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What is Tasawwuf?

There is no doubt that Tasawwuf is an important branch of Islam, irrespective of whether the word itself is derived from the Arabic word suf (literally wool), or its origin is traced to safa. It has its foundation in sincerity, both in conduct and in intention, and its ultimate aim is communion with ALLAH and attainment of His pleasure. The study of the Quran and the Ahadith and the everyday life of the Holy Prophet and his faithful Companions, provide unmistakable support to this reality.

During the time of the Prophet and his Companions, the terminology for various branches of the Faith like Tafsir, Canon, Fiqh, Philosophy, etc., had not come into use, despite their existence in principle and in spirit-these were compiled under the present titles at a later stage. Likewise, this important branch of the Faith also existed at that time, inner purification was a part of the Prophet’s mission and the lives of theCompanions provided a model. Yet its compilation as an independent branch of knowledge was undertaken afterwards. Against the exalted appellation of Companion, otherterms like scholars, commentators, traditionalists, jurists, and sufis, being of little consequence, were not applied to the Companions. The lives of those who subsequently showed singular devotion to this branch, and became its torch-bearers, specialists and zealous followers, provided the pristine example of piety, asceticism, sincerity and simplicity. By their habit of taking simple food and wearing coarse garments of wool(suf), they were known as sufis and the branch of the Faith pertaining to their way of lifecame to be known as Tasawwuf. In the Qur-an it has been referred to as Taqwa, Tazkiyah(Purification), Khashiat – ALLAH (Fear of ALLAH) and in the Hadith as Ihsan, which has been regarded as the essence of the Faith.  In short, Tasawwuf, the (mystic) Path, Ihsan and sincerity are the different names of the same reality.

There are two distinct facets of Prophethood, both equally important, as enunciated in the Qur-an:

Truly ALLAH has shown Grace to the believers by sending to them a Messenger of their own, who recites to them His revelations and causes them to grow in purification and teaches them the Scripture and  wisdom. (3:164)

The first, external, or the outward, aspect pertains to the recitation of the Scripture,its teaching and exposition; the second, internal, pertains to inward purification. The pious souls who inherited an ample share from the former were called the commentators, the traditionalists, the jurists and the preachers, while those blessed with both attained the high offices of the Divine elite, ‘Abdal, Qutb, Ghauth, Qayyum,etc. It must be remembered that all these attainments emanate from the same fountainhead, the Book and the Sunnah, which constitute the only connection between ALLAH and His faithful believers and in it alone lies the ultimate salvation.Right from death, to the resurrection, the basis of all reckoning will be the Book and the Sunnah. That is why all learned sufis are unanimous in asserting that a Shaikh or aguide must have a thorough understanding of both. If someone is seen flying about,but his practical life runs counter to the Book and the Sunnah, he cannot be termed a wali; instead, he is an impostor or charlatan, because perfect obedience to the Prophet is indispensable to any claim of Divine Love as enjoined by Him:

Say (O Muhammad, to mankind): If you love ALLAH follow me, ALLAH will love you.

Only those of ALLAH’s bondsmen proved true followers of Sunnah who kept inview the importance of both aspects of prophethood, Outward as well as Inward, and in their preaching and dissemination of the Message, down the ages, never lost sight of purification of the soul. Every excellence, and all exalted hierarchical offices are attained solely through total adherence to the Prophet . This is certainly the foundation stone of Tasawwuf.