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Tasawwuf or Sufism in Islam


Tasawwuf/Sufism in Islam

a talk sponsored by CAIR

Stanford University, May 4, 1997

Imam Hamza Yusuf, sometime khatib at the Muslim Community Association of Santa Clara, California, spoke on

Sufism in Islam, directly following a lecture by Dr. Anne-Marie Schimmel, former Harvard professor of Oriental Studies.

Imam Hamza began by noting that the architecture of Stanford is modeled after traditional Andalusian, Moroccan and

North African universities. He said that Islamic architecture and civilization was once great as was its scholarship, but

unfortunately the Muslim ummah has fallen behind in these spheres.

Imam Hamza continued:

“The fundamental and underlying message in the tradition of Islam I think personally is that it

does not and refuses to create this dialectic in which a person’s inward and their outward

become split. [In non-Islamic systems] people are either forced to become esoterists or they

are forced to become exoterists.

“In fact what Islam is trying to do and what most of the other spiritual religions and in fact from

the Muslim perspective all of them have failed to do is to join these two elements in a

harmonious and balanced way and this is why in the tradition of Islam Sufism has always been

part of the traditional Islamic curriculum in every single Muslim university. I know of no period in

the Islamic tradition in which Sufism was not taught in the universities and not seen as an

important and fundamental aspect of the tradition of Islam.

“Sidi Ahmad Zarruq wrote a great book called the principles of Sufism in which he clarified

traditional and orthodox Sufism says in his principle number 208, ‘there are five reasons for

repudiating the Sufis the first of these is with reference to the perfection of their path. For if the

Sufis latch on to a special dispensation or if they misbehave or are negligent in a matter or if a

fault manifests itself in them, people hasten to repudiate them.’ Because they are people who

have traditionally been the most strongest and fierce adherents to the sacred teaching of Islam

and they have been the ones also that have never inclined toward easy ways out on terms of

the shariah or the sacred law.

“They have been the strictest adherents to the sacred law, but they have a wonderful principle:

that is be hard on yourself and be gentle with other people. Unfortunately, the disease of this

age amongst many Muslims is be easy on yourself and be hard on everybody else. So I think

this is where the real crises of rejecting Sufism as one third of Islam has had really devastating

results in much of the modern Islamic phenomenon. {Shaykh Ahmad Zarruq] said ‘this is

because no servant is free of fault unless he is granted infallibility or protection by God.’

“The second reason [for people to repudiate Sufis] is the sensitivity of the observer. [The

observer’s] criticism of the Sufis and their knowledge and states occurs as much as the ego,

nafs, hastens to deny knowledge it does not posses. Imam Sayyidina Ali was known for

saying, ‘Whoever is ignorant of a thing is its natural enemy.’

“The third reason [to reject the Sufis] is the existence of many who fall short of their claims and

those who seek [worldly] gain through the guise of religiosity. This has been an affliction within

the Muslim ummah. It is well known of the people claiming to be Sufis, putting on the garments

of Sufis, and tricking simple followers and worshippers; getting them to give them their money,

to slavishly serve them, and these type of things. This has happened historically in the Muslim

world. The [pious] imams have always been the strictest at trying to prevent this deception,

Imam Hamza Yusuf

Tasawwuf/Sufism in Islam by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. Page 2 of 4 01-Mar-01

because there is nothing worse than deceiving somebody in religion. Give me a mafia gangster

any day over a fraudulent religious observer–really! This is the reason for denying any claim that

they might make even though there is proof of it. Because it is found doubtful.

“The fourth reason is fear for the generality that they might be lead astray by following esoteric

doctrines without upholding the letter of the law as happens to many ignorant people. So

ignorant people might hear some statement which is said by a Sufi and they completely

misunderstand it. And Abu Yazid al-Bistami put in Imam Dhahabi’s tabaqat is considered a

faqih (jurisprudent). Imam Dhahabi is considered a student of Ibn Taymiyya and he considers

Abu Yazid al-Bistami a reasonable and sound source of hadith. Yet Abu Yazid al-Bistami is the

one who is noted for saying ‘Subhanee‘ which means ‘Glory to Me!’ This is known in the

technical vocabulary of the Sufis as a shatha, an ecstatic utterance. If a person says it in a

state in which their self is absent they are not taken to account for it We have proof of it in

Sahih Bukhari about a slave in the middle of a desert in which the Prophet (s) says that

because he finds his lost beast he shouts out in joy ‘Allah you are my slave and I am Your lord!’

The Prophet explained that that slave made a mistake in his ecstatic state after finding his

animal. This is someone who finds their animal, so how much greater for someone who has

found his Lord?! What about his state of ecstasy?

“The fifth reason [to reject Sufism] is the covetousness some people have for the ranks of

Sufism. In traditional Muslim society the Sufis were held up as literally the highest people in

the society; they were the shaykhs. Imam Nawawi was a great Sufi, [Qadi] Iyad was a great

Sufi, Ibn Hajar Asqalani was a great Sufi, Imam Ibn Jawzi was a great Sufi. All of these great

imams were known to be Sufis of great stature. Abu Hamid al Ghazzali who is given the title

Hujjat al-Islam is probably the greatest example. People wanted to be like them, and the Arabs

are notorious in their understanding if you are not like noble people pretend to be like them

because even that is a type of nobility.

