Murshid-i Kamil and Methods of Spiritual Enlightening


What is Murshidi Kamil?  What does spiritual enlightenment mean? What does spiritual enlightenment feel like? Ways to Achieve Spiritual Enlightenment.


Progressing on the spiritual path, a believer encounters diverse manifestations. The heart is like an ocean. Sometimes its waters are calm and serene; yet there are other times when its waters surge to terrifying heights amid a sudden breakout of a violent storm. Equal to the need for a reliable ship to cross this turbulent ocean is the need for an able captain. Should the captain lose control of the ship whilst trying to sail through the rising waves, it will come to know the hard way just how uncompromising the ocean is; it will bury the ship in its depths. Such manifestations are usually unbeknown to those who are new to this journey. But as one continues to sail into the open ocean, certain spiritual signs begin to show their faces, spiritual twists differing in nature from one person to another, conditions like inqibad and inbisat,[1] manifestations whose sources, whether Divine (Rahmani) or devilish, are unknown. Diagnosing them and taking the required precautions thus requires the guidance of a murshid-i kamil, a spiritually matured master.

To acquire this direction, each Muslim must come under self-discipline. The heart-world of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, the exemplar beyond compare for the ummah, must be emulated to the extent one’s capabilities and powers allow. His trust and reliance in the Lord, patience at the face of troubles and predicaments, his distance to the treasures of the world when they flowed freely in front of him and his exceptional modesty, must be put to practice as intensely as possible. To assail the barriers that stand on the path of spiritual development, one must therefore humbly and courteously request the assistance of the wise murshid-i kamils, the inheritors of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- and make a sincere effort to carry out their recommendations. Just as in receiving its light from the sun, the moon testifies to the existence of the sun even when it is hidden from the naked eye, saints enlightened by the Light of Muhammad -upon him blessings and peace- are witnesses and inheritors of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-.

The purpose of tasawwuf is to develop the spiritual potential, embedded in varying degrees in the natural predisposition of man. Each heart is like land concealing petrol underneath. The petrol never finds its way above the ground unless through being drilled out. The petrol that rests in the lower substratum of the ground is like the spiritual aptitude divinely given to each human being. As is the case with the intellect, it is found in varying degrees among human beings.

A murshid-i kamil is the one to spiritually drill this aptitude out and bring this treasure out into daylight. But for the petrol to make its way above, the drill must reach all the way to the layer where the petrol dwells. The drill must equally be strong and resilient, lest it hit upon a rock and shatter to pieces. This means that it is just as important that the murshid, to whose spiritual guidance one submits, be competent for the task. And this carries its certain conditions, on which we should briefly touch upon in passing:

A true murshid-i kamil is recognizable by three main traits:

The First Trait

A true murshid-i kamil exerts a full-fledged loyalty to the Quran and Sunnah. His life and deeds consists of nothing other than bringing the morals of the Quran and Sunnah to life. Compared to other believers, the loyalty of a murshid-i kamil to the Quran and Sunnah is of greater intensity. His abidance by the two pillars is comparable to a man, who meticulously follows the footsteps of the guide in front of him on a snowy field, paying particular attention to step on the very ground the guide has treaded, lest he be bogged down in snow. A murshid-i kamil is thus rightly referred to as a warathatu’l-anbiya, an inheritor of prophets. It goes without saying that a loyalty of such intensity carries no room for a life that revolves around the ego.

The Second Trait

A true murshid-i kamil reminds one of Allah, glory unto Him, both in his words and deeds. Because these saintly figures are recipients of the manifestation of Divine names and that they have been able to transform the Divine names of Beauty (jamali) names into moral behavior, they invariably remind others of the Lord. Indeed, when the Companions inquired the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- as to who the wali or saintly servants of Allah, glory unto Him, are, the reply they received was:

“They are those whose sight reminds one of Allah the Almighty”. (Haythami, Majmau’z-Zawaid, X, 78; Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 4)

The sight of a murshid-i kamil must therefore evoke in one the thought of Allah, glory unto Him and the Hereafter, impart peacefulness onto the heart and carry him away to a spiritual realm. This is for no other reason than that they have embodied the morals of the Lord and the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-.

