Philosophy Of Sufism>>Life Of Sufi

The life of a Sufi is the “life of the spirit ” regulated strictly in accordance with Islamic theology and traditions. To attain this his first lesson is unshakable belief in the existence of God and unconditional surrender to His will. This entails a strenuous life attended by rigid austerity and self-denial. He has to undergo a course of training in regular prayers and meditation to attain the Divine Knowledge and realisation of Truth. This particular knowledge is passed on ‘in secret’ by one Sufi to another having the requisite qualifications i.e. one who does not think evil does not see evil, does not hear evil and does not speak evil. Without this Divine Knowledge, one cannot fathom the hidden mysteries of the Nature and those of the soul. To sum up the whole object of Sufism is to attain the highest spiritual perfection. A Sufi will be distinguishable from others on account of his detachment from his parents, children, wealth, power, position and comforts. His ignorance vanishes in the effulgence of the ‘Divine Light’ of the most High, the Lord of the entire Universe. In such an ecstatically devotion there is neither pain nor sorrow for him as he is overwhelmingly dedicated to the will of the Almighty God. Thus a Sufi saint is the Spiritual King, far above all temporal kings, disguised in the patched robes of a humble dervish.Hazrat Khawaja Muinuddin Chisty (May peace of God be upon his soul) was one of the greatest Sufi saints the world has ever known. His spiritual influence and benedictions have been, and are still a perpetually source of inspiration courage and guidance to the afflicted humanity, irrespective of caste creed or religion.

Sufi Silsilas

The Sufis are classified into four prominent silsilas (categories) or lines, viz. Qadaria, Chishtia Suhraward and Naqshbandia. Hazrat Khawaja Muinuddin Chishty belonged to the second ‘silsila’. There is no fundamental difference between these silsilas except in matters of minor details. They are all within the framework of the Islamic law as laid down by the Holy Quran and expounded by Hadith but the rituals applied for obtaining the communion or ‘raza’ of God are different just like the modern Universities where student take different courses for obtaining a particular class of degree. The Chishtia ‘silsila’ does not enjoin any indifferent belief from that of the other Hanafi Sunni Mussalmans. Their belief is based upon the Holy Quran. A study of the lives of Chishty saints, including Hazrat Khawaja Muinuddin and his spiritual preceptor Hazrat Khwaja Usman Harooni reveals that they preached and held purely Quranic beliefs. According to Shariat, every Chishty saint has to follow the Quranic laws strictly. The Sufi ‘silsilas’ however, are not sects. They grew up because people went to Sheikhs or ‘murshids’ (religious masters) for spiritual guidance and training who invested those of their disciples whom they regarded as spiritually fit to cater for the spiritual and moral needs of others Traditions, no doubt, grew up differently in different ‘silsilas’. What is common between the various Sufi ‘silsilas’ is confined to few spiritual practices like auraad (verses from Quran) ‘sama’ (audition) certain festivals, institutions like veneration of the shrines, the etiquette of visiting them and the devotion to certain leading personalities of the order. One special features of the Chishtia order, which is particularly observable among the early Chishty saints of India, is their love for all humanity. They sought to inculcate among their followers an attitude of broad sympathy for the common man irrespective of caste, creed or nationality. They stressed more on humanitarian of caste, creed or nationality. They stressed more on humanitarian obligations of Muslims than on any other point. And that is why Khawaja Muinuddin Chishty attracted lakhs of people to the vast circle of his devotees in India in a very short time.


Regulation And Practices

There are certain regulations of Sufism which are called ‘Adraak’ and ‘Ehsas’ in Sufi parlance. They are also known as ‘Arkaan Tasawwuf’ or ‘Arkaan-Baatani’ i.e. the rules and discipline for the acquirement of the hidden wisdom or knowledge. They are divided into the “hidden wisdom” or knowledge. They are divided into the following three categories:

(1) “Knowledge” i.e. the ‘divine Knowledge’ attainable through the rigid discipline of ‘Shariat’.

(2) “Amal” i.e. action under the above discipline with unflinching faith and devotion.

(3) “Haal” i.e. the resulting reaction from ‘Amal’ or the action.

A Sufi aspirant’s first important step to act upon the above course is to seek a religious preceptor or ‘murshid’ who should be a practical master of the said Divine Knowledge and its training experience. His preliminary lessons start with,

(i) Liturgical practices and exercises with unswerving devotion to certain Quranic verses which are pregnant with the Divine Knowledge in order to grasp their spiritual interpretation and values.

