Journalist Shafiq Morton has a brief look at the historic visit of the Shaikh to Cape Town, South Africa, in November 2000.
I HAD BEEN FORTUNATE enough to accompany the Shaikh together with his son-in-law, Shaikh Hisham Kabbani, in the United States in 1998 for a period of three weeks. During this time we toured New York, visited the United Nations and met with politicians on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Also part of the entourage were the muftis of Albania and Kosovo as well as the Chechen president, Aslan Maskadov. These activities were the precursor to the 2nd International Conference of the Islamic Supreme Council of America in Washington.
As the resident photographer I was privileged to witness first-hand something of the essence of the fortieth Grand Shaikh of the Naqshbandi Sufi order, an order that traces its lineage back in a "golden chain" to the Prophet Muhammad [SAW] through his greatest companion Abu Bakr as-Siddiq [ra].
In 1998 I wrote that Shaikh Naazim was a spiritual colossus of the twentieth century. And while his contribution to the inner peace of humanity will never win him a Nobel Prize, it has to be remembered that at least half a million people have embraced Islam at his feet.
His murids (or followers) are said to run into millions and include heads of state, pop stars, and even allegedly Prince Charles. In that regard, I once heard Shaikh Naazim say that he was a collector of souls.
Of this I have no doubt, as in America I saw non-Muslims become mesmerised by his spiritual luminosity. In one instance I remember a crack junkie becoming a Muslim after meeting the Shaikh for two hours and in another, a CNN journalist saying shahada after hearing him speak.
I saw complete strangers take his hand in the foyer of the United Nations, in the streets of New York and in the tree-lined avenues of Capitol Hill.
But in spite of all this, Shaikh Naazim remained down-to-earth, humble, sweet natured and loving to all. A pauper was treated as equally as a prince was in his company, and I never saw him ever turn anyone away.
His recent visit to Cape Town, South Africa, typified all of this. Whether playfully beating video man Dawood Schroeder with his stick on Table Mountain, bantering with tourists, or conversing with the late Shaikh Nazim Mohamed at the Muslim Judicial Council, he was always at the same time serious, witty and incredibly insightful.
His apparently simple sohbets or talks were often exactly the opposite, deep, cryptic, metaphysical - and extremely challenging. I mean, for example, how many 'alims can explain ibn 'Arabi's wahdat al-wujud (the unity of being) in three sentences?
After witnessing him in action for a week in Cape Town, my feelings about Shaikh Naazim have been reconfirmed. Yes, he is definitely a spiritual giant of our times. But in so saying, describing him has become even more difficult!
This is because he kept on reminding me of a man I'd seen in pictures but never met. This person was my wife's grandfather, Shaikh Muhammad Salih, founder of the Azzawia and a spiritual luminary whom many say brought the spirit of the "qaf" to Cape Town in the 1920's.
As a multi-layered personality, Shaikh Naazim is many things to many people. In his presence, one feels strangely secure. He is definitely the kind of person you would like to share a bomb shelter with.
As a person who treads lightly in the dunya he may appear soft and bending (like the proverb of the Malaysian rice plant in the wind) but when it comes to submitting to his Creator, he is unwavering. Here, it is easy to sense that his iman is like steel.
Perhaps the uniqueness of Shaikh Naazim in this arrogant day and age is his manner of approach. His presence does not announce itself to you as king or conqueror but rather as a servant. What is so engaging is that he essentially humbles himself to you with a fine-tuned subtlety before you realise that you must humble yourself to him.
One of his favourite English expressions is "Mercy Oceans," his Grand Shaikh 'Abd Allah ad-Dagestani's way of explaining the Sunnah and its countless mercies. And for those who think the Sunnah - the way of our beloved master Muhammad [SAW] - is a simple matter of beard length and counting the rewards like bank notes, there is a very rude awakening.
For Shaikh Naazim the Sunnah is strict Shari'ah - as well as charity, generosity, hard work, heart knowledge and compassion.
Of all the people I have encountered on this earth, Sayyid Moulana Shaikh Naazim 'Adil al-Haqqani is the closest I have seen anybody come to epitomise the Sunnah. In his commanding presence I felt like an unclean grain of sand being washed around in the depths of his "Mercy Oceans."
I remember him once saying on the lawn of a murid's house: "My people, are you happy? Allah is happy. The Angels are happy. They are not for crying…" Indeed, in just a few words he had taught us the excellence of a positive outlook on life and the fact that other people's hearts will open like flowers to a smile.
But on a deeper level with these simple words he had actually taught the real lesson, the adab of viceregency.
In another instance he said that man was chasing zeroes. "Are you going to show your cheque book to Allah?" he asked with a chuckle. "The aim of mankind today is to collect zeroes, but you have been created for Allah's divine service. Service for Dunya is not for Allah Almighty. The Muslim world is running after Dunya, after western people, running to be like non-Muslim..."
