Featured Faith Group: Feb 2016

What is Sufism?

Tassawuf  (Sufism) is a holistic and deeper understanding of Islam with  consistent focus on sincere practice of Sharia(Islamic Law). Even during the Prophet  (saws)’s time some of the followers desired to enter into a more  intimate relationship with God, in addition to performing the required  ritual practices.

Over the next three centuries a discipline of pious  self-examination and refined religious psychology came into existence.

The specialized technical vocabulary of this discipline, now known as  Tasawwuf (Sufism), came directly from Quran. Muslims who engaged in  these pious activities, in addition to the required religious practices  of the wider community, became known as Sufis, presumably because they  wore woolen (sufi) robes as token of their interiorized piety. In short  Tasawwuf (Sufism) can be both Islamic religious science and the  collective spiritual practices of a person who desires to have a more  encompassing experience of submitting to God (the literal meaning of  Islam). The English version “Sufism” is a problematic translation of  Tasawwuf since the “-ism” of Sufism has allowed misconceptions, all too  prevalent today in Western countries, to consider Tasawwuf and Islam as  separate religious paths. The other inappropriate terms used in English  are “Islamic Mysticism” and “Islamic Esotericism”. Unfortunately each  of these attempts to define such a comprehensive dimension of  religiousity only illuminates one narrow aspect of Tasawwuf at a time,  a partial distortion at best. Reports from the earliest Muslim sources  communicate what the Sufi enterprise entails in a more holistic manner.  Tasawwuf represents works (Islam), faith (Iman), and perfection (Ihsan)  as described in an early hadith of Prophet (saws) known as “Gabriel  Hadith.”

It  is related that one day a man came walking from desert into the  presence of the Prophet (saws) and his companions (radiya Allahu  anhum). He proceeded to ask the Prophet (saws) a few questions. He  asked first about submitting to God (Islam), and the Prophet (saws)  replied that Islam consists of the five pillars: attestation of one God  and Muhammad (saws) as the messenger of God, prayer, fasting, alms, and  pilgrimage. He then inquired about faith (Iman) and the Prophet (saws)  responded by listing the articles of faith mentioned in Quran: God, His  messangers, angels, scriptures, and the Day of Judgment. His last  question was about virtue or perfection (Ihsan) and the Prophet (saws)  answered that Ihsan was worshipping God as if you see Him, though if  you do not see Him, He sees you.

Such  a three-fold conception of religion assumes that persons have varying  potential, inclination, and ability for spiritual activities. The vast  majority of Muslims seek salvation through their daily practice of  Islam, informed by faith commitment (Iman). Anyone who desires to  proceed further into either of these dimensions of Islamic tradition  can spend a lifetime studying each respective field of knowledge guided  by a teaching-shaykh. Tasawwuf encompasses the activities working  toward the field of consciousness and experience represented by  perfection (Ihsan). Such an enterprise, explicit in the Naqshbandi  context, assumes a firm foundation in the practice of submitting to God  (Islam) and in faith (Iman) before achieving an extraordinary degree of  proximity to God (Ihsan).

Another oft-mentioned triad associated  with explicating Tasawwuf is Sharia (Ar. original meaning: path leading  to the water hole, but now commonly meaning Islamic Law), Tariqa (Ar.   path or method) and Haqiqa (Ar. Truth or reality). For Muslims the  Sharia represents the wide path outlining the timeless God-given rules  that govern everyday life for all humans.  It is the path leading to  Salvation. The Tariqa is a narrower path, often associated with the  Sufi path, leading to Haqiqa, the experience of the Ultimate. These  thre interrelated aspects of Islam have been depicted as the one circle  of Sharia with multiplicity of radii or paths (the Tariqas) leading to  the center (Haqiqa).

Naqshbandiya Foundation For Islamic Education (NFIE): http://www.nfie.com/welcome/index.asp