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Testimony of the Scholars of External Knowledge in Support of the Precedence of the Scholars of Internal Knowledge

Imam Abu Hanifa (81-150 H./700-767 CE)

Imam Abu Hanifa (r) (85 H.-150 H) said, “If it were not for two years, I would have perished. For two years I accompanied Sayyidina Jacfar as-Sadiq and I acquired the spiritual knowledge that made me a knower in the Way.”

The book Ad-Durr al-Mukhtar, vol 1. p. 43, mentions that Ibn cAbidin said, “Abi Ali Dakkak, one of the sufi saints, received his path from Abul Qassim an-Nasarabadi, who received it from ash-Shibli, who received it from Sariyy as-Saqati who received it from Macruf al-Karkhi, who received it from Dawud at-Ta’i, who received the knowledge, both the external and the internal, from the Imam Abu Hanifa (r), who was supporting the Sufi Spiritual Path.” The Imam said before he died: lawla sanatan lahalaka Nucman, “Were it not for a certain two years, Nucman [i.e. myself] would have perished.” There were the last two years of his life, when he began accompanying Jacfar as-Sadiq (q).

Imam Malik (94-179 H./716-795 CE)

Imam Malik (r) said, “Whoever studies jurisprudence (fiqh) and didn’t study Sufism (tasawwuf) will be corrupted; and whoever studied tasawwuf and didn’t study jurisprudence will become a heretic; and whoever combined both will be reach the Truth.” This saying is mentioned and explained in the book of the scholar ‘Ali al-Adawi with the explanation of Imam Abil-Hassan, a scholar of jurisprudence, vol. 2, p. 195.

Imam Shafici (150-205 H./767-820 CE)

Imam Shafici said, “I accompanied the Sufi people and I received from them three knowledges:

  1. they taught me how to speak
  2. they taught me how to treat people with leniency and a soft heart.
  3. they guided me in the ways of Sufism.”

This is mentioned in the books, Kashf al-Khafa and Muzid al-Albas, by Imam ‘Ajluni, vol. 1, p. 341.

Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (164-241 H./780-855 CE)

Imam Ahmad (r) said, advising his son, “O my son, you have to sit with the People of Sufism, because they are like a fountain of knowledge and they keep the Remembrance of Allah in their hearts. They are the ascetics and they have the most spiritual power.” This is explained in the book Tanwir al-Qulub, p. 405, by Shaikh Amin al-Kurdi.

Imam Ahmad said about the Sufis, as mentioned in the book Ghiza al-Albab, vol. 1, p. 120, “I don’t know any people better than them.”

Imam al-Muhasibi (d. 243 H./857 CE)

Imam al-Muhasibi reported that the Prophet (s) said, “My Nation is going to split into 73 divisions and only one of them will be the Group of Salvation.” And Allah knows best that the Group is the people of Tasawwuf. He went deeply into the explanation of that subject, in the book Kitab al-Wasiya p. 27-32.

Imam al-Qushayri (d. 465 H./1072 CE)

Imam al-Qushayri said about Sufism, “Allah made this group the best of His saints and He honored them above all of His Servants after His Messengers and Prophets, and He made their hearts the secrets of His Divine Presence and He chose them from among the Nation to receive His Lights. They are the means of humanity. He cleaned them from all connnections to this world, and He lifted them to the highest states of vision. And He unveiled to them the Realities of His Unique Oneness. He made them to observe His Will operating in them. He made them to shine in His Existence and to appear as Lights of His Lights.” [ar-Risalat al-Qushayriyya, p. 2]

Imam Ghazali (450-505 H./1058-1111 CE)

Imam Ghazali,  Hujjat ul-Islam, the Proof of Islam, said about Sufism, “I knew to be true that the Sufis are the seekers in Allah’s Way, and that their conduct is the best conduct, and their way is the best way, and their manners are the most sanctified. They have cleaned their hearts from other than Allah and they have made them as pathways for rivers to run receiving knowledge of the Divine Presence.” [al-Munqidh min ad-Dalal, p. 131].

Imam Nawawi (620-676 H./1223-1278 CE)

Imam Nawawi said, in his Letters, al-Maqasid, “The specifications of the Way of the Sufis are five:

  1. To keep the Presence of Allah in your heart in public and in private;
  2. To follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) by actions and speech;
  3. To keep away from dependence on people;
  4. To be happy with what Allah gives you, even if it is little;
  5. To always refer your matters to Allah, Almighty and Exalted.” [Maqasid at-Tawhid, p. 20]

Imam Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (544-606 H./1149-1209 CE)

Imam Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi said, “The way the Sufis seek Knowledge is to disconnect themselves from this worldly life, and keep themselves constantly busy in their mind and in their heart, with Dhikrullah, during all their actions and behaviors.” [Ictiqadat Firaq al-Muslimin, p. 72, 73]

Ibn Khaldun (733-808 H./1332-1406 CE)

Ibn Khaldun said, “The way of the Sufis is the way of the Salaf, the Scholars among the Sahahba, Tabicin, and Tabic at-Tabicin. Its origin is to worship Allah and to leave the ornaments of this world and its pleasures.” [Muqaddimat ibn Khaldun, p. 328]

Tajuddin as-Subki

Tajuddin as-Subki (r) mentioned in his book Mucid an-Nacim, p. 190, under the chapter entitled Sufism, “May Allah praise them and greet them and may Allah make us to be with them in Paradise. Too many things have been said about them and too many ignorant people have said things which have no relation to them. And the truth is that they have left dunya and are busy with worship.”

