Pledging allegiance, also known as taking bayah or bayt, is a tradition from the times of Beloved Messenger of Allah.
Once such example of this is when the Noble Companions pledged oath to him under the tree. In this incident, each Companion placed their hand in the hand of the Beloved Prophet, and affirmed their faith in the oneness of Allah (tawheed).
This incident is reported in the Holy Qur’an, which states, “Certainly Allah was pleased with the believers when they pledged allegiance to you, [O Muhammad], under the tree, and He knew what was in their hearts, so He sent down tranquillity upon them and rewarded them with an imminent conquest.” [Qur’an 48:18]
Importance of Bayah to a Shaykh
The Beloved Messenger of Allah said, “Whoever dies and did not take an oath of allegiance (to a Muslim leader) has died a death of jahiliyah (ignorance).” [Bukhari, Muslim]
The meaning of taking bayah is to pledge spiritual allegiance & surrender yourself to the supervision of a Murshid/Pir/Shaykh, or spiritual teacher/leader. He leads you to Allah by guiding you through the path of Shar’iah and the teachings of our Beloved Prophet. The Murshid is he who takes others under his guardianship so that he may help them with their deen, often strengthening their hearts with zikr and good counsel.
Taking bayah also acts as a powerful guard against arrogance and pride, as a mureed (a spiritual disciple, follower, a seeker who follows the Murshid as his guide on the path of Tasawwuf) must hold complete adab (respect) and humility where his Murshid is concerned. This orders the nafs towards discipline; it is made to recognise its own worth, reflecting upon the pure state of those close to Allah, realising that true honour is in piety only, and understanding that it has no right to be proud. The nafs also learns to obtain knowledge and guidance from one who is greater in faith, causing it to humble itself. This is the way of the Salaf, who would sit at the feet of their Murshid to correct their own characters (akhlaaq) and achieve purity.
• Sayyidina Shaykh Abdul Qadir al-Jilani, the Leader of the Saints, explains, “Arrogance, hypocrisy, egoism, are all arrows of Shaytan aimed at your hearts. One should formulate a strategy to defend oneself from this attack.
The correct strategies are explained and demonstrated by the Mashaa`ikh (Teachers). You should heed to their commands and act on them. They will guide you on the path of Allah since they have already travelled on this path. Ask their advice on matters relating to the nafs (lower self), cravings and other weaknesses, because they have also suffered their consequences and are well aware of the dangers and harms of evil desires. They have battled these over a long period of time and can confront, control and defeat them.” [Al-Fath-ur-Rabbani, pg. 150]
Additionally, spending time in the presence of the righteous will cause one to benefit greatly in character and mannerisms. This influence has a powerfully positive effect on a person’s heart and mind, causing them to adopt traits pleasing to Allah.
• Imam Ghazali states in his Ihya Uluum al-Din, “Keep company with those who have firm faith, hear from them the learning of sure faith, follow them always, so that your faith may become firm as their faith became firm.”
The Messenger of Allah said, as an analogy for good/bad company, “The likeness of a righteous friend and an evil friend, is the likeness of a (musk) perfume seller and a blacksmith. As for the perfume seller, he may either bestow something on you, or you may purchase something from him, or you may benefit from his sweet smell…” [Bukhari, Muslim]
The above narration clarifies the importance of righteous company, which can benefit a person in more ways than one – there are numerous other Ahadith about the merits of being with the righteous. Also, the Holy Qur’an states:
“And keep yourself patient [by being] with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His countenance.” [Qur’an 18:28]
Regarding the presence, then, of a Murshid, one who is a scholar of religion and devout in his duties towards Almighty Allah, one should bear in mind the following Hadith of the Noble Messenger, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him:
“The best of you are those who, when they are seen, God is remembered.” [Ibn Majah]
This highlights the necessity of being in the company of one’s Murshid who, if he is a true teacher, will have this effect on those who meet him.
• Imam Muhyuddin ibn Arabi states in his book, Kitab Kunh ma la Budda minhu lil-Murid or What the Seeker Needs, “Look for a perfect teacher who will lead you on the Straight Path.”
