4 Islamic articles on: Sufism

IslamQA: The stance of mainstream Sunni Islam on Sufism: Can you be Sunni and Sufi at the same time?

Salaam alaykum

I’m a Sunni sister, and I’ve recently come across Sufism and Islamic mysticism. I’m very much interested in learning about Sufism but there are debates on this whole ‘Sunni-Sufi’ thing, I’m confused and I’m trying to ask everyone of their opinion and know if what I’m doing is right or wrong. Could you please share your thoughts on this?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

It seems to me the key issue is the sources of knowledge we accept. In mainstream Sunni Islam we accept the Quran and hadith, while in many forms of Sufism a third source of knowledge is added that establishes the doctrine of the allegiance to particular shaykhs and the various spiritual stations that one is said to be able to acquire. These things are not found in the Quran and hadith.

If you are interested in Sufism, there is the mainstream Sunni option of following what we may call paleo-Sufism, the Sufism of its original founders, such as the “father of Sufism” the Persian mystic Junayd of Baghdad. But even such people may bring into Islam ideas that do not have any obvious foundation in the Quran and hadith. So the problem with many forms of Sufism is that it claims to provide knowledge that is separate from the Quran and hadith. For a person dedicated to following pure and original Islam, the introduction of such external systems of knowledge is something to be suspicious of unless given overwhelming proofs.

Personally I don’t have any issue with most kinds of Sufism and there are admirable orthodox scholars who were also Sufis.

I am very interested in spirituality and I believe the right way to deal with Sufism is Imam al-Ghazali’s way, which is to use Sufism instead of accepting Sufism as a third system besides the Quran and hadith. Instead of “becoming Sufi”, you can read Sufi works and adopt whatever beneficial teachings they provide.

I believe Imam al-Ghazali, Ibn al-Jawzi and Ibn al-Qayyim show us what it is like to benefit from Sufism while remaining within mainstream Sunni Islam. It’s similar to benefiting from philosophy and logic. Imam al-Ghazali’s great achievement was that rather than becoming a typical philosopher (like Ibn Sina / Avicenna), he used philosophy and brought it into mainstream Islam while maintaining the Quran and hadith as supreme. He did the same with Sufism, bringing it into mainstream Islam without becoming a typical Sufi seeker or shaykh.

So there are two ways to use or practice Sufism. Either one accepts it as a third system besides the Quran and hadith, “becomes Sufi”, and gives allegiance to particular Sufi orders, systems or teachers, or one treats Sufism like any other field of knowledge, benefiting from it while maintaining allegiance to the Quran and hadith. The second route is the only possible one for me personally because as a very logic-minded and skeptical person, I cannot accept Sufi systems due to their lack of obvious and unchallenged foundation in the Quran, hadith or common sense. The various Sufi saints may have great things to teach me, but it is wholly against my nature to submit to them as a disciple. I can only view them as superior colleagues who have useful things to teach me, similar to the way I view any Islamic scholar, or any secular philosopher, thinker or scientist.

I have no issue with people reading Sufi works, or even non-Muslim works of spirituality and mysticism. As long as a person does not submit to systems, authorities and individuals outside the Quran and the Prophet’s guidance PBUH, then they can safely benefit from things like Sufism without leaving the mainstream and becoming something else. As long as you constantly read the Quran and try sincerely to submit to no authority other than it and the Prophet PBUH, then even if you are unconsciously influenced by Sufism or secular thought, you will always be brought back to the right track inshaAllah. I have been reading the complete works of the great Christian thinker C. S. Lewis and despite the fact that I admire him and see much beauty in his kind of Christianity, my reading has only helped me to see Islam’s beauty and superiority more clearly. If Islam is truly God’s final and perfect message, and if we always sincerely go back to it, then no amount of reading and learning will make us abandon it, because as knowledge and understanding increases, our appreciation for God’s teachings will also increase, if Islam is really true (which I believe).

You may be interested in my books The Sayings of Ibn al-Jawzi (free version) and the The Sayings of Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (free version), which show us the thinking of two spiritual practitioners who benefited from Sufism without becoming Sufi. Imam al-Ghazali is also very much worth reading. He’s often categorized as a Sufi, but it’s clear from his works that he used Sufism rather than accepting it as a third system. He used Sufism just as he used philosophy and Greek logic.

Best wishes.

IslamQA: Dealing with Sufism making you feel arrogant and superior

Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh. Thank you in advance for answering the questions. Last year I learned about tasawwuf & was immediately hooked. The problem now is lately I've been feeling rather self-righteous & troubled that other doesn't have the same 'in-tasawwuf' way of thinking. I feel this is a sign of arrogance and try to fix it, but somehow I always automatically compare others' view with mine & dismiss them. Do you have any advice? Thank you very much again for answering.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh

I would say that is a natural stage on the way of a person who seeks spirituality. It is a strong sign that you still have much further to go until you acquire spiritual maturity and start to appreciate the divinely-given transcendence of each human soul and love them and appreciate them as your equal before God. I recommend reading the Quran daily, an hour a day seems sufficient to wipe out feelings of self-satisfaction and arrogance.

Whenever you see a negative characteristic develop in yourself, it is a sign that your connection with God is not close enough or is on the wrong grounds. The Quran is the best foundation for building and maintaining a relationship with God because it constantly points out our errors, failings and smallness in the sight of God, helping us never fall into the trap of self-satisfaction. Merely focusing on other acts of worship such as dhikr is not good enough and is bound to allow bad characteristics to grow in you. You need the Quran to constantly nudge you back onto the right track so that you remain guided. There is no alternative to the Quran for building and reforming your character.

Best wishes inshaAllah.

