Preface to the Diwan of Shaykh Ibn al-Habib

by Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi

[This is a very old preface to the Diwan, written around 1970.]

The Way

The great Qutb, our master, Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib says of himself in the introduction to his renowned Diwan here presented in English, 'Allah the Exalted has destined for this noble Path in every age one who sets right its deviations and manifests its secrets and lights. He is the Shaykh who unites the Reality and the Road (the Shari'a and the Haqiqa), with the permission of Allah and His Messenger, and all the perfected of Allah. He is the Unique Man of Muhammad of whom there is only one in every age. If there are numerous Shaykhs in his age, he rules over them all, whether they are aware of it or not.' He also said, 'By Allah, none has come to me who was not beloved.'

Our Master had tens of thousands of fuqara'. He worked ceaselessly until his death in calling the people to remembrance of Allah. Wherever he went Islam revived and hearts stirred to life and were awakened. He was renowned as the sultan of the 'ulama' of his time. Indeed, such a great scholar of outward learning was he that it caused a sensation when he turned his back on the gifts of reputation which awaited him as a young man to take the path of the Sufis. Nevertheless, within his long life, centred as it was in Meknes and Fes, his vast erudition coupled with his exemplary character and illuminated state, brought many of Islam's scholars to follow his way and take the Sufic method of direct experience over information in accordance with the well-known hadith which declares witnessing to be higher than information.

As he lived for over one hundred years, his life spanned the many troubles of French occupation and persecution of Islam, to be followed by the persecutions of the nationalists who in turn attacked the Sufis who stood in the way of their newly acquired power. With the irony of this world's ways, the Shaykh was first harassed by the French governors, and then, later, by the ambitious politicians who wanted to take the very position that the French had held before them of elitist control. At one point all his fuqara' were under attack and went in danger of their lives. The French governor begged him simply to order them to stop wearing the green turban of the Darqawi fuqara' and they would be left alone. He refused, saying, "In my life I have seen many winds blow. Yours is just another one.' As he had indicated, that wind passed and the French left after a bloody persecution of the Darqawi Tariq, especially the Badawiyya branch to which Shaykh ibn al-Habib belonged. Its zawiyyas were bombed and the families of the fuqara' massacred, tombs were desecrated, and whole libraries shipped to Paris under the supervision of catholic priests. These widespread colonialist crimes do not appear in the contemporary historical record perhaps because these records come from France and a Morocco which wants to eradicate the evidence of this great Sufic order's struggle for Islam. It should also be noted that Shaykh al-Kattani who temporarily deposed the French puppet sultan was also a Darqawi master.

Following the departure of the French came the involvement with western political method and pretence. The attacks on the Darqawa were renewed. Green turbaned men were attacked on the street and beaten up, armed groups barred the way to the Sufic meeting places. That phase in turn passed. Within his lifetime there were deep changes within the discipline of the Tariq also. When he had taken the wird as a young man from desert Shaykh, Sidi al-'Arabi al-Huwari, the Darqawa fuqara' were held to strict and difficult obligations. They wore the muraqqa', the patched robe or jellaba and that only as far as just below the knees. Their tasbih-beads were large and heavy wooden balls, so that the whole tasbih hung below the waist. Many went barefoot and carried the staff, some, even, the begging bowl. Under Shaykh Muhammad ibn 'Ali of Marrakech the fuqara' were permitted to wear the muraqqa' longer in the bitter winters of the desert. They still recited the two hour long wird of Shaykh Muhammad al-'Arbi, the Master who followed the great khalif of Shaykh ad-Darqawi, Shaykh al-Badawi. When the permission came to Shaykh ibn al-Habib, he changed everything. Breaking with the tradition as the traditional culture itself broke up which supported these things, he issued new obligations. Instead of the muraqqa', he ordered his fuqara' to wear the best clothes their station in life permitted. He rescinded the long wird and replaced it with his own wird, a short but profound and beautiful recitation imbued with his own deep scholarship and gnostic insights. He declared, 'I have received three barakat from Allah: to wear beautiful clothes, to eat beautiful food, and to perform beautiful dhikr.'

