What is the goal of the student who wants to attain the purifcation of the heart?
The goal is complete submission to the shariah (sacred teachings of Islam) and sunnah in order to attain purification of the heart and soul while developing a true, deep, and lasting connection with Allah .
How can a shaykh assist in these goals?
A shaykh spends years of training in order to develop his character, mannerisms, daily schedule, outer being, acts of worship, and knowledge under the guidance of his teacher. He learns the essence of worship and practical implications of abandonment of the mundane life of this world from those who are models of god-consciousness. Further, they often spend years mastering the Islamic sciences of Hadith, Quran, tafsir, fiqh, etc. Each aspect of their training further connects them through chains of scholars that lead back to the Prophet who was sent to connect the creation to their Lord.
When you enter the company of such a shaykh, their knowledge and extensive experience allows them to assess your spiritual state and hence, advise you on the best "medicine" to cure the diseases of your heart. Just as a doctor is trained to cure physical ailments, so the scholars of the inner sciences of the heart treat the maladies of the diseased heart.
I thought that all one needs is the Quran and the Sunnah?
It is true that the Quran and the Sunnah are sufficient. However, at the same time it is also true that a teacher is required to master any subject. If the Quran was sufficient, then Allah could have easily sent the book without a messenger. However, he sent the Prophet as a model of the Quran so that people could directly learn from his example. This then became the method of learning for each of the Islamic sciences. For example, each hadith that Imam Bukhari compiled in his collection of hadith is directly linked to the Prophet through a continuous chain of narrators. Thus, each person in the chain must have learned from someone and must be able to state who that person was. Similar requirements are present in other branches of Islamic science as well. The science of purification of the soul is no exception.
Is it mandatory that I learn and develop my character under a shaykh?
The juristic scholars of the ummah have ruled that taking a spiritual guide is a sunnah. It is not mandatory. However, it is the way of the Prophet (PBUH) . According to the scholars of this ummah, achieving the aims of purification of the soul are mandatory. For example, purifying the heart from pride, rectifying one's character, etc are essential to ones religion. Thus, if one can achieve these goals on their own, they may. However, if one tries and continually fails then it is highly recommended that one should seek the assistance of a spiritual doctor i.e a shaykh.
How can I find a true shaykh?
Many of our scholars have addressed this question by listing the "signs" of a true shaykh. Needless to say the common principle has always been submission to the shariah, by following the teachings of the accepted sunni schools of fiqh, and a complete submission to the inner and the outer of the sunnah. This is based on the idea that the Prophet (PBUH) is the nearest and most God conscious of Allah's creation. His daily acts are an exemplification of how the most God conscious of all of creation lived his life. For example, the Prophet's treatment of others with kindness, soft speech, humility, preference for white clothing, growing of a lengthy beard, etc are all intentional acts of service to Allah . If someone lacks these sunnahs, while claiming they can help bring you closer to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala , know that they will eventually lead you to a dead end.
What are the responsibilities of the student of the shaykh?
The student takes a commitment with his shaykh seeking Allah's forgiveness for past sins, shortcomings, and mistakes, and pledging to establish the shariah and sunnah in his life. The shaykh then assigns certain daily exercises of dhikr (remembrance of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala ) to the student in order that they attract the blessings of Allah . All of this is chosen from Quran and the Sunnah. Each student has a set daily regimen of Quranic recitation and dhikr, which, if done diligently leads to rapid progress.
How do I become a student?
A simple intention is the first thing that is required. You then need to contact your teacher by either email or any other mean to inform him about your intention. With these simple steps your spiritual journey begins.