What is Perfect Guide? Who is Perfect Guide?
A believer progressing along the path of spirituality encounters many different phenomena. The human heart is like an ocean without a shore. Sometimes the waters in this ocean are still, at other times they are like terrifying waves and whirlpools. In order to pass by the ocean in safety and reach the shores of salvation, one needs a sturdy boat and also a capable and skilful captain. If the captain cannot control his boat in stormy times he will be destroyed by the pounding waves of the ocean. However a capable and skilful captain can steer his boat even in the fiercest of storms.
This is why those who wish to surpass their spiritual ocean and arrive to Allah, Most High, must first find a skilful captain and travel in his company and in the direction given by his advice and instructions. Otherwise he may lose his way in this journey, which harbours endless dangers and hazards, and he may eventually be destroyed.
For those who are at the beginning of their spiritual journey, the trials one encounters in one’s life are not so severe nor so intricate.
However as they go deeper into the ocean they encounter dreams in which they are unsure whether they are from Allah or from Satan. They are faced with many different events, spiritual manifestations that differ from individual to individual and states of inkibad and inbisat. They are in need of guidance from an experienced, skilful and perfect guide for the correct evaluation of these and the precautions that need to be taken.
From its beginnings until today, even though it has been recorded and its teachings written down, the religion of Islam has been a religion which has been learned through practice and then taught, and comprehended as one lives one’s life.
Many people do not spare the time to read books. Thus they learn their knowledge of the religion by either listening to the talks of a scholar or observing and modelling their own life on the lives of model personalities. Rather than isolated truths, the human being is in awe of elevated characters and personalities who reflect those truths in their own states and behaviour.
Truths that are learned by observing their embodied examples leave indelible marks on the heart and are more lasting.
The practical transfer of religious knowledge from generation to generation is a sounder method than what one learns from books. This path ensures learning Islam with a complete understanding and application. Learning merely from books can result in many contradictions and doubts in the application of the religion. Thus, the friends of Allah, who practice their Islam with great love, rapture and excitement, have a great share in transferring this religion, unspoiled, from generation to generation.
The required Sufi training for the spiritual perfection of the human being cannot be gained by merely reading books. Despite the knowledge found in books being necessary and beneficial, it must be applied in one’s life and lived. Furthermore, in order to solve the likely problems that one is bound to face, one needs an experienced guide, as a model and one who knows the intricacies of this spiritual path. Just as one cannot perform an operation by reading a medical text, and a legal case cannot be solved by reading a text on law, so too in the spiritual realm, practice and application is needed together with isolated truths. Moreover, learning this is similar to work experience as an apprentice to a master. It requires learning by listening to a sound source or observing, without book or pen. Thus, it is the Perfect Guides who perform this service for their students. They are the leaders, role models and guides whose arena is experienced education and application.
They guide them along the path in safety without letting them make mistakes or deviate along the way.
This is why we cannot speak of a proper life of tasawwuf without one dedicating one’s heart to a Perfect Guide. Those who set out on this path without a guide generally do not remain in safety due to their slipping of the path. Those who attempt Sufism on their own without undergoing spiritual training at the hands of a guide quickly err and because they have no one to warn and caution them they do not become aware of their mistakes. Most of the time they are deceived by their own nafs, by Satan and by misgivings and temptations.
It is due to this need of the human being that Allah has never deprived the world of His friends (awliya) or people of guidance. This is undoubtedly a manifestation of our Lord’s infinite mercy, compassion and grace.
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessing be upon him) has said:
“A group from my community will continue to carry out and establish Allah’s commands. Those who leave them without helpers or who oppose them will not harm them in any way. Eventually when they are superior (when they have become successful in their service and made the religion superior) Allah’s command will come (that is, the wind that will take the spirits of the believers before Doomsday erupts)” (Muslim, Imare, 174)
“A group from my community will appear at each time, until Doomsday and struggle for the truth to be known and lived. They will be ever subject to the help of Allah and eventually reign superior” (Muslim, Iman 247, Imare 173).
These are the Perfect Guides, the friends of Allah who guide others in inner matters, the righteous scholars, faqihs, mufassir and muhaddith. They first practice the religion of Allah and then guide others with their states, their words and their actions.
It must be noted that Perfect Guides are only a means for arriving to Allah and are in no way the ultimate goal. Thus it is incorrect to compare Perfect Guides to priests in Christianity. In Christianity a human being cannot personally turn to Allah without a priest as an intermediary. Perfect Guides on the other hand try to open a path for the servant to turn to His Lord in an acceptable way, personally, directly and of his own will and desire, and, in fact, consider himself under His watch at every instant. They try to prepare the spiritual background for this to occur. They advise the servant to eliminate the obstacles of their nafs, to save their hearts from the slavery of all other than Him, and turn to Allah only. In fact, after the servant has reached this stage, the guide moves out of the way.
The great guide Shah Naqshiband (may Allah have mercy on him) describes this truth as follows:
“We are only a means for reaching the goal. What is necessary for the traveller (saliq) is to reach a state of perfection and leave us to reach their ultimate goal. The way of the trainer is as such: they take the spiritual children of this path, that is the seekers and bound them to the crib of a tariqat, then with the nipple of purification, and the milk of himmah they nourish them and bring them to the point of arrival at the presence of Allah (wuslah); they then wean them off of themselves and allow them to enter the court of Unity. After that the Lord of all the Worlds trains and nourishes them”.
Thus the Perfect Guides struggle to bring the believer to a life of taqwa. Once the state of taqwa is established in the heart, no need remains for any other spiritual compass and Almighty Allah then continues to direct that heart to the truth and to goodness, and bestows upon it the light of foresight and discernment to be able to distinguish between good and evil, truth and falsehood, and right from wrong.
The Holy Qur’an states:
‘…Have taqwa of Allah and Allah will give you knowledge…‘ (Baqara, 2:282).
‘You who have faith! If you have taqwa of Allah, He will give you discernment and erase your bad actions from you and forgive you. Allah’s favour is indeed immense’ (Anfal, 8:29)
 inkibad and inbisat are two states of being, the former meaning constriction and the latter meaning expansion (Translators’ note)
 A faqih is a scholar who is qualified at taking rulings from the Holy Qur’an (Translator’s note)
 A mufassir is a commentator of the Qur’an (Tranlator’s note)
 A muhaddith is a narrator of hadith (Translator’s note)
. See Salahaddin ibn Mubarak al-Bukhari, Anisu al-Talibin, p. 97.
Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş,The Golden Chain of Transmission Masters of the Naqshinandi Way, Erkam Publications