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Story 15: Imam Al-Sadiq (‘A) And A Group Of Sufis

Sufian Sawri,1 who lived in Madinah, came to Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a). He saw the Imam (‘a) dressed in a white garment which was very soft, like the fine material which separates the white of the egg from its shell. He objected, and said, “This garment is not worthy of you. You should not adorn yourself with the ornaments of this world. You are expected to be pious and abstemious from this world.”

Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) said, “I want to teach you something, so please listen carefully. It will benefit you both in this world and in the hereafter. If you have made an error and do not know the Islamic view on this subject, my address will be very useful and profitable to you. However, if your intention is to innovate in Islam and distort its realities, that will be another case, and these words will not be useful to you.”

“You might think that the simple lifestyle of the Holy Prophet (S) and his companions in those days is a duty and obligation for all Muslims until the Day of Resurrection, as well as an example for people to always live like the poor. However, I must inform you that the Holy Prophet (S) lived in a time and place where poverty and indigence was widespread. The majority of people were deprived of the primary necessities of life. The particular lifestyle of the Holy Prophet (S) and his companions were confined to the conditions of those days.”

“In a certain age, if the means of livelihood and the conditions for benefiting from Divine bounties exist, dignified people who take advantage of these comforts of life, would be pious men not libertines or mischief-makers, and Muslims not unbelievers. What fault did you find with me? I swear by Allah, while you see me benefiting from Divine gifts, I have not passed a day nor a night, since the age of maturity, without being aware if there were a right in my property, I would immediately paid it to its case."

Ashamed and defeated, Sufian did not have an answer to the Imam’s (‘a) reasoning. He went out and joined his classmates. He told them about the event, so they decided to go in a group to debate with the Imam (‘a). A few of them came together and said, “Our friend was not able to explain his reasoning well. Now we are here to debate with you with our clear arguments!”

The Imam (‘a) said, “What are your arguments? State them.”

They replied, “Our reasons are deduced from the Holy Qur'an.”

Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) said, “No reasons are better than the Holy Qur’an. I am ready to hear, and explain them.”

They said, “We have chosen two verses of the Holy Qur'an for our assertion and the correctness of the doctrine which we have embraced. It will suffice us. Allah praises a group of Companions in the Holy Qur'an as follows:

وَالَّذِينَ تَبَوَّءُوا الدَّارَ وَالْإِيمَانَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ يُحِبُّونَ مَنْ هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَا يَجِدُونَ فِي صُدُورِهِمْ حَاجَةً مِّمَّا أُوتُوا وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ ۚ وَمَن يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

And [it is also for] those who before them had homes [in Medina] and had adopted the faith [before the Emigrants], love those who emigrate from Mecca to them and in their hearts they feel no need for the booties granted to Emigrants though they live in dire poverty, but give Emigrants preference over themselves. And those who are delivered from covetousness, such are they who shall find deliverance. (Surah al-Hashr 59:9).

“And in another place the Holy Qur'an says:

وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلىٰ حُبِّهِ مِسْكِيناً وَيَتِيماً وَأَسِيراً

And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive. (Surah al-Insan or al-Dahr, 76:8).

When they reached this point of their argument, a person sitting on the outskirts of the assembly who was listening to their argument, said, “What I have understood so far is that you do not believe in what you say. You make these remarks as a pretext to make people take no interest in their own property so that they would give it to you, to use it instead of them. As a matter of fact, until now no-one has seen you refrain from a delicious meal.”

The Imam (‘a) said, “Leave these arguments for the time being. There is no use of them.”

Then he (‘a) turned to them and said, “First, tell me whether you can distinguish between the explicit and the ambiguous, and between abrogating and the abrogated of the Qur'an, since you are quoting the Qur'an.”

“Whoever has gone astray among the Islamic community, it was because of this very fact, for they have resorted to the Qur'an without having an exact knowledge of it.”

They said, “Of course, we have some information in this regard, but we do not know it perfectly.”

The Imam (‘a), “This is your misfortune. The Prophetic Traditions are the same as the Qur'anic verses. They need perfect knowledge and understanding. In regards to the Qur'anic verses which you have cited, they do not denote the prohibition of the usage of Divine bounties. These verses are related to forgiveness, generosity, self-sacrifice and giving priority to others, praising a certain group of people in a certain period of time; while, if they had not done so, they would not have committed any sin. Allah had not commanded them to do so, nor certainly prohibited them from doing so at that time. They kept themselves in straitened circumstances for the sake of duty and donated their wealth to others. Indeed, Allah will remunerate them. Thus, these verses are not confirmation of your argument, so that you blame people and prevent them from making use of their own property and wealth which Almighty Allah has bestowed upon them.

In those days they made such denotations, but later on a perfect and complete command was revealed by Allah determining the limits of that. It is obvious that this command abrogates their action and that we must conform with the latter command and not the former.

