Tasawwuf (Sufism)

Maulana Maududi mentions in “A Short History of the Revialist Movement in Islam” regarding Tasawwuf:

True to God, I bear no personal grudge against the tasawwuf presented by these great reformers; in spirit it was indeed the real tasawwuf of Islam, nothing different from ihsan. But what I think should be carefully eschewed are the mystic allusions and metaphoric references, the mystic language, and the continuance of a peculiar mystic lore, customs and traditions. Obviously, the real Islamic tasawwuf does not stand in need of this particular mould. Some other form and some other language may be adopted for its expression, mystic allusions and references may be avoided, and the master-disciple traditional relationship in all its allied forms may be replaced. After all what is the necessity of sticking and adhering to a form which has been corrupted by un-Godly practices for long times? The large-scale diffusion of these mystic abuses among the common people has in fact produced the worst religious and moral degeneration too well known to the right-minded people. Things have now come to a pretty pass. A person may present the real teachings of Islam, but as soon as he adopts the traditional mystic lore and customs all the weaknesses and abuses associated with it through usage for centuries also return.

Just as a pure and lawful thing like water is prohibited when it is deemed to be harmful to a patient, so what has become the cult of tasawwuf, though technically allowable, needs to be eschewed and laid aside. For through it the Muslims have become addicted to a kind of intoxication which has lulled them to sleep and sapped them of life and reality for centuries. As soon as bay ‘ah is performed, the disciples start developing a servile mentality which has become intimately associated with the system of discipleship, as the saying goes:

“Colour the prayer-mat with wine if so orders you the spiritual guide.”

 Obviously such a mentality does not leave any difference between the spiritual guide and the gods other than Allah. It results in the incapacity of all mental powers of discrimination and criticism of thinking and reasoning, and the disciple is completely obsessed with the guide’s personality and authority as if he were his Lord. Then the reference to divine inspirations further strengthens the shackles of mental servility and the mention of mystic allusions and metaphoric references so deepens and enhances the imaginative and superstitious faculty of the ignorant followers that, being detached from the world of reality, they become wholly absorbed in the world of wonders and mystery.

The Maulana further clarifies his opinion in the appendix:

Tasawwuf is not one particular defined thing, but many different things have come to be known by this name. There is a tasawwuf that we confirm, and support; there is a tasawwuf that we reject and condemn; and there is tasawwuf we want to reform and purify.

The first kind of tasawwuf was prevalent in the earliest period of Islam (time of the Salaf) and was practised by Sufis like Fudayl bin ‘Ayyad, Ibrahim Adham, Ma’ruf Karkhl, etc. (may Allah bless them all with His mercy). It had no philosophy of its own and no separate and distinct way of life. Its conception and ideas, its rites and practices, had all been derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Its object and ideal for life as has been set by Islam, viz., devotion to and contemplation of Allah:

“And they have been commanded no more than this: to worship Allah, offering Him sincere devotion, being true (in faith); to establish regular prayer; and to practise regular charity; and that is the Religion Right and Straight.”

Al-Bayyinah, 98:5

We not only confirm this tasawwuf, but want to revive and propagate it also.

The other tasawwuf is that in which Greek and Stoic, Zoroastrian and Vedantic philosophies have got mixed up, which has incorporated monastic and yogic practices and customs and polytheistic ideas which recognises the Shan’ah, tariqah, and ma ‘rifah as independent and more often contradictory aspects of life, and which aims at training man for other purposes than training him for his duties as Allah’s vicegerent on the earth. This is the tasawwuf we reject and condemn. It is as essential to eradicate it as the other evils of the present day for the establishment of Allah’s Religion.

Besides these, there is another tasawwuf which has conjoined in it traits and features of both the first two kinds. The practices and ways of this tasawwuf were initiated and propounded by some very righteous and pious men who were scholarly and noble minded but not altogether immune from the evil effects of the past, and contemporary trends.

They tried their best to understand the real tasawwuf of Islam and cleanse it of the un-Islamic elements. But in spite of that their theories and concepts, their practices and customs could not remain wholly free from alien influence and the effects of un-Islamic mysticism. They thought that these were not repugnant to the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, or could be proved to be in conformity with them by interpretation. Moreover, the aims and ends of this tasawwuf are more or less different from those desired and cherished by Islam. Neither does it aim at preparing man for his duties of Allah’s vicegerency and making him a “witness unto mankind” in the words of the Qur’an, nor can it produce such men as may have a comprehensive view of Religion, and may also be qualified to establish it.

We do not wholly approve of this tasawwuf nor wholly reject it. Our only request is that its followers and supporters should kindly make a critical appraisal of it, leaving aside their love and veneration for their spiritual heroes, in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and try to reform it. Moreover, if they find a person expressing a different opinion with regard to some aspect of this tasawwuf because he finds it repugnant to the Qur’an and the Sunnah they should not refuse him the right of criticism and run him down, simply because they do not happen to agree with his viewpoint.

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