This is the eighth part of a series, click here for the previous article.
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
We continue our discussion of the book al-Fawa‘id al-Mukhtarah – selected beneficial anecdotes for the wayfarer – by Habib Zayn bin Sumayt. Our focus in this podcast is on the importance of books and reading in the life of students of knowledge.
The text provides insight into the lives of the scholars of Hadramaut and their attachment to books and reading. The west has lost its love of reading, and our youth almost completely neglect it. Let us take guidance from these great people and start reading.
Important books and their sequence of study
Imam al-‘Aydarus bin ‘Umar al-Habshi said that the six primary works of tasawwuf that should be studied are the following:
- Ihya′ ‘Ulum al-Din by Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali
- Minhaj al-‘Abidin by Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali
- Arba‘in fi Usul al-Din by Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali
- Al-Risalah al-Qushayriyyah fi ‘Ilm Al-Tasawwuf by Imam al-Qushayri
- ‘Awarif al-Ma‘arif by Imam al-Suhrawardi
- Qut al-Qulub fi Mu’amalat al-Mahbub by Abu Talib al-Makki
These six works are foundational. Students of knowledge in western academic circles often believe they are able to study any text. This belief is mistaken and students who try to study any text often misunderstand the scholars. It is vital that they follow a specific sequence. For instance, the Hadrami scholars of fiqh follow this sequence:
- Al-Risalah al-Jami‘ah wa al-Tadhkirah al-Nafi‘ah by Imam Ahmed bin Zayn al-Habashi
- Safinah al-Najah fi Fiqh al-Shafi’i by Salim ibn ʿAbdullah ibn Saʿd ibn Samir al-Hadrami al-Shafiʿi
- Mukhtasar al-Latif fi Fiqh al-Shafi’i by ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abd al-Rahman Balhaj BaFadl al-Hadrami
- Al-Muqaddimah al-Hadramiyyah by ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abd al-Rahman Ba-Fadl al-Hadrami
- Al-Ghayah wa al-Taqrib fi al-Fiqh al-Shafi’i by Abu Shuja’ Hussayn bin Ahmad al-Asfahani
- Safwah al-Zubad by Ahmad bin Husayn bin Hasan bin ‘Ali ibn Arslan al-Ramli
- ‘Umdah al-Salik wa ‘Uddah al-Nasik by Shihab al-Din Abu al-‘Abas Ahmad bin al-Naqib
- Minhaj al Talibin by Abu Zakariyya Yahya Ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi
This order of study involves moving from a smaller to a larger text, each discussing the fiqh in greater detail. Students must not try to jump the queue. Those who do so have become raisins before being grapes! They remain unenlightened, devoid of understanding.
Sayyidi Habib ‘Umar wrote a book, Maqasid Halaqat al-Ta‘lim, on the importance of understanding the sequence of the books in the various disciplines. It has been translated by Shaykh Amjad Tarsin and published by Dar al-Turath al-Islami.
The Ihya of Ghazali
Imam al-Haddad said it is important to read books such as the Minhaj in fiqh and the Ihya in tasawwuf because, through them, one receives great openings, as well as elevation of the soul.
Habib ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Saqqaf was the qutb of his time. A qutb is a pole or axis around which everything revolves. It is one of the highest stations of sainthood. However, even if one reaches this station, he is not necessarily the qutb of his time because there can only be one quṭb at a time. Habib ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Saqqaf read the Qur’an eight times every 24 hours. He said: “Whoever does not study the Ihya does not truly have modesty”.
Imam Haddad loved the Ihya and collated whatever was mentioned in it in one of his books, Al-Nasa’ih al-Diniyyah, which has been translated into English under the title of Counsels of Religion. Some of the pious say that the one who reads and acts on the Ihya will be of the people of Paradise.
Our pious predecessors emphasised the reading of the following four introductions:
The books of Imam Nawawi
Imam Haddad had three books that would constantly be recited to him, one reading after the other. One of these books was Riyad al-Salihin by Imam Nawawi which has been translated into English. It has many benefits and Allah grants many openings to the one who reads it.
An enlightened person once visited a scholar. He saw the scholar’s library and asked why some of the books emit light while others do not. The scholar asked him to remove the books which were emitting light and he did so. They were all Imam Nawawi’s books.
Imam Nawawi was regarded as the qutb of his time. Habib Ahmad bin Hasan al-‘Attas said that Ibn Hajar al-Haytami memorised the Minhaj of Imam Nawawi, and through that, Allah blessed his writings so that their benefits spread throughout the world.
Other books of great benefit
- Muqqadimah of al-Tafsir al-Kabir of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi up to Surah Baqarah
- Muqqadimah Sharh Sahih Muslim by Imam Nawawi
- Muqqadimah al-Majmu’ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab by Imam Nawawi
- Muqqadimah of Ibn Khaldun
Al-Shifa by Qadi Iyad, which has been translated into English by Aisha Bewley, under the title, “Muhammad: Messenger of Allah”, is said to have been tried and tested for the removal of difficulties.
Let us attach ourselves to the books of the predecessors (salaf) for they contain blessings, knowledge and openings. Reading their books is like sitting at their feet, taking from them, connecting to them and receiving their secrets. It is an invaluable opportunity to insulate ourselves from the trials and tribulations of western society by seeking their light and guidance.