Part Four of Six Answers by Shaykh Hisham Kabbani
The Linguistic Roots of the Word ‘Tasawwuf‘
There are four roots given to the word “tasawwuf.” The first of the roots of the word tasawwuf is from the Arabic word “safa.” This word means “pure like crystal, transparent like water.” It is used to refer to the purity and transparency of a clean heart.There are many other explanations for the word “tasawwuf.” Another one is that it is derived from “Ahl as-Suffa,” (the People of the Bench), who were the people who lived in the Mosque of the Prophet (s) during his life and who were mentioned in the Qur’an in the following verse:
“wasbir nafsaka ma’a al-ladheena yad’una Rabbahum bil-ghadaati wal-‘aasheeyi yureeduna wajhahu wa laa ta’duw ‘aynaaka ‘anhum tureedu zeenat al-hayaat ad-dunya wa laa tut’i man aghfalna qalbahu ‘an dhikrina wat-taba’a hawaahu wa kaana amruhu furuta.”
“[O Muhammad,] keep yourself content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening seeking His Face; and let not your eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this life; nor obey any whose hearts whom We have permitted to neglect the Remembrance of Us, the one who follows his own desires, whose case has gone beyond all bounds.”
This verse emphasizes how much the believers have to keep themselves in the state of Dhikr, Recollection of God on the tongue, in the mind and through the heart.
The third of these roots is the word “as-siffa“–“the characteristics or attributes of carrying goodness and leaving badness” The fourth linguistic root is from “Souffattul-kaffa” which means “a soft sponge” as the Sufi, which is the noun derived from that word, is like a sponge, whose heart is very soft due to its purity. That is why the Prophet (s) was always showing such concern for his Sahaba, in order to purify their hearts and to show them that improvement of the self is based on the improvement of the heart and its being cured of all diseases, internal and external.
© 2012 As-Sunnah Foundation of America