Thursday, May 7, 2009

Foundations of the Spiritual Path by Sidi Ahmad Zarruq


Below is a summary of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf's translation of 'Foundations of the Spiritual Path' by Sidi Ahmad Zarruq (1442-1493), a Shadhili Sufi Sheikh and founder of the Zarruqiyye branch of the Shadhili Tariqa:

The foundations of our paths are five:
1. Taqwa (mindfulness of Allah privately and publicly) - through scrupulousness and uprightness.
2. Adherence to Sunnah in word and deed - through caution and excellent character.
3. Indifference to whether others accept or reject one - through patience and trust in Allah.
4. Contentment with Allah in times of hardship and ease - by accepting what one is given and leaving one's affairs to Allah.
5. Turning to Allah in prosperity and adversity - by praising and being grateful to Him in times of prosperity and taking refuge in Him in times of affliction.

The foundations of the preceding five are:
1. Keeping high aspirations.
2. Maintaining Allah's reverence.
3. Service to others.
4. Fulfill one's resolves.
5. Magnify one's blessings.

The foundations of right conduct are five:
1. Seek sacred knowledge to fulfill Allah's commands.
2. Keep company with spiritual guides and other aspirants to gain insight into one's fault.
3. Forego dispensations and interpretations concerning injunctions for one's own protection.
4. Organize one's time with the remembrance of Allah to maintain presence of heart.
5. Suspecting the selfish soul (nafs) in everything in order to free oneself of its desires and be safe from destructive circumstances.

The foundations of what will cure a sick soul are five:
1. Eat and drink less.
2. Take refuge in Allah from harm when it actually occurs.
3. Avoid places where one fears misdeeds will occur.
4. Continually ask for Allah's forgiveness and devote prayers to the Prophet s.a.w publicly and privately.
5. Keep company with one who guides to Allah, unfortunately such a one no longer exists!

Abu Hassan Shadhilli said:
"Whoever directs you to this world has cheated you; whoever directs you to deeds has exhausted you; but whoever directs you to Allah has truly counseled you."
"My beloved counseled me not to put my feet anywhere except where I hoped for Allah’s reward, not to sit anywhere except where I was safe from disobedience to Allah, not to accompany anyone except someone in whom I could find support in obedience to Allah, and not to select anyone for myself other than those who increased my certainty, and how rare they are to find!"

The seekers of this age are afflicted by five things:
1. Preference of ignorance over knowledge.
2. Being deluded by spiritual impostor.
3. Unable to prioritize important matters.
4. Using spiritual path to inflate the selfish soul.
5. Trying to expedite spiritual opening without fulfilling its pre-requisites conditions.

The qualifications of the spiritual guide with whom the seeker may entrust his self are five:
1. Unadulterated spiritual experience.
2. Sound outward knowledge.
3. Celestial aspirations.
4. A pleasing state.
5. Penetrating inner perception.

The spiritual courtesies of a student with his/her guide and other wayfarers are five:
1. Follow the directions of the guides even if it contradicts one's own preference.
2. Avoid what the guide forbids even if it is highly adverse to the student.
3. Maintain utmost reverence for them in their presence and absence during their lives and after their deaths.
4. Give them their due according to one's ability without stint.
5. Relinquish one's own understanding, knowledge and leadership to that of the teacher unless these are already in accordance with one's teacher.

'It is necessary to read this every day, once or twice, and if that is not possible, then at least once a week until its meanings are imprinted on one’s soul and manifest in one’s behavior. Indeed, it contains that which enables one to dispense with many books and much advice, and it is said, “Surely they have been denied arrival by their neglect of the foundations.” Whoever reflects deeply on what we have said will acknowledge its truth, and he will continue to have recourse to it, using it as a reminder for him. Success is ultimately by Allah.'
- Sidi Ahmad Zarruq al-Barnusi, al-Farsi.
# Source: Seasons Journal, Spring/Summer 2003 - a publication of Zaytuna Institute, founded in 1996 by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and Dr. Hesham Alalusi.
# Biography of Ahmad Zarruq (courtesy of Amal Press):
"Scholar, jurist, influential spiritual teacher and a prolific writer. Al-Kuhin remarks, 'it was calculated that from the time of his birth till death, he wrote half a page a day.' Among the most important of the Sufi writings are Zarruq's collected commentaries on Ibn Ata'illah's 'Hikam'; his commentaries on al-Shadhili's 'Hizb al-Bahr' and al-Jazuli's 'Dala'il al-Khayrat'; his discourse on innovation in Sufism, 'Uddat al-Murid; his personal litany, al-Wazifah; a commentary on al-Bukhari's 'Sahih' and 'Qawa'id al-Tasawwuf ' (The Principles of Sufism) which is his most famous work."


