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FEW ASPECTS OF TASAWWUF

Maulana Yusuf bin Yaqub

The word Tareeqah linguistically means “manner” or “method” and in reference to the field of Tasawwuf, it refers to a school or order, e.g. the Chishti Tareeqah, Naqshbandi Tareeqah, Shaazli Tareeqah etc. Tareeqah in relation to Tasawwuf is analogous to the word “Mazhab” in relation to the schools of Fiqh. The science of Fiqh concerns itself with the external injunctions and regulations pertaining to things such as Salaah, Sawm, stealing, interest etc., and the science of Tasawwuf concerns itself with the internal injunctions and regulations pertaining to things such as praiseworthy qualities, e.g. gratefulness, patience, sincerity etc. and reprehensible qualities, e.g. pride, ostentation and greed etc.

In essence, the goal of all the Tareeqahs is one and the same, namely to cure spiritual maladies of the heart, elevate the spiritual status and ultimately gain closeness to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa); the dissimilarities of the various Tareeqahs mainly revolve around the difference of approach towards achieving this objective. Some Tareeqahs implement one set of spiritual exercises whilst other Tareeqahs implement a different set of exercises. Some differences in spiritual exercises stem from the differences of the Mazaahib of the Shuyookh of each Tareeqah. Considering the fact that the Shuyookh of Tasawwuf adhere strictly to the letter of the law, each Tareeqah will differ in exercises of Zikr as well. This will be discussed later. At present, it should suffice to understand that this science pertains to the abstract metaphysical internal element of the soul, thus there exists many seemingly unusual practices and exercises prescribed by the Shuyookh to address such matters. These exercises were implemented to kindle the burning love of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) in the heart cleansing it from the rust caused by the passions of the ephemeral Dunya (Woeld) and all that towards which the lower self calls. Zikr is the nourishment and sustenance of the soul. Just as there are various types of food with varying nutritional benefits, similarly, the various types of Zikr prescribed by the Shuyookh affect the spirit of a person in diverse ways. The field of Tasawwuf is usually likened to the field of medicine. Throughout history, man has discovered cures to various physical maladies, so to have the Shuyookh, the spiritual doctors, discovered cures for spiritual maladies. Some of the practices and cures are mentioned in the Quraan, some in the Ahaadeeth, and others have been discovered through the institution of Tajrubah (personal experience). Generation after generation, the Shuyookh of Tasawwuf have dedicated their lives to this field, therefore, they know the effects of various Azkaar upon the heart and soul. To those unfamiliar with Tasawwuf, such exercises may seem extremely peculiar and unusual. It is understandable for people to feel uncomfortable and queasy during their first experience with such exercises. However, to repel this discomfort, one should bear in mind that the Shuyookh don’t claim that these Azkaar and spiritual exercises are new forms of worship where it would be classified as an innovation (Bid‘ah) in Deen (Religion). Only those bereft of the understanding of Fiqh and the subtleties of Deen make such professions. These spiritual prescriptions should be seen and regarded as a form of treatment (Tadaawi) for the sicknesses of the heart. Just as the physical body must be put through certain therapeutic exercises for the benefit and rejuvenation of the body, so to do the Shuyookh put the spiritual patient under various exercises to strengthen and treat the soul.

To give you some examples of such exercises, the famous Hadeeth of the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) describes the various stages of a believer, from Islam, to Imaan to Ihsaan.

Archangel Hadhrat Jibreel (appeared as a human being reached in the noble court of the Prophet, SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) and asked the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) regarding Ihsaan to which he replied:

“It is that you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him and if you are unable to see Him, then (know well) that He is seeing you.”

From this Hadeeth we come to know that there is an extremely high spiritual position known as Ihsaan. The question that arises is that how does a person reach such a status. The next question that arises is to whom should one go in order to learn how to attain it. If a person goes to a Muhaddith, his field and preoccupation is to merely to tell the questioner whether the Hadeeth is Saheeh, Hasan, Dha‘eef, how many chains of narration exist for the Hadeeth, and which narrators transmitted the Hadeeth etc. In regards to the meaning of the Hadeeth, at best, they could offer only a literal translation. If a person goes to a Faqeeh, he would only explain the various rulings that could be extracted from the Hadeeth as it pertains to the external injunctions of the Shari‘ah. The Faqeeh too could not advise the questioner how to attain such a status nor the reality of such a position because such a question does not pertain to his field of expertise. If a person wants to learn the reality of this spiritual position and experience it, he will have to go to a person who has himself reached it. He will have to go to such a person who has dedicated his life in perfecting his internal attributes and character. Only that person who has already reached the destination can direct the lost seeker to it. To acquire this state, some of the Shuyookh advise the Mureed to sit in solitude and absolute silence with full concentration and in a state of Wudhoo, whilst closing his eyes, constantly repeating and deeply pondering over the following verse of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s Book – the holy Quraan: “Does he not know that Allah is watching”

After continual practice, the M?reed will ultimately establish the understanding and perception that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is watching him at all times, whether he is walking, talking, eating, praying etc. Only after exercising great patience and perseverance in acting upon the prescription of his Shaikh and continuously informing the Shaikh of his conditions and states will he understand and experience the quality of Ihsaan.

