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A Concise History Of Sufism

1.      Introduction

Considerable ink has been used by modern writers on the “origins” of sufism in Islam, as to how it is “genuinely” Islamic and how a product, in the face of Islam, of outside influences. So far as the ideas of trust in and love of Allah are concerned, their rise to prominence is as a result of the developments within the intellectual and spiritual life of the community.

Before the passing away of the Holy Prophet SAW; the community (Ummah) of the faithful, expressing the moral and spiritual quality of its faith, was firmly established, with the Shariah as the constitution. During the Ummayed Caliphs, many of whom behaved in strange contrast to the simple piety of the first four Caliphs, a full cleavage occurred between religion and state, facilitated by the shift of the capital of the Islamic empire from Medina to Damascus in 660 A.C.

2. Rise and Development

It was during the Abbasid Caliphate that this gulf was eased and the process of the intellectual awakening of Islam was hastened. It was during this period that Sufism emerged as an institution. For the first two centuries, Sufism remained a spontaneous individual phenomena but, with the development of the formal disciplines of Islamic law and theology, and the gradual emergence, with them, of the class of Ulema, it rapidly developed into an institution with a tremendous mass appeal.

Sufi teachings exemplify the life of the Holy Prophet SAW and the teachings of the Holy Qur’an in stressing the purity of the heart and inner life. The Sufi Saints always strove to uphold this excellence.

The earliest beginnings of Sufi organisation are indicated by informal and loose gatherings for religious discussions and spiritual exercises, called “circles” (halqa). The repeated recital of a religious formula, called zikr (remembrance of Allah) could take place anywhere, including mosques, which fact shows that Sufi practice was never at any stage regarded as rival growth challenging the formal disciplines of Islam.

3.     Orthodox Sufism

During the 3rd A.H.\9th A.C. century, efforts began within the Sufis fold to bridge the gulf between orthodox Islam and Sufism with personalities such as Hazrath al Husayan al Mansur (al Hallaj) RA and Hazrath Maroof al-Kharki RA The reform movement aimed at integrating mystic consciousness with the Prophetic Shariah. The concept of “subsistence” or “survival” (baga) was introduced to amend and amplify Hazrath Bayazid Bustami’s doctrine of “annihilation” (fana). Other major sets of category are “intoxication” and “sobriety”, and “difference”, “absence” and “presence”.

This movement culminated in the monumental life-work of Imam al-Gazali RA who proved to be its genuine corner-stone. This greatest figure in medieval Islam proved decisive for the future development of Islam, not so much through what he thought, as through what he taught on the basis of his personal experience. Endowed with a rare religious insight (developed through a series of spiritual crises and struggles that affected him even physically) and a keen perceptive mind, his mystic experiences enabled him to transform the formula of orthodox theology about the divine willpower and mercy into a living and moving personal reality that throbbed in his very veins.

The influence of Imam al-Ghazali in Islam is incalculable. He not only reconstituted orthodox Islam, making Sufism an integral part of it, but he was also a great reformer of Sufism, purifying it of un-Islamic elements and putting it at the service of orthodox religion. As such he represents a final stop in a long developing history. Sufism received, through his influence, the approval of Ijma or consensus of the community. Islam received a new vigour of life and a popular appeal which won large areas in Central Asia and Africa to the faith. One of the most remarkable lessons that he taught in the whole history of mysticism is that it is not a way of finding extra facts about Reality but is a meaningful way of looking at it, looking at it as a unity.

4. The Sufi Theosophy

Sufism exerted an irresistible pull on men’s minds and during the 4th\10th and 5th\11th centuries won an increasing number of the ablest intelligentsia. The great systems of philosophical mysticism elaborated by the philosophers al- Farabi RA and Ibn Sina RA gave a fresh impetus to and were exploited by this theosophic Sufism. Other great philosophers that followed were Ibn al-Arabi RA (d. 638\1240), Moulana Jalal al-din Rumi RA (d 672\1273) and Moulana Nuraddin Abdul Rahman Jami RA (d. 898\1492). In the Persian Sufi poetry that blossomed so brilliantly, amorous images were employed in stark realism of spiritual love, which became the stock-in-trade of most of Persian, Turkish and Urdu poetry.

