Translated Speech of
His Eminence Ameer Muhammad Akram Awan
Shaikh Silsilah Naqshbandiah Owaisiah
The Message of Incessant Endeavour in Practical Life
14 October 1987
We belong to a Sufi Order; therefore, most of our speeches and writings deal with the subject of Allah's Zikr. It is but natural that a person likes to converse about his most favourite pursuit. It should not be misconceived that we elude the challenges of practical life or persuade others to do so. On the other hand, by Allah's Grace, this exalted Order has presented pure Tasawwuf during the present time. The masses had already confused the meanings of Tasawwuf and it was believed that Sufis are those miserable failures in the world, who escape reality and pass their time as recluses in dark corners of oratories or mosques and that, they are incapable of self-sustenance and cannot courageously face the rigors of practical life. But this concept is not correct. The real Tasawwuf was taught by the Holy Prophet-saw himself to his students, the Companions.
According to the Quran, Companions were the exemplary Muslims. Their faith is quoted as the standard:
And if they believe in the like of that which you believe, then are they rightly guided. But if they turn away, then are they in schism. (2: 137).
It implies that everyone else is in the wrong and ill fated. It is of course, difficult to assess the level of one's honesty, because the inner feelings of a person are not necessarily displayed on his countenance. But Allah bears witness to the piety and honesty of the Companions:
Those are they whose hearts Allah has proven unto righteousness, (49: 3)
Those are they who are in truth believers. (8: 4).
Taking them as the standard of virtue and the criteria of right and wrong, the Gracious Lord has divided the Ummah in three groups. The first two are the Emigrants and the Helpers amongst the Companions, and third is the group of those who follow them in earnest:
Allah is well pleased with them and they are well pleased with Him. (9: 100).
There is no concept of Islam outside these three groups.
As stated earlier, Companions are the exemplary Muslims with Allah and the Holy Prophet-saw, they are the foundation of religion as a whole. If you study their lives, the common factor (that is strikingly manifest in all of them) is their super human capacity to work. In today's nuclear age, it is possible for a single person to destroy millions by just pushing a button, yet during their time, in hand to hand fighting; the major battle-winning factor was numerical superiority. It is indeed incredible that the nomads of the Arabian Desert acquired the strength, ability, capacity, courage, discipline and everything else to subdue mighty empires of the world in a quarter century, as well as, exalt the Name of Allah and replace a system of tyranny and oppression with a system ensuring peace, justice and equality for all.
On the other hand, we live in a Muslim country; people living around us are Muslims since generations. Our claim is same as that of the Companions; we also claim a relationship with the Holy Prophet-saw. We are proud of our knowledge, wisdom, eloquence and literature. But what is our achievement? We are so weak that we cannot reform even those who have already taken Shahadah. But if we look at the illustrious lives of the Companions, we see that, without any material resources, they challenged and defeated the Roman and the Persian empires. The latter was the first to be set up after Prophet Noah's-as Flood. From its inception to the time of Companions, its rule changed hands within the same dynasty either by vertical or by horizontal inheritance, yet they were fire worshippers. Allah be Glorified! If fire is kept burning continuously for one thousand years, day and night, an insect known as 'Salmandar' is born in that fire. Nowhere else, except in the Persian fire oratory, was that insect ever found. Not even a volcano has ever remained continuously active for that long a period.
It is indeed very difficult to conquer countries. Those who are associated with this profession know what it really means to annex an inch of enemy territory or to capture an enemy post. A more arduous task is to convince people to abandon their customs and traditions which, coming through the centuries, acquire the status of inviolable religious rituals; this is the most difficult proposition. History bears witness that people preferred to be put to sword but did not renounce their religion. The Hindus and Sikhs lived here along with us before partition. They had to part with their wealth and property and even abandon their motherland. They endured all this but did not renounce their religion, though their mythology is obviously baseless.
The Companions had a strange influence; even after fourteen centuries, Islam has not been expelled from the land to which they introduced it. Practically, that country may have been divided into many smaller states, it may have witnessed numerous revolutions, it may have been even ruled by the infidels -but the voice of Islam could never be subdued in it. In today's world, the all-out effort by the Russians to eliminate the religion in general and Islam in particular is unprecedented in history. One cannot imagine the atrocities committed by this red devil against humanity and particularly the Muslims. When Russia annexed Samarqand and Bukhara, the educated families were separated. The young daughters of the religious scholars were driven to the labour camps. The scholars were forced to dig trenches, seated therein and then shot in their body joints. Un-slaked lime was sprinkled over their wounds to decompose their flesh and they were left to die in those ditches, a slow and torturous death. Their young daughters were put to hard labour during the day including the construction of roads and were raped by the red soldiers in their camps at nights. Those people who await a red revolution should better learn a lesson from the history of Samarqand and Bukhara. Due to flagrant oppression and persecution, the mosques were vacated and converted into clubs. Despite all this, Russia has not been able to efface the footprints of the Companions and even today the people pray, prostrate and recite the Quran in that land.
History is a witness that without any material resources, when the horse was the fastest means of travel, the Arabs carried the revolutionary Islamic message from one corner of the globe to the other. What was the force behind them? Were there any new dwellers of the Arabian Desert? No, they had lived there for centuries. That land had previously seen many powerful and courageous Arabs; the earth ultimately swallowed them along with their achievements, nobody remembers them today. But the Companions derived their strength from the message brought by Muhammad-saws the Messenger of Allah. He infused such courage, power, spirit and blessings in them that they changed the course of history. The call of Azan resounding in a vast portion of the world is an echo of their sincere efforts, while the Muslims of today are incapable of even retaining this heritage. The Companions were the first Sufis; their faith, conduct, sincerity and sacrifices are exemplary. The ever-living examples of perfect Tasawwuf are they who received the beneficence directly from the Holy Prophet-saw.
So, what should be the effect or result of our Zikr congregations, spiritual attention (Tawajjuh) and beneficence? It should accord extra zeal and increased work capacity; it must correct the priorities and direction of one's life. Tasawwuf never means that one should escape the challenges of practical life and retreat to seclusion, not at all - this concept is alien to Islam!! This had been the practice of old Indian tribes, especially those inhabiting Himalayan valleys and the Eastern countries. Some of their men went into seclusion, achieved paranormal strength through occult practices and thus acquired a holy status. Islam outrightly rejects this way of life. The exemplary person in the Muslim Ummah was Abu Bakr Siddiq-rau, a man of unparalleled excellence. The evidence of his superiority is contained in the Quran and the Hadith; the Holy Prophet-saw said that the sun has never seen a man of his calibre after the Prophets. He was the first politician to administer the Islamic state after the Prophet-saw, the first general who courageously braved all forces of falsity, the first compiler of the Islamic constitution, the first ruler who dared to face the mighty empires of Rome and Persia and the first Sufi whose heart was so warm that all human hearts put together cannot equal it; it is recorded that his breath smelt of roasted flesh. Every moment of his life reflected Allah's Zikr, but in his practical life he was incredibly strong. The passing away of the holy Prophet-saw was an enormous tragedy that rocked even a person with ‘nerves of steel’ like ‘Umar Faruq-rau. Yet this was the singular courage of Abu Bakr-rau, in that he was able to pull together and console the entire Ummah at that heartbreaking moment. The nascent Muslim state was faced with multifarious problems. Some tribes had refused to pay Zakat, some impostors claimed Prophethood, all the while, the army of Caesar was knocking at the doors. Considering the gravity of the situation, many renowned Companions recommended to him to attend to these problems one by one. His historic reply was: "By Allah who controls Abu Bakr's life, I shall recover even that rope from the deniers of Zakat which they used to give with the animals during the Prophet's time. If someone refuses, I will fight him. I will also fight against the false claimants of Prophethood and shall simultaneously dispatch forces to fight Caesar's army". While I live, no one dare add or subtract an iota from what the Holy Prophet-saw left with us." - h e was a person who had tasted real love. His beloved was also the beloved of Allah and his love was exemplary. He laid his beloved to eternal rest in the grave and still retained enough self-control to be able to manage the turbulent affairs of the whole state - this is Tasawwuf! Tasawwuf is that energy which infuses new life in the ailing souls. It activates the inactive and bestows positive capacity to the incapable; it quickens the dead hearts and illuminates them. Tasawwuf never advocates any escape from the practical life, it neither preaches seclusion nor reclusion. On the contrary, it is a complete negation of such attitudes. If you study the life of any renowned Sufi or Wali, you would find that they spent every moment of their lives purposefully for the reformation of mankind. They travelled far and wide under trying circumstances to convey the Divine Message to mankind. This was no seclusion but an active and positive effort for human reformation and eternal salvation. It was always the Sufis who directly or indirectly influenced the course of Islamic history. That, which was beyond the swords of the emperors was accomplished by the blessings of speech and company of the Aulia.
This is concordant to the concept of life expressed by the Quran:
By the declining day, Lo! Man is in state of loss. (103:1-2).
Allah does not need to swear by anything to establish His credibility. It is a principle that when you swear by something, you are making it a witness to the truth of your statement. That is why it is not permitted to swear by anything other than Allah, because He is the Witness over everything. When the Gracious Lord uses such expression and swears by something, He makes it a witness to corroborate a fact for the understanding of even a common man. Here, the vicissitude of time has been made a witness to the fact that all of mankind is in a sheer loss. People accumulated wealth, ruled countries, built castles but ultimately left everything for their descendants, who enjoyed their wealth and property but instantly forgot them. In our society, the celebration of birthdays is a common feature. Some diehards have gone even farther; they cut birthday cakes on tombs and chant ‘Happy Birthday to you’ - to the dead. But everyone forgets that every living person, whom they are congratulating on his birthday, has actually reduced his life by yet another year and has drawn closer to his grave. Now, where is everybody going? Nobody has the slightest idea, nor is anyone concerned about it anymore. In this verse, Allah asserts that all human beings, save a few, are ultimately the losers. Who are these lucky ones? Allah identifies them:
Those who believed, did good works, exhorted one another to truth and exhorted one another to endurance (103: 3).
The Quran emphasises the performance of good works immediately after belief. Actually, good works are the manifestation and confirmation of one's faith. Now, what is the criterion of a ‘good work’? Anything done by the Holy Prophet-saw or proved through his conduct is a ‘good work’. Any action, not in accordance with the way of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him), cannot be called a good deed, howsoever noble it may seem. At best, it may be called a custom but not a good deed. Although that is not the end, yet we fail to reach even this far. First of all, our belief leaves much to be desired; although we are Muslims, yet we are ignorant of the basic requirements of the faith. Everybody feels free to possess his individual and personal belief, yet - there is no imitation in beliefs. Each one of us is individually responsible to know the basic religious beliefs about the Supreme Being, His Attributes, Prophethood, Angels, Hereafter and the Reward and Retribution. Such knowledge is mandatory for all and sundry. If someone fails to acquire this knowledge, his faith is imperfect.
Acquisition of this knowledge is compulsory, according to the degree of its importance. It is an individual and personal responsibility of every Muslim, male or female to possess the knowledge of day-to-day affairs, including the knowledge of the permitted and the prohibited - no one is absolved of this responsibility. Advanced religious knowledge is not obligatory, a few scholars in a town would suffice. But a majority of the Muslims today cannot even recite the Kalimah correctly, do not understand the meanings of this basic proclamation of the Faith and are totally unaware of the fundamental beliefs. Still they remain satisfied that they are Muslims - such Islam is not acceptable.
The first question asked after interment is, “Who is your Creator?” This inquiry relates to the Essence of the Supreme Being and His Attributes. How can anyone reply to this question unless he has learnt and believed during his worldly existence? People do not know the fundamental beliefs, yet it is tragic that instead of teaching them, the religious scholars brand them as non-believers, whereas they deserve to be properly and completely educated about Islam. Good deeds follow sound beliefs, no deed is counted as good unless the belief is correct. According to a Hadith, every non-believer receives the full reward of his apparently good works during his worldly life. He has no share in the Hereafter because he does not believe in it. Now, there is no visible identification mark of a non-believer; anyone who does not believe in the Supreme Being, His Attributes, His Messengers, the Revealed Books and their fundamental teachings becomes a non-believer. The question of the deeds being good or bad comes later. If the belief is not sound, no deed is good, and the only criterion of good deeds is the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet-saws.
The Quran, however, does not demand only sound belief and good personal conduct, but also expects a degree of firmness and strength of Faith and character where one starts influencing others. This would only be possible if one's own heart is brim with truth. The next requirement of the Quran is that one should not only possess endurance himself but should be able to teach it to others. To hold fast to truth and endure adversity patiently is a commendable attribute but the Quran does not consider such a person as an ideal Muslim. Once a saint asked someone, "How do you pass your time?" He replied, “If we get something we give thanks, else we endure patiently.” “That's the conduct of our street dogs”, remarked the saint. There is nothing special about this type of behaviour. This is the nature of all creatures. The greatness of a Muslim is that during adversity and trial he should alleviate the misery of others and they should derive strength from him - that was the attribute of the Companions. Wherever they went, they imbued faith to the disbelievers, changed vice into virtue, propagated the truth and taught endurance to everyone. Khamsa was a famous poetess of Arabia. She was specially gifted in the use of marvellous phrases and is still considered an authority in Arabic literature. Her brother Sakhar died young, she was herself young at that time and was tremendously grief-stricken. To lament his death, she composed an ode, which is a masterpiece of Arabian poetry. One of the verses was:
The rising sun reminds me of Sakhar,
And it sets down weary with his memory.
Then Allah blessed her with Faith. When the battle of Qadsiah took place, she was old. She participated in it along with her four young sons. She was sitting in a tent when the news of martyrdom of all the four was conveyed to her. She came out, her face beaming with delight and exclaimed, “My utmost gratitude to Allah, Who has blessed me to join the ranks of the mothers of the martyrs on the Day of Judgement!” Where did that old lady, whom the natural death of her brother had given prolonged lamenting, derive that strength and courage to willingly offer her four sons in the battle and joyfully celebrate their death? This is Tasawwuf! This is the result of Allah's Zikr and the blessings of the Holy Prophet-saws. This is His beneficence that completely transforms hearts. The faith gets so deeply entrenched in the hearts that it becomes impossible to accept anything wrong. It produces an urge for good deeds and one's thirst for virtue is never satiated. One looks for the opportunity to worship Allah. Sleep does not preclude from prayers; because a laudable attribute of His slaves mentioned in the Quran is that, their beds remain vacant in small hours of night, while engaged in Zikr. It paves the way for practising the truth and preaching patience, not with words but with conduct. Only such a person would be called a Sufi by us, irrespective of the fact whether we ourselves qualify for that title or not. It is easier to have our names deleted from the list of Sufis than to defame Tasawwuf, it is better to be called delinquent than to libel the virtuous.
Our Tasawwuf is not traditional. The person who is unable to sustain even himself cannot claim to be a Sufi; Allah's Zikr would never suit a person who eludes the challenges of practical life. Nobody should think that Allah's Zikr would herald worldly comfort, peace and progress for him - this would never happen, time would not change for him. A Sufi is the one who braves through the problems of practical life. - Allah does not support cowards. It does not befit Him to run back with those who flee from the rigors of life. He stands with those who stand fast in His cause; He forbids calling those (, slain in His way), as dead; they have, in fact, defeated death and attained to eternal life.
I have taken so much of your time because the other day I received a letter that read, “You preach Allah's Zikr with so much force and persuasion that after a while people are probably going to leave all other worship and start performing Allah's Zikr only.” What a naive conclusion! Remember that, without Allah's thought sustained only through His Zikr, one neither cares about himself nor for others. There is no clearly defined purpose of life in front of him, except the mundane pursuits like the animals. And the total effort of an animal, bird or insect revolves around the satisfaction of its carnal desires. The human being of today, by and large, follows the same course. But, to fall to the level of an animal cannot be the cherished aim of human life.
The real purpose of life is to acquire Divine Lights and redirect the human thought process in a manner so as to change the course of events and convey the revolutionary Message of Allah to everyone on the globe; one should thus imprint an enduring effect on human history. This sublime purpose of life was granted to humanity by the Holy Prophet Muhammad-saws. The minimum responsibility of a Sufi is that, if he cannot influence an entire world, he should at least realign the direction of his kith and kin to achieve this goal. He should make an earnest effort to rescue himself and his near ones from the Hell Fire - that is a real cause to live. If you think that the purpose of Zikr is the acquisition of spiritual observation or the manifestation of paranormal phenomenon - you are totally mistaken. On the contrary, Allah’s Zikr should prepare you for practical life, endow confidence in you to face life and grant you the strength to make your way through it. You should become an ideal worker of your field; your honesty, ability, courage and capacity to work should be exemplary. People should be amazed at your work potential, a common man should not be able to emulate you in any way. When that happens, you have become a Sufi. But if your output is less than even a normal man, you are not a Sufi in any sense of the word. This is the lesson that we get from the lives of the Companions, their achievements are incredible and amazing.
If you study the renowned Sufis of the Indo-Pak subcontinent, you would discover that they came to this land traversing great distances. But what did they do? They enlightened the estranged hearts with Allah's Lights and made people live active and practical lives dominated by Allah’s thought. The effects of the revolution brought by them lasted for centuries, they died but haven’t perished. The world has forgotten mighty emperors and rulers but it still cherishes the memories of these people. It is so, because they infused new life in them for the sake of Allah. While others are governed by the tide of time, they rode its crest and remained unaffected by it. Tasawwuf means sound beliefs, good deeds and the ability to communicate a positive attitude of life to others. Our entire effort is oriented towards this goal. To the critic I would advise you him not to form a hasty opinion. In fact, I would invite him to come over and stay with me for sometime, witness my practical life and then make his observation public, because it is not fair to pass judgements in absentia - this is an open invitation to all. By Allah's Grace, my life is not two sided, it is like an open book; I am not a recluse but spend my life with people. I say so because the impostors have really marked this field with ignominy. They are unaware of the reality, they cannot meet the requirements of practical life and they cannot even earn their own bread and butter - still they claim to be Sufis.
By Allah's Grace, in my practical life, I can compete with the young people of today. If someone does not believe, he can try his luck in any field of his choice. By His Grace I can ride a bicycle and fly an aircraft with equal ease. I have shot birds with a revolver and can still do it. Sophisticated weapons are like toys in my hands. I seek my sustenance from Allah and earn it with my own hands. I till and feed thousands. By Allah's Grace, I am not dependent upon anybody either for subsistence or for any other aspect of practical life. I have driven extensively throughout the country right up to Khunjrab. People drive from Skardu to Gilgit in six and a half hours but I drove in four and a half. Where others must slow down, I pass in speed. It is so because of my deep devotions to my Shaikh, with whom I had the honour to be for a while.
May Allah grant us the understanding of His chosen religion and the capacity to practise it! Amin!