The Sunnah of Bay'at

People raise objections to many practices of the sufiah such as taking bayah, even though bayah is not even required by the sufiah, as I will mention later. However, the practice of taking bayah is deeply rooted in the Quran and the Sunnah. In Surah Mumtahana, Allah says:

When believing women come to you to take oath of fealty to you, that they will not associate in worship any other thing whatever with Allah, that they will not commit adultery, that they will not kill their children, that they will not utter slander intentionally forging falsehood. And that they will not disobey you in any just matter, then do you receive their fealty and pray to Allah for the forgiveness for Allah is oft-forgiving, Most merciful.

In the commentary, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (Rahmatullah Alayhi) writes,
This ayah is clear proof of bayah and a repudiation of the ritual bayah which is bereft of any desire to perform good deeds.

In a hadith of Bukhari it says:
Ubadah bin Saamit (Radiyallahu Anhu) who participated in the Battle of Badr and was one of the leaders in the night of Aqabah, narrates that once when the Sahaba had gathered close by him the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) said:
Come make bayah to me upon the belief that you will not equate anything with Allah, will not steal, fornicate, or murder your own children. And that you will not accuse anyone of anything and will stand against one who speaks the truth. Whosoever fulfills this bayah will receive the reward from Allah and whosoever commits anyone of these will taste retribution in this world. This punishment in the world will be atonement for his sin. And if Allah hides his sin, he may forgive or punish in the Akhirah. This is Allah’s discretion.

Hadhrat Ubaidah (Radiyallahu Anhu) says, “We made bayah to the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) on these deeds.” This bayah was not bayah of Islam or bayah to struggle in the path of Allah. It is the bayah made by the sufiah to emphasize practicing upon the tenets and commandments of Islam.

Shah Waliullah Dehlavi wrote extensively in his book Al-Qaul Al-Jameel on the subject of bayah; this was later translated into the book Al-Shifa-ul-A’leel. He says:

Allah said:
Verily those people who took bayah in your hands took bayah in the hands of Allah. The hands of Allah is upon their hands therefore, those who break the oath break it to their own detriment and those who fulfill the oath will, verily, receive a great reward from Allah.

 

It is also in the ahadith mashhoora that the Sahaba (Radiyallahu Anhu) sometimes took bayah at the hands of the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) upon Hijra (migration from Makkah to Medinah), upon struggling in the path of Allah Y, upon adherence to the pillars of Islam like salah, fasting, hajj, zakah, upon steadfastness in the battlefield against the kuffar as in the bayah of Ridwaan, upon adherence to the Sunan of the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam), and upon avoidance of bid’at and to earnestly and passionately perform good deeds. Therefore, it is mentioned in a sahih hadith that the women of Ansaar took bayah with the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) to cease the custom of nauha (i.e., wailing, tearing clothes, and self-mutilation when someone died).


In the narration of Ibn Majah, it is mentioned that some poor muhajireen took bayah with the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) to avoid asking anything from anyone. It was the blessing of this bayah that when anything as much as a whip fell from their mount, they would dismount to retrieve it themselves, refusing to take help from anyone.

One thing is certain, and it is that when the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) did anything as an act of worship and not by habit, it is nothing less than a Sunnah. Now we need to discuss how to classify this bayah?

Some people believe that bayah pertains to accepting someone as the khalifah and sultan and that the bayah which is taken by the sufiah holds no status in the Shari’ah. But we know this to be false because of the previous narrations that the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) sometimes took bayah to establish the pillars of Islam. At other times he (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) took bayah for adherence to the Sunan. Even the hadith of Bukhari is proof of this, namely that the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) stipulated to Jarir (Radiyallahu Anhu) during the bayah to be kind and loving towards all Muslims.


The Ansaar took bayah with the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) to never be concerned of the criticism of people in matters of Deen and to speak the truth wherever they may be. Therefore, some of them were fearless in publicly criticizing and rejecting the ruthless governors and amirs when they did wrong. The Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) also took bayah from the women of Ansaar to abstain from nauha. Bayah is a fact which is proven in many other matters. Many of them are related to issues of purification of the heart, and amr bil ma’roof and nahi a’nil munkar.


