Sufism – As Explained by a Sufi Master


بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

In the name of Allāh, the Supremely Beneficent, the Sublimely Magnanimous 

نحمده و نصلي على رسوله الكريم

We send prayers and blessings upon His (swt) Noble Messenger (saw)

Introduction to the Article and its Author

The following is an extremely enlightening and erudite article on the origins and nature of Sufism in Islam. It was written in 1924 for the historical Wembley’s Conference of Living Religions held in London, England and later published in the Muslim Sunrise, 1981. It will serve as a great introduction to Sufism by those interested in Islamic mysticism in the West.

al-Hāj Hāfiz Mawlānā Rawshan 'Alī

al-Hāj Hāfiz Mawlānā Rawshan ‘Alī

It was written by al-Hāj Hāfiz Mawlānā Rawshan ‘Alī, a Hāfiz (memorizer) of the Qur’ān and great Sufi Master of India of the late 19th and 20th century, who was the 33rd Shaykh (spiritual preceptor) of the Nawshāhī branch of the Qādirīyyah Sufi Tarīqah (Spiritual Order). He was part of a silsilah (chain) of Sufi masters that went back to the founder of the Nawshāhī branch, named Hājī Muhammad Qādirī in the 17th century, before him Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlanī of the 11th century, and purportedly going back to the Prophet Muhammad (sa) himself via his successor, Imām ‘Alī (ra).

Hāfiz Mawlānā Rawshan ‘Alī was a great scholar of Islam as well as a recipient of divine concourse (Sāhib al-Kashf). His article is as illuminating as his life was on earth. Asides from this introduction, the following words are all of Mawlānā Rawshan ‘Alī.

Introduction by William Loftus Hare, Chancellor of Wembley’s Conference for Living Religions

William Loftus Hare

William Loftus Hare

The following are the words of William Loftus Hare, the facilitator of the conference regarding the paper and its author:

“Sufi Hafiz Raushan Ali, is one of the leaders of Naushahi Sufis who are a sub-division of Qadria sect, which owes its or’gin to Syed Abdul Qadir Geelani. The Naushahi sect was founded by Muhammad Haji Nausha, and claims a large number of followers throughout Western India. Muhammad Haji Nausha flourished during the reign of Emperor Baber and was the ninth ancestor of the lecturer.

The ancestry traced upwards is as follows: Sufi Raushan Ali, son of Miran Baksh, son of Sultam Alam. son of Nizam-uddin, son of Subhan Ali, son of Khanalam. son of Ibrahim, son of Muhammad Said, son of Muhammad Hasham, son of Muhammad Haji Nausha. Muhammad Said was a contemporary of Shah Jahan and that Emperor granted him a Jagir of two villages for his support, some parts of which are held even now as Mnafi under the British Government. The home of the lecturer is in the village of Ranmal, Tahsil Thalia, Gujrat District in the Punjab. It is situated towards the northwest of Lahore.

Sufi Hafiz Raushan Ali knows the whole of the Quran by heart (and is thus entitled to be called Hafiz) and also the major portion of the sayings of the Prophet. He can also recite from memory many thousands of verses from Arabic poetry. He also possesses a great mastery over other branches of knowledge, such as Unani medicine, logic and philosophy.

In the domain of Tusawwaf or Sufism, he holds a high position. From early age Sufi Raushan Ali was fond of prayers and spiritual practices of the Sufis. At the age of 13 he started those of the Qadria sect, and at the age of 15 he interested himself in the manners and company of Naqshhendi and Chishtia Sufis. Sufi Raushan Ali joined the ranks of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, and through the blessings of his companionship he became a recipient of divine revelations, and was honored with opportunities for the service of the faith. At present Mussulmans all over India invoke his aid for the defense of Islam, when hard pressed in the field of religious disputation.

I am sure we all felt that the paper which was read gave a very interesting and suggestive view of the origin, development and content of Sufi thought and practice. The paper was full of information and, I think, brought out the main point of Sufism. The fundamental conception of that system seems to be that human souls differ in degree though not in kind from the Divine Spirit from which they emerge, and to which they ultimately return. The aim of the Sufi is by loss of his individual self-consciousness, in ecstatic self-abandonment, to obtain union with that Divine Spirit. Their principle is that since reason cannot transcend phenomena, it must therefore be abandoned in favor of that divine illumination, that spirit of intuition, by which true knowledge and grasp of the infinite is to be obtained.”

Silsilah (Chain) of the Nawshāhī Qādirī Sufi Order

Prophet Muhammad (sa) [Arabia]

Imām ‘Alī bin Abī Tālib (ra) [Arabia]

Hasan al-Basrī [Iraq]

Abū Nasr Habīb ‘Ajmī [Iraq]

Abū Sulaymān Dawū Ta’ī [Iraq]

Abū al-Mahfūz Ma’rūf Kharkī [Iraq]

Abū al-Hasan Sirr al-Saqtī [Iraq]

Abū al-Qāsim Junayd al-Baghdādī [Iraq]

Abū Bakr Shiblī [Iraq]

Abū al-Fadhl ‘Abd al-Wahīd Yatīmī [Iraq]

Abū al-Farā’ Yūsuf Tartūsī [Iraq]

Abū al-Hasan ‘Alī al-Hakārī [Iraq]

Abū al-Sa’īd Mubārak Muharramī [Iraq]

Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī (founder of the Qādirīyyah Sufi Order) [Iraq]

Sayf al-Dīn ‘Abd al-Wahhāb [Iraq]

Abū Nasr Safī al-Dīn [Iraq]

Abū al-‘Abbās Ahmad [Iraq]

Abū al-Barakāt Mas’ūd al-Dīn [Iraq]

Abū al-Hasan ‘Alī [Iraq]

Abū ‘AbdAllāh Shāh Mīr [Iraq]

Abū Muhammad Shams al-Dīn A’zam [Iraq]

Abū ‘Abdallāh Muhammad Bandagī [India]

Mubārak Haqqānī [India]

Qutb al-Qunayn Sakhī Shāh Ma’rūf [India]

Sakhī Shāh Sulaymān Nūrī [India]

Sayyid Muhammad Hājī Nawshāhī (founder of the Nawshāhī branch) [India]

Muhammad Hāshim [India]

Khān ‘Alam [India]

Subhān ‘Alī [India]

Nizām al-Dīn [India]

Sultān ‘Alam [India]

Mīrān Baksh [India]

al-Hāfiz Rawshan ‘Alī [India]

Origins of Sufism
     Arabic Etiology
     Buddhist or Persian Origins?
     Prophet Muhammad as the Master Sufi
     Sharī’ah (Islamic Law) in the light of Sufism
     The Persian Sufis
     Why ‘Sufism’ in name did not exist in Early Islam
Basic Principles of Sufism
Stages in the Sufi Spiritual Path
     Concept of Shadow Prophethood (Burūz)
State of Modern Sufism
Mysticism and Sufism
Sufi Orders
Conclusion and a Personal Reflection
Further Reading

Origins of Sufism


Arabic Etiology

The word Tasawwuf, or Sufism, has been explained in various ways, two of which, perhaps, stand out conspicuous and essentially correct. Sūf, the Arabic for wool, would make Sufi to mean the weaver of a simple, yet hard, woolen stuff to keep him alert and watchful. Safwah is another derivation which means purity and purification. This root has its support in the Arabic etiological rule of transposition or Taklīb. Since the true Sufis applied themselves heart and soul to the inner purification and the purging of heart of all sinful desires, as opposed to the general run of mankind whose one consuming desire is this world and its allurements, hence this blessed group who had turned their backs upon all the worldly ways were called Sufis, for in so doing they had nothing but complete transformation and change of heart in view.

Buddhist or Persian Origins?

Much has been written about the Sufis and Sufism, both in the East and in the West, and there is a vast and ever-growing literature by the Sufis themselves. It has been generally supposed that Sufism is a foreign growth, principally of Persian or Buddhist origin, and that its aims and teachings are mostly antagonistic to the real Islam, but that on account of long contact and mutual interaction it has gradually found its way into Islam. Nothing can be further from the facts. Professor Nicholson, who has gone deeper into the subject, has had to admit that such a theory is untenable. He says that modern research has “discredited the sweeping generalizations which represent Sufism as a reaction of the Aryan mind against a conquering Semitic religion, and essentially a product of Indian or Persian thought.”

“If Sufism,” he goes on, “was nothing but a revolt of the Aryan spirit, how are we to explain the undoubted fact that some of the leading pioneers of Mohammedan mysticism were natives of Syria and Egypt, and Arabs by race.” Muslim theology, philosophy and science, according to him, had put forth their first luxuriant shoots before Islam came into contact with Buddhism or Vedantism. “In spirit,” he thinks, “Buddhism and Sufism are poles apart. The Buddhist moralizes himself; the Sufi becomes moral only through knowing and loving God.”

As a matter of fact, this Persian or Aryan reaction theory, in so far as the best and original Sufism is concerned, is not at all in consonance with the facts. The Persian and Aryan elements have played so large a part in purely Islamic sciences of Arabic grammar, fiqh (jurisprudence), tafsīr (commentary of the Qur’ān) etc., that the fanciful flights of imagination could not even connect them with Hellenistic or Indo-Persian influences. The mere fact that a Persian took a very prominent part in the movement in latter times is no ground for the assumption that it had a Persian origin, especially in the face of the fact that the whole warp and woof of Sufism is Islamic. The Hellenistic, or Egypto theories, are even more irrelevant, and so is the assertion that Sufism owes anything to Christianity. To establish an historical connection in the words of the author of The Mystics of Islam“It is not enough to bring forward evidence of their likeness to one another, and without showing at the same time that (1) that the actual relation of B to A was such as to render the assumed affiliation possible, and (2) that the possible hypothesis fits in with all the ascertained and relevant facts.”

According to the great masters among the Sufis, Islam has been the only religion with God, and whoever swerves even a hair’s breadth from it is regarded by them as one who is groping in darkness and grovelling in the slough of ignorance. To the Sufis, Muhammad is the embodiment of all perfections and excellences: they call him the perfect example and exemplar. The light of Muhammad, the great ones among them think, existed before any other creation, and all other lights among mankind, they say, .were but partial manifestation of the same which found its highest, brightest and completest expression in the person of Muhammad of Arabia — peace and blessings of God be upon them all. They maintain that the religion of all the prophets has been Islam, the difference being in degree only, the essentials being the same. All these teachers, they say, emphasized service to God as well as service to their fellow men, which is summed up in the word Islam, which means total and utter submission to the will of Allah. Love, they admit, should be the gliding motive for a novice and the early initiate, and they quote chapters and verses from the Holy Qur’ān and the traditions of the Holy Prophet. They quote Jesus and Buddha, and others too, not to base the principles of their teachings, for which they go to Islam alone, but for corroboration only, and they assert that even love has its selfish side.

Therefore, for a perfect and highest grade of Sufi they recommend the passionless, yet most active, state of one who, in perfect resignation to the will of Allah, forgets his own self altogether but whose life is one continuous chain of activities in the way of God. This, according to them, is the first stage of an aspirant to perfection. Yet it should not be confused with Buddhist idea of Nirvana, which the Sufis wholly repudiate, and which we would have occasion to refer to later on.

Prophet Muhammad as the Master Sufi

Mihrāb (prayer niche) of the Prophet Muhammad's mosque in Madinah, Arabia

Mihrāb (prayer niche) of the Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Madinah, Arabia

To know Sufism we shall have to know its history from the Sufi point of view, not that we have to swallow what an interested party has to say but because theirs is the first-hand information, and they are in the best position to deal with it sympathetically. We can of course apply all the canons of history and historical criticism, but the framework must be theirs. As we have stated above, all the great teachers from the Sufi point of view have been the great master-Sufis of the world, Muhammad standing at the top of them all—the ideal and the perfect man, al-Insān al-Kāmil (the perfect man), and Islam as the most perfect expression of Sufism.

