Sayyidina Umar ibn al-Khattab reported the Beloved Messenger of Allah said:
“There are people from the servants of Allah who are neither Prophets nor martyrs; the Prophets and martyrs will envy them on the Day of Resurrection, for their rank from Allah, the Most High.”
They (the people) asked: “Tell us, Messenger of Allah, who are they?”
He replied: “They are people who love one another for the spirit of Allah (i.e. the Qur'an), without having any mutual kinship and giving property to one. I swear by Allah, their faces will glow and they will be (sitting) in (pulpits of) light. They will have no fear (on the Day) when the people will have fear, and they will not grieve when the people will grieve.” He then recited the following Qur'anic verse [10:62]: “Behold! Verily for the friends of Allah there is no fear, nor shall they grieve.” [Abu Dawud: Book 23, Hadith no. 3520]
What is Wilayah?
Wilayah, or sainthood, is a special rank with which Allah blesses His righteous servants due to their struggle for His Pleasure. One who attains this rank is known as a Wali, which is interpreted as saint, or friend of Allah.
It is agreed that the status of a Wali can never surpass that of a Prophet or a Sahabi (Companion of our Beloved Prophet).
The above Hadith explains the importance of revering and honoring those who love the Awliya (meaning saints, plural of Wali). To love others for the sake of Allah holds such great merit and reward that, on the Day of Judgment, even the Prophets and the martyrs will envy the believers who do so. This love, as the Hadith elaborates, will not be due to any bond or relation, or even due to exchange of wealth; it will be purely for the sake of the Creator, glorified is He.
The Holy Qur’an refers to such people as the Saaliheen, meaning the righteous, and ranks them with the most honorable of creation: “And whoever obeys Allah and the Messenger - those will be with the ones upon whom Allah has bestowed favor of the Prophets (Nabiyyeen), the steadfast affirmers of truth (Siddiqeen), the martyrs (Shuhada) and the righteous (Saaliheen). And excellent are those as companions!” [Qur’an 4:69]
Conduct of the Awliya
Imam al-Qushayri defined the Wali as, “One whose obedience attains permanence without interference of sin; whom Allah Most High preserves and guards, in permanent fashion, from the failures of sin through the power of acts of obedience.”[Imam ibn Abideen’s Rasa'il, 2:277]
The Imam also states that the Wali is “one whom Allah undertakes to constantly guard and preserve Himself. He manages him, so that this Wali never has the disappointment which is possible in an act of rebellion. His success is enduring, since it is part of the constant capacity of obedience. Allah says, ‘He takes care of the righteous.’ [Qur’an 7:196]” [Imam Nawawi’s Bustan-ul Arifeen]
Imam ibn al-Jawzi said, “The Friends of Allah and the Righteous are the very purpose of all that exists (al-awliya wa al-salihun hum al-maqsud min al-kawn), they are those who learned and practiced with the reality of knowledge... Those who practice what they know, do with little in the world, seek the next world, remaining ready to leave from one to the other with wakeful eyes and good provision, as opposed to those renowned purely for their knowledge.”[Ibn al-Jawzi's Sifat al-Safwa, Beirut edition 1989/1409, pages 13, 17]
Imam Ghazali said about the Awliya, referred to as Sufis (followers of Tasawwuf), “I knew it to be true that the Sufis (followers of the Way of Tasawwuf) are the seekers in Allah's Way. Their conduct is the best of conduct; their way is the best of ways; their manners are the most sanctified.” [al-Munqidh min ad-Dalal, page 131]
One of the main attributes of the Awliya is their constant fear of Allah’s Displeasure. Imam al-Qushayri said, “If it is asked if fear falls away from the Awliya, we state that all great Awliya are dominated by fear. It is rare for fear to fall away but not impossible.” And he further states, “Fear is one of the attributes of those who are fully present.” [Imam Nawawi’s Bustan-ul Arifeen]
Character Traits of the Awliya
Regarding the characteristics of the Awliya, Imam al-Qushayri mentions that the main traits dominating a Wali include “his truthfulness in fulfilling the duties owed to Almighty Allah. Then it is his compassion and mercy to the people of creation, in all their states. Then it is extending his mercy to all creatures. Then it is his constantly enduring things that come from creatures, with good character. He always begins by asking Allah to do the best for them without their having to ask this of him. His zeal (himma) is connected to rescuing the people and giving them security. He safeguards himself from feeling any malice or rancour towards them, whilst at the same time he restrains his hand from their property, and desires nothing from them in any way. He restrains his tongue from spreading any evil about them, and he is on guard against seeing their evils. He has no adversary either in this world or in the next.”
