Of course, there is a plethora of literature on the subject written by the great scholars and stalwarts of Islam, both past and present, as well as by orientalists. Unfortunately, for those who know only English much of those great works are not readily available to cherish and savour except for abridged English versions of Kashful Mahjoob, Tadhkirat al-awliya, the Ihya, some translations of the discourses of Hazrat Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani ®, and a few others. Therefore, for those who are well-versed with the subject, I am afraid, they will be disappointed here. My only reason for foraying into this subject as a layman is that maybe my two cents will expiate some of my sins and earn me some reward from Allah who loves his Awliya whom I love for the sake of Allah.
Miracles are mentioned in all Religions and Cultures:
We do know that a miracle is an extraordinary act created by Allah outside his usual custom, i.e. beyond the scope of scientific and natural laws.
Miracles are common to all religion and culture. Old Testament and Hebrew scriptures contain many accounts of miracles. So do the Budhist and the Hindu scriptures. They attribute miracles to God, prophets, saints, sages, and holy men. In non-Islamic religions and cultures, we hardly find any distinction being made in the categories of so-called miracles. As far as working miracles by personalities are concerned, some religions believe that only the dead can work miracles and not the living ones whereafter they are canonized as saints. Sometimes the word “Miracle” is used in a metaphorical sense to the happenings in daily life whence the Hindi expression: “Chamatkaar ko Namaskaar Karna”. Sometimes, even magic, hypnotism, mesmerism, charlatanism, clairvoyance, out-of-body experience, and the like are termed as a “Miracle” by incredulous people. This is one of the reasons why there is such a proliferation of fake gurus or a ‘Babas’ or ‘Pirs’ in our society. However, trickery and self-aggrandisement do not preclude the occurrence of real miracles. Islam too has a fair share of real miracles, but with a unique difference as we shall see in due course.
Miracles of the prophets are mentioned in the Holy Qur’an and the ahadeeth (prophetic traditions) and Islamic hagiography which are generally accepted by the entire Muslim communities. However, as a minute section frowns upon the very mention of Awliya-Allah and their miracles, or deny their high-rank and status by imagining that every believer is of the status of a Friend of God, we shall be restricting ourselves to the miracles of Awliya-Allah. There is of course the general closeness of every believer to Allah, which is categorized as Wilayat-e-Amma. This is because Allah declares in the Holy Qur’an: We are nearer to him than his own jugular vein” (Surah Qaaf, verse 16). So we need to get an idea of what or who is a Friend of God (Wali or saint).
Briefly, who are Awliya-Allah?
Scholars tells us that an Arabic word has a number of meaning, but for simplicity, let’s restrict ourselves to the meaning of “Awliya” as the plural of “Wali” or Friend of God or Saint, and the word Wali being derived from “Wilaya” which means nearness or closeness (‘Qurb’) or Sainthood. This word with different forms appear in the Holy Quran over 200 times in different context and also means “Patronage, ”Protection,” and even “Intimacy”. The Holy Qur’an also categorises the believers as ‘Muqarrabin’ (i.e. those brought near or favourties of Allah), Sabireen (Patient Ones), Muttaqoon (God-conscious) Abrar (the Virtuous), Zuhhad (the Pious ones), Siddiqun (the Truthful ones), Saalihoon (the Pious Ones), Qanitoon (The Obedient Ones), Mohsinoon (The Doer of Good), Zakiroon (Those who remember Allah much), Muminoon (the Believers), besides using the word Awliya-Allah. These qualities are found in the Awliya-Allah.
Generally, Surah Waqiah of the Holy Qur’an gives the details of the categories of the believers. The highest position is for those who are called “the foremost,” “those brought nigh,” and “these will be those who are nearest to Allah.” In the middle position are those souls who attend to both the worlds who advance upward to the higher world by obeisance and devotion, and who sometimes descend to the lower world for administering their affairs and exercising sway over it. These are the people of the right-hand who will be given their records in their right hand. Most of the “foremost” and the “Right-Hand” will be from the first generation and comparatively fewer will be from the later generations. In Surah Nisa, verse 69, the categories of Prophets, the Truthful, the Martyrs, and the Righteous People are mentioned.
A very famous verse of the Holy Qur’an says about them: “Ala, inna awliya Allah, la khawfun alayhim wala hum yah-zanoon!” , i.e. "Lo! verily the friends of Allah! No fear comes upon them, nor shall they grieve." (Quran-10:62)
For an explanation of the above verse, let’s refer to a prophetic tradition:
It is reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, once said after the salat:
‘O people! Listen to this, understand it, and know it. Allah has servants who are neither Prophets nor martyrs and whom the Prophets and martyrs yearn to be like, due to their seat and proximity in relation to Allah.” One of the Bedouin Arabs who came from among the most isolated of people twisted his hand at the Prophet and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! People from humankind who are neither Prophets nor martyrs and yet the Prophet's and the martyrs yearn to be like them due to their seat and proximity in relation to Allah?! Describe them for us!"’
