Inheriting A Lifestyle of Islamic Chivalry

April 25, 2008 § 6 Comments

What is chivalry? Today, we have a very narrow understanding of chivalry and what generally comes to the minds of most Americans when contemplating chivalry is: medieval knights, throwing your jacket over a puddle or some random act of kindness for a damsel in distress. All of which are about as likely to happen in today’s world as owls delivering acceptance letters to teenage children the world over, inviting them to attend the fabled and legendary school of magic.

In other words this kind of chivalry is not likely to happen. But real chivalry in today’s world means having honor and courtesy. But not the kind of courtesy we generally understand, this chivalry, Islamic chivalry has a depth that, when observed, one cannot help but to admire.

It is said that the one who exemplified Islamic chivalry in the way of the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) most perfectly was Hazreti Ali ibn Abi Talib (ra). There is a story of Hazreti Ali (ra) that gives us an idea of the spiritual power and sheer faith that it takes to embody Islamic chivalry,

“The perfect example of this level of control and chivalry is demonstrated by the conduct of Hadrat Ali ibn Abu Talib (RA) a companion of the Prophet (SAW) who once, in the midst of battle was about to slay his opponent. As he raised his sword to strike, his enemy spat in his face. Hadrat Ali immediately dropped his sword & refused to kill his opponent, “what is wrong with you, why do you not strike?” the man asked “because before you spat at me I was fighting you for the sake of Allah Almighty” Ali (RA) replied, “but after you spat I was fighting you because I was angry – and as a muslim I can only fight for Allah , never for my own Nafs. “Upon hearing this, Ali’s ( RA) opponent recongnized the nobility & truth of his words and immediately accepted Islam.” [1]

But is Islamic chivalry dead? I can, with a great deal of certainty, tell you that it is not. The essence of Islamic chivalry is found in the Tradition (sunnat) of the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him). Therefore those who are holding tightly onto the Traditions of the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) and applying them to their lifestyle, they are the chevaliers.

I have witnessed Islamic chivalry in my time spent with Shaykh Abdul Kerim Hazretleri under his training. Prior to the time spent with the Osmanli Naks-i’bendi Sufi Association, my observations of manners in Muslim social-circles of America, from coast to coast, were nothing much different from the ordinary, and by ordinary I mean non-Muslim American social circles that I frequented.

For example, one can probably take a quick scan of the Internet or Google Blog and find a number of articles and blogs with Muslims complaining about the manners of some other Muslim or group of Muslims. Usually women complaining about other women.

However, when I was introduced to the “Ottoman Way” of the Osmanli Naks-i’bendi Sufi Association, I immediately noticed a different way of conduct. There was actually a culture of chivalry (futuwwa) and courtesy (adab) consciously woven into nearly every aspect of the day and night. From the careful movements and special attentions to detail at dawn; to seriousness, hardwork and progress during the day to developing an atmosphere of sharing and openness of the heart at dusk and closing out in a state of remembrance, gratitude and thankfulness in the night.

One of the reasons for this is because there is an emphasis on struggling for purity and perfection of the soul (jihad al-akhbar) Shaykh Abdul Kerim refers to it as, ‘stepping on your ego’. ‘Stepping on one’s ego’ is the key to Islamic chivalry and good manners. Shaykh Abdul Kerim Hazretleri once said in a sermon (khutbe),

“Man may loose his faith, if he doesn’t have good manners.”

He explained,

“Shaytan, was worshipping, he was worshipping that no man, if you put them all together from the beginning of Adam until the end of the world, that much worshipping that he was doing and the faith that he had, no one could reach. One thing made him to lose everything, he lost his good manner. One word, one wrong word, saying it, loosing his manner; loosing his faith, kicking him away from Divine Presence.”

Then asked,

“Why is Allah subhana wa ta ala giving us an example? Why is He sending that one to us saying look and learn? For what? For us to say that we are better than that one?”

And continued,

“No! To take a lesson a lesson to understand and the faith, if a man has faith, that time his heart is trembling. Moving. He is very nervous that time. Before he opens his mouth, he gets nervous. He has to know what he saying and where the words are going to reach. He has to know, if he doesn’t, that faith is not a strong faith, its shaky faith. And that means it has a price, a worldly price, somewhere; somehow, Shaytan is going to run after that one to trick and to fool.”

Seyh Efendi concluded saying,

“Think about a tree. The trunk of the tree, the trunk and the roots is like the man’s faith. The branches, it is like the man’s good deeds that he is doing. The leaves, it is like the knowledge the man has. So what’s the most important thing on that tree? The fruit.

If you don’t have the fruit, why are you raising that tree, spending all that time for nothing! So the faith and good deeds and the knowledge must teach a man to give fruit. And the fruit is good manners, if you don’t have good manners you will be kicked away from Divine Presence. If you don’t have good manners, the people who have good manners will kick you away from them or they will send you away or if they cannot they will go away!”

Allah Almighty has sent the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) to teach good manners. And this good manner; this courtesy; this honor, this lifestyle of chivalry coming from the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) was transmitted to Hazreti Abu Bakr Siddiq (ra) and from him, down the line; down the chain of forty Grand Shaykhs of the Osmanli Naks-i’bendi Tarikat holding tightly to the way of our Master Maulana Muhammad (may Peace and Blessings be upon him). This fact has been mentioned in a number of scholarly sources saying,

“Some orders, such as the Ottoman (but not the Indian) Naksibendiye, required their followers to adhere strictly to the articles of religious law. Jurists and theologians were more often among the members of such orders” [2]

Another scholar writes,

“If the Naqshbandiyya was “the order of the ulama,” as has been suggested, in the Ottoman capital of our period it was both more and less than that. Numerous men of religion were indeed attracted to this tariqa. This is not only suggested by hagiographers such as Lami Celebi or Mustafa b. Hayreddin, with their hyperbolic assertions that most of Ahmad Bukhari’s disciples came from upper echelons of the ‘ilmiye or that Sa’ban Efendi, a century later, had as his “heart and soul” disciples “most [of the capital’s] glorious ‘ulema and illustrious shaykhs.” The same connection is reflected in the profusion of Naqshbandi disciples and shaykhs among the minor religious functionaries (mosque preachers and prayer leaders, personal tutors, calligraphers, copiers of fatwas) that fill the masha’ikh chapters in the biographical dictionaries.” [3]

Latifi wrote in his Tezkere,

“Of all the ways of the shaykhs, this way [in particular] is considered by seri’at-minded ‘ulema to be in conformity with the Prophet’s practice and the Holy Law. It is for this reason that most men of religion… who choose withdrawal [and take up the devotional life] opt for this way.” [4]

The scholars’ accounts of the historical culture of Osmanli Naks-i’bendi tarikat and its strict abeyance to the Holy Prophet’s way is exactly what I find today. And inshaAllah, with Shaykh Abdul Kerim’s help and support (himmat), those on this way will make the Holy Prophet’s Traditions (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) a lifestyle so that perhaps one day, we may bear fruit. That fruit being a far reaching culture of good manners, courtesy and honor, Islamic chivalry.

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