Shaykh Sufi Muhammad Abdullah Khan al Naqshabandi
During the 1950s and 1960s, the UK received a large migration of labour from the Indian sub-continent. There was an obligation for the many Muslims that arrived in Britain, to fulfil their religious and spiritual needs and to invite (dawah) the wider community to the message of Islam. As a means to address these needs, Hazrat Khwaja Zindapir Sahib, sent his first and most senior Khalifah (spiritual representative), Hazrat Sufi Muhammad Abdullah Khan to the UK in 1962.
Through the blessings of Allah, Most High and his Beloved Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, along with the spiritual blessings of Hazrat Khwaja Zindapir Sahib, Shaykh Sufi Abdullah established the largest centre of the Ghamkol Sharif branch of the Naqshabandi tariqah (sufi order) outside its headquarters in Kohat. In addition to which, there are now established many sub-centres in major towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom.
In 1996, under the guidance of Shaykh Sufi Abdullah, the largest mosque in Western Europe was completed, with a capacity to accommodate 5000 worshippers at any one time. Today, the mosque community firmly established at Poet’s Corner, Small Heath, Birmingham, remains a true testament of Shaykh Sufi Abdullah’s commitment, devotion and love for his Sufi Master in the mission he was assigned.
Sufi Abdullah was born in 1923 in the village of Behkri, district Chakwal, Pakistan. Upon completing his formal schooling, Sufi Abdullah entered the army in 1940. He served in the British Army during World War II, but was captured by the Germans and held as a prisoner of war for a number of years. After the war, Sufi Abdullah returned to Pakistan. He was very keen on reciting Naat Sharif, poetry praising Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, at religious gatherings held at the Unit mosque within the barracks. This is where he met Hazrat Khwaja Zindapir Sahib in 1945, whilst stationed in Abbottabad.
Sufi Abdullah took bay’at (vow of allegiance) a year later in 1946, at the hand of Hazrat Khwaja Zindapir Sahib. He became a disciple and continued to serve his shaykh whilst they were both in the army. When Zindapir Sahib returned from Hajj in 1952, and embarked upon his Hijrat to Kohat, Sufi Abdullah accompanied his shaykh on that historic journey. Sufi Abdullah spent much time at the Darbar during its early founding years and would regularly spend his entire leave from the army at Ghamkol Sharif. Sufi Abdullah naturally became a very close companion of Zindapir Sahib. Sufi Abdullah continued visiting the Darbar and serving his shaykh throughout the next 10 years.
Sufi Abdullah left the army in 1962, when it was decided by Zindapir Sahib to send him to the United Kingdom. Sufi Abdullah became overcome with self-doubt in how he would manage such an awesome task. Zindapir Sahib reassured him and stated that “Allah Almighty is with you”. Upon Sufi Abdullah’s departure for the UK, Zindapir Sahib conferred upon him the Khilafah (spiritual representation) of the Tariqah and gave him the following words of wisdom in 1962:
- To stay firm on the “aqeedah al tawheed” (belief in the oneness and supreme being of Allah Almighty).
- To always have at the forefront of your mind the “rahza” (pleasure) of Allah and His Beloved Prophet, peace be upon him, before embarking upon any task.
- To use your “il’m (knowledge) & aq’l” (intellect/sense) for the “rahza” (pleasure) of Allah Almighty as this results in attaining the “shaf’qat” (love, affection) of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him.
- Do not undertake any task for your personal “iz’at” (honour) or that which leads to “be-iz’zatee” (dishonour/disgrace)
Once in Britain, Sufi Abdullah proceeded to Birmingham where he knew a few people with whom he had arranged to stay. He soon found employment and began on the mission his shaykh had assigned for him.
Shaykh Sufi Abdullah in the 1970’s
Sufi Abdullah discovered that most Muslims were not even aware of the direction of the Qibla (Mecca) in order to establish prayer. No Jumah (congregational) services were held on Friday, and the month of Ramadan passed by without people even being aware of its passing.
Soon, through the blessings of Allah Almighty, His Beloved Prophet, peace be upon him, and the spiritual blessings of his shaykh, Sufi Abdullah began to reach out and touch the hearts of those he encountered. A weekly zikr (meditation) circle, Jumah services, and monthly Giyarvee Sharif, were initiated. Sufi Abdullah acquired his own accommodation, a house in Durham Road, Sparkhill, and this became the venue for the tariqah’s gatherings. The tariqah began to gather momentum and the following increased to such a level that more space was needed. Sufi Abdullah went on his first Hajj in 1970 which was, by the blessings of Allah, the first of 27 he completed. Zindapir Sahib also attended that year, their first meeting since 1962.
