Bayat - Oath of Allegiance to a Sufi Master

 by the Khanqah Qadiri Razvia - Durban, South Africa

It is often asked by those who have little or not at all acquainted with the Sufi Path of spiritual development, which is in reality the ultimate goal of the outward ordinances of religion, whether it is imperative for everyone to become a mureed (disciple) of a Pir. The answer to this is that it is not imperative in the sense that it is a decree of the religious law, or that it has been prescribed as an indispensable condition for salvation in the Hereafter. In the same way it may be asked whether it is absolutely necessary to educate oneís children. Here again the answer will be that it is not absolutely necessary in the sense that an uneducated person will not be able to remain alive in this world, or will not be able to lead the life of a responsible citizen, all this is possible.

But it certainly is imperative in the sense that without it, many latent qualities of the children will never be developed, and they will never bloom into that perfection of which they are truly capable. They will be human beings, may be worthy ones in their own way, but they will be deprived of the countless virtues and blessings of knowledge which were their birthright and which their God-given nature demanded. They will be like shunted trees, still deserving, no doubt, the name of a tree, but lacking the joy of harmonious expansion and displaying themselves in that grand apparel which is their gift from the court of Divine Beauty.

Likewise the believer who does not set foot on the Path which leads to nearness to Allah, or does not derive some encouragement and inspiration from others who do, still remains a believer, but is deprived of the priceless boon of that closer intimacy with his Maker and the deeper understanding and more excellent performance of His commands which lies potentially within him. That beauty and perfection of which his soul is capable remains like a rose-bud which never opens, and which falls to the ground with its dream of becoming a flower to ever to be unfulfilled.

It may be answered to this that it is possible to attain spiritual development by studying the Glorious Quran, the Tradition of the Noble Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the books written on this subject by the Saints of the past. The reply to this is that the theoretical knowledge derived from books cannot be, and was never designed to be, a substitute for association (Suhbat) with those experienced travelers who have completed their journey along the road and have reached their Goal, and have now returned to guide others on the same Path. The Holy Book of Allah itself was not sent alone; it was sent through the medium of the Noble Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) who was at the same time itís conveyor, itís commentator and itís living interpretation. It was moreover he who by training and instructing them in the light of the Holy Book purified his companions and elevated them to the heights of Godliness. It is due to this vital role of the beloved Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) in respect of Allahís message that it is belief in him as Messenger which has been made obligatory in the declaration of faith after the belief in unity of Allah, implying that belief in the Book is a corollary to belief in the Main and not vice versa. This is the principle which is followed in the system of teaching of the Sufis; theoretical knowledge has to be quickened by association with the man of God, and the road ahead cannot be traversed without the guide.

Since this is a point which is often too little understood by those unfamiliar with the spiritual way, it would be useful to make it clear by examples from other walks of life. Perhaps those who do not appreciate the need for association would benefit by considering the newly born child. He is the perfect example of learning by association. Sent into this world with no faculty of acquiring theoretical knowledge, his whole mental development rest upon the direct instruction by precept and example of his elders. Without ever learning or being aware of the principles of grammar, by a wonderful combination of hearing and understanding, he begins to speak with fluency and clarity. By means of their company alone, there are imprinted upon his person ways of behavior, such as cleanliness, orderliness, politeness, unselfishness, self-control, in short a whole mental and moral structure. The unshaped substance of his individual nature is cast into a particular recognized mould by association alone. In the most formative period of his life, personal contact is the sole medium of instruction.

