The Life of the Shaikh Ahmad Al Alawi By Himself
Translation and commentary by Martin Lings (*)
The Shaikh was born at Mostaganem in 1869. His name, as given on the title-pages of most of his books, was Abul ‘Abbas Ahmad ibn Mustafa Al Alawi, and he was an only son, with two sisters. A little less than a year before his birth his mother Fatimah ‘saw in her sleep the Prophet with a jonquil in his hand. He looked her full in the face and smiled at her and threw the flower to her, whereupon she took it up with humble modesty. When she woke, she told her husband of the vision, and he interpreted it as meaning that they would be blessed with a pious son, and he had in fact been importuning God not to leave him without an heir … and after a few weeks God confirmed her dream, and she conceived her son.
After the Shaikh’s death in 1934, the following autobiographical extract was found among his papers. He had evidently dictated it some years previously to one of his disciples:
As to learning how to write, I never made much effort in that direction, and I never went to school, not even for a single day. My only schooling was what I learned from my father at home during the Qoran lessons which he used to give me, and my handwriting is still quite unproficient. My learning by heart the Book of God went as far as the Surat ar-Rahman, and there I came to a standstill owing to the various occupations which I was forced to turn to through sheer necessity. The family had not enough to live on-although you would never have thought it, for my father was proud and reserved to the point of never showing on his face what was in his mind, so that nobody could have concluded from outward signs that he was in need of anything.
I hesitated between several different crafts, and finally took to cobbling and became quite good at it, and our situation improved in consequence. I remained a cobbler for a few years, and then went into trade, and I lost my father when I was just sixteen. Although I was so young I had been doing all sorts of things for him and I was bent on nothing so much as giving him pleasure. He was exceedingly fond of me, and I do not remember him ever blaming me for any- thing or beating me, except when he was giving me lessons, and then it was because I was lazy in learning the Qoran.
As to my mother, she was even more lavish in her affection, and she worried more about me than he had done. In fact after his death she did all she could in the way of harsh words and blows and locking the door and so on to prevent me from going out at night. I wanted very much to humour her, but I could not bring myself to give up attending lessons at night and gatherings for dhikr. What made her so anxious was that our house was outside the town on a road which one might well fear to go along alone at night; and she continued in her attempts to stop me, and I for my part continued to attend those gatherings, until by the Grace of God she gave her full consent, and there was nothing to mar our love for each other, which remained unclouded until the day of her death in 1332, when I was 46. ‘ As to my attendance at lessons, it did not amount to much, as it was only possible now and then, in between work, and if I had not had a certain natural aptitude and understanding I should not have gained anything worth speaking of. But I was very much addicted to learning, and would sometimes steep myself in books the whole night long; and I was helped in these nocturnal studies by a Shaikh whom I used to bring back to our house.
After this had been going on for several months, my wife took offence and claimed divorce from me on the grounds of my not giving her rights, and she had in fact some cause to complain. My attendance at lessons, such as it was, did not go on for as much as two years; it none the less enabled me to grasp some points of doctrine in addition to what I gained in the way of mental discipline. But it was not until I had busied myself with the doctrine of the Folk, 1 and had come to know its Masters, that my mind opened and I began to have a certain breadth of knowledge and understanding.
‘ (At this point the scribe to whom this was dictated asked him about how he first came into contact with those who follow the path of the mystics.) ‘My first leaning in that direction was marked by my attachment to one of the Masters of the ‘Isawi Tariqah who in pressed me by his unworldliness and evident piety. I made ever effort to comply with the requisites of that order, and this came quite easily to me on account of my youth and the instinctive attraction for wonders and marvels which is part of human nature.
I became proficient in these practices, and was well thought of by the men of the order, and I believed in my ignorance that what we did was purely and simply a means of drawing near to God. On the day when God willed that I should be inspired with the truth we were at one of our gatherings and I looked up and saw a paper that was on one of the walls of the house we were in, and my eye lit on a saying that was traced back to the Prophet. What I learned from it caused me to give up what I had been doing in the way of working wonders, and I determined to limit myself in that order to the litanies and invocations and recitations of the Qoran. From that time I began to extricate myself and to make excuses to my brethern until I finally gave up those other practices altogether. I wanted to drag the entire brotherhood away from them also, but that was not easy.
As for myself, I broke away as I had intended, and only retained from that contact the practice of snake-charming. I continued to charm snakes by myself or with some of my friends until I met Shaikh Sidi Muhammad AI-Buzidi. ‘ As to my meeting with this Shaikh, whichever way I look at it, it seems to me to have been a pure Grace from God; for although we-that is, I and my friend Sidi al-Hajj Bin-Awdah who shared my business with me-were longing to find someone who could take us by the hand and guide us, we did not go to the Shaikh AI-Biiuzidi and seek him out where he was, but it was he who came to us, quite unexpectedly. My friend had already told me about him. He said: “I used to know a Shaikh called Sidi Hamu of the family of the Prophet. He left his home and went for several years to Morocco, and when he returned many people attached themselves to him. He used to speak with authority about the path of the mystics, but to try him God sent against him a man who did him much harm so that he found himself faced with all sorts of opposition, and now he is as subdued as any disciple, without a trace of his former spiritual activity.
However, I think that he is one who could be relied on for guidance upon the path. No true spiritual guide has ever appeared whom God did not try with someone who wronged him either openly or behind his back.” ‘This was the gist of what he said, and immediately I determined to go to this Shaikh on my friend’s recommendation. I myself knew nothing about him except that once, when a boy, I had heard his name in connection with an illness which I had. They brought me an amulet and said: “This is from Sidi Hamu Shaikh Buzidi”, and I used it and was cured.
‘My friend and I were at work together some days after this conversation, when suddenly he said: “Look, there is that Shaikh going down the road.” Then he went up to him and asked him to come in, which he did. They talked for a while, but I was too busy with my work to be able to notice what they were talking about. When the Shaikh got up to go, my friend begged him not to stop visiting us. He said good-bye and went, and I asked my friend what impression he had had, and he said: “His talk is far above what one finds in books.” He came to see us from time to time, and it was my friend who talked to him and plied him copiously with questions, whereas I was more or less tonguetied, partly out of reverence for him and partly because my work left me no time to talk. ‘One day, when he was with us in our shop, the Shaikh said to me: “1 have heard that you can charm snakes, and that you are not afraid of being bitten.” I admitted this. Then he said: “Can you bring me one now and charm it here in front of us?” I said that I could, and going outside the town, I searched for half the day, but only found a small one, about half an arm’s length. This I brought back with me and putting it in front of him, I began to handle it according to my custom, while he sat and watched me. “Could you charm a bigger snake than this?” he asked. I replied that the size made no difference to me. Then he said: “1 will show you one that is bigger than this and far more venomous, and if you can take hold of it you are a real sage.”
