Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Place of Taswawwuf in Traditional Sciences

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is taken from The Place of Taswawwuf in Traditional Sciences by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in learning Islam correctly today is the scarcity of traditional ‘ulama.  In this meaning, Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) related the swahih, rigorously authenticated hadits that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Truly, Allah does not Remove Sacred Knowledge by taking it out of servants, but rather by taking back the souls of scholars, until, when He has not left a single scholar, the people take the ignorant as leaders, who are asked for and who give legal opinion without knowledge, misguided and misguiding.”  This is found in Fath al-Bari.

The process described by the hadits is not yet completed, but has certainly begun, and in our times, the lack of traditional scholars, whether in law, in hadits, in tafsir, has given rise to an understanding of the religion that is far from scholarly, and sometimes far from the truth.  For example, in the course of my own studies in law, my first impression from Orientalist and Muslim-reformer literature, was that the a’immah of the madzahib had brought a set of rules from completely outside the tradition and somehow imposed them upon the Muslims.  But when I sat with traditional scholars in the Middle East and asked them about the details, I came away with a different point of view, having learned the bases for deriving the law from the Qur’an and sunnah.

And similarly with taswawwuf, which is the word I will use tonight for the English ‘Sufism’, since our context is traditional Islam, quite a different picture emerged from talking with scholars of taswawwuf than what I had been exposed to in the West.  Insha’Allah, I will present knowledge taken from the Qur'an and swahih hadits, and from actual teachers of taswawwuf in Syria and Jordan, in view of the need for all of us to get beyond clichés, the need for factual information from sources, the need to answer such questions as where taswawwuf came from, the role it plays in the diyn, and most importantly, the Command of Allah (s.w.t.) about it.

As for the origin of the term ‘taswawwuf’, like many other disciplines, its name was not known to the first generation of Muslims.  The historian, Imam ibn Khaldun (r.a.) noted in his al-Muqaddimah, “This knowledge is a branch of the sciences of sacred law that originated within the ummah.  From the first, the way of such people had also been considered the path of truth and guidance by the early Muslim community and its notables, of the companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.), those who were taught by them, and those who came after them.

It basically consists of dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah (s.w.t.), disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone.  This was the general rule among the companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and the early Muslims, but when involvement in this-worldly things became widespread from the second Islamic century onwards and people became absorbed in worldliness, those devoted to worship came to be called Swufiyyah or People of Taswawwuf.”

In Imam ibn Khaldun’s (r.a.) words, the content of taswawwuf, “total dedication to Allah (s.w.t.),” was, “the general rule among the companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and the early Muslims.”  So if the word did not exist in earliest times, we should not forget that this is also the case with many other disciplines, such as tafsir or ‘ilm al-jarh wa at-ta‘dil’, ‘the science of the positive and negative factors that affect ahadits narrators acceptability,’ or ‘‘ilm at-tawhid’, ‘the science of belief in tenets of faith,’ all of which proved to be of the utmost importance to the correct preservation and transmission of the religion.

As for the origin of the word ‘taswawwuf’, it may well be from Sufi, the person who does taswawwuf, which seems to be etymologically prior to it, for the earliest mention of either term was by Shaykh Hasan al-Baswri (q.s.) who died 110 years after the Hijrah, and is reported to have said, “I saw a Sufi circumambulating the Ka’bah, and offered him a dirham, but he would not accept it.”

It therefore seems better to understand taswawwuf by first asking what a Sufi is; and perhaps the best definition of both the Sufi and his way, certainly one of the most frequently quoted by masters of the discipline, is from the sunnah of the Prophet (s.a.w.) who said, “Allah (s.w.t.) Says, ‘He who is hostile to a friend of Mine, I Declare War against.  My slave approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have Made Obligatory upon him, and My slave keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I Love him.  And when I Love him, I Am his Hearing with which he hears, his Sight with which he sees, his Hand with which he seizes, and his Foot with which he walks.  If he asks me, I will surely Give to him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will surely Protect him.’”  This is found in Fath al-Bari.  This hadits was related by Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.), Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.), Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.), and others with multiple contiguous chains of transmission, and is swahih.  It discloses the central reality of taswawwuf, which is precisely change, while describing the path to this change, in conformity with a traditional definition used by masters in the Middle East, who define a Sufi as ‘faqihun ‘amila bi ‘ilmihi fa awratsahullahu ‘ilma ma lam ya‘lam’, ‘A man of religious learning who applied what he knew, so Allah Bequeathed him Knowledge of what he did not know.’

