Seeking Spiritual Blessings (Tabarruk)

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What is tabarruk? What does tabarruk mean?

Tabarruk is to ask from one’s abundance for blessings. It is the attainment of spiritual benefit and inspiration through the means of something else.

Seeking Spiritual Blessings from Leftover Food

Consuming the leftover foods of saints has been a means utilized to lay oneself open to spiritual disposal. Contrary to what some think, this is not an unauthentic (bidah) practice. Literature on hadith and Muslim history attest to many cases of this practice during the life of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-.

In various times and places and, in particular, during the Hudaybiyah Campaign, the Companions sought spiritual benefit from the hallowed leftovers of the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-.

Jabir -Allah be well-pleased with him- recounts:

“People were worn out by thirst on the Day of Hudaybiyah, so they came to the Messenger of Allah, who, at the time, had a water container made of leather in front of him. He had just taken ablution when people moved closer toward him.

‘What is bothering you?’ asked the Messenger of Allah.

‘We have no water left to drink and to take ablution except the little amount in front of us’, they explained.

The Prophet of Allah placed his hands inside the container. At the instant, water then began to spring forth from between his fingers; it was exactly like a jetting spring. We all drank and took ablution from it.”

“How many were there of you that day?” Jabir -Allah be well-pleased with him- was asked.

“Had we been a hundred-thousand, the water would still have been enough; but at the time, we were one-thousand-five-hundred all together.” (Bukhari, Manaqib, 25)

Without a doubt, the water that flowed from the fingers of the Noble Messenger –upon him blessings and peace- is better and more curative than the zamzam, since it flowed directly from the sacred hands of the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-.

According to many a hadith, upon drinking from a container full of milk, the Blesssed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- would offer the remaining milk to the Companions nearby, initiating a transfer of spiritual inspiration, a benefit that would reflect equally onto the milk, which would not decrease even a bit.

Sahl ibn Sad –Allah be well-pleased with him- testifies:

“The Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- was once offered a cup of beverage. He drank some of it. To his right, there was a child while to his left were some elderly Companions. Elegant and courteous as ever, he turned to the child and asked:

‘Would you allow me to offer this drink to your elders first?’

But the intelligent child gave an astounding response. ‘Messenger of Allah’, he said, ‘I can never think of passing the share you have given me to anyone else!’

The Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- thereupon handed the cup to the child.” (Bukhari, Ashribah, 19)

Asma bint Abu Bakr –Allah be well-pleased with her- explains:

“While pregnant with Abdullah ibn Zubayr, I had set out to migrate next to the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace-. On reaching Medina, I stopped over near Quba, where I gave birth. I eventually arrived next to the Messenger –upon him blessings and peace-, with my baby. He took the baby in his arms and asked for a piece of date. After slightly chewing the date, he placed it in Abdullah’s mouth. This was the first morsel Abdullah ever consumed. The Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- then prayed for abundance (barakah) on the baby’s behalf.”[1]

Whilst they had the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- as guest, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari and his family would offer him from the meals they prepared. When the leftover food was returned, Abu Ayyub would search for the parts of the food which the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- had touched, specifically eating from those parts for tabarruk. (Muslim, Ashribah, 170-171)

Jabir –Allah be well-pleased with him- recounts a memory of the difficult times prior to the Battle of Handak while they were digging trenches:

“While digging trenches in the days preceding the Battle of Handak, we were thwarted by a rather hard rock. A few Companions went to the Messenger of Allah and told him they had come upon a hard rock they were unable to break.

‘I will go down in to the trenches myself’ the Messenger of Allah told them. He then got up. He had a stone tied to his belly from hunger. It had been three days since we had eaten anything. The Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- grabbed hold of the pickaxe and struck a blow at the rock, which then shattered, turning into something like a sand dune.

‘Allow me to go home, Messenger of Allah’, I asked afterwards. Given permission, I went home and told my wife of seeing ‘…the Messenger of Allah in an exhausted condition. Do we have something to eat?’

‘Some barley and a kid’, she said.

