(The Fountain of Paradise for the Traveller of the Path)

[From Hazrat Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanvi (rahmatullah alayh)]

All actions commanded by the Shariah are volitional (ikhtiyaari – within the ambit of man’s freewill). In ikhtiyaari matters the remedy is nothing other than mustering up courage and the utilisation of free will (ikhtiyaar).

Superficially, this appears to be a simple matter. If so, then what importance can be attached to the Tareeq (i.e. Tasawwuf)? While it is indeed a simple matter, people do not pay attention to it. On this, i.e. people’s attention and concern, is based all reformation and this is the actual remedy for all deficiencies.

Someone asked:

“When a man, inspite of his efforts, fails in his attempts to reform himself, he seeks treatment and remedies for his spiritual ailments. To then tell him to adopt courage and employ his freewill, will not be sufficient because he simply lacks the taufeeq for courage and the utilisation of freewill.”

In reply, Hadhrat Thanvi (rahmatullah alayh) said:

“It should firstly be ascertained if he is able to utilise his freewill or not. Most certainly, he has the ability. If not, it will follow that the Nusoos (Qur’aan and Hadith) are false. When man does have the ability to employ his ikhtiyaar, he should muster up courage and do so. Whenever freewill is employed, success will be achieved. The question of failure simply does not arise. It is, however, conceded that difficulty is involved in this process.”

Someone said:

“Truly speaking, freewill cannot be denied. However, if on account of difficulty, freewill is not employed then of what use is the freewill? The net result is the same as in the case of one having no freewill, viz. abstention from righteousness.”

Hadhrat Thanvi (rahmatullah alayh) said:

“When a remedy is requested, it is only proper to inform (the patient) of the proper remedy. The difficulty in adopting the remedy is another matter. Regarding volitional (ikhtiyaari) matters, the remedy for deficiencies is nothing other than the employment of one’s freewill. The treatment for the difficulty involved in the process is also courage and freewill. It is essential to apply pressure on oneself to employ one’s freewill. Gradually the difficulty will dissipate and be replaced with ease. The purpose of all mujaahadah (struggle against the nafs) is in fact, to achieve ease in the adoption of the commands and abstention from the prohibitions of the Shariah.

I always say that sincerity and courage are the essence of Tasawwuf. Without courage, practice is not possible. Minus sincerity, practising righteousness will be defective. If both these essentials are combined, there will be no need for even a Shaikh because a shaikh teaches these two requirements, viz. eliminating hardships and acquiring ease. Every task seems difficult initially. Constant practise renders it easy. In the beginning, learning a lesson is difficult, but swotting enables one to remember it. If the effort is abandoned on account of the initial difficulty, there will be no way of achieving success. If the difficulty is borne, ease will follow in a short time.”

Someone asked:

“Is ikhlaas (sincerity) also ikhtiyaari (i.e. to be adopted by one’s freewill)?”

Hadhrat Thanvi (rahmatullah alayh) said:

“Since its acquisition is commanded, most certainly it is volitional (ikhtiyaari). The Shariat does not impose anything which is beyond man’s volitional control. Maintaining the purity of Ibaadat is called ikhlaas.”

Someone said:

“The duaa and barkat of the Shaikh also play a prominent role in Islaah (moral reformation).”

Hadhrat Thanvi (rahmatullah alayh) said:

“Barkat is not denied. However, its capacity should be understood. It serves as an aid. It is not the actual remedy. Nothing will be achieved (in the matter of Islaah) with only duaa and barkat as long as one does not employ one’s own freewill.

No one is superior than Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) with regard to barkat and acceptability of duaa. The devotion and sacrifice of his uncle Abu Talib were profound. Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) further supplicated fervently and wholeheatedly for him to enter the fold of Islam, and in his endeavour he persisted. But, since Abu Talib himself had desired Imaan, he was not blessed with this wealth.

This matter is comparable to a physician and a patient. If the patient refuses to submit to the treatment, will the physician’s affection and attention suffice for curing? Health will be gained from his prescription. Similarly, if the pupil refuses to learn his lesson, how will he know it. The lesson cannot be remembered by only the teacher’s affection and attention. Effort is essential. While barkat is an aid, it is not sufficient.

But employment of ikhtiyaar can be sufficient even without the duaa of the Shaikh. I publicly announce these things. I do not wish to unnecessarily fetter my associates to me. The Shaikh simply guides the mureed along the road. He does not drag the mureed along the road. The person with sight indicates the path to the blind. He does not carry the blind on his lap. The blind will have to do the walking themselves. Undoubtedly, it is the function of the Shaikh to show the path. But, it is the responsibility of the mureedeen to strive along the path.

Alhamdulilah! I deliver the searcher to Allah in a single session because I show the reality of the goal. In other words, he is delivered to the maqsood (goal). It now only remains to walk along the road. This is within the volitional control of the taalib (searcher). Ikhtiyaar is self-evident, in fact, a tangible fact. The self-evident and tangibles do not require proof.

