The Contemporary Sufi Heritage of Shaykh Ahmad Ibn Mustafa al-‘Alawī : The Seven Spiritual Stages of the Sufi Path - Conclusion
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


After meticulously reading the commentary that Shaykh al-‘Alawī wrote on the aphorisms of Shaykh Abū Madyan, some conclusions can be drawn. Shaykh al-‘Alawī realized that the ultimate purpose for Shaykh Abū Madyan''s 170 aphorisms is for the wayfarer to get rid of his own existence and to vanquish his own self to reach a state of extinction fanā through which he can reach God. Shaykh al-‘Alawī calls this formula the mysterious treasure because the multiplicity of existence is deemed impossible and once the wayfarer establishes the Sole existence of God, he will start recognizing the existence of all else through God. In other words, the establishment of all existents is not coming out of its own self because they amount to nothing. Therefore the whole universe on its own is a mere nothingness because it could not stand alone without the sustenance and providence of its Creator. Once the wayfarer acknowledges the unity of existence, he gets to recognize all existents. Shaykh al-‘Alawī added that this formula of the mysterious treasure can be attained through the entrance of the wayfarer to God in the realm of submission to God and leave the house for its constructor, if He wills, He demolishes it and if He wills, He constructs it.

Shaykh al-‘Alawī added that for the Gnostics submission to divine rulings is mandatory because in all times there are new rulings that are passed whether these rulings are explicit or implicit. Submitting to the divine will of God and His ordained destiny is the habit of the Gnostics because who knows the slave better than his master. If the wayfarer on the other hand felt sorry for himself for what has been destined for him, he undoubtedly accused his Lord of not taking care of His creation and wrongly interfered in His kingdom. This act of sorrow is a serious breach to the oath of servitude - which is a unique term that Shaykh al-‘Alawī introduced - and leads the wayfarer out of the realm of submission to God and places him in a direct dispute with Him.

Shaykh al-‘Alawī concluded another major factor in reaching the mysterious treasure which is attained through realizing the vitality of satisfaction with God''s destiny. Most people are well acquainted with destiny and often relates it to helplessness as it is beyond their control. Shaykh al-‘Alawī on the contrary declared that God''s revealed destiny is power with which wayfarers are able to carry a burden that no mountains can bear. This new meaning of satisfaction with God and using it as a power to lead the wayfarer through calamities is a new addition to what Ibn ‘Arabī stated regarding satisfaction with God as he said that it stems out of mere adab or etiquette.

Shaykh al-‘Alawī was keen to motivate the wayfarer in his path to God through driving his attention to the elevated status that human beings enjoy above all other creatures in order to fuel his zeal to continue his spiritual path to God. He said that God created Adam with His own hands and blew in him with His spirit. He was manifest in him and commanded the angels to prostrate for him and made him His vicegerent on earth. Thus He placed him in the middle between His world of manifestations (al-mulk) and His world of divinity (al-malakūt) along with sharing parts of the world of power (jabarūt). Therefore, the whole being was combined in Adam and his outer shell makes him appear as a speck of clay whereas his inner side shows him as the vicegerent of the Lord of the universe.

The combination of the three heavenly realms and its manifestation in the human being makes him the greatest of all realities of existence but this reality is concealed from recognition by minds and invisible from eye sight. So whoever God reveals this ultimate reality for him, how can he not become the richest of the rich?

In short the contemporary works of Shaykh al-‘Alawī are characterized with his adamant attitude to strike a balance and create a harmony between the outer forms and shapes of worship and the inner meanings that should light the heart of the wayfarer to guide him in his path to God. He is one of the few Sufi saints as Lings described him, who has an extensive treatment of the subject of ritual worship and its deeper inner meanings that should be present in the mind of the wayfarer at all times. In Sufi terms, he would present an excellent example of combining both maqām al-sharī‘ah and maqām al-haqīqah or the station of the revealed law and that of the ultimate reality.

Shaykh al-‘Alawī referred to maqām al-shari''ah as the one that is relevant to servitude and pointed out that the closeness and love maḥabbah of the created beings to the creator and vice versa is prior to the issue of servitude; a fact which makes servitude as only an expression to this closeness and a starting point to a spiritual ascending journey to be back in full unity with God in which one loses himself totally by being in an indescribable awe as he reaches a complete overwhelming status of self annihilation or fanā, a status where one diminishes to nothingness as he dwells into the divine presence of God. Between maqām al-maḥabbah and maqām al-fanā lies a wide range of ascending stations which the wayfarer needs to traverse in order to reach his final destination.

The work of Shaykh al-‘Alawī on the spiritual stages among other works are good candidates for deep studies as they were not treated and rarely explored in Western scholarship. Also, in total these works offer us an insightful guideline and sketches a clear map which draws the way of the wayfarer to reach his spiritual destination while striking a balance between the outer forms and inner meanings so they would end up being two faces of the same coin.

In the past three chapters, I have aimed at demonstrating the spiritual stages in the divine path to God represented by Shaykh al-‘Alawī both at the theoretical level and its pragmatic application on ritual worship. Although writing about an erudite towering figure like Shaykh al-‘Alawī in only a hundred pages does not do his noble contributions any justice, it aimed at introducing this great scholar to a broad swath of the English speaking audience who did not have the privilege of being exposed to his prominent intellectual scholarly Sufi output.

As was reiterated before, only two attempts were made to introduce Shaykh al-‘Alawī''s works to a wider English readership; the first was made by Martin Lings who introduced Shaykh al-‘Alawī to the Western intellectual world through his book "A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century, Shaykh Ahmed al-‘Alawī: his spiritual heritage and legacy". This book was first published in 1961 and went for a second publication in 1971 and a third edition was printed in 1993 by the Islamic Texts Society in Cambridge.