In order to enhance the attitude of the believers, through His particular beneficence, Allah forbade people to keep themselves and their families in straitened circumstances and to donate what they possess. For there are the weak, the young, and the feeble elderly among families who do not have the ability to tolerate these conditions. If I were due to donate a loaf of bread, which is at my disposal, as charity, my family, whom I am responsible for, would perish. Thus, the Messenger of Allah (S) said, “Whoever owns a number of dates, some loaves of bread, or few dinars and considers donating them, he has to first donate to his parents, then to his wife and his children, then to his relatives and brothers in Islam, and finally to donate them as charity.”

Charities come as the last case. When the Messenger of Allah (S) heard that a man of Ansar passed away, leaving his young children behind, and donated his scanty property in the way of Allah, he (S) said, “If I had been informed of this, I would not have let him be buried in the Muslim cemetery. He left his children to become obliged to stretch out their hands before others.”

My father, Imam Baqir (‘a), narrated to me a tradition from the Holy Prophet (S) saying, “For payment of the alms, you must start with your family; priority is given to the near relations.”

In addition to these cases, the Qur'anic text prescribes your way of life and way of thinking where it says:

وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا أَنفَقُوا لَمْ يُسْرِفُوا وَلَمْ يَقْتُرُوا وَكَانَ بَيْنَ ذَلِكَ قَوَامًا

“And those who when they spend, are neither extravagant nor niggardly, and are stationed between the two (extremes).” (Surah al-Furqan, 25:67)

There are many verses in Holy Qur'an forbidding both extravagance and excess charity in the same manner; prohibiting avarice and the stinginess. For this, the Holy Qur'an assigned a moderate way and offered a middle stage. It has not ordered man to grant others whatever he owns and remain empty-handed, then pray to Allah to give him his daily bread. Allah never accepts such a prayer.

The Holy Prophet (S) said, “Allah does not grant the prayer of following groups:

a.) One who asks Allah to harm his parents.

b.) One who lends money, without a witness or without obtaining a receipt or written document, and the debtor has already spent his money; then he prays to Allah to help him. It is obvious that his prayer is not acceptable, for he has transgressed by his own hand by lending money without obtaining written evidence or a witness.

c.) One who asks Allah to ward off his wife's evil. Since, the alternative is before him, that is to say, he can annul the marriage contract by divorce if he has really come to a detrimental juncture.

d.) One who is sitting at home with arms folded, asking Allah for his daily bread. Allah says to such an ignorant and greedy person, “My creation! Have I not given you the ability to move? Am I not the One who has endowed you with sound limbs, and have I not equipped you with the hands, feet, eyes, ears and knowledge so that you can move, see, hear and reflect? There is a purpose to the creation of all these things. The way to show appreciation of blessings, is to make use of them. I have signified all the means by which you can do your utmost to set out in quest of your daily bread. Obey My orders relating to your activity and effort, and do not be a burden on others. In fact, if you comply with My will, I will grant you plenty of sustenance. However, if for certain reasons, your life had not improved, and you had done your best and performed your duties, then you would be excused.

e.) One upon whom Allah has bestowed a considerable wealth and property. but has wasted it on unnecessary donations and then prays, “O Allah! give me my daily bread!” In reply Allah says, “Did I not grant you plenty? Why did you not take the middle way? Did I not order you to be moderate in your donations, and prohibit you from excess charity?”

f.) One who calls upon Allah to break off family relations and asks Him something in this regard (or one who has already broken relations with family and wants to offer prayers for a problem).

Allah mentions in the Holy Qur'an the method of donation to His Prophet in particular because the following event occurred. The Holy Prophet (S) had an amount of gold with him, and he wanted to make use of it by distributing it to the poor and was not interested in keeping it even for a night. Thus, he (S) donated the total amount of gold amongst the needy the same day.

The next day, in the early morning, a needy person came to him (S) and forcefully demanded of the Holy Prophet (S) to help him and give him something. Since the Prophet (S) had nothing to give him, he became very upset and annoyed. Thus, the following Qur'anic verse was revealed in this connection and cleared up the matter.

وَلاَ تَجْعَلْ يَدَكَ مَغْلُولَةً إِلَي عُنُقِكَ وَلاَ تَبْسُطْهَا كُلَّ الْبَسْطِ فَتَقْعُدَ مَلُوماً مَّحْسُوراً

“And do not make your hand to be shackled to your neck nor stretch it to the utmost (limit) of its stretching, so that you should sit down blamed, empty-handed.” (Surah al-Isra’, 17:29)

Later traditions reported from the Holy Prophet (S) supported this verse from the Qur'an. It is quite obvious that the disciples of the Qur'an and its followers believe in Qur'anic verses.

