20121030105344Last year I wrote a blog piece, entitled Practical Steps for Learning Fiqh (which may be read here). This piece, I suppose, is a follow-up to it.

In his advice to those seeking the “Key to the Saintly Path” (miftah tariq al-awliya), the venerable Hanbali scholar and spiritual master, Shaykh Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Wasiti wrote about one of the essential “ridges” of such a key:

‘If, O my brother, you desire to be saved from the terrors of that Day, then prepare for it with piety (taqwa). This is done by avoiding what Allah has forbidden and fulfilling whatever He has enjoined in terms of those duties that have been codified in the fiqh manuals where the lawful and prohibited, prescribed punishments, and other rulings are stipulated. This, so that nothing the Sacred Law demands from you remains due from you. For there should be no obligation that remains unfulfilled by you: neither a missed prayer, fast, zakat, or backbiting a Muslim without valid reason, or any feud, grudge or enmity without lawful justification. Discharge the responsibilities that fall within your sphere concerning those rights (huquq) between you and Allah, as well as between you and others. In doing so, you will be joined, Allah willing, to the company of the righteous.’1

The task, then, is to be steadfast in conforming to the prescriptions of the Sacred Law in our daily lives, as per the teachings of one’s fiqh school. There will most surely be obstacles along the path, which we must struggle against and overcome. This spiritual struggle, or mujahadah, is referred to in the verse: As for those who strive in Us, We shall guide them to Our paths. [29:69] The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘The fighter in Allah’s path (mujahid) is the one who strives against his lower soul (nafs) in obedience to Allah.’2

Imams of suluk, or spiritual wayfaring, speak about two areas of mujahadah. The first is the outward mujahadah. This is the spiritual struggle against four deadly enemies: the ego (nafs), the devil (shaytan), worldliness (dunya), and one’s whims (hawa); as they seek to prevent us from fulfilling the obligatory (fard) and recommended (mustahabb) acts, and eliminate the forbidden (haram) and then the disliked (makruh) deeds from our day-to-day lives.

As for the inward mujahadah, it is training our heart – through gratitude (shukr), love (mahabbah) and remembrance (dhikr) – such that it becomes attached to its Lord and learns to be present with Him. Essential to all this is the idea of restraint – of reigning in our egos and desires.

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim wrote: “The wayfaring of one seeking Allah and the Afterlife will not be sound except with certain restraints: Restraining one’s heart to seek and desire only Him, training it to turn away from other than Him. Restraining the tongue from whatever isn’t of benefit to it, training it to constantly remember Allah and whatever else increases it in faith and knowledge of Him. And restraining the limbs from sins and doubtful acts, training them to fulfil the obligations and recommendations. He must not part with these restraints till He meets his Lord.’3

1. Miftah Tariq al-Awliya (Beirut: Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah, 1999), 30-31.

2. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.1671, where he said that the hadith is hasan sahih.

3. Al-Fawa’id (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2009), 74.

6 thoughts on “The Obligatory Spiritual Journey: What Does It Entail?

  1. it is always too much to aspire to be saintly….in the human term…..prayerful, doing social praying before people, in order to be deemed holy…..is it not more acceptable to Allah to live that life within the decree of Life, within a Universal and ethical moral code towards each human should aspire, without complicated words, to just be and enjoy in little bits what has been put on this earth without becoming an addict towards such desire…..can this not be done quietly without any other human observing and leaving it the end for it to be decided which path has been chosen for the soul to be assigned?? i am tired of sin,holiness and complete hypocrisy before others, without the silence of self and nature..wherein lies the majesty of the Universe…..this is just my take,without offense.x

    1. I understand what you mean, Gordon. But perhaps the title, “Key to the Saintly Path” is somewhat misunderstood. Islam teaches us to worship Allah with loving submission and humility. To believe one is saintly is, in all likelihood, a proof that one is actually not! The believer is asked, in the Qur’an, not to attribute purity to himself; not to make any claim about one’s piety.

      Books that explain the “saintly path” or “path to perfection”, or other similar titles, are manuals and handbooks to help inspire and steer seekers. One does, of course, intend to draw close to Allah through such instructions and teachings, but the seeker also knows that this does not happen save with God’s pure grace and acceptance. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said that no one would enter Paradise because of their deeds, but rather by Go’s grace and mercy. One must certainly not be addicted to such titles or claims. But one should try to live one’s life in imitation of God’s prophets and saints: the essence of which is sincere humility and surrender to Him.

      The following article might be of use in this regard:


  2. Salaam alaikom,
    Just wished to add to be Gordon’s initial topical question…

    As we all know..every saint has a past, n every sinner a future

    Hadith b optimist, ull find good..n surat al asr


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