Is Tasawwuf a Separate Religion?

What is Right after all?

Is Taawwuf a Separate Religion?

Mufti Muhammad Qasim Attari

The noble Sufis, who are also known as the āliīn (righteous), i.e., those who have passion for performing good deeds, have always been loved by Muslims. In Islamic nomenclature, the methodology of action adopted by the noble Sufis is referred to as taawwuf, and academically it is called Ilm al-Taawwuf. It is evident from the lives of the Quranic commentators, Hadith masters, scholars, jurists, and revivers of Islam that they always respected the Sufis and had great love for taawwuf. It has been the custom of major Islamic scholars to refer to the books of the Sufis in their writings, quote their sayings, and relate their accounts to illustrate the high standard of practices of Islam. Despite all of this, in the modern area, some people with a weak understanding of the noble Quran and sacred Hadith reject taawwuf entirely. They claim it is not from Islam, and is a different religion altogether.

No matter how much we lament over this negative and corrupt understanding of Islam, it is not enough. Anyhow, here is some clarity for people who have sense. The reality is that taawwuf is a discipline like the science of tafsīr, Hadith, jurisprudence, and so on. There was no science by the name of tafsīr at the time of the beloved Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم, only the noble Quran and the sacred Hadith of the beloved Prophet
صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم. The noble Companions رَضِیَ اللهُ عَنْهُم understood the noble Quran directly from the Prophetصَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم, not through the science of tafsīr and its principles.

Similarly, Aādīth were recorded and utilised at the time of the Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم, but the science of Hadith and its principles did not exist. Likewise, legal rulings pertaining to prayer, fasting, hajj, zakat, marriage, divorce, lawful, impermissible, etc., existed, but the science of Islamic jurisprudence and its principles did not. Whenever the Muslims had any queries regarding these matters, they asked the Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم or the senior Companions رَضِیَ اللهُ عَنْهُم.

The above-mentioned branches of knowledge were not codified or recorded at first, but after the era of the Companions رَضِیَ اللهُ عَنْهُم, books were written and accepted by the entire ummah. Then experts in every field arose. Among the experts of Quranic exegesis were Sayyidunā Qatādah, Sayyidunā Ikrimah and Sayyidunā al-abarī رَحِمَهُمُ الـلّٰـهُ. Those who specialised in the science of Hadith included Imam Bukhārī, Imam Mālik, Imam Amad and Imam Muslim رَحِمَهُمُ الـلّٰـهُ. Some of the authorities in the field of jurisprudence were Imam Abū anīfah, Imam Mālik, Imam Shāfiī and Imam Amad رَحِمَهُمُ الـلّٰـهُ.

This also applies to the discipline of taawwuf; it is a branch of knowledge linked to the noble Quran and sacred Hadith. The science in which the words and meanings of the noble Quran are discussed is known as tafsīr. The branch of knowledge that discusses the beloved Prophet’s صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم actions, statements and tacit approval is called Hadith, and its principles are known as Uūl al-Hadith. The science which explains the method of prayer, what is permissible and impermissible, and the rulings of all such matters is called fiqh.

Similarly, a large portion of the noble Quran and sacred Hadith focuses on the actions and states of the heart, like sincerity, patience, gratefulness, reliance upon Allah Almighty, contentment, abstinence, concern for the Hereafter, love for Allah Almighty, giving priority to the pleasure of Allah Almighty above all else, and to accept and be content with His decree. These attributes are known to those who read the noble Quran and sacred Hadith. Contrary to this, there are vices which are condemned by the noble Quran and sacred Hadith. This includes ostentation, impatience, miserliness, ungratefulness, not relying upon Allah Almighty, love for the world, being heedless of the Hereafter, pride, jealousy, malice, and more.    

Islamic law requires us to adopt the first category of actions and to refrain from the second. These issues are discussed in the books of tafsīr and commentaries of Hadith, but not in great detail. Therefore, just as the rulings pertaining to the outward are explained in a separate science called fiqh, for the convenience of Muslims, the jurisprudence of the actions and states of the heart is explained in the books of taawwuf. The primary subject matter of books of taawwuf is recognition of virtuous deeds of the heart and how to acquire them, and identification of the vices of the heart and how to refrain from them. To learn more about this, study the famous book of taawwuf like Kīmīyā-i Saādat, Iyāʾ al-Ulūm,Awārif al-Maārif, al-Fat al-Rabbānī, Futū al-Ghayb, Kashf al-Majūb, al-Risālah al-Qushayriyyah, Maktūbāt Mujaddid Alf Thānī, etc.

