Al-Qutb al-Maktum Mawlana Abul Abbas Tijani
In the history of Islam, there are numerous Sufi types. The universality of Sufi tradition balks at any attempt to reduce it to a signal, controllable pattern. Over the last centuries of the time, however, there has emerged a unique type of Sufi Shaykh who embodies in his person all the ranks of saints, all the secrets of saints, all the meanings of saints; for he is himself their seal whose feet are above their necks, for he is himself the cosmos that supplies them over the whole span of the history of the world. As the Holy Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) knew that he was a prophet when Adam was between water and clay, this Sufi knew he was a saint when Adam was between water and clay. This Sufi is characterised by spiritual sobriety that excludes all splendour and singularity. While his mind is fixed on the Mohammedian Essence, he affirms the obsolete validity of the shari'a and the four madhabs of Islam. It is this Sufism that gathers all the good traits of other Sufi paths. It is this Sufism that does stand alone with what is specially endowed to its adherents. That is the kind of Sufism that characterises the founder of the Tijaniya, who exercised a tremendous influence on the world around him and, through his order, on the history of Islam.
He is the Seal of Saints (Khatim al-Awliya), the Hidden Pole (al-Qutb al-Maktum), the Sealed Isthmus (al-Barzakh al-Makhtum; i.e. the one who is the intermediary between the Prophets and the saints, so that not one of the saints, whether his importance is great or small, can receive an overflow from the presence of a Prophet except through his mediation, since that saint is not conscious of what is involved), the Archetype of Salvation, the Hope of Every Seeker, the Bridegroom of the Universe, the Possessor of Solicitude and Power, the Viceregent of God on Earth, the One Who Has Arisen, the Disposer of Affairs, the Exemplar of All Times, the Supreme Paradigm, the Symbol of the Light, the Autonomous Succour, the Mirror of God, the Mohammedian Seal, the Lord Imam, the Glory of Knowers, the Chieftain of the Sages, the Imam of the Champions of Truth, the Supporter of the Poles and the Helpers, the Doctor of Rapture, the Renewer of the Sufi Path after its Occultation, the Initiator of the Reality Sciences after its Light's Decline, the Unique in His Time in Esoteric and Rhetoric Sciences, the Unique Being with Two Sublime Spiritual and Bodily Lineages: the Two Upper Angelic and Royal Sainthood, the Patron Saint of Fez, the Phoenix of Morocco, the Descendent of the Noble Sharifian Saints, the Hassanid Sharif, Sidna Shaykh, Mawlana Abul Abbas Ahmed ibn Mohammed ibn Salim Tijani al-Fasi al-Maghribi, may Allah sanctify his soul and benefit us from his sciences and secrets.
The greater part of the life and teaching of Sidna Shaykh is drawn from two primary hagiographical works: Kitab Jawahir al-ma'ani wa-bulugh al-amani fi fayd Sidi Abil al-Abbas at-Tijani (Gems of Indications and Attainment of Aspirations in the Overflowings of Sidi Abil Abbas Tijani) by Sidi Ali Harazem Berrada (d. 1212/1797), and Kitab al-Jami’a li-ma f-taraqa mina-l ‘ulumn (The Absolute in What Has Separated from the Sciences) by Sidi Mohammed ibn al-Mishri Sibai Hassani Idrissi (d. 1224/1809). Later hagiographies tend to be works of compilation drawn from these two primary sources: Kitab Rima'h al-Hizb al Rahim ala Nuhur Hizb ar-Rajim (The Spears of the League of the Merciful thrown at the Necks of the League of the Accursed) by Sidi Omar ibn Said al-Futi (d. 1279/1864), Kitab Bughyat al-mustafid li-shar'h minyat al-murid (Aspiration of the Beneficiary in Commenting the 'Demise of the Disciple') of Sidi Mohammed ibn al-Arbi Sayeh (d. 1309/1894), last but not least, Kitab Kashf al-Hijab 'amman talaaqa bi-Shaykh Tijani mina-l As'hab (Rising the Veil of the Companions who encountered with Shaykh Tijani) by Sidi Ahmed ibn al-'Iyyashi Skirej al-Fasi (d. 1366/1940). Although most of what we know about Sidna Shaykh comes from these books much of his life and career rely either on direct testimony from the Shaykh himself to Ali Harazem and Ibn al-Mishri or authentic oral tradition.
