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The Tasawwuf of al-Shafiʿi

GF Haddad

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Among them are those who concern themselves with learning and fiqh, and discourse about it, such as the jurists; and among them are those who concern themselves with worship and the pursuit of the Hereafter, such as the Sufis. Allah has sent His Prophet with this religion which encompasses both kinds, that is: fiqh and tasawwuf.

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem
was-salaat was-salaam ʿalaa Rasul-illah
wa 'alaa alihi wa sahbihi wa sallam


Imam al-Shafiʿi said:

faqihan wa sufiyyan fa kun laysa wahidan
fa inni wa haqqillahi iyyaka ansahu

(Be both) a faqih and a sufi: do not be only one of them,
Verily, by Allah's truth, I am advising you sincerely.

[al-Shafiʿi, Diwan, (Beirut and Damascus: Dar al-fikr) p. 47]

The derogatory remarks about tasawwuf attributed to Imam al- Shafiʿi which some are heard quoting today must be understood in the context of the Imam's disavowal of certain people who called themselves Muslims or Sufis, when in reality they were nothing more than hypocrites, free-thinkers, and dissolute people. This should be born in mind by anyone who is approached by "Salafis" with narrations culled from Ibn al-Jawzi's Talbis Iblis and attributing sweeping disapproval of tasawwuf to Imam Shafiʿi. How can they believe that Imam Shafiʿi disapproves of tasawwuf and at the same time advises the fuqaha' to be sufis, as we quoted above? Have they no better opinion of him than one who gives two mutually exclusive advices?

The muhaddith al-ʿAjluni also relates in his book Kashf al-khafa wa muzil al-albas (1:341 #1089) that Imam Shafiʿi said:

Three things in this world have been made lovely to me: avoiding affectation, treating people kindly, and following the way of tasawwuf.

Ibn al-Qayyim in his Madarij al-salikin (3:128) and al- Suyuti in his Ta'yid al-haqiqa al-ʿaliyya (p. 15) also relate that Imam al-Shafiʿi said:

I accompanied the Sufis and received from them but three  words: their statement that time is a sword: if you do not  cut it, it cuts you; their statement that if you do not keep  your ego busy with truth it will keep you busy with  falsehood; their statement that deprivation is immunity.

    The Maliki shaykh Ahmad al-ʿAlawi said, as cited in the translation from his work entitled Knowledge of God (p. xxi): "Reflect on the sincerity of this great Imam [Shafiʿi] and how he became a witness for the Sufis, and confirmed their seriousness and struggle. Shaykh Shaʿrani, may Allah be pleased with him, said: Reflect on how Shafiʿi has taken this from the Sufis and not from others. It is by this that you know their superiority over others, the men of knowledge of the outward, the ones from whom he once learned."

    One of the putative authorities of "Salafis" is Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, yet when Ibn Qayyim states something which contravenes what "Salafis" claim, they are at a loss that their own authority refutes them. Ibn Qayyim said in Madarij al-salikin (2:307):

Religion consists entirely of good character (al-dinu kulluhu khuluq). Whoever surpasses you in good character surpasses you in religion, and the same is true of tasawwuf. al-Kattani said: "Tasawwuf is good character (al-tasawwuf khuluq). Whoever surpasses you in good character surpasses you in tasawwuf."

    We should ask also whether the so-called "Salafis" know the position of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab on tasawwuf. It is evident that their near-totality have not the faintest idea that he accepted the attribution of tasawwuf back to the Prophet himself. Ibn ʿAbd al- Wahhab said in the third volume of his complete works published by Ibn Saʿud University, on page 31 of the Fatawa wa rasa'il, Fifth Question:

Know -- may Allah guide you -- that Allah Almighty has sent Muhammad, blessings and peace upon him, with right guidance, consisting in beneficial knowledge, and with true religion consisting in righteous action. The adherents of religion are as follows: among them are those who concern themselves with learning and fiqh, and discourse about it, such as the jurists; and among them are those who concern themselves with worship and the pursuit of the Hereafter, such as the Sufis. Allah has sent His Prophet with this religion which encompasses both kinds, that is: fiqh and tasawwuf.

