Three Levels of Character: Copper, Silver and Gold


Explanations of ‘Iqaz al himam fee sharh al-hikam, by Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn `Ajiba

Shaykh Hisham: Either I will speak or Shaykh Senad will speak.

Shaykh Senad [Mufti of Bosnian community]: When a ignorant one (jaahil) is silent he conceals his jahl. Especially in front of Mawlana.

Shaykh Hisham:

Audhu billahi min ash-shaytan ir-rajeem bismillah ir-rahman ir-raheem Ati`ullaha wa ati`ur-rasula wa ulil-amri minkum, …

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ أَطِيعُواْ اللّهَ وَأَطِيعُواْ الرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِي الأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ ذَلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلاً

O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination. [4:59]

Alhamdulillah that we are in a time that people are looking forward for learning about Islam. To know what Islam is about. And Islam has a civilization of 1400 years or more from the time of the Prophet (s), the Last Messenger of Allah swt.

And we are also interested to know about the principles and fundamentals of the values that Islam teaches Muslims and others. We look deep as Muslims and as Sufis, mutasawwifeen, the people of spirituality, tazkiyyat an-nafs, looking deep into how to improve themselves, not only from the outside, but also from the inside.

And it is said, samtul jaahili saloohuh – The ignorant one when he keeps silent, will conceal him from being exposed as ignorant.

Because ignorance today is of two types. Ignorants that know themselves ignorant and keep silent, concealing and hiding their ignorance. And there are people who are really ignorant but their ignorance gave them pride to say they know something. And they become scholars speaking on podiums (manaabir) and giving lectures and that is the worst of that kind of understanding, or that kind of characteristic.

Because as it is said, that your knowledge compared to some others is like the differences between iron, copper and silver. Which is better? Silver. But you are copper or iron. If you keep quiet you don’t expose your iron characteristics, meaning your worthless characters. If you don’t keep quiet, it is as if you are plated, silver-plated.

Some people go and buy silver-plated that is worth 5 or 10 dollars. Others buy real silver that is worth hundreds. They look at the plated one and say “this is worthless.” The ignorant ones are plating them with silver to make them look shiny. But after a while the plating begins to come off and what appears – their real face. That is for those who are so interested in external appearances. Those who are interested in external appearances are not real, they are still copper.

There is another group of people. On their inner side they are silver, and they are real. But because they are real, they keep a low profile. How do they keep a low profile? They plate themselves with copper. Why – because they want to preserve their silver characteristics.

They aren’t the ones who are copper and want to show silver.

They are silver but understand that despite being silver, they are still nothing in the Presence of Allah and that is why they bring themselves down, as if they are copper. They keep quiet, they keep a low profile. They keep themselves like normal ones.

There is a saying in Arabic: If talking is from silver, then silence is from gold.

There is another group of people whose inner aspect is gold. They surrender to Allah swt. They never have a doubt and they are always in complete submission – these people become gold, Allah brings them up. And this is the best of people.

Those are the perfect trustworthy persons. They are the real awliya.

Because they knew that their physical appearances have no value, they knew that their inner aspect–though it has value–still its value respectively speaking is nothing compared to the greatness of Allah.

So they completely submit and leave the external and say “we are not going to be showing ourselves as big scholars.” And because they are gold they know whatever they say is nothing in Allah’s Presence, is nothing in the presence of the Prophet (s) and therefore they say nothing. Then Allah will dress them with His Presence, the Prophet (s) will dress them with his presence and they hide [that secret], as people hide their gold. People don’t hide silver.

Allah hides his awliya. He said, “My saints are under my domes no one knows them except Me.”

That is a very big difference between these three levels. So what are the levels?

1. Outer

2. Inner

3. has both but keeps quiet.

That is the understanding of the hadith of the Prophet (s) about al- Islam, ash-Shari`ah, al-iman, al-tariqat, al-ihsan, al-ma`rifat – “to worship Allah as if you are seeing Him and if not know that He is seeing you.”

These are like what we described just now: Shari`ah, haqiqat, ma`rifat.

When you follow the discipline of Shari`ah, follow what Allah asks you, that leads you to haqiqat. Then you follow that guide that Allah sent to you. The Shari`ah teaches you how to follow, as in war zones you have mine fields so to move through them you have to know where the different mines are located. The Shari`ah takes you thru these minefields. Shaytan is like a minefield the Shari`ah takes you through the minefield safe.

Then if you pass the minefield. You reach the garden that is haqiqat. Then you are dressed with that garden, you are seeing it, enjoying it, experiencing it. Then they take you to ma`rifat and then they teach you knowledge of these gardens. When you acquire these gardens then you understand the importance of these gardens. Then your aim is ma`rifatullah. Allah gave you a knowledge to know his creation and to know whatever he wants you to know – that is ma`rifatullah.

