The Contemporary Sufi Heritage of Shaykh Ahmad Ibn Mustafa al-‘Alawī : The Seven Spiritual Stages of the Sufi Path - Chapter 3 : The Sufi Spiritual Stages in the Work of Shaykh al-‘Alawī
English - Articles written
Écrit par Omneya Nabil Muhammad Ayad   
Jeudi, 22 Mai 2014 00:00
Index de l'article
The Contemporary Sufi Heritage of Shaykh Ahmad Ibn Mustafa al-‘Alawī : The Seven Spiritual Stages of the Sufi Path
Chapter 1 : Introduction
Literature Review
Martin Lings'' Work on Shaykh al-‘Alawī
Thesis purpose
Primary Sources
Historical brief on the French Colonialism in Algeria (1830-1900) and the role of the Sufi orders in Algeria
Brief Biography on Shaykh al-‘Alawī
A comprehensive list of all the written books of Shaykh al-‘Alawī
History of the al-‘Alawī Sufi Order
Chapter Two : The Historical Background of the Sufi Spiritual Stages in Major Works
The History of the Development of the Spiritual Stages in Major Sufi Works
1- The Spiritual Stage of Fear and Vigilant Awareness of God (al-Khashya wa-l- Murāqaba):
2- The Spiritual Station of Satisfaction and Submission (al-Riḍa wa-l- Taslīm)
3- The Spiritual Station of Reliance on God (al-tawakkul)
4- The spiritual station of Poverty (al-Faqr):
5- The spiritual station of Sincerity (al-Ikhlās)
6- The Spiritual Station of Love (Hubb)
7- The Spiritual Station of Oneness (al-Tawhīd)
Chapter 3 : The Sufi Spiritual Stages in the Work of Shaykh al-‘Alawī
1- The Spiritual Stage of Fear and Vigilant Awareness of God (al-Khashya wa-l- Murāqaba)
2-The Spiritual Station of Satisfaction and Submission (al-Rida wa-l- Taslīm)
3-The Spiritual Station of Reliance on God (al-tawakkul)
4-The spiritual station of Poverty (al-Faqr)
5-The spiritual station of Sincerity (Ikhlās)
6-The Spiritual Station of Love (Hubb)
7-The Spiritual Station of Oneness (al Tawhīd)
Toutes les pages

Chapter 3 : The Sufi Spiritual Stages in the Work of Shaykh al-‘Alawī

After examining in the previous chapter the seven spiritual stages of the Sufi path in earlier major Sufi works, the current chapter will examine the work of Shaykh al-‘Alawī on this concept and our main source of reference in this chapter is the book of al-Mawād al-Ghaythiyya which is a commentary written by Shaykh al-‘Alawī in which he defined seven spiritual stages that the wayfarer has to go through in his Sufi path to God. He deducted these stages from the aphorisms which were written by Shaykh Abū Madyan and reached around 170 aphorisms yet, they were scattered aphorisms without any designed order or specific logical arrangement.

Although Shaykh Abū Madyan wrote his book of aphorisms in the 12th century, it took about 800 years to have its first commentary on them by al-‘Alawī in the 20th century. The importance of Shaykh Abū Madyan''s aphorisms stems from the intellectual weight of Shaykh Abū Madyan in the history of western Sufism. Vincent Cornell called him the "Junayd of the West" because he was similar to his third/ninth century predecessor in Baghdad in being situated in the perfect time and place to synthesize and transmit the Sufi traditions into one formally articulated doctrine. Cornell believes that Abū Madyan became the spiritual axis or Qutb of his age. Abū Madyan''s writings tackled issues of doctrine, methodology and ethics which left an influence on many generations to come. His impact on western Islamic Sufism can be noticed due to the rise of two influential Maghribi spiritual masters such as Abū al-Hassan al-Shadhilī and Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazulī.176

The historical context and the political circumstances which surrounded the period during which Abū Madyan gained his intellectual and spiritual maturity were characterized in the western Maghrib by political instability and profound social change which were caused by a combination of disastrous military defeats at the hands of Christian forces and rivalry among different ethnic groups within the Ummayyad society.177

It is worth noting that such environment was very similar to the one in which Shaykh al-‘Alawī grew up as Algeria among other countries of North Africa was suffering from the brunt of the French occupation and was going through heavy political and social changes. Similar to the rise of Shaykh Abū Madyan, we can certainly appreciate the rise of Shaykh Ahmed b. Mustafa al-‘Alawī and his ‘Alawī Sufi order as an addition to the Sufi orders in Algeria which contributed in shaping the Algerian persona both intellectually and spiritually and had a positive role in fighting against the French aggression.

