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Question: My question is regarding the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention. There is one person going to come to that convention named Hamza Yusuf. I don't know for sure, but I have been hearing that he is a Sufi. I don't exactly know what Sufism is, but I heard it is another division of Islam which basically leads to Muslims being divided among themselves, and I don't know if Sufis are Muslims. I have heard that Hamza Yusuf has deviated away from what the Koran and maybe other sources of Islam really teach and he is teaching others un-Islamic concepts especially through his Zaytuna Institute in California. I myself don't know for sure, which is why I wanted to ask you for advice and your opinion. I have been having doubts as to whether or not this convention is really being presented by Muslims or people who like to call themselves Muslim. I thought I might just add, it is strange that he is a sheikh and he has a beard but not the Sunnah type, but some goatee. His cheeks look clean shaven. I am not pointing any fingers but is it possible Sufis are promoting that?

I do not wish to comment on individuals or personalities. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, once asked his companions, “Do you know what backbiting is?” ‘They replied, ‘Allah and His Messenger know best’; then he said, ‘It is to speak ill of your brother.’ They asked, ‘what if my brother is guilty of the thing I am attributing? He replied, ‘if he is guilty, then you are backbiting him; otherwise you have made a false allegation against him!’ (Reported by Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him).

Now coming to the second part of your question dealing with Sufism, let me state the following.

Sufism is a term which has been used by so many people in so many different ways. It varies from pure ascetic piety to sophisticated metaphysical systems of varying descriptions such as pantheism, monism, or monotheism or antinomianism, etc. In the modern world we have a profusion of cults and ideologies referring to themselves as Sufis. While many of them reject even the most basic tenets of Islam, there do exist those who claim to represent the authentic spiritual core of Islam, although they are indeed a minority. Those who simply consider the shari’ah as a ladder to be dispensed with after “realizing” the spiritual goal of haqiqah (realization of inner truth) are certainly not following Islam as we know it. Likewise, those who equate the creation with the Creator, or promote the fusion of the two realms (that of God and His creation) and hold that the perfect man is united with God, is not different from those who adhere to ideas of incarnation (hulul). So one must ask which type of Sufism or Sufi you are referring to in your question: Are you referring to the teachings of scholars and sages such as Junayd al-Baghdadi, Abu Yazid al-Bistami, Abu Sulayman al-Darani, Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Ansari al-Harawi, Hujwiri, Qushayri, Ghazzali, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, Shah Waliullah, etc., who were all Sufis, and yet adhered strictly to the shari’ah?

We can only formulate a critical and objective assessment of the issue by referring to the sources of tasawwuf(authentic Sufism). This will alone help us make clear distinctions, which we must make in order to be fair and objective in judging Sufism and Sufis:

Let us therefore cite from the sources. The following have been quoted by the late al-Imam al-Ddaktoor Abd al-Halim Mahmud (the former sheikh al-Azhar) in his work qadiyyat al-tasawwuf:
Al-Shibli said:
“The beginning of tasawwuf is gaining knowledge of Allah and its end is to realize the Divine Oneness.’

A saintly woman was asked to describe Sufis, and she said:
“They are people whose sole thought is centered on Allah, thus turning away from everything else. The only desire/goal of these people is to reach their Lord/Master; what an excellent search and pursuit theirs is for the One, the Eternally Besought of all Beings! In their search for Him they are not competing with others for trifle gains of this world or its honour; nor are they clamoring for indulgence in pleasures of tasty foods, accumulation of wealth or offspring!”

We read about Abu Yazid al-Bistami. He once told one of his companions:
“Let us go to this man who is known for his saintly qualities—he was known for his asceticism-, they set out to meet him. They soon saw him coming out of his home and entering the mosque, whence he spat and cast out the spittle towards the direction of the qiblah. On seeing his behavior, Abu Yazid quietly walked away without even bothering to greet him. He then told his companion, “If this man cannot be trusted in upholding a simple etiquette from manners of Rasulullah, upon whom blessings and peace, how can we trust him in his higher claims?”

He also said: “If you see a person performing wonder-works such as walking on air, do not be deceived by him until you have tested him in how he spares when it comes to applying the commands and prohibitions (of shara’), and maintaining the limits of shari’ah and observing them.”

