Sufism: a manual for spiritual growth?
What is the ruling for a Muslim joining a Sufi order? Why are their numerous orders? If Sufism is asceticism, invocation, and traveling the path to God, is it not enough for a Muslim to suffice with the Qur`an and the Sunnah as a manual for spiritual growth?
Sufism is a system for spiritual growth and acquiring good character which leads a Muslim to ihsan (perfection) of which the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Worship God as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, know that He sees you.” Therefore Sufism is a program of growth through purifying the self of all its diseases which prevent one from reaching God. It seeks to rectify the inclinations of the self as it relates to God, others, and to one’ own self.
A Sufi order is the body that is responsible for this self-purification and rectification, and the Sufi sheikh is the person who provides the necessary training for those seeking unity with God.
The human self is by its very nature beset with diseases such as arrogance, haughtiness, self-praise, selfishness, stinginess, anger, ostentation, an inclination to sinful acts, revenge, hatred, loathing, trickery, and greed. God says, “I do not blame myself. Lo! the (human) soul enjoins unto evil, save he who my Lord has mercy. Lo! my Lord is Forgiving, Merciful.” For this reason, our ancestors were cognizant of the importance of a spiritual discipline that could rid the self of its diseases, is in harmony with society, and ultimately leads to God.
To maintain orthodoxy Sufi orders must adhere to the Qur`an and Sunnah since Sufism is nothing more than the actualization of the Qur`an and Sunnah. Anything that contradicts the Qur`an and Sunnah is not and cannot be a part of Sufism. Sufism does not conceive itself as separate from Shari’ah knowledge but rather its essence.
Principles of Sufism
The three principles of Sufism are drawn from the Qur`an and Sunnah. They are:
- Concern for the human self: “And a soul and Him Who perfected it. And inspired it (with conscience of) what is wrong for it and (what is) right for it. He is indeed successful who causes it to grow. And he is indeed a failure who stunts it.”
- Abundant invocations: “O you who believe! Remember God with much remembrance.” The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Let your tongue be moist with the remembrance of God.”
- Renunciation of this world and a desire for the hereafter: “Naught is the life of the world save a pastime and a spot. Better far is the abode of the Hereafter for those who keep their duty (to God). Have ye then no sense?”
The role of the sheikh who assigns litanies to his disciples and guides them through the process of self-purification, is to find the most suitable program for each one of them. In this regard, he is similar to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who advised people on how to draw close to God based on their psychosomatic makeup. A man once approached the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) and said, “Tell me of an act that will keep me away from the wrath of God.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Do not become angry.” Another person approached the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and said, “Give me something to hold on fast to.” He replied, “Keep your tongue moist with the remembrance of God.” Some of the Companions increased their night prayers, others read the Qur`an frequently, others participated in jihad frequently, others invoked frequently, and still others gave charity frequently. This does not necessitate leaving certain matters of religion but a traveler on the path to God [simply] increases his performance of some devotional acts to help him reach his goal. It is for this reason that there are many doors to paradise, though there is only one paradise. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “For every people of a certain righteous act there is a door from among the many doors of paradise that will call upon them [to enter through it]. And for those who fasted, there is a special door called Al-Rayyan.” Consequently, Sufi orders have different methods of spiritual discipline depending on the specific sheikh and disciple.
The meaning of true Sufism therefore becomes evident from the above—what true Sufism is, what the real path to God is, as well as who a true Sheikh is; the one who adheres to the Qur`an and Sunnah. We have also learned the reasoning behind the various orders though the reality of them is one.
We should also mention that Sufism as described above does not apply to many of those who call to the way today—those who in reality distort the realities of the path. We find that many of them have no religiosity or piety such as those who dance lewdly on different occasions and pretend to be entranced when they are no more than mere pretenders. This is not the matter of Sufism and we should not form an opinion based on this. Scholars who understand and practice Sufism should come together and explain these issues to help the masses understand truth from falsehood.
One matter remains to be discussed—taking one’s spiritual methodology directly from the Qur`an and Sunnah. This is a statement that outwardly appears to be logical, though in reality it can bring destruction. We did not learn prayer and its conditions by reading the Qur`an and Sunnah. We learned prayer from a discipline called Fiqh (jurisprudence) that was developed by the jurists who derived rulings from them. These rulings, in turn, constitute the corpus of Islamic law based on the Qur`an and Sunnah and were derived by means of many tools codified in ‘Ilm Usul al-Fiqh (the science of juristic methodology). There has never been anyone who was able to read the Qur`an and Sunnah and create law directly from them. There are also matters that are not covered by the primary texts, especially in the science of Sufism, and consequently it is necessary to learn them from a qualified sheikh and his teachings. These matters cannot be put in books like the rules of Qur`anic recitation. The science of Sufism has been codified since the time of al-Junayd in the 4th century A.H. As time went on and social conditions deteriorated, so did some of the Sufi orders that held on to outward appearances that contravened the Qur`an and the Sunnah. Despite this, God will continue to protect and preserve Sufism as it is the true path that leads to Him, “Lo! God defends those who are true. Lo! God loves not each treacherous ingrate.”
From the above, the different parts of the question have been addressed, and we ask God to give us insight into His religion and He is most High and all Knowledgeable.