So I slaughtered the kid and served the barley. We placed the meat in a pot. Just as the bread was nearly baked and the pot was beginning to boil on the rocks on which it was placed, I rushed to the Messenger of Allah and said:

‘I have some food, Messenger of Allah. Please, honor us with a couple of other persons…’

‘How much food is there?’ he asked. I told him what we had. He then said, ‘Good and plenty…Tell your wife not to take the pot away from the fire and keep the bread in the furnace until I arrive!’

Then turning to his Companions he called out, raising his voice, ‘People of the trenches; come…Jabir has prepared a feast for us!’ Everyone present made a move.

Anxious, I ran home to my wife and said, ‘Look what has happened now…The Messenger of Allah is coming with the entire Ansar, Muhajirun and others alike!’

‘Did the Messenger of Allah ask how much food there was?’ she asked.

‘Yes’ responded I.

‘Then not to worry’, she said calmly, ‘for he knows more than you!’

They arrived a short while after. The Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- told them to enter without cramming each other. The Companions entered in tens. The Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- then began splitting a loaf of bread, putting some meat on it and giving it to each of the awaiting Companions; and each time he would close the lid of both the pot and the furnace once he was done. Until each and every Companion, around a thousand all together, ate to their hearts content, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- repeated the same procedure. There was even some food left over in the end. Then turning to my wife, he said, ‘Eat this and offer some to your neighbors, too; for hunger has really devastated everyone!’ (Bukhari, Maghazi, 29; Muslim, Ashribah, 141)

Below is another narration:

On the return from the Campaign of Taif, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- reached Jiranah, lying on the road from Mecca to Medina. There, he gave Abu Musa al-Ashari and Bilal –Allah be well-pleased with them- a container filled with water, some of which he had used, and told them to:

“Drink from this water and splatter it on your faces and chests. Glad tidings if you do”. They took the water and did as they were advised. Behind a curtain, Umm Salamah –Allah be well-pleased with her-, the wife of the Prophet, then called out to them, saying:

“Offer some of that water to your mother, too”. The two Companions then presented some of it to the noble Umm Salamah. (Bukhari, Maghazi, 56)

Seeking Blessings through Belongings

It is an incontestable fact that a personal item, which evokes memories a loved one, intensifies the love felt, by imparting feelings of reminiscence. This is part of human nature. Yet, it is also historically proven that overindulging in these feelings can lead all the way to idolatry.[2] At the same time, it is a natural tendency to be fond of a personal item belonging to a loved one. However, the important thing is not to go overboard.

The most vivid example mentioned in the Quran of a spiritual impression on a personal item is Yusuf’s –upon him peace- shirt. When dispatched from Egypt to be taken to Yaqub –upon him peace-, despite being in Canaan, Yaqub –upon him peace- was able to smell its scent; and once he rubbed the shirt on to this blinded eyes, he regained his sight.[3]

This spiritual influence brought through a personal item therefore serves the murshid with a mean to keep the disciple firm upon an ideal spiritual blend. Internalizing these reflections only strengthens the spiritual bond. At the same time, this is an expression of Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- encouraging of Muslims to give presents to one another.

Whilst in the Banu Saidah quarters with his Companions, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- asked Sahl ibn Sad –Allah be well-pleased with him- for a cup of water. Judging by the testimony below of Abu Hazim –Allah be well-pleased with him- Sahl must have held onto and cherished that cup for the rest of his life:

“Sahl took out the cup and showed it to us; and we drank water from it. Omar ibn Abdulaziz later insisted Sahl to give the cup to him as present. And he did.” (Bukhari, Ashribah, 30)

Sahl ibn Sad –Allah be well-pleased with him- recounts:

“A woman once brought the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- a mantle, telling him of her wish to give it to him as present. The Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- accepted her present and wore the mantle. But then a Companion said:

‘What a beautiful mantle, Messenger of Allah. Can I have it?’

‘Certainly’, replied the Messenger –upon him blessings and peace-, as he presented the mantle to the Companion. After the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- left, the other Companions scolded the man.

‘That was not right what you did’, they said. ‘The Messenger of Allah accepted the mantle only because he was in need of one. And then you asked for it, knowing that the Messenger of Allah never withholds anything that is asked from him.’

