covenant will be among the leaders of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama’a in his age, and anyone who fails to describe him as such will have wronged him. . . .
Allah Most High has graced me with the ability to act upon this covenant in some of my statements and actions. So by Allah, the one who has accused me of blameworthy innovation that contravenes the majority of the Sunni community is guilty of lying and calumny against me, and is in fact himself an innovator—unless he means innovation in matters that have been permitted [mubahat] in the Shariah via general revealed texts [that are not subject to qualification], for that does not entail sin, for seldom will a scholar—much less a non-scholar—be safe from that, as we can observe. Understand this, and safeguard your hearing and sight from transgressing against the rights of the scholars. Never lend your ear to the prattling of those who envy the scholars unless you have sat with one of them [the scholars] and spoken with him about the blameworthy innovation [he is accused of]. If you see that he has indeed adopted that innovation as a practice, and you know that it is a blameworthy innovation and that he insists on practicing it, only then should you warn people against him—out of sincere concern for him and the Muslims, and so that none of them, the innovator and those who follow him, fall into sin.
Beware of warning others against following a particular scholar because of what you have heard from one his enviers—the truth of which you have not ascertained by sitting with said scholar—for it is possible that he is innocent of what he is accused of, yet you will incur the sin of erecting obstacles on the path, blocking seekers from following the Shariah. If you do that you will be guilty of warning against following the Muhammadan Sunna! This phenomenon is all too common with contemporaries in our age: you see so many people warning others against someone, claiming that [only] they are the people of the Path and people of the Sunna and Community. Because of this, matters become disorderly and unbalanced, with the result that no [scholar] is followed! May Allah, out of His largesse and grace, protect us and our companions from such a fate. Amin!
My master Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili (may Allah be pleased with him) used to say, “A faqir’s worship will not be perfected until he begins to witness the lawgiver in every act of worship he performs. . .” What he means by this is that the faqir will perform the act of worship in the lawgiver’s presence, either through spiritual unveiling or direct witnessing, not merely through faith and veiling. Then he said, “If someone says, ‘What is your proof for that?’ I say to him: ‘I once saw the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and said to him, “O Messenger of Allah! What is the reality of following you in works that are in accordance to your law?” He said to me, “It is that you do an action while witnessing the lawgiver during it and after it.”’”
Whosoever desires to act upon this covenant will need to have an exhaustive knowledge of the proofs used by all the schools of jurisprudence, of the schools that are followed and those that are extinct, as well as knowledge of the legal opinions of their scholars, to the degree that scarcely a single proof or opinion of theirs—be it for something obligatory, forbidden, or allowed—escapes his knowledge. Then after that he will require a truthful Shaykh to whom he can surrender himself and who will subject him to spiritual rigors and struggles till he can remove every blameworthy quality from him and adorn him with praiseworthy qualities, so that he will be able to keep the company of Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace). This is because the majority of people claim to be in the company of Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace), even though in reality they are soiled with impurities that prevent them from entering the presence of Allah and the presence of His Messenger, resulting in them increasing themselves in distance and remoteness.
So strive, dear brother, to cleanse your heart’s mirror from rust and grime, and purify yourself from all ugly traits so that there does not remain within you a single quality that prevents you from entering the Presence of Allah Most High or the Presence of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace). If you send abundant prayers and salutations upon him (Allah bless him and grant him peace) you might reach the station of witnessing him (Allah bless him and grant him peace). This is the way of Shaykh Nur al-Din al-Shuni, Shaykh Ahmad al-Zawawi, Shaykh Muhammad b. Dawud al-Manzalawi, and a group of Shaykhs from the Yemen. One of them will continue sending prayers upon Allah’s Messenger and increasing upon it till he is purified of every single sin, and he begins to meet with the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and converse with him in a wakeful state whenever he wishes. Anyone who has yet to meet with Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in this manner has not sent abundant prayers and salutations upon him in the amount that is required for attaining this station.
Shaykh Ahmad al-Zawawi informed me that he was not able to keep the company of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in a wakeful state until he spent an entire year sending fifty thousand prayers [upon the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)] in the day and the night. Shaykh Nur al-Din al-Shuni told me the same, and said that he spent several years sending thirty thousand prayers [upon the Prophet] each day.
I heard my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas (may Allah have mercy upon him) say, “A servant will not attain perfection in the station of divine gnosis until he begins to keep the company of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) anytime he likes.” He continued, “Those of the Salaf [pious forbears] who kept the Prophet’s company (Allah bless him and grant him peace) directly and in a wakeful state include Shaykh Abu Madyan—the master of the group—and Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Qanawi, Shaykh Musa al-Zuli, Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas al-Mursi, Shaykh Abu al-Su’ud b. Abi al-‘Asha’ir, my master Ibrahim al-Matbuli, and Shaykh Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, the latter of whom said, ‘I saw the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and kept his company in wakeful state some seventy-odd times!’”