If the sciences of tafsīr, hadith and fiqh are not in opposition to Islam, rather they clarify and explain it, then this also applies to taawwuf. If the disciplines of tafsīr, hadith and fiqh are not sciences outside of Islam, and acting upon them is not acting upon a different religion, then the same applies to the science of taawwuf. In fact, taawwuf is a branch of Islamic knowledge and its actions are forms of acting upon Islam. Those who would claim that dividing the commands of Allah Almighty and His Messenger صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم into various branches and explaining them results in them opposing one another, possess skewed thinking and distorted understanding.

There is a famous hadith in aī al-Bukhārī known as Hadith Jibrīl or Hadith Isan. In summary, Angel Jibrīl عَـلَيْـهِ الـسَّـلاَم came to the beloved Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم and asked three questions: ماالایمان “What is faith?” ماالاسلام “What is Islam?” ماالاحسان “What is isān?” The Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم replied, “Faith is that you believe in Allah, His angels, His messengers, meeting Him and in resurrection after death.” Heصَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said, “Islam is to worship Allah, not associate partners with Him, establish prayer, pay zakat and fast in Ramadan.” Regarding isān, he صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said, “Isān is to worship Allah as though you see Him, but if this is not possible, then be certain that He is watching you.”

Now, reflect upon this Hadith. The Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم described Islam, faith and isān separately. Does this mean they contradict each other? Is Islam faith? Yes. Is isān Islam? Absolutely. So, we have established that Islam has many branches, and the branch of isān is what thousands of saints and scholars have referred to as taawwuf. Taawwuf has many names like isān, tazkiyyat al-nafs, arīqah, and mujāhadat al-nafs. Irrespective of which of these terms one chooses to use, it cannot be denied that taawwuf is the highest form of worship which is most beloved to Allah Almighty, and it is a major part of Islam, just like prayer, fasting, Hajj, zakat, and believing in Allah Almighty and the Hereafter are.

In fact, taawwuf is the essence of the religion because it is to perform the actions of Islamic law in an excelle12345678

nt manner. For example, for someone to offer prayer in such a lofty manner that they become a reflection of:

اِنَّ الصَّلٰوۃَ  تَنۡہٰی عَنِ الۡفَحۡشَآءِ  وَ الۡمُنۡکَرِ ؕ

certainly the prayer prevents evil and indecency[1]

Such prayer is like the worship described in the hadith: worship Allah Almighty as if you can see Him. In other words, one can say fulfilling the farāʾi, wājibat and sunan of the prayer is SharīꜤah, and praying with such humility and presence that it prevents you from committing indecency and evil is taawwuf.

کُتِبَ عَلَیۡکُمُ الصِّیَامُ

Fasting has been made obligatory upon you.[2]

Acting upon this command is SharīꜤah, and fasting in such a way that it grants you piety and control over your carnal-self, as per the verse:

لَعَلَّکُمۡ تَتَّقُوۡنَ (۱۸۳

that you may attain piety.[3]

is taawwuf. It is as if کُتِبَ عَلَیۡکُمُ الصِّیَامُ is SharīꜤah, and لَعَلَّکُمۡ تَتَّقُوۡنَ is taawwuf. 

What is zakat? It is to give a certain amount in the way of Allah Almighty upon the presence of specific conditions. Giving this amount of wealth is acting upon SharīꜤah, but the noble Quran states:

خُذۡ مِنۡ اَمۡوَالِہِمۡ صَدَقَۃً  تُطَہِّرُہُمۡ وَ تُزَکِّیۡہِمۡ بِہَا

O Beloved, take Zakah from their wealth, by which you may cleanse them and make them pure.[4]

Meaning, O beloved, through the means of collecting zakat from the people, purify their hearts by removing the love of the world and wealth from them. It is as if خُذۡ مِنۡ اَمۡوَالِہِمۡ صَدَقَۃً is SharīꜤah, and تُطَہِّرُہُمۡ and تُزَکِّیۡہِمۡ is taawwuf.

In summary, to say SharīꜤah and taawwuf are in opposition with one another is contrary to understanding the essence of Islamic laws. Only those who do not understand what is sought by the actions of SharīꜤah say such things. In reality, taawwuf is not the name of another religion conflicting with Islam, rather it is the “isān” described by the beloved Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم along with faith and Islam. Taawwuf is that requirement of SharīꜤah which is found alongside the legal rulings of Islam throughout the noble Quran.

[1] Al-Quran, part 21, Al-Ankabūt, verse 45; translation from Kanz al-Irfān

[2] Al-Quran, part 2, Al-Baqarah, verse 183; translation from Kanz al-Irfān

[3] Al-Quran, part 2, Al-Baqarah, verse 183; translation from Kanz al-Irfān

[4] Al-Quran, part 11, Al-Tawbah, verse 103; translation from Kanz al-Irfān




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