When later the child is able to read and acquire theoretical knowledge, the necessity of personal association, now in the form of a tutor, is no less. If we consider the reasons why a child cannot instruct himself from books, but requires the instructor to enable him to learn, we shall be able to make clear some of the principles which hold good in the realm of spiritual instruction as well. In the first place, not having had the direct experience of knowledge, this is to say, not being really aware of his goal, but only having a vague conception of it which may or may not have some relation to the truth, he is obviously unable to direct himself towards it, nor can he know whether he is approaching it or receding from it. In the second place, not having traveled along the path to knowledge and being ignorant of his own faculties, the means by which they can be developed, the state on the road of learning and the obstacles he must surmount, he is unable to chart a course for himself but must rely on a seasoned traveler. Not only the goal, but also the way to it, is unknown to him. Thirdly, all systems of instruction are formulated in general terms, and do not take into account individual peculiarities which are often just as important as the common qualities. It is impossible for s student to recognize his own particular weakness and strength, his aptitude and inaptitude, and in what direction he can reach his fullest growth; it is only his tutor who can perceive in what way one pupil differs from another, and prescribe special exercises for him in consonance with his individual needs. Fourthly, human beings are naturally weak of resolution and given to inconstancy. Even the best of pupils cannot make regular progress without the discipline of the fixed time for the lesson, the prescribed quantity of work, and the various subjects to be attended to by turn.

Similarly, the seeker after spiritual knowledge is unaware of his Goal, which is Almighty Allah himself, and at the most has only a limited academic idea of Him, which may or may not approach to His Reality. He is therefore unable to direct himself towards Him, and cannot know whether he is coming near to Him or going far from Him. The Guide who knows Him, however, can direct the seeker to the path towards Him, and can discern whether he is progressing or regressing in his journey. Secondly, the pupil is unacquainted with the nature of the road, itís stages, the rough and the smooth of it and those spiritual and moral pitfalls which can arrest his progress, and does not recognize what faculties he has within him which can comprehend the higher Truths, how these faculties can be developed, and the properly graded methods of attaining inner enlightenment. Like the school pupil, he cannot chart a course for himself, but must have recourse to the seasoned traveler who knows the road, to the guide (hadi) who will lead him along the shortest and safest route. The novice is unfamiliar with both the Path and Goal, and has to follow in the footsteps of the leader.

Thirdly like textbooks in schools, the summaries on the way of Tasawwuf which are available in writing necessarily only deal with the generalities, and cannot and were never meant to, prescribe for the uncountable individual peculiarities of different pupils, which, as far as each oneís particular instruction is concerned, are often just as important as the basic common qualities with others. He cannot recognize his own inward weakness and strength, and that special fullest spiritual fruition; it is only the Guide with his intuitive bent of the soul which, when properly cultivated can lead to his perception who can comprehend this, and prescribe exercises suited to his individual nature.

Fourthly, even the best of searchers for Truth sometimes fail in resolution and are overcome by manís lower tendency towards ease and inaction. It is only the discipline of the prescribed quantity of work at the fixed time, and the appointing of various forms of worship and remembrance in rotation, every one of which has itís own function to perform, which keeps him at his task. Added to this is the awe of his of the Shaikh and the fear of his displeasure, which is often one of the greatest incentives to hard and consistent practice, the personal influence of the master giving the pupil new enthusiasm whenever he begins to flag. Fifthly because the Shaikh combines in himself the outward observance (Shariat) with the inner revelation (Tariqat) and is one of the specially guided ones by Allah to call to the path of his beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), admiration stimulates the pupil to emulate him, and the inspiration of his example urges his forward on the Path. When admiration deepens and is transformed into love, then all other incentives are merged and is transformed into this great attraction, the relationship with the Guide (Murshid) of love and respect provide him with all his disciplines, enthusiasm, spirit of emulation and keenness to reach the Goal, and becomes the main stepping-stone to success in achieving nearness to Almighty Allah.

This illustration of the indispensability of the Guide has been drawn by comparison with the student and teacher in a house of learning. But it should be remembered that examples are by their very nature partial and incomplete. The Murshid-murid relationship is infinitely deeper and of greater scope that that of master-pupil, for it concerns the inner soul of man, which is itself of incomparably greater depth and expanse than that part of his intelligence which absorbs academic knowledge. Furthermore, there is purely spiritual aspect o this relationship, which does not exist in that of the student and tutor. The qualified Shaikh possesses as a gift of God the power of transference of spiritual qualities, as kind of outpouring (faiz) from the always-full vessel of his heart. By means of this power he is continually aiding the Murid in the development of his inner potentialities, correcting his aberrations and supporting his efforts in the proper direction. This spiritual action can be compared to the mother giving milk to the newborn, the physical outpouring of nourishment which makes possible his growth and development. Another example, which throws some light, is that of the rays of the sun, which fall on the young shoot and supply it with strength to expand and nourish. It may be either conscious or unconscious. In the unconscious from it is like a fire in a cold room; any one who approaches it will benefit from its warmth. In itís conscious from it is the deliberate direction of spiritual energy towards a certain person or a number of persons (tawajjuh/attention).

