Sufism

Sufism, or Taṣawwuf (الْتَّصَوُّف‎), variously defined as "Islamic mysticism", "the inward dimension of Islam" or "the phenomenon of mysticism within Islam", is mysticism in Islam, "characterized ... [by particular] values, ritual practices, doctrines and institutions" which began very early in Islamic history and represents "the main manifestation and the most important and central crystallization of" mystical practice in Islam. Practitioners of Sufism have been referred to as "Sufis" (from صُوفِيّ‎ ṣūfiyy / ṣūfī). Historically, Sufis have often belonged to different ṭuruq or "orders" – congregations formed around a grand master referred to as a wali who traces a direct chain of successive teachers back to the Prophet Muhammad.

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Rebecca Masterton, Dr Rebecca Masterton graduated with a BA in Japanese Language and Literature; an MA in Comparative East Asian and African Literature and a PhD in Islamic literature of West Africa. She has been... Answer updated 6 months ago

Analysis of the texts shows that Sufism as a recognised movement, which began to be consolidated under the Sunni Shafi'i Junayd al-Baghdadi, started to take shape during the minor occultation. Even the earliest famous Sufis, such as Sahl al-Tustari (from Shushtar, Iran) and Bayazid Bastami, were from this era. The time of the Minor Occultation and beyond saw an explosion and proliferation of occult (hidden) and mystical movements. The Isma'ili movement also started during this time.

Many Sufi doctrines were copied and pasted from Imami Shi'ism, such as the concept of the walayah of the saint/wali of God (borrowed almost word-for-word from the concept of the walayah of the Imam). In addition to concepts and practices arising from Imami (Twelver) Shi'ism, other concepts also most likely entered Sufi culture, such as that of fana' fi-llah (ecstatic annihiliation in God). This could come from the Greek concept of henosis, which existed in the Neoplatonic tradition.

Most of the well-known Sufis were technically Sunni (even if people claim that Sufism has no madhhab. You can test that out by asking anyone who considers themselves Sufi what they think of the first three khulafa). The question arises therefore, from a Shi'i perspective: why did these 'great Sufis' not recognise the imamate of the Imam of their time? Why did they choose an alternative route? Why do Sufi orders focus on the adhkar and practices of their founders, but not on those of the Imams?

Some strains of Sufism, such as that of Mansur al-Hallaj (executed during the Minor Occultation), also play around with theology; for example, Hallaj championed Iblis and Pharoah, claiming that they were in fact true monotheists, and were simply 'annihilated in God' and were therefore victims of their perfect love for God. This directly contradicts what the Qur'an says about Iblis and Pharaoh, and what the Imams have said also. This kind of Sufism challenged the 'conventional' ideas of tawhid and espoused the idea that true tawhid is when it is realised that there is no difference between the Lover (the human) and the Beloved (God). There is no evidence in the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt (as) to support this. In the School of Ahl al-Bayt (as), of course love and intimacy with God are encouraged, but the idea of merging the identity with God's identity most likely originates from India, or, as I said, from the Neoplatonic tradition.

With regard to the tariqas themselves, close scrutiny of their chains up to the time of their eponymous founders during the early medieval period (12th-13th centuries CE) reveals inconsistencies and illogicalities, which indicate that they have been fabricated. Sufis were under intense pressure from the authorities to justify their beliefs and practices, and most likely borrowed the idea of a chain of saints from the Imami Shi'i school - or else from many of the other spiritual movements of the region that also had chains of initiation as a way of trying to prove their legitimacy.

The Naqshbandi Order's chain effectively espouses the idea that Imam al-Sadiq (as) 'inherited' knowledge from Abu Bakr. (Does that really make sense, when al-Sadiq's (as) forefather was Imam Ali (as)?) It also claims that Bayazid Bastami was Imam al-Sadiq's (as) water carrier and inherited knowledge from Imam al-Sadiq (as), but Imam al-Sadiq (as) had already passed away 150 years before Bayazid Bastami lived. The Chishti Order claims that Hasan al-Basri inherited knowledge from Imam 'Ali (as), but if you read the book 'Between Myth and History' by Suleiman Ali Mourad, you can see the extent to which the person of Hasan al-Basri was fabricated by different schools of thought. Who he really was, we don't know. He worked for the Umayyads, and never supported Imam Ali (as) once Imam Ali (as) had departed for Kufa. Many Sufis also had close ties to the governments of their time, such as 'Abd al-Qadir Jilani (Gilani), who taught in Baghdad.

