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Sufism in Islam

Posted by khuram on October 1, 2006

Sufism in Islam

Sufism first emerged after 1st century of Islam. Originally it was in the form of a movement as a reaction to those people who were very good in their compliance to observing the ‘external’ (zahir) aspects of religion such as in the offer of prayers etc. but were morally not so good in their other worldly affairs because they lack the spiritual basis for their ethical conduct.

In this way, Sufism, originally just emphasized on the importance of ‘inner’ (batan) aspects of spiritual life as compared to external aspects of the code of Shariah. With the passage of time, this movement deviated much from external code of shariah and some of the Sufis started giving superiority to ‘Tareeqah’ (‘internal’ or ‘batan’ aspects of reality) as compared with code of Shariah. Sufis first reached at the concept of ‘negation of self’ (nafi-e-zaat) in the process of the development of Spiritual life. Later on some Sufis like Mansoor Hilaj asserted that ultimate (logical) conclusion of the ‘negation of self’ was the ‘union of essence’ (ithad of Sufi & God). Hilaj was assassinated for he said: “Ana-al-Haq”.

Some Sufis got evidence out of the teachings of Quran that inner spiritual aspects could be superior, in some aspects, to the external aspects of even a Prophet (Nabi). This evidence was related to Quranic description of Hazrat Khizar who guided Hazrat Musa (RA) in some aspects. Hazrat Khizar was not a Prophet (Nabi), and all his guidance to Hazrat Musa, apearently was going against the teachings of the shariah of Hazrat Musa. But at the same time, as per the teachings of Quran, the guidance of Hazrat Khizar was right.

This fact led many Sufis to reach at this conclusion that some spiritual non-prophet personalities could be superior, in some aspects, even to a prophet.

Sufis then call the way of ‘spiritual life’ as ‘Tareeqah’ and the way of ‘external’ compliance to religion as ‘Shariah’.

Early Sufi discussion topics included such topics also as comparison of Shariah vs Tareeqat, Comparison of Prophet vs Sufi, Comparison of wahi vs wajad etc. etc.

Islamic School of thought ‘Hambalism’ was totally against all the forms of Sufism as this school of thought was in favor of only the external compliance to the teachings and code of Shariah. Sufism however got its somewhat place in all the other schools of thought.

Imam Ghazali finally took major step in resolving the issues of the comparisons of Shariah vs Tareeqat etc. by accepting the legitimate role of Tareeqah BUT AS A SUBORDINATE TO THE CODE OF SHARIAH. In this way, Imam Ghazali is often given the credit that he entered spirituality into otherwise complete external oriented code of Shariah.

Is Sufism allowed in Islam?

As has been mentioned that only Humbalites rejected all the forms of Sufism. The ideology of this school of thought later on promoted by such scholars as Ibn-Hazm, Ibn-e-Taymiah and Imam Abdul-Wahab etc. According to these scholars and their followers, Sufism has no place in Islam. But on the other hand, Sufism, in one or the other forms, has ever been present in mainstream Ahl-e-Sunnat Wa-al-Jamaat as well as in Shiaism. Main scholars who promoted the point of view of Imam Ghazali in their respective styles were Data Gang Bakhsh, Sheikh Ahmed Serhindi, Shah Wali-Ullah etc.

Since Sufis tend to derive their ideological basis out of the teachings of Islam and since mainstream Muslim scholars never have fully rejected Sufism so it’s meaning would be that it is allowed in Islam. But extreme forms of Sufism that clearly go against all the norms of Quranic teachings, may not be allowed by Islam.

Some elements of Muslim Sufi thought can be traced back to Greek mysticism as well as Indian Vadentas. Sufism is organized in Murshad Mureed based Sufi orders. Some major Sufi Orders are following:

i). Qadiria (from Hazrat Ghausae Pak-Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jillani r.a.)
ii). Chishtia (Hazrat Abu Ishaq Shami r.a. who brought Sufism to the town of Chisht and the most famous Chishti saint is Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti r.a.)
iii). Naqshbandi
iv). Suhrawadri (Hazrat Shahab al-Din Yahya as-Suhrawardi r.a.)

