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Shaykh al-Alawî - A kind word in response to those who reject sufism - TRANSLATOR’S INTRODUCTION
English - Articles written
Écrit par Ahmad al-Alawî   
Mercredi, 14 Septembre 1921 13:40
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The objective of this thesis is the translation of an original defence of Sufī practice titled al-Risālah al-Qawl al-Ma`rūf fī al-Radd `alā man Ankara al-Tasawwuf (A Kind Word in Response to those who Reject Sufism) by the ShaykhAḥmad ibn Mustafā al-`Alāwī . By translating this text it is hoped to affirm the principle that Sufism is the result of ijtihād (legal reasoning) rather than bid`ah (innovation) and that it therefore forms part of Sunnah.


This chapter provides our introduction to the translated text. Section One reviews classical works in defence of the Sufis, as well as secondary sources relied upon by the translator. Section Two provides a description of the life and works of ShaykhAhmad ibn Mustafā al-`Alāwī . Section three discusses the legacy of the Shaykh, including the contemporary state of the `Alawiyah Tarīqah . Section Four provides a short analysis of some of the written works of the Shaykh. Section Five evaluates the methodology of the Shaykh as a method of ijtihād. Section Six introduces the translated text that follows this chapter. Section Seven outlines the translation strategy that is followed. It also highlights unique problems encountered during translation, such as words with unique meanings and words with nuances and meanings different to that implied by the author.


Section One: Literary works in defence of the Sufis

Classical works

Sufism has been defined by Junayd (may Allāh be pleased with him), ‘that God makes thee die to thyself and resurrected in Him’ (Eaton, 1985:218). Sufism is equated with sincerity. Sufism has been described as dhawqī 1 (tasting and experiencing). Gai Eaton says that ‘Sufism is not so much to keep the truth in mind as to experience it existentially, in other words to taste it.’ (1985: 218). According to him the idea of personal tasting in Sufism is what has great appeal to the modern man. Thus, contemporary Muslims and non-Muslims are drawn to Sufism for this tasting. Yet, there remain fierce opponents to Sufism. One of the most contentious issues surrounding those who oppose Sufism are the criticisms from critics like the salafis 2 who say that Islam is but only the Book of God and the Sunnah of God’s Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him).


The Shaykhal-`Alāwī’s thoughts reflects those of the early Sūfī writers like Abū Nasr al-Sarrāj al-Tūsī (died 988 c.e.) 3 , Abū Talīb al-Makki (died 996 c.e) in his Food for the Hearts (Qūt al-Qulūb) and al-Sulamī (died 1021 c.e) which was followed by the work of al-Qushayri (died 1074 c.e). The latter`s work is considered the culmination of early Sufism literature (The Muslim Almanac, 1996). Al-Sarrāj considers the Gabriel narration as the fountainhead for explaining the exoteric and esoteric dimensions of the Islam. He also portrays the Sufis as being those scholars who apply the injunctions of the Qur’ān and Sunnah both exoterically in the form of the law and esoterically in the form of the purification of the self. Although the practicing of the law contributes to the purification of the self through acts of worship like fasting,salāh (prayer),h ajj (annual pilgrimage to Makkah), etc. it is the sincerity of this worship that is the domain of Sufism. He even defends the statements of the Sufis and their practices and tries to give positive interpretations to their statements and practices. Similarly, the Shaykhal-`Alāwī's defence of the Sufis is aimed at explaining the meanings of certain Sufi statements and practices for the uninitiated. This indicates that Sufism has its own technical terms and conceptual landscape and that many criticisms are levelled against it, because people are not familiar with this terminology or cannot understand it since they cannot fathom these concepts. This is similar to the lay person, who tries to understand the intricate details of a medical condition that specialist doctors have spent years trying to understand and treat, or it is like trying to explain to the blind person the colour red. Can the understanding of the two groups be the same?


Another great scholar who defended Sufism as the spiritual path of Islam is the famous scholar al-Ghazāli (died 1111). Al-Ghazāli's major contribution lies in religion, philosophy and Sufism. Al-Ghazāli also encountered in his time a number of Muslim philosophers who had been following and developing several viewpoints of Greek philosophy which had lead to conflict with several Islamic teachings. He also found that the movement of Sufism was being tainted by charlatans. Based on his unquestionable scholarship and personal mystical experience, al-Ghazāli sought to rectify these trends, both in philosophy and Sufism. In mysticism, he clarified Sufism and re-established the authority of the orthodox Sunni perspective. He stressed the importance of genuine Sufism, which he maintained was the path to attain to the Absolute Truth. His acceptance of Sufism, as a scholar whose research was profoundly extensive and demonstrated in his books, stands as a testament to the validity of the Sufi path as a means of the realization of Ih sān (excellence of worship). Al-Ghazāli’s acceptance of Sufism came after his extenbsive study and research of the doctrines of theology and philosophy and these were not able to satisfy his desire for the ultimate Truth. As he says about himself,


‘When I had finished my examination of these doctrines I applied myself to the study of Sufism. I saw that in order to understand it thoroughly one must combine theory with practice. The aim which the Sufis set before them is as follows: To free the soul from the tyrannical yoke of the passions, to deliver it from its wrong inclinations and evil instincts, in order that in the purified heart there should only remain room for Allāh and for the invocation of His Holy Name. I saw that Sufism consists in experiences rather than in definitions, and that what I was lacking belonged to the domain, not of instruction, but of ecstasy and initiation.’ (al-Ghazāli, 2004) 4.


According to Abū Nasr al-Sarrāj al-Tūsī, it is because of the spiritual and metaphysical nature of this knowledge that there is sure to be misconceptions and criticism. The Shaykhal-`Alāwī also says in al-Risālah, (1986: 9),


One cannot deny the existence of critics and adversaries among the Ahl al-Sunnah 5 of every age who would oppose certain individual Sufis. As for rejecting the doctrine of Sufism in essence, the Ahl al-Sunnah have never displayed such a view. Sufism is considered within the framework of orthodox religion, it has received the approval of ijmā` (consensus of the community).’


