وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَشَدُّ حُبًّا لِلَّهِ
And those who believe are more intense in their love for Allah. (Surah al-Baqarah, 165)
In our time the word Sufi means vastly different things to different people, it has become ill-defined. The problem with using such terms is that people can completely misunderstand what you are saying. In such cases, it is best to clarify or seek clarification before commenting.
For example, if someone were to ask me, are Sufis good? I would ask them to define the term. If they said Sufi is a person who is completely devoted to Allah (Most High), then I would say that Sufis are great. If they defined Sufi as a person who engages in Bid’ah, then I would say this is unacceptable in Islam. With ill-defined terms like Sufi, one must clarify to avoid confusion.
Below are some traditional definitions of Tasawwuf and Sufi. When the word Sufi is used in line with these definitions, then there is no doubt that it is a positive thing. However, as mentioned above, this is often not the case in our time.
التصوف: طرح النفس في العبودية وتعلق القلب بالربوبية (مجموعة رسائل)
Tasawuf is throwing the self into worship and connecting the heart to the Lord (Most High). (Imam al-Ghazali, Majmo’atu al-Rasail)
سُئِلَ الْجُنَيْدُ رَحِمَهُ اللَّهُ عَنِ التَّصَوُّفِ؟ فَقَالَ: ” اسْتِعْمَالُ كُلِّ خُلُقٍ سَنِيٍّ، وَتَرْكُ كُلِّ خُلُقٍ دَنِيٍّ ” (الزهد والرقائق)
(Imam) Junayd (May Allah have mercy upon him) was asked about Tasawwuf, so he said, ‘Taking on every elevated characteristic and rejecting every lowly characteristic.’ (al-Khateeb al-Baghdadi, al-Zuhud wa al-Raqaiq)
وأنهم المُعْرِضون عن الدنيا، المشتغلون في أغلبِ الأوقات بالعبادة (معيد النعم ومبيد النقم)
They (the Sufis) are the ones who turn away from Dunya and spend most of their time in worship. (Imam Taj al-Din al-Subki, Mueed al-Niam)
The Sufi or the person of Tasawwuf is supposed to be a person who is deeply devoted to Allah (Most High), as mentioned in the Holy verse of the Quran above. It is someone who is diligent in the study and practice of the Qur’an and Hadith. This is not always the case in our time, there are many people who claim to be Sufis but have very little knowledge. Others have knowledge but their actions contradict the teachings of the Quran and Hadith.
The very fact that people label themselves Sufi is concerning and can lead to widespread misunderstanding. Sufism and Tasawwuf should not be something a person claims, rather it is something that a person actually practices. The best of this Ummah and the most spiritual were the Sahaba and they never called themselves Sufi. The focus should not be on labels and claims, rather upon true devotion to Allah (Most High) by correctly learning and practicing Quran and Hadith.
Nowadays, the words Sufi and Tasawwuf are used for all kinds of things that have nothing to do with devotion to Allah (Most High) or to practicing the Sunnah. Such as wearing particular clothes, holding particular beliefs regarding one’s Shaykh or taking Bay’ah. Taking Bay’ah can be part of practising Tasawwuf, but it is not in and of itself Tasawwuf.
I have a brief series of talks on YouTube related to Islamic spirituality, the positives of it but also some of the misconceptions, so please feel free to listen to them for more details:
Islamic Spirituality YouTube Playlist
And Allah Most High knows best.
– Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen (12.02.2021)
What is the role of a Sufi Shaykh?