On Tasawwuf and Salafis
The People who accept or practice tasawwuf (ahl al-tasawwuf) are the vast majority of Muslims in the world. Indeed they are the Muslims of the world, whether Sunni or Shi`a… As for the Salafis, their number in the world according to the highest estimation does not exceed a million individuals. They are found mostly in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where a large number of them are Beduins. The ‘sawaad al-a`zham‘ or vast majority of the Ahl al-Sunna follow the Ash`ari and the Maturidi Schools, which also includes the Ahl al-hadeeth (those who accept and believe in the hadeeth) as well as the Ahl al-tasawwuf.
Therefore, with the exception of the Saudi Kingdom which has bestirred the school of the Salafis from its sleep at the hand of Muhammad Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab because such a school fits the mentality of the Beduins — and its was said: there is no need for the English to undermine al-Azhar, which is built upon the Ash`ari school — and with the exception of those who are propagating the Salafi school in many parts of the world, to whom only a small number of the uneducated masses respond such as could be counted on the fingers of the hand, they and the Salafis among the generality of Muslims — with the exception of all these, the rest are all following the Sufis (fa al-baaqoona kulluhum mutaSawwifa).
Granted that the books of the Sufis contain many silly things and tales and reports from the Israelites, whether those books belong to the Ahl al–Sunna or to the Shi`a. What then, shall we declare unbelievers the Muslims of the world? Shall we pronounce kufr on millions of Muslims? If we declare unbelievers the Shi`a and the Ash`ari Sunnis and the Maturidi Sunnis and the Khawarij and the Mu`tazila, how many of the Muslims masses are left Muslim? There will only be left the Salafis who follow the school of Ahmad ibn Hanbal in doctrine (al-`aqaa’id) — which is the school of the uneducated (madhhab al-`awamm) — and the school of the Four Imams in jurisprudence (fiqh), although concerning the latter’s criteria for the extraction of hadith a Salafi author himself said: “They do not necessitate that the hadith be devoid of defects or anomalies in order to establish its soundness.” In other words, he considers them to derive their jurisprudence from the sayings of people and the opinions of people [i.e. instead of the Prophet (s)].
Those who have criticized the school of the Salafis say of them: They do not know the Qur’anic verses from which rulings are extracted nor those whose meaning is obscure. They forbid that either the Qur’an or the language of Arabs be taken metaphorically. They give Allah a body without actually coming out and saying that He is a body to the students of religious knowledge. Rather, they say things like “He is in the heaven (fi al-sama‘) in person (bi dhaatihi),” and “He is not on earth (fi al-arD) in person (bi dhaatihi),” and that “Allah’s Attributes are in addition to His Essence (Sifaat Allah zaa’idatun `ala dhaatih),” and that “Allah descends to the nearest heaven in sensory terms (nuzulan hissiyyan) and in a way fitting His Majesty,” and they narrate in their books both a meaning and its contrary, and defend weak narrations attributed to the Prophet (s) when in fact they were narrated and set down long after his time, and the narrators forgot certain things, added some, and omitted others, and confirmed some and denied others.
Therefore, O [Salafi] critic, this is the present state ot Muslims. Which of them will you declare unbeliever, and which of them will you spare from such a declaration? Say: “Those claiming to follow the Sufi way (al-mutaSawwifa) are ignorant.” Say: “They must be taught.” But do not say: “They are disbelievers (kuffar)”… Gather together, O critic, do not separate. Teach according to the Qur’an and the Sunna explained, and you shall reap success. Argue in the best manner, and do not insult those who try to reform Muslims.
From ‘Daf` al-shubuhaat `an al-Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali‘ [The Refutation of False Arguments Made Against the Shaykh Muhammad al- Ghazali] (Cairo: Maktabat al-kulliyyaat al-azhariyya, 1410/1990) p. 79-80.
Peace and Blessings upon the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions
© 2016 As-Sunnah Foundation of America