Sufism – A Brief Introduction


Praise be to Allaah.

We must understand that the word al-soofiyyah (Sufism) refers to wearing woollen clothes [the Arabic word soof means “wool”] and nothing else.

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The word al-soofiyyah (Sufism) refers to wearing woollen clothes; this is the correct meaning. It was said that it comes from the word safwat al-fuqaha’ (the elite of the fuqaha’) or from Soofah ibn Add ibn Taanijah, an Arab tribe that was known for its asceticism, or from Ahl al-Suffah (poor Muslims in Madeenah at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) who used to stay in the mosque), or from al-Safa (the mountain in Makkah), or from the word al-safwah (meaning elite), or from the phrase al-saff al-muqaddam bayna yaday Allaah (the foremost rank before Allaah). All of these views are weak (da’eef); if any of them were true then the word would be saffi or safaa’i or safawi, not sufi.  [Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, 11/195]

Sufism (tasawwuf) did not appear until after the first three generations which the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) praised when he said, “The best of mankind is my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them…” (narrated by al-Bukhaari, 2652; Muslim, 2533; from the hadeeth of Ibn Mas’ood).

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: With regard to the word soofiyyah (Sufism), it was not known during the first three generations, rather it became known after that. [Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, 11/5]

The word “Sufism” was not known at the time of the Messenger or the Sahaabah or the Taabi’een. It arose at the time when a group of ascetics who wore wool (“soof”) emerged, and this name was given to them. It was also said that the name was taken from the word “soofiya” (“sophia”) which means “wisdom” in Greek. The word is not derived from al-safa’ (“purity”) as some of them claim, because the adjective derived from safa’ is safaa’i, not soofi (sufi). The emergence of this new name and the group to whom it is applied exacerbated the divisions among Muslims. The early Sufis differed from the later Sufis who spread bid’ah (innovation) to a greater extent and made shirk in both minor and major forms commonplace among the people, as well as the innovations against which the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) warned us when he said, “Beware of newly-invented things, for every newly-invented thing is an innovation and every innovation is a going-astray.” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi, who said it is saheeh hasan).

Sufism has numerous branches or tareeqahs, such as the Teejaniyyah, Qaadiriyyah, Naqshbandiyyah, Shaadhiliyyah, Rifaa’iyyah, etc., the followers of which all claim that their particular tareeqah is on the path of truth whilst the others are following falsehood. Islam forbids such sectarianism.

This tareeqah and its like are among the innovated ways that go against the Qur’aan and Sunnah and the way followed by the best generations. All the shaykhs of these tareeqahs have made up their own wirds (phrases to be uttered as dhikr), hizb (books of du’aa’ to be read daily by their followers) and ways of worship by which each of them may be distinguished from the others; this goes against sharee’ah and divides the ummah.

Allaah has blessed this ummah by perfecting its religion and completing His Favour upon it, so everyone who comes up with an act of worship or a way that was not brought by sharee’ah is effectively rejecting what Allaah has said and accusing the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) of betraying the trust.

Along with this innovation of theirs, they may also be lying by claiming that they received their tareeqah from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), or that they are following the path and guidance of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs (al-khulafa’ al-raashideen).

The Sufis believe that there are abdaal, aqtaab and awliya’ (kinds of “saints”) to whom Allaah has given the power to run the affairs of the universe. Allaah tells us about the mushrikeen (interpretation of the meaning): “Say [O Muhammad]: ‘…And who disposes the affairs?’ They will say. ‘Allaah.’…” [Yoonus 10:31]

The mushrik Arabs knew more about Allaah than these Sufis!

The Sufis turn to other than Allaah when calamity strikes, but Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “And if Allaah touches you with harm, none can remove it but He, and if He touches you with good, then He is Able to do all things.” [al-An’aam 6:17]

Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said in al-Manaar al-Muneef (136):  The ahaadeeth about the adbaal, aqtaab, aghwaath, nuqaba’, nujaba’ and awtaad are all falsely attributed to the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). The closest of them is the hadeeth which says “Do not revile the people of Syria, for among them there are abdaal; every time one of them dies, Allaah replaces him with another man.” This was narrated by Ahmad, but it is not saheeh either, because it is munqati’. End quote.

