Cii Radio | 25 Muharram 1436/19 November 2014
Purification of the soul which is also often referred to Tasawwuf/Tazkiyyah/Sufism is an often discussed, yet seldom understood subject in contemporary discourse. Perceptions on this science of internal cleansing differ and many misconceptions prevail.
On his recent visit to the Cii Studios, Cii Radio sat down with scholar of Tasawwuf and Khalifa(Spiritual Disciple) of Hazrat Moulana Zulfikaar Ahmed Naqshabandi, Sheikh Kamaludeen Ahmed for an in-depth discussion on the building blocks of Tazkiyyah.
What are the basic definitions of Tazkiyyah and Tasawwuf?
Tazkiyyah in our Deen refers to the path of spiritual purification and development, how to rid ourselves of everything and anything that is displeasing to Allah SWT and how to adorn our heart with all the attributes of Imaan, Taqwa, Sunnah, Shukr, Sabr, Adhab, Akhlaq, Dhikr, Hayaa, every single feeling that Allah SWT has mentioned in the Quraan Kareem and every feeling that Nabi e Kareem (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) put in the hearts of Sahabah. For us to get those feelings of Quraan and those feelings of Sunnah in our heart we must first purge and purify our heart of any impurity, any unlawful feeling such as unlawful lust, unlawful anger, greed, jealousy, pride, etc. The word Allah SWT used for this in the Quraan Kareem is Tazkiyyah. In fact when describing why Nabi e Kareem (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was sent to earth, Allah SWT in a long passage but briefly Allah SWT mentioned four things that Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) had to do. The first of those four that he (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) must recite to the people the verses of revelation but that wasn’t enough. Simply hearing the words of Quraan, and the Sahabah (radiallahu anhum) were Arab so they knew the meanings as well. Having the wordings and the meanings wasn’t enough so Allah SWT told Nabi e Kareem (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) in Quraan, “and you will have to do their Tazkiyyah” which means they know the words, they know the meanings now you have to bring them to the feelings of those meanings and that requires a process so Nabi e Kareem (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) went about this process first by giving them Suhbah, that they would sit with him, sit in his blessed company, the he would talk to them, guide them, advise them, they would inform Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) about any difficulty they were having in Deen and then he would troubleshoot, problem solve and advise them on how to become closer to Allah SWT. Later on, over time because Arabic language is very rich, after the time of Tab-e-Tabieen some people began to use the wordTasawwuf. The scholars of Arabic language have come up with several different theories with the origin of the word Tasawwuf. One of them simply is that it comes from Safah which means purity, purification of the heart. If you change the label it doesn’t matter as long as the reality is the same. For example the word Tajweed is not to be found anywhere in the Quraan and anywhere in the Hadith. The word Allah SWT used for this was Tarteel, that you should recite Quraan with Tarteel, a proper, methodical recitation. Because of the richness of the Arabic language, later people chose to call this very same Tarteel, Tajweed. Today 99% of the Ummah calls itTajweed. The reality may have been called Tazkiyyah but later on it may have been called Tasawwuf, Sulook.
In Hadith Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) calls it Ihsaan, to worship Allah SWT as if you see Him and if you are unable to imagine what it would feel like to see Allah SWT at least imagine how it would feel if you knew Allah SWT is looking at you. This is basically an introduction to the terms and their origins but more importantly we’re interested in the reality. This reality every one of us needs. It’s not like Tasawwuf, there may be certain methods and ways that are all optional but Tazkiyyah itself, purifying our heart and making it pleasing to Allah SWT, that is necessary and required for every Muslim. Just like all of us know Tajweed is required and we will adopt certain teachers, some means, some curriculum to learn it. Just like that Tazkiyyah is required and we should adopt some teacher, some method and some curriculum to get this purification of heart.
The understanding of Tazkiyyah and Tasawwuf just as you’ve explained it to us, many people might see people who practice Tazkiyyah a certain way and label them as sufis, shuyookh etc. That creates the perception that this is a “sect” within Islam. What you have explained to us is that Tazkiyyah is not something divorced from Islam but it is the essence of Islam?
