Posted by: Submitter | February 18, 2008

Scholars on Tasawwuf

Scholars on Tasawwuf


al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 110)

One of the early formal Sufis in both the general and the literal sense, as he wore all his life a cloak of wool (suf). The son of a freedwoman of Umm Salama’s (the Prophet’s wife) and a freedman of Zayd ibn Thabit’s (the Prophet’s stepson), this great Imam of Basra, the leader of saints and scholars in his day, was known for his strict and encompassing embodiment of the Sunna of the Prophet. He was also famous for his immense knowledge, his austerity and asceticism, his fearless remonstrances of the authorities, and his power of attraction both in discourse and appearance.

Ibn al-Jawzi wrote a 100-page book on his life and manners entitled Adab al-Shaykh al-Hasan ibn Abi al-Hasan al-Basri. In his chapter on al-Hasan in Sifat al-safwa, he mentions a report that al-Hasan left behind a white cloak (jubba) made of wool which he had worn exclusively of any other for the past twenty years, winter and summer, and that when he died it was in a state of immaculate beauty, cleanness, and quality.(1)

In the book he devoted to the sayings and the deeds of Sufis, Rawdat al-muhibbin wa nuzhat al-mushtaqin (The garden of the lovers and the excursion of the longing ones), Ibn Qayyim relates:

A group of women went out on the day of `Eid and went about looking at people. They were asked: “Who is the most handsome person you have seen today?” They replied: “It is a shaykh wearing a black turban.” They meant Hasan al-Basri.(2)

The hadith master Abu Nu`aym al-Isfanahi (d. 430) mentions in his biographies of Sufis entitled Hilyat al-awliya’ (The adornment of the saints) that it is al-Hasan’s student `Abd al-Wahid ibn Zayd (d. 177) who was the first person to build a Sufi khaniqa or guest-house and school at Abadan on the present-day border of Iran with Iraq.(3)

It was on the basis of Hasan al-Basri and his students’ fame as Sufis that Ibn Taymiyya stated: “Tasawwuf’s place of origin is Basra” in his essay al-Sufiyya wa al-fuqara.(4) This is a misleading assertion tantamount to accusing al-Hasan of having invented tasawwuf. Rather, Basra is chief among the places of renown for the formal development of the schools of purification which became known as tasawwuf, but whose principles are none other than the Qur’an and the Sunna as we have already demonstrated at length.

Ghazali relates al-Hasan’s words on Jihad al-nafs in the section of his Ihya’ entitled Kitab riyadat al-nafs wa tahdhib al- akhlaq wa mu`alajat amrad al-qalb (Book of the training of the ego and the disciplining of manners and the healing of the heart’s diseases) that Hasan al-Basri said:

Two thoughts roam over the soul, one from Allah, one from the enemy. Allah shows mercy on a servant who settles at the thought that comes from Him. He embraces the thought that comes from Allah, while he fights against the one from his enemy. To illustrate the heart’s mutual attraction betwen these two powers the Prophet said: “The heart of a believer lies between two fingers of the Merciful”(5)… The fingers stand for upheaval and hesitation in the heart… If man follows the dictates of anger and appetite, the dominion of shaytan appears in him through idle passions [hawa] and his heart becomes the nesting-place and container of shaytan, who feeds on hawa. If he does battle with his passions and does not let them dominate his nafs, imitating in this the character of the angels, at that time his heart becomes the resting-place of angels and they alight upon it.

A measure of the extent of Hasan al-Basri’s extreme godwariness and scrupulosity (wara`) is given by his following statement, also quoted by Ghazali:

Forgetfulness and hope are two mighty blessings upon the progeny of Adam; but for them the Muslims would not walk in the streets.(6)

Notes: (1) Ibn al-Jawzi, Sifat al-safwa 2(4):10 (#570). (2) Ibn al-Qayyim, Rawdat al-muhibbin p. 225. (3) Abu Nu`aym, Hilyat al-awliya’ 6:155. (4) Ibn Taymiyya, al-Tasawwuf in Majmu`a al-fatawa al-kubra 11:16. (5) Narrated by Muslim, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah. (6) In Ghazali, trans. T.J. Winter, The remembrance of death p. 18.


Imam Abu Hanifa (d. 150)

Ibn `Abidin relates in his al Durr al mukhtar that Imam Abu Hanifa said: “If it were not for two years, I would have perished.” Ibn `Abidin comments:

For two years he accompanied Sayyidina Ja`far al-Sadiq and he acquired the spiritual knowledge that made him a gnostic in the Way… Abu `Ali Daqqaq (Imam Qushayri’s shaykh) received the path from Abu al-Qasim al-Nasirabadi, who received it from al Shibli, who received it from Sari al-Saqati who received it from al Ma`ruf al Karkhi, who received it from Dawud at Ta’i, who received the knowledge, both the external and the internal, from the Imam Abi Hanifa.1


Imam Malik (d. 179)

