بِسۡمِ اللّٰہِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِیۡمِ
والصلاة والسلام على خاتم الانبياء وامام المرسلين
سبحان الله وبحمده سبحان الله العظيم
Nearly a year ago I put forward the āyah:
مَا نَنۡسَخۡ مِنۡ اٰیَۃٍ اَوۡ نُنۡسِہَا نَاۡتِ بِخَیۡرٍ مِّنۡہَاۤ اَوۡ مِثۡلِہَا
Whatever Sign We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring one better than that or the like thereof
as a proof for the placement of a substitution to the institution of Prophesy for this Ummah which is its similitude. Among the Sūfis, there is the classification of the ranks of wilāyah (sainthood), including a rank known as that of the Badal (pl. Abdāl). Badal literally means substitute, and it refers to both the fact that this silsilah of Abdāl is a substitution for Prophesy that formally ended after the Prophet Muhammad sall Allāhu alaihi wasallam, and the idea that every time one such Badal passes away he is immediately succeeded to that rank by another Badal.
Some Muslims, especially the so-called ahl al-Hadīth, Salafis and modernists, deny the existence of this silsilah. Salafis claim the Ahādīth concerning the Abdāl are all either weak or fabricated reports, and that this is something that was invented by the astray Sūfis having no real foundation in Islām. However, while not without some criticism or weakness from the point of view of the Hadīth sciences, there are some narrations attributed to the Prophet sall Allāhu alaihi wasallam which speak of the Abdāl, for example:
ذُكِرَ أَهْلُ الشَّامِ عِنْدَ عَلِيِّ بْنِ أَبِي طَالِبٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ وَهُوَ بِالْعِرَاقِ فَقَالُوا الْعَنْهُمْ يَا أَمِيرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ قَالَ لَا إِنِّي سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُولُ الْأَبْدَالُ يَكُونُونَ بِالشَّامِ وَهُمْ أَرْبَعُونَ رَجُلًا كُلَّمَا مَاتَ رَجُلٌ أَبْدَلَ اللَّهُ مَكَانَهُ رَجُلًا يُسْقَى بِهِمْ الْغَيْثُ وَيُنْتَصَرُ بِهِمْ عَلَى الْأَعْدَاءِ وَيُصْرَفُ عَنْ أَهْلِ الشَّامِ بِهِمْ الْعَذَابُ
The people of Shām were mentioned in the presence of Ali bin Abi Tālib radi Allāhu anhu when he was in Irāq. They said: Curse them, O Amīr al-Mu’minīn. He said: No, I heard the Messenger of Allāh sall Allāhu alaihi wasallam say: “The Abdāl will be in Shām, and they will be forty men. Every time one of them dies, Allāh will replace him with another man. By virtue of them rain is sent and through them victory is achieved against the enemy and punishment is warded off from the people of Shām” (Musnad Ahmad #896)
However, this Hadīth is considered weak because of inqitā’ah (interruption) as the narrator Shuraih bin Ubaid al-Hadrami al-Himsi didn’t meet sayyidinā Ali bin Abi Tālib karam Allāhu wajhahu.
There is another Hadīth in which the Abdāl of Shām are mentioned:
يَكُونُ اخْتِلاَفٌ عِنْدَ مَوْتِ خَلِيفَةٍ فَيَخْرُجُ رَجُلٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْمَدِينَةِ هَارِبًا إِلَى مَكَّةَ فَيَأْتِيهِ نَاسٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ مَكَّةَ فَيُخْرِجُونَهُ وَهُوَ كَارِهٌ فَيُبَايِعُونَهُ بَيْنَ الرُّكْنِ وَالْمَقَامِ وَيُبْعَثُ إِلَيْهِ بَعْثٌ مِنَ الشَّامِ فَيُخْسَفُ بِهِمْ بِالْبَيْدَاءِ بَيْنَ مَكَّةَ وَالْمَدِينَةِ فَإِذَا رَأَى النَّاسُ ذَلِكَ أَتَاهُ أَبْدَالُ الشَّامِ وَعَصَائِبُ أَهْلِ الْعِرَاقِ فَيُبَايِعُونَهُ بَيْنَ الرُّكْنِ وَالْمَقَامِ
Disagreement will occur at the death of a caliph and a man of the people of Medina will come flying forth to Mecca. Some of the people of Mecca will come to him, bring him out against his will and swear allegiance to him between the Corner and the Maqām. An expeditionary force will then be sent against him from Shām but will be swallowed up in the desert between Mecca and Medina. When the people see that, the Abdāl of Shām and the Asā’ib of the people of Irāq will come to him and swear allegiance to him between the Corner and the Maqām (Sunan Abi Dāwud #4286)
This Hadīth is likewise considered weak because of the anonymity of the narrator who is narrating from umm al-Mu’minīn Ummi Salamah radi Allāhu anhā.