(ii) A rigid control over his soul called ‘Nafs’which starts which renunciation and self-mortification.


Training In Sufism

When a person decided to become a mystic or Sufi, he was expected to go to a Sheikh or Murshid (master) and spend with him as much time as was deemed necessary by the Sheikh for his spiritual development. During this period of apprenticeship which, in most cases, lasted a lifetime the Sheikh used to instruct the disciple to perform mortification (Mujahedas) so as to gain control over his appetitive soul, i.e. ‘Nafs’. This was done by performing service like hewing of wood, drawing of water from the wells and so many other menial services in the Khanqah (the monastery or chapel). Even Hazrat Khawaja Muinuddin Chishty himself had to pass through this hard and rigorous course of probation when he was under training for a period of 20 years with his Pir-o-Murshid (master) Hazrat Khawaja Usman Harooni. Every Sufi saint had to perform these hard services for his ‘Pir’ before achieving the robe of Khilafat (succession).

Stages Of Mysticism

According to the Islamic standard of judgment, the seeker after Truth, as stated above has to pass through many stages before he can actually feel himself in commination with the Truth being the ultimate object. The elementary condition is to have an unshakable faith and a firm resolve in doing or not doing a thing that is termed ‘niyyat’ (intention) in Muslim theology which is followed by repentance and penitence. The next stage is called “Mujaheda” (probation of striving). When it reaches its zenith then the revelation process begins which is known as “Mukashfa” (the uplifting of veil). At this stage the attainments of the saint (or Sufi) are so exquisite that he emerges his identify in the will of God, the creator, and the reactions are visible and affect the code and conduct of human beings. The effort by which each stage is gained is called ‘haal’ (state). It is a state of joy or desire and when the seeker is in this condition he falls into ‘wajd’ (ecstasy).


Basis Of Sufism

Early history of Sufism reveals that this particular branch of Divine knowledge originated and developed under conditions of strict discipline of quietism, seclusion, renunciation and incessant devotion to prayers under the guidance of a ‘Murshid’ or spiritual preceptor. In the popular sense, Sufism is known as mysticism in the West but it is not at par with the conception which the word ‘Sufism’ actually carries in Islamic parlance. One of the advantages of this cult is that its follower speedily discovers all the mysteries of Nature for the benefit of mankind. Its greatest gospel is to Live and Let live’ and to bestow undiscriminating affection upon all mankind. It caters for the real peace and spiritual needs of the people who are generally sick of the material world and seek a spiritual asylum. To be brief, unless one is a God’s chosen man endowed with the inherent natural spark of Divine love, pity and religious devotion, and is also fit for the necessary hard Mujahedas (probation and strivings) one cannot become a prefect Sufi.

Divine Love

The next important feature of Sufi belief was divine love. From the time of Rabia Al-Adawiya (died 801 AD). It had become the mainstream of Sufism while in India it had become the dominant feature of the popular Bhakti movement. Love they said was both the causes as well as the effect of gnosis. A person was likely to achieve gnosis as a result of divine blessing only when he had devotion for God. While a person who had achieved gnosis could not help being overwhelmed and overpowered by cosmic emotion (jazba) and divine love. Love, according to them was emotive force of life in fact raison d’être. This powerful emotion dominated every thought or sentiment, contemplative life, theology, ritual thought of heaven and hell and all else. “The heart of a mystics is a blazing furnace of love which burns and destroys everything that comes into it because no fire is stronger than the fire of love”, says Khawaja Muinuddin Chishty. Love implied an illuminative life a state of continued communion with Reality (haal). The object of life was indifferently described as apologetic vision (sometimes used in spiritual sense at others in a physical sense), nearness to God, annihilation (fana), everlasting life in God (baqa) and ultimately absorption or union (wassail). It was only on the achieves tranquillity by falling into the sea? Thus when the lover finds the beloved he no longer wails.”

The natural outcome of such an outlook was a religion of ecstatic fervour and intoxication (Sukr). Such an attitude of mind could best be produced by and then find satisfaction in liturgical practices (Azkaar-Zikr-e-khafi, zikr-e-jail), spiritual concerts or audition (sama), and other forms of auto hypnosis. Because of the efforts of Khawaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Sufi Hameeduddin Nagauri and Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, ‘sama’ became a cranial feature of the Chishty silsila and brought it in occasional conflicts with the orthodox Ulama.

