In the first centuries there was a requirement for a chain of narration in various Islamic sciences such as qiraat, tafsir, hadith, and fiqh.
The scholars of Islam who narrated the hadith and opinions on commentary of the Companions, the Tabi’een and other scholars would look for a chain that came from them until that time.
In fact after this knowledge began to be recorded in books and until today, the chain of those teachers who taught those books was recorded and was considered necessary in order for one’s knowledge to be given consideration. Today also there are many scholars who abide by this chain and take and hand out ijaza or licence to teach.
In addition tasawwuf rijali (study of narrators) recorded which teacher they received their spiritual training and education from, and recorded the name of their teacher’s teacher and passed it on to their students. In this way people were able to receive this most vital training in the most sound way and in accordance with their way.
This system of the chain (silsilah) and licence to teach (ijaza) was considered absolutely necessary in order to preserve the sciences, both outer and spiritual, to avoid the introduction of errors and innovations, to preserve its purity and keep it intact.
Even more meticulousness and care was taken in preserving the methods and rulings gained by years of experience in matters of Islamic adab and morals. The sound transfer of this knowledge of these sciences to later generations by competent, trained and licenced people from this chain was considered an absolute requirement. These ijazet name or licences to teach which complied with the chain and were subject to a particular method and guaranteed competency; it prevented the deception of ‘false’ shaykhs who tried to present themselves as being perfect shaykhs.
Remembering the righteous is a source of blessings
Remembering and reciting the names of those individuals found in the Noble Chain from time to time has been considered a method in training in tasawwuf.
This method is resorted to in the hope that mercy envelops the heart and the one remembering receives a share from the beautiful state of those individuals.
Sufyan ibn Uyayna and other great scholars have said:
“Mercy rains down on assemblies in which the Righteous (saliheen) are remembered”.
Muhammad ibn Yunus has said:
“I have never seen anything more beneficial for the heart than remembering the righteous”.
When the friends of Allah are remembered, the cautionary events and stories in their lives and their anecdotes full of wisdom revive the hearts. A desire for their model states arises and the spirit turns towards these elevated states. In this way mercy, blessings and tranquillity arise.
Consequently in order to be with the righteous, not just outwardly, but also with the heart and the spirit reciting the Noble Chain is a source of great mercy and blessings. The writing of various books that include the stories of the friends of Allah is in order to inspire the believers to come closer to them with love.
Imam Abu Hanifa (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“The stories of righteous scholars and their good character have always appeared more pleasing to me than most of fiqh. What is narrated in these is the adab and good character of these friends of Allah. The Holy Qur’an states:
‘They are the ones Allah has guided, so be guided by their guidance… (al An‘am, 6:90)”
Some of the friends of Allah have said:
“The stories of the righteous are like an army from the armies of Allah. Through them Almighty Allah makes firm the heart in uprightness, of those of His friends”.
The proof for this is the following verse:
“We have given you all this news about the Messengers so We can make your heart firm by means of it. The truth has come to you in this and an admonishment and reminder to the believers. (Hud, 11:120).
According to this, the stories of the prophets and the righteous strengthen the faith of the believers. They are a source of consolation and stream of peace for those in distress; and uprightness for those in ease.
Because the lives of the friends of Allah are embodied examples, reading about them increases the determination, efforts and spirituality of the believers. They beautify the character, without having to use verbal instructions such as ‘Do this or do not do that’. They teach us the inner face of and the wisdom in events. They are a means for us to take as our examples the beautiful states of perfect believers who lived in the past.
There are other reasons for reciting the Noble Chain at various times. A person should at least know the individuals who connect him to the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), whose path he is following and who he is benefitting from. By remembering them from time to time he can establish love for them in his heart and ensure a feeling of belonging and membership of the path he is following.
It is also possible for the murid to use the teachers from this Noble Chain as a means to supplicate to Allah.
