Deviations in The Thought of Sufism

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What is the problem with sufism? What are the deviations in the thought of sufism?

In the distinction between body-soul, external-internal, and wording-meaning, Sufism always gives weight to the latter ones, but it does not neglect the former ones either. However, in the course of history, the distance between the pairs of these divisions widened and the gap deepened. Works were written by great Sufi scholars in order to close the gap and reconcile shariah with mysticism. Abu Naṣr al-Sarrāj, Abu Ṭālib al-Makkī, al-Qushayrī, and al-Ghazālī are among such Sufi scholars.

Infiltrations from other religions, sects, mystical movements, philosophies, and religious traditions under the veil of Sufism also showed themselves as extremism. In order to protect Muslims against heresy, al-Sulamī wrote his Ghalat al-ufiyya, and al-Sarrāj devoted a chapter to this subject in his work al-Lumaʿ.

Below we offer some examples of the deviations found in Sufi thought:

  1. To leave the world completely while giving priority to the hereafter. Considering the importance of the Hereafter, Islam advises people to prepare good deeds for it and wanted its followers to establish a balance between life in this world and the afterlife. The fact that the Prophet (saw) and his Companions engaged in the society and did not neglect the necessary work for the world demonstrates this fact. The following is stated in the Qur’anic verse: “But seek, with the (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world…”[1] It is clearly observed in the sources that the Prophet warned some of his Companions who wanted to show excessive devotion to supererogatory worship in preparation for the Hereafter. As a matter of fact, three people from the Companions of the Prophet asked the wives of the Messenger of Allah about his night worship, perhaps underestimating what the Prophet did at night, the first one of those Companions decided to “constantly perform night prayers”, the second one decided to “constantly perform supererogatory fasting”, and the third one decided to “constantly stay away from women and never marry.” When the Messenger of Allah heard about their decisions, he said: “What has happened to these people that they say so and so, whereas I observe prayer and sleep too; I observe fast and suspend observing them; I marry women also? And he who turns away from my Sunnah, he has no relation with Me”[2] The commands of zakāh, pilgrimage, jihad, charity, and infāq in the Qur’an are closely related to the wealth of the believer. This is another proof that the believer should work to earn wealth and not abandon his legitimate worldly affairs.
  2. The belief that one is exempted from the responsibility of the acts of worship. Some so-called mystics claimed that the human being could reach Allah as a result of worship and servitude, and afterward be freed from the obligation of worship. In this regard, they interpreted the verse “Worship your Lord until the certainty (yaqīn) comes.”[3] in accordance with their own aforementioned idea. However, in this verse, the true Sufis furnished the meaning of “death” to the word “yaqīn”. As a matter of fact, there is no evidence that neither the Prophet nor any of the Companions who were given the good news of Paradise called ashara al-mubashsharah, stopped worshiping while they were alive. In the last few days of his life, when the Messenger of Allah became very ill, he left the imamate to Abu Bakr (ra), but when he felt better, he joined the congregation again. It is known that ‘Umar was assassinated while he was praying in Masjid al-Nabawi. In short, no one among the Companions and Ahl as-Sunnah scholars interpreted the verse in the way that this group did.
  3. The belief that it is necessary to act contrary to religious traditions to get rid of hypocrisy and strengthen the state of sincerity. According to some so-called mystics, in the process of spiritual development, a Sufi should not take society into account and should not value anyone other than Allah. Some members of the Malāmiyya and Qalandariyya are of this view. However, this view contradicts the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Moreover, a person who does not get along well with the general society, and does deeds that will increase unscrupulous thoughts will place himself in a damaging situation and harm the religion of Islam as well in the process.
  4. The belief that the walī (saint) is superior to the prophet. Some mystics, taking the parable of Musa-Khidr (as) in the chapter of al-Kahf as evidence, claimed that the saint is superior to the prophet. According to such mystics, while the prophet receives knowledge (revelation) from Allah through an angel, the saints receive their knowledge directly through inspiration. However, no walī can be at the level of a prophet since every prophet is also a walī. He is superior to the walīs, as both the characteristics of sainthood and prophecy are united in him. There is also no doubt that knowledge was given to the Prophet through inspiration as well as through revelation. As a matter of fact, many verses state that ikmah (wisdom) was given to the Prophet alongside the book. The following is stated in one of them: “…For Allah has sent down to you the Book and wisdom and taught you what you knew not (before): And great is the Grace of Allah unto thee.”[4] Accordingly, there is no doubt that the Prophet Muhammad’s Sunnah, which is outside of the Qur’an, is within the scope of wisdom formed under divine control. The following Qur’anic verses also increase the legitimacy of the Sunnah as inspiration: “Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled. Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) Desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him”[5]
  5. The belief that everything is permissible. Some so-called mystics have said that everything is permissible for a person who respects the rights of others, based on the principle of “permissibility is the original ruling in things.” Those who believe in this belief are called Ibāḥiyya and Mubāḥiyya. Others claimed that their hearts were pure and that orders and prohibitions did not bind them. It is obvious that these views contradict the clear provisions of the Book and the Sunnah. After all, ḥalāl and ḥarām or their principles are well established in the sources.
  6. The belief of ulūl. According to them, God enters the human body. When He enters a body, the human qualities in that body leave their place to the divine qualities. This view contradicts Islamic principles such as “God is omnipresent”, “closer to man than his jugular vein”, and “He is free from being in space”. Moreover, such a view includes elements of polytheism.
  7. Belief in reincarnation. Some so-called mystics claim that the soul of a deceased person is reborn into a human or animal, depending on its state before death and that in this way they complete their punishment. They provide evidence for their belief in the following verse, “They will say: “Our Lord! twice have You made us without life, and twice have You given us Life! Now have we recognized our sins: Is there any way out (of this)?””[6] According to the belief of Ahl al-Sunnah, the first death in this verse is the lifeless state before birth, and the second death is when leaving this world. The first resurrection is birth on earth, and the second resurrection is the resurrection after death.[7] The people of hell mentioned in the verse seek a way out and they want to return to the world and be given a new chance. They will not be given such an opportunity. In the Book and the Sunnah, there is the principle that the person himself will be addressed for judgment and that he will be rewarded in the hereafter according to his deeds in this world. If the soul were reincarnated in various bodies, it would be difficult to find a convincing answer to the question of which one of these bodies would the soul be representing on the Day of Judgment.