Sidna Shaykh was born in 1150/1735 in the blessed town of Ain Madhi in the Eastern Sahara; a Moroccan territory today under Algerian control. Ain Madhi (literally, 'Spring of the Past') is located in Western-central Algeria about 30 miles from the city of Laghuat (al-Aghwat). Three generations before the birth of Sidna Shaykh, his grandfather Sidi Mohammed ibn Salim; a righteous saint from the Atlantic town of Asfi, Morocco moved to Ain Madhi and settled among the clan of Tijana. He got married from them and thus gained the nickname of 'Tijani', a surname that permanently passed on to his descendents. Sidna Shaykh became an orphan at the age of 15 when he applied himself to his studies. Having learned the Quran by heart at the early age of 7 according to its own interpretation (bi tafsirihi), he studied the fundamentals of Maliki jurisprudence and texts like the Mukhtasar of Khalil, the Risala of al-Qushayri (d. 467/1052), the Akhdari (d. 953/1538) in logic, the Muqaddima of Ibn Rushd, the Mudawwana of Sahnun ("Abdessalam ibn Said Tanukhi Qayrawani," d. 240/854) with local righteous scholars, such as Sidi Mohammed ibn Hammu Tijani, Sidi Aissa Bouakkaz Tijani, and Sidi Ibn Bouafiya Tijani.
In 1171/1756, at the age of 21, during the reign of the Sultan Mawlana Mohammed ibn Abdellah (d. 1204/1789), an intellectual who wrote several books on Quranic commentary and Tradition ruling Morocco from 1757 to 1789, Sidna Shaykh entered al-Qarawiyyine University of Fez and studied in particular the books on the Tradition of the Prophet (al-'Hadith Nabawi Sharif) such al-Bukhari and Muslim. Meanwhile Sidna Shaykh busied himself with meeting Sufi teachers. He first met the head of Shadhilite Wazzaniya order Shaykh Sidi Tayyeb ibn Mohammed Wazzani (d. 1181/1766). He also met the head of Shadhilite Fasiya order Shaykh Sidi Abdellah ibn Shaykh Sidi al-Arbi ibn Shaykh Sidi Ahmed ibn Shaykh Sidi Abdellah Ma'in al-Andalusi (d. 1188/1778). Sidna Shaykh also took the Qadiriya while in Fez, then he left it after a while; he then took the Nasiriya (after Sidi Mhammed Ben Nasir Dar'i; d. 1085/1694) from Sidi Mohammed ibn Abdullah Tazzani called “ar-Rif”, then left it; then he took the Shadhilite Ghumariya (after Sidi Ahmed ibn Abdelmoumin Ghumari Hassani; d. 1262/1847), first from a student, then in a dream from its founder, then he left it. He also took from the saint of Taza Shaykh Sidi Abul Abbas Ahmed Tawwash (d. 1206/1791) who counselled him to seek seclusion (khalwa) and invocation (dhikr), but Sidna Shaykh refused. He finally met with Sidi Mohammed ibn al-Hassan al-Wanjali Zabibi (d. 1185/1770), who told him when he first saw him and before he talked to him: "You will attain the rank (maqam) of the Great Qutb Sidi Abul Hassan Shadhili (d.Sidna Shaykh did not stay in Fez long and soon returned to Ain Mahdi. He then went to another Saharan centre known as 'Sidi Shaykh', where lies the shrine of the Shadhilite mystic Sidi Abdellqadir Smahi (d. 1025/1610), and stayed there retreating for five years. Sidna Shaykh in the following years travelled back and fourth between the desert recluses and towns of the region, e.g. Tlemcen. There seems to be a pattern in Sidna Shaykh's travels, in that he went to the desert to meditate, while in the towns he took exoteric, non-mystical knowledge from the acknowledged masters and in the traditional manner. In 1186/1771, Sidna Shaykh travelled to Mecca for pilgrimage. On his journey to the East, Sidna Shaykh was keen to met the noted Sufi Shaykhs of the time -just like he did in the Maghreb. One was the Algerian master, the Idrissid Sharif, Sidi Mohammed ibn Abderrahman Azharri (d. 1208/1793), from whom the Rahmaniya Order came. Sidna Shaykh took the Khalwatiya from him and was reinitiated into it by the leading teacher in Cairo, Sidi Mahmoud al-Kurdi al-Iraqi al-Misri (d. 1186/1771)—another teacher of the Fasite Sidi Abul Mawahib Abdelwahhab Tazi (d. 1198/1783; direct heir of Moulay Abdellaziz ibn Masoud Debbarh on whom Kitab al-Ibriz was written; d. 1132/1717).
