Sidi Ahmed Al Tijany
The reviver of the Tijany Sufi way, Sidi Ahmed Al Tijany was of direct decent from the Prophet (PBUH). Having achieved the highest degree of nobility through perfect memorization and understanding of all matters of Islam, including, but not limited to, Quran tafsir and recitation, Hadith, and Shari'a Law and becoming the most acclaimed Islamic scholars of his time, he was granted the highest degree a believer may achieve, becoming a "Pole" (the Saint of Saints). It is through this that the Prophet (PBUH) visited Sidi Ahmed awake and requested that he establish the Tijany Tariqa (way).
As for his noble descent, he is our master: • Abul `Abbas Ahmad, son of: • Muhammad, son of: • Mukhtar, son of: • Ahmad, son of: • Muhammad, son of: • Salim, son of: • `Id, son of: • Salim, son of: • Ahmad, son of: • Ahmad, son of: • `Ali, son of: • Abdullah, son of: • `Abbas, son of: • `Abdul Jabbar, son of: • Moulay Idris al-Azhar, son of: • Moulay Idris al-Akbar, son of: • Ishaq, son of • `Ali Zayn al-`Abidin, son of: • Ahmad, son of: • Muhammad, son of • Hasan al-Muthanna, son of: • Hasan al-Sibt, who is the son of: • Ali bin Abi Talib—may God ennoble his countenance—and of: • Lady Fatima Zahra, the queen of the women of paradise and daughter of: • The Messenger of God—may peace and blessings be upon him.
Therefore, he is a noble Sharif through lineage from the Prophet. He is a bearer of the grand illumination (fath al-akbar), worthy of the most prestigious station. He is the Hidden Pole, and the greatest Imam. May Allah be well-pleased with him.
It was asked of him, “Will people attribute to you what you never said or did?”
He said: “Yes; so if you hear anything related from me, weigh it according to the balance of the Sacred Law (shari’a). If my message confirms it, then commit yourselves to it. Otherwise, if you find it to break with the Sacred Law, then leave it.”
If it were not for the following of the Sacred Law, the one who arrived would never have arrived, for if someone leaves the roots of religion, he will be forbidden arrival at his final Goal.
The Friends of God (awliya’) have never gotten the slightest breeze of the true fragrance of Sidi Ahmad Tijani in the least, because they all entered and exited from the Door of Divine Omnipotence. But if someone enters through the Door of Divine Omnipotence, he will not be able to see the one in the chamber who enters and exits from the Door of the Secret.
He – may God be pleased with him – experienced hunger and thirst; he slept, yet passed other nights awake and vigilant, and he knew fear better than any other knew it. However, his Tariqa (path) in all of that was purely one of yielding his power and strength and entrusting affairs entirely to God. It was pure oneness (tawhid) stripped to its essence; it was being alone with the presence of divine oneness, in a station of servitude due to a special secret, drawn from the glace of Divine Perfection. It was not due to any other, and it was not for any other.
His Tariqa is one of Oneness in its description, its rules, and its spiritual state. It is affirmation of the Sacred Law inwardly and outwardly, with an emptied heart absent to the world. It is a unique witnessing of the Lord with a consciousness unassailable by doubts. It is a secret that no other can dispute.
He was – may God be pleased with him – a man with two tongues and two declarations: possessor of two proofs and two sovereignties, with two light-bearing lanterns and two approaches. He is the Leader of the two groups and the two Paths. In every land, he has unsurpassable steeds, and in every legion he has an undisputable authority, and in every position he has a fixed deputy. The Chosen Beloved of God never once raised his blessed foot except that Sidi Ahmad Tijani placed his foot in the very place of the Chosen One’s footstep, unless it was a step reserved from the steps of prophethood, for those are accessible to none other than the prophets.
You should know that men have spiritual guides, and likewise do the jinn have spiritual guides. The angels, too, have spiritual guides. As for Sidi Ahmad Tijani, he is the spiritual guide of them all.
God most Exalted offered him absolute authority over the earth from east to west, including its wilderness and its habitations, from land to ocean, seacoasts to mountain peaks. He gave him authority over the men and the jinn both, with full and steadfast command. However, Sidi Ahmad Tijani preferred to forsake all of that and choose a life of pure servitude that was untarnished by the stain of authority.