5.      Sufism and Popular Religion

Just as the doctrine and practice of Sufism arose out of early pietism and the activity of the preachers, so the movement of popular religion, which, from the 5th\11th century onward, developed with an astonishing rapidity into Sufi orders throughout the length and breadth of the Muslim world, is directly associated with the doctrines of the Sufi schools. The early development and formulation of the Sufi ideal and its broader techniques had taken place at the hands of the individual Sufis who were centres of limited and close circles of disciples. These circles with their differing doctrines may justifiably be called Sufi schools of which the chief mystic doctrines have been recorded by the 5th\11th century Sufi al- Hujwiri RA (more popularly known as Hazrath Data Ganj Baksh, whose tomb in Lahore is an object of public veneration) in his work “Kashf al-Mahjub”.

In the middle of the 3rd\9th century Sufism began to be publicly taught in Baghdad and elsewhere. The overwhelming attraction that it came to exert over the masses has to be explained by several factors-religious, social and political. First, Sufism claimed to lead its adapts to a direct communion with Allah, a thesis which the orthodox Ulama rejected. The religious fascination was so powerful that Sufism, in course of time, became a religion within a religion with its own exclusive structure of ideas, practices and organisations.

But the directly religious motivation was not the only factor in the spread of the Sufi movement. Its socio political function, and at times more specifically its protest function, were even more powerful than the religious one. Sufism offered a pattern of social life which satisfied the social needs of especially the uneducated classes. It was through socio- religious cults that Sufism came to be connected with organised professional groups. This was pre-eminently the case with medieval Turkey where the Sufi movement was associated intimately with the professional guilds and military organisation of the “Janisarries” (yenicheri). All organised professions of craftsmen and artisans were connected with some saint or the other, thus deriving their spiritual patronage. At the same time, the Sufi organisations were a kind of bulwark against the state authority especially since the 5th\11th century when the political unity of the Islamic world began to crumble, giving place to the ever insecure masses against autocratic and ever despotic sultans whose authority was also accepted by the Ulama. Sufism in its organised form, therefore functioned also as a protest against tyranny. This has been pre-eminently the case both in medieval Turkey and in modern times in North and West Africa and the Eastern Sudan. In Turkey the Sufi movement has been associated with the numerous rebellions against the state from the 7th\13th century (when a certain Shaykh Baba Ilyas rose in rebellion against the last Seljug Sultan) to the 11th\17th century. In Africa the Sufi orders of various kinds have constantly put up a fierce military resistance against the penetration of the European colonial powers. And it is the same with the Malaysian Archipelago. From its informal and loose beginnings in the 2nd\3rd century, when they gathered privately to recite the Quraan aloud, this zikr (remembrance of Allah - certain passages of the Quraan are appealed to in this connection) developed into an elaborate congregational ritual during the following centuries. In the Sufi orders OF Africaespecially, the term wird has normally replaced zikr, both of which came to mean not the recitation of the Holy Book but of short religious formulas, usually containing the ninety-nine “beautiful names” of Allah, and repeated on a chain of beads.

The absolute authority, both in matters spiritual and material, of the Sufi leader, called Shaykh (pir or murshid in Persia and India, muqaddam in Negro Africa) over his disciples called faqir (poor) darwish, murid (disciple) or ikhwan and khwan (brothers) or ashab (companions), is a cardinal constitutional principle of organised Sufism.

The history of Sufism is rich with personalities of outstanding integrity and genuine moral greatness. However the doctrine of complete surrender to a fellow human being could not be reconciled with Islamic orthodoxy which rejected even when orthodox Ulama cautiously joined the movement and participated in some of its moderate forms.

Besides Sufism’s “appeal to the heart” at the higher spiritual level, it unfolded a tendency of compromise with the popular beliefs and practices of the half converted and even nominally converted masses. It allowed a motley of religious attitudes inherited by the new converts from their previous backgrounds, from animism in Africa to pantheism in India. Although this strong tendency to compromise with local ideas and customs of the converts has assisted tremendously in the spread of Islam by Sufism, it has also divided Islam into a variety of religious and social cultures, and militated against the forces of uniformity represented by the orthodox Ulama. Thus Sufism proved the greatest channel for the spread of Islam precisely by the virtue of the same compromise. In India, Central Asia, Turkey and Africa, it brought millions within the fold of Islam with astonishing rapidity and still a proselytizing force in Africa. Further, the fact that Sufism came to be linked with Sunni Islam caused a severe diminution in the ranks of the Shia.

