Zackary King in conversation

How Should One Understand the Seemingly Contradictory Quotations by Imam Shafi’i on Tasawwuf?

Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick


How Should One Understand the Seemingly Contradictory Quotations by Imam Shafi’i on Tasawwuf?

Imam Shafi says: “I accompanied the Sufi people, and I received from them three (types of) knowledge: …how to speak; how to treat people with leniency and a soft heart, and they guided me in the ways of Sufism (Tassawwuf).” [‘Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa]

Opposing this, Imam Shafi’i says: “If a man were to embrace Sufism in the morning, you would find that he had turned into a fool before Dhuhr came in.” [Al-Bayhaqi reported in al-Manaqib]

He also stated while describing the Sufis: “A Sufi does not become a Sufi until he has four characteristics; Laziness, Excessive Eating/speaking (…), etc.”


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate.

Thank you for your question. In reality, the contradiction is superficial. Many scholars, including Imam Ghazali, critiqued the Sufis in a certain sense. When one adopts Tasawwuf in light of Sacred Law, it is praiseworthy and an essential element of traditional Islam. When one adopts the type of Tasawwuf that is void of or contradicts Sacred Law, it is blameworthy, and Allah knows best.

Shafiʿi on Practicing Sacred Law in Conjunction with Tasawwuf

Imam Shafi`i said:

faqihan wa sufiyyan fa kun laysa wahidan
fa inni wa haqqillahi iyyaka ansahu

(Be both) a Faqih (Scholar) and a Sufi (Ascetic): do not be only one of them,
Verily, by Allah’s truth, I am advising you sincerely. [Shafi`i, Diwan]

Shafiʿis Derogatory Remarks on Tasawwuf

The derogatory remarks about Tasawwuf attributed to Imam al- Shafi`i must be understood in the context of the Imam’s disavowal of certain people who attribute themselves and their practices to Tasawwuf and the Sufis. In reality, they were nothing more than hypocrites, free-thinkers, and dissolute people.

How can they believe that Imam Shafi`i disapproves of Tasawwuf while he advises the Scholars to be Sufis and the Sufis to be Scholars, as quoted above?

The Hadith scholar al-ʿAjluni also relates in his book “Kashf al-Khafa wa Muzil al-Albas” that Imam Shafi`i said:

Three things in this world have been made lovely to me: avoiding affectation, treating people kindly, and following the way of Tasawwuf. [G.F. Haddad, Living Islam]

I pray that this is beneficial.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar Shaykh Taha Karaan.

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and has completed his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.