Raising the Students

Shaykh Uthmaan Dan Fodio’s Method of Cultivating  Students found in the chapter called ‘Raising the Students’ of  the book ‘ The African Caliphate’ 

by Ibrahim Sulaiman

One of the most important tasks in the process of tajdiid is the cultivation of a crop of people through whom the message calling for the revival of the Deen is transmitted to the generality of society, and who will eventually shoulder the responsibility of running the new social order when it is established. The greater the number of people so trained, the greater the prospects of transformation. This cultivation is but a process through which the mujaddid multiplies himself on a continuous basis. He creates people in his own image, who in turn create others in the same fashion and so on. This ensures continuity in the process of change, because the movement is being continuously nourished morally and intellectually. Moreover, it ensures for the movement the loyalty and dedication it requires if it is to move successfully through the lengthy process of change to the desired state of solidarity.

The Shehu was well aware that he had to mould men and women who would subscribe to his ideas and share his aspirations to bring about an ummah dedicated to Islam in order to transform society. As he knew he could not rely on other scholars to achieve his purposes, he established his own school’, trained his own students and created his own community of scholars, teachers and saints. It was through these students – the Ṭalabah – that he spread his message it was from these students that he formed the inner core of the movement; and it is they who spearheaded the prosecution of the jihad and carried it to a successful end.

The Shehu’s methods of raising the generation that brought about the transformation of central Sudan encompasses the three areas: the intellectual, the spiritual and the profound training in taṣawwuf. In all this, the Shehu was at the center – he drew students to him from far and wide and nurtured them until they had attained full moral and intellectual maturity. Some became centers of learning themselves, as great as anyone could find in Bilaad as-Sudan; others became statesmen, carving for themselves worthy places in Muslim history; yet others took their places in the company of saints, having acquired both knowledge and piety.

Intellectual Training

The nature of education offered was in the best Timbuktu tradition, little changed from that the Shehu himself received. The content of education had remained almost unchanged for several centuries, however the quality of students raised by the Shehu differed fundamentally – a difference due to the new orientation and general intellectual outlook introduced by the Shehu. He widened his students’ intellectual horizons and introduced pertinent social issues into the scheme of education. It was his view, as expressed in Iyaa’ as-Sunnah, that it was the knowledge of the exact nature and implications of the aberrations existing in society – such as nepotism, moral indiscipline, and political tyranny – rather than the knowledge of Islam that was missing in Hausa scholarship. Scholars, he thought, knew the law in minute detail, but had not grasped the social and political implications. The Shehu’s including these fundamental issues of the day made all the difference. In addition, he developed a new approach to jurisprudence; law should not be studied out of mere curiosity, but should be practiced as well. Hence, to make the sacred Shariiʿah a living and dominant reality in society was part of the process of education. A student was obliged to seek the realization of Islam as a faith, as a body of law and as a political system.

Students had roughly ten subjects to learn, judging from information available in Iḍaa’ an-Nusuukh of ʿAbdullahi and Shifaa’ al-Asqaam of Muhammad Bello. Students were not required to excel in all subjects, but they had to have a fair knowledge of them before deciding where to specialize. Arabic language was essential, for it was the language of scholarship. Therefore, Arabic grammar was a priority, as well as other subjects associated with Arabic – logic, rhetoric, etc. Poetry had a special place in language study for two reasons – possibly, because so much knowledge, especially of law and the fundamentals of religion is compressed in verse, and because poetry is a means of reaching the hearts of the people.

Naturally, students would not wait until they had mastered Arabic before beginning study of other subjects which were studied simultaneously. Fiqh, the science of law was the most popular subject. It followed a progressive pattern, starting with the elementary knowledge contained in al-Akhdarii and ending with the towering Mukhtasar of Khalil. Mukhtasar seemed to represent the ultimate in fiqh in the Timbuktu tradition, though there were quite a few other basic textbooks available to the students. The science of uṣuul or philosophy of law was also available for students who wanted to specialize in that field, but it was not as popular as fiqh, because fiqh is concerned with the regulation of both individual and social life. In his Iyaa’ as-Sunnah, the Shehu introduced another dimension to the study of fiqh – as a forum for criticism of society and a subtle call for change.