The scholar of Madina, he was known for his intense piety and love of the Prophet, whom he held in such awe and respect that he would not mount his horse within the confines of Madina out of reverence for the ground that enclosed the Prophet’s body, nor would he relate a hadith without first performing ablution. Ibn al-Jawzi relates in the chapter entitled “Layer 6 of the People of Madina” of his book Sifat al-safwa:

Abu Mus`ab said: I went in to see Malik ibn Anas. He said to me: Look under my place of prayer or prayer-mat and see what is there. I looked and I found a certain writing. He said: Read it. (I saw that) it contained (the account of) a dream which one of his brothers had seen and which concerned him. He said (reciting what was written): “I saw the Prophet in my sleep. He was in his mosque and the people were gathered around him, and he said: I have hidden for you under my pulpit (minbar) something good — or: knowledge — and I have ordered Malik to distribute it to the people.” Then Malik wept, so I got up and left him.1

Just as Abu Hanifa and Sufyan al-Thawri implicitly asserted the necessity to follow the Sufi path for acquiring perfection, Imam Malik explicitly enjoined tasawwuf as a duty of scholars in his statement:

“He who practices Tasawwuf without learning Sacred Law corrupts his faith, while he who learns Sacred Law without practicing Tasawwuf corrupts himself. Only he who combines the two proves true.”

It is related by the muhaddith Ahmad Zarruq (d. 899), the hafiz `Ali al-Qari al-Harawi (d. 1014), the muhaddiths `Ali ibn Ahmad al `Adawi (d. 1190) and Ibn `Ajiba (d. 1224), and others.2

Ibn `Ajiba explains:

Shaykh Ahmad Zarruq said: “Tasawwuf has over two thousand definitions, all of which go back to the sincerity of one’s self-application to Allah… Each one’s definition corresponds to his state and the extent of his experience, knowledge, and taste, upon which he will ground his saying: “Tasawwuf is such-and-such.”

It follows that every one of the saints quoted (in Abu Nu`aym’s Hilyat al-awliya’) who has a part of sincere self-application (sidq tawajjuh) has a part in tasawwuf, and each one’s tasawwuf consists in his sincere self-application. As a rule, sincere self-application is a requirement of religion since it forms both the manner and the content of the acts which Allah accepts. Manner and content are not sound unless sincerity of self-application is sound. “He approves not unthankfulness in His servants, but if you are thankful, he will approve it in you” (39:7).

Therefore Islam necessitates deeds, and there is no self-purification (tasawwuf) without knowledge of the Law (fiqh), as Allah’s external rulings are not known except by knowledge of the Law; and there is no knowledge of the Law without self-purification, as there is no deed without sincerity in self-application, and there is neither without belief. Hence the Law requires all of them by definition, just as the body and the soul necessitate each other, as one cannot exist or be complete in the world except in conjunction with the other. That is the meaning of Imam Malik’s saying: “He who practices Tasawwuf without learning Sacred Law…”3

Imam Shafi`i (d. 204)

Al-hafiz al-Suyuti relates in Ta’yid al-haqiqa al-`aliyya that Imam al-Shafi`i said:

I accompanied the Sufis and received from them but three words: their statement that time is a sword: if you do not cut it, it cuts you; their statement that if you do not keep your ego busy with truth it will keep you busy with falsehood; their statement that deprivation is immunity.1

The muhaddith al-`Ajluni also relates in his book Kashf al khafa wa muzil al albas that Imam Shafi`i said:

Three things in this world have been made lovely to me: avoiding affectation, treating people kindly, and following the way of tasawwuf.2

Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (d. 241)

Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Saffarini al-Hanbali (d. 1188) relates in his Ghidha’ al-albab li-sharh manzumat al-adab from Ibrahim ibn `Abd Allah al-Qalanasi that Imam Ahmad said about the Sufis: “I don’t know people better than them.” Someone said to him: “They listen to music and they reach states of ecstasy.” He said: “Do you prevent them from enjoying an hour with Allah?”1

Imam Ahmad’s admiration of Sufis is borne out by the reports of his awe before al-Harith al-Muhasibi, although he expressed caution about the difficulty of the Sufi path for those unprepared to follow it, as it may not be for all people to follow the way of those about whom Allah instructed His Prophet: “And keep yourself content with those who call their Lord early morning and evening, seeking His Countenance…” (18:28).

