Sufism is the Heart of Islam
Muhammad Maroof Shah
Sufism is the heart of Islam. Nothing in Islam makes sense except in light of Sufism. Contemporary challenges to religion or Islam from rationalistic philosophy and science and from different thought currents culminating in modernity and postmodernity can be met only with the help of Sufism or some appropriation of Sufism. Sufism is the perfection of faith. To be a Muslim is to strive for husn (beauty and perfection) in every act and to strive to live in constant awareness of God as the famous sacred tradition called hadisi Jibriel states. Thus to be a Muslim is to be a Sufi. The Prophet SAW is the model for every genuine Sufi. Without Sufism Islam is reduced to incredible theology and meaningless ritualism. Sufism is the fragrance of Islam. None of the great names in the history of Islam has been antiSufi in the real sense of the term. There have been critics of deviations and innovations in the instutionalized structure of Sufism but none that has criticized or could criticize its essential spirit which is ihsan. Ghazzali is perhaps the greatest name in the list of balanced Sufis who combined both the outer and the inner dimensions of Islam in his life and thought. We are all travelers on the path; we only differ in the stage of our proximity to Divine Presence. Are not all Muslims – nay all humans – seeking nearness to God or striving for the same? One can’t really make sense at higher intellectual level of hundreds of Quranic verses (in fact many verses admit of no other interpretation than mystical one) and countless prophetic tradition and much of Islamic intellectual heritage and traditional Muslim sciences and most of Islamic history, poetry, philosophy, ethics etc without consideration of inner dimension or metaphysical roots of religion which Sufism embodies. Sufism is the spirit, the core, the raison d’etre of Islam/Religion. Muslim institutions, epics, myths and folktales, rituals, poetry, codes of right behavior (adab) and implicit values and expectations all are deeply coloured by Sufism. Sufi influence and colouring can be seen in such culturally diverse forms as calligraphy (in all Islamic languages) and the aesthetics and iconography of textiles, clothing, jewelry, utensils, ceramics, and carpets; in tombs; and in the plethora of more "rustic" mosques, zâwiyas, etc. Understanding embroidery, for instance, without knowing traditional metaphysics and Sufism is not possible. The most visited places after mosques are shrines. Symbolism of mosque, as of most other art forms is mystical. Symbolism of ritual prayer is replete with mysticism. Every verse of the Quran has an inner or mystical dimension to it. Muslims live and breathe mysticism. Muslim education has largely involved use of Sufi resources.
Although Orientalists of the past were reluctant (for more than a hundred years) to allow Islam to have its own mystical dimension, and usually claimed that Sufism was "borrowed" from other traditions, now generality of scholars have rejected this claim and it is a fact that the generality of Muslim scholarship (jumhoor) considers Sufism to be inner dimension of Islam.
Sufism is the common element in both Sunnism and Shiism. If we are truly interested in bringing all sects that are striving against one another in claiming to be the true version of Islam it could only be in the bosom of spirituality. Terrorism in the name of Islam can be eliminated by Sufi turn (lest it be forgotten that Sufis have championed jihad as well and Jihad is the sixth pillar of Islam. Islam can’t allow transgressors/fascists/oppressors/exploiters to sleep comfortably). Here a few quotes from traditional Islamic authorities which are not recognized as Sufis popularly follow to show essential orthodoxy of Sufism.