Sahl al-Tustari said: “The founding principles of our way are seven. Namely, adhering firmly to the (teaching of the) Book, observing the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be Allah’s blessings and peace, eating only that which is lawful, sparing others of harm, shunning all sins, consistency in tawbah (repentance), and fulfilling one’s obligations towards others (i.e., God’s creation).”

Junayd said: “Whoever does not learn and retain the Qur’an, and does not study the Hadith, cannot be trusted in this matter (tasawwuf), for this branch of knowledge is strictly governed by the principles of the Book and the Sunnah.”

Someone once told Junayd:
“Those who have attained true knowledge of Allah reach a state of ceasing all activities including good works and acts of devotion.”
Junayd replied: “They are the ones who adhere to the (false) doctrine of lifting of religious obligations. It is indeed to me a most grievous thing, those who rob others and commit adultery/fornication are better than them in my view.”

Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili (the founder of Shadhili Tariqah) said:

“If your spiritual intuition (kashf) is found to be at variance with the teachings of the Book and the Sunnah, then you must hold firmly to them, and cast aside your own intuition. You must remind yourself of the fact that Allah has guaranteed infallibility for us only in the teachings of the Book and the Sunnah; He never guaranteed infallibility for us in kashf, ilham (inspiration) or mushahadah (spiritual vision) unless they conform to the yardstick of the Book and the Sunnah.”

This is the tasawwuf which is considered the quintessence of Islam. On the other hand, there is another kind of Sufism which must be decried. Let us quote one of the most eminent Jurists of Islam, namely al-Imam Izz al-Ddeen ibn Abd al-Salam, who is often referred to as Sultan al-Ulama (emperor of scholars), to make a distinction between genuine Sufis and pseudo-Sufis or charlatans. The following are excerpts from a beautiful poem the great Imam composed about this issue which has been cited by Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Hujwi alThaalibi al-Fasi in his reputable work entitled al-Fikr al-Sami fi tarikh al-fiqhi al-Islaami,

“But alas such men have gone before; but today in their place are a bunch of rubbish and filthy ones…
This latter type claim to follow their footsteps; yes but indeed they are walking the walk of the idle ones…. They wore parched garments and displayed the ascetic piety of spiritual poles… In truth they are simply waylaying the path of (true spiritual) seekers…they have filled their outward appearances with garments of piety, but filled their hearts with filth and corruption.

If you tell them, Allah said, and Allah’s messenger said, they will taunt you and slander you like a denier of truth and retort by saying: ‘My own heart said’, ‘my inner secret of secrets said such and such’……claims, which if you were to verify the truth of, you would find to be mere false claims… They have left the divine laws and divine realities and have imitated the ways of the ignorant and deviant ones……

When the state of affairs was such (in the land), the sincere ones guarded the purity of their souls and concealed their states (out of fear of being associated with the above mentioned charlatans)…. They are true servants of Allah…who are consistent in establishing remembrance of Allah…, being obedient and humble before their Lord, speaking only what is veracious… They have renounced their selfish, vain desires and egos, preferring sincerity in their states; they act on what they know, and are generous with what they have, without being miserly, and walk humbly among people…….Their cheeks overflow with tears like torrents of rain…They are monks at night serving their Lord, while in the battlefields they are true warriors….Their gaze is fixed solely on their Beloved (Lord), being distracted by Him from everything else….They are the ones I look toward as a means of drawing near unto You, O My Lord. They are the ones with whom I wish to join my rope. What a terrible loss I will be experiencing if You were to keep me away from knocking at their doors!”

I can only concur with the great Imam in the above statement, which beautifully sums up the idea that there is a clear distinction to be drawn between genuine Sufism and charlatanism parading as Sufism. Ultimately, anything even Sufism that contradicts the clear teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah must be rejected.

May Allah make us among those who yearn for true spiritual excellence; and may He include us among those who love Allah-preferring Him over everything else. For certainly, such indeed is the quintessence of Islam-aameen.

You may also refer to my earlier answer on this site on the question #164, entitled, ‘Is Sufism/Tasawwuf Islamic?’

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