Qad ‘alima kullu unaasin mashrabahum: And every group knew their drinking place (Q 7:160)

One beautiful spring day, the famous 18th century Sufi master Abd al-Aziz al-Dabbagh, who would become one of the most important figures in the history of the Tariqa Muhammadiyya, took his student al-Lamati to a garden and told him to look at all the different kinds of flowers and plants, how there were tens or hundreds of plants that differed in size, shape, color and scent. And al-Dabbagh likened these flowers to the awliya of Allah, in that they come in many different ways and forms, as different from each other as all these plants, yet they were all awliya nonethless, all on a straight path, and all chosen by Allah.

It is true that since the beginning of Islam, Sufism has taken many different forms: the intoxicated and the sober, the ascetic and the wealthy, the pietest and the metaphyicisian, the distinguished scholar and the malamati, and so on.

And so, Sufis could sometimes live in completely opposite ways that it would be hard to tell what they had in common. There also arose the idea of the mashrab, or drinking place. Each sufi had his mashrab, or source for his way. The mashrab could mean a different style, or a different disposition, for example. There is a common belief that besides the Prophet Muhammad, every Sufi had another previous Prophet or pious figure as his mashrab. Some of the more common mashrabs are those of Jesus and Moses, as well as earlier prophets such as Idris (Enoch), or any other. Some people’s mashrab might be a companion like Abu Bakr or Umar, or Uways al-Qarni, who never met the Prophet in person but was instructed by him in spirit. One modern and widely-spread tariqa in the west is the Maryamiyya, which has the way of sayyiditna Maryam as their source, or mashrab. “And every group knew their mashrab…”

In previous articles, we have taken a look at the Tariqa Muhammadiyya and its origins[1], but we have not really discussed what a Tariqa Muhammadiyya really is. In other words, what makes a Tariqa Muhammadiyya a Muhammedan way, besides the name.

There are different common features of these movements, some present more than others, depending on the path. First and foremost, there is the idea of mutaaba’a. The word mutaaba’a is taken from the verb ittibaa, or following. The form mutaaba’a has been used as a distinct term in Sufism for the exact following and imitation of the Prophet Muhammad in every possible way. The second common feature is to turn to the Prophet (pbuh) for guidance, and to attempt to establish a direct relationship with the Prophet. Third is shying away from other authorities beside the Quran and the Prophet. This means a return to the Quran and Hadith and an emphasis on Ijtihad as opposed to taqlid, as well as a preference for direct instruction from the Prophet as opposed to reliance on a shaykh as intermediary between man and God. Fourth is constant praying and blessings upon the Prophet (tasliya), as a way to receive this guidance. In some of these groups, there is also preference for having only one tariqa as opposed to a multiplicity of turuq, although this is not a feature of all the Muhammadan ways.

Now we will focus on the most important aspect that is highly stressed in the Tariqa Muhammadiyya movements, and that is mutaaba’a.

In Sura 3 verse 31, the Quran instructs the Messenger of Allah thus:

Say: “If ye do love Allah, Follow me (ittabi’ooni): Allah will love you and forgive you your sins: For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

If we look at the Quranic commentary on this verse by al-Sulami, we find him quoting the following sayings:

“And it was said: Mahabba (Love [of Allah]), is following (ittibaa’) the Messenger (pbuh) in his sayings and acts and manners, except in these things that were reserved only for him, because God has associated loving Him with his following.”

“Sahl ibn abd-Allah [al-Tustari] said: The lover of Allah in truth is he whose exemplar in his spiritual states (ahwal), acts, and sayings, is the Prophet (pbuh)”.

And al-Sulami himself says: “There is no arriving at the Highest Light for he who does not search for it through the Lower Light. And he who does not make the way to the Highest Light that of holding tight to the manners of the possessor of the Lower Light and his mutaaba’a, peace and blessings be upon him, has been blinded from both lights and clothed in the gown of self-deception”.

