Posts

Sufism: Its Essence & the Traits of its People: Book by Habib Umar

What is Sufism? This new treatise by Habib Umar ibn Hafiz and translated into English by Ustadh Amjad Tarsin, covers the principles of Sufism and the characteristics of those who follow it.

What is Sufism?

This book seeks to clarify the meaning behind this often-misunderstood term. Sufism, or tasawwuf as it is known in the original Arabic, is the science of purifying the heart for the purpose of reaching Allah. This is done by acting with ihsan, or excellence, in every situation, and following the sunna of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and give him peace.

A true Sufi is someone who has reached the station of ayn al-yaqin, or the witnessing of certainty, which usually comes after many years of hard work. The people who try their best, but have not yet reached, are really quasi-Sufis, or mutasawif. As for the people who love them, but are not actively trying to progress spiritually, are attempting to resemble Sufis.

The Traits of Sufis

There are many people all over the world, who claim to be Sufis. Habib Umar outlines the ten traits that must be followed by anyone who claims to be a Sufi. These traits are universal to the various spiritual paths.

  1. Knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunna: This forms the very foundation of the Sufism, and any actions that contradict the basics of Islam, are not from Sufism. This also means that the Sufis strive to follow the  sunna with utmost excellence. In fact, the isnad (chains of transmission) of all the major works of Qur’an, hadith, tafsir (Qur’anic exegesis), fiqh (jurisprudence) were passed down through the people of Sufism. Therefore, everyone today who is qualified to teach any of these sciences, has Sufis in their chain of transmission.
  2. Concern with perfecting the heart for the sake of Allah: Since Allah looks towards our heart, not our outward forms, Sufis prioritise working on their hearts to attain ihsan. Sufism is not about singing, clapping, or wearing specific clothing. Rather, it’s about removing everything besides Allah from the heart.
  3. Sincerity. Sufis should be extremely meticulous in analysing their actions, making sure that they are solely for the sake of Allah, and shy away from praise and recognition.
  4. Trueness: This entails doing everything possible to do a deed for the sake of Allah alone, with no pride or ostentation. This also means being humble enough to accept advice from everyone, and not to mind if others turn away.
  5. Humility of the heart: There are countless verses, hadith and stories which emphasise the centrality of humility. A Sufi does not raise themselves above others, or believe that they are better than anyone else, preferring instead to carry themselves with humility.
  6. Recognising the people of honor, and eliminating envy: By showing honor to people who posses it, they strive to give everyone their rights, and not have envy towards anyone.
  7. Remembering Allah abundantly: Sufis strive to make dhikr and remember Allah, with presence of heart, as much as possible.
  8. Conveying with excellence and eliminating discourteous argumentation: They strive for excellence by avoiding arguments unless absolutely necessary. If an issue arises, they clarify it in the best manner.
  9. Responding to evil with goodness, and having concern: A Sufi has utmost concern for others, and does their best to strive for their wellbeing. They forgive those who wrong them and respond to any evil they face with goodness.
  10. Love of Allah, preferring Him over all else: In their daily life, they consider Allah more important than everything, and strive to attain his love.

Sufism: Its Essence & the Traits of its People, is published by Dar al-Turath Islami. If you would like to learn more, consider enrolling in our On-Demand course The Path of Spiritual Excellence.


Last of the Tasburai: New Sci-fi Novel With A Muslim Twist

Dubbed the ‘Halal Game of Thrones’, the epic fantasy novel Last of the Tasburai is an action packed page-turner that will prove popular with Muslim readers, young and old. SeekersHub interviews the author, Rehan Khan.

 

Why did you get into fiction writing?

REHAN: Fiction, particularly fantasy and sci-fi creates a safe place to explore controversial issues the author observes in society. So in the Last of the Tasburai, there is a struggle going on between the forces of extremism and those who seek the middle way. Great works of fiction, such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which the animals overthrow the farmer, are wonderful stories but also powerful metaphors – in the case of Animal Farm, Orwell was making a comment about the brutalities of Stalin’s rule in the former Soviet Union. Last of the Tasburai contains subtle references to historical events, characters, and places. For me understanding history helps make sense of where we are today and provides some idea of where we’re going – history does repeat itself, because human nature remains the same – generosity and greed, love and hate, courage and cowardice.  