At the moment of his death, Abu Bakr was asked to make his will regarding his property. He said, “One fifth of my wealth may be distributed amongst the poor and the remainder for my heirs.” He added, “One fifth of my wealth is not little.” Abu Bakr made out a will of one fifth of his property, while an ill man has the duty on his death bed to make out a will of one third of his wealth. If he knew that it would be better to make use of his whole share, he would change his will to be one third.

Salman and Abu Dharr were known for their knowledge and piety. Their habits and attitude were like those whom I have described. Salman used to set aside his expenses of one year upon receiving his yearly share from the Muslim public treasury so that he could survive. They told him, “Having such self-restraint and piety, are you still thinking of saving for one year? You may die today or tomorrow and not reach the end of the year.”

He replied, “Hopefully I will not die. Why are you assuming the certainty of my death? It may not be the case. Either way, I have some expenses and some needs. O you ignorant people, you have neglected this point. Once a person does not have access to enough income, he would fail to obey Allah and become misled and his zeal and faith will become weak. However, as soon as he gets the necessary means, he will become calm.

Regarding Abu Dharr, he had a few camels and sheep and would drink their milk. While having a guest or tending to the needy, he ate the meat of cattle and used to distribute all of its meat amongst the needy and kept a portion for himself.

Who was more ascetic than they? The Holy Prophet (S) has said words in their favour that you all know. They never wasted their property. They did not choose the way you are suggesting today, that is, that people would dispense whatever they own, and get themselves and their family in trouble.

I recounted to you this tradition narrated through chains from my father and grandfathers all the way up to the Messenger of Allah (S) saying, “The strangest attitudes which a believer attains are as follows: when his body is cut to pieces with shears, he will experience bliss and prosperity; and if offered all the property of the East and West, he will still become prosperous and fortunate.”

Therefore, the contentment of a believer is not contingent on his being poor and indigent, but rather, it emanates from the spirit of his faith and belief. Whatever his situation, may it be poverty and empty-handedness or wealth, he knows his duties in all states and can fulfil them properly. As a matter of fact, the strangest state for a believer is to accept that all events in his life, weaknesses and problems are prosperity and felicity for him.

I do not know whether what I have mentioned today, is sufficient or I have to add more.

For your information, at the dawn of Islam, when Muslims were quite few in number, the law of Jihad (Holy Islamic war) required one Muslim against ten infidels. If they did not obey the command, it was considered a sin, violation and an offense for them. Afterwards, as a consequence of their fortunes improving by Allah's Mercy and Compassion, this law was abrogated and altered, that is to say, one Muslim against two infidels and not more.

I would like to put forward a question to you regarding judicial law and Islamic courts. Supposing one of you is sued in a court of law in connection with the financial support of your wife, and the judge passes a sentence regarding the payment of the support by you, then what will you do? Are you going to bring a pretext that you are an ascetic and have refrained from the worldly life? Is this pretext plausible? In your opinion, the sentence passed by the judge in respect to the support of your wife is in conformity with justice and fairness, or on the contrary, it is unjust and unfair? If you claim that the judgement is unjust, you have surely told a lie and have also unjustly treated the whole Islamic community with this outrageous defamation. If you say that the sentence passed by the judge is invalid, your excuse will be null and void. Thus, you should admit that your path and conduct is incorrect.

Here is another case. In some circumstances, Muslims donate charity, either obligatory or not, like zakat (statutory Islamic levy on specified items to be used for the welfare of Muslims) or kaffarah (expiation or fine). Now supposing that everyone become ascetic in conformity with your wish, and renounce the worldly life and its necessities, then what will be the course of expiatory donations and the obligatory alms-giving? What about the different kinds of obligatory zakat, such as gold, silver, sheep, camels, cows, dates, raisins, etc? Is it not so that these alms are supposed to make a change in the conditions of the poor and would give them a better life? This case indicates that the purpose and goal of religion is nothing more than attaining improvement in life and to utilize all means available for a good and prosperous life.

However, if the final purpose of religion was poverty, and the ultimate aim of religious education was confined to make human beings turn their faces away from this world, and live in poverty, indigence and misery, the poor would have attained these sublime objectives and they should not be helped either, for they would already have attained bliss and would be awash with propriety.

In fact, if it is as you claim, it is not advisable to preserve and save something, but rather to donate whatever we have gained. There would remain no question of zakat. It would become clear that you had embraced a way of life that is extremely unpleasant and dangerous, leading people to an erroneous doctrine. The path you are following and inviting others towards is ignorance of the Holy Qur'an as well as the Prophetic traditions. These traditions are not such as to raise doubts, but on contrary, the Holy Qur'an supports them and gives them authenticity.

You reject the authentic traditions of the Holy Prophet (S) when they do not comply with your school of thought. Therefore, this is another ignorance. You are not applying the correct meanings of the verses in the Holy Qur'an and their practical, beautiful and subtle points. You do not understand the difference between the abrogative and the abrogated, and the explicit and the ambiguous. You cannot distinguish between what is permitted and what is forbidden.