The most renowned names of the Allah, glory unto Him, are Rahman (the Merciful) and Rahim (the Compassionate). The saintly servants of the Lord, too, exert utmost compassion. The Almighty is Sattaru’l-uyub; He conceals sins. A murshid, too, does not investigate the faults of others and conceals them once made aware. The Lord is Karim, the Generous. A saint is likewise generous; he takes satisfaction from providing for others. Allah, glory unto Him, is Ghafur; the Forgiver. A murshid, too, forgives others’ faults. The Lord is Halim, the Forbearing; so are saints.

Being the companions (wali) of the Lord, such figures are hence different to other people in more respects than one. Their hearts are closer to Allah, glory unto Him. Their deeds of worship are solemn, focused. They pay painstaking attention to their behavior. As they trek the footsteps of the Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, their prayers are more acceptable than the prayers of others. Since their bodies are engaged in a continuous state of dhikr, affording vigor to their whole existence, they exude a refreshing effect on the places which they enter.

A genuine believer finds himself distressed by the overwhelming spiritual weight burdened through mixing with someone of a perverse nature. Inversely, accompanying a righteous human being brings him peace. Greater still, for a genuine believer, being in the company of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- is bliss beyond the wildest imagination. The spiritual pleasure of being present in an atmosphere graced by the spiritual majesty of the Light of Being -upon him blessings and peace- is simply inexpressible. Still, because a murshid-i kamil scrupulously follows the trail of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, abides consummately by his Sunnah and thereby comes the closest to the Prophetic morals, he carries a spiritual majesty and source of inspiration that comes from the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. Just as it is common to for a man, who makes contact with an electrical current, to shake, a true murshid must first shake the very pillars of one’s spirit, then reinvigorate him and take him away on a journey across spiritual horizons.

The Third Trait

The final mark of a murshid-i kamil is spiritual designation. It is not enough for an assembly to convene and chose a murshid. Much rather, he must be designated by an authorized murshid-i kamil, who himself belongs to an authentic spiritual chain that reaches all the way to the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. Should this kind of designation be lacking, the chain then comes to a halt at that given point. When unable to find a successor of enough competence, many a murshid-i kamil therefore abstains from entrusting anyone with the duty of continuing their path. At times they leave one successor, at other times many, as was the case with Khalid Baghdadi -may Allah sanctify his secret-. The wisdom underlying this is known to Allah, glory unto Him, alone.

So in brief, maturing the heart so as to render it recipient to spiritual truths is possible through certain spiritual exercises. This requires acquaintance with and the practice of the paths of spiritual maturation. Overcoming the obstacles scattered along this path, on the other hand, requires the guidance of the righteous and pious servants of Allah, glory unto Him. Each potential disciple must search for a murshid to see his spiritual development through but at the same, be pay great attention to whether the suspected murshid, to whose he training he considers to submit himself, carries certain traits.

A Few Important Words of Note:

Since a murshid-i kamil, whose traits have been depicted thus far, is a distinguished servant of Allah, glory unto Him, and an exceptional man of integrity, he most certainly merits enormous respect and is required to be benefited from spiritually. But in showing this due respect and seeking to benefit spiritually from a murshid, one must take care not to be drowned in the torrent of excess. It must be borne in mind that even prophets, let alone the righteous and the pious, are above all servants of the Lord. They only possess whatever amount of the oceans of knowledge and wisdom Allah, glory unto Him, has privileged them with.  A time comes when their eyes and hearts are exposed to the underlying wisdoms of both worlds; yet likewise, there are times when they may not be able to see what is in front of them.

In his Gulistan, Sheikh Sadi narrates:

“A man once asked Yaqub (a.s), ‘You, who are a wise prophet with an enlightened heart! How was it that you were able get a whiff of the scent of Yusuf’s (a.s) shirt as it was being brought from as far as Egypt, yet were unable to see it as he was thrown into a well just nearby?’