For more information on the ahaadeeth which have been narrated concerning that and an explanation of why they are da’eef please see al-Maqaalaat al-Qisaar by Abu Muhammad al-Alfi (69-81).

According to Ahl al-Sunnah, the wali (in the sense of being a close friend of Allaah) is as defined by Allaah, may He be glorified and exalted, in His holy Book, where He says (interpretation of the meaning):

62.“No doubt! Verily, the Awliya’ of Allaah, no fear shall come upon them nor shall they grieve.

63. Those who believed, and used to fear Allaah much (by abstaining from evil deeds and sins and by doing righteous deeds).

64. For them are glad tidings, in the life of the present world, and in the Hereafter. No change can there be in the Words of Allaah. This is indeed the supreme success” [Yoonus 10:62-64]

These verses states that the wali (close friend) of Allaah is the pious believer who fears Allaah, who loves Allaah and supports His Religion, and seeks to please Him, who adheres to the limits He has set and supports His law and His religion. He is one of the slaves of Allaah, and is not beyond His control and authority, rather he does not even have the power to benefit or harm himself, and he does not know what Allaah has decreed for him. This is the wali of Allaah according to Ahl al-Sunnah.

The way in which a person may attain the status of being a wali is to perform obligatory duties, then start to perform naafil acts of worship until Allaah loves him, then when He loves him, he will be a true wali of His. In the saheeh hadeeth it says:

“When Allaah loves a person, He calls Jibreel (A) and says: ‘I love So and so, so love him.’ So Jibreel loves him, then he calls out to the people of heaven, ‘Allaah loves So and so, so love him.’ So the people of heaven love him and he finds acceptance on earth” [Narrated by Muslim (2637)]

With regard to the definition of the wali among the Sufis, it has another, innovated meaning that is different from that understood by Ahl al-Sunnah. Among them the wali of Allaah is one who has been chosen by Allaah, even if he does not have the characteristics of righteousness and piety that qualify him to be loved by Allaah. The status of wali, in their view, is a kind of divine gift that is given for no reason and with no wisdom. Hence they believe that some wrongdoers, evildoers, insane and immoral people etc are awliya’ simply because they perform extraordinary feats, such as hitting their bodies with knives, playing with snakes and fire, and so on. They even include among their awliya’ people who drink alcohol and commit zina, and they say: The true wali can never be affected by sin.

And they do not stop there in their definition of a wali; rather they say that the wali controls the universe; he says to a thing “Be!” and it is. In their view, every wali has been appointed by Allaah to control some aspect of creation. Four awliya’ are holding the earth by its four corners, and they are called al-awtaad (lit. tent pegs). Seven other awliya’ each control one of the seven continents of the world, and they are called al-abdaal (because when one of them dies, another takes his place – badalahu). There are a number of awliya’ in each region: thirty or forty in Egypt, and a similar number in Syria and Iraq, each of whom is appointed in charge of something. Above all of them is one wali who is called the al-qutb al-akbar (lit. great pole or axis) or al-ghawth (source of help), and he is the one who is running the affairs of the entire realm. Thus they believe in an unseen realm which controls the affairs of mankind like a political state. This state is led by the qutb or ghawth, followed by two imams or ministers, then the four awtaad, then the seven abdaal.

This is the concept of awliya’ according to the Sufis, and it has nothing to do with the Islamic concept of awliya’ that is mentioned in the Qur’aan. The wali in Islam is a person whom Allaah has guided and helped, and he has earned his Lord’s pleasure by following the rules of His sharee’ah; he fears that he may fall into hypocrisy and meet a bad end, and he does not know whether Allaah will accept his deeds or not. Whereas they have given the Sufi wali divine characteristics by means of which he controls some aspect of the universe, and he ignores whatever he wants of the laws of Allaah, and the angels are subject to his will.

