Sufism: An Introduction
Sufism stands for the mystical Islamic science and practice in which the faithful seeks to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. The Concealed Pole Sidna Shaykh Abil Abbas Ahmed Tijani (may Allah sanctify his precious secret) says,“Sufism is the obedience of the (divine) command and avoidance of illegality, outwardly and inwardly, on the basis of God's Satisfaction, not on the basis of your satisfaction.” - Sidna Shaykh Abil Abbas Tijani (may Allah be pleased with him)
When asked on the differences between the Truth ('haqiqa), the Path (tariqa) and the Sacred Law (Sharia), Sidna Shaykh (may Allah sanctify his precious secret) answered the following,“Oh Seeker on the Path to Allah, Oh the One who yearns for Divine Love and Divine Presence, know that this Path has three stations; Islam (submission), Iman (faith) and Ihsan (perfect adoration). Islam is the worship of Allah, Iman is turning towards Allah and Ihsan is the contemplation of Allah. These three stations represent the various degrees of our pursuit on the Path to Allah, and which correspond to Sharia (the Sacred Laws), Tariqa (the Path) and Haqiqa (the Truth). Knowledge is the result of these three stations because whoever achieves Haqiqa surely arrives at Allah, and he is called Gnostic ('Arif billah). The word Sharia encloses all stations since it represents every knowledge revealed to us by the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). On this Path, the 1st category of people are those who remains satisfied with the first station and think that it is the only one that exists, thus they are called the adepts of the exoteric dimension (Ahl Dhahir). The second category are those who reached the 2nd station, and thus combine the practice of the Sacred laws (Sharia) and that of the Path (Tariqa). They are called Sufis. The third category includes those who reach the 3rd station, after completing the first two, they are called Gnostics (al-‘Arifin).
Then Sidna Shaykh added: “The Pole through the Haqiqa makes the practice of his Sharia infallible/perfect while he hides his Haqiqa with the Sharia.” Sidna Shaykh had this to add on the subject,“The station of truth corresponds to the disappearance of the veils to enable the seeker to contemplate the Divine Presence, which is called contemplation (Mushahada). His knowledge emanates following the contemplation of Allah; the Divine Presence grants the seeker knowledge, secrets, spiritual overflowings, wisdoms, states of certainty and so on. Sometimes, one can notice the knowledge descending upon the servant that he must have during contemplation, concerning good conduct, science of discussion and what he must avoid, what he must bear during these moments, this is the truth of reality (Haqiqat al-Haqiqa). The essence of the Sacred Laws (Sharia) is the set of all obligations, permissible things, and prohibited ones that Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) and His Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) made incumbent upon us in His Book.Concerning the Path (Tariqa), it is the intermediary station between the sacred Laws (Sharia) and the Truth (Haqiqa). It is essential for those who desire to arrive at the Truth (Haqiqa) and it is different from the Sharia known to the commoners. The following words summarize this station: “The good deeds of righteous (abrar) are the ill deeds of those who are near (muqarrabin)”. The knowledge of the Path (Tariqa) concerns all that strips the servant from His passions, it incites him to abandon self-centeredness, it distends the seeker’s animal soul from seduction, and makes he/she repels whatever is annoying for oneself in order to shelter him under the Will of Allah (Glorified et Exalted is He). The Path teaches us all that bring the servant to live in Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) and to remain in complete/profound Unicity. It also helps us to overcome the ego and leave all competition between our ego and the Divine Essence by taking the seeker to the station of contentment and surrender (ridha wa taslim). The Path incites the seeker to merge himself into the ocean of submission to God; and this defined well the Path and its knowledge”.
"Know that spiritual opening (fath) and arrival to Allah (al-wusul ila Allah) are reached merely at the hands of the holders of “special authority” (as’hab al-idhn al-khass), similar to the matter of Messengership (risala).There is no opening or unity without such authority, and as such one’s efforts are going in vain (without them). As for he who is attached to Sufi textbooks and took it as a source to reach the Divine Presence, he shall certainly end empty-handed and get in return but exhaustion and failure in reaching the Presence of divine gnosis and eliteness (‘Hadrat al-ma’arif wa al-ikhtisas). As far as reward (thawab) is concerned, he will attain it based on his sincerity (ikhlas). For the signal of receiving openings, however, is to be found only in rectitude (al-istiqama) through continuous obedience (taa’ah); and obedience and worshipful devotion (‘ibadah) are not accessible save through gnosis (ma’arifah). And whoever missed gnosis missed (along with it) all kinds of goodness and benefits.
Then know that worshipful devotion (‘ibadah) is not valid unless it is based on seven elements: i.e. intention (niyya), knowledge (’ilm), gnosis (ma’arifah), law (shari’a), reality (’haqiqa), tradition (sunna) and the Master (shaykh). And the one who worships Allah with niyya and ’ilm but without ma’arifah, surely he is an ignorant of the nature of ma’arifah. And the one who worships Allah with niyya,’ilm and ma’arifah but without shari’a, surely he is an ignorant of the nature of shari’a. And the one who worships Allah with niyya,’ilm, ma’arifah and shari’a but without ’haqiqa, surely he is an ignorant of the nature of ’haqiqa. And the one who worships Allah with niyya,’ilm, ma’arifah, shari’a and ’haqiqa but without sunna, surely he is an ignorant of the nature of sunna. And the one who worships Allah with niyya,’ilm, ma’arifah, shari’a, ’haqiqa and sunna but without the Master, surely he is an ignorant of the nature of Master. And one who worships Allah with niyya,’ilm, ma’arifah, shari’a, ’haqiqa, sunna, and the Master is truly on the right evidence of his Lord. Verily it is the correct method and the straight path and the way of gnostics and method of the righteous and the spring of the drinking of the loving.
It is about that very precise matter that Sidna Shaykh (may Allah sanctify his secret) said:
“Allah is not worshipped for a precise need but for the fact that HE is a deserving God, because of HIS Divine Essence, HIS Character, HIS lofty and praiseworthy Qualities, HIS glorious Names, and it is in those that our noble adoration is based. In the same manner, one should not be with the Shaykh to get earthly goods but thanks to his alliance with him, the disciple can be drawn towards Allah’s alliance”.
