Hazrat Maulana Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi sahab (rah) has dedicated the last chapter of his masterpiece ‘ Tareekh Dawat o Azeemat ‘ Vol II (Saviours of Islamic Spirit Vol. II ) to Hazrat Makhdum Shaikh Sharafuddin Yahya Maneri (rah).
Saviours of Islamic Spirit Vol II , P: 257 courtesy of “dr76” of SF
Popularly known as Makhdum ul Mulk Bihari, his name was Ahmed ibn Shaikh yahya, title Sharfuddin , and he claimed his descent from one of the prophet’s Uncle’s, Zubair ibn Abdul Muttalib (radh) , belonging to the Hashimite clan of Quraish of Mecca. His grandfather, Maulana Muhammed Tajuddin (rah) , a contemporary of shabuddin ghori , was a Celebrated Scholar and mystic who had emigrated to Manyar in Bihar ( the town is presently known as Maner) from the town of Al Khalil in Syria. ( Al Khalil , drawing its name from the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) who is stated to be buried there , is at a distance of about 24 kilometers from Jerusalem. The town now forms a part of Jordan).
The maternal grandfather of Ahmad Sharfuddin, Shaikh Shahabuddin jag jot ( the light of the world) was also a renowned mystic shaikh of suharwardiyah order. Belonging to kashgar, he had come down to jathli, a village about 5 kilometers from patna. A spiritually animated soul reputed for his piety , he too came of the lineage of imam Hussein (radh) . Ahmed Sharfuddin was thus a lineal descendant of the prophet (S.A.W) from his mother’s side also.
Shaikh Ahmed Sharfuddin was born on the last Friday of Sha’ban , 661 A.H at Maner. He had three other brothers whone names were Shaikh Khaliluddin , Shaikh Jaliluddin and Shaikh Habibuddin .
Early education –
The system of education followed in those days required the students of primary stage to cram the text of the prescribed books including some short lexicons so as to enable them to store up a copious vocabulary in their mind. The system, however, entailed unnecessary labour and wastage of time of children. Shaikh Ahmed Sharfuddin deplored the system in Ma’adan-ul-Ma’ani : ” when I was a child my teachers got me to learn by heart a number of books like those on infinitive nouns , the first part of Miftahul lughat , and similar other books. We were required to learn these word by word and repeat them. Instead of these books , they could have better got the Qur’an fixed in our memory “
Unfortunately his memoirs or the biographical accounts neither preserve the names of his earlier teachers nor the books Shaikh Ahmed Sharfuddin had to study at Maner. It seems that he completed his education up to secondary stage in his home town.
Further education –
Before Shaikh Ahmed Sharafuddin could leave Maner for further education elsewhere , providence afforded him an opportunity to come in contact with a reputed scholar and pedagogue of his time , Maulana Sharfuddin Abu Towamah, who had to leave delhi because of the king’s displeasure somehow incurred by him. it is stated that certain academicians , jealous of Maulana Sharfuddin had brought him into discredit with Sultan Ghiyath ud-din Balban . Maulana Sharfuddin decided to migrate to the border town of sonargaon on the eastern fringe of the then muslim kingdom in India. On his way to sonargaon he stopped for a few days at Maner. The inhabitants of Maner , on coming to know of the maulana’s worth and ability flocked to pay respect to him. Young Ahmed Sharfuddin was highly impressed by the piety and learning of maulana Sharfuddin . he requested his parents to let him accompany the maulana to sonargaon so as to undergo his schooling at the feet of maulana . speaking of his teacher, in Khwan-i-Pur Ni’mat , writes Shaikh Ahmed sharfuddin : ” Maulana Sharafuddin was an erudite scholar , without a peer , whose fame travelled to the four corners of India “
Shah Shuiab Firdausi relates in Manaqib – ul-Asfia that Shaikh Ahmed Sharafuddin was so assiduous at his studies that he did not like to spend a moment away from it. as the repast with others normally took a little more time which Shaikh Ahmed sharafuddin loathed to waste , his teachers had to permit him to take his food alone in his own room. It has been reported that he was so occupied in his studies that he never went through the letters sent to him by his family members , lest these might cause him some anxiety or distraction from his studies.
Having thought him all the then prevalent sciences , religious and discursive , maulana Sharafuddin suggested him to learn something about Alchemy too, but Ahmad excused himself by saying ” Education of religious sciences would suffice for me ” Maulana Sharafuddin had such a high regard for his talented disciple that he offered the hand of his daughter to him . During Ahmad’s stay at sonargaon, his wife gave birth to a son whom he named Zaki ud-din.
Ahmad returns home –
Ahmad’s father . Shaikh Yahya Maneri died on the 11th of Shaba’an , 690 A.H.. having received the news at sonargaon, Ahmad sharafuddin hastened back to Maner with his son Zaki- ud-din. As the author of Manaqib – ul- Asfiya says, Ahmad left his son under the care of his own mother and begged her to allow him to leave the place for good . he made his way to Delhi with the intention of gaining spiritual insight under the sufi shaikhs at Delhi.
It was the year 690 A.H when Ahmed Sharafuddin set out for Delhi. With his brother Shaikh Jalil – ud-din. It seems that the careful guidance of his learned teacher had enabled him to recognise the worth of the mystics by their piety and spiritual attainments. He paid visits to nearly all the then sufi divines of Delhi but was unimpressed by none except Hazrat Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya . For the other mystics of Delhi, his comment was : ” If this is spiritual perceptorship, I, too , can claim to be a mystic mentor “
Hazrat Khwaja Nizamuddin auliya showed due courtesy to Ahmad. They had discussions on some literary topic and the Khwaja was impressed by Ahmad’s replies to the questions asked by him. However, as his biographers report, the Khwaja remarked , after Ahmad had taken leave of him : ” He is a hawk soaring high in the sky , but fate has not earmarked him to my lot “.
Ahmad Sharafuddin then directed his course to panipat where he met Hazrat Bu’Ali Qalandar , but left him saying : ” An attracted devotee that he is, he cannot guide others “.
Shaikh Najib ud-din Firdausi –
Ahmad sharaf ud-din came back disheartened from Delhi and Panipat. His elder brother Shaikh Jalil ud-din , however , suggested him to see Hazrat Khwaja Najib ud-din Firdausi and told him about the distinctive features of his order. Ahmad replied : ” The one who is the Pivot of spiritual perfection at Delhi ( meaning hazrat Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya) sent me back with a tray of beetles. What shall I gain by meeting others ?” but, on the insistence of his brother, he made up his mind to betake himself to Delhi once more . As he related later on , he found himself in a flutter , and profusely perspiring when he got near Hazrat Khwaja Najib ud-din Firdausi. He says that he had never had a similar experience earlier on meeting any other mystic.
As soon as Hazrat Khwaja Firdausi saw Ahmad, he said : ” Cheweing beetles and carrying beetle leaves in your hand kerchief you come to see me , and still you presume yourself to be a spiritual guide ! ” Ahmed emitted the beetle he was chewing and sat down bewildered as if suddenly awakened to an unthought of truth. After a while , he requested Hazrat Khwaja Najib ud-din to accept him under his spiritual preceptorship . The Khwaja graciously agreed to his request but sent him back after taking the ba’it from him.
The Firdausiyah order In India –
Hazrat Shaikh Shahab ud-din Umar Suharwardi , the celebrated author of Awarif –ul- Ma’arif and founder of the Suharwardiyah order of Sufism , pursued his first studies of mysticism under his uncle Hazrat Khwaja Zia’ud-din Abul Najib Abdul Qadir Suharwardi (rah) (d. 563 A.H). born at khwarazm , the latter occupied an eminent place amongst the mystics of his time.
One of his prominent disciples, who had also been bestowed with the habit of spiritual succession by his mentor , was Ahmad bin Umar. Popularly known as Hazrat Khwaja Najm ud-din Kubra , Ahmad bin Umar , too, was a venerable man of god, to whom Hazrat Shaikh Shahab ud-din Suharwardi (rah) presented his famous mystical tract which is to this day a source of inspiration for travelers on the path of mysticism. It is related that Hazrat Khwaja Najm ud-din Kubra (rah) blessed the work and prayed to god to grant him immortal fame.
Immersed in rapturous love and divine contemplation , Khwaja Najm ud-din Kubra possessed a natural gift of expressing the deepest mysteries of Sufism with unrivalled insight and power. The author of Manaqib- ul- Asfia writes:
” He used to expound the subtle points and declare the problems of Tauheed (unity) , Ma’arifat (knowledge) , Tariqat ( pathway of mysticism) and Haqiqat (truth). He has left many works , both in prose and poetry , in the Arabic and Persian languages of which one entitled Tabsarah and another a tract explaining the aids necessary to conduct the traveler on the path of mysticism are popular in India.”
Shuaib Firdausi has quoted, in the Manaqib- e- Asfia , a few odes of Hazrat khwaja Najm ud-din Kubra which, with the inner light of a true mystic , sing song of the sweet call of the beloved .
Hazrat Khwaja Najm ud-din Kubra (rah) died as a martyr fighting bravely against the invading Mongols on the 10th of Jamadul ula , 610 A.H. In the line of his spiritual successors Shaikh Mujid ud-din Baghdadi , Shaikh Sa’ad ud-din Hamuya , Baba Kamal Junaidi , Shaikh Saifuddin Ali lanah , Shaikh Saifuddin Bakhirzi, Shaikh Najm ud-din Razi, Shaikh Jamal ud-din Mubki and Maulana Baha’ ud-din attained prominence .
The author of Manaqib-e-Asfiya relates that Hazrat Khwaja Farid ud-din Attar (rah) , the famous Persian poet was also united in the bond of spiritual allegiance to Hazrat Khwaja Najm ud-din Kubra (rah).
Ingress of Kubraviyah Order in India –
Hazrat Khwaja Najm ud-din Kubra’s order of mysticism gained entrance in India through three distinct sources. The progress of Islam was greatly advanced in Kashmir with the arrival of Hazrat Amir Sayyid Ali Hamdani (rah) , in 780 A.H, when the greater part of its population embraced Islam.
Hazrat Shaikh Hamdani was the spiritual vicegerent of Shaikh Sharaf ud-din Mamud bin Abdullah who was connected to Khwaja Najm ud-din kubra through four connecting links. The mystics of the order of Shaikh Sayyid Ali Hamdani flourished in Kashmir by the end of the eleventh century after Hijrah. Shaikh Yaqub Sarfi (d. 1003 A.H) , belonding to the hamdani order, was an accomplished scholar of exegesis and Traditions and the teacher of Imam Rabbani Mujaddid Alf Thani (rah). Mystics of the Hamdani order are still to be found in Kashmir.
Saiyid Qutub ud-din Muhammed Madani (rah) (d.677 A.H), another disciple of Hazrat Khwaja Najm ud-din Kubra (rah) came to India during the reign of Sultan Qutub ud-din Aibak ( or according to some annalists , in the times of Sultan Shams ud-din Iltamush ) and was appointed Shaikh ul Islam at Delhi. Later he conquered kara ( Manikpur )and settled there. In the line of his disciples Shaikh Ala’ ud-din Jiuri propagated the order under the name of Junaidiyah in Deccan where its followers are still to be found at certain places.
The third line of spiritual descendants of Hazrat Khwaja Najm ud-din Kubra made its debut in India through Hazrat Khwaja Badr ud-din of Samarkand , a noted disciple of Hazrat Khwaja Saif ud-din Bakhirzi , whose spiritual perceptorship took its name from his vicegerent Hazrat Shaikh Ruknuddin Firdausi (rah).
Hazrat Khwaja Ruknuddin Firdausi –
Hazrat Khwaja Ruknuddin Firdausi was the favourite disciple and vicegerent of Hazrat Khwaja Badr ud-din Samarkandi (rah). Khwaja Firdausi pursued his studies of mysticism from his very childhood under the care of Hazrat Khwaja Samarkandi and attained perfection in religious as well as mystical disciplines. It was under him that the mystic order of Khwaja Samarkandi came to be known as Firdausiyah order.
He was also a soul illuminated by divine effulgence and rapturous transports, and like his spiritual guide, he too bade farewell to this fleeting world during the lifetime of Hazrat Khwaja Nizam ud-din Auliya
Hazrat Khwaja Najib ud-din Firdausi
Being the nephew of Hazrat Khwaja Rukn ud-din Firdausi, Khwaja Najib ud-din had remained under the paternal tutelage of his shaikh from his childhood and, after the death of his mentor , continued to keep alight the lamp of Firdausiyah order as his successor. He not only gained eminence in the practice of his spiritual life but also reared and guided a disciple who reached the highest degree of sanctity , propagated the religious order of his spiritual guides over half a century in the eastern part of the country and, through the excellent precepts of his conduct, interior illumination and intellectual attainments proved himself a peer of such elevated souls Hazrat Ain-ul- Qudhat Hamdani (rah) , Hazrat Khwaja Farid ud-din Attar and Hazrat Maulana Jalal ud-din Rumi (rah).
Shuaib Firdausi writes about Khwaja Najib ud-din in Manaqib-ul-Asfia –
” Disdaining fame and popularity, he kept himself concealed behind the veil of obscurity. Verily, those who have reached the highest degree of sanctity keep themselves so hidden from the public gaze that nobody except Allah Knows anything about him. He (Khwaja Najib ud-din ) had many a disciple who had reached the stage of inward illumination.
Maulana Alam 1, the author of Fatawah Tatarkhaniyah , was his disciple who has penned down beautiful odes giving expression to the unfathomable depth of Divine essence , The spiritual attainments of Hazrat Khwaja Najib ud-din Firdausi are hidden behind a mysterious veil. “
1. Maulana Farid ud-din Alam of Indrapat. He wrote Fatawah Tatarkhaniyah in 777 A.H., but named it after his friend Amir Tatar khan. Firoz Shah wanted the book to be named after its author, but Farid ud-din preferred to remain a ghost writer. He died perhaps in 786 A.H .