Imam al-Junayd al-Baghdadi (d. 297)

The Imam of the world in his time, al-Junayd al-Baghdadi, said defining a Sufi:

al-sufi man labisa al-sufa `ala al-safa

wa ittaba`a tariq al-mustafawa

athaqa al-jasada ta`m al-jafa

wa kanat al-dunya minhu `ala qafa

The Sufi is the one who wears wool on top of purity, followed the path of the Prophet, endured bodily strains dedicating his life to worship and reclining from pleasures, and left behind all that pertains to the world.1

The text of al-Junayd’s book Kitab dawa’ al-arwah (Book of the cure of souls) was edited in Arabic and translated into English by the scholar A.J. Arberry.2

Hujjat al-Islam Imam Ghazali (d. 505)

“The Proof of Islam” Abu Hamid al-Tusi al-Ghazali, the Reviver of the Fifth Islamic century, scholar of usul al-fiqh, and author
of the most well-known work on tasawwuf, Ihya’ `ulum al-din (The revival of the religious sciences). He says in his autobiography, al-Munqidh min al-dalal (Deliverance from error):

The Sufi path consists in cleansing the heart from whatever is other than Allah… I concluded that the Sufis are the seekers in Allah’s Way, and their conduct is the best conduct, and their way is the best way, and their manners are the most sanctified. They have cleaned their hearts from other than Allah and they have made them as pathways for rivers to run, carrying knowledge of Allah.1

As Ibn `Ajiba mentions in his Iqaz al-himam, al-Ghazali declared tasawwuf to be a fard `ayn or personal obligation upon every legally responsible Muslim man and woman, “as none but Prophets are devoid of internal defects and diseases.”2

Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani (d. 561)

The eminent one among the great saints, nicknamed al-Ghawth al-a`zam or the Arch-helper, he is also an eminent jurist of the Hanbali school. His ties to the Shafi`i school and to Imam Abu Hanifa have been mentioned. He was the disciple of eminent saints, such as Abu al-Khayr Hammad ibn Muslim al-Dabbas (d. 525) and Khwaja Abu Yusuf al-Hamadani (d. 535), second in line after Abu al-Hasan al-Kharqani (al-Harawi al-Ansari’s shaykh) in the early Naqshbandi chain of authority.

The most famous of Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir’s works are:

al-Ghunya li talibi tariq al-haqq (Sufficient provision for seekers of the path of truth); it is one of the most concise presentations of the madhhab of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal ever written, including the sound teaching of Ahl al-Sunna on `aqida and tasawwuf

al-Fath al-rabbani (The Lord’s opening), a collection of sermons for the student and the teacher in the Sufi path and all those attracted to perfection; true to its title, this book brings its reader immense profit and spiritual increase

Futuh al-ghayb (Openings to the unseen), another collection of sermons more advanced than the previous one, and just as priceless. Both have been translated into English;

Due to his standing in the Hanbali school, `Abd al-Qadir was held in great respect by Ibn Taymiyya, who gives him alone the title “my Shaykh” (shaykhuna) in his entire Fatawa, while he reserves the title “my Imam” (imamuna) to Ahmad ibn Hanbal. He frequently cites Gilani and his shaykh al-Dabbas as among the best examples of latter-time Sufis.

Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir’s karamat or miracles are too many to number. One of them consisted in the gift of guidance which was manifest in his speech and through which untold thousands entered Islam or repented. Al-Shattanawfi in Bahjat al-asrar mentions many of his miracles, each time giving a chain of transmission. Ibn Taymiyya took these reports to satisfy the criteria of authenticity, but his student al-Dhahabi, while claiming general belief in `Abd al-Qadir’s miracles, nevertheless affirms disbelief in many of them. We have already seen this trait of al-Dhahabi in his doubting of the sound report of Imam Ahmad’s admiration of al-Muhasibi. These are his words about Gilani in Siyar a`lam al-nubala’:

[#893] al-Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir (Al-Jilani): The shaykh, the imam, the scholar, the zahid, the knower, the exemplar, Shaykh Al-Islam, the distinguished one among the Awliya… the Hanbali, the Shaykh of Baghdad… I say: There is no one among the great shaykhs who has more spiritual states and miracles (karamat) than Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir, but a lot of it is untrue and some of those things are impossible.

The following account of Gilani’s first encounter with al-Hamadani is related by Haytami in his Fatawa hadithiyya:

Abu Sa`id `Abd Allah ibn Abi `Asrun (d. 585), the Imam of the School of Shafi`i, said: “When I began a search for religious knowledge I kept company with my friend, Ibn al-Saqa, who was a student in the Nizamiyya School, and it was our custom to visit the pious. We heard that there was in Baghdad a man named Yusuf al-Hamadani who was known as al-Ghawth, and that he was able to appear whenever he liked and was able to disappear whenever he liked. So I decided to visit him along with Ibn al-Saqa and Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani, who was a young man at that time. Ibn al-Saqa said, “When we visit Shaikh Yusuf al-Hamadani I am going to ask him a question the answer to which he will not know.” I said: “I am also going to ask him a question and I want to see what he is going to say.” Shaikh `Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani said: “O Allah, protect me from asking a saint like Yusuf Hamadani a question, but I will go into his presence asking for his baraka — blessing — and divine knowledge.”

