As the heated argumentation subsides, our tasawwuf tradition is becoming more popular. But there’s certain basics that need to be understood about it before plunging in.
The tariqa is a personal endeavor to unplug from the dunya and connect with your Lord. It begins with your irada, your volition to go to God. As the hadith Jibril ﷺ goes:
He (Jibril) asked: “What is Ihsan (perfection)?” Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) replied, “That you worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, then indeed He sees you.”
قَالَ مَا الإِحْسَانُ قَالَ ” أَنْ تَعْبُدَ اللَّهَ كَأَنَّكَ تَرَاهُ، فَإِنْ لَمْ تَكُنْ تَرَاهُ فَإِنَّهُ يَرَاكَ ”Source: Bukhari 50
But sometimes we miss the point. And this is the problem with shallow Sufism where it becomes a badge to wear because it’s the cool thing to do. “I’m part of this tariqa and I’m enlightened and I’m not some furrow-browed Wahhabi. I’m special, I have a bay’ah to a sheikh and I go around bay’ah surfing.” People will travel the world because they can afford to, and go to these expensive retreats collecting bay’aat like trophies. (Now I don’t mean to put down many of these retreats, like Rihla, they’re very beneficial with the right niyya, insha’Allah).
But what is a bay’ah without the hard work of suluk? The hard work of suluk has to be there, and may Allah ﷻ grant us it, amin.
This is also the problem with dichotomous thinking. There’s a strange idea that’s been going around about some imaginary “Salafi vs Sufi debate.” As if there ever was one to begin with. It’s one of the harmful results of the fitan of our zaman, rooted in a lack of exposure to the basics of the Islamic tradition and its history. Just because someone isn’t a Salafi, doesn’t mean they’re now suddenly a “Sufi.” Traditional, Orthodox Sunnis are not “Sufis.” They’re ahlul sunnah wal jama’at. “Sufi” is something different altogether. And “Salafi” has little to do with the actual salaf and more to do with Saudi politics and history.
Why the Labels?
What’s the need for the labels? You can see people on social media putting labels after their names. “Joe al-Maliki al-Ash’ari al-Qadiri.” Are you really a faqih in the Maliki school? Are you from Darul Ifta? Have you really deeply studied Ash’ari aqida for years until you’ve mastered it? Are you a murshid in your tariqa after years, perhaps decades, of hard work? Why do you make a distinction for yourself and announce this to the world? In the end these labels may just serve to stoke some sort of egotistical need for respect or likes, or the hunger to feel like you’re somebody special that went out of your way to meet a sheikh and say you studied. Then it can become just a useless point.
Anybody who’s really serious about tariqa and suluk will keep it deeply under wraps and not reveal it to anyone, and even go out of their way to dissimulate it like a type of taqiyya. It’s so precious and so important that you don’t want to cheapen it or cast doubt on your intention in it in any possible way. You want it to be solely for the sake of Allah ﷻ and reaching Him, and achieving a station with your Lord. By just mentioning it out loud, you’re putting that in danger.
So it’s best to keep it under wraps. Don’t put it out there and announce it to the world. The point of it is to turn inward and control your interaction with the outward. The point of suluk is to grind down your nafs until nothing is left, seeking out your own faults and asking Allah ﷻ to correct yourself. For many it takes decades, even lifetimes, to finally arrive (وصول), if they ever do. Sheikh Abdul Qader al-Jilani (قدس الله سره) spent over thirty years in khumul (obscurity) before finally appearing in public in Baghdad. Thirty years of obscurity, deep in study and suluk. May we reflect on and learn from that by Allah’s ﷻ guidance.
It’s a very private endeavor, between you and your Lord, under the guidance of your sheikh. Seek out khumul (خمول), obscurity. You don’t want your name out there, microphones in your mouth, pictures of yourself on the minbar or giving talks thrown up all over social media. Popularity is something to fear and despise, not cherish, seek, and get jealous over. As a starting point, delete all public pictures of yourself that you can. Consider deactivating or permanently deleting all of your social media accounts. Remove all of the noise, find silence, and listen to your heart.
The true salikun don’t want to be seen as such. The awliya’ have a certain ghayrah and do not like to be seen as awliya’. They are hidden for a reason, often in plain sight. Even the legit murshidun don’t talk about themselves as such–they refer to “the Sufis” in a general sense, in the third person, in their halaqat. They rarely say “I” or “we” and only when it is warranted.
Avoid claims and the maker of claims.Dr. Umar Faruq Abdullah
The more you turn away from claims, the more worthy of claims you will become. Of course on a basic level we say we are Muslims. This is one of the أمور الدنيا, matters of the dunya in terms of our jurisprudence. But we do not claim to be things beyond that. When you take on claims, one of two things may happen. If you actually are not of that status, Allah ﷻ will prevent you from ever actually reaching it. And if you are, Allah ﷻ will bring you down from it. The more you give up your claims, and realize how little you know, the more worthy of claims you will actually become. So beware of claims and beware of the maker of claims!
And may Allah ﷻ help us to act upon this and act upon what we say and preach, amin.