One of the main principles of Sufism is for the murid to give a pledge to his shaykh that he will be an obedient slave of Allah Most High, that he will avoid sins, and that he will adhere to the Tariqa and its wird until his death.
In that they are keeping alive the Sunna of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and his Companions. If people today have mostly left this sunna or are ignorant of it, that does not take away from its legality.
The Meaning of the Bay’ah
The bay’a or ‘ahd (pledge, vow) in the arabic language means: to adhere to something, in order to make it happen. One says: The tribe of Banu so-and-so have made a ‘ahd (pact) that such-and-such.
In the Shari’a it means: to adhere to a religious act, such as the Ansar’s adherence, may Allah be pleased with them, to the defense of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) from the same things that they would defend their women and children from.
Its origin is His saying, Most High: “Those who pledge loyalty to you are actually pledging loyalty to Allah- Allah’s hand is above theirs- and anyone who breaks his pledge does so to his own detriment. Allah will have a great reward to the one who fulfills his pledge to Him.” (48:10)
As well as His saying: “O Prophet, when believing women come and pledge to you that they wil not ascribe any partner to Allah, nor steal, nor commit adultery, nor kill their children, nor lie about who has fathered their children, nor disobey you in any righteous thing, then you should accept their pledge of allegiance and pray to Allah to forgive them: Allah is most forgiving and merciful.” (60:12)
The Hakim of the Ummah, al-Imam al-Tahanawi al-Hindi said in his footnote to his translation of the noble aya above: “This aya shows clearly what the bay’a is like, and it shows that any bay’a given ceremoniously without the intention of working upon it and being loyal to it is void.”
The Bay’a is for All Types of Muslims
The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) would take the bay’a of his Companions, individually or in groups, males or females, old or young.
Among what has been narrated about the group bay’a is what was told to us by sayyidna ‘Awf bin Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, who said: We were with the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) nine, eight, or seven of us.
He said: “Shall you not give bay’a to the Messenger of Allah?”
We had just given a bay’a recently, so we said: “We have already given you bay’a, oh Messenger of Allah!”
He said: “Will you not give bay’a to the Messenger of Allah?”
So we stretched out our arms and said: “We will give you bay’a, oh Messenger of Allah. What then shall we give bay’a to?”
He said: “To worship Allah, associating no partner to Him, and to pray the five Salaat prayers, and to hear and to obey” and then he added in a low voice: “And not to ask anything from other people.”
I have seem some of these people, if their whip falls to the floor, they would not ask anyone to hand it to them. (Narrated by Muslim, Abu Dawud and an-Nasa’i).
And in Sahih al-Bukhari in Kitab al-Iman: ‘Ubada ibn as-Samit, may Allah be pleased with him, who was at the Battle of Badr and was one of the leaders on the Night of ‘Aqaba, said that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) had a group of his Companions around him and said,
Give bay’a to me based on not associating anything with Allah, not stealing, not committing adultery, not killing your children, not making a false accusation of adultery which you forge yourselves and not being disobedient regarding anything good. Any among you who fulfill this will be rewarded by Allah. Any who fall short regarding any of these things and are punished in this world, that will be an expiation for them. Whoever falls short regarding any of these things and Allah conceals it, then it will be up to Allah. If He wishes, He will pardon him, and if He wishes, He will punish him.”
‘Ubada said, “We gave him our allegiance on those conditions.
This bay’a then, is not the bay’a of Islam, nor the bay’a of jihad, because those who gave it were already Muslim. It is but the bay’a of the Sufis, which was to stress and emphasize the matters of Islam. As the first hadith demonstrated, it made the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) adhere carefully to their pact, so that they wouldn’t even ask someone to hand them their whip, despite how insignificant that is. The imam, shaykh Ahmad bin Abd ar-Rahim, known as Wali Allah ad-Dihlawi, explained the reality of the bay’a in his work Al-Qawl al-jameel, commenting on aya 48:10:
There are a great many reports about the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) that the people would give him bay’a, sometimes for the hijra, sometimes for the jihad, sometimes to perform the pillars of Islam, sometimes to hold firm in battle, and sometimes to hold firmly to the sunna, avoid the bid’a, and to always make sure to do the acts of obedience. It has also been authentically narrated that he (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) took bay’a from the women of the Ansar not to cry out loud over the dead.
And Ibn Majah narrated that he (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) took bay’a from some of the poor Muhajireen, not to ask anything of the people.
As for the individual bay’a, its narrations are too many to count. Many of the Companions who lived far away from al-Madina al-Munawwara used to come to him (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and spend days with him, learning whatever they could from the matters of their religion, then give bay’a and go back to their homes. And here are the proofs:
Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Hakim, al-Bayhaqi, Abu Nu’aym, Ibn Asakir, at-Tabarani, and al-Hasan bin Sufyan all narrated from Basheer bin al-Khasasiyyah (may Allah be pleased with him) that he said: I came to the Messenger of Allah, salla Allahu alayhi wa Alihi wa sallam, to give bay’a to him.
