Tarbiyya | Training of the Seeker

If we compare Sufism to mountain climbing, we can state that potentially all people can climb Mt. Everest, but in actuality very few people are willing to undergo the training and have the muscles and the heart strong enough to reach the top of the mountain. Sufism is for all people in the sense that potentially all people can become Sufis, but in actuality 'many are called but few are chosen' as Christ said.
- Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Organized by Islamic Sufi Study Center of Charlottesville, the Program "Five Sundays on Tasawwuf" is focused around five central themes of Tasawwuf (Islamic Science of Spirituality, Sufi Way), namely:

* The Necessity and Function of the Shaykh,
* Sohbet or the oral tradition,
* Ikhlas or sincerity,
* Tarbiyya or the training of the mureed, and
* Dhaahir & baatin - balancing the inner and the outer.

The 4th Sunday Program: Tarbiyya or The Training of the Mureed (Disciple, Student of Spiritual Seeking, Seeker) was organized on this past February 28th, 2010. The two major speakers who offered their insight, wisdom and sohbet were Shaykh A. Nooruddeen Durkee from Shadhili Sufi Path and Shaykh Ahmed Abdur Rashid from Naqshbandi Sufi Path.

Following are excerpts from the talk by Shakyh Nooruddeen Durkee, may Allah be pleased with him, accept his service and give him good health. A talk of composite wisdom from the great masters of the Path. You may download the audio of the full talk from the link provided towards the end of this post.

When we speak of tarbiyya we must first speak of the term ‘al-murrabı’ in Arabic. The word tarbiyya is derived from the root rabb, which means to foster, nourish and care for. A person who does this is called al-murabbi in Arabic. English unfortunately does not contain one all embracing word by which we can translate this term. In Arabic, in the context of the shaykh or teacher, the reflection in this world of the Greatest Teacher, the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings of Allah, is the one who nourishes, fosters, supports, advances, aids, encourages or trains the murıd by goodness and grace, in the Way of Allah, All Glorious. We may also think of it (al-murabbi) as meaning ‘The Trainer of Souls’.

The first and greatest murrabi is the Prophet, may our love be perfected for him, but after him the true shuyukh (plural of Shaykh) are the educators, trainers, fosterers - the murabbi of their muridun (disciples, students). Were this not so they could not have connected their students to the knowledge of Allah and the Way of Islam. As such tarbiyyah is not a process of learning “about” Islam but it is the process of learning to “be” a Muslim.

It was the custom of Sidi Abu-l-Abbas, may Allah hallow his soul, to thoroughly review and investigate (tafaqqud) his muridun in regard to their states (ahwal), their inspirations (ilham) from Allah, and their intuitive insights (firasah), by engaging them in discussion so as to check their understanding and progress. He used to say that the “Shuyukh should follow up their muridun.”

On one occasion he said to one of his followers, “Why have you left me?” and the murıd replied that, “Because of you I have no need of anyone.” To which the shaykh said, “There is no one without the need of another. Sayyidin Abu Bakr, Allah's blessing be with him, though he had the direct benefit of being with the Prophets, did not come to be without need of him. Indeed he never left him for a single day.”

Sidi Ibn 'Ata Illah as-Sakandari, Allah bless his soul, relates this story; “I once said to some friends of the Shaykh, ‘I wish that the Shaykh would give me some attention and put me in his thoughts.’ The Shaykh knew of this and when I went to visit him said, ‘Do not ask the Shaykh to place you in his thoughts but, rather, place the Shaykh in your thoughts. ‘To the degree that you do this, just to that degree will the Shaykh be with you.’ Then he said to me, ‘What you would like to be, by Allah. you will be.’”

The Shaykh was meticulous in recognising the human dignity (al karamatu-l-'insaniyyah) of his muridun. He was not like some of the shuyukh who leave their students waiting when they have come for a meeting. He said in this connection, “A murıd comes to his Shaykh in the state of great spiritual determination and urgent zeal (himmah). If the murıd is made to wait his zeal may be dampened and his ardour (himmah) extinguished.”

A Shaykh should ask his murid about the truth of his claims and the nature of his limitations (qasirah) for as long as he is a beginner but must not continue in this way for too long. When the murıd reaches maturity (bulugh) it is not necessary for the Shaykh to ask him for proofs (bayyinah), for at that point the murid will have dropped his appetite cravings (wiham).