Imam Nawawi elaborates on the above by saying, “the Wali overlooks his own rights in this world so that he demands nothing from people in this world. Therefore, they possess nothing which he will seek from them in the next. Allah says:
“But if you are patient and fear Allah - indeed, that is the most resolute course to take.” [Qur’an 3:186] And, “Those who restrain anger and who pardon the people - and Allah loves the doers of good.” [Qur’an 3:134] [Imam Nawawi’s Bustan-ul Arifeen]
Awliyain the Qur’an
There are several mentions of certain Awliya in the Holy Qur’an. These are beloved and righteous servants of Allah who were not Prophets or Messengers, but slaves upon whom He bestowed His favour.
One such person is Lady Maryam, about whom the Angels said, “O Maryam, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds. O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow (in prayer) with those who bow down.” [Qur’an 3:42-43]
She was extremely devout and chaste (“And Maryam, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity…” [Qur’an 66:12]), so Allah bestowed favours upon her, blessed her and granted her miracles from His Power.
Sayyidina Khidr is also amongst the Awliya mentioned by Allah in the Qur’an, although some scholars claim he was a Prophet – and Allah knows best. About him, it was said, “And they found a servant from among Our servants to whom we had given mercy from us and had taught him from Us a [certain] knowledge.” [Qur’an 18:65]
Another case of the Awliya mentionedin the Holy Qur’an is that of the As’haab-e-Kahf, also known as the Sleepers of the Cave. About them, Allah says, “They were youths who believed in their Lord, and we increased them in their guidance.” [Qur’an 18:13]
These servants of Allah, though they were not Prophets or Messengers, were blessed with special ranks and favours. Each was blessed with an exclusive level of knowledge, a certain degree of gnosis of Allah (marifah), and was blessed with miracles (karamat) from His Power; indeed, Allah has Power over all things.
Gift of Marifah upon His Chosen Ones
As a result of their continuous devotion and yearning for Allah’s Pleasure, the Awliya are blessed with marifah, or knowledge/gnosis of Almighty Allah.
They abstain from following their own nafs or ego, which keeps them firm upon the Straight Path. About this, the Qur’an warns, “…Do not follow [your own] desire, as it will lead you astray from the way of Allah.” [Qur’an 38:26]
Imam al-Ghazali said in honour of the Awliya, “They have purified their hearts from other than Allah and they have made them as pathways for rivers to run, receiving knowledge of the Divine Presence.” [al-Munqidh min ad-Dalal, page 131]
The hearts of the Awliya have been cleansed to such an extent that they are able to receive exclusive knowledge of the Creator.
Khwaja Mujaddid Alf Thaani wrote that the Qur’anic verse, “And I did not create the Jinn and mankind except to worship Me,” [51:56] refers to the fact He created men and Jinn so they could attainmarifa; that is, to reach perfection by knowing Him. [266th Letter of his Maktubat]
In addition to knowledge of His Divine Presence, the Awliya are blessed with kashf or spiritual unveiling which grants them information which ordinary humans are unable to obtain.
Miracles of the Prophets (mu’jiza)& the Saints (Karamat)
The miracles of the Prophets are referred to as mu’jiza, while the miracles of the saints are known as karamat. The main difference between the two is that a mu'jiza is conditional with the claim of Prophethood, therefore mujizat are attributed to the Prophets only while karamat is attributed to the saints.
Imam Nawawi explains the distinction between the two in his Bustan-ul Arifeen, by quoting Qadi Abu Bakr al-Ashari who says that Prophetic miracles (mu’jiza) cannot come from the Awliya “because one of the preconditions of the Prophetic miracle is that it should be connected to the claim of Prophethood.”
Imam Nawawi also quotes Imam Abu Bakr ibn Furak on this topic, who says, “Part of the difference between Prophetic miracles and karamat is that the Prophets are commanded to display their miracles, while the Wali is obliged to veil and conceal them. The Prophet makes a claim and his statement is substantiated by the confirmatory miracle. The Wali does not make that claim…”
Imam Abu Hanifa writes that the karamat of Awliya is real although some, who claim to be Muslim yet deny spiritualism, do not believe in their karamat. [al-Fiqh al-Akbar]
Imam Nawawi reports Imam al-Juwayni as saying, miracles in respect to the friends of Allah, the Awliya, is perfectly conceivable. [Bustan-ul Arifeen]
Explaining further regarding karamat, Imam Nawawi quotes Imam al-Qushayri as saying, “A karama is an action about which there is no doubt…” He continues, “It is a gift and a mark of favor on him (the Wali). It may be obtained by the choosing and supplication of the Wali, while it is also possible that it will not be obtained by him. Sometimes it is without choice on the part of the Wali.” [Bustan-ul Arifeen]
Imam al-Qushayri also states that whenever a Prophet has a miracle appear through one of his community (Ummah), that miracle is also counted as one of his Prophetic miracles. [Imam Nawawi’s Bustan-ul Arifeen]