I asked him to show me where it was, and he said: “1 mean your soul which is between the two sides of your body. Its poison is more deadly than a snake’s, and if you can take hold of it and do what you please with it, you are, as I have said, a sage indeed.” Then he said: “Go and do with that little snake whatever you usually do with them, and never go back to such practices again”, and I went out, wondering about the soul and how its poison could be more deadly than a snake’s. , Another day, during this period when the Shaikh used to call on us, he fixed his eyes on me and then said to my friend.
“The lad is qualified to receive instruction” or “He would be receptive to instruction”, or some such remark; and on another Occasion he found a paper in my hand on which was written something in praise of Shaikh Sidi Muhammad ibn Isa, and after looking at it he said to me: “if you live long enough you will be, God willing, like Shaikh Sidi Muhammad ibn Isa”, or “you will attain to his spiritual rank”. I forget his exact words. This seemed to me a very remote possibility but I said: “God willing”; and it was not long before I was attached to his order and took him as a guiding light in the path of God.
My friend had already been received in the order about two months previously, though he had kept this from me, and only told me after I myself had been received. I did not understand at that time the reason for this secrecy. After the Shaikh had transmitted to me the litanies for morning and evening recitation he told me not to speak about them to anyone-“until I tell you”, he said. Then in less then a week he called me to him and began to talk to me about the Supreme Name (Allah) and the method of invoking it. He told me to devote myself to dhikr Allah in the way generally practiced in our order at that time; and since he had no special cell of retreat for dhikr, I was unable to find a place where I could be alone undisturbed. When I complained of this to him, he said: “There is no place better for being alone than the cemetery”. So I went there alone at nights, but it was not easy for me.
I was so overcome with fear that I could not concentrate on the dhikr, although for many nights I tried to do so. I complained again to the Shaikh, and he said: “I did not give you a binding order. I merely said there was no place better for being alone than the cemetery”. Then he told me to limit my dhikr to the last third of the night, and so I invoked at night and made contact with him during the day. Either he would come to me, or else I would go to him, although his house was not always a good place for meeting on account of the children and for other reasons. In addition to this, at midday, I went on attending the lessons in theology which I had attended previously. One day he asked me: “What lessons are those that I see you attending?” I said: “They are on the Doctrine of Unity (at-tawhid) and I am now at the ‘realization of proofs’.” He said: “Sidi so-and-so used to call it ‘the doctrine of turbidity’ (at-tawhil)”. Then he added: “You had better busy yourself now with purifying your innermost soul until the Light of your Lord dawn in it and you come to know the real meaning of Unity. But as for scholastic theology, it will only serve to increase your doubts and pile up illusion upon illusion”. Finally he said: “You had better leave the rest of those lessons until you are through with your present task, for it is an obligation to put what is more important before what is of lesser importance.”
No order that he ever gave me was so hard to obey as this. I had grown very fond of those lessons and had come to rely on them so much for my understanding of the doctrine that I was on the point of disobeying him. But God put into my Heart this question: How do you know that what you are receiving from the Shaikh AI-Buzidi is not the kind of knowledge that you are really seeking, or something even higher than it? Secondly, I comforted myself with the thought that the prohibition was not a permanent one; thirdly, I remembered that I had taken an oath of allegiance to obey him; and fourthly I told my- self that perhaps he wanted to put me to trial, as is the way of Shaikhs. But all these arguments did not stop the ache of sorrow that I felt within me. What sent that away was my spending in solitary invocation the hours which I had previously devoted to reading, especially after I had begun to feel the results of this invocation. ‘ As to his way of guiding his disciples, stage by stage, it varied. He would talk to some about the form in which Adam was created and to others about the cardinal virtues and to others about the Divine Actions, each instruction being especially suited to the disciple in question.
But the course which he most often followed, and which I also followed after him, was to enjoin upon the disciple the invocation of the single Name with distinct visualization of its letters until they were written in his imagination. Then he would tell him to spread them out and enlarge them until they filled all the horizon. The dhikr would continue in this form until the letters became like light. Then the Shaikh would show the way out of this standpoint- it is impossible to express in words how he did so-and by means of this indication the Spirit of the disciple would quickly reach beyond the created universe provided that he had sufficient preparation and aptitude-otherwise there would be need for purification and other spiritual training. At the above- mentioned indication the disciple would find himself able to distinguish between the Absolute and the relative, and he would see the universe as a ball or a lamp suspended in a beginning less, endless void.
Then it would grow dimmer in his sight as he persevered in the invocation to the accompaniment of meditation, until it seemed no longer a definite object but a mere trace. Then it would become not even a trace, until at length the disciple was submerged in the World of the Absolute and his certainty was strengthened by Its Pure Light. In all this the Shaikh would watch over him and ask him about his states and strengthen him in the dhikr degree by degree until he finally reached a point of being conscious of what he perceived through his own power.
The Shaikh would not be satisfied until this point was reached, and he used to quote the words of God which refer to: One whom his Lord hath made certain, and whose certainty He hath then followed up with direct evidence.1 ‘When the disciple had reached this degree of independent perception, which was strong or weak according to his capability, the Shaikh would bring him back again to the world of outward forms after he had left it, and it would seem to him the inverse of what it had been before, simply because the light of his inward eye had dawned.
He would see it as Light upon Light, and so it had been before in reality. ‘In this degree the disciple may mistake the bowstring for the arrow as has happened to many of those who are journeying to God, and he may say as more than one has said: “I am He whom I love, and He whom I love is I”, and the like-enough to make anyone who has no knowledge of the attainments of the mystics and is unfamiliar with their ejaculations throw at him the first thing that he can lay hands on. But the master of this degree comes before long to distinguish between the spiritual points of view, and to give to each of the different degrees of existence its due and to each of the spiritual stations what rightly belongs to it.
