Qualifications of a Master
The master must have four qualifications:
- He must be a scholar in all the obligations of the religion;
- He must be a Knower (`arif);
- He must be an expert in the way of purifying the Self;
- He must be authorised by his shaikh to give guidance.
Being a Scholar in the Obligations of the Religion
The master must be a scholar in all religious obligations, such as the conditions of prayers, the conditions of fasting and the conditions of zakat (obligatory charity). He must be knowledgeable in the Jurisprudence of Islam and all necessary matters of Islamic Shari`ah. He must be a scholar in the Science of Tawhid (Oneness) according to the Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jama`at, and all the and all the other conditions of faith (iman).
Being a Knower
To be a Knower means the master or murshid must have the knowledge of the conditions of the state of Ihsan, as mentioned by the Prophet in the hadith, “Worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, and if you are not seeing Him, know that He is seeing you.” A Knower must bear witness in his heart that Allah is the Unique One in His Essence, and in His Attributes, and in His Actions. He must know about His Attributes through Vision and Taste, by experiencing self-effacement in the Divine Presence.
The Master must have already purified or sanctified himself as a seeker under a master of his own. He will have come to know the different stages of the ego, its illnesses and its defects. The Master must be fully aware of all the methods Satan uses to enter the heart. He must know all the ways to sanctify others and the methods to heal his followers in order to raise them up to reach the State of Perfection.
If a seeker comes to the shaikh with perfect sincerity and truthfulness, asking to be initiated in the order, the shaikh must not hurry to initiate him, until he knows that he will remain trustworthy when he reaches the Goal. He must look at his capability. If his capability corresponds to the capability of the Close Ones (muqarrabin), then he will show him the way, as it is the way of the Trustworthy.
That way is built on killing one’s own will, and connecting and submitting oneself to the will of one’s shaikh. One must do as the Prophet said, “Die before you die!” He must leave his natural will, which causes him to move according to his mind, and leave all his affairs to the will of his shaikh. The shaikh will lift him up through a path filled with difficulties, train him through worship, and guide him to a state of complete Self-Effacement. Only this will elevate him to the Divine Presence.
That is why Khwaja Ubaidullah al-Ahrar said: “Who is the shaikh? The shaikh is the one who can know, through the vision that Allah has granted him, the capability of his murid. From the day he meets him to the day of his death, he will know which state the murid will attain, and in which way he will taste, and in which way he will reach the Divine Presence. If the shaikh cannot summon that knowledge, it is forbidden (haram) for him to give the seeker initiation.”
He continued, “The shaikh must avoid the wealth of his murid. If the murid wishes to help the shaikh it is his choice. The states of guidance are above all states, and the master must not ask except from the Divine Presence.”
“It is said that one time a murid of Junaid came to him and wanted to give him all his money. Junaid refused and said, ‘No.’ When that same murid reached the State of Perfection and was lifted up to the Divine Presence, he came to Junaid and again wanted to give all his money to him. At that time he said, ‘Yes. Now, I accept, because when you give now, you will not regret later.’
“That is why we don’t like our murids to give all their money to the shaikh. When they haven’t reached the state of perfection, they might regret later and be in doubt, and they will be harmed. But when the murid reaches that state he will give sincerely and will never regret it later. The evidence of this is that Sayyidina Abu Bakr and Sayyidina `Umar came to the Prophet and from the first Sayyidina Abu Bakr gave all his money. The Prophet asked, ‘What have you left for your family?’ He replied, ‘I have left them Allah and his Prophet .’ When the murid reaches the state of real generosity and real perfection, then the shaikh may accept what he gives. If he has not reached that state his gift must not be accepted.”
The shaikh must not order any of his followers to do something he himself cannot do or would not do. He must know all the obligatory and forbidden actions according to the Shari`ah. Similary, he must know all the States of spirituality, and must have tasted all Tastes, so that he is an example, and when he speaks he speaks with real knowledge.
An example of this is a lady who came to a perfect shaikh one time with her son, saying, “My son is always asking for sweets. Please pray for him to leave that desire, as I don’t always have sweets to give him.” He said, “Be patient for three days and then bring him back to me.” After three days she brought him back and the shaikh told him, “O my son, don’t eat candies, because it is harmful for your stomach.” From that day the child never ate sweets again. Some time later someone asked the shaikh, “Why did you wait three days to give the child that advice?” The shaikh replied, “When the lady came to me, she asked me to prevent her child from eating sweets. I couldn’t do that for him because I myself was under that temptation of eating sweets. So I stopped eating sweets for three days. When I had stopped, I was able to make a du`a for him, and that du`a was acceptable.”
Qushayri relates in his Letter that Hallaj was once asked to talk about poverty. He said, “Wait a minute.” He entered his house, went out somewhere and came back. Then he sat and spoke, saying poverty consists of this and this and that. One murid asked him, “O my shaikh, why didn’t you speak like this from the beginning?” He said, “When I was asked, I had one dirham in my house. I couldn’t speak about poverty while I still had something. So I went took that dirham, went and spent it in Allah’s way, and then I could speak on poverty.”
Having His Master’s Authorization
The Shaikh must have authorization from his Master for training and uplifting his followers and showing the Way of this Path. That ijaza (permission) must reach him through the chain of the grandshaikhs from one to another, all the way back to the Prophet . As the wise person will not go to a doctor who has no license in healing, so the seeker in this way must find a perfect guide who has received the license, the ijaza, from his shaikh.
Imam Muslim said, “This great knowledge [the knowledge of the self] is by itself the religion. So you have to know from whom you take your religion.” In the book of Hafiz ibn Ali Kanz al-`Ummal,” the following hadith is found. The Prophet said, “O Umar, your din is your flesh and blood. Look at those from whom you take your din; take it from those who are on the right path and don’t take from those who deviated.” A knower said, “Knowledge is a spirit which is blown into the hearts, not philosophy or pretty tales to be written. So be very careful from whom you take it.”
The Signs of Mastery
The main indication of mastery is that when you sit with a master you feel a breeze of faith, spiritual pleasure. He doesn’t speak except for Allah. He is always advising the good. You will benefit from being in his company as you benefit from his words. You will benefit when you are far from him as you benefit when you are near him. You must see among his murids the picture of faith, sincerity, humbleness and taqwa (God-consciousness), and you must remember, when you are mixing with them, the highest state of love and truth and deference to others. You must see that his followers represent all different kinds of people in the community. That is how the Companions of the Prophet were.