Sufism: a History
Sufism consists of a variety of mystical paths that are designed to ascertain the nature of man and God and to facilitate the experience of the presence of divine love and wisdom in the world. Islamic mysticism is called tasawwuf (literally, “to dress in wool”) in Arabic, but it has been called Sufism in Western languages since the early 19th century. An abstract word, Sufism derives from the Arabic term for a mystic, Sufi, which is in turn derived from suf, “wool,” plausibly a reference to the woollen garment of early Islamic ascetics. The Sufis are also generally known as “the poor,” fuqara', plural of the Arabic faqir, in Persian darvish, whence the English words fakir and dervish.
By educating the masses and deepening the spiritual concerns of the Muslims, Sufism has played an important role in the formation of Muslim society. Opposed to the dry casuistry of the lawyer-divines, the mystics nevertheless scrupulously observed the commands of the divine law (Shari'a). The Sufis have been further responsible for a large-scale proliferation activity (nashr) all over the world, which still continues. Sufis have elaborated the image of the prophet Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him) and have thus largely influenced Muslim piety by their Mohammedian mysticism. Without the Sufi vocabulary, Arabic, Persian and other literatures related to it, such as Turkish would lack their special charms. Through the poetry of these literatures mystical ideas spread widely among the Muslims. In some countries like Morocco Sufi Shaykhs were also active politically.
Sufism had several stages of growth, including (1) the appearance of early asceticism (zuhd), (2) the development of a classical mysticism of divine love (mahabba laduniya), and (3) the rise and proliferation of fraternal orders of mystics (turuq). Despite these general stages, however, the history of Sufism is largely a history of individual mystic experience. The first stage of Sufism appeared in pious circles as a reaction against the worldliness of the early Umayyad period (76-661/164-749). From their practice of constantly meditating on the Quranic words about Doomsday, the ascetics became known as “those who always weep” and those who considered this world “a hut of sorrows.” They were distinguished by their scrupulous fulfilment of the injunctions of the Quran and tradition, by many acts of piety, and especially by a predilection for night prayers.
The introduction of the element of love, which changed asceticism into mysticism, is ascribed to Sayyida Rabi'a al-'Adawiya (d. 216/801), a woman from Basra who first formulated the Sufi ideal of a love of God that was disinterested, without hope for paradise and without fear of hell. In the decades after Sayyida Rabi'a, mystical trends grew everywhere in the Islamic world. A number of mystics in the early generations had concentrated their efforts upon tawakkul, absolute trust in God, which became a central concept of Sufism. An Iraqi school of mysticism became noted for its strict self-control and esoteric insight. The Iraqi school was initiated by Sidi al-Harith ibn Asad al-Muhasibi's (d. 243/828), who believed that purging the soul in preparation for companionship with God was the only value of asceticism. His teachings of classical sobriety and wisdom were perfected by Sidi Abul Qacem al-Junaid of Baghdad (d. 297/882), to whom all later chains of the transmission of doctrine and legitimacy go back.
In an Egyptian school of Sufism, the mystic Sidi Dhu an-Nun (d. 274/859) reputedly introduced the technical term ma'rifa (gnosis), as contrasted to learnedness; in his hymnical prayers he joined all nature in the praise of God. In the Iranian school, Sidi Abu Yazid Bastami (d. 261/846) is usually considered to have been representative of the important doctrine of annihilation of the self, fana' (extinction); the symbolism of his sayings prefigures part of the terminology of later mystical poets. At the same time the concept of divine love became more central, especially among the Iraqi Sufis. Its main representative is Sidi Abul Hassan an-Nuri (d. 295/880), who offered his life for his brothers.
The first of the theosophical speculations based on mystical insights about the nature of man and the essence of the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) were produced by Sidi Sahl Tustari (d. 311/896) and Sidi al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi (d. 313 898). Sidi Sahl Tustari was the master of Sidi Hussein ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (d. 309/894), who has become famous for his phrase ana al-haqq, “I am the Creative Truth” (often rendered “I am God”), which was later interpreted in a pantheistic sense but is, in fact, only a condensation of his theory of huwa huwa (“He He”): God loved himself in his essence, and created Adam “in his image.” Sidi Hallaj was executed in 407/922 in Baghdad as a result of his teachings; he is, for later mystics and poets, the “martyr of Love” par excellence, the enthusiast killed by the theologians. His few poems are of exquisite beauty; his prose, which contains an outspoken Mohammedian mysticism is as beautiful.
Sufi doctrine was in these early centuries transmitted in small circles. Some of the Shaykhs, Sufi mystical leaders or guides of such circles, were also artisans. In the fourth/tenth century, it was deemed necessary to write handbooks about the tenets of Sufism in order to ease the growing suspicions of the orthodox; the compendiums composed in Arabic by Sidi Abu Talib al-Makki (d. 386/971), Sidi Sarraj, and Sidi Kalabadhi in the late fourth/tenth century, and by Sidi Abul Qacem al-Qushayri (d. 467/1052) and, in Persian, by Sidi Hujviri in the fifth/eleventh century reveal how these authors tried to defend Sufism and to prove its orthodox character. It should be noted that the mystics belonged to all schools of Islamic law and theology of the times.
The last great figure in the line of classical Sufism is Sidi Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 526/1111), who wrote, among numerous other works, the Ihya' 'ulum ad-din (“The Revival of the Religious Sciences”), a comprehensive work that established moderate mysticism against the growing theosophical trends and thus shaped the thought of millions of Muslims. His younger brother, Ahmad al-Ghazali, wrote one of the subtlest treatises (Sawanih; “Occurrences” [i.e. stray thoughts]) on mystical love, a subject that then became the main subject of Persian poetry.