'The Prophet's face showed delight at the Bedouin's question and he said: ’ ...
‘They are of the strangers from this and that place. They frequent this or that tribe without belonging to them. They do not have family connections among themselves. They love one another for Allah's sake. They are of pure intent towards one another. On the Day of Resurrection Allah will place for them pedestals of light upon which He will make them sit, and He will turn their faces and clothes into light. On the Day of Resurrection the people will be terrified but not those. They are Allah's Friends [Awliya'] upon whom fear comes not, nor do they grieve.’
[Haythami in Majma'al-Zawa'id says: 'Ahmad relates it, and Tabrani relates something similar, and the men in its chain of transmission have been declared trustworthy." Also related through several chains by Abu Dawud, Ahmad, Baghawi in Sharh al-Sunna, al-Hakim in the Mustadrak, Ibn 'Asakir, Ibn Abi al-Dunya in Kitab al-Ikhwan, Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Mardawayh, and others].
Now, in the well-known prophetic tradition where Allah states through the mouth of His Messenger (sallal laahu alaihi wasssallam) the above Quranic verse is further amplified:
The above Quranic verses and the ahadith shareef, surely sum up the definition of not of an ordinary believer but that of a pious person who never ceases to strive for attaining the nearness (Qurb) of Allah by carrying out all the compulsory religious obligations, required of a pious believer, and topping that with additional prayers and good deeds to such an extent that he comes under the protection of Allah and attains the position of Wilayat and becomes a Wali. Then Allah becomes his sense of sight and hearing as well as his limbs, and if the Wali were to ask, Allah would surely give him, making him free from fear and grief.
Lest it be misconstrued, let me add that “Becoming free from fear and grief” for Awliya-Allah simply means that for the pleasure of Allah, they remain content with whatever state and condition they find themselves in. Otherwise it is well known that the lives of Friends of Allah were full of incredible hardship, suffering and pain. Higher the rank, higher the trial.
The other meaning, as I see it is, Awliya-Allah always spoke fearlessly in the face of tyrants who oppressed and mistreated their subject. For example, Hazrat Shaykh Muhiyuddeen Abdul Qadir Jilani ® was one such Friend of Allah whose admonitions the Caliph or Governors of his time could not ignore. Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti ® who settled down in Ajmer, India, against all odds, facing the might of the Raja, his army and his magicians all by himself with the aid of Allah of course . The last Khilji king of Delhi threatened to hang Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya ® who wouldn’t attend his court, got killed in a court intrigue just before he could implement his order; or when a king of the next dynasty wanted the saint out of the Delhi suburbs before he reached Delhi, the saint uttered: Delhi is still far (Dilli hinoz duur ast). True enough, the king himself could not reach Delhi as he got crushed to death when the palace fell upon him. Thus, there are many such instances when an Awliya-Allah was not seized by the fear of tyrants but it was the other way about. Nor do they grieve even in personal tragedies, thus remaining content with the decree of Allah, as happened in the case of Mansur Hallaj whose mystical utterances of Ana al-Haqq (I am the Truth) was considered as heresy, leading to his imprisonment for 11 long years in Baghdad and final torture and execution in the public by the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Muqtadir. All the time during his trial and execution he remained unperturbed. Despite the fact that stones were thrown by the public at him, and his eyes were gorged out, his limbs were cut, his nose and ears were sliced off, his tongue was severed, and finally his head was chopped off, he forgave everyone who was present at his execution. He remained content with the decree of Allah! In passing it may be stated that Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh has drawn our attention to the fact that if the religion of Mansur Hallaj were suspect, Hazrat Shibli (a disciple of Hazrat Junaid Baghdadi ®) would not have stated: “Al-Hallaj and I are of one belief.”
Awliya-Allah are known by various names, depending on their rank with Allah. To add some more: Muhaqqiq (Fully Realised), Aarifeen (sing.Arif – Intimate or experiential knowers), Qutb (Pole or Axis), Awtaad (Pegs), Abdaal (Substitutes) and so on. A great scholar of Islam Imam al-Qastalani (Reh.) wrote:
"One of the karamat Allahu ta'ala has bestowed upon this umma is that there are qutbs, awtad, nujaba' and abdal among them.