• Imam al-Shafi said, “I accompanied the Sufiya (plural of Sufi) and I received from them three kinds of knowledge, 1. They taught me how to speak, 2. They taught me how to treat people with leniency and a soft heart, 3. They guided me in the ways of Tasawwuf.” [Tanwir Al-Qulub, page 405]
• Imam Ahmad advising his son said, “O my son, you must sit with the Sufiya, because they are like a fountain of knowledge. They recite the remembrance of Allah in their hearts. They are ascetics and they have the most spiritual power.” [Ghiza Al-Albab, Vol 1, page 120]
• Imam Abu Hanifa said, emphasizing the importance of sitting at the feet of a spiritual guide and teacher, “If it were not for two years, I would have perished. For two years, I accompanied Imam Jafar al-Sadiq and I acquired the spiritual knowledge that made me a knower in the Way (i.e. Tasawwuf).” [Ad-Durr Al-Mukhthar, Vol. 1, page 43]
It has been agreed upon for centuries that one cannot travel the path of Tasawwuf, or the essential spiritual branch of Islamic belief, without guidance from a spiritual teacher. This knowledge cannot be taught in books, it must be acquired through the guidance of a teacher or Murshid.
• Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi states in his Masnavi, “Butter cannot be acquired without milk, as recognition of Allah (ilm-e-baatin) cannot be obtained without a spiritual guide or Murshid.” And he further states, “Whoever travels without a guide needs two hundred years for a two day journey.”
About him, there is a story regarding the importance of a Murshid.
He, Mawlana Rumi, was not only a poet but also a great jurist, theologian and scholar of the highest accord. One day, as he taught his students in the open courtyard of the Masjid, a poorly dressed dervish stood by and watched. He observed how the Mawlana referred to many handwritten books and texts as he taught, so he enquired as to what they contained. Mawlana Rumi replied, “O Sufi! This contains knowledge which is beyond your understanding, so you continue to read your tasbeeh (rosary).” The dervish was in fact the great Shamsuddin Tabrez, who would soon be his spiritual guide and teacher.
When Mawlana Rumi’s attention had gone back to teaching, Khwaja Shamsuddin Tabrez threw all the Mawlana’s books into the nearby pond. The students who noticed this rushed to him and began to beat him. A distraught Mawlana Rumi complained of how his valuable knowledge had all been lost.
“Tell your pupils to leave me alone and I will give back your books,” replied Khwaja Shamsuddin. Mawlana Rumi, thinking that this would be impossible, asked his students to leave the dervish alone. Then he watched in amazement as Khwaja Shamsuddin recited ‘Bismillah,’ retrieved the books out of the water and returned them to him intact. He asked him as to how he had done this, to which Khwaja Shamsuddin replied, “This knowledge is beyond your understanding so you continue to teach your pupils.”
The Mawlana then realised his mistake, asked for forgiveness and submitted himself to the presence of this great Sufi dervish. Eventually, time spent at the feet of Khwaja Shamsuddin transformed him from a scholar of religious texts, into a truly devout lover of God.
In Mawlana Rumi’s own words:
“Sad kitaboh, sad waraq, dar nar kun
Aur jaan-o-dil rah, janibeh, dil daar kun.”
Meaning: “Throw all your books into the fire,
And turn with heart & soul towards the pure-hearted (the Awliya).”
Hafiz al-Shirazi affirms this advice saying, “Do not take a step on the path of Love without a guide. I have tried it one hundred times and failed.”
• If one is lucky enough to reach the presence of a Wali or Friend of Allah (read article about Wilayah), bear in mind the words of Khwaja Shah Baha’uddin Naqshband who said, “There is no friend of Allah on this earth who is not under the special Gaze of Allah. When you sit in the company of the friend of Allah, the fayz (spiritual blessing) that you receive is in fact a reflection of that special gaze.”
The power of this fayz has been known to truly transform personalities, causing even the harshest of criminals and sinners to turn whole-heartedly to Allah in repentance and devotion.
