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Abdurrahman Şâgûrî (İngilizce)

Writer: Shaykh Nuh Keller

Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri left this world on Tuesday 8 June  2004 in Damascus after    a lifetime of serving Islam and Muslims.  Thousands came to his funeral on Wednesday at the    mosque of Sheikh  Muhyiddin Ibn al- Arabi in the Salihiyya quarter. Among the people who     prayed over him and buried him were those who knew him as a father,  friend, religious scholar,    teacher, mystical poet and vocalist, and  Sufi sheikh. I knew him as the latter.

Twenty-two years ago, we  had come out of this mosque together after visiting the shrine of     Sheikh Muhyiddin, and I watched for a moment as he stopped to buy some  apples from a cart in    front of the mosque. He took the plastic bag  from the seller and filled it with the worst apples he    could find    nicked, bruised, and worm-holed   which he chose as carefully as most  people    choose good ones, then paid for and with a smile shook hands  with the man before we went up    the hill to the sheikh s home.

Small  and lithe, he had a light complexion, penetrating eyes,    aquiline  features with expressive lips, and a trimmed mustache and full beard. He  dressed    elegantly, wearing a few turns of white and gold cloth  around a red fez on his head, a knee-    length suit and vest over a  shirt without a tie, and trousers tapering to the ankles.

As we climbed     higher and higher, I wanted to carry the bag, but he wouldn t let me,  saying that the Prophet    (Allah bless him and give him peace) had  said,  The one who needs a thing is the one who    should carry it.   When I reflected on his strange  shopping,  I realized that it had been  to save    the apple man from having to throw any out. The incident  summed up the sheikh s personality    and life, which was based on  futuwwa or  putting others ahead of oneself.

Many who  knew him regarded him as a wali or friend of Allah, and surely his long  decades of    service to others had much to do with it. His wife bore  him five sons and five daughters, and he    was preceded to the  afterlife by her and a son.

Originally a weaver by trade, he had been     instrumental in unionizing workers in the present c entury in Damascus,  and served on the    committee that led the Syrian Textile Workers   Union in a successful forty-day strike for    workmen s compensation.

He  had represented Syria in the United Arab Workers  Union, and led    an  active public life. Earlier this year in the month of Rabi  I, he had  received recognition at the    Burda [Prophetic Mantle] annual  poetry awards given by the United Arab Emirates for outstanding  service to the Umma of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him  peace).

With the    apples and everything else he did, he was always  teaching students the inner sunnas of the    character and states of the  Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), to whom he referred     everything.  I am just a parrot,  he told us.

I once came  to Damascus to complain about one of the brethren in Jordan, and after  checking    into a hotel, went to the tiny room and bookshop of Sheikh   Abd al-Wakil al-Durubi off the    courtyard of the Darwishiyya Mosque.

Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman would drop in after the noon    prayer each day to  visit with his friends, and I found him there and gave my Salams, but  before I    could say anything, he said,  How is your ego getting along  with So-and-so?  mentioning the    person by name. I was abashed for a  moment, then said,  Praise be to Allah.

The sheikh replied,     Praise  be to Allah,  then talked about the importance of being with true and  honest people, and    avoiding those who spoke badly of others.          Despite such incidents, the sheikh would say,  The person of the sheikh  is a veil,  and never    drew attention to himself, but to Allah and to  the sunna of His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace).

He  stressed learning the traditional sciences, and would not permit  disciples       ignorance of fiqh or  aqida. He never went to school,  because as an orphan brought from Homs      to Damascus by his older  brother, he had to earn his keep by running errands, and taught       himself how to read and write by looking at the signs above the shops  whose owners  names he knew.

When he later got a job as a weaver,  he used to sing his own rustic religious compositions      to popular  tunes, keeping time to the loom he worked at. A fellow worker heard him,  and told      him that he should study Classic al Arabic.  What is  Classical Arabic?  he asked, and the man      took him to Sheikh Husni  al-Baghghal, who educated him in Shafi i fiqh and Arabic grammar. He studied these and other traditional subjects with sheikhs of the time  such as Muhammad Barakat,  Ali al-Daqar, Isma il al-Tibi, and  Lutfi al-Hanafi.

Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman told us that when  Husni al-Baghghal caught tuberculosis, before the era      of  antibiotics, he was put in quarantine, which his student defied by  visiting him. His teacher      told him he was risking his life, and in  reply, seeing that the sheikh had a candy in his mouth,       Abd  al-Rahman asked if he could see it for a moment.

The sheikh gave it to  him, and the young      man popped it into his own mouth, telling him  that according to tenets of faith ( ilm al-tawhid),       causes do not  bring about effects by themselves, but only by Allah s will.  The  illness proved      terminal to the sheikh, but Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman  survived.

His long association with sheikhs of  learning bequeathed him a lifelong respect for Islamic      knowledge  and a habit of  making sure  before  answering  any question about  religion.

What      the Imams have recorded is our religion,  he used  to say, and when I once asked him what      dhikrs one should recite  after the prescribed prayer, though he had prayed all his life and was       over seventy at the time, instead of answering he reached to his  bookshelf, found Imam Nawawi s  Kitab al-adhkar, and read several  sahih hadiths from it.

Throughout the 1980s,      whenever I would ask  him about a hadith or verse of the Qur an, he would always reach for a       reference work and in his patient way open it up and find something  about it. Though he knew      many of the answers, I had to be taught to  use references, so he taught me. This became apparent in later  years, when he came to answer me more freely from his own learning.

Imam Abul Hasan al-Shadhili, whose order the sheikh belonged to,  would not let his disciples      beg, but had them earn their own  livelihood, and Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman also emphasized the       importance of having a trade to earn one s living by the work of one s  hands. He used to say,  I      hope to pass on from this world without  having taken a single piaster from anyone: I don t even take from  my children.

Born in Homs in 1910, he came to  Damascus at three, and worked first as a stableboy, then as an       errand boy, then as a weaver, then as a foreman, then as a supervisor of  textile mills. When the      textile industry was nationalized under  socialism, he was but two years away from retiring and      receiving  his pension, and was now asked to head the industry.

He told the  government that       nationalization is theft,  and he would have  nothing to do with it, for which he was fired and      forfeited his  pension. He later found a position as a teacher of tenets of faith at a  religious      academy, where he taught until he was over eighty years  of age and could no longer walk to work.

While  still in his twenties, Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman took the Shadhili path from  Sheikh      Muhammad al-Hashimi, the representative in Damascus of  Sheikh Ahmad al- Alawi of      Mostaganem, Algeria. He remembered  meeting Sheikh al- Alawi in 1932 on his visit to      Damascus after the  hajj.

Sheikh al- Alawi had sat in the Shamiyya Mosque after sunset to  give a      lesson, and the young weaver had looked askance at the  sheikh s socks, which were French, not      of the plain-spun local  manufacture. Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman told us:  I said:  Look at those     socks. This man is supposed to be a sheikh?  Then he began to speak on  the aphorism of Sidi Ibn  Ata  Illah:

Do not leave the invocation of Allah (dhikr) because of your lack of  presence      with Allah therein, for your heedlessness of invocation is  worse than your      heedlessness in invocation. It may well be that He  raises you from invocation      with heedlessness to invocation with  attentiveness, and from invocation with      attentiveness to invocation  with presence of heart, and from invocation with      presence of heart  to invocation in which there is absence   from anything      besides  the Invoked,  and that is not difficult for Allah  [Qur an 14:20].

His commentary was something else. When he finished and  the nightfall prayer ( isha) came,       Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman smiled as  he remembered,  I said to myself,  This sheikh can wear any      kind  of socks he likes.

In subsequent years, until  Sheikh al-Hashimi s death in 1961, Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman became      the  head munshid or singer of mystic odes, at the hadra or public dhikr    the sama  or audition      advocated by Junayd and his circle as well as  the modern Shadhili tariqa.