6. The Sufi Orders

Although the Sufi orders, as we know them, date from the 6th\12th and 7th\13th centuries, one important feature of this movement goes back much earlier. This feature is the genealogy of spiritual authority commonly called Silsila. In the 4th\10th century, Sufi al-Khuldi RA (d. 348\959) traced the genealogy of the mystic teaching to Hasan al-Basri RA (d. 110\728) and thence to the companion Anas ibn Malik RA, to the Holy Prophet SAW himself. Later chains started going to Hazrath Ali RA, in most cases through Hasan al Basri RA The Naqshabandi order traced its genealogy to the first Caliph, Hazrath Abu Bakr RA, and the Suhrawardis traced their source of authority to the second Caliph, Hazrath Umar ibn al Khattab RA.

Before the advent of organised Sufism, there existed tariqas which were merely schools of Sufi doctrine. The Sufi orders, in their rise, are connected with this early phase of schools of mysticism; and the term “tariqa” has therefore retained this original concept being ideally a method or way with doctrinal overtones through rites and external practices.

The pivot of a Sufi fraternity is obviously the Shaykh whose residence or place of teaching called zawiya (or ribat) in Arabic, khanqah in India and Persia and tekke in Turkey, serves as the centre of the spiritual activities of his congregation. The membership is normally of two kinds; besides the proper initiates or the immediate circle, there is usually a large number of associates or lay members who pay visits from time to time in order to get fresh instructions but are otherwise allowed to carry on their normal way of life. To teach and treat people, according to their capacity and individual needs is a cardinal principle with Sufi Shaykhs, who often show a remarkable insight into practical psychology. While an able disciple may succeed in obtaining “the robe” (khirqa, the insignia of graduation) and the privilege to teach the master’s methods as his khalifa (successor or deputy), other initiates, during the first stages of their apprenticeship, may be required to render prolonged services at the khanqah, such as gathering food or collecting food-grains or cooking for the congregation, etc.

The number of the individual orders throughout the Muslim world is so large that only a few will be mentioned. Among the non Africa orders, a broad line of division may be drawn between urban orders, with an educated and cultured following and the “rustic” orders of the countryside. In North West and Negro Africa especially, there are variations with regard to political attitude and whether a particular order is militant or peace-loving. The orders also interact with one another and especially in the later centuries it has not been possible to keep a rigid line of division. Among the very few exceptions which have been able to keep exclusive membership, if not an exclusive character, are the Tjanya in Africa and Mawlawiya in Turkey (suppressed since 1925). The most widespread and probably the oldest existing Sufi order is the Qadiriya. It overarches most of the other orders which have been related to in terms of influence at one stage or another if they have not directly descended from it. Indeed, with regard to most of the other orders it has acted as a kind of lever, because of its looseness and adaptability and its own congregations have spread from one end of the world to the other.

The order is named after Hazrath Abd al Qadir Gilani RA (b. 470\1077) of Baghdad, whose famous work, entitled sufficiency for the seekers of Truth, contains his sermons as well as an account of Muslim sects. He possessed striking piety and philanthropy and manifested a powerful sincerity in his sermons. His writings are orthodox in character with some mystical interpretations of the Quraanic passages.

The chief underlying traits of his teaching are dissuasion from being immersed in worldliness and an emphasis on charity and humanitarianism. All kinds of miracles are attributed to him. The central nucleus at Baghdad, which is still managed by a descendant of Hazrath Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani RA, spread to North Africa and then into Negro Africa, eastwards as far as Indo-China and northwards into Turkey. The Qadiriya order is among the most peaceful of the Sufi orders and is distinguished by piety and humanitarianism, the ethos inculcated by the Shaykh with whom it is associated. It is on the whole orthodox avoiding the excesses of more extreme popular orders.

