Shaykh Sa`id Ramadan al-Bouti is a well-respected modern-day scholar and author who is most popularly known for his esteemed work Fiqh us-Seerah.
In my time in Damascus, I saw hundreds of people from every walk of life – mothers and shopkeepers, students and cab drivers, young and old – flock to his weekly classes at different masajid in the city to benefit from his knowledge. Known for his eloquence and deftness in language, one would often see foreign students sitting in his classes with dictionaries in hand, understanding only parts of his talks but fully absorbing how Arabic is spoken by someone with true mastery of it. Shaykh Bouti is also known for his sharp intellect and – at times – acerbic critique and comments. During one of his Friday sermons, when he noticed an attendee taking a picture of him on his cell phone, he interrupted his line of thought to rebuke him by saying, “O you who is worshipping your device! How is it that you use this time for other than remembering Allah?” A full biography of Shaykh Bouti is quoted below.
I wanted to share with you this short clip from a television interview with Shaykh Bouti for a few reasons. In the remarks he makes regarding modern-day tariqas (often translated as Sufi orders), we come to realize that people do not always easily fit into one designated ‘camp’ or another – pro-Sufi or anti-Sufi, Salafi or anti-Salafi, etc – and that we should not be quick to put people in such pre-constructed labels or boxes. We also learn that taking a critical stance on an issue does not necessarily mean that one finds it devoid of benefit. Most significantly, we see from this clip the intense importance of sincerity and being honest with ourselves in our relationship with Allah, especially for those who teach and call others to Islam.
May Allah bless our teachers and grant us the beautiful quality of sincerity in our efforts.
(Click on the “CC” button at the bottom right of the screen for the English captions.)
Biography of Shaykh Bouti1
Muhammad Sa`id ibn al-Mulla Muhammad Ramadan al-Bouti, born of Kurdish descent in 1350/1931 in Damascus. The son of one of the foremost Shafi’i scholars of his time, Mulla Ramadan, he studied Arabic grammar, logic, and philosophy with his father, as well as Shafi’i jurisprudence and fundamentals of Islamic law and faith, and after graduating from the al-Tawjih al-Islami Institute of Damascus, traveled to Cairo and took a degree from al-Azhar before returning to Syria, when he taught first in Homs and then in Damascus at the College of Sacred Law. He took a doctorate in principles of Islamic legal methodology from the University of Damascus in A.H. 1385, and was appointed as a professor there in the Faculty of Sacred Law and Arts. He has written many works, among them Fiqh al-sira [Sacred law inferred from the prophetic biography], and al-Lamadhhhabiyya akhtar bid’ah tuhaddidu al-shari’a al-Islamiyya [Not following a school of jurisprudence is the most dangerous innovation threatening Islamic Sacred law], while his most recent work, al-Salafiyya marhala zamaniyya mubaraka la madhhab Islami [The ‘way of the early Muslims’ was a blessed historical epoch, not an Islamic school of thought], has gained wide readership. He lives in Damascus, where he writes, teaches at the university, and gives well-attended public lectures at several mosques.
Edited Transcript of Interview
Interviewer: …Are they an accurate, pure, and untainted representation of Sufis and tassawuf?
Shaykh Bouti: As far as previous generations are concerned, it’s not possible for me to pass judgment on them because I did not live in those times. However, I have read biographies of people such as Shaykh Abdul Qadir al-Jilani, Shaykh Raslan al-Dimashqi, and Shaykh Ahmad al-Rifa`i. I swear by Allah, these people embodied prophethood, except that they did not receive divine revelation.
Interviewer: They embodied prophethood?
Sh. Bouti: Prophethood, minus divine revelation. In other words, if they had revelation, they would have been prophets. What I mean by that is that they represented, in their character, in their self-discipline, in their inner development, the life of God’s Messenger (peace be upon him). However, since divine revelation was not present in their case, [obviously] they were not prophets or messengers.
And for such people – the foundation of their journey to Allah was the two wings of the Divine Book and the Sunnah [Prophetic tradition], and nothing more. Abdul Qadir al-Jilani – may Allah sanctify his soul – when death drew close to him, his son, whose name was also Musa like your name, was sitting next to him. He gave him his parting advice. Among what he said to him was, “My son, fly to the Truth with the two wings of the Book and the Sunnah.” And he warned him from bid`ah [innovation].
So I don’t want to speak about such people [who came before us]. If I want to look for strict adherence to the proper methodology, it is in their lives that I will find such an adherence. If I want to look for opposition to bid`ah, it is in their lives that I will find opposition to bid’ah.
However, if you’re asking me about the tariqas of this age, I request that you show me a single tariqa from among them whose murshid [spiritual leader and advisor] possesses knowledge of Islamic law that is proficient and sufficient, who is aloof from this world and everything that it contains and is attached to it, and who possesses uprightness in his character. [If such a person were found] I will go tomorrow to become his murid [student]. But I have looked everywhere, and have not found such a murshid.
Interviewer: What is the reason for this, respected shaykh?
Sh. Bouti: Well, I don’t know. The nafs [lower self] is as it always has been – and I don’t absolve my own nafs from this – “Verily the nafs is ever commanding of evil.” The whole business of being a murshid is a dangerous business. It’s a slippery road. The murshid, when he tastes the pleasure of leading others, the pleasure of having a following… it’s something that is almost intoxicating. When he sees people kissing his hand day and night, and some almost willing to kiss his knees and his feet [out of awe and respect]…. when he sees things like this, he begins to believe and imagine that he has become someone great. And the nafs is a constant presence. If such a person has not spent long periods of time in self-reproach, reminding himself that he is nothing, and that he has done so many bad deeds etc, he will not be able to withstand these pressures.