The most important aspect of knowledge was the Qur’an and Sunnah. The Qur’an is the ultimate knowledge, the source of knowledge and the yardstick for measuring other aspects of knowledge. The most popular textbook for the study of Qur’anic exegesis, tafsiir, at least before ʿAbdullahi wrote his Ḍiyaa’ at-Ta’wiil, was Tafsiir al-Jalalayn. For further studies, Baydawi, Razi and several others were available. Qur’anic legislation and rules of recitation were among other subjects studied. The Shehu himself taught tafsiir. ʿAbdullahi stated that he studied tafsiir under the Shehu,   from the beginning of al-Faatiah to the end of the Qur’an, more times than I can tell’. There were other students whose education was fundamentally centered on the memorization, study and recitation of the Qur’an. In ḥadiith, attention was centered mainly on Bukhaari and Muslim, and to some extent Muwaá¹á¹a of Imam Maalik; but for those who wanted to go further, other ḥadiith works were available – notably Tirmidhii, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah and Nasai. Others were Mishkaat al-Maṣaabiiḥ, and so on. However, as-Suyuuti’s two collections, Jaamiʿ al-Kabiir and Jaamiʿ aṣ-aghiir were of immense value in ḥadiith studies, especially for students who wanted reference books. Commentaries on the major ḥadiith books were also studied, especially al-Qastalaani’s Fat-u-l-Baari, a commentary on ṣaiih al-Bukhaari.

The study of tawḥiid centered mainly on the books of as-Sanusiyyah. It was highly-prized knowledge; was the greatest favor done to me’, was how ʿAbdullahi saw the imparting of the knowledge of tawiid to him. taṣawwuf was also studied and practiced, though it was confined to the Qaqdiriyyah order. History was an important subject in the Timbuktu educational tradition since it was regarded as a guide to the future. Muhammad Bello articulated this concept in Infaaq al-Maysuur when he declared that many a great man had fallen because he had neglected to learn from history. Medicine was also a highly rated subject. Emphasis was laid on

 prophetic medicine’ without limiting the scope of practical medicine. Astronomy, mathematics and related subjects were also part of the education.

Education revolved generally, around the Qur’an and Sunnah; every other subject was derived from, or at least related to, these two sources. This approach to education was imperative for a movement dedicated to creating a society in the pattern established by the Prophet Muhammad ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)). Imperative also was the ideological stance given to education by the Shehu himself if students were to spearhead the struggle for an Islamic society, then a belief in Islam as the way of life; in Shariiʿah as the law, in khilaafah (caliphate) as the ultimate in political system, in jihad as the ultimate struggle, in Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) as the leader par excellence, in the hereafter as the life, in Allah as the ultimate goal, had to be carefully nurtured and imparted to them in the process of education. At the end of the day, no student would be left with any doubts in his mind as to what way of life, what law, what society and what goal he should strive for; nor to doubt that the existing order characterized by oppression and corruption and heedlessness of Allah was illegitimate, and had to go.

The imparting of the idea of tajdiid or revival the Deen, in his students and involving them in the process of tajdiid as a necessary part of education was, perhaps, Shehu Usman‘s greatest contribution to education in Hausaland. Yet he introduced another aspect that was of equal importance – the approach to law and society, the gist of which is contained in his Hidaayat al-Ṭullaab.

The Hidaayat dealt with several issues relating to Islamic law and Muslim society, the first of which was the very definition of law itself. In Hausaland, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, the notion of madh-hab, or school of law dominated the entire concept of law, and the term was taken as being synonymous with Shariiʿah itself. The practical implication was that both the divine aspects of Islamic law and their human derivations became inseparable and were given equal treatment and weight by Muslims. This, obviously was a dangerous attitude to law, for while the divine is perfect and immutable, the human aspects are far from perfect, and should not be immutable. Shehu Usman therefore, felt it necessary to distinguish between the law proper, Shariiʿah, and the human understanding and application of the law embodied in the idea of madh-hab. Shariiʿah, he stated, is the body of laws revealed to Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) by Allah and is therefore the universal, unalterable law and cannot be regarded as the madh-hab of any particular person. The Shariiʿah is absolutely binding on every Muslim wherever he may be, but a madh-hab, being essentially human in formulation, is not absolutely binding on all Muslims. Laws formulated by a madh-hab are subject to change and modification in response to human needs and differing circumstances.

