Guidance which ends in ruin

Q244 :May I quote from a book which I have been reading recently entitled: What Islam Is. Speaking on Zikr, the author makes this suggestion: "There is no need for those in whose hearts zikr of Allah has come to dwell permanently as a result of constant endeavor and become a part of their existence, to follow a set routine, or make a special effort in this respect. But if common people like us want to strengthen their bond with Allah and partake of its suspiciousness and blessedness, they must practice zikr at a fixed time and in a fixed number according to their individual circumstances. Better still they should seek the advice of a spiritual guide while choosing a zikr formula for themselves. Or, they can select a 'kalimah' from the 'kalimahs' we have given above which may be most suited to their temperament. Time should also be set aside daily for the recitation of the Qur'an." May I ask to what extent are these suggestions valid, according to the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet? Could you please give names of spiritual guides?

A244 : 'Zikr' or 'thikr' to spell it more accurately, is the Arabic term used to denote the remembrance of Allah whether in secret or verbally, in a whisper, or a low or loud voice. A good believer is one who practices thikr very frequently. Indeed, the firmer a believer is in his faith, the more he practices thikr which keeps him always mindful of his Islamic obligations. He is thus conscious of Allah and his consciousness of Him provides a check against deviation from Islamic teachings. Man is always liable to forget his obligations when an immediate interest or temptation offers itself. Being conscious of Allah is the best safeguard against falling to such temptations or pursuing such an interest, if it is of the type which is forbidden by Allah. Since thikr helps develop and enhance such conscience, it is part of Islamic worship. Indeed, all Islamic worship can be said to fall within the overall framework of remembering Allah, which is the translation offered by many scholars of the term thikr. Allah is certainly aware that man's behavior can be partly influenced by his convictions. Nevertheless, man often resorts to harmful practices, knowing in advance they have a negative effect on him, or on his life. No one on earth knows the fact better than those who use, or rather abuse those practices. Their conviction of the harm which is shown to result from their action is not sufficient to bring about a behavioral change. Similarly the overwhelming majority of people know deep in their hearts that this universe could not have existed without a Creator who is all powerful and who controls its operation. Nevertheless, many people turn their backs on this fact and deny Allah's existence altogether or lead a life which is totally oblivious of what Allah requires of human beings. Other people profess to be believers but they nevertheless tend to prefer an immediate interest, or a temporary pleasure, or an easy gain to doing their religious duties. Had their belief in Allah been combined with a strong and clear consciousness of Him and the relative positions of man and Allah, their behavior would have changed. They would have certainly preferred to do what Allah has bidden them to do and refrain from doing what He has forbidden. This shows the importance of thikr which the Qur'an and the Hadith highlight. It certainly helps people to be always conscious of Allah, mindful of their duties, wary of violating divine teachings. But how do we practice thikr? Obviously, we learn our religion from Allah's messenger who has been sent specifically for the purpose of conveying to us Allah's message and explaining to us how to please Allah and earn His reward and how to avoid His displeasure and the punishment that is attendant on incurring it. The first thing in thikr is to do the duties Allah has imposed on us, such as praying, fasting, pilgrimage and paying zakah. Moreover, we can glorify Allah and praise Him. We can recite the Qur'an and study its meaning. We should endeavor to understand what it says and to abide by its teachings. It is not sufficient just to read it without understanding. Moreover, we should contemplate and think of Allah's perfect design of the universe. When we see something of Allah's creation, we should try to see the perfection that is the mark of Allah's work. We look at the balance that exists in nature and glorify Allah for having established such a balance which ensures the continuity of life. When we do all this, we develop a consciousness of Allah that will affect our behavior in every respect, making us better human beings. This is in a nutshell what the Prophet has taught us of how to practice thikr. This is supported by the sacred, or Qudsi Hadith in which Allah states that the best thing to draw a human being closer to Allah is for that human being to do what Allah has ordered him to do. When he has done that, he can do more of a sunnah and nafl. In the light of the foregoing, let us consider the quotation you have given us from this book. It speaks of two grades of thikr and two classes of human beings. The lower class is that which needs a fixed time for thikr and a fixed number of religious duties such as prayers and fasting. They also need a spiritual guide. Who and where that guide comes from, it does not tell us. The nature of his work is kept ambiguous. His authority, however, is clear and absolute. Whatever he orders should be obeyed. Is it not right to wonder how far does this fit in with what the Prophet has taught us? We have learned from the Prophet that we have to offer our prayers five times a day and a time range is specified for each prayer. He has taught us to fast in Ramadan from dawn to dusk. He has also ordered us to do the pilgrimage at a particular time of the year, going on a journey which takes us to particular places and to do certain acts and rituals at specific times. In other words, he has taught us to do the thikr in a particular manner at a specific time and in fixed numbers. Moreover, he told us that no matter what our circumstances are, prayers must be offered on time. He himself practiced what he has taught us. He did his thikr in a particular manner at specified times and in fixed numbers. If we take the quotation you have cited as correct, then we are bound to conclude that the Prophet has done no more than teaching his followers to be members of the lower class and he himself remained in that class with them. This is certainly a mouthful which is sufficient to throw anyone who says it in the abyss of hell. Besides, this author is saying that some people, with whom the Prophet is not included, can attain a higher grade through certain endeavor. When they have attained this grade, they are released from the "minor affairs" of offering acts of worship which Allah requires of people, such as prayer, fasting, payment of zakah, pilgrimage, etc. What the "constant endeavor" signifies, the author does not tell us. What his words mean, however, is that certain people may exceed the Prophet in their endeavor to worship Allah as He wants to be worshipped. This is again a mouthful which brings anyone who says it to ruin. Such people are thus given a status higher than that of the Prophet and are claimed to be endowed with knowledge which the Prophet had not attained. This is not just a total absurdity; indeed, anyone who claims it needs to have his mind examined. If you look closely at the life of those spiritual guides who are said not to need to practice the thikr of Allah in a specific manner or in a fixed time, you will find that they have but scanty knowledge of Islam. Their qualifications do not give them the right to make a pronouncement on even the simplest of questions. Moreover, they find themselves in a position which gives them some prestige, much authority and brings them an income for which they do not have to work. Hence, they try to perpetuate this position. In addition, they do not have enough faith in order to conduct their lives as Islam wishes every Muslim to do. They do not wish to offer prayers as regularly as all Muslims must. Hence, they come up with the idea that they have attained a stage which released them from that requirement. If the Prophet himself and his best companions, such as Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman and Ali were not exempt from offering prayers at a particular time, in a specific number of rak'ahs and so on, how come such "guides" can reach this stage? The fact is that these persons may be called "guides" but they only guide their followers to ruin, as they take them away from the path shown to us by Prophet Muhammad, Allah's last messenger (peace be upon him). You need not ask me of the names of spiritual guides in the Islamic world. The only spiritual guide a Muslim may have is the Prophet (peace be upon him). Everyone who follows the Prophet is a good Muslim and needs no more spiritual guidance than what the Prophet has taught us.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )