Why Hafiz Ibnul Qayyim?
Although the true Sufis have always gone to great lengths in condemning the charlatans who masquerade as Sufis, and have elaborated sufficiently on how the various spiritual concepts and states associated with the spiritual path conform with the Shariah, the writings of Hafiz Ibnul Qayyim are used here since he is unlikely to be branded a deviant, bidati, zindeeq, or labelled with some other epithet that is usually hurled indiscriminately at the Auliya by the members of the Salafi Sect.
Hafiz Ibnul Qayyim has written enough on the topic of fanaa to dispel much of the misconceptions associated with this particular spiritual state, which the Ulama-e-Soo utilise in order to denigrate the Auliya. These excerpts are just a few taken from his book Madarij al-Salikin, which shed much light on this matter:
The True Sufis Do Not Mean Annihilation of Existence of Everything Apart from Allah
Ibn al-Qayyim states in Madarij al-Salikin (vol. 1, p.154) that the true Sufis do not mean the annihilation of the existence of everything apart from Allah. They only mean the obliteration of the self from seeing and feeling everything apart from Allah:
“As to annihilation (fana) from seeing anything apart from He, this is a concept that the majority of the latter Sufis have called towards and which they consider the goal, and it is that on which Abu Isma‘il al-Ansari has based his book and made the third stage in each of his chapters.
They do not mean the annihilation of the existence of everything apart from Allah on the outward, but the obliteration of the self from seeing and feeling everything apart from Allah. Its true nature is the absence of one of them from everything apart from what he is witnessing, rather also his absence from seeing himself and his being. This is because he becomes absent from his worship on account of He who is worshiped, absent from his dhikr on account of He who he is remembering, absent from his love on account of his beloved, and absent from seeing himself on account of He who is being seen.”
Two Reasons for Fanaa Occurring
Ibnul Qayyim states that Fanaa occurs when the strength of the inspirations (warid) supersedes the capacity of the Saalik to withstand them:
“There are two reasons for this fana: one is the strength of the inspirations (warid) and weakness of the one receiving, and this is not criticism of the person [who is experiencing this]”
The True Sufi is Not Held Blameworthy for Words Uttered in a State of Spiritual Intoxication (Sukr )
Ibnul Qayyim continues to state that being overcome by a high spiritual state is due to the Saalik not being strong enough to be able to withstand such a state. However, the true Sufi cannot be held blameworthy for words uttered in that state:
“At times, a spiritual state such as this is called intoxication (sukr), annihilation (istilam), obliteration (muhw) and being in the state of union (jam‘a). They sometimes differentiate between the meanings of these terms and, at times, the prevalent meaning is the seeing of the heart its Beloved and the One it is remembering until he disappears into Him and becomes annihilated in Him and thinks he is in union with Him and that he has joined Him, rather he thinks he is He. This is similar to the story in which a man saw his beloved throw herself into water and so the lover threw himself behind her. The beloved said, “What made you throw yourself into the water?” The lover replied, “I lost myself in you and thought surely you were I.”
When his sense returns, he understands he was mistaken in that and that the realities are distinguished in themselves. Hence, the Cherisher (Rabb) is the Cherisher, the slave is the slave, and the Creator is separate from the creation, there is nothing from Himself in His creation, and nothing in Him from His creation.
However, at the time of sukr, muhw, istilam, fana and jam‘a this difference becomes absent, and at this time, those involved may say such things as have been narrated from Abu Yazid who said, “Glory be to myself,” or, “There is nothing in this jubbah except Allah.” Speech such as this would render the speaker a kafir if his mind were with him. However, on account of the absence of the faculty of differentiating and feeling, he is not held blameworthy…
Rather, the final outcome of such a person is to be excused — on account of his inability and weakness of heart and mind — from distinguishing and differentiating”
Only Some Were Afflicted By Shatahat (Words Uttered in Ecstasy)
In comparing the capacities of different people to absorb spiritual states, he draws attention to the fact that only some were overcome completely, and that the most perfect ones never lost control. These included the the Sahabahs (radhiyallahu anhum) who received the greatest spiritual effulgence through being in the presence of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) – yet they were never reported to have lost their senses, swooned, died, etc. as a result of spiritual emotions – the most that occurred to them was physically shaking with fear or shedding tears in abundance:
“This situation is also not necessarily that of all saliks but it comes to some of them. Those who have been afflicted include Abu Yazid and others like him. There are some who are not afflicted by it. Their situation is more perfect and strong. Indeed, the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) are the leaders of the ‘arifs, the imams of those who have reached [Allah] and are close [to Him], and the exemplars of the saliks. There was none among them who was afflicted by this in spite of the strength of their iradah, their passing of so many stages, and their seeing that which others did not see. They did not even have a whiff of its smell and nor did it pass their hearts. If this fana was perfect then they were more deserving of it and would have been the people of it, and they would have had from it that which others have not.”
Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) – The Greatest Spiritual Strength
In order to draw attention to differing capacities of people, Ibnul Qayyim compares the reaction of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) with that of Hadhrat Musa (alayhi wasallam) when both beheld the presence of Allah (azza wa jal):
“This was also not the case with our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), and nor was his state. It is on account of this that on the night of Mi‘raj when he was taken and he saw that which he saw from that which Allah showed him from His great signs, this state did not come to him. Rather, he was as Allah Most High has described him in the verse, “The eye neither went wrong, nor did exceed the limit. He has indeed seen a part of the biggest signs of your Lord.” (53:17-18) He also said, “And We did not make the vision We showed to you, but a test for the people.” (17:60) Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “This is the vision that He showed the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) on the night he was taken…”
In spite of this, he came amongst them in the morn and his condition did not change, nor was he left senseless or unconscious, he informed them of the details of what he saw, he was not annihilated from his self and nor from seeing it. It is because of this that his situation was more perfect than Musa ibn ‘Imran (may Allah bless them both and grant them peace) when he fell senseless when his Cherisher revealed Himself to the mountain, turning it into rubble.”
Two extremes When Dealing with Shatahat of the Righteous
Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaa’ah accepts what has to be accepted, and rejects what has to rejected, using the Shariah as the standard, WITHOUT denigrating the Auliyah who uttered such statements.
There are two extreme groups when it comes to dealing with Shatahat – those who denigrate and belittle the Auliyah on account of such statements, and those who latch onto the corrupt meanings of such statements in order to justify their deviant beliefs.
Hafiz Ibn al-Qayyim in Madarij al-Salikin (vol. 2, p.39) refers to these two groups of fitnah:
“It is said that this and other words of ecstasy (shatahat) — the forgiveness of which is hoped through an abundance of good deeds, and which one is drawn deeply into due to perfect truthfulness (sidq), correct dealing, utmost sincerity and pure monotheism, and no human after the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) is guaranteed fallibility — has forced two groups of people into fitnah:
The first group has been blinded from the goodness of this group, the gracefulness of their souls and the truthfulness of their dealings on account of these words of ecstasy. They consider them (the Sufis) invalid on account of these shatahat; they severely reject them and view them poorly in an absolute fashion. This is enmity and excessiveness.
If everyone who commits a mistake or errs were to be abandoned indiscriminately, and all of his good points were to be considered invalid, then all knowledge, crafts and wisdoms would be ruined and those who are distinguished for their knowledge in these matters would be without work.
The second group has been blinded by the goodness of the Community, the purity of their hearts, the correctness of their intentions and their good dealings from seeing the defects of their shatahat and their shortcomings; they have praised the shatahat and give them their approval. These people have also exceeded the limit and are extreme.
The third group are the people of justice and equity who give every man their due and treat people according to their ranks. They do not adjudicate he who is healthy as being ill and poorly, and nor consider healthy he who is ill and poorly. They, rather, accept that which should be accepted and refute that which should be refuted.”
At Times the Intended Meaning is Without Corruption
And again Ibn al-Qayyim writes in Madarij al-Salikin (vol. 3, p.330):
“At times they use a phrase used by a heretic and intend a meaning in which there is no corruption. This becomes a means of fitnah for two groups: the group that attributes the exoteric meaning of texts to them and then considers them to be innovators and astray; and the group that looks at what they aim and intend, and approves those texts and considers correct those alluded meanings. The seeker of truth accepts it from whoever has it and rejects that which opposes it regardless of who it is.”
When the Arifs Use Such Words, They Intend the Correct Meaning
Ibn al-Qayyim writes in Madarij al-Salikin (vol. 3, p.151):
“Be completely aware of ambiguous, obscure words that are in the nomenclature of the Community. They are indeed the root of difficulties, and the source of both the siddiq and the heretic. When a person who is weak in recognising and knowing Allah Most High hears the words ittisal (union), infisal (separation), musamarah (conversing), mukalamah (communion), and that nothing is in existence in reality except Allah, and that the existence of the worlds are thoughts and illusions like a shadow which exists on account of another, then he hears that which fills the ears with hulul (incarnationism), ittihad (unification) and shatahat (words of ecstasy).
When the ‘arifs, on the other hand, use these words and others like them, they intend the correct inherent meaning. But some err in understanding what they mean and attribute heresy and kufr to them.”