To clarify, a Sufi is a man of religious learning, because the hadits says, “My slave approaches Me with nothing more Beloved to Me than what I have Made Obligatory upon him,” and only through learning can the Sufi know the Command of Allah (s.w.t.), or what has been made obligatory for him.  He has applied what he knew, because the hadits says he not only approaches Allah (s.w.t.) with the obligatory, but “keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I Love him.”  And in turn, Allah (s.w.t.) Bequeathed him Knowledge of what he did not know, because the hadits says, “And when I Love him, I Am his Hearing with which he hears, his Sight with which he sees, his Hand with which he seizes, and his Foot with which he walks,” which is a metaphor for the consummate awareness of tawhid, or the unity of Allah (s.w.t.), which in the context of human actions such as hearing, sight, seizing, and walking, consists of realising the words of the Qur’an about Allah (s.w.t.) that:

“But Allah has Created you and your handiwork!” (Surah asw-Swaffat:96)

The origin of the way of the Sufi thus lies in the prophetic sunnah.  The sincerity to Allah (s.w.t.) that it entails was the rule among the earliest Muslims, to whom this was simply a state of being without a name, while it only became a distinct discipline when the majority of the ummah had drifted away and changed from this state.  Muslims of subsequent generations required systematic effort to attain it, and it was because of the change in the environment after the earliest generations, that a discipline by the name of taswawwuf came to exist.  But if this is true of origins, the more significant question is: How central is taswawwuf to the religion, and where does it fit into Islam as a whole?  Perhaps the best answer is the hadits of Muslim, that ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) said, “As we sat one day with the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), a man in pure white clothing and jet black hair came to us, without a trace of travelling upon him, though none of us knew him.

He sat down before the Prophet (s.a.w.) bracing his knees against his, resting his hands on his legs, and said, ‘Muhammad, tell me about Islam.’

The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) said, ‘Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and to perform the prayer, give zakat, fast in Ramadhan, and perform the pilgrimage to the House if you can find a way.’

He said, ‘You have spoken the truth,’ and we were surprised that he should ask and then confirm the answer.  Then he said, ‘Tell me about iman.’

And the Prophet (s.a.w.) answered, ‘It is to believe in Allah, His angels, His inspired Books, His messengers, the Last Day, and in destiny, its good and evil.’

‘You have spoken the truth,’ he said, ‘Now tell me about ihsan.’

And the Prophet (s.a.w.) answered, ‘It is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you see Him not, He nevertheless Sees you.’”

The hadits continues to where ‘Umar (r.a.) said, “Then the visitor left.  I waited a long while, and the Prophet (s.a.w.) asked me, ‘Do you know, ‘Umar, who was the questioner?’ and I replied, ‘Allah and His messenger know best.’

He said, ‘It was Jibril come to you to teach you your religion.’”  This is found in Swahih Muslim.  This is a swahih hadits, described by Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.) as one of the ahadits upon which the religion turns.  The use of diyn in the last words of it, “Atakum yu‘allimukum dinakum”, “came to you to teach you your religion,” entails that the religion of Islam is composed of the three fundamentals mentioned in the hadits: Islam, or external compliance with what Allah (s.w.t.) Asks of us; iman, or the belief in the unseen that the prophets have informed us of; and ihsan, or to worship Allah (s.w.t.) as though one sees Him.  The Qur’an Says:

We have, without doubt, Sent down the Message; and We will Assuredly Guard it (from corruption). (Surah al-Hijr:9)

And if we reflect how Allah (s.w.t.), in His Wisdom, has Accomplished this, we see that it is by human beings, the traditional scholars He has Sent at each level of the religion.  The level of Islam has been preserved and conveyed to us by the a’immah of shari‘ah or sacred law and its ancillary disciplines; the level of iman, by the a’immah of ‘aqidah or tenets of faith; and the level of ihsan, “to worship Allah as though you see Him,” by the a’immah of taswawwuf.