The mystic belief in gnosis and love is usually accompanied by characteristic ethics. The Sufis had fully followed and systematised certain ethical concepts before Islam came to India. The Indian Sufism merely reiterated these beliefs although there was difference in the degree of emphasis. The basis of the Sufi attitude is that the Veil which hides Reality from mankind is that of Bashariyat, (creature hood). The nature of man consists of sensual, intellectual and spiritual features. Intellect, according to them performed a restricted function. The central pivot of spiritual life was the Qalb (heart) or the Rooh (soul). They were regarded as ethereal in nature and hence capable of communion with God. This function however could never be performed until the heart was purified of the dirt of sensual or lower self called in Sufi terminology the nafs (appetitive soul). The struggle against nafs regarded as wholly evil, therefore, became one of the main concerns of the Sufis. This implied an outlook of renunciation, penitence, asceticism, poverty, self-mortification and quietism-in short, other worldliness. This other worldliness was never interpreted strictly and the Chishty product recommended more an outlook of another-worldliness than actually going away from society.

The idea among the nobler minds in the world of Islam, that there is a deeper and more inward sense in the words of the Quran arose not from the wish to escape from the rigour of ‘ texts and dogmas’, but from a profound conviction that those words mean more, not less than the popular expounders supposed them to convey. This conviction combined with a deep feeling of Divine pervasion, a feeling originating from and in perfect accordance with the teachings of the Quran and the instruction of the Prophet led to the development among the Muslims of that contemplative idealistic philosophy which has received the name of Sufism. The appeal of which among the Mohammedans was probably assisted by the prevalence of Neo-Platonic ideas. Imam-al-Ghazzali in the East and Ibn Tufail in the West were the two great representatives of mysticism among the Muslims.

Ulema – Sufi Clash

At first the leaders of mysticism were supposed to be the Ulema or orthodox religious teachers but by the end of 3rd century they were replaced mostly by middle classes, specially from the mixed half Persian and half Arabian population of Baghdad, who followed Sufism. Against the political revolutionary aims of Shia’ite propagandists the Ulema protested vehemently. Their programme of reform included the awakening of religious conscience of individuals and the spiritual revival of the social organisation of the community. These social implications were reinforced by the labours of Sufis in preaching and converting, firstly members of their own class or followers and secondly carrying on their missionary work for Islam in other distant lands. For all times and in all countries these Sufi ascetics were the most active and powerful propagandists of Islam and it was none but Hazrat Khawaja Muinuddin Chishty of Sanjar who introduce the Chishtia silsila (order) of Sufis in India and did such a wonderful service to the cause of Islam.

For the above reasons the orthodox Ulema began to suspect the new social implications of the Sufi movement in Islam and a rift seemed to be widening between Sufism and orthodoxy. Serious attempts were made to silence the Sufis and on failure an example of punishment was set of one prominent Sufi Mansur al-Hallaj, who was charged with heresy in having identified himself with God and was cruelty executed in the beginning of the 4th century. This punishment was not inflicted by any violent fanatics but by pious upholders of the ancient Faith like the Good Wazir’ Ale-ibn-Isa. Repression however proved futile and the Sufi movement continued firmly based as it was on both the open and ‘secret’ teachings of Quran and the moral standards of Islam. Despite the adverse views of the learned layers, the tendency towards the neglect of the ritual prescriptions and the outside influence clashing with the traditional outlook of Islam the strength of Sufism lay in the satisfaction which it gave to the religious instincts of the people, instincts which were chilled or starved by the rigid and impersonal teachings of orthodox Ulema but which found more relief in the directly personal and emotional approach of Sufism.

It must be remembered that this popular character and appeal of Sufism arose out of the ranks of the people themselves and appealed to the people whose main reading matter was furnished by short lives of the saints often replete with their miraculous deeds. It was the unceasing labours of the mystics ascetic or Sufis that gave to Islam its widespread permanent hold upon the masses and that plated such a conspicuous part in spreading the Divine Message among new and fertile lands rather than the slow work of purely orthodox Ulema or their system of propagation.