Imāmal-Qushayrī in his book al-Risālah al-Qushayriyyah writes in defence of Sufism. He explains the principles of Sufism and its origin within the Qur’ān and Sunnah. His main purpose was to clarify Sufism for those who blindly oppose it without knowing the reality of its principles. He makes clear the errors which have appeared from the pseudo Sufis and addresses the Shat ah āt [ecstatic expressions in a state of spiritual drunkenness]. Al-Qushayrī reminds us that the blind opposition to the doctrine is a problem that exists with every school of thought and doctrine (al-Qushayrī, 1990).


Al-Qushayri also intended to make people understand that the Sufis are following one and the same Truth and that the true people of this path follow the method of the Qur’ān and Sunnah of the Messenger of Allāh (blessings and peace be upon him). They have not deviated from it, not even one iota. They are upon the path of the pious ancestors in their faith, belief and conduct. He also addresses the people of Sufism explaining to them the true path and the deviation and falsehood that has entered it. He shows them the right path so that they do not go astray, nor be led astray. The editors of the al-Risālah al-Qushariyyah in their introduction to the al-Risālah says,


Sufism is not something new added to the Qur’ān and Sunnah of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him). Nay, it incorporates a very intrinsic aspect of the religion, which was neglected as a result of the fuqahā`s (jurists) pre-occupation with fiqh (Islamic Law) after the era of the al-Salaf al- Sālih(the pious ancestors). Through their pre-occupation with all branches of fiqh they neglected the moral and spiritual aspect, which was practiced by the Prophet’s (blessings and peace be upon him) companions and the pious successors (may Allāh be pleased with them all) who came after them. If those people who met the salaf in the first centuries, had followed their guidance in the way of education, conduct and understanding, the matter would never have reverted to the Muslims finding a school of Sufism, separated from the schools of the fuqahā’ and mutakallimūn (jurists and theologians). The first generation among the salaf followed Islam holistically, with one education in all its branches. They had as much fiqh as purification of the soul and God consciousness. They created a balance between the exoteric and the esoteric sciences (al-Qushayrī, 1990: 20).


Secondary sources

Martin Lings writes (1991: 88), ‘in Islam the existence of a large number of very limited individuals who imagine that the whole religion is within their grasp and that what lies outside the scope of their own meagre understanding is necessarily outside the Islam itself. The author of ‘The Mirror’ is a striking example of the extreme exoterism that any Muslim mystic is liable to be confronted with. One of his tirades ends off with the words, ‘Islam is nothing other than the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah of His Messenger’. To this Shaykhal-`Alāwī replied,


‘Who told you that the Sufis say that Islam is based on any principles other than those? They say, however, that in the Book of Allāh there is a doctrine which is beyond most men’s attainment’ (al-`Alāwi, 1986:52)


Elsewhere the Shaykhal-`Alāwī also alludes to this when he says, ‘In knowing the outside of the Book only, he is as one who knows only the shell of the kernel.’ This is similar to al-Ghazāli’s comments of the adversaries of Sufism,


‘But behind those who believe comes a crowd of ignorant people who deny the reality of Sufism, hear discourses on it with incredulous irony and treat as charlatans those who profess it. To this ignorant crowd the following verse applies, ‘There are those among them who come to listen to thee and when they leave thee ask of those who have received knowledge. What has he just said?’ [Sūrah Muh ammad :16] These are they whose hearts Allāh has sealed up with blindness and who only follow their passions. Among the number of convictions which I owe to the practice of the Sufi rule is the knowledge of the true nature of inspiration (ilhām).’ (al-Ghazāli, Deliverance from Error, 2004: 9).


Shaykh `Addah bin Tūnis, successor and closest companion of Shaykhal-`Alāwī writes in (Tanbīh al-Qurrā) 6 on Sufism, its origin and relation to Islam clarifying certain misconceptions around it, ‘Among the gnostics (`Arifun 7 ) are those who have reached their goal (of gnosis) in their journey, they have the highest degree of human perfection after Prophethood’ (BinTunis, 1983:12).


In my review of the main journals such as Muslim World and others I have found that there is not much written about the al-Risālah of the Shaykhal-`Alāwi and his methodology in defence of Sufism. My aim is to translate al-Risālah in order to highlight the methodology of the Shaykhal-`Alāwi as well as adding to the literature on the defence of Sufism.


Section Two: The Life of Shaykh Aḥmad ibn Mustafā al-`Alāwī

Ahmad ibn Mustafā bin 'Alīwah Abū al-`Abbās al-`Alāwī , was born in Mustaghānim, Algeria, in 1291 a.h./1874 c.e. He had two sisters. Before his birth his mother dreamed that the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) handed her a flower. The Shaykh ’s father saw this as a sign that they would have a pious son. The Shaykh never went to school and learnt the Qur’an from his father, memorising most of it. The Shaykh took up cobbling as a profession and later turned to managing a shop. His father died when he was sixteen.


The Shaykh al-`Alāwī was a Sufi, Mālikī scholar, faqīh (jurist), Quranic exegete and poet. He was also the Shaykh and renewer of the Shādhilī-Darqāwi Tarīqah , from which he founded the `Alawiyah order that bears his name. The French orientalist Emile Dermenghem characterised the Shaykhal-`Alāwi as ‘one of the most celebrated mystic Shaykhs of our time’ (Esposito, 1995:71). He was born during a time of concerted French colonisation. Within that context Sufism was being attacked by the Salafiyyah Movement, which makes his spiritual renewal even more remarkable. His first encounter with Sufis was the Īsāwi Tarīqah, but he went on to take attachment to the celebrated ShaykhMuh ammad al-Būzīdī (died 1909).


Within the lifetime of his Shaykh he was appointed muqaddam (representative of the Shaykh) by the age of twenty five with authority to initiate others into the order. The Shaykh was actively involved in the affairs of the day, reproving those Algerians who had become naturalised French citizens, and expressed his strong disapproval of westernisation, secularisation and modernisation. He was also critical of the Salafiyyah movement and in his weekly newspaper, called al-Balāgh; he defended Sufism against its critics. This provided the social context that motivated the Shaykh to defend Sufism. Al-Balāgh was also a platform to reach out to the Muslim masses and to give general advice to the heads of the zāwiyahs 8 to practice what they preach.


