Is Sufism authentically Islamic, or alien to Islam?
Many people unfortunately have a misunderstanding of Tasawwuf or Sufism. They think it is something beyond the Prophetic message and law of Islam. Despite the fact that Sufism or Tasawwuf is authentically and genuinely the core of Islamic legacy, some errant Sufis on the opposite end of the spectrum continue to hold on to this mistaken notion. Consequently, the latter group has shunned the Quran and Sunnah while the former group has shunned Tasawwuf.
Historically, in the traditions of Islam and in recorded Prophetic practices, Tasawwuf existed just like other practices of Islam, but the “term” itself did not exist. For instance, the term “Usul al Fiqh”, which means Islamic Jurisprudence, is the science on the practice of Islamic rules and regulation that existed at the time of the Prophet (SAW) but the term itself did not exist. The Sahabas, companions of the Prophet (SAW), did not refer to this knowledge as Usul al Fiqh as we know it today. Islamic scholars of later centuries developed this science. Similarly, the Ilm al Hadith (science of Hadith) and Ilm al Jarh wa Ta’dil is the science of the positive and negative factors affecting the Hadith narrators’ credibility. The Hadith were being collected at the time of Prophet (saw) but the science and methodology of collection expanded as Islam spread and the companions went to different parts of the world. This is also the case with the important Islamic discipline, Ilm e Tafsir, or Quranic Exegesis that has given rise to the understanding of religion in a broader context.
As for the origin of the term “Tasawwuf”, like other Islamic disciplines its name was not known to the first generations of Muslims. In Ibn Khuldun’s words, the content of Tasawwuf was the general rule among the companions of the Prophet (saw) and the early Muslims, but when involvement in worldly things became widespread from the second Islamic century, those devoted to worship and knowing Allah through meditation came to be called “Sufiya” or people of Tasawwuf. Imam al Ghazali had said that the only subject of Tasawwuf is to teach people to know and to feel the manifestation (Maa’rifat) of Allah. Therefore, all Prophets taught their people to know Allah and to worship Him only. As such, the Sufis were and truly are the Waristul Ambiya – the Prophet’s successors, because they taught others Oneness of Allah or “Tawheed”.
Let us approach this view through Quran. Indeed that person has brought himself into happiness and success (Falah) who purifies (Tazakka) himself [87:14]. Tazkiyah is an Arabic word meaning “spiritual purification of oneself”. It is the only benchmark of true success and felicity for a Muslim. Further, the Quran maintains that “Truly he succeeds that purifies” [91:9]. Spiritual purification can’t be achieved unless we are connected with Allah and we can’t get connected with Allah unless we are pure. Thus, inner purity will increase one’s spirituality, as we are spiritual beings on a worldly journey and not worldly beings on a spiritual journey. As Quran says; “And whose hearts find peace in the remembrance of God, truly it is in the remembrance of God that hearts find peace”. Tazkiyah (purification of heart) which later came to be called as Tasawwuf was also one of the basic responsibilities of Prophet (saw). It is one of the three responsibilities of the Prophet as mentioned thrice in the Holy Quran [2:129]. Tazkiyah is the path that takes us to Allah because Allah has created us and we need to know Allah and worship Him by remembrance through the heart. In a famous hadith, the Prophet was told by Allah: “I was hidden treasure; then I wished to become known. Then I created the creation, so that I may be known.” Allah’s knowledge is revealed to only those pure and clean hearts which carry the light of Iman (belief). The cleaner and stronger the heart and the belief, the more knowledge Allah bestows. The Prophet said, “Truly in the body there is a piece of flesh, which if it be good, all the body is good, and which, if it be diseased, all of it is diseased. Truly it is the heart.” The person with a clean, purified and humble heart shall also be successful on the day of judgement. As the Quran claims: The day whereon neither wealth, nor will avail, But only he will prosper that brings to Allah a sound heart (Qalbun Saleem) [26:88-89].
There is Nafs (basic human urges) that obstructs the heart in gaining the knowledge of God, because this Nafs has inherent tendencies to deviate us from our purpose of life towards earthly pleasure and distractions. This is the reason why Sufis prefer to strive against Nafs and obtain lonely meditations. Abu Ali Sina has said, Do meditate in loneliness (Murakaba), perhaps a small ray of light from Allah’s Revelations will shine for you. Undoubtedly, when a person disconnects himself as for as possible from the temptations of this world and his Nafs by Dhikr (the principle means of spiritual realisation), the spiritual begins opening ways to gain closeness to Allah. As Quran mentions, “And the remembrance of God is greatest.”
Let us put it another way: Allah is free from space, there is no space that can contain Him, but Allah encompasses everything. The human heart/soul has the potential to gain Mari’fat, manifestation of Allah. Though Allah can’t be contained anywhere, His manifestation can be contained in the human heart, so we need to purify the heart to feel the manifestation or Mari’fah of Allah. When Ali Ibn Talib (RA) was asked concerning Ma’rifa, he said, “I know Allah by Allah and I know that which is not Allah by the light of Allah.” The Quran further mentions: “I am the creator of light in which believers are illumined.”
The Prophet (saw) said: “The heart of Mumin (believer) is the Throne of Allah”. Here the Throne of Allah represents His domain and His kingdom. Hearts pure and attached to Allah gain access to His throne in the heavens where the knowledge of unseen is available. The heart controls the human body and it is the place where knowledge lives or resides. Knowledge is power and we know and do things with the help of knowledge. As knowledge lives in the heart, so the power belongs to the heart. Due to Tazkiya, Dhikr (remembrance of Allah) and Takkwah, the heart becomes so strong and powerful that it not only controls the body but the outside world as well. For instance, we can look at such examples in the life of Prophet and Aweliya Allah. A person came to the Prophet and said, I like Zinna (adultery). The Prophet (saw) put his hand on his heart for a while; the power of the Prophet’s heart worked through his hand onto this person. When the Prophet (saw) moved his hand away, the person said: I came here for the love of zina, now I hate it the most.
Similarly, Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani was giving a sermon when one person in the gathering fell asleep. In the meantime, Peerani (RA) stood up from the pulpit. When the people asked why did you stand up, he said: “The person who went to sleep was actually witnessing the Prophet (saw) in his dream, but I was watching all his dream in the state of wakefulness. So out of respect and reverence I stood up.” The heart of prophets and auliyas is so pure, shining and powerful that they receive this knowledge directly. When this power of heart is expressed by the Prophet, it is a miracle (Moajiza) and when it is expressed by a Wali, it can be called Karaamat.
Practically, Islam today is taught by mere words and people do not bother to understand the spiritual message of Quranic texts necessary for purification of heart and soul. True Tasawwuf is nothing but what the Quran terms as Tazkiya, which deals with internal feelings and states of heart. Quran and Hadith had laid down the moral and religious goal and the right conduct, Tasawwuf provides the specific methods and means to achieve these goals. Hence a true and faithful Muslim always has a Sufi aspect in thought and action. Imam Malik said: “He who practises Tasawwuf without learning sacred law corrupts his faith, while he who learns sacred law without practising Tasawwuf corrupts himself. Only he who combines the two proves true.” In other words, among the best of people is the Sufi learned in jurisprudence which deals with external deeds like Salaat and Zakaat, while Tasawwuf deals with purification of inner self. Both are commanded in the Quran.
—The writer is a journalist. [email protected]