Ismail Muhammad ash-Shirwani ق
I spoke about Myself.
Those who heard me said: ‘See how he boasts!’
How could I compare the Real to the other-than-Real,
When one drop, one atom of Him fills the two worlds?
The part is the All, and the All is here.
In Him the two worlds are lost–the soul
and the one she quickens.
There is the Sun, here, the ray.
Whoever saw a ray separated from the Sun?
The sufi is entirely there, only his trace is here.
And the trace is never separated from the All
-Al-Ansari al-Harawi, Munajat
He was an Imam of Spiritual Power. He was one of the Masters of Sufism. He was the Owner of the Throne of Guidance, and the Focus of Divine Outpouring. He was a Tower of the Unseen Secrets of the Divine Essence. Through him mankind was guided on the Path of Heavenly Knowledge and by means of him they became distinguished. He was a beacon for his time. He was the Imam for whose elevated knowledge the people bore witness. In his century he was the Sufi to whom all eyes turned.
Shaykh Isma`il ash-Shirwani (q) was the one to bring the Naqshbandi Order to Daghestan. He was the one to establish jihad against the cruel Russian occupation and to revive the religion of Islam in his country after it had been almost eradicated.
He was born on a Tuesday, the 7th of Dhul-Qi`da of the year 1201 H./1787 CE. in Kurdemir, in the Khanate of Shirwan, in Caucasia. He had a very strong and well-built body and he was tall. He had a very light complexion. His eyes and beard were black. He had a high-pitched voice.
He received his education in Shirwan through his father, who was one of the greatest scholars of his time, ash-Shaykh Anwar ash-Shirwani. He educated young Isma`il in the memorization of Qur’an, which Isma`il memorized entirely by the age of seven. He then spent time memorizing the seven different readings. At the age of nine he began learning Jurisprudence and the Science of Prophetic Narrations from Shaykh Abdur Rahman ad-Daghestani. At that young age, he was able to give the evidences from Qur’an and Hadith for almost any question of fiqh (jurisprudence).
One day he was struck by a powerful Heavenly influence which made him lose awareness of himself completely and brought him into a State of Self-Effacement. This state, in which he was lost to himself, impelled him to wander in search of the Reality he could see in his heart. Then one day he had a vision, in which a voice told him, “You must direct yourself towards Delhi, where you will learn from it scholars and its Shaykhs. Allah May grant you the good fortune to meet with the successors of Shaykh `Abdullah ad-Dahlawi.”
That vision kept appearing to him, until he reached the age of seventeen. He said to his father, “I want to go become one of the followers of `Abdullah ad-Dahlawi.” His father was very fearful to let him go to such a far-off country, but he finally relented and gave permission for his son to travel. Isma`il set out on foot for Delhi, walking day and night without conveyance. He took one year to reach Sayyidina `Abdullah ad-Dahlawi (q) in Delhi.
He stayed in the Shaykh’s Khaniqah, learning from him. He was in his service for several years. In 1224 H./1809 AD he met Mawlana Khalid (q) when the latter came to India to meet Shaykh `Abdullah ad-Dahlawi (q) and to take the tariqat from his hand. Shaykh Isma`il used to carefully observe the behavior of Mawlana Khalid with Shaykh `Abdullah. He was very impressed by the manner and sincerity with which Mawlana Khalid served the Shaykh. Shaykh `Abdullah once looked at Sayyidina Isma`il and said, “Your secrets are with Shaykh Khalid. When he returns to his country you will follow him.”
When Mawlana Khalid returned to his country of Sham in 1225 H., Shaykh Isma`il ash-Shirwani went back to Daghestan to say farewell to his parents. On his journey back to Daghestan he stopped in a city where he found the people standing in the desert with their hands raised in du`a, asking Allah to send them rain. They had not seen rain for a whole year. When they saw him and glimpsed the piety in his face, they asked him, “Can you ask Allah to shower rain on us.” He raised his hands in du`a. The clouds gathered and the wind began to blow. It started to rain and continued to rain for seven days without stopping.
