Volume 2, Number 5
Rabi` al-Thani, 1418/September, 1997
In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
[Imam Hamza Yusuf, founder of
the Zaytuna Institute of Hayward California,
gave a public lecture on Sufism in Islam, directly following a talk by former
Harvard professor of Oriental Studies Dr. Anne-Marie Schimmel. This is a transcription of
that public talk sponsored by CAIR held at Stanford University, May 4, 1997]
"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, 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.’"
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