Discourse on Futuwwa
Now we are going to look at a Sufic term which is, in a sense, alongside tawhid in that tawhid is that which places us into understanding of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. This term is what tawhid does or means or transforms in the human being, in the Muslim who takes on this knowledge of tawhid. It is a technical term which we trace of course back to the Qur’an, which is Futuwwa. Futuwwa is a kind of nobility. People translate it as chivalry but it is not to do with horses. It is to do with the highest capacity or quality possible in knowledge for the servant of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. We will take three ayats. There are others but these are the three most significant for us, which define this futuwwa. Futuwwa comes from ‘fata’ which is like ‘youth’. The plural is fatyan and fatya in the feminine. As we are looking at it in Qur’an it appears as fata. We look first at Surat al-Kahf which is the eighteenth surat and at the thirteenth ayat. It is referring to the young men who were put into the cave and Allah says, “They were young men who had iman in their Lord and We increased them in guidance.” (Surat al-Kahf, 13)
We will come back to Surat al-Kahf but we want to go to Surat al-Anbiya’ which is surat twenty one, ayat sixty. “They said, ‘We heard a young man mentioning them, they call him Ibrahim’.” (Surat al-Anbiya’, 60) This refers to the well-known moment when Sayyiduna Ibrahim, ‘alayhi salam, not only destroys the idols but by divine inspiration of intellect he does this devastating act, and it is this action which completely finishes them because he does not say, “I smashed it,” which is what they are saying, he says, if you remember, “No, the biggest idol did it.” They say, “But this is ridiculous! How could an idol possibly smash the other idols?” At that point he reveals the whole thing with Allah – that they have no power. This is the indication of the effect of the fata changing the whole situation of false worship. We will come back to Surat al-Anbiya’ but now we will go back to Surat al-Kahf, ayat fifty nine: “Remember when Musa said to his servant, ‘I will not give up until I reach the meeting-place of the two seas’.” (Surat al-Kahf, 60)
Musa said this to his fata, to his young attendant. Here we have three examples of the use of this word and in each of them a young man is taken into a situation of knowledge and learning by Allah. The people of the Cave, remember, are men with iman in their Lord and, “We increased them in guidance,” because they wanted a pure tawhid, they would not accept the idolatry so they submitted to this event of being preserved by Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, until they were in the company worthy of them. The second one is the Prophet Ibrahim, ‘alayhi salam, and it is the application of his knowledge of tawhid that conquers the mushrikun. The third one is a very important and significant ayat which tells about Sayyiduna Musa unfolding his hikma from Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, and saying then to the young man that he will not give up until he has reached the meeting-place of the two seas. Because he is Nabiy he is also teaching the young man that you follow the way of the prophet so you will not give up until you reach the meeting-place of the two seas. To the Sufis, the meeting-place of the two seas is where, in the words of Ibn Ata’illah, the shari’at and the haqiqat meet, because for the person of that knowledge, the shari’at does not separate him from the haqiqat and the haqiqat does not separate him from the shari’at. He gives everything its due.
These are the three things which are the foundation of the fata, the young man of knowledge, of spiritual nobility. So the Qur’anic references are to the men of the Cave who would not worship an idol but preferred the cave to denying tawhid, the Prophet Ibrahim, ‘alayhi salam, who used his intellect to destroy the shirk of the idol-worshippers in his demonstration of tawhid, and the servant of Sayyiduna Musa, ‘alayhi salam, who helped him towards his goal because it was part of how Allah chose to unfold to Sayyiduna Musa certain high, divine knowledges which he needed for his task of being a messenger to the people of his time. This means that futuwwa, nobility, is a door to guidance. We go back to Surat al-Kahf, to the tenth ayat: “The young men took refuge in the cave and said, ‘Our Lord, give us mercy directly from You and open the way for us to right guidance in our situation’.” (Surat al-Kahf, 10) “Min ladunka” is ‘directly from You’ and it means divine illumination. It means tajaliyyat of the Dhat in the language of the Sufis – divine openings from the Essence of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. “Min amrina rashadan” – We come to the key word we connect with futuwwa which is Rushd. Rashada is right guidance. Now we go to Surat al-Anbiya’ and we will come back to Surat al-Kahf. You see also the perfection of the Qur’an that these things click together, these extraordinary things all tie in together perfectly and that the words of the Qur’an are divinely appointed to have these specific meanings. We come now to Sayyiduna Ibrahim in ayat fifty one: “We gave Ibrahim his right guidance early on and We had complete knowledge of him.” (Surat al-Anbiya 51)
