Adab (Etiquette) of Sheikh

Salaam everyone

One of most ailing ailments of the heart is the yearning for being recognized by people somehow e.g. I yearn for people to read my writings and send me admiring notes, or call me some lofty titles, or invite me to give talks or form a following for me to lead. These are far away from Islam and its spiritual arts of Sufism.

The  disaster: A Sheikh who calls on Murids (Seekers) to seek his love! As Allah commanded the Prophet:

3:31. Qul (Say): If you (plural) are to love Allah, Fa (Consequently, in this order) follow me Allah shall love you (plural).

قُلْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللَّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ

It does not say: Follow me so I (Muhammad) to love you or follow me and love me! It is about being a conduit for Allah and people to love each other.

The best example is this book Sheikh Izzed-Din Kashani wrote on Sufism (below), he did not write the book to be famed as a scholar, nor to publish it and make money, nor to be loved and endeared by masses, he wrote the book since the Persians of his time asked him for a non-Arabic Farsi manual for Sufism, since the other manuals were in Arabic and hard for them to read. So he basically wrote a book of terminologies and practices and sayings of the Sufis as a service to the Murids (Seekers), not to be loved and obeyed and followed. Only the psychopath criminal thinks of the religion as such!


Adab (Etiquette) of Sheikh and its virtues
Chapter 5
Misbah Al-Hidaya (Lantern of Guidance)
Izzed-Din Kashani

Discussion   Join

Most virtuous Daraja (Gradation) after the Prophet-hood is being a Sheikh as the representative of the Prophet, calling unto the people towards Allah, in concordance to the ways of the Prophet peace be upon him. Sheikh is such deputy. And therefore such a rank is indeed the most virtuous as was said by the Prophet:

And by Al-Ladhi (That Which) i.e. Allah, at ITs Hand is the person of Muhammad, and if you might, I would take an oath for you, Inna the most loved servants of Allah by Allah are those who make Allah love ITs servants and make the servants to love Allah and they roam upon this earth giving (good) advice.

كنز العمال – للمتقي الهندي
المجلد الثالث >> الإكمال من الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر
5565- ألا أخبركم بأقوام ليسوا بأنبياء ولا شهداء؟ يغبطهم يوم القيامة الأنبياء والشهداء بمنازلهم من الله على منابر من نور يرفعون الذين يحببون عباد الله إلى الله، ويحببون الله إلى عباده، ويمشون في الأرض نصحاء، قيل: كيف يحببون عباد الله إلى الله؟ قال: يأمرونهم بما يحب الله وينهونهم عما يكرهه الله، فإذا أطاعوهم أحبهم الله.
(هب) وأبو سعيد النقاش في معجمه وابن النجار عن أنس

Remark: “those who make Allah love ITs servants” the word ‘make’ does not have any measure of control or subjugation, it is the best and simplest word in English to convey the concept of being an instrument to make a servant loved by Allah.

The latter is the meaning of the concept of Sheikh in Sufism.

The intent of the Sheikh is to polish the rustic lusts/desires off the mirror of the Murid’s (Seeker’s) heart, therefore (Murid’s heart) to reflect the rays of the Divine Beauty of the Ahadiyat (Divine Oneness) and the rays of the Momentous/Glorious Samadiyat (Absolute Mastery), to brimfill the goblet of the eyes by such (beautiful) observations and thus place the Mahab-bat (Divine Love) within the heart of the Murid (Seeker of the Divine). (Dara: We love beautiful things, therefore something to become beloved for us we must first see its bedazzling beauty)

Therefore the ‘profession’ of Sheikh is to make Allah the beloved of the Murids (Seekers of the Divine) and vice-a-versa:

3:31. Qul (Say): If you (plural) are to love Allah, Fa (Consequently, in this order) follow me Allah shall love you (plural).

قُلْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللَّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ

Adab (Etiquette) and duties of the Sheikh towards the Murid (Seeker of the Divine)

As the Murid (Seeker) has an Adab (Etiquette) for the Sheikh i.e. Irada (Willful love to follow), Sheikh also has Adab (Etiquette) for the Murid i.e. right to make Tarbiya (Nurturing). There are fifteen Adabs (Etiquettes) for the Sheikh:

1.    Purity of Intention and absence of all causality: First thing the Sheikh is to do is to interrogate his self to make sure that he does not desire to lead, to be called Sheikh or yearn to be loved—intense feelings as desired much by the Nafs (Self) of every human being. And do so even if he sees his Nafs (Self) already cleansed i.e. to accuse his Self again and again. Since it is quite possible that being loved by people and being the center of attention have been occluded and he could not see these faults. And thus when finds some Murids (Seekers), even if being all sincere, turning to him to seek guidance, he rushes not to their aid! He is paused until upon much turning to Allah and much invocations the veils of ambiguities are removed and vis-à-vis the Divine Cognizance he knows with certainty what Allah’s wish is for these Murids and him. First case: If this affair is all trials and tribulations to test, to safeguard and keep away and invite the Murdis from a distance and as such concealed. Second case: He sees that Allah is pleased for these Murids to be guided by him and therefore he completely takes over the responsibility and preoccupied by it.

2.    Cognizance of Preparedness (Isti’dad): Prior to engaging the Murid (Seeker) the Sheikh must see if the Murid is prepared for Suluk (Voyage) upon the Path of those near to Allah, and if so to invite him according to the wisdom and ways suitable for those close to Allah. And if the Murid is not prepared, to admonish him with the glad tidings of the Gardens and warnings of the Fire. For those prepared and close to Allah to aid them to keep their Sirr (Divine Observatory) clear and discernment of Khatir (Ideas, Notions) i.e. what thoughts are Divine and which are from the devil. Those who are not close to Allah to discipline with worships and physical rituals. In summary to advise and command the Murid (Seeker) to do that which in accordance to their preparedness. And the person who is not competent to do the latter is not suitable for the profession of a Sheikh as the Sheikh Al-Islam said (Suhrawardi?): Amazing! The desert dweller knows each patch of earth and the trees i.e. knows which tree belongs to which earth as every artisan knows its art i.e. the benefits and shortcomings and even the female working the spindle knows the threads and the yarns, and yet so does the Sheikh knows the circumstances of the Murid (Seeker) and what is good and applicable to him.

3.    Complete disinterest in the Murid’s (Seeker’s) wealth: Under no circumstance offer any services for any Murid (Seeker) with even slightest inclination towards any monetary rewards. Tarbiyat (Spiritual Nurturing) and Irshad (Spiritual Directives) are far better than any wealth as has been attributed to the Prophet (Khabar): There is no charity spent more valued than that of spreading some Ilm (Divine Knowledge) amongst the people. If the Murid (Seeker) wishes to do away from all the worldly possessions and liquidate assets for charity, the Sheikh must come up with an alternative proposal such that there are no worries about the duress of financial loss for the Murid (Seeker) i.e. he is not able to endure poverty and might succumb to it. The Prophet peace be upon him allowed Abu Bakr to give away all his wealth to charity, and when there was worry that he would be in stress of the financial loss to retain some. When one of the Murids (Seekers) asked permission of Junaid to spend all his money on charity Junaid did not allow him and said to him: Keep some for your needs for I am not secure about the desires and inclinations of your Nafs (Self) after the remittance of the funds.

4.    Ithār (Altruism, Selflessness): Sheikh must sacrifice, selflessly, all that material gains he enjoys and to cut off personal interests (in daily consumption) so that the altruistic traces are observed by the Murid (Seeker) within the Sheikh and as such the same selfless behavior and sacrifice would become easy for the Murid as well. And if there happens to be some additional provisions coming the Murid’s way he (Murid) would give it away in ease and peace sharing with the needy and poor.

