Good Company (al-Suhbah)

When he joins a brotherhood, the murīd, the disciple, finds--apart from a master--companions, brothers who, like him, walk on the path of God. The companionship of these brothers gives numerous opportunities for mutual encouragement in the devout life and the practice of the virtues that is, humility, generosity, and equanimity, which lift from the heart the burdens weighing on it and, at the same time, embellish it, because they are the reflection of the Divine Qualities and are, according to the honored saying, "the tongues which glorify the Lord."

In a treatise on Sufism in which he devotes a chapter to the company of the master and to brotherhood with the fellow disciples, Shaykh Shihāb aldīn `Umar al-Suhrawardī (d. Baghdad 632/ 1234-35), founder of the Suhrawardiyyah order, which is widespread in the Orient and reaches as far as India, teaches:

[The faqīr must] abandon any idea of ownership, live in good understanding with his brothers... love them... show himself to be generous and mindful of the words of the Prophet: "Give to whomever asks, even if he is mounted on a horse," be affable, kind of an equal temperament...; show a smiling face..., not be underhanded and permit no one other than the shaykh to elicit confidences; observe the greatest justice towards one's brothers...; maintain a correct balance between excessive austerity and penitence and a too easy life. 12

Good company thus becomes the very token of spiritual success. Ahmad ibn `Ajībah, master of the Shādhiliyyah-Darqāwiyyah tarīqah (d. A.D. 1809), stated in a letter to a disciple:

The fruit borne through companionship with men of God is the realization of the station of attainment (tahqāq maqām al-wisāl); and the attainment is that of extinction in the Essence (alfanā' fi'l-dhāt, the station of perfect accomplishment (ihsān), the station of contemplative vision wherein the existant is extinguished and only the source of all Existence remains.... If, while living in company with men of God, someone does not succeed in reaching this station, it is because of a deficiency in him, either his aspiration (himmah) is weak, or his zeal (qarīhah) has grown cold, or he has committed an error which causes him to be content with his present state. 13

In another letter the same master writes:

It is necessary either that the disciple find the time to get together with his brothers where he is or that he go live near them, or that he visit them frequently in order to know the sweetness of the path and to drink at the springs of realization. Then he will free himself, in God, from all that is not He! 14