Life of self Discipline –
Immediately after taking the pledge of allegiance to Hazrat khwaja Najib ud-din Firdausi , says the author of Manaqib-ul- Asfia, Sharf ud-din was granted the permission to propagate the religious discipline of the Firdausiyah order . however, Sharaf ud-din implored the Khwaja:
“ I have not had the opportunity to remain with you even for a few days nor have I had any training of the mystic discipline from you, then , how would I be able to shoulder this onerous responsibility ? ”
but the Khwaja assured him that since the robe of vicegerencey has been conferred on him through a divine presage, he would be guided in his path by divine inspiration. Thereafter the Khwaja bade him farewell and said, “ whatever news you get in the way, do not return to me “.
Only a few days after Shaikh Sharaf ud-din had betaken the journey, he received the news that Hazrat Khwaja Najib ud-din had put off his earthly body. However, as already bidden by his mentor, Shaikh Sharaf ud-din continued his Journey to Maner.
State of love –
When Shaikh Sharaf ud-din departed from Khwaja Najib ud-din , he felt his heart rent by a disquietitude of spiritual agony. It appeared that the fire of love, a violent affection of god had penetrated inside the recesses of his very being. He says :
“ No sooner that I met Khwaja Najib ud-din , an agonizing disquiet seated itself in my heart and it went on increasing with the passage of time “ .
When Shaikh Sharaf ud-din reached Behiah, ( Behiah is about 40 kms from Maner, in Shahbad district )
He happened to hear the trill of a peacock , which so stirred the feeling of divine love in him that he breathlessly betook himself to a jungle. His brothers and friends, who accompanied him on his way back home , made a vigorous search but could not find any trace of him. At last they returned with the warrant of vicegerencey issued by Khwaja Najib ud-din and other sacred relics given to him by the khwaja and made these over to his mother.
In the Rajgir forest –
Shaikh Sharaf ud-din remained in the forest of behiah but nobody was able to know his whereabouts. Thereafter, he moved to the Rajgir forest , where he was seen once or twice but none of his acquaintances ever succeeded in meeting him.
Althrough the period of twelve years Shaikh Sharaf ud-din lived in the forest, he had given himself up to austerities , intense meditation and arduous religious observances. Passing his days in a state marked by excitation of heart , agitation and bewilderment, he appears to have totally lost the consciousness of his own self by drinking deep the cup of love divine. The leaves of trees were all he ate in those days. Speaking of the most austere acts to which he had given himself up in those days, he once told his disciple Qazi Zahid :
“ The mortifications that I have undergone would have melted even the hills , but of what use has these been to Sharaf ud-din “ .
It seems that he was not satisfied with the utility of what he had achieved by these arduous disciplines. Once he said that during the winter season, when it was biting cold, he took bath in cold water instead of taking advantage of leave granted by the Shar’iah for such occasions, and the result was that he fell unconscious and missed the dawn prayer.
Stay in Bihar
During the days Shaikh Sharaf ud-din was still residing in the forests, a disciple of Hazrat Khwaja Nizam ud-din Auliya bearing the name of his mentor but known as Maulana Nizam Maula , came to know about Sharaf ud-din from certain persons who had met the shaikh in that forest. He met shaikh Sharaf ud-din along with a few of his disciples. Greatly impressed by the Shaikh, Maulana Nizam Maula often used to repair to the jungle to visit the shaikh. In view of the inconvenience Maulana Nizam Maulana and his friends had to put up, Shaikh Sharaf ud-din suggested to them :
“Your visit causes me a lot of anxiety for the forest is too dangerous. You people should better remain in the city where I would come on Fridays for prayers and meet you “the proposal was accepted and the shaikh thus used to have a brief sitting with Maulana Nizam Maula and others on each Friday. After sometime, the admirers of shaikh decided to construct a hut at the place the Khankah exists now, where shaikh sharaf ud-din used to take rest for a while after Friday prayers or stayed for a day or two sometimes.
Maulana Nizam Maulana got the thatched hut converted into a building. When construction was completed Maulana Nizam Maula invited his friends to a feast and requested Shaikh Sharaf ud-din to grace the altar carpet. The shaikh accepted the request but remarked: ” Friends , your rendezvous has led me to this pantheon”.
The khankah was constructed between 721 to 724 A.H. during the reign of Ghiyath ud-din Tughluq.
Sultan Muhammed Tughluq ascended the throne after his father in 725 A.H. Himself an accomplished scholar, he was always too desirous of making the sufi saints come out of their seclusion for bringing about moral upliftment of the populace. He forced Hazrat Khwaja Naseer ud-din Chirag Dehlvi to accompany his forces in his last expedition. He also forced other disciples of Hazrat Khwaja Nizam ud-din Auliya , Maulana Fakhr ud-din Zarradi, Maulana Shams ud-dn yahya and others to deliver sermons and urge people to participate in the holy wars. He even made Shaikh Qutb ud-din Munawwar of Hansi to come all the way from his khankah to Delhi.
When he came to know of Shaikh Sharaf ud-din’s abandoning his seclusion after years of retirement in the Rajgir forests, he sent an order to the Governor of Bihar, Majad ul Mulk, that a Khankah should be got constructed for him and the pargana of rajgir given to him for the upkeep of the Khankah and his disciples. The king sent a Balgharian ( a town in the north of Turkistan) Prayer- mat to the shaikh and ordered the governor to force Shaikh Sharaf ud-din to accept the royal grant, incase he was not inclined to accept the offer.
Majad- ul Mulk took the imperial edict to the shaikh and said,
“I dare not force your honour to do what the king has ordered but if you do not accept his offer, it would be construed as my insubordination and incompetence. Everybody is aware of the king’s temperament and only god knows what he would do with me.”
Taking pity on the perplexity of Majad-ul Mulk, the shaikh yielded to his request, albeit unwillingly , but when Firoz Shah Tugluq mounted the throne , he returned the Jagir. However, the construction of the khankah was taken in hand, and, to borrow the words of zamir ud-din in Sirat-us-Shairf :
” The construction of the Khankah was started and it was completed within a short period, Majad-ul-Mulk invited all mystics and disciples of Khwaja Nizam ud-din Aulia and numerous other friars for a sitting of Si’maa which continued for pretty long time in the assembly hall. In another portion of the khankah, containing a gallery and a room, arrangements were made for seating the elite. On the Balgharian Prayer-mat sent by the king, Makhdum Yahya Maneri was seated. When a wandering friar who happened to be there came near sharaf ud-din, the latter said : ‘ Its all for you, I had simply to comply with the oorders of Majad-ul Mulk, for I had no choice but to obey him who wields the authority. Whatever you see here is for mendicants and, so far as iam concerned , I do not consider myself even worthy of Islam, much less to grace the prayer- mat”
” The medicant replied: ‘ Makhdum, who cares for this khankah and prayer-mat ? whatever respect one pays to you, it is because of the truth. We have come here on account of your latent spiritual qualities and for your sake alone. Islam will flourish here and gain strength through your blessings’. To this Makhdum replied : ” Whatever these medicants say finds the acceptance of god’.
Spiritual guidance of the people –
For more thatn half a century ( from 724 A.H to 782 A.H., when he died ) Makhdum Yahya Maneri continued to inspire spiritual and moral zeal in the people. According to the estimate of Shaikh hussain Mu’iz Shams of Balakh, more than a Hundred Thousand people united themselves in the bond of his spiritual paternity of whom not less than three hundred attained spiritual illumination and reached the highest level of sanctity. Numerous Yogis, it is related, were guided by him on the path of mysticism after they had embraced Islam at his hands.
The congregations held by the Shaikh , which were attended by persons drawn from all creeds and classes, as was the custom prevailing in those days, served as lecture rooms providing guidance and instruction to the people. Persons desiring an exposition of perplexing issues, raised questions in these meetings and got satisfactory answers. These gatherings never had any predetermined subject of discourse; the Sufis began to their sermons on whatever issue they happened to be contemplating or the topic raised by others. But, almost always these discourses shed light on the hidden meanings of recondite truths and intricate problems of mysticism. Zain Badr Arabi, who has complied the discourses of Shaikh Sharaf ud-din says in his introduction to the collection:
” In every gathering and almost on each occasion, the disciples of the shaikh or others attending the meetings requested him to elucidate a certain issue pertaining to shariah or mystic discipline. Hazrat Makhdum replied to every question in a very pleasant and convincing manner, and expounded the pith and essence of the facts of mute reality.
He answered the questions according to the ability of the inquirer in such a bright and cheerful way that it agreeably occupied the mind of the listeners and adumbrated those subtle facts which are beyond the grasp of human senses”. (Ma’adan ul Ma’ani)
Sometimes a theological mystic tract was read in these gatherings.Makhdum Yahya Maneri used to throw light upon points of special difficulty during the course of such readings. In this way he used to expound intricate issues pertaining to jurisprudence, traditions, exegesis and mysticism which were instructive even by the learned disciples. Another method employed by him for mental and moral development of disciples, especially the learned ones , was to write them letters. Perhaps no other spiritual guide, except Mujaddid Alf Thani, has taken recourse to this educative medium for the mental edification and spiritual ennoblement of the people.
The forceful style of Makhdum’s writings, combining grace and elegance, assigns a conspicuous place to his letters in the theological literature. In these he has expounded the kernels or factors of higher significance denoting the inner sense of unseen divine content of things. He exerted thereby a strong and potent influence and inspired the people with a longing to attain the state of exalted spiritual integrity. In their effectiveness, gracefulness and forcefulness of expression there would perhaps be few comparison with these letters in the entire Persian literature.
Thus, in addition to those fortunate persons to whom those letters were addressed, thousands have read them with interest down the centuries after the days of Shaikh Makhdum Yahya Maneri; in the Khankah’s these letters have been studiously perused and discussed, and they still hold the attention of those who muse over them in search of the new dimensions of intuitive insight and illumination of heart. It would be difficult to exaggerate the strength and vigour of these letters which, notwithstanding the lapse of several centuries when they were written , still preserve their freshness and emotional appeal.
Character and Deportment –
A conspicuous trait of Makhdum Yahya Maneri ‘s sublime character was the annihilation of his self in love- the reward of his austere devotional acts and religious travails – reflecting a deep, satisfying and intimate love which effaces the very existence of the lover. Every word of his letters and discourses signifies the earnest desire and passionate love of god thus described by Hazrat Khwaja Naqshbandi :
“What I desire most is to have no desire at all“
This was the patrimony of the mystic order founded by Khwaja Najm ud-din Kubra , whose most worthy successor was Shaikh Sharaf ud-din Yahya Maneri .
Shuaib Firdausi relates that in a meeting a celebrated sufi saints, everyone expressed the desire cherished by him. when the turn of Makhdum Yahya came, he said :
“What I desire is that I should remain unknown in this world as well as in the world beyond “.
Shaikh Makhdum Yahya Maneri once gave expression to his own self-abandonment in these words :
“Wholly overtaken by the illusions of Shaytan, I know neither anything about my own self nor find any trace of Islam in me”.
In a letter which Makhdum Yahya Maneri wrote to a friend, he laid emphasis on the importance of shedding tears over ones own vicious self. The letter, quoted here, perhaps throws light on the conflagration consuming his own heart:
” The gnostics swear to god that nothing is dearer to god than bewailing of a man over failings of his own self: therefore, let us learn how to lament and bemoan from the precursor of true faith, Khwaja Owais Qarni, whose soul may be blessed by god. He who laments not always over his own self, O brother , is a claimant oblivious of the day of requital ; he is just a dead meat whose heart is crushed by his longings.
And what wistful longings have cast their shadows over every heart : everybody yearns for glory and riches, authority and power, pleasure and satisfaction , fame and honour and along with all these propinquity to god as well. But by god, This is impossible.” ( 11th letter)
Another letter written by Makhdum Yahya Maneri to show the way of self demolition depicts his own portrait, for, the mystic saints were not hypocrites to preach what they themselves did not practice. Since they strictly followed the Qur’anic injunction: “Never say what you do not practice yourself”
This letter must have been written by Makhdum after attaining the entelechy of spiritual life.
“Since you have reached the threshold of your Lord, your self should be cleansed of all earthly defilements and desires. Even if you don a thousand crowns of royalty, how would you conceal the reality of your self – your beggarly countenance and forlorn complexion. Dust that settles over a thing gets always washed away: but the gloominess of your subliminal self can never change itself ” (27th letter)
In yet another letter he plainly laments thus over himself :
“We are ill-starred, afflicted and abased; greedy as hogs, we are mad after our desires ; attuned to force of habits, we are the negligent and heedless who witlessly move in a groove; we are really listless and thoughtless ; and our presumption that we follow Tawheed or that we tread the path of god-moved souls is simply an indication of our temerity and crass ignorance. Even the Jews and fire worshippers, cathedrals and Pantheons feel ashamed of us.” (31st letter)
supplication often recited by him expresses, in all intensity and colour , his innermost thoughts and feelings.
A weakling in thy path Iam , my God ;
Like a crippled ant , in a well I plod.
Without any achievement , strength or wealth ;
I have neither the heart to bewail nor patience to repose.
Deprived of faith, even the world took leave of me;
Improvished of the soul, I cling to exterior form.
Neither a Muslim nor a heathen, I waver in minds two.
Forlorn and abandoned , I know not what to do.
I shed my tears and bemoan a lot, my lord.
Empty-handed that iam, burdensome is the task.
In this prison of bodily frame, I have suffered a lot;
Feckles has been madeby exertion my laouring heart.
Fettered I sit in this prison (of desires and sin);
Who else but thee can give me a helping hand.
Clear the obstacles (that block the)path of my soul;
And let my heart be cleansed through flood of tears.