Furthermore, when [this murshid] finds his murids bringing gifts for him, giving him money… Even if I didn’t have an appetite for wealth when it was first given to me, I begin to develop one. I begin to desire wealth. I begin to desire position. I begin to desire humility and deference from people because I am such an important and great human being. All of this is fitnah [trial and tribulation] for me… a fitnah… a fitnah.
And the person who does not fulfill the essential requirements for being a murshid, yet somehow becomes a murshid – this responsibility is dangerous for him, and dangerous for his murids.
Just to make what I’m saying clearer for you, my brother, let me present to you the opposite picture. Let us turn to the age of Shaykh Ahmad al-Rifa`i, may Allah sanctify his soul. Now that is an amazing man. He always used to say in his gatherings, in front of his murids, something that he would repeat again and again – that he was not a shaykh, and not a murshid, and warned against people looking at him in that light. He said in one of his gatherings – and this can be found in his book al-Burhan al-Muayyid – “May I be resurrected with Fir’aun and Hamman if I consider myself better than any one from among you.”
“I am not a shaykh. I am not a shaykh. My name is Little Ahmad, The Nothing. Or better yet, Nothing, The Nothing [a play on his name which literally means ‘the praised one, the high’]” – this is what (Sh. Ahmad ar-Rifa’i) used to say.
And he used to say, “The murshids whom Allah favors with karamaat [special abilities or occurrences] conceal them, just as a woman [naturally] conceals her menstruation from others.”
Compare between this and what we see from murshids of our times. Some of them extend their hands for people to kiss, to teach them [the practice of] kissing hands, and if one of them doesn’t kiss their hands they consider him negligent in his duties.
Interviewer: But is there something wrong with kissing the hand out of respect? There are many people who would even wish to kiss your hand, but you absolutely refuse?
Sh. Bouti: Yes… yes. Why do I refuse my dear brother?
Sh. Bouti [close to tears]: I swear by Allah, the One besides whom there is no other god, I feel embarrassed before Allah when someone from among the people kisses my hand. Because I know myself, and my Lord is One who conceals and veils the mistakes of His servants. He conceals so much… He conceals. I know my shortcomings. I know how much I’ve fallen short in my relationship with my Lord. Yet, He makes it so that the people only see the positive side of me, and He hides the rest from the eyes of people and keeps it something hidden between us.
So if some innocent person comes to me, who only sees my outer state and doesn’t know my inner state… it’s true that he doesn’t know, but doesn’t Allah know? How can I say to him, “Go ahead, kiss my hand, it’s ok, so that you may learn proper etiquette,” while Allah azza wajal [Mighty and Majestic] is watching me and saying, ‘Haven’t you done this? Haven’t you done that? Aren’t you the one who sees such and such [bad qualities] in your self?” This is what prevents me from allowing people to kiss my hand.
- Keller, Nuh Ha Mim. Reliance of the Traveler, (Beltsville, MD: Amana Publications, 1991), p.1079 ↩
Subhanalah, this was so humbling.
My allah grant Shaikh Bouti a long and healthy life from which the entire ummah can benefit- ameen!
subahan Allaah, such a blessed man. may Allaah accept his deeds and increase his ranks in the jannah for making us understand through this interview importance of humility and ikhlas in our relation to Allaah. ameen.
a beautiful man… wish someone would translate all his durus like this!!
SubhanAllah. Such a humble man indeed. May Allaah bless him, and grant all of us with the same humility and reward Syakh Bouti for delivering such a good example. Ameen,
as salaamu alaykum,
You can find the next part of the interview at this link, however it has not been translated: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMLWHLJSozA&feature=related
Dear Brother Suhaib,
In the absence of a murshid, what does Shaykh Muhammad Said Ramadan Al-Buti advise? What other advice have you heard from the great ulema? Even though murshids may not be like the old days neither are the students.
We can certainly benefit from the teachings and traditions of Tasawwuf in general. Can we also benefit from the well-known tariqas?
Dear Abu Adam,
You can benefit from sitting with any trues cholars whom you will know by the characteristics found in shaikh Buti. In my experience all true scholars are void of the partisan Islam mentality – they all have a balance which compliments their discipline. You complement your teacher or if you do not have one you still have the best example in reading the Sunnah/Seerah of the Prophet. It is clearly recorded and authenticated and not mysterious or secret it is simply the best character with the best divine rememberance with the best discipline.
as salaamu alaykum br Abu Adam,
I think that a very relevant quote here would be one by Sidi Ahmed Zarruq, rahimahullah, who said, basically, that there are no more ‘perfect’ teachers in our times, and advised that we seek out the good in people and overlook and step away from the rest.
This doesn’t discount the idea of having a relationship of humility and deference to people of knowledge, or the need for finding people who can be our spiritual advisers and counselors on this path, but simply that we should not attribute to one individual wholesale mastery of the deen.
An important point that many people overlook is that the jumhur [vast majority of the ulema] say that even someone who is a waliy – someone who has reached that high spiritual station and closeness with Allah (swt) – can make mistakes and sin. That does not take away from their station, but we have to acknowledge that no one is ma’sum [sinless] except the prophets, and to think that anyone is above reproach is problematic in my opinion, and Allah (swt) knows best.
I think that we should be open to intelligently assessing what we are taught, while of course being cautious to not breach proper adab and etiquette that we should show our teachers, and we should also be able to acknowledge that there may be benefit in more than one particular person, group or methodology.
Maybe, Shaykh Al-Buti is the murshid. What humility!
May Allah bless further this blessed sheikh.
He is still pro Tariqah of course.
