Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Sufi Ijtihad in Forms of Worship

Ibn Taymiyyah, in his treatise called As-Sufiyya wal-Fuqaraa, says that the early Sufi ascetics, who mainly came from Basra,

"Formulated their own opinions (were mujtahidoon) on these acts of worship, just as their neighbors among the Kufans formulated their own opinions on matters of judicial decision..."

And elsewhere he repeats:

One knows then, that Sufism's place of origin was Basra, and that there were those who trod the path of worship and asceticism that they used independent reasoning (ijtihad) in it, just as there were in Kufa those who trod the path of jurisprudence and religious knowledge, using independent judgment in it.

And so they used ijtihad in reaching their forms of worship, in which they might be wrong or right.

Although the majority of believers- the pious, the friends (awliya) of God, may not have received what the Companions received with regards to the perfection of religious knowledge (ilm) and faith, they fear God as best as they can and obey Him according to their diligent effort. Thus, it is inevitable that they will err, whether in their sciences and doctrines (aqwaal), or in their actions and states, but they are rewarded for their obedience, and He pardons them for their errors.

Thus just as a mujtahid in fiqh is rewarded for his effort even if his conclusion is wrong, so a mujtahid in worship will be rewarded if he erred. So, even though their path is inferior to that of the Companions of the Prophet,

He who considers any person who does his best in forming his own opinion on a pious deed- while being mistaken in some matters- to be blameworthy, disgraceful, and disgusting, he is mistaken, astray, and innovating.

Therefore those who attack certain practices of Sufis that they think is a form of worship as blameworthy, is: mistaken, astray, and innovating!

What is (the) correct (opinion about them) is that they [the Sufis] exercise their independent judgment in obedience to God just as others who are obedient to God have also done. Among them is the foremost (al-saabiq) who draws near [to God] on the basis of this diligent effort, and among them is the moderate who belongs to the "People of the Right Hand". Among both classes is one who may strive diligently but err, and some who sin, repent and others do not. And among those claiming affiliation with them, are those who are unjust to themselves, rebelling against their Lord.

Sects of innovators and zindiqs have claimed affiliation with them, but in the opinion of the genuine Sufis, they do not belong. [Take] Al-Hallaj, for example. Most of the shaikhs of the path refused to have anything to do with him and expelled him from the path, as did al-Junaid ibn Muhammad, the master of the group, and others as shaykh Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami mentions in the Tabaqat al-Sufiyya, and al-Hafiz Abu Bakr al-Khatib in the Tareekh Baghdad.

* Taken from the translation of this treatise by Th. E. Homerin in
Arabica, T. 32, Fasc. 2 (Jul., 1985), pp. 219-244

However, it is important to note that Ibn Taymiyyah is wrong in saying that Sufism originated in Basra. What was then known as the Sufis was a group of ascetics in Basra, who were part of what today is known as "Sufism" but do not represent it.

In the words of researcher Sara Sviri,

One of the surprising deductions from the study of the various Sufi and non-Sufi sources is that from the third/ninth to fourth/tenth centuries not all Muslim mystics were known as Sufis. Addressing Muslim mystics with the comprehensive name sûfî and identifying Islamic mysticism with tasawwuf seems to be the direct result of the compilatory literature of the late fourth/tenth century and later.

In her study of early movements of sufism and mysticism in Islam, she comes to the conclusion that Sufism was a term reserved to a certain school from Baghdad, while mystics from the vast area of Khurasan were not considered to be Sufis.

See the following source for more:

In other words, the Sufism that developed in Iraq (Basra and Baghdad), is not what we call Sufism today. It is a certain school within what we today know as Sufism, and which is almost extinct today. This old school, with its emphasis on severe asceticsm and spiritual exercises (riyada), is gone, while the school of their critic, al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi, who the Baghdadis of that time specifically said was not counted among the Sufis, is what we now know as Sufism today.

As said by shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani, all the sufi tariqas of our times are now Shadhili, meaning that they are based on the Shadhili school of tasawwuf that shuns the practices of the ancient ascetics and prefers a different method based on constant recollection and praise of Allah, not on these ancient practices and exercises.

Thus the infamous early Shadhili Sufi al-Busiri says in his poetry,

والفضل ليس يناله متوسل * بتورع حرج ولا بتزهد
إن قال ذاك الدواء فقل له * كحل الصحيح خلاف كحل الأرمد

"And virtue is not attained by means of awkward asceticism and caution.
If they say that's the necessary cure then say to them:
The Kohl of the healthy is different from the Kohl of those with inflamed eyes "

For a detailed comparison between the ancient school of tasawwuf that developed in Iraq and the Shadhili school that survives today, and that reverts to the path of the Prophet- salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam -and his Companions, see what was said by shaykh Abd al-Aziz al-Dabbagh in the following link:


1- The early "sufis" of Iraq and their practices are different from the path of the Sufis of today, who follow the path of the Prophet and his Companions. Thus when Ibn Taymiyyah says that Sufism originated in Basra, he is referring to a certain school within Sufism that has ceased to exist today.

2- We must remember that if the Sufis today do, like the ancient Basran sufis, use their ijtihad in certain forms of worship that have not been forbidden by the Shari'a (like physical movement in hadras), that this ijtihad might be right and might be wrong. If it is correct, then they will receive double the reward, and if they are wrong, then they will be rewarded for their efforts and forgiven for their sins, inshaAllah. And as Ibn Taymiyyah cautioned, to think that they are astray and to call them such is a wrong and unacceptable innovation.

3- For more about how Sufi practices are an elaboration and development of the sciences of Islam, and not an innovation, see the following link as well:

In the words of the author,

"There is a world of difference between elaborations and innovations, which people with muddled minds find difficult to distinguish."

And praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.