The hadits’ very words “to worship Allah” show us the interrelation of these three fundamentals, for the how of “worship” is only known through the external prescriptions of Islam, while the validity of this worship in turn presupposes iman or faith in Allah (s.w.t.) and Revelation, without which worship would be but empty motions; while the words, “as if you see Him,” show that ihsan implies a human change, for it entails the experience of what, for most of us, is not experienced.  So to understand taswawwuf, we must look at the nature of this change in relation to both Islam and iman.

At the level of Islam, we said that taswawwuf requires Islam, through submission to the rules of sacred law.  But Islam, for its part, equally requires taswawwuf.  Why?  For the very good reason that the sunnah which Muslims have been Commanded to follow is not just the words and actions of the Prophet (s.a.w.), but also his states, states of the heart such as taqwa, ikhlasw, tawakkul, rahmah, tawadhu’ and so forth.

Now, it is characteristic of the ethic that human actions are not simply divided into two shades of morality, right or wrong; but rather five, arranged in order of their consequences in the next world.  The wajib, is that whose performance is Rewarded by Allah (s.w.t.) in the next life and whose non-performance is Punished.  The mandub, is that whose performance is Rewarded, but whose non-performance is not punished.  The mubah, is indifferent, unconnected with either Reward or Punishment.  The makruh is that whose non-performance is Rewarded but whose performance is not punished.  The haram, is that whose non-performance is Rewarded and whose performance is Punished, if one dies unrepentant.

Human states of the heart, the Qur’an and sunnah make plain to us, come under each of these headings.  Yet they are not dealt with in books of fiqh or jurisprudence, because unlike the prayer, zakat, or fasting, they are not quantifiable in terms of the specific amount of them that must be done.  But though they are not countable, they are of the utmost importance to every Muslim.  Let us look at a few examples.

There is the love of Allah (s.w.t.).  In the Qur’an, Allah (s.w.t.) Blames those who ascribe associates to Allah (s.w.t.) whom they love as much as they love Allah (s.w.t.).  He Says:

… But those of faith are overflowing in their love for Allah ... (Surah al-Baqarah:165)

This makes being a believer conditional upon having greater love for Allah (s.w.t.) than any other.

There is mercy.  Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) and Imam Muslim (r.a.) related that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Whomever is not merciful to people, Allah will show no mercy.”  Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.) related the hasan hadits, “Mercy is not Taken Out of anyone except the damned,” in al-Jami’ asw-Swahih.

There is love of each other.  Imam Muslim (r.a.) related in his Swahih that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “By Him in Whose Hand is my soul, none of you shall enter Paradise until you believe, and none of you shall believe until you love one another...”

There is presence of mind in swalah.  Imam Abu Dawud (r.a.) related in his Sunan that ‘Ammar ibn Yasir (r.a.) heard the Prophet (s.a.w.) say, “Truly, a man leaves, and none of his prayer has been Recorded for him except a tenth of it, a ninth of it, eighth of it, seventh of it, sixth of it, fifth of it, fourth of it, third of it, a half of it.”  This means that none of a person’s prayer counts for him except that in which he is present in his heart with Allah (s.w.t.).

There is love of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) related in his Swahih that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “None of you believes until I am more beloved to him than his father, his son, and all people.”  This is found in Fath al-Bari.

It is plain from these texts that none of the states mentioned, whether mercy, love, or presence of heart, are quantifiable, for the shari’ah cannot specify that one must “do two units of mercy” or “have three units of presence of mind” in the way that the number of rak‘ah of prayer can be specified, yet each of them is personally obligatory for the Muslim.  Here are a few examples of states that are haram:

There is fear of anyone besides Allah (s.w.t.).  Allah (s.w.t.) Says:

… and fulfill your covenant with Me and I shall Fulfill My Covenant with you and fear none but Me. (Surah al-Baqarah:40)

The last phrase of the above, according to Imam Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (r.a.) in Tafsir al-Fakhr ar-Razi, “establishes that a human being is obliged to fear no one besides Allah (s.w.t.).”

