Q: What should be the understanding of “Mujaddid” in our time? Does it refer to a single individual only, or does it rather signify a collective personality (shakhs al-manawi)?
A: There is no Mujaddid (renewer) presently. All of them have passed on having completed their mission. Today what is left behind as a duty for us is to recognize them and make sound assessments of their interpretations and perspectives. All of them and especially “the sage of the age” (Bediuzzaman) never drew attention to themselves when they started service to belief and the Qur'an and they understood this phenomenon as a “collective personality” (shakhs al-manawi) rather than a [particular] individual (shakhs), in the sense that after this, service to belief and Islam would be represented by the “collective [spiritual] personality.” As a matter of fact, some people may fall into an error as a result of a false ijtihad (independent reasoning), and may incline to show added fondness and favor toward certain individuals. Such favored individuals-if they are any righteous-are expected to direct this favor into preventing these people from splitting apart, and will never exploit it for a personal interest (or attribute this favor to any of their personal qualities). Certainly, it is always possible that such individuals, who ensure the unity of their community and encourage them for good service, may be blessed with things that they have never thought about or never expected. If it is useful for the community, then such a fondness must be maintained. “Otherwise, all (personal) talents and gifts should be shattered like a crystal bowl; and the “collective [spiritual] personality” should always be indicated as the foundation.”
Meanwhile, there are some individuals who have become the lifeblood of a community out of a respect arising from the bottom; you can observe the presence of such individuals in every part of the structure top to bottom, although they are “nothing.” However, if these individuals are beneficial to the community even at a tiniest level, then it is not worth causing troubles for them. Such individuals become an idol, if they cannot provide guidance for the society, construct the spirit of revival at a desired level, embrace every section of the society and be in harmony with them, and can only get along with those who respect them; such idols should be brought down. It is unacceptable that these individuals are capable of representing the “collective personality” if they cannot work in harmony even with those “pharaohs” within the society.
If such individuals are equipped with some sincerity (ikhlas), when they realize they cannot be in harmony with the entire society, they would go into a self-denial and would bury themselves in an “individual absence” (ghaybubiyyat al-fardiyya), like Ibrahim Adham did, in order to find out their own souls. Otherwise, being at the head of such service may place this person in a risk to lose some of the things they possess.
Turning back to the original question, even though the Renewer (Mujaddid) had been awaited as a single individual, at a time when the world has become more global and we are experiencing a “shrinking” of distances both in time and space (taqarrub al-zaman and taqarrub al-makan), and masses apparently living far apart have become members of the same household, service to humanity (hidma) should be undertaken, not by an individual par excellence (fard al-farid), but rather by the collective [spiritual] body (shakhs al-manawi). Those who will constitute the shakhs al-manawi might be persons drawn from a wide spectrum; from those who participate to the smallest degree to those whose contribution is unimaginably great and who cooperate with everyone in perfect harmony. This service will not involve people with specialties; however, some special people will be the teachers of this communal school; they will be the “individuals par excellence” of the transcendental dervish lodge of this age; they will be the head teachers of the madrasa beyond these times; they will be the commanders of this collective barracks.
I believe that today the (spiritual ranks of) the Qutb and Fard are primarily represented by the collective spiritual bodies. At certain times, the ranks of Qutb and Ghaus are conjoined, whereas the rank of Qutb al-Irshad (Pole of Guidance) might have several representations, for it is related to guidance (irshad). The Autad (pillars) will perhaps be represented within this collective understanding or will assume the role of the lifeblood of a sacred and absolute unity that will be achieved either through uniting with this collective understanding or through spreading among all Islamic communities/groups (jamaats).
There are countless righteous saints of sevens, or forties who are climbing the stairs of Qutb al-Irshad. Even though they appear disconnected, one day they will certainly reach a point of intersection. Our master the Messenger of God says, “Souls are soldiers lined up in ranks; they come together as much as they know each other.” People who share the same soul, the same meaning, and the same thought will certainly unite, even though they are far apart, just like rivers flowing into the same sea, reaching the target sometimes by carving into mountains or by finding out different routes when their paths are blocked by visible or hidden obstructions; or like those who have intended for pilgrimage may meet at holy precincts like Arafat, Ka‘ba, or Rawda. It does not matter if they had the intention to meet or not, the domains they would like to do services at will unite them, and they will represent this grand truth with a hope-inspiring “collective gathering” (jamm al-ghafir).
All of these depend on the existence of unpretentious people with no expectations (hasbi), and they are certainly a grace of God. Therefore, people must seriously train themselves in the direction of being with no expectation in return (hasbi) and altruism. They must be unpretentious and just like the people during the Makka period could not see the season of conquests, they should also free themselves from every kind of worldly expectations and seek the pleasure of God. They should never forget that God may not allow them to continue this work till the end. These people of courage should be loyal, but should never be after any expectation. Service is done not for the reward to be given here, but because it is God’s order. If some reward is given here, then it should be regarded as ulufe (a regular salary the Sultan paid to some soldiers), but it should never be attributed to any individuals.
*This refers to the classical models of the Hidden Government in which there are ranks of saints: one Qutb (axis, pole) or Ghauth (help), 4 Autad (pillars), 7 Abrar (pious), and 40 Abdals (substitutes). Below this are 300 akhyar (Good) and 4000 Hidden saints. (Schimmel, 1975, 200).
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