by J. Spencer Trimingham. Oxford UP, London: 1971.


Chapter V
The Mysticism and Theosophy of the Orders

…Masters of the Way realized that the mystical tendency is highly dangerous as an individual experience, since the soul under the influence of a ‘state’ is wide open to delusion and self-deception. There are mystic Ways to other gods than God. Hence they insisted upon the necessity for guidance under an experienced director. In the next stage they themselves became the medium between God and man. Jalal ad-din Rumi writes:

When the Pir has accepted thee, take heed, surrender thyself (to him): go, like Moses, under the authority of Khizr…. God has declared that his (the Pir’s) hand is as His own, since He gave out (the words) the Hand of God is above their hands1 … If any one, by rare exception, traversed this Way alone (without a Pir), he arrived (at his goal) through the help (and favour) of the hearts of the Pirs. The hand of the Pir is not withdrawn from the absent (those who are not under his authority): his hand is naught but the grasp of God.2

The last phrase shows that Jalal ad-din saw even the lone seekers as being spiritually under guidance.

In the final stage they denied the right of the individual, not merely to seek a Path by trial and error, but even under guidance, for the shaikhs were the mediators, and the allotting of spiritual tasks became a mechanical process. The murid’s initiation involved the surrender of his will to that of the shaikh. A Tijani manual begins, ‘Praise is due to God who gave a means to everything and made the mediating shaikh a means to union with God.’1 Although the orders are the embodiment of the mystical experience, yet their distinctive feature is that ‘knowledge’ of the divine rests upon wilaya, and wilaya is transmitted through the shaikh. We have said that changes took place in the meaning of Sufi terms: the word tawajjuh (mental concentration), for example, comes to mean in the terminology of eastern orders, the spiritual assistance rendered by the saint to his devotee, or by the murshid to his murid. In this exercise the shaikh (in a state of jadhb?) concentrates upon the murid, picturing the spinning of a line of linkage between his pineal heart (al-qalb as-sanawbari) and the heart of the murid through which power can flow. At the same time, the murid concentrates upon becoming a passive vessel for the inflowing power of the shaikh. With others tawajjuh is the attempt to contact the spirit of a dead shaikh.2

The masters of the Way were fully conscious of the dangers of incurring the charge of bid’a (innovation). Islam was spared the Christian conception of heresy as deviation from norms of belief. Orthodoxy is a matter of practice rather than belief; it is conformity to the Law; the welfare of the community involves surrender to the Law. We have seen that there is nothing surprising in the order-leaders insisting upon observance of the Shari’a, since they believed that this was coexistent with the divine Unity; they simply claimed that there was an outer and an inner knowledge (al-‘ilm as-zahiri and al-‘ilm al-batini). The ta’ifas tended, therefore, to be in an ambivalent position. They were rarely attacked on the ground of belief, but usually on the ground of deviations in practice.
The first concern of the founder and leaders of the ta’ifa was to assert their orthodoxy. This was simply obtained by the truly Islamic expedient of producing an isnad.1 In order to avoid any reproach of bid’a all a shaikh needed was to demonstrate that he had followed the course of a well-known Sufi. He could then use the authority of his master and all the transmissory links right back to one of the first four Caliphs as a prop (sanad) for his teaching and practice. This is that chain of authority or mystical isnad called the silsila. As new ideas were fostered on eminent Sufis of past ages in order to make these ideas respectable,2 so the silsila provided a doctrinal as well as power-line going back to these ‘rightly-guided ones’. This claim that the caliphs were Sufis was invented during the period when Sufism was struggling for recognition against the opposition of the legalists. Ibn Khaldun rejects all such claims. None of the early caliphs, he says, ‘was distinguished by the possession of any particular religious practice exclusively peculiar to him’.3 ‘Ali al-Hujwiri relates4 each caliph to different aspects of the Sufi Path: Abu Bakr represents the contemplative Way (mushahada), ‘Umar the purgative Way (mujahada), ‘Uthman that of friendship (khulla) with God, and ‘Ali is the guide to the principles and practice of divine Reality (Haqiqa). In practice the silsilas of the tariqas are traced back to only three of these caliphs. ‘Ali is the primary source, some have a line to Abu Bakr5 or ‘Umar,6 but I have not come across a line to ‘Uthman.7
The developed silsila of the orders….

[Here is the text of the last footnote in this excerpt]

7 Evliya Chelebi says that the Zainiyya (Suhrawardi line, see Appendix C) trace their line to ‘Uthman; see von Hammer’s translation (London, 1845-50), I.ii.29.