In 1973 the Birmingham Central Mosque was built, from which time this venue was used for the tariqah’s annual events, the Milad Sharif (celebration marking the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) and Urs Sharif (anniversary marking the passing of the founding Saint of Mohra Sharif). During 1973 the jaloos (procession) was introduced. This was the first Muslim jaloos in the history of the UK and it was led by Sufi Abdullah, despite being advised by members within the Muslim community that this practice may give rise to agitation against the marchers and subject them to physical and verbal abuse. However, Sufi Abdullah was not dissuaded and al hamdul Allah (God be praised) until this day there is not been a single incident since 1973. The jaloos involved marching through the streets of Birmingham reciting the zikr “la ilaha il Allah” (there is no deity besides God) an open and public declaration of faith. The jaloos became an integral part of the annual Milad and Urs Sharif celebrations.
Shaykh Sufi Abdullah leading the Jaloos during the early and late 1970’s
The tariqah was expanding rapidly with a number of new followers. Sufi Abdullah moved residences from Durham Road to Warwick Road, Sparkhill in 1975. The new premises were much larger and the ground floor reception rooms were converted into a mosque. This was to provide some relief to the need for space, but a similar pattern was developing and soon housing the increasing number of followers was again proving a challenge within a few years.
In 1983, Darul-Uloom Islamia Rizvia was established on Golden Hillock Road, Small Heath. A disused factory hall with four adjacent houses was purchased. The factory hall was converted into a mosque and was able to accommodate approximately 600-700 worshippers. During the mid 1980s, a number of projects aimed at the local community were launched in conjunction with Birmingham City Council. A purpose built community centre and an employment resource centre were established on the site. At this time a boarding facility for students from outside Birmingham, who were wishing to compliment their academic schooling with religious studies, in particular Hifz (memorising by heart) of the Holy Quran, was established.
At this time, with the expansion of activities on the site, there was a need to find car parking facilities for the newly constructed community centre. There was vacant land opposite the Dar-ul-Uloom Islamia Rizvia, which was occupied with 35 derelict houses. The management committee enquired to its status from Birmingham City Council and the Council responded by stating that if the land was purchased for the purpose of building a mosque then the Council would sell it at a third of its actual asking price. Sufi Abdullah requested that they be given a week to make a decision, and within the week the Council were taken up on their offer. On the 15th March 1992, during the holy month of Ramadan, work commenced on the construction of the Central Jamia Masjid Ghamkol Sharif, and the construction of the 3 storey mosque was completed in 1996.
Shaykh Sufi Abdullah participating in the construction of the masjid
with his Khalifas, Haji Mirza Talib and Haji Fazal Elahi.
The mosque represented a perfect and true testament of Sufi Abdullah’s commitment, devotion and love for his shaykh in fulfilling the task he was assigned. In parallel with the construction of the new mosque, the tariqah has established an impressive portfolio of projects within the community, a day care centre, printing press, Ghamkol Sharif Academy (in conjunction with City College), Right Start Foundation, Sure Start, Ghamkol Sharif House (sheltered accommodation for those with mental illnesses) and a Funeral Service.
Shaykh Sufi Muhammad Abdullah Khan al Naqshabandi has very successfully established the tariqah in the United Kingdom. He has devoted and committed his life in the service of Islam through his shaykh. Sufi Abdullah provides the perfect example of how a mureed (disciple) should relate with his shaykh, possessing and displaying the utmost respect, love, devotion and obedience towards Hazrat Khwaja Zindapir Sahib. Shaykh Sufi Abdullah stated, “my Hazrat Sahib is the true master of my every happiness and sorrow since taking bay’at in 1946”.
Shaykh Sufi Abdullah during the annual Urs celebration in Birmingham 2008
May Allah Almighty for the sake of his Beloved Prophet, peace be upon him, and Hazrat Khwaja Zindapir Sahib raise the maqam (spiritual station) of our Shaykh Sufi Muhammad Abdullah Khan al Naqshabandi and grant him a Heavenly abode well deserved after a life of service to his family, mureeds (students), Islam, the communities of Kohat, Pakistan and Birmingham, United Kingdom, and for his efforts towards opening and cultivating Divine Love in the hearts of everyone in our Human Family. Grant us the strength to follow his blessed example, to serve Allah Almighty and His Beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Ameen.