Although, there are many blessed Murshids out there, incomparable to such Murshids as Al-Jilani, but there’s still much benefit in them
as salaamu alaykum,
Aussie Muslim, I do not want to get into a contentious debate on this issue, but one of the main reasons I chose to translate this clip is because it shows that we should not be so hasty in labeling people as “pro-” or “anti-” anything. I believe Sh. Bouti is simply pointing out some concerns and issues he has with modern day tariqas in that portion of the clip, and why he personally has not felt comfortable aligning himself with any tariqa of today. I hope that people can consider those concerns objectively and use them to make more informed decisions.
You can watch some of his famous lectures he is giving in Damascus, some of it translated in English like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpJZXANuWp4
I am enjoying in every single one of his lectures, articles, interviews, well basically everything from him and using this opportunity to thank sister Shazia for one of the best articles posted in this website :)))
May Allah make this man among those who have a Reckoning without an Accounting. Ameen!
What a pious and humble man. Mash’Allah
My only comment on the video is that I take Sheikh al-Bouti’s view on the dormancy of the ‘tariqas’ of today as a general and categorical statement of our ‘Ummah’s’ state of spirituality.
The reason being the conditions he mentioned for valid ‘Tarbiya’ under a Murad:
-Knowledge of Islamic Law that is proficient and sufficient
-‘Zuhd’ from the ‘dunya’ and everything connected to it
-uprightness in character
Can I apply such a statement to the relationship between Sheikh Yaqoubi and his ‘murids’?
The ‘majlis ‘of Sheikh Habib Umer in Tarim?
The ‘Shadhilli’ community in Kharabsheh?
This past Thursday I was in Houston listening to a Sheikh of the ‘Naqshbandi’ ‘silsilah’ say that the end result of concurrent spiritual states should be the revival of a particular ‘Sunnah’ in one’s life.
He also mentioned earlier that spiritual openings are “bananas and almonds”– worth nothing in place of the value of applying the Sacred Law.
We might not all have ‘ijaza’ to read ‘Ibn Arabi, but ‘Tazqia al-nafs’ is a must. The formality of ‘tariqa’ in one’s ‘tarbiya’ is a means, not and end.
And end of which that would ideally liken one outwardly to the character of Sheikh al-Bouti, may Allah preserve him and sanctify his Secret.
May ALLAh bless Sheikh Buti and bless him with a long life, however i wholheartedly disagree with the argument that there are no true murshids left in the world today. The fact is this was just one intervew, according to some Sheikh Bouti has retracted his comments made in this interview. Unfortunatley Suhaib Webb and co seem to be pushing forward anything that seemingly disproves Sufism, especially if said by traditional ulema such as Sheikh Bouti. Comparing modern day tariqas to church sects and now pushing the argument that there are no true murshids left in the world is a dangerous game. I think this wesite should stick to topics they understand and leave what they obviously know nothing about.
Perhaps you should take the time to have a better understanding of who you are talking to? Assumptions of ignorance are signs of a weak sense of self worth and unbecoming, as told to me by a sheikh. Reason being as such assumptions, since they are not based on any sound proof, you don’t know anyone here personally, are usually based on an inflated sense of self worth or, as our sheikhs like to call, nuffs.
I myself have an ijaza through a number sheikh of different turuq and would encourage you to do something, that most folks don’t have the love to tell you,
close your mouth, have some adab, and study.
Salam Shaykh Suhaib,
can you please elaborate on the Ijaza that you have on the Tariqa? And how long you’ve kept company of the particular shaykh to getting that Ijazah?
Someone referred me to this comment, and i was surprised, maybe you mean ijaza in fiqh or something, or is it Ijazah in a Tariqa?
Wa ‘alaykumus Salama
Thanks for this talk.
I agree that things like this should be posted after careful thought. Why dont we ask Shaykh Ramadan al-Bouti about Shaykh `Abdur Rahman Shaghouri, whose majalis he himself would attend, or Shaykh `Abdullah Siraj al-Din, one the greatest scholars Syria has ever seen, or Shaykh Ibrahim al-Ya`qoubi, or Mufti Taqi Usmani, his father, and numerous others. All sufi murshids.
The only individuals who would say that the tariqa is not necessary and that a person can sit with any righteous scholar is someone who has not really understood the very goal of tasawwuf. It is not simply about takhliya, or removing the bad traits, but tahliya, filling the soul with the nur and the sirr that was placed in the heart of Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), which his Companions (Allah be well-pleased with them) took. This is what made their recitation of a single verse of the Qur’an more weighty than our recitation of the whole Qur’an plenty times over. This state, or hal, is what the Shaykh is there for.
In the end, there is no need to “rethink” anything. This has been a system in place for hundreds of years, the very system Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir Jilani followed, that Shaykh Ahmad al-Rifa`i followed, and numerous others. Read their statements about the place of the murshid and kissing hands will be the last thing people take issue with.
In the end, when one tastes the gnosis of Allah in a true sense, tasting leadership or anything else doesnt effect one. There are many Sufi scholars alive who have engulfed themselves in `ilm and dhikr. I know scholars who dedicate all their non-teaching waking hours to doing dhikr of Allah and reciting the Qur’an. So, the only thing we need to rethink is about how to be as fair as possible, and generalizations simply do not do justice to the issue. Because I or you have not found anyone, none exist. They exist, it is just that Allah has not given us the tawfiq to find them. So, it is our own lowly state that prevents us from seeing such people.
Student, if you are truly as you say, a “student,” it would behoove you to behave like one, as the foremost quality of any true student is showing respect to people of knowledge.
You said: “Why dont we ask Shaykh Ramadan al-Bouti about Shaykh `Abdur Rahman Shaghouri, whose majalis he himself would attend, or Shaykh `Abdullah Siraj al-Din, one the greatest scholars Syria has ever seen, or Shaykh Ibrahim al-Ya`qoubi, or Mufti Taqi Usmani, his father, and numerous others. All sufi murshids.”