This station took hold of me, and it has been my home for many years, and I have become as it were expert in it, and made known its obligations, and my followers have had what I wrote about it when I was first in its grip, and some of them now have knowledge of its obligations, and some of them fall short of this knowledge. The acuteness of this state still comes back to me sometimes, but it does not compel me to write about it. True, it prompts me to speak about it, but it is easier to live with than it was, something that I feel rather than something that I am submerged in.
‘This path which I have just described as being that of my Master is the one that I have followed in my own spiritual guidance, leading my own followers along it, for I have found it the nearest of the paths which lead to God.’ The Shaikh is speaking here with the voice of unmitigated ‘slavehood’, and it is consistent with the general tone of this passage that even with regard to the very Summit of all spiritual attainment he should single out for mention its aspect of ‘obligation’, to which the Qoran refers in the words: We offered the trust (of being Our representative) unto the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they shrank from bearing it, and were afraid of it. And man took it upon himself. Verily he hath proved an ignorant tyrant.
Reaching the end of the spiritual path, which js none other than the state in which man was originally created, means, amongst other things, reassuming the tremendous responsibilities from which mankind in general has fallen away. This ultimate station, that is, the state of Supreme Sainthood, which he referred to in speaking to Dr Carret as the ‘Great Peace’, is defined elsewhere in his writings as being one of inward intoxication and outward soberness, in virtue of which the mind fulfils its analytical function with perfect clarity, although, as he has just indicated, there is nothing in the nature of an absolute barrier between it and the Heart’s rapture. But in the case of the mystic who, though far advanced upon the path, has not yet reached the end, other-worldly drunkenness is liable to invade the mind and make it supernaturally and unbearably active, or produce some other abnormality in it, thus throwing the soul off its balance.
It is even possible, as is shown by the reference to al-ilallaj and as we shall see more clearly in a later chapter, for a mystic to reach in a sense the end of the path and to attain to a plenitude of drunkenness which is as yet un- stabilized by the complementary perfection of sobriety. For although the Divine Nature of the Saint is Eternal and does not develop, his human nature is subject to time and may not be able to adapt itself in one day to the Supreme Presence, especially in cases where the spiritual journey has been completed with phenomenal speed as it almost certainly was in the case of the Shaikh Al-Alawi. More than once in his writings he quotes Abu ‘l-Hasan ash- Shadhili as having said: ‘Vision of the Truth came upon me and would not leave me, and it was stronger than I could bear, so I asked God to set a screen between me and It.
Then a voice called out to me, saying: “If thou besoughtest Him as only His Prophets and Saints and Muhammad His beloved know how to beseech Him, yet would He not screen thee from It. But ask Him to strengthen thee for It.” So I asked for strength and He strengthened me-praise be to God!’ The dictation continues: ‘When I had reaped the fruit of the dhikr-and its fruit is no less than knowledge of God by way of contemplation-I saw clearly the meagreness of all that I had learned about the doctrine of Divine Unity, and I sensed the meaning of what my Master had said about it.
Then he told me to attend once more those lessons which I had attended previously, and when I did so I found myself quite different from what I had been before as regards understanding. I now understood things in advance before the Shaikh who was teaching us had finished expounding them. Another result of the invocation was that I understood more than the literal sense of the text. In a word, there was no comparison between the understanding which I now had and that which I had before, and its scope went on increasing, until when anyone recited a passage from the Book of God, my wits would jump to solve the riddle of its meaning with amazing speed at the very moment of recitation. But when this took hold of me and became almost second nature, I was afraid that I should come altogether under the sway of its imperious and persistent impulsion, so I took to writing down what my inward thoughts dictated to me by way of interpretation of the Book of God, and I was so much under its sway that I brought them out in a strange and abstruse form.
This is what led me to begin my commentary on AI-Murshid al-Mu’in, in an attempt to stop myself from falling into a still more abstruse manner of expression. God be praised that this did in fact help to stem the onslaughts of that surge of thoughts which I had tried by every means to stop and could not, and my mind came near to being at rest. It was much the same kind of predicament which had previously led to my putting together my book on astronomy called Miftah ash-Shuhud (The Key of Perception). I was absorbedly pre-occupied for certain reasons with the movements of the heavenly bodies, and the arrow of my thoughts had gone awry. To make a long story short-and I have already referred to this question in the book itself 1-when I found that I was unable to resist this surge of thoughts, I complained to my Master about it, and he said: “Take them out of your brain and put them in a book, and then they will let you rest”, and it was as he had said.
But I have still not been able to bring myself to allow the book to be published, and God alone knows whether it ever will be. ‘To revert to what I was saying, when after many long days I was freed from the obligation of devoting myself exclusively to the Divine Name, my Master said to me: “Now you must speak and guide men to this path inasmuch as you are now certain where you stand.” I said: “Do you think they will listen to me?”, and he said: “You will be like a lion: whatever you put your hand on you will take hold of it.” It was as he had said: whenever I spoke with anyone in the intention of leading him to the path he was guided by my words, and went the way I pointed out to him; and so, praise God, this brotherhood increased’.
Elsewhere he says: ‘Our Master, Sidi Muhammad al-Buzidi, was always urging us to visit the tomb of Shaikh Shu’aib Abu Madyan at Tlemcen. He spoke of him with great reverence and said that prayers made at his tomb were answered; and he used to tell us: “It was through his blessing and with his permission that I went to Morocco. I spent a night at his shrine, and after I had recited some of the Qoran I went to sleep, and he came to me with one of my ancestors. They greeted me, and then he said: “Go to Morocco, I have smoothed out the way for thee.” I said: “But Morocco is full of poisonous snakes. I cannot live there.” Then he passed his blessed hand over my body and said: “Go and fear not. I will protect thee from any mishap that might befall thee.” I woke trembling with awe, and immediately on leaving his shrine I turned my face westwards, and it was in Morocco that I met Shaikh Sidi Muhammad ibn Qaddur”. The Shaikh Al-’ Alawi’s own narrative continues: ‘I asked my Master why he had ordered me to speak after first having imposed silence on me. He said: “When I returned from Morocco I taught our doctrine as I had taught it there. Then when I found myself faced with opposition I saw the Prophet of God in my sleep and he ordered me to remain silent. From that time I kept such a hold of silence upon myself that sometimes I felt I would burst into flames. Then, just before my meeting you, I had another vision in which I saw a gathering of fuqara, and every single one of them had my rosary round his neck. When I woke I took what I had seen as a good sign of activity in the future. That is why I am willing that you should propagate the doctrines of our order. Otherwise I should not have dared to allow you to make them known. Moreover, I saw very lately one who said to me: “Speak to people; there is no harm in it”. By “one who said” he no doubt meant the Prophet, though God knows best.