Edited and updated by Paul Salahuddin Armstrong, from the biography published online at ghamkolsharif.org
I have received news of the passing of my Murshid (Spiritual Guide) from this realm of existence to the next… Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon (Surely, to Allah we belong and to Him we shall return).
May Allah grant our murshid Shaykh Sufi Muhammad Abdullah Khan al-Naqshabandi a blessed journey to the highest stations of Jannah, in the blessed company, and sheltered under the cloak of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, to a Heavenly abode well deserved after a life of service to his family, his mureeds (students), Islam and Muslims in general, the communities of Kohat, Pakistan and Birmingham, United Kingdom, and for his efforts towards opening and cultivating Divine Love in the hearts of everyone in our Human Family.
Please pray (dua) for Sufi Abdullah’s family, friends and the Central Jamia Masjid Ghamkol Sharif he founded in Birmingham, that Allah al Kareem’s Divine Love, Light and Heavenly Guidance continues to flow through, support and bless these channels until the End of Time. Al Fatihah.
Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
Co-Director, The Association of British Muslims
This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets, and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being. And if the fixed Stars are the centers of other like systems, these, being form’d by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed Stars is of the same nature with the light of the Sun, and from every system light passes into all the other systems. And lest the systems of the fixed Stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those Systems at immense distances from one another.
This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator, or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually a  signifies Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God. And from his true dominion it follows that the true God is a Living, Intelligent, and Powerful Being; and, from his other perfections, that he is Supreme or most Perfect. He is Eternal and Infinite, Omnipotent and Omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from Eternity to Eternity; his presence from Infinity to Infinity; he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. He is not Eternity and Infinity, but Eternal and Infinite; he is not Duration and Space, but he endures and is present. He endures forever, and is every where present; and, by existing always and every where, he constitutes Duration and Space. Since every particle of Space is always, and every indivisible moment of Duration is every where, certainly the Maker and Lord of all things cannot be never and no where. Every soul that has perception is, though in different times and in different organs of sense and motion, still the same indivisible person. There are given successive parts in duration, co-existent parts in space, but neither the one nor the other in the person of a man, or his thinking principle; and much less can they be found in the thinking substance of God. Every man, so far as he is a thing that has perception, is one and the same man during his whole life, in all and each of his organs of sense. God is the same God, always and everywhere. He is omnipresent, not virtually only, but also substantially; for virtue cannot subsist without substance. In him b  are all things contained and moved; yet neither affects the other: God suffers nothing from the motion of bodies; bodies find no resistance from the omnipresence of God. ‘Tis allowed by all that the supreme God exists necessarily; and by the same necessity he exists always and every where. Whence also he is all similar, all eye, all ear, all brain, all arm, all power to perceive, to understand, and to act; but in a manner not at all human, in a manner not at all corporeal, in a manner utterly unknown to us. As a blind man has no idea of colours, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things. He is utterly void of all body and bodily figure, and can therefore neither be seen, nor heard, not touched; nor ought he to be worshipped under the representation of any corporeal thing. We have ideas of his attributes, but what the real substance of anything is we know not. In bodies, we see only their figures and colours, we hear only the sounds, we touch only their outward surfaces, we smell only the smells, and taste the savours; but their inward substances are not to be known, either by our senses, or by any reflex act of our minds; much less then have we any idea of the substance of God. We know him only by his most wise and excellent contrivances of things, and final causes; we admire him for his perfections; but we reverence and adore him on account of his dominion. For we adore him as his servants; and a God without dominion, providence, and final causes, is nothing else but Fate and Nature. Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and every where, could produce no variety of things. All that diversity of natural things which we find, suited to different times and places, could arise from nothing but the ideas and will of a Being necessarily existing. But, by way of allegory, God is said to see, to speak, to laugh, to love, to hate, to desire, to give, to receive, to rejoice, to be angry, to fight, to frame, to work, to build. For all our notions of God are taken from the ways of mankind, by a certain similitude which, though not perfect, has some likeness, however. And thus much concerning God; to discourse of whom from the appearances of things, does certainly belong to Natural Philosophy. 