What are the key themes in the book?

REHAN: The Greek Philosopher, Aristotle referred to the four virtues a person should strive four – wisdom, courage, temperance (moderation) and justice. I wanted to write a story in which courage was placed at the center. So for Aristotle when courage was in the golden mean it came across as valour, steadfastness and being able to control one’s anger. When courage was unbalanced in a person on the side of excess, it became recklessness and arrogance. When on the side of deficit, it led to cowardice and meanness. So it got me thinking what would happen if the very best people in society developed a misplaced notion of courage. Rather than being steadfast they became reckless and arrogant. What would be the implications for society? From this the idea for the Tasburai warrior emerged. In my mind the Tasburai were the best of the people – an elite selfless warrior class who held deeply mystical beliefs. I like to describe the Tasburai as a cross between Japanese Samurai, with their bushido (the way of the warrior) and Sufi mystics, with their ideas on tasawwuf (spiritual development and cleansing the heart). So the deeper meaning behind the story is the journey human beings take to return to the golden mean, because when we are in the mean, though we’re all different we can connect with other human beings. Whereas when individuals go to the extreme, it polarizes and splits society. The notion of the middle way is reflected in all great traditions. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ reminds the believers to strive for moderation in all actions. Likewise in Confucianism, we have the doctrine of the mean and in Buddhism we have the middle way.

What do your own kids think of it?

REHAN: That’s a difficult one, but I did notice that when my son was reading the novel, he was sitting on the edge of his seat, so perhaps that’s the answer to your question.

Does the book pay particular attention to male, Muslim masculinity? 

REHAN: Not directly, but in a circuitous manner there is a comment. Three of the main protagonists in the novel are women and two are men, which is unusual in the fantasy genre. I’ve always found that women tend to be better at reflecting, whereas men want to do stuff. In their haste and hubris men are often drawn to extremist ideas, which promise immediate results. In the novel there is an extremist group called the Hawarij, which I’ve loosely based on the Khawarij who in the history of the Muslim world were notorious for assuming they were holier than others and as a result everyone but themselves were apostates. Today, groups like Daesh are their inheritors, they’ve always appealed primarily to young men, looking for adventure, or wanting to do something with their life. During the time of Saladin they appear as the Assassins. Saladin was known as magnanimous and generous, even the Crusaders regarded him with reverence, a Knight no less. He negotiated with every group except for the Assassins, who attempted to kill him on at least two occasions. We shouldn’t forget they were called the Assassins or the Hashishins because everyone thought they were taking Hashish – a historical fact to reflect on.       

Who was your muse?

REHAN: I suppose it kicked off in 2009 when my daughter, who was six years old at the time, asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Clearly she didn’t appreciate that going to an office every day was work! I wrote a column in The National on 9th November 2009 entitled “What I want to be when I grow up.
It was around this time that I started planning in earnest for the Last of the Tasburai. I attended the Oxford University Summer School for Adults in 2010 and remember sitting under the shadow of Oxford’s medieval castle, scribbling notes about a story centered on courage and valour. It was the genesis of the Tasburai trilogy.

What is your advice to aspiring Muslim writers and what kind of reality check would you offer them?

REHAN: As a writer you must choose to include a selection of elements in your story to arouse a certain emotional response in the reader. These elements relate to: the setting, the characters and the plot. And each of these elements must be infused with conflict. This makes for an interesting read. In order to achieve this, for a first novel you need to spend about 50 per cent of your effort on designing the novel, so designing the setting (location, time period, world/s), the characters (what they look like, who they really are inside) and plot (what is the causation in the story). Last of the Tasburai, took me four years to design and write, end to end. The key is to persevere and keep on practicing. Often the first draft of whatever you write will be poor – I know it happens to me all the time – but keep on uplifting the language, polishing it and it will improve. The horror novelist, Stephen King says that if you want to call yourself a writer, you need to be producing 1000 words per day. That’s advice I’ve always followed.     
Last of the Tasburai is available on Amazon and iTunes.

A Sufi & A Salafi – Love, Warmth and Friendship is Possible

Ustadh Abdul Aziz Suraqa (right) reflects on how small acts of kindness some 20 years ago has had a profound effect on his life.