This notion of madh-hab put forward by Shehu Usman raised the issue of relevance of madh-hab as a whole. The Shehu answered that basically Islam places no obligation on any Muslim to follow a particular madh-hab, nor have the Imams themselves insisted on being followed. A Muslim is free to choose any madh-hab of his liking, or in fact, to refuse to subscribe to any, if he is of the status of a mujtahid himself. The Shehu went even further in trying to limit the scope of a madh-hab by distinguishing between the rulings and opinions of the Imam of a madh-hab and the ideas of his immediate students and later scholars. The former is what constitutes the madh-hab, the latter is of secondary importance only. Thus, even if Muslims feel bound by a madh-hab, they should nevertheless allow themselves freedom to hear the opinions and rulings of scholars other than the Imam.

Granted this, all the schools of law are in the right. Therefore, no Muslim should feel constrained to follow the rulings of any one of them. Equally, a Muslim does not commit a sin by following rulings of a madh-hab other than his own. Indeed, he sins by nursing aversion to following such rulings. In other words, all the schools are the common property of Muslims and should be seen as a source of strength for the ummah rather than as a source of disunity and conflict. No one school is superior or inferior to another; each one is on a right path and within the bounds of Islam, but the situation which Shehu Usman met was that fiqh was almost totally divorced from the Qur’an and Sunnah, so much so that it seemed as though these fundamental sources were relegated to the background in the scheme of things. The re-establishment of the supremacy of the Qur’an and Sunnah – or the Shariiʿah – became imperative in those circumstances. Hence, the Shehu issued the statement that any rulings of a madh-hab that contradicted the Qur’an, Sunnah or ijimaaʿ should be ignored. Fiqh had thus to be subordinated to the primary sources. Shehu Usman‘s Iyaa’ as-Sunnah should be seen as an effort to return to the true spirit of Shariiʿah, where primacy is given to what the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) said and practiced.

Finally, the Shehu dealt in Hidaayat with the issue of right and wrong in society. He sought to limit both authority and scope of madh-hab, by emphasizing that it is Shariiʿah alone that is absolutely binding on Muslims, and that a madh-hab is essentially the opinions and rulings of its Imam. Secondly, he attempted to establish the supremacy of the Qur’an and Sunnah over the entire Islamic legal order. Thus, what is right and what is wrong for society is determined only by the Qur’an and Sunnah. Human legislation cannot prescribe in matters in which the Qur’an and Sunnah have not been categorical. No one can be repudiated for not performing a duty, or for doing a deed which neither source has declared as unlawful.

Shehu Usman‘s Hidaayat al-Ṭullaab can be seen as an attempt to instill in his students a universal approach to law, and to expand their attitudes to society. When incorporated in the scheme of education, the approach was bound to create broadminded scholars with an incentive for wider reading and research. They were to regard all schools of law as correct and equally valid for all Muslims. They were to look at the weaknesses and failures of their society with sympathy and flexibility. The common people might do many things that offend the spirit, if not the letter, of the law, but as long as the Qur’an and Sunnah have not been dogmatic on the prohibition of those deeds, such lapses should be overlooked. The students should concentrate on the fundamentals of the common people with sympathy, with a view to drawing them into the Jamaaʿah and correcting them by a gradual process. This approach to moral failures of the people contributed much to the expansion of the Jamaaʿah and its impressive social and ethnic spread.

On the whole, the quality of the students produced by the Shehu rested more on the personal initiative and effort they exerted in private research than on what they were taught formally. Knowledge was the most fundamental criterion in the new scheme of things. The acquisition of knowledge was part of the effort of the individual to ensure for himself a place in the new order, but more importantly, the atmosphere of ideological and social struggle, under which the á¹alabah were being nurtured, was most conducive to study. The need to find solutions to new problems that confronted the Jamaaʿah, the intellectual challenge posed by ʿʿulamaa’ as-suu’, the desire to reach the high standard of learning achieved by earlier scholars and the intellectual climate fostered by the Shehu himself all contributed to the general upsurge in scholarship. The Shehu devoted the larger part of his time to teaching and raising his students.