However, karamat is not a condition of Wilayah therefore not every saint will possess this quality. Imam al-Qushayri states, “Indeed, if a Wali does not have outwardly manfiest karamat in this world, their lack does not detract from his being a wali.” [Imam Nawawi’s Bustan-ul Arifeen]
This is further clarified by Imam Mujaddid Alf Thaani Ahmad al-Faruqi as-Sirhindi who writes, “It is not a condition for a Wali [that is, for a person whom Allah loves] to display karamat. As it is not necessary for the scholars to display karamat, so it is not necessary for the Awliya to display karamat, because Wilayah means qurb-e ilahi. [That is, it means to get closer to Allah, to know Him.” [Volume 2, 92nd Letter of his Maktubat]
Examples of Karamat
The Holy Qur’an documents several miracles of the saints. It informs us about the miracles of Lady Maryam:
• Receiving sustenance to her chamber directly from Allah: “Every time that [Zakariya] entered (her) chamber to see her, he found her supplied with sustenance. He said, ‘O Mary! From where is this coming to you?’ She said, ‘From Allah: for Allah provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure.’” [Qur’an 3:37]
• How she retrieved dates from the palm-tree during labor-pains: “And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates.” [Qur’an 19:23-26]
• The birth of Prophet Jesus although she was chaste: “And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples.” [Qur’an 21:91]
• It also teaches us of the miracle of Prophet Suleyman’s companion, who brought him the throne of Bilqees in the blink of an eye: “Said one who had knowledge from the Scripture, ‘I will bring it to you before your glance returns to you.’ And when [Suleyman] saw it placed before him, he said, ‘This is from the favor of my Lord…” [Qur’an 27:40]
The Companions, being the teachers and masters of the Awliya also had karamat which are reported in many authentic narrations:
• Sayyidina Anas narrates, “Two of the companions of the Prophet departed from him on a dark night and were led by two lights like lamps (going in front of them from Allah as a miracle) lighting the way in front of them, and when they parted, each of them was accompanied by one of these lights till he reached their (respective) houses.” [Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 8, Hadith no. 454]
• The Beloved Messenger narrated an incident in which three men took shelter from the rain inside a cave. A huge rock rolled over and blocked the mouth of it so they were trapped inside. Each of them made a supplication to Allah, and the rock moved completely from the mouth of the cave. [Bukhari, Vol. 3, Hadith no. 418]
• Bint al-Harith reported about Sayyidina Khubayb al-Ansari, who was captured by the unbelievers, "By Allah, I never saw a better prisoner than Khubayb. By Allah, I found him eating from a bunch of grapes he had in his hand, when he was shackled in irons and there was no fruit at that time in Makkah. It was provision from Allah which He gave to Khubayb." [Bukhari, chapter 67, Hadith no. 3858]
• Sayyidina Safina, a servant of the Beloved Messenger, was once left behind by the Muslim army in the land of the Romans. As he was trying to catch up with them, he suddenly came across a lion. He said to it, "O Abu Harith (lion), I am a servant of the Messenger of Allah," then proceeded to explain his situation. The lion not only spared him, but also showed him the route and accompanied him til he reached the army. [Imam Bayhaqi's Dalaa'il al-Nubuwwah, Hakim 3:606. Also related by Tabarani, Abu Nu'aym]
• Sayyidina Abdullah ibn Umar narrates that his father Sayyidina Umar was delivering the Friday sermon in the Prophet's Masjid in Madinah, when in the middle of the khutba, he shouted, “Ya Sariyya al-jabal! (O Sariyya, [towards] the mountain!” and then he resumed his khutba. When the people had finished the prayer, they asked Sayyidina Umar, and he said, “The idea crossed my mind that the idolaters defeated our brethren and the idolaters would run towards the mountain. So if the Muslims moved towards the mountain, they would have to fight from one side only and if they advanced, they would be destroyed. So those words escaped my mouth, about which you say that you heard these words.”
After a month came the deliverer of good news. He said, “The people of the army heard Sayyidina Umar's voice (‘Ya Sariyya al-jabal!’) on that day. We all went towards the mountain and Allah made us victorious.”
[Imam Tabari's Ta’rikh al-‘Umam wal-Muluk; Imam Abu Nu'aym's al-Dala’il; Imam Bayhaqi's Dalaa’il al-Nubuwwah; Imam Suyuti's Tarikh al-Khulafa; Imam ibn Kathir's al-Bidaya wal-Nihaya; Imam al-Asqalani's al-Isaba, Imam ibn Hajar al-Haythami's al-Sawa’iq al-Muhriqa; Imam Suyuti's al-Durar al-Muntathira]
And indeed, Almighty Allah says:
“I will declare war against him who shows hostility to a pious worshipper (Wali) of Mine.
And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil (praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him,
so I become his sense of hearing with which he hears,
and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips,
and his leg with which he walks; and if he asks Me, I will give him,
and if he asks My protection (refuge), I will protect him; (i.e. give him My Refuge)
and I do not hesitate to do anything as I hesitate to take the soul of the believer, for he hates death, and I hate to disappoint him.”
[Bukhari, Vol. 8, Hadith no. 509]