It is very significant that Allah tells us that this right guidance was given ahead of the event, that this high place of Sayyiduna Ibrahim, ‘alayhi salam, preceded it. He gave him right guidance early on, before the encounter with the mushriks, so that when the moment came he had divine inspiration and illumination to know what to do. It is not his intellect in the sense of his brain but his intellect in the sense of the illumination of his consciousness to know what to do to fight the mushrikun. Then Allah says a very interesting thing: “We had complete knowledge of him.” We would not have been surprised if Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, said that at that point Ibrahim had complete knowledge of Allah, but Allah says, “We had complete knowledge of him.” This goes to the ayat where Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, says: (Surat al-Maida, 54) “We love them and they love Us.” So, “We had complete knowledge of him and he had complete knowledge of Us,” which is why Ibrahim had a very special name, he was called Khalil. Shaykh Ibn al-’Arabi explains that ‘khalil’ is from a term in Arabic which means ‘saturated’. If you put a woollen cloth in water it becomes completely saturated so that while the wool is the wool and the water is the water, the wool is completely water and the water is completely wool without any incarnation or joining. The slave is the slave and the Lord is the Lord, but this saturation of knowledge is in the love that Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, had for Sayyiduna Ibrahim, ‘alayhi salam, and the love that Sayyiduna Ibrahim had for Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. “We had complete knowledge of him.” In this inversion it is very important to realise the high station among the prophets of Sayyiduna Ibrahim. You will find that the Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, makes numerous very special references to Ibrahim and identifies himself with Ibrahim in many, many ways. The use of the word ‘huda’ that you could say belongs to Ibrahim is the word which Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, says that he brought to his people.
Now we come to the third thing which again is in Surat al- Kahf. “Musa said to him, ‘May I follow You on condition that You teach me some of the right guidance you have been taught?’” (Surat al-Kahf, 66) This is so tremendous that we could divert onto that whole story of Sayyiduna Musa because it is so full of meanings for the Sufis. In it, Allah chose for His prophet this means of completion of his high and enormously difficult task. He was given, as it were, an instructor of a nature that is very similar to the encounter at the beginning of the hadith collection of Imam Muslim, radiyallahu ‘anhu, which tells us of the angel coming to Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and putting his knees against his knees and questioning him about Islam, iman and ihsan – this apparent teaching exploding from the Unseen into the seen world in this very special encounter. It is the same with Sayyiduna Musa and this famous meeting, with all of the three events, which on the face of it look totally wrong, yet which then reveal what their meaning was.
“Musa said to him, ‘May I follow You on condition that You teach me some of the right guidance you have been taught.’” ‘Teach me some of the rushda you have been taught. You give me this, this is what I want from you. This is what this meeting is for, to get rushda.’ In that sense, there are the young men of the cave, there is the Prophet Ibrahim as a young man and there is the servant of Sayyiduna Musa, and each of these contain teaching about the nature of tawhid so that we connect futuwwa with rushd. So futuwwa is the door to right guidance. The first technical reference to fityan is from Hasan al-Basri who was one of the first of the shuyukh of our tariqa, so everything he said is of enormous importance to us, and because of his nearness to the Sahaba and Tabi’in. He said that in the early days the fityan, the people of this futuwwa, were not recognised by their words but by their actions, and it is that which may be called useful knowledge. When we recite the Wird we twice ask Allah for useful knowledge, ‘Ilm an-Nafi’an, and he is saying that it is the action of the noble youths which is the useful knowledge which is desired – it is knowledge which is action. Now we go to Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, from Qur’an, and we find a very interesting thing. A man had prepared food to receive the Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and some of the Sahaba. When the food came, one of the them refused to eat saying that he was fasting. Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said, “Your brother has invited us and has gone to a lot of trouble – eat! Fast another day if you want.” This is the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, who instituted the obligatory fast and praised all nawafil acts of fasting and boasted that his fasting was over everybody’s, but in the face of this adab towards people who prepare food, was offended and challenged the man, “Eat! Fast another day if you want.” This is futuwwa. This is placing the adab of the guest to the host as the highest among the acts of ‘ibada. This is from al- Bayhaqi and ad-Daraqutni from Jabir.
