Tasawwuf or sufism (the
translation usually preferred in the West) is the name of
the ways sufis follow to reach God, the Truth. While the term
tasawwuf usually expresses the theoretical or philosophical
aspect of the search for truth, its practical aspect is usually
referred to as ‘being a dervish.’
Tasawwuf has been defined
in many ways. According to some, tasawwuf is Almighty God’s
annihilating man with respect to his ego and self-centredness
and then reviving him spiritually with the lights of His Essence;
in other words, God’s annihilating man with respect to his
own will and then directing him by His Own Will. Another approach
to tasawwuf sees it as the continuous striving to be rid of
all kinds of bad maxims and evil conduct and acquiring virtues.
a famous Sufi master, defines tasawwuf as a way by which to
recollect ‘self-annihilation in God’ and ‘permanence or subsistence
with God.’ Shibli’s definition is summarized as being always
together with God or in His ever-presence while aiming at
nothing worldly or even other-worldly. Abu Muhammad Jarir
describes it as resisting the temptations of the carnal self
and bad moral qualities and acquiring laudable moral qualities.
There are some who
describe tasawwuf as seeing behind the [outward] reality of
things and events and interpreting whatever happens [in the
world] in relation with God Almighty. Then, by regarding every
act of the Almighty as a window to ‘see’ Him, living one’s
life in continuous effort to view or ‘see’ Him with a profound,
spiritual ‘seeing’ indescribable in physical terms, and living
in profound awareness of being continually overseen by Him.
All the accounts just
given can be summed up as follows: Tasawwuf means that by
being freed from the vices and weaknesses particular to human
nature and acquiring angelic qualities and conduct pleasing
to God, one lives one’s life in accordance with the requirements
of knowledge and love of God and in the spiritual delight
that comes thereby.
Tasawwuf is based on
observing the rules of Shari‘a down to good manners and penetrating
their (inward) meaning. An initiate or traveler upon the path
(salik) who can succeed in this never separates the outward
observance of Shari‘a from its inward dimension and carries
out all the requirements of both the outward and inward dimensions
of religion. Through such observance, he travels toward the
goal in utmost humility and submission.
Tasawwuf is a path
leading to knowledge of God and is a way demanding solemnity
[of bearing and purpose]. There is no room in it for negligent
or frivolous manners. It requires that the initiate should,
like a honeybee flying from the hive to flowers and from flowers
to the hive, continuously strive in pursuit of knowledge of
God. He should purify his heart from all attachments other
than seeking God, and resist all inclinations and desires
and appetites of his carnal self. He should also lead his
life at a spiritual level with a readiness to receive Divine
blessings and inspirations and in strict observance of the
Prophetic example. Sincerely admitting attachment and adherence
to God as the greatest merit and honour, he should renounce
his own desires for the sake of the demands of God, the Truth.
After these [preliminary]
definitions, we should discuss the aim, benefits and principles
Tasawwuf requires strict
observance of the religious obligations and austerity in life-style,
the renunciation of animal appetites.
Tasawwuf aims, by purifying
man’s heart and employing his senses and faculties in the
way of God, to live a life at the spiritual level. Tasawwuf
also enables man, through constant performance of the acts
of worshipping God, to deepen his consciousness of being a
servant of God. It enables him to renounce the world with
respect to its transient dimension and the face of it that
is turned to human desires and fancies, and awakens him to
the other world and to the face of this world that is turned
toward the Divine Beautiful Names.
The benefit of Tasawwuf
is that man develops the angelic dimension of his existence
and acquires a strong, heart-felt and experienced conviction
of the truths and articles of faith that at first he had accepted
The principles of tasawwuf
may be listed as follows:
- Reaching substantial,
true belief in Divine Oneness and living in accordance with
- In addition to heeding
the Divine Speech (the Qur’an), discerning the commands
of the Divine Power and Will on the face of the universe
(the laws of creation and life which are the subject matter
of the sciences) and obeying them.
- Overflowing with
Divine love and getting on well with all other beings in
the consciousness (originating from Divine love) that the
universe is a cradle of brotherhood.
- Acting with a spirit
of altruism and therefore giving preference or precedence
to the well- being and happiness of others.
- Acting in accordance
with the demands of the Divine Will—not with the demands
of our own will—and trying to lead our lives at the ‘peaks’
of self-annihilation in God and subsistence with Him.
- Being open to love,
spiritual yearning, delight and ecstasy.
- Acquiring the ability
to discern or unveil what is in hearts or minds through
the expressions of the face and the Divine mysteries and
meanings on the face of events.
- Visiting such places
and seeking the company of such people as will encourage
avoidance of sin and striving in the way of God.
- Being content with
lawful or licit pleasures, and being determined not to take
even a single step toward the sphere of the unlawful.
- Continuously struggling
against worldly ambitions and the illusions that lead us
to suppose this world to be eternal.
- Never forgetting
that even in the way of serving religion and striving for
the guidance of people to the way of the Truth, salvation
is only possible through certainty or conviction (of the
truth of religious principles of belief and conduct), sincerity
or purity of intention and aiming only to please God.
and understanding of the religious sciences and the ways leading
to knowledge and love of God, and following the guidance of
a perfected, spiritual master may be added to these principles,
which are of considerable significance in the way of the Naqshbandiya.
It may be useful to
discuss tasawwuf in the light of the following basic concepts
which are the subject-matter of the books written on good
morals and manners and asceticism, and regarded as the points
where one finds the ‘Muhammadan Truth’ in one’s heart. They
can also be considered as the lights by which to know and
follow the spiritual path leading to God.