Monday, June 13, 2011

Defending the Saints

THE other day on the Voice of the Cape radio station a maulana condemned a well-known Shaikh, a man regarded as a Grand Shaikh of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order.

His central beef was that this Shaikh had supposedly claimed amongst other things – via a website – that he was the Sultan ul-Awliya’, the Chief of the Saints. This is something that the Shaikh has never done.

Curiously, the Shaikh under fire, Shaikh Naazim ‘Adil al-Haqqani of Cyprus, has a famous invocation (also widely available on the internet) that has him asking to be “no-one and nothing”.

These are certainly not the prayers of a man claiming to be king. It’s unfortunate that the speaker concerned had not cross-checked his sources.

Since time immemorial, those close to Allah have had their characters and reputations darkened by clouds of toxic envy. Called hasad, it impairs for those near to it, the vision of the pristine truth that lies behind.

That’s why Cain slew Abel, and why Shams Tabriz had to leave his beloved companion, Maulana Jalal ud-Din Rumi. That’s why during the Abbasid era, Imam Ahmad ibn ‘Isa had to lead the family of the Prophet (SAW) from Baghdad to Yemen.

That’s why the Andalusian luminary, Ibn al-‘Arabi, was branded a “kafir”; why Sayyid Muhammad al-Maliki of Makkah was called a “deviant” by Shaikh Bin Baz, and how the great woman saint, Rabi’ah al-Basri, became a victim of fitna, or malicious gossip.

Indeed, the scenario is a familiar one, and the white-bearded Shaikh Naazim ‘Adil al-Haqqani – who is well into his eighties now – has been no stranger to personal abuse.

Shaikh Naazim, who has millions of followers, exudes a charisma that attracts people to him. This is enough to infuriate anyone made uneasy by such success – such as the Wahhabis (who detest Sufis), and certain Indo-Pak Deobandis (many of whose founding fathers were, ironically, Naqshbandi).

It is also a truism that whilst good attracts good – like bees to the stamen of the flower – it equally arouses the undesirable passions of the human heart.

To this effect, Shaikh Naazim is a Sayyid, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) from both the Hasani and Husseini lines. He also enjoys lineage to the 12th century Iraqi spiritual colossus, Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (ra).

In a world obsessed with status, it’s a pedigree many would metaphorically die for. In the wrong hands, the prophetic and saintly DNA of Shaikh Naazim would be a ticket to great wealth and power.

And as we’ve already said: much as Shaikh Naazim serves as an axis for good, he equally has to suffer the slings and arrows of jealousy.

But the central point here is that Shaikh Naazim was inappropriately maligned on a public platform, and that the doubt created around his character needs to be removed.

I’m not a Naqshbandi, and so consider myself in an interesting position to defend him. As much as I love and respect Shaikh Naazim, he is not my Grand Shaikh.

However, I did get to know him on two different occasions. The first was in 1997 when his deputy, Shaikh Hisham Kabbani, invited me to come to the USA.

I was asked to be his photographer for an international conference, and to cover Shaikh Naazim’s campaign at the United Nations and Capitol Hill to lobby for better US awareness of the Balkans crisis and the Chechen war.

I also had the opportunity to interview Chechen leader, Aslan Maskadov, who would be later assassinated by the Russians. Maskadov, who was a follower of Shaikh Naazim, remains one of the most principled political figures I’ve met.

The second time I had the privilege of Shaikh Naazim’s company was when he visited South Africa in 2000.

In the US I stayed with his entourage, and as a photographer, was often a fly on the wall to Naqshbandi leadership. But not only that: I witnessed first-hand how a man of Allah conducts himself 24-hours a day.

In three weeks I never saw him miss one waqt, or prayer time, even when on travel. I never saw him skip the pre-dawn, or tahujjud, prayer – even if it meant sleeping two hours a night. He was twice our age, but his energy exhausted us.

I never saw him utter words of anger, turn anyone away or refuse hospitality in a crowded schedule. And not once in three weeks did I ever see him entertain any delusions of grandeur.

His consistent utterance was that he was a servant of Allah. I saw UN officials fall at his feet, a CNN journalist become Muslim at his hands, a crack addict say his kalimah shahadah, a Malaysian prince kiss his forehead and a member of Congress embrace him, but he would just tell them that he was their servant.

He possessed a wicked sense of humour, and once when we were climbing into a Washington taxi he laughed and said: ”Brothers, get your asses in.”

We were surprised, but only when he pointed out a sign on the taxi that had the abbreviation “Taxi Ass’n” did we realise what was amusing him.

I remember him looking at the Statue of Liberty in New York and saying, with a mischievous glint in his eye, that the headquarters of the jinn was in the head of Lady Liberty. Of course, he wasn’t serious.

I heard his dawn sohbas, or inspirational talks, his jumu’ahs and his public speeches. Not once did I ever hear him deviating in principle from Qur’an and Sunnah.

Unfortunately – and the truth has to be spoken – there were some around him who would unnecessarily exaggerate, or attribute things to Shaikh Naazim that I knew he would not be happy with.

Sometimes a Shaikh’s worst enemies are his own followers, those who still have to learn the niceties of Tasawwuf, which is a spiritual science based on Shari’ah, or Sacred Law. For Shaikh Naazim’s enemies this was fodder for their enmity, and they would forage upon it mercilessly.

In Cape Town, I saw a continuation of his enduring devotion. And whilst I’ve often observed his vast intellectual capacity, his approach – in tune with Prophetic Tradition –has always been to be accessible to whatever audience he has addressed.

“Sidi Yusuf, are the Angels smiling or not?” he once asked Shaikh Yusuf Da Costa, turning to us and saying that that indeed, they were smiling because the Prophet (SAW) smiled as part of his adab, or conduct, towards Allah’s Creation.

In fact, if I were to summarise the status of Shaikh Naazim I could do no better than to recall the Hadith related by Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud that if the Muslim is pleased with Allah, with Islam as his faith and with Muhammad (SAW) as his Messenger, then Allah will be pleased with him.

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