On thy path I have set my foot, though immersed in sin;
Mercy, my god, though I hail from prison of sin.
Having arrived at the annihilation which effaces the existence of the lover, he was unconcerned with the acclamation and condemnation of the people. In a letter he says:
“ What have the ecstatics to lose or gain by the adulation or denunciation of the multitude ? to them these make little difference . They do not consider him worthy who is acclaimed by the people nor a fellow vilified by the masses is regarded by them as wicked : to them only he is virtuous who meets the approval of the lord and only he is vile who is censured by God”.(31st letter)
As a natural outcome of his intoxication and losing his self in love divine, he was rewarded with miraculous powers like other ecstatics. Incessant miracles were worked by him but he ever entertained an aversion for miracles or the exhibition of similar acts which could be adduced as a proof of his attaining the heights of sanctity. Shuaib Firdausi writes in Manaqib ul Asfia :
“ His miraculous powers very often called forth wonderful acts clearly beyond operation of natural laws , but he was always so averse to miracles that he pleaded his incompetence to perform such acts . if anybody insisted upon his help for the fulfillment of his needs he used to refer him to Miran Jalal Diwana”
This was the time when credulous masses considered the miraculous powers possessed by a saint as the only touchstone of his sanctity and godliness. It is reported that once a few persons brought some dead flies to him and said:
“A well known maxim runs :the sheikh bestows life and death. Therefore, cause these flies to come to life again”.
Makhdum Yahya Maneri replied: “Iam myself helpless. How can I restore life to others ?”.
The inspiration drawn by the sufi saints from the prophetic light has ever been the most vital element in shaping the life and character of these men of god: the warmth of personal feeling thus praised by god;
‘ Lo ! Thou art of excellent character ‘ (Q.LXVIII:4), linked to him by a close personal affinity which transfigures all thoughts and governs all actions. It was this loving regard of Makhdum Yahya Maneri for the Prophet of Islam which has been testified in these words by his biographer :
“ The moral conduct of Shaikh Sharaf ud-din was the very image of the Prophet’s (SAW)character”
And how much Makhdum Yahya Maneri considered it essential to cast ones’s morals and behavior in the mould of the Prophet’s (SAW) character is revealed by his letters which, infact , bring forth his own moral percepts and rules of conduct.
“In truth and reality virtuous conduct consists of the moral code followed by the learned among the followers of mystic path. They adhere to the injunctions of the shar’iah and measure the excellence of their performance with the yardstick of prophet’s (SAW) conduct. Whosoever does not make a search for the rules of shar’iah can never hope to attain anything through the path of mysticism”. (59th letter)
In another letter he says that:
“ The more one follows the path chalked out by the shar’iah , the more one becomes virtuous in conduct; and the more one attains moral excellence, the more one is loved by god. For moral rectitude is the bequest of Adam and and a gift from god, there is nothing godlier for the believer than virtuous code of conduct nor an adornment as exquisite as this. Good moral conduct really means acting on the percepts of god and the shar’iah brought by the Prophet ; for, the behaviour and deportment of the prophet (SAW), on whom be peace and blessings, were winsomely pleasing. Whoever claims to follow the prophet, should pattern his life after him”.
The life sketch of Shaikh Makhdum Yahya Maneri depicted by his biographers show that the constant aim of his endeavors was to follow the Prophet of Islam (SAW). In moral conduct and behaviour, brotherly love and compassion for his fellow beings, regard for the interests of other people and in consoling the broken hearted, he had all the earmarks of the Prophet’s (SAW) character.
He possessed a kindliness of heart that extended to all men, whether friends or foes, in prosperity or in distress. In a letter written by him he calls it an inborn virtue and motivating power of the Gnostics and men of god, perhaps, because he had himself imbibed this quality in the journey of his spirit. Depicting the characteristics of a true mystic he says:
“Like the glorious lamp of the heaven his benevolence goes out to all, young and old; he remains hungry and unclad but feeds and clothes others. He cares not for the injustice done to him nor for the malevolence of those who are hard upon him. Instead, he intercedes for them, repays goodness for evil and gives thanks for abuses. Do you know why he does so? Being himself saved and secured, his heart is filled with a desire to do good to all. Like the sun which shines over mountains and vales, his benevolence encompasses friends and foes alike; in humility he is like the earth trodden by all; in generosity he is like the river whose lofty surge benefits the friends as well as enemies. Independent of every attachment, the downpour of his benignity showers over the east as much as over the west. He finds everything indwelling in god as manifestations of the same creator and endued with qualities assigned by him. Whoever lacks these qualities of spirit cannot lay a claim on the path of mysticism”. (24th letter)
Makhdum Yahya Maneri was, like other mystic preceptors, an embodiment of charity and benevolence. Overflowing with the milk of humanity he considered it grievous sin to injure the feelings of others.
Once, when he was keeping a voluntary fast, a certain person brought him a present and begged him to partake it. Makhdum took it and said : “ one can make up for the broken fast but not for the broken heart”.
He always concealed the blemish of others and if he was ever told of the lapse or misdemeanor of someone, he immediately came out with an explanation on behalf of the person reported to have committed the misdeed.
It has been related in Manaqib e Asfia that once he had to join a congregational prayer led by a man who was a drunkard. Somebody complained about it but Makhdum Yahya Maneri replied : “He should not be drunk all the time”. The complainant said : “ Yes , he ever remains drunk”. “But not during Ramadhan”, was the reply given by Makhdum Yahya Maneri.
Separation and Isolation
In their swift flight of the spirit the ecstatics soar to those higher dominions of spirituality which are completely beyond the reach of the uninitiated. It is difficult even to conceive of the effulgence of divine love and the source of knowledge which is laid open before them. Leading a cloistered life within the society, their spirits are roving when they appear to be quiescent. To those who have never had the opportunity to betake the path of mysticism, the ecstatics appear to be engaged in the edificationand guidance of their followers – a task imposed on them as the vicegerents of the Prophet – but the stages through which they have to pass before attaining the perfection of interior spirit can be made known only by those who have already attained inward illumination, renunciation of the worldly desires is considered by some as the only essential discipline for the real cognition of divine essence ,but in the passage quoted here Shaikh Makhdum Yahya Maneri explains some of its higher stages through which the Gnostics have to find their way their way before attaining their cherished goal. He says:
“ Seperation involves renunciation of all worldy desires and relationships whereas isolation means that the lover is isolated from all, including his own self, to attain propinquity with the beloved. Without a care to trouble his heart, or a concern dependent on interest , or a solicitude involving an element of desire , or anxiety to distract his attention, his aspiration soars high beyond the empyrean to meet his longed-for beloved. He feels no pleasure without his beloved even if this world and the world beyond were placed at his feet, nor has he any longing for the earth or heavens in the presence of his true-love. Someone has truly said that with god there is no anxiety and without god there is no pleasure. That is why it has been asserted by the Gnostics that whoever is away from god is afflicted even though he may hold the key of the treasures of all lands; while a penniless medicant having communion with god is the king of both the worlds even if he hasn’t enough to fill his belly.”
In another letter he writes:
“The friend is nigh even if he is away and the stranger is away even if he is present with you. But this would happen when you would abandon the world and attain the reality of your own self , and cast off your heart as did the companions of the cave.(then you would witness what has been stated in the Qur’an) :
“If thou hadst observed them closely thou hadst assuredly turned away from them in flight, and hadst been filled with awe of them”. ( Q.XVIII:18)
Enjoining the right course.
Shaikh Makhdum Yahya Maneri had renounced all worldy desires and relationships and passed beyond the stages of separation and isolation, which meant abandonment of all cares and worries, but he was, nevertheless, always solicitous of the welfare of the poor and afflicted. We find him corresponding with the then sovereigns to restore justice to whom it had been denied and asking the kings and rulers to betake the path of virtue and equity.
One Khwaja Abid of Zafarabad, who had been deprived of his property , approached Makhdum Yahya Maneri. He wrote a letter to Sultan Firoz Shah Sharqi in which he quoted the traditions of the Prophet and his companions expressing concern to see that justice is done to everybody. Thereafter he wrote:
“Thanks be to Allah that today he graces the throne who is the hope of the oppressed and the miserable and who is handing out even justice to everyone. It is for this sublime trait that the Prophet (S.A.W) has said that ‘ A moment spent in dispensing justice is better than sixty years given out to prayers’.” ( Sirat-us-Sharaf).
Shaikh Makhdum Yahya Maneri had received his education at sonargaon and therefore he was particularly interested in the affairs of Bengal and the welfare of Muslims in that region. A letter written by Maulana Muzaffar of Balakh to Sultan Ghiyath ud-din of Bengal shows how keenly interested was Makhdum Yahya Maneri in the well being of Bengal. He says:
“ I find Shaikh Sharaf ud-din always extremely eager for the prosperity of this country. Of a fact, god has favoured this land with the presence of this ‘ Legion of the Lord’ on its soil.”
Following the Prophet
The wayfarers of the path of purity come to know, as they proceed ahead on their spiritual journey, how essential it is to follow the example of the Prophet in its minutest detail. Also, the reality dawns on them that the mystic state of composure can never be reached without following the Prophet (saw) wholeheartedly and adapting ones life in complete harmony with the way of shar’iah. How convinced was Makhdum Yahya Maneri of this essential doctrine of mysticism can be seen from his letter given here. He begins it with a quotation from the Qur’an :
“Say, (O Muhammed . To mankind): If you love Allah, follow me, Allah will love you.” (Q.III:31).
These words of god put a seal on the truth thus expressed by someone.
Seek not a new path, his word is gospel,
Seal your lips and stop all prattle.
Whate’er says he, saith the lord,
What’er he does, is an act of god,
Be dust unto him to wear the crown,
To have your way, first knuckle down.
Like the dust of his way, if not is he,
He’ll lick the dust , even an angel be he.
“This shows that those foolish and ignorant people who do not follow in the footsteps of the Prophet (saw) out of their vanity, ignorance or immodesty, can never find the glimpse of enlightenment. Verily, it is impossible to find the correct way to the higher domains of spirituality without a guide. That is why someone has said – the blind can never find his way without a staff in hand; the way is long and full of hazards, therefore , have a pathfinder, O lad.” (50th letter)
Shaikh Makhdum Yahya Maneri followed this rule scrupulously all through his life. The day he died , at the age of one hundred and twenty one years, he performed the last ablution despite his weakness and illness, as graphically described by Shaikh Zain Badr Arabi.
“He took off his gown and asked for water, rolled up his sleeves and cleansed his teeth. Thereafter he started performing ablution with the prayer: ‘I begin in the name of Allah, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful’. He recited different prayers before beginning to wash different parts of his body. When he was washing his elbows , Shaikh Khalil reminded him that he had forgotten to wash his face. He then began the ablution afresh, performing every act even more carefully. Qazi Zahid tried to help him in washing the right foot, but he forbade him. After performing the ablution, he asked for a comb and prayer mat. Having combed his beard he performed two Rak’ats of prayer” (wafat Namah, P: 12)
Because of his ardent desire to follow the Prophet , he abhorred every innovation in religion. He was so careful in this regard that once he instructed his disciples :
“Whenever you find that any action of the Prophet (saw) has been so mixed up with an innovation that your action can be construed as acting on the innovation, then it is better to forgo the action to follow the Prophet (saw) instead of doing something that strengthens the innovation in religion.” (Khwan pur Ni’mat)
On the deathbed
The description of Shaikh Makhdum Yahya Maneri’s last moments under the shadow of death would show the strength of his faith in God, his vigilant care to follow the path of shar’iah , his anxiety for the welfare of Islam and its followers, his confidence in the mercy of god and his concern for the salvationof his own soul. Shaikh Zain Badr Arabi writes:
“It was Wednesday, the 5th of Shawwal, 782 A.H. when I went to pay my respect to the shaikh. He was sitting on a carpet , leaning against a pillow, after performing the dawn prayers in the new room constructed by Nizam ud-din Khwaja Malik . His brother Shaikh Jalal ud-din , Qazi Shams ud-din and several other relations and disciples who had been attending him all through the previous night were present there. The Shaikh said:
‘There is no power, no might but from Allah the great’, and asked us to join in the recital. After a while he said smilingly:
‘ Holiness be to god. Even at this moment the devil still wants to create doubts in my mind about the unity of god but to no avail.’
He kept himself busy in the praise of god, often repeating joyfully :
‘ It is a favour from my lord, it is a favour from my lord’
“An hour or so before noon the shaikh came out in the courtyard and sat down on a carpet taking the support of a pillow. He held out his hands as if he wanted to bid farewell to us. First came forward Qazi Shams ud-din whose hands he kept holding for a while. Taking the hands of Qazi Zahid, he placed them on his chest and said:
‘We are the same lovelorn .but no, we are not better than the earth beneath their feet.’
He summoned all of us turn by turn, kissed our hands and beards, bade us to pin our hopes in the mercy and forgiveness of god saying:
‘Despair not of the mercy of Allah, who forgiveth all the sins.’ (Q.XXXIX:53)
“And then he recited the verses which meant:
O god, stream of thy mercy flows for all,
Only a drop from it is all I want.”
“Then turning to us , he began reciting the creed:
‘ I bear witness that there is no deity but Allah, who is without a partner, and I bear witness that Muhammed(saw) is his servant and Apostle.. Iam agreeable to Allah as our lord, Islam as our religion, Muhammed as our Prophet, Qur’an as our canon, Kaaba as our qiblah, the believers as our brothers, heaven as the reward and hell as the punishment (by god).’
“Thereafter he called up several of us one by one. Some he encouraged and comforted with the hope of deliverance on the day of judgment; others he asked never to abandon hope in the mercy of god and to be careful of their faith
“I stepped ahead and kissed his hands. Thereupon he asked : ‘who is it?’ ‘It is a beggar at your threshold’, said I, ‘ desirous of being accepted as thy serf’. He replied , I accept You and your entire household. If god helps me I shall never forsake You’.
