It is hard for an outsider to understand how deeply troubling the loss of a living Shaykh is for the disciple and there is a natural human tendency to fill the immense gap left by the death of one’s guide with a comforting placeholder. Many Sufi orders become hereditary in this way, with the son of the shaykh taking the mantle by acclamation to sustain the way. The great awliya within the Darqawiyya-Habibiyya Order had the profound integrity not to settle for what might have been reassuring and the Habibiyya carried on for decades, surviving on the extraordinarily powerful practice and legacy of the great 20th century shaykh. During this period, numerous people tried to declare themselves as Shaykh of the Order, but Sidi Fudul and others quashed these false claims.
One of my teachers in Makkah Al-Mukarramah, Shaykh Ismail, once said to me, “There is nothing worse on the face of the earth than the man of false claims.”
The living Shaykh is the spiritual equivalent of a heart or neurosurgeon, with the power to heal hearts and minds. An unqualified pretender without the authentic transmission, knowledge and authority from God and His Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, can be as lethal and dangerous as a medical quack and can do untold damage to the unwitting or misguided soul.
Moulay Al-Arabi Ad-Darqawi wrote:
“Beware, beware lest you allow yourself to be deceived by someone, for how many there are who appear to be preaching for God when in reality they are only preaching for their desires.”
Shaykh Ismail also told me succinctly, “Anyone who claims to be a Shaykh of ma’rifa is a liar.” The true Shaykh doesn’t have to make a claim. He simply is. It doesn’t mean that the true Shaykh doesn’t acknowledge his role. He simply doesn’t have to stand up and proclaim and defend his claims. One pretender to the mantle of Ibn Al-Habib created a great deal of confusion when he made his claim, which reached as far away as Makkah Al Mukarramah, where I was living.
Si Fudul knew the man and I had been asked by someone living in Makkah to ask Si Fudul his opinion on the matter. I posed the question. With a withering look, Si Fudul shook his head and said dismissively, “He behaves with the hauteur of a king. This is not the behavior of a true shaykh. This fellow only ever had authority to call people to Islam, nothing more.”
At that point in my life I was without a living shaykh and was deeply concerned about this as all the great Sufi treatises stress the importance of keeping company with a living master. I asked Si Fudul what to do and he said, “In this time it is very difficult to find a living shaykh, nearly impossible. Make the sacred law (Shariah) your shaykh.