In addition, the growing intellectual character of his Jamaaʿah attracted revolutionary scholars from all corners of Hausaland and beyond, and this influx swelled the pool from which the á¹alabah drew their knowledge. I cannot now number all the shaykhs’, ʿAbdullahi wrote in Tazyiin, is from whom I acquired knowledge. Many a scholar and many a seeker after knowledge came to us from the East from whom I profited, so many that I cannot count them. Many a scholar and many a seeker after knowledge came to us from the West, so many that I cannot count them’. Shehu’s advice to his students and companions in his Wathiiqat al-Ikhwaan to go out to seek knowledge from pious, learned scholars wherever they might be, coupled with the pressure exerted by the process of reviving the Deen which required a body of scholars to articulate and disseminate its message, created that fertile intellectual climate that was to feed Hausaland with knowledge.

The scale of research and scholarship was astounding. There seemed to be the realization in the Jamaaʿah that the process of reviving the Deen depended almost entirely on the soundness and vastness of the learning its members were able to acquire. Scholars among them gave their time to developing other scholars and learning more themselves. Students strove for intellectual excellence. Muhammad Bello told us in Shifaa’ al-Asqaam that in all he read as many as twenty thousand books. Books were bought, others were borrowed from different parts of Hausaland, and many were written in response to the demands of the Jamaaʿah. What came out of this extraordinary devotion to learning was an intellectual revolution on a scale unprecedented in Hausaland.

Spiritual Training

Intellectual training went hand-in-hand with the spiritual development  of Shehu Usman‘s students and companions. The gist of this development is contained in a concise but precious treatise, ʿUmdaat al-ʿUbbaad, which the Shehu wrote to provide guidelines for the minimum voluntary acts of devotion: prayer, fasting, Qur’anic recitation, remembrance of Allah and acts of charity.

Muhammad Bello wrote an addendum toʿUmdaat entitled Tamiid al-ʿUmdaat al-ʿUbbaad, which might perhaps be his first book. It may be stressed that supererogatory devotion presupposes the fulfillment by a Muslim of his obligatory duties, otherwise it is meaningless. It is on this premise that ʿUmdaat was written.


In the area of ṣalaat (prayer five times a day), three categories of nawaafil (supererogatory devotion) were recommended in the ʿUmdaat; chosen because they constitute the middle course in the prophetic practice and because they are easy to perform. The first, ṣalaat aḍ-Ḍuḥaa which is performed between daybreak and noon, is of great significance because it is performed at the very start of the day’s work or in the busiest part of it. It gives one the opportunity to return to the Lord and be intimate with Him, even at the most mundane of times. Thus, the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) extolled this ṣalaat as the prayer of the pertinent’, and indicated that it contained within it the qualities and ingredients of almost every deed which a Muslim is recommended to do for the day:

An act of charity is due from each part of the body of each one of you every day; thus, the glorification of Allah is charity; the declaration of His Unity is charity; the declaration of his absolute greatness is charity; to praise Him is charity; to command what is good is charity; to prohibit evil is charity, but the rakaʿatayn  (two rakaʿah ) which one offers at forenoon suffices.

A further category of nawaafil are those following each obligatory prayer, such as the naafilah of ṣalaatudhDhuhr. The Dhuhr time, according to the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)), is the hour in which the gates of heaven are opened, and I would like any good deed of mine to ascend thereto at that time. The implication is that the possibility of Allah looking sympathetically at one’s works is higher if these are presented to Him when one is engaged at the actual time of presentation in any act of devotion, more so, when according to the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)), the gates of heaven are opened purposely to receive such devotional acts. The naafilah of ṣalaatu-l-ʿAṣr were also important to the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)); May Allah bestow His mercy on a person who performs four, rakaʿats before the ʿAṣr The naafilah of ṣalaatu-l-Maghrib follows, and then the naafilah of ṣalaatu-ṣ-ubḥ, by far the most important of this category of nawaafil. According to ʿAishah (may Allah be pleased with her) the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) was most persistent in performing this prayer, referring to it as better than the world and what it contains.

