Life Coaching is like a Sufi Tariqa: A Structural Comparison

I recently participated in a one on one session with a student who just graduated from a life coaching program called discoverulife, started by Shaykh Muhammad AlShareef (founder of AlMaghrib Institute).  Basically the brother was giving me a free session on life coaching.  I can’t give the details of the session, but I am extremely impressed by the knowledge and the advice that was taken and received.  I did some Google research on life coaches and life coaching in general and found out that most (probably all) of all the major Fortune 500, high-tech company CEOs and people of high authority spend millions of dollars a year just to hire a life coach.

When the brother was explaining how life coaching works it reminded me exactly how the murids are with their shaykh in a Sufi tariqah.  The murid gives baiyah (allegiance) to the shaykh as a guide to help him on his path.  The tariqa is basically the path.  The guide or coach is the shaykh.  So the shaykh would consult with each of his murids and ask them about their ibadat, their daily adhkar, etc.  The same is with the life coach except its more related to achieving your goals in this world.  Meaning the life coach will help you attain your goals and aspirations in life and help to organize and utilize all the aspects of your life from family, work, school, hobbies, volunteering, religion, etc.

From what I see in the discoverulife program is that it combines both the religious and materialistic aspect of life and allows the person to attain the changes and goals they want in their lives.

One of the students posted their Five Diamonds from Discover U Certification and for those who are wondering which certified life coach gave me a free session, it was Belal of Leechon. There are several others around the country that are giving away free sessions.  It takes about 30-40 minutes and it’s over the phone.  I highly recommend giving it a try. I’ve learned a lot in that short phone call with Belal.

Oh yeah, I didn’t give baiyah to Belal, I just took/participated in his free session.  No offense Belal, :-D.

71 Replies to “Life Coaching is like a Sufi Tariqa: A Structural Comparison”

  1. Salaam alaykum everyone,

    If you want to debate the merits and demerits of life coaching itself, then get into the discussion here, where people are offering their complaints about what they’ve encountered so far:

    Mr LotaEnterprises already tore them a new one, I would invite the DL coaches to get in there and present their side of the picture. If you guys provide sufficient material, I’ll post your responses, for and against, on the muslimbestlife blog, insha’Allah.


  2. “in what ever aspect of life you want to work on (ibadah, health, wealth, family, etc), where you want to be, and map out your action plan to your desired outcome.”

    this is one thing that many people take criticism with,and is perhaps something that actually lends legitimacy to MR’s original post.

    the differentiation is made between secular/religious sciences, but by saying you are going to help someone with ibadah like that – i can’t help but say that it DOES sound a bit sufi-ish.

    the fundamental lesson i have always been taught in regards to ibaadah is that its personal, private, and constantly a struggle. to call someone and say “please help me make a plan for fasting mondays and thursdays” sounds a lot like, “i’m so tired because i was up all night praying”

    moreover, to have that ibaadah “check-in” does sound very tariqah-ish. it might not have the same types of innovations that certain wirds may have but it seems to be the same concept as a shaykh assigning you specific ibadat to do after you give him bay’ah.

    lastly – i am mentioning these points because i hope that some of these criticisms might force a better discussion and some more transparency about the process.

  3. “If you’re committed to getting into the best shape of your life in six-weeks, I can guarantee your best results would be if you hire a coach. Whether that coach be a fitness specific coach, or a life coach who’s been trained to lead from the back, than if you simply just joined a gym on your accord.”

    i agree. but the difference is, with a fitness coach, you see him in shape, you see his qualifications, etc. in order to be a fitness coach he has gone through 4-6 years of school, specialized in the field.

    how am i to believe that someone who took a 1 week class or 2 week class can suddenly help me with weight loss, finances, family, and ibadah?

    moreover, how is a coach supposed to help me with something like family if he himself is not married?

  4. BismillahirRahmanirRahim

    @ Mr. Enterprises

    “It might not have the same types of innovations that certain wirds may have”

    Wirds come from the sunnah, pick up almost any hadith book and you will see the Prophet (S) saying say such and such, or repeating such and such is the best dhikr. Wirds are simply collections of those instructions.