I say: Go ahead, ask him if you like. As for those of us who strive to imbue the character of true students, we refuse to question the esteemed shaykh in such a manner. His words are clear, and speak for themselves: “I have looked everywhere, and have not found such a murshid”
You said: “They exist, it is just that Allah has not given us the tawfiq to find them. So, it is our own lowly state that prevents us from seeing such people.”
I say: Mind you, the one who confessed that he has not found such people is not me or you; it is Shaykh Bouti! It is mind boggling to see that a “student” would dare attribute lack of “tawfiq” and a “lowly state” to a shaykh as esteemed as Dr. Bouti! A`udhu billah! Is this how the modern day tariqas teache us to behave towards people of knowledge?
Read these words of Idris Kamal from DP and reflect:
“Shaikh Al-Bouti is a living giant in Islamic scholarship. He has staunchly defended the Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jama’a from the methodologically challenged. His magnum opus, Fiqh al-Seerah, is a masterpiece even in the translated form. He has faced much hardship in his life defending this faith in the blessed land of Shaam.
Who the bloody hell am I sitting in the comfort of my home, behind the anonymity of my laptop, without an atom’s worth of knowledge, experience or worthwhile contribution to this faith, to comment on (let alone defend or attack) Shaikh al-Bouti for his remarks.
May Allah protect me from my own evil and vile self.”
Allahumma arina al-haqqa haqqan warzuqna ittabaa`ah,
Wa arina al-batila batilan warzuqna ijtinabah.
Our teachers constantly warned us of “false universals.” Here’s a good example:
“The only individuals who would say that the tariqa is not necessary and that a person can sit with any righteous scholar is someone who has not really understood the very goal of tasawwuf. ”
Well, this was the advice of al-Allamah al-Shattibi, Sh. Abdul Fatah Abu Ghuda, the Muhadith of Tanta, Sheikh ‘Ismawi, who I was blessed to read with, and other scholars that I’ve studied with.
Student, do your self a favor and live up to that name. Running your mouth will get you into trouble with Allah, and perhaps cause the mashaykh to leave you?
Perhaps folks will say, “Suhaib is harsh.” It is not harshness, it is love for this brother and his like. T’asub needs to be hit sometimes in order to shake folks out of this cult that has them.
as salaamu alaykum Brother Hassan,
Thank you for sharing your honest feelings with us about this topic. I’d like to request from you, and from any other readers who are upset about this post, to please set aside your feelings for a few moments, and consider my next words objectively. We don’t know each other, but the sanctity of this connection between us, as brother and sister in Islam, should compel us to at the very least try to understand one another even if we cannot agree. The Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wa salam) said, in one of my favorite hadiths that I often use to remind myself, “Calmness and patient deliberation is from Allah, while hastiness is from Shaytan.” May Allah make this exchange a fruitful one, in which we benefit one another, and not one that harms us spiritually.
Firstly my intention and reason for posting this clip: It was not, by any means, to “disprove Sufism”, but to show that there is room within Sufism/Tassawuf for critical thinking and critique. The fact that a traditionalist, in the deepest meaning of that word (as is evident by his writings and teachings), who is further a scholar of the highest calibre. has these concerns about the negative trends in turuq today, shows that there is space for this in our tradition, or that there should be. Criticism comes in many forms. In some cases, it is denigrating, insulting or dismissive; but in others it can be a positive thing, and a means for setting things aright.
Another reason I wanted to share this clip was to show those who have objections or concerns about modern-day turuq that they do not necessarily have to feel ostracized from the tradition of Tassawuf entirely. The teachings of tassawuf, the path of tazkiyat un-nafs, showing honor and reverence for the great spiritual masters of our history … these can be embraced and imbibed even by one who has feelings of disquiet about today’s tariqas and/or their murshids. True, the tariqa and the process of tazkiya are connected, but one does not necessarily co-opt the other.
Secondly, I’m puzzled by the notion that Sh. Bouti has retracted his comments made in this interview, and that they somehow do not reflect his true stance on this issue. From what I know, and have read, seen, and heard from Sh. Bouti, hafidhahullah, this interview is actually a very accurate portrayal of his feelings about tariqas in our times, and is by no means an isolated comment taken out of context. In many of his works, including Hadha Walidiy, his opinion on these matters is clear. and I have not seen anything published nor in audio or video format from Sh. Bouti retracting these statements. The original website from which this interview was taken says that it was done in 2009.
Unless I can be shown, in a very clear manner, that his long-standing, passionate, and widely-acknowledged and known opinion on these matters has somehow changed in the last year, I will stand by my translation of this interview.
Lastly, If someone doubts my intentions, that is fine, as Allah is a witness over everything. but may I respectfully take this opportunity to encourage others to introspection. It is much easier to dismiss Sh. Bouti’s statements outright, and mark my intentions as devious, then to ponder over his words deeply, and weigh them into our own personal decisions.
I am not asking of anything from you or any of the viewers of this clip, except to think about what Sh. Bouti, hafidhahullah, has said. As someone we love and honor for his knowledge and his sidq with Allah, I think he deserves the respect of having his words taken seriously.
Allah knows best, and I ask that He forgives us for our shortcomings and mistakes, increase us in understanding of His deen, guide us in our spiritual endeavors, and make us people who love what He loves and love those whom He loves. Ameen.
I really do not wish to draw out a discussion on this issue, as I think my stance has been made clear, and that our time and energy can better be used elsewhere. If anyone feels the need they can get my contact information via the website.