5.     Compliance of action with the words: Sheikh should not instruct or order the Murid (Seeker) to do anything (or abstain from anything) unless and until he himself complies with such order, way in advance of its issuance, so that it would readily be complied with by the Murid (Seeker). As some said: If looking at a person does not benefit you, neither does his word! (i.e. seeing him in action an indication for the veracity of his words). Even for the Sheikh being well to do is the same as living with scantiness, yet it is best for the Murid (Seeker) that the Sheikh sacrifices his personal interests and daily living so that the Murid find it easier to steer away from the consumption and material coveting. As was said by Umar to this regard: The poverty and affluence are two burdens (loads), I do not care which one to carry! (i.e. both are the same or he is the same person given both)

6.     Befriending the weak: Any time the Sheikh could observe a weakness or deviance he ought to be ultra-patient with the Murid (Seeker of the Divine) that might help him to overcome his shortcoming. And this can become second nature to a Sheikh by spending much time amongst the poor and the destitute. When one of the affluent Murids of Ahmad Qalanisi cut off from the worldly life, after some time, there appeared with him some weaknesses. Therefore this Sheikh, anytime made some money, used to send the Murid (Seeker) good foods and pastries saying: He has forsaken the very worldly life that he was so used to, therefore it is most appropriate to befriend him (in his time of need and weakness) and provide for him some provision.

7.    Purification of the words: Sheikh must filter away the desires and lusts out of his words. Since the effect of his words upon the heart of the Murid (Seeker) is that of a seed planted, if the seed is a good one a nice plant sprouts, if the seed is bad then there is no sprouting. The ruin and impurity of the words is the immixing of personal desires with words (addressed to the Murid). There are two ways for the corruption of the words: first the speaker says what the listeners want to hear (marketing savvy), second the speaker feels ‘Ujb (Self-amazement) bedazzled and admiring his own speech! The appearance of the latter within the Nafs (Self) is the worst possible crime a Sheikh can commit. Therefore when Sheikh speaks he needs to clear and filer his personal desires out of the words and as such plant a verbal seed within the heart of the Murid (Seeker) and leave these words under the care of Allah to make them truth and bring them to fruition and safeguard them against the Shaitan (Satan). To get rid of the criminally spoken ‘Ujb (Self-amazement) to observe and study the benevolence of the Divine Gifts and thus to shatter the eyes of the Nafs (Self) and destroy the darkling veil of ‘Ujb (Self-amazement) upon the dawn of the rays of Nur (Divine Light), and to see and find his total existence nothing but a droplet of water tumbling upon the tumults of the resistless waves the sea of Divine Blessings, dissolving to oblivion.

8.    Elevation of the heart to the Divine Presence during the conversations: When the Sheikh attempts to speak to the Murid (Seeker) first he must elevate his heart to the level of the Divine Presence and ask from Allah words that are filled with benefit and goodness for the Murid so that his tongue speaks the truth and much benefit provided for the Murid (Seeker). And as such the speaker is the same as the listener! Once a Sheikh said to his people: I am the same as you listening to my own words! Some of those present within the audience found it strange i.e. how can a speaker listen to his own words same a listener in the crowd, how can the speaker and the listener be equal? One of the listeners that night saw a pearl diver in his dream, fetching pearls from the depth of the ocean and when swam ashore and opened the shells both he and those who did not swam along saw the same pearl i.e. in that moment of observing the never-seen pearl the diver and the spectator at the shore became the same! (Experienced the same)

9.    Speaking with allusions: Anytime the Sheikh observes a defect or undesirable attribute or behavior within the Murid (Seeker of the Divine) he must avoid all direct conversations and confrontations and instead speak to an audience and indirectly address the fault and the issues. This way of advising is closest to the wisdom and best to affect the Murid (Seeker).

10.    Preserving the Divine Secrets of the Murid (Seeker): In occasions Sheikh might see and find with the Murid (Seeker) Divine Gifts and Benevolence and it is the duty of the Sheikh to conceal these gifts and blessings and not to make them public. When in private with the Murid (Seeker) to belittle the importance of these gifts and grants to remind the Murdi (Seeker) that all these are from Allah and not originated from him or her, and all in return the Murid (Seeker) should do is to offer gratitude to Allah, busied in the state of thankfulness, since otherwise any other attention and diversion might diminish or ruin the Divine Gifts:

12:5. Said (the father Jacob): “My (dear) little son! relate not your vision to thy brothers, lest they concoct a plot against you: for Satan is to man an avowed enemy!
قَالَ يَا بُنَيَّ لَا تَقْصُصْ رُؤْيَاكَ عَلَى إِخْوَتِكَ فَيَكِيدُوا لَكَ كَيْدًا إِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ لِلْإِنْسَانِ عَدُوٌّ مُبِينٌ

19:10. (Zakariya) said: “O my Lord! give me a Sign.” “Your Sign,” was the answer, “Shall be that you shall not speak to no man for three nights, although you art not dumb.”