There was a vastness in his action and in his pronouncement that affected all who came in contact with him and which altered all who knew him. 'Ulama' bitterly opposed to the Sufis went up the stairs to his small tower room at the top of his great zawiyya in Meknes, fuming with imprecations of innovation and shirk, only to descend, sobbing and transformed, filled with a sense of the majesty of Allah. All this we saw with our eyes, again and again. Throughout all these exchanges he remained the same, serene, humble, eyes lowered, immersed in profound reflective awareness of the Divine Presence. Occasionally from the depths of his being the Great Name would emerge, resonant and deep, Every faqir who served him has experiences to recount, and for each that one can recount there are other deeper ones on which our lips are forever sealed. As the Sufis say, he was an ocean without a shore. He was the great one, and the proof of his greatness double.

The first proof is the perfection of his state in every situation, his balance, deep wisdom, and continual trust in Allah. Everything turned around him, but he in the centre of all the activity that surrounded him, turned only around his own heart, glorifying Allah with every breath. His secrets, his states, and his transmission were subtle and unsurpassed in the whole history of Sufism. He said of himself, referring to his early years as a Sufi when he taught Arabic at the Qarawiyyin in Fez: 'My station when I taught at the Qarawiyyin was equal to the station of Moulay 'Abdalqadir al-Jilani.' When one considers his achievement in reviving the Darqawi Way and steering it through the difficult years of occupation and modernisation that were to follow that period, one realises what a vital figure he was in the history of Islam. Someone came to him once asking for difficult spiritual tasks, dhikrs and retreats and so on, to reach illumination. He told them it was not necessary. They begged to be given some taxing spiritual duty. He answered, saying, 'No. You have seen me. That is enough.' The depths of this Sufi reply is the core of Sufism and the meaning of transmission, and it is not magic.

The second proof of his great place in Sufism is his Diwan. The Darqawi Way has become the Way of the Diwan. As well as celebrating the great Diwan of Ibn al-Farid, the Darqawa in their circle have always loved to sing the beautiful songs of ash-Shushtari, the Andalus Master. Shaykh al-Harraq, whose master was ad-Darqawi, wrote a Diwan that is a remarkable poetic and Sufic achievement. Shaykh al-'Alawi too wrote a Diwan. The Harraqi Diwan declares the haqiqat - the reality of the quest for Allah. It speaks of the secret. The 'Alawi Diwan tells of the man who has the secret, and so in a sense speaks only of the gnostic and not of anything else. What it says is true, but it can be misleading for people who read it. The great achievement of Shaykh ibn al-Habib was that in his Diwan he combined two elements. Firstly, he wrote the work in the flawless and noble Arabic of a great Qur'anic scholar. Secondly, he combined the delight in the inner secret with suluk – clear guidance and counsel for the seeker on his path to Allah. There was no Diwan like it before, and there has been none like it since.

From this Diwan a new element was introduced into the practice of the Sufis. Where before the Diwans were only sung at the gathering of sama', now it became the practice of the Habibiyyin Darqawa to sing some qasa'id at any gathering in which they met, even if it was only to take tea.

The Diwan has become so renowned and loved beyond the circle of the Darwaqa that it is now sung by Sufis all round the world. We have heard it sung in Makka, to the music of the gamalang from Indonesia, in Western America as well as in England.

The Shaykh

A Tijani faqir came to Shaykh Ibn al-Habib once while we sat with him. He informed the Shaykh that in the Tijani tariqa they did not have a Shaykh and that they did not consider one necessary. It was enought to follow the guidance of Sidi Ahmad Tijani. Our Master was silent for a while before he spoke. Then he raised his eyes and looked at the young man. 'A dead midwife,' he told him, 'cannot deliver a live child.' the faqir turned pale and then buried his head in his hands and wept from the depth of his being.