Jazakum Allah Khair sister for your effort to translate and bring this interview to people who otherwise may not have been able to hear this or understand it. I can honestly say that time and time again, I have found many balanced views on this site and congratulate you and the the rest of the authors on this site for the work you have done. I ask Allah to help you all have the energy and ability to continue doing what you are doing. It is refreshing to see this view that sits in the middle between the two extremes I have seen in our society.
Sister Shazia: I dont think anyone is getting upset or doubting anyone else’s intentions. Shaykh Bouti made a statement and people are disagreeing with his statements.
Firstly, there is no doubt that Shaykh Bouti is a great scholar. He is one of the greatest thinkers of our times and a man of piety, intelligence, and love for the Ummah. However, at the same time this does not entail that everything he says or opines should be accepted, or that it be viewed as a positive critique. The strength of the critique lies in the strength of the scholar and his method of critique.
Largely, Shaykh Bouti is expressing a personal opinion, not making an `ilmi statement. So, at the get go, we cannot discuss his statements in a strictly `ilmi manner. He is taking about an understanding of the what he perceives as the current state (waqi`) of tasawwuf.
In this area, namely aspects that are built on personal experiences, generalizations should automatically ring alarm bells since a generalization assumes that the one critiquing has come across most, if not all, of what he is criticizing. This, to begin with, is claiming something far-fetched.
The issue is not Shaykh Bouti saying that tasawwuf has degraded in our time, but this very aspect of generalization I speak about above. Stating that “I have looked everywhere, and have not found such a murshid” proves very little, and, in essence, it is a dangerous statement because it casts doubts about pious, righteous, learned Sufi scholars in our time.
To state that there are corrupt paths in our time is different to saying that there is exists no qualified murshid in our time. These are two very different claims, which is why I consider the former to be a positive critique, as it addresses a real issue without overly generalizing it, and the latter to be a negative one, since it generalizes based on weak evidence – namely “personal experience” – and casts doubt in the hearts of people regarding those who may well be sound murshids. It is throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Personally, at this point, I would ask Shaykh Bouti about specific people: Mufti Taqi Usmani, Mufti Rafi Usmani, Shaykh `Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri, Shaykh Mustafa Turkmani, Shaykh Habib `Umar. Are these the people that dont have knowledge of Islamic Law and have not divorced themselves from the dunya?
What does a Tariqa mean?
Imam Zaid Shakir answered this question in a way that should end all forms of debate. Here is an excerpt from his “Answer to a Salafi brother” article:
“Tariqas are institutional development that occurs late in Islamic history. Like all institutions introduced for the intended benefit of the Muslims i.e. orphanages, Qur’an schools, universities, etc. Tariqas can be in conformity with the dictates of teh divine law and therefore, religiously praiseworthy; or they can contravene the divine law, and therefore, be religiously condemnable. This is the nature of all significant human institutions…A question closely associated with the one under discussion would be, ‘Is it religiously manadatory for a Muslim to belong to a Tariqa, or most specifically to take a Sheikh as a religious guide?’ This is a question that has occupied many scholars during the latter period of Islam…Many scholars say that a person does not have to have a Sheikh, or implicitly belong to a Tariqa, to mature spiritually…They hold the idea of taking a Sheikh as a spiritual guide to a blameworthy innovation. Others opine that if that person is unable to make spiritual progress on his own he must find a guide who can assist him…They see the the assistance of a Sheikh as being absolutely essential for the attainment of one of the great objectives of the divine law. Both sides usher their proofs and advance their arguments. One of the most powerful arguments for having a Sheikh is advanced by Ibn ‘Abbad Ar-Rhundi in response to Imam Ash-Shatibi’s inquiry, and one of the most eloquent arguments against the incumbency of having a Sheikh is made by Sheikh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah in his introduction to Imam Al-Muhasibi’s, Risala Al-Mustarshideen.”
Imam Zaid concludes: “I say that if a person is able to mature spiritually and be upright in his religion without a formal affiliation to a Tariqa or a Sheikh, in his case that is closer to the intent and spirit of the divine law. However, if one is unable to do so and can find a Tariqa and a Sheikh who are committed to the Qur’an, Sunnah and adhere strictly to the divin law, in his case involvement with the Tariqa and the following the guidance of the Sheikh are closer to the intent and spirit of the divine law. Surely Allah knows best.”
published on his website New Islamic Directions a few years ago
I certainly appreciate the definition provided by our dear Imam, Brother and Sheikh, Zaid Shakir. I have been around different turuq since the early days of my Islam and, although I’m nothing compared to him, I don’t agree with the words of al-Allamah Sheikh al-Bouti.
I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly with different turuq, just as I have seen with most groups. I had a number of teachers who were of the Naqshabandi Order and I was very happy to meet the noble scholar and gentleman, Dr. Ibrahim Kurdi the head of that group here in Egypt. In Malaysia I was exposed to the halqa of dhikr and felt a profound sense of spiritual rest that could not be found save with those who are truly seeking Allah. At the same time, I’ve had a number of profound teachers, here in al-Azhar, who, although encouraging me to read the books of the early sufis, warned me, as Sh. al-Buti does, of the modern turuq and their leadership.
Perhaps one way to look at the turuq is through the lens of the objectives of shari’ah; weighing the benefits and harms involved in joining a particular order. Doing so would enable a person to separate his/her self from any emotional issues and simply try, as best as he/she could, to protect his/her faith and family.
It is said that Sufism is to the heart what nahu and mantiq are to the tongue and the intellect. How one chooses to perfect that path is a deeply personal choice that involves a number of important issues. Thinking critically being one of the most important.
I meant this as no disrespect to Sh. al-Bouti or to Sr. Shazia. Disagreeing is very different than disrespect. I hope my words kept in line with the former?
