May Allah bless you and be pleased with you also. A mere word is not enough to do justice to the greatness of the founder of the Rifa`i Sufi Path, Sayyid Ahmad al-Rifa`i, but it must be known by all that he was one of the greatest friends of Allah and true inheritors of the Messenger of Allah upon him peace - to walk this earth. His words bear the stamp of the Prophetic teachings as if he were one of the Khulafa' al-Rashidin. Among the works authentically related from him are the Hikam or Aphorisms in the beginning of which he states: "The apex of knowledge of Allah is to know that He exists without a direction or place." He was also a Muhaddith and compiled a book of Forty essential Hadiths and their commentary, in print. Although he was a person of Divine gifts (karamat), among which his ability to move, by speech, droves of people to repentence, yet he was marked and marked others with the deepest humility. He used to call himself "al-la shay' Uhaymid" which means "the Nothing Little Ahmad." Allah sanctify his secret and bless his sincere followers and those of all the great Awliya' of the House of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace. Sayyid Yusuf Hashim al-Rifa`i the courageous and tireless counselor of the Umma is perhaps the foremost Rifa`i leader in the Muslim world today as well as being a descendant of the Prophet upon him peace, through Ahmad al-Rifa`i. Sayyid Yusuf wrote in his 2001 book al-Sufiyya wal-Tasawwuf fi Daw' al- Kitab wal-Sunna ("Sufis and Sufism in the light of the Qur'an and Sunna"), p. 162-163:
Today the Rifa`i Path is notorious for two matters: weapon-piercing and the subduing of poisonous snakes and other harmful animals [such as scorpions]. These two matters did not exist in the time of the founder of the Tariqa. Nothing authentic is related stating that he used weapons or handled poisonous snakes in his gatherings. Those two matters arose among his latter-day successors. After the death of Sayyid Ahmad al-Rifa`i by about 100 years, the Tartars invaded Baghdad in 656, plundered it in the most brutal way, and killed many Muslims. Consequently, some of the caliphs of Sayyid al-Rifa`i came out to show that materialistic nation which believed only in palpable and tangible matters, the Tartars, that the brute force for which they prided themselves could very well be made available by Allah to others also. They began to display to the Tartars several feats of strength such as striking and piercing themselves with iron weapons, embracing poisonous snakes, entering furnaces, and other such deeds. These feats greatly impressed the Tartars and was the cause many of them entered Islam and stopped their hostilities against the Muslims.
Thus it is possible to say that such matters are not an innovation in the Religion because / what is possible as an evidentiary miracle (mu`jiza) for a Prophet is also possible as a miraculous gift (karama) for a friend of Allah (wali). Ibrahim upon him peace, was thrown into the fire and it did not hurt him. Allah Most High is able to subject the fire for a righteous man from the Community of Muhammad - upon him and his House blessings and peace. This is precisely what happened for the great [Tabi`i] Abu Muslim al- Khawlani, as mentioned in Ibn al-Jawzi's Sifat al- Safwa and Imam Ahmad's al-Zuhd.
Similarly, Allah Most High subjected the fire to the followers of al-Sayyid Ahmad al-Rifa`i. They used to and continue to enter it or carry it without being harmed in the least. However, they carry it in the Name of Allah, not as a boast but as one of the miraculous gifts. Just as people were amazed that Musa upon him peace, could handle a harmful snake without it harming him, today, there are those that do that among the followers of Sayyid Ahmad al-Rifa`i....
This is a matter, among the Rifa`i Masters, used only in times of need and necessity and as a challenge [to non-believers]. My personal preference is to steer clear from such things, to de-emphasize them, and to keep my own gatherings clear of them. Yet I say that if it is permissible it is as a challenge. This actually took place with Russian experts who had come to Syria. The followers of the [Rifa`i] Tariqa announced to them that they would challenge them to believe and enter Islam, and they did. Similarly the feats with snakes: if it takes people out of harm's way then there is no harm in it. We are now in dire need of reaffirming for all people belief in some of the unseen that might awaken the consciences of those that are heedless and provide irrefutable proofs for materialists and atheists.
I was honored to sit in many gatherings of the Diwan of Sayyid Yusuf (now 70) and can describe them as gatherings of Qur'an, Salat on the Prophet, du`a for the Umma, Nasiha to visitors, and praying Salat in congregation at the beginning of its time. I believe this has been his practice since the sixties with those he visits and who visit him, whether they are presidents or commoners. There is never word of sword-piercing practices around him.
It is also well-known that Mawlana al-Shaykh Nazim al-Naqshbandi al-Haqqani, forbids knife-piercing feats when he gets invited to Rifa`i gatherings in Syria and elsewhere. The great Moroccan Wali, Sayyidi `Abd al-`Aziz al-Dabbagh observed in his book al-Ibriz that miraculous gifts (karaamaat) are the exclusive characteristic of Ahl al-Sunna past and present, and that such miracles are categorically absent from all the non-Sunni sects from their first to their last. Therefore, it is normal that partisans of such sects should object to what they neither possess nor understand. Most objectors are further confused by the fact that the outward feat of walking on coals or flying in the air does not necessarily qualify as a karama but is also the province of non-Muslims such as yogis and others. In the words of Sahl al-Tustari, "children are given trinkets," while the greatest of karaamaat is practicing and instilling uprightness day in and day out. Al-Dabbagh said that the latter is connected to the supernal world of light (al-`alam al-`ulwi al-nurani) and disconnected from the lower, dark world (al-`alam al-sufli al-zalami) while while material feats can go either way. And Allah knows best.Hajj Gibril