Whenever the Shaykh finds the murıd entering by himself into the spiritual recitations (al-'awrqad) he should order the murıd to cease. The Shaykh is keen on breaking the habits of immature aspirants to indulge themselves in deceptive illusion (hawaham) saying, “He who loves visibility (adh-dhahur) worships appearence. He who loves to be unknown (khafi) worships hiddeness. But for the one who worships and is the slave of Allah ('abdullah) it is all one to him whether Allah causes him to appear or vanish.”

In order to help the muridun to reject their own self indulgence he used to tell the story of how the Prophet overheard 'Abu Bakr reciting the Qur’an in a low voice whilst at the same time Umar, was reading in a loud voice.

The Prophet asked ‘Abu Bakr why he was reciting in a low voice and received the answer that, “I have made myself heard to He to whom I am speaking.” He then asked Umar why he was reciting in a loud voice and received the reply, “In order to awaken the sleepers and drive away the shaytan.”

“The Prophet then said to ‘Abu Bakr, “Raise you voice a bit.” and said to Umar, “Lower your voice a bit.”

The Shaykh said, “The Prophet meant in this way to cause each of them to abandon their individual will (iradah) and join them to his will.”

Following the practice of the Prophet, the Shaykh seeks to bring his muridun to the point where they abandon their self indulgence and illusions. If, for instance, he finds a murid boasting (fakhr) of his asceticism (zuhd) and his dropping of concern or pre-occupation with the world (isqat at-tadbirat) he says, “My brother. You give the dunya too much importance when you think it is something you must abstain (zahadat) from. It is less than you think.”

It is important that the murid understand certain things about both al-fakir in the sense of boasting, bragging and false pride in one’s voluntary poverty (fakr) or asceticism (zuhd) and in the sense of the love of appearance, visibility, pomp, conspicuousness, ostentation and general ‘show’.

... “The man of state is like a stream or a river. When the rain of spiritual knowledge (ma'arifah) descends the river overflows its banks and floods the land. Or if the waradat descend upon him he is drowned in his ma'arifah. “The man of station (maqam)and dwelling (manzil) is, however, like the ocean. When the rain of knowledge descends he contains and absorbs it for have you ever seen an ocean flooded by rain?”

.. This understanding may help to explain why the really great Sufis are seldom known, and if they are known are not really understood, whilst the people with conspicuous states are more usually known due to the appearance (dhahir) upon them of those states. They are too weak to bear them and not disciplined enough to control them. In truth they are without any real spiritual science ('ilm) or knowledge (ma'arifah). The man of hal may be more greatly acclaimed than the man of maqam but the distance between them is greater than that which exists between the earth and the heavens. We can safely say, and indeed it is well known to those who know, that insofar as a being is confirmed in the Divine Science (al-'ulumu-l-ilahiyah) and the Lordly Knowledge (al-ma'arifatu-r-rabbaniyyah) this being will be a stranger (istighrab) to this world (ad-dunya) and few will be those who know him, and of those who do come to know him, most will leave him.

The outer form of the tarbiyya proceeds, usually, through the shaykh assigning the murid certain ‘tasks’ some of which may seem very mundane and the value of which may not be readily apparent to the murid. These ‘tasks’ are, however, a major way in which the murid learns to bring his will into accord with that of the shaykh.

The murid should have implicit faith in his shaykh to the extent that he believes that in all the world there is no one to his knowledge who can benefit him more than his shaykh. In the terminology of tasawwüf this conception of implicit faith in the shaykh is known as wahdat-e-matlab or holding firm. Without holding firm to one’s shaykh the act of bay'ah is meaningless and of no benefit, as compatibility (munasabat) with the shaykh is an essential condition for reformation (islah) of the nafs.

.. we return to the necessity for tarbiyyah and, concomitant with that, the absolute necessity of a true teacher (murabbi) and perfect guide (murshid) to set one on the Way and, even more importantly, to keep one moving on that Way. Here are some sayings of those who have gone before us.

Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani, may Allah be pleased with him, makes clear the necessity of a murshid in a beautiful metaphor in al-Fathu-r-Rabbani. He says:

“The heart is the plantation for the Last World (al-'akhirah). Sow the seeds of 'Iman in your heart. Irrigate, fertilise and mature them with regular good deeds. If there is kindness and energy in the heart it will be fertile and an abundant harvest will result. Should the heart be harsh and contemptuous, the soul becomes infertile and barren and no crop will be able to grow. Learn this art of farming from the farmers who are the 'awliya karam (friends and saints of God). Do not think your opinion to be sufficient. Our Prophet a says, ‘Seek help in every field from an expert in that field.’"

