Saturday, February 10, 2007

Review: The Path to Perfection – By Shaykh Masihullah Khan

An Edited Anthology of the Spiritual Teachings of Hakim Al-Umma Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanawi

(Originally translated in South Africa – Edited and published by Mufti Abd Al-Rahman ibn Yusuf/White Thread Press

Reviewed by Ismaeel Nakhuda

In spite of its intrinsic attachment to Islam, Sufism – otherwise known as tasawwuf or tazkiya – remains one of the most misunderstood aspects of the din. It is a sad reality that in this day and age there are two extremes – to some, the Sufis are a heretical sect while to others they are individuals above Shariah law.

However, orthodox Sufism sits in the middle of this paradigm and is totally in tune with the requirements of the Shariah. It is this Sufism, which is the subject matter of “The Path to Perfection”.

“The Path to Perfection” was initially translated from Urdu in the early 1980s in South Africa under a different title, “Shariah and Tariqah”. White Thread Press has re-edited the original translation and beautifully published it giving it a new name and also included a biography of Hakim al-Umma Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanawi (1863-1943) – the Sufi mentor of the author, Shaykh Masihullah Khan of Jalalabad, India (1911-1992).

In a clear, coherent and easy to understand language the book brings together some of the more profound and important Sufi teachings all of which, incidentally, have a strong grounding in the Qur’an and Hadith. It was in the mid-90s that I first came across the original translation, which was immensely popular among English-speaking Muslims connected to the Chishti-Sabri-Imdadi tariqah of the Indian sub-continent. It should, however, be noted that the book contains insightful discourse relevant to all who are treading or are wishing to tread the path of Islamic spirituality regardless of which tariqah.

Like many contemporary Deobandi scholars, Khan and his mentor were scions of the Chishti tariqah, which is common among Muslims of the sub-continent and subsequently among the worldwide Indo-Pak diaspora. In fact it would be correct to say the Deobandis combine the Chishti, Naqashbandi, Qadri and Suharwardi tariqahs. The first Chishti Shaykh to arrive in India was Khawaja Muinuddin Chishti (1141-1236), who is regarded to have set the foundation of Chishti Sufism in India – a tradition that continues till this day. Born in Chisht (east of Herat in Afghanistan) he lies buried in Ajmer, Rajasthan, India.

Like other tariqahs, the Chishtis have a spiritual lineage going back from one shaykh to another until the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him). Among illustrious and prominent dervishes whose name appear in the Chishti tariqah are individuals such as Hasan Basri, Abdul Wahid bin Zaid, Ibrahim bin Adham, Fudhail bin Ayadh, Fariduddeen Shakar Ganj, Khawaja Alauddeen Ali Ahmed Saabir Kalyari and Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki (the latter two are those after whom the sub-branches Sabri and Imdadi are named).

Dervishes of the Chishti Sabri Imdadi order are renowned for their strict adherence to the Shariah and Sunnah. But what is probably most iconic is their method of zikr, particular the barah-tasbih, which consists of the chanting of a certain wird in loud voices in synchrony with a particular set of head motions.

So, it does come as a surprise when contemporary writers assume that the Deobandis have some sort of anathema towards orthodox Sufism. In an article published in the UK-based Prospect Magazine in 2005, Ehsan Masood ironically described the Deobandi Sufis as an “Indian anti-Sufi movement”, likewise the respected British historian and travel-writer William Dalrymple has penned similar views in several of his articles and books.

Although “The Path to Perfection” has not been written for the purpose of dispelling such outlandish claims, nevertheless its contents do fulfil such a role. As Ali Altaf Mian mentions in his biography of Mawlana Thanawi (located towards the end of the book), the Deobandis “practiced a tasawwuf that earlier Muslims, such as Hasan al-Basri, Junayd al-Baghdadi, and Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani would advocate if they were living in the twentieth century”.

Mian continues that the Deoband seminary not only trained individuals to become “rational scholars” but also “sound practitioners of tasawwuf”. Reflecting on the interconnection of tasawwuf and Shariah, Mian adds, “Through the Deoband movement, Islamic history once more witnessed the combination of the jurist and the mystic into a well rounded Islamic scholar.” It is this very understanding of the Deobandi scholars/Sufis that Barbara Metcalf mentions in her treatise “Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900”.

“The Path to Perfection” follows a logical and coherent fashion and has been written in a way that is appealing to both the ulema and lay-people. Some of the classic books on Sufism have a tendency of dealing with complex issues in a sophisticated way. The author, however, endeavours to simplify these issues ensuring readers are able to fully understand the subject matter.

