Translated by Ismaeel Nakhuda
(Translator’s foreword: Below is the translation from Arabic of a short treatise on Tasawwuf written by the 16th century hadith scholar and Sufi, Shaykh ‘Ali al-Muttaqi. The treatise—titled Tabyiyn al-Turuq ila Allah—is included in Shaykh ‘Abdul Haqq Muhaddith Dehlawi’s Zad al-Muttaqin fi Suluk Tariq al-Yaqin, a Persian work that includes the biographies of Shaykh ‘Ali Muttaqi, his khalifah Shaykh ‘Abdul Wahhab al-Muttaqi, and notable jurists, hadith scholars and Sufis of their era. The version I have in front of me is an Urdu translation of the original book by Mawlana Dr. Muhammad ‘Abdul Halim Chishti and published by Al-Rahim Academy, Karachi. Shaykh ‘Abdul Haqq mentions that Tabyiyn al-Turuq ila Allah was Shaykh ‘Ali al-Muttaqi’s first piece of writing. Shaykh ‘Ali al-Muttaqi writes:)
Glory is for You, we have no knowledge save what you have taught us. All praise is for Allah, the Guider to the Straight Path, and complete and perfect Peace and Blessings on His Prophet, the caller to the straight methodology and great purpose, and on his family and Companions who treaded the path of the correct religion.
Thereafter, the lowliest of slaves ‘Ali bin Husam al-Din, known as al-Muttaqi, says:
Oh wayfarer (salik) who seeks the nearness of your mawla Whose mention is great—may He guide you and us to that what pleases him—know that he who intends a great purpose and seeks a lofty rank should necessarily know the means of its acquisition and the Paths to reach that purpose. Hence, it is crucial that the one travelling the Path to Allah knows the meaning of Proximity (qurb) and knows the Path that will take him to His Most High’s nearness. This treatise, titled Tabyiyn al-Turuq ila Allah (Explanation of the Paths to Allah), consists of this knowledge; the least benefit for he who acts on its contents is that he will know the straight Path from the wrong and incorrect Path until Allah Most High gives him the accordance to tread the Path.
Know that the Path that takes one to Allah is His worship as the Noble Qur’an has mentioned: “Indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him; this is the Straight Path.”(3:51)
Worship is of two types: Obligatory (fard) and Supererogatory (nafl). The fard is of two types: that which is to be carried out (imtithali) and that which is to be abstained from (ijtinabi), and the nafl is also of two types like the fard; it is also, after the fard, the Path of drawing close (to Allah) as mentioned in the hadith from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) who said that the Prophet (ﷺ) said that Allah Most High said, “He who has enmity for a friend (wali) of mine, then I have declared war on him. A slave does not draw close to Me with anything more beloved to Me than that (those religious duties) which I have made fard on him; and my slave continues to draw close to me with nafl worship until I love him. And when I love him, I become his hearing and his sight”. (Al-Bukhari)
Rather, the fard cannot be a means of drawing close except by perfecting it with nafl, without which the fard would be a means of salvation (munji) and not a means of Proximity such as the fard that has been made perfect with nafl. It can be understood by this that a person who has begun the fard prayer and sufficed in the recitation, bowing (ruku‘), prostration (sajdah) and sitting (qa‘dah) on only the fard and wajib, in that he did not fulfil the Sunnah recitation, rather he sufficed on a lengthy verse or three short verses in the standing according to the mathhab of those who view that permissible, and in bowing, standing and prostration he sufficed on one tasbih, and in the sitting he sufficed the length of just the tashahud, then, it would be better to say that this prayer was a means of salvation from the Fire for this person and not a means of nearness to Allah such as the Proximity found in that fard which is perfected with nafl. When it is understood that just the completing of the fard without perfecting it with nafl is the way of salvation, and perfecting it with nafl is the way of Proximity [to Allah] and lofty status, then it is necessary to explain the types (qism) and individual acts (afrad) of nafl.
Know, may Allah have mercy on you, that the individual acts of nafl are many; it is not possible to enumerate them. However, they can be confined into two types: those that are to be carried out (imtithali) and those that are to be abstained from (ijtinabi). We mean by imtithali that which is carried out such as the additional Sunnah and recommended (mustahab) actions, etiquettes and doing that which is superior; this is because we have taken the lexical meaning from the word nafl. The meaning of ijtinab is that which should be abandoned such as abandoning those actions that are disliked (makruh) and abandoning that thing in which there is no issue fearing one may fall into something in which there is a problem, such as for the single man to not eat to his full and avoid perfume fearing his passion may increase and he falls into the forbidden (haram).
