The Influence of Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi on Islam in Africa

Shaykh Abdalhaqq Bewley, Kellat M’Gouna, Morrocco

The significance in the meeting between Ian Dallas — soon to become Shaykh Abdalqadir as—Sufi — and Shaykh Muhammad b. al-Habib al-Amghari al-Idiisi in June 1968 cannot be overstated.

I have spoken extensively elsewhere of how the last four hundred years have brought about a fundamental change in the way that the vast majority of human beings see existence. This is not the time or place to go in detail about it but suffice it to say that over that period the worldview known as scientific materialism, largely based on the theoretical speculations of the philosopher Renee Descartes and the mathematical theories of the scientist Isaac Newton, has permeated human consciousness all over the globe. Under the name of modernism it has been universally propagated throughout the whole world by a globally adopted education system. It is particularly damaging to Islam because it undermines that most fundamental of Islamic beliefs, the true understanding of the unity of Allah, tawhid.

It does this by its rigorous reliance on causality. Francis Bacon’s famous dictum “God works in nature only by secondary causes” and Newton’s third law of motion “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” — the basis of virtually all scientific experiment and discovery ever since — removed the Divine from involvement in the natural world. This flatly contradicts the Qur’anic View of the way things happen. Many ayats of Allah’s Book make it clear that there is direct Divine involvement in everything that occurs in the natural world. To make effects dependent on their causes is hidden Shirk. A true understanding of tawhid reveals that effects accompany causes; they are not brought about by them. In every instance there is no actor but Allah.

But, along with everyone else, the Muslims have also been indoctrinated by scientific materialism and they are, in a way, in a worse position than non— Muslims. They think that, because they have the formulae of tawhid on their tongues, they are immune from its insidious effects. However they have proved just as susceptible to its deceptions as non-Muslims. They too posit the truth of science as being distinct from the truth of religion. Like almost everybody else, the modern Muslim has divorced the Divine from direct involvement in natural processes, seeing them only in terms of secondary

causation. He too views existence through a Galilean telescope and sees a Newtonian mechanistic universe with a mind permeated by Cartesian dualism.

It is in this context that the meeting between Shaykh Abdalqadir and Shaykh Muhammad b. al—Habib proved so crucial to Islam in this time. When the French entered Morocco in 1912, Shaykh Muhammad b. al-Habib was already a middle-aged man. His absolutely traditional Muslim education had not been influenced by scientific materialism in any way. The education he received was more than a thousand years old and could be directly traced back to the Madina of Imam Malik and before him to Prophet g and his Companions. In other words he was entirely uncontaminated by the modernist worldview. This shines through in his diwan and in his surviving derses and is perhaps the reason why so much of his teaching emphasises, indeed insists on, the need for a pure tawhid.

Shaykh Abdalqadir, on the other hand, had been entirely educated within the modernist ethos. He had not, however, been content to remain within its imprisoning walls but had broken through them and wholeheartedly embraced the breakthroughs in science and philosophy which had challenged and in many cases discredited the basic laws on which the whole edifice of scientific materialism was constructed. His repudiation and transcendence of the Cartesian/ Newtonian worldview enabled him to absorb and pass on the true understanding of tawhid he received from his shaykh. His book The Way of Muhammad makes clear the path he took to it and his Book of Tawhid is an explicit example of the purity of his understanding of it. All his writing and teaching, however, is shot through, is underpinned, by lu’s unerring knowledge of it.

Their meeting took place in the town of Kenitra, meaning in Arabic “Bridge”, and it was indeed a bridge, a bridge that overpassed completely the three centuries of the modernist project and its deceptive half-truths about the nature of existence. The meeting between Shaykh Muhammad b. al-Habib and Shaykh Abdalqadir as—Sufi directly linked the traditional, unalloyed, doctrine of tawhid, the core teaching of Allah’s deen, to a renewed, authentic understanding of it opened up by recent discoveries about the nature of matter. From the very beginning, the knowledge of tawhid has been the driving force of Islam. It was what enabled the first community to conquer half the world in a single generation, and it has been the basis of every regeneration of Islam ever since.

It is undoubtedly this authentic transmission of the true nature of tawhid that lies at the heart of the impact that Shaykh Abdalqadir has had in Africa and, indeed, all the other parts of the world where his influence has been felt. However, there are two places in Africa where his hand has been felt in a very direct way. One of these is Nigeria. A small group was sent by him to the south-eastern part of the country in the late 1970’s. They stayed there for a year, calling the people of that area to Islam. A little later a group of young Muslims from the north of Nigeria went to study in Norwich in England where Shaykh Abdalqadir was living at that time. They became his students and, on their return to their homeland, established a community based on his teachings, which is still in existence now. It is difficult to gauge exactly how much effect that has had but certainly the translations of the works of the great Fulani scholar and mujahid, Shaykh Uthman dan Fodio, which stemmed from it, have had and continue to have a great impact both in Nigeria and throughout the English-speaking Muslim world.