“We entered his association. He kept himself veiled from us and we did not see him until after some time. He looked at Ibn al-Saqa angrily and said, without having been informed of his name: “O Ibn al-Saqa, how dare you ask me a question when your intention is to confound me? Your question is this and your answer is this!” Then he said: “I am seeing the fire of disbelief burning in your heart.” He looked at me and said, “O `Abd Allah, are you asking me a question and awaiting my answer? Your question is this and your answer is this. Let the people be sad for you because they are losing as a result of your disrespect for me.” Then he looked at Shaikh `Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani, made him sit next to him, and showed him honor. He said: “O `Abd al-Qadir, you have satisfied Allah and His Prophet with your proper respect for me. I see you in the future sitting on the highest place in Baghdad and speaking and guiding people and saying to them that your feet are on the neck of every wali! And I almost see before me every wali of your time giving you precedence because of your great station and honor.”

Ibn Abi `Asrun continues, “`Abd al-Qadir’s fame became widespread and all that Shaykh al-Hamadani said about him came to pass. There came a time when he did say, “My feet are on the necks of all the awliya,” and he was a reference and a beacon guiding all people in his time to their destinations.

The fate of Ibn al-Saqa was something else. He was brilliant in his knowledge of the divine Law. He preceded all the scholars in his time. He used to debate with the scholars of his time and overcome them, until the caliph called him to his association. One day the calif sent him as a messenger to the King of Byzantium, who in his turn called all his priests and the scholars of the Christian religion to debate with him. Ibn al-Saqa was able to defeat all of them in debate. They were helpless to give answers in his presence. He was giving answers to them that made them look like children and mere students in his presence.

His brilliance made the King of Byzantium so fascinated with him that he invited him to his private family meeting. There he saw the daughter of the King. He immediately fell in love with her, and he asked her father, the King, for her hand in marriage. She refused except on condition that he accept her religion. He did, leaving Islam and accepting the Christian religion of the princess. After his marriage he became seriously ill. They threw him out of the palace. He became a town beggar, asking everyone for food, yet no one would provide for him. Darkness had come over his face.

One day he saw someone that had known him before. That person relates: “I asked him, What happened to you?” He replied: “There was a temptation and I fell into it.” The man asked him: “Do you remember anything from the Holy Qur’an?” He replied: “I only remember rubbama yawaddu al-ladhina kafaru law kanu muslimin — “Again and again will those who disbelieve wish that they were Muslims” (15:2).”

He was trembling as if he was giving up his last breath. I turned him towards the Ka`ba, but he kept turning towards the East. Then I turned him back towards the Ka’aba, but he turned himself to the East. I turned him a third time, but he turned himself to the East. Then as his soul was passing from him, he said, “O Allah, that is the result of my disrespect to Your saint, Yusuf al-Hamadani.”Ibn Abi `Asrun continues: “I went to Damascus and the king there, Nur al-Din al-Shahid, put me in control of the religious department, and I accepted. As a result, dunya entered from every side: provision, sustenance, fame, money, position for the rest of my life. That is what the ghawth Yusuf al-Hamadani had predicted for me.”1

Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728)

His admirers cite this jurist and hadith master of the Hanbali school as an enemy of Sufis, and he is the principal authority in the campaign of “Salafis” responsible for creating the present climate of unwarranted fanaticism and encouragement to ignorance regarding tasawwuf. Yet Ibn Taymiyya was himself a Sufi. However, “Salafis” are careful never to show the Sufi Ibn Taymiyya, who would severely hamper their construction of him as purely anti-Sufi.

Ibn Taymiyya’s discourse on tasawwuf is riddled with contradictions and ambiguities. One might say that even though he levelled all sorts of judgments on Sufis, he was nevertheless unable to deny the greatness of tasawwuf upon which the Community had agreed long before he came along. As a result he is often observed slighting tasawwuf, questioning his Sufi contemporaries, and reducing the primacy of the elite of Muslims to ordinariness, at the same time as he boasts of being a Qadiri Sufi in a direct line of succession to Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani, as we show in the lines that follow.

It should be clear that the reason we quote the following evidence is not because we consider Ibn Taymiyya in any way representative of tasawwuf. In our view he no more represents tasawwuf than he represents the `aqida of Ahl al-Sunna. However, we quote his views only to demonstrate that his misrepresentation by Orientalists and “Salafis” purely as an enemy of tasawwuf does not stand to scrutiny. Regardless of the desires of one group or another, the facts provide clear evidence that Ibn Taymiyya had no choice but to accept tasawwuf and its principles, and that he himself not only claimed to be a Sufi, but also to have been adorned with the cloak (khirqa) of shaykhhood in the Qadiri Sufi Order.

