Written by Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin
Translation by Umm Hajar (ummhajar@gmail.com)

When a society is overwhelmed by pandemonium, disorder, chaos, spiritual emptiness, destruction and moral degradation with no effective solutions at hand, we will see that some will start to turn to the religion to find the way out. Even if the goal is not to completely resolve the problems, by doing that, one will at least hope to put an end to the anxiety or bewilderment that has been occupying his soul.

At this stage, spiritual teachings that offer miraculous answers will attract a lot of attentions. Sufi groups that can put forward phenomenal and surreal stories will be adopted by many. This extreme solution is taken up supposedly to open a new chapter in life that is full with magical episodes.

We will also see that many quarters will take advantage of this spiritual thirst that the society is suffering from, some with the intention of spreading their deviant teaching or to accumulate wealth and power. This is a trend that can commonly be observed in the Muslim community infested with social turmoil including during the ‘Abbasiyah era. It can also possibly occur in our country. I want to touch on this topic because there have been many questions about Sufism which has just started to emerge in our community.

I would like to remind the readers of a very crucial fact. Islam is established based on comprehensible principles of akidah (belief). The axis of the akidah of Islam is contained in the al-Quran and al-Sunnah. Any spiritual experience that is not based on the akidah of Islam is not accepted. No matter who the syeikh is, how big his turban is, how eloquent he is, how enlightening his interpretation of spirituality is, but if he contradicts the texts from al-Quran and al-Sunnah then he is to be rejected.

Mystical anecdotes can also be found in a lot of other religions. Because of that, Islam does not consider miracles as the yardstick to determine the truthfulness of any kind of teachings. Miraculous experience is accepted if it does not contradict the divine revelation. The Prophet s.a.w was the leading and foremost guru of spirituality surpassing all the sufi chiefs and sheikh. If the spiritual teaching is different from the teaching of the Prophet s.a.w, then it is not regarded as the path of hidayah (revelation) which a Muslim should have faith in.

Yes, we admit that the subjects on spirituality and spiritual refinement are important and are integrated in the teachings of Islam based on the authentic al-Quran and al-Sunnah. Any endeavor to cleanse oneself has to correctly be established on the two divine sources. Even without Sufism, there are enough spiritual substances in the al-Quran and al-Sunnah for every Muslim to adopt. Just because one does not subscribe to any Sufi group, it does not mean that one will not be able to cleanse himself.

On the contrary, if one holds on tightly to the teachings of the Prophet s.a.w, one will discover a variety of remedies for all kinds of spiritual illness. So many texts in al-Quran and al-Sunnah are connected to tazkiah al-Nafs (spiritual refinement). Ahlus Sunnal wal Jama’ah believe that the method for cleansing oneself had been explicitly demonstrated by the Prophet s.a.w and that is the pillar of Islamic spiritualism. As mentioned before, any spiritual venture that contradicts the way of the Prophet s.a.w is rejected.

A renowned Muslim scholar Dr. ‘Abd al-Karim Zaidan in his widely read book Usul al-Da’wah wrote:

“The accepted acts of devoutness are the deeds that are sahih (backed by authentic religious texts) and performed truthfully for Allah. It is sahih if it meets the conditions stipulated in Islam. Therefore, to create bid’ah (innovations) in practicing the religion whether by adding in or leaving out certain elements is prohibited and there is no rewards for the doer even though his intention is to worship Allah. Bid’ah is more evil than sin because it alters the religion and gives an insinuation that the syarak (teachings of Islam) is flawed, that it requires culmination, deduction and alteration. This is a very serious matter and we should not adopt it or adhere to it. Because of that, the Prophet s.a.w warned us against bid’ah by saying, “Avoid novelties in applying the religion for every novelty is an innovation, and every innovation is an error that leads to the Hellfire.” (Sahih, reported by Abu Dawud). Therefore, goodness lies in everything transmitted by syarak and in being content with it.” (Pg. 41, Beirut : Muassasah al-Risalah)

The second important thing we need to be aware of is that a big part of sufi teachings is influenced by elements originated from outside of Islam such as from Christianity, Hinduism, Persian, Greek and others. Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi stated:

“Researchers all over can’t deny the fact that Sufism has been influenced – to certain degrees – by foreign elements whether from Christianity, Hinduism, Persian or Greek including Islam. After a long time, peculiar views originated from the previously mentioned sources have managed to seep into Sufism to the extent that some sufi teachings believe in al-hulul or al-ittihad or wahdatul wujud (oneness of being). Some of them also talk about qidam nur muhammad or, as they call it, al-hakikat al-Muhammadiyyah (a belief that considers the Prophet s.a.w as the light of Allah). They also discuss subjects of prophecy, saints, al-kashf (divine manifestation), mawajid (ecstatic experience), zauq (mystical sensitivity) and they derive new religious rulings based on those principles. They separate facts from their teachings and their principle in educating their followers is that a student must act submissively in front of his teacher like a corpse in front of the person bathing it. They are extreme in applying zuhd (abandoning what does not bring about benefit in the Hereafter) and anything relating to zuhd causing them to digress from the moderateness of Islam towards the Christian-like celibacy.” (Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Thaqafah al-Da`iyah, pg. 94-95, Beirut: Muassasah al-Risalah)

I am bringing up this issue not to dampen down the determination of those who wish to cleanse themselves but it is so that we can be more careful in doing it. It is to avoid seeing anyone getting stuck in a cult that separates facts from their teachings or in other words, regards that the spiritualism they’re adopting is no longer dependent on the al-Quran and al-Sunnah.

In our desire to get closer to Allah, let us not digress from the truth and jump into the valley of spiritual philosophy that manufactures peculiar thoughts and surreal anecdotes. In the end, rather than bringing a person closer to al-Quran and al-Sunnah, it will cause a person to merely be intoxicated with the language and terms that he thinks others are ignorant of. A prominent scholar al-Syeikh Munna’ al-Qattan, when discussing on the exegesis of the Sufis, said:

“Sufism has turned into a conjectural philosophy disconnected from warak (devoutness), taqwa (fear of Allah) and zuhd. This philosophy contains ideas that contradict Islam and its belief.” (Manna’ al-Qattan, Mabahith Fi `Ulum al-Quran, pg. 356, Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma`arif).

In the Muslim world, we can find various kinds of spiritual teachings and sufi groups. Some people have the misconception that the cult followers who are clad in skirts and go around in circle for hours in an intoxicated manner like in Turkey represent Islamic spiritualism. Definitely not! We subscribe to what was mentioned by al-Imam al-Syatibi (deceased in 790 H):

“The Sufis are just like other people who are not maksum (guarded from making mistakes). It is always possible for them to make mistakes, to forget and to commit sins be it minor or major. Thus, the Muslim scholars’ famous statement is, ‘The words of any individual can be accepted or can be rejected except for the words of the Prophet s.a.w.’ The Sufis are as prone to committing sins and creating bid’ah as much as the non-Sufis. It is our duty to follow the one guarded from making mistakes (meaning the Prophet s.a.w) and hold ourselves from following the one not guarded from making mistakes if there is an obvious mystification to it. More than that, we lay down everything that comes from the scholars on al-Kitab and al-Sunnah. We accept those that are consented by both sources and we reject those that are inhibited by both sources. We are commanded to follow the syarak and we are not commanded to follow the words and practices of the Sufis except for those that have been laid down (on al-Kitab and al-Sunnah).” Al-Syatibi, Al-`Itisam pg. 165, Beirut Dar al-Kitab al-`Arabi, Beirut)