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”…/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?"
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