Need for a Shaikh


A seeker wrote,
“I am presently (a student) in Dawrah-e-Hadith (the final year in the Alim Fadhil course). For quite a while I had intended to write, but a certain aspect prevented me from doing so. I am a voracious reader and lover of your writings and have been engaged in reading your books since my childhood days. By the grace of Allah I have benefited much.

I have learnt one particular thing from your writings, that is, the commands of the Shariat are all done deliberately (ikhtiyariyyah). Since the commands are ikhtiyariyyah it follows that the commands to abstain are likewise deliberate. Thus the remedy for all spiritual ailments is to refrain (intentionally). I have always adopted this method for myself. The question that troubles me is this: Now that this principle has been learnt from the Masters of the Path does the need still remain to refer to the Shaikh and obtain remedies from him? I do not understand this.

I have ruminated for quite a while regarding this matter. I trust that you will advise me so that I may practice accordingly. After realizing this general principle, what is the need for obtaining the diagnosis and prescription from a Shaikh? I hope that if I have erred, I will be informed.”

Hakim al Umma Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (Allah have mercy on him) replied,

“The commands and the prohibitions are all deliberate.

However, errors do happen in this regard. At times what has already been acquired is considered as not having been attained yet and sometimes vice versa.

For example, a person intend to attain khushu’ (concentration based on humility) in Salah and in reality he then attains khushu’. But, while having attained khushu’ he is simultaneously afflicted by an abundance of stray thoughts (wasawis). This person then regards the presence of such wasawis as contradictory and negatory of khushu’. He thus considers that he has not attained khushu’. In the initial stages of worship, random thoughts (wasawis) are unintentional (ghairikhtiyari) – coming of their own accord – however, later the worshiper is diverted towards intentional (ikhtiyari) thoughts wasawis and he is deceived into believing that such wasawis are yet of the unintentional kind of the initial stages. He thus considers himself to have khushu’ while in actual fact khushu has been eliminated .

At times he considers what is not firmly established (ghair rasikh) to be firmly established (rasikh). For example, in a few minor mishaps he considers himself to have attained the state of radha bil qadha (satisfied with what has been divinely decreed). His contentment in the face of some minor misfortunes leads him to believe that he has attained advanced capability in firmness and steadfastness. But, if some major calamity overtakes him and he fails to be content then too he labours under the deception that he has attained the desired degree and goal of rusukh (firmness).

The consequence of regarding the attained as unattained is frustration and depression. This in turn causes one to become careless and neglectful. Thus, the attained becomes truly eliminated. The harm of the opposite condition (i.e. considering the unattained as attained is a (great) loss (to). Since one labours under the false notion that one has already achieved the goal, one does not make any effort in this direction.

The same danger lurks in considering un established (ghairrasikh) as established rasikh), viz., one remains careless, not making any effort or arrangement to attain the desired goal of firmness and steadfastness. Sometimes one commits the error of believing that the state of rusukh has not been attained despite it having been attained. For example, one combated unlawful lust during a time when the effect of remembrance of Allah (dhikr) was overwhelming. As a result, the desire of unlawful lust was suppressed to the extent that one’s attention was totally diverted from it. Later when the effect of the thikr decreases and the natural propensities assert themselves even if in slight degree one is misled to believe that one’s mujahadah (striving against the nafs) has gone wasted, and the the evil propensities have returned. The consequence of this feeling is that one loses hope and is overtaken by stagnation and retrogression.

The above are merely some examples of errors and the resultant harm. A qualified Shaikh (of Tareeqat) by virtue of his insight and experience discerns the reality. And the one who is connected to such a Shaikh, he informs him of the errors and pitfalls. The disciple is thus saved from these dangers.

Even if it assumed that an intelligent and knowledgeable seeker discerns the pitfalls, then too, he will not attain tranquillity and peace of mind because of his inexperience. He will remain perplexed. And, perplexity impedes the attainment of the goal.

This is the duty of the Shaikh. More than this is not his responsibility.

However, in kindness he performs another function as well.
In his struggle to recognize and attain an objective or to eliminate a blameworthy attribute, the seeker of the truth undergoes great stress and difficulty. Although repeated subjection to such difficulty is eventually transformed into ease. The Shaikh sometimes as a favour devises such a scheme that the difficulty disappears from the very inception.

This is a brief exposition for understanding. The need for a Shaikh is felt and understood once one commences in the Path and systematically informs the Shaikh of one’s particular conditions and at the same time following his advice and instructions. Furthermore, such total obedience is possible only if one has full trust and confidence in the Shaikh, fully submitting to him. At that time one will actually feel and realize that it is not possible to attain the goal normally without a Shaikh.’

Shariat wa Tasawwuf

Leave a Reply