Unfortunately in every branch of Islamic learning there have been people historically and in contemporary times that have made some mistakes. One very serious mistake is to allow any sectarianism, factionalism, division to enter into the Deen. The question that arises is when is that division real or is that division just perceived or is there an allegation of division when there is none. So real division would mean for example when people say they are a student of so and so sheikh and I’m better than everybody else or my sheikh is the great grand sheikh of the whole world and nobody else is better than him. This causes divisions. This is laying a claim to a unique identity and that is wrong. However, whenever we are a part of any branch of Islamic learning whether it is Tajweed, Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh or Tasawwuf obviously in order to learn that discipline there are certain relationships between teacher and student and between groups of students. That is not in any way frowned upon in Deen, for example if you have one Darul Uloo, one institute of Islamic learning, because they are students of the same teachers there is a certain bond, a certain affinity, a certain commonality between them. They view each other as fellow students. That is an identity that is allowed and acceptable in Deen and by being part of a smaller unit that is trying to acquire learning of Tafsir and Hadith it enables the student to structurally learn thatTafsir and Hadith.
However being part of that unit does not in any way mean that the student should feel superior to or separate from others who may be learning in other unit, that is students of other Darul Ulooms or even those members of the Ummah who are not formally students of Islamic learning. Just like that if a person is a student of a Qari or Maktrab or a Hifz madressah it’s the same thing. Similarly is a person is a student of a sheikh, yes there would be a certain relationship with the fellow students because they are fellow seekers on the way and fellow jurors on the way and they can advise one another and reinforce one another in understanding the methods of dhikr they are learning. But it should not lead to any type of cult identity or any type of division or any type of sectarianism.
What are the benefits for the different segments of the Ummah that can come out of Tasawwuf, beginning from the youth of society?
If we look at youth and I’ll take that to mean high school and university students, the greatest benefit thatTasawwuf offers them is really two-fold. Number one Tasawwuf helps a person have Yaqeen (certainty) in their Imaan. We explain Yaqeen in the following example as if we were to lock someone up with 1000 atheist for 1000 years they should have so much Yaqeen that not a single doubt will be raised in their heart about Allah SWT. How does a person get that Yaqeen? Imam Ghazali (rahmatullahi alayh) most famously in his middle age went on this journey and quest for Yaqeen. He wrote in his autobiography that this Yaqeen lies with the people ofTasawwuf because they get knowledge through experience. They experience the Qurb (nearness) of Allah SWT. How does that happen? Allah SWT has mentioned in the Quraan Kareem, you make dhikr of me and Allah will make dhikr of you. What happens then when a person does this practice of dhikr at some point they will feel Allah’s dhikr of them. They will feel some sukoon, peace, tranquillity. They will feel some connection and nearness to Allah SWT which is an experience that will make them have absolute Yaqeen and unshakeable faith.
The second benefit that Tasawwuf can give to the youth is it helps them and protects them from falling into the addictions of youth, especially internet sin, screen sin, romantic sin because all of those things are about false loves, false beauties and unlawful loves and unlawful beauty. Tasawwuf offers a path where a believer can connect themselves, especially the young men and women, to the true beloved Allah SWT, to the true beauty of Allah SWT so when the teaching of Tasawwuf of love of Allah SWT enters into the heart of the youth they have a beloved in their life and they don’t have a need to reach out to problematic emotional relationships that often unfortunately end in sinful activity.
What are the benefits of Tasawwuf for students of Deen and scholars of Deen?
In this group of the students and scholars of Islamic learning need Tasawwuf critically because knowledge itself without dhikr is merely information. Sayyidina Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), he said that knowledge is noor so to get that noor we need to make the dhikr of Allah SWT and we need to be steadfast of the remembrance of Allah SWT. Dhikr softens the heart which enables the scholar to do more service, moreKhidmah (service of Deen). Dhikr makes the heart have more HIlm (gentleness) and have more of an absorptive capacity so that he can operate in doing service of Deen in sometimes unfavourable contexts, sometimes in difficult circumstances. The most important thing is that one needs to practice what they preach. One needs to make Amal (work) of their knowledge. It’s only when the Ulama become Auliyah, it’s only when the Talaba (students) become Dhakireen their words will really enter into the hearts of others. Dhikr is the core, the essence of all knowledge. When you get the knowledge you know the meanings but Dhikr helps you feel the feelings. If we were to take a brief glance at Islamic history we will find a recurrent them across the generations and across cultures and geographies that the great Ulama used to sit with the auliyah ullah and the great ulama used to learn dhikr from the auliyah ullah and that tradition must continue today.