That is one of the meanings of the hajaru ‘l-aswad. It is completely enclosed with silver. That is the inner and the outer. Hajaru `l- aswad is from Paradise. Then when you pass the silver they take you to the gold. Beforehajaru `l-aswad is tawaaf, which represents the Shari`ah. The Shari`ah takes you past the minefields. When in tawaaf that is the obligation. But when you come to the hajaru `l-aswad you kiss it. That is haqiqat.

Sayyidina Umar (r) said, “If I didn’t see the Prophet kiss you I would not do it.” Then Sayyidina `Ali (r) said, “You cannot say that, this stone is going to witness for everyone who kisses it on Judgment Day.”

That is why awliya when they kiss the hajaru `l-aswad, they are kissing Paradise. And awliya through kissing their spirits enter through hajaru `l-aswad and understanding ma`rifat, knowledge.

Ordinary people, do Hajj or `umrah, and they do tawaaf, and then they kiss. Because they fulfilled their Shari`ah obligations, then they are permitted to kiss. Allah put that stone there for people to know that garden. Is it just a wall there? Why did the Prophet (s) kiss that stone? Behind that stone is a reality, a ma`rifat. That stone is a symbol of the garden of heavens, because it is a part of heavens.

When you kiss it you are entering heavens. Anyone who kisses the hajaru `l-aswad is protected from the Fire. That is why it is important to go on pilgrimage, if even one time. It is important to kiss Paradise; as this is a stone from Paradise. Then your `amal will be changed to good `amal by kissing that Paradise stone.

And they said that the best from among the three is the one that he takes from Ahl adh-dhaahir and takes from Ahl al-baatin. They take from both sides. Ahl al-dhaahir benefit in dunya. Why? Because they are outward. Everything outward is for this dunya. And if you add your obligations on it, it will take you to be saved on Judgment Day in Paradise. The other group is Ahl al-baatin, the people of realities. If you accompany them, they give you from what they have seen of realities. If you keep with them, you will find a good company with them. They give you not only Paradise, but also what is above Paradise, they give you `ilm, knowledge.

And they take their followers to these realities. And the best among these two groups is the third group. And who are the third group.

They take from the outward knowledge and get its benefit, take from inward knowledge and get its benefit. They are like Abu Bakr as- Siddiq (r), taking benefit. They inherit from the Prophet (s). He was in trade, in business with his wife, and at the same time he was in ghaari hira [making seclusion]. Sayyidina Abu Bakr (r) was a businessman, Sayyidina Umar (r) also, Sayyidina Uthman (r) and Sayyidina `Ali (r) also. They were siddiqeen. Whoever wants to follow their footsteps must keep the Shari`ah very well.

Not like these many other “Sufi” groups [found in the West], but as the Naqshbandi tariqat, which is a very conservative tariqat which keeps Shari`ah. There is no compromise for Shari`ah, the shaykhs keep the Shari`ah in the classical and traditional manner for themselves, but for the people they are very flexible. They leave them to easy ways. It took the Prophet 23 years to deliver the message. You cannot deliver the message Shari`ah, haqiqat, ma`rifat, in one month, two months or three months. It takes time.

The Naqshbandi shaykhs keep Shari`ah very well, they have to be dressed outwardly very well and inwardly very well.

If you are dressed very well on the outside but your inner side is not, it is as if you are a clock which has needles but inside the mechanism inside is broken.

If you are dressed very well inside but not on the outside, it is as if you are a clock which has a working mechanism, but has no needles.

But if your outside and inside dresses are both good, both outward and inward, it is as if you have both a functioning mechanism and the external needles. Then you a re in perfect position. And everyone can check themselves, and see if they are dressed outwardly and inwardly.

And to see what kid of dresses they have to dress in order to keep themselves clean from all distractions of Shaytan. That temptations that Shaytan gives to people. How much you have to be very well armed. Not physically armed, but the armament of how to keep your eyes, to keep your ears, not to hear bad things, not to look at bad things, dressing very well outwardly and inwardly dressing the principles of good behavior.

And everyone knows depending on his mind how he is. And once they asked Mawlana Shaykh asked, “How do we adjust ourselves when something comes up because we are not scholars?”

He said, “Use your mind to weight that problem in front of you. If your mind accepts it, then your mind will not accept to let you do what Shaytan wants.”