Salamualaikom, Dear Sheikh,
Two years ago, I spent 5 months traveling through the middle east and Alhamdulilah learned a lot on my trip. I was blessed with visiting the 3 holy cities and felt Allah was teaching me every step of the way.
On my trip, I ended up in Jordan with a group led by an American convert who claimed to learn from a scholar from Damascus having a chain that linked back to the Prophet (SWS) that followed the Shadily order…this was my first encounter with people who called them selves sufis. On first arriving, it seemed beautiful that so many westerners would move to one area to learn their deen. However, after spending 3 weeks with them I walked away extremely confused feeling stricken in my deen.
The one thing I found with this group that scared me the most is that when it came to learning from their teacher, they would not use their own minds to think about what they were learning, period. Im not saying we should go around defying scholars, but I do believe that we should think about what we are doing and look for evidence to justify our actions.
They made me feel like everything I learned in the west was a “Saudi” propogated form of islam that was false, that without a teacher to follow, I could never be a true muslim, and that I should stay with them, for if I left, I would be leaving my deen.
They met at times throughout the week and read from a book that intermingled poetry and Quran which just did not feel right to me.
I must admit, my knowledge is very limited when it comes to the deen and I am just a regular guy trying to find the right path, but I also feel that some of these groups can be dangerous. I think that Sheikh Bouti is trying to point out groups like the one I encountered which are on the rise it seems like.
In my opinion, we need to find scholars to learn from, but we should always think about everything we do and never be involved in any form of “worship” that does not feel right in our heart. I think we should search for evidence in what we do and should try our best to do what our beloved Nabi (SWS) did.
I appreciate any thoughts or advice in this matter,
By the way, I am planning to go to Cairo for the summer inshaAllah, do you have any recommendations on where one can go to learn?
It is heart-warming to hear your words. Agreeing on all matters in not necessary (even when they’re posted on your very own website). We have different perspectives and opinions. This is inevitable.
I feel the value of Shaykh Al-Buti’s words (and sister Shazia’s translation) is that for those people who had negative experiences with Sufi Tariqas, they won’t abandon Taswwuf altogether but will simply separate their negative experiences from the tradition and science (Ilm al-suluk) as a whole.
Salam wa rahmutullah,
I do not often post on this website (or many others for that matter), but felt moved to after reading these comments.
I think we all have to accept that some ways are not for everyone. Everyone has a tariqah, even those who say they do not have one. Some people’s ‘tariqah’ is simply the path of ‘ilm, and the suhba of the ‘ulama. If that works for them (and only they can truly answer that for themselves) then all well and good. Other people’s tariqah is the baya’ with the shaykh — and thats a very special and particular type of relationship. Its a relationship that does differ from tariqah to tariqah, and shaykh to shaykh, and murid to murid.
There are, obviously, murshids that do have ‘ilm. Shaykh Ali Gomaa, for example, is a Shadhuli shaykh, as well as a paramount authority in ‘ilm. Habib Zayn bin Sumayt is a Ba ‘Alawi shaykh, as well as having earnt the nickname of the ‘Imam Shafi’i of the age’. So, there are options. But both of those shaykhs might not be appropriate for everyone.
There are also different styles of tariqah. The Sanusi way, for example, is one where the relationship between shaykh and murid is very, very different than what the Naqshbandi-Haqqani way might be. Some tariqahs, like the Ba’Alawis, have different ‘levels’ at which one might be ‘attached’.
And inevitably, if one does choose to take baya’, one should be aware of how monumentous a decision it is. Many mashaykh advise taking baya’ bi tabbarukan (for blessings, rather than a deep committment) to ‘try it out’ before settling on a single teacher — Imam al Haddad was one such luminary.
It is, at the end, a matter of ‘taste’, whether one goes with that shaykh or this shayk — or indeed, none at all. The most important thing, I would think, is for us not to be judgemental of those who choose one way or another, and to be very honest about one’s state is with Allah as a result of the decision — and thats what I interpret to be the basis of Imam Zaid’s words mentioned above.
And Allah knows best. May we all reach the Goal, ameen.
Praise be to Allah Most High who has created many paths to Him. If tariqa iworks for you, Alhamdulillah. If it is a different way, Alhamdulillah.
At the end of the day we are heading towards our graves. When we are in the grave, it will not matter wehether so and so shaykh is for or against tariqas. May the the best person reach the highest levels of Paradise. If you are one of those people, don’t forget us on the Day of Judgement.
Your brother in Islam
Shaykh Suhaib: Thank you for your nasiha. However, you being a senior student of knowledge know well that while maintaining the utmost respect for our teachers, we dont necessarily have to agree with them on everything.
I am not bringing these things from my own bag, but from what authorities in tasawwuf have stated for years, authorities who lived far earlier than Imam Shatibi and Shaykh `Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda (may Allah be well pleased with them all). Looking at the statements of these recognized authorities in Sufism leaves no doubt that they saw treading the path without a guide as dangerous and improper. Hakim al-Umma Ashraf `Ali Thanawi goes as far as to state that even if we see someone having reached the greatest of heights in spirituality on his own, which he deems extremely rare in itself, we firmly believe it was due to the tawajjuh and du`a of a Shaykh on the path.
There should be no problem with people not wanting to join a spiritual path, but let us not be hasty in attacking others for a lack of adab when the issue was merely something to be discussed in an `ilmi manner, and `ilmi discussions give rise to differences.
As for what Sidi Seeker said: May Allah bless you. I posted my second post before your reply was even approved and I hope you realize that I have the utmost respect for Shaykh Bouti and consider him a giant amongst giants. This does not change what was said above.