How do women create a relationship with Allah SWT through Tazkiyyah and how will it help them in their responsibilities?
It is very important that we get this message out loud and clear that the path of dhikr and Tasawwuf is equally for women as it is for men and Allah SWT made this so clear in the Quraan Kareem, ‘and the male believers who remember Allah SWT a lot, and the women believers who remember Allah SWT a lot.’ Women should make efforts to become dhakiraat (those who remember Allah SWT). What happens women generally are more emotional than men and this can be used to their advantage because then if they get the good emotions, good feelings, love for Allah SWT, shukr (gratitude) for Allah SWT, tawakkul (trust, reliance) for Allah SWT and their heart through the teachings of Tazkiyyah and Tasawwuf, and because they are more emotional you will find them to be Alhamdulillah the true ardent, passionate, lovers of Allah SWT. The second thing is that sometimes women are susceptible to maybe sadness or sorrow or depression or grief or loneliness so Allah SWT has said in the Quraan Kareem, ‘you should know that only and only in the dhikr of Allah will the spiritual heart get tranquillity, serenity and happiness’. When women practice dhikr they get sukoon, peace in their heart and that will help them in the very important role of being a mother, a wife or a daughter and especially the women who are mothers, when their heart has the dhikr of Allah SWT then there will be a spiritual aspect to their parenting.
Many of our Muslim women, Alhamdulillah, they are good parents but they are good parents in no sense different from the way atheists are good parents. It means they will wake up the children, get them ready for school, make their breakfast, drive them to school, pick them up, go over their lessons, take care of them, make their dinner, tuck them in, tell them stories and show them love and affection. But all of these are the same things an atheist mother does. A muslimah mother needs to also have spiritual aspect to parenting. Spiritual parenting is that when she does the dhikr of Allah SWT in her heart then she gets a noor (light) andsukoon (peace) in her heart and the heart of the child, because children are pure, they can pick up on that noor and the children will be attracted to the heart of the mother and the child who spends their young period from zero to 14, when they are pure before puberty, their hearts will always be attracted to their mothers’ heart. The mother is the centre of spiritual attraction. Because she has the dhikr of Allah SWT in her heart then when the child crosses into their difficult teens they will continue to make their mother their model. Then the children will be less affected by the sometimes negative environment and stray friends that they may cross path with in their high school and university years.
How does Tazkiyyah benefit the professional or those working in the corporate world?
For a person who is a “professional” generally the message that we give them is that in order to excel in your career there is a certain level of work ethic to have and many professionals pride themselves on this. For example they will say, ‘I have been working in this company for 10 years and I have never come late for work’. But they are unable to say that for the past 10 years I never missed Fajr. They will say I worked in this company for 10 years and I never made a single dishonest penny but they can’t say for 10 years I never spoke rudely with my wife or I never spoke an untruth. For the professionals they need something to guide them and remind them that the same level of seriousness and commitment that you have, and Deenul Islam wants you to have that work ethic, you need to have that same level of seriousness and commitment and ethic when it comes to your Taqwa, Sunnah, Hayaa, relationship with Allah SWT and dhikr of Allah SWT.
Then for the professional, I feel, they benefit from another aspect of Tasawwuf which is called sheikh, that they need a sheikh to guide them. Like they like to have a mentor who teaches them the trade of business, they like to have a mentor in their office and they try to ride on their tails so the concept of mentorship is very beneficial for professionals especially the pious ones who do want to find some way to balance Deen and dunya. Having a sheikh who can assist their situation, guide them, encourage them and keep nudging them to grow closer to Allah SWT keeps a person continually on the path towards Allah SWT. Otherwise, because professions are all about dunya, there is a great danger that a person can just spiral deeper and deeper into a materialistic lifestyle out of which it’s very difficult then to be successful in Deen.
How do we address the objections by some against taking a sheikh, they might quote the ayah of the Quraan that the Jews and Christians took their rabbis and priests as partners?