A still more refined but far less widespread order, the Suhrawardiya, grew from the mystic doctrine of Hazrath Umar al-Suhrawardi (d. 632\1236) of Persia. This order is to be found only in Afghanistan and the Indo-Pakistan continent. The order did not spread very far, probably because of its rigorous spiritual discipline. But towards the end of the 8th\14th century it inspired an important orthodox order, the Khalwatiya, founded in Persia by Hazrath Umar al-Khalwati RA (d. 800\1398). This order, noted for its strict discipline (Khalwati-seclusionist), spread into Turkey and during the 12th\18th century was introduced into Egypt and the Middle East. Towards the end of the same century, a disciple of the same order founded in North-West Africa the new Tijani order. The Khalwati order also gave rise to several branches within itself and it especially attracted the adherence of the orthodox Ulama.

A younger contemporary of Hazrath Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani RA, Hazrath al-Rifai (d. 578\1182) founded another important order in the district of Basra in Iraq, called after him Rifaiya. It spread into Egypt, Turkey and some parts of South-East Asia. Hazrath Ahmad al-Badawi RA (d. 675\1276), the founder of the Badawiya or Ahmadiya order, has been venerated as the greatest saint in Egypt for centuries. The other two popular orders in lower Egypt, the Dusuqiya and the Buyyamiya, are offshoots of this order.

Hazrath Sa’ad al-Din RA (d. 700\1300) is the founder of the Sadiya (or Jibawiya) fraternity in Damascus, whose origins are shrouded in mystery. But the order is said to have spread to Egypt and Turkey, during the founder’s life time.

In North-West Africa, the diffusion of Islam with political overtones among the Berbers and in Negro Africa took place in close association with Sufism. The most important point of radiation for Sufism in North Africa was Abu Madyan of Tlemeen (6th\12th century). The order of Shadhiliya is associated with the name of another disciple of Abu Madyan, Hazrath Abul Hasan al-Shadhiliya RA (d. 656\1258). Although he did not leave any written work, his disciple, the Alexandrian Ibn Ata Allah RA (d. 709\1309), compiled a collection of his “wise sayings”. These sayings, which have been commented upon by Shaykh al Rundi RA (d. 796\1394), constitute the main mystic text book of this order which has been propagated also in South-East Asia.

In the 9th\15th century a reformed Shahdili order called al- Jazuliya came into existence in Morocco. One of the branches of the latter is the Isawiya, another is the orthodox Daqawiya of Morocco. The Shahdiliya, although it penetrated into Eastern Sudan, has had no impact on West African territories.

A much more recent order is that of the Tijaniya, founded about 1195\1781, by an ex-Khalwati disciple Ahmad al-Tijani RA (d. 1230\1815) at Fez. This order considerably simplified the ritual and laid greater stress directly on good intention and deeds, a fact which has contributed to its rapid success at proselytization and has also given it, at times, a more militant outlook. It makes no separation between the spiritual and the temporal. Whereas in Algeria it has been on good terms with the French colonial administration, it has resisted actively the foreign domination in Morocco. From Morocco it spread into French West Africa and into French Guinea during the 13th\19th century.

The history of the origins of the early Sufi fraternities in central Asia, that eventually spread to Turkey on the one hand and to the East, South and South-East Asia, on the other, remains obscure. Ahmad Yasawi (d. 562\1167), a disciple of Yusuf al- Hamadhani (d. 534\1140), who belonged to the Persio-Central Asian Sufi circle called the “Khawjagan” (the masters), laid the foundations of the oldest Turkish order called the Yasawiya. The Bektashi order founded by Baba Bektashi RA during the 6th\12th century was the most important popular “rustic” order in Turkey, spread into Anatolia and was fully organised and established towards the end of the 9th\15th century. Among the established orders, the Bektashiya are the furthest removed from orthodoxy, caring little for the obligatory laws of Islam. Through their associations with the military Janissaries they required political power in the Ottoman Empire and from time to time rose in revolt against the secular authority. Crushed in 1242\1826 by the government, they revived towards the end of the century but were disbanded finally in 1343\1925 by the modern Turkish state along with other orders, and now survive in Albania.

Another order which spread from Central Asia into Turkey and Eastern Muslim lands but also has a spiritual connection with the Khawjagan is the Naqshabandiya founded in the 8th\14th century in Bukhara by Hazrath Baha al-Din Naqshaband RA (d. 791\1389). Although he was an immediate disciple of the Sufi al-Sammasi and of the latter’s disciple, Amir Khulal, he adopted the method of zikr of an earlier Sufi, Khaliq al- Ghujdawani RA (d. 575\1179), who was the disciple of the same Yusuf al-Hamadhani who guided Ahmad Yasawi.

