WHAT IS SUFISM
by Syed Mohamed Zauqi Shah (r.a.)
Man has two sides
Human greatness, or human perfection, if you so call
it, depends very much upon the highest possible development
of all the outer and inner qualities of man and upon
the proper use that he makes of the qualities so developed.
Everything has two sides, the exterior and the interior.
Its value depends, not so much upon its exterior, as
upon its interior side. A box full of diamonds and precious
stones is certainly more valuable than a similar, or
even better looking box, full of ordinary stones and
dust. A human being has likewise two sides, the external
and the internal. He is a combination of body and soul.
There is the visible and the invisible blended together
in him and though, in his case, one is as necessary
as the other, at least so far as the initial stages
of his progress are concerned, his ultimate superiority
over the rest of creation depends more upon his inner
merits, his intellectual capabilities, his spiritual
attainments and the polish and the brilliance of his
soul, than upon his exterior form and appearance and
qualities of his body.
Man's abilities must be properly channeled
The mere development, however, of human powers cannot
lead one to profitable results, unless such powers are
correctly and properly used. Swordsmanship, for instance,
might prove a curse if wrongly used. Or if science,
instead of bringing good to humanity degenerates into
a power of destruction, it certainly loses all its virtues
and becomes a thing to be abhorred. Similarly, if the
outer and inner qualities of man are developed, to any
degree of proficiency, but are not put to proper use
they can never lead to desirable results. This brings
us to consider what constitutes the proper channel for
the flow of human culture and activity.
Knowledge of the Creator determines
A man's success in life depends upon the amount of
knowledge he acquires of the universe and upon the proper
use of that knowledge. The wider his knowledge, the
greater are his chances of success. Knowledge of creation
can never be complete without a sufficient knowledge
of the Creator and the principles and policy upon which
the universe is created and run. This is what science
is searching for. The goal of Sufism and science is,
therefore, the same.
It is more difficult to disprove God's
existence than to affirm it
There are people who do not feel inclined to believe
in the existence of God. But they cannot disprove Him
either, for it is more difficult to disprove than to
prove God. Their attitude is more in the nature of agnosticism
than atheism. That is to say they ignore rather than
deny the existence of God.
You cannot possibly disprove God, because by doing
so you disprove the whole universe including yourself.
You are obliged to believe in the existence of superior
intelligent force controlling the universe.
To be able to control and regulate the various conflicting
forces in nature, the guiding-force ought to be stronger
and more intelligent than everything else in the world,
for a weak and blind force cannot function properly.
It is therefore, a supernatural-force in the sense that
it is superior to every other force in nature and cannot
be completely comprehended by less intelligent and weaker,
They who pretend disbelief in God are thereby brought
consciously or unconsciously in line with those who
believe in Him, the difference in name does not matter.
Willingly or unwillingly, they are all united on one
point, namely, the existence of a supernatural, intelligent
force guiding, directing, regulating and controlling
the entire universe.
Religion guides and regulates our relationship
with God and creation
So, if there is a Creator, as undoubtedly there is,
no knowledge of the universe will be of any high value
without some knowledge of the Creator, and man, as the
highest subordinate force in creation, will never be
able to carry on his duties properly unless he is properly
attached to the Creator.
Detachment from the central power can only end in disaster.
No unit in an institution, no soldier in any army and
no officer in a state can do without maintaining proper
connection with the central superior force. Without
this connection everything is doomed to confusion and
chaos. It is religion which guides us in this direction
and regulates our relationship with God. And our relationship
with God embraces our relationship with everything else
in the world.
It is wrong to say that religion is a man's own private
affair and has nothing to do with his social, political
and economic activities. It is like saying something
to the effect that loyalty to the king is a subject's
own private affair and has nothing to do with stealing,
committing murder, destroying parts of the king's kingdom
or being guilty of sedition. God is a potent force.
He is al-Hayyul Qayyum (which means that God is living
and self-subsisting. He is living by His own self, without
any external aid. He does not derive His powers from
any external or foreign source; and apart from maintaining
His own existence, He makes others exist by infusing
life into them and by maintaining them throughout their
existence) and nothing escapes Him.
After creating the universe He has not
retired into oblivion and has not become impotent or
lost all interest in His creation. He is as potent as
ever and His creatures cannot lose sight of Him without
impairing their own position in the scale of creation.
To maintain proper relations with God one has to behave
properly in all walks of life. To effect this, one stands
in need of religion.
Islam's approach to God is simpler
and more cosmopolitan
Islam is no exception to the rule. It professes to
be a revealed religion and corroborates all the Divine
Truths revealed by all the preceding religions. Its
only other claim is that it is cosmopolitan and its
methods of approaching the Ultimate Object are simpler
and more up-to-date. However, in common with other religions,
it is made up of two sides, the outer and the inner.
The outer side is called the shariat and the inner side,
The shariat is subdivided into two parts:
Ibadat concerns fundamental
belief and forms of worship and regulates man's relation
Mu'amilat pertain to man's
relations with man and covers the social, economic and
political fields of human activity.
Tariqat deals with the
purification of the inner self and keeps in view the
spiritual emancipation of mankind. Since body and soul
are intertwined, as it were, tariqat cannot remain independent
of shariat and the two work in cooperation.
There is a third thing called Haqiqat
which refers to the realities of this life as well as
the life to come. It is a realisation and not a science.
In other words haqiqat is what you actually see, feel
and realise in the light furnished to you by the tariqat.
