Sufism – The Misunderstood Islam


Sufism – The Misunderstood Islam

Rediscovering The Qur’an
Evaluating Narratives Through a Quranic Lens

One late night, Allama Iqbal called his faithful servant, Ali Baqsh. When Ali entered Iqbal’s room, he saw a buzurg (saintly man) with a very enlightened face sitting on a chair while Iqbal lie at his feet pressing his legs. He was very surprised to see this. Iqbal asked him to bring drinks from the market. Although surprised, considering the late hours, Ali went out nonetheless. Nearby, he saw another buzurg with a small shop. He got drinks from him but when he offered him money, the buzurg declined saying it was between him and Iqbal. After some time, Iqbal called Ali again and asked him to take the buzurg outside and see him off. He went out with the buzurg but after a while, the buzurg suddenly disappeared. When he looked across, the shop had vanished as well. He was totally shocked and asked Iqbal about it. Iqbal requested him to not ask about it but he kept on asking with utmost curiosity. On his sheer insistence, Iqbal told him to never disclose it and said, “the buzurg in my room was Moinuddin Chishti and the one in the shop was Ali Hajweri”.

This incident took place about 850 years after Hajweri’s death and nearly 700 years after Chishti’s death. Muhammad Munawar Mirza, a prominent scholar of Iqbal Studies, is reported to have narrated this incident and was confirmed by Iqbal’s son, Javed as well. It happened during the later years of Iqbal’s life when the philosopher-poet had turned into a Sufi. To an ordinary man, such things are impossible to believe in but in the world of Tasawwuf, Mysticism, and Sufism, it is nothing unusual.

There are four kinds of opinions about Sufism.
The true Sufis claim it as real Islam.
The literalists shun it as a mixture of biddah, kufr , and shirk.
The pseudo-Sufis “follow” it without knowing anything about its reality.
The rationalists deem it only for those who are superstitious, backward, and lack brains.
The Sufis say that Islam is empty without Ihsan which is worshipping as if one sees God. They say that religion is way beyond acts with a ritualistic and heartless attitude devoid of any concentration. They say that Sufism is a higher dimension of Islam and the perfection of Iman. They aim far above the minimum requirements for salvation. Their focus is not just the quantity but the quality of deeds. They claim Sufism as the spirituality of Islam. Furthermore, they claim some portion of Sufism as a hidden Islam graspable only to them, not even to ordinary scholars let alone to laymen.

The literalists say that Sufism has nothing to do with Quran and Sunnah. They say that whatever Sufis say and do is either different or contradictory to what has been revealed to and practiced by the holy prophet. They say that Shariah is one for all without any distinction between the awaam (common man) and the khawaas (elite). They say that the holy prophet and his companions were the true elites and they didn’t practice Sufism.

The pseudo (fake) Sufis are the liberals who find the conventional, orthodox and traditional Islam as dry, boring and tough not knowing that it is a compulsory pre-requisite to Sufism. They take only the outer form of some aspects of Sufism without even a hint to their inner reality. For example, they are delighted with the artistic aspects of Sufism and find a way to follow their nafs under the guise of Sufi Art not knowing that before creating Sufi Art, one has to become a Sufi which is a lifetime struggle against nafs. Women who do not want to cover themselves as ordered by God, and, men who do not want to follow the Sunnah in appearance consider themselves as “Sufis”. The fact that Sufism stresses the inner aspects does not mean that the outer is irrelevant; what it teaches is that the outer must be combined with the inner. In the case of men, since a beard and Islamic attire are both not compulsory, one may become a Sufi without a Sufi appearance as an exception like Iqbal, but it is very rare. However, in the case of women, since attire is a compulsion, it is impossible to be a Sufi without it.

The rationalists deny Sufi knowledge because according to them it has nothing to do with reason, logic, and proof. This category has similarities as well as differences with the literalists. The difference is that where the latter implies revelation as proof, these imply rationality or empirical information as proof. The similarity is that both deny religious experience and intuition as sources of knowledge because for them there are no higher levels of human consciousness than their own. Thus where one consists of those who are modernists to the bones, the other carries the germs of modernism.

Sufism, if properly understood, is the heart of Islam and the essence of deen. It comprises tazkia-e-nafs (purification of the soul) and tasfia-e-qalb (purification of the heart). It involves the diminishing of ego, the dominance over animal instincts, abstinence from vain or worldly desires, and the freeing of one’s heart from the love of all but God. The sole aim is an intimate relationship with Allah by self-negation.