‘The Divine share of knowledge given us in this regard’, replied Yaqub (a.s) ‘are like lightning strikes. Hence, truths appear crystal clear at times, yet they remain concealed at others.’”

Once, in reply to a person asking him answers to some questions unbeknown to him at the time, certain that an enlightening Revelation would soon arrive, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- said:

“See me tomorrow when I shall give you the answer”. He did not complement his sentence with insha-Allah, or Allah willing.

But the expected Revelation did not arrive the day after; in actual fact, exactly fifteen days passed before it finally did arrive. Even the Light of Being -upon him blessings and peace-, for the sake of whom the entire universe had been created, was left helpless. When it did at long last arrive, it was with the following caution:

“And say not of anything: Surely, I shall do that tomorrow. Except adding if Allah wills. And remember your Lord when you forget, and say: It may be that my Lord guides me unto a nearer way of truth than this.” (al-Kahf, 23-24) (See, Ibn Kathir, III, 83; Alusi, XV, 247)

Considering that this is some measure even the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was commanded to follow, one must duly understand the degree of its applicability to human beings entire. Thus, it cannot be said that once a beloved servant of Allah, glory unto Him, says a prayer in general or for the recuperation of an ill person, the acceptance of that prayer is guaranteed. In order for the prayer to culminate in to what has been desired, not only must there be sincerity in both camps, the person offering the prayer and the person for whom the prayer is made, the prayer must also fall in line with Divine will. As is valid for prayers of all kinds, one must also remember that the acceptance of the prayer may in fact be adjourned to the Hereafter, instead of becoming manifest this life and that their acceptance or denial are completely dependent upon the Will of the Almighty.

Another important detail to take note of is that both prophets and saints possess distinct temperaments and dispositions and that one characteristic that comes to the fore in one prophet may not be found on the same level in another prophet. It would therefore be a mistake to expect from each and everyone them to be the same temperament and disposition.

As is mentioned in the Holy Quran, Musa (a.s) was given a kind of knowledge which Khidr (a.s) lacked; and inversely, Khidr (a.s) was privileged with a form of knowledge which was lacking in Musa (a.s). Comparably, one cannot expect a Jilani -may Allah sanctify his secret- to be a Rumi -may Allah sanctify his secret-. What has been given to both and what has been expected from both are distinct. Most certainly, however, the true purpose that underlies them all is servanthood and marifa. And the roads that lead to the Lord are indeed as numerous as the amount of breaths that belong to creation.

Also of great importance is the fact that no servant, bar prophets, is under Divine guarantee. Even if one was to reach the apogee of ideal servanthood, he still remains exposed to the constant threat of slipping by the wayside. One case in point is Balam ibn Baura. Formerly a righteous man, he wound up falling captive to his ego, inflicting upon himself an eternal dismay. The Quran refers to him as follows:

“And recite to them the narrative of him to whom We give Our communications, but he withdraws himself from them, so the Shaitan overtakes him, so he is of those who go astray. And if We had pleased, We would certainly have exalted him thereby. But he clung to the earth and followed his low desire, so his parable is as the parable of the dog; if you attack him he lolls out his tongue; and if you leave him alone he lolls out his tongue; this is the parable of the people who reject Our communications; therefore relate the narrative that they may reflect.” (al-Araf, 175-176)

Similar is the case of Qarun, or Croesus, whose account is made mention in surah al-Qasas. An exceptionally upright man at one-time, he laid waste on his eternal happiness by turning into a despicable man of rebellion. Together with the lavish wealth he so depended on and boasted over, the Almighty mortified him deep into the ground. Thus whatever the spiritual rank or superiority one may be privileged with at the time, the ego, which lies in wait inside man, may rise to strike at any unexpected moment and topple one from his throne. Not for no reason did the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- seek refuge in the Lord, by praying:

“My Allah…I am hopeful of Your mercy! Do not leave me alone with the desires of my ego even if it be for a split second! Rehabilitate my each condition! Doubtless, there is no god but You…” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 100-101)

