Q&A on Tasawwuf
Thank you for taking out time to explain to us your understanding of what Tasawwuf is and it would be extremely heartening if you could also spend a couple of minutes reading the following. Please read it with an open mind because your disclaimer at the end [of your previous response] that whoever doesn't agree with your point of view on Tasawwuf is either wrong or misguided is a little disturbing. It becomes problematic when anyone starts believing that they have the truth and the rest are just misguided; such a person can never see the faults in him which might be detrimental to his faith and can indulge in harmful activities out of his own envy and spite. You have mentioned the names of some reputable Sufi's like Ghazali and others but maybe you also need to read up on Ibn Tamiyah and Sirhindi. It has to be kept in mind that various Sufi's had various interpretation of several things for e.g. the doctrine of Wahdat ul Wajud and the place of Ilham in Sufism but the crux of all their teachings is that Sufi experience and Tasawwuf is subservient to the Quran and the Sunnah. This contradicts your first point..if they deny and try to do away with things which don't conform with the Quran and the Sunnah then the Murid is not following anything other than what the Prophet(PBUH) brought to us. Being a teacher yourself you would understand that people need guidance in their studies a lot of times and like some one asked you what your take on sufism is, for they think that you might be more knowledgeable and might have done a more in depth study of sufism, likewise sometimes a person may take a Murshid for the same reason; due to his wisdom or knowledge. The Suifs main concern is to follow the Shariah with utmost sincerity and certainty. Sometimes some Sufi's reach a stage of Fana, in which they become completely lost in Allah, but this stage is neither desired nor sought after rather what the Sufis want is the state of Baqa which is living completely according to the rules of the Shariah with the constant vigilant awareness of Allah in their hearts. Some Sufi's while in their state of intoxication have uttered words like An al Haq or have proclaimed to be a part of Him (nauzabillah) but they have been chastised by other Sufis case in point being Al Halaj who was ordered to be killed since he had no control over what he was saying. The point being that Sufis teach that there is an absolute Farq or separation between Allah and mankind; the Creator and the created. As far as your point about Nubuwwah is concerned Sufis believe that there is a huge difference between wahy and ilhm. What the prophet had was wahy and what the Sufis get through their experiences is ilhm. The difference which Sufis chalk out between the two is that Wahy or prophet hood is revelation bestowed by Allah to the prophets, and it has a much bigger status than ilhm and its infallible, whereas ilhm is something which is fallible and subservient to the Quran and the Sunnah. Therefore any ilhm that the Sufis get which is contradictory to the Quran or Sunnah or therulings of the scholars is void.
I thank you for your very good message. The real spirit of learning demands that we should not look at only one religious view but critically examine all views before reaching a conclusion. In case we have already reached a conclusion without critically examining different views on the same subject, there is a great danger that what we have accepted is not only wrong but there is little possibility that such wrong could ever be corrected.
You have raised the following points in your message:
i) I have made a claim that someone who disagrees with me is misguided.
ii) All people need guides and therefore there was no problem in making Sufis one's Murshid.
iii) What Sufis receive from angels is ilham and what prophets receive is wahy and to all genuine Sufis ilham is always subservient to wahy.
iv) Wahdutul Wujud (unity of existence) is not unanimously accepted by Sufis as their creed.
I hope I have done a fair job in summarizing your thoughts. Now let me take each point of yours one by one.
i) I have written on the face of my website the following priceless statement of Imam Shafi'i: "I believe that my understanding is correct but concede the possibility that it may turn out to be incorrect. I believe that the understanding of those who have a view different from mine is incorrect, but concede the possibility that it may turn out to be correct." And I really mean it. If I have written or said something against this basic approach, I am contradicting myself, for which I am sorry. I am prepared to apologize to every person who has got an impression that I am saying or writing views which suggest that I am the bearer of all and absolute truth. However, I do have a right to know where exactly I have said or done something in violation of my stated principle.
ii) I agree that all people need guides without whom one cannot learn properly anything worthwhile in any real field. However, to make somebody a guide is one thing and to blindly follow him is quite another. When you make a Sufi your Murshid, you commit yourself to doing everything he asks you to do. You are not supposed to violate his instructions, even if you believe that what he is asking you to do is nonsense or against your religion. When this approach is being followed, it is not that one person is making another a guide; in doing so the one thus guided is making his guide his god: When you shut your mind to follow a person unconditionally in religion, then your guide is another god other than God that you have made. This is exactly what the Qur'an says. (See 9:31) This is exactly what I want students of LUMS to know. How can such an important issue be ignored?
iii) It is an interesting difference that you have mentioned between the two types of revelation. The question is: Who has decided that people are going to receive wahy-like ilham even after the termination of Nubuwwat? The last of the prophets, alaihissalam, is reported to have said that all aspects of Nubuwwat have come to an end except Mubasharat. On being enquired as to what Mubasharat were, he responded: true dreams. Now let's suppose you don't accept this hadith for some genuine reason and believe that all aspects of Nubawwat are still open except for the fact that a person cannot claim to be a prophet anymore, why should you condemn a person who says precisely the same thing: I am not a prophet in the sense in which other prophets were. I am just a shadow of them, and my wahy (ilham) is subservient to the Islamic Shari'ah? This is precisely the Qadiani claim. Let me explain my point in another way: You say that Sufis still receive ilham from God and ilham is different from, and subservient to, wahy. Who is going to decide as to whether a certain ilham of a Sufi is against the Shari'ah or not? Of course, the answer is that it is the Sufi himself who is going to decide it. How then is ilham going to be subservient to wahy? In fact it is going to be the other way round. I will give you an example: The Qur'an says that one cannot backbite against another person. Suppose a Sufi's ilham says that he can backbite against his religious opponents and the verse on backbiting doesn't mean one cannot backbite against everyone; it just means that one cannot backbite against those who are not one's religious opponents. If this understanding of ilham is accepted then it is not the wahy of the verse that is dictating its terms on ilham; it is just the opposite of it that is happening. The Sufi tafasir are full of interpretations that have nothing to do with the Qur'anic text.
iv) The difference in Wahdatul Wujud (unity of existence) of the mainstream Sufis and Wahdatush Shuhud (unity of perception) of Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi is that while the former is believing in unity of existence (God and the rest of the world) in the literal sense, the latter is saying that it so apparently seems that the existence is one although it is not. Both are talking about an absurdity that has unnecessarily wasted time of Muslims. The Qur'an is unmistakably clear that God is completely distinct from the existence and that He created the existence ex-nihilo (in a way that there wasn't any existence other than His). If there are some Sufis who believe that Wahdatul Wujud is shirk and therefore condemnable, they should condemn all people guilty of believing in, and presenting, that misleading concept. I can assure you that if that stance would be taken by the modern Sufis, then they will have a long list of Sufi saints to condemn who, as yet, have been praised lavishly by the lesser Sufis. Such condemnation would bring Tasawwuf to an end.
May the Almighty enable all of us to follow the truth of His religion with complete sincerity!