“From among the multitude, Allah gracious appoints some selected persons as His friends to preach His commandments for the benefit of the world. Their one greatest qualification is that they renounce the wealth and pleasures of the world and dedicate their lives to the love, devotion and service of Allah and humanity. When others fear, they don’t. And when others feel the pinch of sorrows and pain, they don’t. When the world would have no such Walis then the Day-of-Qayamat would dawn upon it.”
–Hazrat Ali Hujwari Data Ganj Baksh of Lahore
The basic concept of Sufism is quite simple: that humans were created by a Supreme Creator (Allah) Who sent to His humanity over the course of time a succession of Prophets (Alaihis Salaam) who revealed to this humanity the rules of life and conduct for living not only a harmonious life on this earth, but also for securing salvation in the next world.
In practical terms, the method of living out this life is reposited in the life example of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s. Alaihis Salaam .) the final Prophet, who was sent to correct errors that had crept into the Divine Code revealed by prior Prophets (Alaihis Salaam) , and also to complete the Divine Revelation to humanity. Thus, the mission of all previous Prophets (Alaihis Salaam) is accepted and respected, yet the Sufis follow the example of the final prophet, since it is conveyed by a book which is errorless, and deemed as Final by the Creator, the One who Sent it.
It would have been possible, easy even, for Allah to have left His Quran laying somewhere for everyone to find it. Yet, He, in His Wisdom, chose to have a human being first convey the Book, and then demonstrate and comment on each and every action ordained in the Qurâ€™an. There is no comparable book or sequence of events associated with any other human in history.
The scope of life outlined in the Holy Quran is at once immensely practical and utterly sublime. Instead of each person making up their own mind, or interpreting according to their own whim or wish, we have a book of advices and codes which cannot possibly be arrived at by individual thought, choice or action.
In order to correctly implement the life outlined in the Holy Quran, it is the practice of Muslims to “imitate” the behaviors of the Holy Prophet (s. Alaihis Salaam .w.) . Yet, there are many verses and topics of the Quran which require deep thought and guidance for one to avoid being misled by one’s own interpretation and imagination.
Moreover, there are spiritual states alluded to in the Quran, which, in order to correctly understand or perform, Allah subhanu wa taala advises us to consult with various persons whom He identifies as “possessing Knowledge,” or “beloved friends,” and similar descriptions. In sum, He grants that some are better or clearer than others in their understanding of His intentions for humanity.
It is in the foregoing context that the Sufi Orders arose — not for the sake of evading or corrupting the Divine Commandments for humanity, but to methodically study and implement the Divine Codes to the highest degree possible in human beings.
According to the Chishti Sufi conception, there are eleven Hijabaat (veils) intervening between man and Allah, barriers to either fully implementing His Commands, or to fully experiencing the Light and Mercy which He has Promised.
The curriculum of the Chishti Order is designed to be carried out in a “teacher-student” context. While the course of study and practice ordinarily carries on for an extended period of up to 25 or 30 years, below we summarize the “veils” or barriers to true knowledge and understanding, which the instruction of the Shaikh aims to dissolve. In sum, Sufism is nothing but the heart and soul of Islam, expressed in a conceptual framework.
The Eleven Veils
(1) Maarifat (Knowledge of Allah)
The first Hijaab or veil is the veil of Allah’s Maarifat, the Divine Knowledge pertaining to the relation of Allah with man.
Certain critics say that Maarifat is attained by ilm (knowledge) and aql (wisdom), but Shaikh Ali Hujwari refutes this claim. He says: “If Maarifat were attainable by ilm and aql then every alim (learned scholar) and wiser person should have been an Aarif (Sufi faqeer) whose definition and life are absolutely different from the definition and life of the Ulema (learned scholars). But it is not the case.” He says “Maarifat is attained only by that aspirant who receives special favour or Hidayat of Allah because it is Allah alone Who opens, closes, widens or seals the door of an aspirant’s heart. Ilm and Aql (knowledge and wisdom) can be helpful in attaining Maarifat but they cannot be its cause which is created only by the favour of Allah.” “I have recognized Allah only through Himself and all else through His Light.”
“What is Maâ€™arifat then?” asks Hazrat Ali Hujwari. He discusses the answer to this question in the light of the matured experiences of the great Sufis of the world:
Hazrat Abdullah-bin-Mubarik says : “Maarifat means that there should be no wonderment about anything of the world because this wonderment is created by Allah and is an act which is beyond all human conception, wisdom and powers. Because Allah Almighty has full control and command over everything of both the worlds then why should an Aarif (Sufi) entertain doubts or wonder about the powers and actions of Allah? They are as sure as daylight.”
According to Hazrat Zunnoon Misri, “the reality of Maarifat is that Allah, by the persistent effulgence of His divine light, divulges His secrets to the Aarif and illumines his heart and eyes by this Light to protect him against all the evils of the world without permitting even an iota of any doubts or reflection in the heart of the Aarif. After acquiring this stage in Maarifat a Sufi continues to see and enjoy all the manifestations of Divine Secrets.”
Hazrat Shibli says that Maarifat is the name of everlasting wonderment. There are two kinds of this wonderment. One is experienced during the state of sukr and the other one during the state of sehav”. (Both of these states are described in the Glossary of Sufi Terms). “If it prevails in the state of sehav, it amounts to kufr, (disbelief or faithlessness) but if it prevails in the state of sukr then it is Ma ‘Arifat because there can be no doubt whatever in the existence or presence of Allah in this state. And it is by this wonderment of Allah’s existence that a Sufi’s faith is strengthened and conclusively confirmed.”
Hazrat Bayazid Bastami says that “Maarifat is the source of conviction of a Sufi that everything of the universe is under the dominating control and power of Allah, that nobody else has any authority whatever upon His kingdom; that everything has its connection with Allah; that everything is at the mercy of His command and that everything derives its qualification from the store-house of Allah’s qualifications; that everything which is manifesting itself is manipulated by His Power and, lastly, that all the moving and stationary objects of the world, like the mountains, skies, earth, etc. are in their places because of His wish to keep this most wonderful drama of His creation going under the “Divine Scheme of Things”–an everlasting Divine Order of the Universe.
(2) Tauheed (Unity of Allah)
The second Hijaab or veil is that of Tauheed (Oneness or Unity) of Allah. There are three kinds: (1) That Allah Himself is aware of His Oneness; (2) that He commands man to accept and recognize His oneness; and (3) that people know about the Oneness of Allah.
And when a Sufi attains the knowledge of Allah’s realization, he feels that Allah is One who recognizes no duality in His existence, that He is eternally ancient and, therefore, free of all changes incidental to every thing of the world. He Allah is not limited to the four walls of a house; He needs no home to live in. Allah has no soul for which a body is needed to get in. Allah has no body in any shape or form whatever for which He might need a soul. He is born of no parents and nothing changes His Oneness and divine attributes. Allah has lived ever since, and shall live for all time. He knows, hears, sees and speaks. He does what He wishes and He wishes what He knows. Allahâ€™s Commandments are His wish for the good of mankind on earth and, religiously speaking, mankind has no choice but to submit to and obey Him faithfully. He is the cause of all profit and loss. He alone can judge best all the affairs of both the worlds.
Of all the fundamental principles, recognized by great religions of the world, Tauheed, i.e. Allah’s Oneness, is the main pillar over which their basic structures stand.
(3) Iman (Faith)
The third veil is of Iman (faith) which is the mainspring of every religion of the world, and not of Islam alone. What is the cause of Iman? Is it Maâ€™arifat or obedience? One group of Sufis maintains that the cause of Iman (faith) is Maâ€™arifat, because it is through Maâ€™arifat that man sees the wonderments and the astonishing manifestations of Allah which convince him of His existence, apart from all the other enormous amount of evidence illuminating between heaven and earth.
If there is only Maâ€™arifat and no obedience of man, Allah may not question him about his faith. But if there is neither obedience nor Maâ€™arifat, then man would be answerable to Allah for his faith, and he will never have salvation or peace in both the worlds.
As a matter of fact, Iman is a highly delicate spring in the machinery of deen (religion). Hazrat Ali Hujwari says, “there can be no Maâ€™arifat without Iman and obedience”. Maâ€™arifat is the name of shauq (fondness) and love, and the root of all fondness and love is obedience. The more that fondness and love flare up in one’s heart, the more is one’s obedience to and respect for Allah and His commandments.
