“Allah is Allah… and people are people”
Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, our dearly missed teacher, had a particular phrase that he was known for – ‘radical traditionalism’. What I always understood from this was his willingness to stretch our understanding of the tradition (al-turath) of this religion, instead of restricting that understanding. He was imbued with that tradition, masha’Allah – and it saturated his approach to everything. How could it be otherwise – he was a product of Azzawia and tariqa ulama Makka, via his uncles, Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki, and so many other incredible scholars of the tradition.
At the same time, he knew, as must we all, that infallibility (isma’) belongs to the Prophets, and to the Prophets alone. Not anyone else, and as such, he often asked very piercing questions, often finding answers that were deeply hidden in the tradition itself.
There’s something very human about that, because it recognises that perfection belongs, of course, to God and to Him Alone. And the recognition that infallibility and perfection are far beyond us does not then result in despair or anguish – rather, it’s a reminder that when people let us down, we have to understand things as they are. As Imam al-Ghazali’s famous supplication goes: “Allah, show me things as they (truly) are.”
We need that reminder. People come to us and are deeply hurt about the things people say or do, even when such people are supposed to be teaching about the tradition. I remember one student who defrauded his own teacher; another set of elders who had been teaching the tradition for years, and then started behaving with each other poorly; and, alas, the stories of grave misconduct, traumatising so many students.
But as one of the righteous said:
“Guide the people to Allah, and do not guide them to anything but Him,
For he who guides you to the world has cheated you, and he who guides you to work has made you suffer.
But he who guides you to Allah has counselled you well.”
The core of the tariqa ulama Makka is deeply intertwined with the Shadhuli inheritance – the Qutb, Sidi Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhuli. Sidi Abu al-Hasan was someone who benefited so many – scholars and laymen alike. But we sometimes forget that his own shaykh, Sidi Abdal Salam al-Mashish, had only one student, and that was Sidi Abu al-Hasan himself. Al-Mashish was himself the Qutb of his time.
When Abu al-Hasan’s training at the hands of Ibn al-Mashish was completed, the latter’s final words to the former were:
“O ‘Ali, Know that Allah is Allah and people are people. The remembrance of Allah will live in your heart. The guidance of Allah will always be with you. Do not refer to people other than as Allah commands you. Refrain from dependence on them and keep your heart from inclining to them. Your spiritual sovereignty (wilaya) has been perfected by Allah”.
Know that Allah is Allah and people are people. It’s a short, but so very profound statement. It’s a lesson, really, to be internalised deeply, particularly for those who engage with many people.
People can change from the worse to the better; people can return from their poor behaviour to more befitting characteristics. In my own life, I have known more than one person who made accusations, even publicly, of myself or my teachers that were baseless. No rebuttal or response. No point in feeding a fire. And then, privately, years later, they ask to be in touch, and they apologise. And we must be gracious in such moments. Allah is Allah and people are people.
It’s not easy to really internalise that notion. But it has the benefit of being utterly true and veritably so. Which means if we find it difficult to grasp, it’s down to our own shortcomings, and we must pray that God grants us the wisdom and insight to really behold it. Allahumma arina al-ashya’ kama hiya – Allah, show me things as they (truly) are.
And to always be aware – the light of the Prophet, alayhi salat wa salam, shines through the hearts of all the believers. If it doesn’t shine as bright as it ought to, that is because the hearts are rusty. And for every rust, there is a polish – and the polish of the heart is remembrance (dhikr) of God.
We ask Allah in these last days of Rajab, as we come to Isra and Mi’raj, to guide us to the true meaning of remembering Him – and to make us of the grateful. For verily: Allah is Allah.”
Sh Dr Hisham