The third category of nawaafil recommended in the ʿUmdaat are the night prayers, called Tahajjud. These are the important prayers apart from the obligatory ones. The Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) gave four attributes to them. They are, he said, the tradition of the best of men who have gone before us, and by implication, one of the means through which they were exalted. Allah said to Muhammad ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) in this regard, As for the night, keep vigil a part of it, as a work of supererogation for you. It may be that your Lord will raise you up to a laudable station. So persistent and diligent was the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) in obeying this command that often his feet swelled up, as a result of his long standing in prayer. The tahajjud, the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) said, are a means by which one achieves nearness to Allah. The timing itself, when the night is in its full serenity and everything is still, creates an impression in the mind of the person who stands up in prayer that he is directly in the presence of Allah. It is a time Allah Himself described as heavier in tread, more upright in speech’, and one is expected to empty one’s mind and soul to Allah, and beseech Him earnestly. This is the best time for people to get close to Allah, for there are no barriers between them at this time, no matter what their station in the scale of things. And if some people do rise to great heights spiritually, it is precisely because they have made the best use of this opportunity.

The tahajjud is also, according to the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)), the means of obtaining Allah’s forgiveness and other favors. He said that Allah descends, as it were, to the lowest heaven in the latter part of the night purposely to listen to the complaints of people, to respond to their needs and to forgive the sins of those who seek His forgiveness. The tahajjud is a means by which one is guarded eventually against falling into grievous sin. Thus, when he was told of a man who was constant in tahajjud and yet was in the habit of stealing people’s property he said  he will leave stealing’ on account of the effects of tahajjud.


In the area of fasting, ʿUmdaat gave three recommendations: one could follow the one he felt he could undertake most conveniently. One was fasting three days in a month, the minimum required of anyone who wanted to undertake the nawaafil of fasting. The Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) likened it to perpetual fast’, since an act of piety is rewarded ten-fold or more, fasting three days in a month would be equivalent in reward to fasting the whole month. The second naafilah the Shehu called the golden means’, and entailed fasting on every Monday and Thursday. These are the days, the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) said, in which people’s deeds are presented to Allah, and it is better to be fasting at that time. The last fasting recommended was the fasting of Dawud’ – that is, fasting on alternate days, which the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) called the most excellent of fasting.

Fasting is particularly important for a group in a state of moral growth. It offers a moral and physical discipline which differs completely from the gluttony and permissiveness of the decaying society. It is the antidote to degeneration. The austere habits, social restraint, modesty and physical endurance which it cultivates in the individual are the ingredients of moral transformation. Fasting is also important because of the regard accorded to it by Allah. Fasting is for me, he said, and I personally give the reward for it. The requests of a person who is fasting, the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) said,  are never rejected by his Lord.

Qur’anic Recitation

In the area of Qur’anic recitation the Shehu recommended that one should complete its reading within a maximum period of two months and a minimum period of three days. The optimum time, however, is between ten days and one month. The reasons are twofold: one moral and the other educational. The personal reading of the Qur’an is a duty one owes to Allah and He gives ample reward for it as a number of ḥadiiths have indicated. It has the effect of familiarizing the mind with the message of Allah, to which eventually – if it becomes constant practice – the mind responds with awe and reverence, so that as the response grows in intensity the Qur’an becomes part and parcel of one’s being. The second purpose is to enable the individual to have personal acquaintance and understanding of the Qur’an. During a year, a person will have gone through the whole of the Qur’an at a contemplative, devotional level, without outside aid or interference, at least six times and at best twelve or more times. In the course of time, the individual will have been morally and intellectually transformed and be filled with reverence for the Book, more ready to put its precepts into practice.