Slightly later, turuq, mystical orders (fraternal groups centring around the teachings of a shaykh-founder) began to crystallize. The seventh/thirteenth century, though politically overshadowed by the invasion of the Mongols into the Eastern lands of Islam and the end of the 'Abbasid caliphate, was also the golden age of Sufism: the Andalusian Sidi Muhyiddin ibn Arabi ("Shaykh al-Akbar," d. 636/1221) created a comprehensive theosophical system (concerning the relation of God and the world) that was to become the cornerstone for a doctrine of “Unity of Being.” According to this doctrine all existence is one, a manifestation of the underlying divine reality. His Egyptian contemporary Sidi Ibn al-Farid (d. 650/1235) wrote the finest mystical poems in Arabic. Two other important mystics, who died 635/1220, were a Persian poet, Sidi Farid ad-Din 'Attar, one of the most fertile writers on mystical topics, and a Central Asian master, Sidi Najmuddin Kubra, who presented elaborate discussions of the psychological experiences through which the mystic adept has to pass.
The greatest mystical poet in the Persian language, Sidi Jalaluddin ar-Rumi (d. 688/1273), was moved by mystical love to compose his lyrical poetry that he attributed to his mystical beloved, Shamsuddin of Tabriz, as a symbol of their union. Sidi Jalaluddin ar-Rumi's didactic poem Mathnawi in about 26,000 couplets—a work that is for the Persian-reading mystics second in importance only to the Quran—is an encyclopaedia of mystical thought in which everyone can find his own spiritual meaning. Sidi Jalaluddin ar-Rumi inspired the organization of the whirling dervishes—who sought ecstasy through an elaborate dancing ritual, accompanied by superb music. His younger contemporary Sidi Yunus Emre inaugurated Turkish mystical poetry with his charming verses that were transmitted by the Bektashiya order of dervishes and are still admired in modern Turkey.
At that time, the basic ideals of Sufism permeated the whole world of Islam; and at its borders as, for example, in India, Sufis largely contributed to shaping Islamic society. Later some of the Sufis in India were brought closer to other models of mysticism by an overemphasis on the idea of divine unity which became almost monism—a religio-philosophic perspective according to which there is only one basic reality, and the distinction between God and the world (and man) tends to disappear. The syncretistic attempts of the Mughal emperor Akbar (d. 1020/1605) to combine different forms of belief and practice, and the religious discussions of the crown prince Dara Shukoh (executed for heresy, 1074/1659) were objectionable to the orthodox (Ahl Sunna).
Typically, the countermovement was again undertaken by a mystical order, the Naqshbandiya, a Central Asian fraternity founded in the eight/fourteenth century. Contrary to the creed of the school of wahdat al-wujud (“existential unity of being”), the later Naqshbandiya defended the wahdat ash-shuhud (“unity of vision”), a subjective experience of unity, occurring only in the mind of the believer, and not as an objective experience. Sidi Ahmed Sirhindi (d. 1039/1624) was the major character of this order in India. His stands of sanctity were surprisingly daring: he considered himself the divinely invested master of the universe. His refusal to concede the possibility of union between man and God (characterized as “servant” and “Lord”) and his sober law-bound attitude gained him and his followers many disciples, even at the Mughal court and as far away as Turkey. In the eleventh/eighteenth century, Shah Sidi Wali'Allah of Delhi was connected with an attempt to reach a compromise between the two inimical schools of mysticism; he was also politically active and translated the Quran into Persian, the official language of Mughal India. Other Indian mystics of the same century, such as Sidi Mir Dard, played a decisive role in forming the newly developing Urdu poetry.
In the Maghreb, among the most successful groups is the Shadhiliya Sufi order founded by the Moroccan Qutb, Sidi Abul Hassan Shadhili (d. 656/1241); its main literary representatives, Sidi Ahmed Ibn Ata'Allah Sakandari (d. 709/1294), wrote sober aphorisms (Hikam); the legendary Sidi Ahmed al-Busairi Sanhaji (d. 694/1279), famous for his two great poems in praise of the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him), the Mantle (al-Burda) and the Hamziya, both of which are recited every year on the Prophet birthday; in addition to Sidi Abdennour Amrani al-Fasi (b. 685/1270), Sidi Ahmed Ibn Abbad ar-Rundi al-Fasi (d. 792/1377), Sidi Mohammed Wafa (d. 765/1350), and Sidi Abdelwahhab Sha'arani (d. 980/1565).
Simultaneously, many interesting mystical authors are found in the Sharifian State of Morocco. Known for its al-Qarawiyyine University and concentration on Maliki jurisprudence, Morocco has produced some of the marvellous Sufi mystical treaties in prose and poetry. They include Kitab Shifa bita'rif huquq al-Mustapha (The Antidote in knowing the Rights of Chosen Prophet) of Sidi Abul Fadl Qadi Iyyad Sabti (d. 544/1129), a tradition-based treatise that promotes the veneration of Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him) as the universal archetype of humanity; Kitab Dalail al-Khayrat (The Proofs of Goodness) of Sidi Mohammed ibn Slimane Jazouli (d. 869/1454), a manuscript of strong formulas on showering prayers upon the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him); Kitab Qawa’id at-Tasawwuf (Principles of Sufism) of Sidi Ahmed Zarruq al-Fasi (d. 899/1484); and Kitab Ad-Dahab al-ibriz min kalam sayyidi Abdellaziz (The Pure Gold from the Sayings of Sidi Abdellaziz Debbarh; d. 1132/1717) by Sidi Ahmed ibn Mubarak al-Lamti Sijilmasi (d. 1156/1741), remains an important text for the Sufis being placed third on their list of all-time Sufi classics after only Ibn Ata'Allah’s Hikam and al-Ghazali's Ihya ulum ad-din.
The influence of the mystical orders in the thirteenth/nineteenth century did not recede; rather new orders like Tijaniya (after Mawlana Abul Abbas Ahmed Tijani; d. 1230/1815 in Fez), the Darqawiya (after Moulay al-Arbi Darqawi; d. 1239/1824 in Bu Brih, Morocco), the Idrissiya (after Sidi Ahmed ibn Idriss al-Fasi; d. 1252/1837 in Sabya, Yemen), and the ‘Ayniya (after Sidi Mohammed Maa' al-Aynayn; d. 1325/1910 in Tiznit, Morocco) came into existence, and most literature was still tinged with new mystical manifestations and expressions; e.g. Kitab Jawahir al-ma'ani wa-bulugh al-amani fi fayd Sidi Abil al-Abbas at-Tijani (Gems of Indications and Attainment of Aspirations in the Overflowings of Sidi Abil Abbas Tijani), the source for teachings of the Known Mohammedian Seal, Sidi Ahmed Tijani; and Kitab Bughtayt al-murid (The Goal of the Disciple) of Sidi Mohammed ibn al-Arbi Sayeh (d. 1309/1894).
