What Are the Conditions for a True Spiritual Guide?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu

I began to listen to talks of a sufi Shaykh and it had a very good effect on my religiosity. Then I took a pledge (bay’a) with him and everything is going well but at the same time I am afraid that I am doing something wrong…Am I leaving mainstream Islam by following this path?
Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray that you are in the best of health and faith, insha’Allah.
It would be from the sunna to pledge allegiance or to give bay`ah.
Sheikh Nuh Keller lists ten of the most essential conditions of a true guide (sheikh):
(1) Being a Sunni Muslim with valid tenets of faith.
(2) Being an alim capable of answering most questions about what Allah expects of man without having to ask someone else, yet humble enough to ask when he does not know.
(3) Having a verifiably public authorization from a true sheikh to be a sheikh, connecting him through an unbroken chain of authorization (silsila) back to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace). The success of the murshid lies in his being accepted with the awliya of his initiatic chain (maqbul al-silsila).
(4) Being a male, as a sheikh is an heir to the prophets (upon whom be blessings and peace), whom Allah made all males.
(5) Being worthy to be taken as an exemplar in religion, not privately disobedient or wicked.
(6) Knowing the basic terms of Sufism such as fana (annihilation), baqa (subsistence), ma`rifa (gnosis), and others by having travelled the path and personally experienced them at the hands of his sheikh.
(7) Not being self-satisfied, or veiled by others’ need for him from his own need for Allah.
(8) Exaltation of Allah’s commands in word and deed, acknowledging they are above every human being.
(9) Permission from Allah and His messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) above and beyond that given him by his sheikh, manifest inwardly in an unmistakable portent or sign, and outwardly in his tawfiq in inculcating in murids the perfections of Islam, Iman, and Ihsan.
(10) Being destined by Allah to be the sheikh of the particular disciple, who must be able to practice the sheikh’s teaching and absorb his secret from him.
[Keller, Sea Without Shore, 271]
Please see: What is Sufism? (tasawwuf)
And Allah alone gives success.
Tabraze Azam
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani.