In a globalized world where social media platforms are prevailing and adding to life’s complexity, humans are left prey to invisible stress that snaps at our minds, breaks our hearts, and distracts our thoughts except for those who are endowed with a spiritual shield that protects their minds from going astray and their soul from getting lost due to an instinctive control over minds and hearts.
The decisive role of religion is to protect the soul and the heart from blindness to Allah’s gifts that were designed to serve human needs. Humans are created into a life of toil, so it is not surprising that worshipping Allah has turned into task of habit. This has taken out the effect of faith on the heart and missed the happiness provided for the worshipper in the form of peace of mind.
Since the early ages, people have been looking for guidance provided by the monotheistic religions, a head of which is the Islamic faith, which gathers all that a person needs for spiritual nourishment, and offers all the answers to questions about creed, jurisprudence, prophets’ life stories, morals and conduct. Philosophy came later after Islamic conquests and the expansion of the Islamic state with more non-Arabs adopting Islam. Meantime, Sufism has been closer to a popular religion given its emotional appeal, but it has been tarnished by some aspects that were described by Ibn Taymiyyah as charlatanism.
In fact, the roots of Sufism in Islamic history date back to the age of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). There lived people of Al-Suffah who were detached from life’s pleasures, that was their reality regardless of the myths circulated about them. Among them were Owais al-Qarani, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, and Abu Darda who said he loved death in order to meet his God, loved poverty for the sake of modesty, and loved sickness as an atonement for his sins.
As the Islamic nation expanded, the Iranian influence emerged, where some Sufis became linked with other schools, such as Suhrawardi’s link with Zoroastrianism, and Ibrahim ibn Adham’s link in his early life with Gautama Buddha. Notably, Ibn Adham classified Islamic asceticism (zuhd) into: (1) obligatory zuhd, which means to abstain from forbidden actions; (2) virtuous zuhd, which means to be disinterested in what is allowed; and, (3) zuhd for safety, which is to stay away from doubtful matters.
What is also well known is the Indian influence on Islamic Sufism. In his studies of comparative religions, Al-Biruni compared the late Sufi concept of “the unity of existence” with the Vedanta tradition as well as the poems of Rumi and the Gita Govinda. However, there is still some of the pure and true Sufism that we direly need today, as the Muslim world witnesses weakness and confusion while there is a fierce atheist attack against religion, and political and commercial abuse of faith. In addition, the Muslim world fell into the hands of colonists for long decades, which resulted in divided borders stained with blood and wired fence, and in the loss of the first Muslim qibla and third holy mosque in Jerusalem.
After the dominance of Google, young people have become perplexed and missed the tranquility that our ancestors had. Speeches of imams and stories of the Quran’s miracles by fame seekers are no longer sufficient. We need more than ever to make our religious discourse appeal to the heart, which is available in true Sufism that is totally distinct from the charlatanism described by Ibn Taymiyyah, and from the philosophy detailed by Al-Biruni. It is no longer appropriate to classify Muslims into people of Zahiriya (outward) school and people of Batiniyya (inward) school. The one who doesn’t have outward religion won’t have an inward. Having an “inward” that is also common in extremist, spiritless, mentally retarded, and intellectually deviating people is inappropriate for a true Muslim.
Imam Al-Qushayri was correct when he said in his Risala (epistle) that Sharia precedes truth, which is reflected in righteous behavior and good relationships among individuals of Muslim community, and between Muslim society and other non-Muslim neighbors. Hence, we should focus our attention on dealings and transactions with people, and abstain from looking into people’s belongings. Sheikh Mohammed Ibn Abdullah Al-Farghani said, “If a person is truly in need of Allah, he will be truly enriched by Allah.” That is the peak of belief and the correct meaning of putting trust in Allah. Definitely, this is the most important element of spiritual nourishment that feeds the heart and is reflected in the feeling of happiness and relief.
It is remarkable that Sufism is an easy portal for those who are seeking refuge with Allah from insurmountable crises. In such predicaments, a person feels powerless asking for help from Allah. This situation was described by the poet Mohamed Iqbal in “Hadith El-Rouh” (Shikwa), and in the religious poems of Ahmed Shawqi such as “Nahg El Borda” in which he praises the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) in a pastiche of Al-Busiri’s poem. “Salou Qalbi” (Ask my Heart) is another Arabic poem by Shawqi that was sung by Umm Kulthum. It abounds with heartfelt Sufi meanings, particularly the line that describes the worldly life:
“I collected from its gardens flowers and thorns
And I tasted its honey and resin drink
But I have not seen better justice than that of
Allah, and I have not seen other doors but that leads to Him"
That is the utmost degree of submission, asceticism, and divine love which speaks to the mind and the heart. Hence, the person who keeps wondering will always go back and say “ask my heart.”