Sidi Mahmud al-Kurdi granted Sidna Shaykh a full ijaza (license) to teach the Khalwatiya tariqa. From Egypt, Sidi Ahmed left to Mecca. There he heard of Sidi Ahmed ibn Abdellah al-Hindi (d. 1187/1773); student of the venerated Shahdilite master Sidi Ahmed ibn Mhammed Ben Nasir Dar'i (d. 1129/1714; buried in the Tal'a District, Fez). Sidi Ahmed ibn Abdellah had no permission to meet any body, but in spite of that, Sidna Shaykh received from him special knowledge, through a special envoy, without meeting with him. He foretold Sidna Shaykh about what he was destined to, and gave him good tidings that he will inherit all his secrets, endowments, cognition, and illuminations. He also told him that he would meet the Qutb Sidi Mohammed ibn Abdelkarim Samman (d. 1189/1774) in Medina, and gave him glad tidings that he would attain the status of Sidi Abul Hassan Shadhili (d. 656/1241), as he had been foretold before by Sidi Mohammed Wanjali of Fez.
Soon after Sidna Shaykh met with Sidi Mohammed Samman. The latter was the guardian of the Prophet's grave (peace and blessing be upon him) and the author of several Sufi works but it was especially as the founder of a new order that he became influential. He combined the Qadiriya, the Naqshabandiya, the Nasiriya with the Khalwatiya (through Sidi Mustapha ibn Kamluddin al-Bakri ; 1154/1739 -who is himself the teacher of Sqalli, Azharri, and al-Kurdi). This combination became known as the Sammaniya. Sidi Mohammed Samman gave special permission to Sidi Ahmed Tijani in all the Beautiful Names of Allah (al-Asma' al-'Husna), the Ahzab of Sidi Abul Hassan Shadhili (d. 656/1241), the Wadhifa of Shaykh Zarruq (d. 899/1484), Dalail al-Khayrat and al-Dur al-’Ala. He told Sidna Shaykh that he is the Grand Magnate (al-Qutb al-Jami') and gave him good tidings that he will realize his aspiration and obtain the "Absolute General Authorization" (al-Qutbaniya al-Jami'a al-'Udhma).
When Sidna Shaykh returned to the Maghreb, he again went to the desert, to a place called Bu Samghun, a Saharan oasis located south of Geryville, perhaps under compulsion from the Turkish authorities. In 1191/1776 he made his second trip to Fez from Tlemcen, with the intention of visiting the Baraka of Fez Mawlana Idriss ibn Idriss (d. 213/798). He met, during this trip, with the Idrissid scholar, Sidi Mohammed ibn al-Mishri Sibai al-Hassani of Takrat (d. 1224/1809). Since then, Sidi Mohammed al-Mishri, leaded the prayers for Shaykh Tijani, and wrote the answers on his behalf until 1208/1793; the year that Sidna Shaykh started himself to lead the prayers, in compliance with the instruction of his grandfather the Holy Prophet Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him). In the Moroccan city of Oujda (Wajda), while returning back to Fez, he met, for the first time, Sidi Ali Harazem Berrada, who accompanied him to Fez. During this meeting, he authorized him in the Khalwatiya and confided him with special knowledge and foretold him of what would be of him in revelation and strengthening.
After visiting the shrine of Moulay Idriss al-Azhar (d. 213/798), Sidna Shaykh went back to Tlemcen and then departed to Qasr Shallala and Bu Samghun. In Bu Samghun, in 1197/1782, Sidna Shaykh announced that the Holy Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) has authorised him in a daylight vision (yaqadatan; while he was awake) to establish his own order, Tariqa Ahmediya-Mohammediya-Ibrahimiya-Hanifiya-Tijaniya. The Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) gave him permission to initiate during a period when Sidna Shaykh had fled from contact with people in order to devote himself to his personal development. He told him (peace and blessing be upon him) that he was to take Sufism directly from him—hence the name—and not use any of the chains of authority of teacher-to-disciple that were the main stay of all the Sufi orders,
You owe no favour to any of the Shaykhs of the path, for I am myself your medium and provider in every truth. Abandon all that you have taken from all other tariqas and hold fast to this tariqa without seclusion (khalwa), or retirement from people ('uzla), until you reach your promised maqam, and you are as you are, without hardship, difficulty, or strive, and abdicate all the saints.
The Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) had furthermore assigned to him the obligatory wird (litany) which he has to transmit in general and unstrictly to any seeker who asks for it and accepts to abide by its conditions; a 100 of Astaghfirou Allah" (I seek Allah’s forgiveness) and a 100 of prayers upon the Prophet with any version, preferably with so-called Salat al-Fatih (Sidna Shaykh said, “The lives of all the people have been spent in futility, except the lives of the practisers of Salat al Fatih, for they have gained both worldly and Otherworldly profit.”) By 1200/1785 the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) completed to him the wird by adding a 100 of Haylala (“la-ilaha illa’Allah”; There is no God but Allah). The born-global Tijaniya was widely accepted almost immediately after its birth. Sidna Shaykh became so reputed that great masses of people started visiting him to take his wird, to be affiliated with him, and get more of what he gives them in sense and meaning.
Sidna Shaykh stayed in Bu Samghun for about fifteenth years. In 1211/1796, he entered the holy city of Fez, marking the real beginning of his Tariqa. There Sidna Shaykh was well received by the Sultan Moulay Slimane (d. 1238/1823). One year after his entrance to Fez on the Mu'harram of 1212 /1797, Sidna Shaykh attained the "Absolute General Authorization" (maqam al-qutbaniya al-jami'a al-'udhma) he longingly sought. One month and few days later Sidna Shaykh declared that the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) appeared to him in daylight and had him informed that he is the "Concealed Pole” (al-Qutb al-Maktum). This holder of this status is widely known in Sufi literature as the Khatim al-Awliya (the Seal of Sainthood). In the chronicle he called Khatim al-Awliya, al-Hakim Tirmidhi (d. 320/905) informs us the Khatim al-Awliya is the person, “upon whom the leadership (imama) of the saints is incumbent, who bears in his hand the Banner of the saints, and whose intercession all the saints have need of, just as prophets have need of Prophet Sidna Mohammed”. Tirmidhi continues that that authority of the Khatim al-Awliya even extends to the eschatological realm. On the Day of Judgment he will come forth as the proof of the saints just as the Seal of Prophets Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him) will come forth as the proof of the prophets. Indeed, Sidna Shaykh said to his companions in Fez, "'When Allah assembles His creatures at the place of standing, a herald will proclaim at the top of his voice, so that everyone at the place of standing will hear him: "O people of the final congregation, this is your Imam, from whom you obtained your support!"
The khatmiya maqam's absolute appearance was claimed before by Sidi Muhyiddin ibn Arabi al-‘Hatimi al-Maghribi (d. 636/1221) when he said: “We no doubt sealed sainthood by inheriting the Hachimi and the Messiah”. However he retracted (taraja'a) later when aware that the full, complete and absolute appearance in that maqam is to be for some one else. He discover not who will attain such absolute appearance. In his ‘Anqa’ Maghreb fi khatm al-awliya wa shams al-Maghreb (The Western Phoenix in the Seal of Saints and Sun of Morocco), which he wrote in Fez, Ibn Arabi introduces the Seal of Sainthood as, “the inheriting saint, who receives from the source, who recognizes the degrees and ascertains the entitlement of their holders, in order to give each creditor his rightful due, for that is one of the virtues of the Chieftain of the Envoys, the Captain of the Community." Very explicitly, the Egyptian Shadhilite Sidi Abdelwahhab Shaarani (d. 905/1490) illustrated in Durar al-Ghawas, "This community (Ummah) has two comprehensive Seals, and every degree and station has an inheritor. Every saint there has ever been, or will ever be, can only receive from these two Seals, one of whom is the Seal of the sainthood of the elite, while the other is the one by whom the common sainthood is sealed, for there will be no saint after him until the advent of the Final Hour."
