Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch
Question: Assalamu alaykum
Was Sufism recommended by the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and is it permissible?
Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate
True Consideration is Given to Meanings not Terms
Before answering your question it is important that we correctly understand what is meant by the term ‘Sufism’.
Sufism is a term later coined for a meaning that has always been part of our religion. It refers to purification (tazkiya) and spiritual excellence (ihsan).
Imam Ahmad al-Zarruq defines sufism as sincere turning to Allah. [Zarruq, Qawa’id al-Tasawwuf]
Purification of the Heart
Allah Most High tells us that the Prophets (may Allah bless him and give him peace) were sent with clear roles.
He says, “Just as We have sent to you a Messenger from amongst yourselves, reciting to you Our verses, purifying you, teaching you the Book and the wisdom, and teaching you of that which you knew not.” [Qur’an; 02:151]
This concept of purification is mentioned in many other verses. For example:
Allah Most High says, “By the soul and He who fashioned it. He then inspired it of its virtue and its vice. Successful indeed is the one who has purified it. And at loss indeed is the one who soiled it.” [Qur’an; 91:7-10]
The purification mentioned in these verses and many other verses are what is understood by the science of sufism. Thus the essence of sufism is directly from the Qur’an and Sunna of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace). However the word sufism was a term coined much later.
Spiritual Excellence (Ihsan)
In the Hadith of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) which has been coined the Hadith of Jibril the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) is asked three question. What is islam? What is (faith) iman? What is (spiritual excellence) ihsan?
Replying to the third question – What is ihsan? – the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) replied, “To worship Allah as though you see Him and if you do not see HIm, indeed He sees you.” [Bukhari]
Imam Ahmad al-Zarruq (Allah have mercy on him) mentions in his fundamental principles of sufism, “The foundation of sufism is the station of spiritual excellence (ihsan) explained by the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) as ‘to worship Allah as though you see Him and in you do not see Him certainly He sees you.’ [Bukhari]
This is because the true meanings of sincere turning to Allah (as he defines sufism) go back to and revolve around this foundation. That is, since its wording refers to the seeking of vigilant mindfulness of Allah which is a necessary result of ihsan. So the encouragement in this hadith is, in essence, an encouragement to sufism itself. Just like Islamic law is central to the station of Islam and Islamic beliefs are central to the station of Iman (faith).
Therefore sufism is a part of the religion taught by Jibril (peace be upon him).
[Zarruq, Qawa’id al-Tasawwuf]
Definitions of the Purification of the Soul
The path of purification was defined by Sidi Ahmad al-Zarruq (Allah be pleased with him) as, “Sincere turning to Allah Most High.” [Zarruq, Qawa’id al-Tasawwuf]
Others have defined purfication as the removal of all blameworthy traits from the heart and adopting all praiseworthy traits of the heart.
Blameworthy and Praiseworthy Traits
Blameworthy traits include the following:
Love of Worldliness
Love of Status
Love of Praise
Praiseworthy traits include:
Sincere Concern for Others
Renuciation of Worldliness
Reliance on Allah
Contentment with Divine Decree
Love of Allah
Purification is Personally Obligatory upon Every Muslim
Just as it is obligatory for every Muslim to abstain from that which is prohibited (haram) with their limbs it is likewise obligatory to abstain from that which is prohibited for their hearts, like the above traits.
That is the role of the science of purification or you could call it, sufism. Many of the elite of the early Muslims were people of this spiritual path, Sufis per se.
However it must be said that due to some charlatans posing as spiritual guide and extremist posing as sages – Sufism attained a bit of a reputation with some groups. Notwithstanding this reputation, the core principles of sufism and the true sufis – many of whom were great scholars of the Islamic sciences – are authentically in accordance with the teachings of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace).
The Origin of the Word Sufism
There is much discussion of the origin of the word Sufism. One famous opinion is that ‘sufism’ was a term given to the early Muslims who wore wool (suf) due to renunciation of worldliness (zuhd ‘an al-dunya).
Abu Sulayman al-Darani (Allah be pleased with him) said, “Wool (suf) is a sign from the signs of asceticism…” [Qushayri, Risala al-Qushayriyya]
Other Definitions of Sufism by Great Imams
The great jurist and Hadith master Imam al-Nawawi is quoted saying, “Sufism (Tasawwuf) is abandoning every portion for the ego.” [Qushayri, Risala al-Qushayriyya]
Husayn bin Ahmad bin J’afar said, “I heard al-Kattani saying, ‘Sufism is praiseworthy characther. So whoever surpasses you in characther has surpassed you is sufism.” [Qushayri, Risala al-Qushayriyya]
M’aruf al-Karkhi said, “Sufism is to adopt the realities (of the religion) and to abandon hope in that which the creation posseses.” [Qushayri, Risala al-Qushayriyya]
Nasrabadhi said, “The foundation of sufism to holding fast the the Book and the Sunna, abandoning caprice and innovation, revering the inviolability of the scholars, finding excuses for the creation, persistance in ritual worships, and abandoning the taking of concessions and interpretations.” [Qushayri, Risala al-Qushayriyya]
Notable Sufis in Early Islamic History
Besides those great imams we have already mentioned, the list goes on. Amongst the most notable of the early muslims, many of whom were scholars, devout worshippers, and ascetic, are:
Ibrahim bin Adham
Fudhail bin ‘Iyadh
Sirri bin al-Maghlas al-Saqati
Bishr bin al-Harith al-Hafi
Dawud bin Nasir al-Taa’i
Abu Yazid al-Bustami
Muhammad bin Sahl al-Tustari
Abu Sulayman ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Atiyya al-Darani
And many more…
The Preservation of the Religion
Allah Most High says, “It is certainly We Who have revealed the Reminder, and it is certainly We Who will preserve it.” [Qur’an; 15:09]
Allah Most High has taken responsibility for the preservation of the Qur’an, not only in its wording, but in its understanding and application as well. This preservation was by means of scholars who inherited the Prophetic legacy and lived by righteous people.
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The scholars are the heirs of the Prophets…” [Tirmidhi]
It is through these scholars and illuminaries that we have received our religion unadultered by ego and worldly desires. It is through them that the true teachings of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) are found.
The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “There will continue to be a group of My nation manifest on the truth, those who betray them will not harm them until the command of Allah comes and they are still thus (i.e. manifest on the truth).” [Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kubra]
Hope this helps
And Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
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Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a graduate from Tarim; student of Habib Umar and other luminaries; and authorized teachers of Qur’an and the Islamic sciences.