When he reached Daghestan, he asked his parents’ permission to move to Greater Syria (Sham ash-Sharif). However, he stayed in Daghestan for a long period of time. While he was there people came to him constantly to learn from his teachings.
From His Sayings
“If a person devotes himself to Allah, Almighty and Exalted, the first benefit he will receive will be that he will no longer be in need of people.”
“The sweet smell of the lovers of God will arise from them and spread. Even if they try to conceal it they will not be able to, wherever they come from and to whereever they go.”
“Whoever hears wisdom and does not apply it is a hypocrite.”
“The company of the heretics is an illness and the medicine for it is to leave them.”
“Allah, Almighty and Exalted, has said that whoever is patient with Us will reach Us.”
“Allah provides his servants with the sweetness of His Dhikr. If one thanks Allah and is happy with that, He will provide him Familiarity with Him. If he is not thankful and happy with that, He will take the sweetness from the dhikr and leave it only on his tongue.”
“Allah expresses familiarity with His Servants by means of showing them His saints.”
“Sufism is Purity, it is not a description. It is a Truth without an end, like a river of red roses.”
“Tasawwuf is to walk with the Secrets of Allah.”
“Whoever prefers the company of the rich over that of the poor, Allah will make his heart to be dead.”
“For the Knower there is a time when the Light of Knowledge will shine on him. It makes him see the Wonders of the Unseen.”
“Whoever proclaimed he is Hearing, and yet he doesn’t hear the Dhikr of the birds and the sounds of the wood and the applause of the wind, is a liar.”
He was asked about human beings. He said, “There are four kinds of people and ghosts. On them Allah’s Will is pouring forth.”
He spent many years in Daghestan. Then he had a vision in which Shaykh `Abdullah ad-Dahlawi (q) ordered him to move to Sham and to stay there and serve Shaykh Khalid al-Baghdadi (q). He traveled to Sham walking from Daghestan to Kuman, from Kuman to Azerbaijan and on to Tiflis. From there he went to Tabriz, then to Amad, Aleppo, Hama, and Homs. He finally arrived in Damascus, the center of Syria, after one year of travel.
In Syria, he immediately went to meet his Shaykh. From Marja in the city center where he had arrived, there was no easy way to go up the mountain, which overlooks all of Damascus, where his Shaykh’s Khaniqa was located. He walked from Marja to that mountain in two hours, until he arrived at his Shaykh’s door. As he entered his Shaykh was waiting for him. He said, “We received the news of your arrival. Welcome.”
Shaykh Khalid immediately placed him in seclusion for a long period of time. In that seclusion he taught him what he needed in order to reach perfection, then he gave him the power of this Tariqat. He ordered all his followers to listen to him. He said,
“This is my Khalif. He is like the dome of a mosque, the dome of the Mosque of the Prophet . From him the secret of this tariqat is going to spread back to Daghestan. From there I can see its light shining forth through seven generations of Shaykhs. Every one of these seven Shaykhs will represent the highest powers of the Divine Presence. Through them there will be great support against the army of Ignorance which is going to overwhelm the area of Daghestan.”
“From among the people of Daghestan there will be one warrior who will be living in the time of three great Shaykhs of this tariqat and he will be supported by them. He will lead the fight against this army of Ignorance.” Then he said to his followers: “Shaykh Isma`il ash-Shirwani is the best of all scholars in this time, and I raised him up to be one of the perfected saints. He will guide you and guide everyone after me. He is going to be the Knower that spreads the secret of this Tariqat another time in the territories of the Caucasus. This Imam is going to be the First to sit on my Throne and he is going to be the Trustee of whatever I have, to spend in Allah’s Way. And his duty is to look after my children.”
Shaykh Isma`il served his Shaykh and kept his company. He travelled with him and lived with him in his house for fifteen years. He was given the Absolute Khilafa and he was given permission to guide seekers, al-irshad. He directed people to the best of his knowledge, until his fame spread throughout Sham, Iraq, Persia, Armenia, Turkey, reaching the land of Daghestan.
Shaykh Khalid assigned him to teach and train people in the Mosque of Al-Addas in Damascus. He used to count and evaluate the action of every seeker, one by one, and present it to his Shaykh, Mawlana Khalid. Whatever question he was asked by murids, he would present to the Shaykh. Then the Shaykh would give an answer or ask Shaykh Isma`il to give a religious ruling (fatwa).
