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Concerning the saying of ash-Sharani:
"The Spiritual Path of the people has always been a rarity, in every age ."
As recorded in Lata if al Minam, ash Sharani said: "The Spiritual Path of the people has always been a rarity, in every age, because very few have had the stamina to endure their Shaikhs training and his critical examination of all their actions."
That is why the Shaikh began to consider the Muhammadan Virtues, belonging to the people of Allah, such as piety, abstinence, dread and fear of Allah, and so on, for it is impossible to acquire any of those virtuous characteristics by random means, because the Spiritual Path of the people consists entirely of strenuous exertion in combat with the lower self (nafs). Who is capable of virtuous conduct and dedicated opposition to the lower self, preferring the noble purpose of the Lord of Truth to its purpose? This can only be attained through the unsparing exertion of the spirit. We know that the Imams who exercised their independent judgment, and the scholars who put their knowledge into practice, they are the Sufis in actual fact.
Suppose someone said: "If the method of Sufism (Tasawwuf) had been a matter prescribed by the Sacred Law, the Imams who exercised their independent judgment would have produced books about it, but we see no book of theirs on that subject, non whatsoever." Our response to this would be: "The fact that the Imams who exercised their independent judgment did not produce a single book on that subject was simply due to the paucity of maladies among the people of the era, and the abundance of their immunity from ostentation and hypocrisy.
Even if we assume that such immunity did not apply to all the people of their era, the exceptions were very few, and any shortcoming of theirs was hardly apparent. That being the case, the main concern of the independent jurist (mujtahidin) was focused on all the legal proofs dispersed in the cities and the frontier regions, along the leaders of the Companions and their successors. Those proofs are the subject matter of every science, and the principles of all the rules of law are known by them. That was more important, therefore criticizing some people with regard to their heart-centered deeds, which did not represent the ritual practice of the religion.
"No intelligent person would ever say about Imam Abu Hanifa, for instance, or Malik, and ash-Shafi and Ahmad (may Allah be well pleased with them all), that any one of them knew himself to be guilty of an act of ostentation, or vanity, or arrogant pride, or envy, or hypocrisy, yet he never engaged in combat with his lower self, and never subjected it to criticism. If they had not been aware of their immunity from those afflictions and maladies, they would have given preoccupation with their remedial treatment priority over ever science. You must therefore understand this well."
Al-Qushairi said: "The Sufis originally came to be called Sufis at the time when heresies and innovations emerged on the scene, in the era of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. The term Sufi was them applied exclusively to anyone who faithfully adhered to the Book and the Sunna, and acted in accordance with them both." He also said: "We have been informed that Imam Abul Qasim al Junaid used to say: "This Spiritual Path of ours is based on the Book and the Sunna, so if someone does not recite the Quran and inscribe the Prophetic tradition ,he is without guidance in the Spiritual Path."
In the seventy-third chapter of al-Futuhat, Shaikh Muhyid Din Ibn Arabi has said: "You should know that we have no evidence that disproves the method of the Sufis, and no accusation that refutes it, neither in terms of the Sacred Law nor on the basis of traditional report. If anyone assaults it, he does so in sheer ignorance .."
In al Ibriz Ibn al Mubarak has quoted these words once spoken to him by his Shaikh (Abdul Aziz al Dabbagh): "The science of esoteric knowledge (ilm al Batin) is tantamount to the inscription of ninety-nine lines in gold, while the science of exoteric ( ilm az Zahir) is tantamount to the inscription of the final one-hundreth line in ink. Nevertheless, if that black line was not together with those golden lines, they would not be of any benefit, and their owner would seldom be safe and sound." He also mentions that his Shaikh (Abdul Aziz al Dabbagh) told him on another occasion: "The science of exoteric knowledge (ilm az Zahir) is equivalent to the torch that shines at night, for it provides a splendid benefit in the darkness of the night. The science of esoteric knowledge (ilm al Batin) is equivalent to the rising of the sun and the brilliance of its lights at the time of high noon. Perhaps its owner will say about this torch in his hand: Allah has enabled me to dispense with it by the light of day, so he will extinguish it. At that moment ,however, the light of day will depart from him, and he will return to the darkness of the night. The continuance of his daylight is therefore conditional on his refraining from extinguishing the torch in his hand ."