His teaching stressed the threefold nature of the religion (dīn) as mentioned in the Gabrielh adīth 9 , Islam, represented by one's inward and outward submission to the rules of Sacred Law; true faith (imān); and the perfection of faith (ih sān ), in the knowledge of Allāh. He authored works in each of these spheres, though his most important legacy is the spiritual way he founded, which emphasised knowledge of God (ma`rifah) and the invocation (dhikr) of the Supreme Name (of Allāh). The true measure of a spiritual way, however, does not lie in books produced by writers, in the wrong or in the right, but in the hearts it opens to knowledge of divine realities conveyed by prophetic revelation. In the ShaykhAhmadal-`Alāwi, whose order became widespread in the Muslim world, we find a true spiritual master.


His Tarīqah spread to Syria, Yemen, England, France, South Africa and many other Muslim lands and continues to flourish (Godlas, 2004; Weismann, 2004). The Shaykh is certainly stands as one of the greatest Sūfī masters of Islamic history. The Shaykh wrote more than fifteen works and some of his letters and notes have been compiled into a sizable book. His diwān (Book of Sufi Poems) has also been published several times and remains widely read with the gatherings of dhikr of the `Alāwiyah Tarīqah . He died in Mustaghānim in 1353 / 1934 (Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1971:700-701; Esposito, 1995:71; Lings, 1991)


The Shaykh al-`Alāwī was humble and self-effacing and has deeply affected those around him. The Shaykh’s successor described him as being very wise, compassionate and dynamic. Family bonds were very important to the Shaykh. C aring for the poor and orphans played an important part of his personal life, with the Shaykh’s zāwiyah in Mustaghānim always keeping its doors open to newcomers. When the Shaykh became ill, he gave all that he owned as a religious bequest (wasiyyah) in the Path of Allāh, his family, those who have devoted themselves to learning, and the poor and the needy. These acts were with the intention that his reward remains eternally with Allāh alone and as gratitude to Allāh. This is based upon the prophetic narrations from Muslim and al-Bukhāri in which the Messenger of Allāh (blessings and peace be upon him) said, ‘…when a person dies, all his deeds are severed except three, a perpetual charity, beneficial knowledge and a pious child praying for him.’


Section Three: The Legacy of Shaykh Aḥmad ibn Mustafā al-`Alāwī.

After the Shaykhal-`Alāwi died he was succeeded by ShaykhSidi `AddahBinTunis, who had been close to the Shaykh in his lifetime. He continued the legacy of his master until he died in 1952. During the lifetime of Shaykhal-`Alāwi the Tariqah had spread across the Muslim lands and continued to flourish under his successor. The ShaykhSidi `Addah kept alive the spiritual legacy of his master. He republished his books, revived the newspaper the Shaykh had run during his lifetime and continued to serve the initiates of the tariqah. Many of the muqaddams of the Shaykhal-`Alawi renewed their allegiance with ShaykhSidi `Addah, like ShaykhMuh ammadal-Hāshimi 10 in Syria, ShaykhMuh ammadal-Fayturi in Lybia and others. After Shaykh `Addah’s demise, his son SidiMuh ammadMahdi binTunis, even though he was not `ārif 11 succeeded him as the official head of the zāwiyah until his death in 1975. He maintained and followed the teachings of his father and the Shaykhal-`Alawi and did not deviate from their path. He suffered a lot of persecution at the hands of the authorities and eventually went into exile in France.


However, it was the `ArifSidi Ahmad Badr al-Din al-`Alāwi bin Murād and one time murid of Shaykhal-`Alāwi who was the true successor of the ShaykhSidi `Addah. It was under the guidance of the Shaykh that he attained to the ma`rifah of Allāh at an early age. He then received the spiritual training under the guidance of the Murshid Shaykh Sidi `Addah. He remained in obscurity for many years. It was only after 1975 that Sidi Ahmad Badr al-Din bin Murād openly initiated adherents into the path until his return to Allah on the 13 th of April 2005. During his time as Shaykh the Tarīqah became even more global and many initiates from countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, USA, Switzerland, France, Germany, Kashmir, Algeria, Egypt, South Africa, Lybia and Yemen and other countries joined the path. Currently, Sidi Rāshid al-Mansouri, based in Oran, Algeria is the head of the `Alāwiyah Tarīqah . Since the time of the demise of the Shaykhal-`Alāwi many offshoots have flourished throughout the world all claiming to represent the Shaykhal-`Alāwi. 12

Section Four: Some of the Written Works of the Shaykh al-`Alāwi

In order to further elucidate the thought of the Shaykhal-`Alawī it is important to give a brief overview of some of his books pertaining to Sufism.


Al-Minah al-Qudusiyyah 13

In the first introduction of the book (al-Minah al-Qudusiyyah ), Shaykhal-`Alāwī speaks about the distinction of the Sufi’s knowledge compared to the other sciences. He discusses the source of esoteric knowledge (al-‘ilm al-bātin) compared to the exoteric knowledge (al-`ilm al-dhāhir). Shaykhal-`Alāwī says in (al-Minah , 1935: 9), 14


‘…every science falls into dispute, conflict and differences amongst its masters except for this knowledge which is free from conflict and distortion because there is no application of independent reason in the knowledge of the Sufis. Unlike discursive knowledge which is obtained through dalīl (proof), burhān (evidence) and transmission, the knowledge of the Sufis is obtained through kashf (observation) and `ayān (witnessing), nothing else. This is why conflict and differences do not fall into it, since information is not like direct observation.’