Another one connected to food was that a sheep was offered to the Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and he started to cut it up and distribute the meat. Sayyideta ‘Aisha, may Allah bless her, said, “There is only the neck left for us!” He looked at her and said, “It is all left for us except the neck.” This is futuwwa. Futuwwa is that there is no trouble or test to turn one from serving Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. Imam Junayd said, “One happy day I went to visit Salih as-Saqarti and he said to me, ‘O Abul-Qasim! Last night my ruh heard a voice and it said, “O Salih! I first created men and they all turned to Me and came to Me. Then I showed them the dunya and nine tenths of them left Me, the rest stayed with Me. I then told them of the Janna and nine tenths of them wanted it and one tenth stayed with Me. On them I set difficulties and tests until they weakened and called for help until nine tenths of them became distant from Me. To those who remained I said, ‘You did not desire the dunya, you do not desire the Janna, and you did not run away from My trials.’ And they replied, ‘You know, O Allah, what we desire.’ I said, ‘I will pile on you troubles that not even the greatest mountains could support,’ and they replied, ‘We accept, O Allah, as long as it comes from You’.”’”
Futuwwa is a universal compassion that bonds its people together and cuts off those of unlike qualities, and this is from the ayat, “Men and women who are Muslim, men and women who are mumin.” (Surat al-Ahzab, 35) This is because the people of futuwwa, men and women, have to be the same, they cannot be different. Imam al-Junayd told of one of his teachers, a man of futuwwa, Abu Musa al-Kumasi. One day Junayd recounted that Abu Musa and his wife were at home and their whole house collapsed on top of them. Their friends dug and they found the shaykh who said, “Leave me! Look for my wife!” They dug and finally they found her. She said, “Pay no attention to me! Leave me and find Shaykh Abu Musa.” This concern must be mutual concern for the other. The summit of futuwwa is therefore the highest effect of this right guidance. It is the highest knowledge because futuwwa is that the lover must obey the wishes of the Beloved. Once again, in the exalted country of Imam al-Junayd who was the Imam of the Sufis, Abu Hafs was there, who was a very great Sufi and is very highly praised in the Kashf al-Mahjub of Hujwiri. Junayd gave his definition of futuwwa and then he saw Abu Hafs and he said, “Abu Hafs, what do you say?” Abu Hafs said, “Futuwwa is that you give justice and never expect it.” Junayd said, “That is the best answer.”
One day Abu Husayn an-Nuri visited the circle of Imam al- Junayd – there were these meetings of very great Sufis where between themselves they almost competed for the most fine and pure declarations of knowledge and love of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala – and Abu Husayn said, “I am told that you can discourse on any subject. Tell me the subject of your choice and then I for my part will add further evidence.” Imam al-Junayd said, “What do you want me to speak about?” An-Nuri said, “On love.” Junayd said, “I will tell you a story. My friends and I were in an orchard. One of our party had gone to get supplies and had not returned, so we went onto the farm’s terrace to look out for them and then we noticed a blind man accompanied by a young man of great beauty. Suddenly we heard the blind man say, ‘You have ordered me to do such-andsuch and I carried out your orders. You forbade me to do suchand- such and I set these things aside. I have never disobeyed you in anything, what more do you want of me?’ The young man answered, ‘That you die.’ The blind man said, ‘Very well. Then I will die.’ He stretched out on the ground and covered his face.” Junayd goes on, “I said to my companions, ‘The blind one certainly seems lifeless, but he cannot be dead. He must be seeming to be dead.’ So we went down, we examined him, and confirmed that in fact he was dead.” An-Nuri rose and left without adding a word.
The fuqara must ask always to be in change. The du’a of the Sufis is, “O Allah, keep me in change.” Keep me always changing because everything is changing and every day Allah is on a new creation. You must be renewing and renewing yourself. You have to always be in change. You must remember that the company of the fuqara is the highest company. You must keep each other company. You must travel to other places where there are fuqara. You must sit with the fuqara in every place. You must be an example to them and take example from them when you meet people of quality. Seek the people of knowledge, seek the people of love of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, and the people of love of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. To take the adab of the great ones you have to sit with them, you have to sit with the people of knowledge. It is by your company that you are purified. Tasawwuf is keeping company, then tasawwuf is listening, then tasawwuf is acting upon what you hear. There is only one enemy and that is your self. The nafs has nothing good in it. The worst of all things to the Sufis is the recognition of their own good qualities over and against that of other people – it is what sets them back and smashes them on the rocks of destiny. You must not look at your good qualities. You must consider them something that in themselves have been spoiled even by your being conscious of them. You do not look at your self.
