God said in the Holy Quran [9:109]1 that if someone builds the foundation of his house on a cliff without building a good foundation, then it will fall down. But if someone builds the foundation of his house on solid plot or on a solid ground, piece by piece, well placed, then he is going to find that his house stands firm. But everything requires an expert. If I say to our brother, “Can you build a house for us?” He will say, “No, I am not a carpenter.” So we are obliged to call another one and say, “Please, build a house for us, because you are an expert.” And he will tell you, “All right, this is the plan. Here we put that wall, here the foundation, here cement” and so forth.
If you need an expert to build an ordinary house, what about your heart? How do you approach your Lord without the guidance of an expert? You have to look for an expert. You cannot reach Him without one, no matter how much you try to move on this path alone. No one can reach by himself because sometimes, even though he knows he is on the right path, he might do something out of place or time. Then he will fail. So we need an expert and that expert is our guide.
Guidance is important. If you do not have a guide to lead you to your destination, then you are going to find many difficulties on your way. When you go into a desert, they tell you, “Beware, do not go into that desert, because you are going to suffer.” They might show you the beginning of the way. Nevertheless you need a guide to show you the rest of the way through the desert. Why is this? Because in the desert everything looks the same. When the winds come, the sand moves. You easily lose direction. An expert, a guide can take you along the right way even if the winds come and in two or three days you have passed through the desert and reached the other side.
Also, to reach your Lord, you can never find your way through the desert of this life except with a guide, because the wind of the ego desires, vain passions changes everything. The ego has desires. The wind of the ego is empty desires and vain passions. When desires come to your ego, they veil the right path for you. Then you are lost. You are going to stop and you do not know how to continue. That is why you need a guide who is an expert in the ways of the desert. He is an expert in the roads that traverse the ego. If you cannot find such a guide, then you are wasting your time in trying to reach your Lord in this life. God is Merciful. Because you are trying to reach, you will reach at the end, even without a guide, but you will not reach quickly. Now you are losing time, not progressing. But as soon as you find that guide and you accept to follow him to show you the shortcut through the desires of the ego, and the will of the ego, its vain passions and desires, then you are going to find yourself reaching the other side. Otherwise you will be lost in that vast desert.
When the Prophet (s) was ordered to emigrate from Makkah to Madinah he said, “I need a guide.” He is a prophet. Why did he need a guide? To teach us that even though he is a prophet, he still needs a guide, an external guide to show him the way to reach Madinah. For example, say we are showing my son how to go to Niagara Falls. We do not know, so we find an expert God willing, a good expert who will not give us wrong directions! He is a prophet and he asked for a guide. Did he not know? Jesus said, “One of you is going to betray me.” It is true. As Muslims we believe this. He said “One of you” did he not know? He knew, but he did not reveal it. Prophets know, but they wish to show complete weakness and humility. Prophet Muhammad (s) also knew the way to go from Makkah to Madinah, but he was teaching us to seek out a guide. They needed a guide to show them the way from Makkah to Madinah. They reached Madinah safely with the help and guidance of that guide.
If we need a guide to cross a desert, what about our spiritual life? It is more difficult. You certainly need a guide for that, and that is also why the Prophet (s) had a guide in the angel Gabriel (s), bringing him inspirations and revelation. The Prophet (s) was guided by him into God’s Presence on the Night of Ascension, the night when the Prophet went to meet his Lord. So, he needed a guide externally when he migrated from Makkah to Madinah. Internally he needed a guide when he emigrated to his Lord on the Night of Ascension. It is impossible to emigrate without a means. Without a means you cannot reach anywhere.
That is why everyone must find a guide to show him the way of Truth and the way of Reality. Without a guide you will be in doubt as to whether what you are doing is right or wrong. You will not know yourself if it is right or wrong. With a guide, you depend on him because he is an expert. As we said, the Prophet (s) took a guide to show him the way to Madinah. He did not say to that guide, “No, you are taking me this way, why not take me that way?” He relied upon his guidance because of his expertise.
