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Introduction to Tasawwuf

Whenever the historical survey of Sufism and its impact of any kind upon the society will be ventured upon by a scholar, he is certainly required to make his own position clear regarding his way of approach to the subject of Sufism. If he himself, however, does not clarify his stand at the outset, his work will, even then, end up with the exposure of his method of study and conduct of research. Syed Idries Shah has very aptly highlighted the two views of the scholars dealing with Sufism. He calls them two “forms of study” which can distinctly be perceived by the readers interested in Sufism:“It should always be remembered that in Sufi matters there are clearly two forms of study:     

 “1. ABOUT SUFISM, which means trying to familiarize one self with the literature or to concentrate on a form of it, or on concepts and practices which most likely have been tailored for completely different conditions.      

“2. IN SUFISM, which means that the things studied should be those which will enable the student to become a Sufi, which includes the inexpressible Sufi esperience.

“Sufi study IN Sufism; and matters ABOUT Sufism, if dealt with at all must involve the minimum of their attention. The reverse is true of the externalist scholars. The scholars say that thay are objective and the Sufi is subjective. The Sufi says that nobody who does not see the whole picture can be objective, that the person who tries to assure an objective posture is unable to do so until he has had experiences which alone grant objectivity. Form the point of view of the Sufi, the scholar’s (and similar) approaches are inadequate, from the view-point of the externalist, the Sufi is dealing in capricions things, and is inefficient and inconsistent in saying that he will only teach something which will have an effect, not the whole corpus of marrials”.

This controversy will remain but, at the same time the fact put forth so elaborately by the Sufi author cannot be denied. It is really very difficult to evolve a coordinate or comprehensive approach which may be accepted by all.Even a cursory glance at the books dealing with this subject written in past and present can enable us to see the evidence of this statement in clear perspective. The Sufi teachers wrote books which studies IN Sufism and the orientalists and their like-minded research scholars wrote which can easily be recognized as studies of “matters ABOUT Sufism”. The book like Kashf al-Mahjoob by Shaikh Ali Hajweri (d.1072) and writings of such Sufi masters as Al-Ghazali (d. 1111), abn Arabi (1165-1240 A.D), Abu Hafs Sahrawardi (d. 1234) and even the letters of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi etc.etc., may placed in the first category. The books of Nicholson, Arberry, J. S. Trimingham even A, E. Affifi and others are the good examples of the works produced by the externalists.The example of so-called objective study can well be seen in the light of two books “The Sufi Orders in Islam” by J.S. Trimingham and “The Sufis of Bijapur” by R.M Eaton.

These are scholarly works which may definitely be regarded useful studies about Sufism.J.S. Trimingham in the first few chapters of his book has discussed the three phases which appear in the domain Of Sufism with the passage of time. A Sufi master starts Sufi teaching to the disciples who form a circle around him. The place where he teaches may be a khanaqah. The author calls it khanaqah or halqa stage. Then the Sufi teacher formulates doctrine and transmits through his rules of discipline and methods of teaching. This second one is the order or tariqa stage. At the third stage taifa (group) is formed and it ends with the saint-cult in and around a dargah, generally a tomb of the saint with a Sajjada Nashin supervising it. There the organization is complete. Apparently the Taifa is formed when after the death of a Sufi master the teaching is discontinued and a concept of Baraka grows around his grave and his descendants, particularly his Sajjada Nashins. One can see that Halqa and Tariqa most often advance simultaneously. At the Taifa stage, the Sufi operation is complete and may end there or its action may be withdrawn. But at the same time this may be noticed that a branch of the same order orTaifa may become active somewhere else. The author seems to be well aware that his observance of these stages cannot be understood as exact as it should have been.

According to him this may be due to “the development and organization of the movement of the spirit which was not orderly”. He remarks: “When, therefore, I trace their development through three stages it must be realized that this is no more than a generalization of trends, and in the stage the three continued to exist contemporaneously”. Richard Maxwell Eaton in his book, “The Sufis of Bijapur”, agrees upon the order of these categories and adds in the context of the social function of Sufis in his history that the gentry of Landed Sufis appears at the dargah stage. At least this is what happened in the south India. These are inamdar-pirzadas, the descendants of Sufi founders. Now the teaching ceases as an activity of education and spiritual training. The period of saint-cult starts. The khanaqah is replaced by the dargah where the tomb of the saint transmits the Baraka. The Pirzadas and Sajjada Nashins are believed to hold the spiritual powers as well as special blessings of the founder saint. He so vidily points out certain features of this stage: “It was also this time that magic and superstition crept into the popular devotionalism associated with the dargahs, as miracles, legends became attributed to the saints and specialized powers of many sorts became attributed to their tombs”.“Again: True the Pirzadas styled themselves pirs and continued to induct murids into an inner circle ,but with the passing of time and generation they seems to have come increasingly concerned with exploiting the dargah’s and their own influence as possessors of barakat than with teaching mystical discipline”.

