Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education

The Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE) is a non-profit, tax exempt, religious and educational organization dedicated to serve Islam with a special focus on Tasawwuf(Sufism),

Monday, May 7, 2018

SALAFI CRITICISM OF SUFISM: A REFUTATION - Professor Vincent Cornell ( Mansur Mujahid) ,Emory University

Salafi Criticism of Sufism: A Refutation 
(excerpted from an article by Prof. Vincent J. Cornell )

Vincent Cornell is an American scholar of Islam. From 2000 to 2006 he was a Professor of History and Director of the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Arkansas. He was an advisor to the award-winning, PBS-broadcast documentary Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet (2002),He left Arkansas in 2006 to become a Professor of History at Emory University, in AtlantaSufism and Islamic philosophy are among his specialities


Among the criticisms leveled at the Sufi tradition by its modern Muslim opponents, two stand out as most prominent. The first is that Sufism does not represent authentic Islam. This is allegedly because its teachings do not come directly from the Qur'an, the Prophet Muhammad, and the first generations of Muslims (al-Salaf al-Salih). According to this "Salafi" argument, Sufism is a Trojan horse for unwarranted innovations that owe their origins to non-Muslim civilizations such as Greece, Persia, and India. The Salafi polemic began early in the history of Sufism, and is often associated with the anti-Sufi arguments of Hanbali scholars, such as Ibn al-Jawzi (d.1201) in Talbis Iblis or Ibn Taymiyya (d.1328) in his critiques of Ibn 'Arabi.[1] It was given a new lease on life in the twentieth century by the modernist reformer Muhammad Rashid Rida (d.1935), who edited Ibn Taymiyya's works and influenced later Salafi ideologues such as Hasan al-Banna (d.1949), the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.[2] Although Banna saw some value in what he called "pure" Sufism, he condemned the Sufi tradition as a whole for incorporating foreign ideas, such as "the sciences of philosophy and logic and the heritage and thought of ancient nations". As a result, he asserted, "Wide gaps were opened for every atheist, apostate, and corrupter of opinion and faith to enter by the door in the name of Sufism."[3]
In the generation after Banna's death, Salafi modernism, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and allied groups such as Pakistan's Jamaat-i Islam, contracted a marriage of convenience with Salafi traditionalism, represented by the Wahhabi sect of Saudi Arabia. The result of this union was the birth in 1962 of the Muslim World League (Rabitat al-'Alam al-Islami), which provided financial and institutional support for Salafi missionary activities in the Muslim world and beyond.[4] The worldwide spread of Salafism was accompanied by a systematic campaign against Islamic traditionalism (except for Hanbali traditionalism) that has seriously undermined Sufism as a viable spiritual alternative in Muslim countries. In the words of Sayyid Qutb (d.1966), the former head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Section for the Propagation of the Message, the al-Salaf al-Salih "created a generation – the generation of the Companions of the Prophet, may God be pleased with them – without comparison in the history of Islam, even in the entire history of man. After this, no other generation of this caliber was ever again to be found."[5] According to Qutb, traditional Islam allowed itself to be reconquered by the very ignorance, depravity, and misguidance (jahiliyya) that the original message of Islam had sought to overcome. Sufism supposedly helped to perpetuate this new jahiliyya because it was a remnant of the "feudal ages": its traditionalism was an obstacle to progress and reform, and it advocated a spiritual withdrawal from life that led to the evil of a socially useless existence. For Qutb, Sufism was the first blow to be struck at the integrity of Islamic thought and the existence of the "Islamic nation".[6]
Sayyid Qutb's polemic exemplifies the second major criticism of Sufism in the modern era: that it is impractical and socially irrelevant. This critique has been nearly as harmful to the reputation of Sufism as the accusation of inauthenticity. For Hasan al-Banna, Sufism fostered an "isolated spirituality" (ruhaniyya i'tizaliyya) that leads to political and social quietism. This tendency runs counter to the "socially-conscious spirituality" (ruhaniyya ijtima'iyya) of Islamic activism, which promotes practice over theory and calls for open resistance against political and social injustice.[7] Banna's successors were even more extreme in their criticisms of Sufism's relevance. For Qutb and Muhammad al-Ghazali (d.1996), Sufism was a medieval relic. Unscrupulous politicians used Sufi doctrines to "drug the masses" and "exploit the people" by causing victimized Muslims to resign themselves to their economic and social fate. Unlike Banna, who maintained amicable relations with some Sufi orders, they saw the Sufi tariqa as a prime cause of Muslim disunity.[8]
Today, leaders of Salafi organizations routinely use these critiques to turn Muslims away from the Sufi message. In many communities, anti-Sufi attitudes have led to a "tyranny of the majority" that adversely affects the lives of Muslims who follow the Sufi way. This tyranny can be observed even in liberal democratic countries such as the United States. The American Muslim, a widely distributed magazine published by the Muslim American Society of Falls Church, Virginia, contains an advice column in which a "Sheikh" named Muhammad al-Hanooti gives fatwas on various aspects of Muslim life and practice. In the September 2003 issue, a woman who has been approached by "a good Muslim man" for marriage inquires about her suitor's practice of Sufism (p. 38). She wonders about the suitability of a Sufi for marriage because she does "not want to end up with someone who does something wrong against Islam". Hanooti's response clearly illustrates the danger that Salafi ideas pose for Sufis who wish to remain active in their communities. "I do not know what sort of Sufi he is," says Hanooti, "but, in general, I advise you to marry a person who has good knowledge of Islam, and one who is not merely following culture and tradition. In general, I would caution you against marrying a Sufi, for a great many of them do not have a good knowledge of Islam and are tilted toward lives of inconvenience." By counseling the woman to not marry a Sufi, Hanooti is in effect saying that Sufis are not Muslims and that the Qur'anic ban against a Muslim woman's marriage to a non-Muslim applies not only to the followers of other religions, but to Sufis as well.
**Sufism and Authentic Tradition**
Those who are well acquainted with the doctrines and history of Sufism know that both of the critiques detailed above are false. First of all, Sufism, like most religious institutions in Sunni Islam, traces its origins to the Qur'an, the Sunna of the Prophet Muhammad, and the way of al-Salaf al-Salih. Thus, Sufism has just as much right to be called "Salafi" as its opponents. Most of the early systematizers of Sufism, such as Ab 'Abd al-Rahman alSulami (d.1021), Ab Nu'aym al-Isfahani (d.1038 9), and Ab al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d.1074), were trained in Shafi'i jurisprudence, which was "Salafi" to the core. Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d.855), the founder of the Hanbali tradition, was a student of Imam al-Shafi'i (d.820), and the Hanbali and Shafi'i legal schools do not differ on essential matters. Although Salafi opponents of Sufism have the right to object to Sufi doctrines and practices, they do not have a warrant to claim that Sufism has no authenticity. In fact, it is easier to claim that Sufism, not Salafism, is the more authentic, because its traditions are more consistent with the historical contours of Islamic thought. It is much more difficult to maintain, as Salafi modernists do, that nearly all of Islamic thought between the first century of Islam and the nineteenth or twentieth century of the Common Era is a distortion of "true" Islam.
The accusation that Sufism is impractical or socially irrelevant is equally false. In the Sufi tradition, one of the earliest terms for "saint" was salih. This is the same term used in the phrase, al-Salaf al-Salih, which denotes the supposed forerunners of today's Salafis. The Qur'an mentions the salihin, along with martyrs and propagators of the Islamic message, as people whom Allah has favored (4: 69). A salih (fem. saliha) is a morally upstanding and socially constructive person who performs righteous works (salah) and strives for the improvement (islah) of oneself and one's fellow human beings.[9] Since a major role of the Sufi salih is to make the world a better place, it is hard to argue that such a person is socially irrelevant. The retreats and periods of meditation practiced by Sufi salihin were means to specific ends; they were not ends in themselves. Many Sufis emerged from their retreats to become active in their societies. Sometimes this activism was manifested outwardly, as among the famous activist shaykhs of North Africa.[10] At other times it was manifested inwardly, such as when Harith ibn Asad al-Muhasibi of Baghdad (d.837) formulated the Sufi doctrine of the tripartite soul (nafs).[11] Are we to conclude that Muhasibi's ideas were not relevant because he preferred to look for the causes of social problems such as murder, suicide, and tyranny in the individual psyche rather than in society at large? Is a Sufi "psychologist" such as Muhasibi less socially useful than a modern Salafi politician?
In the present-day culture war that pits Salafi and other forms of Islamic activism against an ideologically demonized West, and that pits a resurgent Western positivism and cultural imperialism against an ideologically demonized Islam, the perspectives of Sufism and other major traditions of classical Islam are more important than ever. The wholesale rejection of the historical traditions of Islamic thought by Salafi modernist ideologues constitutes a massive example of the fallacy of the excluded middle. To all intents and purposes, there are no "middle ages" for Salafi Islam. Instead, the idealized memory of a pristine "original age" provides the basis for a utopian political ideology whose vaunted "Islamic system" was never part of traditional Islamic society. There is no historical authenticity in such a combination of myth and fantasy. Although Salafi ideologues are often nostalgic for the past glory of Islamic civilization, they seldom mention that this glory was built on foundations – such as those provided by Sufism and other traditional Islamic disciplines like Kalam and Falsafa – that have mostly been rejected by present-day reformers. Such a position is both logically and historically untenable. In the study of Hadith, a tradition is considered inauthentic (marfu') if the chain of transmission between the Prophet Muhammad and the present is broken. How then, can Salafi modernism, which willfully rejects twelve centuries of Islamic development between the Prophet and the present age, claim to be authentic when its own tradition is marfu' as well?
Commenting on the contradictions of the early modern age, the Moroccan Sufi Ridwan ibn 'Abdallah al-Januwi (d.1583) warned his contemporaries: "Soon you will see, when the dust clears, whether a horse or an ass is beneath you!"[12] Today's contradictions within Islam are more lethal; it is a bomb, not an ass, which Salafi ideologues may be riding into the future. The extremist tendency of Salafi utopianism has become all too visible since September 11, 2001. Its single-minded hubris has transformed a regional problem into a global crisis. If Muslims cannot accept doctrinal differences among themselves, how can they hope to live in a globalized world, in which cultural and religious differences are norms rather than exceptions? An authentic Islamic theology of difference is needed to make sense of a pluralistic world. Such a theology must be premised on the realization that the present state of religious diversity reflects the will of God and that Islam allows different paths to an understanding of the divine will.
Excerpted from “Practical Sufism: An Akbarian Foundation for a Liberal Theology of Difference” http://traditionalhikma.com/…/Practical-Sufism-an-Akbarian-…
[Note from Dr. Godlas: There seems to be an editorial error. One way to correct it would be as follows: "In the study of Hadith, a tradition is **not** considered authentic (marfu') if the chain of transmission between the Prophet Muhammad and the present is broken. How then, can Salafi modernism, which willfully rejects twelve centuries of Islamic development between the Prophet and the present age, claim to be authentic when its own tradition is **not** marfu' as well?"
Another way to correct it would be "In the study of Hadith, a tradition is considered inauthentic (**mu'allaq, lit. suspended**) if the chain of transmission between the Prophet Muhammad and the present is broken. How then, can Salafi modernism, which willfully rejects twelve centuries of Islamic development between the Prophet and the present age, claim to be authentic when its own tradition is **mu'allaq** as well?"
Notes
1. See Alexander D. Knysh, Ibn 'Arabi in the Later Islamic Tradition: the Making of a Polemical Image in Medieval Islam (Albany, NY, 1999), pp. 87 112.
2. Ibid., p. 90. See also Richard P. Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers (New York and Oxford, 1993 reprint of 1969 first edn), p. 5. Banna was a frequent visitor to the Salafiyya bookstore in Cairo and the Muslim Brotherhood published the final edition of Rida's journal, al-Manar (ibid. pp. 321 2).
3. Mitchell, Muslim Brothers, p. 214.
4. The first council of the Muslim World League, which met in December 1962, was headed by Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Al al-Shaykh, a direct lineal descendant of Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab (d.1791), the founder of Wahhabism, and included Said Ramadan, the sonin-law of Hasan al-Banna. See Hamid Algar, Wahabbism: A Critical Essay (Oneonta, NY, 2002), p. 49. Said Ramadan was stripped of his citizenship by the revolutionary government of Egypt in 1953. He had long been a key figure in the Muslim Brotherhood's international bureau and was influential in the establishment of the Brotherhood in Syria. He subsequently received political asylum in Switzerland, where his son, the prominent European Islamic intellectual Tariq Ramadan, was born. See also Mitchell, Muslim Brothers, pp. 141 2.
5. Seyyid Qutb, Milestones (Damascus, English trans. of 1962 Arabic edn, n.d.), p. 15.
6. Mitchell, Muslim Brothers, p. 216.
7. Ibid. Mitchell translates ruhaniyya ijtima'iyya as "social spirituality".
8. Ibid.
9. On the concept of salah see Vincent J. Cornell, Realm of the Saint: Power and Authority in Moroccan Sufism (Austin, TX, 1998), p. 6.
10. Ibid. See especially the chapters on Abu al-'Abbas al-Sabti (d.1204), pp. 79 92, and Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli (d.1465), pp. 155 229. In his youth, Hasan al-Banna joined a socially active Sufi order known as the Hasafiyya. He was involved with this order for twenty years, and claimed that the Hasafiyya Society for Charity was the inspiration for the Society of the Muslim Brothers. Mitchell, Muslim Brothers, pp. 2 6.
