Quora Answer: What are Some Major Differences between Sufi Islam & Islam?
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following is my answer to a Quora question: “What are some major differences between Sufi Islam and Islam?”
There is no such thing as “Sufi Islam”, in the sense that Sufism is not a sect. Sects arise out of major theological differences. Sufism, or taswawwuf, or ‘irfan, as it is also known, is a field of the religious sciences pertaining to the practices and doctrines of spirituality in Islam. As such, there are Sunni and Shi’ah Sufis; there are Sufis from every madzhab, jurisprudential school of thought; and there are Sufis from the major schools of creed, whether Ash’ari, Maturidi, Thahawi or Atsari.
The term “Sufi” does not actually refer to the practitioner of the spiritual path. One who sits with them is a muhib, a lover; and one who has taken the bay’ah, spiritual initiation, and formally joined a thariqa’, spiritual order, is a murid, student. A Sufi is more properly a realised master of the spiritual path, and they are rare. A Sufi is one who has dedicated a life towards taqwa, God consciousness; inclining the heart towards Allah (s.w.t.), whilst being detached from Creation. It is a path where there are many pretenders and detractors, but few who are real.
The vast majority of Sunni scholars were Sufis. These included the founders of the four major schools of jurisprudence: Imam Abu ‘Abdullah Malik ibn Anas (r.a.), Imam Abu Hanifah Nu’man ibn Tsabit (r.a.), ,Imam Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi’i (r.a.), and ,Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.). These included the founder of the major schools of creed: Imam Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Isma’il al-Ash’ari (r.a.), Imam Abu Manswur Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Maturidi (r.a.), and Imam Abu Ja’far Ahmad ibn Muhammad ath-Thahawi (r.a.). These included the authors of some of our major works of the religious sciences, from theology to narrations to philosophy to exegesis: from Imam Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Isma’il al-Bukhari (r.a.) to Imam Abu Zakariya Yahya ibn Sharaf an-Nawawi (r.a.), from Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali (r.a.) to Hafizh Abu al-Fida’ ‘Imad ad-Din Isma’il ibn ‘Umar ibn Katsir (r.a.). One cannot have claimed to be one of the ‘ulama, the scholars, if there is no mastery of one of the major sciences of the faith.