This influence continued to thrive in the fourteenth/twentieth century through the wonderful literature of the Qadirite Sidi Mohammed Maa' al-Aynayn and his son Sidi Ahmed al-Hiba ibn Ma' al-Aynayn (d. 1336/1921); the Shadhilite Sidi Mohammed ibn Jaafar Kattani (d. 1345/1930), Sidi Ahmed ibn Aliwa (d. 1349/1934 in Mostaghanam, Algeria) and Sidi Mohammed al-Mokhtar Susi (d. 1378/1963); and the Tijanite figures Sidi Mohammed ibn Moussa Hamdawi Slawi (d. 1328/1908), Sidi Mhammed ibn Mohammed Genoun (d. 1326/1911), Sidi al-Hassan al-Ba’aqili (d. ), and the wonder of the age, Sidi Ahmed Skirej al-Fasi (d. 1366/1940 in Marrakech). This latter is credited alone with composing about 140 books, which dealt with varying matters (Sufism, theology, astronomy, astrology, philosophy).
Political and social reformers in some Islamic countries have often objected to Sufism because they have generally considered it as backward, hampering the free development of society. Yet, the political influence of the orders is still palpable. Such modern Islamic thinkers as the living Moroccan thinker, legist, and Sufi, the Idrissid Sharif, Sidi Mohammed Radi Genoun, has attacked these social reformers and have gone back to the classical ideals as regenerated by his Shaykh Mawlana Ahmed ibn Mohammed Tijani. The activities of modern Muslim mystics in the cities are mostly restricted to spiritual education.
Though a prophetic saying (Hadith) states that “he who knows God becomes silent,” the Sufis have produced a literature of impressive extent and could defend their writing activities with another Hadith: “He who knows God talks much.” The first systematic books explaining the tenets of Sufism date from the firth/tenth century; but earlier, Sidi al-Harith al-Muhasibi (d. 243/828) had already written about spiritual education, Sidi Hussein ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (d. 309/894), had composed meditations in highly concentrated language, and many Sufis had used poetry for conveying their experiences of the ineffable mystery or had instructed their disciples in letters of cryptographic density. The accounts of Sufism by Sidi Abul Abbas Sarraj and his followers, as well as the tabaqat (hagiographical works) by Sidi Abu Abderrahman as-Sulami (d. 412/1021), Sidi Abu Naim al-Isfahani (d. 430/10315), and others, together with some biographies of individual masters, are the sources for knowledge of early Sufism.
Early mystical commentaries on the Quran are only partly extant, often preserved in fragmentary quotations in later sources. With the formation of mystical orders, books about the behaviour of the Sufi in various situations became important, although this topic had already been touched on in such classical works as Adab al-muridin (“The Disciples' Etiquette”) by Sidi Abu Najib as-Sahrawardi (d. 563/1148), the founder of the Sahrawardiya order and uncle of Sidi Shihabudin Omar as-Sahrawardi (d. 632/1217), the author of 'Awarif al-ma'arif (“The Well-known Sorts of Knowledge”). The theosophists had to condense their systems in readable form; Sidi Muhyiddin ibn Arabi's (d. 636/1221) al-Futuhat al-Makkiya (“The Meccan Revelations”) is the textbook of wahdat al-wujud (God and creation as two aspects of one reality); his smaller work on the peculiar character of the prophets—Fusus al-hikam (“The Bezels—or cutting edges—of Wisdom”)—became even more popular.
Later mystics commented extensively upon the classical sources and, sometimes, translated them into their mother tongues. A literary type that has flourished especially in India since the seventh/thirteenth century is the malfudhat, a collection of sayings of the mystical leader, which are psychologically interesting and allow glimpses into the political and social situation of the Muslim community. Collections of letters of the shaykhs are similarly revealing. Sufi literature abounds in hagiography, either biographies of all known saints from the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) to the day of the author, or of saints of a specific order, or of those who lived in a certain town or province, so that much information on the development of Sufi thought and practice is available if sources are critically sifted.
The greatest contribution of Sufism to Islamic literature, however, is poetry—beginning with charming, short Arabic love poems (sung for a mystical concert, sama') that express the yearning of the soul for union with the beloved. The love-relation prevailing in most Persian poetry is that between a man and a beautiful youth; less often, as in the writings of Ibn Arabi and Ibn al-Farid (d. 650/1235), eternal beauty is symbolized through female beauty (layla). Long mystic–didactic poems were written to introduce the reader to the problems of unity and love by means of allegories and parables. After Sana'i's (died 546/1131) Hadiqat al-haqiqa wa shari'at at-tariqa (“The Garden of Truth and the Law of Practice”), came al-'Attar's Manteq at-tayr (“The Birds' Conversation”) and Rumi's Masnavi-ye ma'navi (“Spiritual Couplets”). These three works are the sources that have furnished poets for centuries with mystical ideas and images. Typical of Sufi poetry is the hymn in praise of God, expressed in chains of repetitions.
The mystics also contributed largely to the development of national and regional literatures, for they had to convey their message to the masses in their own languages. In the Maghreb the first true religious poetry was written by Sufis such as Sidi Abul Fadl ibn Nahwi (d. 513/1098), Sidi Abu Madyan al-Ghawt (d. 594/1179, Sidi Abul Hassan Shushtari (d. 668/1253), who blended classical Islamic motifs with inherited popular legends and used Arabic and popular (i.e. jazal) metres. Sufi poetry expressing divine love and mystical union through the metaphors of profane love and union often resembled ordinary worldly love poetry; and nonmystical poetry made use of the Sufi vocabulary, thus producing an ambiguity that is felt to be one of the most attractive and characteristic features of Arabic literatures. Sufi expressions; exemplified in the work of Sidi Mohammed al-Harraq (d. 1261/1846), Sidi Mohammed b. Ahmed Akansous (d. 1294/1879), Sidi al-Hussein al-Ifrani al-Hassani (d. 1328/1913), Sidi Mohammed b. Yahya Blamino (d. 1333/1918), and al-Qadi Sidi Ahmed b. al-‘Iyyashi Skirej (d. 1366/1940) permeated the hearts of all those who hearkened to poetry. The latter figure is best remembered for his work, Onset of Limpidness adjacent to the Antidote (Mawrid Safa bi-Muhadat Shifa) that converts al-Qadi Iyyad's Kitab Shifa into poetry.