11. On Muhasibi's theory of personality, see Margaret Smith, An Early Mystic of Baghdad: A Study of the Life and Teaching of Harith B. Asad al-Muhasibi, A.D: 781 857 (London, 1977 reprint of 1935 first edn), pp. 86 110.
12. Muhammad ibn Yusuf as-Sijilmasi, Tuhfat al-ikhwan wa mawahib al-imtinan fi manaqib Sidi Ridwan ibn 'Abdallah al-Januwi (Rabat: Bibliothèque Générale, ms. 114K), p. 86. [All translations are mine [i.e., V. Cornell’s] unless otherwise noted

Thursday, March 29, 2018

" Mawlid is Communal Obligation ( Fard Kifayah)" - Shaykh Rehmatullah Kairanwi -Founder Sawlatiyyah School, Makkah,Hijaz,KSA

Shaykh Rehmatullah Kairanwi, the famous Indian scholar who migrated to the Hijaz and set up the Sawlatiyyah school held that Mawlid gatherings - when free of any unlawful elements - were a communal obligation (Fard Kifayah). This was in his time when he felt that there was significant islamophobia in India and that the Mawlid was an effective means to counteract this.
He said:
This is the belief of My noble teachers and myself regarding the Mawlid Sharif from the past, and is currently so…
The belief is that the gathering of Milad be organised with the condition that it be free of unlawful acts such as singing, musical instruments and excessive lights. Rather- based on the authentic narrations- mention is made of the miracles and birth of Hazrat (Allah bless him and give him peace). After this if good food and shirini is distributed, there is no problem in this.
Rather in this age when from every direction there is the commotion of priests, and in market places the religion of Hazrat (Allah bless him and give peace) is criticized, and from the other direction the Arya people (God guide them) like the priests are causing a greater commotion than them.
These gatherings with those conditions which I have mentioned above are at this time a communal obligation (fard kifayah). I say to Muslim brothers by way of sincere advice to not stop from holding such gatherings, and most certainly to not pay attention to those critics who hold unwarranted views due to their fanaticism.
If in the specifying of the day there is not the belief that no other day other than this is permissible, then there is no problem with this, and its permissibility is established very well (ba khubi).
Since 600 years the standing (qiyam) at the time of the mention of the birth has been declared permissible by the majority of the righteous scholars, scholars of kalam, Sufi’s, scholars and hadith specialists. The author of the treatise has made these matters apparent very well. I am amazed at these critics who blindly follow/make taqlid of Fakihani Maghribi and group together the majority of the righteous predecessors, scholars of kalam, hadith specialists and Sufi’s, and label them as misguiding and misguided and do not fear God that included in this are these people’s teacher and spiritual guide such as Hazrat Shah Abd al-Rahim Dehlawi and his son Shah Waliullah Dehlawi, and his son Shah Rafi al-Din Dehlawi and his brother Shah Abd al-Aziz Dehlawi, his grandson Mawlana Muhammad Ishaq Dehlawi (Allah sanctify their secrets) all of them are included in being misguided and misguiding…"

Sunday, January 14, 2018

SUFISM IN ISLAMIC SHARIAH- SHAYKH ABDALLAH BIN BAYYAH

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most MercifulIn the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise is due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon our master, Muhammad, and upon his family and Companions.
Introduction
There have long been intellectual disputes among Muslim sects and ideologies, and Sufism is no exception, both in principle and in detail. The present article is focused exclusively on major Sufi thoughts, as these underlie and govern detailed tenets and practices. Any given idea is judged depending on its background rationale and holistic grounds.
To better understand it, let’s first investigate what the term “Sufism” means. In his Al-Qawa`id (The Rules), Sidi Ahmad Zarruq enumerated as many as two thousand definitions of Sufism, concluding that the core of Sufism is true orientation to Allah, or Ihsan (i.e., piety and goodness).
In An-Niqayah (The Selection), As-Siyuti defined Sufism as “hearty devotion to Allah and holding everything inferior to Him”. Another definition is “rising above vanities towards sublimities”.
According to Ibn Abu Sharif, such many definitions are due to taking a major aspect of Sufism as the defining feature of it. It is like the Prophet’s saying, “Hajj is `Arafah”, that is, the ritual of staying at `Arafah is so decisive for validity of Hajj that it can be seen as equal to Hajj itself.
Al-Bisti highlighted that variety of definitions in the following lines:In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise is due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon our master, Muhammad, and upon his family and Companions.
Introduction
There have long been intellectual disputes among Muslim sects and ideologies, and Sufism is no exception, both in principle and in detail. The present article is focused exclusively on major Sufi thoughts, as these underlie and govern detailed tenets and practices. Any given idea is judged depending on its background rationale and holistic grounds.
To better understand it, let’s first investigate what the term “Sufism” means. In his Al-Qawa`id (The Rules), Sidi Ahmad Zarruq enumerated as many as two thousand definitions of Sufism, concluding that the core of Sufism is true orientation to Allah, or Ihsan (i.e., piety and goodness).
In An-Niqayah (The Selection), As-Siyuti defined Sufism as “hearty devotion to Allah and holding everything inferior to Him”. Another definition is “rising above vanities towards sublimities”.
According to Ibn Abu Sharif, such many definitions are due to taking a major aspect of Sufism as the defining feature of it. It is like the Prophet’s saying, “Hajj is `Arafah”, that is, the ritual of staying at `Arafah is so decisive for validity of Hajj that it can be seen as equal to Hajj itself.
Al-Bisti highlighted that variety of definitions in the following lines:
People differed on the meaning of Sufi
Mistakenly ascribing it to Suf (i.e., wool)
But I am certain that it describes
A person who is Safi (i.e., purified)
A good way to make things clear is by comparison. According to Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, actions are either outward (practice) or inward (belief), and the latter is either good or bad. Sufism is concerned with the inward, while the outward is the scope of Fiqh (i.e., Islamic jurisprudence — which can be defined as understanding particular Shar`i rulings derived from detailed evidence).
Anyway, regardless of the name, what matters is how it is understood in general usage. It is the perception of the term that determines whether it is positive or negative. Allah says, {And He taught Adam all the names (of everything)}.
What is the essence of Sufism? It is true orientation; it is Ihsan, the third part of this religion, as indicated in a hadith that was like a review of over 20 years of religious education for Companions. The Archangel Gabriel came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and asked him about the three parts of the great Islamic Message: Islam (i.e., submission), Iman (i.e., faith), and Ihsan.
Ihsan is the ultimate perfection and sublimity — it is to feel as if Allah is present with you when you are worshipping Him. Ihsan is a concurrence of worship and that sublime feeling of divine presence. In the hadith referred to above, the Prophet explained Ihsan as “to worship Allah as if you are seeing him”. Meanwhile, Gabriel was confirming what the Prophet said, and Companions wondered about such a questioner who is approving the answer of his instructor: “How odd! How come he is asking him and then agreeing with him?!” Normally, one asks about something one does not know; but confirming the Prophet’s words meant he had already known the answer.
Though uncommon, that concomitance of worship and sense of divine attendance had some mention in several writings. Rule 21 by Zarruq acknowledged the knowledge-application association: “It is well known that Sufism exists only when put into practice. Claiming to be a Sufi without really acting as a Sufi is a fraud. Practice is a prerequisite for true Sufism. It is said,
Knowledge should be followed by action.
How to Achieve Ihsan?
Sufism includes various methods, derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah as well as personal experiences of prominent spiritual figures, in line with Allah’s saying: {And in yourselves. Then will you not see?}. Those figures did their best in worship, observed regular extra-rituals, and enjoined them publicly. They performed all religious observances, be they obligatory or supererogatory, and shunned all religious prohibitions, be they haram or detestable. This is the tradition of true Sufis and their followers who avoid worldly pleasures and live piously and ascetically to be deserving of reward in the Hereafter, as Ash-Shatibi described them in his Al-Muwafaqat (The Agreed Upon Issues).
Also, they got so engrossed in Dhikr (i.e., praise-giving and extolment of Allah), indulging themselves in the gardens of Paradise, as the Prophet said in an authentic hadith, “When you find the gardens of Paradise, indulge yourselves”. He was asked, “O Messenger of Allah! What are the gardens of Paradise?” He replied, “Gatherings for Dhikr”. The same meaning was referred to in a poetic line by Imam Abu Al-Qasim:
The heart gains delight from Dhikr, so seek it keenly
And do not abandon the gardens of People of Dhikr, or you will get thirsty
Al-Junayd (may Allah confer mercy upon him) said, “We became Sufis not through gossip or debate, but rather through hunger, sleepless nights, and sticking to good deeds”.
Sufism has its roots in the Qur’an, Sunnah, and legacy of Salaf (i.e., righteous Muslim predecessors). As an example of the Sufi, Rule 33 by Zarruq cited a hadith related by Al-Bukhari in his Al-Jami` (The Comprehensive Reference). It tells that a man borrowed 1000 dinars. The lender said, “Appoint a witness”. The man said, “Sufficient is Allah as Witness”. He then said, “Appoint a warrantor”. The man said, “Sufficient is Allah as Warrantor”. The lender consented. When the debt came due, the lender was unreachable. So, the man put the money inside a piece of wood, with a patch attached thereto telling the story, and set it adrift, leaving it in the care of the Warrantor he had chosen: Allah. Then, the money was found by the lender. Later on, thinking that the money did not reach the lender, the man came to him with another 1000 dinars, to make sure that the debt was settled.
Another example of Sufis is the saying in the Qur’anic verse: {(They say, “We feed you only for the sake of Allah; we wish not from you reward or gratitude. Indeed, we fear from our Lord a Day full of wrath and distress”}. According to the verse, it is Allah’s Satisfaction, not the fear of Him, that motivated them to do good. And Allah knows best!
A man asked Ash-Shalabi (may Allah confer merci upon him), “How much Zakah is due on five she-camels?” He said, “The prescribed Zakah is a sheep, For us, the five shall be given in charity”. The man asked, “On which grounds are you speaking?” He replied, “Abu Bakr paid all his property in charity for the Sake of Allah and His Messenger. Whoever pays all his property in charity for the Sake of Allah will be following Abu Bakr. And whoever pays some of it will be following `Uthman. And whoever abandons the worldly life altogether this will be unwise”.
Al-Junayd said, “Our knowledge is governed by the Qur’an and Sunnah. Whoever does not learn hadiths, accompany Fiqh scholars, and receive education from its people will definitely misguide those who follow him”.
As Ihsan is the highest level of the composition of this religion, it cannot be reached unless through the first two levels: Islam and Iman. Naturally, how come a higher floor is built before the ground floor?! That is why it was mentioned last by the Prophet, to indicate that only when one is fully submissive to and having faith in Allah, one can get to Ihsan, the utmost elevation and attainment. The Prophetic expression touches the hearts and removes all limitations of the soul: “… as if you are seeing him”.
Knowing that it is too hard to attain, the Prophet informed us that there is a lesser level that is still honorable: Knowledge. That is, if you cannot reach the degree in which you feel as if you are seeing Allah, then put in mind that He is watching you. In the above hadith, the Prophet added, “But since you do not see Him, be certain that He is watching you”.
Imagine how blissful, glorious, and ecstatic it is to feel in the presence of the Creator, Exalted be He, with the physical world annihilating and everything losing its material reality.
That is Sufism in its spiritual aspect. In terms of knowledge and practice, Sufism is a search for the means and ways to get to such a state, through what is called “levels” — e.g., a level of repentance, patience, thankfulness, certainty, truthfulness, knowledge, heart purification, etc.
As Al-Akhdari said in his poem Al-Qudsiyyah (The Sacredness),
Desert the pleasures of the world altogether and come
And you Allah will love you as much as you tell Him your thoughts
The inner state of the hearts and souls are looked for only through that knowledge. This has confused some with inadequate knowledge and awareness. Islam has to do with the knowledge physical actions, through the science of Fiqh. For Iman, there is Usul Al-Fiqh (i.e., Fundamentals of Fiqh). Sufism is the discipline specified by specialists for the ways of reaching Ihsan.
Examples of Spiritual Purity
· Hanzalah said, “Once, Abu Bakr came across me and asked me, ‘How are you, Hanzalah?’ I said, ‘Hanzalah is a hypocrite’. He said, ‘My God, what are you saying?’ I said, ‘We gather with the Messenger of Allah while he is reminding us of Paradise and Hellfire so that it is as if we are looking directly at them. But when we leave, we get busy with our wives, children, and property, forgetting much of what we were reminded of’. Abu Bakr said, ‘Actually, we all find ourselves so’. Then, Abu Bakr and I went to the Messenger of Allah, and I said, ‘Hanzalah is a hypocrite, O Messenger of Allah!’ He asked, ‘What is up?’ I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! We gather with you while you are reminding us of Paradise and Hellfire so that it is as if we are looking directly at them. But when we leave, we get busy with our wives, children, and property, forgetting much if what we were reminded of’. The Messenger of Allah said, ‘By the One in Whose Hands my soul is, if you could ever keep to the state you are in when you are with me and in Dhikr, Angels would shake hands with you when you are in your beds and when you are on your ways. But, Hanzalah, let it be an hour (for worship) and an hour (for pleasure)’. He repeated it three times” (Related by Muslim).