Abu Said Muhammad Hadimi has said:
“Whoever recites the chain of shaykhs, after ‘Hatm’i Khwajagan, during his dhikr, before beginning dhikr and after completing his wird, he will be subject to various advancement and openings. The person reading the wird and the dhikr should recite the chain of shaykhs especially at times when he feels a spirituality overcome him. He can also read the Noble Chain in the hope of removing all distress, grief and sorrow, for the attainment of one’s aims, for the fulfilling of needs or for the cure of illnesses. In addition one can write down the Blessed Chain and carry it with him for the blessings it contains”.
Tawassul and Istighasa with the friends of Allah
Tawassul means to take something as a means (wasila). A wasila is everything that allows one to come closer to Allah or to have one’s needs met.
Allah, the Almighty, states in the Holy Qur’an:
“You who have faith! Have taqwa of Allah and seek the means of drawing near to Him…’ (Maida, 5:35)
Tawassul is one of the ways to pray and one of the gates through which one can turn to Allah. The true aim in tawassul is Allah, Most High. The wasila, or the means taken, is just a tool that allows one to come closer to Allah.
Almighty Allah orders us to turn towards the Ka’bah when we pray. This does not mean that we worship the Ka’bah. In the same way, kissing the Black Stone is done as servitude to Allah and following the path of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
A believer who takes as his means a certain thing or person takes it in the belief that Allah loves that means. In no way and at no time does he see that means as something that can either benefit or harm him.
A man used to frequently visit Uthman ibn Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) for a need, however, Uthman would not pay any attention to him nor would he fulfil his need. This man then encountered Uthman ibn Hunayf (may Allah be pleased with him) and complained to him. Uthman ibn Hunayf advised him:
“Take your cup and make your ablutions, then go to the masjid and perform two rakats of prayer. At the end of your prayer make the following supplication and then state your need:
“O Allah! I ask you and turn to you on behalf of the prophet of Mercy, the prophet Muhammad. O Muhammad. I turn to my Lord using him as a means for the fulfilment of this need of mine. O Allah make him my intercessor”.
That man went and did as he was told. After that he went to the door of Uthman ibn Affan. The doorman took him by the hand and sat him down on a cushion next to Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him). Uthman asked him:
“What is your need?” The man told him. Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) immediately granted his need and said:
“It never occurred to me until now that you needed something. If you ever need anything else come to me immediately”.
Having had his need fulfilled the man then left the presence of the Caliph and went to Uthman ibn Hunayf (may Allah be pleased with him), saying:
“May Allah reward you with good. Until you spoke to the Caliph about me, he did not fulfil my needs nor pay me any attention”.
Uthman ibn Hunayf (may Allah be pleased with him) was surprised and said:
“By Allah I did not speak to the Caliph. However I witnessed such an event:
A blind man once came to the Messenger of Allah and said:
“O Messenger of Allah. Beg Allah to cure the illness in my eye. It is very difficult for me to be blind”.
The prophet replied:
“If you wish you can be patient, this will be better for you”. The blind man said:
“O Messenger of Allah. I have no one to take me by the hand and guide me. My situation causes me great hardship. Please pray that my eyes are cured”.
The prophet then said:
“Take this cup and make your ablutions. Then pray two rakats of prayer. After that supplicate as follows:
“O Allah! I ask you and turn to you on behalf of the prophet of Mercy, the prophet Muhammad. O Muhammad. I turn to my Lord using you as a means for the fulfilment of this here need of mine. O Allah make him my intercessor”.
“By Allah we had not yet parted and the conversation between us grew long, when that blind man came and stood next to the prophet. It was as if he had never been blind, and he was completely cured”.
When we read this prayer we should say ‘Ya Rasulallah’ instead of ‘Ya Muhammad’ as this is more appropriate and we will not have erred in showing our respect for him.