The best thing to do is to study Sufism and the orders while bearing in mind the historical, social and political context of the era. Overall, Sufi Orders are Sunni and go as far as denouncing the Shi'a. One order, the Kubrawiyya, did split, and one branch became Shi'a, hence why texts from the Kubrawiyya Order are taught as part of the 'irfani tradition in Iran. Nevertheless, the roots of the Kubrawiyya are technically Sunni. 

Abbas Di Palma, Shaykh Abbas Di Palma holds a BA and an MA degree in Islamic Studies, and certifications from the Language Institute of Damascus University. He has also studied traditional Islamic sciences in... Answer updated 6 months ago

as salam alaikum

Shi'a authentic spirituality does not fall under the category of "sufism" as it is widespread nowadays. Shi'a spirituality is based on a deep understanding  of the Qur'an and Sunnah and it includes taqwa, zuhd, dhikr and love for Allah in the way practiced by the Imams and their followers. Concepts and practices that have been introduced later on are not part of the spiritual Shi'a legacy.

In other words the purification of the soul according to Quranic teachings and Prophetic Sunnah as transmitted from the Imams is endorsed but no innovations should be introduced in it.

This does not tantamount to deny the possibility of mystical experiences by the believer but rather it confirms it as Allah wills.

With prayers for your success.

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Amina Inloes, Amina Inloes is originally from the US and has a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Exeter on Shi'a hadith. She is the program leader for the MA Islamic Studies program at the... Answer updated 8 months ago

It really depends who you ask. People who are against irfan and Sufism will say no, and cite their arguments. Some other people will say yes and cite their arguments.

My personal view is that the general ideas and goals behind irfan and Sufism are in concordance with the teachings of the Prophet (S). For instance, many people who practice the mystical traditions emphasize compassion, forgiveness, humility, self-purification, awareness of God, service, and spiritual development. (If they aren't focusing on these things, they aren't doing a very good job at being mystics!)

(This is not to say I agree with everything said or done by everyone who practices Sufism and irfan, only that I feel that some of what is said matches what I believe to be the core values of Islam.)

However, in my view, some of what is said by people who practice Sufism is not really directly from the Prophet. It may have truth and it is possible for something to be true and beneficial even if does not come directly from the Prophet, I am just saying that attributing it to the Prophet seems to be historically unsourced. However this is a very broad subject since there are so many varieties of Sufism and mystical traditions in Islam.

The same thing could be said about practices, one can evaluate them individually to see whether or not they seem to be reflective of the intent of the Prophet.

From a broader perspective, historically, the mystical and literal approaches to Islam have tended to balance each other out and provide balance in society, and I think it is worth appreciating this. Some Muslims go to the extreme of promoting a heavily literal and harsh interpretation of Islam (for instance, putting all their focus into checking how other people do their wudu and instructing them if they see something they personaly think is incorrect) and this is also not, in my view, the ethos of the Prophet. So I think the mystical traditions of Islam have provided a good contribution to Islamic civilization. 

EDIT: From the perspective of maraji', some maraji' have supported 'irfan, and others have not. For instance, Imam Khomeini was a strong advocate of 'irfan. I have heard that in his younger years, Ayatollah Khoei also practised some 'irfani practices. 

Sufism is a more complicated question because most Sufi orders are more associated with Sunnism, and have their own authority structures.

However, it doesn't need to be an either-or question. That is, one might go to a marja' to get a fatwa or judgment or even political advice, and go to an 'irfani or Sufi shaykh to ask for personal spiritual guidance.

My experience is that when practising Shi'is wish to explore 'irfan or Sufism, it is usually because they want something that is not available locally to them in their religious communities. It could be a stronger spiritual experience, fellowship, or something else.