• Sayyidina Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani said, “The heart is the plantation for the Aakhira (hereafter). Sow the seeds of Imaan in your heart. Irrigate, fertilise and mature it with regular good deeds. If there is kindness and energy in the heart, it will be fertile and an abundant harvest will result. Should the heart be harsh and contemptuous, the soul becomes infertile, barren and no crop will be able to grow.
Learn this art of farming by its farmers/experts, the Awliya Allah. Do not think your opinion to be sufficient. Our Prophet says, ‘Seek help in every field from an expert in that field.’” [Al-Fathur Rabbani, pg. 202]
Criteria of a True Murshid
A true Murshid is one whose own faith is sound enough for him to guide others to the Path. His status as a Murshid must be initiated by orders from his own spiritual guide, who may receive these instructions from preceding saints with the permission of the Beloved Messenger of Allah.
This spiritual chain is known as a Tareeqa (see next heading for details).
Firstly, true Murshid must be a Sunni Muslim who strictly follows the beliefs and creed of the Ahle Sunnah wal Jamaah, the only true path of Islam. He adheres to the ways of the Beloved Messenger, and is guided by the Noble Companions and the Salaf who follow after them. This is absolutely crucial, and without this, he is a danger to the Imaan of those who follow him and a cause for serious corruption in faith.
• Imam Malik said, “Whoever studies jurisprudence (fiqh) and does not study Tasawwuf will be corrupted. Whoever studies Tasawwuf and does not study jurisprudence will become a heretic. Whoever combines both will reach the truth.”[Kashf Al-Khafa Wa Muzid Al-Abas, Vol. 1, page 341]
Secondly, he must be a knowledgeable scholar or Aalim, with a broad understanding in matters of Deen so that he is able to differentiate between forbidden (haram), acceptable (halal) and everything in between. He will be able to give sound judgements and guide the actions of his followers according to the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Thirdly, he must display the noble characteristics and etiquettes taught by the Beloved Messenger, and this indicates the purity of his heart. A great Murshid is one who teaches by practical example as well as through his words and advice. He is respected by all due to his character and he instills love for the Sunnah within the hearts of those who follow him.
Fourthly, his spiritual lineage (Shejra) must be that of a true Tareeqa, or spiritual chain; it must be connected, starting from our Master the Beloved Messenger of Allah, to Noble Companions, to Salaf and Awliya after them. Spiritual wisdom, teachings and guidance are passed down from the top in this manner, so one cannot gain any fayz or virtue without these connections.
Additionally, Imam Muhyuddin ibn Arabi teaches that one should not expect a Murshid to perform miracles. This is not a requirement of a spiritual guide or even of a Wali. This is something which many are blessed with by Allah, but is an aspect they wish to conceal due to their humility and noble state.
• Imam ibn Arabi states, “People think that a Shaykh should show miracles and manifest illumination. The requirement of a teacher however, is only that he should possess all that the disciple needs.”
• Regarding this, Mawlana Rumi narrates the following story in his Masnavi:
Seeing a man who was tilling the earth, a fool who was unable to control himself cried out, “Why are you ruining this soil?”
“Fool,” said the man, “leave me alone. Try to recognize the difference between tending the soil and wasting it. How will this soil become a rose garden until it is disturbed and overturned?”
This indicates the importance of the Shaykh who acts as the tiller, testing the mureed by overturning their heart and nourishing their inner soil. This is done to benefit the mureed so that their full inner potential is realized and as a result, they are elevated in spiritual rank and station.
Tareeqa – Spiritual Chain
The word tareeqa literally means ‘way’ or ‘path’. It terms of Tasawwuf, it refers to the path of spiritual guidance and blessing issued down from the Beloved Messenger, passed along from one righteous personality to another. Silsila is another term used for tareeqa.
As madhabs are the paths for adhering to the Shar’iah, sotareeqas are the paths for adhering to Tasawwuf. They are all correct, as they all lead back to the ultimate source of guidance, our Beloved Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him. The saints in every tareeqa are connected to his eminent presence and blessings.
