|A Closer Look at Sufism|
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The Centrality of Sufism to Islam
But if the foregoing is true of origins, the more significant question is: How central is Tasawwuf to the religion, and: Where does it fit into Islam as a whole? Perhaps the best answer is the hadith of Muslim, that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said:
The hadith continues to where ‘Umar said:
This is a sahih hadith, described by Imam Nawawi as one of the hadiths upon which the Islamic religion turns. The use of the word din in the last line of it, Atakum yu‘allimukum dinakum, “came to you to teach you your religion” entails that the religion of Islam is composed of the three fundamentals mentioned in the hadith: Islam, or external compliance with what Allah asks of us; iman, or the belief in the unseen that the prophets have informed us of; and ihsan, or to worship Allah as though one sees Him. Allah says in Sura Maryam,
and if we reflect how Allah, in His wisdom, has accomplished this, we see that it is by human beings, the traditional scholars He has sent at each level of the religion. The level of Islam has been preserved and conveyed to us by the Imams of shari‘a or “Sacred Law” and its ancillary disciplines such as hadith and Qur’anic exegesis; the level of iman, by the Imams of ‘aqida or ‘tenets of faith’; and the level of ihsan, “to worship Allah as though you see Him,” by the Imams of Tasawwuf.
The hadith’s very words “to worship Allah” show us the interrelation of these three fundamentals, for the how of “worship” is only known through the external prescriptions of Islam, while the validity of this worship in turn presupposes iman or faith in Allah and the Islamic revelation, without which worship would be but empty motions; while the words, “as if you see Him,” show that ihsan implies a human change, for it entails the experience of what, for most of us, is not experienced. So to understand Sufism, we must look at the nature of this change in relation to both Islam and iman, and this is the principle focus of the present essay.