Again, in just a few statements, a clear warning of the consequences of worshipping the "zero-culture" of materialism.
After being rudely challenged from the floor in a Cape Town mosque and accused of contravening the Sunnah, Shaikh Naazim came up with the following sohbet a few hours later.
"The Rasullullah [SAW] called people to him, he was a saviour of souls. Some came to him saying 'save our souls' and he saved them as they surrendered. These (pious) people were respected whether living or dead. Shaitan became angry because of this…
"Shaitan becomes angry if a saved person is (particularly) from the sahabis or the awliyyah. Shaitan wants these people to be taken away. He is the biggest enemy of the pious. People destroy tombs and mazars of the awliyyah because Shaitan asks for them not to be known. He wants the ummah to forget them…that's the reason for no tombstones!
"Allah says don't forget people who did their best for Me, these people who gave their souls for Islam, but Shaitan wants them to be forgotten. Shaitan wants his people to destroy everything that was against Shaitan. Shaitan is crying for his hatred..Shaitan (is jealous of good) and wants to destroy the graves of those who killed Abu Jahl..."
It was a devastating critique of the Salafis but no less a serious warning directed at our very own nafs.
I could go on forever quoting Shaikh Naazim's pearls of wisdom dropped into the "Mercy Oceans" net for the seeker throughout the day. In nearly a month of observing his behaviour I have never seen him talk from notes. He sleeps little and his day starts well before fajr and often ends in the early hours of the morning.
For those who challenge the credentials of Shaikh Naazim it is perhaps best to remember that he is an orthodox Sunni Muslim down to his fingertips and studied Shari'ah, Qur'anic sciences and Hadith under great masters in Turkey, Syria and the Lebanon.
He is the mufti of Turkish Cypress and is an acknowledged 'alim of Hanafi fiqh, apart from possessing a Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering from Istanbul University.
Academic qualifications aside, Shaikh Naazim is a Sayyid (a descendent of the Holy Prophet [SAW]) on both the Hasani and Hussaini lines. Through his father he traces his lineage back to Sayyid 'Abdul Qadir Jilani [ra] (the great 10th century saint) and through his mother to Moulana Jalal ud-Din Rumi [ra].
Physically, Shaikh Naazim is small of stature but somehow seems to be much taller than he actually is. He may well be past his 80th year, but when he strides out (his walking stick before him like an alif), it's always as if one is trying to keep up with him. I have also never seen him miss his salah, even when on travel.
Yet behind all the intensity and 'ibadat there lurks a delightful sense of humour. At breakfast one morning he did a take of President Bush entering the Oval Office and confronting a set of anonymous instructions and a mysterious red telephone.
I have already written over one thousand words and I still haven't got anywhere near to the essence of Shaikh Naazim 'Adil al-Haqqani! He has performed the Hajj 27 times, has undergone rigorous spiritual seclusion on many occasions and has established Islamic centres around the world.
Indeed, the barakah of Shaikh Naazim spreads wherever he travels. Cape Town was no exception. A person I know was embraced by the Shaikh and shortly afterwards dreamt of Sayyidina Abu Bakr [ra]. Another who had not met Shaikh Naazim or any of his entourage was given advice in a dream by one of his Khalifas (Shaikh Hisham).
A moment on his last night in a country mosque outside Cape Town will stay in the memory for a long time. Shaikh Naazim had asked the question: "What goodness has the modern (university) graduate brought to society without the Holy Books?" After suggesting that "Tariqat says keep Sunnah, the essence of Shari'ah," he then went on to talk about the threat of secularism.
"Oh my people, 20th century education is aimed at bringing people to the level of animals…higher education is not leading to Allah when the name of Allah is prohibited," he said.
"We are living in a time that truth is lost and defenders of truth have disappeared…I ask for you to be defenders of truth."
The "Oh my people" rang like a bell. "Oh my ummah!" At that moment it seemed as if it was not Shaikh Naazim talking, but the Prophet [SAW]. Shaikh Naazim had become the Sunnah! Great men, friends of Allah, who see with the eyes of Allah and whose hearts beat with the unison of the kalimah, enjoy vision through the agency of the Prophet [SAW].
Perhaps, in conclusion, it would be fitting to recall something remarkably profound that Shaikh Naazim uttered on top of Table Mountain, an event that lent itself to much symbolism. Before that the Shaikh had "communed" with nature, admiring the view of the city and ocean 1,000 metres below and playfully eying a rock rabbit.
As Hafiz Mahmoud Sahib made the adhan for Dhur, a bird on a ledge before him sang its heart out. After making Dhur salah on one of the viewing platforms that faced north from the southernmost city of Africa, he turned around and then challenged those in Cape Town who had been attacking him but who had declined to confront him in debate.
"They come here, we all jump together, and then we see who floats," he said, ominously waving his hand like a butterfly settling on a flower.