There is despair.  Allah (s.w.t.) Says:

“… truly no one despairs of Allah’s Soothing Mercy, except those who have no faith.” (Surah Yusuf:87)

This, indicating the unlawfulness of this inward state by coupling it with the worst human condition possible, that of unbelief.

There is arrogance.  Imam Muslim (r.a.) related in his Swahih that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “No one shall enter Paradise who has a particle of arrogance in his heart.”

There is envy, meaning to wish for another to lose the Blessings he enjoys.  Imam Abu Dawud (r.a.) related in Sunan Abi Dawud that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Beware of envy, for envy consumes good works as flames consume firewood.”

There is showing off in acts of worship.  Imam al-Hakim (r.a.) related in al-Mustadrak ‘ala asw-Swahihayn with a swahih chain of transmission that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “The slightest bit of showing off in good works is as if worshipping others with Allah.”

These and similar haram inward states are not found in books of fiqh because fiqh can only deal with quantifiable descriptions of rulings.  Rather, they are examined in their causes and remedies by the scholars of the inner fiqh of taswawwuf, men such as Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) in his Ihya’ ‘Ulum ad-Din, “The Reviving of the Religious Sciences”; Imam ar-Rabbani (r.a.) in his Maktubat, “Letters”; Shaykh as-Suhrawardi (r.a.) in his ‘Awarif al-Ma‘arif, “The Knowledge of the Illuminated”; Imam Abu Thalib al-Makki (r.a.) in Qut al-Qulub, “The Sustenance of Hearts”; and similar classic works, which discuss and solve hundreds of ethical questions about the inner life.  These are books of shari’ah and their questions are questions of sacred law, of how it is lawful or unlawful for a Muslim to be; and they preserve the part of the prophetic sunnah dealing with states.

Who needs such information?  All Muslims, for the Qur'anic verses and authenticated ahadits all point to the fact that a Muslim must not only do certain things and say certain things, but also must be something, must attain certain states of the heart and eliminate others.  Do we ever fear someone besides Allah (s.w.t.)?  Do we have a particle of arrogance in our hearts?  Is our love for the Prophet (s.a.w.) greater than our love for any other human being?  Is there the slightest bit of showing off in our good works?  Half a minute’s reflection will show the Muslim where he stands on these aspects of his diyn, and why in classical times, helping Muslims to attain these states was not left to amateurs, but rather delegated to ‘ulama of the heart, the scholars of taswawwuf.  For most people, these are not easy transformations to make, because of the force of habit, because of the subtlety with which we can deceive ourselves, but most of all because each of us has an ego, the self, the Me, which is called in Arabic, an-nafs, about which Allah (s.w.t.) Testifies:

“… the (human soul) certainly prone to evil ...” (Surah Yusuf:53)

If you do not believe it, consider the hadits related by Imam Muslim (r.a.) in his Swahih, that the first person judged on Resurrection Day will be a man martyred in battle.  He will be brought forth.  Allah (s.w.t.) will Reacquaint him with His Blessings upon him and the man will acknowledge them, whereupon Allah (s.w.t.) will Ask, “What have you done with them?”

The man will respond, “I fought to the death for You.”

Allah (s.w.t.) will Reply, “You lie.  You fought in order to be called a hero, and it has already been said.”  Then he will be Sentenced and dragged away on his face and flung into the Fire.

Then a man will be brought forward who learned sacred knowledge, taught it to others, and who recited the Qur’an.  Allah (s.w.t.) will Remind him of His Gifts to him and the man will acknowledge them, and then Allah (s.w.t.) will Ask, “What have you done with them?”

The man will answer, “I acquired sacred knowledge, taught it, and recited the Qur'an, for Your Sake.”

Allah (s.w.t.) will Say, “You lie.  You learned so as to be called a scholar, and read the Qur'an so as to be called a reciter, and it has already been said.”  Then the man will be Sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung into the Fire.

Then a man will be brought forward whom Allah (s.w.t.) Generously Provided for, Giving him various kinds of wealth, and Allah (s.w.t.) will Recall to him the benefits Given, and the man will acknowledge them, to which Allah (s.w.t.) will Ask, “And what have you done with them?”

The man will answer, “I have not left a single kind of expenditure You Love to see made, except that I have spent on it for Your Sake.”