    For example:
    Prophet (S)said: “I love repeating: subhan Allah, wa al-hamdu lillah, wa la ilaha illallah, wallahu akbar: “Glorified is Allah, and Praise be to Allah, and There is no God but Allah, and Allah is most Great,” more than all that the sun shines upon.” (Narrated by Muslim and Tirmidhi)

    Abu Dharr reported that the Prophet said: “Shall I tell you the words that Allah loves the most?” I said: “Yes, tell me, O Messenger of Allah.” He said: “The words dearest to Allah are: subhan Allah wa bi hamdihi “Glorified is Allah with all praise to Him.” (Narrated by Muslim and Tirmidhi)

    bu Hurayra also reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “Renew your faith.” “How can we renew our faith?” they asked. The Prophet replied: “Say always: la ilaha illallah.” (Narrated by Ahmad)

  5. Some wirds that are propagated in Pakistan are quite elaborate though.

    If x is the number of La illaha’s, then follow it with 2X^2 times of Alhamdulilah and its derivative times x number of subhanallAhs, and all your wishes will come true.

  6. yursil – if you stuck to what was in the ahadith, then there’s no problem. i have an issue with your “shaykh” that you give bay’ah to who gives you wirds that aren’t in the hadith INSTEAD of those that are in the hadith.

  7. BismillahirRahmanirRahim

    Can’t speak to unknown people in Pakistan, but mainstream Tarikats all follow the sunnah in the wird.

  8. Did Life coaches exist in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him)? What? A Salafi teacher doing a biddah? times have changed.

  9. @ Salam,

    one could argue that The Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wassalam was the best example of a “life coach”, and people would ask him for advice bout every aspect of life.

    I also want to emphasize, that the comparison to sufism in this article makes complete sense because it is only comparing the structure. The cool thing about sufism is that you have someone who can guide you, and someone you can rely on if you get into problems, and someone who can help you progress in that path.

    But arguably, in tassawuf a shaykh or a “coach” is someone you need a lot more than in other less important aspects of your life, like health, wealth, etc, because developing yourself spiritually is not an easy thing, and requires someone with experience in it, and someone to help you when you’re not getting where you want to go, and someone to take you to the next level, when you have succeeded on a previous level.

  10. “how am i to believe that someone who took a 1 week class or 2 week class can suddenly help me with weight loss, finances, family, and ibadah?

    moreover, how is a coach supposed to help me with something like family if he himself is not married?”

    @ Lota,

    It’s a matter of leading from the back vs. leading from the front.

    In a situtation of helping you with family when the coach himself isn’t married…

    If that coach is is leading from the FRONT, he will not be able to help with any specific advice b/c the journey that specific coach has taken isn’t necessarily the journey you wish to take, therefor if they pull you in a specific direction, you will resist and ultimately get annoyed and possibly dislike the individual that is pulling you.

    A coach who is leading from the BACK, will not tell you what to do or even pull you in any specific direction. — — This person will push you from behind by calling your bluffs and help you remove the mental obstacles you have in front of you, help you figure out the root of your issue(s), help you reframe certain perspectives by asking very strategic questions.

    The coach leading from the back doesn’t have to necessarily have to be where the client wants to be in terms of goals, rather the coach should be able to understands the clients language. Whether they’re speaking from a language of success or a language of failure.

    The coach’s job is to pay attention to the client and be acutely attentive to what they’re saying and from that move them to physiology and psychology of excellence which ultimately lead the client to move towards positive action, which ultimately move them towards their goals and objective…

    …this is the major difference b/w leading from the back vs leading from the front.

    Listening to advice, lectures, books, experts, etc – (aka leading from the front) – will not change anything b/c the person themself (client) will have to want to move in a specific direction before they’re open to accepting any sort of information.

    As coaches, we’re not giving you advice, lecture, etc. We’re getting you focused on your your dreams by asking you strategic questions that will make you aware of whether or not your dreams are ultimately connected to Allah-swt.

    Ultimately, coaching isn’t gaining of information – its simply an experience of empowerment and results conditioning that’s designed to pump your balanced life to a level you would never have been able to do on your own in such a dramatic way and in such short amount of time.

    My question to you is, what are your dreams and how can I best support you in getting there?

  11. Assalam ‘alaykum,

    Trying to avoid to make a real comment but just a clarification. To the best of my knowledge – the Shadhilteachings site that hosts the durus of Shaykh Nuh originally did not charge. However, over the years due to sheer volume in terms of bandwith – the maintainer of the site (Sidi Hamid I believe) had to charge to maintain it.

    Sidi Dawud summed up tasawwuf pretty simply (whether or not he noticed) – from Surah Yasin. The key is they are rightly guided themselves. A Kafir can be a lifecoach if he goes through the training program but a Sufi, a Sufi is something else entirely – someone who Allah has enraptured in His mercy and guidance and made a source of guidance.