Both Shaykh Abū Madyan and Shaykh al-‘Alawī were situated in a period of social strife and political turmoil as one of them witnessed the brunt of the Christian aggression whereas the other lived during the French colonization of Algeria. The role of both Sufi leaders focused on igniting the spirit of jihad in the hearts of Muslims to fight against all types of occupation. Both leaders though were centuries apart yet both had an influential impact on spreading the Islamic culture and keeping the zeal of spiritual tutelage in the Islamic society. These efforts helped in keeping the characterizations of the Arabic Islamic identity intact for decades in North Africa.

In the introduction of his commentary on the aphorisms of Shaykh Abū Madayn, Shaykh al-‘Alawī stated clearly his driving motives behind commenting on these aphorisms as he said that it has a great spiritual benefit for its readers and carries within its fold a significant intellectual heritage that should be transmitted to future generations. It could be also possible that implicitly Shaykh al-‘Alawī realized that the political atmosphere that Algeria and Morocco among other countries in North Africa along with the sweeping social changes which had its negative impact on religion, urges for a quick remedy of spiritual revival and found in Shaykh Abū Madyan''s aphorisms his lost treasure.

Furthermore, the similarities of the political context which both shaykhs lived in forced them to adopt a spiritual method which was heavily oriented towards ‘amal or spiritual praxis more than its focus on ‘ilm or esoteric doctrine. This method required in turn a strong commitment from the wayfarer to practice harsh asceticism in an attempt to vanquish bodily desires. Therefore we find that most of Abū Madyan''s aphorisms focused on spiritual tutelage which would help the wayfarer in his battle against his own lower, passional soul which thrives under the defense of egoism and self centeredness represented by the insincere "I". The egoistic nature of the lower self combined with the physical manifestation of whims and desires prevent the wayfarer from actualizing his true celestial nature. Resolving such conflict requires strict spiritual training by a soul''s physician which is the profession of the Sufi teacher.178

The eagerness of Shaykh Abū Madyan to focus on spiritual praxis was to graduate spiritual leaders who can benefit themselves as well as their societies especially at the time of turmoil. In one of the most famous of his aphorisms he states: "With the corruption of the masses appears the rule of tyranny; with the corruption of the elite appear false prophets who seduce the masses away from religion".179 His fear of self- claimed hypocrite leaders who speak under the false pretense of religion, led him to exert all his efforts to discipline a new generation of spiritual leaders who have pure hearts and strong spiritual make up to guide people to the right path especially at times of turmoil and deterioration due to political upheavals and rapid social changes. This means that Shaykh Abū Madyan did not raise his disciples as withdrawn ascetics who contemplate God and ignore all that transpires around them. He encouraged his disciples to retreat in seclusion for short periods of time for the sake of personal development without being detached from the Muslim community in which they live.180

Through reading Vincent Cornell''s book on the life and works of Shaykh Abū Madyan, one can''t help but noticing that Cornell was completely oblivious of the commentary book that Shaykh al-‘Alawī wrote on Abū Madyan''s aphorisms. This fact is worth noting because Cornell was keen to mention the works that were written on Abū Madyan or the biographies in which he was mentioned such as the travel memoire entitled Uns al-Faqīr wa ‘Izz al-Haqīr which was written on Abū Madyan and his followers by the eighth/ fourteenth- century jurist and biographer Ahmad ibn Qunfudh al-Qusantinī.181

Cornell though translated all the works of Shaykh Abū Madyan into the English language in a book entitled The way of Abū Madyan: The works of Abū Madyan Shu''ayb, he failed to mention that Shaykh al-‘Alawī was the only scholar who made a commentary on Abū Madyan''s book of aphorisms entitled Uns al-Wahīd wa Nuzhat al-Murīd. The only comment that Cornell made on the book of Uns al-Wahīd was related to translation and editing of the book which was compiled through cross checking it with manuscripts in London and Paris as well as a printed partial collection of aphorisms from an edited Algerian work originally written in the eighth/ fourteenth century. 182 But Cornell did not inform us about the name of the author or the title of the edited book.