As for my master Ibrahim al-Matbuli, it is not possible to count how often he encountered the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), for he would be in his company in all of his states, and he would often say, “I have no Shaykh other than Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace)!” And Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas al-Mursi would say, “Had I been veiled from Allah’s Messenger for even a single moment I would not count myself among the believers!”
Know that the station of keeping company with Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is exceedingly rare. I once witnessed a man come to my master ‘Ali al-Marsifi and say, “O my master! I have reached such a station that I can see the Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in a wakeful state whenever I wish!” my master ‘Ali said to him, “Dear son, there are 174,000 stations between a servant and the station you describe; please tell us about ten of these stations.” Hearing that, the pretentious claimer did not know what to say, and was exposed. Understand this. “And Allah guides whom He wills to the Straight Path.” (Quran 24:46)
Let us now cite a number of prophetic traditions that encourage following the Quran and the Sunna. I say, and with Allah is enabling grace:
It is narrated by Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, and Ibn Hibban in his rigorously authenticated collection (and al-Hafiz al-Mundhiri says it is a sound hadith), on the authority of al-‘Irbad b. Sariya (may Allah be pleased with him) who said, “The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) once exhorted us with a sermon, due to which hearts were moved and eyes flowed with tears. We said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! It is as if you are delivering us a farewell sermon, so please counsel us!’ He said, ‘I counsel you to have Godfearingness [taqwa] and pious works, and to hear and obey even if an Abyssinian slave was to rule over you. Whosoever among you lives shall see many differences, so see to it that you adhere to my way, and the way of the rightly guided Caliphs after me—bite onto it with your molar teeth! And beware of matters newly invented, for every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Hellfire.’”
It is narrated by Ibn Abi al-Dunya and al-Hakim (both of whom said it that is chain is rigorously authenticated and in raised [marfu’] form), “Whosoever eats what is pure, acts in accordance with the Sunna, and leaves people safe from his harm, he will surely enter Paradise.” The Companions asked, “But, O Messenger of Allah, there are many such people in your Umma today!” The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “They will be few among the people to come after me.”
Al-Bayhaqi narrated a raised [marfu’] tradition: “Whosoever holds fast to my Sunna when my Umma suffers from corruption will have the reward of one hundred martyrs.”
Al-Hakim narrated (and said that it is rigorously authentic according to the conditions of al-Bukhari and Muslim), “Moderation in the Sunna is better than striving in reprehensible innovation.”
Al-Bukhari and Muslim and others narrated a raised [marfu’] tradition that ‘Umar b. al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) once kissed the Black Stone and said, “I know that you are a stone that can neither harm nor benefit, and had I not seen Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) kiss you I would not have kissed you!”
Ibn Majah and Ibn Hibban both narrated in their rigorously authenticated collections, on the authority of Mu’awiya b. Qurra, on the authority of his father, who said, “I was with a group of people when I first met Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace). We pledged our fealty to him and his shirt was unbuttoned.” ‘Urwa b. ‘Abdullah said, “After that I never saw Mu’awiya or his son in winter or summer except that their shirts were unbuttoned.”
Ibn Khuzayma narrated (in his rigorously authenticated collection), as did al-Bayhaqi, on the authority of Zayd b. Aslam who said, “I once saw Ibn ‘Umar praying with his shirt unbuttoned. I asked him about that and he said, ‘I saw Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) do it.’”
Imam Ahmad and al-Bazzar narrated on the authority of Mujahid and others who said, “We were once with Ibn ‘Umar on a journey. He passed by a certain place and swerved away from it. When asked why he did that, he replied, ‘I saw Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) do just that, so I did it too.’”
Al-Bazzar narrated that Ibn ‘Umar would go to a tree located between Mecca and Medina and take a nap underneath it. He said that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) used to do the same.
Imam Ahmad and others narrated that Ibn ‘Umar once hobbled his camel in a particular place and went to answer the call of nature. He then informed others that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) had answered the call of nature in that exact location. He said, “And so I desired to answer the call of nature in the same place the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) did.”
I say: The reason why Ibn ‘Umar followed the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in this is because the perfected ones, when they relieve themselves, are shy of the ground upon which they sit, for fear that it might be an honored place that should not be used for answering the call of nature. However, when Ibn ‘Umar saw the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) relieve himself in that location he said to himself “Were it not for the fact that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) knew that this is a suitable spot, he would not have answered the call of nature here.”
By Abdul Aziz Suraqah , 25 Jun 2014