The Naqshabandiya, which spread in India, China and the Malayan Archipelago, is an orthodox order and, in general, appeals to the elite. It was introduced into India by Hazrath Baqi Billah RA in the 10th\16th century and was started afresh and reinvigorated by his important and influential pupil Hazrath Ahmad Sirhinidi RA.

The main sophisticated or “urban” order among the Turks, however, has been that of the Mevleviye (Mawlawiya), instituted by the famous mystic poet Hazrath Jalal al-Din Rumi RA (d. 672\1273). The Mathnawi, his great poetic work of surpassing beauty and profound thought has achieved immense popularity and has, indeed, been hailed as the “Quraan of the Sufis”. Since their suppression by the Kemalist revolutionary regime, the Mevleviye are confined to the Middle East, chiefly Aleppo. In the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, besides the universal orders of the Qadiriya and the Naqshabandiya, the chief Sufi brotherhood is that of the Chistiya, founded by Hazrath Mu’in al Din Chisti RA (d. 633\1236) of Ajmer whose tomb (Dargah) is famous for popular pilgrimage (Urs).

After a long line of famous representatives, the order suffered a period of eclipse, but was revived about a century ago.

Besides these orders, the Indian subcontinent teems with a host of other orders which are but very loosely organised. These range from lesser off-shoots of regular orders, through more or less organised “irregular” orders (the chief of which are the Qalandars) to individual mendicants, called faqirs or malangs. In Indonesia, Islam reached relatively late and had little time to consolidate its impact before Western colonialism made its appearance.

7.      Conclusion

The heyday of the Sufi movement in Western Asia lasted from the 10th\16th century to the 12th\18th century, which was roughly also the period covered by the Ottoman Empire from its

establishment to its zenith.

During the 13th and 14th A.H. (19th and 20th A.C.) centuries, forces were set in motion to take control or weaken the Sufi movement which is the cornerstone of Sunnism and the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jam’at. These forces took a double form. Firstly, there are those who have genuinely attempted to reform Sufism from within by excluding those indigenous beliefs and practices that do not confirm to Islamic doctrines. Secondly, there are those, especially non-Muslims who have been using unsuspecting Muslims, under the guise of reform, to bring about an onslaught on the different Muslim countries and communities where Sufism is closely associated with popular religion.

(Condensed from: ISLAM: FAZLUR RAHMAN)

Glimpses of Sufism

Sufism is an Islamic institution which derives its sources and validity from al-kitab wa al Sunna (i.e. the Quraan and the Hadith) and the Sufi doctrines in no way conflict with the orthodox Muslim theology or Sharia.

1.      Hadith-e-Ihsan and Sufism

In the wider sense Sufism means the perfection of Imaan (faith) and Islam (submission), which can be attained by Ihsan (literally goodness, but implies sincerity in one’s conviction and practice).

The Holy Prophet SAW said “Imaan is that you believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, in a life after death and in Qadr, in the good of it and the evil of it. Islam is that you bear witness that there is no Allah but Allah and that Muhammad SAW is the Messenger of Allah, keeping up prayer, fasting in the month of Ramadhan, paying zakat (poor tax) and the pilgrimage to Makkah. Ihsan is that you worship Allah as if you see Him; and if you see Him not Surely He sees you”

This hadith, is well-known by the following names or captions:

(1)   Hadith-e-Gabriel, because it was Gabriel who had come to teach people their religion;

(2)   Hadith-e-Ihsan, because it is a prominent hadith;

(3)   Umm-ul-ahadith, because it is the root and mother of all ahadith:

(4)   Ummul-ul-Jawmi, because it is a complete and comprehensive hadith, dealing with the articles of Imaan, pillars of Islam and the importance of Ihsan in Imaan and Islam.

Thus Imaan relates to matters of faith or conviction - the theoretical side - and Ihsan to the state of sincerity in one’s conviction and practice - to feel oneself in the Divine presence. According to the Prophet SAW there are two requisites of Ihsan, which, the Sufis, call Mushahida (vision of Allah) and Muraqaba (meditation). The former implies that one should worship Allah as if one sees Him; while the latter signifies that if one cannot see Him, one should meditate that “surely He sees you”.

