Seeking Knowledge

The Superiority of knowledge and Imam al-Shatibi’s Question (may Allah have mercy upon him)

By Sh. Abdul Fatah Abu Ghuda (may Allah have mercy upon him) | Translated by Suhaib Webb

Commentary on Risalatul Mustarshiden of Imam Al-Muhasibi (may Allah have mercy upon him)

The Superiority of knowledge

Imam Al-Shatibi (may Allah have mercy on him) wrote a letter to Abi ‘Abdillah Muhammad bin ‘Ubad Al-Nafzi (may Allah have mercy on him) the preacher of Jam’I Al-Qayrawin (the main mosque and center of learning in Qayrawin) in the city of Fez and the sheikh of the people of tazkiyah of his day. The letter contained an important question surrounding an issue that arose in Granada and served as a cause of discussion and disagreement amongst the scholars.

The Question: from al-Shatibi (may Allah have mercy upon him)

“Is it incumbent upon the one traversing the spiritual path to Allah to take a sheikh of a tariqah and tarbiyah and to travel upon his hands? Or is it allowable to take this path by seeking knowledge and taking from the people of knowledge without having a sheikh of a tariqah?”

The Answer: (Two Types of Teachers)

“For the one traversing the path towards Allah there are two types of sheikhs:

1) Sheikhs of Tariqahs and Tarbiyah (Sufi Path)
2) Sheikhs of knowledge who do not specify a program of tarbiyah and spiritual training

The Sheikh of Tarbiyah is not a necessity for every seeker. However, the one who needs such a sheikh is he who has a limited intellect and disobedient soul. As for the one who possesses an ample intellect and submissive character, then it is not incumbent on him to take such a sheikh. However, what is an obligation on every seeker is to take a sheikh who will teach him and educate him

The sheikh of tarbiyah is incumbent upon those mentioned earlier. This is due to the thick veils which cover their souls. Thus, they could not be left alone to raise them (the veils), nor correct them without the aide of such a sheikh who can train and nurture them. Their likeness is as one who suffers from a delicate aliment that only an intelligent physician could cure with a powerful remedy.

As for those who are free from the obligation to take a sheikh of tarbiyah it is due to their sound intellects and obedient souls. These things (qualities) free them from such a sheikh. Their actions are made sound by the knowledge they learn and the things they take from the people of knowledge and understanding, and this person, by Allah’s will, will reach (his goal). Thus, there is no need to fear for him from any harm on his way (to Allah swt).

Historical Background

The reliance on a sheikh of tarbiyah is something that came from the latter scholars of tasawuf, and the reliance on a person of knowledge (for one’s training) was the way of the first from amongst them (the early scholars). This is apparent from their writings and compilations. For example, the works of al-Muhasibi (may Allah have mercy upon him) and Abu Talib al-Maki (may Allah have mercy upon him) and others show that they did not ascribe to a sheikh of tarbiyah the way the latter one’s did. They (the earlier people of tazkiyah) would mention the fundamentals and branches of knowledge especially Sheikh Abu Talib, however, their absence of ascribing to a certain sheikh is a proof that such a sheikh was not incumbent, nor a condition, for those seeking Allah in their time.

The Way of The First Generations: Knowledge and Brotherhood

And this way of traveling to Allah, this was the program of the majority and represents the way of the salaf and the earlier generations. This is established by the fact that it has not been transmitted that they used to stick to a sheikh of tarbiyah, submit themselves to him and serve as his apprentice and student. However, theirs was only a time of the acquisition of knowledge and reform by spending time in good companionship and fraternal relations. Due to this, they experienced an amazing development which appeared on their inner and outer states. Thus, they traveled the lands and strove to meet with the friends of Allah, the scholars and those engrossed in servitude to the Divine.

The Superiority of Knowledge

As for the books of the people of tasawuf then they must be examined by the people of knowledge because their benefit is exclusively based on the trusted view that the author (of such books) is from the people of knowledge and cognizant (of Allah may He be exalted). And such an opinion can only arise from the people of knowledge, which one has entrusted his affairs to. Thus, if what appears beneficial from these texts agrees with the shari’ah, then it is sufficient. However, if that is not they case, then there is no way out except with the sheikh of knowledge and understanding who can clarify things. Thus, he (the seeker) has no other choice then to rely on a sheikh of knowledge.”

End of the Letter

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  • Assalam Aleikum,

    It is mentioned that:
    ‘as for those who are free from the obligation to take a sheikh of tarbiyah it is due to their sound intellects and obedient souls.’

    What does sound intellect and obedient souls in this context mean?

    in this day and age, Is it recommended that one who wants to take on the path of tazkiyah to give bai’ya to a shiekh of tazkiyah who will then guide him/her?

    Jazak Allah Kheir


    Jazak Allah kheir

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