قَالَ رَبِّ اجْعَلْ لِي آَيَةً قَالَ آَيَتُكَ أَلَّا تُكَلِّمَ النَّاسَ ثَلَاثَ لَيَالٍ سَوِيًّا

19:26 “And if you do see any man, say, ‘I have vowed a fast to ((Allah)) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into not talk with any human being'”
فَإِمَّا تَرَيِنَّ مِنَ الْبَشَرِ أَحَدًا فَقُولِي إِنِّي نَذَرْتُ لِلرَّحْمَنِ صَوْمًا فَلَنْ أُكَلِّمَ الْيَوْمَ إِنْسِيًّا

11.     Forgiving the mistakes and failures of the Murid (Seeker): Sheikh must be patient and forgiving when the Murid (Seeker) loses his Adab (Etiquette) or forsake some service he was ordered to do, as a man asked the Prophet: How much should I pardon my servant? The Prophet replied: Seventy times a day, each day. (Dara: Seventy in the language of the Arab means ‘a lot’ not the number 70)

12.    Disregarding one’s own rights: Even if the Sheikh deserves much respect and honor, and the more he does so, he is to disregard any rights for being respected and paid attention to, for such expectations are unbefitting the profession of a Sheikh. And do disregard with best of behavior and presentation. Daqqi narrates: I was in an Egyptian mosque with a group of Faqirs (Sufi Paupers) when Abu Bakr Warraq arrived and started offering prayers behind a column. We decided to stand up and greet the Sheikh once he finished. As soon as the Sheikh said the final Salaam (Peace) of the prayer he got up and came to us and surpassed us in greeting. We replied that it was our duty to greet him first and the Sheikh replied: Allah has never tormented my heart with that (i.e. expecting respect and attention from the people). (Dara: End of Sufism in our days)

13.    Fulfilling the obligations for the Murid (Seeker): (In contrast to the #12) The Sheikh is obliged to perform and fulfill all the rights that are due to the Murid (Seeker) of respect, expectations and attention and so on. Abu Muhammad Jariri narrates: When I returned from the Hajj I decided to go visit the Sheikh Junaid so he is not bothered to make the trip to my place. When the time for the Noon prayer arrived (the hottest time of the day to travel) I saw Junaid arriving and thus I told him: My Sayyid (Master) I meant to be the first to greet you (coming to your place) so that you might not come here, and Junaid replied: O Muhammad this (meaning to come to see me) is your virtue and generosity and (my coming to see you) your right!

14.    To allot time for Khalwat (Solitude) and Jilwat (Unveiled for public access): Sheikh should not be obsessed and preoccupied by the public affairs and mingling with people filling all his time, he must allot time for Khalwat (Solitude) to regain his Hala (Momentary States of the heart) Kamal (Perfection) and feeling the Divine Presence, as was practiced by the Prophet peace be upon him. The Prophet sometimes was with the people to be merciful with them and sometimes in solitude to gain and benefit more from the Divine Mercy.  Human being often suffers from lack of verve in worships and Dhikrs (Remembrance) and such times are most suitable to have Suhbat (Companionship) with people and attending to their affairs and once the attention and energy appears again return to the Khalwat (Solitude) and continue the worships with enthusiasm and zeal. Junaid told his companions: Had I known that a short prayer (Two Ra’at) is more valued than Suhbat (Companionship) I would have never socialized.

15.    Increased Performance of additional Dhikr and Worships (Nawāfil): Sheikh should never be mislead believing that he is not in need of additional non-obligatory Dhikrs and Worships, since the Prophet peace be upon was quite diligent to observe the Nafla e.g. additional prayers during the night and Dhikrs around different times of the day. It has entered into the Hadith (Prophetic Narration) that one night the Prophet prayed so much extra worships (Tahajjud) that his feet had swollen. Aisha asked him: O Messenger of Allah didn’t Allah forgive your past and future sins? The Prophet replied: (Since so) shouldn’t I be a grateful servant?

These were the collection of Adab (Etiquette) for being a Sheikh.


© 2010-2002,  Dara O Shayda