Q. "It has been said that Shaykh Ahmed al-Tijani used to communicate with the great Prophet by talking to him while he was awake and not in his sleep. Also, it is believed that the complete prayers which were devised by the Shaykh are better than finishing the Holy Qur'an forty times."

I read the above statement at a Sufi web site, and I have the following questions:

  1. Is there any truth to the claim about the Shaykh's prayers?
  2. Some Muslims call upon saints (dead or alive) as intercessors. Does Islam allow for intercession and blind following (taqlid) as practiced by some of the Sufis and their followers?
  3. How did the concept of "786" being synonymous with "In the name of God" come about in Islam?

A. As far as the claim regarding the Shaykh's prayers, before we go any further, we need to know certain things, which can be realized only by scrutiny of the verses of the Qur'an. Among those things are that Allah has left nothing out of the Qur'an, that it is Allah's word, that the Prophet and those in his category -- i.e. his predecessors, since he had no successors -- are those who we imitate, and that Allah has created us to worship Him. Therefore, Allah has to teach us this worship, and these teachings only come through the words of the Qur'an and the Prophets.

An analysis of philosophy, etc. reveals that the Qur'an is not a book of mystical exhortation, it is a document designed to get at the mind of the average individual. If some individuals wish to take that message to a mystic dimension, then that is between them and their Lord. Sufism is a mix of Islamic tenets, adulterated in some cases by neoplatonic thought, with an extremely liberal spicing of miscellaneous concepts and ideas, some totally alien to the concept of Islam. One example is the focus on poverty and non-worldliness of some Sufi sects, totally contrary to the Qur'an, which exhorts the Prophet (and the believers) to pray for the good of this world and the good of the Hereafter. Whatever mystic dimensions one may decide to place "the good of this world" in, the clear context and meaning of the expression are good life, health, and wealth, which allow for a comfortable life.

The focus of the Qur'an is on morality, something alien to some Sufi concepts. As far as the Shaykh Tijani is concerned, we need to also know that in many cases, the mystic Shaykhs have a whole ton of sayings and merits ascribed to them, things which they never claimed nor did. Out of the respect due to a dead man, and the fact that one should always give the benefit of the doubt, I can only examine your questions and answer them in the context of their inquiry. My answers are not to be construed as any indication of my view as to who the Shaykh was, or if he was genuine or not.

Now on the aspect of communication with the Prophet, it is against the Qur'an for the simple reason that the dead are in a world beyond. They cannot hear or see (click on The Grave for more information). The Prophet was an ordinary man, so the rule applies to him also. As for the ahadith on the subject of his being alive in the grave, they are in conflict with the Qur'an, from which Allah has left out nothing, and therefore are false. Yet we know that the mind of a person can be influenced by several factors. One may with all sincerity dream, etc. about the Prophet, based on the stimuli provided by the mind, much the same way one may dream of having a particular meeting with a world leader or another person. Now as far as the communication while he was awake, if it indeed happened, based on the Qur'anic epistemological criterion: "Bring your proof if you are indeed telling the truth" -- since it is against the Qur'anic teaching specified earlier, it has to be rejected.

The only solutions are thus regarding the reports you mentioned:

What is important is that whichever you opt for, the aspect of the communication claimed is false. If number two seems to be the most generous and probable in terms of the Shaykh's piety, even if he firmly believed in what he was claiming, the reality is non-existent. As far as the claim of his prayer, that is obvious baloney. The Qur'an is Allah's speech, and the du'as are in there. To assume that Allah would give us du'as that could be surpassed by a mortal, is to state that the challenge to come forth with something better than the Qur'an has been answered, that Allah has been bettered, and that is one of the basest, most heinous forms of shirk. Base because all shirk is base, heinous because it takes some contemplation to recognize that it is challenging Allah's words, and therefore many, blinded by devotion, may not perceive its evil.

Part two of your question: The answer is no. The information you are talking about is termed "hagiography" and "hagiolatry." As you may know, there are many different types of Sufism. When one talks of a Sufism that means to meditate, etc., obviously it is not problematic. But all known forms of Sufism have now become associated with some mystical aspects, following some Shaykh who can show by hadith his connection to some companion, who claims to have special secrets to get through to the Divine. All these are concepts alien to Islam, and that is why Sufism is condemned in general. The Qur'an implores us on numerous occasions to use our reasoning and reflect on its Message. Intercession will be accepted from no one, each person is solely responsible for himself/herself. Allah tells us in the Qur'an that we humans are the best of creation, and that He created man and jinn to worship Him. If Allah wanted us to blindly follow Shaykhs, Maulanas, etc. He would have made us sheep.

Part three: 786 comes from numerology. The time and origins of its usage in Islam are not clear. The Jews used it, and the centers were Baghdad and the surrounding areas. The Persians also used it. Since it is not advocated or mentioned in the Qur'an, we know it is a later introduction. And since the Arabs were largely unlettered, the so-called mysterious numerical values would have meant nothing. As for those who claim 786 means "bismillah," and that the Arabic is holy, etc. the claim is illogical. If it means indeed what it purports to mean, then the two are one and same, so it is blasphemous to substitute one for the other. Next, the Arabic is not holy at all, the kuffar of Arabia spoke it as well. The only reason the Qur'an was revealed in Arabic was because had the Prophet come speaking Hebrew or some other language, the people would have asked: "How can an Arab Prophet address them in another tongue."

Whatever the sources, it is clearly an importation from the civilizations to which Islam spread in the first few centuries. Since it has connotations of mysticism and connection with Allah's words, it therefore represents a bida, and must be avoided at all costs. Muslims are by Qur'anic injunction a people characterized not only by faith, but by intelligence and reflection, with the last two being the foundations upon which faith is structured. Numerology seems the complete opposite of all three.

Posted March 22, 1999