    If I made any mistakes or offended anyone my apologies.
    wallahu a’lam, wa hasbiyahu wa ni’ma l-wakil


  12. man, muslims really like to fight things out.

    It was an interesting article, i “get” the analogy.
    However, some of the comments about coaching are baseless.

    don’t get offended by it because nobody wants to offend you, and make dua that those who like it benefit from it.

    interesting discussion nonetheless,

    ps. I am a DiscoveU LifeCoach so that makes me a bit biased i guess 🙂

  13. @Salam


    @Nihal Khan


    I hope you don’t think that means that if the Prophet (SAW) could drive he would have been charging money for advice.

  14. DiscoverULife is an organization just as AlMaghrib, Zaytuna, and SunniPath are. Would it be right to critizise these institutes because they charge money? Society has changed. If an organization doesn’t get money than how does it plan to run?

  15. That is by far the most twisted comparison based on that jumbled pile of spaghetti aqeedah in your head. No! Don’t try to match the different noddles together and say it starts from here and end there. No… seriously. Stick to your bhangras and chanting but don’t try to compare because you’ll sound like an infomercial sales man pitching the differences and similarities to stupid buyers like us.

  16. There are very sensible comments posted here and some very irrational ones. I am not familiar with the organizations being blasted here, but I am planning to setup my own life-coaching business in the near future. I have worked in mental health for 11 yrs and presently provide in-Home services to those classified as severely mentally ill. Even though I work for a non-profit organization, the cost of such services is staggering. Fortunately, for most clients, the money is paid by taxpayers and insurance rather than the clients directly – most of whom are receiving social security benefits. I am very successful in helping my clients to recover; my approach is essentially life coaching, though I can legally provide, counseling, case management, and med supervision. I spent over 20 hrs last week assisting clients in their daily living skills – both verbally and physically; I provided very crisis counseling to a suicidal client. I have Christian, Atheist, Jewish, and clients of other belief systems. I have also worked with Muslims who were in the mental health system, as well. I see many Muslims in the mental health system that needs guidance but also crisis intervention to help them get their lives back on track. Though I will have a degree in Behavioral Health/Psychology in less than a yr, my conceptual framework is holistic, and I intend to offer Holistic Life -Coaching and Positive Psychology services to the public.
    I also intend to be a referral source and I will utilize the services of qualified Imams, Shaykhs and Muslim physicians, in cases where their expertise is appropriate.

    All professional services cost money, as they require time and investment of the service providers. I worked 65 hrs last week, including assignments with in-home, community housing, and long-term residential clients. It cost me time, energy, money, and wear and tear on my vehicle. Many of the comments posted here are very unfair and uninformed. Perhaps, it was a mistake to compare life coaching to Tariqah. I have found that most Imams and Shaykh offer counseling to believers when they experience crisis. Life Coaching is not counseling, per se. Rarely do the Imams and Shaykhs do the kind of systematic work that a trained Life-Coach does; I do not believe that most know how. Life-coaching is not quoting books and telling a person what they should or must do; it is objective and non-judgmental; sometimes I have to make non-Muslims feel comfortable with working with me, by alleviating their fears about Muslims in general and that I will not really help them because of their religion. For my In-Home clients, I am given access into the most private part of their homes and their lives.

    Life Coaching is work – professional work! I do not know of any profession where one is expected to work full-time without compensation. Many Muslim organizations even charge for dawah pamphlets and classes. I know Arabic teachers who charge for their services; should they teach free. There is a difference in the quality of services or instructions offered at no cost and those that require investment by the recipient. Of course, some services have to be free because there are those who cannot afford them. I often pick up free food boxes for some of my clients; there is noticeable difference in the quality of that food and that of the food offered in grocery stores at regular prices.

    In my conclusion, I say, if a person simply needs dawah, give it to him or her for no charge or refer them to someone who will. Stop comparing professions to Islam. I am cognizant, as I am sure that you are, of the reality that true spirituality is holistic and an approach cannot be called holistic if it divorces itself from spirituality. True spirituality is, in fact, Islam. Please, brother and sister coaches, do not take advantage of believers for the sake of dunya -tokens. To all: do not make things haram that Allah has not forbidden, including foods, clothing, past-times, and professions…. Do not try to make yourself an authority in a field in which you do not have adequate knowledge.

    Allah Hafiz!

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