O son, making bay'ah or pledge is one important act you must carry out at least once in your life. It is not common except among those in the circles of tariqah. But most people shy away from tariqah for reasons only known to them. From my observation, some friends avoid tariqahs because they do not have sufficient knowledge and understanding of tariqahs in general or a particular group that they may be exposed to. Some have fears that they might end up with a wrong group.
O son, Innamal aqmalu binniyat. It all depends on your intention. If you intend to be close to Allah, He will show you the way and He is on the Straight Path. 'And fear Allah. Allah teaches you and Allah knows all things'. (Al-Baqarah: 282)
Those who submit themselves to a tariqah murshid/guru, they are convinced that they cannot rely upon themselves. They need assistance and guidance from someone who is more qualified and knowledgeable than them. They understood the importance of having a guru. Yet some thought that tariqah is not good enough for them because they want more than tariqah, they want to attain haqiqah (reality) and ma'rifa (gnosis). The truth is that one can only achieve haqiqah and ma'rifa properly through training and curriculum of a tariqah. Most importantly one cannot reach Allah without going through the holy gate of Rasulullah s.a.w, through tariqah. None could bypass him.
Today, if someone were to ask you "would you like to be with Rasulullah?" You would surely say yes. And if that someone were to say "get in queue, at the head of this queue is the Prophet, he is waiting for you."; I'm sure you would not hesitate at hearing that. But if that person were to announce "this queue is called Qadiriah, that one is called Shadhiliah and that one is Naqshbandi", some people might think twice now. It's easy for them to forget their goal of wanting to be with Rasulullah because suddenly now in their minds they are thinking "Oh what kind of queue is this?" "Why do I have to go through an ordinary man?" "I will just do as many salawat as I can and I will see Nabi in the hereafter anyway."
O son, do not be like them. Your love for Rasulullah must be strong enough that you would do anything to get near him. You should do more salawat than those outside a tariqah. You must have an intention to dream of him. Better still you must dream to see him in person (yaqazah). So by all means make bay'ah with anyone who could take you to Rasulullah and ultimately to Allah.
Whether one realizes it or not we muslims make bay'ah five times a day with Allah. We say "Inna solati wa nusuki wamahyaya wamamati lillahi robil alamin" When you make bay'ah with a guru you are not making a pledge to him, you are in fact making a pledge to Allah. "Those who pledge allegiance with you (by placing their hands in your hand) they, in fact, pledge allegiance with Allah. Allah’s hand is over their hands..." (Qur'an Al-Fath: 10) "Hand", according to a mu'aleem means pledge, agreement, mercy, bounty or help. To make a pledge with someone essentially means letting oneself become receptive of mercy, bounty and help from Allah. So understand!
Rasulullah gave bay'ah to many people and he in his hikmah as a Rasul did it differently to different people depending on the circumstances. There is a hadith by Al Bukhary in Bahjatun Nufus (The Beauty of the Soul) about the Prophet giving bay'ah to Ubadah bin as-Samit al-Ansari. He was one of the most renowned sahabi from the Ansar. He made a pledge to Rasulullah not to do six things: not to commit shirik, not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to kill children, not to lie and not to deny what is good.
Likewise, when you make bay'ah with a particular tariqah, you enter into an agreement to do say 5000 zikir Allah a day. You must do a specified wirid depending on the tariqah. You must not go against certain adab. All the things that you are required to do in tariqah are meant to purify your heart and prepare you inwardly and outwardly before you could go into the presence of Muhammad s.a.w and eventually Allah s.w.t.
Some people may think "Oh, so ambitious!" O son, if people can be ambitious in wordly affairs, if they are ambitious in wanting to be a billionaire and go to the moon, why shouldn't you be ambitious in matters of akhira? Do not ever be apologetic about your inclinations towards akhira! At the end of the day, you will know who is the smarter one. In fact be smarter than those who wish for akhira. Wish for the Creator!
One of my gurus taught me about three citizenships. One is citizen of the world (ahlil dunya), the second one is ahlil akhira (citizens of akhira) and the last one is ahlillah (people of Allah). You may be alhlil dunya, well at least initially most people are but over time you should realize that it can only take you so far. Afterwards you would start turning towards akhira, usually when age catches up or when something really bad happened unexpectedly that make you fall on your knees. Then you start thinking about the lures of heavens and fears of hell and try to do as much as you can to gain good rewards. But those who are truly smart and well guided, they think beyond the heavens and all the amazing creations in the hereafter. They want Allah. Their goal is Allah the Creator. Hence their motto "Ilahi anta maqsudi wa redhoka matlubi". Lord you are my goal and your mercy is what I aim for. Needless to say, to be ahlillah is not an easy task. You must toe the line of ahlillah, the awliya Allah, the friends of Allah. They are those whose lineage trace back to Rasulullah s.a.w. They have traversed the path and reached their destination. Their path is the path of tariqah and their destination is Allah through the blessings of Rasulullah s.a.w.
According to Ustaz Syed Ibrahim bin Yahya, Nabi himself made bay'ah with Allah during Isra' wal Mikraj or the Night of Ascension. He had said "attahiyatu mubarakatus salawa tutoyyiba tulillah" and Allah responded "Assalamu'alaika aiyuhan nabiyu warahmatullah..." and so on as the recitation during solat.
In the end, said Syed Ibrahim, "when we make bay'ah all we want to do is strengthen our iman in regards our religion and Allah. We also want to be under the umbrella of the ulama". Certainly we intend to keep our pledge. For those who go against their pledge, it is Allah's prerogative whether to grant them pardon or punish them. As far as reward for bay'ah is concerned, the Prophet did not elaborate. The rewards for those attending majlis zikr or those who perform subuh and wait until ishrak, for instance, is made known. The former will be granted rahmah and tranquility while the latter gets the same benefit as those who perform hajj and umrah. However, the rewards for those who make bay'ah are reserved with Allah - fa ajruhu alAllah. Only Allah knows. He will grant it during Mahsyar (the Day of Resurrection) and Allah grants His mercy according to the capacity (qadar) of the recipient. Allahu aleem. And you O son, you listen to me - find a tariqah murshid and make bay'ah to Allah through him. Toe the line to Rasulullah s.a.w. This is our way. This is the way of your forefathers. So you cannot say 'no one told me!'
Tausiyah by Syed Ibrahim bin Yahya at KL Ba'lawi, July 2009.