· Ubay Ibn Ka`b said, “I was at the mosque, and a man came in to pray. He recited a portion of the Qur’an that I found wrong. Then, another man came in and recited a different recitation than that of the first one. We all went to the Messenger of Allah, and I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! This man recited some recitation that I found wrong, and then the other one came in and recited a recitation other than that of the first one’. The Messenger of Allah asked them to recite, and they did. He commended the recitation of both of them, and Satan whispered into me some doubts that I instantly rejected. When the Messenger of Allah saw how I was, he tapped me on my chest, and I perspired heavily as if I was looking at Allah in fear and awe…” (Related by Muslim).
· `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab said, “During the lifetime of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), there was a man named `Abdullah, and his nickname was Donkey. He used to do funny things to make the Messenger of Allah laugh. Once, he committed the offense of drinking alcohol, and the Prophet ordered that he should be lashed as a punishment. While lashing, someone said, ‘O Allah! Curse him! How many a time he was punished for that!’ The Prophet said, ‘Do not curse him. By Allah, I know well how much he loves Allah and His Messenger'” (Related by Al-Bukhari).
The Prophet instructed his Companions to keep the man’s right to love. Allah says, {And those who have believed love Allah much more}. Ibn Jazi wrote, “Let you know that a servant’s love of his Lord has two degrees. One is general love that no believer shall lack, and it is obligatory. The other is special love possessed only by godly scholars, saints, and pure worshippers. It is the highest level and utmost attainment, as all other levels of the righteous, such as fear, hope, trust, etc., are all based on the purity of the soul.
· Anas Ibn Malik reported the Prophet as saying, “None of you shall be a true believer unless I am more loved to him than his family, property, and all people” (Related by Muslim).
· Anas Ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated, “A Bedouin once came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah! When is the Hour to Come?’ He said, ‘Woe unto you! And what have you prepared for it?’ The man said, ‘I prepared for it nothing but my love to Allah and His Messenger’. The Prophet said, ‘You shall be with those whom you love’. We asked, ‘And so shall we?’ He replied, ‘Yes’. We then rejoiced so much” (Related by Al-Bukhari).
· In one of his prayers, the Prophet said, “And I Ask You for the delight of looking at Your Face, and I ask You for the longing for meeting You, without any difficult trials or misguiding temptations”.
· The Prophet said, “I wish I could meet my brothers, as I love them”. Abu Bakr asked, “Are we not your brothers?” He said, “No. You are my Companions. My brothers are those who will believe in me without seeing me and will accept my message and love me so much that I will be more loved to one of them than his father and child. Do you, Abu Bakr, not love people who love you because of my love of you?” Abu Bakr replied, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah”. He said, “Then, love them as long as they love you because of my love of you” (Related by Abu Nu`aym in Fada’il As-Sahabah [i.e., Virtues of Companions], on the authority of Nafi` Ibn Hurmuz Ibn Anas, who is not a reliable narrator; Ibn Qudamah Al-Maqdisi in Kitab Al-Mutahabbin Fi Allah [Book on Con-lovers for Allah’s Sake], 1/70, No. 78).
· Ubay Ibn Ka`b said, “O Messenger of Allah! I pray for Allah’s blessings for you. How much of my prayers should I dedicate for you?” The Prophet said, “Whatever you like” (Authentically Related, Not Related by Al-Bukhari or Muslim).
That space of overflowing love, light, passion, insight, transparency, transcendence, and spirituality must have some container and some action to exist within and by. Actually, it is the inseparability and interdependence of the body and the soul. There must be a discipline with its own rules and terminology to represent such perfection aspired to by the highly-determined. That discipline took various names such as “sermons”, as used by Al-Bukhari, and “asceticism”, as in early Sunnah books. Eventually, it was agreed to be named “Sufism”, just as the discipline of Shar`i rulings was called Fiqh.
Critique of Sufism
Having its roots in the Qur’an and Sunnah, what problems can Sufism raise?
Some 10 problems can be listed below:
I. Some pretenders of Salafism (i.e., revival of early Muslim legacy) erroneously and thoughtlessly criticized the very name of Sufism. As we have said, names and terms are only as significant as their content. Allah says, {And He taught Adam all the names (of everything)}. Most Islamic sciences had different names in early centuries of Islam, such as Fiqh; and even specialized terminology, such as Hadith classifications, were once inexistent. Then, they were formalized and mainstreamed to express and give materiality to scientific concepts. I borrow `Umar’s words, “What a good invention it is”. And no need to say more.
Many Sufi terms, such as Sheikh, Murid, Salik, Magdhub, Watad, have acceptable meanings. For example, the term Sheikh was used by Hadith scholars in the area of narrator reliability, and Talib, Hafiz, and Hakim were used in Hadith narrator classifications.
As-Siyuti wrote, “And let you know that if the ins and outs of the science of Sufism are presented to Fiqh scholars with their own jargon, they will definitely approve of and strongly adopt them. What really discourages them from accepting such concepts is that these are framed in a language unusual to them”. As the saying goes, “Reality is the best to know, but the worst to say”. I will give a proving example: In Manazil As-Sa’irin (Ranks of Walkers), it is written, “The reality of repentance comprises three elements: (1) distinction between Taqiyyah (i.e., religious dissimulation) and `Izzah (i.e., straightforwardness), (2) abandonment of wrongdoing whatsoever, and (3) repentance of repentance. A Fiqh scholar would find the latter term too unusual: How to repent of such a good deed as repentance? Repentance is due of sins. In fact, it means that, when someone is absolutely and perfectly oriented to Allah, he will give no attention to whatever he does, and even repentance, thus repenting of his reliance on repentance”.
II. The Sufi practice of undertaking specific portions of regular Dhikr, Qur’an recitation, etc. was another object of criticism. The Prophet determined specific post-Prayer portions and time-free number-bound portions, sometimes advising more. He said, “Except for one who does more than this”, regarding the saying: “There is no deity but Allah, Who has no partner; His is the Sovereignty, and His is the Praise; and He has Power over all things”.
He also said, “The deed most loved to Allah is that constantly observed”. A hadith tells us that the Prophet’s “deeds were continuing”.
It is reported that Ibn Mas`ud denied that sense of the hadith, but it can be interpreted as referring to someone who does so too much to observe some other more favored deed. Other evidence of permissibility of that is a hadith telling that the Prophet approved a woman who used pebbles or date seeds to enumerate extolments of Allah. That hadith was related by An-Nasa’I, Ibn Hibban, Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, and Al-Hakim. It is judged to have an authentic chain of narrators traced back to Sa`d Ibn Abu Waqqas. Also, Abu Hurayra used a thick thread with one thousand knots to calculate his extolments of Allah.
How can one enthusiastically keep to Dhirk without counting it?
III. One more criticism is the use of rosaries. This is retorted to in the last point. It is better to use the hand in calculation of extolments, unless the regular portion of worship is so long that a rosary is needed. Generally, the use of rosaries is permissible.
IV. Gatherings for Dhikr are disapproved by many, on the grounds of the denial by Ibn Mas`ud, which we retorted to above. Also, a counterevidence is an authentic hadith narrated by Ibn `Abbas: “Never some people gather at one of the mosques of Allah…”.
Sidi `Abdullah said,
Denial is refuted by explicit religious text
And any ambiguity is now clarified
`Umar used to gather with the public to listen to a certain Qur’an reciter, which was not done by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). This demonstrates that there is much flexibility in this regard. Also, the people of the Levant used to recite the Qur’an in congregation in early centuries, as Al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab stated in Jami` Al-`Ulum Wa Al-Hikam (Collection of Sciences and Rulings).
V. Much criticism goes to the issue of Tawassul (i.e., seeking intercession) and Tabarruk (i.e., seeking blessings), and some even use Takfir (i.e., accusation of blasphemy) against users of such practices, despite the hadith on the blind, which was judged authentic by Al-Hakim, according to the criteria of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, as well as by Sheikh Taqi Ad-Din Ibn Taymiyyah, giving it a special interpretation. That hadith is decisive evidence, and none of the Great Muslim Imams rejected it. Imam Ahmed argued expressly for Tawassul from the Prophet, according to Al-Mardawi. Even if not decisive, it is contradicted by no religious text, but rather by some general notions that cannot stand as evidence.
VI. One more problem is Istighathah (i.e., seeking help), which is seen as a grave crime that brings one out of the fold of Islam, even if seeking help from the Prophet himself. Related to it is to seek help from other than Allah on things that can be done only by Allah, the Lord; they take seeking help from idols as equal to seeking help from the Master of Creation (peace and blessings be upon him), citing the Qur’anic verse: {If you invoke them (i.e., idols), they cannot hear your invocation, and even if they heard, they would not respond to you. And on the Day of Resurrection, they will deny your association (of them as partners to Allah)}, as well as other wrongly cited verses. They overlook a hadith related in Sahih Muslim in which the Prophet prayed for `Amir Ibn Al-Akwa`, in addition to `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab’s saying to the Prophet, “Would you please pray that he may live long to benefit us more and more?” A delicate point unknown to many is that levels of attribution vary; an action may be attributed to Allah in a certain consideration and to some created being in another. For example, Allah says, {Allah takes the souls}, and, {Say, “The Angel of Death shall take your souls”}. Here, taking the souls is attributed to Allah in one place and to the Angel of Death in another place. Similar cases are numerous in the Qur’an and Sunnah. There is a hadith on a house owner who sought help from the Prophet after the latter’s death, saying, “Pray for rain for your nation”. He told `Umar and other Companions, and none of them disapproved of it. That hadith is judged authentic by Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar and Al-Hafiz Ibn Kathir.
Some denied the Prophet’s knowledge of people’s life affairs, although he said, “Both my life and my death are good for you”, a hadith judged authentic by many, including Ibn `Abdul-Hadi in his well-known school of thought. Generally speaking, lack of evidence does not entail impermissibility; it only means that the matter is flexible but not obligatory.
All the above issues fall under the so-called Bid`ah At-Tark (i.e., innovation of abandonment), which I discussed in much detail in my book Mashahid Al-Maqasid (Scenes of Objectives), covering the positions of Ash-Shatibi and others. Among those who differed with Ash-Shatibi was his Sheikh Abu Sa`id Ibn Lubb, who wrote a whole book in retort to his view on post-Prayer congregational supplications. When he knew about Ash-Shatibi’s fatwa in this regard, he strongly disapproved of such supplications, allegedly maintaining that supplications do no good or harm. One of his writings, Lisan Al-Adhkar Wa Ad-Da`wat Mimma Shuri`a Adbar As-Salawat (Tongue of Dhikr and Supplications in What Is Legislated After Prayers), included many arguments proving the public practice. According to him, the biggest problem with this is that it was not done by the Salaf.
In fact, this implies only that it is ok to abandon it, but never that it is haram or detestable, especially as it has some general religious grounds like supplications. If it is true that the Salaf did not do it, the Salaf themselves did good things not done by their predecessors such as collecting and punctuating the Qur’an, dividing it into semi-parts, reciting it at the mosque, repeating the Imam’s Takbir (i.e., saying, “Allah Akbar [i.e., Allah is the Greatest]”) during Prayer, flooring mosques with straw mats instead of pebbles, hanging chandeliers at mosques, engraving Allah’s Words and Names on dinars and dirhams, etc. `Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Aziz said, “People experience troubles as much as they do mischief; likewise, they receive encouragement as much as they slack”. It is said, “Most detrimental to worship is slack”. Allah says, {And cooperate in righteousness and piety}.
The above examples were quoted from Ibn Lubb, and I can add to them the use of mosque niches and minarets. All such things were innovated and, after some debate, found generally permissible. Among the examples are imitating deceased scholars and trading in Fiqh books, which had initially been controversial and then were deemed permissible. In Tal`ah Al-Anwar (Shine of Lights), we read,
Debate on imitation of the deceased
And on selling Fiqh books is now resolved
The same applies to writing down Prophetic hadiths, as instructed by `Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Aziz in the turn of the 2nd century A.H., upon which only few copies were made. Also, there is the contemplation of Fiqh issues, which had first been introduced in the 2nd century and then was generally accepted.
Advocates of the opinion that non-doing does not stand as evidence that it can involve several considerations:
1. The Prophet might leave something permissible because he dislikes it, which implies only removal of blame. For example, when asked why he declined to eat a lizard, the Prophet explained, “It did not exist in the land of my people, so I find myself disliking it”. Also, once, he was served some food containing garlic, but he did not eat it. Abu Ayyub, the host, asked him, “O Messenger of Allah! Is it haram?” The Prophet replied, “No, but I dislike it due to its smell” (Deemed authentic by At-Tirmidhi).
Noticeably, the Prophet did not act to tell about the reason for rejection until he was asked.
2. He might leave something desirable lest people take it as obligatory. For example, `A’ishah said, “And the Prophet never uttered extolments of Allah in the forenoon, while I have always done” (Authentic hadith). Cited by Ash-Shatibi, the hadith indicates that `A’ishah used to offer 8-Rak`ah (i.e., part of Prayer) forenoon extra Prayer and that she said, “Even if my parents were to come back to life, I would never leave it”. The same applied to performing Tarawih (i.e., supererogatory Prayers performed during Ramadan) in congregation.