However I feel that the main conflict that can arise with non-Shi'i Sufi orders is a difference in worldview and theology - that is, at some point, there may be teachings that conflict with a Shi'i worldview, In that case, one has to decide what to follow. 

Also, different people are receptive to different types of spiritual practice. For instance, for some people, reciting a du'a text will be a very strong experience; for others, they might gain more spiritually from actions, such as helping people. Sometimes, also, after reciting the same du'a repeatedly for years and years, they may integrate it into themself and, while continuing to recite the du'a because it is mustahhab, they may wish to explore other approaches to spiritual growth. I do not personally see anything wrong with this, but again we are getting back to my personal view!

(I am also qualifying it as my personal view to take full responsibility for it, and to make any errors my own)

Also, some Sufis recite the same du'as as Shi'is, for instance, Jawshan al-Kabir or Nad-e-Ali

Sayyed Mohammad Al-Musawi, Sayyed Mohammad al-Musawi is originally from Iraq and heads up the World Ahlul Bayt Islamic League in London. Other than being involved in various humanitarian projects, he frequently responds to... Answered 8 months ago

The real authority in religious matters is the most learned scholars who are known as Maraaji' of Taqleed. Their opinion is based on comprehensive research in Quran, Hadeeth, Intellect and Ijmaa' (consensus). Among them, the verdict of the most learned is to be taken. 
Irfan and Sufism are two terms about which there are many different opinions among the scholars. 
Many think that spiritual upliftment can be achieved through Sufism. This is not the real picture which we read it in Quran and Hadeeth and life of the Prophet (SAWA) and Ahlul Bayt (AS). Spiritual upliftment is achieved by self control and self purification acts,like thinking, fasting, night prayers, reciting Quran and Du'a, strengthening our will power, remembering our near future (tomorrow) after this life and above all, humbleness in following the Prophet and his Ahlul Bayt(AS). These acts lead to Spiritual purification do not need any of ways of Sufism.

Followers of Ahlul Bayt (AS) have very rich and comprehensive spiritual materials which is more than sufficient to provide them with spiritual purification in every step and degree. That is why you find most of the followers of Ahlul Bayt (AS) and their scholars not involved in Sufi ways while you see that many of our Sunni brothers seek spiritual purification through Sufi ways because they do not have in their books the great treasures which we have from Ahlul Bayt (AS). Just see as an example the book known as Sahifa Sajjadia which has number of supplications narrated from Imam Al-Sajjad (AS) as well other supplications from other Imams like Du'a Kumail, Du'a Al-Sabah, Du'a Abi Hamza al-Thimaali, Du'a Jawshan and many other supplications. 
Many non Shia scholars were amazed when they came across supplications narrated from Ahlul Bayt and found it unique and with no similar in the the whole Muslim books.

Wassalam.

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Amina Inloes, Amina Inloes is originally from the US and has a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Exeter on Shi'a hadith. She is the program leader for the MA Islamic Studies program at the... Answer updated 10 months ago

Allah says in the Qur'an that the only thing that will not be forgiven is that partners be associated with Allah, and that Allah forgives whatever else Allah wills.

Allah also says in the Qur'an that whoever believes and works righteous deeds, including Jews, Christians, and Sabeans, will have a good afterlife.

With that in mind, how can someone exclude some people from heaven just because they are not Shi'i (or Shi'i Ithna Ashari)? 

Only Allah has the authority and power to send people to heaven or hell. 

Nowadays, also, people often follow religions or sects due to inherited understandings and doctrines. A Sunni who loves certain individuals (who do not have the same status among Shi'is) does so because they have heard very good things about them, or because they believe the Prophet (S) loves them, not because they are trying to fight against the Imams or support wrong.

It is a different situation for someone who actually was alive during the time of Imam 'Ali (A) and saw him and rejected him or physically fought against him. Anyway most Sunnis, and most or all Sufis, respect Imam 'Ali and other Imams, they just have a different understanding of their role. 

