The practice of rābiṭa is one of the essential methods of spiritual advancement in the Naqshbandī Order. Rābiṭa translates to spiritual linkage, connection or bonding with the spiritual guide, the shaykh or the Sufi master, from whom one learns the Naqshbandī ṭarīqah (methodology).
Here I will strive to collect the teachings and statements of the Masters of Wisdom (Khwājagān) of the Naqshbandī Order regarding this basic method of the Order.
Rābiṭa is a generic term and the actual practice may come in various methods. Shaykh GF Haddad writes: “Rābiṭa is defined as tying one’s heart to the accomplished murshid and, in the process, keeping his image in one’s imagination, even in his absence, which is called tasawwur.” It can also be involuntary in the form of strong attraction towards the shaykh during his presence or absence.
Khwāja ʻAbdullāh Iṣfahānī was one of the disciples of Khwāja ʻAlā ad-Dīn ʻAṭṭār quddisa sirruh. He wrote a treatise on the Naqshbandī Order, in which he writes about the practice of rābiṭa in following words:
The principle rule of this Order [ṭarīqah] is the following: From whichever perfect guide the seeker receives initiation, he must preserve the guide’s image in the treasury of his heart, until the time when he begins to demonstrate how his heart has been affected by the warmth and quality of that connection. As for what is necessary after that, it is not to abandon that same image, but to embrace it much more tightly than ever. The seeker must rivet that image to his heart, with his eyes, his ears and all his faculties.
[Quoted in Rashaḥāt ʻAin al-Ḥayāt, English translation by Muhtar Holland, 2001, page 118]
Following is letter 187, from the first volume of Maktūbāt Imām Rabbānī Mujaddid Alf-i Thānī Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī quddisa sirruh. It was sent to Khwāja Muḥammad Ashraf Kābulī, describing that the method of connection (rābiṭa) is the nearest in the methods of achieving the real goal, and describing that rābiṭa is more benefiting to a disciple than Dhikr (remembrance of God).
“The writing (letter) that you had written to the friends, passed before the eyes and made (me) informed about the mentioned affairs. Be it known that the disciple’s attaining connection (ḥuṣūl-i rābiṭa) with the shaykh, free from affectation and pretence, betokens perfect harmony between the shaykh and the disciple, and is a means towards imparting and receiving benefit. And none of the ways is nearer than the way of connection in attaining Arrival to Allāh [Wuṣūl Ila-llāh]. Let us see who is the fortunate one [they] bless with this honor. Ḥaḍrat Khwāja Aḥrār quddisa-sirruh writes in Fiqarāt:
سايه رهبر به است از ذکر حق
“The shade of the Guide (Sufi master) is better than the remembrance of God.”
Calling it “better” is with regards to the gains that accrue, as the shadow of the guide is more benefiting than the disciple’s [own work of] remembrance. And this is so because the disciple has not yet attained perfect harmony with the Remembered (the God) to benefit fully through remembrance. And the peace [be there] first and last.”
[Letter 187, volume I, Maktūbāt Imām Rabbānī, adapted from the English translation by Sheykh Muhammad Wajihuddin]
The Great Mujaddid Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī has emphasized the method of rābiṭa in the letter 30 of volume 2 of the Maktūbāt, which is addressed to Khwāja Muḥammad Ashraf and Ḥājī Muḥammad Firkatī.
In the name of Allāh, the most merciful and the most compassionate. All praise is for Allāh, and peace be upon His favored people. The letter sent by the two noble brothers was received, and the states described therein were understood.
Khwāja Muḥammad Ashraf had written about the connection of rābiṭa, that it has so overwhelmed him that he even imagines and considers himself prostrating towards him [the shaykh] during the prayer. And if he wants to dismiss this state, he is unable to do so.
O possessor of the signature of love! The seekers of the Exalted Lord wish for this treasure, but only one in thousands acquires it. A person with this state has talent and perfect rapport. It may be that such a person may absorb all the perfections of his master in only a short duration.
And why should the rābiṭa be dismissed? He (the master) is the direction of prostration, not the object of prostration. Why don’t you deny the miḥrābs and the mosques? (as they lie between the Kaʻbah and the worshiper). Only the blissful are blessed with such a treasure, so that they may consider the one bonded with (ṣāḥib-i rābiṭa, i.e., the master/shaykh) their intermediary [wasīlah], and may remain mindful of him at all times. Unlike those wretched people who consider themselves independent (of the master) and move away their center of attention from their shaykh and spoil their state of affairs.
The great Sufi master and scholar Shāh Aḥmad Saʻīd Mujaddidī Naqshbandī quddisa-sirrahū wrote a treatise on the topic of rābiṭa titled Al-Fawāʼid aḍ-Ḍābiṭah Fī Athbāt ar-Rābiṭah.
- Maktūbāt Imām Rabbānī, English translation
- Maktūbāt Imām Rabbānī, Urdu translation by Sayyid Zawwār Ḥusain Shāh
- Rashaḥāt ʻAin al-Ḥayāt, English translation by Muhtar Holland, 2001
- Tawajjuh, Tasawwur, Suhba, Rabita, by Shaykh GF Haddad