‘Such was my beginning; and I remained at his side for fifteen years, doing all that I could for our order. Many others helped me in this, though of the old ones there are now only about ten left-may God lengthen their lives and show increasing solicitude for them! ‘ As for myself, I was so taken up during all that time with the service of the Shaikh and with furthering the increase of our order, that I neglected the demands of my own livelihood, and but for the friendship of Sidi al-Hajj Bin-’ Awdah who took care of my finances and kept my affairs in order, my business would have been altogether ruined. I was so busy in the service of the order that our shop was more like a zawiyah than anything else, what with teaching there at night and dhikr during the day-all this, God be praised, without any loss of money or lessening of trade.
‘Then, not long before the death of my Master, God put into my heart the desire to emigrate. I was so struck with the moral corruption in my own country that I began to make all possible arrangements for moving further East, and some of my friends had the same intention; and although I knew very well that my Master would not allow me to leave the country unless he came with us, I was driven on by all sorts of plausible motives. However, after I had actually started on the removal-this was some days before his death-freed myself from all trade obligations, sold my possessions and mortgaged what was difficult to sell in the way of immovables with the intention of having them sold by someone else when I had gone, and after my cousins had already started off ahead of me, and just when I myself was on the point of leaving, my Master who was already ill suddenly grew much worse, and one could see on him the signs of approach- ing death. I could not bring myself to leave him in that state, nor would my friends have allowed me to do so.
His tongue was paralysed so that he could not speak, but he understood everything. What was especially painful to me myself was that I felt pulled in different directions to do things which were scarcely reconcilable one with another: on the one hand there was my Master’s illness which obliged me to stay with him, and on the other hand I had a permit to travel for myself and my family which was due to expire on a certain date, after which it was no longer valid, and what made matters worse was that at that time it was difficult to obtain a permit. In addition I was also burdened with winding up my business and selling my furniture; and I had sent my wife to her family in Tlemcen so that she could say good-bye to them.
In fact it was as if I were no longer in my own country. None the less I decided that I could not possibly leave my Master just as he was dying, and go off after I had spent fifteen years with him, doing all I could to serve him and never having once crossed him even about the smallest point. ‘It was not many days before he was taken to the Mercy of God. He only left one son, Sidi Mustafa, who had something of the holy simpleton about him; he also left a wife and two brothers, of whom one, Sidi al-Hajj Ahmad is now dead, where- as the other, Sidi ‘ Abd al -Qadir, is still in the bonds of life.
The Shaikh was exceedingly fond of his family and especially of his son, Sidi Mustafa. Just before his death I saw him give a long look at him, and it was clear that he was thinking of his simpleness, and that he was afraid he would be neglected after his death, and when I realized this I said to him: “Sidi, act on our behalf and take care of our interests in the next world before God, and I will act on your behalf in this world and take care of Sidi Mustafa.” His face shone with joy, and I kept my promise and did everything I could for his son until the day of his death, and was never in the least troubled by his state of mind which others found so irksome. I took care of the Shaikh’s daughter also-he only had one-until she married.
‘After we had said a last farewell to our Master, some of us prepared him for burial, and he was buried in his zawiyah after I had prayed over him the funeral prayers-may God shower Mercy and Blessings upon him! A few days later news came to me from my parents-in-law in Tlemcen: “Your wife is very seriously ill.” So I went to Tlemcen, and when I arrived I found that my wife, who was so deeply religious and so full of kindness and so pleasant to live with, was almost at her last breath. I stayed with her for three days, and then she died and went full of grace to the Mercy of God; and I returned to Most- aganem, having lost my Master and my wife, homeless, without means of livelihood, and even without my permit to travel, which had expired.
I went to the Ministry to have it renewed, and they put me off for several days. Then they promised to give me a permit for myself alone. ‘Meantime, while I was waiting for it to be issued, the men of our order were conferring together about who should take charge of the fuqara. I myself was not present at their discussion, being prepared to accept their choice. Moreover I was quite unreconciled to the idea of remaining in the country, so I said: “It is for you to appoint whom you wish for this function and I will support you.” for I knew that there was one amongst them who would be capable of it (apart from myself, and I assumed that they would appoint him)l.
But since this meeting of the fuqara proved somewhat argumentative, because (although they would all have agreed to choose me) they knew that I was determined to go away, so that each one proposed the solution that seemed best to him and there was much difference of opinion, the Muqaddam Sidi al-Hajj Bin-’ Awdah said: “We had better leave this question for the moment, and meet again next week, Meantime if any of the fuqara has a vision, let him tell us about it,” They all approved of this suggestion, and before the appointed day many visions had been seen-they were all written down at the time-and everyone of them was a clear indication that the matter in question devolved upon me. So the fuqara were strengthened in their determination to make me stay with them and act as their remembrancer. While trying to find some details of the visions, I came upon the following passage by Sidi ‘Uddah: ‘The Shaikh Al-Buzidi died without ever having told anyone who was to succeed him.
The question had in fact been broached to him by one of his more prominent disciples who thought well of himself and fancied that he was qualified to fulfill in our order the functions of upbringing and remembrancing; but the Shaikh Al-Buzidi answered him as follows: ‘I am like a man who has been living in a house by permission of the Landlord, and who when he wishes to leave that house gives the keys back to the Landlord. He it is, the Landlord, that sees who best deserves to have the house placed at his disposition; I have no say in the matter.
God createth what He will, according to His Choice’ … and after his death his followers were left in a state of great upheaval, although most of them showed quite plainly their leanings towards Sidi Ahmad Bin-’ Aliwah on account of his having, as was known, already exercised the function of his Shaikh, even to the point of guiding disciples to the end of their journey, although his Shaikh was still alive. This was the strongest indication of how well he was thought of by him, and how qualified he was to succeed him. ‘Now since visions are to be relied on for ascertaining the truth about things which lie hidden from our normal perceptions, I just as they are to be counted as glad tidings for him who sees them, or for him on behalf of whom they are seen, I wish to set down here some of those visions that were seen on behalf of our Master, Shaikh Sidi Ahmad Bin-’ Aliwah. He then gives an account of some of the many visions which were seen after the Shaikh Al-Buzidi’s death, and of which here are a few: ‘In my sleep I saw Shaikh Sidi Muhammad al-Buzidi, and not forgetting that he was dead I asked him of his state, and he said: “I am in the Mercy of God”. Then I said to him:
“Sidi, to whom have you left the fuqara?”, and he answered: “It was I who planted the shoot, but it is Sidi Ahmad Bin-’ Aliwah who will tend it, and it will come, God willing, to all fullness of fruition at his hands.”, (‘Abd al-Qadir ibn ‘Abd ar-Rahnman of Mostaganem). ‘In my sleep I saw myself go to visit Shaikh Sidi Munammad al-Buzidi, and Shaikh Sidi Ahmad Bin-’ Aliwah was sitting beside the tomb which was open. I saw the body of the dead rise up until it was on a level with the surface of the earth. Then Shaikh Sidi Ahmad went and took the shroud from off his face, and there, unsurpassably beautiful, was the Shaikh. He asked Shaikh Sidi Ahmad to bring him some water, and when he had drunk he gave what was left to me, whereupon I started saying to the fuqara: “In this water which is left over from the Shaikh there is a cure for all sickness”.
Then he began to talk to Shaikh Sidi Ahmad, and the first thing he said to him was: “I shall be with you wherever you may be, so have no fear, and I give you tidings that you have attained to the best of this world and the next. Be very sure that in whatever place you are, there shall I be also.” Then Shaikh Sidi Ahmad turned to us and said: “The Shaikh is not dead. He is as you see him to be now and the death that we witnessed was just a rite which he had to perform.” , (Al-Munawwar Bin-Tunis of Mosta- ganem). ‘I saw Shaikh Sldi Muhammad al-Buzidi stop and knock at the door of my house, and when I rose to let him in I found that the door was already open. He came in, and with him was a companion, tall and very thin, and I said to myself: “This is Sidi Ahmad Bin-’ Aliwah.” After they had sat with us for a while, Shaikh Sidi Muhammad al-Buzidi rose to his feet, and said he wanted to go. Then someone said to him: “If you go, who will you leave to look after us?”, and he said: “I have left you this man-this man”, and he pointed to Shaikh Sidi Ahmad Bin- , Aliwah’. (A member of the family of Al-Hajj Muhammad as- Susi of Ghalizan).
‘I saw the Imam’ Ali1-and he said to me: “Know that I am’ Ali and your Tariqah is’ Alawiyyah.” , (Al-Hajj Salih ibn Murad of Tlemcen). , After the death of Shaikh Sidi Muhammad I had a vision that I was on the shore of the sea, and near at hand was a huge boat in the center of which was a minaret, and there, on the top- most turret, was Shaikh Sidi Ahmad Bin-’ Aliwah. Then a crier called out: “0 you people, come on board the boat”, and they came on board from all sides until it was full, and each one of them was well aware that this was Shaikh Sidi Ahmad’s boat; and when it teemed with passengers, I went to the Shaikh and said: “The boat is full. Are you able to take charge of it?”, and he said: “Yes, I shall take charge of it by God’s Leave.” , (Al-Kilani ibn al-’ Arabi). Sidi ‘Uddah also quotes the following from the Shaikh Al-’ Alawi himself: ‘In my sleep, a few days before the death of our Master, Sidi Muhammad al-Buzidi, I saw someone come in to where I was sitting, and I rose out of reverence for him, overcome with awe at his presence.
Then, when I had begged him to be seated and had sat down facing him, it became clear to me that he was the Prophet. I turned on myself reproachfully for not having honoured him as I should have, for it had not occurred to me who he was, and I sat there huddled up, with my head bowed, until he spoke to me, saying: “knowest thou not why I have come to thee?”, and I said: “1 cannot see why, O Messenger of God”. He said: “The Sultan of the East is dead, and thou, God willing, shalt be Sultan in his stead. What sayest thou?” I said: “If I were invested with this high dignity, who would help me, and who would follow me?” He answered: “I shall be with thee, and I will help thee.” Then he was silent, and after a moment he left me, and I woke up on the heels of his departure, and it was as if I saw the last of him, as he went, with my eyes open and awake The dictation continues: ‘Since the fuqara knew well that there was no turning me away from my intention to go, they compelled me to take charge of them if only while I was waiting for the permit to travel, although their aim was to make me give up my journey by every possible means. One of those who were most bent on my staying was my dear friend Sidi Ahmad Bin- Thuraiya, and he spared no possible effort to that end, all for purely spiritual motives. One of his devices was to marry me to his daughter without imposing any conditions on me, despite his knowledge that I was determined to go away. I accepted his offer very gladly, and gave her what little I could in the way of marriage portion.
‘Unfortunately she did not succeed in living on good terms with my mother. As time went on my dilemma grew worse and worse. I felt bound to do all I could for my mother, and I had already taken her part in more than one situation of this kind; but a separation which had been relatively easy for me in the case of other wives seemed very hard in the case of this last one. As for any possibility of reconciliation between the two, it was clearly very remote indeed; and when my father-in-law saw the dilemma I was in, he suggested divorce and even demanded it with some insistence, saying: “It is your duty to look after the rights of your mother. As to the rights of your wife, they are guaranteed by the words: If the two separate, God will enrich both out of His Abundance; and all that, God willing, shall not affect our friendship in the least.” He went on and on repeating this suggestion, and I knew that he was sincere, although my own feelings were all against it; and when God brought it to pass, against the will of both parties, I was full of regrets, and so, no less, was my father-in-law. But there was nothing for it but to resign ourselves to what seemed clearly God’s will. Our friend- ship however remained undiminished and that saintly man continued to be as devoted to me as ever until the very end of his life, thanks to the fineness of his feeling which was so well integrated into the spiritual path.