“You are our mentor,” I said again, “while I expect even your servants to be in the good grace of god”.
“Yes, there is much to hoped”, he replied.
“By that time Qazi Shams ud-din came up to him. Maulana sahab ud-din Hilal asked, ‘Makhdum, what about Qazi Shams ud-din ? he is here’. He replied, ‘what have I to say about him. he is my son and brother. I have already conferred on him the habit of medicants. It was only for his sake that I wrote so much, otherwise who would have cared to write all this’.”
“Then he turned to Shaikh Khalil ud-dun and said, take heart , Khalil, Scholars and friars shall never turn their backs on you. When Malik Nizam ud-din Khwaja comes to you, convey my respects to him and tell him that Iam departing from the world well pleased with him. he will never forsake you’.
Shaikh Khalil ud-din gave way to tears but Makhdum consoled him. in the meantime other disciples and attendants came to pay their respect. For each he invoked divine blessings and commended them to have faith in the benignity and forgiveness of god, Sultan Shah, the administrator of pargana Rajgir, brought some medicine for him but Makhdum Yahya Maneri declined to accept the present and returned it with thanks.”
“Amir Shahab ud-din came to pay a visit with his son. Makhdum Yahya Maneri asked the boy to recite any five versus of the Qur’an but the boy being too young could not recite the verses. Another boy, son of Sayyid Zahir ud-din, was also present at this time and he recited the last portion od Surah Fath. As soon as the boy began reciting the Qur’an , Makhdum got up to sit in a reverential posture.
The time for afternoon prayer was drawing near. Makhdum took off his gown and asked to fetch water for him. he rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, cleansed his teeth and started performing ablution in the name of god. He carefully recited the different supplications prescribed for each act but forgot to wash his face. On being reminded, he started the ablution afresh. The ablution completed, he asked for a comb and prayer mat, combed his beared and performed two raka’ats of of prayer. He took a little rest after the prayerand then performed the maghrib (evening) prayer.
“Feeling exhausted, Makhdum lay down on a cot surrounded by his disciples and friends. After relaxing for a few minutes, he started reciting:
I begin in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
There is no god save Thee. Be Thou glorified ! Lo ! I have been a wrong doer !.
I begin in the name of Allah , the Beneficent , the Merciful.
I bear witness that there is no deity but Allah who is without partner , and I bear witness that Muhammed (saw) is his Servant and Apostle.
There is no power, no might but from Allah, the most high, the great.
“Thereafter he repeated: ‘I begin in the name of Allah, the beneficent, the Merciful’ several times and came out with all his heart : ‘ Muhammed……. Muhammed……Muhammed.. (saw) O Allah ! shower thy blessings on Muhammed (saw) and the descendants of Muhammed (saw)’.
“This he followed up with the recitation of following verses of Surah Mai’da.- Q.V:114- 120.”
“And then he began to declaim:’ I am agreeable with Allah as our lord, Islam as our religion and Muhammed as our Prophet.’
He recited thrice the creed of Muslim faith from the bottom of his heart and then began the invocation:
O lord our god, guide the followers of Muhammed (saw) (on the right path); O Allah , have mercy on the followers of Muhammed (saw), O Allah , forgive the followers of Muhammed; O Allah, be lenient to the followers of Muhammed (saw); O Allah help the followers of Muhammed (saw); O Allah , uphold him who stands by the religion of Muhammed (saw); O Allah, increase the followers of Muhammed (saw) and let them not decrease ; O Allah , debase those who wish to humiliate the religion of Muhammed (saw),on whom be thy blessings, O merciful.”
“With these his voice failed but he continued to recite:
There shall be no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve…..there is no deity but Allah………I begin in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.”
“No sooner had he uttered the last word his soul took flight to its celestial abode.”
“This was the night of Thursday, 6th of shawwal, 782 A.H when the time for isha prayer had just begun.” ( wafat namah)
The death of Shaikh Makhdum Yahya Maneri anwsers the description of the last journey of a sublimated soul portrayed beautifully by Ibn Yamini in these verses.
Don’t see the heart of Ibn Yamini dipped in blood;
Lo! When he bade farewell to this fleeting world.
Scripture in hand, foot on stirrup and eyes fixed on the friend,
With a smile on his lips, he set off with the angel of death…
The funeral prayer was lead by Shaikh Ashraf Jahangir Samnani. As related in Lataif Ashrafi ( a biography of Shaikh Ashraf Jahangir Samnani by his disciple Nizamuddin Yamini alais Haji Gharib ul Yamini), the bier of Makhdum was kept on the way as instructed by him. Shaikh Ashraf Jahangir, on his way from from Delhi to pandwah in Bengal, where he was going to pay a visit to the renowned Chishtiyyah Shaikh Ala’ul Haq of Lahore, arrived at Bihar Sharif just when the bier had been placed there for someone to come and lead the funeral service as desired by the departing mentor. Shaikh Ashraf Jahangir Samnani led the funeral service and lowered the bier in the grave.(lataif Ashrafi).
The grave was made of mud and unburnt bricks, and no dome was built on it. During the reign of Suri dynasty, a mosque, a tank and some residential apartments were constructed around the grave but no tomb with stones and burnt bricks was built in deference to the injunctions of shariah followed so meticulously by Makhdum Yahya Maneri.
Makhdum Yahya Maneri left, according to Sirat –us-Sharaf, more than a hundred thousand souls who had taken oath of allegiance to him but not withstanding the possible exaggeration by Syed Zamir ud-din, there is no doubt that a very large number of people were spiritually united with him. Of these , the number of those who had been endowed with inward illumination of the soul runs into hundreds.
The list of works reported to have been put into writing by Makhdum Yahya Maneri is quite extensive but, unfortunately, only a few of these survive today. The books still preserved are :
Rahat ul Quloob, Ajweb ( a biography of Hazrat Shaikh Ashraf jehangir samnani by his disciple Nizamuddin yamini alais Nizam Haji Gharib ul yamini).
Fawaid-i-Rukni , Irshad ul Talibin, Irshad us Salikin , Risalah Makkiyah, Ma’adan ul Ma’ani, Isharat-i-Mukh-ul-Ma’ani, Khwan Pur Ni’mat, Tuhfah-i-ghaibi, Risalah Dar Talabi-Taliban, Malfuzaat, Zad-iSafar, Aqaid-i-Ashrafi, Fawaid Muridin, Bahr-ul-Ma’ani, Safar-ul-Muzaffar, Kanz-ul-Ma’ani, [I]Ganj-i-Layafna[/I], Munis-ul-Muridinand Sharah Adab-ul-muridin.(Sirat-us-sharif and Nuzhat-ul Khawatir).
However, still more significant composition bearing witness to his literary gifts and giving an insight into the inner light of his spirituality is the collection of his letters compiled under the name of Maktubat-i-seh sadi.
A living monument of Makhdum Yahya Maneri reflecting his deep knowledge and spiritual enlightenment is the collection of his letters. In their depth of ideas, remarkable critical expression , exposition of subtle issues , acuteness of observation, correct understanding of the spirit of religion, insight in the revealed truth and light of divine knowledge along with the single-minded devotion to God and veneration of the Porphet (Pbuh), The letters of Makhdum Yahya Maneri and Mujaddid Alf Thani occupy a place of distinction in the Islamic literature. These letters show the sublimity of intuitive vision and the exalted spiritual integrity of their writers who have successfully unfolded the living seed of faith in god, intuitively grasped ideas, the aids to purification of self, and the methods of stimulating and enriching the spiritual life. They give us glimpse of the lofty domains of spirituality to which these men of God had gained an access.
But apart from exhibiting an insight into the contents of spirit and religion, these letters written in a direct and limpid style without sacrificing elegance and grace have all the simplicity of a great art, and contain passages that take their place among the masterpieces of literature in any language of the world. It is, however, an irony of fate that the compositions of only those have been acknowledged as falling within the purview of literature who had exclusively devoted themselves to the pursuit of belles-lettres or the literary art, that is, aesthetic rather than informative or scientific branches of learning. In the bygone ages normally the court amanuenses or those writers who displayed their linguistic attainments through rhetorical ingenuities gained recognition as littérateurs.
The result of it was that in the history of Arabic literature Abdul Hamid Al katib , Abu Is’haq as-Sabi, Ibn ul-Amid, saheb Ibn Abbad, Abu Bakr Khwarzami, Abul Qasim Hariri and Qazi Fadhil became the big names as writers with distinctive style although a greater portion of their rhymed and cadenced compositions reflect artificiality as well as lack of vigour and effectiveness. Compared to these writers, Al-Ghazali, Ibn Al-Jawzi, Ibn Shaddad, Shaikh Muhi ud-din Ibn Arabi, Abu Hayyan Tawhidi, Ibn Qayyim and Ibn Khaldun have a greater claim to our esteem as knights of the plume for their smoothness and facility of arguments, masterly handling of the subjects , attractive style of expression and portrayal of tender susceptibilities and affections. But, unfortunately, their only fault was that they chose to write on religion or some other serious subject instead of applying themselves to the works written merely to please the ear or to display their command over language.
It is interesting to see a writer often taking the pen in hand for producing works of two kinds, one displaying rhetorical ingenuities and flowers of eloquence and the other a model of simple and direct prose; the former is deemed admirable by his contemporaries and the writer himself considers it to be his lofty and ennobling attainment; but the latter work is highly esteemed by the subsequent generations which consigns the former to the shelves of libraries and grace the others with a lasting flame.
The book Ibn al-Jawzi was so proud of that he named it Al- Modahish or ‘wondrous Strange’ is unheard of today but his miscellanea of personal experiences and events written in a plain and simple language and totally devoid of rhetorical adornment, to which he perhaps attached little importance, is now prized in the literary circles.
If we go through the history of Persian literature, we would find Zahuri, Abul Fadhal and Ni’mat Khan Ali dominating the style of Persian prose. However, if a natural and unaffected expression of emotions and narration of plain, plump facts were to be regarded as yardstick for perfect model of prose writing, then very little of their writings, marred as they are by florid and verbose style, rhetorical artifices and verbal conceits, would stand the test of standard prose. As against these, there would be numerous other works always ignored by the critics and historians of Persian literature which would measure up to the criterion of a perfect model of prose writing.
We would find the greater part of the letters written by Shaikh Sharaf ud-din Yahya Maneri, Mujaddid Alf Thani Shaikh Ahmed Faruqi, and Aurangzeb Alamgir and parts of Izalatul Khifa of Shah Waliullah and Tuhfa’ Athna Ashriyah of Shah Abdul Aziz as unrivalled in the style and structure of sentences. But it seems that in almost every language certain limits have been set which circumscribe literary writings and discourage the search of masterpieces written in a different style and diction on other serious subjects. And, the result has been that for centuries innumerable jewels of elegance and grace have been lying beneath the dust unknown,unnoticed.
Literary critics more often overlook the fact that effectiveness of a writing, whether prose or poetry, which imparts it an enduring fame, is outcome of an inmost craving of its writer to express the truth known or felt by him. A softhearted friend of humanity gifted with the loftiness of tone and stateliness of language, and moved by an earnest longing to convey a heartfelt reality, infuses a touch of tenderness and feeling to his writing that makes a dent in every heart. Such a writing preserves its uniqueness without end.
Literary critics have ever discussed the rules and patterns of eloquence and writings of a poetical or literary cast as well as styles and attributes that bear a correlation with fluency and gracefulness but seldom have they recognised that it is really the sincerity and alutrism of a speaker or a writer which transmits vigor, freshness and sharpened sensibilities to his compositions. If someone with a greater sense of realism and with an eye on charm, effectiveness and cachet of the literary works were to attempt their re-classification, he would perhaps find them falling into two categories : one would be those expressions of inmost feelings and heartfelt realities which are written neither for worldly gain nor to display the command of language ; the works falling in the other category would be those written to please one’s ears or to find favour with the potentates which, unfortunately, makes their composers more of flatterers and artful courtiers than accomplished poets and litterateurs.
He would find a world of difference between the two. One being an earnest craving of the heart penetrates the heart of the readers and retains its fervidness and appeal for a long time to come. And if the writer happens to be a seeker after truth, fathoming the mysteries of mind and heart to establish the validity of real and external values of life, he leaves a deep and lasting impression on the heart of his readers. On the other hand, the writings of the other type, receiving momentary applause of the readers for the flowers of their eloquence and rhetoric ingenuities never make a durable impact upon their readers.
The former follows a style simple a direct, concise and convincing while the latter is marred by florid and verbose style lacking pathos and feeling. The difference between the two has been succinctly brought out by a someone in a parable:
A hound was asked: “Why can’t you catch up with the deer in your chase.” “Because, replied the dog, “He runs for his life and I for my master”.
Much in literature that is beautiful and sublime in thought and artistic in construction consists of the songs of the beauty of star-filled sky in night, twinkling smiles of the streams , the colours of the dawn and dusk and the gentleness of the morning breeze because these have ever elevated and inspired the imaginative feelings of a man by providing inner composure, peace of mind and harmony of spirit.
But the elevation of spirit attained through mystical experience and the state of ecstasy produced by absorption in the Absolute Being delivers oneself from dependence on external stimuli required to awaken the fancy or imagination of the poet. Their hymn-tunes and love songs spring from the inner contentment of heart and swift flight of the spirit to the sublime heights of love divine.
Khwaja Mir Dard, a famous urdu poet, has alluded to the same reality in the verse:
Why go to tavern, O Dard, for the ruddy cup;
With my heart intoxicated, I feel pretty puffed up.
So, this was the state of composure, penetrating consciousness, spiritual illumination and altruistic urge for the moral upliftment of others coupled with a command of language and refined aesthetic sense which made Shaikh Sharaf ud-din a literary genius. He created an altogether new style, lucid and delightful, for the expression of his heartfelt realities and diffusion of virtues in his readers. In their vigour and effectiveness his letters are thus unmatched not only in Persian prose alone but in entire Islamic Literature.
