At Masjid Bukit Antarabangsa on 18 October 2011 by Al Sheikh Afeef Uddin Al Jailani

This is the first in a series of lectures on Sufism (At Tasawwuf).

Insha’Allah this lecture series will answer the following questions:

  • What is the meaning of Tasawwuf?
  • What are the origins of Tasawwuf?
  • Is it something new?
  • Is it essential knowledge?
  • What benefit is there from acquiring this knowledge?
  • Who is qualified to be a Sufi Teacher (Sheikh)?
  • Who or what is a Murid or a disciple?
  • Why is there a controversy concerning Tasawwuf?

The series will also introduce the lexicon of Tasawwuf – that is the words that are used to describe certain practices or disciplines. As an example we sometimes hear the word Tariqa orSulook. This terminology is related to Tasawwuf.

Insha’Allah through these lectures you will come to understand the Realities of Sufism within this circle. And to understand why you should embrace this teaching.

Both Al Suyuti and Imam Al Ghazali have said that the study of Tasawwuf is obligatory for a Muslim.

Tasawwuf is the spirit of Islam, the inner soul, or the reality of Islam. But the name – At Tasawwuf or Sufism – is not important. What is important is the realization of the essence of Islam, the true spiritual endeavor that all Muslims should strive to achieve.

At this time there are those who misunderstand or misrepresent At Tasawwuf as a modern innovation within Islam that exceeds the bounds of the religion. But this opinion which is forceful at times is itself a problem because the practice of Tasawwuf is followed by millions of Muslims worldwide, all of whom considered themselves to be Sufi’s.

Historically, the most recognized scholars of Islam have all followed a spiritual master. Al Imam Al Shafi’i and Al Imam Abu Hanifah are both leading scholars of Fiqh and both had a master to whom they turned for the purification of their souls. If we are to disqualify a scholar and his teaching because he followed the path of Tasawwuf, you will remove the entire corpus of Islamic knowledge.

Consider the example of Al Imam Al Ghazali. During his time (1058 – 1111) he stood alone to protect Islam from the perils of secular thinking that would erode the great spiritual teaching of our master and Prophet, Rasulullah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. This was the teaching of Philosophy based on the teachings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Because this was a manner of thought that was not familiar to Muslims and the methods used were both subtle and devious. And very dangerous. But Imam Al Ghazali wrote two books on this subject and completely repudiated the philosophical arguments and in doing so protected the Muslim world from this danger. And he did this using the same philosophical method used by the Greek philosophers but in this case to prove the reality of Islam. And this is how he earned the respected title of ‘The Proof of Islam’. May Allah be well pleased with him.

And since the time of Imam Ghazali there have been many Islamic scholars who have written many books on different aspects of islam. And all the best of these include a chapter on the ‘spirit’ of Islam. The call this ‘spirit’ by different names but it is all about Tasawwuf. So we must understand the realities of this knowledge in order for us to reach to a better life in terms of faith and humble submssion to the Lord of Truth, Almighty and Glorious is He.

Today, no one can be successful in his mission of leading people to Allah if he has no knowledge of the spiritual path which is Tasawwuf.

About two years ago, Yusuf Al Qaradawi aired three episodes about tazkiatun nufus on his program called ‘ash-Shariah wal Hayat (Shariah and Life)’. And for this there was no way for him to avoid bringing evidence from the books of the great Sufi Scholars such as Imam Al Ghazali and Sheikh Abdul Qadir Al Gilani (qsa) and others. And these books extend back through the history of Islam with some being written within 100 years after the death of our Prophet may Allah bless and grant him peace. But the discipline of Tasawwuf actually started during the lifetime of Rasulullah (saw) because his teaching is all about tazkiya – the purification of the ummah (the Muslim nation). And this is on the instruction of Allah, Almighty and Glorious is He, in the Noble Qur’an. And even from the Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, is the prayer to Allah, Almighty and Glorious is He, to purify his progeny.

So it cannot be said that Tasawwuf is a modern innovation when it has its’ roots in the time of Rasulullah (saw) with references back as far as Ibrahim (as).

What Allah, Almighty and Glorious is He, asks of us is to worship Him (swt). And we cannot worship Him as He deserves unless we purify our hearts. And, when Allah, Almighty and Glorious is He, asks us to purify ourselves, He is not referring to our external parts – our body and our clothes – but rather our hearts. And the time will come, on judgement day when all of your worldly accomplishments will not benefit you. The only thing that will benefit you will be your pure heart.

So, just as every day we take great pains to clean ourselves, our body and our clothes, we use perfume and so on, to present a good outer appearance, so we must also purify our hearts. And this you cannot do as you like. There are no products for the purification of the heart on the grocery shelf for you to buy and apply. To purify your heart requires a personal struggle as permitted by Allah Almighty and Glorious is He.

These days there are some misunderstandings concerning the work Tariqa. To learn the truth of this you must not listen to just one source or one person. You must seek this knowledge from different, qualified sources. And only after you have researched this as thoroughly as possible can you accept a decision.

In Arabic Tariqa means, simply, a path.

Many people today are extremists who are following parts of the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah. But Ibn Taymiyyah himself, when they read his last will and testament, asked to be buried in the Sufi Cemetery in Damascus. And in his major book he included two chapters on Tasawwuf. And in his book Al Fatawa Al Kubra, he presented some misguided ideas but also identified some of the greatest scholars of Islam and praised them very highly. And in this book he said that in this path (Sufi) ‘… there are scholars and saints and the blessed that nobody can count number, only Allah, Almighty and Glorious is He. They are countless. These are the real guides of the Muslim nation’.

But we must remember also that even Sheikhs are human and there may be some who have made a mistake, may Allah Almighty and Glorious is He protect us from this. But they may have diverted their thoughts and teachings from the true teaching of Tasawwuf. But if this is the case, the problem is not with Tasawwuf but with the divergence of thought of a single person. We should not condemn the entire field due to one error (or perhaps a few).

It is our responsibility as Muslims to want for our Muslim brothers (and sisters) the same good as we want for our self. If we see a brother who is misguided we need to try to influence him to follow the correct path and not simply condemn him and turn away.

Tasawwuf can be likened to a tree with three main parts. The roots that provide the foundation and the source of nourishment, the trunk that channels all this to the growing and vibrant branches of leaves and fruit. So there is the root, the trunk and the fruit.

The roots of Tasawwuf is Sharia Law. These are the basic laws of Islam included in the Noble Qur’an, and the Sunnah (example) of Rasulullah may Allah bless and grant him peace.

The trunk is Tariqa. And when we say Tariqa we mean the path to Allah Almighty and Glorious is He.

The fruit and branches are the benefit we reap from seeking the path to purification of our soul.

To teach Tasawwuf, the Sheikh must have a foundation in Sharia Law.

If someone has insufficient knowledge of Sharia Law he may be correct and on the proper path but he cannot guide others on this path because a certain time will come when he will need to refer to the basic laws (Sharia) and has no foundation on which to do this.

As and example, once again referring to Ibn Taymiyyah – he wrote another book – The Friends of Allah and the Friends of Shaytan. In this book he writes of the friends of shaytan – the magicians and sorcerers who claim to be friends of Allah but do not follow the Sharia. In the other part he writes of the friends of Allah Almighty and Glorious is He. These friends are the blessed and he wrote of their works and their miracles. And he wrote that these people are not ignorant or unlearned. They were taught in the intricacies of Sharia Law and the Sunnah of Rasulullah may Allah bless him and grant him peace and in the Noble Qur’an. And he wrote that these people must be scholars – especially the recognized scholars of Islam.

This is important for two reasons. The first is that in order to guide others you must yourself be taught. Otherwise you will encounter a problem for which you will be unable to provide an answer. And second, if you guide people incorrectly you will be questioned about your guidance. And the questioner will Allah Almighty and Glorious is He and this is a questioning you cannot avoid.

So the teacher (the Sheikh) must himself be well versed in the Noble Qur’an and the Sharia Law and when questions are asked he must answer based on this knowledge. This to assure aspiring Sufi’s that teachers, the Sheikhs, are themselves well versed in the Islamic Juristic sciences.

Ibn Taymiyyah included in his work on the Friends, a passage concerning Sheikh Abdul Qadir Al Gilani in which the Sheikh was tempted by the devil (shaytan). Shaytan appears to the Sheikh in the form of most handsome man, seated upon a magnificent throne that seemed to hover above the ground and he was completed surrounded by the glow of a brilliant light that seemed to have no source but was piercingly bright. He addresses the Sheikh with the words: “Ya Sheikh Abdul Qadir. I am your Lord and Master. I am here to congratulate you for your diligence in devotion to me and to reward you with the assurance of a place in heaven. From this time forward you need pray no more. All that was declared forbidden is now made permissible to you as it will be heaven. You may do as you wish.” Without a moments hesitation Sheikh Abdul Qadir replied “Allah protect me from you shaytan and be gone from here”. The light was extinguished, the throne disappeared and the handsome man became the tortured figure of shaytan when then said: “How did you know it was me?” Sheikh Abdul Qadir, drawing on his learning from the Qur’an and Sharia replied: “Rasulullah may Allah bless him and grant him peace continue with his prayer up to the end of his life and never partook of forbidden things. If Allah Almighty and Glorious is He held my master to this code, who am I to be granted a reprieve.” Before he departed shaytan informed Sheikh Abdul Qadir that he had managed to lead astray more than 40 scholars with the same ruse.

So be aware. Test from Allah Almighty and Glorious is He will come. And the more you work to purify your soul, the more shaytan will come to lead you astray. The path is not easy.

In closing, the Sheikhs who guide the people must follow Sharia Law. Unfortunately there are many who claim to be guides and leaders but they are not qualified to lead because they do not have the foundation in Sharia law. And they are too proud. Tasawwuf comes to give you humility. They are arrogant and not thoughtful of their followers. But, as Allah Almighty and Glorious is He is my witness, tasawwuf is innocent of all of this. Scholars such as these misguided ones, when they meet with other scholars talk only of themselves. Almost to boast of their knowledge and skills. And because of this we are having problems. Because when those who are opposed to Tariqa and to tasawwuf see such behaviour they will use this as a reason to belittle the efforts of all of the scholars of tasawwuf rather than to single out the misguide few.

In our future lectures we will include the means to counter these negative forces as well as how to be protected by Allah Almighty and Glorious is He.

Ameen Ya Rabbil Alameen.