Sheikh al-Hashimi      also authorized him  to give the general litany (wird al- amm) of the tariqa to others.  Although      later in the sixties the brethren urged Sheikh  Abd  al-Rahman to teach them, and he had been      authorized at the time by  both Sheikh Muhammad Sa id al-Hamzawi of Syria and Sheikh  Ali al-       Budlaymi of Algeria, he did not use either authorization to teach, until  Sheikh Muhammad Said al-Kurdi of Jordan   whom Sheikh  Abd  al-Rahman had introduced to Sheikh al-Hashimi in the      1930s and been  his fellow disciple with   made him his authorized successor.

Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman’s teaching in Sufism, like that of Dhul Nun  al-Misri, Shadhili, Ibn al-       Arabi, Darqawi, and others, was based  on the Oneness of Being, realized experientially by the      salik  or mystic traveler.  Oneness of Being  meant the being of Allah, and was  never confused or identified with the physical, contingent  being of created things.

Physical things,  Sheikh  Abd      al-Rahman  would say,  never even catch the scent of true Being.  Rather, Allah is  One, without      any partner in His transcendent perfection, without  any associate in His entity, attributes,      rulings, or actions; while  the entire world is merely His action, as the Qur an says,  This is the       creating of Allah, so show me what those besides Him have  created  (Qur an 31:11).

For Sheikh Abd al-Rahman, the world  was pure act, while Allah was pure being, and the two were       completely distinct, though the world depended solely and entirely upon  its Maker, whom it      revealed as His action. This was his conception  of the Oneness of Being. And  the spiritual way,       as he put it, was   that knowledge become vision.

When asked a  question about Sufism, Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman would often close his eyes,  rock      back for a moment, and say  Allah,  drawing out the last  syllable at length, then open his eyes      and begin the answer. In a  way, it summarized his whole life: teaching the experiential       knowledge of the Divine.

A spiritual path that does  not bring one to Allah,  he would say,  is a means without an end.        His way of mudhakara or teaching Sufism was mainly by public lectures  from classic works,      semi-public sessions of singing poetry at  people s homes, and private meetings with students      who had taken  his hand.

I heard him teach from Ibn al- Arabi s al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya,   Abd      al-Qadir al-Jaylani s Futuh al-ghayb, al-Siraj al-Tusi s  al-Luma , Muhammad al-Buzaydi s al-      Adab al-mardiyya, Ibn   Ajiba s al-Mabahith al-asliya, Abul Mawahib al-Tunisi s Qawanin hikam al-ishraq, Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi s  Awarif al-ma  arif,  Abd al-Wahhab al- Sha rani s  al-Yawaqit wa al-jawahir  and his Lata if al-minan, Mustafa Naja s Sharh al-wadhifa, and other  works. He had heard most of these from Sheikh al-Hashimi, and like his sheikh, would exposit them with the Qur an, hadith, Ibn  Ata   Illah s and other Sufi masters       aphorisms, but most of all, as a  poet and singer, with verses from the diwans of the great Arab       masters of mystic poetry.

He had memorized much from Ibn al-Farid, Abu  Madyan, Ahmad al-       Alawi,  Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi, Yusuf  al-Nabahani, Muhammad al-Harraq,  Umar al-Yafi,      Amin al-Jundi,  Abd  al-Qadir al-Himsi, and of course his own two-hundred-page volume of       poetry  al-Hada iq al-nadiyya fi al-nasamat al-ruhiyya (The dew-laden  gardens: in the soft      breezes of the spiritual), which he edited  with his disciple Dr. Mahmud Masri and published in      Aleppo in 1996.

His main lesson of the week took place after the dawn prayer in  his own home high on the side      of Mount Qasiyun above Damascus. He  would begin with Ibn al- Arabi s al-Futuhat al-      Makkiyya, which  he read consecutively in this lesson for seventeen years.

Then he would  read from a work of Ash ari theology such as Sheikh  al-Hashimi s Miftah al-janna, Ibrahim al-      Bajuri s  Hashiya on the  Matn of Sanusi, or one of the other books which he finished from       beginning to end over the years in this lesson. Then he would conclude  with Kandahlawi s      Hayat al-Sahaba to emphasize that a true Sufi  must gauge his spiritual path by those educated by the  Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), the prophetic  Companions.

