This article should be read in continuation with my previous one, “Does Quran contain Tasawwuf (Spirituality)”, published in Kashmir Reader, March 19, 2021, where I had argued that the subject of Tasawwuf is basically what the Quran terms as “Tazkiya”, the objectives of which can be summarised as follows:
1. Liberation from ignorance and attainment of gnosis (Ma’arifa).
2. Refinement and purification of the self (Tazkiyah-Al-Nafs).
3. Cleansing of the spiritual heart (Tasfiyah-Al-Qalb) and the enlightenment of the soul (Tajaliyah-Al-Ruh).
4. Sincerity and devotion to the creator (Ikhlas) and detachment from material and worldly concern (Zuhd).
5. Commitment to the service of all the creation of God.
These objectives of Tasawwuf can be summed in a single term: “Ihsaan”, a central Islamic concept organically related to Islam and Imaan. As far as the subject and goal of Sufism is concerned, they can’t be separated from the objectives and goal of Islam. However, a critical study of the subject reveals that the practical Sufi methodologies developed to attain genuinely Islamic objectives contain significant departures from the methodology outlined by authentic Islamic teachings as mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah.
The Quran has outrightly rejected such bad Sufis: “And do not obey him whose heart we have made heedless of our remembrance, who follow his desires, and whose affair is in neglect” [18:28]. Contrary to this, when we look at Sufi masters like Jalal Ud-Din Rumi, Sheikh Akbar Ibn-al-Arabi and Mujadid-Alfi-Saani Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi, they all were extremely learned in the Law of Islam. Islamic authenticity is therefore the standard by which the Sufis always measure themselves, their people, and their practices, so as to be in tune with Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW).
Imam-al Shaafie said, “Be both a Faqih (knower of Islamic jurisprudence) and a Sufi; do not be only one of them.” This is also a standard by which Muslims should be judged. Muslims who have a respectable attitude towards Sufism appreciate it as a great gift from God. Muslims who reject Sufism in general, with no discussion and distinction or ignore and falsify this reality, they bring upon themselves a major crisis and in reality they cut themselves off from the light of the Prophet (SAW) and all his great followers. Therefore, to reject this legacy of Islam is the greatest betrayal of it. Sufism is the richest heritage of the Islamic legacy, based on the Quran, Prophetic Model and Law of Islam. It is innate to Islam and is not imported or improvised.
Sufism as the core legacy of Islam reflects the ultimate victory of this faith and its perfection in the last years of the Prophetic Mission. A final perfection of this religion made it accessible to all times, places, nations, and people. Allah reveals in the Holy Quran, “This day have I perfected your (Deen) religion for you, completed my favour (blessing) upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” Some of the Quranic exegesis says this verse was revealed during the pilgrimage (Umrah) in Hudaibiya, while some say on the day of Arafat – the Prophet’s farewell pilgrimage. In any case, this revelation came towards the end of the Prophet’s earthly life (SAW). In conjunction with this verse, whatever is revealed in the Quran is also manifested in the teachings and practices of the Prophet (SAW). Around the same time as this beautiful verse was revealed, we have the famous Hadith Gabriel (narrated by Bukhari and Muslim).
Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (RAA) reported: One day when we were with Allah’s Messenger (SAW), a man with very white clothing and very black hair came up to us. No mark of travel was visible on him, and none of us recognised him. Sitting down besides the Prophet (SAW), leaning his knees against his and placing his hand on his thighs, he said: ‘Tell me, Muhammad, about Islam.’ He replied: ‘Islam means that you testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad (SAW) is Allah’s Messenger; that you should observe the prayer, pay the Zakat, fast during Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the House if you are able to go there.’ The man said: ‘You have spoken the truth.’ We were surprised at his questioning him and then declaring that he spoke the truth. He said: ‘Now tell me about Imaan.’ He replied: ‘It means that you should believe in Allah (SWT), His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and that you should believe in the decreeing both of good and evil.’ Remarking that he had spoken the truth, he then said: ‘Now tell me about Ihsaan.’ He replied: ‘It means that you worship Allah as though you see Him, for He sees you though you don’t see Him.’ He said: ‘Now tell me about the Hour.’ He replied: ‘The one who is asked about it is no better informed than the one who is asking.’ He said: ‘Then tell me about its signs.’ He replied: ‘That a maid-servant should beget her mistress, and that you should see barefooted, naked, poor men and shepherds exalting themselves in buildings.’ [Umar] says: He then went away, and after I had waited for a long time, [the Prophet] said to me: ‘Do you know who the questioner was, Umar? I replied: ‘Allah and His Messenger know best.’ He said: ‘He was Gabriel who came to you to teach you your religion.’
The students usually do not ask such questions which are actually the foundations of the religion of Islam. This Hadith is said to be “Ummi-Sunnah”, the foundation and the mother of Sunnah, to which all of the meaning of prophetic practices go back, just as ‘Al-fatiha’ is “Ummul-Quran”, the foundation of the Quran which contains the whole meaning of the Quran. Mulla Ali al-Qari, the great master of our tradition, says this hadith is called Hadith Gabriel because of the prominence of Gabriel in it. It is “Ummul Ahadith”, the mother of all the hadiths, and it includes the entirety of Sha’riah, the Prophetic Law, the “Tariqah” (the path and methodology to fallow) and “Haqeeqah” (the manifestation of ultimate reality.) Qari further says that this Hadith is comprehensive illustration (Bayaani-Ijmaali) of the whole Prophetic legacy just as Al-fatiha is the comprehensive clarification of the Quran itself.
Great scholars say that all of the knowledge of the Prophetic legacy and of the Law go back to this hadith. This hadith speaks about three dimensions of the Deen (religion). ‘Islam’ in this particular presentation means outward conformity, that is, following the Law in a way that is harmonious with the way that is taught. ‘Imaan’ is internalising that law properly with correct belief. ‘Ihsaan’ is the stage where the consciousness of the believer becomes so acute that metaphorically speaking, Allah is always before the eyes of the believer. Ihsaan can be translated in many ways, as ethical, as spiritual, and as literally putting the good into practice, so as to make life beautiful. These three different aspects are meant to be part of a single whole; the more harmoniously they become integrated in us, the more perfected the human personality – which was represented by the Prophet (SAW) and His Companions.
Let us put it another way: one of the goals of Islam is to become truly human, and this is possible only through the legacy of Ihsaan, which is to manifest that humanity in ourselves. Quran mentions, “I did not create the spirits and humankind but only to worship Allah.” This is the nature of human beings: to be a race of worshipers. If we do not worship God, we would definitely worship something else. Atheism appears from time to time in human history, in ancient China, India and Greece, and in the 20th century, perhaps the most atheistic century ever when atheism was promoted most effectively and systematically, leading to the emergence of a “secular religion”. However, the knowledge of God is the greatest of all knowledge. In saying that ‘I created humankind to worship Me’, God indicates the path of knowledge through worship, and this is, of course, the way of Sufis. They worship God with absolute conviction and total sincerity. The legacy of Ihsaan allows humans to become truly human.
The writer is a senior journalist. [email protected]