‘Much the same took place between me and Sidi Hammadi Bin-Qari’ Mustafa: I had to divorce a wife who was a member of his family and whose guardian he was; but God is Witness that both to my face and behind my back-to judge by what I heard of him-his attitude was very like that of Sidi Ahmad Bin- Thurayya, and we are still the best of friends. As to the cause of this divorce, it was my being pre-occupied.at that time, almost to the point of intoxication, first of all with learning and then with the dhikr. Meanwhile the rights of my wife were neglected, as were, very nearly, the rights of my whole family. So, in one way or another, it has been my fate to divorce four wives. But this was not because of any ill treatment on my part, and therefore my fathers-in-law did not take it badly. In fact they are still fathers-in-law to me; and what is more surprising, some of my wives forewent the remainder of their marriage portion after we parted. In a word, any short-comings that there were were on my side, but they were not deliberate. ‘When the fuqara. had made up their minds, with the cirucumstances all in their favour, not to let me go away, they decided to have a general meeting in our Master’s zawiyah, … and they took the oath of allegiance to me by word of mouth, and it continued to be taken in this way by the older fuqara., whereas all subsequent newcomers took it through the clasping of hands l. As to those members of the order who were outside Mostaganem, I did not write to any of them, nor did I put them under any obligation to come to me. But it was not long before groups of fuqara. started coming to me of their own free will to acknowledge me, testifying as to their own convictions and telling what they had heard about me from our Master or what had come to them by way of intuition or inspiration.
So it went on, until all the members of the order were united except two or three. This union of the fuqara. was counted by us as a miraculous Grace from God, for I had no outward means of bringing within my scope individuals from so many different places. It was their unalloyed certainty, nothing else, as to how I had stood with our Master in this respect. Moreover the training that they had had from him was firmly ingrafted in them as regards recognizing the truth and acknowledging it whatever it might be, for he had gone on giving them the means of doing this until, thank God, it had become second nature to them.
‘I received their oaths of allegiance and gave them advice, and I spent on those who visited me at that time part of what I had in hand for my journey, and I took nothing from them, for I never felt easy about taking money from people- , As a result of all this I was left in a quandary, not knowing what to do or where the Will of God lay. Ought I to go away, according to what I felt to be an imperative need, or ought I to give up all idea of going and devote myself to acting as remembrancer to the fuqara., according to what seemed to be already my fate? I was still hesitating when the time came at which God had ordained that I should visit the seat of the Caliphate.l One day He put into my soul a feeling of constriction which was so persistent that I began to look about for a means of relief and it occurred to me to visit some of the fuqara outside the town. So I took with me one of the disciples who was staying with us, Shaikh Muhammad ibn Qasim al-Badisi, and off we went with God’s Blessing. Then when we had reached our destination it occurred to us that we might as well visit some of the fuqara in Ghalizan, which we did; and after we had stayed with them for about two days, my companion said to me: “If only we could go as far as Algiers! I have a friend there, and what is more, we could go to some of the publishers, and this contact might bring Al-Minah al-Quddusiyyah nearer to being printed.” We had the manuscript of this book with us at the time, so I let him have his way.
We had none of our fuqara in Algiers, and when we arrived, my companion set about trying to find his friend, although he was not particularly anxious to do so. In this connection he said to me: “Places in which there are no fuqara are empty”-such was his experience of their kindness and cordiality. ‘ After we had made contact with a publisher, we had the impression that for various reasons no Algerian firm would be likely to accept my book, so my companion said: “If only we could go as far as Tunis, the whole thing would be quite simple.” I myself was busy revising my book (which I could do equally well elsewhere) in between visits to the publisher and other outings, so I let him have his way once more, and we traveled from town to town until we reached Tunis. The only practicer of remembrance (dhakir) that I knew there was a blind man who knew by heart the Book of God.
He used to call on us at Mostaganem on his way to visit his Master in Morocco. But as to my numerous fellow countrymen who had settled in Tunis, there was none of them that I wanted to meet, so we entered the town at an hour of siesta, and found lodgings, and I constrained myself not to go out until there should come to us some dhakir whom we could go out with. This was on account of a vision I had had in which men who were members of Sufic brotherhoods came and entered the house where I was and took me out with them to their place of gathering. When I told my companion this, my idea was too much for him, and he said: “I did not come here to stay shut in by these four walls.” So he would go out on various errands and walk round parts of the town and then come back; and after we had spent four days in that house, there came to us the company of people I had seen in my vision.
They were from among the followers of Shaikh Sidi As-Sadiq as-Salirawi who had died only a few months previously. This holy man traced back his spiritual ancestry in the path of God through Sidi Muhammad Zafir and his father Sidi Muhammad al-Madani to Shaikh Sidi Mawlay Al-’ Arabi ad-Darqawi.’ Some twenty-five years previously As-Sadiq as-Salirawi’s Master, Muhammad Zafir al-Madani, had written: ‘My honored guide and father, Shaikh Muhammad Hasan Zafir al-Madani, left Medina about AH 1222 (AD 1807) and went as far as Morocco in search of a way by which he might attain to God, and he took guidance from many Shaikhs … Then God brought him together with his Master, the Standard- Bearer of the Shadhili tariqah in his day, Sidi Mawtay Al- Arabi ibn Alimad ad-Darqawi. His meeting with him was on Safar 23rd, A.H. 1224, in the Darqawi Zawiyah at Bu-Barih in Bani Zarwal, two days’ journey from Fez. He took the path from him, and his heart was opened under his guidance, and if it be asked who was my father’s Shaikh, it was Mawlay Al-Arabi ad-Darqawi.
‘For about nine years he was his companion. …Then Mawlay Al-’ Arabi said to him one day, in great earnestness: “Go to thy home, Madani. Thou hast no longer any need of me”; and on another occasion he indicated that he had reached the end of all perfection, and said to him: “Thou hast attained unto that which is attained to by the perfect among men,” ‘and he told him to go to his native town, the House of the Perfumed Shrine, and when he bade farewell to him, he wept and said: “I have made thee the instrument of my credit with God and a link between me and His Prophet”.