• Imam Ahmad Raza Khan says, “By just having a link with a spiritual order (Silsila) is itself a great fortune and blessing.”
The main tareeqas are Naqshbandi, Qadri, Chishti andSoharwardi. There are also other smaller tareeqas but these are the major ones. Each tareeqa has branches; like a tree, where the roots are one but the branches are many. This is due to how each tareeqa is connected and taught through different saints and their Darbars (sanctuaries, or centres).
The Naqshbandi tareeqa is distinguished in that it is the only one which connects from the Beloved Messenger of Allah to Sayyidina Abu Bakr Siddique onwards, whereas all the others connect from the Beloved Messenger of Allah to Sayyidina Ali onwards.
• Mawlana Jami is reported to have said, “The Naqshbandiya lead an extraordinary caravan, for they take their students to the Haram (sanctuary) via a secret, hidden route.”
The Shejra is a chart which shows clearly how the tareeqa has progressed; which Companions and saints it has been passed down from. It clarifies the spiritual connection and authenticity of the guidance a mureed is blessed with through their tareeqa.
There are many virtues associated with reciting one’s Shejra. It encourages the remembrance of the Messenger of Allah, and the Saaliheen (the righteous). This is a method which strengthens hearts and rejuvenates one’s faith.
It also acts as a form of Isaal-e-Sawaab, or virtue for the deceased, which is a means to receive their guidance and fayz. It also brings a mureed closer to the Awliya, so that they are able to receive the blessings and assistance of these saints in times of hardship, as well as during moments of ease.
Duties and Respect towards One’s Murshid
First and foremost, it is crucial for the mureed to have utmost love, respect and trust towards his Murshid. A seeker cannot gain even a grain of wisdom or blessing unless he has complete adab (respect) for his spiritual guide.
Notice the respect and honour the Noble Companions had for the Beloved Messenger of Allah. They had such deep love and respect for him that they would honour everything associated with him – his belongings, his mannerisms, places he visited etc. They would never raise their voice above his, they would never turn their backs towards him or even look at his blessed face except by glancing, due to their respect for him.
A mureed’s respect for his/her Murshid should be in accordance to the Companion’s level of reverence for the Beloved Messenger – he was their guide to Allah, as one’s Murshid is a guide to the Beloved Messenger.
• Khwaja Shah Baha’uddin Naqshband said, “Good conduct with the Shaykhs is a requirement for every seeker. The Shaykhs are the causes and the means for following in the footsteps of the Prophet.”
It is also extremely important that the mureed adheres to the advice and instructions of the Murshid, without fail or hesitation. Of course, any advice given which is blatantly and without even a shadow of a doubt, in contradiction of the Shari’ah, must be opposed – but a true Murshid will never advise in such a manner.
In the case of a true Murshid, a mureed must understand that even when the advice of their Murshid appears suspicious, these doubts should not be entertained. Often, it is due to the lack of the mureed’s understanding and faith that they are unable to comprehend the wisdom behind the Murshid’s words. Therefore, they should endure with patience knowing that eventually, their doubts will be removed and the truth will be brought to light. The true Murshid has answers which a seeker can only obtain through complete trust.
• Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti said, “Whoever has attained anything achieved it through service (khidmat). It is compulsory upon the mureed not to go against the commands of the Murshid even to the size of an atom.”
There is an incident reported about Imam Junayd al-Baghdadi, who came to the River Tigris and saying “Ya Allah”, began to walk across it as if it was solid ground. One of his followers witnessed this, so the Imam advised him to say “Ya Junayd” and he too would be able to cross. The follower did so, and repeating “Ya Junayd”, he walked across the water – until Shaytan entered his mind. He thought, “The Imam himself is repeating the Name of Allah, whilst he tells me to repeat ‘Ya Junayd’. Surely, this is shirk! Will I not repeat the Name of Allah too?”
So he disregarded the words of his Murshid Imam Junayd, and began to say “Ya Allah”. Immediately, he plunged into the depths of the water beneath him and began to drown. Imam Junayd rescued him and he told him what had happened. The Imam replied, “You have not yet understood or attained the status of Junayd and yet you tried to comprehend the Reality of Allah!”