It is wrong to say that obedience is necessary only up to the stage of acquiring Maâ€™arifat, and that after it is once attained, a Sufi is saved of all his strivings and other wordily duties. When a Sufi’s heart. by his constant devotion, becomes the abode of Allah’s love, his eyes become the abode of Allah’s manifestations and his life becomes the subject of Divine teachings. But even then the body must not give up His obedience and, in fact, it cannot.
(4) Tahaarat (Cleanliness)
The fourth Hijaab (veil) is that of Tahaarat (cleanliness). After Iman, Tahaarat is an imperative link of the Sufi’s life. It has two kinds: (1) Tahaarat-e-Zaahir or outwardly cleanliness concerning the purity of his body; and (2) Tahaarat-e-Baatin or inward cleanliness. Without Tahaarat-e-Zaahir, Salat or prayer and all other devotional rites are not permissible or acceptable under the law of Shariat. Tahaarat-e-Baatin means purity of heart and spirit without which no Maâ€™arifat can be attained.
(5) Tauba (Repentance)
A default in the conduct of a Sufi or Muslim is forgivable by offering Tauba (repentance) before Allah. It can ward off Allah’s wrath against man’s sins. There are three conditions of Tauba: (1) repentance for opposition and default in breaking the Divine Law; (2) repentance that this default or opposition should not have been occasioned after any previous repentance; and (3) that there should be no idea of returning towards any pre-Tauba faults and shortcomings after the repentance.
These conditions are possible only when one feels ashamed of his sins. For this shamefulness too, there are 3 conditions: (1) fear of punishment, (2) knowledge of the fact that sinful deeds are to be punished, and (3) repentance for previous lapses of disobedience, because Allah sees and knows everything which a man does.
(6) Salat (Namaz or Prayer)
The sixth Hijaab (veil) is that of Salat, the Islamic prayer. Hazrat All Hujwari describes various beneficial meanings of Salat in the light of Sufism. He says: “Salat not only puts the devotee on the path leading to Allah but also opens up all the secrets of this path to a keenly devoted mind.” For instance, wuzu (ablution) means outward cleanliness of the body, the first and foremost condition to prepare for Salat. Then comes tauba (repentance) which means inner cleanliness of the devotee. Then comes the standing posture facing towards Kaaba, which means the devotee’s implicit faith in and devotion to Allah. Then comes Qayaam which means struggle against Nafs. Then starts the Qirat (recitation of certain Qurâ€™anic verses) which means zikr or remembrance of Allah. Then follows ruku (the first forward bending-pose) which denotes humility overpowering the Nafs. Then comes Tashhed-e-Uns which indicates assertion of the devotee’s complete faith in and love for Allah. And finally comes Salaam which means to turn away from all worldly attractions with the blessings of Allah. This is a brief analysis of the benefits or philosophy of Salat as interpreted by Sufis. See also “Postures of the Prophets” for further explanations of the benefits and features of Salat.
Concentration In Salaat
Real Salat is that during which the devotee himself is present in Aalam-e-Nasoot (in this world) but his soul sours high in Aalam-e-Arwah (the spiritual world). This is the most difficult kind of Salat which only prophets, awlia (saints) and great Sufis can perform. Common people need a lot of concentration practice to do it, and yet they may fail.
Hazrat Hatira Asum used to say: “When I offer my Salat, I see Paradise at my right and hell at my back.”
(7) Zakat (Charity)
The seventh Hijaab (veil) is that of Zakat, the religious tax under Shariat to help the poor and the needy which has a direct bearing upon a Muslim’s faith. Hazrat Ali Hujwari says: “A Sufi in this respect must not be a philanthropist, who makes distinction in granting charity. But he must be like a Jawad who makes no discrimination at all in charity. The rich make discrimination in offering Zakat from their good or bad earnings. But a Sufi must act like a Jawad who makes no such discrimination.”
On what grounds a Sufi who has renounced the world and has no assets, no trade or business to earn anything is eligible to pay Zakat? He has to live on Tawakkal (absolute trust and reliance upon Allah for every need). Zakat is not only leviable upon one’s wealth and frugality. It also is payable on other benefits of life also, such as the blessings of Allah enjoyed by man at every step of his life, particularly the enjoyment of his sound physical health and fitness. He can and must certainly offer his share of Zakat in gratitude to Allah. Did not Allah gracious keep him and his limbs fit to perform his Salat? There is no wealth better than health. Hence gratitude is the kind of Zakat which even the poorest can afford to pay in return of Allah’s blessings.