‘He went to Medina, and stayed there with his family for three years, and every year he joined the Pilgrims on Mt Arafatl and then returned to Medina where he visited continually the Shrine of the Prophet, spending his time turned towards God, steeped in contemplation, in utter detachment. …And he said: “During that time I met with the perfect Shaikh, the Gnostic, Sidi Ahmad ibn Idris. I found him on a most exalted footing as regards following the Wont of the Prophet, and I so marveled at his state that I took initiation from him for the blessing of it.” ‘During his stay in Medina he was asked for spiritual guidance by some who were seeking a Master but he made no response to them out of pious courtesy to his Shaikh until he heard a voice from the Pure Shrine which said to him: ” Be a remembrancer, for verity remembrancing profiteth the betievers. He said: ” I quivered and shook at the sweetness of that utterance, and I understood it to be an authorization from the Apostle of the All- Bountiful King”. So he obeyed God’s command and transmitted initiation to various persons in the city of the Prophet …and returned to his Master Mawlay Al-’ Arabi ad-Darqawi …and remained in his presence for some months. Then Mawlay Al-’ Arabi died, and my father set out once more for Medina … and when he reached Tripoli the eyes of some of its people were opened to the excellence of his virtues and the fullness of his spiritual realization, so they took initiation from him. Then the number of his disciples increased and the brotherhood became famous and men associated it with him, and on this account it was named Ai-Tariqat at-Madaniyyah and it is a branch of the Shadhili Tariqah.
‘ This last passage calls for some general remarks about initiation. The practice of grafting a new scion on to an old stock is alien to the modern world except on a material plane. But throughout the ancient world this was practiced also and above all on higher planes; and since estrangement from the Mysteries had become ‘second nature’ to man, it was considered indispensable, before he could enter upon the path which leads to them, that a scion of primordial human nature should be grafted on to his ‘fallen’ stock, which by definition is dominated by the purely mental and therefore unmystical ‘knowledge of good and evil’.l At the outset of a religion the question of initiation is not so urgent, for the first believers are in the grip of a Divine Intervention, at a cyclic moment which is better than a thousand months and in which the Angels and the Spirit descend. Since they stand at one of the mainsprings of spirituality, the dormant seeds within them (to use a different simile) can become impregnated as easily as those who stand near a fountain or a cascade can be splashed with water. But as the caravan moves away from this oasis across the desert of the centuries, men soon realize that the precious water is no longer in the air, and that it is only to be found stored in certain vessels.
Strictly speaking, the rite of transmission from one vessel to another cannot be confined to any particular set of forms. Its form may depend, in exceptional cases, on the inspiration of the moment. For example, in addition to the Shadhili initiation which the Shaikh ad-Darqawi received from his Master Shaikh .Ali al-Jamal, he also received one from an aged Saint at the point of death who made him his spiritual heir by the ritually unprecedented yet highly significant act of placing his tongue in the Shaikh ad-Darqawis mouth, and telling him to suck. But normally transmission takes a form consecrated by apostolic precedent. We have seen that the initiation into the Shadhili -Darqawi Tariqah is an oath of fealty, and this rite is patterned on the Beatific Allegiance,l an outstanding occasion of spiritual overflow at the fountain-head of Islam, when the Prophet seated himself under a tree and called on all those of his Companions who were present to renew their oaths to him. Apart from this occasion there was a continual spiritual over- flow in the form of Divine Names for invocation or litanies for recitation which the Prophet transmitted to his Companions either singly or collectively, and initiation into some brotherhoods takes the form of some such transmission. Moreover such invocational transmissions are in any case indispensable, in all brotherhoods, as secondary or confirmatory initiations, for anyone who seeks to benefit from the full spiritual resources of Sufism. On the title pages of most of the Shaikh Al-’ Alawi’s books he is described as ‘renowned for the transmission of the Supreme Name’.
No Sufi would consider himself qualified to practice methodically an invocation unless he had been formally initiated into it. A transmission can be passed on by anyone who has received it, even if he has not brought it to fruition himself, though no one can give expert guidance who is not an adept. This does not exclude the possibility that by strictly conforming to the traditional methods of the order a gifted initiate, even without a real Master, might avoid remaining stationary upon the path in virtue of the great weight of the spiritual heredity behind him. But the presence of a Master means direct contact with the Divine Source itself, while at the same time that presence transmits, as no other can, the full force of the spiritual heredity.
In addition, most of the great Masters of Sufism could claim, like the Shaikh Al-’ Alawi and the Shaikh Al-Madani, to have received a special investiture directly from the Prophet. The tree at the end of this book gives the main lines of the Alawis’ spiritual heredity, the unbroken chains of transmission, whatever form it may have taken, through which they trace their descent back to the Prophet. Apart from the normal initiation which marks the entry upon the spiritual path, it is possible to become attached to a chain ‘for the blessing of it’, as the Shaikh Al-Madani did after his return to Medina; and though this particular case is an exceptional one, the ‘initiation of blessing’ is very frequently sought by those who are not capable of following a spiritual path or even of conceiving what a spiritual path is, -but who have an indefinable urge to benefit from a sacred presence.
By the end of his life the Shaikh Al-’ Alawi had great numbers of such followers attached to him. With regard to his meeting the Madani fuqara at Tunis he continues: ‘The whole gathering sat down and we talked together for a long time, and I saw the lights of their love of God shining on their foreheads. They asked me to go out with them to a place they had in mind, and they did not stop insisting until they had taken me out and lodged me at the house of one of their friends. Then one after another the fuqara came to visit us, full of ardor. Such was their hospitality to me, and the honor they showed me – may God reward them! ‘During my stay in Tunis I was continually visited by theologians and canonists and other eminent men… and with them came a number of their students. Some of them were already initiates and others were not, and of these last several entered upon the path.
One of the students had suggested that I should give them a lesson in Al-Murshid al-Mu’in. What I said found favour with my hearers, and this was the cause of some of the students becoming initiated into the order. That is how we spent our time, both as rememberers and remembrancers, and some derived benefit. God be praised for that visit! , As to the question of printing Al-Minah al-Quddusiyyah, we made a contract with the owner of a press through the mediation of a fellow traveler. We liked them both very much indeed, and this was what prompted us to make the contract, although we knew that this particular press was not well equipped. As a result the book did not come out at the promised time, and I had to go and leave it behind me for somebody else to look after. ‘I had decided to go on to Tripoli to visit my cousins, who had left Mostaganem, as I have already mentioned, to settle there.
