The Need for Adopting a Sheikh

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The Need for Adopting a Sheikh



Question: I fully understand the concept of a Sheikh and I have no problem with it. It is just that I have many people who are mureeds and they insist on me becoming a mureed of someone. And they tell me that if I do not have a sheikh, then shaytan will be my sheikh and lead me the wrong way, is this true?

I have very strong faith in Allah and I have trust in all our authentic Ulama, but I do not have the desire to become mureed of anyone. My faith is in the Quran, Hadeeth, Zikr and all Ulama that comply. Will this belief be okay?



From the outset, it is essential to understand two issues:

1) The need for spiritual reform.

2) Taking the bay’at, the pledge of allegiance.


1) The Need For Spiritual Reform


Apart from the Ambiyaa u, the Sahābah twere those individuals who attained the highest form of excellence in all aspects of Dīn. They were embodiments of virtue and piety, imbued with perfection in the matters of Dīn relating to both, the external and internal self. Their sincere commitment and sacrifice for Dīn was unparalleled. They were the torchbearers of Islam, who spread the light of Dīn and impressed it on others by mere character and honest practice. Their actions really spoke ‘louder than words!’ However, the question to be asked is, what was the secret and backbone leading to this unmatched excellence and effect of theirs? We too are Muslims; does our practice also impress others and reflect the great cause of Islam which we proudly represent?


Nevertheless, all these achievements was primarily due to them been in the auspicious company of the most supreme of mankind, in the company of Rasulullah r. Rasulullah rwas their mentor, tutor and guide in every aspect of their lives. They accompanied him at all times, whether in the city of Makkah Mukarramah, Madinah Munawwarah or out on journeys, studying his lifestyle, fervently serving him and most importantly, implementing his priceless teachings. Their fervour for Dīn knew no bounds and resulted in them progressing and mastering the various sciences of Dīn, i.e. the branches of Hadith, Fiqh, Tafsir, Qirā’ah, etc.


However, a very interesting point to note here is that, though the Sahābah twere experts in the various aspects of Dīn, we do not know them by such terms. We do not refer to them as Hafiz so and so, Qari so and so, Mufti so and so, etc. Rather, we merely suffice on the word “Sahābī or Sahābah” (the companion/s of Rasulullah r) when referring to them; don’t we usually say, “Abu Bakr t, the Sahābī of Rasulullah r, Uthmān r, the Sahābī of Rasulullah r, etc.? The reason for adopting this form of reference is because suhbah (companionship of Rasulullah r),was the highest form of achievement featuring in their lives. To accompany a saintly person is undoubtedly beneficial. Imagine accompanying Rasulullah r, the greatest personality of mankind? Therefore, there was no better quality in portraying their superior calibre other than terming them Sahābaht.


Furthermore, the term, “Sahābah”, would later serve as a lesson and reminder for the forthcoming generations that, “Should you, the Ummatis of Rasulullah r, also desire to become like the Sahābah r, then tread this path of ‘Suhbah’, companionship!”


‘Suhbah’refers to the concept of accompanying a pious or scholarly personality. During the latter days, it became a more popularly used term to refer to accompanying and, communicating one’s spiritual difficulties and ailments, to a Sheikh, the personality whom one corresponds with and communicates one’s spiritual difficulties; mashāikh being the plural form,translated asmentor or guide in English.


It was this suhbah which transformed the lives of the Sahābah tto becoming the foundation and unshaken pillar of Islam. In fact, this was what kindled and supplemented their remarkable concern (fikr), love and sacrifice for Islam; characteristics which are the core and essence of Islam and hallmark evident in their lives.


Experiencing and cherishing the remarkable benefit acquired through the company of Rasulullah r, his advice, etc., once Nabi rhad passed away, the Sahābah timmediately renewed their submission and obedience on the hands of Sayyiduna Abu Bakr t, thereafter on the hands of Sayyiduna Umar r, and so on. This was done through the bay’at (pledge of allegiance). The bay’at was not to merely facilitate the management and smooth running of the Muslim empire. Instead, it was an allegiance to serve him, obey his instructions and also for internal purification (Fatawa Mahmudiyyah v.4, p.405, Jami’ah Faruqiyyah Karachi); hence, compounding the spiritual gain they were once receiving from Rasulullah r.


