by Abdul Haseeb
With regard to the derivation of the word ‘sufism’ there are three opinions. Scholars say that it has its origin form the word ‘safa’ which means purity. The Sufis strive for the purification of the heart. Some are also of the opinion that its origin is from the ‘ahlu suffa’. But the majority holds that it is from ‘suf’ or wool, early Sufis had the practice of wearing the woolen clothes.
According to Sufi definition, consciousness of the fact that the Lord is watching our movements and knows the innermost recesses of our hearts is the lower grade of devotion and prayer. When one is conscious of the fact that God is watching us, then we will definitely desist from evil actions. It is in this sense that prayer keeps us from indecency and evil, as stated in the Quran. (29.45)
Ilm al-tasawwuf, “the science of Sufism” came into being to preserve and transmit a particular aspect of the shari’a, that of ikhlas or sincerity. It was recognized that the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was not only words and actions, but also states of being: that a Muslim must not only say certain things and do certain things, but must also be something. The shari’a commands one, for example, in many Qur’anic verses and prophetic hadiths, to fear Allah, to have sincerity toward Him, to be so certain in ones knowledge of Allah that one worships Him as if one sees Him, to love the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) more than any other human being, to show love and respect to all fellow Muslims, to show mercy, and to have many other states of the heart. It likewise forbids us such inward states as envy, malice, pride, arrogance, love of this world, anger for the sake of ones ego, and so on. Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi relates, for example, with a chain of transmission judged rigorously authenticated (sahih) by Ibn Main, the hadith “Anger spoils faith (iman) as [the bitterness of] aloes sap spoils honey” (Nawadir al-usul. Istanbul 1294/1877. Reprint. Beirut: Dar Sadir, n.d., 6).
Ibn Khaldun has aptly summed up the way of life of the early Sufis: The way of the Sufis was regarded by the early Muslims as the way of Truth and salvation. They zealously guarded the piety, gave up everything for God’s sake, renounced pleasure, wealth and power, abandoned society and lead a life in seclusion devoted to the service of God. These were the fundamental principles of early Sufis.
(A simple guide to Sufism)
The first phase of Sufism was a form of asceticism.
Renowned Sufis in the early generations were Rabia Basri and Hasan Basri.
Some of the sahabas like Umar (R.A) and Abu Dharr al-Ghafari (R.a) and many other sahabas are known for their voluntary poverty.
WHAT THE GREAT SCHOLARS HAD TO SAY ABOUT TASAWWUF?
Be both a jurisprudent and a sufi – never just one of the two.
Truly, by the Divine Right, I am advising you sincerely!
For the former is hardened, his heart tastes no God wariness,
While the latter is ignorant – of what use is the ignorant?
Al-Shafi’i, Diwan (p. 177 #45).
This is similar to Imam Sufyan al-Thawri’s statement that -“Among the best of people is the Sufi learned in jurisprudence.” Narrated by al-Harawi al-Ansari in his Tabaqat al-Sufiyya.
Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal
Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Saffarini al-Hanbali [d.241H] 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?” 
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-sirabadi, 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)
(1) Ibn `Abidin, Hashiyat radd al-muhtar `ala al-durr al-mukhtar 1:43
This is what the Imams of the four schools of thought had to say about Sufism. 90% of the Muslim world still unanimously accepts the four madhabs.
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 ithan
I wore the blessed Sufi cloak of `Abd al-Qadir, there being between him and me two shaykhs.(12)
Other works of his as well abound in praise for Sufi teachings. For example, in his book “al-ihtijaaj bi al-qadar” (Cairo: al-matba`a al- salafiyya, 1394/1974 p. 38), he defends the Sufis’ emphasis on love of Allah and their voluntarism 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 (tariqa) 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.”
Ibn `Abd al- Wahhab
He said in the third volume of his complete works published by Ibn Sa`ud University, on page 31 of the Fatawa wa rasa’il, Fifth Question:
Know — may Allah guide you — that Allah Almighty has sent Muhammad, blessings and peace upon him, with right guidance, consisting in beneficial knowledge, and with true religion consisting in righteous action. The adherents of religion are as follows: among them are those who concern themselves with learning and fiqh, and discourse about it, such as the jurists; and among them are those who concern themselves with worship and the pursuit of the Hereafter, such as the Sufis. Allah has sent His Prophet with this religion which encompasses both kinds, that is: fiqh and tasawwuf.