Makhdum’s Letters and their Addresses
The most celebrated among the collection of Makhdum’s letters is one published under the title of Maktubat Hazrat Shaikh Sharaf ud-din Yahya Maneri , which is also known as Maktubat sadi or seh sadi Maktubat. This collection contains one hundred letters addressed to Qazi Shams ud-din of Chausa which were compiled by the chief disciple of Makhdum Yahya maneri, Shaikh Zain Badr Arabi. In his introduction to this collection Shaikh Zain Badr Arabi writes:
“Qazi Shams ud-din of Chausa, a disciple of of the Shaikh, made repeated requests in his letters to him that since he had to stay at a place far away from his and was precluded from attending his discourses , something to guide him on his journey of spirit might be committed into writing. The Qazi implored Makhdum Yahya Maneri so earnestly that his petition ultimately met the approval of the shaikh who started writing about the various stages and states undergone by the seekers after truth in their quest of the perfection of divine knowledge. It was thus that the numerous profound yet inscrutable details relating to spiritual contrition and effulgence , unity of Godhead and knowledge of divine matters, essence and dynamism of love , stages of attraction and endeavor, separation and isolation, blessings and blemish, preceptorship and discipleship along with the earlier accounts of the precursors of the path of purity were put into writing. These letters were sent on different occasions during the year 747 A.H from Bihar to the town of Chausa. Several attendants and inmates of the Khankah kept copies of these letters and compiled them for the benefit of the seekers of spiritual purification.”
Another slim volume of the letters of Makhdum Yahya Maneri was also published under the title of Maktubat-i-Jawabi which was later incorporated in the Maktubat-e-Seh sadi brought out from Lahore. This collection contains the letters , not published earlier, which were written in reply to the petitions submitted by Shaikh Muzaffar to solve the difficulties experienced by the travelers of the path of mysticism. These letters give us a glimpse of the higher reaches of intellectual and spiritual attainments of Shaikh Muzaffar who had made a will that these letters should be buried with him after his death. Fortunately some of his disciples, who happened to read them got their copies made out. This collection contains 28 letters of Makhdum Yahya Maneri.
There is yet a third collection of Makhdum’s letters containing 135 of them written to different persons between Jamad al Ula and Ramadhan of the year 769A.H.
Subject Matter of the letters.
Anybody who goes through these letters would not fail to realise that the splendid details and essence of realities not perceptible to the outward eye, expounded by Makhdum Yahya Maneri, are neither the fruits of his incisive intelligence or cultivation of knowledge , but could only be experienced by a heart in its loftiest stage of spiritual exaltation.
What Makhdum says about the sublime Majesty and excellence of Divine Being , his might and omnipotence, his beuty and perfection, the feelings of awe, hope and ardent love taking root in the heart of true believers and Gnostics , the need for alternate states of effulgence and contrition experienced by the travelers of mystic path and repentance on one’s sin which opens the floodgates of Divine compassion point out that the writer , soaring in the higher domains of spirituality, is familiar with the inner content of abstruse realities.
The exalted position occupied by man among the sentient beings, his lofty aspirations, his desire to achieve the impossible, his determination and firmness of mind, the grandeur and beauty of his heart and the unfathomable essence and nature of love described in a graceful and vigorous language by Shaikh Makhdum Yahya Maneri deserves to be given a place in the finest production of human mind in all lands and ages.
Similarly, the unethical forms of natural propensities of human mind, his own self-deceptions and the ruses of Satan, transgressions that often take the shape and colour of vices and hindrances obstructing the path of the devotees expouned by Makhdum speak of his keen observation and deep knowledge of practical ethics.
However, inorder to fully appreciate the faults and dangers besetting the path of mystics and warnings sounded by Makhdum to avoid these pitfalls, his exhortion to follow the injunctions of the Shar’iah and the comprehensive treatment of the exalted position of Prophethood vis-à-vis the state of Saintship it would be necessary to understand the religious thought and different sufi systems of the time when these letters were written. Here we would be giving a few excerpts from the letters of Shaikh Makhdum Yahya Maneri dealing with some more important Gnostic problems to acquaint the readers with the style and tenor of these letters.
Describing the absolute will and authority of the supreme being, Makhdum Yahya Maneri refers to Qur’anic declaration :
‘He will not be questioned as to that which he doeth,'(Q.XXI:23) whereas man being accountable for every action of his ‘They will be questioned.'(Ibid). Everything belongs to God, explained Makhdum, for there is nothing to which man can lay a claim. He may bestow whatever favours he desires on a man and debase whom he desires. He says that none can question the authority of God because whatever exists in the world ‘is the bounty of Allah; which he giveth unto whom he will.'(Q.LXII:4)
In a letter (letter No.3) he writes:
“Who has a right to raise the question why God has bestowed wealth and riches on one and not on others. We see a king appointing a man as his minister and another as his attendant or usher. Similarly , God favours one with wealth of faith , picks out a man from the path of vice or draws up a fellow out of the tyrants and wrongdoers , humble and the low. But who has the nerve to demand : ‘Are these they whom Allah favoureth among us?’ (Q.VI :53). He ordains to admit in his presence Fudhail ibn Ayadh, a dreaded bandit, and directs Balam Baur ..
(Bal’am of Cannanite race whose story is related in the Bible (Num.22-24). The story does not find a place either in the Qur’an or the traditions but was adopted by the early exegetists. Bal’am thus achieved a proverbial fame as a learned Israelite who was beguiled by the satan)
who sat on a prayer-mat for four hundred years to be turned out. He elevates Umar, the idol worshipper, and debases Azazil , the adorer engaged in divine service for seven thousand years. Verily, ‘He will not be questioned to that which he doeth’.(Q.XXI:23) .
“If he casts a benevolent glance on us, our errors shall turn to goodness, our imperfections into soundness and out ugliness into comeliness. O Brother, a handful of earth was lying insignificant, trodden beneath the feet , but no sooner had he pity on it , an announcement was made with the flourish of trumpets: ‘ Lo! Iam about to place a Viceroy in the earth’ (Q.II:30).
In another letter (letter No.36) he explains how lordly, imperious and unconcerned God is:
“Hark, O brother, take a lesson. Pay attention to the distress of Adam, the lamentation of Nuh, the pangs of Ibrahim and the wailing of Yaqoob. Behold Yousuf being pushed into the well, Zakaiyya being sawed into two and Yahya being put to sword.(alaihimus salam). Recall your mind the deep anguish and excruciating grief of Hazrat Muhammed ,on whom be peace and blessings, and recite the verse : “Everything will perish save his countenance.” (Q.XXVIII:88)
As for the sublime Majesty of God, Makhdum writes in another letter:
“My brother, see the light, for we can never gain access to his Majestic court with these counterfeit coins. How can the fodder of a hawk be digested by a sparrow? How can the robe of honour meant for one great and exalted, fit on our low statured bodies?” (Letter no.41)
But, as Makhdum says, the magnificence and majesty of God inspires not only awe, wonder and reverence but also gives hope to the insignificant and downtrodden people; for, the generosity and kindness of God takes no time in raising the mean and ignoble to the highest pinnacle of fame and honour. To quote his words:
“This is the wealth to which nobody can prefer his claim: it can be had only through the benevolence of God. Were it to be claimed as a matter of right, then, I swear to God, You and I would never have got anything. But, his favours not being contingent on our entitlement , the profane and defiled can hope for his benevolence as much as the pious and pure of heart can do or even more than them. No wonder ! he can make the throne of kings out of the heap of rubbish where dogs loiter. But God has , in his wisdom, appointed certain causes for every contingent. If you want to achieve something noble and great, you shall have to push forward daringly with the Shar’iah as your guide and truth as your means, for your trait is profane and rebellious.”( letter no.50).
The same point was elaborated by Makhdum in his letter.
“The benevolence of God, depending entirely on his sweet will, confers favour on one whereas while his justice punishes another. He retrieved Umar from the idol temple to bless him but he left Abdullah bin Ubayy to be accursed within the Mosque. A poet has spoken the very truth in this way:
Thou destroyeth one but knoweth how to renovate,
Whom thou redeemeth, thou knoweth also to lay waste..
“My brother, we have to do with an Absolute and all powerful God. He is capable of turning the heaven into hell and hell into heaven; making a pantheon of the Ka’aba and turning the Ka’aba into a temple of idol-worshippers. Nothing makes any difference to him. who is it that is not stunned and stupefied by his awe inspiring power? Therefore , be always awe-struck and terrified lest his chastisement appears as a bolt from the blue. His benignity is as independent of causation as his harshness. If He sometimes calls for a blasphemous sinner to wash off his sins and holds off a devoted and pious believer to let him taste the pangs of separation , he does it to let everybody know that his benevolence and severity both admit of no restraints at all. He occasionally causes a wicked tyrant to take care of a Prophet and sometimes sets a Prophet to look after an unworthy malefactor. He often makes a dog sit with the saints, and a saint to go to the dogs, but whosoever is approved by Him is never rejected and whosoever incurs his displeasure is doomed forever” (Letter no.59)
The unlimited authority of God is thus described in a letter by him.
“Always pin your faith in the beneficence and Absolute authority of God. If he so wills, a thousand temples and churches would turn into Ka’aba and Bait-ul-Muqaddas and innumerable sinners and wrongdoers into pious Believers and friends of God. No cause or force intervenes between his will and effect desired by Him. he can cause tens of thousands of disbelievers to embrace Islam and turn polytheists to monotheists. He requires no time to convert the accursed mischief makers into sanctified souls glorifying His name. but nobody has the heart to ask how does it all come to pass.” (Letter no.72)
In yet another letter he propounds the omnipotence of God in these words:
“He does what he likes: He never cares who is ruined or saved. A man dies of thirst in a wilderness and says: ‘How many streams gush out to overflow but I am dying of thirst!’ He immediately gets a reply from on high: ‘We bring a thousand devotees to a dreadful forest and kill them all with the sword of our will so that some of our vultures and beasts may feast on their carrion. If anybody gives tongue to demand : ‘Why for?’ He makes him tongue –tacked with the reply : ‘ He will not be questioned as to that which he doeth’. (Q.XXI:23).
The devotees are Ours , and so are the beasts and the birds. Why should one question in Our affairs?” (Letter no.56)
In a letter Makhdum tells the addressee that nobody knows what the wheels of fortune has in store for him. He might be saved or doomed as the possibilities of both exists evenly.
“My brother , Your destination is long, long away, the path is unsafe, the object of your affection unattainable, Your body is weak while your own heart , weakened and wasted , is exited by a passionate desire for the beloved. A poet has said:
No other prize Thou seeketh, save the life of lover,
That’s why few make bold to be thy wooer..
“There are innumerable hearts thrilled and intoxicated by his love but their life-long endeavours, at the last moment, present the picture of what the Qur’an depicts thus- ‘And We shall turn unto the work they did and make it scattered motes.’ (Q.XXI:23)
And, in the hour of death, how many hearts apparently wrapped up in his love find from their Lord, ‘that wherewith they never reckoned.’ (Q.XXV:23) How many faces turn in their graves from the side of Qibla, how many adorers are branded unamicable on the day they first meet the Truelove; but many are there who are reassured with the words: ‘Sleep thou as a bride’. But, just the opposite, many are forewarned with the intimation ’Sleep thou as an ill-starred wretched.’ And they are thus rejected never to be redeemed,-
One not fitted to consort with God,
Vicious then becomes his virtuous act!
“But there are also those whose every sin is pardoned…
The Redeemer effaces all evils from their hearts to bless,
Whom he makes undefiled by faults, pure and blameless…
“Behold, O brother, Khalil (Ibrahim , friend of God) coming out of the pantheon and recite ‘ He bringeth forth the living from the dead;(Q.X:31) spot Cana’an deserting Nuh and recall to your mind: ‘ He bringeth forth the dead from the living’ .(Q.VI:95). He raised Adam to the sublime heights from which he did not come down despite his transgression but he pulled down Iblis to those depths which rendered all his litanies and prayers valueless.
‘There are glad tidings’ (Q.XXXIX:17) for some while others are threatened with the foreboding:’ on that day there will be no glad tidings for the guilty.’(Q.XXV:22). He gives hope to some with words: ‘The mark of them is on their foreheads from the traces of prostration’.(Q.XLVIII:29) and drives others to despair with the threat :’The guilty will be known by their marks.’(Q.LV:41). A poet has truly said:
Don’t be forgetful of yourself like an ignorant dolt,
Earn more merit here before You give up the ghost… (Letter no.77)
Makhdum explains that God is both severe as well as forgiver , Unlimited and Unrestrained , just as the divine attributes are in their operation; both of these take effect simultaneously and independently with the result that a believer has ever to remain in suspense between fear and fortitude , hope and despair,. Referring to the Qur’anic verse “Doer of what He will” (Q.LXXXV:16), Makhdum throws light on the majestic might and absolute authority of God in these words:
“His benevolence often sums up a man to partake his grace; at times He turns the Earth beneath the paws of a dog into collyrium for the eyes of the pious and the pure hearted. Sometimes He bestows an immoral fame on a dog by saying thus: ‘their dog stretching out his paws on the threshold’ (Q.XXIII:18); at times His wrath warns us that this is the place where the teacher of Angels worshipping Him for seven hundred thousand years was made accursed in the twinkling of an eye;
He calls for the idol-worshipper Umar to make him a bosom friend ; not seldom He turns away a Bal’am Baur endowed with Divine knowledge , from the temple and then ‘His likeness is as the likeness of a dog, if thou attackest him he paneth with his tongue out’ (Q.VII:176). At times He receives one with the most distinguished marks of honour, deputes a thousand angels of light to receive His guest and bestows on His friend treasures unbounded , but oftentimes he turns back the beggar empty handed; sometimes one is made to grace the Heaven of heavens, but often He allows not one to remain standing at His threshold. Knowledge and reason are dumbfounded here and saints and devotees are things of naught; here is the sally of ‘Doer of what He will,’ (Q.LXXXV:16) and the effulgence of the supreme power. He does whatever He wills and decides whatever He desires.” (Letter no.78)
Grace and mercy of God
Makhdum describes the might and lordly command of God so vividly that it makes one’s blood run cold. But, following in the footsteps of the Prophets of God who come not merely to threaten but also comfort and console lest the mankind gets frightened and loses its heart, he gives words to portray the tenderness and mercy of the creator with the same vigour and effectiveness.
