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Our Shaykh: al-Habib Ahmad Mash-hur bin Taha al-Haddad
Miftahul Jannah (The Key to Paradise)
Miftahul Jannah is a classic of Muslim spirituality written by Al-Habib Ahmad Mash-hur al-Haddad. It has been published in the original Arabic by Darul - Hawi in Beirut, Lebanon and has been translated into English by Shaykh Mohamed Mlamali Adam in consultation with Sayyid Omar Abdalla as The Key to Paradise, and by Dr. Mustafa al-Badawi with the help of Al-Habib himself, as The Key to the Garden. It has also been translated into Urdu by Janab Sayyid Abdul Mun'im Nazeer Saheb. It is the best seller among British Muslim: people have accepted Islam just reading this book, without even having seen Al-Habib. This is how Shaykh Mohamed Mlamali Adam introduces this classic to us:
The roll-call of great benefactors to Islam and Muslims is inexhaustible. But no name-call can claim to be complete which seeks to exclude two towering divines: Hujjatu al-Islam Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali of Tus and al-Imam al-Mujaddid Abdalla ibn Alawi ibn Muhammad al-Haddad of Tarim.
Besides being spiritual guides of the highest order, Imam al-Ghazali and Imam al-Haddad are widely acknowledged to have been dedicated servants of Allah fully wedded to the sacred covenant of "Am I not your Lord Who cherishes and sustains you?"
Though divided by time, the two had another thing in common. They were prolific writers and their works succoured and ensouled Muslims throughout the world across generations. The first set the pace and charted the path in the unrivalled Iyha Ulum ad-Din; the latter provided the essence of the Folk's sciencies in the unparalleled an-Nasaihi ad-Diniyyah and the companion anthology "ad-Durr al-Mandhum".
Then it seemed that the ink had run dry, the page folded, the last word uttered. Who thought so was, alas, happily in error. For a treatise has now come to hand that weaves al-Ghazali's rare pearls with al-Haddad's choice sapphires. The treatise, called "The Key to Paradise", is by al-Imam al-Habib Ahmad Mash-hur bin Taha al-Haddad, the Viceregent of the great al-Imam al-Habib 'Umar ibn Ahmad ibn Sumeit.
The first to school the author was his own mother, as-Sayyidah Safiyyah binti Tahir al-Haddad. In addition to her many virtues and 'ilm, the lady knew the Qur'an by heart and from her al-Habib Ahmad picked the strains of the glorious verses served with the mother's milk, as it were. Indeed, his way of cantillation is a known crowd puller. Worshippers do travel long distances if only for the joy of saying their prayers behind him. More important still, they relish the meaningfulness his recitation imparts on the Qur'an.
Leading luminaries subsequently took al-Habib Ahmad into their orbit. Foremost among them are al-Allama Abdalla bin Tahir al-Haddad and his brother, the eminently learned Alawi bin Tahir al-Haddad, the pillar of predecessors as-Sayyid Salih bin Abdalla al-Haddad and the illustrious guide of the successors, as-Sayyid Ahmad bin Muhsin al-Haddad and the foremost Imam as-Sayyid Ahmad bin Hasan al-Attas. To these and many more, al-Habib Ahmad was both endeared and endearing.
Sadly until now, his "Key to Paradise" has only been accessible to Arabic readers, and this will be the first time it appears in a book form in English. It is a matter of both honour and gratification. There need be no doubt that al-Habib Ahmad belongs to that rare class of accomplished communicators, in full command of the spoken as well as the written word.
And to read him is to be in discourse with a soul that is at once fecund and fecundating, sublime as it is sincere, lofty and uplifting. The apt phrase, the vivid metaphor, the apposite quotation are all marshalled to bring to bear upon his multi-discipline approach and erudition. He enlightens in the same breath as he humbles, carrying the reader shoulder-high to the essence of things that he might there, as al-Imam al-Haddad says:
Wing in meadows
In Miftah al-Jannah, the Key's other name, these distinctions shine through. Hence the decision to translate it so that its insights get a wider exposure and the accruing reward thereby multiply. This does not mean that al-Habib Ahmad yields to easy translation.
He is a writer of rigorous precision. Repetitions there are. But the reader must be wary. For they are repetitions designed to stress a fleeting nuance or disposed to combat a latent alterity. In sum, his is an array of qualities as would intimidate the best equipped translator, let alone this one who must confess to a grievous lack of gifts of scholarship and aptitude to match and of self-expression to pair.
But it would be grossly unfair to permit personal inadequacy stand between al-Haddad's readers and al-Haddad's Key. After all, doesn't the old aphorism say that which cannot be delivered measure for measure may be delivered in parts?
So here's the Key. Take hold of it with might.
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