Allah (s.w.t.) will say, “You lie.  You did it so as to be called generous, and it has already been said.”  Then he will be Sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung into the Fire.

We should not fool ourselves about this, because our fate depends on it: in our childhood, our parents taught us how to behave through praise or blame, and for most of us, this permeated and coloured our whole motivation for doing things.  But when childhood ends, and we come of age in Islam, the religion makes it clear to us, both by the above hadits and by the words of the Prophet (s.a.w.), “The slightest bit of showing off in good works is as if worshipping others with Allah,” that being motivated by what others think is no longer good enough, and that we must change our motives entirely, and henceforth be motivated by nothing but desire for Allah (s.w.t.) Himself.  The Revelation thus tells the Muslim that it is obligatory to break his habits of thinking and motivation, but it does not tell him how.  For that, he must go to the scholars of these states, in accordance with the Qur’anic imperative:

… if ye realise this not, ask of those who possess the Message. (Surah an-Nahl:43)

There is no doubt that bringing about this change, purifying the Muslims by bringing them to spiritual sincerity, was one of the central duties of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), for Allah (s.w.t.) Says:

Allah did Confer a Great Favour on the believers when He Sent among them a Messenger from among themselves, rehearsing unto them the Signs of Allah, sanctifying them, and instructing them in Scripture and Wisdom ... (Surah Ali ‘Imran:164)

This explicitly lists four tasks of the prophetic mission, the second of which, yuzakkihim means precisely to ‘purify them’ and has no other lexical sense.  Now, it is plain that this teaching function cannot, as part of an eternal revelation, have ended with the passing of the first generation, a fact that Allah (s.w.t.) Explicitly Confirms in His Injunction in Surah Luqman:

“… and follow the way of those who turn to Me (in love) ...” (Surah Luqman:15)

These verses indicate the teaching and transformative role of those who convey the revelation to Muslims, and the choice of the word ittiba’ in the second verse, which is more general, implies both keeping the company of and following the example of a teacher.  This is why in the history of taswawwuf, we find that though there were many methods and schools of thought, these two things never changed: keeping the company of a teacher, and following his example, in exactly the same way that the swahabah were uplifted and purified by keeping the company of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and following his example.

And this is why the discipline of taswawwuf has been preserved and transmitted by thuruq or groups of students under a particular master.  First, because this was the sunnah of the Prophet (s.a.w.) in his purifying function described by the Qur’an.  Secondly, knowledge has never been transmitted by writings alone, but rather from ‘ulama to students.  Thirdly, the nature of the knowledge in question is of hal or state of being, not just knowing, and hence requires it be taken from a succession of living masters back to the Prophet (s.a.w.), for the sheer range and number of the states of heart required by the revelation effectively make imitation of the personal example of a teacher the only effective means of transmission.

So far we have spoken about taswawwuf in respect to Islam, as a shari‘ah science necessary to fully realise the sacred law in one’s life, to attain the states of the heart demanded by the Qur'an and ahadits.  This close connection between shari‘ah and taswawwuf is expressed by the statement of Imam Malik (r.a.), founder of the Maliki school, that “he who practices taswawwuf without learning sacred law corrupts his faith, while he who learns sacred law without practicing taswawwuf corrupts himself.  Only he who combines the two proves true.”  This is why taswawwuf was taught as part of the traditional curriculum in every madrasah across the Muslim world from Malaysia to Morocco, why many of the greatest shari‘ah scholars of this ummah have been Sufis, and why until the end of the caliphate at the beginning of this century and the subsequent Western control and cultural dominance of Muslim lands, there were teachers of taswawwuf in institutions of higher learning from Lucknow to Istanbul to Cairo.

