Sainthood in Islam 

Tasawwuf –- Walâyat –Muhaddathîyat

Tasawwufتصوٌف , walâyat  ولائيتand muhaddathîyatمحدثٌيت  are the states and ranks (marâtibمراتب ) of those people who are imbued with divine qualities. They tread on a path that is higher in rank than that of believers. Their station as knowers of Allâh is higher than that of many others. Nevertheless, they are all followers of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), and as followers, they cannot overtake the Leader. They cannot be conceived of as a comprehensive class or as a subclass of Prophets or apostles. They receive Divine Revelation, but not one of them can be called nabî or rasûl in the sense generally understood by the common Muslims.

Ibn Khaldûn wrote the following on tasawwuf تصوٌف “This knowledge is a branch of the sciences of Sacred Law that originated within the ummah. The path of such people had been the path of the early Muslim community and its notables, of the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh), of those who were taught by them, and of those who came after them” (Ibn Khaldûn, al-Muqaddima [n.d. reprint, Makkah: Dâr al-Bâz, original: 1397 AH / 1978 CE], 467). The ultimate goal in tasawwuf is the love of God and Divine Communication with Him. A Hadîth-i-Qudsî, as related by Imâm Bukhârî, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Abû Bakr al-Baihaqî, and others, discloses the central reality of tasawwuf: “My servant keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him. And once I love him, I become his hearing, with which he hears, his sight, with which he sees, his hand, with which he seizes, and his foot, with which he walks. If he asks Me, I will surely give to him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will surely protect him” (Fath al-Bârî 11/340–341). The one who treads on the path of tasawwuf is an aspirant to spiritual development, who submits to the inner and the outer aspect of the Sunnah. He knows and understands the essence of worship and abandonment of the mundane life. He follows those who are models of God-Consciousness. They learn Islamic sciences of the Qur’ân and its exegesis, traditions (hadîth), and jurisprudence (fiqhفقه ). Their souls are connected through chains of divine scholars to the Holy Prophet (pbuh), who was sent to bring creation closer to their Lord.

Your direct relationship with your Maker and the cultivation of this relationship is tasawwuf. Ever since scholars began to speak about Sufism and tasawwuf, they have defined it in many different ways, and over time many misconceptions have arisen about Sufism and tasawwuf.  Errant sûfîs as well some religious scholars think that tasawwuf is something beyond the Qur’ân and Sunnah, which is the practice of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). They have shunned the Qur’ân and Hadîth, and shunned the tasawwuf. Many self-proclaimed sûfîs deviated from the right path of tasawwuf, either because they misunderstood the message of the Holy Qur’ân or because they had worldly ambitions. They gathered simpleminded followers around them, transformed graves into places of worship, and made supplications to dead objects. They introduced dances, music, and other innovations to their followers. Those who think Sûfî philosophy is universal in nature, that Sufism is not something that belongs to any one religion, have erred. The schools of Sufism in Western countries, which attempt to instruct non-Muslims on following the Sûfî path, have nothing to do with tasawwuf. This type of “Sufism” is not true Sufism; it is outside the sphere of Qur’ânic teachings.  

Sufism is the inner, or esoteric, dimension of Qur’ânic teachings, a dimension supported and complemented by the outward, or exoteric, practices of Islam. It is absolutely necessary to tread the path of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in order to be a true Sûfî, because Sufism is inoperative without “Muhammadan” affiliation. Sûfîs are servants of Allâh who have been clothed in intimacy with the Most High and who have embraced the concept of “ease after struggle (94:6).” They live secluded behind the curtain of intimacy with Allâh.