Anas ibn Malik ® said that the abdal consists of forty persons. The hadith ash-Sharif quoted in al-Imam at-Tabarani's Awsat declares, 'There will always exist forty persons on the earth each of whom is blessed like Ibrahim (a.s.). It rains because of their baraka. Allahu ta'ala appoints another one when one of them dies. ' Ibn 'Adi said, 'Abdal embodies forty persons.'
The hadith ash-Sharif reported by Imam Ahmad declares, "There are always thirty persons among this umma each of whom is blessed like Ibrahim (a.s.)."
There are many other hadiths on this subject. The hadith ash-Sharif reported as marfu' again by Abu Nuaym in Hilya declares, 'There always exist forty persons among my umma. Their hearts are like Ibrahim's(a.s.) heart. Allahu ta'ala redeems His human servants from disasters for their sake. They are called abdal. They do not attain to that degree by performing salat, fasting or giving zakat.' Ibn Masud ® asked, 'Ya Rasul-Allah! By what means do they attain that degree?' 'They attain it by being generous and by advising Muslims,' said the Prophet. It was declared in another hadith ash-Sharif, 'The abdal among my umma do not curse anything.
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (Reh.) wrote in his book Ta'reekh al-Baghdad, 'The nuqaba' comprises three hundred persons. The nujaba' comprises seventy; the abdal forty; the akhyar seven and the 'amad represents four persons. There is one ghawth. When human beings need something, the nuqaba' pray first. If it is not granted [by Allahu ta'ala], then the nujaba' pray. And if not granted again the abdal, akhyar and 'amad pray sequentially. If all are not granted, the ghawth, whose prayer will certainly be granted, prays.'
" [Translation of Al-mawahib al-ladunniyya, p. 512.]"
The prophets are infallible (masoom) and form the highest rank. Among the Ummah of the Holy Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wassallam) coming after the prophets (a.s.) the superior are the Sahabas (the Noble Companions of Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wassallam) and the most superior amongst them are the Righteous Caliphs (Khulfa-e-Raashideen) namely, Hazrat Abu Bakr ®, Hazrat Umar ®, Hazrat Uthman ® and Hazrat Ali ®. All the Sahaba, generally, are also Awliya. But all Awliya are not Sahaba. The family of the Holy Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wassallam) and the Ahe-e-Bayt also occupy a special place among the Awliya and deserve a separate topic. Thereafter comes the group of actual Awliya-Allah who founded the various Orders for spread of Islam throughout the world peacefully, headed by Hazrat Shaykh Muhiyuddeen Abdul Qadir Jilani Ghaus-ul-Azam of the Qadiri Order (Silsila).
The fact that there are many unknown saints whom even Hazrat Khizr (a.s.) doesn't know, is generally well-known. Also, some have been Awliya-Allah since their birth as in the case of Hazrat Shaykh Muhiyudeen Abdul Qadir Jilani ®. The Sufi Shaykh, Imam ‘Abdallah ibn ‘Alawi al-Haddad of Arabia, explains that possessor of supreme degree of veracity is called Qutb al-Ghawth. He adds, “As for the Qutb (Pole), the Ghawth, he is one in each time. He is the all-comprehensive Fard, and is known among the People as the viceregent (Khalifa), and the Perfect Man (al-Insan al-Kamil). Pole were of three kinds, the Pole of Sciences, such as the Proof of Islam al-Ghazali, the Pole of Spiritual States, such as Abu Yazid al-Bistami, and the Pole of Spiritual Stations, such as Shaykh ‘Abdal-Qadir. Imam Abul-‘Abbas al-Mursi is also reported to have said, “Al-Junayd was the Pole of knowledge, Sahl the Pole of Stations, and Abu Yazid the Pole of States.”
In short, superiority of the status of Awliya is not dependant on miracle they work, but are dependant upon their proximity to Allah and His love for them and their desire to be with Allah to the exclusion of all others, with no desire for the Jannah or the Houris or the world or the ability to work miracles, or for any other purpose . Awliya are the inheritors of Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wassallam) when he said, the scholars of the ummah are the inheritors of the prophets. Imam Sayuti said: The Awliya of Allah are those, if you see them, Allah is mentioned, and if they are absent, they are missed and if they come Allah will be mentioned”.
Regarding the statement in the hadith of Abu Huraira ® in Bukhari, vol8, 509, that we mentioned before: ‘I shall declare war on him who shows hostility to Wali of Mine…even the rigorous Ibn Taimiyya has gone to explain the statement to mean that Allah is expressing: "I will seek revenge like an aggressive lion against anyone who comes against My saints."
To Continue, Insha Allah…..