We have already mentioned Ibn Taymiyya’s admiration for `Abd al-Qadir Gilani, to whom he gives the title “my Shaykh” (shaykhuna) and “my Master” (sayyidi) exclusively in his entire Fatawa. Ibn Taymiyya’s sufi inclinations and his reverence for `Abd al-Qadir Gilani can also be seen in his hundred-page commentary on Futuh al-ghayb, covering only five of the seventy-eight sermons of the book, but showing that he considered tasawwuf essential within the life of the Islamic community.1

In his commentary Ibn Taymiyya stresses that the primacy of the Shari`a forms the soundest tradition in tasawwuf, and to argue this point he lists over a dozen early masters, as well as more contemporary shaykhs like his fellow Hanbalis, al-Ansari al-Harawi and `Abd al-Qadir, and the latter’s own shaykh, Hammad al-Dabbas:The upright among the followers of the Path – like the majority of the early shaykhs (shuyukh al-salaf) such as Fudayl ibn `Iyad, Ibrahim ibn Adham, Ma`ruf al-Karkhi, al-Sari al-Saqati, al-Junayd ibn Muhammad, and others of the early teachers, as well as Shaykh Abd al-Qadir, Shaykh Hammad, Shaykh Abu al-Bayan and others of the later masters — do not permit the followers of the Sufi path to depart from the divinely legislated command and prohibition, even were that person to have flown in the air or walked on water.2

Elsewhere also, such as in his al-Risala al-safadiyya, Ibn Taymiyya defends the Sufis as those who belong to the path of the Sunna and represent it in their teachings and writings:The great shaykhs mentioned by Abu `Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami in Tabaqat al-sufiyya, and Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri in al-Risala, were adherents of the school of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a and the school of Ahl al-hadith, such as al-Fudayl ibn `Iyad, al-Junayd ibn Muhammad, Sahl ibn `Abd Allah al-Tustari, `Amr ibn `Uthman al-Makki, Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Khafif al-Shirazi, and others, and their speech is found in the Sunna, and they composed books about the Sunna.3

In his treatise on the difference between the lawful forms of worship and the innovative forms, entitled Risalat al-`ibadat al-shar`iyya wal-farq baynaha wa bayn al-bid`iyya, Ibn Taymiyya unmistakably states that that the lawful is the method and way of “those who follow the Sufi path” or “the way of self-denial” (zuhd) and those who follow “what is called poverty and tasawwuf”, i.e. the fuqara’ and the Sufis:The lawful is that by which one approaches near to Allah. It is the way of Allah. It is righteousness, obedience, good deeds, charity, and fairness. It is the way of those on the Sufi path (al-salikin), and the method of those intending Allah and worshipping Him; it is that which is travelled by everyone who desires Allah and follows the way of self-denial (zuhd) and religious practice, and what is called poverty and tasawwuf and the like.4

Regarding `Abd al-Qadir’s teaching that the salik or Sufi wayfarer should abstain from permitted desires, Ibn Taymiyya begins by determining that Abd al-Qadir’s intention is that one should give up those permitted things which are not commanded, for there may be a danger in them. But to what extent? If Islam is essentially learning and carrying out the Divine command, then there must be a way for the striver on the path to determine the will of Allah in each particular situation. Ibn Taymiyya concedes that the Qur’an and Sunna cannot explicitly cover every possible specific event in the life of every believer. Yet if the goal of submission of will and desire to Allah is to be accomplished by those seeking Him, there must be a way for the striver to ascertain the Divine command in its particularity.

Ibn Taymiyya’s answer is to apply the legal concept of ijtihad to the spiritual path, specifically to the notion of ilham or inspiration. In his efforts to achieve a union of his will with Allah’s, the true Sufi reaches a state where he desires nothing more than to discover the greater good, the action which is most pleasing and loveable to Allah. When external legal arguments cannot direct him in such matters, he can rely on the standard Sufi notions of private inspiration (ilham) and intuitive perception (dhawq):If the Sufi wayfarer has creatively employed his efforts to the external shar`i indications and sees no clear probability concerning his preferable action, he may then feel inspired, along with his goodness of intention and reverent fear of Allah, to choose one of two actions as superior to the other. This kind of inspiration (ilham) is an indication concerning the truth. It may be even a stronger indication than weak analogies, weak hadiths, weak literalist arguments (zawahir), and weak istisHaab which are employed by many who delve into the principles, differences, and systematizing of fiqh.5

Ibn Taymiyya bases this view on the principle that Allah has put a natural disposition for the truth in mankind, and when this natural disposition has been grounded in the reality of faith and enlightened by Qur’anic teaching, and still the striver on the path is unable to determine the precise will of Allah in specific instances, then his heart will show him the preferable course of action. Such an inspiration, he holds, is one of the strongest authorities possible in the situation. Certainly the striver will sometimes err, falsely guided by his inspiration or intuitive perception of the situation, just as the mujtahid sometimes errs. But, he says, even when the mujtahid or the inspired striver is in error, he is obedient.

