Disclaimer: I am neither a Shaykh nor a Mureed of Tassawuff and the title aptly dispels any further arguments on the matter so before commenting read, understand and then of course feel free to differ and correct in the comments section.
Asslamo Allaikum Wa Rahamatullahi Wa Barakatuh,
A young new Muslim asked me once if he should pursue Tassawuff and if it is needed for his Deen and he is having trouble trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. This series of blogs are being penned to summarise out discussions on the matter from a layman’s (outsider’s) perspective. If you have ever played professional sports or have trained for any Martial Arts this explanation will (Insha’Allah) make some sense to you.
The objective in any sports is to excel at the highest level, nobody trains hard for hours on end to be mediocre. The key to success is to get the right help, right resources and then to train hard. Islam is no different, we should neither aspire to be mediocre nor accept mediocrity in our Deen.
The first and the most fundamental aspect of your game is to be in the company of those who either excel at your sports or are aspiring to be better. You can’t improve without being in the company of some who are training for the same cause or just by reading book. No one has become excellent at their game by reading books or avoiding the company (and thereby observing) those who are good at their perspective sports!
This is the first and fundamental principle of spiritual Islam. I have deliberately avoided the term “Tassawuff” here for those who have some sort of apprehensions or negative feelings towards this term. Whether you are Deobandi, Tableeghi, Sufi, Jihadi, Barelwee, Salafi, Ahl-e-Hadeeth or whatever you cannot improve spiritually unless and until you actively seek the company of those who you judge to be believers of Sunnah and those who spend every single minute of their day adhering to the commands of Allah (SWT) and Sunnah of Nabi (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam). No amount of blogs, Islamic forums, youtube videos, listening to talks on your iPhone will substitute for company of those who are close to Allah (SWT) in getting on the stepping stone of “Islamic Spirituality”.
You can take to the bank because Allah (SWT) has commanded us to do that.
[9:119] O you who believe, fear Allah, and be in the company of the truthful.
Being in the company of those who are striving in the same area as you does a few things:
- Humbling: It doesn’t matter how good you think you are but being in a collective highlights your shortcomings. Solitude may make you believe that you are good because you have read a book or practised all the strokes but being with people who are doing the something always highlights something which you need to work on.
- Inspiring: Even if find out that you are actually good you will always be inspired by those who are working positively hard to be good!
- Rubs of: Training always rubs of! You can't be in the company of a lot of people who are workign hard and then decide to just lounge around and do nothing !
- Collective Momentum: The collective momentum of people will carry you forwards
Our Deen is a “collective” and organised in a very structured manner for the stragglers and individuals to be swept up and moved forwards. The “Jammah” gives you momentum and believe it or not this is one of the fundamental principles of Tassawuff i.e.:
Seek the company of the pious
Secondly, before you can even think about improvements you need to get your basics right! There is no point in you trying to get your Serve right if you don’t even know how to hold a Tennis Racket properly or trying to bowl fast in Cricket if you don’t even know how to grip the ball properly!
At this point, you must be thinking that I have got the two points in the wrong order, surely you must get the basics right before seeking the company of those who are practising, isn’t it? No! Without being in the company of the experts you can’t possibly know what the basics are and importantly you wouldn’t know if you are practising the basics correctly or not!
Being in the company of the experts will highlight your deficiencies and the correct way to bridge the gap and Master the basics.
Lastly, being in the company of those who are striving towards the same goal as you gives you inspiration but doesn’t improve you a lot. You can be in the best company and if you do NOTHING you will NOT improve a lot.
You will observe this in the lives of countless Sufees who travel the path, make Ba’yah to the most prominent Ulamah and Mashaykh and consider it sufficient for them to improve then get despondent due to lack of progress.
We will explore this further in the next part.