To the Sufis, Muhammad is the embodiment of all perfections and excellences: they call him the perfect example and exemplar…The light of Muhammad, the great ones among them think, existed before any other creation.

They say that when this Insān al-Kāmil appeared, the world was steeped in the worst form of superstition, ignorance and wickedness, and the Arabs were the worst people in that respect. Yet, under the benign rays of that Heavenly Light, they were changed into the most God-fearing Divine lovers that the world has ever seen. Not only did they become lode-stars in the Spiritual firmament, but in the arts and sciences they became the torch bearers. Under the magnetic influence and divine training of that Heavenly personality the Arabs saw a wonderful development of all the human faculties and powers, and when the time of his departure from this earthly place drew near they were in a position to carry on his work of world transformation, and the whole world witnessed miraculous changes. This generation did its work, and passed away, making room for another that took up the same, and they too passed away, leaving their work in the hands of their successors.

During this interval new peoples and nations had begun to join the ranks of this great Sufi. The Arabic speaking nations could understand him better because he spoke their language and lived their ways. Moreover, they were the eye witnesses. With the coming in of the non-Arabs the work increased, and in the course of time, according to individual tastes and temperaments, division of labor necessarily followed. Arabic speaking nations, or those who adopted Arabic as their mother tongue, did not feel any linguistic or traditional difficulty. They had seen the great Sufi himself, or they had seen those who had seen him and were imbued with his spirit, or those who had seen these latter people, had been living in contact with them. But, to the non-Arabs, the difficulty of language, life, tradition, and the Divine word had all to be explained, and none could show a better zeal or a greater sincerity than these non-Arabs themselves who had at first resisted and persecuted the great Sufi but had now become his ardent admirers. So, along with the Arabs, we find the non-Arabs, particularly the Persians, writing treatises on Arabic grammar, Arabic commentaries of the Holy Qur’ān, and Islamic jurisprudence for the benefit of their own countrymen as well as their kindred. It was not cleavage, or a reaction; it was as it should have been.

35dff55d343c0d6adfc8e3f50f9deb0aAnother great factor at work was the time. The Sufi historians write, and human experience all over the world confirms their statement, that with the lapse of time, spiritual influence of the great Sufi began to wane. Wealth with all that it stands for, began to exert its own influence: the past took on the halo of romance; experience became dimmed with the onrush of the world, and the hopes of future spiritual advancement took on a remoter aspect. This was one great factor; but there were other natural causes at work. Every man, in order, to emphasize the importance of his own science and subject in which he was interested, had to devote his whole life to it with the result that the subject of his interest became a passion with him. Emphasis was laid on each subject, individually and separately, which is a necessary concomitant as well as a consequence of the principle of division of labor. So long as the Master Sufi was among them there was no question of this division of work. He was all in all. He loved his teachings, and he was the perfect Divine exemplar and so were his immediate followers. He had passed away, and his companions and the generation following them who were imbued with the spirit of the Master had all passed away. There was no question of division of labor then, but it was unavoidable now. The great Sufis of this period, realizing the advantages and disadvantages of this position, took up this spiritual work, not by way of protest, but for the sake of collaboration and to complete the work of the other laborers in the field.

The Sufi historians insist upon and reiterate the fact that Muhammad, the Master Sufi, stood for all that is best in man, whether it relates to his physical or intellectual, mental or spiritual life. According to them, he was the beau ideal of all that is best in the multitudinous aspects of the human life. They adduce facts from his life to show how he was in the world and yet he could lead a detached life. So long as this attachment stood for a divine purpose and fulfilled it, he was for it. Yet he was willing to sacrifice it if it in any way stood between him and his God, for their point of view is this, that the sole purpose of religion especially of Islam is to establish the right relation between God and man and the service of humanity.

Sharī’ah (Islamic Law) in the light of Sufism

Prayers and fasts, pilgrimages and sacrifices were established, not that they are an end in themselves but because they are a means to an end. They say, for instance, that where the Holy Word enjoins prayer it emphasizes the end too. for it says that prayer should be for the purpose of checking and restraining evil — the evil inclination of man. Moreover, they argue that if prayer was an end in itself, why is it that elsewhere the same word of God pronounces woe on a certain type of suppliant. So it is with fasting. The same verse which enjoins it also lays down the purpose of cultivating piety and devotion as the result of it. Similar is the case with sacrifice. The word of God, they say, unmistakably points out that the blood and flesh of the slain animal does not reach God: that it is the piety and purity of the heart and the sincerity of the motive which inspires and actuates this sacrifice, that reaches God.

“It is a greater pilgrimage to master thyself; one heart is worth more than a thousand Ka’bas. The Ka’ba was built by Khalīl son of Āzar, but the heart is the passage of the Great One.”

In this way they point out the purpose and the function of every part of the Islamic ritual. At the same time they are careful to carry out the law to the very letter, for they say, though it is the spirit which is the Life, there can be no life without the body. They could think of and abstraction apart from the object, but no abstraction could exist without the thing. That is why they set out with the purpose of completing and fulfilling, and never for the purpose of cancellation or abolition, for that, they said, was the way to libertinism, which they abhorred with greater repugnance than even the literalists. This cooperation between them and the other workers in other branches of Islam continued without any hitch until degeneracy set in among all the branches.

Faithful recorders as they are of events, they could not of course slur over the clashes that subsequently followed between the formalists and themselves, but this took place late in the day when both sides began to drift towards the extremes. The best days of the formalists in the most prosperous days of formalism coincided with the best days of Sufism, and that covered a long period of many centuries. The rift came when schismatic persons on both sides began to emphasize their point of view to the discredit of the others, which sane people in every party have always looked upon with dislike.

