Al-Qashani is the author of the Persian handbook of the Sufis the Misbaah al-hidaaya wa Miftaah al-Kifaaya – The Lamp of Right Guidance and the Key to What is Sufficient. This book has been partially translated into English by Wilbeforce Clark while the impression is given that it is the Arabic book of as-Suhrawardi, the ‘Awaarif al-Ma-aarif. I hope to translate the chapter HOW THE MUREED SHOULD BEHAVE TOWARDS HIS OR HER SHAYKH as given in the book of al-Qashani and perhaps later on I’ll see if as-Suhrawardi mentions more.
Know this: It belongs to the most important rules of the mureed, that she or he takes care of behaving properly towards her or his shaykh, because of the fact that the guarding of the ways of behaviour creates love in the heart. It so happens that the beauty of your spirit and the perfection of your intelligence can only be seen in the shape of the beauty of your way of behaviour. If you are always courteous towards your shaykh, then because of the love that is created you’ll win a place in the heart of your shaykh and then the eye of the mercy of God will rest on you. God is always looking with the eye of mercy and care on the hearts of His friends. If the mureed finds a fixed place in the heart of her/his shaykh, then the blessings of the always lasting divine mercy will be hers/his. The acceptance by the shaykh will be the sign that he has no objection towards you and is the clear proof of the being accepted by God and His messenger and all the shaykhs who are the linking-pins between your shaykh and the messenger of God.
Some of the duties towards your shaykh you can only realise by showing good manners. By showing respect towards religious scholars and shaykhs, who are your spiritual fathers, you fulfil an important duty and if you would neglect these things then this is nothing else as negligence and disobedience. In the ahadith it is said: “Who does not honour our great ones and who does not show mercy towards our ‘little ones’ and who does not acknowledge the right of our scholars, does not belong to us”. If you neglect the right of your shaykh, who as a mediator represents by his right the right of God, then you also fail in your duty towards God, because “if you show neglect towards your lowest lord, then you will not reach your highest Lord”. The shaykh in the midst of his companions who gives them teachings is like the prophet in the midst of his companions. When the shaykh calls you to the path of the imitation of the messenger of God, then he is the representative of the messenger of God: “The shaykh among his community is like the prophet in his community”.
At the moment there are fifteen rules for the mureeds towards their shaykh present in my spirit. These are both universal as well as particular rules.
The first rule expresses the conviction that only your shaykh should take care of your education, guidance, training and teaching. If you should look towards someone else as being comparable to him or even more perfect than him, then your connection with your shaykh, based on love and inclination, is weak and because of that the words and the spiritual states of your shaykh will have little effect on you. The way by means of which words get through to you and give you a connection with the states of your shaykh, is love. If your love is more perfect, then the more your disposition will be open to be educated by your shaykh.
The second rule implies the fixed decision to persevere in the obedience towards your shaykh. You should know that the door of the divine mercy will only open because of your constancy in obedience and service. Either I give my life at his doorstep or I’ll reach my goal. A sign hereof is that you do not turn away, when your shaykh says no to you and when he keeps you at a distance, because a shaykh often tests you when he scans your spiritual states.
Abu ‘Uthman-e-Hiri [d. 298/910-11; he has been of prime importance in the Sufism of Khorasan] came to Neshapur obeying [his shaykh] Shah-e-Kermani [d. before 300/912-13; he was a mureed of Abu Turab an-Nakhshabi] to visit Abu Hafs-e-Haddad [d. 270/883-4 or earlier; he was a malamatiyya, that is he followed the path of blame]. When he saw the light of his sanctity, his [= Abu Hafs] blessed look attracted him in such a way that he [= Abu ‘Uthman] became a prisoner in his net. When the time to return had come, he then asked Shah-e-Kermani if he could stay [with Abu Hafs]. At that time he was in the midst of his youth. Abu Hafs however chased him away and said: “You are not allowed to sit in my company”. He then obeyed this decision and retreated, walking with his back towards the door, until the shaykh could no longer see him. Abu ‘Uthman then decided that he would dig a hole near his door and to remain sitting in it and not to come out except if Abu Hafs would accept him and call him. When Abu Hafs saw his honest determination, he called him, made him one of his special companions, married his daughter to him and appointed him as his successor. After the death of this shaykh, he sat for thirty years in his place.
The third rule implies that you submit yourself to the choices of your shaykh. As a mureed you should accept every decision of your shaykh dealing with your person or with your possessions and you should obey every decision being submitted and content. This is the only way that you can win the jewel of his attention and his love. Only by this measuring rod the quality of your sincerity can be determined according to the advice present in the following words [Qur’an 4:65]: “Yet by your Lord, they will never believe until they name you to judge concerning what they are quarrelling over among themselves concerning whatever you have decided, and will accept it wholeheartedly”.
Question: How do you know that you can trust your shaykh (or your shaykh to be if you are not yet his mureed)? As you know there are many charlatans around who are only interested in your money or are eager to increase their power over other persons.
The fourth rule stipulates that you should not criticise [your shaykh]. The mureed should never occupy himself/herself, neither inwardly nor outwardly, with criticising the choices and decisions of his/her shaykh. Each time when something is unclear regarding the behaviour of your shaykh then you should think of the story of Moses and Khidr [see Qur’an 18:60-82), wherein Moses in spite of being a prophet, his great knowledge and his passionate devotion to Khidr, criticised several of the acts of Khidr, but he changed his ideas after hearing an explanation of their inner meanings. If your shaykh does something which you cannot understand, then you should say that it is because of your limited understanding and knowledge and in no way it has to do with a wrong behaviour of your shaykh. Thus you will be free of the possibility that the relationship with your shaykh will suffer and that love may diminish. A mureed of al-Junayd [d. 910 C.E.] asked him a question and then criticised his answer. Al-Junayd then said (Qur’an 44:21): ‘When you do not believe me, then keep away from me’
The fifth rule demands that you decline from making your own choices. The mureed is not allowed to undertake anything – neither religious nor worldly, universal or particular – without finding out what the shaykh wants and chooses. You should not eat nor drink, nor dress yourself, nor give presents, nor sleep, nor take, nor give but with the permission of the shaykh. You should not perform any religious practices without the permission and the specification of your shaykh, like for instance fasting or taking food, voluntary devotional practices or limiting yourself to those practices which are obligatory or the remembrance of God, the recitation of the Qur’an and being absorbed in something. It so happened one night that the messenger passed the house of Abu Bakr and overheard him reciting the Qur’an in his nightly prayers with a low voice. Then he passed the house of ‘Umar and heard him recite the Qur’an in his nightly prayers in a loud voice. When the two of them came to the messenger of God in the morning he asked Abu Bakr why he recited the Qur’an in his nightly prayers in a low voice. He answered: “I listen to the One with Whom I converse”. He asked ‘Umar why he recited in a loud voice. He answered: “I drive away the Satan and I awake the one who is sleeping”. Then he ordered them that they should not recite in a too soft voice nor in a voice that is too loud, they should follow a middle course. Then the Quranic verse 17:110 was revealed: “And pray neither with a loud nor with a low voice, but follow a middle course”. This is a proof that when you have a spiritual guide you should not follow your own insight. This is also true when this concerns a true insight.
The sixth rule implies the observing of the thoughts of your shaykh. The mureed is not allowed to undertake anything, which rejects the thoughts of one’s shaykh. You should not consider them to be of little importance, because you rely on the kindness, the perfect clemency, the friendliness and the forgiveness of your shaykh. What enters the consciousness of shaykhs because of rejection or acceptance has a very strong influence on the person of the disciple.
The seventh rule demands of you that you ask your shaykh to give an explanation of your visions. The mureed should depend on his or her shaykh in regard to the explanation of visions, no matter if they come in your sleep or during your wakefulness. You should not independently decide on your own that there is no harm in them. It is namely possible that such visions come about because of secret desires in your soul, but that you are not able to see them as such and that they are judged to be harmless, which may not be the case. When you however speak about it with your shaykh and your shaykh by his rich knowledge gets really acquainted with it, then you have the opinion of your shaykh to help you to realise it in a practical way when it is harmless. When it may mean an injury, then this has also become clear.