Cornell also mentioned that it is difficult to imagine any modern version of the Shaykh''s writings that could realistically be represented as a final, definitive edition of Abū Madyan''s literary output. He further added that the extant manuscript copies of Abū Madyan''s writings can be found mostly in fragmentary form in numerous collections on four continents stretching from North America in the west to Asia in the east. The widely scattered materials present difficult problems for the editor and the translator alike not only due to it being incomplete and disparate but also because of the oral nature of their transmission. When it comes to the written manuscripts, the situation is not better because the lengthy manuscripts are seldom identically worded or even have the same length. The issue of authenticity comes on top of other difficulties in editing Abū Madyan''s manuscripts because many poems and sayings which were traditionally attributed to Abū Madyan originally belonged to other earlier Sufis who adopted vocabulary and used writing styles that were inconsistent with the literary traditions of the western Maghrib.183

Cornell''s opinion which expressed the difficulty of finding any modern version which could be considered as final and definite edition is controversial because he did not read the modern work of Shayk al-‘Alawī on Abū Madyan and had no idea of the strenuous effort which Shaykh al-‘Alawī exerted in compiling an authentic version of Abū Madyan''s aphorisms.

In the introduction of his commentary on Abū Madyan''s aphorisms, Shaykh al-‘Alawī explained that he arranged the aphorisms in a different way than its original arrangement as he categorized them into chapters according to different spiritual stages in his attempt of wider benefit for the readers. Also what encouraged him to rearrange the order of the aphorisms is that they were haphazardly arranged with no logical order as the arrangement differed from one manuscript to the next. After thorough examination of different manuscripts in Shaykh al-‘Alawī''s attempt of authenticating the aphorisms to its original author, he rearranged its order in a way that would not jeopardize the original style in which the aphorisms were written yet would make it easier for the reader to find the needed aphorism under the proper title.

Shaykh al-‘Alawī elaborated on the reason behind Abū Madyan''s indifference towards arranging the aphorisms in a proper order and said that it is due to the fact that aphorisms in essence differ from authoring a book in which each paragraph should be related to the previous one and should prepare the reader for the next one. In Aphorisms, each aphorism forms a book on its own without necessarily being connected to other aphorisms. Therefore the arrangement of aphorisms seeks wider benefit and facilitates for the reader to have the maximum benefit of what he reads.

Therefore, the unique contribution of Shaykh al-‘Alawī does not lie on merely rearranging the aphorisms for the maximum benefit of the reader but his real addition is deducting the seven spiritual stages that the wayfarer has to go through in his path to God based on the aphorisms of Shaykh Abū Madyan.

Having mentioned the unique addition of the seven spiritual stages deducted from the aphorisms of Shaykh Abū Madyan, the rest of the chapter will examine closely these spiritual stages with a detailed account of Shaykh al-''Alawī''s commentary on each of them. Before delving in these stages, it would be of benefit to mention the difference between the wayfarer and the Gnostic as these two terms will be used extensively throughout this chapter. Shaykh Abū Madyan drew a distinction between the wayfarer and the Gnostic. He defined the wayfarer as a traveler in the path to reach his ultimate destination which is God whereas the Gnostic is defined as being absent from witnessing his own self or recognizing his own existence. He is totally annihilated and immersed in God and folded in His existence; a state which extracts the Gnostic from his own limited dependent existence to witness the Source of all existence. Also the Gnostic should not be sufficed with whatever God has revealed to him but rather seek more proximity and closeness as the more knowledge the Gnostic gains, the more he becomes speechless from what he sees. For this reason some Sufis would say: "whoever knows God, becomes speechless".184

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