“Finally [Sidi Ahmad Zarruq] said, ‘Thus people are inclined to become inflamed with the Sufis,

more so than with any other group.’ People in official positions exert pressure on them more

than anybody else. This was a traditional area in which the government would try to influence

the Sufis because they knew that they had such a vast amount of power over the common

people The Sufis were traditionally the most distant and furthest people from the governors or

the government unless they were righteous rulers like Nizam al Mulk who Imam Ghazali

actually helped to build the Nizamiyya system of teaching. And anyway [Sidi Ahmad Zarruq]

says, ‘Anyone who falls in any of these categories except for the last is either rewarded or

excused and Allah knows best.’

“I was asked to make a du`a and I would like to make the du`a of the people of North Africa

which I heard many, many times in North Africa and was always very impressed by it; it is

called Salat Tunjiyya–the prayer that saves people:

“Allahumma salli ala Sayyidina Muhammadin salatan tunjina biha min jami al ahwali wal afat

wa taqdi lana biha jami`a al hajjat

wa tutahiruna biha min jami`a as-sayyiat

wa tarfauna biha `indaka ala darajat

wa tubalighuna biha aqsa al ghayat min jami`a al khayrat fil hayati wa bad al mamat

wa ala alihi wa sahbihi wa sallim tasliman kathira”

O Allah pray on our Master Muhammad a prayer by means of which we will be saved from

every awe-inspiring harmful thing,

and that will take care of all of our needs,

and purify us by means of it from all of our ugly qualities and characteristics

and raise us and purify us by means of it from all of our ugly qualities and characteristics

and raise us up by means of it in Your Presence to the highest of degrees,

and cause us to reach by means of it the extremes of all goodness in our life and after our


and this prayer be upon his family and his companions

and may he be given safety and much salaam.

Tasawwuf/Sufism in Islam by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. Page 3 of 4 01-Mar-01

“I would like to thank on behalf of CAIR and the Muslims in this area everybody for attending

this lecture. Thank you very much.”

The following are some notes from the famous Sufism Internet Debate of 1993, which refer to the discussion of the

concept of fana’ which was mentioned by Shaykh Hamza above as the state in which some Sufi masters issued

utterances (shatha) of outwardly anti-Islamic import.

In Book, Volume 2, pages 396-397 of Majmu’a Fatawa, Shaikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya speaks about fana also known in

Sufism as annihilation.

He said:

“This state of love is the state of many people that are from the people of Love to Allah `azza

wa jall, they are the people of the love of Allah and the People of the Will (al-irada) of Allah, it is

typical of many of the people that love God and seek Him. Because that person has vanished

in his lover, in Allah `azza wa jall _hrough the intensity of the love, because he vanished in

Allah’s love, not his own ego’s love. And he will recall Allah, not recalling himself, remember

Allah , not remembering himself, visualizing Allah [yastashhid], not visualizing himself, existing

in Allah, not in the existence of himself. When he reaches that state ‘Ana al-Haqq‘ (I am the

Truth) or ‘Subhanee‘ (Glory to Me!) and he will say ‘maa fil jubba ill-Allah‘ (there is nothing in

this cloak except Allah), because he is drunk in the love of God and this is a pleasure and

happiness that he cannot control.”

Further on Shaikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya says:

“This [matter] has in it Haqq and there is in it Batil. But when someone will enter a state with

his fervor intense love (`ishq) to Allah, he will enter a state of absentmindedness, and when he

enters a state of absentmindedness, he will find himself as if he is accepting the [concept] of

ittihad [union]. I do not consider this a sin. Because that person is excused and no one may

punish him as he is not aware of what he is doing. Because the pen does not condemn the

crazy except when he is restored to sanity. And when that person is in that state and he was

wrong in what he did, he will be under Allah’s address:

“Rabbana laa tu`akhidhna in-naseena aw akhta`na”

“Our Lord, do not take us to task if we forget or make mistakes.” (Baqara 2:286)

“And Allah says in other verse, “wa laa junaaha `alaykum fimaa akhtaatum bihi” – “there is no

blame on you if you unintentionally do a mistake.”

On page 339, in Volume 10, Ibn Taymiyya says:

“there is a story of two men who were so respectful and loved each other very much. One of

them fell in the water [of the sea] and immediately the other threw himself behind him. Then the

first one, who was sinking asked, “what made you throw yourself here?” He said, I vanished in

you, and when I vanished in you I thought you were me and I was you.”

And further on Ibn Taymiyya continues:

“As long as he is not through something that is prohibited, it is accepted, but if it were

prohibited (the intention was bad then he is not excused.”

And Shaikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya continues (Volume 2, page 397):

Tasawwuf/Sufism in Islam by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. Page 4 of 4 01-Mar-01

“And because of that [situation]many of the saints like `Abdul Qadir Jilani, have an excuse

because they are in a state of love `ishq).”

That subject is also mentioned in a whole chapter on detail from page 337-343, entitled: “al-Fana’ alladhee yujad fi

kalam as-sufiyya yuffassar bi-thalathat umur” (The Word Annihilation found in Sufism explained in Three Ways).

This chapter describes the concept of fana’ in detail.

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