Self reformation, internal purification, and other similar terms, basically refer to the effort of ridding oneself of evil qualities such as, jealousy, hatred, self centeredness, etc. whilst persevering to inculcate praiseworthy qualities like, generosity, compassion, humility, etc. The easiest technique of doing so is by inculcating an intense and burning feeling of love for Allah 0which will naturally make the saalik (the individual who applies himself in this path of suhbah) accomplish his goal in an extremely short span of time.


This practice of suhbah then became the common feature in the lives of people in the latter eras, especially the religious divines despite their immense academic expertise. (Risalatul Mustarshidin – pg.72, Darus Salam, Egypt)Suhbah now became a deep-rooted trend and technique of acquiring spiritual enhancement.


We will enlist the names of a few great Ulama and personalities, who also adopted suhbah as a means of spiritual advancement. These names will provide ample testimony and only overwhelm one to the credibility and benefit one attains in this path.

A point to note here is that, some of the personalities to be mentioned, had both, a student-teacher based relationship, as well as one of gaining spiritual purification as can easily be understood by a close study of their lives.

Hereunder follow the names of a few ulama:

¨    Thābit Al-Bunānī þ, accompanied the Sahābī, Sayyiduna Anas tfor 40 years.

¨    The famous Imam Muslim þ, accompanied Imam Bukhari þfor 6 years.

¨    Imam Abdullāh Al-Qa’nabi þ, accompanied Imam Malik þfor 30 years.(Siyaru A’lāmin Nubalā – V.10, Pg.259, Mu-assasatur Risalah)


¨    Hajee Imdādullah Muhājir Makkī þ,

¨    Hazrat Moulānā Ashraf Ali Thanwī þ,

¨    Hazrat Moulānā Rashīd Ahmed Gangohī þ,

¨    Hazrat Moulānā Qāsim Nanotwī þ, founder of Darul Uloom Deoband,

¨    Hazrat Moulānā Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri þ,

¨    Hazrat Moulānā Muhammad Ilyās Kandhelwī þ,

¨    Hazrat Moulānā Muhammad Yusuf Kandhelwī þ,

¨    Hazrat Moulānā Muhammad Zakariyyā Kandhelwī þ,

¨    Hazrat Muftī Mahmūdul Hasan Gangohī þ.


Along with these names, there are numerous other Ulama, who have adopted this line and have such a relationship with their Mashaikh. This selection and preference of theirs is motivated solely by their sound and deep-rooted knowledge and understanding of the Shariah.


If Ulama and high ranking personalities felt the need to adopt suhbah for their reform, one can well imagine the more intense urgency for uneducated spiritually ailing individuals like us, to apply ourselves in this field! Adopting these means will also, to a great extent enhance one’s sincerity in all matters.


At times a person does make taubah (seek repentance), however, with the benevolence of Allah 0and the blessing of a true pious Sheikh, a person will now be endowed with the quality of steadfastness and loyalty in remaining true to this taubah (trying his best to abstain from the sin).


In fact, consider this motivating and captivating statement of Sheikh Abdul Fattāh Abū Ghuddah  þ, a great Syrian scholar of the past century (passed away in 1997). While commenting on the phenomenal affect which overcame the Sahābah t, the Sheikh states that a similar effect exists today by virtue of one merely glancing at a pious person. The Sheikh comments:


… Even if someone from the latter eras (meaning, those who did not see people the likes of the Sahābah t, etc.) sees a pious and virtuous ālim, this gaze at the ālim, even though it be for a few seconds, will serve as spiritual nutrition, the effect of which will be felt for one’s entire life. This mere glance will now propel him to acts of virtue and obedience whenever he cherishes and thinks of this moment.(Risalatul Mustarshidin – pg.19, Darus Salam)


Conclusively, understand that the quest for spiritual reform is a Fard, an incumbent duty upon every individual. A very easy and accepted practice of doing so is adopting the path of Suhbah.


Also, whilst an earnest attempt is made to elaborate on the immense benefit one may achieve in the path of suhbah, and that a great amount of latter day people adopt suhbah for spiritual reform, we in no way wish to sideline and degrade the benefit one may achieve from the other commonly practiced efforts of Dīn.