So then, being a perfect servant, Allah caused him to speak, so he spoke; and He gave to him, so he dispersed it amongst others; and He commanded him, so he obeyed. In his eyes, all people were like clear crystal: their inner secrets were openly manifest.
Allah gave him four aspects:
1. A face by which to look towards the temporal world (dunya)
2. A face by which to look towards the eternal world (akhira)
3. A face by which to look towards the creation (khalq)
4. A face by which to look towards the Truth (Haqq)
Thus, Allah entrusted Sidi Ahmad Tijani as His representative over the earth and the heavens, as well as the entire creation. He spoke to him and said, “You are today in our presence established and trusted”(12:54).
At times, miraculous spectacles manifested within him, at other times, they became manifest at his hands. He saw while awake what others would only see in their dreams.
Seeing as God most Exalted says in the Qur’an that “He creates what you do not know”(16:8), it is certain to us that Sidi Ahmad Tijani – may Allah be pleased with him – is one of those affairs of God about which we have no knowledge.
SCHOLARS’ WORDS ABOUT THE SHAYKH
There have been biographers of the Shaykh belonging to Tariqas other than his own. Here, we will recount two of them.
The first of them is the Shaykh Muhammad Bashir Zafar, who makes mention of the Shaykh in his renowned book, “Precious Rubies from the Nobles of the School of the Scholar of Medina”. He says:
Sidi Ahmad Tijani – may Allah be pleased with him – is the son of [Muhammad, son of] Mukhtar, son of Ahmad, son of Muhammad, son of Salim, who was the noble Sharif renowned for the name “Tijani”. Sidi Ahmad Tijani was the perfect model, a firmly-rooted knower of God (`arif), a giant of the tradition and religion. He was a scholar of deep insight and perception, who bridged between the Sacred Law and Reality (shari’a and haqiqa). He was unique amongst the people of his age; a beacon of light for his generation.
As well, the eminent scholar and Hafiz of Morocco, Shaykh Kattani said:
Sidi Ahmad Tijani – may God have mercy on him – was one of the scholars who put knowledge into action. He was an Imam capable of discerning independent legal interpretations (ijtihad). He combined within himself noble lineage and faith, along with the nobilities of knowledge, deeds, and certainty of belief. He was overcome by honorable divine states and he held exalted, sublime rankings with his Lord. He had inner and outward strength, and he integrated in himself all beautiful qualities. He was glorious to gaze upon, and had a beautiful form. His head glowed with silver hair, and his majesty commanded reverence. He had a venerable worth. He was well-known, even in far-off lands. His spiritual states benefitted people and his 4 words were piercing, commanding good and prohibiting evildoing. In his early years, Sidi Ahmad Tijani concerned himself with learning the fundamentals of religion plus the branches and ways of conduct that sprouted from them. He eventually mastered them, so he directed his attention to unearth the spiritual significances behind them. The Prophet – may God bless him and grant him peace – personally delegated him to instruct humanity, in the year 1196 AH (1781 AD). His virtues and states were too many to mention. The Shaykh passed away on the morning of Thursday on the 17 Shawwal, in the year 1230. At his funeral, innumerable scholars, dignitaries, pious believers, virtuous folk, and leaders gathered to pray over him. He was buried in his well-known Zawiya in the heart of Fes.
Many others have described the Shaykh; those from amongst his own Tariqa who have given accounts of his life and virtues are beyond any number.
THE LIFE AND FAMILY OF SIDI AHMAD TIJANI
Sidi Ahmad Tijani was born in the year 1150 AH (1737 AD) in the village of `Ain Madhi in present-day Algeria, the home of his ancestors. His fourth forefather, Sidi Muhammad bin Salim moved with his family from the tribe of `Abda whose homeland is in the far west of Morocco, in order to live amongst the Tribe of Bani Tijana, into which he married. Thenceforth, his children and grandchildren were all known as “Tijanis”.
Although he was born of a noble Sharif ancestry, Sidi Ahmad Tijani never credited interest to the question of his lineage, until the Messenger of God – peace and blessings be upon him – visited him while he was awake, not asleep, to say: “You are my son in truth. Your lineage from Hasan, son of `Ali, is sound.”
