This was a letter written on the occasion of a new circle opening in Tampa, Florida, for people to gather for what the Shadhili tariqa knows as a “Latifiyya“. Typically it is held once a week, people recite the name Al-Latif a thousand or so times, there is a group du’a, and a brief lecture.
As attested to in the hadith of Ibn ‘Umar (declared hasan gharib by al Tirmidhi): the gardens of Paradise are the circles of remembrance. My greetings then to you all whom God has favoured with the blessing of attending such a noble gathering: noble in its purpose, noble in its connection to and authorisation from the Sunnah and the people of Prophetic inheritance, and noble in the stature of its company (insha’Allah). I am writing not only to express my delight that this circle is being established, but also to explain something of the purpose and validity of the gathering. Many in this country are given to reservations whenever unfamiliarities are encountered in our experience of Islam, and often times we find that experience to be very limited.
To God belong the Names Most Beautiful; so call Him by them, and leave those who blaspheme His Names — they shall assuredly be recompensed for the things they did. (7:180)
The command to call on Allah by the Beautiful Names, the Attributes by which He makes Himself known to His creation, is of a general nature. A question that might arise is whether this is enough to justify the practice you have all gathered to celebrate in, namely calling on the name al-Laṭif one-thousand times and participating in a prayer shared in one voice appealing to Allah to manifest Himself by the subtle quality of His Gentleness to His creation and to exalt the immense rank of His Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his folk in every moment and time. There will be some who deny that this is enough because of their understanding that only the practice of the Prophet was sound, and that everything beyond what he approved of is cut-off. The basis for their claim is the hadith: “Beware of matters newly begun, for every matter newly begun is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in hell.” While I appreciate the care and concern in preserving the authenticity of the religion that this view shows, it is problematic for a number of reasons, particularly if it were to be used to censor the gatherings of group remembrance that have been practiced by pious Muslims for centuries. Perhaps the most straightforward evidence against this notion is another hadith:
[Abu Layth: The meaning of the word sanna in this hadith is 'to start an act without precedent'. This was also used by the Prophet Muhammad when he said that the son of Adam was the first to commit murder (Awwalu man sanna Al-qatl) as reported in Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim. "Some" argue that this hadith was specifically said in the case of giving charity, and is thus restricted to such. This is correct, however, irrelevant to the evidentiary aspect of the hadith as the scholars of Usul maintain that the 'import of the evidence is in its generality, not [limited] to the context in which it took place.’ (Al-’Ibratu lil-’Umum, la li-Asbab Al-Wurud) Another false argument by them is that what is meant is “whoever revives a Sunnah”, yet this is not what the hadith says linguistically, and these nay-sayers have no proof that this hadith means such.]
Muslims the world over sing poetry together, poetry that is virtuous in meaning from masters both ancient and contemporary, and this is not condemned. The idea that gathering to remember Allah as a group is condemnable is awkward when both the litany that we recite here and religious songs and poetry are not unalike in being the composition of mortals rather than Divine Revelation — particularly when performing this litany obviously falls within the general commandment to make use of the Beautiful Names by which Allah adorns Himself in the Qur’an. The generality of the hadith cautioning us to avoid matters of blameworthy innovation is simply not enough to restrict the generality of the command to call on Allah by His Names: this has been the understanding of the scholars of this Ummah from past to present. And Allah is the Most Knowledgable of those possessing knowledge.
Dhikr, or remembrance (particularly in the context of religious meditation, awareness, learning, invocation, and reflection), possess a light, a beatitude, and a remedy for the one engaged in it. That these gatherings uplift and illuminate the heart, and facilitate matters in both our daily and religious lives by the blessing and sanctity attached to the object of our remembrance, has been attested to even in my own personal observation of those who attend such gatherings regularly. When our own teacher was asked for a commentary on the Laṭifiyya, his reply was that the people who attend the Laṭifiyya are its commentary. The unanimous verdict of the spiritual masters of Islam is that those who remember Allah have more than those who fail to do so, and those who gather for the sake of Allah have more than those who attach themselves to pettiness. The sheer act of remembering Allah is a manifestation of Allah’s love for the one He bestows that success. The lantern of gnosis and Imam by scholarly consensus, Junayd of Baghdad, declared that belief in the spiritual path is a form of sainthood in and of itself. Another Shaykh of our spiritual chain, Ibn ‘Ata Illah al-Iskandari, advised us never to despair of calling on Allah as those who knock at the door are nearly inside. Those who immerse themselves and give themselves fully to the Laṭifiyya are certainly knocking on a mighty door. May we remain in each other’s prayers. And all praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of all being.
And another hadith that serves to contextualise the condemnation of new practices to those that contradict what is already established as part of the religion, “Whoever innovates something into this matter of ours which does not belong in it will have it rejected”. [Bukhari, Muslim, and others]
So from this hadith we can draw the analysis of the “opposite” that if someone does innovate something into this matter of ours that belongs in it, will have it accepted. Shaykh Nur-Ad-Din Al-’Itr said of this hadith, “This hadith is the clearest proof for the innovation of guidance!”
Coupled with the numerous hadiths that praise those who gather to remember Allah, the numerous examples of Prophetic companions who introduced their own practices both during and after the life of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his folk), and the simple fact that the scholars of our religion from every one of the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, & Hanbali) have vouched for the permissibility and merit of such gatherings; my personal conviction is that such gatherings as this are of those that are accepted and rewarded by Allah, Mighty and Majestic.
General examples from the words of the Prophet Muhammad include the following narrations:
“Narrated from Abu Hurayrah or Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri that Rasululah (saaws) said, “Allah has angels that go throughout the earth in addition to the angels that write the deeds of the people (kuttab). So when they find a group of people doing dhikr of Allah, they call to one another: “Come to that which you have been seeking! They will come and cover them up to the lowest heaven…” [Sunan Tirmidhi english edition 3600, Bukhari, Muslim with different wordings though the same meanings]
Al-Agharr Abu Muslim narrated that he bears witness, from Abu Hurayrah and Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri, that they bore witness, from Rasulillah (saaws) that he said:
“There is no group of people that remembers Allah, except that the angels encompass them, mercy covers them, and tranquility descends upon them; and Allah makes mention of them before those who are with Him.” [Muslim in his Sahih and Tirmidhi in his Sunan, English edition #3378]
“Verily Allah sends out angels seeking the gatherings of dhikr, and when they come upon them, they encompass them.”
(Reported by Al-Bazzar and Al-Haythami said it was “Hasan”)