In Good Company: Comments

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Fareeha Khan

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Abstract

When I first walked into the living quarters of Begum Noor Jahan Zareef
Thanawi (1931-2017) in Karachi, I was fatigued from jetlag and not
expecting much to come of the meeting except polite verbal exchanges.
But as I absorbed the functionality of every item in the sparsely furnished
room, and the immense level of spiritual focus she carried within her frail
(though still somehow strong!) physical frame, I realized I was sitting in the
company of no ordinary woman. It was about Begum Zareef that Dr. ‘Abd
al-Hayy ‘Arifi—one-time nāẓim of Dar al-‘Ulum Karachi and spiritual successor
to Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi—had remarked, “If we gave khilāfat (spiritual
successorship) to women, we would have given it to her.” Though not given
permission to take spiritual disciples, her sheikh had given her a general
allowance to teach the religious sciences to women. She taught Qur’anic
exegesis (tafsīr) for decades out of her home; wrote numerous pamphlets
on spirituality and religious practice; and published a volume on the legal
rulings of Hajj, with a special focus on related women’s issues.
If Begum Zareef were asked what was the secret that persuaded her
sheikh to give her such a wide allowance to teach, I know her answer would
be the pious company (of her sheikh and others) that she kept throughout
her life. As Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi clarifies in Fawāʾid al-ṣuḥba, his famous
lecture cited by Darakhshan Khan, it was the ṣuḥba (company) they’d kept
that made the Companions (Ṣaḥāba) who they were. Were it not for the
fact that they had sat with the Messenger of God, they would not have attained
their otherwise unattainable spiritual and religious rank, and they
would not be seen as a necessary source of religious knowledge for all Muslims
who came after them. In my own book,1 I argue that ṣuḥba, in fact,
lies at the spiritual center of Sunni Islam. For one to be a “real Sunni,” one
does not merely have to accept the probity of every one of the Ṣaḥāba; one
must also accept that the preservation and continuation of true religious ...

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