Hitherto we have explain’d the phaenomena of the heavens and of our sea, by the power of Gravity, but have not yet assign’d the cause of this power. This is certain, that it must proceed from a cause that penetrates to the very centers of the Sun and Planets, without suffering the least diminution of its force; that operates, not according to the quantity of surfaces of the particles upon which it acts, (as mechanical causes use to do,) but according to the quantity of the solid matter which they contain, and propagates its virtue on all sides, to immense distances, decreasing always in the duplicate proportion of the distances. Gravitation towards the Sun, is made up out of the gravitations towards the several particles of which the body of the Sun is compos’d; and in receding from the Sun, decreases accurately in the duplicate proportion of the distances, as far as the orb of Saturn, as evidently appears from the quiescence of the aphelions of the Planets; nay, and even to the remotest aphelions of the Comets, if those aphelions are also quiescent. But hitherto I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phaenomena, and I frame no hypotheses. For whatever is not deduc’d from the phaenomena, is to be called an hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. In this philosophy particular propositions are inferr’d from the phaenomena, and afterwards render’d general by induction. Thus it was that the impenetrability, the mobility, and the impulsive force of bodies, and the laws of motion and of gravitation, were discovered. And to us it is enough, that gravity does really exist, and act according to the laws which we have explained, and abundantly serves to account for all the motions of the celestial bodies, and of our sea.
And now we might add something concerning a certain most subtle Spirit, which pervades and lies hid in all gross bodies; by the force and action of which Spirit, the particles of bodies mutually attract one another at near distances, and cohere, if contiguous; and electric bodies operate to greater distances, as well repelling as attracting the neighbouring corpuscles; and light is emitted, reflected, refracted, inflected, and heats bodies; and all sensation is excited, and the members of animal bodies move at the command of the will, namely, by the vibrations of this Spirit, mutually propagated along the solid filaments of the nerves, from the outward organs of sense to the brain, and from the brain into the muscles. But these are things that cannot be explain’d in few words, nor are we furnish’d with that sufficiency of experiments which is required to an accurate determination and demonstration of the laws by which this electric and elastic spirit operates.
~ Extract from the General Scholium to Isaac Newton’s Principia mathematica
There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.
FATWA (RULING) ON FASTING IN RAMADAN IN THE UNITED KINGDOM DURING SUMMER
1. A number of people have asked me since last year about the excessive length of fasting during UK summer months.
2. This has included those new to the practice of fasting, elderly and middle-aged people, who wish to fast but simply cannot manage the very long days. Since last year, I’ve heard reports of such people in hospital, as well as of children falling seriously ill, due to fasting more than 18 hours per day.
3. The day length in London this year during Ramadan is almost 17 hours *sunrise-sunset*. Since there is no agreed beginning of dawn, the dawn-sunset timings vary from 19 to 20.5 hours.
4. The timings increase as we go further north, especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
a) E.g. I visited Dublin in June 2000: sunset prayers at the Dublin Islamic Centre (Clonskeagh Mosque) were held at 10.30pm, followed by night prayers at 12am and dawn prayers at 2am. Assuming dawn at 1am, this gives a 21.5-hour dawn-sunset fast.
b) On the other hand, I visited Stockholm in December 1999: sunrise was at 10.30am and sunset at 3.30pm. In winter there, the dawn-sunset fast is barely 6-7 hours, whereas it is 9-10 hours in the southern UK.
5. To reduce the fasting length, note that some of the Sahaba (Prophet’s Companions), including Hudhayfa bin al-Yaman, and Successors ate until sunrise or just before. Tabari and Ibn Kathir mention numerous narrations proving this under Qur’an 2:187, although both of them reject the practice based on a literalist reading of the verse (they lived in moderate climes). Ibn Hazm also approves the practice in his Al-Muhalla.
6. The jurists have discussed this matter for high latitudes. As Sheikh Muhammad Abduh, Grand Mufti of Egypt, mentions in Tafsir al-Manar, classically they mentioned two possibilities to follow more moderate timings:
a) follow timings of the lands of revelation, viz. Mecca and Medina (Hijaz) – throughout the year, the dawn-sunset fast here is 12-15 hours
b) follow timings of the nearest “moderate land”
Abduh adds, “Both of these are valid, since it is a matter of judgment (ijtihad), and there is no unequivocal text (nass) about it.”
7. Note that following timings of the nearest “moderate land” is similar to following timings of the nearest “moderate time” in your own land, e.g. spring or autumn timings, when the days and nights are approximately of equal length.
