Sufism (tasawuf in Arabic) represents the mystical dimension of Islamic religious life. The phrase ‘mystical’ itself can be problematic in the sense that it can sometimes be used to depict the occult or the quasimagical quackery of new age thinking or new religious movements. It may also at times be used to express the sense of the mysterious felt by those who assert some class of spirituality, yet Sufism has little, if anything to do with these. Through following a series of devotional practises, which lead to higher levels of ecstatic state, Sufis aspire to realise a condition in which they are in direct communion with God. Sufism itself has been defined in many ways, some view it as a continuous striving to cleanse ones self of all that is bad or evil in order to acquire virtue, others view it as the path followed by an individual who is seeking to free himself or herself from human vices and weaknesses in order to acquire angelic qualities and conduct pleasing to God. Sufism has been criticised heavily by Muslims as well as non-Muslims, while some have argued from the perspective that Sufism is the ultimate heart of Islam.
If Sufism despite having differences from conventional Islam, is actually the heart of Islam, then if so, why can’t the other sects of Islam such as the Shiite or the Wahabi also be seen as the heart of Islam? The phrase ‘heart of Islam’ must be given a pinned definition in this context, as some will see it as being the most important thing of the Islamic religion while others will see it simply as Islam’s truth. Both interpretations of the phrase ‘heart of Islam’ are vitally the same yet evidence can adjust whether they are the primary hearts of Islam or even secondary. Sufism originated as a reaction to certain features of orthodox Islam. They regarded the mere observance of religious law as a matter of outer conformity and they encouraged a desire for inner, personal experience of the divine through meditation and other means. They encouraged the rejection of wealth and class distinctions and based themselves on the simpler lives led by the prophet Muhammad s.a.w and the first caliphs in contrast to the worldliness of the Umayyad and Abbaasid caliphates. Sufis are characterised by their particular attachment to zikr (remembrance of Allah) and asceticism (seclusion).
The early Sufis focused on the central idea of the love of God, which was introduced by Rabia-al- Adawiyah in the eighth century. From the earliest history of Islam, Sufism gradually developed to take on an organisational form. Pious individuals formed groups or ‘brotherhoods’ known as turuq (plural of tariqah, which means ‘path’) . Each tariqah would be headed by a Sheikh or a spiritual guide and consist of devotees who saw the Sheikh as a true teacher on the path to God. In the course of time, different turuq developed, each having its own teachings and instructions for purifying the heart . If Sufism really is the heart of Islam then there must be factual evidence to support this view, which I am now going to analyse and interpret. Firstly, although Sufism mostly concentrates on the inner world of man and deals with the meaning and effect of religious commandments on mans spirit and heart and is therefore abstract, it does not contradict any of the Islamic ways based on the Quran and the Sunna. In fact its source is the Quran and the Sunna, as well as the conclusions drawn from the Quran and the Sunna via deduction by the purified scholars of Islam.
The Quran for Muslims is their most holy book, which lays down for them the law and commandments as well as containing a comprehensive religious philosophy. The Sunna for Muslims is the deeds, sayings and the manners of the prophet, which are to be emulated by Muslims all over. Both the Quran and theSunna are of great importance for Muslims and for their religion Islam. So if Sufism derives its sources from the Quran and the Sunna then it must also be the heart of the religion itself. Sufism dwells on the fundamental virtues of Islam, knowledge of God, sincerity, perfect goodness, and other similar fundamental virtues. The priorities of Sufism have never been different from those of the Shariah. The Shariah is the body of Islamic religious law. Both groups have always depended on the Quran and the Sunna, which are the two main sources of Islam. Both disciplines stress the importance of belief and of engaging in good deeds and good conduct, the only difference is that Sufis emphasize deepening the meaning of good deeds and multiplying them.
Sufism must be the heart of Islam since it makes the superfluous endeavour to increase the good deeds that make Allah pleased. Another notable fact is the meaning of the word Islam ‘surrender’. True surrender is not only concerned with the will of a Muslim, as it must also involve their whole being. Islam states that a person must be the perfect servant of God in the sense of following his commands. Clearly Allah has given Muslims many faculties such as free will and intelligence, therefore the surrender of Muslims to Allah must be complete and total and not limited to certain faculties. It must occupy the entire individual because otherwise unknown thoughts and emotions as well as false ideas can combine with a misleading sense of external surrender of ones will to God to produce acts in the name of religion that can have disastrous consequences.
