بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Islamic Sufism refers to the ‘spiritual teachings and dimensions of Islam’ that revolve around the inner-self — its rectification and purification!
It may be referred to as Tarīqah (طريقة), Tazkiyah (تزكية), Tasawwuf (تصوف), Ihsān (إحسان ) and Sulūk (سلوك).
Allah Ta’ālā says regarding our inner-self in the Qur’an:
(قال الله تعالى: قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَنْ زَكَّاهَا (سورة الشمس
“Success is really attained by him who purifies it” (Sūrah al Shams, verse 9)
The cleansing (Tazkiyah) and reformation (Islāh) of the inner-self includes attaining the praiseworthy characteristics of heart (Akhlāq Hamīdah) and removing the blame worthy/evil characteristics (Akhlāq Razīlah).
Akhlāq Hamīdah include love for Allah, love for the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), Ikhlās (sincerity to Allah), Tawakkul (reliance on Allah), Taslīm and Rīdā (being content with the decree of Allah), desire for Ākhirah, humbleness and desiring well-being for others etc.
Akhlāq Razīlah include Kıbr (pride, egoism), Hasad (jealousy), Riyā’ (ostentation), love for Dunya (this world) over Ākhirah (hereafter) and such negative traits which undermine the foundations of Emān (belief) in the heart.
The mention of these Akhlāq Hamīdah and Akhlāq Razīlah is replete in the Qur’an and Sunnah. Here, I’ll quote two such examples:
رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ: إنَّمَا الْأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ
The Messenger (ﷺ) said “The actions are (judged) by motives (niyyah)” (Part of a Hadith recorded in Sahīh Bukhāri and Sahīh Muslim)
وَقال النبي (ﷺ) لاَ يَدْخُلُ الْجَنَّةَ أَحَدٌ فِي قَلْبِهِ مِثْقَالُ حَبَّةِ خَرْدَلٍ مِنْ كِبْرِيَاءَ (رواه مسلم)
None shall enter Paradise who has in his heart the weight of a mustard seed of pride (Part of a Hadith recorded in Sahīh Muslim).
As we can see, attaining Ikhlās (good intentions and motives) and getting absolved from Kibr (pride) are both very fundamental in the teachings of Islam.
To attain the good characteristics and to purify the heart from the evil characteristics, there is a life long struggle!
To attain the good characteristics and to purify the heart from the evil characteristics, there is a life long struggle. Some people dedicate their lives for this path (or at least, consider it among their primary aims) and hence they attain marvel and excellence herein. Initially, they traverse this path under the guidance of their elders/predecessors in this path (known as Shaykh, Murshid etc) and thereafter guide and mentor others under their supervision and guidance (a seeker of such guidance is sometimes called Murīd, Sālik, etc). The Shaykh also uses his experience and the experiences of his predecessors to formulate practical and adoptable ways for the seekers.
Due to their high and pure characteristics, the Sufis have attracted large numbers of followers!
Due to their high and pure characteristics, those involved in this path (Sufis) have attracted large numbers of followers throughout the history and many conversions to Islam took place at their hands.
Some notable personalities, from the past, who have been associated with this path are Imam Hasan al-Basri, Bayāzīd al-Bustāmi, Junaid al-Baghdādi, Sayyid Abdul Qādir al-Jilāni, Ali al-Hajweri, Mu’īnuddın Chishti, Ahmad al-Sirhindi, Jalaluddın al-Rūmi, Imam al Ghazzāli and Imdādullah al-Makki etc (رحمهم الله)
It is incumbent upon those who affiliate themselves with ‘Sufism’ to observe all the teachings of Islam!
From the above discussion, it becomes evident that this sort of ‘Sufism’ is very much a part of Islam. Thus, it is incumbent upon those who affiliate themselves with ‘Sufism’ to observe all the teachings of Islam, whether they deal with outward (Zāhir) or the inward self (Bātin).
Unfortunately, as is the case with many other areas of life, immoderate approaches crept here as well. For example, some people started disregarding many important commandments of Islam on the basis of being ‘not related to the heart’. Similarly, some “Sufis” over stressed on certain beliefs and actions that have no clear basis in the Shari’ah (some of them maybe based on experience but they shouldn’t be given the status of religious injunctions). Such an approach is without any doubt erroneous, to say the least.
In case of any confusion, one must refer back to the explicit and clear teachings mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah!
Similarly, some Shaykhs (due to lack of knowledge in other sciences of Islam or due to being in a particular “state”), utter or commit actions that are not in conformity with the teachings of Islam. The Shaykhs/Sufis are not to be followed in such circumstances and in case of any confusion, one must refer back to the explicit and clear teachings mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Hence, it’s wrong to absolutely disregard Islamic spirituality as a part of Islam (although some people may not agree with certain terminologies used for it or certain ideas and actions based on the experiences of some Shaykhs/Sufis). Similarly, it is a deviance to turn a blind eye towards the injunctions and guidelines mentioned in Qur’an and Hadith in the garb of “(pseudo-)Sufism”!
This post was originally written in response to a question on Quora. Here, has been reproduced after some editing.