On Sufism WHAT IS SUFISM
by Syed Mohamed Zauqi Shah (r.a.)
Man has two sides
Human greatness, or human perfection, if you so call it, depends very much upon the highest possible development of all the outer and inner qualities of man and upon the proper use that he makes of the qualities so developed.
Everything has two sides, the exterior and the interior. Its value depends, not so much upon its exterior, as upon its interior side. A box full of diamonds and precious stones is certainly more valuable than a similar, or even better looking box, full of ordinary stones and dust. A human being has likewise two sides, the external and the internal. He is a combination of body and soul. There is the visible and the invisible blended together in him and though, in his case, one is as necessary as the other, at least so far as the initial stages of his progress are concerned, his ultimate superiority over the rest of creation depends more upon his inner merits, his intellectual capabilities, his spiritual attainments and the polish and the brilliance of his soul, than upon his exterior form and appearance and qualities of his body.
Man's abilities must be properly channeled
The mere development, however, of human powers cannot lead one to profitable results, unless such powers are correctly and properly used. Swordsmanship, for instance, might prove a curse if wrongly used. Or if science, instead of bringing good to humanity degenerates into a power of destruction, it certainly loses all its virtues and becomes a thing to be abhorred. Similarly, if the outer and inner qualities of man are developed, to any degree of proficiency, but are not put to proper use they can never lead to desirable results. This brings us to consider what constitutes the proper channel for the flow of human culture and activity.
Knowledge of the Creator determines man's success
A man's success in life depends upon the amount of knowledge he acquires of the universe and upon the proper use of that knowledge. The wider his knowledge, the greater are his chances of success. Knowledge of creation can never be complete without a sufficient knowledge of the Creator and the principles and policy upon which the universe is created and run. This is what science is searching for. The goal of Sufism and science is, therefore, the same.
It is more difficult to disprove God's existence than to affirm it
There are people who do not feel inclined to believe in the existence of God. But they cannot disprove Him either, for it is more difficult to disprove than to prove God. Their attitude is more in the nature of agnosticism than atheism. That is to say they ignore rather than deny the existence of God.
You cannot possibly disprove God, because by doing so you disprove the whole universe including yourself. You are obliged to believe in the existence of superior intelligent force controlling the universe.
To be able to control and regulate the various conflicting forces in nature, the guiding-force ought to be stronger and more intelligent than everything else in the world, for a weak and blind force cannot function properly. It is therefore, a supernatural-force in the sense that it is superior to every other force in nature and cannot be completely comprehended by less intelligent and weaker, subordinate forces.
They who pretend disbelief in God are thereby brought consciously or unconsciously in line with those who believe in Him, the difference in name does not matter. Willingly or unwillingly, they are all united on one point, namely, the existence of a supernatural, intelligent force guiding, directing, regulating and controlling the entire universe.
Religion guides and regulates our relationship with God and creation
So, if there is a Creator, as undoubtedly there is, no knowledge of the universe will be of any high value without some knowledge of the Creator, and man, as the highest subordinate force in creation, will never be able to carry on his duties properly unless he is properly attached to the Creator.
Detachment from the central power can only end in disaster. No unit in an institution, no soldier in any army and no officer in a state can do without maintaining proper connection with the central superior force. Without this connection everything is doomed to confusion and chaos. It is religion which guides us in this direction and regulates our relationship with God. And our relationship with God embraces our relationship with everything else in the world.
It is wrong to say that religion is a man's own private affair and has nothing to do with his social, political and economic activities. It is like saying something to the effect that loyalty to the king is a subject's own private affair and has nothing to do with stealing, committing murder, destroying parts of the king's kingdom or being guilty of sedition. God is a potent force.
He is al-Hayyul Qayyum (which means that God is living and self-subsisting. He is living by His own self, without any external aid. He does not derive His powers from any external or foreign source; and apart from maintaining His own existence, He makes others exist by infusing life into them and by maintaining them throughout their existence) and nothing escapes Him.
After creating the universe He has not retired into oblivion and has not become impotent or lost all interest in His creation. He is as potent as ever and His creatures cannot lose sight of Him without impairing their own position in the scale of creation. To maintain proper relations with God one has to behave properly in all walks of life. To effect this, one stands in need of religion.
Islam's approach to God is simpler and more cosmopolitan
Islam is no exception to the rule. It professes to be a revealed religion and corroborates all the Divine Truths revealed by all the preceding religions. Its only other claim is that it is cosmopolitan and its methods of approaching the Ultimate Object are simpler and more up-to-date. However, in common with other religions, it is made up of two sides, the outer and the inner. The outer side is called the shariat and the inner side, the tariqat.
The shariat is subdivided into two parts:
Ibadat concerns fundamental belief and forms of worship and regulates man's relation with God.
Mu'amilat pertain to man's relations with man and covers the social, economic and political fields of human activity.
Tariqat deals with the purification of the inner self and keeps in view the spiritual emancipation of mankind. Since body and soul are intertwined, as it were, tariqat cannot remain independent of shariat and the two work in cooperation.
There is a third thing called Haqiqat which refers to the realities of this life as well as the life to come. It is a realisation and not a science. In other words haqiqat is what you actually see, feel and realise in the light furnished to you by the tariqat.
