Book Review: Sufi Sage of Arabia

Sufi Sage of Arabia

Title: Sufi Sage of Arabia
Author: Dr. Mostafa Al-Badawi
Publisher: Fons Vitae (2005)

This is a biography of Imam ‘Abdallah ibn ‘Alawi al-Haddad (1634-1720). Dr. Mostafa al-Badawi was a student of a direct descendent of Imam ‘Abdallah ibn ‘Alawi al-Haddad, Habib Ahmad Mashshur al-Haddad. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf writes in the foreword:

Two paths to God exist for the people of this world, the path to salvation and the path to sanctification. For those who seek more than the minimum, who desire more than the average man, who want and yearn for intimate knowledge of their source and ultimate destiny, sanctification allows them that possibility.

Shaykh Hamza continues:

..it is through the path of sanctification that the Prophetic path is continued in this world for others to walk the path of salvation. Without sanctified souls in the world, the path would eventually be lost, and those seeking salvation destroyed.

This book is about a saint, and in our time this world, I believe the word ‘saint’ has lost some meaning. It has become something distant, something we struggle to understand and fathom. Shaykh Hamza also describes this book as a ‘step toward reintroducing the desperately needed path of sanctification’. Dr. Badawi writes in his preface:

I was told by a friend in the publishing business that for the Western reader such a description of the Imam’s life might seem to be an idealization, even leaving aside the few supernatural events I mention. There is little that can be done about that since the very concept of sanctity has become incomprehensible to the modern mentality. However, near perfect people do exist, and not just as legends.

Dr. Badawi mentions there were three main sources for this biography, a biography that was written shortly after the Imam’s passing by one of his closest disciples, second was a book of another disciple who collected all that he was able to note of the Imam’s utterances, and third a two volume collection of the Imam’s correspondence. Other sources included information gleaned from the Imam’s descendants by oral tradition, his published works and his Diwan of poetry.

The book is filled with the advice of Imam al-Haddad, one of which regarding a potential traveler who has not truly become attached to a spiritual master. Imam al-Haddad advises:

‘The one whose heart is not yet set on a particular shaykh should meet with them all and absorb from their baraka until the time he finds his heart collectedly set on one of these masters. Then he should keep his company and surrender his affairs to him’

In regards to the centrality of the writings of Imam Ghazali in the Ba’Alawi path, the book says about the Imam:

He also studied the works of his ‘Alawi ancestors and those of the Shadhilis, such as ibn Ata’illah’s Lata’if al-Minan and his Hikam. Much later, he was heard saying, ‘Had I continued to read the books of the Shadhilis, great things would have happened, but I was commanded by someone from the Intermediary World to leave them and read the books of Ghazali.’

There are many additional spiritual gems throughout the book, summaries of the Imam’s discourses on commonly discussed topics for those familiar with the spiritual path. His inward vision, ability to discern the people around him, and receiving knowledge by way of inspiration are highlighted. Through this book, one realizes the gift of divine selection for the path to sanctity, but also the importance of the effort in regards to rectifying one’s soul and bring it in accordance with the Prophetic Tradition.

May Allah give us all the propensity to attain his nearness and the company of his pious servants. Ameen.

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