Jurist and Hadîth master Ibn Taymiyyah, in his Al-Risala al-Safadiyya, defended tasawwuf. His reverence for the group of such ʾauliyâʾ (Muslim Saints) as ‘Abdul Qâdir al-Jilânî is also expressed in his Futûh al-Ghaib. Ibn Taymiyyah stressed that the primacy of the sharia forms the soundest tradition in tasawwuf, and to argue this point, he listed over a dozen early masters, as well his own masters al-Ansârî al-Harâwî, ‘Abdul Qâdir al-Jilânî, and Hammad al-Dabbas: The upright among the followers of the path, he stated, were early auliyâ, such as Fudhayl ibn Iyâd, Ibrâhîm ibn Adham, Ma‘ruf al-Karkhî, al-Sari al-Saqatî, al-Junayd ibn Muhammad, Shaikh Abû al-Bayân, and Khâhtim al-Auliyâʾ Ibn al-‘Arabî. Imâm Abû Hâmid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazâlî narrated in his Al-Munqidh min al-Dalȃi’l: “I am convinced that the group of auliyâʾ is the only truthful group who follows the right path, displays best conduct, and surpasses all sages in their wisdom and insight. They derive all their overt or covert behaviour from the illumining guidance of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), the only guidance worth quest and pursuit.” This is what defines the intent and path of Islam through the genuine submission of one’s soul (nafs) to Allâh and His Commandments. Walâyat can be understood as maintaining a special friendship or relationship with Allâh. Walî means guardianship, friend, helper, ally, and Saint (walî is the singular of auliyâʾ). We read:

إِنَّ وَلِيِّيَ اللَّهُ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ الْكِتَابَ ۖ وَهُوَ يَتَوَلَّى الصَّالِحِينَ

“Verily, My Protecting-Friend is Allâh, Who has revealed this perfect Book and He takes into (His) protection all the righteous.” (7:196)

In other words, the walî is the person whose affairs Allâh, Glory be to Him, takes charge of. This person is not left at the mercy of others or of his own ego. You are told:

إِنَّمَا وَلِيُّكُمُ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا الَّذِينَ يُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَهُمْ رَاكِعُونَ

“Your real ally [walî] is only Allâh, and His Messenger, and those who believe, who observe Prayer and present the Zakât, and they bow down (in obedience to Allâh)” (5:55)

This shows that the friends (auliyâʾ) of Allâh are also the friends of the Messenger (pbuh) and the believers: Allâh is their walî, and they are Allâh’s auliyâʾ. There is a two-sided relationship between them and Allâh. This does not mean that both sides are equal. Definitely, the friendship (walâyat) of Allâh with the believers is different from the walâyat of the believers with Allâh. One side is obeyed, and the other obeys; one side guides, and the other is guided. The walî takes the service and worship (‘ibâdat) of Allâh into his care, and his service and worship flow without any disobedience or expectation of any reward. A walî is not necessarily from a particular Muslim school of thought. He may be Hanbalî, or Shaf‘î, or Hanafî, or anyone else. For example, Shaikh ‘Abdul Qâdir al-Jilânî was Hanbali, and Shaikh Mu‘înuddîn Chishtî was Hanafî.

A Sûfî looks upon his own person with an eye that comprehends his smallness, and when any miraculous Divine Grace appears to him, he is afraid that it may be a test, and he is terrified of falling from where he is. The walî, on the other hand, knows his positions and his state with Allâh. To know the source and the reality of miraculous Divine Graces is a part of this awareness. A walî distinguishes these miraculous Divine Graces from other miracle-like events that might happen. He knows that these miraculous Divine Graces are from “the Truth” (al-Haqq) and that they are a true reality. Divine Knowledge, Divine Revelations, and Divine Words descend directly to him, and his supplications are accepted.

Muhaddathîn are those with whom Allâh converses more directly and frequently than with other believers. To this class belong the Friends of Allâh (auliyâʾ) and other Saints who have reached the station of walâyat. Among them are also the mujaddadîn, who are appointed by Allâh for the reformation of His religion. The station of muhaddathîyat محدثٌيت is the highest station a follower of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) can reach. He has the station and rank of a Prophet, but he cannot be conceived as Prophet or as a member of a subclass of Prophets. He is among the ones who have received their light from the Divine Light. Behold the Light of Allâh from the lamps of these holy Saints who have gone before. They are the signs and guide on the road of divine seekers. “While the thirsty seek water, water also seeks the thirsty” (Jalâl al-Dîn Rûmî).