Sufism And Orthodoxy

This is another article in the chapter Sufism from the classical manual on Sharia called Reliance of the Traveller. The articles are posted one by one in the order they are given in the book.


w9.11 (‘ Abd al-Qahir Baghdadi:) The book Tarikh al-Sufiyya [The history of the Sufis] by Abu ‘Abd ai-Rahman Sulami, comprises the biographies of nearly a thousand sheikhs of the Sufis, none of whom belonged to heretical sects and all of whom were of the Sunni community, with the exception of only three of them: Abu Hilman of Damascus, who pretended to be of the Sufis but actually believed in incarnationism (hulul, def: w7.1); Husayn ibn Mansur al-HaUaj, whose case remains problematic, though Ibn ‘ Ata’, Ibn Khafif, and Abul Qasim al-Nasrabadhi approved of him; and al-Qannad, whom the Sufis accused of being a Mu’tazilite (def: w6.4) and rejected, for the good does not accept the wicked (Usul ai-din (y23),315-16).

Sufism: The Purpose Of Taking A Sheikh And A Path

This is another article in the chapter Sufism from the classical manual on Sharia called Reliance of the Traveller. The articles are posted one by one in the order they are given in the book.


w9.7 (Muhammad Hashimi:) As for when the path is merely “for the blessing of it” and the sheikh lacks some of the conditions of a true guide, or when the disciple is seeking several different aims from it at once, or the disciple’s intention is contrary to the spiritual will of the sheikh, or the time required is unduly prolonged, or he is separated from his sheikh by the latter’s death or the exigencies of the times and has not yet completed his journey to Allah on the path or attained his goal from it-then it is obligatory for him to go and associate with someone who can complete his journey for him and convey him to what he seeks from the path, as it is not permissible for him to remain bound to the first sheikh his whole life if it is only to die in ignorance of his Lord, claiming that this is the purpose of the path. By no means is this the purpose. The purpose of the path is to reach the goal, and a path that does not reach it is a means without an end. The path was made for travel on it with the intention of reaching one’s goal, not for remaining and residing in even if this leads to dying in ignorance of one’s Lord. The meaning of a true disciple is one who forthrightly submits himself to a living sheikh who is a guide (murshid) during the days of his journey to Allah Most High so that the sheikh may put him through the stages of the journey until he can say to him, “Here you are, and here is your Lord” (ai-Hall al-sadid Ii ma astashkalahu almurid (y46), 7).

w9.8 (n:) Muhammad Hashimi’s above words about submitting oneself to a living sheikh refer to matters within the range of the permissible or recommended, not what contradicts the Sacred Law or beliefs of Islam (def: vl-v2), for no true sheikh would ever countenance such a contravention (dis: s4.7), let alone have a disciple do so, a fact that furnishes the subject of the remaining articles of this section.

w9.9 (‘Izz ibn ‘Abd ai-Salam:) The Sacred Law is the scale upon which men are weighed and profit is distinguished from loss. He who weighs heavi1y on the scales of the Sacred Law is of the friends (awliya’) of Allah, among whom there is disparity of degree. And he who comes up short in the scales of the Sacred Law is of the people of ruin, among whom there is also disparity of degree. If one sees someone who can fly through the air, walk on water, or inform one of the unseen, but who contravenes the Sacred Law by committing an unlawful act without an extenuating circumstance that legally excuses it, or who neglects an obligatory act without lawful reason, one may know that such a person is a devil Allah has placed there as a temptation to the ignorant. Nor is it farfetched that such a person should be one of the means by which Allah chooses to lead men astray, for the Antichrist will bring the dead to life and make the living die, all as a temptation and affliction to those who would be misled (ai-Imam al’ Izz ibn ‘Abd ai-Salam wa atharuhu fi al-fiqh alIslami (y38) , 1.137).

Sufi Sheikhs

This is another article in the chapter Sufism from the classical manual on Sharia called Reliance of the Traveller. The articles are posted one by one in the order they are given in the book.


w9.6 (Ahmad Zarruq:) The conditions of a sheikh to whom a disciple may entrust himself are five:

(a) sound religious knowledge;

(b) true experience of the Divine;

(c) exalted purpose and will;

(d) a praiseworthy nature;

(e) and penetrating insight.

Someone with all five of the following is not fit to be a sheikh:

(1) ignorance of the religion;

(2) disparaging the honor of the Muslims;

(3) involvement in what does not concern him;

(4) following caprice in everything;

(5) and showing bad character without a second thought.