After nearly twenty years, Allah blessed me to visit and spend time with my former neighbor and dear brother, Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes, at the Toronto airport as he and his family were making their way back to the U.S.

He Saved My Life

Many of you know Shaykh Muhammad Mendes as a dynamic teacher and active member of the Muslim community in North America. What you do not know about Shaykh Muhammad is that he saved my life. Yes, that’s right. He saved my life. That might seem an exaggeration but it is true. He doesn’t know that so let me share a story with you all.
As a young Salafi in 1997, I moved to Columbus, Ohio and took a job as an apprentice electrician. One of the radiant, smiling faces in the masjid down the road from my apartment was none other than Shaykh Muhammad Mendes, who at the time was a University student. It turned out that we were neighbors on the same street. Shaykh Muhammad invited me to his home, fed me, sat with me, and spent time talking with me. Walking into his humble apartment was like walking into a different world–at least to me at the time. Books in Arabic and English filled his apartment–works from Islam’s greatest minds and spiritual masters, works from authors I never heard of un til visiting his home: authors like Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, Shehu ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, Shaykh Ahmad Bamba, Ibn ‘Ata’illah, just to name a few.

The Islam I Had Been Taught

The Islam I had been taught at the time condemned following schools of Islamic law, and here was Shaykh Muhammad Mendes, the first person I met who followed a school of law (Maliki) and had the ability to rationally and textually explain why it is legitimate and necessary , especially if one is study Islam’s vast legal tradition. I should add that when Shaykh Muhammad and I would spend time together in the masjid or in his home, it was not for the purpose of debating each other.
The Islam I had been taught at the time condemned Sufism (tazkiya, ihsan—Islam’s spiritual tradition)
as an aberration, and here was Shaykh Muhammad Mendes who patiently explained what Sufism was and wasn’t and allowed me to borrow many, many of his books. There I was, a Salafi youth secretly reading Imam al-Ghazali, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Shaykh ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, etc., and benefiting from them and enjoying their works.

Dignity, Warmth, Concern & Love

I was a Salafi and Shaykh Muhammad Mendes was not. We had lively discussions and disagreements, but never once did he argue, raise his voice, use harsh language, or make me feel like less than his brother in Islam. Even in our disagreements he exuded dignity and warmth and showed real concern and love. If we disagreed over something he would explain his position and I would explain mine—over tea and a smile.
Some time later I traveled to Yemen to further my study of Islam, and Shaykh Muhammad Men
des traveled to Syria (and elsewhere), and we lost touch with one another. I later learned that we were both in Morocco and Mauritania around the same time but never crossed paths.

So How Did He Save My Life?

In 2003-2004 I experienced something of an existential, Ghazalian spiritual crisis; the Islam I had practiced and studied was, for the most part, dry and unable to quench the thirst of my soul to know Allah and have a deep spiritual connection with Him. Prayer, once a joyous experience, had became a series of outward motions; something to be completed and out of the way.

“My passions kept me chained in place, while the herald of faith cried, ‘Take to the road! Take to the road! Life is brief, the journey is long. Knowledge ad deeds are nothing but mere outward appearance and illusion. If you are not ready at this very moment for the life to come when will you be ready? And if now you do not break your moorings, when will you break away?’ At that moment, I felt impelled to go; my decision to depart and escape would be made….'” —Imam al-Ghazali, Deliverance from Error

The path I was on took me to a dead end. Something had to be done. I took a job teaching English in an extremely remote corner of Europe and kept to myself: lots of time to reflect, take long walks in the forest; lots of time to wrestle with my own struggles and flaws.

Seeds Upon Seeds That Grew Many Years Later

In those difficult days and nights , for some inexplicable reason, my mind and heart kept returning to the memories of the times Shaykh Muhammad Mendes and I had spent together years before . The memories of the warmth and beauty of his character , his optimism, his good opinion of others —these memories inspired me to climb out of the pit I dug for myself . Of course, getting out of that pit required much more than just pleasant memories (that’s a story for another day), but without a doubt it was the time with Shaykh Muhammad Mendes in 1997 that planted seeds upon seeds that grew five or six years later.
I consider Shaykh Muhammad Mendes as such, “and we do not exonerate anyone above Allah ”
(نحسبه كذالك ولا نزكي على الله أحداً). Never underestimate the power of simple, unpretentious warmth of character with those around you. You never know, it might be a seed that Allah causes to grow much later in the person’s life. May Allah preserve Shaykh Muhammad Mendes and give him light upon light and reward him on behalf of those seeds planted in 19 97. Amin.