His scrupulousness (wara ) resembled that of the early Muslims;  his personal practice of Islam      was strictness for himself and  leniency for others. When told that the soap he had used might      have  been derived from something ritually impure, he immediately took a  shower and changed      his clothes.

He knew that Hanafis considered the  chemical transformation of soap manufacture      to purify unclean  animal products, but he was a Shafi i, and he adhered to his own school  in all      matters of taqwa. In 1988 I went with him and three others  by car from Medina to Mecca on an      umra or lesser pilgrimage,  and from the moment we entered the Sacred Mosque until we left to Jedda, the sheikh would not lift his eyes more than two meters  ahead of his feet, out of awe for      the place, in which even the sins  of the eyes are greater than anywhere else.

In the last year of his       life, I saw him refuse to use cologne he had been told was  ritually  pure,  waving it away      impatiently because of the probable alcohol  content in it, and forming with his lips, which could      no longer  speak, the words  How do you know?

His daily wirds,  besides the Qur an, and the sunna dhikrs that Muslims say throughout the  day,      were four: the wird al- amm or general litany of the tariqa;  Abul Hasan al-Shadhili s Hizb al-      Bahr; the Wadhifa or Abul  Mawahib al-Tunisi s and Dhafir al-Madani s interlineal prayer upon Ibn Mashish s famous Blessing on the Prophet (Allah bless him and  give him peace); and the      wird al-khass, or Supreme Name  Allah,   which he recited at night.

He was at his  greatest as a spiritual guide, perhaps, in the khalwa or spiritual  retreat, into which      he initiated a number of those who took the  path.

He would impart the Supreme Name to the      disciple, and then by  degrees bring him to a point of the dhikr at which he would pour his  own      yaqin or certitude into the heart of the disciple in a way  not easy to describe, bringing him to a realization of the  transcendent Oneness of the Divine.

Disciples varied in their level of  spiritual      aspiration, purity of heart, intention towards the  sheikh, and taqwa, and consequently in their      degree of attainment,  and the sheikh would follow up with them in the years afterwards by       precept, example, and readings from classical works, so that they could  continue to progress by      measuring themselves against suitably high  standards, the prophets (upon whom be peace), the      Sahaba, and the  great awliya of the past.

He never stopped teaching. He once entered the head office of a small  religious academy in      Damascus with a group of his students and sat  down to talk to the director, who bade him wait      until he finished  some things that appeared somewhat urgent. One thing seemed to lead to  the      next, and phone calls came one after another.

Sheikh  Abd  al-Rahman waited patiently, while his      disciples, as the minutes  drew on, grew less and less so. Finally, after a quarter of an hour, the       principle of the school set aside his work, looked up at the  sheikh, and apologized with a smile,      putting himself at the sheikh s  service. The sheikh thanked him, asked him how he was, and      then  said,  I just wanted to make a phone call.

After a short call, he got  up, thanking the      principal profusely, and left with his disciples.  They had needed a lesson in patience and      manners, and the sheikh  had given them one.

But such moments were the  exception, and he tended to have a light hand with students. He       used to say,  Everyone takes after his own name,  and the meaning of   Abd al-Rahman,  Servant      of the All-Merciful,  was part of the way  he taught and was. He took disciples as they were, and      saw how he  could improve them.

His criticism was generally allusive and indirect,  and I would      often be well down the street after a visit before I  realized that he had intended me by his      comments.  In olden days,   he once explained, smoothing his trouser leg,  disciples used to       smooth the clothes of the sheikh. But in ours, the sheikh has to smooth  the clothes of the      disciple.

I remember him  being asked, on one of his teaching visits to Jordan, about long hours  of dhikr      for disciples after they had entered the khalwa and were  free to invoke the Supreme Name as      long as they wished, something  not allowed to those who have not entered it.  Long hours of      dhikr?   the sheikh had wondered.