The basic principles of Sufi concept of awliya’ are taken from ancient Greek philosophy which is based on the idea of polytheism. The first one to propose the idea of the Sufi concept of awliya’ at the end of the third century AH was Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn al-Hasan al-Tirmidhi, whom they call al-Hakeem (the wise). He is not the same as the imam who wrote the well-known collection of hadeeth which is called Sunan al-Tirmidhi. Then after that their views became well known and the books of their leaders are filled with these ideas. If we start reporting all that they have said about this issue and all their false notions, it would take too long. But so that no one will think that we are attributing to them things that are not true, there follow the names of some of their sources, and you will find that what we have mentioned is the least abhorrent of their ideas. See: al-Futoohaat al-Makkiyyah by Ibn ‘Arabi (2/455, 537); al-Yawaaqeet wa’l-Jawaahir by ‘Abd al-Wahhaab al-Sha’raani (2/79); al-Mu’jam al-Sufi by Su’aad al-Hakeem (189-191, 909-913). For references of Ahl al-Sunnah see: al-Fikr al-Sufi by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahmaan ‘Abd al-Khaaliq (343-383).

Some Sufis believe in wahdat al-wujood (unity of existence). They do not have the idea of a Creator and His creation, instead they say that everything is creation and everything is god.

The Sufis advocate extreme asceticism in this life and do not believe in taking the necessary means or in jihaad, but Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “But seek with that (wealth) which Allaah has bestowed on you, the home of the Hereafter, and forget not your portion of legal enjoyment in this world…” [al-Qasas 28:77]

“And make ready against them all that you can of power…”   [al-Anfaal 8:60]

The Sufis refer the idea of ihsaan to their shaykhs and tell their followers to have a picture of their shaykh in mind when they remember Allaah and even when they are praying. Some of them even put a picture of their shaykh in front of them when they are praying. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Ihsaan is when you worship Allaah as if you can see Him, and although you cannot see Him, He can see you.” (Reported by Muslim).

The Sufis allow dancing, drums and musical instruments, and raising the voice when making dhikr, but Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “The believers are only those who, when Allaah is mentioned, feel a fear in their hearts…” [al-Anfaal 8:2]

Moreover, you see some of them making dhikr by only pronouncing the Name of Allaah, saying, “Allaah, Allaah, Allaah.” This is bid’ah and has no meaning in Islam. They even go to the extreme of saying, “Ah, ah” or “Hu, Hu.” The Sunnah is for the Muslim to remember his Lord in words that have a true meaning for which he will be rewarded, such as saying Subhaan Allaah wa Alhamdulillah wa Laa ilaaha illa Allaah wa Allaahu akbar, and so on.

The Sufis recite love poems mentioning the names of women and boys in their dhikr gatherings, and they repeat words such as “love”, “passion”, “desire” and so on, as if they are in a gathering where people dance and drink wine and clap and shout. All of this has to do with the customs and acts of worship of the mushrikeen. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “Their salaah (prayer) at the House (of Allaah, i.e., the Ka’bah at Makkah) was nothing but whistling and clapping of hands…” [al-Anfaal 8:35]

Some Sufis pierce themselves with rods of iron, saying, “O my grandfather!” So the shayaateen come to them and help them, because they are seeking the help of someone other than Allaah . Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “And whosoever turns away (blinds himself) from the remembrance of the Most Beneficent (Allaah), We appoint for him a shaytaan (devil) to be a qareen (intimate companion) for him.” [al-Zukhruf 43:36]

The Sufis claim to have gnosis and knowledge of the unseen, but the Qur’aan shows them to be liars. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “Say: ‘None in the heavens and the earth knows the ghayb (unseen) except Allaah…’” [al-Naml 27:65]

The Sufis claim that Allaah created the world for the sake of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), but the Qur’aan shows them to be liars. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “And I (Allaah) created not the jinns and humans except they should worship Me (Alone).” [al-Dhaariyaat 51:56]

Allaah, may He be glorified and exalted, addressed His Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) with the words (interpretation of the meaning): “And worship your Lord until there comes unto the certainty (i.e., death).” [al-Hijr 15:99]

The Sufis claim that they can see Allaah in this life, but the Qur’aan shows them to be liars. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “[Moosa said:] ‘O my Lord! Show me (Yourself), that I may look upon You.’ Allaah said, ‘You cannot see Me…’” [al-A’raaf 7:143]

The Sufis claim that they take knowledge directly from Allaah, without the mediation of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and in a conscious state (as opposed to dreams). So are they better than the Sahaabah??