Nevertheless, it is evident there is some basis to the idea of the Abdāl, particularly as forty extremely pious saints located in the country of Shām, from our Sunni Hadīth. I do not believe this is a Sūfi fabrication that somehow entered into the Hadīth literature.
The country of Shām is not restricted to being modern-day Syria with its capital in Damascus, but also includes the territory which compose modern-day State of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and even a region in southern Turkey. Apparently in this vast and blessed territory there exist, perpetually, forty extremely pious and saintly men who are known as the Abdāl, as they are a substitute for the discontinuation of Prophets for this Ummah, and when any one of them passes away he is immediately replaced by another Badal. On account of them Allāh Ilāh al-ālihah Holy and Exalted is He sends down rain, victory is achieved against the enemy of the Muslims and punishment is averted from the people of Shām.
However, it can be said that certainly at present this is no longer the case, i.e. the Muslims are no longer divinely aided or granted victory against their enemies, and the people of Shām are being subjected to divine punishment. Hence the Prophet sall Allāhu alaihi wasallam said:
إِذَا فَسَدَ أَهْلُ الشَّامِ فَلاَ خَيْرَ فِيكُمْ
When the people of Shām are corrupted there is no more good in you (Jāmi at-Tirmidhi #2192)
Perhaps we can conclude that presently there are no longer forty Abdāl in all of Shām, or that the corruption of the general population of Muslims in that country is such that not even the existence of these forty eminent saints is sufficient to ward off divine punishment from them. Or else we can understand that the people of Shām are not being punished but merely tested as a means of elevating their Faith and a process of purification of the nation.
I previously quoted the eminent saint for us Sunni Muslims, namely, shaikh Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlāni radi Allāhu anhu:
نبوت کی ظاہری صورت اٹھ گئی ہے مگر معنا قیامت تک کے لیے باقی ہے۔ ورنہ زمین پر چالیس ابدال کیوں رہتے
"The outward form of Prophesy has been taken away, but for all intents and purposes it remains till the Day of Resurrection. Otherwise why do forty Abdāl reside in the Earth?"
This statement makes plain that the meaning of Abdāl is men who are substitutes for Prophets, for though technically they aren’t Prophets they are imbibed with prophetic characteristics.
The ideal that the meaning of Abdāl is men who are substitutes for the Prophets has also been verified by shaikh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyah:
وَأَمَّا أَهْلُ الْعِلْمِ فَكَانُوا يَقُولُونَ هُمْ الْأَبْدَالُ لِأَنَّهُمْ أَبْدَالُ الْأَنْبِيَاءِ وَقَائِمُونَ مَقَامَهُمْ حَقِيقَةً لَيْسُوا مِنْ الْمُعْدَمِينَ الَّذِينَ لَا يُعْرَفُ لَهُمْ حَقِيقَةُ كُلٍّ مِنْهُمْ يَقُومُ مَقَامَ الْأَنْبِيَاءِ فِي الْقَدْرِ الَّذِي نَابَ عَنْهُمْ فِيهِ هَذَا فِي الْعِلْمِ وَالْمَقَالِ وَهَذَا فِي الْعِبَادَةِ وَالْحَالِ وَهَذَا فِي الْأَمْرَيْنِ جَمِيعًا وَكَانُوا يَقُولُونَ هُمْ الطَّائِفَةُ الْمَنْصُورَةُ إلَى قِيَامِ السَّاعَةِ الظَّاهِرُونَ عَلَى الْحَقِّ لِأَنَّ الْهُدَى وَدِينَ الْحَقِّ الَّذِي بَعَثَ اللَّهُ بِهِ رُسُلَهُ مَعَهُمْ وَهُوَ الَّذِي وَعَدَ اللَّهُ بِظُهُورِهِ عَلَى الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ وَكَفَى بِاَللَّهِ شَهِيدًا
As for the scholars, they used to say that they were the abdāl, because they were the substitutes of the Prophets, and they took their place in a real sense. They were not people who had no knowledge or who were unknown. Each of them took the place of the Prophets in the field in which he excelled, whether knowledge or worship. They said that they were the group that would continue to prevail until the Hour begins, because they are following guidance and the true religion with which Allāh sent His Messengers, the religion which Allāh promised would prevail over all other religions, and sufficient is Allāh as a witness (Majmū’ al-Fatāwā, v.4, p.97):