The village of `Ain Madhi had an enormous precedence and importance as a centre of learning, to the extent that distinguished scholars arriving from Morocco would establish zawiyas and hospices in the village. Shaykh Ahmad Tijani’s parents and grandparents had a wide circle of influence throughout the lands when it came to their promulgation of Islam: in its spiritual teachings as well in its informative knowledge. Their effect spread across North and Central Africa as well as the regions of the Sahara.
The firm foothold of the Shaykh’s family in knowledge and spiritual realisation is longestablished in history. In fact, the father of Sidi Ahmad Tijani, the master Muhammad bin Mukhtar was a Shaykh of high standing in one of the important zawiyas of `Ain Madhi. `Ali Harazim Barada describes him as, “the Shaykh of Islam, and the Refuge of all peoples”. His wife, the mother of our Shaykh was our lady `A’isha, daughter of the venerable saint (wali), Sidi Muhammad Sanusi Tijani, of Ain Madhi. `Ali Harazim mentions of her that she was righteous and a saintly friend of God, exalted in dignity and esteemed in rank.
Our Shaykh had a brother as well, our master Muhammad Tijani. He was named “Abu `Umar”, and he was a scholar in his own right, who had memorised and upheld the Qur’an, 5 and who partook much in the knowledge of the Sacred law. He was thoroughly insistent in carrying out the requirements of the religion.
The third forefather of our Shaykh was Ahmad bin Muhammad. He was a sage amongst scholars and a prince of princes. His spiritual state was magnetic, and he exuded divine radiance.
The fourth forefather of our Shaykh was Muhammad bin Salim. He was a Shaykh and a saint, exalted and firmly grounded. Divine lights emanated from him, and he was entirely enraptured by the Divine presence. It was so much so that when he would leave his home, the Shaykh would have to cover his face until he entered the mosque. When he returned home, he would keep his face covered until he entered his private chamber. When people asked Sidi Ahmad Tijani about this, he said: “He had reached such a rank of sainthood that no one who saw his face could bear to divert his gaze from him, even to blink. If they did, and were veiled from him, they would die from longing.”
Sidi Ahmad Tijani was the middle child amongst the children of his mother and father. He was raised by righteous, honourable parents, who raised him to be dignified and righteous. Shaykh Ahmad Tijani was a prodigy of his generation, both clever and wise. He had strong determination: if he ever wanted a thing, he would actively pursue it, and he never began a pursuit except that he reached its end.
He had a generous disposition and good manners. His nature was pleasant, as were his actions. He was very modest and respectful. He conducted affairs in a beautiful way, and he most often kept quiet. He read much, and busied himself with the recital of the Qur’an. When he was quiet, he was overcome by a shroud of dignity, and when he spoke, it commanded reverence. He memorised the Qur’an when he was a boy of seven years, according to the recitation of Imam Warsh, at the hands of the scholar and reciter, Sidi Muhammad bin Hamw Tijani, who studied at the hands of his Shaykh, the knower of God, Sidi `Isa Bu `Ukaz, of `Ain Madhi.
From his early years, he was internally and externally strong. He was replete with divine lights and beautiful character traits. Our Shaykh’s father and mother died on the same day, and were buried in `Ain Madhi. At the time, our master had not even reached the age of eleven.
Speaking of his external form, his skin was white imbued with reddishness. He had an average height, a curved nose, beautifully arched eyebrows, a clear and bright face, and [in his later years, he had] head of shining silver hair full of light. He had a strong, sonorous voice, and a glorious self-conduct. His tongue was eloquent and his explanations were sweet.
HIS EARLY PATH OF KNOWLEDGE: LEARNING AND TEACHING
While still young, Sidi Ahmad Tijani devoted himself towards learning the fundamentals of religion as well as their branches and methods of conduct. He kept pursuing knowledge in his own country until the point that he reached such a degree of being qualified to instruct others and issue juristic rulings. This was all before his first voyage to the city of Fes. While still in `Ain Madhi, he started to incline towards self-discipline, solitude and meditation. He began to love worship and night prayer vigils. When he reached adulthood, he started to guide people to Allah, support them with advice, and uphold the traditions of the Messenger of God. He exemplified these to the point that he was nicknamed “the reviver of Religion” (Muhyi al-Din).
Despite his young age, he became the successor of his father in the latter’s zawiya. At the time, he was sixteen years old, and he took up the task of teaching the Qur’an and the prophetic traditions in his father’s zawiya for the next five years.