No, it is sufficient to just invoke the Name  for five minutes,      or ten minutes, before going to bed.  After the  singing and stories, and the questions and      answers, the brethren  finally went to sleep on the pallets spread around the floor, and the  sheikh      repaired to his room, where he invoked the Supreme Name  through the night. It was his way to      tax himself, and make things  easy for others.

Although always kind and warm, in  earlier years he would sometimes express his concern for      disciples  with a firm yes or no. When I once asked him on behalf of a disciple  from Jordan for      permission to add a room onto a house, the sheikh  said,  Tell him that if it is necessary for his      family or guests,  he may go ahead.

But if it is only to glut a desire, then no.  He mostly  advised      however by hint and suggestion, and I recall that when  some disciples ignored his advice and did      what they wanted instead,  he merely said,  Had Allah known any good in them, He would have       made them listen  (Qur an 8:23).

In later years he became more absorbed in the divine beauty  (jamal) and acquiesc ent to others.      We were once driving across  town in Damascus together during election week, and I was      reading  the hand-lettered cloth campaign banners that stretched across the  street and filled the      sky.

The tenure of Syria s president had been  marked by a series of landslide victories at the      polls, and he had  now been nominated for yet another term. The sheikh put his face near  the      windshield, looked up at the banners, and commented,  A feast  for calligraphers!  He only saw      the good.

He  authorized a number of sheikhs to give instruction in the path. It is  related that he wrote out      such an ijaza or authorization and  carried it to one of the cities of the north to give to a sheikh       there, but when he discussed Ibn al- Arabi with him, realized that he  was not of the same      opinion about him as himself, and because he  felt this was important, returned to Damascus      without giving it to  him.

He likewise gave an authorization that he later revoked because he       found the recipient s character wanting. When asked about the  reality of the ijaza, he once said,       It is a means for its  possessor to defeat his devil.  And when asked why sometimes even an       authorized sheikh may go bad, he said,  It happens to someone who did  not keep the company of his sheikh long enough to absorb his state.  In  short, he considered the ijaza a necessary    condition to be a sheikh,  but not a sufficient one.

For these reasons he was very  conservative about authorizing sheikhs in the tariqa   saying that     whoever asked for it would be plagued by Allah with it   until after a  series of strokes and a    coma of fifty-five days in January and  February of 1999.

He returned to consciousness extremely    weakened,  and afterwards was much less stringent, perhaps because he considered  Sufism to be    the third great pillar of the din, and wanted as many  people as possible to teach it in whatever    capacity they could.

Only a  few of those he authorized originally took him as their sheikh, kept     his company in his active years, entered his khalwa, and attended his  readings to the brethren    before he stopped for health reasons in  1996; while most were previously trained or authorized    by other  sheikhs or only kept his company in his final years after his illness.

Sheikh  Abd al-    Rahman used to caution in his lifetime,  The path is  rare,  and Allah knows best the sheikh s    true inheritors, in path, in  godfearingness, and in absorption in the Divine; though Sheikh al-      Alawi has written in the first of his diwan:  After the sheikh’s death  there appears another like    him; That is the way of Allah which never  changes.

On Friday 11 June 2004 the Damascus brethren of  Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman put their hands in    the hand of Sheikh Mustafa  al-Turkmani at the Nuriyya Mosque as their head. The sheikh s    main  legacy however does not lie in the polity he left behind, but in his  reviving the spirit of the    tariqa with the Qur an and sunna and pure  experiential knowledge of the Divine.

A spokesman    for the Syrian  Ministry of Religious Endowments said at his funeral that  he was the  renewer of    the Sufi tariqas in the Levant and an inspiration to those  of the larger Islamic World, renewing    the tariqas according to the  exacting standards of the Qur an and sunna.

The thousands who     followed and benefited from the sheikh certainly concurred with this,  for he had filled their lives    with din and hearts with yaqin. May  Allah bless the Umma with the knowledge he taught, and    be well  pleased with His servant Sheikh  Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri. And praise  be to Allah,    Lord of the Worlds.


Şâzelî Şeyhler