As for the objections of the slanderers of Sufis invoking Ibn al-Jawzi's exhortative work Talbis iblis in which he attributes to al-Shafiʿi sayings detrimental to Sufis, or sayings of Imam Ahmad detrimental to Imam al-Harith al-Muhasibi: as Dhahabi said: "We call Ibn al-Jawzi hafiz (hadith memorizer) in deference to the profusion of his writings, not to his scholarliness." That is: He was not reliable when it came to reporting narrations.

The following remarks are by the late muhaddith of Syria Shaykh ʿAbd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda:

Our reliance is on Allah! Ibn al-Jawzi composed a great big book on hadith forgeries so that jurists, preachers, and others may avoid them, then you will see him cite in his exhortative works forged hadiths and rejected stories without head nor tail, without shame or second thought. In the end one feels that "Ibn al-Jawzi" is two people and not one!... For this reason Ibn al-Athir blamed him in his history entitled al-Kamil (10:228), with the words: "Ibn al- Jawzi blamed him [Ghazali] for many things, among them his narration of unsound hadiths in his exhortations. O wonder that Ibn al-Jawzi should criticize him for that! For his own books and exhortative works are crammed full with them (mahshuw bihi wa mamlu' minh)!" And the hadith master al-Sakhawi said in Sharh al-alfiyya (p. 107): "Ibn al-Jawzi cited forgeries and their likes in high abundance in his exhortative works"!

[ʿAbd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda, notes to al-Lucknawi's Rafʿ wa al-takmil p. 420-421.]

Besides the above, we have already quoted Imam Taj al- Din al-Subki's advice for serious students of the Islamic sciences:

Beware of listening to what happened between... Ahmad ibn Hanbal and al-Harith al-Muhasibi. If you become busy with this I fear death for you. These are notable leaders in religion and their utterances have various explanations which some, perhaps, have misunderstood. As for us, we have no other course but to approve of them and keep quiet concerning what took place between them, just as what is done concerning what took place between the Companions, may Allah be well pleased with them... O you who are seeking guidance!... leave aside what took place between them, and busy yourself with what concerns you, and leave what does not concern you!

[Subki, Qaʿida fi al-jarh wa al-taʿdil, p. 53.]

As for Dhahabi's avalanche of insinuations against some of the earlier and later Sufis in his Mizan al-iʿtidal (1:430 #1606), where he says after quoting derogatory reports against al-Muhasibi:

Where are the likes of al-Harith al-Muhasibi! How then if Abu Zurʿa saw the books of the later [Sufis], such as the Qut al-qulub of Abu Talib [al-Makki], and where are the likes of the Qut? How then if he saw Bahjat al-asrar of Abu Jahdam, and Haqa'iq al-tafsir of al-Sulami, then he would jump to the ceiling! How then if he saw the books of Abu Hamid al-Tusi [Imam Ghazali]....? the Ghunya of shaykh ʿAbd al-Qadir [Gilani]... Fusus al-hikam and al- Futuhat al-makiyya [of Ibn ʿArabi]?

    We treat such assertions according to the instructions of Suyuti who rejected them in his vindication entitled Qamʿ al-muʿarid bi nusrat Ibn al-Farid (The taming of the naysayer with the vindication of Ibn al-Farid) as quoted by Imam al-Lucknawi in al-Rafʿ wa al-takmil fi al-jarh wa al-taʿdil (p. 319-320):

Don't let Dhahabi's mumbling deceive you, for he went so far as to mumble against Imam Fakhr al-Din ibn al-Khatib [al-Razi], and against one who is greater than the Imam, namely: Abu Talib al-Makki the author of Qut al-qulub, and against one who is greater than Abu Talib, namely: Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Ashʿari, whose fame has filled the firmaments! And Dhahabi's books are filled with that: al- Mizan, al-Tarikh, and Siyar al-nubala'. Are you going to accept his words against such as these? Never, by Allah! His word is not accepted concerning them; rather, we fulfill their right over us, and we render it to them in full.

Blessings and peace on the Prophet,
his Family, and his Companions

GF Haddad
[6 Jun 1997]



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