Najm al-Din al-Kubra ((Najm al-Din Kubra al-Kubra’s (d.1221) full name was Abu al-Jannab Ahmad ibn ‘Umar. He was a 13th century Persian Sufi from Khwarezmia.)) said: “The paths to Allah are numerous according to the number of the creation’s breaths.” It is also mentioned in a hadith: “Indeed, Allah Most High has a tablet made from green chrysolite and which he has placed below the throne on which it is written, ‘I am Allah, there is none worthy of worship except me; I am the Most Compassionate. I have created over 310 creations. Hence, whoever comes (on the Day of Judgement) with the testimony that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, I shall enter him into Paradise.’” ((This hadith has been narrated in Shaykh ‘Ali al-Muttaqi’s Kanz al-‘Ummal and also by al-Tabarani in al-Awsat.))
There is an indication in this hadith to the abundant individual acts of nafl that can be carried out such as the dhikr of La ilaha illallah, supererogatory prayers, the recitation of the Qur’an, seeking forgiveness (istighfar), glorifying Allah (tasbih), supplicating, sending Peace and Blessings on the Prophet, fasting, supererogatory circumambulation (tawaf), supererogatory charity (sadaqah), supererogatory Hajj, commanding the good and prohibiting the wrong, and other actions that are recommended (mustahabb), the teaching of religious knowledge, the different ways to help Muslims, the least of which is to remove obstacles from the path of the Muslims and other actions the enumeration of which is not possible. Hence, whoever continuously carries out one of these individual acts at all times or most of the time, while diligently avoiding all of those types of prohibited actions, he shall acquire his purpose of Proximity because acquiring Proximity [to Allah] is not with the condition that all of the individual acts of supererogatory actions that can be carried out are fulfilled, as that is not possible, rather one individual action will be sufficient for him.
As to avoiding all of that which have been warned against, then this is a condition in the acquisition of Proximity because these actions are forbidden and avoiding them is possible, whereas the requirement for an abundance of supererogatory actions is unconditional and can be achieved through an individual act or something similar. He who encompasses all of his time or most of it with some of these [nafl] actions in a way that he moves from one individual act to another in spite of the soul growing weary, then he has carried out a lot in terms of that one individual action. Therefore, he who said that the paths to Allah are many, or who said that the path to Allah is one, then they have [both], according to this, spoken the truth. They have also said that the people of this Path are one and there is no difference between them. In other words the Paths of the shaykhs in some dhikr and supererogatory actions, even though they are different such as the Qadris, the Suhrawardis, the Shadhilis, the Naqshbandis etc, return to one matter and that is worship, taqwa and following the Book and Sunnah. Understand this.
As to the shaykhs selecting this one particular individual action [of nafl worship] which is the kalimah of La ilaha illallah from all of the different actions, then specifying it is on account of it attracting a great deal [of reward], presence [of heart] and other benefits which cannot be visualised in other actions even though the supererogatory prayer is superior to dhikr because it is more tiring and also includes dhikr. At times, some forms of aiding a Muslim is superior to the praying of supererogatory prayers because this is an action that is transitive (muta‘addi) and an action that is muta‘addi is superior [to an action that is not muta‘addi]. ((Shaykh Nizamuddin Awliya, as mentioned in Professor Khaliq Ahmad Nizami’s Life and Times of Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya, has expanded on this issue: “Devotion to Allah is of two kinds, lazmi (intransitive) and muta‘addi (transitive). In lazmi devotion the benefit which accrues is confined to the devotee alone. This type of devotion includes prayers, fasting, pilgrimage to Makkah, recitation of religious formulae, turning over the beads of the rosary etc. The muta‘addi devotion, on the other hand, brings advantage and comfort to others; it is performed by spending money on other, showing affection to people, and by other means through which one strives to help human beings. The reward of muta‘addi devotion is incalculable.”))
Then also know—may Allah have mercy on you—that those types of actions that should be abstained from (ijtinabi) are, in the acquisition of Proximity, more perfect than those actions that need to be carried out (imtithali), especially when the intention is correct. This is because the person who has struggled hard in abstinence by safeguarding all of his time, sufficed himself in fulfilling the obligatory actions (fard) and not carried out those nafl actions that can be done (imtithali) shall acquire his purpose of Proximity. And he who strives hard in fulfilling supererogatory actions (imtithali) by safeguarding all of his time while carrying out a disliked action (makruh) shall disrupt the acquisition of his purpose, namely Proximity, while he who carries out both shall acquire his purpose, Proximity, in a short time insha-Allah.