When he reached 16 years of age, he traveled to the city of Fes for the first time. He began to frequent the circles of knowledge and learning of qur’anic interpretation (tafsir), prophetic traditions (hadith), and jurisprudence. He gained many authorizations (ijaza) in these subjects, to the extent that he engaged in discussions and debates with some of the most influential scholars of Fes. He also learned and memorised the seven modes of reciting the Qur’an while studying in the “Mount of Knowledge” (Jabal al-`Ilm) in the Riff Mountains.
In the city of Wazzan, he met the Knower of God (`arif), Moulay Tayyib bin Sidi Muhammad bin Sidi Muhammad bin Moulay Abdullah bin Ibrahim al-`Ilmi al-Wazzani. He was a Shaykh who instructed in the Wazzani Tariqa. Moulay Tayyib initiated Sidi Ahmad Tijani in his Tariqa, and gave our Shaykh the instruction to initiate and instruct others as a spiritual guide. However, Sidi Ahmad Tijani declined this role.
Similarly, while at Jabal Zabib, he made acquaintance with the Knower of God, Sidi Muhammad bin Hasan al-Wanjali. This Shaykh informed him that he would reach a degree like the immense Pole (Qutb), Abul Hasan al-Shadhili, and then advised him that he should return to his homeland.
Back in the city of Fes, he encountered the righteous saint, Sidi Abdullah bin Sidi al-`Arabi al-Ma`in al-Andalusi. They spoke on many matters and the latter made many prayers for Sidi Ahmad Tijani.
In the town of Taza, east of Fes, he met a righteous malamati (one who conceals his inner spiritual states) saint, Sidi Ahmad Tawwash. The latter conferred on him the special authorization to recite a Name, and directed Sidi Ahmad Tijani to maintain seclusion (khalwa) and aloneness, with patience, until God granted him the opening of illumination. Thus, Sidi Ahmad Tijani persisted in these practices and invocations for some time, but later left them.
In Fes, he was initiated into the the Qadiri Tariqa, but he soon left it. Likewise, he learned the methods and teachings of the Nasiri Tariqa when he met the righteous saint Sidi Ahmad bin Abdullah Tazani, but also left those practices after a while. He also took the Siddiqi Tariqa which is linked to the renowned Pole, Sidi Ahmad al-Habib bin Muhammad alGhumari al-Siljimasi al-Siddiqi.
It became clear to him not to remain in Fes for a long period, so he returned to his town of `Ain Madhi. On his way, he passed through the province of El Bayadh, near to `Ain Madhi. There, he met with the renowned Pole, Sidi Abdul Qadir bin Muhammad al-Abyad. He decided to settle there and have a home. For the next five years there, he devoted himself to worship, teaching, and benefitting others, spending his time between the zawiya of Sidi Abdul Qadir and `Ain Madhi.
HAJJ, VISITING THE MESSENGER, AND FORECASTS OF HIS SAINTHOOD
In the year 1186 AH (1772 AD), he travelled to Tlemcen and then left it in the same year in order to perform Hajj and to visit the Sacred House of God (the Ka`ba) and God’s Messenger, may God’s blessings and peace rest upon him. His age at the time was approaching 40 years.
On his way from Algeria to Tunisia, while passing by the province of Zouaoua, he visited the Shaykh Sidi Muhammad bin `Abdul Rahman al-Azhari, a man of wide repute who had established many large zawiyas and had a large following. From him, Sidi Ahmad Tijani took the Khalwati Tariqa.
In the same year, once he reached Tunisia, he became familiar with many saints. From them was Sidi Abdul Samad al-Ruhi – one of the disciples of the Pole of his lands, whose rank of seclusion was such that he was not allowed to be seen by anyone else at all. However, the latter sent a private messenger to Sidi Ahmad Tijani to inform him that he was a beloved. Sidi Ahmad Tijani stayed in Tunisia for one year, sometimes in Sousa and sometimes in Tunis. During his stay, gave his opinions on legal decrees (fatwa), and he taught a number of books. Particular amongst them was the popular book of Ibn Ata’illah’s “Aphorisms” (Kitab al-Hikam). His reputation grew until the governor of the region heard of him and sought that he stay in Tunis, and offered him an official position in order to teach and benefit them. Sidi Ahmad Tijani excused himself and left the region.