If there is no sheikh who is a true guide (murshid, def: w9.7), or there is one, but he lacks one of the five conditions, then the disciple should rely on those of his qualities that are perfected in him, and deal with him as a brother (A: meaning the sheikh and disciple advise one another) regarding the rest (Kitab qawanin hukm al-ishraq ita kaffa al-Sufiyya fi jami’ al-afaq (y121), 119).


Sufism and Sacred Law

This is another article in the chapter Sufism from the classical manual on Sharia called Reliance of the Traveller. The articles are posted one by one in the order they are given in the book.

w9.5 (‘Abd al-Wahhab Sha’rani:) The path of the Sufis is built of the Koran and sunna, and is based upon living according to the morals of the prophets and purified ones. It may not be blamed unless it violates an explicit statement from the Koran, sunna, or scholarly consensus (def: b7), exclusively. If it does not contravene one of these, the very most that one may say of it is that it is an understanding a Muslim man has been given, so let whoever wishes act upon it, and whoever does not refrain, this being as true of works as of understanding. So no pretext remains for condemning it except one’s own low opinion of others (dis: r2.14), or interpreting what they do as ostentation, which is unlawful. Whoever carefully examines the branches of knowledge of the Folk of Allah Most High will find that none of them are beyond the pale of the Sacred Law. How should they lie beyond the pale of the Sacred Law when it is the law that connects the Sufis to Allah at every moment? Rather, the reason for the doubts of someone unfamiliar with the way of the Sufis that it is of the very essence of the Sacred Law is the fact that such a person has not thoroughly mastered the knowledge of the law. This is why Junayd (Allah Most High have mercy on him) said, “This knowledge of ours is built of the Koran and sunna,” in reply to those of his time or any other who imagine that it is beyond the pale of the Koran and sunna.

The Folk unanimously concur that none is fit to teach in the path of Allah Mighty and Majestic save someone with comprehensive mastery of the Sacred Law, who knows its explicit and implicit rulings, which of them are of general applicability and which are particular, which supersede others and which are superseded. He must also have a thorough grounding in Arabic, be familiar with its figurative modes and similes, and so forth. So every true Sufi is a scholar is Sacred Law, though the reverse is not necessarily true.

To summarize, no one denies the states of the Sufis except someone ignorant of the way they are. Qushayri says, “No era of the Islamic period has had a true sheikh of this group, save that the Imams of the scholars of that time deferred to him, showed humility towards him, and visited him for the benefit of his spiritual grace (baraka). If the Folk had no superiority or election, the matter would have been the other way around” (alTabaqat al-kubra al-musamma bi Lawaqih alanwar fi tabaqat al-akhyar (y124), 1.4).

Famous Muslims Who Were Sufis

 This is another article in the chapter Sufism from the classical manual on Sharia called Reliance of the Traveller. The articles are posted one by one in the order they are given in the book.

w9.4 (n:) As for the meaning of proving true, its sheikhs say that Sufism is not a fixity on a particular type of worship, but rather the attachment of the heart to Allah Most High, mere honesty therein demanding that whenever something is preferred by the standards of the Sacred Law for someone in one’s circumstances, one does it. This is why we find that Sufis have served Islam in a wide variety of capacities. Many of the scholars cited throughout the present volume, for example, also had the higher education of Sufism, among them Imam Muhammad Amin Ibn ‘Abidin, Sheikh aHslam Zakariyya Ansari, Muhammad Abul Mawahib, Sheikh Ibrahim Bajuri, Muhammad Sa’id Burhani, ‘Abd al-Wakil Durubi, Imam Ghazali, Muhammad Hamid, Imam Abu Hanifa, Sheikh Muhammad Hashimi, Imam Ibn Hajar Haytami, Ibn ‘Ajiba, Ibn ‘Ata’ lilah, Imam ‘Izz ibn· ‘Abd ai-Salam, the author of our basic text Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, Muhammad ‘Abdullah Jurdani, Muhammad Amin Kurdi, Imam Malik, ‘Abd alRa’uf Munawi, Zayn ai-Din Mallibari, Yusuf Nabahani, ‘Abd al-Ghani Nabulsi, Khalil Nahlawi, Imam Nawawi, ‘Abd al-Wahhab Sha’rani, Imam Taqi al-Din Subki, Jalal ai-Din Suyuti, Hakim Tirmidhi, and others.