"If it were not for two years, I would have perished." He said, "for two years I accompanied Sayyidina Ja'far as-Sadiq and I acquired the spiritual knowledge that made me a gnostic in the Way." (Imam Abu Hanifa). One of his teachers was a majzoob named Bahlool."Whoever studies Jurisprudence and didn't study Sufism will be corrupted; and whoever studied Sufism and didn't study Jurisprudence will become a heretic; and whoever combined both will be reach the Truth." (Imam Malik) "I accompanied the Sufi people and I received from them three knowledges: ... how to speak; .. how to treat people with leniency and a soft heart... and they... guided me in the ways of Sufism." (Imam Shafi) "O my son, you have to sit with the People of Sufism, because they are like a fountain of knowledge and they keep the Remembrance of Allah in their hearts. They are the ascetics and they have the most spiritual power." (Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal) "The way of the Sufis is the way of the Salaf, the preceding Scholars between the Sahaba and Tabi'een of those who followed good guidance..." (Ibn Khaldun) "At-Tasawwuf in itself is the best and most honorable knowledge. It explains how to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) and to put aside innovation." (Jalaluddin as-Suyuti) Ibn Qayyim approvingly quoted Sufyan Sawri’s poitive view of Sufis. Ibn Taymiyah has paid great tribute to sha’ria conscious Sufis such as Ab Qadir Jeelani. "My father Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab and I do not deny or criticize the science of Sufism, but on the contrary we support it, because it purifies the external and the internal of the hidden sins, which are related to the heart and to the outward form. Even though the individual might externally be on the right way, internally he might be on the wrong way. Sufism is necessary to correct it." (Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab)
Amongst the most respected names in the list of Quranic commentators have been Sufis. Many great names in hadith scholarship and transmission had Sufi leanings. There is no great name in Muslim history that has rejected Sufism in toto. The greatest names in the history of our subcontinent from Ahmed Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah to Iqbal were in the Sufi tradition. Most of the towering personalities amongst philosophers and poets in Muslim history have been Sufis. Greatest names in modern Islamic thought which include some famous converts as well have been Sufis or influenced by Sufism. All revivers of Islam including Ibn Taymiyah have been Sufis or inclined towards Sufism (Ibn Taymiah was a Qadri Sufi). Islam owes its best poetry and other literary works to Sufi tradition. Some great architectural masterpieces such as Taj owe inspiration to Sufism. Islam as a culture and a civilization is inconceivable with its spiritual or Sufi dimension. Immense majority of Muslims in all ages and especially such groups as women and illiterate rural and tribal peoples have been adapting Sufism in their daily lives. Sufism has been the religion of Muslim masses everywhere and it has been the creed of greatest Muslim intellectuals/scholars as well. Traditionally the ideal of piety has been the Sufi piety and most revered personalities have been Awliya. To Sufism we Kashmiris owe, like many other regions, conversion to Islam. Many Muslim critics of Sufism often forget that they owe their very religion to the work of Sufis. If today we are so much concerned about the purity of our faith and guarding it against foreign influences or heresies we must remember that it is to Sufis that we mostly owe our faith. Minus Sufism Islam is empty legalism and not a world faith with a battery of sciences and magnificent metaphysics.
Contrary to what is believed by many there has been no great Muslim scholar who has out rightly denied mystical dimension of Islam and if Sufism is understood in its proper context as the spirit of shariah, the way of ahsan, standing steadfast on the path of sunna which results in perfection of faith, beautification of actions, tasting the joy for which God stands, perfection of virtues/morality, perfecting the process of surrender or submission to the will of God, holding God alone to be really and ultimately efficacious agent or the Doer of all actions, appropriating akhlaqallah, transcending self and doing everything selflessly, selfless service of people, utter trust in God, loving God above everything, ceaseless remembrance of God, doing everything for the glory of God, perfection of such virtues as humility so that one thinks everyone better than oneself and therefore never feeling humiliated as one deems oneself nothing, seeing God as the hidden and the manifest reality, unconditional love and compassion which implies one has no grievance or grudge against anyone, no anxiety or worry over everything, no regret for any loss, no longing for anything which God withheld, no jealousy of any one.
In a world torn by numerous sectarian, nationalistic and other conflicts, wrecked by psychological and spiritual problems and devastated by capitalist economism and imperialist politics of big powers Sufism, understood as essence of true religiosity and characterized by unconditional love, tolerance, charity and selflessness is an antidote that we desperately need. It speaks the universal language of the Self and silence that everybody can realize or identify with.
Sufis have not been aggressive fanatic policemen or advocates of God who were desperate that all religions should disappear from the world but peaceful people who preached Islam by their presence and who had realized kalima rather than merely recited it.