He then traversed the sea to Cairo. As soon as he landed, he set about searching for the highest Shaykh of the city in that era, Sidi Mahmud al-Kurdi, who lived and settled in Egypt, but who originated and grew up in Iraq. He sought out this latter Shaykh due to a dreamvision that he saw in Tunisia, and when they first encountered each other, the notable and saintly Shaykh said to Shaykh Ahmad Tijani, “You are God’s beloved in this this world and the next.” Sidi Ahmad Tijani asked, “From where do you get this knowledge?” The Shaykh said, “From Allah.” Then, Sidi Ahmad Tijani proceeded to tell of the vision that he saw in Tunisia.
While telling the story of the vision to Sidi Mahmud al-Kurdi, he said: “My whole being is copper.” To that, Sidi Mahmoud replied, “I will change your copper into gold.” When Sidi Ahmad Tijani finished the story, Shaykh al-Kurdi said, “The vision is true as you say; so what do you want?” The other replied, “I want the highest station of Pole-hood (Qutbaniyat al-`Uzma).” To this, Shaykh al-Kurdi replied, “What you will have is much greater than that.” Shaykh Tijani asked, “Do you swear this on yourself?” He said, “Yes.”
After his sojourn with Shaykh al-Kurdi, he turned to cross the sea again, to reach the Sacred Lands. He arrived in Mecca in the month of Shawwal 1187 AH (December 1773 AD). A Shaykh in the city named Ahmad Abdullah al-Hindi had heard of Shaykh Ahmad Tijani. He was another enigmatic personality, whom no one at all had the permission to meet due to his extensive seclusion. Despite this, he bequeathed to Sidi Ahmad Tijani many teachings, secrets, and divine lights without meeting him, but by sending messages with his serving disciple who acted as the medium between the two. In one of his messages, he said, “You are the inheritor of my knowledge, my secret, my gifts and talents, and of my lights.” The disciple said to his Shaykh, “I have served you for eighteen years, then all of a sudden a man has come from Morocco, and you have made him your entire inheritor!” The Shaykh recited a verse from the Qur’an in reply; “He singles out for His Mercy whoever He wills”(3:74),and then said, “If there was room for personal choice in this matter, I would have chosen my son before you.”
After his time in Mecca, he directed himself towards the resplendent city of Medina, may God’s peace and blessings envelop the one who rests there. He visited his grandfather, the Chosen of God. After paying his reverence to the Messenger, he met the famous Pole, the outstanding scholar, Abu Abdullah Sidi Muhammad Abdul Karim, who was known as alSamman, may God be pleased with him. Shaykh al-Samman entrusted him with all of the Divine Names, and informed him of what station he was destined to attain; that is, that he would be the All-Comprehensive Pole (Qutb al-Jami`).
After having completed the rites of Hajj and the visitation of the Messenger – may God’s peace and blessings be upon him – Sidi Ahmad Tijani returned in peace with God’s protection to Egypt, where he stayed at the home of the eminent saint, Mahmud al-Kurdi. Al-Kurdi desired to authorise our Shaykh to initiate and guide disciples in the Khalwati Tariqa, and to train them according to its litanies. However, Sidi Ahmad Tijani hesitated to accept. Al-Kurdi then told him, “Initiate and guide them. I will be liable for it in front of God.” Thus, the Shaykh accepted and al-Kurdi prayed for him. After this, our Shaykh set out to return to Tunis.
THE SHAYKH’S FIRST DISCIPLES
Sidi Ahmad Tijani moved from Tunis to Tlemcen in the year 1188 AH (1774 AD), passing three years there in worship and self-exertion in God’s cause. In the same year, our master met a disciple who would become his scribe and the treasurer of his secrets, Sidi Muhammad bin al-Mishri al-Hasani. Our Shaykh initiated him into the Khalwati Tariqa, and from that day onwards Sidi Muhammad bin al-Mishri began to lead the Sidi Ahmad Tijani 9 and his family in prayer, and also assumed the role of answering questions and letters that came to our Shaykh. This continued until 1208 AH (1794 AD) – the year when Sidi Ahmad Tijani himself stood up to assume the task of Imam, complying to the command of his grandfather, the Chosen of God – may peace and blessings rest upon him.
