We often hear questions about sufism and people using the term as if it is a bad word. This translation from Saʿīd Ḥawwā’s Tarbiyatunā al-Rūḥiyya is a good, short piece explaining the truth of the matter. What it comes down to in the end is the relationship between sufism and fiqh. As long as something is allowed in the sharia, that is our standard.
Books of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) usually begin with the chapter of purification (al-ṭahāra), but rarely do they dwell upon its inner aspects and spiritual dimensions. They then move on to prayer, its prerequisites, its pillars, its required actions, its recommended actions, its manners, its disliked actions, and actions that invalidate it. However, they do not discuss the internal states that should be adhered to during prayer. An example of this is the absence of discussions on how one can attain khushūʿ (deep concentration) in prayer, and what actions lead to its realization. This is despite the fact that it is recognized as a type of knowledge that will be among the first to be removed from the earth.
With that in mind, when we reflect upon the science that best completes and complements the study of fiqh, we immediately think of the science of taṣawwuf. It is the science that examines actions of the heart, such as sincerity, and the way to obtain it. It certainly develops within the individual the ability to follow the rulings detailed in fiqh. After all, a person’s commitment to fiqh rulings is intertwined with the state of their spiritual development. Usually, knowledge of Allah allows a person to taste the sweetness of belief and results in a stronger commitment to following His commands. Thus, it is very misguided for those who belittle taṣawwuf to think that the spiritual journey towards Allah is associated with trying to escape from the adherence of His rulings. How can that be possible when Allah said to the Prophet ﷺ:
“Then We put you, [O Muhammad], on an ordained way concerning the matter [of religion]; so follow it and do not follow the inclinations of those who do not know.” (Qur’an, 45:18)
This is also why (Imam) Junayd said about a group of people who associated reaching (the heights of one’s relationship with) Allah with not following the rulings of shari’ah: “Yes, they’ve reached, but they’ve reached Hell.” The scholars of old used to say, “If someone studies fiqh and not taṣawwuf, they will become corrupt; and if they study tasawwuf and not fiqh, they will become heretics. They will achieve their desired goal only if they study both fiqh and taṣawwuf.” Therefore, taṣawwuf is needed to complement the study of fiqh, and fiqh is necessary in the study of taṣawwuf to show what is allowed and what is not. Whoever neglects either of the two has missed half the point.
It is a big mistake if the two are separated from each other. This happens if the sufi strays far from the study of fiqh or if the jurist (faqīh) strays from the study of taṣawwuf. It can be avoided if the jurist studies – along with fiqh rulings – what is needed spiritually to adhere to those rulings. At the same time, the sufi should study what is required of him or her as related to fiqh rulings, and not stray from these rulings throughout his/her spiritual journey. For this reason some of the major scholars of sufism, like al-Rifāʿī said: “Verily the end goal of the scholars and the sufis is one.” We say this here because some ignorant people amongst the sufis threaten people by saying, “If one does not have a shaykh, then his shaykh is the shaytan.” Rather, Satan is the shaykh of the ignorant person who neither learns nor appreciates learning. As for the person who seeks Allah through gaining knowledge, his imam is knowledge itself, and the shari’ah.
In his book Principles of Tasawwuf, Shaykh Zarrūq discussed the concept of a seeker’s need for a shaykh. He said: “Taqwā does not need a shaykh to explain it… the intelligent one needs no more than the Qur’an to guide his or her spiritual progression, but they will not be safe from the weaknesses of their soul [without a spiritual guide].” Therefore, it is important that the person be capable of learning and implementing what they learn. This is the minimum that Allah obligated upon His servants. It can be accomplished by an able person learning and understanding through personal readings of reliable books, or it can be achieved by following one of the righteous scholars who practice what they preach – whether they are called “sufi” or not.
In conclusion, the sciences of fiqh and tasawwuf are complementary and necessary for every person. The amount of each that is needed will differ from person to person, but studying them in depth is obligatory for the community, and recommended for each individual.