But there is a second aspect of taswawwuf that we have not yet talked about; namely, its relation to iman, the second pillar of the religion, which in the context of the sciences consists of ‘aqidah.  All Muslims believe in Allah (s.w.t.), and that He is Transcendently beyond anything conceivable to the minds of men, for the human intellect is imprisoned within its own sense impressions and the categories of thought derived from them, such as number, directionality, spatial extension, place, time, and so forth.  Allah (s.w.t.) is beyond all of that; in His Own Words:

… there is nothing whatever like unto Him ... (Surah ash-Shura’:11)

If we reflect for a moment on this verse, in the light of the hadits of Muslim about ihsan that, “it is to worship Allah as though you see Him,” we realise that the means of seeing here is not the eye, which can only behold physical things like itself; nor yet the mind, which cannot transcend its own impressions to reach the Divine, but rather certitude, the light of iman, whose locus is not the eye or the brain, but rather the ruh, a subtle faculty Allah (s.w.t.) has Created within each of us, whose knowledge is unobstructed by the bounds of the Created universe.  Allah (s.w.t.) Says, by way of exalting the nature of this faculty by leaving it a mystery:

They ask thee concerning the Spirit (of inspiration).  Say: “The Spirit (cometh) by command of my Lord of knowledge it is only a little that is communicated to you (O men!).” (Surah al-Isra’:85)

The food of this ruh is dzikr.  Why?  Because acts of obedience increase the light of certainty and iman in the soul, and dzikr is among the greatest of them, as is attested to by the swahih hadits related by Imam al-Hakim (r.a.) that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Shall I not tell you of the best of your works, the purest of them in the eyes of your Master, the highest in raising your rank, better than giving gold and silver, and better for you than to meet your enemy and smite their necks, and they smite yours?”

They asked, “What is it, O Messenger of Allah?”

And he said, “Dzikrullahi ‘Azza wa Jal,” “The remembrance of Allah Mighty and Majestic.”  This is in al-Mustadrak ‘ala asw-Swahihayn.

Increasing the strength of iman through good actions, and particularly through the medium of dzikr has tremendous implications for the religion and traditional spirituality.  A non-Muslim once asked me, “If God Exists, then why all this beating around the bush?  Why does He not just come out and say so?”  The answer is that taklif or moral responsibility in this life is not only concerned with outward actions, but with what we believe, our ‘aqidah, and the strength with which we believe it.  If belief in Allah (s.w.t.) and other eternal truths were effortless in this world, there would be no point in Allah (s.w.t.) Making us responsible for it, it would be automatic, involuntary, like our belief, say, that London is in England.  There would no point in making someone responsible for something impossible not to believe.  But the responsibility Allah (s.w.t.) has Placed upon us is belief in the unseen, as a test for us in this world to choose between kufr and iman, to distinguish believer from unbeliever, and some believers above others.

This why strengthening iman through dzikr is of such methodological importance for taswawwuf: we have not only been Commanded as Muslims to believe in certain things, but have been commanded to have absolute certainty in them.  The world we see around us is composed of veils of light and darkness: events come that knock the iman out of some of us, and Allah (s.w.t.) Tests each of us as to the degree of certainty with which we believe the eternal truths of the religion.  It was in this sense that ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) said, “If the iman of Abu Bakr were weighed against the iman of the entire ummah, it would outweigh it.”

Now, in traditional ‘aqidah one of the most important tenets is the wahdaniyyah of Allah (s.w.t.).  This means He is without any sharik, associate in His Being, in His Attributes, or in His Acts.  But the ability to hold this insight in mind in the rough and tumble of daily life is a function of the strength of yaqin in one’s heart.  Allah (s.w.t.) Tells the Prophet (s.a.w.):

Say: “I have no power over any good or harm to myself except as Allah Willeth ...” (Surah al-A’araf:188)

And yet we tend to rely on ourselves and our plans, in obliviousness to the facts of ‘aqidah that we and our plans have no effect, that Allah (s.w.t.) Alone Brings about effects.  If we want to test yourself on this, the next time we contact someone with good connections whose help is critical to us, take a look at our heart at the moment we ask him to put in a good word for us with someone, and see whom we are relying upon.  If we are like most of people, Allah (s.w.t.) is not at the forefront of our thoughts, despite the fact that He Alone is Controlling the outcome.  Is this a lapse in our ‘aqidah, or, at the very least, in our certainty?