In the end, I will leave you with what Shaykh Abu’l `Abbas al-Mursi said, the greatest student of Imam Abu’l Hasan al-Shadhili:
“He who has not had a shaykh on this path will not be able to make his neighbor happy. Even were he endowed with great intelligence and a submissive soul, such a man, if he is satisfied with what the master of erudition (shayh al-ta`lîm) teaches him, he will not reach the perfection of him who places himself in the hands of a master educator (shayh al-murabbî). The soul is always covered with thick veils, strongly inclined to associate [illusory realities with God], and it is inevitably left with the stains of futility (ru`ûnât). This state cannot totally cease unless one places oneself in the hands of a third person, and if one places oneself under the person’s authority and power. Such is also the case for those for whom God has reserved special graces, whom He has taken and attracted in His Presence: those individuals will not attain the function of spiritual guide (mashyaha), despite how far they have progressed.”
The ideas presented in your post contradict a long held consensus that a sheikh of a tariqa or tarbiya is not Wajib. What scholars did consider wajib was having a sheikh of Ilm.
al-Shatibi, who died a little over a hundred years after Abu al-Abbas (ra) held that notion and al-Sh’arani mentioned in Tanbih al-Mughtanin an Ijm’a that one must master the outer before he delves into the inner. Ibn ‘Ashir notes this in his famous matan, starting with creed, fiqh and finally tawawwuf and this was also the tartib found Waghlisisis’s text and echoed by Sidi Zaruq who said, “The faqih is free of tasawwuf, but the sufi is never free of fiqh.”
While I agree with you and disagree with Sh. al-Bouti, I find that quoting early scholars to support such claims is futile for many of the reasons al-Buti mentions: the caliber of the turuq are not like they were, and the leaders of these turuq do not have the ilm of the early scholars of the “way.” In light of that, the quote above must be understood in a time when the number of noble scholars were many, corruption was less and the hearts were clean. Sadly, today, in many places, this is simply not the case. Thus, for this age, quoting its scholars is a stronger hujjah, since they are best equipped to understand its realities. Those you mention (ra) were great scholars of their age, but ours is different- those who possess its language are much more qualified to speak to it. Thus, the scholars of a given age are a hujjah against those of another.
I appreciate your time and important advice, I love you for Allah, but I differ with you on a few issues.
May Allah make our hearts together, even if our minds are split over some things.
May Allah reward you and us all.
Just as a clarification, I never stated that having a Shaykh is “wajib” unconditionally. It is only so for specific goals, which the scholars themselves outlined. There are levels of spiritual realization that one can attain on their own but beyond which one would require a qualified guide. So, the statements of the scholars on the issue of taking a shaykh applies to attaining direct experiential gnosis (ma`rifa) of God and its “dhawq”, the aspect of “tahliya”. For this, one would most definitely require a spiritual path.
Quoting early scholars is very relevant because these are the people who define our usul and manhaj. The fact that these earlier scholars ranked much higher in their degrees than us makes their statements on how to reach the peaks of spirituality even more pertinent. If they needed a shaykh despite their loftiness, what of us?
So, there is a difference between stating that the caliber is no longer present and between saying that the usul that these earlier scholars outlined can be left or is incorrect. The aspect of a shaykh being necessary to attain higher levels of realization relates to the latter, it is a path and a methodology outlined by the authorities in the field, in which the statement of a contemporary who negates the need for a shaykh (not simply an absence of caliber) is not given much weight.
Anyway, I think I have said all i would have liked.
If I said anything wrong or trespassed any boundaries, please forgive me.
Your brother in faith
Thank you for your clarification. A point that should be made is that the turuq did not come from the age of the early scholars or the age in which the usol were established. al-Shattabi mentions this as well as Sidi Zaruq. Thus, according to your position; we should revert to the earlier scholars way, and that would take us to the earliest generations who were busy learning ilm in the general sense and not occupied with turuq as noted by Sh. Makhlouf. Thus, beloved, your claim is not for you, but against you.
Good point, but every science had a developmental phase after which it crystallized into a systematized structure. Just because, for example, the earlier scholars were less than strict in their adherence to a school of law does not mean that a lay person can reject the schools, or that one’s learning would be “as effective” without adherence to one of them.
You can find quotes from as early as the 3rd Century Hijri about the place of the Shaykh in one’s spiritual progress, from the likes of Junayd al-Baghdadi and his students, like al-Zajjaji (d. 348). These were the people laying down the usul of tasawwuf.
Excellent point! However, they could not have laid down the Usol. It is agreed upon that the Usol must be based on something Qat’i. The Usol for Tasawwuf were laid down by revelation and articulated by latter generations. Those latter scholars laid down what they felt were articulations of Usol, their ijtihad, which makes differing with them, by the scholars, fair came.
Dr. Ramadan al-Bouti is the Scholar of the Scholars, he has perfected his character as good as possible. When he meets the real sufi shaykhs of today, then he has already surpassed them both in Ilm and in the Science of Tassawuf. We the common people are in need of these real Sufi shaykhs but al-bouti.
His father is considered to have been one of the Abdals of Shaam and that is sufficient in it self for Dr. Ramadan, he is not in need of a Sufi shaykh!
As posted somewhere else:
According to a moderator of the Rayaheen forums, sidi Ayman ash-Shafi`i, Sh. al-Buti took back his position in a letter sent to Shaykh Ahmed FathuLlah Jami. He also seems to have changed his positions on the Rifa`i karamaat. In addition he has no contact with his website…
So according to the moderator at the rayaheen forums:
1. Shaykh al-Buti took back his position of there not existing a true murshid in this day and age in a letter to Shaykh Ahmed FathuLlah Jami. He is the shadhili shaykh Ahmed FathuLlah Jami student of Shaykh Abdal Qadir `Isa
2. Shaykh al-Buti previously questioned the authenticity of one of the rifa`i karamaat (see the page) but did not deny its possibilty. Now he has acknoweledged it as being authentic.