Other peculiar forms of spiritual exercises include making loud Zikr with bodily motion whether standing, as in the case of Hadrah as performed by the Shazl?s, or sitting, as performed by the Chishtis. Other exercises include certain breathing exercises like Paas anfaas as performed by the Chishtis and various forms of Muraaqabah (Meditation) as done by the Naqshbandis etc.

The inherent permissibility or impermissibility of some of these exercises will rest upon the differences of the various Mazaahib since some of these practices cross the boundary of a mere internal metaphysical sphere to the externally physical; thus, falling under the jurisdiction of the Fuqahaa’. To present a brief example, the practice of Hadrah, a type of spiritual bodily movement similar to swaying that some refer to dancing coupled with loud Zikr, is permissible for the followers of the Shaafiee Mazhab since according to their ‘Ulamaa and Mazhab dancing is permissible with certain conditions.

Consequently, it will be permissible for the Shuyookh and Mureeds who follow Shafi’ee Mazhab to participate in Hadrah. On the contrary, it will not be permissible for the Shuyookh and Mureeds of Hanafi Mazhab to participate in the dancing and swaying of the Hadrah, since no form of dancing is permitted in the Hanafi Mazhab unless one is overtaken by an uncontrollable state of ecstasy. It is for this reason that the majority of the Shuyookh of the Ahnaaf prescribe a different form of Zikr that produces the same result and effect as produced by the Hadrah. In the Chishti Tareeqah, the Shuyookh prescribe loud Zikr of Kalimah, “Laa Ilaaha illAllaah” where the Mureed sits and focuses his concentration on his heart with his head turned towards the direction of his heart. Then, with full devotion, absorption and zeal, he recites “Laa Ilaaha” (There is no deity) while moving his head towards the back and left intending thereby the negation and purging of everything other than Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) from his heart. Thereafter, with full vigor and force, he recites “illAllaah” (except Allah) while meditating that the love of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is flooding his heart. The similar effect of the Hadrah, namely, that of purification of the heart and spiritual vigor thus produced which are some of the main ingredients for reviving the diseased heart.

It is important to bear in mind that unfortunately, there has always existed groups of self-centered, worldly motivated pseudo-Sufis who misrepresented Tasawwuf and used some of the practices of the Sufis, not to mention concocted some of their own, to suit their Nafsaani (selfish) desires. Some of them feign being Sufis in order to gain fame and popularity, others to engage in singing and dancing and others to earn money etc. It is from such people that deviances began to crop up in this pristine and praiseworthy science. Examples of their innovations include the Qawwaali where singing and music are rampant under the guise of Zikr, grave-worship where people commit shirk by prostrating to the inmates of the grave,  Salaami where people stand up to offer salutations upon the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) with the belief that the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) visits the gathering and other similar practices that have no real connection with Tasawwuf. Because of the existence of such perfidious people and their impermissible practices, it has become a daunting task for sincere people to find a true Shaikh and Tareeqah. Every Tareeqah has these imposters in their midst preying upon the ignorant masses; therefore, one must be cautious as to whom one takes as a Murshid (Spiritual Guide). One should ensure that before taking formal Bay‘ah (Oath) to any Shaikh or entering into any Tareeqah, that the Shaikh is a complete adherent of the Shari‘ah and upholds its dictates. Anyone who intentionally and openly breaks a single commandment of the Shari‘ah is not worthy to be a Shaikh. A qualified Shaikh is he whose outward and inward appearance and actions conform to the Sunnah of the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam). A pious and righteous Shaikh is he in whose company a person feels the urge to act upon the dictates of the Shari‘ah not disregard them.

It is advised to continuously make Du‘aa to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) to guide us to a pious and upright Shaikh who can guide us in the field of Tasawwuf. One should make Mashwarah (Consultation) with pious local ‘Ulamaa if any for their views on finding a genuine Shaikh. It is also important to understand that aside from the Shaikh being firm upon the Shari‘ah, it is imperative that one have some Munaasabat (Congeniality) with the Shaikh so that one can gain spiritual benefit from him. Without the existence of this congeniality and amiability, it will be difficult to consult with one’s Shaikh and follow his advices. Once a person reaches such a Shaikh who is strict in adherence to the Shari‘ah and the Sunnah and finds himself in amicable relationship with him, he should place all his trust in him and follow all of his instructions without any doubt. InshaaAllah, in this manner he will ascend the stages of Tasawwuf with relative ease and obtain his objective of gaining the condition of Ihsaan. (Courtesy:Darul Iftaa, Madrasah In’aamiyah).  

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