Like your ego tells you “go and smoke cigarettes.” What does your mind say about smoking cigarettes? It says “it is no good for health it causes all kinds of cancers.” That means you have to eliminate it from your life Your reasoning says it is bad but you are not listening. The Prophet said, kulli muddurin yuqtal – “Everything harmful is killed.” That is the word used: killed. But not every word is understood literally, it is understood symbolically. If a lion is going to harm you, you can kill it. There is a spiritual scorpion that can kill you, as there is a spiritual lion that can kill you. Like cigarettes; so it is your mind that tells you “this is wrong.”

Like drugs. Some people say cigarettes are harmful, but there is no problem with marijuana. I tell them, “don’t smoke.” He says, “No I am not smoking.” I say, “I see you smoking.” He replies, “No that is marijuana, not cigarettes.” But that is where your reason tells you “this is bad.”

If you know only the basics of Shari`ah, use your reasoning to determine what is good for you and what is not, what makes Allah happy with you and what makes the Prophet happy with you. Else we will all be lost on following the way of Shaytan.

So the perfect Shaykh is called al-`arifu billahi. The knower of Allah, knower of what Allah wants him to know from the hidden realities. Al-`arifu billahi is different from the wali. The wali can be a wali only as far as his own self is concerned. Allah will dress him as a wali because of his sincerity. He will be like a person of his own.

The ‘arifu billah is the one who can accommodate the worst of people and highest of people from the outward group together with the lower of awliya and the higher of awliya.

So he meets with the ordinary people, the carpenter, the garbage men, who collects garbage and lower himself to their level and at the same time he can meet with the president. And at the same time he can go with the lowest level of wilaya and the highest level of wilaya, he can mingle between the two because he has an overview and he is an insan al-Kamil, the perfect man. That is the `arifu billahi.

wali is different. Many awliya cannot mingle with the outward people. That is why you see today many people say “Sufis cannot mingle with the people, they must sit in the corner.” That is true because they are at the level that they cannot mingle with the people. But the `arifeena billah are at a higher level – like Sayyidina Ahmad al- Faruqi who could mingle with the lower people and with the highest rulers.

Many people say “Sufis cannot mingle with the people, they must sit in the corner.” That is true because they are at the level that they cannot mingle with the people.

Many were like that, such as Sayyidina Shah Naqshbandi and Sayyidina Abayazid al-Bistami.

That is why we can see Mawlana Shaykh Nazim can mingle with all types of people. He can meet with people from the highest-level people to the lowest level people. And he can with people from the lowest level of wilayato the highest level of wilaya. And he colors himself with the color of the station of the people. That is why you see people come to him for dunya issues also. For him it is not wasting time – he is accommodating them as he isal-`arif billahi.

From those who are wali but are not `arifeen, they see the Shaykh as wasting his time. They don’t know that the Shaykh is accommodating them. That is why we have a lot of criticism on the Internet, where the Shaykh is meeting with these high level people.

That is why the `arif billahi is able to go on both sides. The boat needs two oars, if only one it will move slowly, or like a plane with one wing – it cannot fly.

That is why the Sufi must still sit in the corner; he has only one wing. But the `arif billahi can go everywhere; he can open doors, as he can bring the two together and bridge them.

He said the `arif billahi doesn’t reject anyone, either Ahl al- dhaahir or Ahl al-baatin. He takes the Ahl al-dunya in by connecting them, by fulfilling their needs. They are happy so they become his students. Ahl al-baatin,whose focus is more no akhira,  they come to study.

There are many people who come to Mawlana Shaykh, the `arif billahi, they only want dunya. They believe in him and he makes them his students. They love him, respect him that is enough. That way he brings them to make their prayers.

The others who are making tazkiyyat an-nafs, the goes along with them, making them his students. That is the `arif, you see in his presence different groups. You will be amazed that one does not fit with that one. But he makes them to fit. The knower of Allah what Allah gives him makes the people happy with what he gives?

It is said that the wali al-kamal will evolve in every level. That is the real evolution, not the evolution from monkey to man, Darwin’s theory. That real evolution is the evolution in the way of the Gnostic. Moving higher and higher in level, bringing the inward and outward together. That is amazing. You see leadership coming, kings, presidents coming and on the other side sincere people, spiritual people. Not that the others are not sincere, but different levels.

That is what Allah called us to, when he sent Sayyidina Jibreel to ask the Prophet about religion and he said it consists of three aspects: Islam, iman and ihsan. And we categorized the states of people into copper, silver and gold, and then Shari`ah, haqiqat and ma`rifat. We then discussed Ahl adh-dhaahir, al-`arif billahi and maqam al-ihsan.

May Allah swt forgive us and give us the blessings of this night and with the presence of our Prophet (s) and our shuyukh – bi-hurmatil fatiha.

July 1, 2004, Masjid as-Siddiq, Burton, Michigan. Retrieved from

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