The Sufis claim that they take knowledge directly from Allaah, without the mediation of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). They say, “Haddathani qalbi ‘an Rabbi (My heart told me from my Lord).”

The Sufis celebrate Mawlid and hold gatherings for sending blessings on the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), but they go against his teachings by raising their voices in dhikr and anaasheed (religious songs) and qaseedahs (poems) that contain blatant shirk. Did the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) celebrate his birthday? Did Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, ‘Ali, the four imaams or anyone else celebrate his birthday? Who knows more and is more correct in worship, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and the Salaf, or the Sufis?

The Sufis travel to visit graves and seek blessings from their occupants or to make tawaaf (ritual circumambulation) around them or to make sacrifices at these sites, all of which goes against the teachings of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): “Do not travel to visit any place but three mosques: al-Masjid al-Haraam [in Makkah], this mosque of mine [in Madeenah] and al-Masjid al-Aqsa [in Jerusalem].” (Agreed upon).

The Sufis are blindly loyal to their shaykhs, even when what they go against the words of Allaah and His Messenger. But Allaah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning): “O you who believe! Do not put (yourselves) forward before Allaah and His Messenger…” [al-Hujuraat 49:1]

The Sufis use talismans, letters and numbers for making decisions and for making amulets and charms and so on.

The Sufis do not restrict themselves to the specific blessings on the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) that were narrated from him. They invented new formulas that involve seeking is blessings and other kinds of blatant shirk which are unacceptable to the one on whom they are sending blessings.

With regard to the question of the whether the Sufi shaykhs have some kind of contact, this is true, but their contact is with the shayaateen, not with Allaah, so they inspire one another with adorned speech as a delusion (or by way of deception), as Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “And so We have appointed for every Prophet enemies – shayaateen (devils) among mankind and jinns, inspiring one another with adorned speech as a delusion (or by way of deception). If your Lord had so willed, they would not have done it…” [al-An’aam 6:112]

And Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “… And, certainly, the shayaateen (devils) do inspire their friends (from mankind)…” [al-An’aam 6:121]

“Shall I inform you (O people!) upon whom the shayaateen (devils) descend? They descend on every lying, sinful person.” [al-Shu’ara 221-222]

This is the contact that is real, not the contact that they falsely claim to have with Allaah. Exalted be Allaah far above that. (See Mu’jam al-Bida’, 346 –359).

When some of these Sufi shaykhs disappear suddenly from the sight of their followers, this is the result of their contact with the shayaateen, who may even carry them to a distant place and bring them back in the same day or night, to mislead their human followers.

So the important rule here is not to judge people by the extraordinary feats that they may do. We should judge them by how closely or otherwise they adhere to the Qur’aan and Sunnah. The true friends of Allaah (awliya’) are not necessarily known for performing astounding feats. On the contrary, they are the ones who worship Allaah in the manner that He has prescribed, and not by doing acts of bid’ah. The true awliya’ or friends of Allaah are those whom our Lord has described in the hadeeth qudsi narrated by al-Bukhaari in his Saheeh (5/2384) from Abu Hurayrah, who said:

The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Allaah said, ‘Whoever shows enmity towards a friend (wali) of Mine, I declare war against him. My slave does not draw close to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties that I have enjoined on him, and My slave continues to draw close to Me with supererogatory (naafil) acts, so that I will love him. When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it.’”

And Allaah is the Source of Strength and the Guide to the Straight Path.

Islam Q&A

Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid


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