If Makhdum tells his disciples, on one hand, how immeasurably and eternally exalted God is, in the totality of His omnipotent and omnipresent attributes, acknowledging no rule, standard, or limit , save His own sole and absolute will, to whom belongs the domain, and the excellency, and the power and the might; he also explains to them, on the other, the mercy, and the bounty, and the all compassing munificence of the Creator and Sustainer Who declares ‘My mercy embraceth all things,” (Q.VII:156), and consoles the afflicted with the revelation :”O My slaves who have been prodigal to their own heart ! Despair not of the mercy of Allah, Who forgiveth all sins. Lo! He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.”(Q.XXXIX:53).
In a letter Makhdum Yahya Maneri thus defines the Divine attribute of mercy:
“O my Brother, when the encircling wave of Allah’s mercy surges forth, it washes away all sins and vices of His slaves. Then all their failings turn into goodness for the vileness and baseness of man are transient while the mercy of god is enduring, eternal.
How can a thing fleeting and unenduring hold its own against that which is infinite and everlasting. Verily, the sole cheerful expectation of man, a speck of mortal dust , lies in the compassion of God. What else is there, besides the benevolence of God, to produce a glimmer of hope in man sunk in vice and corruption? How many demoralised and debased a soul is there whose face has been blackened by the infirmity of his own base desires and predilictions, but the harbringer of Divine mercy suddenly appears to announce that the eternal Dispenser conveys His greetings and desires to converse with thee.” (letter no.56)
Invitation to All
Makhdum held out hope to those whom he addressed his epistles , encouraged them to reform themselves and partake in the Divine bounty as if it were a repast for all and sundry, a free and public pothouse where everyone would go and slake his thirst. He told them that there was absolutely no question of anybody being turned back, denied and rejected, for the Eternal Beloved himself removes the Veil from the heart of a seeker after truth and draws him near.
Had it not been so, argues Makhdum, then how a created and contingent being, ignorant and transgressing, could approach that perfection of Beauty, free from every limitation and blemish for ‘Naught is as His likeness’. (Q.XLII:12)
Here is a letter in which Makhdum describes the unbounded bounty of God in words of lasting beauty.
“The doors of His generosity as wide open .It is a banquet for one and all. Hurry up, come and get it! Brother, how much of His bounty can a man take in, where as His unlimited bounty allows neither the rich nor the poor to remain deprived. The glorious lamp of heaven rises everyday, but the entire human race cannot grab a particle of its rays. Still, it lights up the palaces of kings and grandees as its shines upon the sheds and cribs of beggars. Never mind about man, the conglomeration of water and dust , but have your eyes fixed on the loving grace of God who says :’He loveth him who loves Him.’(Q.V:54) and He promises to reward His servants thus: ‘Your endeavor (upon earth) has found acceptance’(Q.LXXVI:21)
This is a distinction not enjoyed even by the angels. The heavenly hosts are nearer to God, impeccable, celestial and holy are ever engaged in the glorification of God but the blushing honour bestowed on man is something quite different.”
Makhdum invites attention towards the benignity, graciousness and clemency of God which is ever at the look out to do the highest possible good to offenders. He says that no matter how grievous one’s sins may be, a sincere repentance and complete turning away from the sin would let him pass without any resentment, blame or punishment. He cites the example of those irredeemable sinners who were pardoned by divine favour. in a trice, their sinfulness was changed into virtuousness and they became the fount where honour springs.
Makhdum reminds that howsoever numerous one’s besetting sins, faults and failings may be,the grace and mercy of God is limitless and embraces al things, great and small.
In a letter he shows the ways of Divine mercy.
“Howsoever sunk in corruption you might be, my brother, repent on your sins and become eligible for the grace of God.
You are not steeped in iniquity more than the wizards of pharaoh nor are you filthier than the dog of the companions of the cave; neither have you a heart more stony than the rocks of Mount Sinai nor are you more worthless than the Hunnanah.
(The log supporting the thatched roof of the Prophet’s mosque. The prophet used to lean on it while delivering the Friday sermons. After the pulpit was erected in the mosque and the Prophet began delivering sermons there from, the log was heard making a cracking sound as if wailing in separation)
A Negro is brought from Abyssinia to be sold a slave, but who can object if his master calls him Kafur.
(Camphor, meaning white. One,Kafur Akshidi, Abyssinian by race, was the ruler of Egypt. The famous Arab poet, Mutannabi, was his poet-laueate.)
When the angels said to the lord,”We do not have strength to vie with this man made of clay in spreading corruption on earth’; the Lord replied,”Reject him if we send him to your threshold; don’t purchase if We ever sell him to you. Do you fear that his corruption would exceed Our mercy or that his iniquity shall stain Our perfection? This is the lump of clay whom We have exalted and blessed with Our grace. What have We to lose by his vileness”.(Letter.no.2)
The sorrow for one’s sins with self-condemnation implies a change in conduct and helps in the upward ascent of spirit. The essential conditions for such a repentance have been explained in a letter by Makhdum quoted here.
“The Ba’it entails repentance over one’s sins expressed by the disciple before his spiritual guide. In the language of mystics this is called gardish or detour which signifies a change in the position of the person doing penance, for it btakes him from pollution to purity, from profanity to sanctity; if it turns the pantheon of his heart into a mosque; elevates him from a brute to a human being; transforms him from worthless dust to gold; takes him from darkness to light; and then , the glorious lamp of faith illuminates his heart and Islam or surrender to God guides him on the path of Divine gnosis”. (letter.No.29)
A considerable part of the letters of Shaikh Makhdum Yahya Maneri , exhibiting a masterly blend of vigour and flexibility, poetic emotion and matter-of-fact description, re-state the truth of human dignity, the richness and sublimity of human heart and the swift flight of spirit to its source attained through the dynamic love of man for the ultimate truth.
The poetic creations of Hakim sanai, Khwaja Farid-uddin Attar and Maulana Jalal ud-din Rumi have, undoubtedly , sung of the nobility of man,but, in Persian prose, the letters of Makhdum occupy a singular eminence by virtue of their style, the manner of presentation and the vivifying elements of confidence and trust in the worth and dignity of man. They sound a new note, inspire man with expectation and courage and open new vistas of vision to the lofty heights attainable by human spirit.
These racy and sparkling essays contradict the pessimistic view in regard to humanity unfortunately propagated by most of the then mystics through their misguided interpretation of Fana or annihilation of self. To these mystics the life of man was a valve of tears, another name of vain expectations from which one ought to seek refuge through total effacement of the self itself, which was lying and crafty, deceitful and fiendish.
The self of man had thus come to be regarded as the greatest stumbling block in the way of man’s spiritual development. Such a pessimistic view of humanity had shaken the faith of man in himself who, ashamed of his own existence, had begun to look upon the celestial beings as the shining examples or models of spiritual ascent.
He had forgotten that it was Adam, the progenitor of man, and not an angel, before whom these heavenly creatures had been made to bow down low.
It was to contradict these ill-conceived notions, to dispel this surrounding gloom, that Makhdum Yahya Maneri gave his clarion call to re-affirm man’s nobility and eminence, his deputyship of God and the love and confidence reposed in him by the Lord and creator of the universe. Makhdum repeatedly emphasized this point in his letters, in different ways and on different occasions, to restore confidence and hope in human destiny which incites man to construct new dreams and to aim for higher achievements.
Man,The Favourite of God
In a letter writes Makhdum:
“The creatures of God are many and varied, but none finds favour in the eyes of God like this clod of dust blended with water. When God willed to create man out of clay, whom He desired to crown with his vicegerancy, the angels said:’ Wilt Thou place therin one who will do harm therein and will shed blood? (Q.II:30).
The reply received by the angels was meant to convey that ardent love needs no advice, for love and precaution never get together. The reply given by God dropped the hint: of what use is your prayer and glorification, if not acceptable to Us? What is the harm done by sins if Our grace wipes out the slate clean ? We have already ordained :’Allah will change their evil deeds to good deeds.(Q.XXV:70).
‘Surely’, said God to the angels, ’You betake the right path while they can go astray but whenever We shall desire Our mercy shall unfold the path of virtue for them and blot out the signs of transgression from their faces! You very well know that We are the object of their passionate yearning, but what you do not know is that We also love them!
“A poet has correctly said:
Dear to One’s heart, when commits a mistake,
A thousand commendations his virtues make” (Letter no.36)
Trustees of Divine love
“Other sentient beings,” says Makhdum in another letter, “have hardly anything to do with love-divine, for they do not posses an aspiration so high and noble (as you do). You see the celestial beings treading always the same beaten track because the message of love is not meant for them. But, if man has a hard road to travel it is because he plunges into love, he ought to bid good-bye to his own self for love does not put up with anything save itself.
O love, thou hast made a drunkard of me,
Secure I was, rolling in the lap of luxury.
“when the star of Adam’s good fortune rose high, the entire universe was all a flutter; some complained that their prayers of countless years have been overlooked and a clod of earth exalted over them.
Then, came the reply: “Never mind the clay he is made of, cast your eyes upon the essence of love infused in him: for,’He loveth who love Him.’ (Q.V:54) This is Our command and his heart is glowing with the fervour of love.” (letter no.46)
In yet another letter Makhdum unfolds the romance of man’s glory in this manner.
“God created eighteen thousand worlds but each one of them remained indifferent to the yearning of love, nor did anyone of them ever try to get even a fraction of it; wherefore man alone could lay a claim to this wealth. All the other creations remained unblest with this glory. And this is why someone has said:
“Thou art highest of the high and lowest of the low;
Not a creation is there on even terms with Thee” (letter.no.59)
Purpose of creation
The distinction accorded to man, explains Makhdum, is because he is purport and aim of the creation of entire universe. For man is the center of all creations, the tender affection of love and devotion reflects his worthiness.
“This clod of earth is not less distinguished. Nor is Adam and his progeny less dignified, my brother. The Empyrean and the Throne, the Tablet and the Pen, the heaven and the earth were all created for his sake. As Shaikh Abu Ali has said God Nominated Adam as his deputy,(Q.II:30) Chose Ibrahim for his friend,(Q.IV:125) selected Musa for Himself (Q.XX:41) and announced the glad tidings of ‘He loveth who love Him,(Q.V:54) to the believers. Verily, the heart of man would have been listless and man himself like the rest of mute creation if this spiritual affinity had not been an indwelling attribute of his nature.”
Responsibility of Faith
The nobility and greatness of man and the distinction enjoyed by him is because he agreed to assume the Divine trust. The heavens and the earth and the hills shrank from bearing the Divine Trust but man, ignorant and transgressor, agreed to shoulder the burden although he was feeble and week. He was foolish enough to think that being no more than a speck of dust, he had nothing to lose if he was unable to prove equal to the Trust reposed in him.
To what lower depth could he be scaled down if he failed, so he thought. Endowed with courage and self-respect he is still exclaiming:”Is there any more to come.” (Q.L:30)
Makhdum throws light on the exalted position enjoyed by man over all other beings and creations in a letter in his forceful and impressive style
“Glorified is this lump of earth and high are his aspirations although humble and miserable he is in his composition. When the offer of Divine Trust was thundered forth, the celestial beings engaged in glorification of God for seven hundred thousand years and raising the slogan- ‘We hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee’- ‘refused to bear that burden’. (Q.XXXIII:72)
The sky prided in its lofty height; the earth pleaded that dust was its garment; the mountain made the plea that it stood as a watchman, firm and stable; the jewels expressed the fear of losing their lustre and brilliance; but, the ignorant speck of dust stretched forth its hands submissively and took the Divine trust to its heart. It feared not anything like the heavens and earth, for, what had the lowest of the low to lose in taking that risk. Anything debased and degraded, so it thought, is thrown in the dust, but how the dust can be put to shame?
It stepped ahead undaunted and undertook the burden unbearable to the seven heavens and earth and yelled with delight: ‘Is there any more to come?’ (letter.no.49)
Glory of the dust
Now listen to what Makhdum says about the glory of man.
“Never belittle the clod of dust and the drop of water that maketh a man, for whatever is there in the world comes out of the two; whatever you see here proceeds from earth and water; and whatever you find here besides these is a figment of your imagination.
As they say, the love took wings from its home of honour, saw the empyrean, sublime and exalted, and passed by it; crossed the throne, splendid and magnificent; forded the sky, elevated and towering; then it came down to the earth which was plunged in toil and trouble and descended to make its nest here”(letter.no.50)
A Gnostic poet has made an immortal verse of the same idea in these words:
Heaven or earth, what can suffice thy vastness?
My heart alone can accommodate Thy goodly precious..
In one of his letters Makhdum spells out the distinctive place occupied by man in the eyes of his creator.