At present the past bitterness has given place to toleration on both sides, though glimpses of the old rivalry sometimes find expression in acrimonious writings: but on the whole there is a good deal of toleration of each other. Says Professor Nicholson, “The Sufis, instead of being excommunicated, are securely established in the Mohammedan Church.”

The Persian Sufis


As we have stated above, the Sufi teachings were taken in hand at the right moment by the Arabs and non-Arabs, the Persians, in particular. It was due to the beauties of Islam that the Persians entered into its fold. They too, took up the Spiritual cause with great avidity. Had they joined with the purpose of breaking up Islam, or had their action been due to the natural reaction set in by a superior yet decadent civilization, how is it that we have men of Persian descent or origin like Imām Muhammad bin Isma’īl al-Bukhārī, Muslim bin Hajjāj of NīshapūrAbū ‛Īsa Tirmidhī, the great Jurist Imām Abū Hanīfah Nu’mān, Imām Abū Yūsuf (his student), Ya’qūb, Sībawayh and Abū ‘Alī al-Fārisī — the last three being the greatest grammarians, who have all played an important role in the history of Islam and its propagation.

It is difficult to find such a galaxy of famous names even in the ranks of the Sufis, who were proud to follow them, as well as the great Arab Muslims, in all reverence. Moreover, some of the greatest names in Jurisprudence have been equally great in Sufism — for instance, Abū Hanīfah, Shāfi’ī, and Rābiʿah al-Basrī. Necessity is the mother of invention: it was necessity that drove them in various directions. The various branches of Muslim religion were taken up by the great ones when a need was felt for them. In short, the Persians did not take part only in the Sufi Movement but their activities were visible everywhere in all branches in the interests of Islam. If the mere reading of the Holy Qur’ān was needed, they were in the forefront. If the need for spiritual side was felt, we find them shoulder to shoulder with others.

Why ‘Sufism’ in name did not exist in Early Islam

30554-Gerome, Jean-Leon
Why the ‘Sufi’ monicker was not given a prominence in the early days of Islam, was because it was not needed. When people lead a righteous life and they have a thorough grasp of the subject in its essential and practical side, it is useless to give them a formal instruction. If a person knows a language as his mother tongue, there is very little need for him to have a grammatical instruction. Yet the grammatical side is emphasized when foreigners need to learn it. All these sciences took their birth at the right time. The companions of the Holy Prophet did not need to be instructed in Sufism, say the great Sufi writers, though we find that as early as the days of, the Caliphate of ‘Alī, ‘Alī himself, his son Hasan, Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī, and a host of others devoted themselves to this cause because the foreign element had begun to increase. So was the generation that followed them, as also were the followers of these followers.

But as with the lapse of time the spiritual light began to dim, so with the coming in of new people the need arose, and by and by Sufism developed into a regular science.

The Sufi writers, especially those of Persian origin, give another very interesting explanation of the Persian obsession with Sufism. Sufism, they say, is the spirit of Islam. As soon as the Persians realized that they had committed a very great mistake in resisting and persecuting the Master Sufi of all times, and the realization dawned upon them that they had been the greatest losers in rejecting the Divine blessings, then, with a contrition of spirit born of sincere and deep regret, they tried their best to make good their past; and if some of them outstripped some of their Arab contemporaries, it is not to be wondered at, for it was all due to the zeal born of a repentant spirit. Some of them showed such great earnestness in their new work that they are ranked with some of the very prominent men of the first generation. They tried to reproduce in themselves that same spirit that animated the first generation. That is why some of these Sufi writers, writing from a subjective point of view, give so much prominence to these advanced Sufis.

Basic Principles of Sufism

0c69433e492eb74ccb90db229fec4d95Sufism is based upon the love of God and the service of humanity. So say the Sufis. As a matter of fact, both of these principles are really one — the Divine Love. Ethics and morals, service and right life, are the direct result of this love, say their great leaders. The initiative, they say, always rests with Divine Love which induces human love as with the process of induction. As soon as human love begins to stir, the Divine love begins to descend and unite with the human love.

The Sufi writers quote a well-known saying of the Prophet which says that ‘God told him that He was a hidden treasure, but He willed to be known and so He created Adam.’ Again, continues the Prophet, ‘if a man stirs, God moves towards him: if he walks, then God runs in his direction.’

It should be borne in mind that though now and then these Sufi teachers quote Jesus, Buddha, Socrates and others, that is only in additional support and confirmation of their views, but they base their teachings invariably on the Qur’ān and the traditions of the Holy Prophet. Ibn al-‘Arabī declares that no religion is more sublime than a religion of Love. He claims that Islam is peculiarly the religion of Love, inasmuch as the Prophet Muhammad is called God’s Beloved (Habīb), and that is why they have laid the greatest stress on love.

“Man’s love of God,” says Hujwīrī, “is a quality which manifests itself in the heart of the pious believers…who abjure the recollection of everything beside.”

“I fancied I loved God,” said Bayazīd, “but on consideration I saw that His love preceded mine.”

Junayd defined love as the substitution of the qualities of the Beloved for the qualities of the Lover, relying on the well-known saying of the Holy Prophet which says that man’s love is really the effect of God’s love.

“If I worship Thee for Thine own sake, withhold not Thine everlasting beauty” says Rābiʿah al-Basrī.