Among the Sufis who aided Islam with sword as well as pen, according to B.G. Martin’s Muslim Brotherhoods in Nineteenth Century Africa (y86), are such men as the Naqshbandi sheikh Shamil Daghestani, who fought a prolonged war against the Russians in the Caucasus in the nineteenth century; Sayyid Muhammad’ Abdullah ai-Somali, a sheikh of the Salihiyya order who led Muslims against the British and Italians in Somalia from 1899 to 1920; the Qadiri sheikh ‘Uthman ibn Fodi, who led jihad in Northern Nigeria from 1804 to 1808 to establish Islamic rule; the Qadiri sheikh ‘Abd ai-Qadir al-Jaza’iri, who led the Algerians against the French from 1832 to 1847; the Darqawi faqir ai-Hajj Muhammad al-Ahrash, who fought the French in Egypt in 1799; the Tijani sheikh aI-Hajj ‘Umar Tal, who led Islamic jihad in Guinea, Senegal, and Mali from 1852 to 1864; and the Qadiri sheikh Ma’ al-‘ A ynayn al-Qalq ami, who helped marshal Muslim resistance to the French in northern Mauritania and southern Morocco from 1905 to 1909.

Among the Sufis whose missionary work Islamized entire regions are such men as the founder of the Sanusiyya order, Muhammad’ Ali Sanusi, whose efforts and jihad from 1807 to 1859 consolidated Islam as the religion of peoples from the Libyan Desert to sub-Saharan Africa; the Shadhili sheikh Muhammad Ma’ruf and Qadiri sheikh Uways al-Barawi, whose efforts spread Islam westward and inland from the East African Coast; and the hundreds of anonymous Naqshbandi sheikhs who taught and preserved Islam among the peoples of what is now the southern Soviet Union and who still serve the religion there despite official pressure.

It is plain from the example of these and similar men that the attachment of the heart to Allah, which is the main emphasis of Sufism, does not hinder spiritual works of any kind, but may rather provide a real basis for them. And Allah alone gives success.


Many people in the West have an idea that Sufism is a separate sect of Islam, somewhat spiritual and peaceful. This is how Sufism is described, by an Islamic scholar in the classical manual on Sharia called Reliance of the Traveller:


w9.1 (Muhammad Amin Kurdi:) Sufism is a knowledge through which one knows the states of the human soul, praiseworthy or blameworthy, how to purify it from the blameworthy and ennoble it by acquiring the praiseworthy, and to journey and proceed to Allah Most High, fleeing unto Him. Its fruits are the heart’s development, knowledge of God through direct experience and ecstasy, salvation in the next world, triumph through gaining Allah’s pleasure, the attainment of eternal happiness, and illuminating and purifying the heart so that noble matters disclose themselves, extraordinary states are revealed, and one perceives what the insight of others is blind to (Tanwir al-qulub fi mu’amala ‘Allam al-Ghuyub (y74),406).

w9.2 (Nawawi:) The way of Sufism is based on five principles: having godfearingness privately and publicly, living according to the sunna in word and deed, indifference to whether others accept or reject one, satisfaction with Allah Most High in dearth and plenty, and returning to Allah in happiness or affliction. The principles of treating the illnesses of the soul are also five: lightening the stomach by diminishing one’s food and drink, taking refuge in Allah Most High from the unforeseen when it befalls, shunning situations involving what one fears to fall victim to, continually asking for Allah’s forgiveness and His blessings upon the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) night and day with full presence of mind,. And keeping the company of him who guides one to Allah (al-Maqasid/i bayan ma yajibu ma’rifatuhu min aI-din (yl06), 83-84, 87).

w9.3 (Ahmad Zarruq:) Aspects of Sufism, defined, delineated, and explained, amount to nearly two thousand, all of them reducible to sincerity in turning to Allah Most High, something of which they are only facets, and Allah knows best. The necessary condition of sincerity of approach is that it be what the Truth Most High accepts, and by the means He accepts. Now, something lacking its necessary condition cannot exist, “And He does not accept unbelief for His servants” (Koran 39:7), so one must realize true faith (iman), “and if you show gratitude, He will accept it of you” (Koran 39:7), which entails applying Islam. So there is no Sufism except through comprehension of Sacred Law, for the outward rules of Allah Most High are not known save through it, and there is no comprehension of Sacred Law without Sufism, for works are nothing without sincerity of approach, as expressed by the words of Imam Malik (Allah have mercy on him):

“He who practices Sufism without learning Sacred Law corrupts his faith, while he who learns Sacred Law without practicing Sufism corrupts himself. Only he who combines the two proves true.” (Jqaz al-himam fi sharh al-Hikam (y54), 5-6)