Islam is the religion of Prophet Abraham
While Islam here may indicate "Mohammedanism"
to some, in fact, Islam is as old as mankind. It has
been the only True Religion of God at all times. For
instance, Abraham was no other than a Muslim. Says the
"Abraham was neither a Jew
nor a Christian but out and out a Muslim (devoted exclusively
to Allah)" [3:67]
Sufism is the Science of developing
man's understanding of God
The tariqat plus haqiqat is termed tasawwuf or Sufism.
It is in fact, the science and art of developing the
spiritual faculties of man and trying to understand,
as far as possible, the Deity, the Divine Work, and
the Divine Mysteries. It is a science in as much as
it deals with the systematic training of mind and soul,
and the various methods of attaining the spiritual heights
necessary for the realisation of Divine Realities. It
is an art in so far as it consists of the practical
work necessary for the attainment of the object in view.
It is theory and practice combined. Knowledge and practical
work follow and re-follow each other in rotation.
The one is as necessary as the other; without knowledge
one cannot work and without work the desired knowledge
cannot be gained. But the knowledge necessary to commence
the work is different from the knowledge which follows
the successful termination of the work.
The spiritual wayfarer has been given
The knowledge necessary for a beginner is supplied
by the shariat and administered by the Holy Prophet
(peace be upon him) and after the passing away of the
Prophet (s.a.w.) to the higher regions, by his deputies
who are called Shaikhs, Murshids, Pirs or teachers.
They are the Ulama-i-Rashikin, that is the learned people
firm in their knowledge and they have the distinction
of being recognised as Heirs to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.).
This personal element is an important factor in the
dissemination of tasawwuf. Mere book knowledge leads
one nowhere. A sick person stands in need of both the
physician and the prescription. Very often, he stands
more in need of the physician than the prescription.
Unless there is a competent physician to administer
the prescription properly, the prescription remains
useless. God sent us both the physician and the prescription,
the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) and the Holy Qur'an.
The Holy Qur'an without the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) would
not have brought about that marvellous change which
has been the pride of Arabia. The functions of the Holy
Physician have been described in their proper order
in the following passage of the Qur'an:
"He it is Who hath been raised
up amidst the unlettered, an Apostle from among themselves
who (the Apostle) reads to them passages of the Qur'an;
and purifies their souls; and teaches them the Scripture
and Wisdom." [62:2].
The duties of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.)
Accordingly the duties of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.)
consist of the following four things:
- To recite the Qur'an to his people (i.e. to communicate
to them the message of God).
- To purify their souls, which is quite a different
thing from merely conveying to the people the word
of God. Without such purification they would not be
able even to understand properly the message of God.
- To teach them the Holy Book. It is a different thing
altogether from announcing to them the message of
God. The 'teaching' here means explaining to the people
the meaning and the real significance of the passages
of the Qur'an and training them in the proper method
of observance of Qur'anic Ordinances. Such teaching
can only be effective when the process of purification
of the soul has been gone through properly.
- Finally to bring them face to face with the wisdom
which follows the knowledge and action stated above.
The importance of a personal element in affairs relating
to the amelioration of mankind can hardly be disputed.
Fortunately this personal element has been handed down
to us in the form of the Shaikh.
Muhammad, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) combined
in himself the leadership of all the various functions
at his time. He was a religious teacher, spiritual guide,
social reformer, commander-in-chief and political head
of the Muslims. In short, he combined in his person
all the functions of a temporal and spiritual leader.
He was at once a king and a prophet. His four successors,
Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali (peace be upon them all),
inherited this leadership in toto. The temporal power
and the spiritual lead were centred in the same personality.
The historical splitting of temporal
and spiritual power
Unfortunate events subsequent to the martyrdom of Imam
Hussain, the son of the Khalifah Ali and the grandson
of the Holy Prophet (God's blessings be upon them all),
sounded the death-knell of the amalgamated leadership.
The temporal power was usurped by Bani Ummayya, and
the spiritualists were left to take care of themselves.
Bloodshed on the battlefield of Karbala, however, could
not chill the enthusiasm of the spiritualists, and they
flocked round the sons and grandsons of Ali in thousands
and in tens of thousands, to drink deep of the fountain
of knowledge and reality.
The Ummayyads grew suspicious of the growing popularity
of the spiritual successors of Hussain. Under the Ummayyad
and Abbassid Caliphs, the spiritualists were subject
to persecution. That is why, for a long time, spiritual
lessons were given secretly. It is one of the reasons
why spiritualists have sometimes been called Mystics
Aimma Ahlul Bayt are the
leaders from the Holy Prophet's Family. Aimma is a plural
of imam which means 'leader' and ahli bayt means 'members
of the family'. These imams or leaders belonging to
the Prophet's family, occupy the foremost rank as regards
spirituality and other aspects of religion. All classes
of Sufis, Dervishes and Faqirs owe their origin to them.
Go to any Sufi in the world today and he will trace
his pedigree to them and through them to the Holy Prophet
(s.a.w.). The Holy Prophet is like an ocean; Ali an
outlet; and Aimma Ahlul Bayt are as canals that have
carried the waters to the thirsty.
The difference in Sufi Orders is in
form only and not in spirit
The various Sufistic Orders, or "Dynasties"
as they are sometimes called, are a later development
but such development is in form only, and not in spirit.
It is like this: Suppose, a teacher of very high spiritual
attainments and extraordinary internal powers makes
his appearance or, say, comes out to India and spreads
His pupils, adherents, and followers are distinguished
from others by being called after his name. Another
teacher of similar attainments comes and does likewise;
a different name is assumed by the followers of his
school. They differ merely in their mode of teaching.
Chishtis, Nizamis, Qadris, Naqshabandis,
Mujaddidis, Abul Ulais, Suhrawardis, Madaris, Qalandaris,
Maulwites, Shadhilis, Rifais, Badawis, Sanusis
and others are different Sufistic Orders spread over