“His love entered and removed ah besides Him, and left no trace of anything else, so that it remained single as He is single.” (Bayazīd)

“To feel at one with God for a moment is better than all men’s acts of worship from the beaming of the world to the end of the world.” (Shiblī)

“Fear of the fire in comparison with the fear of being parted from the Beloved is like a drop of water cast into the mightiest ocean.” (Dhu’l Nūn)

“Thyself hast Thou sprinkled salt on the wound that has raised the cries of Thy distressful lovers. The mellowness of a sweet face is a part of Thy beauty, and every curled lock points to Thee.” (Hadrat Ahmad)

“O Love, what wonderful signs hast Thou shown. The cut and the salve hast Thou made the same in the way of the Beloved. Thy love is a remedy for a thousand ills. By Thy Face, the real release consists in Thy bondage.” (the poet Farrūkh)

“If the secret of Love between Him and me had been disclosed, thousands of lives would have been offered as a sacrifice at my door.” (the Promised Messiah)

“The Muslim mystics enjoyed greater freedom of speech than their Christian brethren who owed allegiance to the medieval Catholic Church,” says Professor Nicholson, “and if they went too far, the plea of ecstasy was generally accepted as a sufficient excuse…Their expressions were bold and uncompromising.”

We know that they never hesitated to use sayings of Jesus and other great teachers by way of supplementary proofs of their teachings, but perhaps it would be a surprise to many that they very rarely used the Gospel definition that God is Love. Their point of view is so sublime that such a definition would not fit in. Love, according to them, is one of the attributes, and not a whole definition of God, that is why they always rely on the Holy Qur’ān and the traditions, and the works of other Muslim Saints. Fatherhood of God seems an imperfect idea to them, that is why the Qur’ānic verse, O ye believers, remember God with an intensity of love as ye remember your parents, or rather more” goes deeper into their hearts. Another verse which throws them into raptures is: O ye believers, if you love God then follow me [Muhammad], and thus you (yourselves) will become the beloved of God.” Love of the Prophet and love of the Word of God with them are tantamount to Divine Love—a practical expression of it. That is why they can never be dissociated from God according to the Sufi interpretation.

This Divine Love has found its highest expression in total resignation and complete submission to the Will of Allah according to the great Sufi minds. Thy Will be done” was spoken to give expression to this very sentiment. As a matter of fact, this is the culminating stage of Love. How enraptured and how eloquent the Sufi writers are when with glowing words they comment upon the following Qur’ānic verses:

“Say, if your parents or your children, your brothers or your wives and your other kith and kin, and the hoardings that you have amassed together, and the business of whose slackness you are afraid, and the mansions that you love—if these things are dearer to you than Allah and His Prophet, and striving in His way, then wait till Divine decision arrives; verily, God never glides the violators of solemn pledges.”

“Say: My prayers and my sacrifices, my life and my death are for Allah. There is none beside Him. That is my order (duty) and I am the first of the believers.”

Love of God and total submission to His Will are the first and last principles, and the whole foundation of Islam, according to these Sufi minds, is based upon these two hinges.

Stages in the Sufi Spiritual Path

Of course, Sufism has been developed into a science, even the minutest points of a person’s character having been classified. It is at once a composite of ethics, philosophy, metaphysics, psychology and spirituality. A vast literature has been written on every phase of the subject, and abstruse problems such as the reality of God, His Unity, the problem of good and evil, responsibility of man, or otherwise, God and His attributes. Pantheism, created and uncreated things, matter and soul, life and death, and almost all the points have been dealt with in great detail and with a depth of mind which would baffle the students of abstruse psychology of today. It is impossible to deal with them here. Suffice it to say that with the master minds among the Sufis, these were not mere mental exercises. Their discussion had always a bearing on life, and they did live upto their professions. Whatever views they expressed, they never meant to be libertines. All their efforts were directed to the improvement of their self. As they have reduced this Sufism to a science, they have their own terminology. The Sufi who sets out to seek God is called a Sālik (a traveller). He advances by slow stages (maqāmah) along a path (tarīqah) to the goal of union with Reality (fanā’ fī al-haqīqah). In general, there are seven stages:

(1) Repentance
(2) Abstinence
(3) Renunciation
(4) Poverty
(5) Patience
(6) Trust in God
(7) Satisfaction

After the traveller has progressed along this path, he is raised to the higher planes of Ma’rifah (Gnosis) and Haqīqah (the Truth). It would be well to note that the Sufi renunciation differs from Christian and Buddhist renunciations.

The Sufi is a true Muslim. He does not believe in mere other-worldliness, or celibacy and monasticism. All the great Sufi teachers led happy married lives. This renunciation is the right use of all the powers given to man by God. The Sufi is in the world, yet he is out of it. He braves the risks like a courageous, dutiful soul. He never shrinks his responsibility, for the Prophet had said that an unmarried person who shirked the great responsibility of life could not be trusted with higher responsibilities.

The Sufis have three more advanced stages. As a matter of fact, the divisions are many, but these three roughly include them all. They are Fanā’, Liqā’, and Baqā’. Fanā’ means total effacement of one’s self, so much so that the adept becomes merged in Divine presence. He eats and drinks, prays and fasts, not that he likes to do it but because he is impelled to do it. God is all in all for him. “Turn to your Creator and surrender yourself to Him,” says the Holy Word; and the Sufi, in contemplation of this, just puts himself at the disposal of his Creator, as the dead corpse in the hands of an undertaker. He thinks of the Holy Prophet’s words “Die before your death”: and in keeping with his origin that he is a perishable thing after all, for the word says: “Everything is perishable but what comes under Divine Will,” he undergoes a death to receive an eternal life; not that he wants it, but because it is the Divine Will, which in Sufi terminology stands for Law. That is the stage of Fanā’, or passing away into Divine Presence. Rūmī has well illustrated this stage of Fanā’ or self-effacement in the following verses:

When a fairy comes to possess a man.

He loses his attributes of man.

Whatever he says is through the inspiration of that fairy.

It is neither from this nor from that brain.

Gone is his own individuality, he himself becomes that fairy.

Arabic to a Turk comes as a mother tongue without any revelation

When he is lost to himself he knows nothing of the language.

For knowledge is the person and attributes of the fairy

How can then the Creator of man and spirit be less than a fairy

If this influence and law hold good in the case of a fairy.

We can well judge the powers of the Creator of the fairy.

When he (the drunkard) is under the influence of old or new wine he begins to speak.