The Shaykh has softened his opinions on the sufiyyah. Habib `Ali holds Sh. al-Buti in great respect. Check the al-Morid series where Habib introduces Shaykh al-Buti and the latter speaks about Khushu` in Salah.
as salaamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
In response to Point #1:
The post you are referring to says: “A number of years ago he [referring to Sh. Bouti] sent a letter to Sh. Ahmad Fathullah Jami in which he retracted his previous statement (about there being no more perfect teachers [murshid kaamil] in our times).”
I believe that there may be some mistake or misunderstanding here for the following reasons:
1.) The clip that I translated was taken from an interview with Sh. Bouti, hafidhahullah, from Ramadan 2009 as mentioned by the original poster here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITRkzTaftrU&feature=related That, and the evident signs of his age (may Allah preserve him), which can be heard in the tone of the shaykh’s voice and in his appearance, indicates to me that this is a very recent clip.
How can it be that Sh. Bouti retracted such statements in a letter a number of years ago, but then went on to repeat and reiterate those very same statements in an interview done just last year?
2.) There are a number of avenues by which the shaykh’s changed opinion could be made known to his students and his large following. For example, via his website (or a new one if he has disassociated himself with the old one as you mentioned), through the website Naseem al-Sham where both he and his son answer fatawa and where his lectures are available in transcript form, through the many classes that he teaches, through his books and other publications, through his audio lectures that are on CD, etc. If his long-standing and well-known opinion on this matter had changed, it seems unlikely to me that none of these means would have been utilized to make it known to the people.
3.) We do not know of the exact content of the letter that has been mentioned, as it was a personal communication between two people. Therefore I do not feel comfortable extracting these types of conclusions when we do not have access to the original material.
As for Point #2: In the clip that was posted, Sh. Bouti actually mentions that specific story as an example of the karamaat of righteous awliyaa of old, so it seems that he accepts it (though I do not know if he had a different opinion in the past). Please refer to the original Arabic to hear that portion, though the dialogue at that point is unclear (with the interviewer and the shaykh talking at the same time).
As a final caveat, I am not in any way personally connected to the shaykh other than as someone who hopes to benefit from his knowledge, so I cannot say anything with absolute certainty, and it does happen that scholars change their opinions, perspective, etc. However, from the information we have before us, I feel more confident in standing by Sh. Bouti’s words in the interview, and what is known to be a well-established and long-standing opinion of his, than the mere mention of a private letter, or other such information that has not been confirmed.
As to Sh. Habib Ali holding Sh. Bouti in high respect, I would venture to say that pretty much *everyone*, with few exceptions, has respect for Sh. Bouti due to his dedication to learning and teaching, his devotion, and his high level of scholarship, and that does not necessarily imply anything in particular about his opinion on this issue. That was actually my very point in translating and sharing this piece – that someone of Sh. Bouti’s caliber, who is so well-respected by the people of Tassawuf, can have a critical opinion of some elements of Sufism and that does not take away from his standing or rank.
To repeat a point I made earlier: I would love if people just took the time to stop and consider the points Sh. Bouti made, and the larger lesson which I was trying to establish – which is that people can be critical of Tassawuf while still having love and honor for it – instead of simply looking for ways ‘around it’ so to speak.
A point that I missed earlier: from reading the thread on that discussion board, it seems that there was a famous story of a karamah that occurred with Sh. Rifa’i that Sh. Bouti believed was munqati’ and later considered authentic. His critique was of a particular case, that most likely had to do with the isnad of the narration. That is not the same as what is being extrapolated and implied- that he was at one time ‘hard’ or skeptical of all karamaat and then came to accepted them as his position towards tassawuf ‘softened’.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Ithink we should not lose sleep over what the esteemed Sheikh said. The shuyuukh have been saying this and similar statements for a long time. Shibli said the same over athousand years ago, Zaruuq said the same too. But we know that after them came some of the greatest Sufis.
In March I attended, at the invitation of a friend, a Suhba Sheikh Nuh Keller had with his mureeds here in Dubai. I am not a mureed of Sheikh Nuh Keller, but I can tell you what I heard those 3 days, anyone who wants to listen to a Murshid should listen to Shaykh Nuh Keller. He was so uncompromising when it comes to aqida and sharia to the extent that he said in an answer to a question that if one is not ‘a 100 percenter’ in sharia then one will not make any progress in this path.
So, Alhamdulilah, there are Murshids. Alahamdulilah. He is so Kariim. He will not let this Ummah without true and sincere scholars in every dimension of our religion .
N.B: This is the first time I post, so please forgive me if I transgressed any rules.
I disagree very staunchly with Dr. Sa`id Ramadan al-Bouti, may ALlah bless him and preserve him. However, besides mentioning my “disagreement” in this matter, I will not delve into this matter with you for three reasons
a) my opinion doesn’t matter
b) he’s elder and to disrespect him would be bad adab
c) my opinion will cause outrage and even possible offense
I hope I haven’t angered anyone. If I have, then please accept my apologies and my respectful regards.
Your ignorant, unworthy, and arrogant brother
Muhammad A.Y. Qadiri
That’s my dad’s sheikh.:) Great piece sister, jazaki Allah khair!
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Salam to Suhaib webb and admin, I like this article, but can I request this to be translated to Bahasa Malaysia(Malay Language), many Malaysians have misconceptions on Tariqas and Tasawuf (some may say, Its totally wrong, some totally follow the blindly).I want to share this but many fellow Malaysians are not very good in English.
I can try to help for translation, but I wish the translated article of Malay is published under authorisation of Imam Suhaib Webb(Whom a respected imam in Malaysia) that will be better and people will believe this more.
I believe through this translation will benefit more.