However, following the teachings of Ahl al-Bayt (A) through the Imams can help develop one's ethics, actions, and spirituality in such a way that can, insha'allah, help with going to heaven. Also one can hope for the intercession of the Imams (A) if one has a close relationship to them and is dedicated to them, and this is also an invaluable gift. 

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Sayyed Mohammad Al-Musawi, Sayyed Mohammad al-Musawi is originally from Iraq and heads up the World Ahlul Bayt Islamic League in London. Other than being involved in various humanitarian projects, he frequently responds to... Answered 1 year ago

Our scholars study the chain of narrators and the text of every narration to assess the authenticity of it. We do not say that all narrations claimed to be from Imam Jafar Al-Sadiq (AS) are authentic. 

Wassalam.

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Sayyed Mohammad Al-Musawi, Sayyed Mohammad al-Musawi is originally from Iraq and heads up the World Ahlul Bayt Islamic League in London. Other than being involved in various humanitarian projects, he frequently responds to... Answered 1 year ago

No.

Our divine leaders are the Prophets and the Infallible Imams and their sincere followers. 

We believe that our absolute obedience must be to Allah, the Prophet (SAWA) and the Infallible Ahlul Bayt (AS). Beside them, No saint or scholar etc has the status of absolute obedience on us.

If fact, there is no need at all for saints in Shia Islam as the divine leadership of Ahlul Bayt (AS) is the real leadership for us.

Wassalam.

Zoheir Ali Esmail, Shaykh Zoheir Ali Esmail has a Bsc in Accounting and Finance from the LSE in London, and an MA in Islamic Studies from Middlesex University. He studied Arabic at Damascus University and holds a PhD... Answered 1 year ago

Bismillah

Thank you for your question. If by saints you mean people that have reached closeness to Allah due to their efforts in worship, developing their faith and knowledge, passing trials and tribulations and other such qualities then there is no doubt that Shias not only accept the existence of saints but advocate a path to realize that potential in every person. The most perfect friends of God are the holy Prophet (saw) and his Household (as) as well as the prophets (as) and all of those who follow their footsteps have a place among the friends of God.

May you always be successful and be included among God's chosen friends

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Amina Inloes, Amina Inloes is originally from the US and has a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Exeter on Shi'a hadith. She is the program leader for the MA Islamic Studies program at the... Answer updated 1 year ago

It is unlikely that Sufi orders took these practices directly from Imam Ali (A) although they may sometimes ascribe them to Imam Ali (A) as a form of piety. However, it's not unheard of for these things to be done among Shi'i mystics, and in general these practices are found in the mystical traditions in many regions. Maybe they can be viewed more like exercise similar to how if one wishes to strengthen one's muscles, one can lift weights, regardless of one's religious affiliation(s). 

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Amina Inloes, Amina Inloes is originally from the US and has a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Exeter on Shi'a hadith. She is the program leader for the MA Islamic Studies program at the... Answer updated 1 year ago

You have the freedom to go.

However, if you are a dedicated Shi'i, and are going for reasons beyond casual attendance or academic interest (for instance, seeking long-term spiritual guidance or a sense of belonging), it is unlikely to yield a long-term benefit, because people can tell whether you are one of them or not, and at the end of the day, you will be either one of them or not and share their outlook or not. But it is natural for the seeker to want to look for wisdom in different places.

If you do go, it is good to approach it with a spirit of critical analysis, and sift out what is true, healthy, and founded from what is false, unhealthy, or baseless in what is being said (as well as how the teacher interacts with students and how the group interacts with each other). However this is good for all things, not just Sufi groups. 

[Addendum: I agree that, in theory, one should be able to take what one needs spiritually solely through Twelver interpretations of Ahl al-Bayt (A).

However, the reality is that, in many places where Muslims are a minority, there is not much available to Shi'is. Even if there is a Shi'i mosque, it may not be serving the spiritual, educational, or social needs of the people there beyond a basic level. Or the programs may be in a language the person does not speak, etc. One of the main complaints I hear among adult Shi'is is that they feel like their communities do not offer scaffolding for spiritual development because most of the communities are focused on rituals and being cultural centers, and, for this reason, some Shi'is do explore other forms of spirituality or mysticism.