From the above we can see that mutaaba’a is following the Prophet in everything from one’s manners to his speech and actions to his spiritual states. Because of this, a new term has come for those who imitate the Messenger of Allah in every possible way, to distinguish them from those who possess different states than his, and that is Muhammadan Sufism. Obviously, being a Muhammadan Sufi would be of utmost importance to followers of the Tariqa Muhammadiyya, as it is supposed to be the way of the Messenger himself.

Indeed we do find this term in the Tariqa Muhammadiyya literature. To take an example from Ahmad ibn Idris, in a letter that he sent to his disciple al-Mirghani, he called him “the most perfect of Muhammadan awliya, without doubt and without falsehood, as witnessed by the Messenger of [Allah]“[3].

Among the disciples of Ahmad ibn Idris was also Ibrahim al-Rashid, who spread the Ahmadiyya Muhammadiyya of his teacher, but after his death his followers split off and became known as the Rashidiyya. One of al-Rashid’s succesors was Muhammad al-Dandarawi, who started his own Dandarawiyya order, it thus being a “descendant” of the Ahmadiyya Muhammadiyya, but having taken a very different form from its “spiritual grandfather” so that it lost many of the features of the Muhammadiyya turuq. However, being a Muhammadi Sufi was of central importance to the Dandarawis, so that their chant and moto was, and still is, “Allahu Akbar, we are the Muhammadans, and to God goes all thanks!”.

Let us now look at the concept of mutaba’a and Muhammadan Sufism in more detail, through the sayings of Shams al-Tabrizi (d. 1247). Now Shams is not related in any way to the Tariqa Muhammadiyya movements, but since mutaaba’a and Muhammadan Sufism is the central theme of his teachings, they will give us great examples, which we will then compare to examples from the Tariqa Muhammadiyya.

When Shams Tabrizi joined the circle of Jalalludin Rumi and his students, he noticed that they had a great love for Abu Yazid al-Bistami. Now Shams considered Abu Yazid to be “one of the great ones”, and whenever he mentioned “the great ones”, he mentioned Abu Yazid. But at the same time, he was worried about their excessive love for him, and was worried that they would want to follow his way. This worried Shams because Abu Yazid had a different state from that of the Prophet, and thus he was not fit to be followed. Although he was a great Sufi, he was not a Muhammadan Sufi, and should therefore not be followed. This is akin to the great respect that Sufis have for majaadheeb or the Sufis who have been drawn to God but are in a state that keeps them from being aware of other people or of their own states, and thus they may never be followed as guides. In the same way, at least one Tariqa Muhammadiyya specified that its followers may not stray from the Sufism of Junayd al-Baghdadi, who represents the sober and scholarly Muhammadan Sufism. Abu Yazid, on the other hand, is one of the most famous examples of the “intoxicated” Sufis who are so intoxicated with the love of God that they do and say things that others may find questionable. Thus Shams says,

Since he was drunk, he said, ‘Glory be to me!’ If someone is drunk, he cannot follow Muhammad, who is on the other side of drunkenness. One cannot follow the sober in drunkenness.”[4]

“They report that Abu Yazid didn’t eat Persian melon. He said, ‘I have not come to know how the Prophet ate persian melon.’ I mean, following (mutaaba’a) has a form and a meaning. He preserved the form of the following. So why did he ruin the reality of following and the meaning of following? For Muhammad said, ‘Glory be to You! We have not worshipped You as You should be worshipped!’ Abu Yazid said, ‘Glory be to me! How magnificent is my status!’ If anyone supposes that his state was stronger than that of Muhammad, he is very stupid and ignorant.”[5]

“The first words I spoke to Mawlana [Rumi] were these: ‘Why didn’t Abu Yazid cling to following (mutaaba’a)? Why didn’t he say, ‘Glory be to You! We have not worshipped You [as You should be worshipped]‘? Mawlana understood these words completely and perfectly.[6]