During the 4th and 5th centuries, Sufism grew in strength in spite of the frowning Ulema it was in this period that the Zikr and Sama from their simple congregational recitation and meditation over the Quran began to show more definite liturgical tendency marked specially by the recitation of chants and litanies. But it was not this difference alone that marked off Sufism from the orthodox services as similar liturgical ceremonies were commonly performed in the mosques as well. The hostility of the theologians was however due partly to their fear that the Sufi Zikr might replace the mosque as the center of religious life. There was also a more deeper and selfish reason for the conflict, the traditional exclusive claim of the possession of sciences of theology and law and their position as the sole authoritative exponents of the Islamic doctrine-sciences which they had built up by infinite trouble and whose acquisition involved long and arduous study. They maintained that it was by their means that the substances of Faith had been preserved against both heretical innovations in doctrine and the attempts of the secular arm to override its privileges and obligations.

Naturally the theologians were proud of their system and jealous for the maintenance of their authority. They held that it was by this method alone that they were able to propagate Islam and promote its cause and that any relaxation would open the way to heresy and corruption both spiritual and material. But the Sufis rejected these claims bluntly and even derisively. According to them there was only one way to knowledge which lay through the direct and personal experience called “Marifat” culminating in momentary union with or absorption into the Godhead and not through the rational and second hand knowledge or ilm of the scholastic type. They thought, theology instead of assisting their process. Actually hindered it. The conflict between the doctrinaire and the seeker or follower of the Inner Light therefore seemed irreconcilable.


Sufism Triumphed

The outside influences and doctrines implied in Sufism in these formative centuries, were also suspected by the Ulema. Apart from the various orthodox rules and concepts of Islam the exaltation which the holy Prophet Mohammed enjoyed also appeared to be eclipsing against the overwhelming veneration accorded to Sufi sheikhs in their lifetime and their elevation to sainthood after death. Nothing could, therefore be more intolerable and repugnant to the primitive ideas of Islam and the system of their maintenance by the Ulema but in the teeth of Quran. Tradition, rationalism and orthodox theology the worship of Sufi saints irresistibly crept into the Islamic fold, and eventually swept everything before it. As time went on popular elements of Sufism established themselves more and more firmly in the Islamic fold. More and more religious minded people also joined the ranks of Sufi mystics who sought not metaphysical knowledge of religion but living experience of God. During the 5th century there was a marked drift towards Sufism of some of the ablest thinkers of Islam. Ultimately principle of compromise between orthodoxy and Sufism was inevitably sought with the result that a celebrated theologian Al-Qushari (died 1072 AD) wrote a treatise urging the cause of the higher Sufism and the acceptance of the doctrine of ecstatic communion with God. The actual revolution is however linked with the name of Imam al-Ghazale (died 1111 AD) who stands high in his religious insight and intellectual ability and who dived deep into mystics sciences and philosophies. He changed his convictions again and again in his long religious experiments and research. First, he revolted against the casuistry of the theologians and incessantly sought ultimate reality through all the Muslim religious systems and philosophies of his time.

After a prolonged bodily mental and intellectual struggle he finally fell from sheer philosophic agnosticism upon his personal experience of God which he found only in the Sufi path. To his school of thought belonged such Sufi giants as Maulana Rum the author of the celebrated Masnavi (one of the most authentic works on Sufism) Hazrat Junaid Baghdadi, Maulana Shibli, Maulana Fariduddin Attaar, Khaqani, Shamsuddin Haafiz Shirazi (one of the greatest Persian Sufi poets in the East) Sheikh Sa’adi and others. Both Imam al-Ghazali and the stalwart Al-Qushari forged a synthesis that ultimately accommodated the essential principles of Islam between orthodoxy and Sufism which were thus tied to one and the other forever though their paths remained different.


Sufism In India

From Iraq and Persia, Sufism perpetrated into India with Hazarat Khawaja Muinuddin Chishty where it found a very congenial soil to prosper after some stubborn opposition. With its advent a large number of Sufi saints sprang up all over the land, doing invaluable service by their solacing influence to the afflicted humanity irrespective of caste or creed. It was this indiscriminating service to the cause of the suffering humanity and peace that won the hearts of the people of India and made the Sufis highly popular among all classes of people from a peasant to the prince. Not only this but even after their death, they are still held in high reverence, a thing which is unknown in other countries. This unflinching devotion is of course not with out any reason; there must be “something” very real and serious to come and end it?

Meritorious Contribution

Sufism in spite of its loftiness in religious ideals has been less fastidious and more ready to accept alien practices and ideas provided they produced good results. Blended with Sufism the orthodox couch was undoubtedly refreshed and strengthened and in fact acquired a more popular character and attraction in Islam. Sufism in Western Asia, North Africa, won over large multitudes to Islam. Central Asia, India and Indonesia. In the wake of Sufism, Shia’ism also suffered an eclipse and lost much of its original influence. On the whole Sufism has made a meritorious and invaluable contribution to the promotion and prosperity of Islam in the world.