“O brother, man has been specially favored by the lord. It is related that when the Angel of death is deputed to carry off the soul of any believer, he is instructed first to convey the greetings of God and then take his soul away. You would have read in the Qur’an that ‘the word from a merciful Lord (for them) is Peace’ (Q.XXXVI:58) on the Day of reckoning. In truth, there is no deity except Allah, the Everliving, and so is His word and His greeting. Had not the condescending favour of God been conferred on man on the day he wqs created, he would not have been accosted with salutation at his first meeting” (Letter.no.51)
Man, the confidante of Divine secrets
But, why has man been allowed to occupy the most distinguished place of honour? The reply given by Makhdum to this question is:
“Of all the beings inhabiting eighteen thousand worlds created by God, none was bestowed an ambition higher than that of man; no other being was told: ‘I have fashioned him and breathed into him of My spirit;(Q.XXXVIII:72) no apostle was raised from amongst any other creature; nor a book conferred on one; nor yet God sent His salutation on any of them. It was man alone whose ardent love made the pangs of separation unbearable for him and that is why his heart was allowed to subsist by the Essence of Divine beauty in this world and permitted to behold Him in the next. Man has nothing dearer to his heart than the love of God in this world and no other longing than to witness His radiant countenance unveiled in the world to come.
This is the lesson man has learnt from the Qur’anic verse:
‘The eye turned not aside nor yet was ever bold’ (Q.LIII:17) “ (letter.no.53)
Man, Superior to Angels
“it was assuredly much too precious,” writes Makhdum, “that made the angels prostate before man- the creature envied by heavens. Howsoever ignoble and earth-born a man may appearto be, he is so holy and consecrated in his essential nature that neither the celestial intelligence nor human reason is capable of plumbing his secrets. When the luster of his true being radiates, the angels are bewildered and the heavens dumbfounded. He is modest and meek yet others are terror-smitten with his awe.
If they essence, the angels were to behold;
Prostrating would they arrive at Thy threshold.” (letter.no.53).
The cognizant Heart
Makhdum maintains that the value, excellence and superiority of man springs from his heart which is the abode of invaluable wealth bestowed on him. In a letter he wrote of the human heart:
“The Lord created the empyrean and committed it to the care of heavenly hosts; fashioned the paradise and appointed Rizwan (name of the Angel guarding the paradise) to guard it; made the hell and deputed Malik (Angel guarding the Hell) but when He chiselled the heart of the believer, He came out with the announcement: ‘His heart is between the two fingers of the Most Merciful “(Letter.no.43)
Here is another letter written by Makhdum Yahya Maneri throwing light on the worth of this admirable gift of God.
“Had there been anything more worthy and precious than the heart of man, then God would have assuredly laid the jewel of gnosis in that. A tradition of the Prophet speaking of God’s will says:
‘Neither My heavens can contain Me nor My earth; but if anywhere there is room for Me, it is the heart of a beliver’.
Heavens are unable to store up the perfection of Divine knowledge and the earth is incapable of bearing its burden. Thus, the heart of a believer can alone bear this heavy charge. A stud could carry a man like Rustam but when the sun of Divine radiance shines over a mountain, than which there is nothing more massive and solidly pitched in the earth,’ it comes crashing down below’ (Q.VII:143)
But this very sun of eternal beauty shines day in and day out on the heart of the believer who raps out the cry: “is there anything more to come”(Q.L:30) and greedily seeks still more of it, to quench his unquenchable thirst”. (letter.no.38).
The broken –hearted
Whatever is broken into pieces becomes valueless, but a disconsolate and broken heart is the only exception; for, it becomes more precious in the eyes of its creator. Makhdum expounds this truth in these words:
“Ah brother, breakage renders everything worthless but a heart becomes more valuable if it is more melancholy and broken. Moses once whispered: ‘Where should I seek Thee.’ ‘With those’. Came the reply,’whose hearts are rent for my sake’.”(Letter.no.6)
Realm of love
The most precious wealth a heart possesses is love. A love that encompasses all the spheres and states and whose authority extends over this world as much as over the next. Makhdum vividly describes how love signifies the highest reach of mankind:
“Love enwraps the entire duration of time, the past, present and future. It encircles first and last, whence and whither. A Gnostic has said that this world as well as the world beyond are for preferring a demand. If someone asserts that the other world is not meant for demanding he is absolutely wrong. Certainly there would not be fasting and prayer in the world to come but one would beseech God for things still higher and nobler. On the Day of judgement the Law will be abrogated, no doubt,but the two things – Love for God and Praise of God – shall ever remain.” (Letter.no.46)
The letters of Hazrat Shaikh Sharaf ud-din Yahya Maneri shed light on some of the most intricate problems and highest manifestations of intuitive religious perception experienced by highly evolved and elevated, sensitive and self conscious souls. The Gnostic imagery and mystical truths vividly described at different places and in different contexts in these letters bear an eloquent testimony to the higher place of consciousness attained by Makhdum through prayer and penance and his researches into the inner content of religious experience as also his endeavour to combine speculative reason with the intuitive experience.
These indescribable truths given forms of expression by Makhdum so chant and evoke rapturous joy as a few poetical compositions or elegantly written tracts can claim to produce.
Unity of Manifestation
The writings of Makhdum contain certain concepts and doctrines which are generally believed to have been articulated a few centuries after him. One such mystical doctrine known as Unity of Manifestation (Wahdat -us-Shuhud), was propagated in the eleventh century of the Islamic era by Mujaddid Alf Thani to contradict the then prevalent concept of Unity of being (Wahdatul Wujood).
It is true that Mujaddid Alf Thani was par Excellence the greatest exponent of the doctrine of the Unity of manifestation but one is surprised to see that Makhdum Yahya Maneri too, had clearly delineated the fundamental position of this concept about two and a half centuries before it was revived by the Mujaddid.
Makhdum has explicitly stated in his letters, in the light of his personal religious experiences and intuitive knowledge, that was commonly known by Unity of being or annihilation of every created being in the Divine Essence was really no more than a state of eclipse of other beings and objects in the presence of Divine light exactly in the same way as the dim light of the stars is deprived of its brilliance before the luminous lamp of the Sun.
He succinctly describes the process by pointing out the extinction of any object is altogether different from its being invisible. He explains that the tenuity and evasiveness of the immanentist feeling deludes many an elevated soul in the ecstatic state of Divine effulgence unless grace of God and guidance of an illuminated teacher giver shoulder to lead him on the right path.
“The effulgence of Divine Essence is so manifested before the traveller of spirit that its radiance blots out every other object and being from his view. The tiny particles of dust are put out of sight in the light of the sun but it does not mean that these particles become extinct or get absorbed in the sun. what it actually means is that these minute atoms cover up their faces in shame before the luminous lamp of heaven. Man never becomes God for God is Exalted, Glorious and Great. Nor is ever a created being swallowed up, incorporated or united with the Divine Essence. Becoming extinct is quite different from being invisible. A Gnostic poet has lent articulation to this truth in these words.
For the Eternal One nothing is old or new;
All others are insignificant, He that He is.
“When you look into a mirror, you get absorbed in the reflection of your own self and forget the mirror: then you do not aver that the mirror has become extinct or that it has turned into your reflection or that your reflection has melted into mirror. This is the substance of annihilation in Divine Oneness which manifests itself in a like manner.
He talks funny who speaks of it, but does not know
To set a limit between one’s annihilation and his refulgent glow.
“This is the tenuous path where many have slipped. No traveller of spirit can forge ahead unless the grace of God and the guidance of an elevated mentor, who had himself waded through the billow’s rage of this furrowed sea, help him to find out his way.” (Letter.No.1)
Transformation of Attributes Alone
Here it might be contended that a lamp brought before the Sun loses its luster so completely that its existence becomes merely illusory; for, nothing can be existent and nonexistent both at one and the same time. Makhdum says that such a contention is not correct because the transformation undergone by the lamp is of attribute and not of essence. He writes in a letter:
“Some say that when the sun shines, the lamp practically loses its entity: the sun is then the only reality that exists. What is the use of a lamp, they say, which melts into nought , for its entity and light rest on an even keel. If anybody contends that the existence and non-existence are each other’s anti-thesis and the two cannot be found at one and the same time, then he ought to know that we are talking about the attributes and not about the essence. The essence does not undergo a change but the attribute does. The sun shines over a stream and warms its water. Its quality is changed not its nature; the rays of sun act on the attribute and not on the essence. There is no contradiction at all in it.” (Letter.no.86)
Upward Ascent of Spirit
The spiritual ascent of those who have attained the pinnacle remains, quite often, hidden from their companions and friends. The Prophets of God and such of the illuminated souls who have reached the stage of Acquaintance, are gifted with courage, endurance and a soaring ambition. They neither whirl nor shout, nor yet they work miracles or lay a claim to it. They always try to conceal their attainments from the public gaze.
Makhdum writes in a letter that the higher is this upward progress of spirit, the less it is noticed by the people around the mystic.
“The faster the speed, the more its movement becomes imperceptible. Don’t you see that when the stone of the windmill gains speed, it appears that the mill is not working. Somebody asked Shaikh Junaid Baghdadi : ‘Why don’t you stir during the musical recitations?’ in reply he recited the verse from the Qur’an : ‘And (O man), thou shalt see the mountains, which thou thinkest are fixed firmly, shall float (in the air) even as clouds. (Q.XXVII:88).
You cannot see swift speed. When it goes ahead at full speed, it cannot be seen. Often the Zephyr moves so gently that nobody notices its speed.” (Letter.no.4)
Control of Carnal Desires
The development of character and spirit, according to some, depends on complete extinction of carnal desires. This, says Makhdum, is not correct. He holds that the aim should not be to stamp out the desires of flesh but to put bridle on them.
Imam Ghazali too has explained in Ihya –ul-Uloom, that the reformation of a man does not require complete suppression of vices like anger, malice etc. but in subduing these natural propensities and holding them in leash. Makhdum’s treatment of the subject is inspiring and creates a profound impression on the readers.
He writes in a letter:
“He is an ignoramus and dotard who considers that the Shar’iah demands smothering of carnal appetites and natural instincts of man. He has not given thought to what the Prophet said:
‘Iam a man and sometimes I get angry.’ Sometimes his indignation became apparent on his face. That is why God loves those who ‘control their wrath’ (Q.III:134) and not those who do not posses that emotion at all. How can the Shar’iah demand extinction of sexual desire when the Prophet contracted nine marriages. If someone has lost his sex- urge, he ought to take medical treatment so that this natural instinct is restored.
For the loving care of one’s family memers and children, anger over the enemies of God in fighting against them and preservation and propagation of one’s race, spring from the natural instincts man posses, even the apostles of God have shown eagerness for these. They longed to have their line of progeny unbroken. The Shar’iah only demads that these instincts should be kept under strict commands of the law. A hunter needs a steed and a well trained dog which go after the chase on his bidding.
That horse, if untrained, will throw away the rider and the wild dog will pounce at him. It is thus essential that the horse and the dog should be well-trained for hunting. So are the instincts of sex and anger needed for capturing the hereafter. But, your aids should be under your control ; for if they gain a control over you, your ruin is inevitable. That is why Prayer and penance seek to bring these under one’s command” (Letter.no.40)
The Idol of miracles
It has been stated elsewhere that the working of miracles by the saints had become so popular during the time of Makhdum that it had come to be regarded as an indisputable evidence of one’s piety and sainthood. However, Makhdum maintained that indulgence of certain mystics in preternatural acts constituted a veil and signified their interest in objects other than those leading to Divine propinquity. It was also an idol, in his view, which required to be rejected and given up altogather, if need be, for the health of soul.
“The working of miracles”, writes Makhdum in a letter, “is nothing short of idolatry. The unbelievers worshipping idols deny the overlordship of God but no sooner do they give them up and make a public announcement of their rejection of idols, they turn into His friends. So is the miraculous power wielded by the Gnostic: his journey of spirit gets beclouded and suspended if he is satisfied with wonder working; but, if he gives up he is elevated and rewarded with nearness. As a Gnostic poet has said:
Their gaze fixed on the heaven, the pious are;
Smacking their lips in the lock-up, the lovers are.
His mercy is for all, noble and laity, good and bad,
Bold and intrepid one has to be, to bear his wrath.
“This is the reason why when God bestows miraculous powers on an elevated soul, he becomes more God-fearing and humble. He becomes unpretentious, meek and yielding and inculcates a greater awe of God.”
Ill-disposed Miraculous Powers
“It is possible,” says Makhdum, “that secret truths revealed to certain God-moved souls through Divine grace or penetrating intellect or prognostication of coming events may be denied to some men of God, but that does not signify any defect in the eminence of spiritual attainment of the latter group.
Defect or fault lies in deviation from the right path. The secrets revealed to the blessed ones increase their faith, strengthen their virtues and morals and lead them to glorification of the Lord.
But if such preternatural powers are enjoyed by a man who transgresses the injunctions of the Shar’iah, then, in very truth, they become the means of leading him afar from the path of virtue. He is then deluded and befooled for he begins to regard others as his inferiors and underlings. At times he even forsakes islam and starts denying the limits set by God for the permissible and prohibited, lawful and unlawful. He begins to consider recollection of God as the only way of His glorification and disregards the way of the Prophet , and this ultimately leads him to infidelity and apostasy” (Letter.no.96)
Explaining the merits of social service Makhdum writes in a letter:
“Rendering social service is highly meritorious for the seeker after truth, for it helps to inculcate those virtues which cannot be produced by any other forms of litany and prayer. It deadens the lover of self, expels pride and vanity, produces modesty and humbleness, beautifies the morals, teaches one to follow the Prophet (saw) and that of the blessed mystics, elevates the spirit and illuminates his ego from within and without.
These are the ennobling gifts of service. Once a seer was asked:
‘How many ways are there to attain the fellowship of God?’. ‘As many as the atoms this world contains’, replied He, ‘but none more straight and easier than consoling the broken hearted. I have attained God through this way and I bid my followers to do the same.’ There are others, too, whose devotions to God attain a higher virtue because of their selfless service to their fellow beings.” (Letter.no.71)
Criterion for Self-purification
The criterion for self-purification prescribed by the mystics is sufficiently high. In fact, it is so high that one can never be sure whether all vestiges of self-conceit, earthly desires and sex appetite have been completely eradicated from one’s self. One can never confidently claim to have reached that stage of self-purification where one’s spiritual ascent takes wing unfettered by his base desires. However, in Makhdum’s view, a man reaches the desired stage of self-purification when he gives up acting according to his own predilections and wishes and begins to pursue, in all seriousness, the path chalked out by the Shar’iah.