In the year 1191 AH (1777 AD), Sidi Ahmad Tijani determined to leave Tlemcen to Fes – this being his second voyage to the city – in order to pay homage to the tomb of our master, Moulay Idris al-Azhar. On his way to the city, he met with Sidi Ali Harazim Barrada for the first time, who he would later name as his Khalifa. The Shaykh initiated him into the Khalwati Tariqa as well, and they both set out to Fes together – may God protect the city from every affliction!
ILLUMINATION AND SEEING THE PROPHET: BIRTH OF THE TIJANI TARIQA
After visiting the tomb of Moulay Idris, Sidi Ahmad Tijani bade farewell to his Khalifa in Fes and returned by himself to Tlemcen. He soon left to the town of Ksar Chellala in 1196 AH (1781 AD), staying there for the next three years. After that point, he relocated to Boussemghoun, and established himself in its fortress, where lies the tomb of the complete saint after whom the fortress is named (Abu Samghun). He would rest there for ten years, during which time he received the grand illumination (fath al-kabir) and the most eminent level of sainthood that he patiently anticipated and for which he resiliently contended to reach.
During his stay in Boussemghoun, Sidi Ahmad Tijani once visited the Saharan centre of Touat, in order to visit the Knower of God, Sidi Muhammad bin Fudayl. During this time, the two mutually exchanged secrets. Another time during this period, he paid a second visit to the city of Taza, where he met his disciple and companion, the Knower of God Sidi Muhammad bin al-Arabi al-Damrawi.
In Boussemghoun, Shaykh Tijani – may God be well-pleased with him – experienced the long-awaited illumination; this was in 1196 AH (1781 AD), the first year of his sojourn. The Master of Existence, the Messenger of God – peace and blessings be upon him – appeared to him while awake, and not while sleeping. He gave Shaykh Ahmad Tijani the leave to initiate and guide humanity universally and unconditionally. The Messenger of God himself specified his litany (wird) in this year. The litany that he first ordered was the recitation of one hundred invocations of repentance (istighfar) and one hundred prayers of benediction (salat) upon God’s Messenger – may peace and blessings be upon him. At the turn of the century, in the year 1200 AH (1785 AD), the Messenger completed this litany with one hundred repetitions of the noble phrase of “There is no god but God” (la ilaha ill Allah).
The Messenger of God informed our Shaykh Ahmad Tijani that he would be the Shaykh’s personal guide and mentor, and that the latter would receive nothing from God except at his hands and by his mediation. He said to the Shaykh, “No shaykh in creation has any authority over you; I am the one who will support you towards materialising your goal. Leave all that you have taken from others, and adhere to this Path (tariqa), without seclusion, nor isolation from creation, until you reach the station that you have been promised, without constriction or difficulty, nor overwhelming toil.”
After being established in his degree of sainthood, Shaykh Ahmad Tijani directed himself back to `Ain Madhi, where he founded his Mother Zawiya. In 1203 AH (1789 AD), Sidi Ali Harazim Barrada visited his Shaykh in Boussemghoun.
SETTLING IN THE CITY OF FES
As the acceptance for the Tijani Tariqa grew – and its acceptance grew at an unmatched rate – and as the Tariqa spread far and wide, the Tijanis grew to have a tangible force, and the Turkish governing authority in Algeria began to worry about their influence. This fear grew until the year 1198 AH (1783 AD), when the Turkish authority began to launch military excursions against `Ain Madhi, and imposed a tribute on Shaykh Ahmad Tijani and his followers – once in 1199 AH (1784 AD), and another time in 1202 AH (1787 AD). These events were a cause of malaise to our Shaykh – may God be pleased with him – and they led to his return to Fes once again, on the 17th of Rabi` al-Awwal, 1213 (29th August 1798).
In Fes, the Sultan Moulay Sulayman welcomed our Shaykh warmly. Seeing that the spirit and teachings of the Tijani path were entirely in line with those of God’s Book and the Prophetic Tradition while shunning all forms of reprehensible innovations. He and his governing functionaries all joined the way of the blessed Tijani Tariqa.