Even animals perceive the faculty of freewill. It is a glaring fact. If a dog is hit with a stick, it attacks the person wielding the stick. It does not attack the stick. The dog too understands that it is the person who has freewill, not the stick. Every person should examine his heart when he perpetrates a despicable act. He will feel a sense of shame. If he is truly helpless, being unable to exercise his freewill, he will not be smitten by shame. One feels shame over a volitional act committed.

Man’s ikhtiyaar is thus an irrefutable fact. The question of ikhtiyaar is so conspicuous that every man intuitively and naturally understands this reality. Even the fatalist who verbally proclaims the non-existence of freewill, intuitively understands that man does have freewill. There is no scope for the denial of this reality. Although no one knows the actual reality of freewill, it does not follow that it is non-existent. Inspite of the nature and reality of light being unknown, its existence is bright and conspicuous.

Man, however, lacks total freewill. His freewill is subservient to Allah’s Freewill. He does not posses independent freewill. However, he does not totally lack the faculty of freewill. He has, therefore, to exercise this ability in the process of his moral reformation. Without this, islaah is not possible, e.g. a man has the ailment of bukhl (stinginess). This ailment cannot be eliminated only with thikr and the duaa and attention of the Shaikh. It will be eliminated only by opposing the dictates of the nafs. Yes, thikr and duaa will aid him, but will not alone be adequate.”

Someone said:

“By the tawajjuh (the spiritual gaze) of some Auliya, great criminals were automatically reformed.”

Hadhrat Thanvi (rahmatullah alayh) said:

“This is a kind of tasarruf (operation of the baatin). Such tasarruf is neither ikhtiyaari nor is it a requirement of piety. Many Auliya, in fact, lack the power of tasarruf. Furthermore, in most cases, the effect of tassarruf is temporary. After a short while, the person reverts to his former condition. On the other hand, the effect of effort and courage which are adopted to practise virtuous deeds, is enduring.

The effect of tasarruf is like the warmth one derives when sitting by a heater. One feels the warmth as long as one sits by the heater. The moment one leaves the proximity of the heater, one feels the cold. True benefit, is the benefit which is lasting. Mere reliance on duaa and tawajjuh without making effort to reform oneself is a baseless idea.”

Someone said:

“Natural propensities cannot be changed. How then is it possible to reform natural evil qualities by means of freewill?”

Hadhrat Thanvi (rahmatullah alayh) said:

“It is surprising that you still harbour these doubts. Tell me, are both matter and action natural? It is conceded that matter (i.e. the material substance in man’s body) is not within man’s control. However, action is within his freewill. Action is not natural. While it is not possible to eliminate what is natural, it is within the purview of freewill to act according to or to abstain from the dictates of natural propensities.

Man is responsible for only what is within his volitional power (ikhtiyaar). Repeatedly opposing the natural dictates, weakens them. These are important lessons, but nowadays they are not discussed, neither by the Ulama nor by the Masha-ikh. Tasawwuf is presented as an ambiguous concept. Precisely for this reason has the reality of Tasawwuf been hidden for a considerable period.

Alhamdulillah! It has now been clarified. There no longer remains any ambiguity in Tasawwuf. Alhamdulillah! I don’t have the slightest doubt and uncertainty in any question of Tasawwuf nor in diagnosing any condition of the taalib (searcher, the mureed) or in prescribing any plan of treatment irrespective of the degree of the degeneration of the condition. Consider this clarification in this age as a fortune, value it and derive benefit therefore.

Of the two requirements, viz. ikhlaas (sincerity) and himmat (courage), the latter is of primary importance. Courage is needed to produce sincerity. The aid for courage is alertness / awareness (istihzaar) which has different forms. The mureed should adopt whichever form the Shaikh prescribes. e.g. performing about ten raka’ts Nafl Namaaz for every error. The fear of this type of imposition will create awareness. Once alertness and awareness have been acquired, immediately practise righteousness with courage and suppress the dictates of the nafs. In this way will one be saved from transgression, Insha’Allah. Gradually, total islaah (moral reformation) will be achieved.

Besides, the aforementioned form of a fine which I have prescribed for the taalib, I have also devised the daily reading of Nazhatul Basaateen in which is compiled one thousand stories of the Auliya of Allah Ta’ala. In addition to barkat, considerable spiritual strength, courage and awareness will be derived.

 و م ا علينا اِلاّ البلاغ

‘And it is not on us, but to deliver the message.’


An advice which Hadhrat Thanvi (rahmatullah alayh) gave to someone is added here.

 “Taa-at (obedience) and ma’siyat (sin) are both ikhtiyaari acts. Recitation of wazifahs has no bearing on these issues. The method in volitional acts is only to employ volition. There is no other way. However, ease is necessary for freewill to activate the process of mujaahadah (struggle against the nafs). The reality of mujaahadah is opposition to the nafs which means perpetual resistance to the dictates of the nafs. Perpetual employment of resistance against the nafs will bring about ease.

In this (advice) have I ensconced the whole science of Tasawwuf. Further, there
devolve two functions on the Shaikh:

•  Diagnosis of nafsaani ailments.

•  Prescription of methods of mujaahadah as the treatment for the

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