Shaykh Majid al-Khani reported, “Shaykh Ismail used to say to us, ‘I am a polished mirror. Whatever Hazrat Mawlana Khalid has engraved on me I have reflected it to you.’ And he never saw himself higher than us.”
Shaykh Majid al-Khani said, “When Shaykh Khalid passed away, Shaykh Isma`il cried. He was shaking, but despite this, he was firm, like a mountain, steadfast. He made all the followers of the Shaykh come together and testify in unison that they would hold fast to the Rope of Allah. He renewed their energies and took the sadness from their hearts. He gave them respect and he praised them and blessed them. He taught them the best way of worship and prepared them to receive Elevated Spiritual Knowlege. He took control of guiding the seekers in place of his Shaykh and he kept it as it had been. He said, “Don’t you know that Hazrat Mawlana Khalid was of the people of Allah and that those people never die? They are with us in every moment and in every second.”
He left for Daghestan after some time and reached there very quickly. In his zawiya in Daghestan he met Shaykh Khas Muhammad. Seeing in him the light of this Order, he told him, “You are going to be one of my successors.” Eventually he passed the Secret of the Order to him, as well as two other great saints of Daghestan, Shaykh Muhammad Effendi al-Yaraghi and Sayyid Jamaluddin al-Ghumuqi al-Husayni.
During his sojourn in his home-country, Shaykh Isma`il spread the tariqat throughout Daghestan and encouraged his people to fight the Russians, who were opposed to religion and the spiritual life. His followers were soon everywhere, and many of them became active in the war against the Russians. They were tireless in spreading the Naqshbandi Order throughout Daghestan until every city and every house was known to be Naqshbandi.
Imam Shamil ad-Daghestani ash-Shashani and Mullah Fawzi Muhammad, the leaders of the movement against the Russians, were among his followers. For 36 years, under his directorship and the directorship of his immediate successors in the lineage, they defended their country from the oppressive Russian onslaught.
From His Miraculous Powers
It is said that one day Shaykh Isma`il (q) was in a mosque and he observed a poor person who did not eat, did not drink and did not sleep. He approached him and asked him, “What do you desire?” He said, “I desire hot bread and some food.” Shaykh Isma`il raised his hands in supplication and said, “O Allah, here is your servant who hasn’t eaten in three days. Please send him what food You would like for him.” He hadn’t finished the du’a before a man entered the mosque saying, “My wife became ill and I made an oath that I would feed the poor so that she might be blessed. I have brought some hot bread and some food to feed the hungry.”
One of his followers in Daghestan narrates: “Shaykh Isma`il said to himself one day, ‘O my ego, I am angry with you. I am going to throw you into difficulties.’ He went into the mountains of Daghestan and lay down at the mouth of a cave in which were two lions. They did not move and we, who had followed him, were very surprised. Then the male lion approached him with a big piece of meat in his mouth and sat down, far away, not approaching but only watching him. Then the lioness approached with some meat in her mouth. She began to cry and roar. The male approached the female and made her stop her crying. They sat for a while watching the Shaykh. Then the male lion took his two young cubs and gave them to the mother, while he approached Shaykh Isma’il. He sat down beside him, staying until the Shaykh left.”
One day Shaykh Isma`il passed by a village. When some people of the village saw him and recognized him all the people came running out to meet him. The Shaykh of the village came and said, “O Shaykh Isma`il, please come and teach us.” He said, “O Abu Said, Allah has two ways of teachings: the Common Way and the Special Way. The Common Way is the way you and your companions are on. As for the Special Way, come with me and I will show you.” They followed him until he came to a river. He said, “This is the Way of Allah,” and he walked across the water to the other side. Walking away, he disappeared.
