There is a man in Egypt, now in his late sixties, by the name of Jabir. He hails from the Ja’afira tribe which is from a blessed Husayni lineage. He was a disciple of Shaykh Abdullahi of the Naqshbandi spiritual path, who hailed from the same region (Aswan) but who lived in Cairo.
Some people ignorantly criticized Jabir for choosing this man as his shaykh and put doubts in his heart about him. They said to him: You are a man of Prophetic descent, how could you take as your shaykh someone who is neither a descendant of the Prophet (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam) himself nor a scholar? Your shaykh should be better than you. Jabir began to believe what they said, and decided that he should leave his shaykh and take Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari (may Allah be pleased with him) as his shaykh. Shaykh Salih was in fact from the same Ja’afira tribe, as well as a great scholar and the Imam of the Azhar. He decided that this would be the best option and no one would have anything to say about his choice of spiritual guide.
Jabir was a soldier in the Egyptian military and would go almost every month to Cairo and spend the weekend there because of work. There he would attend Shaykh Salih’s gathering of remembrance (dhikr) on Thursday nights inside the noble Azhar Mosque and would attend the Shaykh’s famous Friday Lesson. He always went simply as a lover of Shaykh Salih, but not as his disciple.
For his next trip, Jabir made the intention that this time he would take the path from Shaykh Salih. He went to attend the gathering of remembrance. The gathering would take place in the Maghrebi Hall inside the Azhar Mosque. Shaykh Salih had a small chamber built for himself inside this hall where he lived. Toward the end of his life he would stay in his chamber, while his students engaged in the remembrance just outside it in the hall. He only came out to join the gathering himself very rarely.
That night Shaykh Salih came out during the remembrance and sat on the chair and then clapped his large and powerful hands once. The hall went silent, for they knew that the Shaykh wanted to speak.
“Oh blessed one (ya mubarak)!…” he called out, without naming Jabir or looking at him directly. Shaykh Salih never called anyone by their plain names, but would always call people by saying, “oh blessed one,” or “oh shaykh so-and-so.” No one knew whom the Shaykh was addressing with his speech this night.
“Oh blessed one! We fear for you because of this (which is in your mind),” said the Shaykh. “We have a saying in Upper Egypt: ‘Whoever grasps the rope and then walks alongside it will reach the peg (watad).’ You have grasped the rope but not walked. What’s your shaykh going to do for you? What would shaykh al-Shadhili or al-Badawi or al-Disuqi or al-Rifa’i or al-Jilani do for you if you do not walk?” The Shaykh mentioned the names of the founders of many of the greatest spiritual paths, but omitted Shaykh Bahauddin Naqshband, whose path Jabir was intending to leave, and shaykh Ahmad ibn Idris, Shaykh Salih’s own shaykh, whose path Jabir was intending to take.
“Just take the rope and start walking and you will reach the shaykh of the path, and find him with you.”
Jabir knew that he is the one who was being addressed and tears began to pour down his cheeks. He realized that there was great danger in leaving his shaykh, and that he did not need to find a new shaykh, only to start following his shaykh’s guidance and applying it.
At the end of the gathering, every one lined up to greet the shaykh and say their goodbyes. When Jabir’s turn came, the Shaykh grasped his hand tightly and said to him: “Have you understood?”
“Yes, sayyidi,” answered Jabir. “Please forgive me.”
“Give my regards to your shaykh,” said Shaykh Salih.
When Jabir went to Shaykh Abdullahi and gave him Shaykh Salih’s greetings, the shaykh said to him: “Praise be to Allah that you went to our shaykh, Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari. Had you gone to someone else he very likely might have accepted to take you as his disciple. That would have caused a lot of trouble for yourself and for us too.”
For more on this, see the two posts titled “The Shaykhs of the Path and Tarbiya” 1 and 2 here:
Jabir has many children. The three younger ones have taken the Ja’fari path from Shaykh Abdul Ghani al-Ja’fari, including Abdullahi whom he named after his own shaykh. As for Shaykh Abdullahi himself, he used to attend shaykh Salih’s lessons and would always quote him in his own lessons and talks.