He also said on this subject in al-Fatur-r-Rabbani: “Arrogance, hypocrisy, egoism, are all arrows of shaytan (satan) aimed at your hearts. One should formulate a strategy to defend oneself from this attack. The correct strategies are explained and demonstrated by the shuyukh. You should heed their commands and act on them. They will guide you on the path of Allah since they have already traveled on this path. Ask their advice on matters relating to the nafs, desires, cravings and other weaknesses because they have also suffered their consequences and are well aware of the dangers and harms of evil desires. They have battled them over a long period of time and can confront, control, subdue and, finally, defeat them”.

Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, may Allah be pleased with him says, “In the sphere of spiritual (ruhani) training (tarbiyah) the shaykh's concern and affection are similar to a father’s affection in the sphere of worldly training. In fact, the spiritual mentor (murabbi) has greater affection than even a father. The spiritual mentor executes tasks that even a father is incapable of rendering. He unites the spirit (ruh) of a human being with Allah. He transforms the human being into an 'arif (one who possesses deep knowledge and insight of the spiritual realm) and a wasil (one who has attained the goal of Divine measure).

Thus, in this holy process of spiritual training the bond between the two parties - murid and murad - can never be ‘finished’ irrespective of any high degree the association may have attained.

Mawlana Rumi, Allah bless his noble soul says:

“No one became anyone by himself. No piece of iron became a sword by itself. No confectioner became a master of the art until he became the student of the sweet maker. Rumi was not Rumi until he became the slave of Shams of Tabriz.”

In short in this world there is no science or art, trade or business that a human being has acquired without the teaching of another.

It is the envy and the arrogance of the sensual, blind and the dead hearted eternally unfortunate people which keep them from taking the Way to Allah and making the acquaintance of the guide. Shaytan (Satan) did not prostrate before Sayyidina Adam, peace be to him, due to his envy and conceit even though he tried to make his unitarianism an excuse saying he wouldn’t prostrate before anyone but Allah.

He claimed unitarianism and disowned polytheism but in reality his case was arrogance and egotism.

Byazid al-Bastami, hallowed be his station, once asked Allah, "What is the Way to Union?” and heard the reply, “Quit yourself and you will meet Me.”

This is the deep training (tarbiyah): how to quit your self (nafs).

Allah bestows honor on the one who bows to another and practices ‘humility’ for the sake of Allah. He who bows down is uplifted. He who is vain falls. The seed germinates only when it has been buried in the earth. The people at the time of the Prophet used to ask,

What is it with this Prophet
who eats food and walks in the marketplace?
Why hasn’t an angel been sent down with him to give admonition?
(Surah al-Furqan 25:7)

and followed that up with,

How come we don’t see the angels come down to us
and why don’t we see our Lord?
(Surah al-Furqan 25:21)

and Allah answered them saying,
[Even] if We had made an angel, 
We would have sent him as a man, 
and dressed him as you are dressed.
(Surah al-'An'am 6:9)

So it is that our guides, our shuyukh, our murshids are people like us but more along the lines of the response of the Prophet, upon him be peace,

Truly I am a man like you
but it has been revealed to me that your G-d is one G-d.
(Surah al-Kahf 18:10)

and our shuyukh, the human inheritors (warathah) of the Rasul (divine Messenger), continue to do just that - remind us of the oneness of Allah and train us in the Way of Allah urging us to board the Ship of Safety so that, insha'Allah, we may reach the farthest shore. Our task, as sincere students, is to take the reminder, walk through the door and take the hand of the man whose hand is in the hand of the man whose hand is in the hand of the Prophet so then, like bulbs connected to wires running from pole to pole, we will be connected to the generator in the powerhouse of love and mercy.

yadul-Llahi faoqa aydihim
And the Hand of Allah is above their hands!
(Surah al-Fath 25:7)

You may download and listen to the sohbet offered by Shaykh Nooruddeen Durkee and Shaykh Abdur Rashid. Please maintain adab by listening to each talk to its end, in one sitting or as many as you need, but do complete. Perhaps Allah by His Will, Mercy and Grace will illuminate your inner faculty of recognizing the truth and guide you to a higher spiritual station.

[>] Download and listen to the talk by Shaykh Nooruddeen Durkee (mp4 audio)

[>] Download and listen to the talk by Shaykh Abdur Rashid (mp4 audio)

# Reference:



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Technology of the Heart: Tarbiyya | Training of the Seeker
Tarbiyya | Training of the Seeker
Technology of the Heart
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