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The Reality of Sufism in Islam

The term “Sufism” (Tasawwuf), whether it originates from the word “wool” (suf) or, in essence, refers to purification, is, in fact, an imperative branch of the religion. It is based on sincerity in action and sincerity in intention. Its aim is to form a connection with Allah and attain His Divine pleasure. This is evident, in light of the Qur’an and Hadith, through the beautiful conduct of the Messenger of Allah and the narrations of the Companions.

During the era of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and the Companions, the subjects of Usul, Fiqh, Kalām, and so forth, were not designated with titles, but they existed. Likewise, the branch of Sufism existed but without the title. Purification of the inward was included in the obligations set by the Messenger of Allah and represented in the lives of the Companions. It was later categorised as a separate subject, as were the other disciplines. Since the Companions' greatest honour was companionship with the Prophet, there was no need to create a separate term for this discipline; hence, the term “Sufi” was never used for the Companions.

The generations that came after the Companions focused on the discipline of purification of the ego; their lives formed an excellent example of asceticism (zuhd), God-consciousness (taqwā), and sincerity. Their food was simple, and their clothes were simple. They would often adopt the woollen coat; hence, they became known as Sufis, and their discipline was eventually termed Sufism (Tasawwuf). In the Qur’an, Sufism is recognised as taqwā (God consciousness), tazkiya (purification), and khashyatullah (fear of Allah). In the Hadiths, it is known as ihsān (excellence), and it has been established that it is the essence of the religion.

Sufism, the path of excellence and sincerity are different expressions of one reality. There are two sides to prophethood, and both are equally important. Allah, the Exalted, has stated in the Qur’an:

He sent among them a Messenger from among themselves, reciting to them His verses, purifying them, and instructing them in the Book and Wisdom.[1]

The exoteric aspect of prophethood is connected to reciting the verses, teaching and explaining the meanings of the Sacred Book. The esoteric aspect pertains to the purification of the inward. Those sacred people who received from the external manifestation of prophethood became the exegetes, Hadith scholars, and jurists of the Sacred Law, and those who received from the esoteric aspect of prophethood became the distinguished saints: the Ghawth, Aqtāb, Abdāl, Awtād, Nuqabā’, and the Nujabā’, but the source is the Qur’an and the Sunna for all of them.

[1] Qur'an 3:164.

Extract from the book Love of the Righteous is the Key to Sainthood by Shaykh Muhammad Sadiq Alawi.


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