The eight Hijaab (veil) is that of Sayaam (fasting). Sayaam means control of the passions and desires of Nafs under the pain of hunger and thirst for at least thirty days in a year as a means of regular training and practice for a disciplined life. Hunger not only controls the Nafs and its desires. but it also creates humility in one’s behavior. Although hunger emaciates the body physically, yet it generates a devotee’s spiritual force which kindles divine light in the heart and develops will-power.
Hazrat Abul Abbas Qassab used to say: “When I eat I find the substance of evil and sin in me, and when I draw hand from eating, I find this act to be the reality of all devotion.” Hazrat Abdullah Tastari used to take his food only once in a fortnight, while throughout the thirty days of Ramadan (fasting month) he took no other meals except Iftaar (light refreshments taken to break the fast). Hazrat Ibrahim Adham also did the same during the Ramadan month in spite of the fact that he had to go out daily under the burning sun to cut and gather corn in the fields to earn his living. But the real splendor of this example lies in that whatever wages he earned by such a hard toil, he cheerfully distributed the same among the poor and the needy.
(9) Hajj (Pilgrimage To Kaaba)
The ninth Hijaab (veil) is that of Hajj. Hazrat The Hajj for a Sufi is the occasion for offering his tauba (repentance) to Allah.”
During the Hajj there are various rituals: (1) wearing of ihram (the solitary white cloth) means giving up all bad habits; (2) staying in Arafaat means absorption of divine love; (3) going to Muzdalifa means giving up of the passions of Nafs; (4) Tawaaf, or making rounds of the Kaaba, means seeing the divinity of Allah; (5) coming back to Mina means forgetting all desires of one’s heart; (6) running in Sara and Marwa means purifying the heart and soul; (7) Qurbani or sacrifice means sacrificing all the desires and passions of Nafs; and ( throwing of pebbles at the devil means throwing away of the bad companions and associates.
Hazrat Ali Hujwari adds: “If a Sufi fails to observe and learn the foregoing lessons from his pilgrimage to Kaaba, his going for Hajj will make no difference to him and will indeed be an aimless and vain show.”
(10) Mushaheda (Coming Face to Face with Divine Light)
The tenth Hijaab (veil) is that of mushaheda, that is, coming face to face with the Divine Light. Hazrat Ali Hujwari thinks that “Hajj is the only place of mushaheda for a Sufi.” Hazrat Abul Abbas says: “Mushaheda means a Sufi’s unswerving faith surcharged with overwhelming love for Allah; the devotee sees nothing else except the Light of Allah all around.” Hazrat Shaikh Shibli says: “In everything I saw, I found the Light of Allah in myriad colors and forms,”
(11) Aadaab-E-Saalik (Scrupulous Etiquette Of The Sufi)
The etiquette (behavior) of a Sufi is a very complex topic. The following points give some sense of the extraordinary life attitudes engendered in the Sufi:
(1) A Sufi must staunchly adhere to the commandments of Allah and traditions .of the Prophet.
(2) A Sufi must necessarily maintain cordial relations with the public indiscriminately.
(3) A Sufi must seek the company of other great Sufis as far as possible.
(4) A Sufi must welcome all who come to him with love and due regard.
(5) If a Sufi undertakes a journey. it should be strictly for the sake of Allah; i.e. for Hajj, seeking of knowledge, etc.
(6) A Sufi must eat very little like a patient and his food should have been procured by honest means; he must try to avoid invitations from the worldly people.
(7) A Sufi must never go to the courts of kings and must refuse to accept any kind of rewards or gratifications for his maintenance.
(8)A Sufi must walk in all humility without the slightest tinge of pride or vanity.
(9) A Sufi must sleep as little as possible in order to save time for his devotional duties.
(10) A Sufi must observe silence because silence is better than speech, but if he must speak then talking in favour of Allah and Truth is always better than silence.
(11) Bachelorship for a Sufi is against Sunnah, but if he wishes to be aloof of the world, then it is his ornament.
Sufism is a vast and most intricate divine subject to deal with in English, specially in a limited space. It is a special spiritual branch of Islam, as we have seen. It is indeed a Divine Knowledge which is bestowed by Allah upon a selected few for the benefit of humanity. Within the history of Islam, Sufism has carved out and built up a most brilliant history, a force for rejuvenating and strengthening Islam, against its enemies–the forces of the devil and his unbridled materialism.