Wednesday, 23 December 2009

What is a Sufi?

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

A Muslim organisation I was involved hosted Dr. ‘Abdullah Hakim Quick.  And I had the misfortune of being the chairperson for his talk.  Typical of the organisation, they prefer Salafi speakers and avoid Sufis.  I detest the Wahhabi doctrine.  There is no greater fitnah in the ummah than their version of Islam.
As per his biography, Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick is a historian, social activist and religious leader of African and Native American descent.  He has travelled to over 58 countries doing research and delivering lectures to various communities.  His qualification in Islamic Studies comes from a BA from the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia and his history background is shaped by an MA and PhD from the History Department of the University of Toronto, Canada.  Presently, Dr Abdullah is the Director of the Discover Islam Centre of Cape Town, South Africa and a special advisor to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain. 
In the da’wah workshop that they had, he spoke of hikmah as putting things in their correct place.  I remember we had Prof. Karim Douglas Crow several years ago and he spoke on the works of Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali (r.a.).  Justice in Islam is to put things in their place.  And that is the nature of Allah (s.w.t.).  Allah (s.w.t.) is al-Adl, the Most Just.  And this is a similar position explained by Shaykh ‘Abdal Hakim Murad.  Hikmah then, would be knowing the place of things.  And Allah (s.w.t.) Knows.  We do not.  We accept.  And that is submission.  When you cannot accept, it has become a state of rebellion.

I chaired that particular talk and I sat next to him when he made some comments I did not think befitted someone of his knowledge.  He mentioned in the first talk that the Sufis were those who stayed in the mosque to teach in the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.) since they ‘had no proper jobs’.  I am surprised and disappointed that he, as a historian, made such an error.  This is absolutely incorrect.  The foremost Sufis amongst the Companions included Abu Bakr asw-Swiddique (r.a.), from whom the Naqshbandi Tradition comes from; ‘Ali ibn Abi Thalib (k.w.), who is the doorway for the forty thuruq; Salman al-Farsi (r.a.) and so many others.  They are the stars in the firmament of the Faith.  They all had jobs.  The Sufi tradition is the detachment of the world, not seclusion from it.  It is the very sunnah of the Prophet (s.a.w.).

So who are the Sufis?  What does the term even mean?  A lot of people mention them all the time.  There is even a certain board member of a particular Muslim organisation who calls the thariqa’, ‘terikat’.  They are the ignorant.  And there are many more of them have no idea what they are talking about.  Even those who claim to follow the Path.  To paraphrase Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.), we cannot talk about cups when we do not even know what a cup is.  It is sound reasoning.  In the same vein, I could use a thousand, thousand words to describe a peach.  But if one has never tasted it, he will never understand.  But take one bite of it, and all the knowledge becomes inherent.  This is the Path of Taste.  Not of the intellect.  We cannot know our Creator by logic since our logic is inadequate.  We Know Him by Him.

So who better to describe the Sufis than the Arch-Intercessor himself, the one whose feet are on the necks of all the saints?  He is al-Ghawts al-A‘azham wa al-Quthb al-A’azham Muhyi ad-Din Shaykh Abu Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (q.s.).  He is the founder of the Qadiriyya and its related Traditions.  According to Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (q.s.), the Sufis have four interpretations for their names.  These names are given on account of what they represented to those who knew of them and their ways.

When some had looked at the exterior and seen the woollen garb of which they became famous for wearing, they were called thus after the Arabic word for wool which is ‘swuf’.  The garb is to symbolise humility by leaving that which is ostentatious.  But even that garb may be a veil for those who have humbled themselves may become proud that they are humble.

When others looked at their way of life, free from the anxieties of the world, at their submission, at their peace of mind; they called them Sufi after that state which in Arabic is ‘swafa’.  For surely Allah is the Best of Planners.  And those who remember the Planner cannot be in a state of continual distress.



Who have believed and whose hearts have rest in the remembrance of Allah.  Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest!  (Surah ar-Ra’ad:28)

Another group noticed the purity of their hearts and the sincerity of their ‘ibadah.  And they were the ‘Pure Ones’ and thus named Sufi from ‘swafi’ which means ‘pure’ in Arabic.  They have been purified of the Self.  For when the Self is absent, the Divine is Present.  The Divine is Inherent.

Still others took note that they were the people of the first row or ‘swaff’, the ahl asw-swaff.  There is a deeper meaning to this term but that is for the Knowers.  And that is why it is best to be in the first swaff at every swalah.  There is where the barakah is greatest.  That is where the winds of Jannah blow.  And that would be our place on the Day of Standing, insha’Allah.

The earliest written use of the term ’Sufi’ is in reference to a student of Imam Ja’far asw-Swadiq (q.s.), Shaykh Jabir ibn Hayyan (r.a.) in the 2nd Century after Hijrah.  This is not new term.  Neither are the practices of the Sufis anything new since they are all from Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).  These are not the people of shara’.  They are the people of wara’.  They have moved beyond the Path of the Law to the Path of Caution.  The doctrine of taswawwuf and Islam as espoused by Quthb al-‘Arifin, Shaykh Tayfur Bayazid al-Bistami (q.s.) is thus:

a.         Follow the Qur’an and the sunnah;

b.         Always speak the truth;

c.         Free the heart from hatred;

d.         Avoid forbidden food; and

e.         Shun innovation

One of the thariqa’ is the only Sufi tradition of the forty-one that takes its silsilah through Abu Bakr asw-Swiddiq (r.a.).  His status is such that he is mentioned as “The second of two when they were in the cave.”



If ye help him not, still Allah Helped him when those who disbelieve drove him forth, the second of two; when they two were in the cave, when he said unto his comrade: Grieve not.  Lo! Allah is with us.  Then Allah Caused His Peace of Reassurance to Descend upon him and Supported him with hosts ye cannot see, and made the word of those who disbelieved the nethermost, while Allah's Word it was that became the uppermost.  Allah is Mighty, Wise.  (Surah at-Tawbah:40)

In authentic hadits, Rasulullah (s.a.w.) said: “Abu Bakr does not precede you by much fasting and prayer, but because of a secret that it is in his heart.”  His status is without doubt.

For those who seek beyond the apparent, come to the Circle.  And take that which is heavy, leave that which is light.  Leave nothing of yourself for yourself.  For we are travellers, and the world is a mirage.  All existence is an illusion.  And in the end, we return to al-Haqq.



Every soul must taste of death, and We Try you with evil and with good, for ordeal.  And unto Us ye will be returned.  (Surah al-Anbiya’:35)

No matter the titles they hold, do not listen to those who speak of the People of the Path, if they have not walked it.  Do not ask the worm what it is to soar like an eagle, nor ask the eagle what it is to swim like a salmon.  For even if they read a thousand books about it, they cannot tell you of it.  Ask the one who has been Annihilated in the Presence of Allah (s.w.t.) and returned.  He will tell of it.  But he will tell you how to find the Door.


No matter the titles they hold, do not listen to those who speak of the People of the Path, if they have not walked it.  Do not ask the worm what it is to soar like an eagle, nor ask the eagle what it is to swim like a salmon.  For even if they read a thousand books about it, they cannot tell you of it.  Ask the one who has been Annihilated in the Presence of Allah (s.w.t.) and returned.  He will tell of it.  But he will tell you how to find the Door.

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