Al-Mawād al-Ghaythiyyah

The other major work of the Shaykhal-`Alāwī is the al-Mawād al-Ghaythiyyah. This work is a commentary on the aphorisms of the ShaykhAbū Madyan (died 1177) who was a great Sufi master of his time, who was also known as the pole (qutub) of the West. The Shaykh's commentary is arranged into topics concerning the path towards the purification of the self (nafs). 15


Al-Bahr al-Masjūr fi Tafsīr al-Qur’ān bi Mahd al-Nur

The thought of Shaykhal-‘Alāwī is clearly expressed in his partial exegesis of the Holy Qur’ān. The method in which Shaykhal-‘Alāwī has approached the tafsīr of the Qur’ān is unique and phenomenal. Shaykhal-‘Alāwī interprets the Qur’ān from four different perspectives. First, (tafsīr) the general and literal meaning of the verse and then the laws (ah kām ) derived from it (istinbāt ). Then Shaykhal-‘Alāwī mentions the esoteric and more specific meaning of the verse which he refers to as allegory (al-ishāra). And finally the most specific and esoteric interpretation comprehended only by the most elite few amongst the scholars, which he calls the Tongue of the Spirit (lisān al-rūh). He compares his approach to tafsīr as four rivers flowing into one ocean. Each group of people know their drinking place.


For the Shaykh, the Qur’ān has many different perspectives and is inexhaustible as attested to by the Prophetic narration, which says, ‘The Qur’ān will never seize to manifest its marvels.’ In the Prophetic narration reported by Abū Dardā that the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said, ‘Never will your understanding be complete until you see the Qur’ān as having many interpretations’.


However, what the Shaykhal`Alāwi considers most important about the Book of Allāh is that we should see it as if it is fresh, coming to us now from the Divine Presence. The Qur`ān has a specific message and education for every age. One should not confine the Qur’ān only to the purpose of revelation or the person about whom the verse was revealed. The lesson to be taken from the Qur’ān is the generality of the phrase, not the specificity of cause.


In terms of understanding the Qur`ān, Shaykhal-`Alāwī is extremely critical about the phrase, which says, ‘The first generation has not left anything for the latter generation’ (al-Bah ral-Masjur, vol., 1:14), as if they are saying that the first generations have explained everything regarding the tafsīr of the Qur’ān and nothing new can be added. He continues, ‘…this is the most harmful and destructive statement. If such is the case then where is our share of contemplating the meaning of the Qur’ān when Allāh asks, ‘Do they not contemplate the Qur’ān?’ [SurāhMuh ammad : 24].


Shaykhal-`Alāwī further argues (al-`Alāwī, 1989, vol., 1: 14),

‘Why would Allāh ask us to ponder over the Qur’ān except that it contains treasures that are hidden? In every age there will be those who will hold steadfast to the truth and never would Allāh abandon the beloved followers of His Prophet’s community. The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said, ‘Verily Allāh will continue to cultivate this religion [with men] whom He will put into His service with obedience [who will serve Him obediently]’.


In his tafsīrShaykhal-`Alāwī clearly demonstrates his profound understanding of the principles of tafsīr and the sciences of Qur’ān.


Al-Ism al-Mufrad (Concerning the Permissibility of Using the Unique Name of Allāh in Dhikr)

The al-Ism al-Mufradis one of many defences that the Shaykh has made of the practices of the Sufis. In al-Ism al-Mufrad the Shaykh defends the Sufi practice of invocating the name of Allāh without the invocative particle. He argues that the grammarians fail to understand the esoteric dimensions of the Qur’ānic verses and at the level of ih sān the Sufis have made ijtihād and found it permissible to express the name of Allāh without the invocative particle since God is nearer to you than your jugular vein.


Section Five: Methodology of the Shaykh al-`Alāwī

A review of the literature written by the Shaykh al-`Alāwi and those who wrote about him, shows that the Shaykh uses ijtihād as his method of defending the Sufis and their practices. A profile of the Shaykh will illustrate his orientation, style, thinking and worldview, which is characterised by its disconcerting unexpectedness and his readiness to meet his critics on their own ground.


Whenever the Shaykh answered a critic he would draw his answers from within the worldview of the recipient of the answer. Thus, when he spoke to the scholars he would draw their attention to the Prophetic traditions and Islamic jurisprudence. He was not afraid to make an analogy with a concept within any other science that the recipient may have had knowledge about. So if the recipient knew grammar he would use the laws of grammar in his answer making an analogy with grammatical observations. He would even make analogies to everyday occurrences like the fact that butter is produced by churning the milk referring to theh aqīqah (hidden Truth) within the Sharī`ah (Law). Some times he would quote authorities who were acceptable to his critics such as al-Ghazālī, Muh ammad ibn `Umar al-Rāzi (died 1209) , Ibn `Abd al-Barr (died 1070) and other scholars. The Shaykh would counter an argument by saying that the contention of the critic goes against the statements and the opinions of the great scholars who are recognised authorities. He also sought the repose within the law to answer his critics for example in reply to the critic who was against the repetition of the name of Allāh he said,


‘There is proof in the noble law of the permissibility of repetition of the name of Allāh, and there is nothing to justify the prohibition of repeating it.’ (al-Ism al-Mufrad )


In ending his answers, the Shaykh always noted that the view espoused was meant for him – [meaning his ijtihād] – within the matter and he would not force the critic to follow his view, so the critic should not force him to follow his. This is in accordance to the usulī principle that a mujtahid is not bound to the ijtihād of another but only to his own ijtihād.


Thus, the first part of this section presents a brief introduction and explanation of the concept of ijtihād, focussing on the definition history and the issues surrounding its application. The second part focuses on illustrating from the Shaykh's books and articles how he uses the ijtihād to defend the Sufis and their practices. In his criticisms of the opponents of Sufism, he also blames them for not exercising ijtihād appropriately.


Ijtihād: a methodology for dealing with the revealed texts

The Arabic word for ijtihād literally means ‘an effort or an exercise to arrive at one’s own judgement’ and in its widest sense, it means ‘the use of human reason in the elaboration and explanation of the shariah law. Ijtihād, therefore, is an exercise of one’s reason to arrive at a logical conclusion on a legal issue done by the jurists to indicate the effectiveness of a legal precept in Islam (Doi, 1984: 78).