We need to separate from myth from fact and reality from allegation. When Allah SWT said that in the Quran Kareem what Allah SWT was referring to was a specific thing that the Jewish rabbis and Christian priests did and that was that they claimed that they were intercessors and intermediaries between man and God and that is wrong. No sheikh of Tasawwuf can claim that he is an intermediary between a man and Allah SWT. Secondly they claim that they were the intermediary for forgiveness. No sheikh can forgive. We must always remember that we can never understand anything through a pull quote, means simply selecting one verse from Quraan from the entire tradition of the entire Quraan and Sunnah. For example you will find many places in Quraan where Allah SWT actually talks to us about being in relationships with people, for example, ‘oh those who believer, be aware of Allah SWT all the time, fear Allah SWT as He deserves to be feared, remember Allah SWT all the time, love Allah SWT as He deserves to be loved and be with the Sadiqeen (pious)’. A sheikh’s role is to be that. So if Allah SWT is ordering you to do that, to sit and be with and spend time with the Sadiqeen, the Mashaaikh are the Sadiqeen who let the ordinary people sit and be in their company.
Allah SWT said in the Quraan that you must advise and guide because being advised and guided is what gives benefit to all believers. The Mashaaikh are the ones who give that advice and guidance. The true sheikhs of Tasawwuf guide and advise. They instruct in dhikr and allow people to sit in gatherings and spend time in their company and all of that is not just allowed but enjoined by Allah SWT, commanded by Allah SWT in the Quraan. No Sheikh ofTasawwuf can ever do what those rabbis and priests did which is claimed to be an intermediary and being able to forgive people for sins done.
Is Tasawwuf divorced from “real life” as some understand?
This is a well understood confusion and no doubt if a person goes on the path of Tazkiyyah, Tasawwuf, Taqwa, dhikr and all they do is focus on themselves then yes Alhamdulillah they may be successful in making themselves upright believers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be able to benefit the Ummah. This is why Tasawwuf is not the be all and end all of Islam. It is a branch of Islamic learning that enables a person to get that deep connection to Allah SWT but they still must fulfil all of the other wishes that Allah SWT has for them and one of those very important things is what we call Khidmah, service of Deen, revival of Deen, establishment of Deen, compassion for the poor, addressing the social realities and the social problems.
If one was to take a brief look at history one will find indeed that Alhamdulillah the great auliyah ullah of this Ummah did so much for the poor, and needy. They were at the forefront of repelling oppression and oppressive movements. If there are individuals today who may appear to an onlooker who seems to just be doing dhikr for themselves, our Deen teaches us Husn Zann, that we should still have a favourable opinion and think that maybe they are a work in progress. That maybe once they reach a certain level of taqwa then it will motivate them to do great acts of service for others. The reality is that there is not mutually exclusive, what some people say dhikr and fikr. Concern for the Ummah and dhikr can and indeed must go together when we interface all of the teachings of Deen.
How does one become part of this and commit one’s life to Tasawwuf and what are the requirements of being on this path?
It is very interesting that I am being asked this question at Cii studios because I think it was roughly five years ago that a man here from Johannesburg contacted me by phone and he had said that we had requested our great sheikh, Sheikh Zulfiqar Naqshbandi to conduct a programme on Cii on Tazkiyyah and he said that he would not be able to do and he gave us your name. And so this man contacted me and Sheikh has given me this assignment and Alahmdulillah we’ve been trying along with our other duties to fulfil this role, to help and reach out to the listeners of Cii, to help and bring to them the teachings of dhikr. We have a special assignment from our sheikh to come to South Africa. The way this works is that you begin with a simple intention and that intention is called an Irandah which means a deep will, wish and desire to be better. There is no condition to begin. Sometimes people think they are not sure if they are ready.