In the letter quoted here Makhdum sets forth the essential requisites for self-purification.
“My brother, the self of man is deceitful and treacherous. It always boasts and brags and makes false claims. It always advertises that it has put a bridle on its cravings and appetites, but it ought to be asked to furnish the proof of its claim.
And the only evidence sufficing to establish its claim is that it does not take a step of its own but acts according to the injunctions of Shar’iah, but if it avails of the leave or interprets the law to suit its longings, it is assuredly a blasted slave of its desires.
If it is a helot of anger, it is a dog in the garb of man; if it is a serf of its appetite, it is a beast; if it is a captive of its despicable desires, it is a greedy hog; if it is enthralled by style and taste, it is effeminate. But the man who adorns his self with the compliance of Shar’iah, puts it to test from time to time, gives the reins of his desires in the hands of the law and moulds himself in its cast, then alone can he claim to have gained control over his Self, its propensities and inclinations.
To that end only prudent and sagacious men, enlightened with the core of truth, bridle their Self with the chains of righteousness and fear of God”. (letter.no. 96)
Defense of faith
It was undoubtedly a great achievement of Shaikh Sharaf uddin Yahya Maneri that he guided a large number of people on the path of God, purified and animated their spirits, created a longing in their hearts for attaining the knowledge of Divine Being, lit the flame of Love-Divine in them and expounded the intricate and subtle realities of intuitive experience in an elegant, moving and heart-warming diction like other great reformers and renovators of the faith.
But this was not all. He protected the purity of faith as earlier revivalists and defenders of faith had done, against the antinomian tendencies and pantheistic monism imported by misguided sufi cults which eluded every effort to tie them down by the classifications and definitions of the Shari’ah. He also endeavored to eradicate the influence of Batinite and philosophical concepts imbibed and propagated through neo-Paltonist pursuits of religious experience .
In a country like India, where the people did not have a direct access to the Divine revelation and Traditions of the Prophet , the rapidly growing popularity of the heterodox belief and practices had sharpened the conflict between them and the sound and puritanical faith of Islam.
Makhdum’s letters refuted, in a peculiarly vivid and direct way , this incredible confusion, multiplicity, and often absurdity of ideas. He fell back on scripture and and the Sunnah and rejected all intellectual constructions and intuitive subtleties which came in conflict with the authorized interpretation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
He also balanced and corrected the intuitive imagination and mystical experience of his time by accommodating these in the framework of fundamental religious attitudes. This was made possible solely because of his own spiritual insight gained through personal ecstatic experiences and illuminations which made him not only an exponent of mysticism but also an authority on the subject whose interpretations and experiences could not be brushed aside by other mystics.
Prophethood and Sainthood
An erratic concept prevalent for quite a long time among the then mystics was that sainthood occupies a place more exalted and sublime than Prophethood: the saints being always attracted to divine perfection severed all relationship with the world and sentient beings around them while the prophet’s mission being to propagate and expound the revealed truth, the latter had, very often, to remain in contact with their fellow beings.
And, since, the fellowship of God was a task more consecrated than the fellowship of human beings, the saints held a more elevated and hollowed place than the Prophets did. Some other mystics, however, made a distinction between the two states of prophets when they were absorbed in Divine propinquity and when they were busy disseminating the divine message among their fellow beings, and thereby concluded that the prophets in their former occupation enjoyed a higher position than when they performed the function of their ministry.
Even this view signified an inferior position of prophethood and its mission by assigning a more exalted status to the engrossment in Divine being, the chief pursuit of saints.
Thus, however interpreted, this blasphemous proposition was derogatory to prophethood and involved impairment of that exalted office besides paving the way to agnostic and irreligious way of thinking.
With characteristic vividness and vigour of his writings and discourses, Makhdum Yahya Maneri set in to give the lie to the nonconformist belief of the mystics and established through his clear and logical reasoning, that the prophethood, in all its states and stages, was infinitely higher than sainthood.
He demonstrated that the shortest span of prophetic existence, a single breath of any prophet, was decidedly more blessed and sacred than a whole life-time spent in the state of saintliness. The arguments brought forth by Makhdum to clinch his point were drawn more from the higher reaches of his ecstatic illuminations than cold and logical formulations of discursive reason.
Makhdum writes in reply to a letter wherein Shams ud-din had sought a clarification in regard to the position of prophethood.
” Shams ud-din, my dear brother, you ought to know that there is a consensus of opinion among all the mystics treading the path of spirituality that the saints, in all states and stations, are subordinate to the prophets who are always superior to the saints. What is incumbent on the saints to translate into action is guidance vouchsafed by the apostles of God.
All the prophets are saints, but no saint can claim the honour of being a prophet.
There is not the least difference of opinion in this regard among the doctors of divinity bearing allegiance to the way of Ahl-i-Sunnat Wal- Jama’at. A sect among the renegades, however, claims that the saints surpass the prophets on the ground that that the latter are ever engrossed in effulgence of the Transcendent Being while the prophets are busy ever and anon in the pursuit of their mission of preaching the message of God to the human beings.
Thus, they argue that a man who is totally effaced and lost in beholding the Beauty of the lord takes precedence over one who seldom engages his mind in contemplating the presence of God. Another group which venerates the saints and claims to be their followers goes even further to assert that the saints are higher up than the prophets for the reason that former are initiated into the divine mysteries whereas the latter have access only to the knowledge revealed to them.
They infer from it that the saints are acquainted with the secrets not known to the prophets. They avouch that the saints have intuitive knowledge not possessed by the prophets…”
” They draw this interference from the story of Musa and Khidr and assert that Khidr (AS)was a saint and Musa (AS) a Prophet, who got revelations from the Lord. The latter was unable to fathom the secret of any mysterious event unless a revelation descended from on high. But, Khidr, the saint, endowed with intuitive knowledge could immediately plumb the secret of every mystery in as much as Musa (AS) had to submit himself as a disciple of Khidhr(AS).
This, they say, clearly proves their point, for, a disciple is always an underlining of the mentor…but one should never lose sight of the fact that all the precursors of righteous path of religion, on whom reliance can be placed, have vehemently protested against such sacrilegious creeds and ideas.
They have never accepted this profane doctrine that any saint can ever excel or even be a match to a prophet of God. As for the story of Musa (as) and Khidhr(AS), the latter was granted a momentary primacy by virtue of his intuitive knowledge on a particular occasion while Moses enjoyed an enduring paramountcy and as you know, abiding supremacy cannot be overshadowed by a passing pre-eminence.
Take Mariam (AS) , for instance, who was granted a temporary ascendancy over other women because of the birth of her child without being touched by a man, but this temporary advantage could not eclipse the perdurable superiority of Ayesha and Fatima and their illimitable supremacy over all women for all times to come.
Hark ye ! my brother, the entire life spent in litanies and prayers , transports and illuminations by all saints of all times shall come short of a step taken by a prophet.
What saints endeavor to achieve through penance and devotion, flight of spirit and diving into the treasure of Divine mysteries; that knowledge is attained by the prophets straight away. They are charged with the responsibilities of their apostolic ministry after being illuminated by the lamp of sanctity and that is the reason why they are able to awaken the zeal of God in thousands of their followers.”
“Hence, a breath of the prophets outweighs the entire life of saints. The saints are able to cast off their humanly veil and speak of the secrets of spiritual existence only after attaining the highest degree of sanctity but they still remain under the shadow of the weakness human flesh is heir to; but the prophets on the other hand, find the secrets of nature unveiled before them on the very first step of ministry.
The last lap of the saints is the starting point of the prophets or, to be truthful, even the destination of saints cannot compare with the outstart of the prophets.
Once someone asked Khwaja Bayezid al-Bistami: ‘what do you say about the life of the prophets?’.
‘Heaven forbid!’, he replied ‘we can never gain entrance in their realm.’
They way the stations and stages of sainthood remain hidden from the eye of uninitiated masses, the exalted reaches of prophethood are beyond the imaginative flight of the saints. Prophets take to strides while saints stroll : one rides the skies while the other creeps on the earth.
In clarity and purity of spirit, virtue and sanctity, the entire bodily frame of the prophets is like the head and heart of the saints, intoxicated with the love of God. There is thus a great difference between men who have found entrance to the place which, for others, is the goal of their heart’s yearning.” (Letter.no.20)
Paramountcy of Shari’ah
Another indecorous thinking that had gained popularity among certain mystics of the day was that the established religious institution could be brushed aside by them, for, according to them, one needs to follow the commandments of the Shari’ah up to a certain stage; but when he reaches the stage of acquaintance and attains the fellowship of Divine Essence, he could reject the demand for external conformity to the shari’ah. The wide diffusion of this erratic idea had given reins to many illiterate and misguided mystics who, acting as impious ministers of evil, were spreading infidelity and irreligiousness among the superstitious masses.
Even certain educated persons had started citing the Qur’anic verse: ‘And worship thy Lord until there cometh death’. to support this contention.
(Q.XV:99 –almost all the eminent commentators of the Qur’an hold the view that the word Yaqin, in Arabic means death in this verse while certain mystics interpreted the word to mean spiritual enlightenment)
They argued that the shar’iah need be followed in letter and spirit until one attains the stage of certitude of the transcendental truth, but once one reaches that stage the chains of law fall to pieces for him. Makhdum Yahya Maneri raised his voice in defense of the authentic religious view and demonstrated the fallacy of the antinomian practitioners of Sufism.
He set forth arguments to show that whatever stage or station may be attained by a traveler of spirit, he has to follow the rules of Shari’ah to the end of his life’s journey, for they are never suspended or superseded by the elevation of the spirit.
The following quotation from one of his letters will show that Makhdum severely taxed those who opposed the authority of the established religious institution finding expression in the laws of the Shari’ah.
“Brother Shams udd-din ought to be aware of the subtle ways of the Devil who sometimes makes the mystics believe that the object of renouncing sin is to weaken the natural human desires and inclinations so that the remembrance of God overcomes them and cleanses the heart of its impurities.
The whole endeavor is meant, the Devil tells them, to attain the perfection of Divine Knowledge , and so is also the shari’ah a means to arrive at the same goal. Thus, if a man already reaches that destination, what has he to do with the luggage and means of transport.
The prescribed forms of liturgical service would then become a veil for him. one already beholding Eternal beauty needs no prostrations, devotions and orisons as these are the aids for attuning the strings of one’s heart with the melody of Divine Essence. They claim that they find themselves engulfed by celestial glory and the reign of spirit – But, in truth and reality, they give expression to what Satan had felt when he was asked to prostrate before Adam.
Being aware of his station he thought that nothing would he gain by bending low before a being lower than him. God has not referred to this story as a myth or fable but to serve as a warning for those who are given to the ruses of Satan.
God wanted to tell them that nobody should dare flout His law. Verily, the precursors of faith have correctly emphasized that the path chalked out by the shari’ah is the only way to attain the fellowship of God.
“Here Satan has kept an important point concealed from the view of this misguided group. He has persuaded them to believe that the only purpose of Shari’ah is to attain proximity of the lord. But this is wrong for the Shari’ahis meant for a lot more than that.
Take for instance , the prayers prescribed for five times a day; these are the five poles supporting a canopy of human perfection; if the poles are taken away, the canopy will fall to the ground as Iblis himself fell from his exalted postion.
Now, if you want to know how the prayers lend their support to make a man virtuous ; My brother, this something beyond your limited intellect to conceive.
These are the properties or characteristic qualities of medicines or other substances, or the attracting power of the magnet but nobody can find out the reason why these properties have been embedded in these substances”
The Practical wisdom of the Shar’iah, utility of its practical functioning and the way it guards and enhances the faith and moral virtues of the believer and links his spirit to the Divine Essence has been set out by Makhdum Yahya Maneri in one of his letters.
He shows through an allegory how disregard for the rules of the Shar’iah leads a man to the destruction wrought by the devil within him.
“Suppose a man constructed a palatial house on the top of a hill and provided every means of comfort within it. When the time came to quit this world, he bade his son to make alterations he might desire in the house, but to leave untouched an aromatic grass planted by him in a portion of the courtyard even if the grass became dry.
When spring came, the hill and the vales wore the look of emerald green, flowers of numerous varieties blossomed forth and filled the air with their fragrance and the sweet smell of the old grass was overcome by redolent smells.
The boy thought that his father had planted that old spicy grass merely for fragrance and therefore it was no use to let it be there anymore. He, therefore, ordered his servants to pick out the grass.
But when the grass was thrown away, a black serpent came out of a hole and bit the boy. The aromatic grass planted by his father had two properties, first, to keep the house filled with aroma, and, secondly, to keep away the snakes.
It had an antipathic smell to the reptiles. The boy was so proud of his knowledge that he considered everything not known to him to be non existent. Being ignorant of the Divine revelation that ‘of knowledge ye have been vouchsafed but little’ (Q.XVII:85), the poor fellow was brought to ruin.
Similar is the case with those misinformed mystics who think that the wisdom and secrets of the Shar’iah laid open to them are all that is worth knowing about it. This is a great mistake they have made like many other travelers of spirit who have fallen prey to this fatal belief.
They had thought that the Shar’iah had only one objective and thus they could never think of its other aims and designs which were more important for attaining the best ends.
They could never conceive that if the Shar’iah intended to achieve only the end they had in view, then why the Prophet spent his nights standing in prayer until his feet used to swell up.
The Prophet never said that the prayer was incumbent on his followers but he was exempt from it.”