According to Kamali (1991), ijtihād is the most important source of Islamic law next to the Qur’ān and Sunnah. The main difference between ijtihad and the revealed sources of the law, lies in the fact that ijtihād is a continuous process of development, whereas the divine revelation and Prophetic legislation discontinued upon the demise of the Prophet. In this sense ijtihād continues to be ‘the main instrument of interpreting the divine message and relating it to the changing conditions of the Muslim community in it’s aspirations to attain justice, salvation and truth’ (Kamali, 1991: 366).


Kamali (1991: 378-379) speaks on the scope of ijtihād and says, ‘the majority of `ulamā’ have held the view that once a person has fulfilled the necessary conditions of ijtihād he is qualified to practice it in all areas of the Sharī`ah’. In modern times, in view of the sheer bulk of information and the more rapid pace of its growth, specialisation in any major area of knowledge would seem to hold the key to originality and creative ijtihad. The broad scope and divisibility of ijtihād would thus seem to be in greater harmony with the conditions of research in modern times. The classification of mujtahidūn (legal experts) into various categories such as mujtahidūn specialising in a particular school of thought or on particular issues, takes for granted the idea that ijtihad is divisable and not restricted to a scholar (Kamali, 1991).


Ijtihād is validated by the Qur’ān, Sunnah and the dictates of reason (`aql). Of the first two, the Sunnah is more specific in validating ijtihād. The Prophetic narration reported by Mu’ādh bin Jabal as al-Ghazāli points out, provides a clear authority for ijtihād. It is reported that the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) asked Mu`ādh upon the latter's departure as judge to Yemen , questions in answer to which Mu`ādh told the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) that he would resort to his own ijtihād in the event that he failed to find guidance in the Qur’ān and the Sunnah and the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) was pleased with this reply (Abū Dawūd cited by Hasan, 1994).


Ibn Taymiyyah is regarded as one of the scholars who emphasized the importance of ijtihād and went to great pains to defend the mujtahidun and their ijtihād (2004). Ibn Taymiyyah (vol. 19) says about ijtihād,


‘The analytic mujtahid whether he is an Imām, ruler, scholar, investigator or muftī [the one with the authority to pass legal verdicts in the religion of Islam] if he makes ijtihād and seeks the proofs while being Allāh fearing to the best of his ability then this is what Allāh has made him responsible to fulfil towards Him. He is then considered obedient to Allāh, deserving reward, if he fears Him to the best of His ability, and Allāh will certainly not punish him.’


This text confirms that ijtihād is not confined to the fuqahā’ (Muslim jurists), but is open to all who attempt to understand and apply the revealed law in all spheres of life.


Shaykh al-`Alawi’s comments on Bid`ah (innovation)

Shaykhal-Alāwi’s definition of bid`ah is objective and impartial. Many Muslim scholars see bid`ah as contradicting the tradition (Sunnah) of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) and confined to a blameworthy act. In the al-Risālah, the Shaykhal-`Alāwi makes it clear that innovations can be classified under the five principles in Islamic Jurisprudence. These are the following: wujūb (obligatory), nadab (desired), ibāh ah (permissibility), karāhah (offensive) andh arām (unlawful). It is therefore unfair to pass judgement on a particular action as bid`ah, without first having the complete knowledge of bid’ah. Shaykhal-`Alāwi says,


‘One ought to first conceive the meaning of a thing and then pass judgement and not to speak about Allāh religion with one’s opinion , for you might end up commanding with the wrong and forbidding from the right’ (al-Risālah, 1986:44).


Shaykhal-`Alāwi argues that the author of the ‘The Mirror’ does not distinguish between what is bid`ah mustah sanah (recommended innovation) and a bid`ah that is unlawful, especially if it relates to recommended actions. Thereafter, Shaykhal-`Alāwi (p.43) asks, ‘… so do you see in all this anything contradictory to the religion? Is it not a main support of the religion?’ Shaykhal-`Alāwi hereby indicates that the concept of bid`ah should not be applied on every action that was not specifically done in the time of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), but rather that the intention behind the action should be considered. This is so, especially if the innovation is beneficial, like the compilation of the Qur`ān and the circles of dhikr.


In his al-Risālah the Shaykhal-`Alāwi also argues that even if some people consider Sufism as bid`ah, is it not correct to say it is a bid`ah mustah sanah (good innovation)’ which is also called Sunnah, taken from the saying of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him). ‘Whoever institutes a good practice (Sunnah) will receive its reward and the reward of the one who implements it until the day of judgement.’ The Shaykhal-`Alāwi commenting on the above prophetic narration says (al-Risālah, 1986: 44),


‘Let us consider carefully how bid`ah is called Sunnah. It is also known that the assembling for the Ramad ān night prayers in the mosques has been innovated by the second Khalīfah `Umar’s remark about it was, “What a good innovation!” and such an example does not need any explanation considering that it falls under worship (`ibādah)’.


Thus, the Shaykh shows us that Sufism is a Sunnah since it is the product of ijtihād and therefore not a bid`ah.


Shaykh al-`Alawi and ijtihād

In terms of classification of the mujtahidun within Usul al-Fiqh (principles of jurisprudence) the least we can say is that the Shaykhal-`Alawi was a mujtahīd fi al-masā-il (an expert in legal matters of religion), even though he has fulfilled the necessary conditions of ijtihād he was qualified to practice it in all areas of the Law and `ibādāt (devotional matters). The Shaykh was a faqīh in the MalikīMadhhāb and also a mujtahīd on particular issues. An example of the Shaykh’s ijtihād is the application of istinbāt (inference) in his method of tafsīr since an important aspect of ijtihād is the interpretation of quranic texts and applying it to new challenges. By making istinbāt on almost every verse, the Shaykh demonstrates his application of ijtihād.