The righteous servants of the Lord always take careful note of the meaning of the above hadith and never deceive themselves with the thought of ‘having made it’. Those who have given in to this delusion have always found themselves left high and dry, even if they had managed to complete their sayr-u suluk. In contrast, those who believed they were still ‘far from making it’, who constantly reminded themselves of their shortcomings and weaknesses, have been able to progress relentlessly on the spiritual path. Just to think that in spite of the brilliant manifestation of the perfected nature of his humanness, even Prophet Muhammad Mustafa -upon him blessings and peace-, the pinnacle of prophets, never stopped offering salat to the point of having swollen feet, responding to the astounded Aisha -Allah be well-pleased with him-a, inquiring as to why he felt the need, by saying:

“Should I not be a thankful servant, Aisha?” (Muslim, Munafiqun, 79)

Again, according to report of his honorable wives, following the Revelation: “Then celebrate the praise of your Lord, and ask His forgiveness; surely He is oft-returning (to mercy)” (an-Nasr, 3) the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- began to occupy himself with thanking and praising the Lord more with each gone second.

Therefore, regardless of the rank one attains to towards the path of the Real, he is never alleviated from the responsibilities of servanthood and may not, in any sense of the term, reduce his deeds or fabricate a self-acclaimed exemption from the duties that come with being a servant. All Divine principles and responsibilities are entrusted with human beings in all walks of life and will not be revoked up until to the moment they breathe their final breath on earth. A true murshid-i kamil thus strives to live his entire life abiding under the shade of the guiding command:

“Therefore celebrate the praise of your Lord, and be of those who prostrate. And serve your Lord until there comes to you that which is certain.” (al-Hijr, 98-99)

Spiritual guides of such caliber do not ask for even a tiny price in return for their services. They do not even expect a return for their servanthood to Allah, glory unto Him; for those who do, depreciate the value of their deeds and spiritual ranks. Despite fasting on three days in succession, Ali and Fatima -Allah be well-pleased with him-um handed their meal away to a poor man who had come knocking on their door from hunger on the first night, to an orphan on the second night and to a prisoner on the third, making do with just water on each of those nights, as they humbly responded to the thanks of their recipients by saying:

“We did not give our food expecting thanks from you. Our sole motivation is the pleasure of our Lord…”[2]

In short, true murshid-i kamils are the high points of spiritual life, who continue prophets’ duties of training and teaching, by virtue of putting an exemplary character on display. Acquainted with the Lord and His Sublime Attributes, these righteous servants of Allah, glory unto Him, have, at the same time, reached a level of ihsan. They are thus given such blessings like the knowledge of the ladunn, wisdom and marifa. Yet none of them are on level par with a Companion. Neither is a Companion on level par with a Prophet, nor are prophets on level par with the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. And as for the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, he is first and foremost a servant of the Lord and then His Messenger.

One must therefore resist the urge to ascribe greater value to human beings than they merit and treat them in accordance with their give conditions. Uways al-Qarani or even Abu Hanifa, the compiler of Islamic jurisprudence, cannot be on level par with a Companion. As for the exaggerated respect and reverence, ‘supposedly’ a mark of devotion, shown time and again by the ignorant towards figures they are attached to, is beyond a simple error; it is downright deviation. This deviation is something of a strange case of behavioral excess that not only runs counter to the Will of the Lord, it also distances one further away from the truth. It is owing to a concern that people may fall into an error of this kind that the Beloved Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- forbade people from singing ignorant praises of others. And should the person being praised be wary that the praises will inflate his ego, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- advised him to:

“Hurl dust on his (the praiser’s) face!” (Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Musnad, VI, 5)

Praises that provoke the ego are but signatures of destruction placed on the heart.

The realm of existence is upheld by love and rabitah; for rabitah is none other than the manifestation of love that constitutes the core of existence. It is the perpetuation of the vivacity and sparkle of love.

[1]        Inqibad and inbisat are two opposite states that take a disciple in their grip. Inqibad is a spiritual constriction brought upon by fear or like anxieties, while inbisat is a spiritual relief through hope.

[2]        See, al-Insan, 8-11; Wahidi, p. 470. Zamakhshari, VI, 191-192.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, Sufism, Erkam Publications