With the author being a contemporary Sufi it is interesting that a lot of the discourse is given a modern-day edge making it relevant to people of today. Writing about the four fundamentals of spiritual struggle, Shaykh Masihullah mentions how the saalik should eat and sleep less and then advises that a sense of moderation should be adopted when doing so, since “experience shows that nowadays health, in most cases, suffers as a result of reduction in food” etc. This epitomizes the moderate Sufism practised by Khan and the people of his tariqah.

This book is a delight to read and is a spiritual manual in the true essence, one that creates a sense of warmth in the reader’s heart and thus developing in one an urgent desire to seek rectification and spiritual uplifting.

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For further details about Mufti Abd Al-Rahman Ibn Yusuf see:

Other interesting reviews:
Review: Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni – A Biographical Study by D.R. Goyal

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At 10/2/07 18:55, Anonymous asim khan said...

really well written.....i would like to read book now...i am agree with the view....deoband revived islam in british india....tnx for informing me about this article....and plzz do check my blog as well....

At 11/2/07 10:44, Anonymous Hanif said...

May Allah Most High reward you for this excellent review.

I agree that this book is an essential reading for all who are into tasawwuf.

Your reference to the myth that Deobandi's are anti-sufi is a propaganda of the pro-innovation pseudo-sufis.

Any intelligent literate individual can read the history of Deoband Islamic University and see for himself what the reality is.

The date of foundation of Deoband maderesa has been calculated numerically (abjad methodolgy) as,
در مدرسه خانقاه ديديم

(In reality) within this learning institution we saw a sufi lodge (zawiya).

Keep up the good work!

At 11/2/07 14:06, Anonymous Abdul Mannan said...

JazakALLAH for that, the best and only solution of the present individual & society's problems.
May ALLAH reward you.

At 11/2/07 14:08, Anonymous Abdul Mannan said...

JazakALLAH for that, the best and only solution of the present individual & society's problems.
May ALLAH reward you

At 11/2/07 14:13, Blogger Ismaeel Nakhuda said...

Jazakallah, brother Asim, Dr. Hanif Saheb and Engineer Abdul Manan Saheb. Please remember me in your duas.

At 11/2/07 15:39, Blogger muzaffar qasmi said...

Assalaualaikum Warahmatullah

JazakaAllahu Ahsana Jazau Fidunnya wafil Aakhira. Aameen

Yes indeed this book is an essential for all who are in Rahe Sulook.

Keep it up!


At 11/2/07 15:43, Blogger muzaffar qasmi said...


JazakaAllahu Kheir for your this excellent review.

Yes indeed this book is essential reading for all who are in rahe sulook.

May Allah reward for this in dunya and aakhira. aameen


At 11/2/07 19:24, Anonymous a desai said...

slmz. i've read the clip and really found the language contemporary and understandable. work in this area is probably the one duty of the prophets' s.a.w that seems to be sidelined the most even in ulama circles. i hope this book is widely accepted. may your efforts be truly rewarded.

At 12/2/07 11:49, Blogger Ismaeel Nakhuda said...

Jazakallah Muzaffar Saheb and A. Desai. What you say about the need for good authentic English-language books is very true. Supporting White Thread Press, which is fulfilling a great void, would be the best way to ensure more classical books are translated and produced in the English language.

The era we live in today is one of information -- Alhamdulillah, our Ulemah have lots of information but passing this information onto the next generation in the English-medium is the demand of this age and something we need to focus on.

At 12/2/07 16:49, Anonymous Z Latif said...

A well written review.
This book is truly a gem, it is actually one of those books that I recommend to all kinds of muslims seeking knowledge about sufism.

Shukran and Jazakallah khyr for the review.


At 13/2/07 00:43, Anonymous Your Brother said...

Salams. Jazakallah for the review. It is great that these classical texts by the such eminent Ulema are now available today in English. May Allah reward you for bring such publications to the attention of the English speaking layman.

At 10/3/07 23:04, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Below is the link to the complete unedited version translated in south africa. You can read it online.

Shariat and Tasawwuf

At 9/1/08 18:32, Blogger Saf said...

Assalamu Alaykum,

masha'Allah excellent review for an excellent book. Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam went through this book on Radio Ramadhan Leiecester.

It is definately a good read to correct our blameworthy character traits indeed.

I also began a blog on this book...but khayr if Allah wills i will carry on with it.

Keep up the good work with the blog.

Also visit:

At 9/1/08 18:38, Blogger Ismaeel Nakhuda said...

Yes, definitely a brilliant book. May Allah grant you success in your ilm. The next step after seeking knowledge in a madrassa is to find a good Sufi shaykh and traverse the path of Tasawwuf. Studying Tasawwuf under those who have traversed the path and have ijazah in this important science is the way of our mashayikh and something I recommend for everyone, myself included first.


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