You do not find fault with others, you find fault with your self. You must look at your self and say, “What is wrong with it?” Harith al-Muhasibi went over his day, then went over his hours and then went over his minutes, then went over his breath until he had verified that it was pleasing to Allah, that it was acceptable to Allah. Two great ‘ulama met in Baghdad and they argued and fought with each other. At the end one of them said, “Let us meet tomorrow and discuss this matter further and the other one said, “No, let us meet tomorrow and make peace and forget all about it.” This is the way of the Sufis – to begin again. You must not be limited in your forgiveness of the faults of others but you must not have any measurement of any attention to yourself. Any consciousness of your self you must turn from. You must turn away from the nafs and the method of turning away from the nafs is not a psychological method, it is dhikrullah. (Surat ar-Ra’d, 28) “Only in the dhikr of Allah can the heart find peace.” You must do dhikr of Allah. You must remember Allah standing, sitting and reclining on your side. You must call upon Allah. You cannot afford to be out of the company of the people who love Allah for any amount of time in this age that we live in. You must be with the people who love Allah, you need them. You need the people of Allah because they will remind you of Allah. You need the people of knowledge because you have to be strong in your Deen and you have to be correct in your Deen in an age where every mosque has a different way of going into sajda, let alone the higher things of the Deen. You must speak well of people and have a good opinion of people. You must become people of futuwwa, you must become these people who are spoken of because of the high aspiration, the high himma you have which is on a universal scale that when you go to the Ka’ba, with all the troubles that are there, you must look for the people of Allah there and sit with them. Beware of the people of dunya. Beware of the people of dunya until you are safe, and when you are safe it does not matter where you go. If you are not safe then you must be careful. You must have taqwa and you must have wara’. You must take care, take care, watch, until you are on Sirat al-Mustaqim because when things go wrong you have to remember that all you have got is then to turn to Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala.
Remember, even tawba is nothing to do with you – it is because Allah has decreed for you tawba because He wants you, so even that is not yours, it is not your good achievement. Your asking forgiveness is not your good achievement, it is simply Allah claiming you and you recognising that He has claimed you. You belong to Allah. You have come from Allah and you are going to Allah. This is what you have to tell yourself. You must not be hypnotised by dunya. Remember that Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, indicated that the small coin of the poor person is as dangerous as the gold of the rich, so you must be generous. To be generous is to follow the way of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. You must be generous, you must have a good opinion of other people, you must not say bad things about other people and if you do say them you must go back and clean it out and you must ask their forgiveness. If someone is totally against you and totally in the wrong then you have to forgive them and you have to forget it and you have to go back and put things right. This is how the Deen has always been. This is how these great men have lived in the past.
Just finally to remind you – look what has become of futuwwa – the elders of the organisation of people calling themselves al- Fatah are tying dynamite to youngsters’ bellies and shoving them out to blow themselves up, when the people who fought with Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, pushed the young people aside in order that they could go and fight fisabilillah, fight in the service of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. So the whole Deen has to start all over again. You are the people who must start it and in this continent is where it will begin. It is from your people and from your children, but you must have an adab to them, you must treat them with courtesy. You must treat your children with courtesy, you must treat the young with courtesy just as you must treat the old with courtesy. You must become the people of adab and if you become the people of adab you will be safe. If you become people of adab you will be Sufis. At-Tariqa kulluha-adab. The Tariqa is nothing but adab, that is all it is – adab. You must also have some respect for yourself. That respect for yourself is only manifest by the fact that all the people around you are at ease and in harmony with you and pleased that you are there. This is how you must be. You must be a blessing on the earth. You must be a baraka for everybody. You must be ones that when you enter a room it all lights up because of your love of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, your love of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, and because your tongue is supple with the name of Allah and not the matters of dunya. Dunya will not fail to happen. All its strategems and spoils will not fail to crash about your ears, they have always done it and they will continue to do it. When the People of the Cave came out, there they were again faced with the world and all its problems and all its difficulties, but Allah loves the people of tawhid and loves the people who love Him and this is the company, the company of the Sufis.
We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, to give us all our lives the company of the Sufis. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, to take out our tasawwuf to whatever part of the world we go. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, that we prefer to go to the company of people who only want to go to Allah in preference to anyone who may do anything to help us and give us advantage in this world. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, to make us ready for the tests that come so that we can respond to him and remember to praise him in every situation. Alhamdulillahi ‘ala kulli hal. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, to bless this mosque and its imams and its guardians and that it continues to be a witness for Islam as it has been in the troubled times of the past. Amin.