Sufi doctrine and practice
The mystics drew their vocabulary largely from the Quran, which contains all divine wisdom and has to be interpreted with ever-increasing insight. In the Quran, mystics found the threat of the Last Judgment, but they also found the statement that God “loves them and they love him,” (yuhibbuhum wa yuhibbunahu) which became the basis for mahabba mysticism. Strict obedience to the religious law (Shari'a) and the Sunna of the Prophet Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him) were basic for the mystics. By rigid introspection and mental struggle the Sufis tried to purify his baser self from even the smallest signs of selfishness, thus attaining ikhlas, absolute purity of intention and act. Tawakkul (trust in God) was sometimes practiced to such an extent that every thought of tomorrow was considered irreligious. “Little sleep, little talk, little food” were fundamental; fasting became one of the most important preparations for the spiritual life.
The central concern of the Sufis, as of every Muslim, was tawhid, the witness that “There is no god but Allah.” This truth had to be realized in the existence of each individual, and so the expressions differ: early Sufism postulated the approach to God through love and voluntary asceticism until a unity of will was reached; Imam Abul Qacem Junaid (d. 297/882) spoke of “recognizing God as He was before creation”; God is seen as the One and only actor; He alone “has the right to say ‘I'.” Later, tawhid came to mean the knowledge that there is nothing existent but God, or the ability to see God and creation as two aspects of one reality, reflecting each other and depending upon each other (wahdat al-wujud).
The mystics realized that beyond the knowledge of outward sciences ('ilm dhahir) intuitive knowledge was required in order to receive that illumination to which reason has no access. Dhawq, direct “tasting” of experience, was essential for them. But the inspirations (ilhamat) and “unveilings” (kushufat) that God grants such mystics by special grace (fadl) must never contradict the Quran and Sunna and are valid only for the person concerned. Even the Malammatis (people of blame), who attracted public contempt upon themselves by outwardly acting against the Shari'a, in private life strictly followed the divine commands. Mystics who expressed in their poetry their disinterest in, and even contempt of, the traditional formal religions never forgot that Islam is the highest manifestation of divine wisdom.
The idea of the manifestation of divine wisdom was also connected with the person of the prophet Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him). Though early Sufism had concentrated upon the relation between God and the soul, from the third/ninth century onward a strong Mohammedian mysticism developed. In the very early years, the alleged divine address to the Prophet—“If thou had not been I had not created the worlds”—was common among Sufis. Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him) was said to be “Prophet when Adam was still between water and clay.” Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him) is also described as light from light, and from his light all the prophets are created, constituting the different aspects of this light. In its fullness such light radiated from Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him) and is partaken of by his posterity and by the saints.
A mystic is also known as wali. By derivation the word wali (“saint”) means “one in close relation; friend.” The awliya (plural of wali) are “friends of God who have no fear nor are they sad.” Later the term wali came to denote the mystics who had reached a certain stage of proximity to God (qurb), or those who had reached the highest mystical stages (maqamat). Woman saints are found all over the Islamic world. The mystics have their “seal” (i.e., the last and most perfect personality in the historical process; with this person, the evolution has found its end—as in Sidna Mohammed's case), just as the prophets have. Sidi Abul Hassan Ali Harazem Berrada (d. 1212/1797) reports in Kitab Jawahir al-Ma’ani that his Shaykh Sidi Abul Abbas Ahmed ibn Mohammed Tijani (d. 1230/1815) announced himself as the "Seal of the Sufi Masters" (khatm al-Awliya) in the historical cycle, that the spiritual overflowings (fuyud) which descended from the Presence (al-‘Hadra) of Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him) were distributed through him over the whole span of the history of the world. Thus his disciples were ordered not to visit living saints or the tombs of dead ones. Sufis were also commanded to leave other orders they were members of, as the Tijaniya in itself summed up all the other orders.
The invisible hierarchy of awliya consists of the 40 abdal (substitutes; for when any of them dies another is elected by God from the rank and file of the saints), seven awtad (stakes, or props, of faith), three nuqaba' (leader; one who introduces people to his master), headed by the qutb (axis, pole), or ghawt (succour)—titles claimed by many Sufi leaders. The advanced mystic was often granted the capacity of working miracles called karamat (charismata or graces); not mu'jizat (that which men are unable to imitate), like the miracles of the prophets. Among them are “cardiognosia” (knowledge of the heart), providing food from the unseen, presence in two places at the same time, and help for the disciples, be they near or far. In short, a saint is one “whose prayers are heard” and who has tasarruf, the power of materializing in this world possibilities that still rest in the spiritual world. Many great awliya, however, considered miracle working as a dangerous trap on the path that might distract the Sufi from his real goal.
The path (tariqa) begins with repentance (tawba). A mystical guide (shaykh) accepts the seeker as disciple (murid), orders him to follow strict ascetic agenda, and suggests certain formulas for meditation. It is said that the disciple should be in the hands of the master “like a corpse in the hand of the washer.” The master teaches him the jihad al-akbar (the real “Holy War”) against the lower soul (nafs). The mystic dwells in a number of spiritual stations (maqam), which are described in varying sequence, and, after the initial repentance, comprise abstinence (zuhd), detachment (tajrid), and poverty (faqr)—according to the Prophetic saying, “Poverty is my pride”; poverty was sometimes interpreted as having no interest in anything apart from God, the Rich One (Al Ghani), but the concrete meaning of poverty prevailed, which is why the Sufis are often denoted as “poor,” fuqara. Patience (sabr) and gratitude (shukr) belong to higher stations of the path, and consent is the loving acceptance of every affliction.
