Travel, Witness, Taste!
In this piece we find Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah commenting on the words of Junayd al-Baghdadi (d.298H/910CE): ‘The truthful aspirant has no need of the scholars.” Today, in our time, certain people who seem bent on insulting God’s awliya (and even more bent on rewriting Islam’s scholastic legacy) claim that Junayd, this undisputed Imam of knowledge and right guidance, was dissuading people from religious knowledge by such an utterance. To such ill-conceived suspicion, and to this shallowness of thought, the following words of Ibn al-Qayyim are both timely and corrective:
‘If the aspirant (murid) is truly sincere, and has made his bond of sincerity with God sound, God will open to him – because of the blessings of his sincerity and his dutiful transactions with God – what will spare him from that learning which is the product of peoples’ opinions and thoughts; and from knowledge that is superfluous and not from the provisions of the grave; and from many of the spiritual allusions (isharat) of the sufis and the learning they spend their entire lives being absorbed with – in terms of being familiar with the soul’s vices and defects, what corrupts works of faith, and the rules that govern spiritual wayfaring (suluk). If his state is indeed sincere, and if he makes his quest sound, he shall see all this by actually undertaking the quest.
Its example is that of a man who sits in a city and devotes his nights and days studying the city’s pathways and tracks, its mountain passes and valleys, its watering places and its wilderness. On the other hand, joy, ecstasy and sincere aspiration urges another man to actually travel the path and journey in it. His sincerity leaves him in no need of the knowledge the sitting man has, allowing him, in his travels, to see the path with his own eyes.
As for sincere aspiration sparing a person from acquiring knowledge of what is lawful and prohibitted; or the divine commands and prohibitions; or being acquainted with the legislated acts of worship – their conditions, obligations and what nullifies their performance; or the knowledge of what God and His Messenger have decreed, both outwardly and inwardly, then God forbid that anyone lesser than Junayd should ever advocate this, let alone Junayd himself: master of the spiritual faction (sayyid al-ta’ifah) and their head. In fact, those who say this are but bandits on the path; heretics from among the sufis who do not see compliance with the Messenger to be a condition of the path.
It is also the case that God opens the heart of the sincere aspirant, illuminating it with light from Himself, which adds to what he already possesses of the light of knowledge, by which he understands many matters regarding his religion. He is thus relieved of much of the knowledge of the people. For knowledge is light, and the sincere heart is filled with the light of truth, along with the light of faith. Such light guides to even more light.
Junayd tells of his spiritual state with this statement; and that the statement is specific, not general. For the aspirant’s sincerity suffices him from much of knowledge. As for knowledge in general, the words of Abu’l-Qasim [Junayd] are confirmed, famous and well-known about the necessity of knowledge for the aspirant; that there is no success for one who has no knowledge; that the path of the Folk (al-qawm)1 is circumscribed by knowledge; and that it is not allowed for anyone to speak about the path save with knowledge. We have already related some of this, such as his saying: “Whoever does not memorise the Qur’an, or learn the hadiths, should not be followed in this affair. For our knowledge is bound by the Book and the Sunnah.”‘2
1. The term, “the Folk” (al-qawm), refers to those orthodox, shari‘ah-compliant Sufis, and is culled from the hadith: ‘God, exalted is He, has superabundant angels who rove about seeking out gatherings where God is being remembered.’ On been told by God that such people have been forgiven by Him, the angels say: ‘O Lord, among them is so-and-so, a much sinful servant who was merely passing by and sat down with them.’ To this, God replies: ‘He too have I forgiven: these folk, one who sits with them will not suffer (hum al-qawm la yashqa bihim jalisuhum).’ Muslim, no.2689.
2. Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 3:172-4.