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Finding a spiritual guide

Question:

What do the scholars and experts of shari’ah say regarding a spiritual guide? How does one find a suitable guide?

Answer:

It is of great important that we find excellent scholars who can help and nurture us in our relationship with Allah ﷻ. The esteemed scholar of the 5th Century, Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali gave the following advice to his son outlining the conditions of a shaykh who is worthy to be followed:

  1. They must be an ‘Alim (learned in religious matters).
  2. A person who turns away from the attachment of this world and does not desire any prestige or power.
  3. The shaykh himself must be a student of another shaykh whose chain of teachers leads back to the Prophet ﷺ.
  4. The shaykh should have practiced and excelled in disciplining and purifying himself.
  5. Is engaged in an abundance of prayer, fasting, and charity.
  6. He should have kept the company of a shaykh with deep insight so that the qualities of good character have become his way of life. Qualities such as patience and perseverance, prayer, gratitude, reliance upon Allah ﷻ, conviction, generosity, contentment and tranquillity of the soul, moderation, humility, knowledge, truthful, sincerity, modesty, trustworthiness, dignity, serenity, deliberation etc.’

Imam al-Ghazali reminds us that “…the presence of such people is rarer than red sulphur (A rare element difficult to obtain).” These conditions are of even greater importance today. With the rapid development of society, Muslims living in lands governed by a secular mindset and various other challenges being faced. We must look at the conditions set-forth by Imam al-Ghazali with consideration of the realities we face today. The fourth condition refers to a scholar who acts and preaches in accordance with the rulings of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ. This is of great importance. Only such a person can then go on to teach their students how to live their life and develop within the boundaries of shari’ah. The shaykh can also help a person to overcome the ever-consuming weaknesses and diseases of the ‘self’, resulting in one becoming open to good and adverse to evil.

An upright shaykh is one who is pious and just in all matters, especially those related to one’s faith. This is a condition which should no be compromised. They are well-versed in fiqh, its rulings and methodology. There is no standard format for a what the right shaykh looks like. What is needed from a guide will vary from one environment to another, from one time to another, from one society to another. Likewise, living in the U.K we should seek scholars for our young children who understand the society our children are growing up in. Who can instil within them a love for Islam and the religion without any imposing any cultural practices upon them under the guise of religion.

Finally, we should remember that a shaykh is not an angel, nor does he cease to be a normal human being. Rather they have the same needs, social obligations etc. as everybody else. The shaykh may have a family, a business to run or a full-time job.

This fatwa is written by Dr Mohamed Ali Ahdash