3. Ash-Shatibi gave another explanation on why the Prophet left certain desirable practices: Lest it would be taken as obligatory after his death if he kept doing them. That is a possible explanation, according to Ash-Shatibi. Also, some Companions left doing some things in public, as indicated by a hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah and related by Muslim.
4. Some permissible things were left lest they were be thought to be good deeds. For example, Malik did not wash his hands before meals. When the Emir of Medina `Abdul-Malik Ibn Salih offered him water to wash his hands before eating, Malik said, “Indeed, Abu `Abdullah (referring to himself) does not wash his hands before eating”. Actually, he believed that it is ok, as he stated elsewhere; yet, for people not to think it is obligatory, he avoided it, as written in Al-Muwafaqat.
5. The Prophet might leave something because it is not the most favorable, so he would keep to the most favorable. Sometimes, he might rarely do the left thing to indicate its permissibility. For example, it was authentically reported that Maymunah (may Allah be pleased with her) presented to him a towel to dry his loins, but he did not touch it. Imam of the Two Sacred Mosques commented, “If someone uses the towel, this will not be detestable, but rather less favorable”. The Prophet was reported to have once dried his ablution parts. He always made sure to do the most favorable thing, and still do the permissible thing every now and then, demonstrating what is better (his repeated practice) and what is permissible (his rare practice).
To sum up, controversy stems from four grounds:
1. Does Bid`ah (i.e., innovation in religion) have one or more types depending on the underlying evidence?
2. Does abandonment while the cause is established in acts of worship indicate prohibition or not?
3. What is the difference between a cause for requirement and a cause for need?
4. What is the difference between associating an abandoned thing to a specific act of worship as a complement of it (thus being impermissible) and not associating it (thus rendering it back to the original state of permissibility or desirability)?
I approve of the judgment of Imam Ibn `Arafah, who differentiated between something associated to an act of worship as part of it (which is impermissible) and otherwise. I can add the following three guidelines:
1. It should not constitute a Shar`i ruling (obligation, desirability, etc.) unless having some evidence, such as religious texts commending Dhikr at all times. It is impermissible to claim that such Dhikr is obligatory, except in case it is done in fulfillment of a vow.
2. It should not be associated with a certain reward. Reward and its amount are determined only by the Lawgiver (i.e., Allah). For example, there is a hadith in which a Companion said, “O Allah, Our Lord! Due to You be much, good, and blessed praise…”. Had not it been that the Lawgiver specified that such Dhikr deserves much reward, none should claim a certain reward for it. On the other hand, the hadith indicates that there is no problem if someone comes up with good practices within the limits of his knowledge of Allah’s Names and Attributes. It is not something to be dictated by revelation, as the Prophet did not blame that Companion, but rather approved of his words.
3. The abandoned thing should not be related to some evidence indicating prohibition or detestability.
Some of the above four guidelines were reported from Ibn `Arafah, the great Maliki scholar. Whoever chooses to leave something out of precaution there will be no blame on him; whoever does good deeds in line with relevant guidelines out of piety that will be something commendable. Where there are controversies open to Ijtihad (i.e., legal reasoning and discretion), there should be no blame, let alone censure or accusation of blasphemy. The Prophet said, “Deeds are judged depending only on the intentions underlying them”.
It is a so big issue. To avoid prolonged discussion and to stick to our purpose, I will not spotlight examples from the lives of Companions and the Salaf, illustrating the flexible options possible, both in doing and not doing. And Allah knows best.
VII. Among the problems related to Sufism is the authority of Sheikhs. For scholars, it is based only on accompaniment, as understood from the story that Salman and Abu Ad-Darda’ lived together, and when the latter wanted to pray, the former would tell him to go back to bed, knowing that he spent too long in fasting and performing night Prayers. Fiqh scholars cited that hadith as evidence that it is permissible for one who performs voluntary fasting to break his fasting at the instructions of a Sheikh. In Al-Mukhtasar (The Abridged), it is written, “… unless at a superior command like from the father or a Sheikh, even if they do not swear”. In Ash-Shuruh (The Explanations), it is written, “And the instruction by a Sufi Sheikh has priority”. Just as a Fiqh student needs a master to teach him the ins and outs of the discipline, one involved in the field of purification of hearts and souls needs a Sheikh who has experienced the states of piety and nature of souls.
VIII. It is well known that visiting the graves of the righteous is central in Sufism, and majority of Muslim scholars deem it permissible, or even desirable, since it falls under the general ordinance and that there is no difference between riding or walking. Regarding the hadith: “No one shall travel to visit a mosque except for three mosques…”, it refers only to someone who takes a vow to pray at a mosque, in which case he need not go to it unless it is one of those three mosques.
Al-Hafiz Ibn Al-Jurzi said, “Graves of Prophets and righteous people are places where prayers are likely to be answered. Visits should be paid in compliance with the Shar`i etiquette, i.e., to feel the awe, to pray for them and for Muslims, and to avoid group ceremonies, otherwise it will fall under the prohibition in the hadith: “Do not take my grave after me as a religious memorial” (Related by Abu Dawud in his Sunan).
A scholar said,
Refinement of your heart and praying for the dead
And taking a lesson should be your intended goals from visit
Regarding paying visits to the Prophet’s grave, the Four Great Imams unanimously agreed that it is commendable and is associated to Hajj and `Umrah, as stated by the Hanbali scholar Al-Wazir Ibn Hubayrah and others.
IX. One more problem is the issue of ecstasy, which was elaborately discussed by Sufi scholars like Zarruq. Generally, it depends on the person’s state; if it is out of his control, it is ok, and if not, others should advise him not to do so. For some, it is acceptable only in case of being overwhelmed. In Al-Qudsiyyah, Al-Akhdari wrote,
Dancing, shouting, or clapping
Purposely during Dhikr is inappropriate
The goal of Dhikr is only
To remember Allah with reverence and awe
Any psychomotor actions are unacceptable
Unless caused by overwhelming feelings
There are documented many of such cases of overwhelming ecstasy. In his poem Hidayah Al-Mughtarr Wa Kifayah Al-Mu`tarr (Guidance of the Deceived and Help of the Incapable), our great Sheikh `Ali Ibn ‘Af maintained that ecstasy overwhelms only the weak-hearted when swept by divine lights. He said,
What confutes falsehood and comes
From the Mighty Lord is called Divine Lights
Divine Lights are like winds, and hearts are like twigs, fruits, and seeds
A man like a weak twig will be affected
By any divine light that blows on him
X. The last problem is the claims of having supernatural power and transcendent knowledge. Basically, there is no problem with this, as the ability of Muslim saints to work miracles is something believed in by the People of Sunnah and is a proof of righteousness and acceptance, but some people may not realize it and consequently deny it. This happened frequently to the righteous Salaf. The denying claims are refuted and strongly disapproved of. The Unseen is absolutely known by the Lord, but He chooses whoever He likes from among His servants (a Prophet, angel, saint, etc.) to let him know about it. Saintly miracles are not at odds with well-established facts or religious teachings. So, whoever denies them should be rejected.
Conclusion
Sufism is not a separate religion; it is a kind of functional specialization. Allah says, {And leave what is apparent of sin and what is concealed thereof}. It serves to remove inner impurities and refine hearts in line with the Qur’an and Sunnah, Ijtihad of imams, and recommendations of Sheikhs.
I call upon Sufis and Fiqh scholars to renew that science, clarifying its virtues, elaborating on its issues, reframing it properly, and refuting the fallacies associated with it. That way, hearts will enlivened, and souls will shine with purity. This will be a revival of religion and religious sciences, as dubbed by the Sufi Sheikh Abu Hamid (may Allah be pleased with him). Through conferences and seminars, they should remove the barriers between Fiqh and Sufism, looking at them as “two peer sciences aimed at indicating Allah’s Rulings and Rights”, as stated by Zarruq in Rule 20 of Sufism.
Sufism governs, not is governed by, Sufis. May Allah guide you to your good in this life and in the Hereafter, show you the best path, and grant you all good.
People differed on the meaning of Sufi
Mistakenly ascribing it to Suf (i.e., wool)
But I am certain that it describes
A person who is Safi (i.e., purified)
A good way to make things clear is by comparison. According to Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, actions are either outward (practice) or inward (belief), and the latter is either good or bad. Sufism is concerned with the inward, while the outward is the scope of Fiqh (i.e., Islamic jurisprudence — which can be defined as understanding particular Shar`i rulings derived from detailed evidence).
Anyway, regardless of the name, what matters is how it is understood in general usage. It is the perception of the term that determines whether it is positive or negative. Allah says, {And He taught Adam all the names (of everything)}.
What is the essence of Sufism? It is true orientation; it is Ihsan, the third part of this religion, as indicated in a hadith that was like a review of over 20 years of religious education for Companions. The Archangel Gabriel came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and asked him about the three parts of the great Islamic Message: Islam (i.e., submission), Iman (i.e., faith), and Ihsan.
Ihsan is the ultimate perfection and sublimity — it is to feel as if Allah is present with you when you are worshipping Him. Ihsan is a concurrence of worship and that sublime feeling of divine presence. In the hadith referred to above, the Prophet explained Ihsan as “to worship Allah as if you are seeing him”. Meanwhile, Gabriel was confirming what the Prophet said, and Companions wondered about such a questioner who is approving the answer of his instructor: “How odd! How come he is asking him and then agreeing with him?!” Normally, one asks about something one does not know; but confirming the Prophet’s words meant he had already known the answer.
Though uncommon, that concomitance of worship and sense of divine attendance had some mention in several writings. Rule 21 by Zarruq acknowledged the knowledge-application association: “It is well known that Sufism exists only when put into practice. Claiming to be a Sufi without really acting as a Sufi is a fraud. Practice is a prerequisite for true Sufism. It is said,
Knowledge should be followed by action.
How to Achieve Ihsan?
Sufism includes various methods, derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah as well as personal experiences of prominent spiritual figures, in line with Allah’s saying: {And in yourselves. Then will you not see?}. Those figures did their best in worship, observed regular extra-rituals, and enjoined them publicly. They performed all religious observances, be they obligatory or supererogatory, and shunned all religious prohibitions, be they haram or detestable. This is the tradition of true Sufis and their followers who avoid worldly pleasures and live piously and ascetically to be deserving of reward in the Hereafter, as Ash-Shatibi described them in his Al-Muwafaqat (The Agreed Upon Issues).
Also, they got so engrossed in Dhikr (i.e., praise-giving and extolment of Allah), indulging themselves in the gardens of Paradise, as the Prophet said in an authentic hadith, “When you find the gardens of Paradise, indulge yourselves”. He was asked, “O Messenger of Allah! What are the gardens of Paradise?” He replied, “Gatherings for Dhikr”. The same meaning was referred to in a poetic line by Imam Abu Al-Qasim:
The heart gains delight from Dhikr, so seek it keenly
And do not abandon the gardens of People of Dhikr, or you will get thirsty
Al-Junayd (may Allah confer mercy upon him) said, “We became Sufis not through gossip or debate, but rather through hunger, sleepless nights, and sticking to good deeds”.
Sufism has its roots in the Qur’an, Sunnah, and legacy of Salaf (i.e., righteous Muslim predecessors). As an example of the Sufi, Rule 33 by Zarruq cited a hadith related by Al-Bukhari in his Al-Jami` (The Comprehensive Reference). It tells that a man borrowed 1000 dinars. The lender said, “Appoint a witness”. The man said, “Sufficient is Allah as Witness”. He then said, “Appoint a warrantor”. The man said, “Sufficient is Allah as Warrantor”. The lender consented. When the debt came due, the lender was unreachable. So, the man put the money inside a piece of wood, with a patch attached thereto telling the story, and set it adrift, leaving it in the care of the Warrantor he had chosen: Allah. Then, the money was found by the lender. Later on, thinking that the money did not reach the lender, the man came to him with another 1000 dinars, to make sure that the debt was settled.
Another example of Sufis is the saying in the Qur’anic verse: {(They say, “We feed you only for the sake of Allah; we wish not from you reward or gratitude. Indeed, we fear from our Lord a Day full of wrath and distress”}. According to the verse, it is Allah’s Satisfaction, not the fear of Him, that motivated them to do good. And Allah knows best!
A man asked Ash-Shalabi (may Allah confer merci upon him), “How much Zakah is due on five she-camels?” He said, “The prescribed Zakah is a sheep, For us, the five shall be given in charity”. The man asked, “On which grounds are you speaking?” He replied, “Abu Bakr paid all his property in charity for the Sake of Allah and His Messenger. Whoever pays all his property in charity for the Sake of Allah will be following Abu Bakr. And whoever pays some of it will be following `Uthman. And whoever abandons the worldly life altogether this will be unwise”.
Al-Junayd said, “Our knowledge is governed by the Qur’an and Sunnah. Whoever does not learn hadiths, accompany Fiqh scholars, and receive education from its people will definitely misguide those who follow him”.
As Ihsan is the highest level of the composition of this religion, it cannot be reached unless through the first two levels: Islam and Iman. Naturally, how come a higher floor is built before the ground floor?! That is why it was mentioned last by the Prophet, to indicate that only when one is fully submissive to and having faith in Allah, one can get to Ihsan, the utmost elevation and attainment. The Prophetic expression touches the hearts and removes all limitations of the soul: “… as if you are seeing him”.
Knowing that it is too hard to attain, the Prophet informed us that there is a lesser level that is still honorable: Knowledge. That is, if you cannot reach the degree in which you feel as if you are seeing Allah, then put in mind that He is watching you. In the above hadith, the Prophet added, “But since you do not see Him, be certain that He is watching you”.
