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What is Tasawwuf (Sufism)?


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What is Tasawwuf (Sufism)? Are those who follow it on a different religion than islam or is it a different sect within islam? Why even using such term if the Prophet ﷺ or the Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them) never used it themselves?

I felt obliged to make this post due to the amount of ignorance and confusions people have regarding Tasawwuf. This post, if Allah wills, will clear up some of the confusions. 

*Note that I only intend to briefly explain this topic and not its entirety.*

To begin with, there are many theories regarding the origin of the word tasawwuf purily looking from a linguistic point of view. Some say it comes from "suf" (wool) because those who were upon the path of tasawwuf wore wool clothes.

Some say it comes from safa meaning purification, and so on. But all these theories do not change the meaning of tasawwuf in the shari'a. This is only purely looking from a linguistic point of view.

Regarding tasawwuf itself, it's not a sect. It's a science, just like the science of fiqh and the science of aqeedah. It has its own principles backed up by the Qur'an and the Sunnah.

Just like how the Prophet ﷺ or the Sahabah never used the term fiqh but its principles can be found in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. The reason why we began to use the term tasawwuf is to distinguish its science (knowledge) from other sciences.

As for defining tasawwuf, there are many definitions given by the scholars but all focus on one concept, which is purification of the inner self (which results in ihsaan), living according to the Shari'a and remembrance of Allah (dhikr) as well as the righteous people

‏Imam Ghazali defined tasawwuf as complete devotion of one's heart to Allah:

التصوف هو تجريد القلب لله تعالى واحتقار ما سواه أي تخليص القلب لله تعالى واعتقاد ما سواه اعتقادات أنه لا يضر ولا ينفع فلا يعول إلا على الله فالمراد باحتقار ما ساه اعتقاد أنه لا يضر ‏ولا ينفع وليس المراد الازدراء التنقيص.

Imam Nawawi said that there are 5 principles for tasawwuf:

أصول طريق التصوف خمسة: تقوى الله في السر والعلانية، إتباع السنة في الأقوال والأفعال، الإعراض عن الخلق في الإقبال والإدبار، الرضا عن الله تعالى في القليل والكثير، الرجوع إلى الله في السراء والضراء.

1- (Taqwa) Fearing Allah in secret and in public;
2 - Following the Sunnah in both words and deeds;
3 - Not considering the acceptance or rejection of the creation;
4 - Satisfaction with Allah in little and much;
5 - Turning to Allah in both good and bad times

‏Imam Zakariya al-Ansari said:

"التصوف علم تعرف به أحوال تزكية النفوس، وتصفية الأخلاق وتعمير الظاهر والباطن لنيل السعادة الأبدية."

"Tasawwuf is a science defining the ways of purifying one's nafs (soul), purifying one's akhlaq (morals) and improving what is apparent and hidden to achieve eternal happiness."

Three things can be learned from this: 

Tasawwuf aims at purifying one's soul, morals and keeping oneself busy with ibada (worship), following the ways of the Prophet ﷺ, etc.

Examples of tasawwuf from the Qur'an:

"He it is Who sent among the unlettered ones a Messenger (Muhammad SAW) from among themselves, reciting to them His Verses, purifying them (from the filth of disbelief and polytheism)..." [Sura al-Jumu'ah 62:2]

Imam Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi said regarding this verse:

{وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ} أي يطهرهم من خبث الشرك ، وخبث ما عداه من الأقوال والأفعال

"(purifying them) meaning purification from the (spiritual) filth of shirk and the filth of other words and deeds"

"And your Lord says, 'Call upon Me; I will respond to you.' [Sura Ghafir 40:60]

"Did I not enjoin upon you, O children of Adam, that you not worship Satan - [for] indeed, he is to you a clear enemy. And that you worship [only] Me? This is a straight path." [Sura Ya-Sin 36:60-61]

"Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous (those who have taqwa)." [Sura Hujurat 49:13]

"There is not upon those who believe and do righteousness [any] blame concerning what they have eaten [in the past] if they [now] fear Allah and believe and do righteous deeds, and then fear Allah and believe, and then fear Allah and do good; and Allah loves the doers of good."

[Sura al-Ma'idah 5:93]

Examples of tasawwuf from the Sunnah:

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, "Verily, Allah does not look at your appearance or wealth, but rather He looks at your hearts and actions."

[Sahih Muslim 2564]

And he ﷺ said, "The strong are not the best wrestlers. Verily, the strong are only those who control themselves when they are angry." [Sahih Muslim 2609]

And he ﷺ said, "He who has in his heart the weight of a mustard seed of pride shall not enter Paradise." [Sahih Muslim 91c]

Then why do we see people who call themselves Sufis but go against the Shari'a? 

Those who claim to follow the path of tasawwuf but go against the main principles of tasawwuf should not be a reason to call into question the soundness of this science (tasawwuf).

It can be argued that one of the reasons for this is entering the path of tasawwuf without an educated shaykh or teacher. Knowledge plays an important role in this, just like how it is important in the hadith. Not every person who claims to follow tasawwuf represents tasawwuf.

Why do we need tasawwuf?

People are not free from sins and having bad qualities. The knowledge of tasawwuf, taken from the Qur'an and Sunnah, is needed to clean our heart and nafs. Imam Ghazali said that there is a degree in the science of tasawwuf that every muslim must know:

‏فإذا كان الغالب أن الإنسان لا ينفك عن دواعي الشر والرياء والحسد فيلزمه أن يتعلم من علم ربع المهلكات ما يرى نفسه محتاجا إليه وكيف لا يجب عليه وقد قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم ثلاث مهلكات شح مطاع وهوى متبع وإعجاب المرء بنفسه

Summary of this thread:

-Tasawwuf is a science backed up by the Qur'an and the Sunnah;
-The essence of tasawwuf has been known since the time of the Prophet ﷺ;
-The name "tasawwuf" has been used to distinguish it from other sciences;

-People who contradict the correct path of tasawwuf should not be a reason to call into question the soundness of this science;
-Tasawwuf is needed to purify ourselves, increase our worship, obedience, ihsaan (sincerity), etc.

I ask Allah to guide and forgive us all, ameen.

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