He said, “They are the People of Allah, whose duca and prayers Allah accepts, and by means of whom Allah supports human beings.”

Jalaluddan as-Suyuti

He said in his book Ta’yad al-Haqiqat al-cAliyya, p. 57, “Sufism in itself is the best and most honorable knowledge. It explains how to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) and to leave innovation.”

Ibn Taymiyya (661-728 H./1263-1328 CE)

In Majmaca Fatawa Ibn Taymiyya, published by Dar ar-Rahmat, Cairo, Vol, 11, page 497, Book of Tasawwuf, Ibn Taymiyya says: “You have to know that the rightly-guided shaikhs must be taken as guides and examples in the Dan, as they are following in the footsteps of the Prophets and Messengers. The Way (tariqat) of those shaikhs is to call people to Allah’s Divine Presence and obedience to the Prophet.”

Ibn Taymiyya says on page 499 of the same volume: “The shaikhs whom we need to take as guides are our examples and we have to follow them. As when on the Hajj (the pilgrimage), one needs a guide (dalil) to reach the Kacba, these shaikhs are our guide (dalil) to Allah and our Prophet (s).”

Among the shuyukh he mentioned are: Ibrahim ibn Adham, Macruf al-Karkhi, Hasan al-Basri, Rabia al-Adawiyya, Junaid ibn Muhammad, Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, Shaikh Ahmad ar-Rafa’i, and Shaikh Bayazid al- Bistami.

Ibn Taymiyya quotes from Bayazid al-Bistami on page 510, Volume 10: “…the great Sufi shaikh, Bayazid al-Bistami, and the famous story of when he saw God in a vision (kashf) and said to Him: ‘O Allah what is the way to You?’ And Allah responded, ‘Leave yourself and come to Me.’” Ibn Taymiyya continues quoting Bayazid al-Bistami, “I shed my self as a snake sheds its skin.”

Implicit in this quotation is an indication of the need for zuhd (self-denial or abstention from the worldly life), as that was the path followed by Bayazid al-Bistami.

So we see from the above quotes, that Ibn Taymiyya was accepting many shaikhs by quoting them and urging people to follow guides to show the way to obey God and to obey the Prophet (s).

What Ibn Taymiyya Says About the Term Tasawwuf

“The crucible itself tells you, when you are strained, Whether you are gold or gold-plated copper.” Sanai.

Following is what Ibn Taymiyya said about the definition of Tasawwuf, from Volume 11, At-Tasawwuf, of Majmuca Fatawa Ibn Taymiyya al-Kubra, Dar ar-Rahmah, Cairo:

“Alhamdulillah, the use of the word tasawwuf has been thoroughly discussed. This is a term that was given to those who were dealing with that branch of knowledge (tazkiyat an-nafs and Ihsan).”

Tasawwuf is the science of realities and states of experience. The Sufi is that one who purifies himself from everything which distracts him from the remembrance of Allah and who is so filled with knowledge of the heart and knowledge of the mind that the value of gold and stones will be equal to him. Tasawwuf safeguards the precious meanings and leaves behind the call to fame and vanity to reach the state of Truthfulness. The best of humans after the prophets are the Siddiqin, as Allah mentioned them in Surat An-Nisa’, 69: “All who obey Allah and the Messenger are in the company of those on whom is the grace of Allah: the prophets, the sincere lovers of truth (siddiqin), the martyrs and the righteous; Ah! what a beautiful fellowship.’”

He continues about the Sufis, “They are striving to be obedient to Allah… So from them you will find the Foremost in Nearness by virtue of their striving. And some of them are from the People of the Right hand…”

The Sufi Cloak (khirqa)

Before proceeding to Imam Ibn Qayyim, it may be useful to say something about the wearing of the Sufi cloak. In the view of the Trustworthy, there are three categories of shaikh:

  1. The Shaikh of the Cloak
  2. The Shaikh of the Dhikr
  3. The Shaikh of Guidance

The first two categories (The Shaikh of the Cloak and The Shaikh of the Dhikr) are really deputies of a shaikh, representing the reality of the shaikh or the tariqat through the intermediary of either the cloak or the dhikr. The Shaikh of the Cloak (Khirqah) depends on the power of the cloak to act on the murid. The murid takes his support from the cloak, which a fully realized Shaikh of Guidance has imbued with his blessings.

The murid of the Shaikh of Dhikr is supported by the dhikr, not directly by the shaikh. In these two cases, the shaikh becomes the symbol, because the real support of the murid is the cloak or the dhikr.