I said to him: “Upon what will you take bay’a from me, oh Messenger of Allah?”
The Messenger of Allah stretched out his arm and said: “That you bear witness that there is no god but Allah, alone without partner, and that Muhammad is His slave and messenger, and to pray the five Salaat prayers in their time, and to give the obligatory Zakaat, and to fast in Ramadan, and to perform Hajj, and to do jihad in the cause of Allah.”
I said: “All of them I am capable of except two: the Zakaat, for by Allah the only thing I possess is 10 camels, and they are the carriers of my family, and the jihad, for I am a cowardly man, and they claim that he who runs away in war shall incur the anger of Allah, and I fear that if the fighting takes place, that I would be scared, escape, and thus incur the anger of Allah upon me.”
So the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) pulled back his arm and moved it and said, “Oh Basheer, no sadaqa and no jihad! By what way, then, shall you enter Paradise?”
So I said: “stretch out your arm that I shall give you bay’a,” and I gave him bay’a for all of them. (Narrated thus in Kanz al-ummal and all the men in its chain are trustworthy, as stated by al-Haythami).
And imam Ahmad also narrated from Jarir, may Allah be pleased with him, who said: “I gave bay’a to the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) to establish the prayers, and give the Zakaat, and to give naseeha (good council) to every Muslim.” (Narrated as well by al-Tabari).
And imam Ahmad, an-Nasa’i, at-Tabarani and others narrated from Abi Umama and Thawban, that they both gave bay’a to the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) not to ask anything of others. Likewise did sayyidna Abu Dharr, may Allah be pleased with him, as narrated by imam Ahmad.
And al-Bukhari and Muslim narrated from Abdullah ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with them both, that he said: “Whenever we used to give bay’a to the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) to hear and obey, the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) would say to us: ‘according to your ability.’ ”
The Bay’a of Women
As for the bay’a of women, al-Tabarani narrated from ‘Azza bint Khaayel, may Allah be pleased with her, that “she came to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and he took bay’a from her that: ‘you do not commit adultery, you do not steal, and you do not kill your children, the apparent or the hidden.’ She said: “As for the apparent killing of children, I knew what that was, but as for the hidden killing, I did not ask the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) nor did he tell me. But it has come to my heart that it means: the corruption of the child, and so by Allah I will never let any of my children become corrupted!”
And the evidences on this are many, and he who wants to see more should consult Ibn Kathir’s tafseer on aya 60:12, where he mentioned many of the bay’as of women. But it should be known that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) took bay’a from them verbally without his hands ever touching the hands of other women. His bay’a was to say to them: “I have taken bay’a from you upon such and such,” as narrated by al-Bukhari from sayyida Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her).
The Bay’a of Children
It is also sunna for children to give bay’a. For it is narrated that Ibn al-Zubayr and Abdallah ibn Ja’far (may Allah be pleased with them) came to give bay’a to the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) when they were seven years old. So when he saw them (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) he smiled and stretched out his hand to them, and they gave bay’a to him. (Narrated by Ibn Hajar al-Haythami in Majma’ al-Zawa’id).
The evidences on this topic are many, and it suffices us to say that the bay’a or ‘ahd is one of the sunnas of Islam that were acted upon by the righteous salaf, and the Sufis still practice it to this day.
There is no doubt that if it is established that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) practiced it as a form of worship, and the encouragement of worship, then it is a sunna of the religion. And the bay’a that is practiced by the Sufis is a pledge to adhere to the rulings of Islam and to pay attention to the external acts as well as the inward acts of the heart. According to their custom it is called “the bay’a of the tariqa.”
There are those who claim that it is an innovation, and that it has not been established as a practice of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and that he only took the bay’a of Islam from those who had been non-believers, and took the bay’a of jihad from the believers. But their claim is rejected by all the authentic hadiths quoted above, where those giving bay’a were Companions, and it is therefore not the bay’a of accepting Islam. The wording of the hadiths clearly shows as well that they were not bay’a of jihad, but to adhere to the commands of the Shari’a and to pay careful attention to the works of Islam.
This shows that the rejection of the bay’a is based on ignorance of the Sunna, and amounts to a rejection of it. It is a rejection of the acts of the Messenger of Allah, salla Allahu alayhi wa Alihi wa sallam, and his noble Companions. He said Most High:
“Let those who go against (the Prophet’s) orders beware lest a trial afflict them or they receive a painful punishment.” (24:63)
We ask Allah Most High to guide us to the straight path and to keep us firm upon it.