8. Abduh is not alone in the above fatwa: he is quoting from centuries of earlier jurists. After him, his fatwa has been echoed by Muhammad Hamidullah, Mustafa Zarqa, Sayyid Tantawi, Jad al-Haqq, and Ali Gomaa amongst others. Texts and discussions of these fatwas may be found on the internet, e.g. see: http://alrukn.com/long-fasts-fiqh/
9. The above fatwa implies partially decoupling fasting from dawn/sunset.
10. The spirit of fasting is clearly “from morning until evening” and to focus on its inner aspects, without hair-splitting about external matters.
11. The famous Qur’anic passage about fasting 2:183-7 begins and ends with taqwa (God-consciousness), and includes the memorable wisdom, “God wishes ease for you, not hardship … that you complete the course, magnify God for guiding you, and that you give thanks.”
This verse is in fact the basis of the numerous hadiths about making matters in religion relatively easy and not difficult, of the classical Hanafi principle of istihsan (attaining goodness, even if opposed to analogical reasoning) along with 39:17-18, cf. the first page of Kitab al-Istihsan in Al-Mabsut of al-Sarakhsi, and of contemporary jurists’ emphasis on taysir (easing matters), part of the Prophetic spirit and one of the principles of jurisprudence.
12. In exceptional circumstances, the Prophet (peace be upon him) understood that “morning” and “evening” were relative to people’s habits and culture.
Hadith: Safwan bin Mu’attal, who as a virgin was caught up with Aisha, Mother of the Believers, in the scandalous rumours that rocked Medina after the Mustaliq expedition, eventually got married. His wife once came to the Prophet and complained about her husband on three counts. (The Prophet defended and made excuses for him regarding all three matters.) One of these was that “he does not get up for the dawn prayer, and only offers it after sunrise when he rises.” When the Prophet asked him about this, he replied that his people or tribe customarily rose after sunrise, and not at the crack of dawn. The Prophet’s wise answer was, “In that case, pray when you wake up.” (Fa idha-stayqazta fa salli, a sound hadith in the Sunan, rated as authentic by Albani in his evaluation of the hadiths of Mishkat al-Masabih.)
Thus, for example, those who work night-shifts, working throughout the night and sleeping during the day, should fast during the night. This is because night has become day for them and vice-versa. The Qur’an that encourages fasting during the day also states that night is for sleep whilst the day is for work (e.g. 78:9-11).
13. An Azhari sheikh recently suggested to me that 12 hours’ fasting was sufficient, based on the average length of a day over a whole year: this is true of the sunrise-sunset day, for every place on earth. If we use dawn-sunset instead, we get 13-14 hours’ fasting. Note that this approach implies keeping a similar-length fast irrespective of the season in which Ramadan falls: in the winter, fasting would be much longer than the dawn-sunset timing, and some of us do follow that approach. This has an element of “continuous fasting” (sawm al-wisal, where fasting continues by night) about it: the Prophet practiced this regularly for several days at a time, but disallowed it for his followers, unless they were sure they could manage it.
14. I am reliably informed that Muslims in Norway use a 14-hour fasting timetable in the summer.
15. A case may be made for 16-hour fasts, based on Imam Ghazzali’s view that the maximum a person should sleep at night is a third of the day and night, i.e. 8 hours.
16. Insisting that those unable to complete long fasts should make them up at another time is practically equivalent to moving Ramadan out of the summer and into the seasons of autumn, winter or spring.
CONCLUSION / FATWA
All Praise belongs to God. Peace and Blessings be upon the Messengers of God.
1. Those who wish to follow dawn-sunset timings of 18-21 hour fasts and can do so safely, are free to do so.
2. Those who find this genuinely unbearable, or are convinced of the non-literalist approach of “morning to evening” rather than the literalist “dawn to sunset”, may wish to fast for 12 or preferably 14-16 hours, beginning from dawn, sunrise or even their usual morning meal (breakfast!). Such moderate timings are based on the fatwas of jurists over many centuries for high latitudes.
3. Whatever length a person fasts, they should not feel superior to others. The spirit of Ramadan and fasting includes God-consciousness, patience, perseverance, gratitude, prayer, worship, charity, generosity, humility, self-purification, self-development, helping others, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, lowering the gaze (of the eyes from lustful glances and of the heart from other than God) and the remembrance and love of God.
May Allah, the One and Unique having Infinite Beautiful Names, bless all of humanity during this month, and shower upon us its internal and external grace.
Sheikh Dr. Usama Hasan (London, UK)
1st Ramadan 1435 / 29th June 2014 (updated: 4th Ramadan / 2ndJuly)