Imagine how blissful, glorious, and ecstatic it is to feel in the presence of the Creator, Exalted be He, with the physical world annihilating and everything losing its material reality.
That is Sufism in its spiritual aspect. In terms of knowledge and practice, Sufism is a search for the means and ways to get to such a state, through what is called “levels” — e.g., a level of repentance, patience, thankfulness, certainty, truthfulness, knowledge, heart purification, etc.
As Al-Akhdari said in his poem Al-Qudsiyyah (The Sacredness),
Desert the pleasures of the world altogether and come
And you Allah will love you as much as you tell Him your thoughts
The inner state of the hearts and souls are looked for only through that knowledge. This has confused some with inadequate knowledge and awareness. Islam has to do with the knowledge physical actions, through the science of Fiqh. For Iman, there is Usul Al-Fiqh (i.e., Fundamentals of Fiqh). Sufism is the discipline specified by specialists for the ways of reaching Ihsan.
Examples of Spiritual Purity
· Hanzalah said, “Once, Abu Bakr came across me and asked me, ‘How are you, Hanzalah?’ I said, ‘Hanzalah is a hypocrite’. He said, ‘My God, what are you saying?’ I said, ‘We gather with the Messenger of Allah while he is reminding us of Paradise and Hellfire so that it is as if we are looking directly at them. But when we leave, we get busy with our wives, children, and property, forgetting much of what we were reminded of’. Abu Bakr said, ‘Actually, we all find ourselves so’. Then, Abu Bakr and I went to the Messenger of Allah, and I said, ‘Hanzalah is a hypocrite, O Messenger of Allah!’ He asked, ‘What is up?’ I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! We gather with you while you are reminding us of Paradise and Hellfire so that it is as if we are looking directly at them. But when we leave, we get busy with our wives, children, and property, forgetting much if what we were reminded of’. The Messenger of Allah said, ‘By the One in Whose Hands my soul is, if you could ever keep to the state you are in when you are with me and in Dhikr, Angels would shake hands with you when you are in your beds and when you are on your ways. But, Hanzalah, let it be an hour (for worship) and an hour (for pleasure)’. He repeated it three times” (Related by Muslim).
· Ubay Ibn Ka`b said, “I was at the mosque, and a man came in to pray. He recited a portion of the Qur’an that I found wrong. Then, another man came in and recited a different recitation than that of the first one. We all went to the Messenger of Allah, and I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! This man recited some recitation that I found wrong, and then the other one came in and recited a recitation other than that of the first one’. The Messenger of Allah asked them to recite, and they did. He commended the recitation of both of them, and Satan whispered into me some doubts that I instantly rejected. When the Messenger of Allah saw how I was, he tapped me on my chest, and I perspired heavily as if I was looking at Allah in fear and awe…” (Related by Muslim).
· `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab said, “During the lifetime of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), there was a man named `Abdullah, and his nickname was Donkey. He used to do funny things to make the Messenger of Allah laugh. Once, he committed the offense of drinking alcohol, and the Prophet ordered that he should be lashed as a punishment. While lashing, someone said, ‘O Allah! Curse him! How many a time he was punished for that!’ The Prophet said, ‘Do not curse him. By Allah, I know well how much he loves Allah and His Messenger'” (Related by Al-Bukhari).
The Prophet instructed his Companions to keep the man’s right to love. Allah says, {And those who have believed love Allah much more}. Ibn Jazi wrote, “Let you know that a servant’s love of his Lord has two degrees. One is general love that no believer shall lack, and it is obligatory. The other is special love possessed only by godly scholars, saints, and pure worshippers. It is the highest level and utmost attainment, as all other levels of the righteous, such as fear, hope, trust, etc., are all based on the purity of the soul.
· Anas Ibn Malik reported the Prophet as saying, “None of you shall be a true believer unless I am more loved to him than his family, property, and all people” (Related by Muslim).
· Anas Ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated, “A Bedouin once came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah! When is the Hour to Come?’ He said, ‘Woe unto you! And what have you prepared for it?’ The man said, ‘I prepared for it nothing but my love to Allah and His Messenger’. The Prophet said, ‘You shall be with those whom you love’. We asked, ‘And so shall we?’ He replied, ‘Yes’. We then rejoiced so much” (Related by Al-Bukhari).
· In one of his prayers, the Prophet said, “And I Ask You for the delight of looking at Your Face, and I ask You for the longing for meeting You, without any difficult trials or misguiding temptations”.
· The Prophet said, “I wish I could meet my brothers, as I love them”. Abu Bakr asked, “Are we not your brothers?” He said, “No. You are my Companions. My brothers are those who will believe in me without seeing me and will accept my message and love me so much that I will be more loved to one of them than his father and child. Do you, Abu Bakr, not love people who love you because of my love of you?” Abu Bakr replied, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah”. He said, “Then, love them as long as they love you because of my love of you” (Related by Abu Nu`aym in Fada’il As-Sahabah [i.e., Virtues of Companions], on the authority of Nafi` Ibn Hurmuz Ibn Anas, who is not a reliable narrator; Ibn Qudamah Al-Maqdisi in Kitab Al-Mutahabbin Fi Allah [Book on Con-lovers for Allah’s Sake], 1/70, No. 78).
· Ubay Ibn Ka`b said, “O Messenger of Allah! I pray for Allah’s blessings for you. How much of my prayers should I dedicate for you?” The Prophet said, “Whatever you like” (Authentically Related, Not Related by Al-Bukhari or Muslim).
That space of overflowing love, light, passion, insight, transparency, transcendence, and spirituality must have some container and some action to exist within and by. Actually, it is the inseparability and interdependence of the body and the soul. There must be a discipline with its own rules and terminology to represent such perfection aspired to by the highly-determined. That discipline took various names such as “sermons”, as used by Al-Bukhari, and “asceticism”, as in early Sunnah books. Eventually, it was agreed to be named “Sufism”, just as the discipline of Shar`i rulings was called Fiqh.
Critique of Sufism
Having its roots in the Qur’an and Sunnah, what problems can Sufism raise?
Some 10 problems can be listed below:
I. Some pretenders of Salafism (i.e., revival of early Muslim legacy) erroneously and thoughtlessly criticized the very name of Sufism. As we have said, names and terms are only as significant as their content. Allah says, {And He taught Adam all the names (of everything)}. Most Islamic sciences had different names in early centuries of Islam, such as Fiqh; and even specialized terminology, such as Hadith classifications, were once inexistent. Then, they were formalized and mainstreamed to express and give materiality to scientific concepts. I borrow `Umar’s words, “What a good invention it is”. And no need to say more.
Many Sufi terms, such as Sheikh, Murid, Salik, Magdhub, Watad, have acceptable meanings. For example, the term Sheikh was used by Hadith scholars in the area of narrator reliability, and Talib, Hafiz, and Hakim were used in Hadith narrator classifications.
As-Siyuti wrote, “And let you know that if the ins and outs of the science of Sufism are presented to Fiqh scholars with their own jargon, they will definitely approve of and strongly adopt them. What really discourages them from accepting such concepts is that these are framed in a language unusual to them”. As the saying goes, “Reality is the best to know, but the worst to say”. I will give a proving example: In Manazil As-Sa’irin (Ranks of Walkers), it is written, “The reality of repentance comprises three elements: (1) distinction between Taqiyyah (i.e., religious dissimulation) and `Izzah (i.e., straightforwardness), (2) abandonment of wrongdoing whatsoever, and (3) repentance of repentance. A Fiqh scholar would find the latter term too unusual: How to repent of such a good deed as repentance? Repentance is due of sins. In fact, it means that, when someone is absolutely and perfectly oriented to Allah, he will give no attention to whatever he does, and even repentance, thus repenting of his reliance on repentance”.
II. The Sufi practice of undertaking specific portions of regular Dhikr, Qur’an recitation, etc. was another object of criticism. The Prophet determined specific post-Prayer portions and time-free number-bound portions, sometimes advising more. He said, “Except for one who does more than this”, regarding the saying: “There is no deity but Allah, Who has no partner; His is the Sovereignty, and His is the Praise; and He has Power over all things”.
He also said, “The deed most loved to Allah is that constantly observed”. A hadith tells us that the Prophet’s “deeds were continuing”.
It is reported that Ibn Mas`ud denied that sense of the hadith, but it can be interpreted as referring to someone who does so too much to observe some other more favored deed. Other evidence of permissibility of that is a hadith telling that the Prophet approved a woman who used pebbles or date seeds to enumerate extolments of Allah. That hadith was related by An-Nasa’I, Ibn Hibban, Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, and Al-Hakim. It is judged to have an authentic chain of narrators traced back to Sa`d Ibn Abu Waqqas. Also, Abu Hurayra used a thick thread with one thousand knots to calculate his extolments of Allah.
How can one enthusiastically keep to Dhirk without counting it?
III. One more criticism is the use of rosaries. This is retorted to in the last point. It is better to use the hand in calculation of extolments, unless the regular portion of worship is so long that a rosary is needed. Generally, the use of rosaries is permissible.
IV. Gatherings for Dhikr are disapproved by many, on the grounds of the denial by Ibn Mas`ud, which we retorted to above. Also, a counterevidence is an authentic hadith narrated by Ibn `Abbas: “Never some people gather at one of the mosques of Allah…”.
Sidi `Abdullah said,
Denial is refuted by explicit religious text
And any ambiguity is now clarified
`Umar used to gather with the public to listen to a certain Qur’an reciter, which was not done by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). This demonstrates that there is much flexibility in this regard. Also, the people of the Levant used to recite the Qur’an in congregation in early centuries, as Al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab stated in Jami` Al-`Ulum Wa Al-Hikam (Collection of Sciences and Rulings).
V. Much criticism goes to the issue of Tawassul (i.e., seeking intercession) and Tabarruk (i.e., seeking blessings), and some even use Takfir (i.e., accusation of blasphemy) against users of such practices, despite the hadith on the blind, which was judged authentic by Al-Hakim, according to the criteria of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, as well as by Sheikh Taqi Ad-Din Ibn Taymiyyah, giving it a special interpretation. That hadith is decisive evidence, and none of the Great Muslim Imams rejected it. Imam Ahmed argued expressly for Tawassul from the Prophet, according to Al-Mardawi. Even if not decisive, it is contradicted by no religious text, but rather by some general notions that cannot stand as evidence.
VI. One more problem is Istighathah (i.e., seeking help), which is seen as a grave crime that brings one out of the fold of Islam, even if seeking help from the Prophet himself. Related to it is to seek help from other than Allah on things that can be done only by Allah, the Lord; they take seeking help from idols as equal to seeking help from the Master of Creation (peace and blessings be upon him), citing the Qur’anic verse: {If you invoke them (i.e., idols), they cannot hear your invocation, and even if they heard, they would not respond to you. And on the Day of Resurrection, they will deny your association (of them as partners to Allah)}, as well as other wrongly cited verses. They overlook a hadith related in Sahih Muslim in which the Prophet prayed for `Amir Ibn Al-Akwa`, in addition to `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab’s saying to the Prophet, “Would you please pray that he may live long to benefit us more and more?” A delicate point unknown to many is that levels of attribution vary; an action may be attributed to Allah in a certain consideration and to some created being in another. For example, Allah says, {Allah takes the souls}, and, {Say, “The Angel of Death shall take your souls”}. Here, taking the souls is attributed to Allah in one place and to the Angel of Death in another place. Similar cases are numerous in the Qur’an and Sunnah. There is a hadith on a house owner who sought help from the Prophet after the latter’s death, saying, “Pray for rain for your nation”. He told `Umar and other Companions, and none of them disapproved of it. That hadith is judged authentic by Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar and Al-Hafiz Ibn Kathir.
Some denied the Prophet’s knowledge of people’s life affairs, although he said, “Both my life and my death are good for you”, a hadith judged authentic by many, including Ibn `Abdul-Hadi in his well-known school of thought. Generally speaking, lack of evidence does not entail impermissibility; it only means that the matter is flexible but not obligatory.
All the above issues fall under the so-called Bid`ah At-Tark (i.e., innovation of abandonment), which I discussed in much detail in my book Mashahid Al-Maqasid (Scenes of Objectives), covering the positions of Ash-Shatibi and others. Among those who differed with Ash-Shatibi was his Sheikh Abu Sa`id Ibn Lubb, who wrote a whole book in retort to his view on post-Prayer congregational supplications. When he knew about Ash-Shatibi’s fatwa in this regard, he strongly disapproved of such supplications, allegedly maintaining that supplications do no good or harm. One of his writings, Lisan Al-Adhkar Wa Ad-Da`wat Mimma Shuri`a Adbar As-Salawat (Tongue of Dhikr and Supplications in What Is Legislated After Prayers), included many arguments proving the public practice. According to him, the biggest problem with this is that it was not done by the Salaf.
In fact, this implies only that it is ok to abandon it, but never that it is haram or detestable, especially as it has some general religious grounds like supplications. If it is true that the Salaf did not do it, the Salaf themselves did good things not done by their predecessors such as collecting and punctuating the Qur’an, dividing it into semi-parts, reciting it at the mosque, repeating the Imam’s Takbir (i.e., saying, “Allah Akbar [i.e., Allah is the Greatest]”) during Prayer, flooring mosques with straw mats instead of pebbles, hanging chandeliers at mosques, engraving Allah’s Words and Names on dinars and dirhams, etc. `Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Aziz said, “People experience troubles as much as they do mischief; likewise, they receive encouragement as much as they slack”. It is said, “Most detrimental to worship is slack”. Allah says, {And cooperate in righteousness and piety}.