Another example of the Shaykh’s ijtihād is his ijtihād into the modes of dhikr, proving it to be part of the Sunnah and not an innovation. The Shaykhal-`Alāwi responded to one of the opponents of the Sufis, who condemned the Sufis specification of dhikr to certain times and confining dhikr to a specific number. The Shaykh's opponent argues that it is a forbidden innovation, saying that he cannot find any proof or any source in the law to prove the permissibility of such types of dhikr. The Shaykh invites his opponent to re-examine these objections that he had within the framework of ijtihād. The Shaykhal-`Alāwī reminds him that he has contravened one of the main conditions for exercising ijtihād and that is not making a thorough research of the matter in the Qur’ān and Sunnah texts. The Shaykh then brings his attention to the clear, authentic and unambiguous textual evidence from the Qur’ān and Sunnah. In response to his first objection – the specification of times for dhikr - the Shaykhal-`Alāwī mentions the verse in which Allāh says to His Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), ‘… and celebrate the name of thy Lord in the morning and evening and prostrate thyself for part of the night and glorify Him a long night through.' [76: 25-26]. Thereafter the Shaykhal-`Alāwi says,


‘If you just had the one verse at your disposal it would have sufficed since He (Allāh) has specified these two times for dhikr and the Sunnah is most certainly replete with what is similar to that.’ (A`thab al-Manāhil, 1993: 123-124)


In his tafsīr the Shaykhal-`Alāwi also uses ijtihād to extrapolate insights and derive laws from the verses of the Qur’ān. First, the Shaykh gives the tafsīr and then he gives the instinbāt which is more specific. I will furnish an example, which is pertinent to the practices of the Sufis. The Shaykh notes, from the verse ‘Remember Me and I shall remember you’ [2: 153] we know that the slave is commanded by Allāh to make the dhikr and the request of making it in a group (jamā`ah) is preferred because of the plural pronoun in the commanding verb (udhkurū). From this verse we know that in all our worshipping there is nothing more nobler than dhikr, because the result of it is, that Allāh remembers His slave, and this special characteristic is not found in any of the other pious deeds.


To illustrate the Shaykh's profound use of ijtihād, I quote an abridged version of the response of the Shaykh al-`Alawi to another Sufi antagonist who asked him about the meaning of the verse ‘… today I have perfected your religion …’ [Sūrah al-Mā-idah: 3] The Shaykh answered after a brief introduction saying, (A`thab al-Manāhil, 1993: 23-28)


‘I see myself under obligation dear brother, with the mentioning of a matter which you always refer to in your correspondence, like some of the modern writers and you have also brought this up with the intention of using it as evidence against the innovations of the Sufis which has no connection to the religion at all. And your greatest support in this is the verse in which Allāh says, ‘…today I have perfected your religion and completed My favour upon you, and I am pleased with Islam as your religion’ (Sūrah al-Mā-idah: 3). Your implication with this is that whatever was not considered religion at that time cannot be considered as part of religion afterwards. This is something beautiful, if it’s ruling eradicates the Sufis innovations of appointed adhkār (invocations) and other things …but it is farfetched for it to be correct, except if you eradicate all the ijtihādāt (judgments) of the mujtahidūn (jurists) and the sayings of the true scholars and that would undoubtedly be a decisive decision [cancelling out] the rest of the laws of Sharī`ah established through ijtihād. The ruling of it would be that it is not of the religion, the cause being that it only came after the perfection of the religion and the completion of His favour upon the Muslims according to the explicit understanding of the verse. There is no doubt that this article of yours has brought about a belief which not even a deviant sect of Islam would profess, let alone the people who follow the Sunnah practice to which you belong.’ (A`thab al-Manāhil, 1993: 23-28)


The Shaykh is arguing that the meaning of this verse cannot limit the scope of ijtihād for otherwise we would not know how to correctly interpret quranic verses and Prophetic traditions without knowing the circumstances surrounding its revelation. It shows his profound understanding of the methodology of ijtihād since he illustrates in his arguments that the writer erred in his interpretation of the verse, by not following the principles of ijtihād in his interpretation of the verse.


Section Six: A Kind Word to Those Who Reject Sufism

This work of the Shaykh is the focus of my thesis. It is one of the Shaykh’s earlier works, which he wrote in 1920. The book is one of the many responses that the Shaykh wrote in defence of Sufism, but stands out as the most comprehensive. It is written in prose with almost 120 - A5 size pages. This work was published during the lifetime of the Shaykhal-`Alāwi in 1920 (Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1971) since the Shaykh wrote it in the form of a letter to ShaykhSidi `Uthmānibnal-Makkī who criticized the Sufis. The manuscripts of the Shaykh’s works are stored in Mustaghānim in the zāwiyah built by the Shaykh. The descendents of the ShaykhSidi `Adda have published the work three times and this translation will be based on the third edition printed in 1986.


Extracts of the al-Risālah al-Qawl al-Ma`rūf fī al-Radd `alā man Ankara al-Tasawwuf have been translated. Martin Lings (1991) mentions some extracts from the book of al-Risālah in his publication A Sufi Saint of theTwentieth Century. He translates these extracts to provide evidence of the Shaykh’s depth of the understanding of Sufism and as a general and well-grounded response to the critics of Sufism. The al-Risālah al-Qawl al-Ma`rūf has been translated and published in French. Many of the other works of the Shaykh has been translated into English, French and Spanish.


This work of Shaykhal-`Alawi has a unique approach to the topic of Sufism in Islam and innovation. Shaykhal-`Alawi uses the primary sources of Qur’ān and Sunnah with clear texts as proof to justify his arguments together with an approach of sound logic and an excellent style. The book is written as a response to criticisms levelled at Sufism and specific Sufi practices in particular. The book is written in response to a leaflet that was published by a Tunisian scholar, ShaykhSidi `Uthmānibnal-Makkī, who derided the Sufis and their practices. Martin Lings (1973: 88) argued that, although the the pamphlet was ‘petty and childish’ and required no response, the Shaykhal-`Alāwī’s response was not only at the leaflet, but was directed at the ‘general hostility’ toward Sufism ‘which could not be ignored.’


In the introduction of al-Risālah the Shaykh chastises the author of the ‘The Mirror’ for the lack of ethics of disagreement in his book and for his sweeping comments and criticisms against the Sufis. The style or the intent of the al-Risālah is one of an on-going discourse with the author of the ‘The Mirror’. The book is intended for all critics of Sufism especially the Salafiyyah movement. Furthermore, the Shaykh writes in a didactic manner in order to make the comments more effective.


