“Key to the Garden” – by Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad
Key to the Garden is one of those quintessential spiritual texts that can be found in the English language, but up until now it had evaded my library, due largely to the fact it is currently out of print, I ordered my copy from the nice brother at Iman Books, it’s an Indian copy but it’s not too bad. A few are also available from third party sellers on Amazon but some are going at extortionate prices.
In his book, Habib Ahmad focuses on the Muslim testimony of faith, la ilaha illa’Llah, there is no god but God. He discusses the implications of the statement, the duties and rights that are incumbent upon those who utter it with sincerity, and the divine gifts that are bestowed upon those who actualise it within themselves. I can safely say I haven’t read a book this beneficial and uplifting since The Book of Assistance, which ironically was written by the Habib’s forefather, Imam Abdullah al-Haddad. Both these books highlight the immense nature of the Bani ‘Alawi scholars of the Hadramawt valley, as Shaykh Ahmad Saad mentioned to us once that in Habib Umar’s seminary Dar al-Mustafa, the only topics they focus on are jurisprudence (fiqh), Qur’an, Hadith, grammar and spirituality (tasawwuf), only core Islamic topics are taught so that an individual learns the basics to a refined level and becomes an ambassador for the religion. Topics such as logic (mantaq) or heresiology are not covered so that the student doesn’t become bogged down in topics that may lead one into long winded debates or sectarianism. This explains why the Bani ‘Alawi despite coming from a very humble part of Arabia have been able to have such a large impact in very remote parts of the world, from East Africa to Southeast Asia, rather than getting broiled into argumentation and discussion, as for example many students in the subcontinent fall into, they focus on what’s important in the faith and work towards that.
The book is highly beneficial for new Muslims, as the testimony of faith is the first thing that leads one into Islam, this builds on that and provides guidelines for a new believer on where they need to be going next in terms of spiritual discourse, in that same regard it’s also useful for “born-again” Muslims looking to rekindle their relationship with the religion. One minor thing I would mention, is that the Habib does not mince his words when he talks about the destination of those who deny Allah and disbelieve, as well as the state of some of the heretical sects such as the Ahmadiyya and Ismailis, in this regard it may not be the best thing to be given to non-Muslims as they may misconstrue the underlying message of the book. In that lies another dimension to the Bani Alawi, though on the whole they are largely friendly and light hearted people, as most Yemenis are, but when it comes to orthodox Sunni Islam they are unapologetic and staunch in their stances against modernist, secular or apologistic interpretations of the religion. Personally as someone who is admittedly quite conservative I find that another reason to like them even more, they have the ability to reach out and connect with people’s hearts, but they maintain their positions towards religion and refuse to sell out their beliefs in the hope of appealing to new believers, as many perennial and universalist Sufi groups have been trying in the last fifty years or so.
All in all, this quickly became one of my favourite books and a much needed addition to my collection. I encourage everyone to try and find a copy and benefit from it.