Taswawwuf corrects such shortcomings by step-by-step increasing the Muslim’s certainty in Allah (s.w.t.).  The two central means of taswawwuf in attaining the conviction demanded by ‘aqidah are mudzakarah, or learning the traditional tenets of faith, and dzikr, deepening one’s certainty in them by remembrance of Allah (s.w.t.).  It is part of our faith that, in the words of the Qur’an:

“But Allah has Created you and your handiwork!” (Surah asw-Swaffat:96)

And yet for how many of us is this day to day experience?  Because taswawwuf remedies this and other shortcomings of iman, by increasing the Muslim’s certainty through a systematic way of teaching and dzikr, it has traditionally been regarded as personally obligatory to this pillar of the religion also, and from the earliest centuries of Islam, has proved its worth.

The last question we will deal with is: What about the bad Sufis we read about, who contravene the teachings of Islam?  The answer is that there are two meanings of Sufi: the first is “Anyone who considers himself a Sufi,” which is the rule of thumb of Orientalist historians of Sufism and popular writers, who would oppose the “Sufis” to the “’ulama.”  I think the Qur'anic verses and ahadits we have Mentioned about the scope and method of true taswawwuf show why we must insist on the primacy of the definition of a Sufi as “a man of religious learning who applied what he knew, so Allah Bequeathed him knowledge of what he did not know.”

The very first thing a Sufi, as a man of religious learning knows is that the shari‘ah and ‘aqidah of Islam are above every human being.  Whoever does not know this will never be a Sufi, except in the Orientalist sense of the word, like someone standing in front of the stock exchange in an expensive suit with a briefcase to convince people he is a stockbroker. A real stockbroker is something else.  Because this distinction is ignored today by otherwise well-meaning Muslims, it is often forgotten that the ‘ulama who have criticised Sufis, such as Imam ibn al-Jawzi (r.a.) in his Talbis Iblis, “The Devil’s Deception”; or Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.) in places in his Fatawa, or Imam ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (r.a.), were not criticising taswawwuf as an ancillary discipline to the shari’ah.  The proof of this is Imam ibn al-Jawzi’s (r.a.) five-volume Swifat asw-Swafwah, which contains the biographies of the very same Sufis mentioned in Imam al-Qushayri’s (r.a.) famous taswawwuf manual ar-Risalah al-Qushayriyyah.  Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.) considered himself a Sufi of the Qadiri order, and volumes ten and eleven of his thirty-seven-volume Majmu’ al-Fatawa are devoted to taswawwuf.  And Imam ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (r.a.) wrote his three-volume Madarij as-Salikin, a detailed commentary on Shaykh ‘Abdullah al-Answari al-Harawi’s (r.a.) tract on the spiritual stations of the Sufi path, Manazil as-Sa’irin.  These works show that their authors’ criticisms were not directed at taswawwuf as such, but rather at specific groups of their times, and they should be understood for what they are.

As in other sciences, mistakes historically did occur in taswawwuf, most of them stemming from not recognising the primacy of shari‘ah and ‘aqidah above all else.  But these mistakes were not different in principle from, for example, the Isra’iliyyat, baseless tales of Bani Isra’il, that crept into tafsir literature, or the mawdhu‘at, ahadits forgeries, that crept into the ahadits.  These were not taken as proof that tafsir was bad, or ahadits was deviance, but rather, in each discipline, the errors were identified and warned against by a’immah of the field, because the ummah needed the rest.  And such corrections are precisely what we find in books like Imam al-Qushayri’s (r.a.) Risalah, Imam al-Ghazali’s (r.a.) Ihya’ and other works of Sufism.

For all of the reasons we have mentioned, taswawwuf was accepted as an essential part of the religion by the ‘ulama of this ummah.  The proof of this is all the famous scholars of shari‘ah sciences who had the higher education of taswawwuf, among them Imam ibn ‘Abidin (r.a.), Imam ar-Razi (r.a.), Imam Ahmad as-Sirhindi (r.a.), Shaykh Zakariyyah al-Answari (r.a.), Imam al-‘Izz ibn ‘Abd as-Salam (r.a.), Imam ibn Daqiq al-‘Iyd (r.a.), Imam ibn Hajr al-Haytsami (r.a.), Shah Wali Allah (r.a.), Shaykh Ahmad Dardir (r.a.), Shaykh Ibrahim al-Bajuri (r.a.), Shaykh ‘Abd al-Ghani an-Nablusi (r.a.), Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.), Imam Taqi’ al-Din as-Subki (r.a.), and Imam as-Suyuthi (r.a.).