On his way to illumination (tanwir) the wali will undergo such changing spiritual states (hal) as constriction (qabd), expansion (bast), fear (khawf) and rapture (sa'ada), joy (nashwa) and longing (shawq), which are granted by God and last for longer or shorter periods of time, changing in intensity according to the station in which the mystic is abiding at the moment. The way culminates in ma'rifa (gnosis) or in mahabba (love), the central subject of Sufism since the third/ninth century, which implies the station of union (wusul), and was therefore violently rejected by the orthodox, for whom “love of God” meant simply obedience. The pre-final goal is fana' (annihilation), primarily an ethical concept of annihilating one's own qualities, according to the prophetic saying “Take over the qualities of God,” but slowly developing into a complete extinction of the personality. Many awliya taught that behind fana' where the self is completely effaced, the baqa', (“subsistence or life in God”) is found: the ecstatic experience, called intoxication, is followed by the second sobriety” (sa’hw). The wali has reached haqiqa (realty), after finishing the tariqa, which is built upon the Shari'a. Later, the disciple—of Shadhili, Khalwati, Naqshabadis, Qadiri order—is led through to fana' fi Shaykh (annihilation in the master), or — in the case of the Tijanis and saints of Tariqa Mohammediya—fana' fi-r-Rasul (“annihilation in the Prophet”) before reaching, if at all, fana' fi-Allah (“annihilation in God”), out of which arises a new kind of existence (baqa’, literally "remaining") in full consciousness.
At several points throughout Kitab Ad-Dahab al-Ibriz (The Pure Gold), Moulay Abdellaziz Debbarh (d. 1132/1717) emphasises the importance of fana' in Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him) until the daylight vision (mushahadat an-Nabi yaqadatan) of his Noble Dat for any disciple who wishes to attain true knowledge of God,
If he attains the witness (mushahada) of the Prophet while awake (yaqadatan), he is secure from Satan’s deceit, because he is united with (li-jtima’ihi m’a) the mercy of God, who is our Lord and Prophet and Master, Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him). Thus his meeting with the Noble Body (ad-Dat Sharifa) is the cause of his knowledge of the Real (al-Haqq) and his witness of His Eternal Essence (ad-Dat al-Muqaddasa), because he finds that the Noble Body is absent (ghaiba) in the Real, enraptured (faniya) in witnessing Him. The saint, by the blessing of the Noble Body, remains attached to the Real and increases in his knowledge of Him Almighty little by little until he attains witness (mushahada) and the secrets (asrar) of mystical knowledge and the light of love.
One of the means used on the Sufi path is the ritual prayer, or dhikr (invocation; remembrance), derived from the Quranic injunction “And remember God often” (62:10). It consists in a repetition of either one or all of the most beautiful names of God (al-Asma' al-‘Husna), of the Name “Allah” (al-Ism al-A'adham or al-Ism al-Mufrad) or of a certain religious formula, such as the profession of faith (shahada or al-haylala): “There is no God but Allah” (La ilaha illa Allah). The rosary (sub’ha) with 100 beads was in use as early as the eight/fourteenth century for counting the thousands of repetitions. Man's whole being should eventually be transformed into remembrance of God. In the mid-third/ninth century some mystics introduced sessions with music and poetry recitals (sama') in Baghdad in order to reach the ecstatic experience—and since then debates about the permissibility of sama', filling many books, have been written.
Besides the wayfarers (salik) on the path, there are also the so-called majdhub (fools of God) who are often persons generally agreed to be more or less mentally deranged. There are also Sufis who have no master but are attracted solely by divine grace; they are called Uwaysi, after Sidi Uways al-Qarani, the Yemenite contemporary of the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) who never saw him but firmly believed in him. Khadirian Sufism was the Moroccan equivalent of the Uwaysi in the East. The Moroccan founder of this school is the Idrissite sharif Moulay Abdellaziz ibn Masoud Debbarh (d. 1132/1717). His doctrinal transmission (silsila) went directly to the Prophet through the mysterious Sidna al-Khadir, bypassing the authentic Sufi masters.
The divine truth was at times revealed to the mystic in visions, auditions, and dreams, in colours and sounds, but to convey these nonrational and ineffable experiences to others the mystic had to rely upon such terminology of worldly experience as that of love and intoxication—often objectionable from the orthodox viewpoint. The symbolism of wine (khamra), cup (al-kas), and cupbearer (as-saqi), first expressed by Sidi Abu Yazid al-Bastami in the third/ninth century, became popular everywhere, whether in the verses of the Andalusian Shushtari, or the Egyptian Ibn al-Farid, or the Persian Iraqi, or the Turk Yunus Emre, and their followers. The hope for the union of the soul with the divine had to be expressed through images of human yearning and love. The love for lovely boys in which the divine beauty manifests itself—according to the alleged Hadith “I saw my Lord in the shape of a youth with a cap awry”—was commonplace in Persian poetry. Union was described as the submersion of the drop in the ocean, the state of the iron in the fire, the vision of penetrating light, or the burning of the moth in the candle (first used by Hallaj).
Worldly phenomena were seen as black tresses veiling the radiant beauty of the divine countenance. The mystery of unity and diversity was symbolized, for example, under the image of mirrors that reflect the different aspects of the divine, or as prisms colouring the pure light. Every aspect of nature was seen in relation to God. The symbol of the soulbird—in which the human soul is likened to a flying bird—known everywhere, was the centre of 'Attar's Mantiq at-tayr (“The Birds' Conversation”). The predilection of the mystical poets for the symbolism of the nightingale and rose (the red rose = God's perfect beauty; nightingale = soul; first used by Baqli; d. 621/1206, stems from the soul-bird symbolism). For spiritual education, symbols taken from medicine (healing of the sick soul) and alchemy (changing of base matter into gold) were also used. Many descriptions that were originally applied to God as the goal of love were, in later times, used also for the Prophet, who is said to be like the “dawn between the darkness of the material world and the sun of Reality.”