Other famous Sufi Orders are Oveyssia (Hazrat Owais Qurni r.a.), Shadhilia, Jerrahia, Ashrafia, Nimatullahia and Mevlevi (Mawlānā Jalāl-ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī r.a.).

Sufi line of thought considers it necessary that individual should endeavor to find a perfect spiritual guide or teacher who must be alive in his period. Wasif Ali Wasif, while discussing this issue, gives the reference of Sura-e-Fatha where individuals ask from Allah to show the path of those people who are gifted by God. Wasif Ali Wasif says that only personal and direct observance of those people who have been gifted by God could show individual the right way of life. Wasif Ali Wasif further says that people who are gifted by God can be found in all the times. World cannot be empty of such people in any time till the day of judgment. It is therefore, the duty of individual to find one such perfect (kamil) person whose submissions for God Almighty should be beyond any doubt. After having found one such perfect personality, the individual should take ‘bait’ in the hands of that personality and should accept him his ‘Murshad’. While describing the underlying philosophy for the need of ‘Murshad’, Wasif Ali Wasif says that an individual cannot find solution to any spiritual problem using his own rationality. He says that the cpabilities of an individual’s intellect are limited and if an individual is let to rely on his own intellect, soon he will be trapped by the false self-pride of his own personal ego. On the other hand, a person who is already gifted by God, must be having Divine guidance along with his intellect. In this way, the individual should sacrifice all his own views and beliefs and should only follow the teachings of his Murshad. He should follow the direction shown by Murshad even if it seems him to be wrong because in this system, the individual has to sacrifice his own intellect before the spiritual guidance of Murshad. This system is based on perfect trust. Mureed has complete trust in the status of Murshad that he is really God gifted. So if in reality, the true status of Murshad was not so high, even than the Mureed will be hopeful for the eternal solvation because he was having complete trust in the high spiritual status of his Murshad.

There are different Sufi Orders which are headed by different Murshads. After the death of Murshad, a caliph (Gaddi nasheen) assumes the charge of that Sufi Order. And as there are different Sufi Orders, there is difference in certain beliefs, mathodologies and practices in different Sufi Orders. The follower of one Sufi Order is usually supposed to follow the directions of his own Murshad. If there happens to be clash between the teachings of two different Murshads, then individual should follow the directions of his own Murshad but at the same time, should let the followers of other Sufi Orders to follow the directions of their own respective Murshads. Wasif Ali Wasif explains it by giving an example. A follower of Naqshbandia Order (where Qawali is considered illegitimate) spent a night in Qawali Mehfil of Chistia Order (where Qawali is legitimate). The head of Chistia Order did not like it and asked that person that since he was follower of Naqshbandia Order, so he should not have come to Qawali Mehfil. In principle, the follower of one particular order should completely follow the directions of his own Order and at the same time, should not raise any objections on the different practices of other Orders.

Hazrat Shah wali Ullah (RA), however tried to resolve internal differences of various Sufi Orders. Particularly he tried to resolve the differences between Naqshbandia’s “Wahdat-ul-Shahood” and “Wahad-ul-Wajood” of rest of Sufi orders.

In our times, perhaps Sufism has lost its lively and creative spirit. There are still Sufi Orders whose activities are limited to Qawalies, Orrs etc. etc. The last real Sufi was perhaps Hazrat Wasif Ali Wasif. But as Wasif Ali Wasif says that world cannot be empty of God gifted people in any time till the day of judgment, so seekers of spiritual guidance can hope that many real spiritual personalities still be living in our contemporary world. Therefore it is upto the efforts of aspirants that how they struggle for finding a perfect spiritual guide for them. A famous Sufi Scholar of Sub-Continent Sharf-ud-Din Yehya Muniri, in 14th century AD had spent about 30 or 40 years in Jungles with the view to search a Murshad for him. Sharf-ud-Din Yehya Muniri then had a deep influence on the thinking of Sheikh Ahmed Serhindi because it was Muniri who had developed the early foundations for “Wahdat-ul-Shahood” Sufi ideology. Sheik Ahmed Serhindi only had further explored the early works of Muniri. Anyways, there are many other examples of such tedius but successful searches for Murshad, in the history of Muslim Sufism.

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