Bayazid Bistami is reported to have said, “The sunna is abandoning this world, and religious obligation (al-farida) is companionship with the Master (the Prophet)” [Sulami, Tabaqat al-Sufiyya]
Could you please shed some light on this statement, specifically the last part about religious obligation being “companionship with the Master”?
It is a definition of “Fard and Sunna” for the Prophets and Awliya as opposed to the jurists and the scholars of external knowledge. The correct translation is:
“Abu Yazid was asked about [defining] the Sunna and the Farida [Fard]. He replied: “The Sunna is abandoning this world and the Fard is to keep company (suhba) with the Lord Most High (al-Mawla), because the whole Sunna points to abandoning the world, and the whole Book points to keeping company with the Lord Most High. Therefore, whoever learns the Sunna and the Farida becomes perfect.”
سئل أبو يزيد عن السُّنَّة و الفريضةِ. فقال:
السُّنَّةُ تركُ الدنيا، و الفريضةُ الصُّحْبةُ مع المولَى؛ لأنَّ السنةَ كلها تدلُّ على تركِ الدنيا، و الكتابُ كلُّه يدلُّ على صحبةِ المولى. فمن تعلَّم السنةَ و الفريضةَ فقد كَمُل
Allah knows best regarding the sayings of His Friends but it is well-known that Abu Yazid and so many of the great Awliya disliked questions about legal rulings and legal principles. They considered it inappropriate to ask Knowers of Allah to discuss rulings of the Law rather than asking them to describe Allah Himself. They understood their mission as pointing to Allah, not to the rulings of Allah, which they left to the ulema. This is the whole point of Imam Ghazali in the first book of Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din: Knowledge (`ilm) in the fullest sense of the word is knowledge of yaqin in Ghayb and Akhira, i.e. haqiqa and ma`rifa; not just shari`a knowledge of do’s and don’ts — which is limited to dunya. (Ghazali added: Don’t be upset with me dear reader if I say this!)
So Abu Yazid always rephrased and reformed everything to point to Allah Most High and insisted spiritual knowledge of states and stations is all “about Him, by Him, in Him, through Him, from Him and to Him….”
This advanced definition is in keeping with this method. It is for the Knowers of Allah and turns juristic definitions on their head in keeping with Sayyidina Abu Yazid’s other statements such as: “The minimum required from the Knower of Allah is that he must give away everything he possesses” “They reached gnosis by losing what they possess and standing with what He owns.” I.e. the madhhab of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq which is that zakat is 100% as opposed to 2.5% for the rest of the Umma. It is as if he is saying “the fard is to worship Allah as if you see Him, which is what the Qur’an is all about, and its minimum preparation is the Sunna, which is all about abandoning everything that is other than Allah. Joining the two is perfection.”
The latter expression, “he has become perfect” (fa-qad kamula) is a veiled reference to the Prophetic Hadith “Among men many have reached perfection” and alludes to the Awliya, who are the key to such knowledge and practice of Sunna and Fard. Ibn `Ajiba said in his Tafsir under the verse There has come to you a Light and a Manifest Book (5:15):
“Spiritual allusion (ishara): the walī is a light from the light of Allah and a secret from among His secrets, by which He brings out those for whom Divine help is foreordained out of the dark layers of veiling and into the light of Witnessing, and by which He guides those whom He selected for His Presence on the path of arrival to Him. Success is by Allah!”
الإِشَارَةُ: … فَالْوَلِيُّ نُورٌ مِنْ نُورِ اللهِ وَسِرٌّ مِنْ أَسْرَارِهِ يُخْرِجُ بِهِ مَنْ سَبَقَتْ لَهُ الْعِنَايَةُ مِنْ ظُلُمَاتِ الْحِجَابِ إِلَى نُورِ الشُّهُودِ وَيَهدِي بِهِ مَنِ اصْطَفَاهُ لِحَضْرَتِهِ تَعَالَى طَرِيقَ الْوُصُولِ إِلَيْهِ. وَبِاللهِ التَّوْفِيقُ.
There is extreme concision in Abu Yazid’s statement and also spiritual inspiration illustrating al-Nawawi’s description (in Bustan al-`Arifin) of Abu Yazid’s sayings as almost matching Prophetic Hadith in their beauty, and they deserve takbir and tahlil because they seem to throw open the gates of Paradise before our eyes.
Note: In his Futuwwa, another book by al-Sulami, he defines futuwwa as “Suhba with Allah, Suhba with the Messenger of Allah, and Suhba with the Awliya of Allah.”
May Allah Most High sanctify their souls and raise them higher and higher. May He forgive us for the honor of His Beloved Prophet and Awliya.
Hajj Gibril Haddad