The above examples were quoted from Ibn Lubb, and I can add to them the use of mosque niches and minarets. All such things were innovated and, after some debate, found generally permissible. Among the examples are imitating deceased scholars and trading in Fiqh books, which had initially been controversial and then were deemed permissible. In Tal`ah Al-Anwar (Shine of Lights), we read,
Debate on imitation of the deceased
And on selling Fiqh books is now resolved
The same applies to writing down Prophetic hadiths, as instructed by `Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Aziz in the turn of the 2nd century A.H., upon which only few copies were made. Also, there is the contemplation of Fiqh issues, which had first been introduced in the 2nd century and then was generally accepted.
Advocates of the opinion that non-doing does not stand as evidence that it can involve several considerations:
1. The Prophet might leave something permissible because he dislikes it, which implies only removal of blame. For example, when asked why he declined to eat a lizard, the Prophet explained, “It did not exist in the land of my people, so I find myself disliking it”. Also, once, he was served some food containing garlic, but he did not eat it. Abu Ayyub, the host, asked him, “O Messenger of Allah! Is it haram?” The Prophet replied, “No, but I dislike it due to its smell” (Deemed authentic by At-Tirmidhi).
Noticeably, the Prophet did not act to tell about the reason for rejection until he was asked.
2. He might leave something desirable lest people take it as obligatory. For example, `A’ishah said, “And the Prophet never uttered extolments of Allah in the forenoon, while I have always done” (Authentic hadith). Cited by Ash-Shatibi, the hadith indicates that `A’ishah used to offer 8-Rak`ah (i.e., part of Prayer) forenoon extra Prayer and that she said, “Even if my parents were to come back to life, I would never leave it”. The same applied to performing Tarawih (i.e., supererogatory Prayers performed during Ramadan) in congregation.
3. Ash-Shatibi gave another explanation on why the Prophet left certain desirable practices: Lest it would be taken as obligatory after his death if he kept doing them. That is a possible explanation, according to Ash-Shatibi. Also, some Companions left doing some things in public, as indicated by a hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah and related by Muslim.
4. Some permissible things were left lest they were be thought to be good deeds. For example, Malik did not wash his hands before meals. When the Emir of Medina `Abdul-Malik Ibn Salih offered him water to wash his hands before eating, Malik said, “Indeed, Abu `Abdullah (referring to himself) does not wash his hands before eating”. Actually, he believed that it is ok, as he stated elsewhere; yet, for people not to think it is obligatory, he avoided it, as written in Al-Muwafaqat.
5. The Prophet might leave something because it is not the most favorable, so he would keep to the most favorable. Sometimes, he might rarely do the left thing to indicate its permissibility. For example, it was authentically reported that Maymunah (may Allah be pleased with her) presented to him a towel to dry his loins, but he did not touch it. Imam of the Two Sacred Mosques commented, “If someone uses the towel, this will not be detestable, but rather less favorable”. The Prophet was reported to have once dried his ablution parts. He always made sure to do the most favorable thing, and still do the permissible thing every now and then, demonstrating what is better (his repeated practice) and what is permissible (his rare practice).
To sum up, controversy stems from four grounds:
1. Does Bid`ah (i.e., innovation in religion) have one or more types depending on the underlying evidence?
2. Does abandonment while the cause is established in acts of worship indicate prohibition or not?
3. What is the difference between a cause for requirement and a cause for need?
4. What is the difference between associating an abandoned thing to a specific act of worship as a complement of it (thus being impermissible) and not associating it (thus rendering it back to the original state of permissibility or desirability)?
I approve of the judgment of Imam Ibn `Arafah, who differentiated between something associated to an act of worship as part of it (which is impermissible) and otherwise. I can add the following three guidelines:
1. It should not constitute a Shar`i ruling (obligation, desirability, etc.) unless having some evidence, such as religious texts commending Dhikr at all times. It is impermissible to claim that such Dhikr is obligatory, except in case it is done in fulfillment of a vow.
2. It should not be associated with a certain reward. Reward and its amount are determined only by the Lawgiver (i.e., Allah). For example, there is a hadith in which a Companion said, “O Allah, Our Lord! Due to You be much, good, and blessed praise…”. Had not it been that the Lawgiver specified that such Dhikr deserves much reward, none should claim a certain reward for it. On the other hand, the hadith indicates that there is no problem if someone comes up with good practices within the limits of his knowledge of Allah’s Names and Attributes. It is not something to be dictated by revelation, as the Prophet did not blame that Companion, but rather approved of his words.
3. The abandoned thing should not be related to some evidence indicating prohibition or detestability.
Some of the above four guidelines were reported from Ibn `Arafah, the great Maliki scholar. Whoever chooses to leave something out of precaution there will be no blame on him; whoever does good deeds in line with relevant guidelines out of piety that will be something commendable. Where there are controversies open to Ijtihad (i.e., legal reasoning and discretion), there should be no blame, let alone censure or accusation of blasphemy. The Prophet said, “Deeds are judged depending only on the intentions underlying them”.
It is a so big issue. To avoid prolonged discussion and to stick to our purpose, I will not spotlight examples from the lives of Companions and the Salaf, illustrating the flexible options possible, both in doing and not doing. And Allah knows best.
VII. Among the problems related to Sufism is the authority of Sheikhs. For scholars, it is based only on accompaniment, as understood from the story that Salman and Abu Ad-Darda’ lived together, and when the latter wanted to pray, the former would tell him to go back to bed, knowing that he spent too long in fasting and performing night Prayers. Fiqh scholars cited that hadith as evidence that it is permissible for one who performs voluntary fasting to break his fasting at the instructions of a Sheikh. In Al-Mukhtasar (The Abridged), it is written, “… unless at a superior command like from the father or a Sheikh, even if they do not swear”. In Ash-Shuruh (The Explanations), it is written, “And the instruction by a Sufi Sheikh has priority”. Just as a Fiqh student needs a master to teach him the ins and outs of the discipline, one involved in the field of purification of hearts and souls needs a Sheikh who has experienced the states of piety and nature of souls.
VIII. It is well known that visiting the graves of the righteous is central in Sufism, and majority of Muslim scholars deem it permissible, or even desirable, since it falls under the general ordinance and that there is no difference between riding or walking. Regarding the hadith: “No one shall travel to visit a mosque except for three mosques…”, it refers only to someone who takes a vow to pray at a mosque, in which case he need not go to it unless it is one of those three mosques.
Al-Hafiz Ibn Al-Jurzi said, “Graves of Prophets and righteous people are places where prayers are likely to be answered. Visits should be paid in compliance with the Shar`i etiquette, i.e., to feel the awe, to pray for them and for Muslims, and to avoid group ceremonies, otherwise it will fall under the prohibition in the hadith: “Do not take my grave after me as a religious memorial” (Related by Abu Dawud in his Sunan).
A scholar said,
Refinement of your heart and praying for the dead
And taking a lesson should be your intended goals from visit
Regarding paying visits to the Prophet’s grave, the Four Great Imams unanimously agreed that it is commendable and is associated to Hajj and `Umrah, as stated by the Hanbali scholar Al-Wazir Ibn Hubayrah and others.
IX. One more problem is the issue of ecstasy, which was elaborately discussed by Sufi scholars like Zarruq. Generally, it depends on the person’s state; if it is out of his control, it is ok, and if not, others should advise him not to do so. For some, it is acceptable only in case of being overwhelmed. In Al-Qudsiyyah, Al-Akhdari wrote,
Dancing, shouting, or clapping
Purposely during Dhikr is inappropriate
The goal of Dhikr is only
To remember Allah with reverence and awe
Any psychomotor actions are unacceptable
Unless caused by overwhelming feelings
There are documented many of such cases of overwhelming ecstasy. In his poem Hidayah Al-Mughtarr Wa Kifayah Al-Mu`tarr (Guidance of the Deceived and Help of the Incapable), our great Sheikh `Ali Ibn ‘Af maintained that ecstasy overwhelms only the weak-hearted when swept by divine lights. He said,
What confutes falsehood and comes
From the Mighty Lord is called Divine Lights
Divine Lights are like winds, and hearts are like twigs, fruits, and seeds
A man like a weak twig will be affected
By any divine light that blows on him
X. The last problem is the claims of having supernatural power and transcendent knowledge. Basically, there is no problem with this, as the ability of Muslim saints to work miracles is something believed in by the People of Sunnah and is a proof of righteousness and acceptance, but some people may not realize it and consequently deny it. This happened frequently to the righteous Salaf. The denying claims are refuted and strongly disapproved of. The Unseen is absolutely known by the Lord, but He chooses whoever He likes from among His servants (a Prophet, angel, saint, etc.) to let him know about it. Saintly miracles are not at odds with well-established facts or religious teachings. So, whoever denies them should be rejected.
Conclusion
Sufism is not a separate religion; it is a kind of functional specialization. Allah says, {And leave what is apparent of sin and what is concealed thereof}. It serves to remove inner impurities and refine hearts in line with the Qur’an and Sunnah, Ijtihad of imams, and recommendations of Sheikhs.
I call upon Sufis and Fiqh scholars to renew that science, clarifying its virtues, elaborating on its issues, reframing it properly, and refuting the fallacies associated with it. That way, hearts will enlivened, and souls will shine with purity. This will be a revival of religion and religious sciences, as dubbed by the Sufi Sheikh Abu Hamid (may Allah be pleased with him). Through conferences and seminars, they should remove the barriers between Fiqh and Sufism, looking at them as “two peer sciences aimed at indicating Allah’s Rulings and Rights”, as stated by Zarruq in Rule 20 of Sufism.
Sufism governs, not is governed by, Sufis. May Allah guide you to your good in this life and in the Hereafter, show you the best path, and grant you all good.All praise is due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon our master, Muhammad, and upon his family and Companions.
Introduction
There have long been intellectual disputes among Muslim sects and ideologies, and Sufism is no exception, both in principle and in detail. The present article is focused exclusively on major Sufi thoughts, as these underlie and govern detailed tenets and practices. Any given idea is judged depending on its background rationale and holistic grounds.
To better understand it, let’s first investigate what the term “Sufism” means. In his Al-Qawa`id (The Rules), Sidi Ahmad Zarruq enumerated as many as two thousand definitions of Sufism, concluding that the core of Sufism is true orientation to Allah, or Ihsan (i.e., piety and goodness).
In An-Niqayah (The Selection), As-Siyuti defined Sufism as “hearty devotion to Allah and holding everything inferior to Him”. Another definition is “rising above vanities towards sublimities”.
According to Ibn Abu Sharif, such many definitions are due to taking a major aspect of Sufism as the defining feature of it. It is like the Prophet’s saying, “Hajj is `Arafah”, that is, the ritual of staying at `Arafah is so decisive for validity of Hajj that it can be seen as equal to Hajj itself.
Al-Bisti highlighted that variety of definitions in the following lines:
People differed on the meaning of Sufi
Mistakenly ascribing it to Suf (i.e., wool)
But I am certain that it describes
A person who is Safi (i.e., purified)
A good way to make things clear is by comparison. According to Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, actions are either outward (practice) or inward (belief), and the latter is either good or bad. Sufism is concerned with the inward, while the outward is the scope of Fiqh (i.e., Islamic jurisprudence — which can be defined as understanding particular Shar`i rulings derived from detailed evidence).
Anyway, regardless of the name, what matters is how it is understood in general usage. It is the perception of the term that determines whether it is positive or negative. Allah says, {And He taught Adam all the names (of everything)}.
What is the essence of Sufism? It is true orientation; it is Ihsan, the third part of this religion, as indicated in a hadith that was like a review of over 20 years of religious education for Companions. The Archangel Gabriel came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and asked him about the three parts of the great Islamic Message: Islam (i.e., submission), Iman (i.e., faith), and Ihsan.
Ihsan is the ultimate perfection and sublimity — it is to feel as if Allah is present with you when you are worshipping Him. Ihsan is a concurrence of worship and that sublime feeling of divine presence. In the hadith referred to above, the Prophet explained Ihsan as “to worship Allah as if you are seeing him”. Meanwhile, Gabriel was confirming what the Prophet said, and Companions wondered about such a questioner who is approving the answer of his instructor: “How odd! How come he is asking him and then agreeing with him?!” Normally, one asks about something one does not know; but confirming the Prophet’s words meant he had already known the answer.
Though uncommon, that concomitance of worship and sense of divine attendance had some mention in several writings. Rule 21 by Zarruq acknowledged the knowledge-application association: “It is well known that Sufism exists only when put into practice. Claiming to be a Sufi without really acting as a Sufi is a fraud. Practice is a prerequisite for true Sufism. It is said,
Knowledge should be followed by action.
How to Achieve Ihsan?
Sufism includes various methods, derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah as well as personal experiences of prominent spiritual figures, in line with Allah’s saying: {And in yourselves. Then will you not see?}. Those figures did their best in worship, observed regular extra-rituals, and enjoined them publicly. They performed all religious observances, be they obligatory or supererogatory, and shunned all religious prohibitions, be they haram or detestable. This is the tradition of true Sufis and their followers who avoid worldly pleasures and live piously and ascetically to be deserving of reward in the Hereafter, as Ash-Shatibi described them in his Al-Muwafaqat (The Agreed Upon Issues).