Dependence on the Shaikh is of course more in the beginning when the novice is making his journey along the unfamiliar road. As he approaches the end of it, the personality of the Shaikh dissolves into that of the Noble beloved Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), who is the Guide of guides, and then finally into that One and Single who is the author of all persons, that the Lord of the Universe. But the fact that a student has himself become a teacher will never cause him to forget the master to whom he owes so much. In relation to this he will always be the humble and faithful pupil relying on his advice and help and inspiration, and whatever high degree he may reach, this original relationship will never be affected.

The word Bayat means originally a contract of sale, and as derived meaning an oath of allegiance, but in Tasswwuf it refers especially to the acceptance of the searcher for Almighty Allah of a qualified Master who will lead him and accompany him on his journey and finally bring him before his Creator. The question arises as to how is the seeker, who is ignorant of the hazards of the path and unable to recognize the spiritual degree of men, to choose his teacher. The saints of former times have prescribed certain necessary characteristics, which should be sought for by the pupil in his perspective master. The truth is that this matter is pre-ordained, just as it is pre-ordained that a child will be born in a certain family. You do not choose who should be your parents, it is already decreed by Allah, although in this world of time and space there are certain outward causes of a person being born in a particular house. The choice of a spiritual guide is a similar case. It is already decreed from eternity from whom you will receive your portion, but actually to find your Master certain outward means have to be adopted. In the same way everyoneís portion of sustenance is inscribed in the Book of Allah from the beginning of creation, but in this world of cause and effect, sustenance has to be sought for and means contrived to acquire it. So also one has to seek the spiritual guide, and to carefully weigh and consider when choosing him, in spite of the fact that it is a matter already determined.

The first thing to be noted in one who purports to be a man of God is that he should follow the religious law (Shariat), and regularly carry out his obligatory duties and conform to the established practice of the Noble Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). If any person has some spiritual attainments but does not observe the Shariat, then this is a sign of attraction (jazb) which in the special terminology of the Sufis means that he has been so overwhelmed by some spiritual experience that he is not in the full possession of his senses, and his neglect of the Shariat is due to this. Now to sit in the company of such a

Person is harmful instead of beneficial, because he will not be able to exercise that insight which is necessary for the proper instruction of a novice, and also because such spiritual intoxication can be infectious and be passed on to the pupil, ruining his chances of balanced inner development for the future.

The second thing to take note of is the condition of his pupils, not those having become murids never show their faces again or if they do, only rarely, but those who have received regular training from their Master. In what state are they now? What were they previously and what have they become? From this something of the effect of the Masters training can be observed. The third thing to be seen is when you are sitting before the Master, you feel an inner harmony with him, your mind turns towards thoughts of Allah and his beloved Prophet (SAW) and thoughts of the world subside and disappear, and you experience a kind of refreshment and calm. It is also necessary that the Master should belong to a regular chain of spiritual teaching (silsila), and have spent sometime under the direct training and supervision of a master of spirituality. But the most essential thing of all is the harmony of soul, which produces an inner attraction and the conviction that it is through the medium of this person that I can attain that which I desire. Bayat is a contract for life; in fact this relationship persists in the hereafter as well. It is not like going to a doctor, and if in our estimation our health improves, well and good, and if not then we go to someone else. Everyone can form some judgment of his physical health, right or wrong, but the health of the soul is not obvious to the senses, and much more reliance has to be placed on the healer; it is therefore imperative to be satisfied as to his ability before placing oneself in his hands.