IslamQA: Is it permitted to follow Sufi tariqas?

are Sufi tariqas haram to follow?

According to fatwas by the Egyptian Fatwa Authority, the Jordanian Fatwa Authority and IslamOnline (overseen by the respected Egyptian scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi), following Sufi tariqas is permitted.


A Selection from Aqiday Mardia of Mawlawi Tawagozi by Baba Ali Qaradaghi

Mawlawi Tawagozi (1806-1882, known simply as Mawlawi in Kurdish) was an Islamic mystic and one of the great poets of Kurdistan, belonging to the Hawrami minority that I belong to. This book is a 160-page commentary on a small selection of Mawlawi’s 2450-verse poem Aqiday Mardia (The Approved Aqeedah), which tries to offer a journey through the field of Islamic theology, mentioning the foundations of belief (aqeedah), philosophical arguments by detractors, and Ashaari responses to them, with Sufi language and feeling spread throughout.

The poem is written in the Sorani dialect rather than Mawlawi’s native Hawrami, and makes ample use of Arabic and Farsi as classical Kurdish poetry does. It was finished in 1864 CE.

I stumbled on this book on the internet and was immediately interested, since it is regarding an Islamic topic (aqeedah), it involves Mawlawi, and it also involves Baba Ali Qaradaghi (بابا علي ابن شيخ عمر القرة داغي), a family friend and Islamic scholar of the Quran-focused school. I was involved with typing up the manuscript of his book Yawmul Mawti Yawmul Baa`thi (The Day of Death is the Day of Resurrection), a book that dares to challenge nearly the entirety of Islamic eschatology (the events that will happen around the time of the end of the world).

In typical Sufi fashion, his expressions of love for his sheikh Uthman Sirajuddin Naqshbandi take so many verses that one wonders what kind of force there was to drive someone to expend so much effort in expressing it.

Mawlawi explains that iman (faith in God) is either acquired through kashf (God removing the screen that hides Him from our eyes), through daleel (clues), or through taqleed (having faith because someone you love and admire has it). He has no hope of achieving the first status (of kashf), since it is only for the greatest masters, therefore what he aims at are the second (and the third, if I remember correctly).

He mentions the hadith narrations that say the Muslims will separate into 73 sects, all of which will be thrown into Hell except one, and says that he hopes that through the great and pure early and late scholars and mystics to be able to find his way into being among the firqa al-nājiya (the one group that does not get thrown into the Hellfire). See this post for the likely falseness of these narrations. A Salafi brother used this hadith as evidence to me that not being Salafi was almost certainly a surefire way of going to Hell.

At some point he starts with a tafseer (interpretation) of Surat al-Ikhlas (chapter 112 of the Quran, made up of only 4 verses), which in English can be translated as:

1. Say, “He is God, the One.

2. God, the Absolute.

3. He begets not, nor was He begotten.

4. And there is nothing comparable to Him.”

He says that the fact that the chapter starts with a command (“Say”) disproves physical determinism (that humans have no free will). The existence of a command implies the possibility of both obeying and disobeying the commander, therefore humans have free will. This is a false or incomplete line of reasoning, since you can use a remote control to issue a command to a device, with the device having no choice but to obey.

In a discussion of the Night Journey of the Prophet ﷺ, he addresses those of his time who were saying the telegraph is greater than the Prophet’s journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, since telegraph is near-instantaneous:

هەی تەل! هەی نەی کەی پێی گەی هەی نەی خۆی
وەک ماری زامدار هەر پێچدا لە خۆی
فەرقیان هەی فام ئەهلی زەمانە
هەر لە سەر زەمین تا ئاسمانە

Hey line, it is not for you to reach it, you will not
Even if like a wounded snake you coil yourself
Their difference, O sound-minded people of this age,
Is like the difference between the earth and heaven

In the first verse he is addressing a telegraph line, saying you will never reach the greatness of the Night Journey, or God’s power, or something like that. The telegraph had been in development and use in Europe for over 30 years at this time, so it makes sense that he would have heard of it. Baba Ali suggests that he may have even seen a working telegraph system.

He delves into the issue of free will versus determinism. In some verses, whose Kurdish translation is included by Qaradaghi, the Persian poet Khayyam asks the server to serve him wine, saying that God already knows he was going to do this, and this it was already written, implying that therefore he has no responsibility for the action, and therefore it is not really sinful. Khayyam is referring to Islam’s free will paradox; if an action is truly “free”, it should not be predictable. And if it is predictable, if it is already known and written, how can it be free?

Mawlawi answers the question by not answering it, in the mainstream Sunni fashion. He attacks the various theories others have put forward and concludes that the Ashaari creed is the true one (that our actions are already written, and that we are responsible for them, don’t ask why), and that we must act by the dhaahir of Shariah, do what it asks us and avoid what it prohibits us, without caring about philosophical concerns.

He talks about God’s perfection, the impossibility of any human to ever truly know and encompass Him, and ends by saying that you (the reader) is a pitiful mortal, so what business do you have worrying about such matters?

Being asked to believe in free will and predestination at the same time has always felt to me like being asked to believe in the Christian Trinity, that the Son is not the Father, and neither of whom are the Holy Spirit, but that all three are God. I have discovered a satisfactory solution to this paradox, which I call the Theory of Delegation, that satisfies the Quran and does not require one to believe in seemingly contradictory propositions. I haven’t published it due to its highly sensitive nature. I plan to read more first.

The Baghdad-based Sufi Kurdish Islamic scholar Abdul Kareem Mudarris has written a full commentary on this poem, which I found online and perhaps will read some day as a poetic introduction to the field of aqeedah.