Also, they got so engrossed in Dhikr (i.e., praise-giving and extolment of Allah), indulging themselves in the gardens of Paradise, as the Prophet said in an authentic hadith, “When you find the gardens of Paradise, indulge yourselves”. He was asked, “O Messenger of Allah! What are the gardens of Paradise?” He replied, “Gatherings for Dhikr”. The same meaning was referred to in a poetic line by Imam Abu Al-Qasim:
The heart gains delight from Dhikr, so seek it keenly
And do not abandon the gardens of People of Dhikr, or you will get thirsty
Al-Junayd (may Allah confer mercy upon him) said, “We became Sufis not through gossip or debate, but rather through hunger, sleepless nights, and sticking to good deeds”.
Sufism has its roots in the Qur’an, Sunnah, and legacy of Salaf (i.e., righteous Muslim predecessors). As an example of the Sufi, Rule 33 by Zarruq cited a hadith related by Al-Bukhari in his Al-Jami` (The Comprehensive Reference). It tells that a man borrowed 1000 dinars. The lender said, “Appoint a witness”. The man said, “Sufficient is Allah as Witness”. He then said, “Appoint a warrantor”. The man said, “Sufficient is Allah as Warrantor”. The lender consented. When the debt came due, the lender was unreachable. So, the man put the money inside a piece of wood, with a patch attached thereto telling the story, and set it adrift, leaving it in the care of the Warrantor he had chosen: Allah. Then, the money was found by the lender. Later on, thinking that the money did not reach the lender, the man came to him with another 1000 dinars, to make sure that the debt was settled.
Another example of Sufis is the saying in the Qur’anic verse: {(They say, “We feed you only for the sake of Allah; we wish not from you reward or gratitude. Indeed, we fear from our Lord a Day full of wrath and distress”}. According to the verse, it is Allah’s Satisfaction, not the fear of Him, that motivated them to do good. And Allah knows best!
A man asked Ash-Shalabi (may Allah confer merci upon him), “How much Zakah is due on five she-camels?” He said, “The prescribed Zakah is a sheep, For us, the five shall be given in charity”. The man asked, “On which grounds are you speaking?” He replied, “Abu Bakr paid all his property in charity for the Sake of Allah and His Messenger. Whoever pays all his property in charity for the Sake of Allah will be following Abu Bakr. And whoever pays some of it will be following `Uthman. And whoever abandons the worldly life altogether this will be unwise”.
Al-Junayd said, “Our knowledge is governed by the Qur’an and Sunnah. Whoever does not learn hadiths, accompany Fiqh scholars, and receive education from its people will definitely misguide those who follow him”.
As Ihsan is the highest level of the composition of this religion, it cannot be reached unless through the first two levels: Islam and Iman. Naturally, how come a higher floor is built before the ground floor?! That is why it was mentioned last by the Prophet, to indicate that only when one is fully submissive to and having faith in Allah, one can get to Ihsan, the utmost elevation and attainment. The Prophetic expression touches the hearts and removes all limitations of the soul: “… as if you are seeing him”.
Knowing that it is too hard to attain, the Prophet informed us that there is a lesser level that is still honorable: Knowledge. That is, if you cannot reach the degree in which you feel as if you are seeing Allah, then put in mind that He is watching you. In the above hadith, the Prophet added, “But since you do not see Him, be certain that He is watching you”.
Imagine how blissful, glorious, and ecstatic it is to feel in the presence of the Creator, Exalted be He, with the physical world annihilating and everything losing its material reality.
That is Sufism in its spiritual aspect. In terms of knowledge and practice, Sufism is a search for the means and ways to get to such a state, through what is called “levels” — e.g., a level of repentance, patience, thankfulness, certainty, truthfulness, knowledge, heart purification, etc.
As Al-Akhdari said in his poem Al-Qudsiyyah (The Sacredness),
Desert the pleasures of the world altogether and come
And you Allah will love you as much as you tell Him your thoughts
The inner state of the hearts and souls are looked for only through that knowledge. This has confused some with inadequate knowledge and awareness. Islam has to do with the knowledge physical actions, through the science of Fiqh. For Iman, there is Usul Al-Fiqh (i.e., Fundamentals of Fiqh). Sufism is the discipline specified by specialists for the ways of reaching Ihsan.
Examples of Spiritual Purity
· Hanzalah said, “Once, Abu Bakr came across me and asked me, ‘How are you, Hanzalah?’ I said, ‘Hanzalah is a hypocrite’. He said, ‘My God, what are you saying?’ I said, ‘We gather with the Messenger of Allah while he is reminding us of Paradise and Hellfire so that it is as if we are looking directly at them. But when we leave, we get busy with our wives, children, and property, forgetting much of what we were reminded of’. Abu Bakr said, ‘Actually, we all find ourselves so’. Then, Abu Bakr and I went to the Messenger of Allah, and I said, ‘Hanzalah is a hypocrite, O Messenger of Allah!’ He asked, ‘What is up?’ I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! We gather with you while you are reminding us of Paradise and Hellfire so that it is as if we are looking directly at them. But when we leave, we get busy with our wives, children, and property, forgetting much if what we were reminded of’. The Messenger of Allah said, ‘By the One in Whose Hands my soul is, if you could ever keep to the state you are in when you are with me and in Dhikr, Angels would shake hands with you when you are in your beds and when you are on your ways. But, Hanzalah, let it be an hour (for worship) and an hour (for pleasure)’. He repeated it three times” (Related by Muslim).
· Ubay Ibn Ka`b said, “I was at the mosque, and a man came in to pray. He recited a portion of the Qur’an that I found wrong. Then, another man came in and recited a different recitation than that of the first one. We all went to the Messenger of Allah, and I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! This man recited some recitation that I found wrong, and then the other one came in and recited a recitation other than that of the first one’. The Messenger of Allah asked them to recite, and they did. He commended the recitation of both of them, and Satan whispered into me some doubts that I instantly rejected. When the Messenger of Allah saw how I was, he tapped me on my chest, and I perspired heavily as if I was looking at Allah in fear and awe…” (Related by Muslim).
· `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab said, “During the lifetime of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), there was a man named `Abdullah, and his nickname was Donkey. He used to do funny things to make the Messenger of Allah laugh. Once, he committed the offense of drinking alcohol, and the Prophet ordered that he should be lashed as a punishment. While lashing, someone said, ‘O Allah! Curse him! How many a time he was punished for that!’ The Prophet said, ‘Do not curse him. By Allah, I know well how much he loves Allah and His Messenger'” (Related by Al-Bukhari).
The Prophet instructed his Companions to keep the man’s right to love. Allah says, {And those who have believed love Allah much more}. Ibn Jazi wrote, “Let you know that a servant’s love of his Lord has two degrees. One is general love that no believer shall lack, and it is obligatory. The other is special love possessed only by godly scholars, saints, and pure worshippers. It is the highest level and utmost attainment, as all other levels of the righteous, such as fear, hope, trust, etc., are all based on the purity of the soul.
· Anas Ibn Malik reported the Prophet as saying, “None of you shall be a true believer unless I am more loved to him than his family, property, and all people” (Related by Muslim).
· Anas Ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated, “A Bedouin once came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah! When is the Hour to Come?’ He said, ‘Woe unto you! And what have you prepared for it?’ The man said, ‘I prepared for it nothing but my love to Allah and His Messenger’. The Prophet said, ‘You shall be with those whom you love’. We asked, ‘And so shall we?’ He replied, ‘Yes’. We then rejoiced so much” (Related by Al-Bukhari).
· In one of his prayers, the Prophet said, “And I Ask You for the delight of looking at Your Face, and I ask You for the longing for meeting You, without any difficult trials or misguiding temptations”.
· The Prophet said, “I wish I could meet my brothers, as I love them”. Abu Bakr asked, “Are we not your brothers?” He said, “No. You are my Companions. My brothers are those who will believe in me without seeing me and will accept my message and love me so much that I will be more loved to one of them than his father and child. Do you, Abu Bakr, not love people who love you because of my love of you?” Abu Bakr replied, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah”. He said, “Then, love them as long as they love you because of my love of you” (Related by Abu Nu`aym in Fada’il As-Sahabah [i.e., Virtues of Companions], on the authority of Nafi` Ibn Hurmuz Ibn Anas, who is not a reliable narrator; Ibn Qudamah Al-Maqdisi in Kitab Al-Mutahabbin Fi Allah [Book on Con-lovers for Allah’s Sake], 1/70, No. 78).
· Ubay Ibn Ka`b said, “O Messenger of Allah! I pray for Allah’s blessings for you. How much of my prayers should I dedicate for you?” The Prophet said, “Whatever you like” (Authentically Related, Not Related by Al-Bukhari or Muslim).
That space of overflowing love, light, passion, insight, transparency, transcendence, and spirituality must have some container and some action to exist within and by. Actually, it is the inseparability and interdependence of the body and the soul. There must be a discipline with its own rules and terminology to represent such perfection aspired to by the highly-determined. That discipline took various names such as “sermons”, as used by Al-Bukhari, and “asceticism”, as in early Sunnah books. Eventually, it was agreed to be named “Sufism”, just as the discipline of Shar`i rulings was called Fiqh.
Critique of Sufism
Having its roots in the Qur’an and Sunnah, what problems can Sufism raise?
Some 10 problems can be listed below:
I. Some pretenders of Salafism (i.e., revival of early Muslim legacy) erroneously and thoughtlessly criticized the very name of Sufism. As we have said, names and terms are only as significant as their content. Allah says, {And He taught Adam all the names (of everything)}. Most Islamic sciences had different names in early centuries of Islam, such as Fiqh; and even specialized terminology, such as Hadith classifications, were once inexistent. Then, they were formalized and mainstreamed to express and give materiality to scientific concepts. I borrow `Umar’s words, “What a good invention it is”. And no need to say more.
Many Sufi terms, such as Sheikh, Murid, Salik, Magdhub, Watad, have acceptable meanings. For example, the term Sheikh was used by Hadith scholars in the area of narrator reliability, and Talib, Hafiz, and Hakim were used in Hadith narrator classifications.
As-Siyuti wrote, “And let you know that if the ins and outs of the science of Sufism are presented to Fiqh scholars with their own jargon, they will definitely approve of and strongly adopt them. What really discourages them from accepting such concepts is that these are framed in a language unusual to them”. As the saying goes, “Reality is the best to know, but the worst to say”. I will give a proving example: In Manazil As-Sa’irin (Ranks of Walkers), it is written, “The reality of repentance comprises three elements: (1) distinction between Taqiyyah (i.e., religious dissimulation) and `Izzah (i.e., straightforwardness), (2) abandonment of wrongdoing whatsoever, and (3) repentance of repentance. A Fiqh scholar would find the latter term too unusual: How to repent of such a good deed as repentance? Repentance is due of sins. In fact, it means that, when someone is absolutely and perfectly oriented to Allah, he will give no attention to whatever he does, and even repentance, thus repenting of his reliance on repentance”.
II. The Sufi practice of undertaking specific portions of regular Dhikr, Qur’an recitation, etc. was another object of criticism. The Prophet determined specific post-Prayer portions and time-free number-bound portions, sometimes advising more. He said, “Except for one who does more than this”, regarding the saying: “There is no deity but Allah, Who has no partner; His is the Sovereignty, and His is the Praise; and He has Power over all things”.
He also said, “The deed most loved to Allah is that constantly observed”. A hadith tells us that the Prophet’s “deeds were continuing”.
It is reported that Ibn Mas`ud denied that sense of the hadith, but it can be interpreted as referring to someone who does so too much to observe some other more favored deed. Other evidence of permissibility of that is a hadith telling that the Prophet approved a woman who used pebbles or date seeds to enumerate extolments of Allah. That hadith was related by An-Nasa’I, Ibn Hibban, Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, and Al-Hakim. It is judged to have an authentic chain of narrators traced back to Sa`d Ibn Abu Waqqas. Also, Abu Hurayra used a thick thread with one thousand knots to calculate his extolments of Allah.
How can one enthusiastically keep to Dhirk without counting it?
III. One more criticism is the use of rosaries. This is retorted to in the last point. It is better to use the hand in calculation of extolments, unless the regular portion of worship is so long that a rosary is needed. Generally, the use of rosaries is permissible.
IV. Gatherings for Dhikr are disapproved by many, on the grounds of the denial by Ibn Mas`ud, which we retorted to above. Also, a counterevidence is an authentic hadith narrated by Ibn `Abbas: “Never some people gather at one of the mosques of Allah…”.
Sidi `Abdullah said,
Denial is refuted by explicit religious text
And any ambiguity is now clarified
`Umar used to gather with the public to listen to a certain Qur’an reciter, which was not done by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). This demonstrates that there is much flexibility in this regard. Also, the people of the Levant used to recite the Qur’an in congregation in early centuries, as Al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab stated in Jami` Al-`Ulum Wa Al-Hikam (Collection of Sciences and Rulings).
