Thursday, November 10, 2011

TASSAWAUF ISLAMIC ORIGINS



Tasawwuf corrects such shortcomings by step-by-step increasing the Muslim’s certainty in Allah. The two central means of Tasawwuf in attaining the conviction demanded by ‘Aqida aremudhakara, or learning the traditional tenets of Islamic faith, and dhikr, deepening one’s certainty in them by remembrance of Allah. It is part of our faith that, in the words of the Qur'an in Surat al-Saffat, 
"Allah has created you and what you do" (Qur'an 37:96); 
yet for how many of us is this day to day experience? Because Tasawwuf remedies this and other shortcomings of Iman, by increasing the Muslim’s certainty through a systematic way of teaching and dhikr, it has traditionally been regarded as personally obligatory to this pillar of the religion also, and from the earliest centuries of Islam, has proved its worth. 




As for the origin of the term Tasawwuf, like many other Islamic discliplines, its name was not known to the first generation of Muslims. The historian Ibn Khaldun notes in his Muqaddima
This knowledge is a branch of the sciences of Sacred Law that originated within the Umma. From the first, the way of such people had also been considered the path of truth and guidance by the early Muslim community and its notables, of the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), those who were taught by them, and those who came after them. 
It basically consists of dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah Most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone. This was the general rule among the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the early Muslims, but when involvement in this-worldly things became widespread from the second Islamic century onwards and people became absorbed in worldliness, those devoted to worship came to be called Sufiyya orPeople of Tasawwuf (Ibn Khaldun, al-Muqaddima [N.d. Reprint. Mecca: Dar al-Baz, 1397/1978], 467).
In Ibn Khaldun’s words, the content of Tasawwuf, "total dedication to Allah Most High," was, "the general rule among the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the early Muslims." So if the word did not exist in earliest times, we should not forget that this is also the case with many other Islamic disciplines, such as tafsir, ‘Qur'anic exegesis,’ or ‘ilm al-jarh wa ta‘dil, ‘the science of the positive and negative factors that affect hadith narrators acceptability,’ or‘ilm al-tawhid, the science of belief in Islamic tenets of faith,’ all of which proved to be of the utmost importance to the correct preservation and transmission of the religion.
As for the origin of the word Tasawwuf, it may well be from Sufi, the person who does Tasawwuf, which seems to be etymologically prior to it, for the earliest mention of either term was by Hasan al-Basri who died 110 years after the Hijra, and is reported to have said, "I saw a Sufi circumambulating the Kaaba, and offered him a dirham, but he would not accept it." It therefore seems better to understand Tasawwuf by first asking what a Sufi is; and perhaps the best definition of both the Sufi and his way, certainly one of the most frequently quoted by masters of the discipline, is from the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) who said:
Allah Most High says: "He who is hostile to a friend of Mine I declare war against. My slave approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him, and My slave keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he seizes, and his foot with which he walks. If he asks me, I will surely give to him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will surely protect him" (Fath al-Bari, 11.340–41, hadith 6502);
This hadith was related by Imam Bukhari, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Bayhaqi, and others with multiple contiguous chains of transmission, and is sahih. It discloses the central reality of Tasawwuf, which is precisely change, while describing the path to this change, in conformity with a traditional definition used by masters in the Middle East, who define a Sufi as Faqihun ‘amila bi ‘ilmihi fa awrathahu Llahu ‘ilma ma lam ya‘lam,‘A man of religious learning who applied what he knew, so Allah bequeathed him knowledge of what he did not know.’
