Soul of Islam
A lot of people have misunderstandings about Islamic spiritualism (tasawwuf). Many think that it is something beyond Qur’an and Sunnah. Errant Sufis as well as the superficial ulema, although on the opposite ends of the spectrum, are together in holding this mistaken notion. Consequently the first group has shunned the Qur’an and Hadees while the second group has shunned tasawwuf. Actually, although the term tasawwuf, like many other religious terms in use today, evolved later, the discipline is very much part of the Shariah. The department of the Shariat relating to external part of all Ibadat is called fiqha while the one dealing with internal part and states of the heart and mind is called tasawwuf. Both are commanded in the Qur’an. “Verily, he who has purified the heart is successful and he who has despoiled it has lost.”Thus while commanding Salat, Saum, Haj and Zakat the Qur’an also commands gratefulness and love of Allah and condemns the evil of pride and vanity. Similarly, in the books of hadees, along with the chapters on Ibadat, trade and commerce, marriage and divorce, are to be found the chapters on riya (showoff), takabbur (pride), akhlaq (character) etc. These commands are as much a mandatory requirement as the ones dealing with external deeds.
On reflection it will be realised that all the external deeds are designed for the reformation of the heart. That is the basis of success in the hereafter while its despoiling is the cause of total destruction. This is precisely what is known technically as tasawwuf. Its focus is tahzeeb-i-akhlaq or the adornment of character; its motive is the attainment of Divine pleasure; its method is total obedience to the commands of the Shariah. Tasawwuf is the soul of Islam. Its function is to purity the heart from the lowly bestial attributes of lust, calamities of the tongue, anger, malice, jealousy, love of the world, love of fame, niggardliness, greed, ostentation, vanity, deception, etc. At the same time it aims at the adornment of the heart with the lofty attributes of repentance, perseverance, gratefulness, love of Allah, hope, abstention, tauheed, trust, fear, sincerity, truth, contemplation, etc.
To diagnose and treat the diseases of the heart normally requires the help of an expert mentor or Shaikh. Here are the qualities of a good Shaikh. (1) He possesses necessary religious knowledge. (2) His beliefs, habits, and practices are in accordance with the Shariat. (3) He does not harbour greed for the worldly wealth. (4) He has himself spent time learning from a good Shaikh. (5) The scholars and good mashaikh of his time hold good opinion about him. (6) His admirers are mostly from among the people who have good understanding of religion. (7) Most of his followers follow the Shariat and are not the seekers after this world. (8) He sincerely tries to educate and morally train his followers. If he sees anything wrong in them, he corrects it. (). In his company one can feel a decrease in the love of this world and an increase in the love for Allah. (10) He himself regularly performs zikr and shughal (spiritual exercises). In searching for a Shaikh, do not look for his ability to perform karamat (miracles) or to foretell the future. A very good Shaikh may not be able to show any karamat. On the other hand, a person showing karamat does not have to be a pious person — or even a Muslim. Prominent Sufi Bayazid Bistami says: “Do not be deceived if you see a performer of supernatural feats flying in the air. Measure him on the standard of the Shariah.” When you find the right Shaikh, and you are satisfied with his ability to provide spiritual guidance, you perform bhait or pledge. This is a two-way commitment; the Shaikh pledges to guide you in light of Shariah and you pledge to follow him.
Then the Shaikh will give his mureed (disciple) initial instructions. They include the following. (1) Perform repentance for all the past sins and take steps to make amends, e.g. if any salat has been missed so far in the life, you start making up for it. (2) If you have any unmet financial obligations toward another person make plans to discharge them. (3) Guard your eyes, ears, and tongue. (4) Perform zikr regularly. (5) Start a daily session of self-accounting before going to bed. Review all the good and bad deeds performed during the day. Repent for the bad ones and thank Allah for the good ones. (6) Perform muraqaba (meditation) regularly. (7) Develop humility. Even if you observe another individual committing the worst of vices you should not despise him/her, nor should you consider yourself nobler. It is very much possible that the perpetrator of the vice may resort to sincere repentance while the one who despised the sinner become ensnared in the traps of nafs and Shaitan. One has no certainty regarding one’s end. One, therefore has no basis for regarding another with contempt. The essential idea of tahzeebe akhlaq is to bring our natural faculties in a state of balance. The three basic faculties are anger, desires, and intelligence. A person will be considered as having a beautiful seerat (character) only when these faculties are in the state of balance and equilibrium. Internal beauty varies with people just as external beauty does. The possessor of the most accomplished and beautiful seerat was the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The beauty of our seerat is based on its closeness to his seerat.