V. Much criticism goes to the issue of Tawassul (i.e., seeking intercession) and Tabarruk (i.e., seeking blessings), and some even use Takfir (i.e., accusation of blasphemy) against users of such practices, despite the hadith on the blind, which was judged authentic by Al-Hakim, according to the criteria of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, as well as by Sheikh Taqi Ad-Din Ibn Taymiyyah, giving it a special interpretation. That hadith is decisive evidence, and none of the Great Muslim Imams rejected it. Imam Ahmed argued expressly for Tawassul from the Prophet, according to Al-Mardawi. Even if not decisive, it is contradicted by no religious text, but rather by some general notions that cannot stand as evidence.
VI. One more problem is Istighathah (i.e., seeking help), which is seen as a grave crime that brings one out of the fold of Islam, even if seeking help from the Prophet himself. Related to it is to seek help from other than Allah on things that can be done only by Allah, the Lord; they take seeking help from idols as equal to seeking help from the Master of Creation (peace and blessings be upon him), citing the Qur’anic verse: {If you invoke them (i.e., idols), they cannot hear your invocation, and even if they heard, they would not respond to you. And on the Day of Resurrection, they will deny your association (of them as partners to Allah)}, as well as other wrongly cited verses. They overlook a hadith related in Sahih Muslim in which the Prophet prayed for `Amir Ibn Al-Akwa`, in addition to `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab’s saying to the Prophet, “Would you please pray that he may live long to benefit us more and more?” A delicate point unknown to many is that levels of attribution vary; an action may be attributed to Allah in a certain consideration and to some created being in another. For example, Allah says, {Allah takes the souls}, and, {Say, “The Angel of Death shall take your souls”}. Here, taking the souls is attributed to Allah in one place and to the Angel of Death in another place. Similar cases are numerous in the Qur’an and Sunnah. There is a hadith on a house owner who sought help from the Prophet after the latter’s death, saying, “Pray for rain for your nation”. He told `Umar and other Companions, and none of them disapproved of it. That hadith is judged authentic by Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar and Al-Hafiz Ibn Kathir.
Some denied the Prophet’s knowledge of people’s life affairs, although he said, “Both my life and my death are good for you”, a hadith judged authentic by many, including Ibn `Abdul-Hadi in his well-known school of thought. Generally speaking, lack of evidence does not entail impermissibility; it only means that the matter is flexible but not obligatory.
All the above issues fall under the so-called Bid`ah At-Tark (i.e., innovation of abandonment), which I discussed in much detail in my book Mashahid Al-Maqasid (Scenes of Objectives), covering the positions of Ash-Shatibi and others. Among those who differed with Ash-Shatibi was his Sheikh Abu Sa`id Ibn Lubb, who wrote a whole book in retort to his view on post-Prayer congregational supplications. When he knew about Ash-Shatibi’s fatwa in this regard, he strongly disapproved of such supplications, allegedly maintaining that supplications do no good or harm. One of his writings, Lisan Al-Adhkar Wa Ad-Da`wat Mimma Shuri`a Adbar As-Salawat (Tongue of Dhikr and Supplications in What Is Legislated After Prayers), included many arguments proving the public practice. According to him, the biggest problem with this is that it was not done by the Salaf.
In fact, this implies only that it is ok to abandon it, but never that it is haram or detestable, especially as it has some general religious grounds like supplications. If it is true that the Salaf did not do it, the Salaf themselves did good things not done by their predecessors such as collecting and punctuating the Qur’an, dividing it into semi-parts, reciting it at the mosque, repeating the Imam’s Takbir (i.e., saying, “Allah Akbar [i.e., Allah is the Greatest]”) during Prayer, flooring mosques with straw mats instead of pebbles, hanging chandeliers at mosques, engraving Allah’s Words and Names on dinars and dirhams, etc. `Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Aziz said, “People experience troubles as much as they do mischief; likewise, they receive encouragement as much as they slack”. It is said, “Most detrimental to worship is slack”. Allah says, {And cooperate in righteousness and piety}.
The above examples were quoted from Ibn Lubb, and I can add to them the use of mosque niches and minarets. All such things were innovated and, after some debate, found generally permissible. Among the examples are imitating deceased scholars and trading in Fiqh books, which had initially been controversial and then were deemed permissible. In Tal`ah Al-Anwar (Shine of Lights), we read,
Debate on imitation of the deceased
And on selling Fiqh books is now resolved
The same applies to writing down Prophetic hadiths, as instructed by `Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Aziz in the turn of the 2nd century A.H., upon which only few copies were made. Also, there is the contemplation of Fiqh issues, which had first been introduced in the 2nd century and then was generally accepted.
Advocates of the opinion that non-doing does not stand as evidence that it can involve several considerations:
1. The Prophet might leave something permissible because he dislikes it, which implies only removal of blame. For example, when asked why he declined to eat a lizard, the Prophet explained, “It did not exist in the land of my people, so I find myself disliking it”. Also, once, he was served some food containing garlic, but he did not eat it. Abu Ayyub, the host, asked him, “O Messenger of Allah! Is it haram?” The Prophet replied, “No, but I dislike it due to its smell” (Deemed authentic by At-Tirmidhi).
Noticeably, the Prophet did not act to tell about the reason for rejection until he was asked.
2. He might leave something desirable lest people take it as obligatory. For example, `A’ishah said, “And the Prophet never uttered extolments of Allah in the forenoon, while I have always done” (Authentic hadith). Cited by Ash-Shatibi, the hadith indicates that `A’ishah used to offer 8-Rak`ah (i.e., part of Prayer) forenoon extra Prayer and that she said, “Even if my parents were to come back to life, I would never leave it”. The same applied to performing Tarawih (i.e., supererogatory Prayers performed during Ramadan) in congregation.
3. Ash-Shatibi gave another explanation on why the Prophet left certain desirable practices: Lest it would be taken as obligatory after his death if he kept doing them. That is a possible explanation, according to Ash-Shatibi. Also, some Companions left doing some things in public, as indicated by a hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah and related by Muslim.
4. Some permissible things were left lest they were be thought to be good deeds. For example, Malik did not wash his hands before meals. When the Emir of Medina `Abdul-Malik Ibn Salih offered him water to wash his hands before eating, Malik said, “Indeed, Abu `Abdullah (referring to himself) does not wash his hands before eating”. Actually, he believed that it is ok, as he stated elsewhere; yet, for people not to think it is obligatory, he avoided it, as written in Al-Muwafaqat.
5. The Prophet might leave something because it is not the most favorable, so he would keep to the most favorable. Sometimes, he might rarely do the left thing to indicate its permissibility. For example, it was authentically reported that Maymunah (may Allah be pleased with her) presented to him a towel to dry his loins, but he did not touch it. Imam of the Two Sacred Mosques commented, “If someone uses the towel, this will not be detestable, but rather less favorable”. The Prophet was reported to have once dried his ablution parts. He always made sure to do the most favorable thing, and still do the permissible thing every now and then, demonstrating what is better (his repeated practice) and what is permissible (his rare practice).
To sum up, controversy stems from four grounds:
1. Does Bid`ah (i.e., innovation in religion) have one or more types depending on the underlying evidence?
2. Does abandonment while the cause is established in acts of worship indicate prohibition or not?
3. What is the difference between a cause for requirement and a cause for need?
4. What is the difference between associating an abandoned thing to a specific act of worship as a complement of it (thus being impermissible) and not associating it (thus rendering it back to the original state of permissibility or desirability)?
I approve of the judgment of Imam Ibn `Arafah, who differentiated between something associated to an act of worship as part of it (which is impermissible) and otherwise. I can add the following three guidelines:
1. It should not constitute a Shar`i ruling (obligation, desirability, etc.) unless having some evidence, such as religious texts commending Dhikr at all times. It is impermissible to claim that such Dhikr is obligatory, except in case it is done in fulfillment of a vow.
2. It should not be associated with a certain reward. Reward and its amount are determined only by the Lawgiver (i.e., Allah). For example, there is a hadith in which a Companion said, “O Allah, Our Lord! Due to You be much, good, and blessed praise…”. Had not it been that the Lawgiver specified that such Dhikr deserves much reward, none should claim a certain reward for it. On the other hand, the hadith indicates that there is no problem if someone comes up with good practices within the limits of his knowledge of Allah’s Names and Attributes. It is not something to be dictated by revelation, as the Prophet did not blame that Companion, but rather approved of his words.
3. The abandoned thing should not be related to some evidence indicating prohibition or detestability.
Some of the above four guidelines were reported from Ibn `Arafah, the great Maliki scholar. Whoever chooses to leave something out of precaution there will be no blame on him; whoever does good deeds in line with relevant guidelines out of piety that will be something commendable. Where there are controversies open to Ijtihad (i.e., legal reasoning and discretion), there should be no blame, let alone censure or accusation of blasphemy. The Prophet said, “Deeds are judged depending only on the intentions underlying them”.
It is a so big issue. To avoid prolonged discussion and to stick to our purpose, I will not spotlight examples from the lives of Companions and the Salaf, illustrating the flexible options possible, both in doing and not doing. And Allah knows best.
VII. Among the problems related to Sufism is the authority of Sheikhs. For scholars, it is based only on accompaniment, as understood from the story that Salman and Abu Ad-Darda’ lived together, and when the latter wanted to pray, the former would tell him to go back to bed, knowing that he spent too long in fasting and performing night Prayers. Fiqh scholars cited that hadith as evidence that it is permissible for one who performs voluntary fasting to break his fasting at the instructions of a Sheikh. In Al-Mukhtasar (The Abridged), it is written, “… unless at a superior command like from the father or a Sheikh, even if they do not swear”. In Ash-Shuruh (The Explanations), it is written, “And the instruction by a Sufi Sheikh has priority”. Just as a Fiqh student needs a master to teach him the ins and outs of the discipline, one involved in the field of purification of hearts and souls needs a Sheikh who has experienced the states of piety and nature of souls.
VIII. It is well known that visiting the graves of the righteous is central in Sufism, and majority of Muslim scholars deem it permissible, or even desirable, since it falls under the general ordinance and that there is no difference between riding or walking. Regarding the hadith: “No one shall travel to visit a mosque except for three mosques…”, it refers only to someone who takes a vow to pray at a mosque, in which case he need not go to it unless it is one of those three mosques.
Al-Hafiz Ibn Al-Jurzi said, “Graves of Prophets and righteous people are places where prayers are likely to be answered. Visits should be paid in compliance with the Shar`i etiquette, i.e., to feel the awe, to pray for them and for Muslims, and to avoid group ceremonies, otherwise it will fall under the prohibition in the hadith: “Do not take my grave after me as a religious memorial” (Related by Abu Dawud in his Sunan).
A scholar said,
Refinement of your heart and praying for the dead
And taking a lesson should be your intended goals from visit
Regarding paying visits to the Prophet’s grave, the Four Great Imams unanimously agreed that it is commendable and is associated to Hajj and `Umrah, as stated by the Hanbali scholar Al-Wazir Ibn Hubayrah and others.
IX. One more problem is the issue of ecstasy, which was elaborately discussed by Sufi scholars like Zarruq. Generally, it depends on the person’s state; if it is out of his control, it is ok, and if not, others should advise him not to do so. For some, it is acceptable only in case of being overwhelmed. In Al-Qudsiyyah, Al-Akhdari wrote,
Dancing, shouting, or clapping
Purposely during Dhikr is inappropriate
The goal of Dhikr is only
To remember Allah with reverence and awe
Any psychomotor actions are unacceptable
Unless caused by overwhelming feelings
There are documented many of such cases of overwhelming ecstasy. In his poem Hidayah Al-Mughtarr Wa Kifayah Al-Mu`tarr (Guidance of the Deceived and Help of the Incapable), our great Sheikh `Ali Ibn ‘Af maintained that ecstasy overwhelms only the weak-hearted when swept by divine lights. He said,
What confutes falsehood and comes
From the Mighty Lord is called Divine Lights
Divine Lights are like winds, and hearts are like twigs, fruits, and seeds
A man like a weak twig will be affected
By any divine light that blows on him
X. The last problem is the claims of having supernatural power and transcendent knowledge. Basically, there is no problem with this, as the ability of Muslim saints to work miracles is something believed in by the People of Sunnah and is a proof of righteousness and acceptance, but some people may not realize it and consequently deny it. This happened frequently to the righteous Salaf. The denying claims are refuted and strongly disapproved of. The Unseen is absolutely known by the Lord, but He chooses whoever He likes from among His servants (a Prophet, angel, saint, etc.) to let him know about it. Saintly miracles are not at odds with well-established facts or religious teachings. So, whoever denies them should be rejected.
Conclusion
Sufism is not a separate religion; it is a kind of functional specialization. Allah says, {And leave what is apparent of sin and what is concealed thereof}. It serves to remove inner impurities and refine hearts in line with the Qur’an and Sunnah, Ijtihad of imams, and recommendations of Sheikhs.
I call upon Sufis and Fiqh scholars to renew that science, clarifying its virtues, elaborating on its issues, reframing it properly, and refuting the fallacies associated with it. That way, hearts will enlivened, and souls will shine with purity. This will be a revival of religion and religious sciences, as dubbed by the Sufi Sheikh Abu Hamid (may Allah be pleased with him). Through conferences and seminars, they should remove the barriers between Fiqh and Sufism, looking at them as “two peer sciences aimed at indicating Allah’s Rulings and Rights”, as stated by Zarruq in Rule 20 of Sufism.
Sufism governs, not is governed by, Sufis. May Allah guide you to your good in this life and in the Hereafter, show you the best path, and grant you all good.