Apart from these, there have always been some other erroneous beliefs and behaviors that, although inaccurate, do not lead a person to unbelief or heresy. Abandoning worldly affairs altogether, extreme asceticism, not getting married, considering taking precautions against the principle of trusting Allah (tawakkul), glorifying the sheikhs as sacred, not taking advantage of the permissible blessings, wearing specific clothes, not obeying the rules of cleanliness in matters such as clothing, having wild and messy hair and beard, and being in permanent seclusion can be offered as examples of such behaviors.

In conclusion, the commands and prohibitions that are established by the Qur’an, Sunnah, the consensus of the scholars, and analogy in Islam are binding and common provisions for all Muslims. In Sufism, this part is also called “sharīʿah”. Far, wājib, ḥarām actions, and Sunnah that are fixed by sound hadiths enter into this group. Apart from these, if a believer attempts to perform voluntary and recommended acts of worship and deeds, dhikr, glorification, and invocations, which are described as supererogatory, mandūb, or mustaḥab, in a regular way under the guidance of a righteous person, thus putting his life in a certain discipline, he/she is considered as cooperating in charity and goodness. It is stated in a hadith, “The one who guides to a good deed will receive a reward like the one who does that good deed.”[8] On the other hand, works such as establishing foundations, masjids, soup kitchens, health centers, roads, bridges, fountains, and scientific works, which are formed by the mutual requests and cooperation of the society, are considered as “adaqah al-jāriyah (continuous charity)”, and there is no doubt that they will provide enduring rewards to the members of the society both during their lifetime and after their death.

[1] Al-Qaṣaṣ, 28: 77.[2] Muslim, Nikah, 5; al-Nasā’ī, Nikah, 4; al-Darimi, Nikah, 3; Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, II, 158, III, 341, 359, V, 409.[3] Al-Hijr, 15: 99.[4] Al-Nisā, 4: 113.[5] Al-Najm, 53: 2-4.[6] Al-Mu’min, 40: 11.[7] See al-Baqara, 2: 28.[8] Muslim, ‘Imāra, 133; al-Tirmidhī, ʿIlm, 14; Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, Musnad, V, 272-274, 357.

Source:  Basic Islamic Principles (ʿilmi ḥāl) According to the Four Sunni Schools With Evidence From The Sources of Islamic Law, Prof. Hamdi Döndüren, Erkam Publications

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