Appealing to ilham and dhawq does not mean following one’s own whims or personal preferences.6 In his letter to Nasr al-Manbiji, he qualifies this intuition as “faith-informed” (al-dhawq al-imani). His point is, as in the commentary to the Futuh, that inspirational experience is by nature ambiguous and needs to be qualified and informed by the criteria of the Qur’an and the Sunna. Nor can it lead to a certainty of the truth in his view, but what it can do is give the believer firm grounds for choosing the more probably correct course of action in a given instance and help him to conform his will, in the specific details of his life, to that of his Creator and Commander.7

Other works of his as well abound in praise for Sufi teachings. For example, in his book al-ihtijaj bi al-qadar, he defends the Sufis’ emphasis on love of Allah and their voluntarist rather than intellectual approach to religion as being in agreement with the teachings of the Qur’an , the sound hadith, and the imja` al-salaf:As for the Sufis, they affirm the love (of Allah), and this is more evident among them than all other issues. The basis of their Way is simply will and love. The affirmation of the love of Allah is well-known in the speech of their early and recent masters, just as it is affirmed in the Book and the Sunna and in the agreement of the Salaf.8

Ibn Taymiyya is also notorious for his condemnation of Ibn `Arabi. However, what he condemned was not Ibn `Arabi but a tiny book of his entitled Fusus al-hikam, which forms a single slim volume. As for Ibn `Arabi’s magnum opus, al-Futuhat al-makkiyya (The Meccan divine disclosures), Ibn Taymiyya was no less an admirer of this great work than everyone else in Islam who saw it, as he declares in his letter to Abu al-Fath Nasr al-Munayji (d. 709) published in his the volume entitled Tawhid al-rububiyya of his Fatawa:I was one of those who, previously, used to hold the best opinion of Ibn `Arabi and extol his praise, because of the benefits I saw in his books, such as what he said in many of his books, for example: al-Futuhat, al-Kanh, al-Muhkam al-marbut, al-Durra al-fakhira, Matali` al-nujum, and other such works.9

Ibn Taymiyya goes on to say he changed his opinions, not because of anything in these books, but only after he read the Fusus.

We now turn to the evidence of Ibn Taymiyya’s affiliation with the Qadiri Sufi Way and to his own acknowledgement, as related by his student Ibn `Abd al-Hadi (d. 909), that he had received the Qadiri khirqa or cloak of authority from `Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani through a chain of three shaykhs. These are no other than the three Ibn Qudamas who are among the established authorities in fiqh in the Hanbali school. This information was brought to light by George Makdisi in a series of articles published in the 1970s.10

In a manuscript of the Yusuf ibn `Abd al Hadi al-Hanbali entitled Bad’ al ‘ilqa bi labs al khirqa (The beginning of the shield in the wearing of the Sufi cloak), Ibn Taymiyya is listed within a Sufi spiritual genealogy with other well known Hanbali scholars. The links in this genealogy are, in descending order:

`Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani (d. 561)

Abu `Umar ibn Qudama (d. 607)

Muwaffaq al Din ibn Qudama (d. 620)

Ibn Abi `Umar ibn Qudama (d. 682)

Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728)

Ibn Qayyim al Jawziyya (d. 751)

Ibn Rajab (d. 795)(Both Abu `Umar ibn Qudama and his brother Muwaffaq al-Din received the khirqa directly from Abd al-Qadir himself.)

Ibn Taymiyya is then quoted by Ibn `Abd al Hadi as affirming his Sufi affiliation both in the Qadiri order and in other Sufi orders:I have worn the Sufi cloak of a number of shaykhs belonging to various tariqas (labistu khirqata at tasawwuf min turuqi jama’atin min al shuyukhi), among them the Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir al Jili, whose tariqa is the greatest of the well known ones.Further on he says:The greatest Sufi Way (ajall al-turuq) is that of my master (sayyidi) `Abd al-Qadir al Jili, may Allah have mercy on him.11

Further corroboration comes from Ibn Taymiyya in one of his own works, as quoted in his al Mas’ala at tabriziyya:labistu al khirqata al-mubarakata li al Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir wa bayni wa baynahu ithanI wore the blessed Sufi cloak of `Abd al-Qadir, there being between him and me two shaykhs.12

Ibn Taymiyya thus affirms that he was an assiduous reader of Ibn `Arabi’s al-Futuhat al-makkiyya; that he considers `Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani his shaykh — he even wrote a commentary on the latter’s Futuh al-ghayb; and that he belongs to the Qadiriyya order and other Sufi orders. What does he say about tasawwuf and Sufis in general?

In his essay entitled al-Sufiyya wa al-fuqara’ and published in the eleventh volume (al Tawassuf) of his Majmu`a fatawa IbnTaymiyya al Kubra, he states:The word sufi was not well-known in the first three centuries but its usage became well-known after that. More than a few Imams and shaykhs spoke about it, such as Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Abu Sulayman al Darani, and others. It has been related that Sufyan al-Thawri used it. Some have also mentioned that concerning Hasan al Basri.13

Ibn Taymiyya then goes on to deduce that tasawwuf originated in Basra among the generations after the tabi`in, because he finds that many of the early Sufis originated from there while he does not find evidence of it elsewhere. In this way he mistakenly reduces tasawwuf to a specific place and time, cutting it off from its links with the time of the Prophet and the Companions. This is one the aberrant conclusions which gives rise, among today’s “Salafis,” to questions such as: “Where in the Qur’an and the Sunna is tasawwuf mentioned?” As Ibn `Ajiba replied to such questioners:The founder of the science of tasawwuf is the Prophet himself to whom Allah taught it by means of revelation and inspiration.14 By Allah’s favor, we have put this issue to rest in our lengthy exposition on the proofs of tasawwuf in the pages above.