The other place is South Africa, where Shaykh Abdalqadir lived from about the year 2000 until earlier this year. During his time there, apart from his considerable literary output and continuous teaching programme, he established the prestigious ‘Dallas and Lady Aisha colleges and the Jumu’a Mosque of Cape Town. His da’wa activity, throughout his stay there was extremely productive and resulted in groups being formed all over the country from every strata of South African society. In fact the Muslim community he brought together there is, perhaps, the only arena in South Africa in which all the social, economic and political barriers erected during apartheid have been truly broken down. Shaykh Abdalqadir’s community truly does embrace all the heterogeneous groups so many other initiatives have so lamentably failed to integrate.

These are examples of the Shaykh Abdalqadir’s overt influence in Africa but it is difficult to measure the influence he has had in a more hidden way. When Dr Aziz al—Kubayti, the Moroccan academic, was researching his doctoral thesis on the influence of Moroccan Sufism in the Islam of the USA, he discovered, when he penetrated right to the source of the many groups he investigated, that Shaykh Abdalqadir had, on every single occasion, been centrally involved in their origin. Almost none of the contemporary members of those groups, however, had any awareness of the part he had played in their formation. What I am saying is that the influence of the People of Allah reaches far beyond the visible surface of things so it is impossible to know the exact extent of Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi’s influence on the Islam of the African continent in this time.

What we can know with certainty, on the other hand, is his high aspiration for the Muslims of Africa. This is nowhere more clearly expressed than in his book Letter to an African Muslim. So I would like to end this talk with some quotations from that important work. He begins the book with a devastatingly incisive and insightful analysis of the political and economic landscape of colonial and post-colonial Africa. He then devotes the last part of it to Islam in Africa. He starts by saying the future of Islam in Africa is in the hands of the Sufis. He writes: “It is by the already thrilling revival of the Sufic path that Islam will revitalise in Africa. The most important factor is that there must on no account be rivalry or ill-feeling between the different turuq…Only the Sufis can create the ambience of trust and brotherhood without which there will never be any Islamic resurgence.”

He goes on: “We must work to unite the people in love of Allah…The whole Muslim has two elements to his life: one, his outward behaviour, which will not only be devout in ’ibada but will be courteous, welcoming, smiling, hospitable, wishing the best on men and praying with a good heart for their growth and fulfillment; and two, his inward behaviour which will be enlightened by reflection and invocation, by being guided to understand the deep doctrine of tawhid he’ will be a man who loves the poor, who prefers the company of the men of Allah to the men of a moment’s transitory, illusory power by this the people will love him, trust him and follow him.”

Shaykh Abdalqadir then advocates the Maliki madhhab as the best means of achieving this goal, saying: “Malik’s path is existential. It is based on behaviour, the behaviour of the People of Madina. It is a legal grid founded on a pattern taken from the community of the Prophet’s city during the time of Sayyidina ’Umar and also ’Aisha. .. It is, we might say, the source system of Islamic society, the original blueprint.” He ends the section with the words: “So we conclude that it is possible now to vitalise Islam in Africa by the immediate adoption of the kalam of al-’Ashari, the fiqh of Malik and the tasawwuf of al-Junayd. …that is nothing less than the great central tradition of Islam in Africa. Take it and use it.”

He ends the book by calling to the path of dhikru’llah. He outlines the basic wird of the Shadhiliyya/Darqawiyya tariqa and then says: “By the lights of this recitation Allah will lead you to the company of a shaykh who can initiate you into the blessings, lights and secrets of your own heart by the halal and praiseworthy sciences of knowledge. And the highest knowledge is knowledge of Allah. ’Fear Allah and Allah will give you knowledge.’ As Shaykh Ibn al-Habib, may Allah be pleased with him, says in his diwan:

All those who have obtained knowledge and masteryHave only obtained them by accompanying a humble man

Have only obtained them by accompanying a humble man

By whom I mean the Shaykh whose light has overflowed

And who has brought secrets and wealth with him.

If you desire lights and the opening of inner sight

Then copy him in exalting Allah and turn from conflict.

“He also said, and let it be the last word, insha’allah:

O Lord bless the Prophet as long as the Surat al-Mathani is recited And his family and all the Companions as long as people profit by iman.

I ask of the Real — bliss — for all whom my age comprises.”

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