Its example is that of a sick person who needs to consider two issues: One is abstinence (ijtinab), which is abstaining from those things that harm him, namely that which is sour, sweet etc; and the second includes actions that need to be done (imtithal) and that is the usage of items that will benefit him, namely electuary (ma‘jun) and syrups etc. The aspect of abstinence to repel the illness is more important than using the other items. In other words, if he is diligent in his abstinence, even though he does not take the beneficial medicine, then there is usually hope that he will become healthy after some time. If he were to be diligent in taking the beneficial medicine and abandons abstinence, then a return to health is not generally anticipated. And if he were to carry out both, then his recovery to health is soon anticipated insha-Allah.
The verse of Allah Most High, “Indeed, the most noble of you for Allah is the one most Allah fearing”, (49:13) also indicates towards the importance of abstinence (ijtinab) because the word taqwa is, lexically, based on abstinence, even though, in terms of the Shari‘ah terminology, it also consists of actions that need to be carried out (imtithal). As to our saying that abstinence is more important than the actions that need to be carried out, this is because repelling harm (daf‘ al-madarr) is more important than acquiring benefit (jalb al-naf‘), in other words abstaining from the disliked is more important than carrying out what is supererogatory. For example, he whose clothes have become dirty in a way that it causes the prayer to become disliked (makruh), then spending some of his time in removing that which is disliked is more important than his remaining preoccupied in supererogatory prayers with it on at that time. (The explanation of the Paths to Allah has finished. When the salik treads this Path he shall reach the destination called Proximity [qurb] and Joining [wasl]).
The meaning of qurb is the distancing of the salik from anything apart from He Most High, and the meaning of wasl is the separation of the salik from anything apart (ghayr) from He Most High. Ghayr includes all of that which has been warned against (mahzur) and that which is permissible (mubah). The meaning of mahzur includes all of those types that have been forbidden and mubah means preoccupation with the creation, namely the skies, the earth, mountains, trees, rocks, means of living etc. Hence, being afar from that which has been warned against (mahzur) while not being inclined to that which is permissible is perfect Proximity (qurb), and depending on how much the salik is distant from the ghayr, he shall draw close to Allah accordingly. The meaning of Proximity also shows the importance of abstinence (ijtinab).
We shall explain the opposition of ghayr in another way, which is that the primary veils that prevent from reaching Allah are four: the world (dunya), the creation, the carnal self (nafs) and Satan. The way to remove them is mentioned in the book Minhaj al-‘Abidin [by Imam al-Ghazali]. So, when it is known that Proximity to Allah, after the obligatory actions, is gained through supererogatory acts of worship, regardless of whether it is an entire type of action or an individual action as has been mentioned, an abundance of knowledge should also be acquired regarding this. This is done by understanding that the preoccupation of man is not void of two things, worship and habit, each of which are not void of two qualities: that which is seldom in occurrence and that which occurs a lot. Examples of that which occurs less in the category of worship include Hajj, Zakah, Jihad etc, and examples in the category of habits include nikah, divorce, buying and selling etc. Examples of that which occurs often in the category of worship include fasting, prayer, dhikr, etc, and in the category of habits, eating and drinking, sleeping and clothes etc. For the seeker of Proximity, the acquisition of supererogatory actions in both types is very important to an extent that he is engrossed in supererogatory actions all the time. For this, the book ‘Ayn al-‘Ilm ((‘Ayn al-‘Ilm is an abridged version of Imam al-Ghazali’s Ihya al-‘Ulum al-Din. Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari wrote a commentary on it entitled Sharh ‘Ayn al-‘Ilm wa Zayn al-Hilm (The Spring of Knowledge and the Adornment of Understanding). The name of the scholar who abridged the Ihya is unknown, Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari mentions that he was either an Indian or Balkhi scholar.)) and other similar short books is sufficient; whoever seeks detail then let him study books such as [Imam al-Ghazali’s] Ihya al-‘Ulum al-Din and other books of fiqh. This principle is sufficient for he who seeks to know Proximity and the way to it.
As to people’s requirement for a guide (murshid) and teacher, then this is necessary to acquire the Path and speedy wusul. As to treading the Path without a guide and teacher, then in short that is possible for he who Allah grants accordance in light of His saying, “Those who struggle in our way, we shall guide them to our paths”. (29:70) However, it is acquired with extreme difficulty and over a prolonged time, and is also very rare. And Allah is most knowledgeable about what is correct.