This is in a sense the epitome of Sufi practice, which can be achieved by zikr (remembrance), fhikr (meditation) and suhbat (companionship of the righteous persons). It was because of this realization, that the Sufis described ihsan as Umm-ul- Tasawwuf (the mother of Sufism) and therefore the basis of Sufism.

2.      Quraan, Hadith and Sufism

Tadhkiya Zahir refers to purification of external self such as Taharat, Wudu, Ghusl, Salaat, Saum, Zakat, Haj, Lawful Earning, Nikah, Rights of Man and the like. Tadhkia Batin signifies that one should purify ones inward-self such as Taqwa, Trust in Allah, Sabr, Fortitude, Gratitude, Sincerity, Modesty, Contentment, Humility, Decent Manners, and the like. It also implies that one should purify the inward-self by abandonment of vices such as Falsehood, Backbitting, Envy, Pride, Anger, Malice, Carnal Passions, and the like.

Sufis lay great emphasis on Tadhkiya Batin, which they refer to as Tadhkiya Nafs (purity of self), Tadhkiya Qalb (purity of heart) and Tathir-e-Akhlaaq (purity of character), to which the Quraan refers in these words:

“He loves those who purify themselves”. (2:222)

“He indeed is successful who purifies himself” (87:14)

The traditions of the Prophet SAW are on the same lines.

“Mujahid (one who strives in the way of Allah) is he who kills his carnal passions.”

“The most excellent Jihad (holy war) is that of the conquest of self”.

Thus tasawwuf is founded upon the Quraan and Hadith and that is not an undesirable innovation (bidat) in Islam. Although the use of the word “tasawwuf” was not in vogue at the time of the Prophet SAW or his Companions, it is unwise to question the general wisdom of an institution which is undoubtedly based on the foundations of and in tune with the true spirit of Islam.

According to Ibn Khaldun, the companions and the successors followed this path of tasawwuf of unfailing perseverance in worship, utter devotion to Allah, turning away from the adornments of this world, renunciation of what most men seek in the way of pleasure and dignity, and isolating oneself from all mankind in spiritual retreat. Later, when worldliness spread and men tended to become more and more bound up with the ties of this life, those who dedicated themselves to the worship of Allah were distinguished from the rest by the title As-Sufiyya (Sufis) and Al-Mutasawwifa (those who aspire to be Sufis).

3. What is Sufism?

Sufism may be defined as Taaluq-be-Allah (connection with Allah), Ikhlaas-e-Amal (sincerity in deeds), Tabkhia Nafs (purity of self) Tasfia Qalb (purity of heart), Tartair-e-Akhlaq (purity of character) and Rida-e-Ilahi (satisfaction) in order that Qurb-e-Ilahi (nearness to Allah) may be attained.

All the prominent Sufis are agreed that Sufism is the purification of the heart from associating with created beings, separation from natural characteristic, suppression of human qualities, avoiding the temptations of the carnal soul, taking up the qualities of the spirit, attachment to the sciences of reality, using what is more proper to the eternal, counselling all the community, being truly faithful to Allah, and following the Holy Prophet SAW according to the Law. It teaches us how to purify soul, heart and character, and how to adorn our exterior and interior life in order that perfect happiness maybe attained.

There are, according to Khaja Nasiruddin RA, an eminent Indian Sufi, three essentials of Sufism, namely: Tadkhia Nafs (purity of Self), Tasfia Qalb (purity of heart) and Tajalia Ruh (purity of soul).

Sufism, according to Shaik Abdul Qadir al-Jilani RA is based on the following characteristics:

(1)   the generosity (sakhawat) of the Prophet Ibraheem;

(2)   the satisfaction (rida) of the Prophet Ishak;

(3)   the patience (sabr) of the Prophet Ayub;

(4)   the suppliant (munajat) of the Prophet Zakariya;

(5)   the expatriation (ghurbat) of the Prophet Yahya;

(6)   the wearing of robe (khirkha) of the Prophet Moosa;

(7)   the travel (safr) of the Prophet Isa;

(8)   the poverty (faqr) of the Prophet Muhammad.

        May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon them.