This is in addition to whatever other reasons someone might wish to explore elsewhere, apart from curiosity and the sense that the grass could be greener on the other side (although it usually isn't!). 

At the end of the day, we are all Muslims; if you go to a Sunni Sufi class, you will learn more about the diversity and variety of approaches in the Islamic tradition. In my viewpoint, the main difference between Shi'ism and Sunnism is not about Abu Bakr or Umar or how to do wudu but rather worldview - underlying assumptions about the nature of Islam, approaches to religious law, free will, social ideals, etc, of course Sufis vary a lot in these things too, but picking up on the underlying differences is perhaps the most educational thing to do. Also, sometimes when we see a different viewpoint, we come to appreciate our own more!

I don't believe that there is a merit to preserving one's faith only through isolation or ignorance by not exposing one's self to other views. If one's faith can't stand up to the knowledge that there are other approaches, then it doesn't sound like a very strong faith. However, if one is unfamiliar with the foundations of one's religious views, it's good to be solid in them before exploring something different, otherwise you won't be able to compare fairly. For instance, a Muslim came to me once with many criticisms of the Qur'an they read online, however they had never actually read the Qur'an! This is just taking someone's propaganda because one does not know about one's own religion. However if some has a reasonable knowledge of their own faith, it can be rewarding to explore other interpretations of faith and religion, whether they be from other Muslims or other faiths. We are all human beings sharing the same soul and the same general trajectory throughout life to the next life and so there are bound to be some commonalities even if there are also differences. ]

Sayyed Mohammad Al-Musawi, Sayyed Mohammad al-Musawi is originally from Iraq and heads up the World Ahlul Bayt Islamic League in London. Other than being involved in various humanitarian projects, he frequently responds to... Answered 1 year ago

The followers of true Islam which is the Islam of the Holy Prophet
(SAWA) and the Ahlul Bayt (AS) has got the strongest evidence which is not
available with anyone else from any sect from among the Muslims. The
believer ( Mo'min) should share his knowledge and the evidence which he has with
other Muslims who are not aware of it. Attending religious or
scientific gatherings is good as far as the Mo’min gives his knowledge
as much as he can to those who do not follow the Ahlul Bayt (AS). But
attending classes conducted by people who are away from the Ahlul Bayt
(AS) without being able to benefit them is harmful and it must be
avoided. Every believer, no matter how much he knows about religion is
able to give benefit to those who don’t follow Ahlul Bayt (AS). The
Hadeeth from Imam Ja’far Al- Sadiq (AS) says : “If our uneducated
follower does not overcome the educated from our opponent, then we are
not on the right path” (ان لم يغلب جاهلنا عالمهم فلسنا على الحق ).

The believer who knows and follows Ahlul Bayt (AS) does not need to take guidance from outsiders as the Ahlul Bayt (AS) have the most comprehensive and most authentic knowledge from the Holy Prophet (SAWA) which is required by every Muslim.

There is also another negative point in attending religious classes of
other sects which might give a wrong signal to some of them that they
are on the right path and that is why a follower of the Ahlul Bayt
(AS) is seeking knowledge from them.

A narration states : “Seeking religious knowledge from
other that Ahlul Bayt (AS) is like denying the status of Ahlul Bayt
(AS)”.

Wassalaam.

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Sayyed Mohammad Al-Musawi, Sayyed Mohammad al-Musawi is originally from Iraq and heads up the World Ahlul Bayt Islamic League in London. Other than being involved in various humanitarian projects, he frequently responds to... Answered 1 year ago

It is not allowed to take part in any practice of Bid'ah.

The Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his holy Progeny Ahlul Bayt (AS) practiced remembering Allah (SWT) with out such Halqah, and we must follow them not others.

We respect all our Muslim brothers and their different ways of practicing religion according to their schools of thoughts, but we as followers of Ahlul Bayt (AS), follow the Prophetic way of worshipping Allah (SWT).

Wassalam.