The highest of the three categories is the Shaikh of Guidance. He is the one who supports the murid without any intermediary, directly from himself to the murid. He is the real shaikh because, without any means, he supports and directs the murid directly through his heart. That is why Sayyidina Ahmad al-Faruqi said, “In our tariqat the shaikh guides the murid directly, unlike other tariqats which use the cloak and other means to lift up their murids.”

In the Naqshbandi Tariqat only one shaikh, the Shaikh of Guidance, is therefore accepted as possessing real authority. When that shaikh passes away, the murids must renew their initiation with his successor, to whom he has transmitted all his secrets and his inheritance from the Prophet (s) and all his predecessors in the Golden Chain.

Imam Ibn Qayyim (d. 751 H./1350 CE)

Imam Ibn Qayyim stated that, “We can witness the greatness of the people of tasawwuf in the eyes of the Salaf by what has been mentioned by Sufyan ath-Thawri (d. 161 H./777 CE). One of the greatest imams in the 2nd century and one of the foremost mujtahids, he said: “If not for Abu Hisham as-Sufi (d. 115 H./733 CE) I would never have perceived the action of the subtlest forms of hypocrisy (riya’) in the self.” (Manazil as-Sa’ireen)

Ibn Qayyim continues: “Among the best of people is the Sufi learned in fiqh.”

cAbdullah ibn Muhammad ibn cAbdul Wahhab (1115-1201 H./1703-1787 CE)

Following is a quotation from Muhammad Man ar Nucmani’s book (p. 85), Ad-Dia’at al-Mukaththafa Didd ash-Shaikh Muhammad ibn cAbdul Wahhab: “Shaikh cAbdullah, the son of shaikh Muhammad ibn cAbdul Wahhab, said aboutTasawwuf: “My father and I don’t deny or criticize the Science of Sufism, but on the contrary we support it because it cleans the external and the internal of the hidden sins which are related to the heart and the outward form. Even though the individual might externally be on the right way, internally he might be on the wrong way; and for its correction tasawwuf is necessary.”

In the fifth volume of the collection of letters by Muhammad ibn cAbdul Wahhab entitled ar-Rasa’il ash-Shakhsiyya, page 11, and again on pages 12, 61, and 64, he states: “I never accused of unbelief Ibn cArabi or Ibn al-Farid for their Sufi interpretations.”

Ibn cAbidin

The great scholar, Ibn cAbidin in his book Rasa’il Ibn cAbidin (p. 172-173) states: “The Seekers in this Way don’t hear except from the Divine Presence and they don’t love any but Him. If they remember Him they cry. If they thank Him they are happy. If they find Him they are awake. If they see Him they will be relaxed. If they walk in His Divine Presence, they melt. They are drunk with His Blessings. May Allah bless them.”

Shaikh Muhammad cAbduh (1265-1323 H./1849-1905 CE)

He stated, “Tasawwuf appeared in the first century of Islam and it received a tremendous honor. It cleansed the self and straightened the conduct and gave knowledge to people from the Wisdom and Secrets of the Divine Presence.” [quoted from Majallat al-Muslim, 6th ed., 1378 H, p. 24].

Shaikh Rashad Rida

He said, “Sufism was a unique pillar from the pillars of the religion. Its purpose was to cleanse the self and to take account of one’s daily behavior and to raise the people to a high station of spirituality.” [Majallat al-Manar, 1st year, p. 726].

Maulana Abul Hasan cAli an-Nadwi

Maulana Abul Hasan cAli an-Nadwi is a member of the Islamic-Arabic Society of India and Muslim countries. He said in his book, Muslims in India, written some years ago, p. 140-146, “These Sufis initiate people in Oneness and sincerity in following the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) and in repentence from their sins and in avoidance of every disobedience to Allah, Almighty and Exalted. Their guides encourage them to move in the way of perfect Love of Allah.”

“In Calcutta, India, everyday more than 1000 people are taking initiation into Sufism.”

“Thanks to the influence of Sufi people, thousands and hundreds of thousands in India found their Lord and reached a state of Perfection through the Islamic religion.”

Abul cAla Mawdudi

He said in his book Mabadi’ al-Islam (p. 17), “Sufism is a reality whose signs are the love of Allah and the love of the Prophet (s), where one absents oneself for their sake, and one is annihilated from anything other than them. It instructs how to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet (s).”

Tasawwuf searched for sincerity of heart, purity of intention, and trustworthiness of obedience in all of an individual’s actions.”

“Sharicah and Sufism: what is the similitude of the two? They are like the body and the soul. The body is the external shari’ah knowledge and the spirit is the internal knowledge.”

In sum, Sufism, in the present as in the past, is the effective means for spreading the reality of Islam, extending the knowledge and understanding of spirituality, and fostering happiness and peace. With it man can find himself and, in so doing, find his Lord. With it man can improve, transform, and elevate himself, and find salvation from the ignorance of this world and its misguided pursuit of some materialistic fantasy. And Allah knows best what he intends for his servants.