Tasawwuf and Hadith: Exploring the Meeting Grounds

The moral and religious goal and the right conduct is laid down in the Qur’an and the Hadith. Tasawwuf provides the specific methods and the means to achieve these goals
Tasawwuf and Hadith: Exploring the Meeting Grounds

What is the relation of tasawwuf with hadith? Does hadithapprove what tasawwuf is about? It is always better to think for a while andtry to understand both hadith and tasawwuf before saying a categoric yes or noto these questions. Historically Islam is the last of the three Ibrahaimicreligions including Judaism and Christianity. While Judaism confined righteousness in obeying the Law, Christianityoveremphasized faith only. Islam, unlike both these traditions, stresses uponboth letter of the Law and its spirit as well. It emphasises that not only theletter of the Law is important but to cultivate the right condition of theheart is equally important. A mere adherence to the Law is not enough for itcan most of the times lead one into the oblivion of selfishness, arrogance,pomp and show and a very narrow view of righteousness. That is exactly what thehadith teaches when it says that actions depend on the intentions behind them.Thus refraining from bad actions is not enough; having bad intentions is alsocontrary to the spirit of true righteousness. And similarly doing good actionsis not enough but doing them with good intentions is equally important. Salah(prayer), Sawm (fasting), Sadqah (charity) alone are not examples of rightrelationship with Allah. Hadith notion of right conduct, on the other hand,conforms to the higher moral and spiritual principles by shifting the emphasisto being a righteous person merely by the Law to the real tenor of the Lawwhich issues in right conduct.

In Islam, theory and practice, or more appropriately 'aqidah(doctrine) and 'amal (method) are indissolubly connected with each other.Whereas doctrine concerns the mind and can be summarized as intellectualdiscrimination between the 'real' and the 'unreal', method concerns the willthat can be summarized as concentration upon the dhikrullah (remembrance ofGod). Hence Islam always engages both mind and will. The doctrinal side ofIslam manifests itself in the Shahadah, the Tawhidic perception that, "OnlyAbsolute Reality is Absolutely Real."

The practical side of Islam takes two forms: morality andworship. Both the forms are the main objectives of tasawwuf to realize.Morality includes doing of awamir or ma'ruf i.e. things that ought to be doneor possessed like iman (faith), ikhlas (purity of intention), sidq(truthfulness), tawadu' (humility), and not doing of nawahi or munkar i.e. thethings that ought not to be done like kufr (disbelief), nifaq (hypocricy), riya(pomp) etc.

 Let's approach thisview through another angle:

 The sufi experience(spiritual method) is summarized in the concept of Ihsan, which meansexcellence in faith and involves, as the term itself denotes, all the virtues,of heart, mind and body. The Qur'an defines ihsan as good conduct: "Indeed,Allah commands justice, good conduct (ihsan), and giving to relatives (and He)forbids immorality, bad conduct, and oppression." (16:19).

The Hadith defines ihsan in these terms: "Worshiping ofAllah as if one sees Him, for if one does not see Him nevertheless, He seeshim."

 An inwardunderstanding of this Hadith can be that of a Sufi who, in light of theconnotations of the same hadith and the contours of tasawwuf (the inward domainof Islam) itself, should also be called a muhsin, one who has reached the stageof ihsan. 

Reflecting on the two ends explained in the hadith: the topwhich means that the muhsin sees Allah, and the bottom which means that Allahsees him. Thus the true worshiper remains either in mushahadah (vision), thehighest stage where he perceives the truth with the eye of heart ('aynal-qalb), or in muraqabah (meditation), a permanent state of awareness. Or inother words, the spiritual state where the worshipper gets so engrossed in hisspiritual experience that he feels as if he sees Allah is the mushahadah, andthe lowest degree of it where the worshipper permanently feels himself to be inthe sight of his Lord is the muraqabah.

 It is also in hadiththat angels once come to the messenger while he was asleep. They remarked:"(His) eyes are sleeping but (His) heart is waking."  Thus meditation in Sufism is a background forDhikr, the principle means of spiritual realization the Holy Qur'an explainsthus:

 "And the remembranceof God is greatest."

 Al-Hujwiri, a greatsufi, says: "When self will vanish in the world, contemplation is attained andwhen contemplation is firmly established, there is no difference between thisworld and the next."  But in the way ofmuraqabah, the illusion of the ego is an obstacle. And humility and love ofone's neighbour cuts at the root of this illusion. The holy Prophet says:

 "You will not enterparadise until you love your brother."

 Faqr in tasawwuf(spiritual poverty of a Sufi) is actually the same thing that empties the soulof the ego's false reality." Starting from muraqabah to mushahadah the sufithen reaches ma'rifah i.e. the stage of recognition of the reality. That is whyhe (the sufi) in the highest degree is called arif bi-Allah (knower by Allah).

 It is through thema'rifah that the Sufi bridges the gap between the rational knowledge and therevealed knowledge. Seeing with the eye of heart ('ayn-al-qalb) the sufis seethe reality behind the manifestation. Hence they are those who really see, andnone else does; they are the ulu al-absar (those who have vision); they are theulu al-albab (those who possess the kernel).

True faith always has a taste of tasawwuf in it, for withoutit belief would be mere theoretical knowledge which commits one to nothing andengages one in nothing. Hence a true and faithful Muslim always has a sufibehaviour in thought and action.

People having their own problems in approving tasawwufshould realize that true tasawwuf is nothing but what the Qur'an terms astazkiyah and the hadith terms as ihsan. Iqbal terms the same thing as faqr in hisexplanations on the spiritual aspect of Islam. The holy Prophet has beencommissioned to teach his people tazkiyh and ihsan.

The moral and religious goal and the right conduct is laiddown in the Qur'an and the Hadith. Tasawwuf provides the specific methods andthe means to achieve these goals.

The term tasawwuf therefore, should not become a hurdle inaccepting what is already in the spirit of the Shari'ah.

Dr Nazir Ahmad Zargar teaches at the Department of ReligiousStudies, CUK.

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