‘I only wanted to reap its spiritual blessings (tabarruk) because the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- had worn it’, explained the man. ‘And I am hoping that it will serve as my shroud when I die.’” (Bukhari, Adab, 39)

Aisha –Allah be well-pleased with her- narrates:

“There was nothing more pleasant to Quraysh than sleeping on a sarir. On arriving at Medina and temporarily settling in the house of Abu Ayyub, the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- asked him if they had one. It turned out that he did not.

Hearing about this, Asad ibn Zurarah of the Ansar sent the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- a straw-covered sarir made from oak and weaved with linen.

The Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- used the sarir for the duration of his stay at the house of Abu Ayyub and after he moved to his own chamber by the Masjid. After his passing away, he was washed and shrouded on this serir, on which he lay, as the Companions offered his funeral prayer.

People used to personally ask to borrow the sarir to carry their dead and thereby seek its spiritual blessings. The corpses of both Abu Bakr and Omar –Allah be well-pleased with them- were carried on the very same sarir to their graves. (Balazuri, Ansabu’l-Ashraf, I, 525)

A similar incident is as follows:

Abu Hurayrah –Allah be well-pleased with him-, the Companion to have narrated the most number of ahadith, used to remain by the side of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-, observing his every action and behavior. One day, he complained to the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- of not being able to remember most of what he would utter, despite committing them to his memory upon hearing them.

“Lay down your cloak”, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- then said to him, before praying for him and making a hand gesture as if he was collecting some things with his palms and throwing them into the laid out cloak.

“Pick up your cloak”, he then said. Afterwards, Abu Hurayrah –Allah be well-pleased with him- was granted such a strength of memory that he no longer forgot what he heard. (Tirmidhi, Manaqib, 46)

A Companion by the name of Firas also wanted to own a personal item belonging to the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-. On one occasion, he saw the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- eating from a plate in front of him; so he decided to ask to have that plate as present. Never one to refuse the request of anyone, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- presented the plate to Firas.

Omar –Allah be well-pleased with him- would occasionally go to Firas’ house and ask him to bring ‘…that sacred plate’. Then filling the plate once touched by the blessed hands of the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- with zamzam, he would drink from it, splattering the remainder of the water on his face. (Ibn Hajar, al-Isabah, III, 202)

Recounting what follows in Abu Juhafah –Allah be well-pleased with him-:

In the midday heat, the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- went out to Bathah, where he took ablution, and offered the prayers of zuhr and asr in two rakat. Pinned to the ground in front of him was a short spear. People all around suddenly rose to their feet and began holding the hands of the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- and wiping their faces with them. I, too, took hold of one of his hands and placed it against my face; and lo and behold, his hand was cooler than snow and more beautifully scented than musk. (Bukhari, Manaqib, 23)

In his recounting of the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- Anas ibn Malik -Allah be well-pleased with him- recaps how the Companions vied with each other to get hold of the strands of his hair, in hope of attaining the spiritual blessings thereof:

“After stoning the devils, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- slaughtered his sacrifice and had his hair cut. The barber held his lock of hair on the right and cut it. The Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- called Abu Talha and gave him that lock. The barber then held the hair on his left side. ‘Cut’, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- told him; and he did. He also gave that to Abu Talha, telling him to ‘Distribute it among people!’” (Muslim, Hajj, 323-326)

Anas –Allah be well-pleased with him- testifies to how the Companions were rushing around the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- as he was getting a haircut, to make sure that not a single strand of hair fell to the ground without it being picked up by someone. (Muslim, Fadail, 75)

Indeed, the Companions sought spiritual blessings not only through the strands of hair belonging to the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- but also through his personal items. They carried this excitement even during the heated moment of war. One of the most splendid examples of this mindset is provided by Khalid ibn Walid –Allah be well-pleased with him-, who kept a few strands of the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- in his imamah as spiritual memento.

