The Egyptian Elder

Just suppose you are able to make an interview with shaykh ‘Abd al-Wahhâb ash-Sha’râni. What would you ask him? Perhaps some of your questions are similar to the ones as given below:

Q: Can you tell us something about yourself?

A: My birth took place in Egypt in 1493 C.E. in a village in the province of Qalyubiyya. One of my ancestors, Musâ Abu ‘Emrân, was the son of the sultan of Tlemcen, and was a disciple of the famous Sufi shaykh Abu Madyan. This shaykh ordered him to settle with his family in 1307 C.E. I went to Cairo to study Islamic sciences, but soon afterwards I have been initiated into Sufism by several shaykhs among which I like to lovingly mention ‘Ali al-Khaww âs.

My introduction to gifted knowledge took place on the banks of the Nile between the houses of the Nubians and the sail-driven waterwheels. Whilst I was standing there, behold the gates of knowledge directly from God opened upon my heart, each gate wider than the distance between the heavens and the earth. I began babbling about the mysteries of the Qur’ân and the hadith …, to such a point that I believed myself able to dispense with the study of the scholars of the past. I filled some hundred quires with these matters, but when I showed them to my shaykh ‘Ali al-Khaww âs he told me to get rid of the lot.

“This knowledge”, he declared, “is contaminated with speculation and human acquisitions. Gifted knowledge is far removed from the likeness of such”.

So I destroyed them and he set me on a course for purifying the heart from the blemishes of speculation. I began to submit to him every inspiration that came to me and he would tell me to avoid such a course or to seek what is higher. So it went on until there came to be what came to be. This is the description of my enlightenment after first undergoing the discipline of mortification of my ego.

Q: What can you tell the disciple who is active in the field of devotions, but who has received no illumination?

A: This disciple should not become impatient if illuminations are not showing themselves. He should continue in the devotions to God, no matter if the eye of the heart has been opened or not or the veil has been lifted or not. This is because devotion is one of the aspects of being a servant of God.

Our master Muhyi ad-Din Ibn al-‘Arabi has given this spiritual advice:

“Take care not to diminish your efforts even if you have not received any sign of illumination. Continue without any break with these efforts as illumination will necessary be caused because of these devotions. This is because each act, yes each sigh, demands such a thing. Illumination will however come at its own time and no other way is possible. If you are sincere then your works will bear fruit. Avoid at all costs to be such a person who puts the blame of not receiving any illumination on someone else”.

Q: Which signs are the signs of success for a disciple?

A: My master was accustomed to mention three signs:

The disciple loved his or her shaykh more than anyone else.
The disciple accepts without questioning all the orders of his or her shaykh.
The disciple agrees with all the wishes of his or her shaykh.

My master also said: “God approaches your heart if you are seeking to get close to your shaykh by serving him. He will then bestow His grace on you”.

Q: When you speak about your own shaykh, ‘Ali al-Khawwâs, you always do it in such loving terms. Was it not difficult for you that he was an illiterate person and that you were a scholar?

A: No, I have been the untrained and he was the scholar. He has deposited a ‘grain’ into me. Every progress made by me has been the result of that grain. When the disciple shows his or her wisdom, the merit thereof goes back to the shaykh. The disciple should never assume that the shaykh has no access to an area he or she has access to.

Q: Anything else you want to say to us?

A: May your journey be blessed!