The Sultan showed a deep manner of respect towards the Shaykh. For instance, he once wrote in a letter, after beginning in the name of God and sending blessings upon the Prophet – may peace and blessings be upon him:
O ransom of my father, our master and Shaykh, our Muhammadan exemplar, Abul Abbas Sidi Ahmad: I praise God and send blessings and peace on our noble Prophet. Your blessed letter reached my hands, and I thanked God the Exalted for this divine pleasure that he picked me to receive…
On Monday, the sixth of Rabi` al-Thani in the year 1213 AH (1798 AD), Sidi Ahmad Tijani – may God be pleased with him – reached the city of Fes, where he would establish his zawiya and finally settle until the end of his days. Accompanying him was his Khalifa Ali Harazim. From this centre of Fes, the vast corners of the earth would be illumined by the light of our Shaykh, and his blessings would prevail throughout every area of Morocco. He took residence in the city, and then took up another journey: ascending in spiritual stations and climbing in saintly ranks, until he took residence at the station of the Seal of Saints (Khatmiyya). There, he attained the station of Concealedness (Katmiyya).
God most Exalted was well-pleased with him, and caused him to be the reviver of the thirteenth century of the hijra, without any doubt or dispute. For it is true as Abu Huraira – may God be pleased with him! – says:
The Messenger of God – may God bless him and grant him peace – said: Verily, at the head of every century, God sends to this nation one who will renew its faith.
In the transmission of Abu Dawud, our Messenger – peace and blessings be upon him – adds:
The Renewer comes from us: the family of the house of prophethood.
This hadith is narrated by Abu Dawud, Hakim (in Al-Mustadrak), Tabarani (Al-Kabeer walAwsat), Bayhaqi (Al-Ma`rifa), Tabrizi (Mishkat al-Masabih), Ibn `Asakir (Al-Tarikh), and alKhatib (Tarikh Baghdad).
SHAYKH TIJANI’S ENCOUNTERS WITH SCHOLARS AND DIGNITARIES IN FES
Numberless devotees from the scholars, jurists, ministers, as well as the common believing public of the city of Fes accepted his Tariqa, and its light set out from there to radiate throughout Morocco, even to its furthest ends. Then, the light continued to Tunisia and the Sahara, as well as West and Central Black Africa.
Initially our Shaykh took residence in the home of the parents and grandparents of Sidi Ali Harazim, and taught classes at the Diwan Mosque. His star began to rise and shine, while his fame grew until Moulay Sulayman learned of his reputation. From the advisors in his company, Shaykh Abdul Qadir bin Shaqrun – one of the foremost scholars of his age and the Grand Qadi of his time – and the knowledgeable Shaykh Abbas bin Kizan – one of the scholars of Moulay Sulayman’s court, a judge in Meknes – both commended him to the Sultan. Thence, Moulay Sulayman decided to invite Shaykh ahmad Tijani to join his assembly in order to discuss matters in front of him. The Shaykh complied with the Sultan’s request, and when he assembled with them, he astounded the gathering by manifesting rational, traditional, and hidden mystical knowledge, so that all of his deniers retracted their delusions concerning him.
The amplitude of our master’s knowledge and his immersion in external religious sciences, having even gained the rank of independent legal reasoning (ijtihad) was demonstrated on many occasions when Moulay Sulayman – may God sanctify his spirit in Paradise – used to gather the most preeminent scholars, stallions of their generation, in order to study, teach, and read qur’anic exegeses (tafsir). Amongst the distinguished shaykhs from whom the Sultan learned, and who attended alongside Shaykh Ahmad Tijani, were: Shaykh Tayyib bin Kizan (d. 14 Muharram, 1227 AH), Shaykh Sidi Abdul Qadir bin Shaqrun (d. 11 Sha`ban 1219 AH), and Shaykh Al-Sayyid Al-Abbasi Al-Sharaibi – one of the reciters of the Qur’an and a raconteur of the Prophet’s Birth (mawlid). Our master – may God be pleased with him – agreed to join the assembly when this last Shaykh came to the court of Fes. On that day, they were beginning the commentary on Surat al-Nas, so Shaykh Tayyib bin Kizan began the discourse as was the habit in that diligent company, due to his admired rank in external and rational knowledge. He spoke for a while, believing with certainty that his explanations were unmatchable in knowledge, and the audience acquiesced to him. Finally, when he was done, the Sultan turned to Shaykh Ahmad Tijani, and asked, “Shaykh, what do you have to say about this verse?” Thenceforth, Our Shaykh set out expounding on the verse to the extent that he dumbfounded the audience’s minds, using both textual and rational explanations, until he came to the subject which Ibn Kizan had delved into, thundering and shining, believing that he had no match in knowledge. About Ibn Kizan’s statements, our Shaykh simply said, “What this interpreter has mentioned is not correct; it has no precedence from the masters of intellect and wisdom.”