This method of bayah (i.e., the bayah of the sufiah) was discontinued during the reign of the sultans because if they had learned of the sufiah taking bayah, they would have clamped down on them. During that period the sufiah resorted to distributing kharqahs (thick, coarse uniforms with patches) to their murideen. When the custom of bayah died out amongst the sultans, the sufiah revived the Sunnah of bayah.


After this Shah Waliullah opens a new chapter on whether bayah is wajib or Sunnah. The Sahaba (Radiyallahu Anhu) took bayah with the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) and gained closeness to Allah through it. There is no evidence that one who does not make bayah is sinful or that any of the Salaf-us-Saliheen reprimanded one who does not perform bayah.

Shah Waliullah says in Al- Qaul Al-Jameel:
“The bayah which is customary amongst the sufiah is of many kinds. The first kind is bayah in which one repents for all his past sins. Another kind is where one makes bayah to gain blessings from the line of the pious predecessors. This is like the barakaat (blessings) gained by transmitting ahadith because the chain of transmission of ahadith also contains barakaat.


The third kind of bayah is to strengthen the intention to achieve total sincerity towards Allah
and to prevent oneself from committing evil deeds of the heart and the body, and to establish a relationship with Allah I. This is the main bayah while the previous two are forms of ibadah (worship). Fulfillment of the third bayah means to be staunch upon hijrah (avoiding all sins), mujahadaat (struggling against the nafs to perform good deeds), and riyadhat (exercises to discipline the nafs against shirking from good deeds) until one is infused with the effervescent light of itminaan (tranquility) which eventually becomes his nature.”

Hadhrat Auf bin Malik Ashjai’ narrates,
Once we were sitting with the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam). We were nine, eight, or seven men. The Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) said, ‘You are not going to take bayah with the Prophet?’ We spread out our hands and said, ‘What should we do bayah upon?’ ‘That you will worship Allah I alone, you will not commit shirk, you will pray all five salawaat, and will listen and follow upon all the commandments.’ Then he said quietly, ‘And that you will never ask anyone for anything.’” The narrator says that I have seen some of them that if a whip accidentally fell from their mount, they would not ask someone to pick it up and return it to them.


NOTE: The bayah of the sufiah is of the kind in which one makes firm resolution to adhere to the obligations of the Deen, and to be persistent on the good deeds of the heart and the body. In common parlance this bayah is called bayah tariqat. Some of the Ahle-Zaahir (literalists) say it is bid’a because it is not proven in the Sunnah of the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) and that the only type of bayah proven from the Sunnah is the bayah of struggling in the path of Allah or upon embracing Islam. However, in the aforementioned hadith, the bayah of the sufiah is clearly proven because it was performed by the Sahaba (Radiyallahu Anhu) so it surely was not bayah upon embracing Islam. If it was, it would mean performing bayah on something already attained. Likewise, this could not be bayah for struggling in the path of Allah because the words are clearly emphasising importance upon doing good deeds. Thus, the objective is made clear.

It is the habit of the majority of elders to conduct the taleem (instructions) to the newly initiated in private. This is because it is usually beyond the comprehension of the general public. Thus, if it was ever made public it would cause fitna and disorder. Conducting the taleem in private is beneficial because it gives the murid undivided attention and shows consideration towards him which engenders love and respect in his heart (for the shaikh). It also warns others from following the instructions customized for him since they require instructions that correspond to their specific conditions. This way of privately instructing murideen is found in the aforementioned ahadith.

Furthermore, most murideen will naturally be inclined to exaggerate their understanding of the instructions of their murshid. Aside from the true meaning, they may also take the literal meaning of their shaikh’s words.

