From the little and lot I have learned about tasawwuf in Islam, I have found many things that are not well known. Tasawwuf is like Fiqh, it is there in the life of the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam, but it takes a scholar- someone real to see it and grasp it. This is why some people are puzzled where it came from and why and think because of one misunderstood aspect, the entirety is wrong- this is not the case, just as it is not the case with any of the Islamic sciences.
Alhamdulillah, over the 1400 years, the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam has passed knowledge to the Sahabas, to the Tabi’een and to the Taba Tabi’een, to the blessed Imams, to the shaykhs that came to be up until our age. This is what Sufism does, it gives one an understanding of the “atmosphere” of the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam, gives one a sense of his presence, how he was in person, something words need assistance in conveying. This is the gem of Sufism that has made it so distinguishing to Islam.
So I thought it appropriate that in order to understand the atmosphere of the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam we must understand the shaykhs of our time that embody that spirit of the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam, their predecessors leading back to the Salaf and to the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam himself. The Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam in this way is put in proper context, and his blessed status fully appreciated as someone who indeed did grace this Earth.
In that spirit, I have selected some hadith and recorded stories inter-relating with Sufism. If we can understand early Sufism, which was as pure as is could be, then we will come closer to feeling the presence of the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam’s sunnah, in our life.
Sahl al-Tustari (the Sufi Imam of the Salaf and famous Quranic commentator) once met Abu Dawud (the man who would compose the famous “Sunan Abu Dawud” major hadith collection) and said to him: “Bring out for me your tongue with which you narrate the Prophet’s hadiths so that I may kiss it,” whereupon Abu Dawud drew out his tongue and al-Tustari kissed it.
This sounds yuck to us, because of our culture, but look at how much respect they gave to the hadith itself! al-Tustari’s spiritual exercise, if I remember correctly, consisted not only of the sunnah and nawafil but also of reciting hadith, because the recital of hadith itself is dhikr!
The Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam said, “Abu Bakr does not precede you in anything in the way of prayer or fasting but in a secret (sirr) rooted deep in his heart.” (Manaqib as-Sahaba of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal)
This is where we find the concept of secret knowledge or the secret of the Sufis. You will hear this time and time again, but always wonder WHAT it is referring to. Often people will say about a shaykh, “May Allah sanctify his secret.” This secret is not something you and I can say, “Oh well it’s this,” but perhaps experience or understand subconsciously, like a type of dreamlike knowledge. It’s psychological or has to do with our souls (ruh). Often it not even known to the person, but only known to Allah.
It has been related by ad-Daylami on the authority of Abu Hurayra who said that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace said: “Indeed from knowledge, there is a part which is concealed, which no one knows it except the Knowers of Allah. For when they speak on it, no one rejects it except the people completely heedless of Allah.”
I will be honest in saying this is a deep subject that I cannot explain or enumerate except but to cite this hadith a shaykh told me. This itself is a much bigger topic and deals with the concept of “ma’rifah.” When people say Allah created us to worship Him, they do not just mean worship mindlessly, but to also come to know Allah, so that we can worship Him properly. But coming to know Allah is not easy and that is the world of “ma’rifah.” To know Allah, takes a lifetime and even more than that, into the eternity of the After-life, because this world and the next were not created except for us to seek Him. Scientists strive to know Allah in their studies, as do philosophers and thinkers, but they are not the ones who will come to Him as He should be known that way.
Imam Ahmad wept to the point that he passed out upon hearing the discourse of Shaykh al-Harith al-Muhasibi for the first time. Al-Dhahabi comments: “The transmission chain of this report is sound, and yet I can’t believe this on the part of Imam Ahmad!”
I had a friend who heard this story and was so amazed, he went and asked Imam Zaid of Zaytuna Institute, who said: “This is a true story narrated by many reliable sources.” al-Muhasibi was a Sufi who focused on the psychological aspects of the Muslim, the heart and where nifaq (hypocrisy) comes into it and how it affects the believer.This is a deep and stirring subject for the men who have nafsul mutmai’ina (a self-reproaching soul).
I should comment that a great deal of the hadith I have found to be of the deep and spiritual nature, have been narrated by Imam Ahmad. Some people have this misconception of Imam Ahmad rahimullah as very strict or view him and even others in the history of Islam as very one-dimensional. This is seldom the case in our religion, you will find many shaykhs were very dynamic and more complicated personalities than we make them out to be. The Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam saying one thing that sounds very strict, for example, how laughter hardens the heart- but even he salallahu alayhi wasalam, at times, joked around! This is why it is important to continue learning hadith so we can get the full picture of the Sunnah and come closer to its reality, both, in it’s rules and in it’s exceptions.
Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, Ameen.