That guide who shows you the way must be trustworthy. You cannot take a superficial or artificial guide and say, “This person is my guide.” If you take an imitation guide, he may take you to the ocean of satan you will be lost in the ocean of hallucination. Many people follow such untrue”guides”. At some time the followers will begin to have hallucinations. They will think that they are seeing something. In reality they are experiencing hallucinations. What they are seeing is non-existent. That is why a true guide is very important.
How can you recognize a guide? Once, Grandshaykh said that if you want to know if someone is a true guide, first see if he has completed his external outfit. If you see that he is incomplete in bearing the externals, it means that he has a defect in his heart. Do not follow him. Anything in a Sufi master and we are speaking about Sufism, not about anything else that does not conform to the external dress and manner of a true master, betrays a defect. Grandshaykh said, “If you have a watch and that watch is working internally one hundred percent, but has no needles, it will show you the time so there is no benefit from it. Also if a watch has two needles, but the internal mechanics are not working one hundred percent it will not show you the correct time. So the outward and the inward must both be completely correct for a person to be a guide.”
We are not speaking about ourselves. We follow our master. He is our guide. He works one hundred percent both outwardly and inwardly. As for us, we are trying to imitate. That is why when we want to look at someone and say, “Is this person a true guide,” you must see that he has completed the externals without any deficiency. If there is anything missing, then you should not follow him. That is, if he is missing something from the externals, then he must be missing many things inwardly, for that is where people cannot see. You dress well when you know that people will be looking at you. But when it comes to things people will not see, you say, “Never mind. No one will see that.” If the outfit which people are going to see on you is missing many items, it means that your “infit” so to speak which people will not see, is missing even more things. Such a person cannot be a true guide. He is a disconnected guide. He might take you a certain distance in spiritual life, but he is disconnected from any further levels. A true guide must have correctly completed his exterior, without missing one thing.
This is the first step, Grandshaykh said, in knowing whether someone is a real guide or a false guide. When you see this from him, then you say, “He has now passed,” not the first test but “the first criterion.” Now we think of looking at his inner side. How do you judge the inner side? He said, “You must see that person has respect for everyone, without the slightest discrimination towards any human being, without looking at their religion because they are servants of one Lord, the same Lord, and the Lord does not change without discrimination for any in his heart. It is not his business, because all human beings are the servants of thLord. The guide has to respect them, first, because they are God’s creation and have that Light in them. In addition to respect, he must have love for them. To accept what he wants for himself and his children, to be and act also on their behalf, although they are not yet his followers, but simply ordinary people. So he must show them respect and love. Thirdly, he must show them humility. He cannot say that he is higher than they. No one is high except God. If he sees himself higher than they are, then he is like satan who saw himself higher than Adam.”
These three criteria are the”inner accessories” of the true guide. For the outfit he must have the complete dress of a Sufi master. If your master is like that, then he is a true guide. Follow him. With him you can find satisfaction and everything that you are missing. If you do not find someone like that, then continue seeking. You will find, because God is Merciful. When you look, God will give. When you do not ask, God will not give. If you really ask, ask from your heart, you are going to find. At that time, he will give you the key to your heart. If you do not really ask from your heart, but only with your tongue, perhaps you might find one, perhaps not.
Ahmad al-Badawi was a very famous saint known in all Sufi teachings. He did not accept a guide saying, “I have no need for a guide. My guide is the Quran” as the Wahhabis say today “and the Way of Life of the Prophet (s).” He tried to approach his Lord as the Prophet (s) said on his Lord’s behalf, “My servant does not cease to approach me through voluntary worship or good manners, until I shall love him. And when I love him, I will be, at that time, the ears by which he hears, the eyes by which he sees, the hand by which he feels, the feet by which he walks. If he asks Me, I give to him. If he seeks refuge in Me, I protect him. I will be he, and he can say to something,””Be,” and it will be.”2 The Wahhabis usually cut off the end of that Tradition, but we recite it all.
Ahmad al-Badawi drew near his Lord until he reached the door of the Divine Presence and said, “O my Lord, please open the door for me.” He received no answer. He tried again and again until he met someone by chance. We say”by chance”, but it was not by chance. It was well-planned it was God’s Will to test him. He saw that person on the street, an ordinary person who looked at him, and said, “O Ahmad!” he did not even call him “O Shaykh Ahmad” to give him due respect. He said,”O Ahmad! You need the key to God’s Divine Presence? I have that key. If you want it, come to me and I’ll give it to you.””
Many people among us refuse to accept facts and truth because of pride, even though they know, as a matter of fact, that this is the right path. They do not accept because their ego says, “No!” So Ahmad’s ego said to him, “How are you going to accept something from him? Do not accept the key from him. Accept it from God.” And he said, “O my brother, I will not take the key from you, nor from anyone except the Key-Maker. Who are you? You are nobody.”
Then he kept approaching the Divine Presence until he heard God’s voice saying to him, “O Ahmad, this life is the life of causes and effects. I will not give you the key. My will is that the key to my door, for you is with that person. Go and get it from him.” Now, the matter is finished. He heard it from his Lord, and he accepted. Now he had to find that guide. But that guide had disappeared. He had left him. For six months the guide was secretly examining Ahmad’s heart, seeing him search for him and pray to his Lord day and night, “O my Lord, send that person back to me,” until he saw him another time. That person, immediately removed the veil he had been present all the time revealing himself.
So the guide removed the veil and appeared to Ahmad. Ahmad said, “O my shaykh! I found you.” He had not found him. It was the guide who had removed the veil. Yet he thought he had found him. He said, “O my shaykh, I accept you as a guide.” The guide answered, “If you accept me as a guide now, you must submit, surrender, give your will over to me completely. You cannot have a will alongside my will. You have built your know-ledge on a cliff. With just one gust of wind from the ego, it will fall apart. I have to build a good foundation for you. So, look into my eyes.” Ahmad looked into his eyes and that guide immediately erased all the knowledge that Ahmad al-Badawi had learned through books.”Through books” means that there are many things written that come from the authors” egos. So he removed that knowledge out of Ahmad’s heart and disappeared. He left him for another six months not even knowing how to say, “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” not even knowing how to say the Name of God.
Everyone in the city was now mocking Ahmad al-Badawi, who had seemingly become insane after having been a very great scholar. Because of their limited spiritual knowledge, they thought that he was mentally ill. All they could see was that he was following someone who was making him crazy, but Ahmad al-Badawi knew that he had heard the voice of his Lord saying, “Your key is with that person.” No one made him crazy. He was following that person. But if he had accepted from the beginning, when that guide came to him the first time by God’s Will, he would not have had to pass through this test. So why make yourself pass through a test? When you find the truth, the correct guide, accept him immediately! Do not play games with your ego.
So he left him for another six months then reappeared to him another time. In those six months, Ahmad al-Badawi continued to search for him again. When he reappeared again, he said to him again, “O my shaykh, I found you another time!” At that time, the guide looked into his eyes transmitting from his heart to Ahmad al-Badawi’s heart, through the eyes, internal knowledge the knowledge of the Book, and its secrets. He was giving, giving, giving until Light shone forth from Ahmad al-Badawi’s eyes. It was so powerful that anyone who looked into his eyes would die. Therefore he covered his face with a veil. At that time he was able to enter into the Divine Presence, and he received that key.
Without a guide, you can never reach the Divine Presence. It is impossible to reach the Divine Presence without a true guide who will open the door to you to where you are going. Ahmad al-Badawi was a great scholar who knew many things. He was proud of his knowledge and did not want to accept learning from someone else. Because of his pride, he wanted to take directly from the highest station. He did not see anyone higher than himself except God. How, then, to take from another person? It means that there was no humility in his heart. He was missing one of the three characteristics needed by God’s servants. He had respect. He had love for human beings, but he did not have humility in his heart to accept advice from someone else. And because he had left out that one characteristic, it was as if he had stopped progressing.