Remembrance of Allah

The next area of spiritual training dealt with in ʿUmdaat was that of dhikr or remembrance of Allah. dhikr is a continuous effort on the part of man to seek access to Allah, to remain as close to him as possible, to bear Him in mind at all times and in all conditions and to seek His assistance in every situation; it is thus rightly regarded as the best form of worship. It comprises a number of elements: giving Allah His due rights, such as constant contemplation and affirmation of His unity, His glory, His majesty and His greatness and appreciating His uncountable favors; seeking the means of approach to Him; turning to Him in repentance moment by moment and day by day, with the hope of obtaining His forgiveness and the expiation of one’s sins; seeking assistance from him in respect of the numerous, intractable problems of the world; contemplating His message, His creation and His authority; and evoking His blessing upon the best of His creatures. The forms of dhikr recommended in ʿUmdaat are intended to cover as many aspects of ordinary life as possible. Thus, guides as to what one should say in one’s ṣalaat when going to bed and waking up in the morning, as well as how to seek Allah’s forgiveness and how to glorify Him are given. Some chapters and verses of the Qur’an have been recommended, including the chapter’s al-Baqarah and Aal Imraan, which, in addition to their obvious spiritual value, are the summary and quintessence of the ideology of the Qur’an. Anyone who is familiar with them will have a fair idea of Islam and the nature of its ideological differences with other ways of life.


Finally, in the area of sadaqah or charity, the Shehu did not make any specific recommendation, except that he referred to the statements of the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) which explain the true nature of this kind of devotion. The compulsory equivalent of sadaqah is zakaat, which is given, as the Qur’an commands, for the amelioration of the weak elements in society, and ideally, to eliminate poverty and social misery. Sadaqah for its part means more than charity. Essentially, it embraces any kind of honest effort, moral, material, intellectual, which one expends to improve the lot of society, especially in the areas of social indignity, poverty, ignorance or disease. In a comprehensive ḥadiith in Muslim, the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) explained the various facets of sadaqah.

We may stress that sadaqah in the context in which it is conceived here is one of the sources for integrating and unifying a nascent community. Not only does it indicate the personal goals which the members should individually pursue – acquisition of knowledge, securing one’s livelihood, honest acquisition of wealth so that one can support one’s family. It also places such goals in the broader context of communal responsibility. Thus, the community is unified in mutual assistance and protection from the social, economic and political hardships foisted on it by the powers that be or simply by the vicissitudes of life.


In addition to the general education which the Shehu imparted to his students and companions, there was also a more intensive and systematized spiritual training in taṣawwuf. The Shehu had a group of people – men and women – whom he brought up the ways of sufism. His main aim, no doubt, was to create a core of saints whose inward temperament was harmonized with their outward disposition in such a way that their utterances, behavior and characteristics mirrored what was within. This nucleus of people eventually formed the inner core of the Jamaaʿah. It was to them that mightier affairs were entrusted.

If the Shehu were asked whether taṣawwuf were necessary, he would reply in the affirmative in his Uṣuul al-Wilaayah. He said that in the early days of Islam there was no need for taṣawwuf, because the companions of the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) had among them those from whom the rest could draw inspiration and who could serve as models. The proper Islamic attitudes to life were preserved and transferred from one generation to another until the time came when the moral tone of society changed and people sank into moral perplexity. Then a systematized form of spiritual training (tarbiyyah) was needed, to give individuals guidance toward intellectual and moral elevation in order to overcome the diseases of the soul that prevented spiritual development.

This kind of concentrated spiritual cultivation of individuals, the Shehu maintained, is traceable to the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)) himself, who trained his companions in accordance with the disposition of each. He would tell one, Avoid anger, and another, Let not your tongue ever rest in the mentioning of Allah’s names.

The Shehu elaborated that the taṣawwuf entails securing from people a pledge, which is continually reaffirmed, that they devote themselves to moral rectitude and the search for knowledge after the example of the Prophet ((صلى الله عليه وسلم)). In this desire to inculcate in people knowledge (ʿilm) and moral rectitude (ḥaqiiqah), the ṣufis have not added anything, other than the pledge, to the general practice in Islam that demands the performance of obligatory duties and avoidance of prohibited things.