Shaykh Ibn Arabi went too far to connect the nature of the Sealness of Prophethood and that of Sainthood. According to him, “The meaning of the Prophet's saying: ‘I was a Prophet while Adam was between the water and the clay -is 'I was a Prophet in actual fact, aware of my Prophethood, while Adam was between the water and the clay.” He then went on to say "None of the other Prophets was a Prophet, nor aware of his Prophethood, except when he was sent (on his mission) after his coming into existence with his material body and his complete fulfilment of the preconditions of Prophethood." Then he added: “the Seal of the Saints was likewise actually a saint, aware of his sainthood, while was between the water and the clay, and none of the other saints was a saint in actual fact, nor aware of his sainthood, except after his acquisition of the Divine characteristics that are stipulated in the definition of sainthood." Because he is characterised by the complete assimilation of the Mohammedian paradigm, the Seal of Sainthood acts as a deputy (khalifa) of Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) and symbolically takes his place in isthmus (al-barzakh) as well as during the time allotted to him on earth. Sidna Shaykh has expressed his khatmiya-katmiya complex in many sayings,
“The bounties that flow from the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) are received by the natures of the prophets, and everything that flows and emerges from the natures of the Prophets is received by my own nature, and from me it is distributed to all creatures from the origin of the world until the blowing on the trumpet”; “No saint drinks or provides water to drink, except from our ocean, from the origin of the world until the blowing on the trumpet”; “The spirit of the Prophet and my spirit are like this'--pointing with his two fingers, the index finger and the middle finger. 'His spirit supports the Messengers and the Prophets and my spirit supports the poles, the sages, the saints, from pre-existence to eternity (mina al-azal ila abad)”; “These two feet of mine are upon the neck of every saint of Allah, from the time of Adam until the blowing of the trumpet”; “'Our station in the Presence of Allah in the Hereafter will not be attained by any of the saints, and it will not be approached by anyone, whether his importance is great or small. Of all the saints among from the very beginning of creation until the blowing on the trumpet, there is not one who will attain to my station.” Greatly simplified, Sidna Shaykh developed his path on loose lines. Obligations, as one to be expected in an order designed to expand, were simple. He imposed no penances or retreats and the conditions was not complicated; (1) praying in the mosque with the congregation whenever possible, meeting all the prerequisites for lawfully offering prayer; (2) praying upon the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him); and (3) not to visit living saints or the tombs of dead ones. The Shaykh stressed the quite dhikr even in congregation, and forbade above all the visitations of living and dead saints at the command of his grandfather (peace and blessing be upon him), for they were all associated with baraka-possession. Sidna Shaykh affirmed that the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) had told him not to cut himself off from the world, and so he advised his disciples to live in comfort wearing classy clothes and eating choice food. Sidna Shaykh gave good tidings that his followers could rely on his own guarantee of salvation. This includes anyone who saw him on Mondays and Fridays and did not become his enemy,
"If someone receives from me the well-known wird, which is essential to the Tariqa, or he receives it from someone I have authorized to teach it, he will enter the Garden of Paradise (“Jannat 'Illiyyine”; that of prophets and saints) -he and his children, his wives, and his descendants- without reckoning and without punishment, provided that they are not guilty of any insult, hatred, or enmity, and that he persists in loving the Shaykh until death.” (…) "Be of good cheer! Anyone who is devoted to our love, until he dies in that state, will certainly be resurrected among those who are safe, provided that he does not wear the garb of security from Allah's cunning (makr ‘Allah)."
Thus Sidna Shaykh emerged as a sudden Sufi authority and established Sufi leader, dedicating his life for spiritual education, training, guidance, and promotion of the endeavourers to the divine proximity. He possessed high spiritual energy, determination, perseverance of Allah's sacred rights, and firmness of resolution. He laboured in his beginnings on perfection of repentance with its conditions, and on adherence to Shari'a bounds. He minded his own business, and held fast to the Quran and Sunna and the footsteps of the righteous ancestors. He totally turned himself to his Lord, so Allah sufficed him. He reinforced his foundations first by preoccupying himself with the study of the Quran and Sunna, deep thorough comprehension of the fine and subtle sciences and abstruse issues, and strict observance of the principles the Shari'a: "If you hear someone quoting me, place the statement on the scale of the noble Shari'a. If it balances, take it; if it doesn’t, leave it, for within the noble Quran and Hadith, you will find the Tijaniya. Outside the circle of Quran and Hadith, there is no such thing."
For nearly fifty years Sidna Shaykh was the main active propagator of the doctrine. From his Fez headquarters, he organised his born-global Tariqa, which spread in easts and wests in his blessed lifetime. During the same period, some of Sidna Shaykh's appointed khalifas and muqaddams -mostly doctors of the Shari'a law (ulama)- had established new Tijani centres in Morocco and abroad and developed ramifications of their own. Sidna Shaykh remained in Fez until his pass on Thursday the 17 of Shawal 1230 (1815). After the Shaykh performed the Subh prayer, he laid down on his right side while he asked for a glass of water then he returned to his bed. At that time his blessed soul went up to its creator. The funeral ablutions were carried out in his home at Dar-Lamraya. An abundant number of eminent scholars, notables and princes, in addition to the Fasite residents and Tijani community took part in the funeral. The great scholar Sidi Abu Abdullah Mohammed ibn Ibrahim Dukkali led the funeral prayer at the Qarawiyyine mosque. People were rushing and trying hard to have that great honour of holding the blessed coffin of Sidna Shaykh and it was a scene full of deep emotions where tears and sorrows constituted the landmark of this great event. Sidna Shaykh was buried in his blessed Zawiya. Sidna Shaykh is followed today by over 300 million disciples active in the five corners of the globe.
Tomb of Sidna Shaykh, Fez