• Sayyidina Shaykh Abdul Qadir al-Jilani, “You should heed to the commands of the Shaykhs and act on them. They will guide you on the path of Allah since they have already travelled on this path.”[Al-Fathur Rabbani, pg. 150]
Therefore, the mureed must ensure that they are consistent in reciting the awrad (or wird, wazaa’if, or daily zikr) prescribed to them by their spiritual guide. This is of utmost importance; the Murshid is a healer or physician who recommends the appropriate antidote necessary for the seeker. He knows the seeker’s state better than the seeker themselves, so trust in his knowledge and remember that he receives guidance from the saints and the Beloved Messenger of Allah.
• Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti said, “Whatever zikr the Murshid has instructed should be read accordingly so that the mureed may attain some spiritual perfection; what the Murshid commands is for the benefit of the mureeds.”
A seeker should also show complete loyalty and allegiance towards their Murshid. They should honour the belief that their Murshid is the best guide for them, the most beneficial for them, and that none else can surpass this rank. This loyalty is a part of the respect shown towards one’s Murshid, as it proves the level of trust and belief a seeker has, not just in the Murshid, but also the tareeqa they follow.
Those who are looking for a Murshid to guide them should remember that if a seeker is truly sincere, Allah will guide them to a true Murshid who will elevate and strengthen their spiritual state. InshaAllah, they will be successful if they act upon the words of the Qur’an, “And seek help through patience and prayer…” [Qur’an 2:45]
The Status of Fana fi-Shaykh
The status of fana fi-Shaykh (annihilation in one’s Shaykh or Murshid) is a truly dignified one, and is the first stage of spiritual elevation. It indicates the mureed’s pure nature and firm faith, and shows that they are ready for further enlightenment from Allah and the Beloved Messenger.
The second stage of spiritual elevation is Fana fi-Rasul, and the third & final stage is Fana-fillah which is the utmost level of spirituality.
Attaining the status of fana fi-Shaykh requires the seeker to become one with the will of their Murshid – to the extent that they no longer harbour desires of their own, as all their feelings are harmonized with that of their spiritual guide. It is a truly honourable status where the love for the Murshid becomes so intense that his pleasure is the seeker’s own pleasure, and his displeasure is also the seeker’s displeasure. In this manner, the seeker receives and reflects the fayz of their Murshid in a much more powerful form.
Khwaja Sirri as-Saqti said about the love and devotion between Murshid and mureed, that it cannot be authentic unless one says to the other, “I am you, and you are I.” This indicates the complete absorption of a mureed’s heart, which submits itself completely to the one it loves i.e. the Murshid, who is its master, the one who nurtures it and guides it to Allah and the Beloved Messenger.
• About fana fi-Shaykh, Imam Ahmad Raza Khansays, “One must feel that his Shaykh is present with him at all times, and his heart is under the heart of his Shaykh. While in this state, the spiritual beams of the Beloved Messenger of Allah are beaming onto the heart of his Shaykh which is then reflecting onto the Mureed. If this concentration is correctly perfected and maintained for a period of time, the Mureed will clearly visualize the image of his Shaykh upon whatever object he looks at. This condition intensifies so much that the image of the Shaykh will not part from him even whilst in Salah. The Mureed will find this image wherever he goes.”[al-Malfuz al-Sharif]
This state is perfected when the mureed becomes so absorbed in the tasawwur (observation) of their Murshid that his every move impacts their own actions. Eventually, the Murshid also controls the movements of the mureed and at this stage, the mureed becomes completely annihilated (fana), merging into existence of their spiritual guide. This is a divine reality.
Tasawwur-e-Shaykh, or visualizing one’s Shaykh is an important part of being a mureed. It is also a form of muraqaba prescribed through many tareeqas due to the benefits it has upon the heart of a seeker. (Read: Muraqaba – Divine Meditation)
May Allah’s eternal peace and blessings of the highest degree be upon our Master Muhammad, upon his Family and his Companions.