It is reported that as the fringes of the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- hair were being cut, Khalid ibn Walid -Allah be well-pleased with him- insisted he be their recipient. “Please give those to me, Messenger of Allah”, he pleaded. “Do not prefer anyone else above me in this regard…may my parents be ransomed for you!”[4]

Upon receiving the Blessed Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- fringes he had desperately wished for, he rubbed them over his eyes and placed them in the front of his cap beneath his imamah. Thereafter, he never encountered an enemy force he did not ultimately vanquish. “Wherever I directed them towards”, Khalid -Allah be well-pleased with him- later said, “that place was ultimately taken!”[5] (Waqidi, III, 1108; Ibn Athir, Usd’ul-Ghabah, II, 111)

At one stage during the fierce Battle of Yamamah, Khalid –Allah be well-pleased with him- lost his imamah. He then ordered his soldiers to find it. Despite searching the battlefield, they could not locate the imamah. So Khalid –Allah be well-pleased with him- reissued the order. After a grueling search, they eventually found the imamah, old and worn out, much to their surprise. They could hardly make sense of their commander’s insistence on finding something seemingly worthless. Sensing their disbelief, Khalid –Allah be well-pleased with him- explained:

“The Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- had his hair cut and the Companions were scrambling for the strands. I, too, managed to get hold of a few strands, which I placed inside this imamah. This brought me such blessings that I never fought a war wearing it that I did not eventually win. The secret of my victories is nothing other than my love for the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace-.” (Haythami, Majmau’z-Zawaid, IX, 349)

Such occurrences, which took place right before the Companions’ very own eyes, are further proofs that matter can be spiritually and emotionally infiltrated. The key is to possess an awake heart that is able to receive the inspiration radiating forth from that spiritual reflection, on the condition, of course, that one does not resort to extremities.

The righteous predecessors –may Allah have mercy on them- continued the Companions’ practice of seeking spiritual blessings. Below are just a few examples:

Ibn Sirin says:

“I once informed Ubaydah of having in my custody ‘a strand of the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- hair, inherited to us from either Anas’ mother or family.’ With great excitement, he said: ‘By Allah, to have a single strand of his hair is dearer to me than the entire world and what’s within.’” (Bukhari, Wudu, 33)

Abdullah, the son of Ahmed ibn Hanbal, recounts:

“My father used to take hold of a strand of the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- hair, place it against his lips and kiss it. And at times, he would place it above his eyelids. There were also times when he would dip the hair in a cup of water and then drink the water; and through its spiritual blessings, he would ask Allah for a cure of what illness he may have been suffering from at the time. I also remember a time when he took the cup used by the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessing and peace- and washed it in a bucket, from which he later drank. With the intention of receiving a cure, he would likewise drink zamzam and run the water across his hands and face.” (Dhahabi, Siyari Alami’n-Nubalam Beirut, 1986-1988, XI, 212)

The same Abdullah once asked his father Ibn Hanbal whether it was permissible to touch the knob of the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- pulpit (as he used to rest against it whilst giving a sermon) and the Prophet’s Chamber, hoping for spiritual blessings.

“I see no harm in that”, was the reply. (Dhahabi, Siyar, XI, 212)

Qadi Iyad testifies that “Ibn Omar –Allah be well-pleased with him- was seen rubbing his face against the spot on the pulpit upon which the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- used to sit.”[6]

The following incident reported to have taken place between Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal and Imam Shafii –may Allah have mercy on them- serves as another wonderful example. Recounting it is Rabi ibn Sulayman, a student of Imam Shafii.

“Imam Shafii one day handed me a letter, telling me to deliver it to Ahmed ibn Hanbal and to return with the reply. So, I took the letter and headed out to Baghdad. I met with the Imam at fajr prayer and offered the prayer behind him. Afterwards, once the Imam made his way out of the mihrab, I presented him the letter, saying:

‘This is a letter sent from Egypt from your brother Imam Shafii.’

‘Do you know what is written?’ he asked.

‘No’, I replied. The Imam then unsealed the envelope and began reading the letter. He was suddenly overcome with tears.

‘What does the letter say?’ I asked curiously.

‘He says that in his dream’, he began explaining, ‘he saw the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- who told him to ‘…write a letter to Ahmed ibn Hanbal and send him my greetings; and tell him that he will be subjected to a great tribulation where he will be asked to claim that the Quran is created. Tell him not to give in to this demand, at any cost. Allah will honor his name and make it live on until the Final Hour.’’