4.      Derivation of the term “Sufi”

The most probable derivations of the term “Sufi”, according to which the Sufi received their names, may be described as under:

(1)   because of the purity (safa) of their hearts (qalb) and the cleanliness of their acts (athar).

(2)   because they were in the first rank (saffa) of the congregational prayer.

(3)   because their qualities resembled those of the people of the Bench (Ashab Suffah), who lived during the time of the Holy Prophet SAW.

(4)   because of their habit of wearing wool (suf).

(5)   The word “Sufi”, according to Allama Lutfi, resembles the Greek word “Theosophia” meaning hikmat-e-ilahi (the wisdom of Allah). Wherever Tadhkiya and Hikmat are spoken of in the Quraan, the Sufis ascribe them to Tasawwuf.

5. Who is a Sufi?

Various meanings have been assigned to the word “Sufi” such as a Sufi is he whose conduct towards Allah is sincere, and towards whom Allah’s blessings descends, who neither possesses nor is possessed and if he possesses anything spends it. A Sufi is one who is clean of impurity, and full of meditation, who is cut off from humanity for Allah’s sake, and in whose eyes gold and mud are equal.

Abu al-Mawahib al-Shadhili mentions the following characteristics of Sufis:

“The saint is a servant, worshipping and fulfilling the duties of servantship; he is truthful, faithful and righteous. The poor man he prefers to the rich, the small quantity to the large, and the low to the high; he is of genuine feeling in the opinion of men. The saint is one who smiles if saluted; in conversation he is pleasant; when asked he shall give; when others divulge secrets, he conceals; of princes he knows he is not proud, and the poor he does not disdain; the next world he does not sell for the present. Through Allah he is rich; before Him he is humble; from Him he takes; to Him he gives; on Him depends; he fears none other than Allah; his trust is only in Allah”.

6.     Object of Sufism:

The ultimate aim and object of Sufism is rida-e-Ilahi (satisfaction or pleasure of Allah) and qurb-e-Ilahi (nearness to Allah).

All his actions as a Sufi must lead to the attainment of ride- e-Ilahi and the Quran says:

“Say, ‘Verily, my prayer and my sacrifice, my life and my death are all for Allah, Lord of the Worlds’. ” (6:163)

“This is a day when their truth will profit the truthful ones. For them are Gardens wherein flow rivers abiding therein forever. Allah is well-pleased with them and they are well- pleased with Allah. That is the mighty achievement”. (5:119)

The Prophet’s traditions, too, bear testimony to this, as for instance: “Whoever is pleased with Allah, Allah is pleased with them.”

The mystical verses in the Sufi life also make interesting and instructive reading. The following verses, attributed to Dhu ‘l-Nun RA (d, 859), the great Egyptian Sufi, come very close to expounding the doctrine of rida:

“To Thee alone my spirit cries;
In Thee my whole ambition lies;
And still Thy Wealth is far above
The poverty of my small love.”

Rida, according to Ali Hujwiri RA renowned Indian Sufi, also known as Data Ganj Baksh is to two kinds:

(1)   Allah is pleased with His servant, and in token of His pleasure, He bestows upon him His blessings;

(2)   The servant of Allah is pleased with Allah, and this manifests in his obedience to all the Commands of Allah.

The attainment of qurb-e-Ilahi (nearness or proximity to Allah), is in a sense the epitome of Sufi practice. A Sufi believes that Allah is nearer to him than anything else - and that Allah is always with him. This is in accordance with the Quran:

“Allah is in the East and the West, so wheresoever you turn, there is the face of Allah.” (2:115)

“We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.” (50:16)

“And He is with you wherever you are.” (57:4)

The Prophet SAW has said that whosoever remembers Allah, Allah will remember him and whosoever walks towards Allah, Allah will walk towards him.

The Sufis and the mystical poets are all unanimous on the basis of the doctrine of Qurb. The following lines (rubai) composed by the illustrious poet Umar Khayyam sums it all:

“My body’s life and strength proceed from Thee!
My soul within and spirit are of Thee!
My being is of Thee, and Thou art mine,
And I am Thine, since I lost in Thee!”.

(Professor Dr. Syed Ahmad Moinuddin Habibi RA, the writer of this article which is condensed, passed away in 1993 and lies buried in Hyderbad, India)