Our Mashaaikh explain in a beautiful way that it is like a washing machine. One is the washing that is ready to be put into the washing machine, there are just two conditions. One it must be dirty and secondly there must be someone who wants it to b clean. All of us have the filth of sins in our heart, we’ve been distracted by fashion, media, culture, society and all of us have Imaan in our heart and we want to be true to Allah SWT, in that sense all of us are ready. Whether we will always be able to do all of the dhikr all of the time, nobody will always be able to do it all of the time in the beginning except maybe some very rare, few dedicated souls but the point is to get connected to begin the process and the way our mashaaikh begins the process as the person makes this intention, they reach out and contact the sheikh, make intention to become a student and they are given some basic instruction. The instruction is done in two ways. One is called bayaan and majlis which means the Mashaaikh who gathered from the Quraan and Sunnah the pearls of the teachings of how we can become better in our relationship with Allah SWT. that’s why you will see the topics are always on these things, love for Allah SWT, fear of Allah SWT, love for Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), how to feel more in your salaah, how to control anger, how to be a better husband, and how to be a better wife. Mashaaikh have gathered this. Alhamdulillah our sheikh has a website called www.tasawwuf.org and they are also a fair amount of English talks on that website. And Alhamdulillah we also have a website where we have tried our best to replicate and represent all those Urdu teachings in English. This website is called www.Islamicspirituality.org and anyone of our listeners and friends can contact us on the website. We have actually a contact form with an option, becoming a student. In that a person simply expresses their wish to begin and that’s enough. How do you begin? You should listen to the talks online and try to practice the teachings of Tazkiyyah and secondly try to practice the dhikr. Very briefly our Mashaaikh gave us a simple prescription of dhikr and that is that you have to focus on dhikr of the heart because our tongue makes dhikr in salaah already but our heart still doesn’t feel anything so they specifically focus on dhikr of the heart. Number one we must convert our salaah into dhikr. Instead of just praying and going through the motions we must make a conscious, active effort to feel the meanings of what we’re saying and to feel feelings for Allah SWT inside salaah. Second is to make the masnoon duas and to feel the feelings that Nabi e Kareem (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) felt in his heart when he made those duas so you can say these are the foundation dhikrs. Then there are some extra dhikrs that our Mashaaikh teach.
Three are daily dhikrs of the tongue, daily recitation of the Quraan, hundred times seeking forgiveness called istigfaar and hundred times salawat. And after this foundation of fixing our Salaah and our sunnah duas and these three daily recitations, then there are two core teachings from the Mashaaikh which actually are most critical for the beginner. First, in Arabic it is called Wuqoof e Qalbi which simply means to remember Allah SWT in your heart all the time. To remind your heart to remember Allah SWT whenever you forget Him. In the beginning, because so many moments of the day pass in the state of forgetfulness, we have to constantly remind our heart about Allah SWT. A person may have to do this 1000 times a day. But the easy way is before you start anything remind your heart about Allah SWT and make an intention. For example Oh Allah I will be in class for the next three hours, Oh Allah I make niyyah that all the time I am in class my heart will be remembering You. After class check your heart and remind yourself again about Allah SWT. The last and final is called Murakkabah. This is a special dhikr that a person does in their free time, ten or fifteen minutes a day you try to make the intention that Oh Allah, now because I am free, now I want to remember you in such a way that I actually forget everything else and I remember only You. And the way I will do that is that I will close my eyes to forget what I am seeing, close my mind to forget what I am thinking. It’s not meditation because meditation means to disconnect from the world and connect to yourself. This is dhikr. Dhikr means disconnect from the world and disconnect from yourself and connect to Allah SWT. How we make that connection by making dhikr of Allah’s SWT name. Allah SWT said in the Quraan Kareem, ‘Make dhikr of the name of your Rabb’. You will just sit with this intention that Oh Allah I want to forget everything, be unaware of everything in the world and in myself such that the only thing I remember and the only thing I’m aware of is the dhikr of your name, Allah. But we won’t make this dhikr with our tongue, we’re going to make this dhikr with our heart. Not our physical heart but our spiritual heart which is the rooh which is called Qalb. To do that you just make the intention. So if you simply sit with the niyyah, the intention, that my Qalb, my spiritual heart is making dhikr of Allah’s SWT name. this is an exercise. In the beginning it will take a while to get tuned and in the habit, to get tuned into your spiritual heart and also take some time to make yourself do it rigorously every day. But if you can do it every day InshaAllah you will find that your heart will get feelings. You will be inclined to worship, more inclined to lower your gaze, less inclined to anger, more love for Allah SWT. You will start getting all the feelings of Deen InshaAllah.
LISTEN to Cii Radio’s Interview with Sheikh Kamaluddeen HERE
For further resources on Tazkiyya, you may visit the Sheikh’s website HERE