  1. Salam Aleikum,

    I have been aking myself if indeed Shaikh Hamza Yusuf is actually a Sufi or not. I certainly admire him and would live to know if this is true. I know he also admire and has sound knowledge about Imam Al Ghazali. There is no evidence not I have I ever hear him or anyone else say that he is Sufi. All I know is that he follows the Maliki school of thought. Also I know he studied in Mauritania. The Sahara region is known not only for the practice of the Maliki madhab but also for Sufism but that does not means that the Shaikh is Sufi. Could you provide any evidence about him be Sufi? and if so why been so quite about it. Thank you in advance and for your nice blog. Jazakallah Khair! Yusef Omar

  2. Salam brother Yusef,
    I am afraid and I am sorry that I cannot answer your question. Who am I to give evidence if the venerable Shaykh Hamza or if anyone is a Sufi. Someone informed me recently that as far as he knew, Shaykh Hamza does not follow any particular tariqa.
    But then again not doing so does not necessarily mean he or she is not a 'Sufi'.
    I believe no one would declare he or she is a sufi. It's a delicate matter.
    Wallahu a'lam.
    Thank you for your kind words.

  3. As-Salāmu `Alaykum Ezza,
    Thank you for your quick response. What you said makes sense now that I think of it and reminds me about something that a Turkish professor said to me at last year's Ibn Arabi and Rumi teachings and conference at Columbia University, here in NYC.
    He asks if anyone knew about Ibn Arabi’s tariqa, no one knew. He said that it is best "not to reveal your tariqa" perhaps one should not focus so much in such things but in the Sufi way and Islam. Different tariqas provide a great wealth of knowledge. It’s good to know and learn from them and treasure it in your heart.
    Unfortunately, I have seen a few videos online attacking the Sheikh Hamza Yusuf in a very unfair and unjust manner. After taking all things under consideration one may realize how sensitive “the Sufi question” may be for such a high profile Sheikh.
    He is constantly doing great things for Islam, the Ummah and for everyone here in the US. He can truly deliver a lecture in a very comprehensible way. He is truly very inspiring and worth of respect. I have been fortunate enough to listen to him in person. He inspired me to learn and study more about Imam Al Ghazali and the other great Islamic thinkers and philosophers.
    Thanks again for your nice and informative blog. It truly makes some interesting reading and matter of learning.
    Yusef Omar

  4. AlaykumSalam Yusef,

    Oh wow, conference on Ibn Arabi & Rumi at Columbia Uni in NYC. I wish I were there. You are so blessed to have been exposed to all these great stuff.

    I was not aware of the criticisms on Shaykh Hamza. But I think that's expected, the more you try to do something for the religion the more challenges will be thrown at you.

    Yes I was going to say the word "sensitive". You are right it's a sensitive question not just to a high profile shaykh but to anybody. I also think the term sufi has been overrated and employed too loosely when equating it to tasawuf. And I think out of adab people would readily admit to be one who studies tasawuf than admitting 'I am a sufi'. It's sensitive because it's as if a person makes a declaration 'I am pure'.

    I think it's more appropriate for others to evaluate "the sufis" and brand them as such, to a certain extent. Still I would rather describe "the sufis" as "ahlul tasawuf" who are occupied with purifying themselves using a certain discipline (most likely a tariqa and/or teachings that have "sanad" to the Prophet pbuh) They are those who occupy their time mastering the esoteric aspect of Islam to attain "ihsan" and excellent character as exemplified by Rasulullah s.a.w. These dignified people truly are "insan Rabbani" - people of the Lord.
    So in that sense I am confident Shaykh Hamza is indeed a Sufi.
    Allahu a'lam.