Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanwi (Rahimahullah) says:
“What! Has anyone attained perfection by only books? It is simple to understand that one cannot become a carpenter without sitting in the company of a carpenter; one cannot become a tailor without the companionship of a tailor; one cannot become a calligraphist without the company of a calligrapher. In short, one cannot attain perfection or become an expert without the companionship of an expert.”
Every traveller travelling the unknown needs a guide who is familiar with the terrain and is aware of its pitfalls. There is safety in having a guide who knows the path well.
Similarly on the path of Sulook (the path to purification) the Saalik (seeker) is in need of guide who is aware of the pitfalls as he himself has traversed the path under the guidance of another qualified guide.
This guide is a Shaykh-e-kaamil and the company of the Shaykh is the means of attaining proximity to Allah Most High as this is the ultimate goal.
Following are some advices on how to recognise a qualified Shaykh.
Maulana Jalaluddeen Rumi (Rahimahullah) had said:
“Develop contact with a righteous one
So that through his company and Du`aa you may succeed,
But search for a guide who is awake in all situations
So that you too may become awake.
And if you should remain in the company of the vanquished,
You too will become vanquished.”
There are many who make the claim of being mashaa`ik but are themselves caught up in the snares of nafs and shaytaan. They have not even recognized their own nafs, have no experience in the field of Islaah and Tazkia, and instead of guiding, they misguide. They then become a trial for the people.
The true Mashaa`ik don’t promote and advertise themselves, nor do they canvass for mureedeen. They don’t chase after name and fame. They don’t hanker after Dunya. They wish to remain concealed, but Allah Ta’ala sometimes chooses for them to be known.
Thus, when choosing a Shaykh, consider the Shaykh who is learned, practical on his knowledge, pious, trained and experienced in the field of Islaah and Tazkia, and acknowledged by the Ulama-e-Haq as one who is truly Sahib-e-Nisbat and Waliullah. It is through attaching oneself to such a Shaykh that the Saalik will acquire value.”
Above taken from: The One Cent Coin by Shaykh Yunus Patel (Raheemahullaah)
Maulana Maseehullah Khan (Rahimahullah) says in Shariat & Tasawwuf:
The signs of a Shaykh-e-kaamil (Qualified Shaykh)
“A Shaykh is one who has full knowledge and experience of spiritual ailments (amradh-e-batinah), attributes of vice and virtue (akhlaq-e-razeelah and akhlaq-e-hameedah), their characteristics (khawas) and their effects (ta’theerat).
He should further be able to distinguish between their similarities and he must have perfect ability in devising plans and prescriptions for the acquisition of the attributes of virtue and the elimination of the attributes of vice.
He has to be aware of the progress and retrogress of these attributes. He must be well versed in the hazards of the nafs and shaitaan, the intuitive senses and feelings pertaining to the angels and the Divine Being. He must be able to distinguish these various intuitive and extra-sensory feelings and perceptions.
It is therefore imperative that the Shaykh of tareeqat be one who is qualified in this knowledge, be a mujtahid in this field and possesses natural ability and inherent propensity. if he has acquired the Tareeq by a mere self-study of books on Tasawwuf or by listening from others, he will destroy the mureed whom he is attending, because he will not be in position to correctly diagnose the various states of the mureed.”
Imam Ghazali’s Observation
“Imam Ghazali (Rahimahullah) observes that the lofty status of the Shaikh is not on account of worldly affluence. His status is the product of intelligence, understanding and expertise in the ways of Najaat. It is for this reason that many men who became Mashaa-ik, were not of noble lineage, but were poor members of such working classes which people despised. Many such men of lowly social rank attained the ranks of honourable Mashaa-ik. Regardless of appearance, race or social rank, a Shaikh should be a man who follows the Road of Haqq and be aware of the pitfalls and dangers of the spiritual path, so that he may keep his Mureedeen informed of its benefits and harms.
The standard of Tariqat is the Qur-aan, Sunnah and Ijma (Consensus) of the Ummah. A path which conforms to this Standard is accepted. If it does not, it will be rejected and shunned.
The Suhbat of such a Shaykh (Shayk-e-Kaamil) is of immense value. It is a wonderful bounty. In the worlds of Rasoolullah Sallallaahu alaehi wa-sallam, the companionship of a pious companion is like a perfume vendor. Even if he does not give any perfume, nevertheless, one will derive the benefit of his fragrance by virtue of associating with him. In contrast, the similitude of an irreligious companion is like that of a blacksmith. Even if the fire of his furnace does not reach one’s body or clothes, the smoke will most assuredly cause discomfort.
It is incumbent on one who intends to become a Mureed to search thoroughly for a Kaamil (qualified) Shaykh. He should scrutinize the person whom he intends to appoint as his Shaykh so that he may ascertain whether the person is the right man for acceptance as a Shaykh.”
Selected passages from “Irshaadul Mulook”, translation of Imdadus Sulook by Qutbul Alam Gangohi (Rahimahullah), by Hazrat Moulana Aashiq-e-Ilaahi Meeruti (Rahimahullah).