This kind of exchange we were witness to, and ourselves, experienced, many times, as were all the Shaykh's murids. The counsel was direct, and hit the target, but in every case, the heart was turned over. In his presence hearts were overwhelmed. He did nothing. He spoke in the calm and considered phrasing of the scholar. His voice had gravity and his speech was wisdom. Occasionally a rich bubbling mirth rose up and flooded his features in a smile that filled us all with delight. He never spoke against anybody, even in the direct face of the evidence, yet, at the same time, he would not yield to any wrong action or permit any deviation from the Shari'a of Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. He did not cease to perform the obligatory acts of 'ibada to the full until the moment of his death, allowing no excuse or laxity which he could have done due to his great age and sometimes weakness, although his last year was illuminated by a vitality and youthful energy that was a triumph of inwardness over the frail and aged outwardness that remained to him.

He maintained this condition throughout that last year and made preparations to go on hajj from his zawiyya in Meknes, Morocco. Refusing advice to fly, he insisted on travelling, as he loved to do, by car from zawiyya to zawiyya across North Africa. In the last days before leaving Meknes for the last time he alarmed his four wives by continually descending into the zawiyya and handing to the masakin and fuqara' first a jellaba and then a ha'ik, until, by the time he reached the city of Blida in Algeria where he was destined to die, his clothes had all been given away. He arrived there in apparently good health, walked into his zawiyya, struck the ground with his stick and turned to his muqaddam, saying, 'You will bury me here.' Shocked, his muqaddam denied that such a thing could happen.

Three days later he was to die, having held a night of dhikr at which he delivered a discourse on the Light Ayat of the Qur'an. Without waiting for permission – for it was known that he had declared his desire to be buried at the Meknes zawiyya – his muqaddam had him buried in the night. The Shaykh was buried on the spot that he had indicated with his stick when he first entered the zawiyya. His body was later exhumed and he now rests in the great zawiyya in Meknes.

We personally know of various karamat by his hand, but we will not speak of them here for we recall that when these things happened he hid them and his own perception of them. His fear of Allah was complete and without flaw. He maintained the position of helpless slave in every matter while he ruled a large supra-national community from California to Makka and beyond. When summoned to appear before Muhammad V in his palace at Rabat he refused, saying that if the King wanted to see him he would have to come to him in Meknes. He acknowledged only al-Malik (the King), the Lord of the Universe.

His company contained the poorest of the poor and the leaders of the community, the scholars and the common people. He travelled thousands of miles, using a car a year, annually traversing the southern desert of Morocco and also crossing nothern Morocco to visist his many zawiyyas in Algeria. The great event was his Moussem, held every year seven days following the birthday of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Fuqara' came from all over the world to attend this noble gathering. It was noted for the sobriety of its atmosphere, in contrast to the emotional and festive gatherings that passed elsewhere in Morocco for Moussems honouring the great Sufis. At his Moussem for three days all that happened was the recitation of Qur'an, constantly, the rich and sublime Andalusian singing of the Diwans of the Masters, the Sufic dance, the hadra, and long and complex discourses on the Qur'an and the Path to gnosis of Allah, the Exalted. In fact, this Moussem is still celebrated, but since it is devoid of marching in the streets and primitive superstitious practices it blessedly avoids the commendation and support of the Ministry of Tourism.

The Shaykh said to one of his murids, 'All the awliya' have miracles, but the great awliya's miracles come after their deaths. Wait and you will see.' One of the miracles of the Shaykh has been that directly by his teaching and patience and supplication to Allah, Islam has spread dramatically in England, Spain and the United States so that in these countries there are settled and unified Muslim communities which adhere to the Sufic path. Another is certainly the spread in renown of this unique diwan.


(The Arabic Diwan is available from Bookwork.
The new edition of the English translation should be available very soon, insha'allah.)

Return to Home Page

Return to Index