Idris Kamal <idriskamal@___
In recent times more than ever, especially as Islamic modernists make
Sufism the scapegoat for the technological and industrial backwardness
of the Muslim nations, Sufism has been accused of "unorthodoxy". These
accusations arise out of a lack of understanding, for Sufism, as the
inner dimension of the religion which carries it, is necessarily
completely orthodox; it could not be otherwise, and Sufis are the most
fervent of Muslims.
This does not mean that there are not or never have been, deviant
manifestations, for that is inevitable; but in itself, Sufism is
necessarily orthodox because it exists within and depends upon the
framework of exoterism, although it ultimately surpasses it; as such, it
is not always understood by purely theological thinkers. But the charges
of un-orthodoxy were in fact laid to rest by Imam al-Ghazali (rali)
(d.505/1111), who was at once jurist, theologian, and Sufi. In his
person and his writings he bridged the gap between the outer and the
inner, for those for whom such a gap had appeared to exist. Of his own
turning to Sufism Imam al-Ghazali (rali) speaks in al-Munqidh min
--- "Then I turned my attention to the Way of the Sufis. I knew that it
could not be traversed to the end without both doctrine and practice,
and that the gist of the doctrine lies in overcoming the appetites of
the flesh and getting rid of its evil dispositions and vile qualities,
so that the heart may be cleared of all but Allah; and the means of
clearing it is dhikr Allah and concentration of every thought upon Him.
Now, the doctrine was easier to me than the practice, so I began by
learning their doctrine from the books and sayings of their Shaykhs,
until I acquired as much of their Way as it is possible to acquire by
learning and hearing, and saw plainly that what is most peculiar to them
cannot be learned, but can only be reached by immediate experience and
ecstasy and inward transformation.
I became convinced that I had now acquired all the knowledge of Sufism
that could possibly be obtained by means of study; as for the rest,
there was no way of coming to it except by leading the mystical life.
I looked at myself as then I was. Worldly interests encompassed me on
every side. Even my work as a teacher - the best thing I was engaged in
- seemed unimportant and useless in view of the life hereafter. When I
considered the intention of my teaching, I perceived that instead of
doing it for God's sake alone I had no motive but the desire for glory
and reputation. I realized that I stood on the edge of a precipice and
would fall into Hell fire unless I set about to mend my ways...
Conscious of my helplessness and having surrendered my will entirely, I
took refuge with Allah as a man in sore trouble who has no resource
left. Allah answered my prayer and made it easy for me to turn my back
on reputation and wealth and wife and children and friends. "---
In any case, after Imam al-Ghazali (rali), most of the religious
authorities in Islam at all levels have been at least nominal Sufi, even
Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahab (d.120/1787), the 'founder' of Wahhabism,
could not in his time avoid being affiliated at one point with Sufi
Nevertheless, any esoterism, including Sufism, will always be "suspect"
in the eyes of exoterism. The raison d'etre of esoterism is precisely
the knowledge of Reality as such. This is a realisation which exoterism
can only point towards but cannot attain, since it means shattering
forms, and with them, exoterism's necessarily dogmatic formulations. Ibn
'Ata' Allah (rali) said, quoting the Quran 27:34 (the Queen of Sheba
alluding to King Solomon): "Surely, when Kings enter a town, they
destroy it", just as the oak tree destroys the corn from which it grew.
The Sufis say: "To get the kernel, one has to break the shell."
An offshoot of popular devotional Sufism seeks reassurance above all in
psychic phenomena, communication with spirits, or jinn, trance dancing,
magic, prodigies such as eating glass, piercing the body with knives,
and so forth. In psychic powers and extraordinary mental states it finds
proofs of spiritual attainment. It has given rise to the European use of
the word fakir (which comes from the word for an authentic Sufi
disciple, a dervish, or faqir, literally a "poor one") to mean a market
place magician or performer, and has attained notoriety not only among
Western observers, but also in Islamic societies.
Metaphysical, or true, Sufism is a spiritual way at the heart of Islam.
Its starting point is discrimination between the Real and the unreal,
its method is concentration upon the Real, and its goal is the Real. In
the words of a Sacred hadith: "My servant does not cease to approach Me
with acts of devotion, until I become the foot with which he walks, the
hand with which he grasps, and the eye with which he sees."
Bayazid al-Bistami (rali) said: "For thirty years I went in search of
God, and when I opened my eyes at the end of this time, I discovered
that it was really He who sought me."