The essence of taṣawwuf as expounded in Uṣuul al-Wilaayah is five-fold. One should seek to attain the superior moral consciousness (taqwaa) in which a person behaves as if in the presence of Allah so that whether alone or with others obligatory duties are upheld and forbidden things avoided. One should follow the Sunnah in all its ramifications, manifested by one being of good character and a source of happiness and comfort to others. One should keep aloof from people and not harm them or cause unnecessary discomfort to them, while at the same time exercising patience and trust in Allah should they cause one harm. One should accept cheerfully Allah’s overriding will in all matters concerning one’s life, prosperity or poverty. One should perfect the attitude of return’ where even in the most trying circumstances one offers thanks to Allah, appreciates the perfect nature of His will and, in hope for His mercy and succor, flees from the imperfect state of the world to seek refuge in Him.

The means of reaching those goals are in the following steps: to exercise zeal in seeking the highest of aims in worship; to revere the sanctity of Allah by following His injunctions and avoiding His prohibitions; to strive to perform one’s professional work correctly and skillfully in accordance with the Sunnah; to carry out one’s resolutions about religion regardless of opposition; and finally to acknowledge Allah’s favors by being thankful to Him so as to be graced with an increase in such favors.

Shehu listed in this order fifteen ultimate qualities that should be inculcated: basic knowledge in the fundamentals of religion, jurisprudence and taṣawwuf; repentance (tawbah) from all sins, both spiritual and social; keeping aloof from people except for spiritual, educational or other positive purposes (zuhd); waging war against Shaytaan; striving against one’s desires and restraining the self by taqwaa; reliance on Allah in matters of provision and livelihood, that is, self-reliance; committing one’s affairs in their entirety to Allah; cheerful acceptance of Allah’s judgment; patience (ṣabr), especially in times of trial; fear of Allah’s retribution at all times; love of Allah in all conditions and at all times; avoidance of eye contact in work; avoidance of conceit by calling to mind Allah’s unbounded favors; and constant praise and thanks to Allah.

Shehu described the nature of the training as the gradual cultivation of a person’s character through a systematic process supervised by the Shaykh until the whole being is positively changed with the good qualities being totally inculcated into the personality. This process is called riyaaḍah. Shehu offered an insight into this method by saying, for instance, that if the student (muriid) were ignorant of the Shariiʿah, the starting point in his training would therefore be his instruction in law and jurisprudence; if he were preoccupied with unlawful enrichment or was in a sinful political or social position, he should first be made to rectify that situation; even if he were sound in outward appearance, the diseases of the inside would have to be cured; if he were obsessed with personal appearance he should be assigned to such lowly chores as cooking until that obsession bad been removed; if he were obsessed with food, then he should be introduced to constant fasting until that obsession had been curbed; if he were in a hurry for marriage, though unable to shoulder the responsibilities, that desire should be curbed with fasting and other exercises. Thus, the training is in accordance with the intellectual and moral level of the individual.

What differentiates this system of training from the informal, personal education is that it is under the guidance of the shaykh. This raises the fundamental question of how one can distinguish the true shaykh from the fake. The Shehu offered the following guidelines in identifying a fake: if he engages under any pretext in disobedience to Allah, if he is hypocritical and pretentious in exhibiting obedience to Allah, if he is greedy for wealth and worldly status and hangs on to rich people, if he sows discord among Muslims and is disrespectful to Muslims in general, then he is not genuine. The true shaykh is known by the soundness of his knowledge derived fundamentally from the Qur’an and Sunnah, by the nobility of his character, by his spiritual soundness, by a pleasing and easy disposition, and finally by his display of pure insight in interpreting the issues clearly.

Finally, one must ask whether one needs a shaykh to attain spiritual well being? Not necessarily, the Shehu stated in Uṣuul al-Wilaayah. The collective spirit of an Islamic group, Ikhwaan, as he called them, could take the place of a shaykh. And in any case the ultimate purpose of taṣawwuf is that the individual should reach a stage in his experience’ of Allah in which he dispenses with guidance of other people. taṣawwuf is the process of training in which an individual is brought to spiritual maturity, and then freed to seek his way to his Lord.

For Shehu Usman, taṣawwuf as an integral part of Islam is derived from two verses of the Qur’an: but unto him who shall have stood in fear of his Sustainer Presence, and held back his inner self from base desires, paradise will truly be the goal.

Published in: Uncategorized on February 24, 2018 at 07:10  Leave a Comment  

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