What is Tasawwuf?
By Khalid Baig
"Verily, he who has purified the heart is successful and he who has despoiled it has lost."
A lot of people have misunderstandings about tasawwuf. Many think that it is something beyond Qur'an and Sunnah. Errant Sufis as well as the superficial ulema, although on the opposite ends of the spectrum, are together in holding this mistaken notion. Consequently the first group has shunned the Qur'an and Hadith while the second group has shunned tasawwuf. Actually, although the term tasawwuf, like many other religious terms in use today, evolved later, the discipline is very much part of the Shariah. The department of the Shariah relating to external deeds like salat and zakat is called fiqh while the one dealing with the internal feelings and states of the heart is calledtasawwuf. Both are commanded in the Qur'an. Thus while commanding Salat and Zakat, the Qur'an also commands gratefulness and love of Allah and condemns the evil of pride and vanity. Similarly, in the books of hadith, along with the chapters on Ibadat, trade and commerce, marriage and divorce, are to be found the chapters on riya (showoff) takabbur,akhlaq, etc. These commands are as much a mandatory requirement as the ones dealing with external deeds.
On reflection it will be realized that all the external deeds are designed for the reformation of the heart. That is the basis of success in the hereafter while its despoiling is the cause of total destruction. This is precisely what is known technically astasawwuf. Its focus is tahzeebe akhlaq or the adornment of character; its motive is the attainment of Divine pleasure; its method is total obedience to the commands of the Shariah.
Tasawwuf is the soul of Islam. Its function is to purity the heart from the lowly bestial attributes of lust, calamities of the tongue, anger, malice, jealousy, love of the world, love of fame, niggardliness, greed, ostentation, vanity, deception, etc. At the same time it aims at the adornment of the heart with the lofty attributes of repentance, perseverance, gratefulness, fear of Allah, hope, abstention, tauheed, trust, love, sincerity, truth, contemplation, etc.
To diagnose and treat the diseases of the heart normally requires the help of an expert mentor or Shaikh. Here are the qualities of a good Shaikh.
1. He possesses necessary religious knowledge.
2. His beliefs, habits, and practices are in accordance with the Shariah.
3. He does not harbor greed for the worldly wealth.
4. He has himself spent time learning from a good Shaikh.
5. The scholars and good mashaikh of his time hold good opinion about him.
6. His admirers are mostly from among the people who have good understanding of religion.
7. Most of his followers follow the Shariah and are not the seekers after this world.
8. He sincerely tries to educate and morally train his followers. If he sees anything wrong in them, he corrects it.
9. In his company one can feel a decrease in the love of this world and an increase in the love for Allah.
10. He himself regularly performs dhikr and shughal (spiritual exercises).
[Condensed from writings of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi]
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