The argument that tasawwuf is essentially parallel to the Shari‘ah is actually a false belief some people vehemently promote to demonise tasawwuf for their radical and/or vested interests. It is always very dangerous not to differentiate between the genuine tasawwuf which is nothing but the true spirit of the Shari‘ah and the pseudo tasawwuf which has always been adopted by the vested interest in the name of spirituality.
Some people blame tasawwuf for so many un-Islamic practices and innovations. But a serious and sincere approach to tasawwuf, which is not possible without proper initiation and bay‘ah on the hand of a shaykh (Bay‘ah is not essential to tasawwuf. It is only to signify the importance upon which the bay‘ah is made, which is abidance by the Shari‘ah. Abidance by the Shari‘ah means to abstain from all sins, major and minor, and to fulfill all the requirements of the law of the Shari‘ah. Through the bay‘ah the shaykh vows to guide the seeker in reaching the aforementioned objectives while the seeker takes the responsibility of adherence and submissiveness to the shaykh.), but still even a superficial study, can help a student to reach to a soft conclusion about tasawwuf. In fact none of the people who say that tasawwuf is a bitter fruit has ever tried to taste it.
The false belief that following the Shari‘ah is not important in tasawwuf has been strongly refuted by none other than the most misunderstood and misrepresented sufi, Shaykh Akbar Ibn ‘Arabi himself. Had there really been any conflict between the Shari‘ah and tasawwuf, then Ibn ‘Arabi should have been the first to advocate that for he is being dubbed by many as being antagonistic towards the Shari‘ah. But the fact is that he exonerates both himself and tasawwuf from this false allegation in one breath by saying, in his Futuhat Makkiyyah, that ‘anything that opposes the reality of the Shari‘ah is falsehood. Doesn’t it demonstrate that neither tasawwuf nor the true Sufis, especially Ibn ‘Arabi, are against the hari‘ah? At another place the Shaykh asserts:
“Whosoever says there is another path to Allah besides the Shari‘ah is a lier. Therefore, such a person should not be chosen to be one’s spiritual mentor (sahykh) who does not have propriety.”Yet again the Shaykh emphasizes:
“There is no way for us except the Shari‘ah and that which He (Allah) has taught us in the Shari‘ah” At another place in the same Futuhat, Shaykh Akbar says:
“He has no worth in the eyes of Allah who does not know His (Allah’s) rule (the Shari‘ah) because Allah has never made any ignorant person a friend.”
One more prominent sufi, Bayazid Bustami, whom some people reprimand due to his allegoric mystical utterances, but interestingly has been praised by Ibn Taymiyyah, the formidable enemy of the false Sufis, says:
“Do not be fooled if you observe a person bestowed with supernatural wonders even if he flies in the sky, unless you see him strict upon the laws of the Shari‘ah, upon avoiding the forbidden acts, and vigilant about staying within the boundaries of the Shari‘ah.”
Junaid Baghdadi, chief of the Sufis of his time, says:
“All the different avenues are closed to the world except the one which follows the blessed Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).”
Shaykh Husayn Ahad Madani, a famous muhaddith (traditionist) of Deoband and a sufi as well, stressed in his letters that the fundamental objective of tasawwuf is to strictly follow the Shari‘ah. In one of his letters to a disciple he wrote:
“My respected brother! The real objective of Suluk is the attainment of Ihsan. And that is that the (spiritual) trait of perpetual consciousness of Allah is born from Suluk. As for as the ultimate goal, it should be to attain the pleasure of Allah.” It is obvious that the pleasure of Allah can be achieved only by following what Allah has prescribed in the Shari‘ah. That is to say that a true sufi should always be constant in adhering to the Shari‘ah and the Sunnah of the Blessed Prophet.
In another letter Shaykh Madani writes:
“Hold to the Sunnah of the Blessed Prophet in your heart and in your sight as best as you can. Never be ignorant towards dhikr (remembrance) of Allah. Always be repentant to Allah for your ignorance and sins. Do not waste this precious time.”
In one more letter the shaykh in clear terms writes to one of his disciples that tasawwuf has no basis without the Shari‘ah and one who does not follow the Shari‘ah strictly is by no means a true sufi:
“Is it not true that you have left the prescribed devotions?… Is it not true that you are not punctual in the congregational salat? Is it not true that you miss Fajr in the morning and sleep until sunrise?… Anyhow, it is important that you rectify yourself. Strive to adhere to the sunna of the Blessed Prophet and revival of the Shari‘ah…. Make the dhikr of Allah your habit as much as you can.”
Imam Qusayri says:
“Shari‘ah is servitude to Allah whereas haqiqah (tasawwuf) is the observation of the lordship of Allah. Shari‘ah is to worship Him while haqiqah is to see him.” So how can you dissociate one from the other?
The only thing required of a true sufi is therefore, worship, perpetual dhikr of Allah, adherence to the sunnah of the Blessed Prophet, and following the Shari‘ah. The completion of faith is based on steadfastness upon these requirements and attaining the level of Ihsan.
The realization of the oneness of the Shari‘ah and tasawwuf is the beginning and the end in the spiritual way of suluk. As already said that the essence of tasawwuf and suluk (or give any name to this sacred science) is nothing other than ihsan, a fact which should be sufficient to convince a sincere seeker that tasawwuf is inseparable from the Shari‘ah.
Hence, it is quite justifiable to say that the salaf were all genuine Sufis in the true sense of the word. To claim that the muhaddithun (traditionists), the mufassirun (exegetes), the fuqaha (jurists) and others were against tasawwuf points to the assertion that they were only confined to the letter of the Din and not interested in its spirit, which is by default wrong.
Therefore, both the ill-wishers of tasawwuf, the opponents who say that tasawwuf is against the Shari‘ah, and the proponents who claim that the Sufis are not subservient to the Shari‘ah, are utterly wrong.