‘What great news that is for you’, I commented. Delighted, the Imam then removed his shirt and gave it to me; and after receiving his shirt as a reply to the letter, I returned to Egypt. When I presented the shirt to Imam Shafii, he said:

‘I would hardly wish to upset you by taking this shirt away from you. But perhaps you could dip the shirt into some water and give that water to me so we could share its spiritual blessings (barakah)’”[7]

The strands of the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- beard, reverentially kept and protected in the pulpits of various mosques around the world, act as mercy for entire Muslims, like a refreshing wind that has persistently blown from his time to ours. Respecting the loving memory of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-, in turn, only strengthens the bond of love and devotion for him in the heart. Many a loyal devotee of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- has made the most of the spiritual blessings offered by these mementos.

The splendor of the Ottomans, which lasted over six centuries and has never been matched by any Muslim state, essentially stemmed for its deep respect to matters spiritual. As the spiritual causes underlying the legendary Ottoman magnificence one can recall, among others, the famous incident where Osman Gazi kept awake all night, supposing it would be disrespectful to put his feet up in a room in which there was a copy of the Quran, and the time when Sultan Selim reverentially brought the Sacred Trusts of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- to Istanbul and designated forty huffaz to incessantly recite the Quran by their side, day and night, a practice that would continue uninterrupted until the fall of the Empire.

The fact that the Sacred Trusts, including the mantle of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-, are today accessible for Muslims who wish to see them, provides an added means of spiritual blessings for the entire Muslim world.

I had forbidden you from visiting graves. But now you may, for visiting graves will remind you of the Hereafter. (Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 60; Muslim, Janaiz, 106)

Graveyards are schools of wisdom and grave visiting offers the most effective training in the art of contemplating death.

[1]        See, Bukhari, Aqiqah, 1.

[2]        In fact, what is referred to as fetishism in the history of religions, which is the deviant practice of worshipping and ascribing a divine status to the personal items left behind by deceased heroes, is a historical depravity born from an excess of this natural tendency. Since it is diffuclt to grasp abstract realities, many have resorted to identifying the abstract Creator with tangible entities; and this has lead to the deviation that is idolatry. With that said, abstract realities do exert a spiritual manifestation on the tangible. The correct approach for those with clarity of judgment is to grasp these spiritual reflections and patterns impressed on physical entitites, in a way that leads the mind from the effect to the cause. Such is how Allah, glory unto Him, is known; and so is spirit. The same applies for all abstract truths.

[3]        See, Yusuf, 93-96.

[4]        In the meantime, Abu Bakr -Allah be well-pleased with him- was looking on in amazement, comparing Khalid’s -Allah be well-pleased with him- misdemeanors at Uhud, Handak and Hudaybiyah to what he had become now. (Ibn Saad, II, 174)

[5]        Hikmet Atan testifies to a recent, similar instance of the blessings provided through the Blessed Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- hair and beard:

“In 1983, I heard Ali Yücel Efendi explain the following incident. ‘It was during my time as imam at Suluova Central Mosque, when another imam from one of the neighboring villages came to me and said, ‘Something just happened of which I could make little sense’, he said as he began explaining to me the following.

“Recently, some people from a village close to the village where I am imam came to me with a fair number of books. ‘Our father has just passed away’, they said, ‘and he has left us these. But we cannot read them. You are a scholar; only you can benefit from these books around here. So we thought we would give them you as present’. So I took the books and went home. I then sat in front of the stove, which was burning at full blast, and began to examine the books. Inside them were some letters and enveloped belonging to the deceased imam. They were personal, I thought, and decided to gather them and throw them all into the stove burning ferociously in front of me. But as soon as I did, the stove suddenly went ‘tissss’ and was put out. Horrified, I ran outside. Only later did I find enough courage to enter back inside the house.”

“So I told the hodja”, continues Ali Efendi, “that there was a strand of the beard of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- inside one of those envelopes”.

After a while, I saw the hodja once again, who straightaway asked me, “How did you know that there was a strand of the beard of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- inside one of those envelopes? The people that gave the books came again later on and said, ‘We were unaware at the time but it turns out there is a strand of the beard of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- inside the envelopes. Could we have it back?’”

[6]        Qadi Iyad, Shifa, II, 47, 71; Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmuu’l-Fatawa, I, 230.

[7]        See, Ibnu’l-Jawzi, Manaqibu’l-Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal, p. 609-610.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, Sufism, Erkam Publications

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