To clarify, a Sufi is a man of religious learning,because the hadith says, "My slave approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him," and only through learning can the Sufi know the command of Allah, or what has been made obligatory for him. He hasapplied what he knew, because the hadith says he not only approaches Allah with the obligatory, but "keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him." And in turn, Allah bequeathed him knowledge of what he did not know, because the hadith says, "And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he seizes, and his foot with which he walks," which is a metaphor for the consummate awareness oftawhid, or the ‘unity of Allah,’ which in the context of human actions such as hearing, sight, seizing, and walking, consists of realizing the words of the Qur'an about Allah that, 
"It is He who created you and what you do" (Qur'an 37:96).
The origin of the way of the Sufi thus lies in the prophetic sunna. The sincerity to Allah that it entails was the rule among the earliest Muslims, to whom this was simply a state of being without a name, while it only became a distinct discipline when the majority of the Community had drifted away and changed from this state. Muslims of subsequent generations required systematic effort to attain it, and it was because of the change in the Islamic environment after the earliest generations, that a discipline by the name of Tasawwuf came to exist. 
But if this is true of origins, the more significant question is: How central is Tasawwuf to the religion, and: Where does it fit into Islam as a whole? Perhaps the best answer is the hadith of Muslim, that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said: 
As we sat one day with the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), a man in pure white clothing and jet black hair came to us, without a trace of travelling upon him, though none of us knew him.
He sat down before the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) bracing his knees against his, resting his hands on his legs, and said: "Muhammad, tell me about Islam." The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: "Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and to perform the prayer, give zakat, fast in Ramadan, and perform the pilgrimage to the House if you can find a way."
He said: "You have spoken the truth," and we were surprised that he should ask and then confirm the answer. Then he said:
"Tell me about true faith (iman)," and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) answered: "It is to believe in Allah, His angels, His inspired Books, His messengers, the Last Day, and in destiny, its good and evil."
"You have spoken the truth," he said, "Now tell me about the perfection of faith (ihsan)," and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) answered: "It is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you see Him not, He nevertheless sees you."
The hadith continues to where ‘Umar said:
Then the visitor left. I waited a long while, and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to me, "Do you know, ‘Umar, who was the questioner?" and I replied, "Allah and His messenger know best." He said, 
"It was Gabriel, who came to you to teach you your religion" (Sahih Muslim, 1.37: hadith 8). 
This is a sahih hadith, described by Imam Nawawi as one of the hadiths upon which the Islamic religion turns. The use of din in the last words of it, Atakum yu‘allimukum dinakum, "came to you to teach you your religion" entails that the religion of Islam is composed of the three fundamentals mentioned in the hadith: Islam, or external compliance with what Allah asks of us; Iman, or the belief in the unseen that the prophets have informed us of; and Ihsan, or to worship Allah as though one sees Him. The Qur'an says, in Surat Maryam, n accordance with the Qur'anic imperative,