You would say, “It is the wine that is speaking”

If this noise and fuss are due to wine.

Could it be possible that the Light of God can be without force and power?

Though the Qur’ān has come out of the lips of the Prophet,

Infidel is he who says that God has not said it.

Unlike Nirvana, Fanā’, the passing away of the Sufi from his phenomenal existence, involves Baqā’, the continuance of his real existence. He who dies to self lives in and with God, but not in the pantheistic sense as is generally supposed. The Sufi is opposed to deification.

Rūmī, who has been accused of being a believer in pantheism, clearly refutes this idea in his well known couplet: “To say I am He at the wrong moment (as did Pharaoh) is a curse. To say I am He at the right moment (as did Mansūr al-Hallāj) is a blessing.”

'For in and out, above, about, below, [Life] 'Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow show', illustration from 'The Rubayāt' by Sufi poet Omar Khayyam (1048-1123)

‘For in and out, above, about, below, [Life] ‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow show’, illustration from ‘The Rubayāt’ by Sufi poet Omar Khayyam (1048-1123)

Concept of Shadow Prophethood (Burūz)

Yet, as he thinks that his soul has proceeded from the hands of his Creator and that his self is but a reflection of the Real Self, so he always aims at continual progress. The elder Sufis never lost sight of the fact that they were human, and though in their periods of illumination and union, they sometimes thought they were lost to themselves, lust as the shadow vanishes when the sun is high in heavens, they never lost sight of the fact that they were mere human and that their ultimate aim was to continue in a state of Baqā’—eternal life actuated and moved by the instinctive desire for unification called Liqā’ in their language. That is why the elder Sufis never went beyond the bounds of the Law. Such a state of mind, according to their best judgement, bordered upon apostasy. “Strive hard in the path of truth and rectitude, piety and devotion,” says Sa’adī, “yet never dream of trespassing the bounds set by Mustafa (Muhammad).”

Two more stages the advanced Sufis claim are Lahūt and Nasūt. When the Sufi has traversed all the stages until he has attained to the stage of Baqā’, or Eternal Continuance, he is supposed to have stepped into the stage of that which they call lahūt in which stage the Sufi remembers nothing but God. He is dead to all else besides, and he feels that he is, as it were, at unison with Him. At this stage, all his actions and all his movements are due to Divine urge—rather Divine Will—for that is the stage of “there is none but Allah (lā ilāha illa’llāh).” The Sufi is nowhere, but God is everywhere. This stage has its degrees the beginning and extending points. That is the ascent of the Sufi, which in his own terminology he calls Mi’rāj (ascent), and when the climax arrives, then he begins to descend, which should not be confused with decline, for this descent is higher than his previous ascent.

It happens in this way: Divine Love is the source of all creation, and Divine love is the supporter and maintainer of it. It is the Divine Love that first inspires the Sufi to seek union؛ and now that the consummation has arrived, he is not his own previous self but Love himself, and now he desires to manifest himself. Here the Sufi writers quote the well-known saying of the Prophet Muhammad, in which God says that He was hidden treasure and that He desires to be realized, and so He created Adam. The Sufi believes that God is the Creator, and it is in the realization of His attribute of Creation that He brought forth Adam. Hence, after this ascent, when the Sufi becomes united with God, Divine attributes begin to manifest themselves through him. As Divine Love is always flowing out to meet the needs of humanity, so the Sufi, the highest embodiment of Divine Love, begins to evince and ultimately manifest his love for humanity, which is termed service, and this is called the stage of Muhammad RasūlAllah—that is, the Sufi, the reflection of Muhammad, has now become the messenger of God. That is the stage of Mujaddid (Reformer), and a Nabī (Prophet), both of these having their own stages, degrees and qualities, the highest being the stage of Muhammad, which the Sufis call the Light of Muhammad. The Sufis here draw a very fine distinction. Love of God with them is the first and the original inspirer, but progress depends upon the human soul, for which effort is necessary. This self effort, which is a reaction of the human soul to the Divine action, then leads him on to the stage of submission, total and entire, where all his movements become Divine. Here the Sufi’s action becomes God’s action. The highest stage is that of the prophet, where the prophet is only the instrument and God works through him. All this is included in the stage of nasūt. One of the stages in this state of nasūt is the stage of burūz (shadow).

An old text of the Qasīdah Burdah of Imām al-Busīrī, a famous ode to the Prophet Muhammad

An old text of the Qasīdah Burdah of Imām al-Busīrī, a famous ode to the Prophet Muhammad

According to the Sufis, Muhammad is the Perfect Man, al-Insān al-Kāmil, and it was to realize this or that aspect of the Light of Muhammad that the other prophets have been appearing in this world, and the perfection was fully realized when Muhammad himself appeared. All the prophets that appeared before him were but a partial reflection, the reality alone was Muhammad himself. Just as John the Baptist was the second coming of Elijah, so were the earlier prophets the forerunners and heralds of Muhammad, and now that he has appeared he has become the Seal of the Prophets (Khātam al-Nabīyyīn). The other prophets came only to herald his coming. They were the pioneers, and in the absence of the Master they were allowed a free hand. Hence they are called independent (haqīqī) prophets. Now that the Master Himself is holding the court and swaying His dominations, nobody can assume independence: each one has to act under His guidance. That is why the Sufis (one and all) regard His law as final, and Muhammad the last of the prophets. Dependent prophets, of course, may continue, and in fulfilment of the ancient prophecies and Sufi beliefs, there has appeared one who is the Burūz (shadow) of Muhammad in the full sense of the word, and he is no other than the late Ahmad of Qādīyān, the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, the Second Christ, the Buddha Matreya, the Spiritual Return of Krishna, the greatest Sufi of the age, and the successor of Muhammad (sa).

