Studies in Comparative Religion
The First English Journal on Traditional Studies - established 1963
Skip Navigation Links
Book Review
Journal Information
Future Issues
Free Subscription
Purchase Copies

For Articles -
Click on underlined term for definition from

Printed Editions
Available for Purchase

Newest Commemorative
Annual Editions:

A special web site:

To visit a special web site, "Frithjof Schuon Archive," dedicated to featured Studies contributor Frithjof Schuon, click here.

Article Printer Friendly Printer Friendly 
Click to learn about adding or editing pop-up defintions.

A Letter to Disciples in Prison


R. W. Austin

Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Winter, 1974). © World Wisdom, Inc.

AMONG the many great Shaikhs for whom the Shadhili Order is justly renowned, especially in North Africa, is one whose spiritual influence and skill in guiding souls inspired his disciples to found a new branch of the Order in his name. He was Abū Hāmid Ahmad al-‘Arabī al-Darqāwī, born near Fez in 1760 A.D. He came to the Way of the Sufis at the hands of his Master ‘Ali al-Jamal (d. 1779), who taught him the dhikr of the Shadhilis. Although he attracted many devoted disciples he left very little to posterity in the way of writings. His only well known work, which is used to this day by the order which bears his name, is the Rasā’il or Epistles which he wrote to his disciples. Some of these have recently been translated into English by T. Burckhardt and give us a brief but fascinating glimpse of a great spiritual guide (murshid). He died in 1823 A.D. and is buried at his Zāwiyah at Bū Berih, near Fez. Some years after his death a celebrated disciple of his successor, Muhammad al-Buzīdī, Ibn ‘Ajībah, wrote an account of his life and teachings.[1]

The short letter translated here is addressed to a group of his disciples who had been thrown into prison at Tetuan because they had incurred the displeasure of the local jurists. This arose because certain bigoted and “pious” persons had complained to the authorities about the public practices of al-Darqāwī’s disciples. Among the things of which they complained were the wearing of rough and patched garments, the wearing of rosaries round the neck, the carrying of staves, walking barefoot and practicing the Invocation of the Divine Name (dhikr) in public. A certain Muhammad al-Tāzī (d. 1799) wrote a condemnation of these practices.[2]

The Letter of Our Master Al-‘Arabī to the Brethren in prison at Tetuan because of the disapproval of those of Feeble Faith

Stand firm! Stand firm! Be resolute and patient in all your trials, and when perils beset you be you servants of God (alone) placing no reliance on earthly means. Entrust your affair to God in all circum­stances and let no care, no danger or habit deter you in this. Look to no one, neither rulers nor judges; rather give all your attention to the Lord of Heaven and earth, holding fast to the religion of Him Who created you, clinging to the Norm of your Prophet and following in the footsteps of your Shaikhs. Make good your virtues, invoke much and devote yourselves to the worship of your Lord and Master, emptying your hearts (of all but Him) and putting away from yourselves all self-concern. Follow closely the appointed method and do not indulge in excessive mirth, nor talk to men with importunity. Beware of speaking like al-Hallāj, but choose rather obscurity, for it brings Attainment near and within it are concealed true sincerity and the Way of spiritual heroes.

One who would enjoy pure sight must give himself up totally to God, be patient in every trial, devote himself utterly to God with a pure intention, become permeated by the Apostolic virtues and be committed to the Norm of Muhammad. He must become purged of all evil qualities and cleansed of all egotistical traits, of all worldly preoccupations and all partisan zeal; let him be firmly established in this exalted Way of ours which leads to the Divine Presence.

Make your souls earthly (lowly), your hearts heavenly, your spirits lofty, your inner being holy, your actions an expression of your servanthood, and your speech the vehicle of His remembrance. Make your bodies like the body of Job, your condition that of Abraham, your faith that of Muhammad, your cause that of Moses, your states those of the Sufis and your knowledge such as is divinely inspired.

Be most careful of consorting with worldly men, of exposing yourselves to that which is harmful or of mixing with troublesome people. Whoever of you fears for his state, let him separate himself from men so that his affliction might be properly cured. Let him whose state is safe with God live in obscurity; let him bear patiently whatever the divine decrees may bring, let him endure all hurtful oppression and follow the path of the Emigrants and Helpers. May he be adorned outwardly with divine tranquility and inwardly by the illumination of divine lights.

It is our fond hope that all our brethren wherever they may be, the wearers of patched garments, may not return to the wearing of ordinary clothes, but that they should rather remain as they are in a state of worldly destitution, despised and obscure till men consider them as dead. I pray that they may continue to engage in all acts of worship and spiritual exercise, always striving against their egotistical souls by hunger and wakefulness, and purifying their spiritual sight until the very sun and moon rise resplendent in their innermost being.

Let the family man follow as much as is easy for him until he be relieved of his responsibility. As for him who slips from or is dis­tracted from the Way or acquires much wealth and speaks with the words of the ignorant, let him go his way and exclude him as nicely as possible. Help one another and avert your eyes from all that is unseemly, dismissing this lower world from your hearts. Furthermore, restrict yourselves to God alone and hold fast to your Way, whether the going be easy or hard: for “the final reward is for the God-fearing”, the final stage is the perfection of certainty and the purest of draughts is the draught of the virtuous. Praise be to God Lord of the worlds.


[1] Al-Ta‘rīf bi’l-Shaikh Mawlāya al-‘Arabī al-Darqāwī ms. K2841, Bibl. Gen. Rabat.

[2] Radd man ankarahu al-ru’asā’ min Bahl Tetuān. ms. in a private collection.


Original editorial inclusion that followed the essay in Studies:

One day he (Bayazid al-Bistami) was walking with a number of his disciples. The path was very narrow. He saw a dog coming along and turned back to let it pass. One of his disciples blamed him secretly and thought to himself, ‘How can Bayazid, who is the king of gnostics, make way for a dog?’ Bayazid said, ‘This dog asked me with dumb eloquence, saying, “In the eternal past what fault did I commit, and what act of grace didst thou perform, that I am clad in the skin of a dog, while the robe of spiritual royalty hath been conferred in thee?” This thought came into my head and I made way for the dog’.


PDF of Article

No PDF uploaded for this article
No PDF uploaded for this article.

Home | Authors | Archive | Book Review | Browse | Journal Information | Future Issues | Free Subscription | Purchase Copies | Help | Sitemap |
This site is best viewed 1024 x 768
Copyright © 2007