Sufism: Its Origins and Lawfulness in Islam

Sufism: Its Origins and Lawfulness in Islam


[symple_box] nassim chaouiNassim Chaoui Ghali is a scholar in the field of Sufism and Mysticism and a writer of several articles on distinct topics. Nassim earned an MBA in Project Management at Cardiff Metropolitan University  along with a licence degree in Linguistics. He is based in Rabat and can be reached at [/symple_box]

Sufism is difficult to describe in that it rejects being reduced and categorized. It is as elusive as the scent of a rose to someone who has never experienced, and it remains difficult to describe for someone who has. Labels such as mysticism, spirituality, and esoteric Islam provide points of reference; nevertheless, they are often too limited to express Sufism and its associated phenomena throughout history (Chittick 2000,1). The term Sufism is a misnomer in the sense that words ending with “-ism” indicate philosophies and social movements that have distinct beliefs and qualities, which is inappropriate for Sufism, grounded within Islam (Ernst 1997,19).

Thusly, this article seeks to unveil the accurate meaning and function of Sufism in Islam.

Muslims and non-Muslims, oftentimes, intermingle Sufism as a sect of Islam. Nevertheless, it is more accurately depicted as an aspect or dimension of Islam. The 14th century Arab historian, Ibn Khaldun, described Sufism as “……… dedication to worship, total devotion to Allah most high, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone”.

Ibn Khaldun’s statements are a veracious description of Sufi people. Sufis assert that Islamic knowledge should be learned through teachers, and not from books in that it is based on a living experience. Tariqas can trace their teachers via generations (Silsila) to the prophet peace be upon him. Notwithstanding, Sufi people are relatively few, they have a marked impact on Islamic thought and history; they left a trace through their precious contributions that enriched the Islamic literature. For instance, Imam Al-Ghazali, or the so-called hujjat al Islam (proof of Islam), wrote more than 70 books on distinct spheres, namely sciences, Islamic philosophy and Sufism. Imam Al-Ghazali’s influence has extended beyond Muslim land to be quoted by western philosophers and writers. Nowadays, ample of Al-Ghazali’s books are discussed and analyzed in many American and British universities, especially the ones entitled the revival of Islamic sciences and the alchemist of happiness. One should not, however, forget that Sufis were part and parcel in permeating Islam to the farthest places in the world.

Sufism remains one of the Islamic sciences that was established roughly in the first few centuries after the Prophet’s death peace be upon him, further to Hadith (an account, report, or speech, concerning the words or deeds of the prophet Muhammad, his tradition), Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and Tafsir (discussion, interpretation of the sacred texts). Basically, these Islamic sciences were generated, lest Islam will get modified or vilified. Hence, the representatives of traditional Islamic learning (ulamaa al umah) decided to found the rules and principles of these sciences, which ensure continuity for the religion and the Islamic knowledge. The efforts of religious scholars were split into many parts, and each body was responsible for realizing one genre of the sciences. For example, some scholars were specialized in Hadith, others worked on the Islamic law, and then they were called juridists, and so on. In fact, all these sciences were not present at the time of prophecy; nonetheless, they were established late so as to revive Muslims to the state of the age of prophecy. The Islamic sciences were not rejected and refuted by people, rather they agreed on them, believing that they will operate in favor of religion.

Sufism, itself, displays one of the aforementioned sciences, which was brought up in accordance with the Holy Quran and tradition of the prophet as though other schools were brought up, such as Tafssir, Fiqh, Nahw, ect. The prime purpose of setting up the science of Sufism was to bridge up the way for those spiritual and ethical meanings to get settled in people’s heart: the meanings that were overriding and prevailing in the life of the prophet.

There are ample of instances in the Quran and Hadith , which discuss such meanings and their salience in Muslims’ lives. Furthermore, the spiritual and ethical life is paramount for those seeking knowledge of Allah. In Islam, these meanings screen the locus and intention of practicing the religion.

In a nutshell, Sufi people had to translate and record a science which serves to protect this knowledge, namely the “spiritual and ethical”, through grounding the legitimacy of this science in a manner conforming to the Holy Quran and Sunna  (what the Prophet said, did, agreed to or condemned).

Reference List:

Chittick, William. 1983. The Sufi Path of Love. NY: State University of New York Press.

Ernst, Carl. 1997. The Shambhala  Guide to Sufism. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc.

Ibn Khaldun. 1377. The introduction. Page (3/989).