Ibn Khaldun said in his famous Muqaddima:
Tasawwuf is one of the latter-day sciences of the Law in the Islamic Community. The foundation of tasawwuf, however, is (more ancient, as seen in the fact) that these folk and their way have always been present among the Salaf and among the most senior of the Companions and the Successors, and their way is the way of truth and guidance.
The foundation of the way of the Sufis is self- restraint in the world and utter dependence on Allah; shunning of the adornment and beauty of the world; self- deprivation of pleasure, money, and title in the manner agreed upon by the vast majority of the scholars; and isolation from creatures in seclusion and devotion to worship.
All these aspects were widespread among the Companions and the Salaf, but with the pervasiveness of worldliness in the second century and the next, and the general inclination of the people towards the world, those who remained attached to worship became know under the name of Sufis.(1)
SOME OTHER MAJOR SCHOLARS
Tajuddin as-Subki (727 – 771 AH.)
“May Allah praise them [the Sufis] and greet them and may Allah cause us to be with them in Paradise. Too many things havebeen said about them and too many ignorant people have said things which are not related to them. And the truth is that those people left the world and were busy with worship. …They are the People of Allah, whose supplications and prayer Allah accepts and by means of whom Allah supports human beings”
[Mu’eed an-Na’am p. 190, the chapter entitled Tasawwuf]
Jalaluddin as-Suyuti (849 – 911 AH.)
“At-Tasawwuf in itself is the best and most honorable knowledge. It explains how to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) and to put aside innovation.”
[Ta’yid al-Haqiqat al-‘Aliyya,p 57]
Ibn Qayyim (691 – 751 AH.)
“We can witness the greatness of the People of Sufism, in the eyes of the earliest generations of Muslims by what has been mentioned by Sufyan ath-Thawri (d. 161 AH), one of the greatest imams of the second century and one of the foremost legal scholars. He said, “If it had not been for Abu Hisham as-Sufi (d. 115) I would never have perceived the action of the subtlest forms of hypocrisy in the self… Among the best of people is the Sufi learned in jurisprudence.”
Imam al-Nawawi’s attitude towards Sufism is plain from his work Bustan al-arifin [The grove of the knowers of Allah] on the subject, as well as his references to al-Qushayri’s famous Sufi manual al-Risala al-Qushayriyya throughout his own Kitab al-adhkar [Book of the remembrances of Allah], and the fact that fifteen out of seventeen quotations about sincerity (ikhlas) and being true (sidq) in an introductory section of his largest legal work (al-Majmu: sharh al-Muhadhdhab. 20 vols. Cairo n.d. Reprint. Medina: al-Maktaba al-Salafiyya, n.d., 1.1718) are from Sufis who appear by name in al-Sulami’s Tabaqat al-Sufiyya [The successive generations of Sufis]. Even Ibn Taymiyya (whose views on Sufism remain strangely unfamiliar even to those for whom he is their “Sheikh of Islam”) devoted volumes ten and eleven of his Majmu al-fatawa to Sufism, while his student Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya wrote his three-volume Madarij al-salikin as a detailed commentary on Abdullah al-Ansaris Manazil al-sairin, a guide to the maqamat or “spiritual stations” of the Sufi path. These and many other Muslim scholars knew firsthand the value of Sufism as an supplementary shari’a discipline needed to purify the heart, and this was the reason that the Umma as a whole did not judge Sufism to be a bid’a down through the ages of Islamic civilization, but rather recognized it as the science of ikhlas or sincerity, so urgently needed by every Muslim on “a day when wealth will not avail, nor sons, but only him who brings Allah a sound heart” (Qur’an 26:88).
NOTE: Ibn Taymiyyah has devoted two volumes of his famous work ‘majmu al-fatawa’ to Sufism.
Thus the fact is Sufism is something indispensable to Islam. And the claim that we can’t find the word Sufism or tasawwuf in Quran and Ahadith and thus concluding it as Bid’ah is ignorance. If it is so, then other major branches of Islam like ‘tafseer’ ‘fiqh’ ‘aqeedah’.etc. will also be questioned. As these branches are indispensable to Islam,Tasawwuf is the science of purification of the heart, as mentioned in the definition.
To argue that sufis practice things that are prohibited in Islam and thus Sufism or tasawwuf is wrong is again ignorance.
All scholars whom the world have seen at different ages approved and encouraged Sufism, (from Imam Abu Hanifa 80-148 AH to Jalaluddin as-Suyuti (849 – 911 AH ). Muslim world have not denied the Sufism.
How then a can a muslim call sufism as bid’ah?