Resources for seekers

Cover photo: USDA

Has Sufism been corrupted? Shaykh Faraz Rabbani answers.

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani answers a critical question, “What is the place of Sufism in the Islamic sciences? Have many of the ideas within mainstream Sufism come from outside the Muslim faith?”

For more videos like this, subscribe to the SeekersHub Youtube channel.

Sufism

Answered by : Shaykh Gibril Haddad

Question : Sufism

Al-Hamdu lillah was-Salat was-Salam
`ala Rasulillah wa Alihi wa Sahbihi wa man Walah

Answer : “Before asking what is Sufism, we should ask what is Religion.”
(Shaykh Nazim in an interview with the BBC, London 1991)

Shaykh al-`Arusi said in his marginalia
titled Nata’ij al-Afkar al-Qudsiyya (Bulaq, 1920/1873):

“Religion (al-dîn) is an orchard of which the fence is the Law (al-sharî`a), the inner grove is the Path (al-tarîqa), and the fruit is the Reality (al-haqîqa). Whoever has no Law has no Religion; whoever has no Path has no Law; and whoever has no Reality has no Path … ”

“The way of the Sufis consists in ten items:

(1) The reality of tasawwuf which is defined by truthful self-orientation (sidq al-tawajjuh) to Allah Most High.

(2) The pivot of truthful tawajjuh is to single out the heart and the body for [obedience of] Allah Alone.

(3) Tasawwuf in relation to Dîn is like the soul in relation to the body.

(4) The Sufi examines the factors of perfection and deficiency.

(5) The Jurist examines whatever discharges liability (mâ yusqitu al-haraj) while the scholar of juridical/doctrinal Principles (al-usûlî) examines whatever makes one’s faith valid and firmly established. Therefore the Sufi’s perspective is more specific than both of theirs, consequently their criticism of him is valid, while his criticism of either of them is invalid. Hence ‘the Sufi among Jurists is better than the Jurist among Sufis.’

(6) To display the nobility of tasawwuf, its evidence being both by demonstration and by textual precedent (burhânan wa nassan).

(7) Fiqh [jurisprudence] is the precondition for the validity of tasawwuf and that is why it has precedence over it.

(8) Terminology and its specific applicability to each discipline exclusively of others.

(9) The keys of spiritual opening concerning which there are four rulings: first principles; truthful aspiration towards attainment; longing for spiritual realities; and quitting the guideline of what is transmitted (al-manqûl) once one obtains self-realization (al-tahqîq).

(10) It is a wonderful and strange path built on the permanent following of what is better and best: in doctrines it consists in following the Salaf; in rulings, fiqh; in meritorious deeds (al-fada’il), the scholars of hadith; and in high manners (al-âdâb), all that is conducive to the wholeness of hearts.”
Some definitions of tasawwuf:

Tasawwuf: Purification of the self from all that is other than the remembrance and obedience of Allah; the realization of ihsân (excellence); zuhd (asceticism) combined with ma`rifa (knowledge of Allah); the attribute of the Sufi. “Ceasing objection” (al-Su`luki); “Abandoning the world and its people” (Ibn Sam`un). “Tasawwuf is neither knowledge nor deeds but an attribute with which the essence of the Sufi adorns itself, possessing knowledge and deeds, and consisting in the balance in which these two are weighed.” (Ibn Khafif)
Some definitions of the Sufi:

Sûfî, pl. Sûfiyya: One who follows the path of tasawwuf, “He who gazes at the Real in proportion to the state in which He maintains him” (Bundar). They wore wool (sûf): “I found the redress of my heart between Makka and Madina with a group of strangers people of wool and cloaks” (ashâb sûf wa `abâ’). Sufyan al-Thawri as cited from Khalaf ibn Tamim by al-Dhahabi, Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’ (Dar al-Fikr ed. 7:203).
Hajj Gibril

GF Haddad ©
[2000-09-29]