Hearing this Shaykh Ibn Kizan replied in a harsh manner, “Do you object to my words, even when so-and-so as well as so-and-so from amongst the exegetes has shared this opinion?”, to which Shaykh Ahmad Tijani replied in front of the assembly, “The word is not yours privately; rather, the correct statement belongs to these scholars of commentary…” and he went on to clearly and rightfully explain the matter with textual and rational evidences, until the truth became clear to every skeptical mind; truth was manifest and falsehood evanesced. Every stubborn mind acknowledged his profound understanding, and every member of the gathering said, “By God, this is the Clear Truth!” This was all in the sight and earshot of the Sultan.
After the gathering dispersed, with the fair-minded expressing their gratitude to our master – may God be pleased with him – the Sultan began to speak with the remaining ones present, saying:
You have seen Sidi Ahmad Tijani’s standing and magnificence in external knowledge. But as for the inner science, he is both its father and mother, and the son of it, too. What do you have to say about this?
They replied saying, “His word is certainly just and correct. The Truth manifests on his tongue.”
The sagacious scholar of Tunisia, Sidi Shaykh Muhammad bin Sulayman al-Mana`i – may God be pleased with him – said, after meeting Shaykh Ahmad Tijani:
… seeks excuses for the ill-manners of the masses, thanks to an Imam such as this. He is an ocean of knowledge of the Sacred Law, without any match or rival that I have seen.
From the books of jurisprudence, he has memorised Mukhtasar ibn Hajib, Mukhtasar al-Khalil, and Tahdhib al-Baradh`i from the back of his heart. He told me that he can memorise everything he hears after only hearing it once. People who do not even know the preconditions of washing before prayer have the audacity to compete against such a man!
As for hadith, he knows and has memorised Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, and the Muwatta’ of Imam Malik from the back of his heart. And regarding books on the oneness of God and creed, he is the parallel of Imam Ghazali in our age. Truly, hearts are in God’s hands. He moves them as He wills.
BUILDING THE ZAWIYA
He had not stayed with the family of Sidi Ali Harazim long before Moulay Sulayman gifted Shaykh Ahmad Tijani Dar al-Maraya: the House of Mirrors, a significant estate into which the Sultan invested much money and made provisional arrangements, so that he could give it as a gift that the Shaykh reside there with his family.
Initially, Shaykh Ahmad Tijani declined the gift, until the Sultan clarified that it was a gift from his personal expense, and not from state property. However, he still did not feel completely at ease until the Messenger approved their dwelling in the property, on the condition that the Shaykh give monthly charity amounting to the value of renting the estate to the poor and weak. The Shaykh accepted, and did this.
Sidi Ahmad Tijani would gather with his disciples at the door of his house, or sometimes in some of the mosques of the city to recite the communal litany of the Wazifa. This was until the Messenger of God directed him to build a zawiya in the city. Then, the Shaykh purchased a plot of land in the Lablida quarter of the Old Medina with his personal funds. Before the construction of the zawiya, this land was revered, for no one was ever able to enter it alone due to the awe that the atmosphere instilled. Sometimes, people would hear the voices of group dhikr coming from the empty land, and a great number of saints overwhelmed by the divine attraction (majdhub), would seek out that place. The Shaykh also purchased the environs of the property, so that there would be the possibility of expanding the area of the zawiya in the future.
At this point, enviers and critics began to aggressively oppose the construction of a new zawiya, to the point that Shaykh Ahmad Tijani considered leaving Fes in order to go to Syria. However, when the Sultan Moulay Sulayman learned the positions of these detractors and their adversity towards the construction of the zawiya, he issued direct orders to support its construction, despite any antagonism. He also offered a great deal of money to support the building of the zawiya; however, Sidi Ahmad Tijani returned it sweetly with thanks, saying, “The zawiya’s affair will be settled with God’s permission.” The foundation and construction of the zawiya was completed in the year 1215 AH (1800 AD). The Shaykh – may Allah be pleased with him – spoke of the significance of this accomplishment and its blessings, saying:
If the giants of the knowers of God only knew what bounties reside in my zawiya, they would have pitched tents inside of it.
And the Messenger of God – may the peace and blessings of God be showered upon him – said:
Prayer in this zawiya is accepted without exception.