The book does not attempt to give detailed explanations of the way of the Sufi path, but rather it is a vindication of Sufism and establishes Sufism and its practices as an integral part of the religion of Islam. Therefore, Shaykhal-`Alāwi in the beginning of the al-Risālah addresses the criticisms against Sufism as a whole and in the body of the book addresses criticisms on single aspects, specifically showing that all of the practices are firmly rooted in the practices within the Qur’ān, Sunnah and legal reasoning (ijtihād). Shaykhal-`Alāwi goes to great pains to defend even the smallest aspect of Sufism. Thus, Shaykhal-`Alawi defends taking allegiance with a Shaykh, the meeting for the purpose of dhikr and the different modes of dhikr, the gathering of the initiates for mudhākarah (spiritual education), their performing of dhikr aloud in a group, their swaying in dhikr and ecstasy when performing dhikr. In the entire book the Shaykhal-`Alāwi uses verses from the Qur’ān and traditions from the Sunnah to justify these practices. The Shaykh notes the modes of dhikr that the Sufis practice are justified, via legal reasoning, using the principles of usūl al-fiqh (principles of Islamic jurisprudence) from the Qur’ān and the Sunnah. Even though the specific practice was not practiced during the time of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), the principle had been established in the Qur’ān and the Sunnah and some modes of dhikr such as doing a specific wird (litany) is clearly found in the Sunnah.


The Shaykh uses ijtihād as an important instrument for interpreting the divine message and relating it to the changing conditions of the Muslim community and in the Sufic aspirations to attaining inner peace and enlightenment. Thus, the Shaykh justifies the innovation of the Sufis as being the product of ijtihād and therefore a legitimate part of the Law for those who choose to follow the outcome of a particular ijtihād.


One of the profound arguments in al-Risālah that illustrates applied ijtihād methodology is provided in the following example, ‘ijtihād is one of the characteristics of the Community and one should acknowledge the right of scholars to do ijtihād.’ (al-Risālah, 1986: 44) That is why the Shaykhal-`Alāwi asks, ‘how is it that you accept the ijtihād of the four Imāms and their like in the case of 'Islam, and you accept the ijtihād of al-'Ash`arī and al-Mā’turīdī in belief which is the station of ‘imān, but you do not accept the ijtihād of Junayd and his group with regard to the station of ihsān." (al-Risālah 1986: 44-45). Shaykhal-`Alāwi is saying that the author of ‘The Mirror’ wants the reader to believe that the Sufi path is an innovation in the religion as if he considers the outcome of ijtihād as adding to religion. The Sunnah sanctions the ijtihād of the scholars, because ‘… the scholars are the vicegerents on earth …’ 16 . There is certainly general ijmā` (consensus) among the scholars about earlier scholars’ trustworthiness. The Shaykhal-`Alāwi building further on this idea responds to the author of the ‘The Mirror’ (al-Risālah: 44-45),


‘the least you could have done was to consider the founder of the doctrine of Sufism to be one of the mujtahidun of religion for his ijtihād in bringing out the station of ih sān . He is like al-‘Ash`ari in relation to the station of imān (faith) and like ImāmMālik and those who resemble him in bringing out the station of Islam and the total of religion is made up of three levels (Islam-imān-ih sān ) as related in the most famous Prophetic narration. (al-Risālah, 1986: 44-45).’


In addition, in a letter to al-`Arabī ibn Balqāsim the Shaykh defends the Sufis in the following practices, specification of times for dhikr; confining dhikr to [specified] numbers and the taking of oath (bay`ah) with the disciples. In many other letters and responses written by the Shaykhal-`Alawi gathered in A`dhab al-Manāhil fī al-'Ajwibah wa al-Rasā'il defends many practices of the Sufis as well as other matters pertaining to Islam. Nevertheless, in al-Risālah, the Shaykh avoids philosophical arguments and discussions of mystical doctrine.


Section Seven: Methodology employed in the Thesis

The translation will be done to render the work in modern English that is easily understandable to the general reader. This is the first translation of this work, according to my knowledge, into English. The thesis is an exploratory research into the thoughts and methodology of the Shaykhal-`Alāwi in his writings on the defence of Sufism. Ijtihād is the major instrument used by the Shaykh and the translation of the al-Risālah will attempt to demonstrate this. Furthermore, there might be other insights into the methodology of the Shaykh that it could come tio the fore through this translation. Although other defences have been written on Sufism, the Shaykhal-`Alawi approach is somewhat unique. This is what I hope to show and the reason why I have chosen to translate his work al-Risālah.


Translation strategy

All Quranic translations are taken from Yusuf Ali (1934) Islamic Propagation Centre International.

Dolet (1509-1546) was one of the earliest European writers to write on the methodology of translation. (Bassnett, 1980:58-59) His five principles have been generally accepted as essential guidelines for the translator. I will use these principles to discuss my translation strategy. These principles are as follows;


1. The translator must fully understand the sense and meaning of the original author, although he is at liberty to clarify obscurities.