A saint, a master, must have the three levels respect, love and humility. If you find one of them missing, then he is not a true guide. He will take you only a certain distance. Just as we see that Ahmad al-Badawi was able to draw nigh to a certain extent, to reach the door of Divine Presence, he was unable, however, to open it. For he was in need of someone who had the key. He had not accepted this need because he was full of pride in his knowledge. He thought too much of himself. Later, he accepted but only because he heard it from his Lord. That is why he passed through a test. If he had accepted without self-pride, that door would have immediately opened for him, without need for two years of testing.
When you find a guide and your heart is happy in his presence, do not listen to your ego. Tell your ego, “You are wrong! What am I going to lose if I accept that guide as my master?” You will not lose anything. You are showing humility and this is enough for God to raise you up. If I come and say, “so-and-so is my shaykh,” and take initiation from him, what is wrong with that? I am accepting, I ashowing humility. God will raise me up.
Having humility is important. If you are humble, you accept everyone, because everyone, in a sense, will be a guide for you. There is an proverb in our country which says to ask a good person, “From where have you learned perfect behavior in society?” He will say, “From a wrongdoer. I watched him, saw what he did wrong, and I now avoid doing as he does. Thus I was able to correct myself through the mistakes of others.” If you accept any person as your guide, even a bad person can guide you. By observing him and seeing what he is doing wrong, you stop.
This comes from humility. Why then do you not accept? Are you proud of yourself? Who are you? You are a creature from among five billion creatures in this world. Five billion human beings and you are one. Why are you proud of yourself? We are nothing in comparison to God. There are five billion living ones other than you, not to mention those that have passed away. And only one of you! So you are nothing! What are you proud of? You do not have a political position. You are not in a spiritual position, so who are you to fight, show disrespect and not to love? On the contrary, you should make friends. Do not be a stupid person by showing pride, anger, and disrespect to people. Out of these five billion, try to make ten, fifteen, twenty, forty friends.-They will help you. To God, you are nothing, because you are one out of five billion, so it is as if you do not exist. It is like one divided by infinity. What will it be? Like zero. So you are zero. Why are you proud of yourself? Everyone is so proud of himself, you cannot talk to him! Why? Because ego is there, Satan is pushing him.
We have to try to have these three qualities respect, love and humility. When we correct our inner life and our external manner, then we will find the way to God. And since it is difficult to correct ourselves, we have to follow someone who has already corrected himself, to take such a person as a guide.
This piece of advice from my shaykh is also important for me to listen to. I need this because my ego is so high. I am too happy with myself. I have to see myself as less than everyone. That is why Jesus (s) showed us a good sign and until now Christians remember to do it, and this good sign is that you have to see yourself lower than everyone, respecting everyone so much that you have to bend down and kiss everyone’s feet, showing humility. This, Christians still do until now, because Jesus (s) kissed the feet of his disciples. This is a sign of humility. You do not kiss the feet of someone for the sake of the feet! You kiss them to show humility. You have to teach yourself not to be proud. When you do this, you will win everything. So try as much as possible to break your pride and to increase your humility. Through pride you reach satan. Through humility, you reach your Lord.
We ask success from God through the Opening Chapter of the Quran, al-Fatihahg
1. [9:109]. “Is he who founded his building upon duty to God” and His good pleasure better; or he who founded his building on the brink of a crumbling, overhanging precipice so that it toppled withhim into the fire of hell? God guides not wrongdoing folk?
2. Bukhari, Ahmad, number 38 in Nawawi’s forty. The last sentence is found in a similar wording in a sacred Tradition quoted by Abdul Qadir Gilani, Futuh al-ghayb, 13th discourse to the end.