It is better to state here that the Sufi term burūz is not reincarnation theory, which the Sufis totally reject. Burūz means the appearance of one in the power and spirit of another, just as John the Baptist was Elijah that was to come, yet Elijah was dead and he could not come back to this life. This phenomenon of recurrence the Sufis use in a spiritual and metaphorical sense. The Second Christ or the Second Buddha does not mean that both these dead personages have taken a re-birth. The second one is individually different, but corresponds to his prototypes in some of his spiritual traits. Moreover, the correspondence in situation needs correspondence in character, neither more not less.

The Sufis are opposed to hulūl and tanasukh, that is, they reject both the theory of re-incarnation, transmigration of souls, and metempsychosis, and they also deny that there is anything like one soul possessing or overshadowing another.

State of Modern Sufism

The tomb of Rumi in Konya, Turkey

The tomb of Rumi in Konya, Turkey

The elder Sufis were true Muslims. They lived and taught nothing but Islam, and the emphasis that they laid on the spiritual side was only to revive the pristine, pure, Islamic spirit. Islam stands for the whole, while Sufism is but one of its aspects. Moreover, Sufism has no constructive side, nor does it stand independent. It stands and falls with Islam.

Like everything else, Sufism has been affected during its history of many centuries. The present day Sufism, though built on the old lines, has undergone some change. Some of the present day practices and teachings are not in conformity with the original Sufism. Renunciation in the sense of celibacy and monasticism was never countenanced by the great Sufis; what they taught was the same as is taught by Islam. They never used it in the sense of severance of human relations and retiring into woods and forests leading anchorite lives, having nothing to do with this world. That is a great departure from the old Sufi point of view. All that Islam and early Sufism insisted upon was that real attachment should be with God. Support and care and maintenance of one’s wife and upbringing and looking after one’s children is one of the primary duties of man. Under the mistaken notion of serving God with a singleness of purpose they have forsaken the world. They are just like a horse that runs without a load or carriage, but as soon as he ig loaded or yoked he stops short and kicks. What Sufism and Islam required of a man was that he should learn to stand, walk and run in spite of hindrances and handicaps, so as to bring out the best in him. As a matter of fact, the care of all these things in the right spirit is a part of Divine worship. That is why the Sufi writers have insisted on the law which says, “There is to be no monasticism in Islam.” God has willed that all these things should be well looked after, and yet a monk disregards all these duties. That is one of the practical abuses that has found its way into some present day Sufi Orders, whose practices, in certain instances, are a direct infringement of the teachings of the great Sufi Master Muhammad (sa). The Sharī’ah, or law of Islam, has always stood mounted guard to counteract such tendencies.

Another mistake pertaining to belief has also crept into some of the present day Orders. One is the belief in transmigration and re-incarnation (tanasukh and hulūl). The elder Sufis have always rejected it. What they mean by recurrence is, the reversion of the old types. Some Sufis represent the spirit and power of some of the past Sufis, and therefore they sometimes have asserted their identity with their prototypes. This has been understood to mean re-incarnation, etc., which the elders have expressly repudiated as abomination. As we have explained elsewhere, this reversion of types they term a burūz which means the coming of another in the power and spirit of the departed one. These elder Sufis cite one of the sayings of the Holy Prophet, which says that some people among his followers are born in the spirit of Abraham, while others in the spirit of Moses, and Jesus, and other prophets. But they are not the same. It is only the prominence in resemblance which entitles a person to a certain name. Ahmad of Qādīyān has appeared in our day in the power and spirit of Jesus, and that is why his coming is the coming of Jesus. It was necessary to guard against these corruptions that the form of Sharī’ah was maintained by them, and it was in conformity with the law that the elder Sufis have all rejected reincarnation and other theories that border on polytheism.

Mysticism and Sufism

The shrine of the Sufi Master Shah Ni'matullah Wali in Mahan, Iran

The shrine of the Sufi Master Shah Ni’matullah Wali in Mahan, Iran

Sufism has generally been confused with mysticism. The misunderstanding has been due to the apparent similarity in the meanings of the word “mysticism” and “sirr” [a Sufi term meaning ‘secret’]. But the “sirr” of Sufi is not the mystery of the mystic, for the Sufi had nothing to conceal. To a Sufi the word connotes the reality underlying anything, whether it be a phenomenon. As the reality of every one’s experience is known only to one’s self that is why sometimes the Sufi emphasizes individual rather than common experience, because it is a thing to know which one has to go through himself. One can instruct another in formalism, but discipline and illumination are an individual affair.

This attitude of a Sufi has been attributed to a mystifying habit, which is surely an unfair judgment on him. So mysticism and Sufism are two different things altogether.

Sufi Orders

ff6b3cd0817c0ca870b6cebf5aaa7bceThere are many spiritual Orders of Sufism with many more sub-orders. They all started with the same principles and the same practices, differing only in minor details, and the idiosyncrasies of the individual. These orders are all known by the names of the different persons who first founded the movement in their own localities. There has been no difference whatever so far as the elders and the best people in these movements have been concerned. But with the lapse of time and the differences of tastes, temperaments and traits of character, and the atmosphere and environments that surrounded them, there were developed certain practices, which though harmless perhaps at first, led in the end to wide cleavages, not only in matters of details but even in principles of actions. The present day orders are mostly of the above type, who neither care for the law nor for the behests of great minds of their movements. This degeneracy was mostly the result of contact with peoples that had themselves deviated from the right path and who now have come to think more of hypnotism, mesmerism, autosuggestion, and cure by suggestion, which the elder Sufis never cared much about, though of course during the course of their disciplines, these, or some of these things, came to them of themselves, and were perhaps made use of very often unconsciously, but these were never the chief nor the sole means. These latter day Sufis, having lost the spirit and the reality, now looked about for something tangible, and as the sudden results achieved’ themselves through these alien practices along with the fact that there was some similarity between these practices and some of the actions of their elders, which they never tried to fathom, they devoted themselves to these things to the exclusion of the reality, and that is the reason we meet with fraud, hypocrisy and imposture so often. Some of them have adopted the heathenish practices of bowing and prostrating before men, offering libations to dead saints, kneeling before the tombs of saints, offering prayers to the living and dead. Some think themselves above every law, thus giving a free rein to every passion. It is fortunate that there are not very many of them, but it is undeniable that they are a part of the society, however low it may be. But they have nothing in common with the real Sufism of Islam.