This concurs with what Baker (1992) says about the importance of acknowledging the fact that cultures differ in their conceptual construction of reality. This leads us to acknowledge non-equivalence at word level and above word level between languages. Thus people from different cultures view the universe from different perspectives and thus their vocabulary differs. For example at word level, in English, we use the word date for the date fruit, but in Arabic the words tamr [ تمر ] and rut b [ رطب ] are two words for dates but denote the different stage of ripeness of the date fruit. Tamr is when the date is dried and rut b is when the date in still juicy. In English the word house has a number of hyponyms which have no equivalent in Arabic, for example bungalow, cottage, croft, chalet, and hut. In al-Risālah the Shaykhal-`Alawi quotes verses from the Qur’ān which contain the names of Allāh that are in the superlative form in Arabic, for which there is also no English equivalent. Thus I have translated the name `alīm as the one who ‘has full knowledge’ rather than the ‘knowledgeable’ since there is no word equivalence for most superlatives used in the names and qualities of Allāh. The text is as follows (al-Risālah: 47), ‘And Allāh has full knowledge of the wrongdoers…’ as opposed to ‘And Allāh is very knowledgeable of the wrongdoers…’


2. The translator should have a perfect knowledge of both the source language (SL) and the target language (TL).

I grew up in an English-speaking environment and attended a school where the medium of instruction was English. I lived 5 five years in an Arabic environment during which time I studied the Arabic language as my major. I have been teaching Arabic to English speaking students for the last 20 years. Furthermore I have access to some of the best dictionaries including Arabic-to-Arabic, Arabic-to-English as well as English-to-Arabic. These include the comprehensive work of Edward Lane, an English-to-Arabic dictionary, Lisān al-`Arab, an Arabic-to-Arabic dictionary which is considered as one of the most extensive Arabic-to-Arabic dictionaries. My interest in Sufism was from a young age, particularly the Shaykhal-`Alāwi and his works which I have been reading and re-reading for many years.


3. The translator should avoid word for word renderings.

Translation should not be just seen as a transfer of texts from one language to another since every language exists within a cultural context. One of the key reasons for avoiding word for word translation is the concept of collocation. Collocation refers to the idea that certain words appear and are used in conjunction with each other, for example, ‘shrug one’s shoulder.’ Although the word move or shake could also be used but since shrug collocates with shoulder it is considered correct. In the al-Risālah (1986: 47) the Shaykhal-`Alāwi uses j`ala which can be translated as ‘make’ or ‘create’, but in English the appropriate word to use would be ‘regard’. The text is as follows, ‘if you regard the school of the people of Sufism as one of those sects’, as opposed to translating it as ‘if you make/create the school of the people of Sufism as one of those sects’.


4. The translator should use forms of speech in common use.

The main aim of the translator is to avoid ambiguity. The translator should stick to a simple, harmonious, creative translation and avoid excessive jargon. In keeping with this principle I will change idioms if they do not make sense in the target language. For example, the Shaykhal-`Alāwi says in the al-Risālah (1986: 48) inna likulli sāqit lāqīt which can be literally translated as, ‘for every fallen object there is a gatherer. However, I have translated it as, ‘whatever is rejected by one person might be accepted by another’.


The expressions aqūlu, I say or fa aqūlu, then I say, are very common in Arabic. These expressions are often repeated in the al-Risālah (1986: 18, 20 and 23), which I have chosen to omit sometimes since it is unnecessary and sounds inappropriate in English. I have chosen to omit the above expressions even though I am aware that this might affect the meaning of the original but I have chosen to appease the reader rather than bore him with tedious repetitions as discussed by Hatim and Mason (1990: 8-9). They have said that sticking to the SL conventions might obscure the ‘meaning’ of the text in the TL. They problemitise this issue by asking, ‘to what extent is the translator justified in departing from the style or manner?’ (Hatim and Mason, 1990: 8) In my translation I constantly grapple with this issue because there are those (e.g. Meschonnic, 1973 cited in Hatim and Mason 1990: 9) who say that meaning and form cannot be separated. As translator I do not want to reduce the dynamic role of the reader by altering the style or form of text by making drastic changes that will detract from the spirit of the text. I do make certain adaptations, but the translation must not loose the feel of the original text.


5. The translator should choose and order words appropriately to produce the correct tone.

‘The translator stands at the centre of the dynamic process of communication as a mediator between the producer of a source text and whoever are its TL receivers’ (Hatim and Mason, 1990: 66). They further say that (Hatim and Mason, 1990: 223) ‘(t)he translator is first and foremost a mediator between two parties for whom mutual communication might otherwise be problematic.’ The basic word order in a sentence, however, simple it might appear must be consistent with the text producer’s intention. The translator generally aims to facilitate the meaning of the text for the readers. However, the translator should be careful not to violate the given information for fear of adding something new to the text.


I acknowledge the limitations and deficiencies of translating this classical Arabic text into modern English. However, I am very aware of these shortcomings and I have, to the best of my ability, tried to be true to the meaning and intent of the original Arabic text. The intended publication of this thesis will certainly attempt to refine these shortcomings.


The translation has been divided into chapters and headings in order to facilitate easier reading.




In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful


A Kind Word to Those Who Reject Sufism


It is with the help of Allāh, that we begin the new edition of this valuable treatise, which continues to be a shining star, guiding through the darkness of land and sea. This illuminated treatise appeared when people were in urgent need of a conclusive answer and a comprehensive explanation for the basis of Sufism and a clear indication of its sources from the Qur’ān and Sunnah.


The appearance of this all-encompassing work satisfied the need of its adherents, as an answer to the attacks from its detractors, and hence its fame and benefits became widespread. It has since, become the best defence for those who remember and show gratitude to Allāh, thereby silencing the envious and bringing contentment to its devotees.


The merits of this work continued to increase in esteem, and it became increasingly popular, until the first edition went out of print. The rightly guided started asking about it again, like the sick person would ask about his cure, and the friend would ask for his intimate companion and they hence encouraged us to print a new edition because of its universal benefit. It is the only book making clear to people that which they have been seeking, offering a true explanation and providing sound texts, which no person would reject nor any modernist disapprove of, except the ones who are arrogant. They are ‘Those who breaks God’s Covenant after it is ratified, and who rend absunder what God has ordered to be joined, and do mischief on earth:’ [2:27]


We write these words in tribute to the author, the honourable Shaykh Sidi Ahmad ibn Mustafā al-`Alāwī , may Allāh sanctify his secret, in support of his splendid works, which continues to benefit his religion and guide his disciples, until he, may Allāh be pleased with him, became an important pillar of support for referring contentious matters. Indeed, he excelled among his contemporaries through the brilliance of his wisdom until his death, when his sun set from this world to shine in the other world. ‘It is He Who creates from the very beginning, and He can restore (life). And He is the Oft-Forgiving, full of loving-kindness, Lord of the Throne of Glory,’ [85:13-15].


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