Sufism is the heart of Islam because Sufis themselves surrender internally as well as externally to the will of God, as it not only is one of their core beliefs but also they make the extra effort to surrender to the will of God, instead of mainstream Muslims who limit themselves to following the legalistic side of the religion. Sufis are the ones who show the greatest attachment to the Shariah, whose inner significance they seek to reach. A different explanation as to why Sufism is the heart of Islam is because although the Quran emphasizes that all Muslims stand equally before God, it also insists that human beings are distinguished in rank according to their knowledge of the truth and virtue, as in the verses, ‘are those who know equal with those who know not?’ (Quran39:9) and one of Sufism’s main goals is ultimate knowledge, knowledge of God, which is why they must be the heart of their religion, as they create extra emphasis on the fundamental virtues of Islam.
In Islam itself, Sufism has been over the centuries the hidden heart that has renewed the religion intellectually, spiritually, and ethically and has played the greatest role in its spread and in its relation with other religions. As this person noted in their book ‘ ‘, Sufis themselves have visualized Islam as a circle whose hub is the haqiqah. Haqiqa refers to the ‘inner Truth’ or ‘inner Reality’ that Sufis believe is at the heart of Islamic revelation. The radii of the circle are the tariqah, and the circumference is the Shariah. Tariqah means the path that one follows through spiritual practise in order to reach the ultimate truth (the haqiqa). Each Muslim is like a point on the circumference, whose totality composes the Islamic community or ummah. To reach the haqiqah one must first stand on the circumference, that is, practise the Shariah, and then follow the tariqah, or path to God, whose end is the centre, God himself, or the haqiqah.
This raises the truth that Sufism is the heart of Islam, as here it undoubtedly explains how. All the evidence noted above bestows the suggestion that Sufism is the heart of Islam yet the confirmation has not been revised from both sides and is therefore not balanced yet. To balance our answer to the main question ‘Sufism is the heart of Islam’ then we must now take into consideration reasons for why Sufism might not be the heart of Islam. Firstly Sufism has come across many problems by fellow Muslim brothers and sisters. For instance, much Sufi poetry refers to intoxication, ( ‘Intoxicated by the Wine of Love. From each a mystic silence Love demands’) (Poem by famous Sufi poet Farid ud Din Attar) which Islam expressly forbids as haraam. Some Sufi orders use music, drugs and alcohol to produce ecstatic states. Wine is even a symbol of divine intoxication in the Sufi language of ecstasy. Not only are these haraam in Islam but they also divert the spiritual focus of Sufism.
How may Sufism be the pure, uncontaminated heart of Islam when those things that are prohibited in Islam are not forbidden in Sufism? Consequently this leads to doubts being cast over the validity of Sufism as a part of Islam. Not only that but some groups have emerged that consider themselves above the shariah and discussed Sufism as a method of bypassing the rules of Islam in order to attain salvation directly, this has been dissaproved of heavily by muslim scholars. Many Muslims have even considered Sufism as a corruption of Islam drawing on the Sufi concept of fana, passing into Allah and feeling Allah’s presence combined with the use of mystical experiences. Fana is interpreted, as being at one with Allah, which is crucially erroneous as Allah is the one and only and the major offence in Islam is to unite an additional with the most glorious Allah.
A key theme in Islam is tawhid which is the concept of monotheism and firmly holds that God is the one and only. Further so why Sufism has no site in being the heart of Islam is that the Sufis say: “When you unite with the Beloved (God), then there is neither command nor prohibition in matters of religion.” Sufis here have customarily discarded the doctrine of “the fear of God, the wrath of the Day of Judgment, the fury of the Hell-Fire and the promise of Jannah’. They say Faith based on compulsion is slavery, and God has created man with intelligence, free will and love. Hence the mainspring of Sufism is love not fear and obedience to the religious laws. Yet the one and only Allah the Exalted describe his believers as: “Verily those who fear their Lord with reverence, and those who believe in the signs of the Lord, and those who ascribe no partners to their Lord, and those who give what they give while their hearts are full of fear, because to their Lord they will return.”(23.57-61)
Thus it has been clearly stated here using verses from the Quran that Sufism has gone against the doctrines of Islam, as the love of Allah necessitates following the commands of the Messenger of Allah with hope for reward and fear of punishment in the Hereafter. Muslims deem that any particular act of devotion must be substantiated by the Quran and Sunna only. Allah the Exalted says: “Say (to them), ‘Produce your proof if you are truthful’.” [2: 111], and the Prophet (s.a.w) said, “The created is not to be obeyed over the Creator.” However the sheikhs in Sufism are given the standing of a deity, when attributes which belong to only Allah, are also assigned to their Sheikhs. How can Sufism be the heart of Islam when they are going against Allah in terms of whom to praise and to what extent. Never the less orthodox Muslims may condemn fundamentals of Sufism yet they never habitually outlaw Sufism as completely incorrect.