Ibn Taymiyya continues:Tasawwuf has realities (haqa’iq) and states of experience (ahwal) which the Sufis mention in their science… Some say that the Sufi is he who purifies himself from anything which distracts him from the remembrance of Allah and who becomes full of reflection about the hereafter, to the point that gold and stones will be the same to him. Others say that tasawwuf is safeguarding of the precious meanings and leaving behind pretensions to fame and vanity, and the like. Thus the meaning of sufi alludes to the meaning of siddiq or one who has reached complete Truthfulness, because the best of human beings after prophets are the siddiqin, as Allah mentioned in the verse:Whoever obeys Allah and the Apostle, they are in the company of those on whom is the grace of Allah: of the prophets, the truthful saints, the martyrs and the righteous; ah, what a beautiful fellowship! (4:69)

They consider, therefore, that after the Prophets there is no one more virtuous than the Sufi, and the Sufi is, in fact, among other kinds of truthful saints, only one kind, who specialized in asceticism and worship (al-sufi huwa fi al haqiqa naw`un min al-siddiqin fahuwa al-siddiq alladhi ikhtassa bi al zuhdi wa al ‘`ibada). The Sufi is “the righteous man of the path,” just as others are called “the righteous ones of the `ulama” and “the righteous ones of the emirs”…[Here Ibn Taymiyya denies the Sufis’ claim that they represent Truthfulness after the Prophets, and he makes their status only one among many of a larger pool of truthful servants. This stems from his earlier premise that tasawwuf originated later and farther than the Sunna of the Prophet. We have already mentioned that this premise was incorrect. All of the Sufis consider that the conveyors of their knowledge and discipline were none other than the Companions and the Successors, who took it from none other than the Prophet himself. In this respect the Sufis and the great Companions and Successors are not differentiated in essence, although they are differentiated in name, by which precedence is given to the Companions and the Successors according to the hadith of the Prophet.

Then Ibn Taymiyya arbitrarily separates Sufis and scholars into two seemingly discrete groups, whereas we have seen that all the Sufis were great scholars, and that many of the greatest scholars were Sufis. Al-Junayd anticipated such high-handed distinctions in his famous statement: “This knowledge of ours is built of the Qur’an and the Sunna.” Also addressing this important mistake in his Tabaqat al-kubra, Sha`rani quotes al-Junayd and goes on to state:Every true Sufi is a scholar is Sacred Law, though the reverse is not necessarily true.15]Some people criticized the Sufis and said that they were innovators and out of the Sunna… but the truth is that they are exercising ijtihad in view of obeying Allah just as others who are obedient to Allah have also done. So from them you will find the Foremost in Nearness (al-sabiq al-muqarrab) by virtue of his striving, while some of them are from the People of the Right Hand… and among those claiming affiliation with them, are those who are unjust to themselves, rebelling against their Lord. These are the sects of innovators and free-thinkers (zindiq) who claim affiliation to the Sufis but in the opinion of the genuine Sufis, they do not belong, for example, al-Hallaj.[Here Ibn Taymiyya’s inappropriate citing of al-Hallaj is far more symptomatic of his own misunderstanding of tasawwuf that it is illustrative of the point he is trying to make. In reality, as `Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi said of al-Hallaj, “his case (among the Sufis) is not clear, though Ibn `Ata’ Allah, Ibn Khafif, and Abu al-Qasim al-Nasir Abadi approved of him.”16 Furthermore, we have already mentioned that major scholars in Ibn Taymiyya’s own school rejected the charges leveled against al-Hallaj, and even considered him a saint, such as Ibn `Aqil and Ibn Qudama. Can it be that Ibn Taymiyya was unaware of all these positions which invalidate his point, or is he merely affecting ignorance?]Tasawwuf has branched out and diversified and the Sufis have become known as three types:

Sufiyyat al haqa’iq: the Sufis of Realities, and these are the ones we mentioned above;

Sufiyyat al arzaq: the funded Sufis who live on the religious endowments of Sufi guest-houses and schools; it is not necessary for them to be among the people of true realities, as this is a very rare thing

Sufiyyat al rasm: the Sufis by appearance only, who are interested in bearing the name and the dress etc.17

About fana’ — a term used by Sufis literally signifying extinction or self-extinction — and the shatahat or sweeping statements of Sufis, Ibn Taymiyya says:This state of love is characterize many of the People of Love of Allah and the People of Seeking (Ahl al irada). A person vanishes to himself in the object of his love — Allah through the intensity of his love. He will recall Allah, not recalling himself, remember Allah and forget himself, take Allah to witness and not take himself to witness, exist in Allah, not to himself. When he reaches that stage, he no longer feels his own existence. That is why he may say in this state: ana al haqq (I am the Truth), or subhani (Glory to Me!), and ma fi al-jubba illa Allah (There is nothing in this cloak except Allah), because he is drunk in the love of Allah and this is a pleasure and happiness that he cannot control…