What is your opinion about the incident of Sulayman (‘a), the son of Dawud (‘a), who asked Allah to bestow on him sovereignty such that no-one would possess after him?

قَالَ رَبّ‌ِ اغْفِرْ لِي وَهَبْ لِي مُلْكاً لاَ يَنْبَغِي لأَحَدٍ مِنْ بَعْدِي إِنَّكَ أَنتَ الْوَهَّابُ

“He said: ‘My Lord! Forgive me and grant me a dominion such as shall not be fit anyone after me, verily You are the Bounteous (without measure).” (Surah Sad, 38:35)

Allah granted him a vast kingdom. Of course, Sulayman (‘a) did not wish for anything illegal. Neither Allah in the Holy Qur'an nor any other believer would blame Sulayman (‘a) for wishing for such a kingdom in the world. Likewise, with Prophet Dawud (‘a) who had lived before Sulayman (‘a). Then the incident of Yusuf (‘a) who asked of the King:

قَالَ اجْعَلْنِي عَلَي خَزَآئِنِ الأَرْضِ إِنّي حَفِيظٌ عَلِيمٌ

“He (Yusuf) said: ‘Set me over the storehouses of the land. Verily I am a knowing guardian’.” (Surah Yusuf, 12:55)

His position reached to such a level that he was entrusted with the affairs of the Egyptian regency all the way to the borders of Yemen. Famine spread, and people were affected by the scarcity, and they rushed to him from neighbouring regions, buying provisions from him and returning home. It is obvious that Yusuf (‘a) did not aspire to an unjust act nor did Allah in the Qur'an blame him for that.

Such is the incident of Zul-Qarnain, a servant of Allah who loved Allah, as did Allah love him. The wealth of the world was at his disposal. He became the ruler of the East and West. “O my community! Refrain from this unjust way and devote yourselves to observing true Islamic rules. Do not violate that which Allah has commanded or forbidden. Do not implement commands devised by yourselves. Do not interfere in questions with which you are not acquainted. Inquire and put forward those questions about knowledge to the ones who are well-versed about it. Pay utmost attention to know the difference between the abrogative and abrogating, the explicit and ambiguous, and the legal and illicit. This would be better and easier for you, so as to be far from ignorance. Turn away from ignorance, for its followers are many, in contrast to those of knowledge. Allah says, “A learned is superior to a specialist.”2

  • 1. In the beginning of the second century after Hijrah, a group emerged from the heart of Islam who called themselves Sufis (ascetics). They had a particular way of life and invited others to follow them, pretending that this was the way of religion. This group asserted that one should refrain from comforts of this world. The pious should not wear good garments, nor eat delicious food, nor live in luxurious dwellings. Seeing people making use of these bounties, they blamed and despised them, calling them ‘people of the world’ (materialistic), and said they were far from Allah. The critic of Imam Sadiq (as) revived this point of view. This ideology, which had precedent elsewhere, already existed in Greece, India, and more or less all over the world. It also appeared among Muslims.

    It conferred a religious context to it and continued in subsequent generations, creating a strange influence. We can say of this school of thought, which gave birth to a particular ideology among Muslims that its direct effect was the degradation of the principles of life, and the neglect of daily affairs, as well as the deterioration and backwardness of Islamic countries. The infiltration of this philosophy had not only affected the social classes, who officially named their members ‘Sufis’, but its spread, under the banner of asceticism, piety and anachronism, spread somewhat into other social classes and Islamic religious groups which were and still are anti-Sufi. However, not all who were called Sufis followed this way of thinking.

    No doubt, this school of thought should be considered a social disease, a dangerous one which leads to the mental paralysis of society. Thus, it is necessary to campaign for its elimination. Unfortunately, none of the campaigns which were and are being called for under this banner are actually combatting against this disease, that is, they are not actually against this way of thinking. The problem is that they are campaigning against names, words, individuals, and at times for worldly gain. Sometimes, those who oppose Sufism, suffer from the same disease, and they are themselves enablers of its propagation.

    Due to their ignorance and misunderstanding, they attacked an array of subtle and sublime thoughts, which are masterpieces of humanity that few have the ability to appreciate. Combat against the Sufism should assume the form of a campaign against this disease and this mode of thought. As the context of the Imam Al-Sadiq's (as) tradition states, it is essential to oppose it, whenever or whatever union it may belong to, and by whatever name it may adopt. In any case, the Imam's (as) statement in this narration is the most complete statement which refutes this way of thinking, which is unfortunately widely propagated. This complete statement is recorded and kept in the Books of Islamic traditions.

  • 2. Tuhaf ul-Uqul, p. 348 - 354 and Al-Kafi, v. 5, p. 65 - 71 (Chapter: Al-Maishah).