The existence of this characteristic is affirmed in this hadith that the purpose was to prohibit them from asking for others’ things, not that they were prohibited from taking help for their own possessions. It is evident from the context that this was not meant by the hadith. However, since the possibility of the literal meaning existed, it would not be wrong for the Sahaba (Radiyallahu Anhu) to believe they should not ask for their own thing from anyone either. In one hadith it says that once the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) told everyone to sit down during a khutba. At that moment, a sahabi walking through the doorway of the masjid sat down on the spot. It is clear from the hadith that this was not what the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) intended, what he meant was that everybody should enter the masjid and nobody should be left standing. (End of quote)

This is the type of veneration for the shaikh which is absolutely essential to attaining spiritual benefit from one’s shaikh. After this hadith, Hadhrat Thanvi narrates Hadhrat Ubadah’s hadith which has been previously narrated. One of the points he makes regarding this hadith is that it clearly states that the people ordered to take bayah with him were all Sahaba (Radiyallahu Anhu). This clearly proves that aside from the bayah for struggling in the path of Allah and embracing Islam, the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) also took bayah for shunning evil deeds and staying firm upon good deeds. This is the same bayah which is called bayah tariqat that is customary among the sufiah. Therefore, rejection of this bayah is foolishness.

Another point made clear from these two ahadith is that it is permissible for a shaikh to order his murid to take bayah with him for specific reasons. My relative, the respected Maulana Yusuf Kandhelwi collected many fine ahadith in the chapter of bayah in his book Hayatus-Sahaba. This book contains a chapter on bayah for struggling in the path of Allah, a chapter on bayah of Islam, and an entire chapter titled “Bayah on the Deeds of Islam.”

The narrations, their references, and their chains of transmission altogether are extremely long. We will suffice here with a few short narrations. For more narrations and references to these narrations one may refer to Hayatus-Sahaba.

Narrations

1. Bashir bin Khasaasia (Radiyallahu Anhu) says, “I came to take bayah with the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam). I asked him,
‘What things should I make bayah with you upon?’ The Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) stretched out his hands to take bayah and said, ‘Bear witness that there is no God besides Allah and that Muhammad (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) is his servant and Prophet, that you will pray five times salah in their respective times, pay the zakah, fast in the month of Ramadan, perform Hajj, and that you will go out in the path of Allah I.’ He said, ‘O Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam), I can do everything but two things. First, I cannot pay zakah because I own only ten camels which I ride on and milk to feed my family. Second, I cannot go in the path of Allah because I am weak-hearted and people say whoever runs away while in the path of Allah will face the wrath of Allah, I fear that if I go in the path of Allah, I will run away and face the wrath of Allah.’
The Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) pulled back his hands and said, gesturing, ‘O Bashir, when there is neither zakah nor struggle in the path of Allah Y then how do you expect to go into Jannah.’ I said, ‘O Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam), okay, spread your hands I will take bayah with you.’
Then the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) spread out his hands and I took bayah with him upon the aforementioned deeds.”

2. Jarir (Radiyallahu Anhu) narrates, “I took bayah with the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) to establish salah, to pay zakah, and that I will always be good with all Muslims.” In another narration the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) said, “O Jarir! Spread out your hands.” I asked him, “For what O Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam)?”

“Upon adhering to all the commandments of Allah I and to be good to all Muslims.” Jarir listened carefully to the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) and being farsighted he said, “I will do whatever is within my ability, O Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam).” After this, anyone taking bayah would find some latitude in the words, “I will do whatever is within my ability.”

3. Abu Usama (Radiyallahu Anhu) says the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) said “Is there anyone wanting to take bayah with me?” Thauban (Radiyallahu Anhu) said, “We will take bayah with you.” The Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) accepted his bayah upon the pledge to never ask anything from anybody. Thauban (Radiyallahu Anhu) asked, “What will the person who fulfills this bayah get?” The Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam) replied, “Jannah.” Then Thauban (Radiyallahu Anhu) took bayah with the Blessed Prophet (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasalam). Abu Usama (Radiyallahu Anhu) says, “I saw his whip fall from his hand when he was in a large gathering. Sometimes it even fell on someone’s shoulder and that person would stand up to hand it to him, but he would refuse to take it. Instead, he would dismount and pick it up himself.”

Extracted from Shari’ah and Tariqat: Inseparable and Indivisible
By Shaikh-ul-Hadith Maulana Muhammad Zakariya

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