This matter has in it both truth and falsehood. Yet when someone enters through his fervor a state of ecstatic love (`ishq) for Allah, he will take leave of his mind, and when he enters that state of absentmindedness, he will find himself as if he is accepting the concept of ittihad (union with Allah). I do not consider this a sin, because that person is excused and no one may punish him as he is not aware of what he is doing. The pen does not condemn the crazed person except when he is restored to sanity (and commits the same act). However, when he is in that state and commits wrong, he will come under Allah’s address:O Our Lord, do not take us to task if we forget or make mistakes (2:286), There is no blame on you if you unintentionally make a mistake.18

The story is mentioned of two men whose mutual love was so strong that one day, as one of them fell in the sea, the other one threw himself in behind him. Then the first one asked: “What made you fall here like me?” His friend replied: “I vanished in you and no longer saw myself. I thought you were I and I was you”… Therefore, as long as one is not drunk through something that is prohibited, his action is accepted from him, but if he is drunk through something prohibited (i.e. the intention was bad) then he is not excused.19

The above pages show the great extent of Ibn Taymiyya’s familiarity with the broad lines of tasawwuf. Such knowledge was but part of the complete education of anyone who had a claim to learning in his day and before his time. It did not constitute something extraneous or foreign to the great corpus of the Islamic sciences. And yet, similarly to his case in `aqida which we have unravelled in the previous pages, Ibn Taymiyya’s misunderstanding of tasawwuf massively outweighed his understanding of it. This point was brought to light with quasi-surgical precision by the great Sufi Shaykh Ibn `Ata’ Allah in the debate he held with Ibn Taymiyya in the mosque of al-Azhar in Cairo.

Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911)

Shaykh al-Islam al-Suyuti, the Renewer of the Eighth Islamic century and Mujtahid Imam said in his book on tasawwuf entitled Ta’yid al-haqiqa al-`aliyya wa-tashyid al-tariqa al-shadhiliyya (The upholding of the lofty truth and the buttressing of the Shadhili path):Tasawwuf in itself is a most honorable knowledge. It explains how to follow the Sunna of the Prophet and to leave innovation, how to purify the ego… and submit to Allah truly…

I have looked at the matters which the Imams of Shari`a have criticized in Sufis, and I did not see a single true Sufi holding such positions. Rather, they are held by the people of innovation and the extremists who have claimed for themselves the title of Sufi while in reality they are not…

Pursuit of the science of the hearts, knowledge of its diseases such as jealousy, arrogance and pride, and leaving them are an obligation on every Muslim.1


The Prophet ordered us to follow the Congregation of Muslims when he said: “You have to follow the congregation for verily Allah will not make the largest group of Muhammad’s community agree on error” (`alaykum bi al-jama`a fa inna Allaha la yajma`u ummata Muhammadin `ala dalala).1 Who are better examples and representatives of the congregation of Muslims than the great scholars and imams whom we have mentioned and from whom we have quoted extensively?

Yet we find those who call themselves “Salafi” stepping forward and claiming to be better representatives, as if their usurpation of the name of the pious Salaf acquaints them better of the reality of the Salaf than the true scholars and Imams of this Community. Their motto is: “Everyone who came before us was wrong and we are right,” and does this come from other than their arrogance? We advise every true Muslim not be cheated of their religion by such false teachers. Rather, read more, investigate more, and study more in order to know the truth, with Allah’s help, concerning sound doctrine and the ways of self-purification and tasawwuf in Islam. It is entirely unbefitting of Muslims to be like parrots, repeating some phrases and condemning other phrases on the assumption that they know better than everyone else, because, they claim, “We are Salafi.” Muslims know their scholars from the Salaf and Khalaf and they will not be fooled by a label flaunted by a vocal minority. We leave this minority of so-called “Salafis” to their false pedagogy of anthropomorphism, of questioning and condemning the scholars of Muslims, of attacking the Imams of high moral standards and true religion. We prefer to rally to the rope of unity, which is the rope of the elite of this Community among both the Salaf and the Khalaf who form not two, but one saved group.

We conclude this first part of our Repudiation of “Salafi” Innovations concerning Islamic Beliefs and Doctrine According to Ahl al-Sunna, by glorifying Allah, the Beneficent, the Compassionate, and by asking that He send abundant blessings and peace on the Master of Creation and the Seal of Messengers and Prophets, our Master Muhammad, Peace be upon him and upon his Family and Companions; that He accept from us our intention to serve Him in the way that pleases Him; that He support the renewal of the true belief of the Salaf everywhere and everywhere revoke its false manifestations; that He grant the renewal of the Way of Self-Purification, which is the Way of true and perfect Islam, at the hands of its true Teachers East and West, in Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike; and that He count us among those who have “heard and obeyed,” who have “kept company with the Truthful,” who have “followed those who turned to Allah with love,” and who will be “raised with the saints” and “in the company of Prophets, the Most Truthful, the Martyrs, and the Righteous.”

To know more about what scholars say about Tasawwuf click this link:




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