Thus for Shams, only the Prophet should be taken as an example, and those who were different from him in state or in action should not be followed, no matter how great they are. Not only this, but Shams saw that any Sufi practice that is not found in the Sunna of the Prophet is an innovation bid’a that should not be followed. Unlike Wahhabis, he did not think that these innovations would lead one to Hell, but he still preferred staying away from them as they were not part of mutaaba’a. Thus he would say about the 40-day retreat, or khalwa,

[The forty-day seclusion] is an innovation in the religion of Muhammad (pbuh). Muhammad never sat in a forty-day seclusion. That’s in the story of Moses. Read, “And when We appointed with Moses forty nights” (Qu’ran 2:5). [7]

These people who do the forty-day seclusion are followers of Moses- they have not tasted the following of Muhammad. Far from it! Rather, they do not have the following of Muhammad according to its stipulations. They have a bit of the flavor of following Moses, and they’ve taken that.[8]

In short, in those outward seclusions, the more they go forward, the more imagination increases and stands in front of them. But in the path of mutaaba’a, the more they go forward- reality upon reality, and self-disclosure upon self-disclosure!”[9]

Now Ahmad Ibn Idris, for example, would not have agreed with Shams on the matter of the khalwa, as he did approve of the khalwa and wrote a treatise on the way of entering it. For him, the khalwa was in fact following the way of the Prophet when he would go seclude himself in the cave. As the future reviver of the Ahmadiyya Muhammadiyya tariqa, shaikh Saleh al-Jaafari, would explain: The Prophet used to go into long seclusions in the cave of Hira, and this was done during the early days of Prophecy, as evidenced by the hadith of sayyida Aisha in Sahih Bukhari:

“The commencement of the Divine Inspiration to Allah’s Apostle was in the form of good dreams which came true like bright day light, and then the love of seclusion was bestowed upon him. He used to go in seclusion in the cave of Hira where he used to worship (Allah alone) continuously for many days before his desire to see his family. He used to take with him the journey food for the stay and then come back to (his wife) Khadija to take his food…”[10]

Since the Prophet referred to these veridical dreams as the first form of Revelation, then he was a Prophet at the time (as a nabiyy in Arabic is literally one who receives revelations), and thus what he did at the time of revelation can be imitated by Muslims.

In any case, both Ahmad ibn Idris and Saleh al-Jaafari, as well as Sanusi, made very limited use of the “external khalwa”, preferring instead the “internal khalwa”, which is to be among the people, yet completely cut off by them in one’s heart, through constant Witnessing. Thus they would recommend certain litanies that they said produced the same effects as the khalwa but even better.

Another criticism of a Sufi practice from the Tariqa Muhammadiyya comes from Abd al-Aziz al-Dabbagh, the teacher of Ahmad ibn Idris’ own teacher al-Tazi. Al-Dabbagh was asked about the sufi hadra in which Sufis congregated to do dhikr and moved their heads in certain ways along with the dhikr. Al-Dabbagh replied that for every practice in Islam, we must ask ourselves if it was seen and confirmed as being done by the Prophet. If not, then by any of his successors or companions. If not, then by the generation that succeeded the companions, and if not, then those who succeeded the successors. If a practice is not found among any of the righteous people of these generations, then there is no good in it. The hadra, said al-Dabbagh, was not done either by the Prophet, or any of the four Caliphs, or any Companions, or Successors, or Successors of the Successors. It was only by the 4th generation of Muslims that this practice started, when some Sufi masters, by way of kashf, or unveiling, saw Angels doing dhikr, and some angels do dhikr with their entire bodies so that they move right and left, front and back. These awliya would lose themselves in Witnessing the Real, and because of a weakness in their states their bodies would move in imitation of the movement of the angels. Their followers only saw these external movements, which are the result of weakness in the states of these great awliya, and began imitating them and adding movements and instruments and occupied themselves with such externalities, especially after the death of these awliya. This then is how the hadra came about according to al-Dabbagh, and it brings no special benefit.