The second attempt was made by Dr. Saiyad Ahmad291 who translated the unpublished manuscript of Shaykh al-‘Alawī ''s aphorisms, known in French as Sa sagesse. This humble contribution of mine would be the third in line to make available for wider audience the veritable scholarly accomplishments of Shaykh al-‘Alawī in the realm of Sufism and his strong hold in religious scholarship. The works of Shaykh al-‘Alawī strike the reader with its flow of genuine Sufi knowledge, eloquence in the writing style along with a captivating feelings of veneration and reverence to such luminary scholar.

As a contemporary Sufi revivalist as Shayk al-‘Alawī is, his intellectual legacy and his scholarly output can very well fit the golden age of Islam. The mystical meanings that are flowing from his writings and the divine radiants of knowledge encompassing his works make it quite hard to place him in the modern time. It is more fitting to include him among the towering Sufi scholars of the 7th century H as his breadth of knowledge, profound insight and sharp intellectual discernment makes him an eligible candidate to join the elite of the golden age of Islam.

Shaykh al-‘Alawī managed a fine equilibrium between delving into the inner meanings of divine law and its spiritual manifestation and between the outer shell of keeping religious rituals and following the prophetic example and his application of the revealed law. This revealed law is the shell which covers the spiritual core of divine knowledge and Shaykh al-‘Alawī was an ardent scholar who penetrated from the husk to the kernel and dug out the hidden gems of the Sufi path to help the wayfarers in their mystical quest to unite back with the Divine.

Throughout his work that I have treated in this thesis, Shaykh al-‘Alawī was adamant to base his entire Sufi paradigm on a solid Quranic principle from which stems his Sufi doctrine. He based his Sufi theology on monotheism (tawhid) and surpassed the classical orthodox understanding which suffices itself with blind faith to demand a continuous witnessing of God along with a pristine cognition of Him by the Saints to an extent that even if they try not to see God''s manifestation in all things, they would miserably fail. This failing attempt is due to the fact that their sight cannot get in acquaintance with non existents. Shaykh al-‘Alawī took the quest for a further level by demanding from Gnostics not to recognize their own selves and to be wholly immersed in God and annihilated in witnessing His divine names and attributes. This sense of total annihilation leaves the Gnostic speechless as he is confronted with waves of divine lights emanating from His divine essence yet reaching God''s essence is beyond human capacity.

Therefore Shaykh al-‘Alawī affirms Shaykh ''Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī''s (d. 832 H. 1428 CE)292 findings when he said that all the descriptive statements of God fall short of encompassing his divine essence which has no compatible match in this world. For this reason whoever talks about the essence of God is silent and whoever is moving from one thought to another in describing God is actually standing still. Realizing His essence cannot be achieved by our limited intellectual ability so no mind can capture even a glimpse of His essence.

This profound experience of the universe as a theophany of God''s divine names and attributes has its impact on the pragmatic aspect of ritual worship. In the ritual act of prayer the wayfarer raises his hands up for takbīr and once the lights of divine manifestations shine on him, he begins to draw himself in little by little and the first shrinkage is letting down his hands to his sides or putting them on his breast, after they had been on a level with the top of his head. In other words the nearer the worshipper approaches His Lord the more he draws himself in. Prayer starts with reciting al fātiha which is the opening chapter in the Quran. The opening chapter is the intimate discourse and the divine conversation that the worshipper is asked to conduct in the presence of God when he is standing before Him. This divine dialogue takes place once the divine lights of God''s holy presence shine on the worshipper. These divine lights indicate a level of spiritual closeness that allows the wayfarer to converse privately with his Lord. Shaykh al-‘Alawī eloquently interpreted every movement in prayers to have a deep Sufi meaning as prayer for him is a divine journey that the wayfarer embarks on to ascend to heaven.

All other ritual worships like fasting, paying zakat and pilgrimage hold their own spiritual significance and have a deep Sufi hermeneutic interpretation. During this profound Sufi experience which starts with a deep theological belief with a practical application on ritual worship, the wayfarer traverses through many spiritual stations in his perennial quest towards the Divine. Shaykh al-‘Alawī started from the station of vigilant awareness and ended with the spiritual station of oneness on which his whole Sufi theology was based. Therefore, it is palpable that Shaykh al-‘Alawī was connecting the dots between the beginning and the end to reach the true oneness in which the wayfarer is absent from witnessing anything save God. Going through all these different spiritual stations needs a mentor as a prerequisite for embarking on this divine quest.

Therefore, this thesis with its different chapters sketched a blueprint for the wayfarer who is ardent to embark on a divine journey and join a perennial quest to reunite back with the Divine. This journey is based on a solid theological belief with profound practical meanings coupled with a mentor to walk side by side along the wayfarer till he reaches his ultimate destination and harbor in the divine presence of God where there is no return.

My hope is that this introductory thesis to one of the prominent Sufi works of Shaykh al-‘Alawī and his descriptive blue print of the Sufi path stimulate the appetite of academic researchers to investigate and analyze the scholarly works of this luminary figure in order to dig out the hidden gems in his works. Shaykh al-‘Alawī''s works were not given its due attention and are worthy to be the subject of deeper analysis. Reading the works of Shaykh al-‘Alawī is like breathing a fresh air in the contemporary 20th century blended with a mesmerizing scent of the classical Sufi legacy of the 7th Century H.

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