Shaykh Abdur Rahman ad-Daghestani relates:
“One day I was sitting amongst a large group of people. We saw Shaykh Isma`il approaching wearing a woolen cloak and on his feet were new shoes. I said to myself, ‘That Shaykh Isma`il is a real Sufi Shaykh. I am going to go to him and ask him a difficult question to see if he can answer it or not.’ I approached him and he saw me. As I drew near he said, ‘O Abdur Rahman, Allah said in the Holy Qur’an to avoid bad thoughts. Don’t try to question me. That is not good behavior.’ I said in my heart, ‘What a miracle! That is a great miracle! How did he know my question and how did he know my name? I must follow him and ask him more.’ I ran after him but I couldn’t find him.
“One day I saw him in a village. He was standing and praying and his eyes were full of tears. When he had finished, I ran towards him and it came to my heart to ask his forgiveness for what I had done last time. He looked at me and said, ‘Read to me the Qur’anic verse, wa innee la-Ghaffaran liman taaba wa amana wa `amila salihan thumma-htada [20:82] (‘Without doubt, I am He that forgives again and again, to those who repent, believe, and do right–who, in fine, are ready to receive true guidance.’) Then he left. I thought to myself, ‘Surely he is one of the abdal (“Substitute-saints”); that is the second time he has addressed the thoughts in my heart.’
“Later that same day, on my way home, I passed by that village again and I saw him standing by a well, with a cup in his hand. He wanted to drink from the well. While I was watching him the cup fell into the well. Then I saw him raise his hands and recite this du’a, ‘O Allah, I am thirsty for water and water is my only food. O Allah, You Know my heart and you know that I am thirsty.’ By God, not a second had passed before the water in the well rose up until it reached the top and was flooding out of the well and with it the cup. He took the cup and drank, then he made ablution and prayed four rak’ats. Then he put sand in the cup, put some water in with the sand and stirred it with his finger. He then sat and ate from the mixture. I came and said, ‘O Shaykh Isma`il, let me eat with you. What are you eating, dirt?’ He replied, ‘O Abdur Rahman, keep good thoughts of Allah.’ He gave me the cup. I put it in my mouth and it was water and honey. I swear by God that I never in my life drank anything so delicious. Many days passed after that and I didn’t need to eat or drink, I felt so satisfied from the sweetness of that single cup.”
Shaykh Muhammad ad-Daghestani said, “One time I went out to see Shaykh Isma`il ash-Shirwani. I kissed his hand and I asked to accompany him on his travels. I travelled with him for two days. In that time I never saw him drink or eat. I became extremely hungry and thirsty and I became very weak from continuous walking without food or drink. I said, ‘O my Shaykh, I am so weak.’ He said, ‘Are you thirsty or hungry?’ I said, ‘Yes, both.’ He said, ‘Then you are not worthy of my company. Close your eyes.’ I closed my eyes and when I opened them I found myself at my home.”
He died on the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah, a Wednesday, of 1255 H. / 1839 C.E. He was buried in Amasya.
He passed his secret to his three khalifs who were all among his students. This multiple succession was similar to that in the time of Sayyidina Shah Naqshband, when he passed the secret of the Order to many khalifs; but is different from that time, in that Shah Naqshband passed the main secret to only one, Sayyidina `Ala’uddin al-Attar, whereas Shaykh Isma`il passed it to all three: Shaykh Khas Muhammad ash-Shirwani, Shaykh Muhammad Effendi al-Yaraghi al-Kurali, and Sayyid Jamaluddin al-Ghumuqi al-Husayni.
Sayyidina Isma`il Shirwani informed his three khalifs of a prediction for their futures: “I am passing to each of you the secret of the Tariqat, at the same time, by Order of the Prophet , and by the orders of Sayyidina `Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani, and the Imam of the Tariqat, Shah Naqshband, and my Shaykh, Khalid al-Baghdadi, and through the spiritual presence of Sayyidina Uwais al-Qarani. Each one of you will carry the secret of this Golden Chain with the same power, but your ascension to the Throne of Guidance will be in sequence, and each of you will keep the relations with the other as I say now: directly after me the authority of that secret will be in the hand of Shaykh Khas Muhammad ash-Shirwani; then it will be in the hand of Muhammad Effendi al-Yaraghi al-Kurali; then it will be put in the hand of Sayyid Jamaluddin al-Ghumuqi al-Husayni.”