As for Ahmad ibn Idris, his view was slightly different. For him, the Prophet had clearly praised the people who come together in a circle for dhikr, and “dhikr gatherings include any group of people who have assembled, either around a religious scholar (alim) who reminds them about worshipping God Most High, or to declare ‘God is sublime’ or ‘There is no god but God’ or to recite the Qur’an.”[16] And since the Prophet of God has never said anything about the swaying back and forth in dhikr gatherings, or the coordinating of movements and voices, then it is certainly not forbidden, for everything about which the Quran and Sunna are silent is permissable. For how can someone be blamed or punished for doing something that no messenger has warned about? Of course, al-Dabbagh never denied their permissibility either. So while defending the dhikr gatherings and the movements involved in them Ahmad ibn Idris preffered a different type of dhikr gathering: the teaching of the Qur’an and Sunna. While he placed extreme importance on dhikr in the sense of supplications and prayers, as did the Messenger of Allah, he saw no need for Sufis to come together to do this when they can each do that in their spare time at home, if there was the option instead of meeting for the sake of sharing knowledge, which is superior.

One very famous hadith tells us that the Messenger of Allah once went to the mosque and saw two groups of people: one supplicating and praying to Allah, and another sitting together to learn the Qur’an. The Messenger (pbuh) praised both groups, saying that both are good, but that the ones “acquiring the understanding of religion and its knowledge, and are busy in teaching the ignorant, they are superior.” Then he said, “Verily I have been sent as a teacher”, and sat among them.[11]

Ibn Idris wanted to model himself after the Prophet in this, so that he spent all his public time teaching the Quran and Hadith. He devoted three daily sessions to teaching, and left the dhikr to be done in private at home. This was also modelled by shaikh Saleh al-Jaafari (d. 1995), in keeping with the way of Ahmad ibn Idris and the Prophet. He spent all his public hours teaching the Quran and Hadith, and set up schools that taught the Quran to hundreds, if not thousands, of students.

As for Ibn Idris’ direct successor al-Sanusi, he did have his followers come together for two weekly hadras, but they consisted mostly of reciting the Quran, followed by some silent dhikr, without any movements or dancing or music.

Another form of mutaaba’a is related to miracles. The awliya of Allah are granted certain karaamaat, which is proven in the Quran and the Sunna. The Ahlul Sunna wal-Jamaa’a are in agreement that whatever has been granted as a miracle to a Prophet may be granted as a karaama to a wali, even brining the dead to life. The only major scholar to disagree with this was Ibn Taymiyya who held that the karaamaat of the awliya can not be equal to the great miracles of the Prophets such as raising the dead, for example. In any case, Shams discouraged the displaying of any miracles that produced acts not done by the Prophet,

“…we’re Muhammadans. Someone wanted to fly above the Kaaba. Then he said, ‘No, mutaaba’a, is better.’ Praying on the roof of the Kaaba doesn’t have that.”[12]

In the same way, Ahmad ibn Idris discouraged paying any attention to the karamaat that God bestows upon the wali, saying that the greatest goal of the Sufi is to have perfect following of the Prophet and having the Quran as one’s ethos khuluq, as with the Prophet:

As for these favours, they are as shadows that come and go. They are of no importance on the path to God Most High, except for those whose status is imperfect. For the perfect, his good fortune lies in having the Koran as his ethos (khuluquhu) as had the Messenger of God, may God bless and grant him peace. [13]

There are many more examples of mutaaba’a and we cannot go through them all, but this was just an example of this concept which is the most important tenet of the Tariqa Muhammadiyya movements. Now let us end this with quotes from Muhammad ibn Ali al-Sanusi, Ibn Idris’ main successor,

And know that the way of the People [the Sufis], may God be pleased with them, is the following (ittibaa’) of the Prophet (pbuh) in the big and the small, and the more that one increases in following the more he increases in perfection, for full perfection according to them is the fullness of following, or else he is not one of them or is considered by them to be lacking, for all their actions are weighed by the scale of the Shari’ah so that all that is part of it they follow and all that is not part of it, they reject.[14]

[The Tariqa Muhammadiyya] is based on the mutaaba’a of the Sunna in one’s sayings and spiritual states, and on occupying oneself with the salaat on the Prophet at all times.[15]