About The Friends Or Saints of Allah
For the believers' (al-mumin) orientation proofs from the Quran, the hadith and other scriptural sources concerning the wonderful and decisive issue of the Saints or awliyâ' of Allah will be presented. The words walî, plural awliyâ' and walâya are all of quranic origin with the root wly meaning: to be close, to be a friend, to govern. They appear in the Quran in different forms over 200 times.
For those in the community (ummah) who unwittingly deny the science of tasawwuf (spiritual excellence) or neglect the believer's inner jihâd (spiritual struggle) restrict the understanding of the 'friends of Allah' as being 'pious worshippers', which is what every believer should be anyway. Thus they risk to degrade their rank - at least in the eyes of the uninformed and to diminish their importance for the believers and the whole of the Ummah.
But what are the qualities and favours of the "friends of Allah" (walî) and what is their function in the ummah?
It would be useful to start at the beginning:*
At first, Allah is the Lord and Protector (walî) of man; man is the one being tested as he is searching for meaning in life, for fulfillment and purpose. When the believer understands and accepts that truth, light and meaning derive from Allah and His Messenger , he will turn away from the distractions of the lower world (dunyâ), the favours of other than God and will turn to Allah in everything he intends and does, because:
“He (Allah, may His Majesty be exalted) is their Friend (walî) and they are His friends (awliyâ').” KAM211
In the Holy Qur'an, Allah says:
ALLAH is the Friend (walî) of those who believe; HE brings them out of all kinds of darkness into light...
Surely those who believed and fled (their homes , emigrated) and struggled hard in Allah's way with their property and their souls, and those who gave shelter (asylum) and helped - these are guardians , allies (awliyâ'u) of each other ...
Here is protection (walâyah) only Allah's, the True One; He is best in (the giving of) reward and best in requiting.
Now surely the friends (awliyâ'u-LLâhi) of Allah - they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve...
There is a comment on this last mentioned quranic verse in the famous hadith (qudsi) where Allah through the mouth of His Messenger states why they shall have no fear nor sorrow:
"Allah said, 'I will declare war against him who shows hostility to a pious worshipper (walî) of Mine. And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined (frD) upon him;
and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing nawâfil (praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him, so I become his sense of hearing with which he hears, and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips, and his leg with which he walks; and if he asks Me, I will give him,
and if he asks My protection (Refuge), I will protect him; (i.e. give him My Refuge) and I do not hesitate to do anything as I hesitate to take the soul of the believer, for he hates death, and I hate to disappoint him."
Narrated by Abu Huraira in Bukhari, vol8, hadith 509
So it is clear that the awliyâ' are under the loving care and protection of Allah Almighty. They are those who are 'no longer subject to natural appetites, nor to desires of the soul.' SIA40 Freed from the entaglements of the world and their own souls they can devote themselves to their original function.
Certainly our Leader and Doctor of hearts, the Messenger of Allah, Sayyidunâ Muhammad is not on our level or station in relation to Allah or in relation to creation. So what then is the station of the awliyâ' when we remember that every prophet is a walî, but not every walî a prophet?
Some quotes from our upright predecessors may give an explanation:
“It has been given to the awliyâ' by Allah in advance to enjoy His dhikr and to have access to His proximity. The life of their body is that of earthly beings and the life of their spirit is that of heavenly beings.”
Abu Sa`id al-Kharrâz in Sulami's Tabaqât
Abu Nu`aym quotes this saying:
“The servants whom God loves best are the pious and the hidden. When they are away no-one misses them, and when they are present they are ignored. They are the imâms of good guidance and the torches of knowledge.”
Suyuti, al-Fahr al-kabir, refers it to Abu Nu`aym's Hilyat-ul awliyâ'.
Al-Qushayri defined the walî as:
“One whose obedience attains permanence without interference of sin; whom Allah Most High preserves and guards, in permanent fashion, from the failures of sin through the power of acts of obedience.”
In Ibn `Abidin, Rasa'il (2:277)
Walâya does not involve spectacular manifestations and no walî would strive for those either. Far from it - the awliyâ are concealed as described in the words of Abû Yazîd al-BisTâmî in a way that the “saint of Allah has no feature by which he is distinguised, nor any name by which he can be named.” SIA36
As 'Imâms of good guidance and the torches of knowledge' their function is very important. In this respect, Ibn `Arabi's says that walâya is 'the shadow of the prophetic function,' just as the prophetic function is 'the shadow of the divine function.'
This also means that walâya is about the appropriation of the divine character (takhalluq). This is possible because man still possesses a shadow of some of Allah's qualities, such as 'life', 'mercy', or 'knowlege'. Walî is also a shared concept as expressedly stated in Sura Al-Ma'idah, the Table Spread (5), verse 55:
Certainly, your protecting Friend ( ) is only Allah and His Messenger and those who believe, those who keep up prayers and pay the poor-rate while they bow.
This then is the channel of the believer to his spiritual goal and therefore the direction in which he has to turn when embarking on the greatest of travels, which is the Way towards Allah (tarîq ila -Allah).
Analysing the many stations on the Way, R. Baqlî writes about walâya:
• The start of the Way is the will [or spiritual desire, irâdah] and it is accompanied by spiritual battles.
• The middle of the Way is love [for Allah alone, mahabbah) and it is accompanied by miraculous graces (karamât).
• The end of the Way is gnosis [direct intellectual intuitive knowledge, ma`rifah) and it is accompanied by contemplation (of the divine - mushâhadât).
The above mentioned evokes the closeness or proximity between the walî and his rabb (Lord). (“But insofar as walâya applies to Allah, it is also nus.ra, the divine Assistance from which” he benefits and which has been promised. SIA42) Also it is clear that the 'way of knowledge' is not opposed from the 'way of love', they really are merely different aspects in islamic tasawwuf, as every "walî is both a `arif (knower) and a muhibb (lover)."
Ibn al-Jawzi said:
“The Friends of Allah and the Righteous are the very purpose of all that exists (al-awliya wa al-salihun hum al-maqsud min al-kawn), they are those who learned and practiced with the reality of knowledge... Those who practice what they know, do with little in the world, seek the next world, remain ready to leave from one to the other with wakeful eyes and good provision, as opposed to those renowned purely for their knowledge.”
Ibn al-Jawzi's, Sifat al-safwa (Beirut ed. 1989/1409) p. 13, 17.