The Meaning of Initiation and Discipleship in Islam

The Meaning of Initiation and Discipleship in Islam

In the spiritual Path when a person makes an intention (irada)- in spite of having belief and faith, feels he needs to take a step in a direction which he does not know; this first step (initiative) when taken is known as initiation. Imam Ghazzali (Rahmatullah alaihi) states; " Entering the spiritual path is like an arrow at a point one cannot see, so that one does not know what the arrow is going to hit; one only knows one's own action, and one does not see the point aimed at". In the spiritual path the initiative taken to sell one's self to Allah is the arrow. And the point that one hopes to target is the Almighty. Hence the word bayat is from the word 'Bai' which means to sell. This is in keeping with the Qur'anic perspective wherein Allah Almighty states;" Almighty states:' Allah has purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs in return is the garden of Paradise" (9:8). A person who firmly makes an intention (irada) and takes the initiative to surrender himself completely to Allah is called a mureed' (initiate). When the mureed attains his goal, then this seeker unto Allah becomes the murad (sought).

In reality everything belongs to Allah. Allah has entrusted man's life and his possession unto him. Unfortunately, man tends to abuse this trust by wrongly thinking that his life wealth etc. are his possession, and in this respect begins to expend them according to his own wishes and desires. In this respect, he risks falling into a snare where he unconsciously becomes a renegade, flagrantly breaching the trust that was placed in him. When man realizes the error of his rebellion and returns to Allah surrendering himself completely to His will. Ashamed at the tyranny of following the insinuations of his ego, he then begins anew and attaches everything to Allah and starts to act in accordance with His actions then make him worthy of being someone who has sold himself to Allah exchange for His pleasure and reward.

As in the case of a business transaction, merely intending to enter in to a business transaction with a particular party does not get one far. Practical steps have to be taken. Similarly, when one intends to surrender oneself completely to Allah, then intention has to be translated in to action. We are greatly aware of the various steps, which are taken when selling a property and time, and effort, which are put in to making the transaction successful. How great then is this transaction between 'Rab' (Lord) and 'abd (servant) when the servant desires to sell himself to his Lord.

The first step that is taken in order to surrender oneself to Allah, is that one becomes a disciple of him, who has the necessary capabilities of being a means (wasila) of approach unto him. This first step is a Qur'anic directive wherein Almighty Allah states; " O ye who believe! Fear Allah and seek a means of approach unto Him, and strive in His path so that you may attain success" (4:38).

In the view of the great ulema of the times the means of approach that is being mentioned here is a 'murshid' (spiritual guide). Great ulema such as Shah Abdur Rahim, Shah Waliullah, and Shah Abdul Aziz Dehlavi (Rahmatullah Alaihim) who are accepted and respected by all schools of thought have given the same opinion. When a person makes bayat (takes the pledge of allegiance) upon the hands of a qualified murshid in accordance with the etiquettes and ethics of bayat, then his allegiance, link by link, reaches the Holey Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) and then, ultimately to Allah.

If a person remains steadfast on his bayat, then he becomes the recipient of great reward. However, if he breaks off his bayat, then he does so at his own peril. "Verily those who pledge their fealty to thee, pledge their fealty in truth to Allah. The Hand of Allah is over their hands, Then anyone who violates his oath, does so to the harm of his own soul. And anyone who fulfill what he has covenanted with Allah; Allah will soon grant him a great reward" (48:10).

There are various types of bayat which the Sahaba-e-kiram (Radiyallahu Anhum) took upon the hands of the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam); viz, the pledge of Islam, the pledge of Vicegerency, pledge of Hijrah, pledge of Jihaad, pledge of adherence to Sunnah, pledge of piety, pledge of adherence to Sunnah, pledge of piety, pledge of steadfastness in worship and devotion to Allah and so on. Bayat in Sufism is the sum total of the pledge of Repentance, Piety (internal and external), steadfastness to the precepts of the Deen, steadfastness to the Sunnah, devout worship of Allah and every other aspect which is related to the cleansing of the nafs (ego) and inner purity. In Sufism there are two types of bayat: bayat-e-barakah and bayat-e-iradah: bayat-e-barakah is where one initiates one's self into a spiritual order merely for the blessing of being part of a spiritual order which has a direct link to the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alahi Wasallam) without a break in sequence. Bayat taken for mere material gain and not for spiritual upliftment is considered null and void. The bayat is highly beneficial and brings one in the ranks of those who have a link with the beloved of Allah.

Bayat-e-iradah is where one completely cancels one's own desires and surrenders one's self completely to Almighty Allah. In this type of bayat, one becomes like a 'corpse in the hands of the washer'; where one gives one's sheikh absolute empowerment to lead one to Allah. This bayat is taken only by few and is also known as bayat-e-salikeen. This type of bayat was undertaken by the Sahaba (Radiyallahu Anhum) upon the hands of the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam).

Utmost faith and fidelity to one's murshid and/or sheikh, intense love transcending the boundaries of love for life and wealth. If one does not develop this type of relationship with one's sheikh, then one will not be capable of being a recipient of spiritual benefit. ... This is done in order to inculcate within the heart of the mureed, steadfastness, fidelity, obedience, submission, surrender, direction, a sense of purpose and most importantly, sincere devotion. Without these one can never be a true aspirant on the path to Allah.

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