One time when there was a drought during the caliphate of Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), he took the prophet’s uncle Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) with him to make a prayer for rain. Using him as a wasila he supplicated to Allah as follows:
“O Allah! When we prayed to you for rain using the prophet as a wasila You gave us rain. Now we ask You using the prophet’s uncle as a wasila. Bestow rain upon us”. After that it rained and the people were reunited with water (Bukhari, Istiska, 3).
In truth it is Allah, Most High, who helps us and brings about our wishes and hears our supplications.
Even though Allah is the true Owner of everything, affairs are attributed to people. Such expressions are used not in a true sense but figuratively.
Almighty Allah has given permission for people to ask each other for help and has commanded us to reply to the one who asks us for help.
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him)used the expression ‘istighaza’ which means ‘to ask for help’ in his following words:
“On the Day of Judgement the sun will come so close that the sweat of people will accumulate and reach up to half way of their ears. In this state they will ask the prophet Adam, then the prophet Musa and then the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)for help” (Bukhari, Zakat, 52).
Just as Almighty Allah has given His angels and His prophets certain disposal to act in a particular way He has also given them to some of His righteous servants. Their disposal while alive or even their spirits after they have passed away is similar to that of the angels. They are in no need of physical contact nor any instrument or means, because they are not subject to the laws that we know.
A personified example of the reality of tawassul and istighasa is from our recent history during the Battle of the Dardanelles. The active and verbal prayers of the Muslim soldiers, whose hearts were filled with faith, and their istiana, istighasa and tawassul were granted and when all physical strength and opportunities were lost they experienced much success and victory by the grace of Allah.
The English historian and commander from the Battle of the Dardanelles later admitted this truth as follows:
“We were not defeated by the physical strength of the Turks, but rather by their spiritual might. At one stage they had no gunpowder left to shoot but we witnessed the powers that descended from the heavens to help them…”
In short, asking out of respect for the prophets and righteous servants of Allah when praying for something will draw the mercy of Allah even more. That believer will have used those that Allah loves as his wasila, or means of seeking refuge in Him and asking from Him.
However, prayer is only to Allah. When we pray using Allah’s beloved’s as wasila, we should not ask from them personally but rather from Allah only. The sole absolute Doer of anything (Fail’i mutlaq) is Almighty Allah.
Some people make a grave mistake when they ask directly from righteous individuals in their absence or when they visit their graves, saying: “O such and such. Give me a cure. Fulfil this need of mine”. This can open the door to shirk. Even though certain interpretations can be made for such expressions, one must shun with intensity such ignorant words that can harm the essence of one’s belief in the oneness of Allah.
We should meticulously avoid any such expressions that infer that anything other than Allah has absolute disposal over the administration and management of the universe or in solving difficulties.
May our Lord bestow upon our hearts blessings and prosperity from the spirits of the true friends of Allah and in particular those from the Golden Chain.
. Abu Nuaym, Hilya, VII, 285; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, az Zuhd, Beirut 1420, s. 264; Ajluni, Kashfu al Khafa, II, 70.
. Ibn Jawzii, Sıfatu as Safwa, I, 18.
. Qadi Iyad, Tartibu al Madarik, Maghrib 1965, I, 23.
. Qadi Iyad, ibid, I, 23.
 This is a type of dhikr which begins and ends with the recitation of the Fatiha. The term ‘hatm-i khwajagan’ means the ‘hatim of the masters’ (Translator’s note).
. Muhammed Amin Al Kurdi al Arbili, Tanwiru al Qulub fiy Muamalati Allamu al Ghuyub, Aleppo 1411, p. 598.
. See Tirmidhi, Dawat, 118/3578; Ibn Maja, Iqama, 189; Nasai, Qubra, VI, 169; Ahmad, IV, 138; Hakim, I, 707-708; Bayhaqi, Dalail, V, 464; Haysami, II, 279.
. Allama Yusuf ibn Ismail an Nabhani, al Fadailu Muhammadiyya, Aleppo 1414, p. 230.
Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş,The Golden Chain of Transmission Masters of the Naqshinandi Way, Erkam Publications