"Ask those who know if you know not" (Qur'an 16:43),
There is no doubt that bringing about this change, purifying the Muslims by bringing them to spiritual sincerity, was one of the central duties of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), for Allah says in the Surat Al ‘Imran of the Qur'an,
"Allah has truly blessed the believers, for He has sent them a messenger of themselves, who recites His signs to them and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom" (Qur'an 3:164),
which explicitly lists four tasks of the prophetic mission, the second of which, yuzakkihim means precisely to ‘purify them’ and has no other lexical sense. Now, it is plain that this teaching function cannot, as part of an eternal revelation, have ended with the passing of the first generation, a fact that Allah explictly confirms in His injunction in Surat Luqman,
"And follow the path of him who turns unto Me" (Qur'an 31:15).
These verses indicate the teaching and transformative role of those who convey the Islamic revelation to Muslims, and the choice of the word ittiba‘ in the second verse, which is more general, implies both keeping the company of and following the example of a teacher. This is why in the history of Tasawwuf, we find that though there were many methods and schools of thought, these two things never changed: keeping the company of a teacher, and following his example—in exactly the same way that the Sahaba were uplifted and purified by keeping the company of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and following his example. 
And this is why the discipline of Tasawwuf has been preserved and transmitted by Tariqas or groups of students under a particular master. First, because this was the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in his purifying function described by the Qur'an. Secondly, Islamic knowledge has never been transmitted by writings alone, but rather from ‘ulama to students. Thirdly, the nature of the knowledge in question is of hal or ‘state of being,’ not just knowing, and hence requires it be taken from a succession of living masters back to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), for the sheer range and number of the states of heart required by the revelation effectively make imitation of the personal example of a teacher the only effective means of transmission. 
So far we have spoken about Tasawwuf in respect to Islam, as a Shari‘a science necessary to fully realize the Sacred Law in one’s life, to attain the states of the heart demanded by the Qur'an and hadith. This close connection between Shari‘a and Tasawwuf is expressed by the statement of Imam Malik, founder of the Maliki school, that "he who practices Tasawwuf without learning Sacred Law corrupts his faith, while he who learns Sacred Law without practicing Tasawwuf corrupts himself. Only he who combines the two proves true." This is why Tasawwuf was taught as part of the traditional curriculum in madrasas across the Muslim world from Malaysia to Morocco, why many of the greatest Shari‘a scholars of this Umma have been Sufis, and why until the end of the Islamic caliphate at the beginning of this century and the subsequent Western control and cultural dominance of Muslim lands, there were teachers of Tasawwuf in Islamic institutions of higher learning from Lucknow to Istanbul to Cairo. 
But there is a second aspect of Tasawwuf that we have not yet talked about; namely, its relation toIman or ‘True Faith,’ the second pillar of the Islamic religion, which in the context of the Islamic sciences consists of ‘Aqida or ‘orthodox belief.’
All Muslims believe in Allah, and that He is transcendently beyond anything conceivable to the minds of men, for the human intellect is imprisoned within its own sense impressions and the categories of thought derived from them, such as number, directionality, spatial extention, place, time, and so forth. Allah is beyond all of that; in His own words, 
"There is nothing whatesover like unto Him" (Qur'an 42:11)
If we reflect for a moment on this verse, in the light of the hadith of Muslim about Ihsan that "it is to worship Allah as though you see Him," we realize that the means of seeing here is not the eye, which can only behold physical things like itself; nor yet the mind, which cannot transcend its own impressions to reach the Divine, but rather certitude, the light of Iman, whose locus is not the eye or the brain, but rather the ruh, a subtle faculty Allah has created within each of us called the soul, whose knowledge is unobstructed by the bounds of the created universe. Allah Most High says, by way of exalting the nature of this faculty by leaving it a mystery,
"Say: ‘The soul is of the affair of my Lord’" (Qur'an 17:85).
The food of this ruh is dhikr or the ‘remembrance of Allah.’ Why? Because acts of obedience increase the light of certainty and Iman in the soul, and dhikr is among the greatest of them, as is attested to by the sahih hadith related by al-Hakim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
"Shall I not tell you of the best of your works, the purest of them in the eyes of your Master, the highest in raising your rank, better than giving gold and silver, and better for you than to meet your enemy and smite their necks, and they smite yours?" They said, "This—what is it, O Messenger of Allah?" and he said:Dhikru Llahi ‘azza wa jall, "The remembrance of Allah Mighty and Majestic." (al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn, 1.496).
Increasing the strength of Iman through good actions, and particularly through the medium of dhikrhas tremendous implications for the Islamic religion and traditional spirituality. A non-Muslim once asked me, "If God exists, then why all this beating around the bush? Why doesn’t He just come out and say so?" 
The answer is that taklif or ‘moral responsibility’ in this life is not only concerned with outward actions, but with what we believe, our ‘Aqida—and the strength with which we believe it. If belief in God and other eternal truths were effortless in this world, there would be no point in Allah making us responsible for it, it would be automatic, involuntary, like our belief, say, that London is in England. There would no point in making someone responsible for something impossible not to believe. 
But the responsibility Allah has place upon us is belief in the Unseen, as a test for us in this world to choose between kufr and Iman, to distinguish believer from unbeliever, and some believers above others.

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