The eighth rule demands that you give an attentive ear to the words of your shaykh. The mureed should wait and be attentive in regard to everything that comes from the lips of his or her shaykh. He or she should see his tongue as a means of expression of the speech of God and be convinced that he (your shaykh) speaks by means of God and that his speech does not stem from his own desire and that he has reached the station of ‘He is speaking by me’. You should see his heart as a boisterous sea, filled with all kinds of pearls of knowledge and precious gems of gnosis, a sea which every now and then – because of the blowing of the winds of pre-eternal providence – may cast some of these pearls and precious stones on the shore of the tongue. You should therefore take care and be attentive, so that you are not excluded from anything from the words of your shaykh, which may be useful and beneficial to you.
You should also try to harmonize every word of your shaykh with your own state. You should imagine that you are formulating a request for your well-being at the door of God with a receptive tongue and in the measure of your receptivity a speech coming from the unseen descends to you. When you are talking with your shaykh you should keep away from your own ego, you should be far away from hypocrisy by showing your own knowledge and gnosis and by presenting yourself as beautiful and perfect. Because when you try to speak yourself and when you are waiting for the oppurtunity to talk yourself, then you remove yourself from the position of a mureed and the ear of your heart will become deaf to the words of your shaykh. In their explanations of the reason that the Qur’anic verse 49:1: ‘O, believers! Do not press forward before Allah and His Messenger…’ has been revealed, some commentators have written: There have been people in the company of the messenger of God who – when someone asked him a question – developed the habit to give their own opinion, this until the Allmighty by means of this verse from the Qur’an made it clear that this was wrong and forbidden.
The nineth rule demands that you should lower your voice. When you are together with your shaykh you should not speak with a loud voice, as it is not courteous. It is as if you put down the robe of dignity. In order to teach something the following verse in the Qur’an (49:2) has been revealed: ‘O, believers! Do not raise your voices above the prophet’s voice!’ Thereafter their words were difficult to understand as they were lowering their voices too much. That is why the following verse (49:3) from the Qur’an has been revealed: ‘Those who lower their voices in the presence of the messenger of God are those whose hearts God has tested for reverence’.
The tenth rule implies that you do not show negligence in your behaviour. A too free type of behaviour in the contact with your shaykh is not allowed, neither in words nor in deeds, because if you just let it all go then the veil of modesty and the dress of worthy behaviour are taken away and the flow of mercy then gets interrupted. You should use respectful terms when addressing him, so you should say: ‘Sir!’ or ‘O, my Shaykh!’
The companions of the prophet – in the beginning – did not use respectful terms when using his name. They said: ‘Mohammad!’ and ‘Ahmad!’ until this was disallowed in the word of God (see Qur’an 49:2) that was sent down:
And do not be loud in speaking to him, as you speak loudly to one another, lest your works come to grieve while you are unaware.
Thereafter they addressed him by using ‘Messenger of God!’ or ‘Prophet of God!’.
Representatives of the Banu Tamim, in order to get him out, shouted out in front of the inner appartments of the prophet: ‘Mohammad! Come out to us!’
Then these elevated words were revealed (Qur’an 49:4-5):
Those who shout out to you from without the inner appartments, most of them do not understand. Had they waited for you to come out to meet them, it would have been better for them.
Just like you should not be to free in your speech to your shaykh, you should see it as your duty to honour and respect him in your acts. That is why, when you are in the company of your shaykh, you should roll out your praying-carpet only during the times of the ritual prayers. When listening to Sufi music you should refrain from making movements and you should not call out, and as long as you have the power to control yourself, you should not move when you are in the company of the shaykh. You should also refrain from laughing.
(Please note that the aim of the aforesaid rules is only to realise the proper behaviour in order that teaching and learning can take place. Every Sufi order and every shaykh modifies the above according to the place, the time and the people concerned).