Islam is the religion of Prophet Abraham
While Islam here may indicate "Mohammedanism" to some, in fact, Islam is as old as mankind. It has been the only True Religion of God at all times. For instance, Abraham was no other than a Muslim. Says the Holy Qur'an:
"Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian but out and out a Muslim (devoted exclusively to Allah)" [3:67]
Sufism is the Science of developing man's understanding of God
The tariqat plus haqiqat is termed tasawwuf or Sufism. It is in fact, the science and art of developing the spiritual faculties of man and trying to understand, as far as possible, the Deity, the Divine Work, and the Divine Mysteries. It is a science in as much as it deals with the systematic training of mind and soul, and the various methods of attaining the spiritual heights necessary for the realisation of Divine Realities. It is an art in so far as it consists of the practical work necessary for the attainment of the object in view. It is theory and practice combined. Knowledge and practical work follow and re-follow each other in rotation.
The one is as necessary as the other; without knowledge one cannot work and without work the desired knowledge cannot be gained. But the knowledge necessary to commence the work is different from the knowledge which follows the successful termination of the work.
The spiritual wayfarer has been given guides
The knowledge necessary for a beginner is supplied by the shariat and administered by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and after the passing away of the Prophet (s.a.w.) to the higher regions, by his deputies who are called Shaikhs, Murshids, Pirs or teachers. They are the Ulama-i-Rashikin, that is the learned people firm in their knowledge and they have the distinction of being recognised as Heirs to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.).
This personal element is an important factor in the dissemination of tasawwuf. Mere book knowledge leads one nowhere. A sick person stands in need of both the physician and the prescription. Very often, he stands more in need of the physician than the prescription.
Unless there is a competent physician to administer the prescription properly, the prescription remains useless. God sent us both the physician and the prescription, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) and the Holy Qur'an.
The Holy Qur'an without the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) would not have brought about that marvellous change which has been the pride of Arabia. The functions of the Holy Physician have been described in their proper order in the following passage of the Qur'an:
"He it is Who hath been raised up amidst the unlettered, an Apostle from among themselves who (the Apostle) reads to them passages of the Qur'an; and purifies their souls; and teaches them the Scripture and Wisdom." [62:2].
The duties of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.)
Accordingly the duties of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) consist of the following four things:
To recite the Qur'an to his people (i.e. to communicate to them the message of God).
To purify their souls, which is quite a different thing from merely conveying to the people the word of God. Without such purification they would not be able even to understand properly the message of God.
To teach them the Holy Book. It is a different thing altogether from announcing to them the message of God. The 'teaching' here means explaining to the people the meaning and the real significance of the passages of the Qur'an and training them in the proper method of observance of Qur'anic Ordinances. Such teaching can only be effective when the process of purification of the soul has been gone through properly.
Finally to bring them face to face with the wisdom which follows the knowledge and action stated above.
The importance of a personal element in affairs relating to the amelioration of mankind can hardly be disputed. Fortunately this personal element has been handed down to us in the form of the Shaikh.
Muhammad, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) combined in himself the leadership of all the various functions at his time. He was a religious teacher, spiritual guide, social reformer, commander-in-chief and political head of the Muslims. In short, he combined in his person all the functions of a temporal and spiritual leader.
He was at once a king and a prophet. His four successors, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali (peace be upon them all), inherited this leadership in toto. The temporal power and the spiritual lead were centred in the same personality.
The historical splitting of temporal and spiritual power
Unfortunate events subsequent to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the son of the Khalifah Ali and the grandson of the Holy Prophet (God's blessings be upon them all), sounded the death-knell of the amalgamated leadership.
The temporal power was usurped by Bani Ummayya, and the spiritualists were left to take care of themselves. Bloodshed on the battlefield of Karbala, however, could not chill the enthusiasm of the spiritualists, and they flocked round the sons and grandsons of Ali in thousands and in tens of thousands, to drink deep of the fountain of knowledge and reality.
The Ummayyads grew suspicious of the growing popularity of the spiritual successors of Hussain. Under the Ummayyad and Abbassid Caliphs, the spiritualists were subject to persecution. That is why, for a long time, spiritual lessons were given secretly. It is one of the reasons why spiritualists have sometimes been called Mystics.
Aimma Ahlul Bayt are the leaders from the Holy Prophet's Family. Aimma is a plural of imam which means 'leader' and ahli bayt means 'members of the family'. These imams or leaders belonging to the Prophet's family, occupy the foremost rank as regards spirituality and other aspects of religion. All classes of Sufis, Dervishes and Faqirs owe their origin to them. Go to any Sufi in the world today and he will trace his pedigree to them and through them to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.). The Holy Prophet is like an ocean; Ali an outlet; and Aimma Ahlul Bayt are as canals that have carried the waters to the thirsty.
The difference in Sufi Orders is in form only and not in spirit
The various Sufistic Orders, or "Dynasties" as they are sometimes called, are a later development but such development is in form only, and not in spirit. It is like this: Suppose, a teacher of very high spiritual attainments and extraordinary internal powers makes his appearance or, say, comes out to India and spreads spirituality there.
His pupils, adherents, and followers are distinguished from others by being called after his name. Another teacher of similar attainments comes and does likewise; a different name is assumed by the followers of his school. They differ merely in their mode of teaching. Chishtis, Nizamis, Qadris, Naqshabandis, Mujaddidis, Abul Ulais, Suhrawardis, Madaris, Qalandaris, Maulwites, Shadhilis, Rifais, Badawis, Sanusis and others are different Sufistic Orders spread over the world.
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