Since I had a permit to travel, I thought that I had better take this opportunity. I was also prompted by thoughts of visiting the Holy House of God and the tomb of the Prophet, but unfortunately a letter came to me from Mostaganem telling me that the Pilgrimage was forbidden that year, and cautioning me against standing on Arafat for fear of incurring the penalty. , At all events I embarked for Tripoli-by myself-and suffered some hardship through travelling at that season, for it was cold winter weather. In fact I only had one day of relief: I was meditating on the crowd of people-men of ]erba and others- who thronged the boat and I was wondering whether there was a dhakir amongst them, when one of the travellers stopped beside me and looked hard at me as if he were trying to read my face. Then he said: “Are you not Shaikh Ahmad Bin-’ Aliwah?” “Who told you?”, I said. “I have always been hearing about you”, he said, “and just now while I was looking at you, as I have been for some time, I suddenly realized that you must be that very man”; so I said that I was. Then I went with him to another part of the boat and having asked his name, was told that he was Al-Hajj Ma’tuq; when we began to talk together I realized that he was a Gnostic. I asked him if he found any spiritual support among his fellow countrymen, and he said: “I am the only man of this art in all ]erba.” From my meeting with him the time passed as happily as I could have wished until he and those who were traveling with him landed at ]erba, and I was once more in the grip of loneliness and the inevitable hardships of traveling in winter until I myself landed at Tripoli. ‘My cousins were waiting for me at the harbour.
We were longing to catch sight of each other, all the more impatiently on account of our enforced separation. No sooner had we reached their house and sat down than we discussed the question of emigration and all that was connected with it, and they told me that materially speaking they were well off, thanks to God’s safe care. As to the country, it seemed to me as far as I could tell a good place to emigrate to, since its people were’ as like as possible to those of our country both in speech and in ways. ‘Towards sunset I asked my cousins if they knew any dhakir there, or any Shaikhs who were Gnostics, and they said that they only knew a Turkish Shaikh, who was the head of some government department, a man of the most evident piety. I asked if it would be possible for us to meet him the next day, and just as we were considering this there was a knock at the door and one of them went out and came back saying: “Here is the Shaikh him- self at the door, asking if he can come in.” He had never visited them at their home.
I told them to bring him in, and in he came, a tall man with a long beard dressed from head to foot in Turkish fashion. ‘We greeted each other, and when he had sat down he said: ” A man from the West-he meant Shustari – says of the Divine Manifestation: ‘My Beloved embraced all existence, and appeared in both black and white.’ I said: ‘Leave Western talk to Western folk and let us hear something from the East.” He said: ‘The poet said “embraced all existence”, and did not specify either West or East’, whereupon I knew that he was well versed in the lore of the mystics. He sat with us for an hour or two that night, all eagerness, listening with all his faculties rapt in attention, as I noticed. Then he took leave of us, but not before he had made us promise to visit him at his office the next day. We went the next morning to where he worked- the department of maritime revenues, of which he was the director. He received us most joyfully and gave orders for work to be stopped and gave his staff a holiday, although there was much work to be done.
Then we went off with him alone, and it would take too long to tell of all that we spoke of in the way of mystic doctrine, but I may mention that he said to me: “If you wish to stay in our country, this zawiyah here is yours, and all the outbuildings that go with it, and I will be your servant.” I knew that all he said was spoken in perfect sincerity, and I told him that I would leave my home and settle there. I went for a short walk round the district and found myself very attracted by that neighborhood as if it corresponded to something in my nature.
‘On my third day in Tripoli I heard a town crier calling out: “Whoever wants to go to Istanbul can have a ticket for very little”, and he added that the boat was due to leave at once. Immediately I had an urge to visit the capital of the Caliphate, and I thought that very likely I might find there the learning I felt the need for. So I asked one of my cousins to go with me, and he said he would, but the sight of the fury of the sea and the crash of the waves stopped him. It was certainly no weather for a crossing. Suffice it that we reached the other side! ‘Don’t ask me for any details about our embarkation! Once I had found a place on the deck I began to wonder where I should turn for help and refuge upon the journey, and I found no comfort in anything but reliance upon God. ‘By the time we reached Istanbul I had almost died of sea- sickness, and what made my plight worse was that at that time I had not a single friend in Istanbul to take me by the hand, and I was so ignorant of Turkish that I was hard put to it to say the simplest thing.
‘One day after my arrival I was walking at the outskirts of the town, and suddenly a man took my hand and greeted me in clear Arabic, and asked me my name and where I came from. I told him who I was; and who should he be but an authority on Islamic law from Algiers, a man of the family of the Prophet. By that time I was very eager to see the sights of the capital, so I put myself in his hands, and he was a great help in showing me what I wanted to see. But I was unable to satisfy my thirst to the full owing to the upheavals in which the Caliphate l was involved and the troubles which were soon to break out between the Turkish people and their so-called “Renaissance Youth’ or “Reformist Youth”.
This movement was headed by numerous individuals whom the Government had banished and who had consequently become scattered throughout various countries of Europe where they had started newspapers and periodicals in the sole purpose of criticizing the Government and exposing its weaknesses in the eyes of foreign states; and self-seekers found in this subversive movement loopholes and doors through which they pushed their way and gained their ends. Thus was the Caliphate doomed to have its ruler arrested and thrown into prison, while the “Renaissance Youth” went about its work with utterly unbounded ruthlessness until in the end they succeeded in achieving their aim, and the meaning of their “Renaissance” and “Patriotism” and “Reform” became as clear as day to anyone who had eyes to see. But I will say no more: what the Kemalists have done makes it unnecessary for me to trace this degradation step by step. ‘
I was convinced that the stay which I had hoped to make in those parts was not feasible for various reasons, of which the chief was that I sensed the impending change from kingdom to republic, and from republic to unprincipled tyranny. So I went back to Algeria, feeling that my return was sufficient as fruit of my travels, even if I had gained nothing else; and truly I had no peace of soul until the day when I set foot on Algerian soil, and I praised God for the ways of my people and their remaining in the faith of their fathers and grandfathers and following in the footsteps of the pious.’