Sufism Defined

Sufism implies “Iqtida” i.e. to adhere strictly to the laws of Shariat. It means highly pious and enlightened way of life which may be expressed in conformity with thought and action as explained below:

(a) `Qualan’ i.e. expression through ‘Shariat’ or the Divine Law (ordained for the harmonious conduct of man in this world with promise of his salvation in the next.)

(b) `Failan’ or ‘Tariqat’ i.e. expression through human activity and discipline under the said Divine Law or ‘Shariat.

(c) “Haalan” or Haqiqat i.e. the ‘state ‘ acquired by acting upon and passing through Qualan and Failan stages reaching the zenith of the spiritual perfection.

While the Qualan and Failan stages can be analysed or expressed through the human faculties, the expression of Haalan ‘Haqiqat’ or ‘Reality’ is beyond the scope of all human conception and is therefore inexpressible and indescribable because human intellect or faculties are restricted to a ‘limit and transcend no more. This is the highest and final stage of Sufism in which the aspirant is face to face with the ‘Divine Light ‘ and ultimately merges his identity with God Supreme. It is therefore a state, the secrets of which have never been divulged to the humanity at large without Sufism entitles.A Persian couplet describes this ‘state’ as follows “Aan raa ke Khabar shud Khabarash baaz nayamad.” i.e. nobody ever heard of them who dived deep into the secrets of God or the mysteries of Nature.


The Sufis emphasised that ultimate Reality could be grasped only intuitively (Ma’arifat or gnosis). It was veiled from the human eye and intellect, and constituted a mystery which could be apprehended by none but the advanced spirits. Although they described in vivid details how Ma’arifat could be achieved they never concerned themselves with the nature of the Reality. There are clear traces of belief of pantheism and of monism, although in general they believed in a transcendental omnipotent God as the Creator of the universe.

The intuitive or esoteric experience or Reality implied that parallel to the orthodoxy or “external” theology, there was also an “internal” or spiritual interpretation of the Holy Quran and of the actions prescribed by the Law. This spiritual interpretation was necessity subjective, intuitive and esoteric. But this is a very delicate point to be discussed by a layman. Only the advanced Sufis or Saints, who are now rare, can interpret them satisfactorily in the light of their own practical experience. No one in the present scientific civilisation can either understand or convince easily the average man on these delicate points.

The Process

According to Islamic conception a Sufi is one who is fired with Divine live and who as a true devotee of God and is constantly impatient to seek nearness to HIM. The quest of a Sufi centers round the exploration or probe into the mysteries of the nature. He is whole-heartedly engrossed in seeking out the myriad truths of the TRUTH, and concentrates on the hard task of reconciling his action to his thoughts. This is an extremely difficult process. He has, first of all to suppress or subdue his worldly desires inherent in the soul of man called Nafs in order to attain purity and steadfastness in his character. After attaining this stage, he enters the second phase of building up his external and internal character through mental exercises as the result of which the knowledge of the hidden mysteries of Nature or God is revealed unto him. To summarise the whole process of Sufism, the true path of a Sufi’s salvation lies through the thorny wilderness of renunciation, self-mortification on and annihilation of the Nafs by incessant devotion to God. Thus a Sufi aspirant has to under go a rigid test in morals and by acquiring a perfect knowledge of the Quran and Islamic theology. Also strict adherence to the Muslim law of jurisprudence called ‘Fiqah’ and ‘Hadith’ which deal with the moral, social, economic, and political aspects of Muslim life, he reaches his goal ultimately.

Shariat And Tariqat

The basis of the teachings of the early Sufis was a clear distinction between the real and the apparent, between the external and the internal, between the formal and the spiritual. The codes of beliefs and behaviour prescribed in the two were the Shariat which they called ‘external science’ and the Tariqat (the path or way) or the ‘internal’ or “spiritual science”. The starting point of the spiritual progress, they argued was the Shariat but their distinctive contribution to the religious life of the Muslims was the emphasis which they laid on Tariqat. They bypassed the abstract and colourless scholastic discussions of faith and ritual, and supplemented the inspiring orthodox attitude of commands and prohibitions with an “emotive principal and a living religious experience.” In orthodox Islam, these features had become subordinated. By emphasising them the Sufis sought to restore the religious balance and brought Islam into greater harmony with the prevailing Indian traditions.