The real Sufi with the background of study IN Sufism would certainly find the evidence of degeneration of the whole system at this stage and would, therefore, reject this phase because in his eyes it has no relevance with the higher knowledge called Sufism. It is here at this point that the Sufi and the research scholar of Sufism will view the situation differently. If a Pirzada or Sajjada Nashin has not undergone the necessary training in Sufi discipline under the guidance of Sufi master, the practising Sufis will not concede with the claim of such a descendant of a wali or saint to the title of “Sufi”. But externalists like Eaton, though accepting the validity of this estimation as “the classical approach to Sufi studies”will, however, for the sake of their own kind of particular study would use the word Sufi for “any person integrated into the organizational structure of the Islamic mystical tradition”. Accordingly to Eaton, “the understanding of term “Sufi” is considerably broader than that of the classical approach to Sufi studies since it includes not only the true mystics of Islam, but many nonliterate individuals who may have little training in or even understanding of Islamic mysticism…… nonetheless, people who took the vow, considered themselves Sufis and were considered as such by their contemporaries”.

The externalists does not bother about the question whether those contemporaries themselves were qualified enough to verify the claim of inamdar-pirzadas to the title of Sufi or even they were also of their kind ……..the self styled Sufis. Here the scholar seems to observe only the function of the cult of class of men called Sufis by common people or laymen. He just ignores the objection, during his historical survey, in respect of somebody being a genuine Sufi and the other just a man in the garb of Sufis. There is another difficulty which has no sufficiently been appreciated by most of the scholars working in the field of research ABOUT Sufism. Even the scholars having a classical approach with their aims to assess the functional aspect of Sufis activities have not paid proper attention to the fact that a Sufican be found in any sphere of life. By the term of Sufi we mean here a self –realized person. Such a person may not necessarily be living in a khanaqah busy in Sufi teachings; to the contrary, he may be seen to be outwardly involved in any social activity in any profession or any vocation.

It is true that an illuminate or a realized individual is qualified to be Sufi teacher in his own right but his service to humanity can take any shape or form in the society in accordance with the nature of his service and demand of some special circumstances. A Sufi can fill up any place right above from the kingship down to a menial job as desired or commanded by his spiritual director (murshid).“A major difference between Sufi concepts and those of other persuasions which are allegedly in the same field is that the developed or realized man who emerges from Sufic study is of infinite variety. No two Sufis are alike in any way which can be measured by the non-Sufi”.                

In the light of such observations the matter of research or just the survey of Sufis function becomes a very complex one. As a matter of fact a Sufi is basically a teacher formulating doctrine and using suitable methods for training of dervishes or the seekers of truth and inculcating spiritual values in all who sincerely approach him. It his here in this field that the influence of Sufis is most often obvious and can observe and describe in a coherent manner. But so far the other spheres of activity in the society are concerned. The effect of their work is sometimes seen by the non-Sufi scholar like a blurred reflection in the mirror. It is not due to the lack of labour on the part of historian or researcher about the concerned subject that it seems so. It may be only due to the incomplete records, general statements of so-called facts laden with karamats and legends and imagined happenings in or around the khanaqah etc., etc. But this too, only confirms that these narratives had some basis to justify some sort of authenticity for belief in them to some extent. The reality is distorted only due to the inefficient describers or incompetent recorders. Then, there is a section of Sufis whose action is sometimes mysterious and most often imperceptible even to the fellow Sufis. These Sufis belongs to the spiritual realm in which “abdal autad or spiritual governors and administrators” exist and direct the course of history or provide divine guidance to men in the evolutionary progress of civilization. As the well-known contemporary religious scholar Dr. Muhammad Hameedulla has very aptly remarked, this spiritual realm is “no vapid abstraction: it has its own full fledged administrative organization”.                

These Sufis saints called abdals are specially deputed to save the humanity at large, keeping their modes of operation secret and confidential. Only the seers or visionaries among dervishes are sometimes allowed to see the glimpses of their actions and at the most direction of their activity.They are “the people of the secret” or ahle khidmat (saints in service). No walk of life and no evolutionary progress or process of civilization is out of their competency. They have direct link with the issuance of divine decrees and they are given special power to comply with the commands by forces beyond, for their enforcement and implementation.              

These abdals also influence the political and cultural affairs of a nation too, which are some-times contrary to the apparently good aims and purposes of exotericists. It is sometimes years and often centuries after-wards that the positive result comes out of their doings. Only a Sufi of great vision can understand the real motive of their intervention and that also if he is provided with the insight to see the subtle ways of their operation.It is apprehended that if the Sufism is an experience, the externalist might have no sympathy with such secret directorates of higher intelligences because according to their academic view, all this is neither rational nor verifiable. Even the scholars with classical approach to Sufism have only mentioned what the Sufis have disclosed and have just passed over towards other topics of their interest. Due to their own limitations of academic purposes and scarcity of evidence of their liking. None of the so-called scholar of Sufism has taken any pains to probe into the matters pertaining to the changes and development of trends in the domains of culture and civilization, brought about by the mysterious Sufis.Now we can safely conclude that Sufis work at various places, operate at different levels and some of them use their subtle and supernormal powers very often invisible and imperceptible not only to the surveyors or non-Sufi external observers but even to their realized fellow Sufis.                  



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