2) Taking the Bay’at, the Pledge of Allegiance


Muftī Muhammad Shafī þ, the author of the tafsīr entitled ‘Ma’āriful Qur’ān’ states:


“Bay’at means to take a promise for performing some special deed. Its customary method according to the Sunnah of Rasulullah ris to place the hands of both persons one on top of the other.”


In the event where this Bay’at is taken, the disciple gives an assurance that he will act upon the advice and instructions of his Sheikh.


The Status of Bay’at in the Shariah


It is essentially important to know that bay’at is indeed a great sunnah of Rasulullah rbut in no way a wājib (obligation). Although it is extremely meritorious to enter into a bay’at, it is not sinful to leave it out. (Fatawa Mahmudiyyah v.4, p.405)Reformation, which is the actual aim and purpose of accompanying and communicating with a Sheikh, may be achieved without even taking the bay’at; bay’at is not a requirement for reformation. However, becoming a disciple (mureed) of a Sheikh in the customary manner has its advantages; one of which is that the spiritual teacher pays more attention to his disciple, and in turn, the disciple takes special care in obeying his spiritual teacher.


Nevertheless, after reading the above and realising the importance of adopting a Sheikh, let us now focus on your queries:


A) You mention regarding the insistence of your friends:


It is only courteous, that once a person witnesses the benefit of a particular commodity, venture, etc. he wishes others to reap the benefit of the same. In a similar way, your friends have realized and achieved great benefit in the line of suhbah, and expressing the sentiments of a true Muslim, also desire that you receive the same benefit.  Allah’s Rasul rhas stated, “No person can become a true believer until he likes for his fellow Muslim that which he likes for himself.”

Yes, at the same token, it is extremely important that the attitude and approach of your friends be in correct measure. They should encourage you with much tact and wisdom, explaining the benefits they have achieved, in a kind gentle manner. Never should they adopt a contemptuous harsh, mean and ‘better than thou’ attitude. Islam encourages the spreading of good and at the same time teaches us the art of accomplishing the same.


B) As forShaytanbecoming yourSheikh:


Remember! Just as a student acquires his knowledge from a qualified teacher, so too is the case with developing perfection in character, morals and spirituality. This should also be acquired under the tutorship of the Mashaikh, the experts in this field. Spiritual maladies such as pride, jealousy, etc. are at times easy to detect but the diagnosis will be in accordance to an individual. Sometimes, the malady is obscure and discrete. Only an expert in this field can detect it. In such instances, if one eventually does identify a malady, he may adopt the incorrect therapy. There are numerous incidents mentioned of this sort, where the diagnosis and treatment was incorrect. At times, this even proved fatal. There is an Arabic proverb to encapsulate and illustrate this point, it says:


رَأْىُ الْعَلِيْلِ عَلِيْلُ

The spiritual diagnosis of a spiritually ill person is also ailing and diseased.

One should therefore submit to a pious personality, continuously adopt his company, communicate one’s spiritual difficulties and adhere strictly to his diagnosis. If you hold fast to the above ‘formula’,Allah Ywill soon bless your endeavours, Inshā-Allah. Allah Yhas affirmed this promise of His by stating:

وَالَّذِيْنَ جَاهَدُوا فِيْنَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا

We will most definitely open up our avenues of insight and guidance (hidāyat) for those who exert themselves in our cause.

(Surah 29, verse 69)


C) As for averring to have ‘very strong faith in Allah’, remember, although it is laudable to express gratitude to Allah tfor endowing one with the great wealth of īmān, at the same time, it is totally inappropriate for a Muslim to brazenly claim strong belief in Allah Y.

Nabi rhas stated in a hadith, “A Muslim’s (concern and fear of his īmān is such that) he considers his sins to be like a mountain near which he stands, fearing the mountain falling onto him. On the other hand, a sinful Muslim (is so unaffected by his sins that) he considers it to be like a fly which sits on his nose (the seriousness of sin and disobeying Allah 0has as yet not dawned upon him).” (Sunan Tirmizi # 2497; Maktabatuth Thaqafiyyah, Beirut)


That is, he never has the courage to profess having strong faith because he, at the same time, is a perpetrator of many sins too. Islam advocates moderation; so be grateful for your faith, make an earnest attempt to strengthen it and, at the same time fear over your sins!

Allah Knows Best.