Allusions to the Quran were frequent, especially so to verses that seem to imply divine immanence (God's presence in the world), such as “Whithersoever you turn, there is the Face of God” (2:109), or that God is “Closer than your neck-vein” (50:8). The verse 7:172—i.e., God's address to the uncreated children of Adam (“Am I not your Lord” [alastu birabbikum])—came to denote the pre-eternal love relation between God and man. As for the prophets before Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him), the vision of Sidna Moussa ("Moses", peace upon him) was considered still imperfect, for the mystic wants the actual vision of God, not His manifestation through a burning bush. Sidna Ibrahim ("Abraham", peace upon him), for whom fire turned into a rose garden, resembles the mystic in his afflictions; Sidna Yusuf ("Joseph ", peace upon him), in his perfect beauty, the mystical beloved after whom the mystic searches. The apocryphal traditions used by the mystics are numerous; such as “Heaven and earth do not contain me, but the heart of my faithful servant contains Me”; and the possibility of a relation between man and God is also explained by the traditional idea: “He (God) created Adam in His image.”
Mystical life was first restricted to the relation between a master and a few disciples; the foundations of a monastic system were laid by the Persian Abu Said ibn Abi al-Khayr (d. 464/1049), but real orders or fraternities came into existence only from the sixth/twelfth century onward: Moulay Abdellqadir Jilani (d. 563/1148) gathered the first and still most important order around himself; then followed the Sahrawardiya, and the seventh/thirteenth century saw the formation of large numbers of different orders in the East (for example, Kubrawiya and Naqshabandiya) and West (Majiriya and Shadhiliya). Thus, Sufism ceased to be the way of the chosen few and influenced the masses. A strict ritual was elaborated: when the disciple (murid) had found a master for whom he had to feel a preformed affinity, there was an initiation ceremony in which he swore allegiance (bay'a) into the master's hand. The disciple had to undergo a stern training; he was often ordered to perform the lowest work in the community, to serve the brethren, to go out to beg. A seclusion period of 40 days under hard conditions was common for the adepts in most orders.
Investiture with the khirqa, the frock of the master, originally made from shreds and patches, was the decisive act by which the disciple became part of the silsila, the chain of mystical succession and transmission, which leads back—via Imam Junaid (d. 297/882)—to the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) himself and differs in every order. Some Shaykhs like Moulay Abdellaziz Debbarh (d. 1132/1717) and Sidi Ahmed ibn Idriss al-Fasi (d. 1252/1837) have received their khirqa directly from Sidna al-Khadir, bypassing the early Sufi masters. Moulay Ahmed Tijani (d. 1230/1815) received his khirqa from the Holy Prophet himself.
In the earliest times, allegiance was sworn exclusively to one master who had complete power over the disciple, controlling each of his movements, thoughts, visions, and dreams; but later many Sufis got the khirqa from two or more shaykhs. There is consequently a differentiation between the shaykh at-tarbiya (master of education), who introduces the disciple into the ritual, forms, and literature of the order, and the shaykh tarqiya (master of endorsement) who steadily watches him. This can be perceived in Moulay Abdellaziz Debbarh’s address to his disciple, the al-Qarawiyyine scholar, Sidi Ahmed Ibn Mubarak al-Lamti (d. 1156/1741); “If I were not watching you 500 times an hour, judge me between the Hands of Allah in the hereafter.” The Tijanite famed figure Sidi Ahmed Skirej al-Fasi (d. 1366/1940 in Marrakech) articulates in one of his masterpeiaces, enitiled Kitab Jawahir al-ma'ani wa-bulugh al-amani fi fayd Sidi Abil al-Abbas at-Tijani (Gems of Indications and Attainment of Aspirations in the Overflowings of Sidi Abil Abbas Tijani), that shaykh tarqiya excels shaykh at-tarbiya in two levels: (1) His muqaddams (representatives) are shaykhs of tarbiya themselves, capable of initiating the disciple throughout all the layers of wayfaring (suluk); and, (2) He supports (yumiddu) his disciples even after the shaykh’s physical death in a way that walks the disciple from one stage (maqam) to another until he becomes a complete man (insan kamil). Thus this is not possible in the order of shaykh tarbiya, whose muqaddams are organisers than educators. Equally important, adds Skirej, the order of shaykh tarbiya turns into a path of blessing (tariqat al-baraka) following the master’s death, while the order of shaykh tarqiya stays in the procession of divine initiation (tariqat as-Sirr wa suluk).
Most of the initiated returned to their daily life and partook in mystic services only during certain periods. The most mature disciple was invested as khalifa (successor) to the shaykh and was often sent abroad to extend the activities of the order. The zawiyas were organized differently in the various orders; some relied completely upon tributes (futuhat), keeping their members in utmost poverty; others were rich, and their shaykh was not very different from a feudal lord. Relations with rulers varied—some masters refused contacts with the representatives of political power, i.e. Sidi Abdeljalil ibn Wayhan (d. 541/1126), Sidi Tuhami ibn Mohammed Wazzani (d. 1127/1712), Sidi Mohammed ibn al-Habib Filali (d. 1386/1971); others did not mind friendly relations with the grandees, e.g. Sidi Abul Abbas Sabti (d. 6o1/1186), Sidi Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi (d. 636/1221), Sidi Abul Hassan Shadhili (d. 656/1241), Sidi Abdellah Ghazwani (d. 935/1520), Moulay Ahmed Tijani, Sidi Mohammed Akansous (d. 1294/1879), Sidi Mohammed Maa' al-Aynayn (d. 1325/1910).
Each order has peculiarities in its ritual. Most start the instruction with breaking the lower soul; others, such as the later Naqshbandiya, stress the purification of the heart by constant dhikr and by discourse with the master (suhba). The forms of dhikr vary in the orders. Many of them use the word Allah (Ism al-Mufrad), or the profession of faith with its rhythmical wording (La ilaha illa Allah), sometimes accompanied by movements of the body, or by breath control up to complete holding of the breath. The Mawlawis, followers of the great Sufi Sidi Jalaluddin ar-Rumi (d. 688/1273), are known for their typical dancing ritual, an organized variation of the earlier sama' practices, which were confined to music and poetry.