Though there are many orders and suborders, the following ones are the major groups:

  1. Qādirīyyah: founded by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir of Jīlān, a great Saint, whose name still exercises a great influence.
  2. Naqshbandīyyah: founded by Shaykh Bahā’ al-Dīn Naqshaband, a great Saint. This order has also a great following.
  3. Chistīyyah: founded by Khwājah Mu’īn al-Dīn, a great Saint, who has a good many followers in India.
  4. Suhrwardīyyah: founded by Shaykh Shahāb al-Dīn Suhrwardī, another great Saint, who has a good following in the Arabic speaking countries.

In addition to the above four, we have the Mawlaw’īs, the followers of Mawlānā Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, the author of the famous Masnavī. Though his followers are found mostly in Asia Minor and Egypt, the dancing dervishes mostly belonging to this order, yet his book has had a great influence all over the East.

Shādhilī is another group, which is found in Arabia, but they are not much heard of outside.

As we have said before, all started, from the same point, and on the very same principles, but new practices,like a twelve-year feast, breathing exercises of the Yogis, tuning of the heart to ‘Allāh hū’, mental concentration, or the drawing in of the mental picture of the Shaykh or spiritual guide have sprung up. They are quite foreign to the spirit as well as the form of Sufism, and one acquainted with the law of growth knows that along with the true growth there are always weeds that need a constant weeding. The old Sufism has lost its vitality, and God in His mercy has sent down a gardener to restore Sufism to its pristine purity, so that the fountains of spirituality which had been choked up by this foreign growth may be cleared and the waters of life may gush out again to bring fertility to a soil barren and unsown for so long a time. Blessed are they who hearken to this messenger who appeared in the fullness of time, and he is no other than Ahmad of Qādīyān, India.

Conclusion and a Personal Reflection

a9b2da1d569028f6020cf8addf8a64ebThe writer of this paper is a Qādirīte of the Nawshāhī Order. The founder, Muhammad Hājī, lived in the eleventh century of the Islamic era. He gained a great popularity owing to the nobility of his character, as well as learning, piety and devotion, so much so that there is no part in India without his followers. After his passing away, the leadership has, through eleven generations, devolved upon this humble servant who is at present the sole representative so far as hereditary succession is concerned. I was born, educated and brought up in this purely Sufi atmosphere, while all the members of my family have been men of enlightened scholarly disposition and tastes, and in their own day and time they have exercised a very healthy influence upon the society in general. From my bare youth upwards I gave myself up to Sufi devotions and esoteric practices along with my studies; as a matter of fact, all my life has been passed in literary pursuits as well as in the cultivation of Sufi experiences. My own order, I had come to realize long ago, had fallen away from the right path.

Instead of leading a life of righteousness and rectitude and following the paths of virtue, they had degenerated into what may aptly be termed as “pagan practices” and the love and fear of God had given place to the irreverent sex practices and addiction to dope. The Elders of our Order used to give themselves up to silent prayers and devotions, meditations and contemplation, leading a life of goodness and active beneficence. They loved God and their fellow men to an extent that they forgot their selves, but now a sham forgetfulness is brought on by taking bhāng [Indian variety of marijuana] and strong liquors, and the eating and smoking of opiates of all kinds. The Elders brought on self oblivion by forgetting themselves in God, but now these people have begun to forget themselves in ecstatic frenzy under the influence of dope by hanging themselves upside down from trees and posts and swinging their bodies back to and fro with strong jerks and wild unearthly yells. Instead of going about doing acts of mercy and goodness they now roam about dancing and yelling, beating drums and tomtoms and shouting meaningless formulas to the tunes of a violin or guitar. These roamings they call “pilgrimages”. The love of God has given place to the love of sex, which they term “’Ishq-i-Majāzī” (metaphorical love), which they say is the preparation for and the only avenue to the former-the ‘Ishq-i-Haqīqī (real love) of their terminology, and this dope and sex have led to the undoing of many. Unmentionable excesses in the name of Sufism have been continued and countenanced, and what stood for morality and purity of life has now degenerated into a cult of depravity and moral looseness.

Under these circumstances, I turned to God for guidance, and He in His mercy and Goodness has revealed to me that through heavenly visions and divine manifestations the real Sufi of the age is Ahmad of Qādīyān, India. As my studies also led me in the same direction, I did not hesitate to sacrifice my all to drink at the fountainhead of the true Sufism that has sprung up afresh in the holy person of Ahmad. I have tasted of this nectar and the water of life, and in all humility and sincerity I invite all to this truth that Divine Love has revealed to me.

و السلام على من تبع الهدى  — The peace and the blessings of Allah be upon those who follow the truth.

— Rawshan ‘Alī

Ahmad of Qādīyān

Ahmad of Qādīyān

Further Reading
– The Path of Love – Poem by Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani (as)
The Well-Spring of Fatihah by Ahmad of Qadian (Mystical Secrets, Linguistic Miracles, and Prophecies)
Signs of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) as the Mahdi and Messiah
Sign of the Eclipses for the Imām al-Mahdī
Qasīdah of the Imām al-Mahdī in praise of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa)
The Anti-Christ (al-Masih al-Dajjal)
Extremist Mullahs in Islamic History
Real Revolution of Islam through Ahmadiyya and True Caliphate
Prayer is Spiritual Ascension


3 thoughts on “Sufism – As Explained by a Sufi Master

  1. Ma sha’a llah wa-l-hamdu li-llah!
    A welcome read!

  2. Umar N. says:

    Love this. Wonderful pictures too man!

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