A mere glance at the Holy Prophet (sallallaho alaihi wasallam) was sufficient to attain the rank of ihsan [God consciousness]. As time passed after his lifetime, the enlightenment of prophethood became more distant, and the hearts became affected with this dimming. According to Hadrat A'ns (radhiallaho anho), "The day the Prophet (sallallaho alaihi wasallam) entered Medina everything became enlightened, and the day he passed away darkness descended on all things. After the death of the Prophet (sallallahoalaihi wasallam) we had scarcely shaken off the dust from our hands, after throwing sand into his sacred grave, and we already perceived a difference in the enlightenment of our hearts." In other words the purity and light was not the same as was felt during the time of the Holy Prophet (sallallaho alaihi wasallam).Excerpted from"The Achievement of Love - The Spiritual Dimensions of Islam" by Muhammad Iqbal and published by Editions Islamique © 1987
This spiritual power diminished further in the period of the successors of the companions of the Prophet (sallallaho alaihi wasallam), and in fact continued to weaken in successive generations. With this dwindling of spirituality the effects of darkness progressively pervaded people's hearts. So much so that a reduction in nisbat-e-ihsani (connection with Allah) and tawajoh-il-Allah (God-consciousness) was felt despite the fact that salat, fasting, tabligh [preaching] and virtuous deeds were still being carried out. Therefore the mashaikh [pl. shaikh, spiritual guides] of those times focused their attention to counteract this deficiency, and through their nur (light) of insight, experience and ilham (Divine inspiration), they adopted suitable permissible means derived from the Qu'ran and ahadith [pl. traditions of the Prophet].
At the time of the Holy Prophet (sallallaho alaihi wasallam) it was not necessary for his companions (radhiallaho anhum) to study etymology and syntax (Arabic grammar) in order to understand the Qur'an and ahadith as it later became necessary for the non-Arabs and present day Arabs. During the lifetime of the Prophet (sallallaho alaihi wasallam) the vowel signs such as fatah,damma, kasra etc., were not used in the Holy Qur'an. Shortly afterwards when the contact with foreigners increased, the need for including these was felt. It would be irrational to allege that these vowel signs are an innovation because they are used to fill the current needs for achieving the same goals as before, namely, the correct recitation of the Qur'an. The scholars have extended a simple example of reading a book. As long as the sun shines everything can be read, but as soon as it sets a light is needed. If the eyesight also weakens, then spectacles would also be required.
Those who say that the zikr [remembrance of Allah] prescriptions and spiritual practices are an innovation do not know the definition of bid'a (perverse innovation). Adding something IN religion is called bid'a, but permissible things implemented FOR the benefit of religion is not bid'a. Those who cannot differentiate between the two are ignorant of religion. At the time of the Prophet (sallallaho alaihi wasallam) arrows and swords sufficed, but nowadays to rely on these alone is to court disaster. Therefore those permissible things which are beneficial FOR religion at times become necessary (wajib) just as artillery and other armament are necessary for contemporary jihad.
The case of spiritual matters is no different. The use of any permissible means for the attainment of the quality of ihsan (or sincerity) is necessary and virtuous instead of being an innovation.
In view of the above there is no need to ask for proofs for the methods
of tasawwuf [mystical way] from the Qur'an and ahadith, because
the absolute order in the Qur'an is to make zikr without limitations
of how it should be made. But may Allah bestow excellent rewards, befitting
His Majesty, upon the great mashaikh (spiritual doctors), who have
basically adopted those means whose derivation from the Qur'an and ahadith
[pl. Traditions of the Prophet, pbuh] is proven. These proofs can be found
in "Al-Takashaf fi Muhimmaat At-Tasawwuf'
by Hadrat Hakim-ul-Ummat
Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and "Shariat-w-Tariqat' by Hadrat Shaikh-ul-Hadith
Maulana Muhammad Zakariya. In his book "Sabahatul-Fiqr' Hadrat Maulana
Abdul Hye has cited fifty ahadith which prove zikr-bil-jehr.