The Rifais, Aissawa, Hmadsha; adherents of the sharifs Sidi Ahmed Rifai (d. 678/1236), Sidi Mhammed al-Hadi Ben Aissa (d. 933/1518), and Sidi Ali ben Hamdush Alami (d. 1131/1716), have become known for their practice of hurting themselves while in an ecstatic state that they reach in performing their loud dhikr. (Such practices that might well degenerate into mere jugglery are not approved by most orders.) Some orders also teach the dhikr khafi, silent repetition of the formulas, and meditation, concentrating upon certain fixed points of the body; thus the Naqshabadis do not allow any emotional practices and prefer contemplation to ecstasy. Other orders have special prayers (ahzab and awrad) given to the disciples, such as the protective hizb al-bahr (“The protective armour of the sea”; i.e., for seafaring people—then extended to all travellers) in the Shadhiliya order. Most of them prescribe for their disciples additional prayers and meditation at the end of each ritual prayer.
Some orders were more fitting for the rural population, such as the Ahmediya (after Sidi Ahmad al-Badawi al-Fasi; d. 675/1260) in Egypt. The Ahmediya, however, even attracted some Mamluk rulers. Other orders, such as the Zarruqiya (after Sidi Ahmed Zarruq al-Fasi; d. 899/1484) and the Nasiriya (after Sidi Mhammed ben Nasir Dar'i; d. 1085/1674) were typically middle class with strong presence of prominent scholars. These Shadhilite orders demanded not a life in solitude but strict adherence to one's profession and fulfilment of one's duty. Still other orders were connected with the ruling classes, namely the Tijaniya (after Mawlana Ahmed ibn Mohammed Tijani; d. 1230/1815) in Morocco and the Mawlawiya (after Mawlana Jalaluddin ar-Rumi; d. 688/1273), whose leaders had kings and emirs as disciples. The Mawlawiya is also largely responsible for the development of classical Turkish poetry, music, and fine arts, just as the Tijaniya contributed to the regeneration of classical Moroccan poetry.
The main contribution of the orders, however, is their da'awa (call) activity. The members of different orders who settled in India from the early seventh/thirteenth century attracted thousands of Hindus by their example of love of both God and their own brethren and by preaching the equality of men. Call activity was often joined with political activity, as in eleventh/seventeenth and twelfth/eighteenth century Central Asia, where the Naqshbandiya exerted strong political influence. In the Maghreb the Tijaniya, founded in Fez in 1211/1796, and the Sanusiya (after the Idrissite sharif Sidi Mohammed ibn Ali Sanusi; 1274/1859), became active since the early thirteenth/nineteenth century, both heralded Islam and engaged in politics; the Sanusiya fought against Italy, and the former king of Libya was the head of the order. The Tijaniya extended the borders of Islam toward Senegal and Nigeria, and their representative, Sidi al-Haj Omar ibn Said al-Futi (d. 1279/1864), founded large kingdoms in West Africa. Their influence, as well as that of the Qadiriya is still an important socio-political factor in those areas.
It would be impossible to number the members of mystical orders in the Islamic world. Even in such countries as Turkey, where the orders have been banned since 1925, many people still cling to the mystical tradition and feel themselves to be links in the spiritual chains of the orders and try to implement their ideals in modern society. The most widely spread group today is, no doubt, the Tijaniya, with more than 360 million disciple worldwide. Tijani adherents are found from the United States to West Java and India. Sidi al-Haj Omar’s success was duplicated by Sidi al-Haj Malik Sy, Sidi Said Ba and Shaykh al-Islam Sidi Ibrahim ibn Abdellah Niass al-Kulkhi (d. 1390/1975). Today, the masters of Tijaniya are so numerous, the most prominent being Shaykh al-Islam Sidi Hassan Cisse of Senegal. The pedagogic forms of the Tijaniya are strongly characterised with a sober attitude toward professional life and careful introspection, and shaped by excellent means of bringing together the spiritually interested members of the community.
The Mohammediya Khadiriya order (also called the “Idrissiya” and “Ahmediya” after Sidi Ahmed ibn Idriss al-Fasi; 1252/1837) is restricted to Libya, the Sudan, Egypt, Hijaz, Somalia, Yemen and the Asian Archipelago. The borders of the Wazzaniya (also called the “Tuhamiya” and “Tayyebiya” after Moulay Abdellah Shrif Wazzani; d. 1089/1674, and his sons Moulay Tuhami; d. 1127/1712, and Moulay Tayyeb; d. 1181/1766) and the Darqawiya (after Moulay al-Arbi Darqawi; d. 1239/1824) orders were not held back by the boundaries of Morocco and it burgeoned in Sri Lanca, Egypt, Yemen, Turkey and Tripolitania. Out of the Darqawiya developed the urban Madaniya, Yashturiya, Habibiya, Harraqiya, Debbarhiya, Kattaniya, Siddiqiya, Habriya, and others. The Darqawite Alliwiya order, born in Algeria at the hand of the great poet, Sidi Ahmed ibn Aliwa (d. 1349/1934) reached France, Syria and Jordan through Sidi Hajj Adda Bentounes, Sidi Mohammed Hachimi Tilimsani (d. 1381/1966) and Sidi Mustapha Abdessalam Filali (d. 1401/1986) respectively.Rural orders as the Egyptian Ahmediya and Dasuqiya (after Sidi Ibrahim Dasuqi; d. 692/1277) are bound to their respective countries, as are the Mawlawiya and Bektashiya to the realms of the former Ottoman Empire. The Shattariya (derived from Sidi Abd Shattar; 830/1415) extends from India to Java, whereas the Qadirite Chistiya (derived from Sidi Muhyiddin Chisti; d. 651/1236 in Ajmer). The Kubrawiya (after Sidi Najmuddin Kubra) reached Kashmir through Sidi Ali Hamdani (d. 800/1385), a versatile author, but the order later lost its influence. The Sahrawardiya order which became named later as the “Khalwatiya” (after Sidi Abu Abdellah Sirajuddin Omar ibn Kamluddin al-Ahji Khalwati) remained mainly inside Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. The Tariqa entered to Morocco and Algeria for the first time through Moulay Ahmed Sqalli (d. 1177/1762) and Sidi Mohammed ibn Abderrahman Azharri Hassani Idrissi (d. 1208/1793) –both took it from the Khalwatite reformist, Shaykh of al-Azhar, Sidi Mohammed al-Hafnawi (d. 1174/1768), who as himself a disciple of Sidi Mustapha ibn Kamluddin al-Bakri al-Misri (d. 1154/1739).