The meaning of Bayat is to make a pact or vow. When the act of Bayat is performed, the following verse of the Glorious Quran is recited:

Allah says "Those who make a pact with thee [the Noble Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)] in reality make a pact with Allah: it is the hand of Almighty Allah above their hands. So whoever breaks the pact, breaks it with his own detriment, and whoever fulfils what he has vowed to Him, Allah will give a magnificent reward." Bayat is a firm pact, and whoever makes it should make it with awareness, it is a pact not only with the Master, but also with all the saints of the Silsila and through them with the beloved Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), and ultimately with Allah Himself. The Quranic verse which is quoted above refers to the "Pact of Divine Pleasure" which took place under a tree outside Mecca just before the treaty of Hudaibiya, when the Noble Prophet with a company of believers from Medina had journeyed almost unarmed to Mecca to perform the lesser pilgrimage (Umra). Since a state of war still existed with the Meccans, and the envoy sent by the Prophet to obtain a safe passage for the believers inside city had not yet returned, the situation appeared dangerous, and the Noble Prophet took an oath from every one of his companions that they would stand up for Allah and His Prophet to the death. When the murid makes his allegiance to his Pir, he follows this precedent; in fact, if the limitations of time and space are ignored, he really makes the same pact as the Noble Prophetís companions. We cannot physically pay allegiance to the Noble Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), but when we give our hands to one whose spiritual tree reached up to him, it is in reality the same thing.

Bayat is an act of repentance, by which the entrant renounces the commission of sins in the future, to the best of his ability. It is a pupil ship, in which he accepts the Pir as his spiritual master and puts himself under his instruction for the correcting of his lower self (nafs) and heart (qalb). It is a means of intercession, so that if we cannot obtain salvation of ourselves, it is this link, which will gain it for us. Just as for every branch of knowledge and science a tutor is necessary, so in the school of religion and soul-purification he is also required. He who has no instructor in the knowledge of his own soul is deprived of countless advantages. One of the foremost of these is that when a person begins to progress in the worship of Allah on his own, arrogance and self-conceit begin to grown in him, and he comes to think that he is one of the good believers and second to no one. This is great mistake, for the welfare of a personís Islam rests upon his belief that he is a object of no value, a non-entity and must seek to become nothing. Because Allah the Supreme is not visible to the eye, a man becomes proud in forgetfulness of Him: but when he sits in an attitude of respect before his Pir, arrogance leaves his heart. When he sincerely acknowledges someone as his spiritual master, and herby admits that he himself knows nothing but has come to learn, an important change takes place within him, and the road to progress which was blocked by his pride now lies open before him.

Those who tread this path and perform their obligations as pupils in their true sense, through the mediation of a Pir attain to union with Almighty Allah, and He includes them among his Near Ones. Learning can be acquired from books; but this Path of our Spiritual Masters is that of love, intense affection for Almighty Allah. It is by this intense affection that man reached Goal, and it is this which is the root of faith. It is said "faith lies between fear and hope." One-person worships Allah with the desire of the delights of the Garden and in fear of the torments of hell. This is a degree of faith, but an inferior one. The lofty degree of faith is that of the person who is desirous of Allahís pleasure; this degree is unattainable without love; indeed it is synonymous with love.

Those who believe are intense in their love for Allah. In this higher degree of fear and hope, fear is only of Allahís displeasure, just as the lover fears the displeasure of the beloved. He does not fear that the beloved will strike him or hurt him in any way; the depth of his passion demands that the belovedís glance should always be that of kindness, and he bear his least vexation. The high degree of hope is that he desires only nearness and union with Almighty Allah; the favors, which Allah may bestow upon his, as a consequence do not attract him in themselves, but have value in his eyes only because they are the bounty of the Beloved. To such a person the real torment of hell is farness from Allah and the real delight of the Garden is the meeting with Him. It is to this feeling that the Noble Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) refers to in one of his prayers:

"O Allah, I ask of Thee thy pleasure and the Garden, and seek Thy protection from Thine anger and the fire"