Among the Sufis who aided Islam with the sword as well as the pen, to quote Reliance of the Traveller, were, “Such men as the Naqshbandi Shaykh Shamil ad-Daghistani (q.s.), who fought a prolonged war against the Russians in the Caucasus in the nineteenth century; Sayyid Muhammad ‘Abdullah as-Sumali (q.s.), a shaykh of the Swalihiyyah order who led Muslims against the British and Italians in Somalia from 1899 to 1920; the Qadiri, Shaykh ‘Utsman ibn Fudi (q.s.), who led jihad in Northern Nigeria from 1804 to 1808 to establish Islamic rule; the Qadiri, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri (q.s.), who led the Algerians against the French from 1832 to 1847; the Darqawi faqir, al-Hajj Muhammad al-Ahrash (q.s.), who fought the French in Egypt in 1799; the Tijani shaykh, al-Hajj ‘Umar Thal (q.s.), who led jihad in Guinea, Senegal, and Mali from 1852 to 1864; and the Qadiri, Shaykh Ma’ al-‘Aynayn al-Qalqami (q.s.), who helped marshal Muslim resistance to the French in northern Mauritania and southern Morocco from 1905 to 1909.  Among the Sufis whose missionary work Islamised entire regions are such men as the founder of the Sanusiyyah order, Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ali as-Sanusi (q.s.), whose efforts and jihad from 1807 to 1859 consolidated Islam as the religion of peoples from the Libyan Desert to sub-Saharan Africa; the Shadzili, Shaykh Muhammad Ma’ruf (q.s.) and Qadiri, Shaykh Uways al-Barawi (q.s.), whose efforts spread Islam westward and inland from the East African Coast.”

It is plain from the examples of such men what kind of Muslims have been Sufis; namely, all kinds, right across the board, and that taswawwuf did not prevent them from serving Islam in any way they could.  To summarise everything, in looking first at taswawwuf and shari‘ah, we found that many Qur’anic verses and swahih ahadits oblige the Muslim to eliminate haram inner states as arrogance, envy, and fear of anyone besides Allah (s.w.t.); and on the other hand, to acquire such obligatory inner states as mercy, love of one’s fellow Muslims, presence of mind in prayer, and love of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  We found that these inward states could not be dealt with in books of fiqh, whose purpose is to specify the outward, quantifiable aspects of the shari‘ah.  The knowledge of these states is nevertheless of the utmost importance to every Muslim, and this is why it was studied under the ‘ulama of ihsan, the teachers of taswawwuf, in all periods of history until the beginning of the present century.

We then turned to the level of iman, and found that though the ‘aqidah of Muslims is that Allah (s.w.t.) Alone has any effect in this world, keeping this in mind in everyday life is not a given of human consciousness, but rather a function of a Muslim’s yaqin.  And we found that taswawwuf, as an ancillary discipline to ‘aqidah, emphasises the systematic increase of this certainty through both mudzakarah, teaching tenets of faith and dzikr, the remembrance of Allah (s.w.t.), in accordance with the words of the Prophet (s.a.w.) about ihsan that "it is worship Allah as though you see Him."

Lastly, we found that accusations against taswawwuf made by scholars such as Imam ibn al-Jawzi (r.a.), and Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.) were not directed against taswawwuf in principle, but to specific groups and individuals in the times of these authors, the proof for which is the other books by the same authors that showed their understanding of taswawwuf as a shari’ah science.

To return to the starting point, with the disappearance of traditional scholars from the ummah, two very different pictures of taswawwuf emerge today.  If we read books written after the dismantling of the traditional fabric of Islam by colonial powers in the last century, we find the big hoax: Islam without spirituality and shari‘ah without taswawwuf.  But if we read the classical works of scholarship, we learn that taswawwuf has been a shari‘ah science like tafsir, hadits, or any other, throughout the history of Islam.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Truly, Allah does not Look at your outward forms and wealth, but rather at your hearts and your works.”  This is from Swahih Muslim.

And this is the brightest hope that Islam can offer a modern world darkened by materialism and nihilism: Islam as it truly is; the hope of eternal salvation through a religion of brotherhood and social and economic justice outwardly, and the direct experience of Divine Love and illumination inwardly.

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