In this sense if there are elements of Sufism criticised heavily by Muslims as well as non-Muslims alike, and there are other elements that are not usually criticised, then how may Sufism be the true heart of the religion of Islam when it is clearly not accepted fully and truly by all Muslims of all sects. To understand the true heart of Islam it is essential to understand the significance of the prophet Muhammad s.a.w from the traditional Muslim point of view. The Quran asserts clearly that the prophet was a man and not divine but also adds that he was given the most exalted and noble character and that he was chosen as a model for Muslims to emulate. For Muslims the prophet is a mortal man but also Gods most perfect creature, or what the Sufis call the universal man. As Sufis seek spiritual closeness with God then they are also putting themselves on the same level as Muhammad s.a.w. If Sufism is subsequently not the heart of Islam, in that case then what is?
Could the five pillars: Shahada, Salah, Zakah, Sawm or Hajj be the hearts of Islam. Or the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w, the ummah, the concept of jihad, the Quran, possibly Sunnis or shia’s or a sect of Islam? These are all elements of the religion Islam, yet what is that which stands out above the rest? If the holy Quran is the source of Islam, then it must also be the heart of Islam? This book of divine guidance and direction for mankind was revealed to the prophet Muhammad s.a.w through the angel Gabriel. The prophet Muhammad s.a.w on the other hand is considered to be the central human figure in the religion of Islam as well as being the restorer of the uncorrupted original monotheistic faith of Adam, Abraham, and Jesus etc. what if the prophet Muhammad s.a.w a Sufi? More over I mean this central religious text of Islam cannot be unaccompanied in being the heart of Islam, meaning the prophet Muhammad s.a.w must in addition be obliged to be the heart of Islam, or if not entirely at least a component of it?
This gives rise to the reality that every mainspring idea in Islam (such as the five pillars, ummah, jihad) is thought of in elevated significance but yet none single-handedly can fit the true hearts of Islam. All either must be combined totally in order to allow the heart of Islam to be formulated or there is something that is of even greater importance, which is veiled yet. If no one thing can be the true heart of Islam then there must be a variety of things which when thought of together make up the ultimate hearts of Islam, (one of which could be mysticism.) Conclusion After evaluating all the evidence drawn upon I have come to the conclusion that Sufism and the mystical experiences are not at the heart of Islam because their negative aspects outweigh their positive aspects, and rather the oneness of Allah (tawhid) is the true heart of Islam.
As Syed Hossein Nasr has said in his book ‘The Heart Of Islam’, at the heart of Islam stands the reality of God, the one, the absolute, and the infinite. Greater then all we can conceive or imagine, yet closer to us then our jugular vein. Allah is the central reality of Islam in all of its facets, and attestation to this oneness, which is called tawhid, is the axis around which all that is Islamic revolves. The oneness of God is for Muslims not only the heart of their religion, but also that of every authentic religion.
The uncontaminated pure and true heart of Islam is to testify to this oneness, using the formula ‘there is no God but God and Muhammad s.a.w is the last messenger of Allah.’ This testament is not only the heart of Islam as well as the foundation from which all other beliefs and practises of Islam are sought, but it is also the first words a newborn will hear. Bibliography Books- ‘The other side of Sufism’ by A. Tabari ‘The heart of Islam’ by Syed Hossein Nasr ‘The mystics of Islam’ by ‘The basics Islam’ by Colin Turner Sufism By Sri Swami Sivananda ‘The mystical doctrines and methods of Islam’ by William Stoddart Websites- Wikipedia – Sufism – Sufi – Islam – Muhammad s.a.w – Quran