|A Closer Look at Sufism|
Page 5 of 9
Sufism and Iman
But there is a second aspect of Tasawwuf that we have not yet talked about; namely, its relation to iman or “true faith,” the second pillar of the Islamic religion, which in the context of the Islamic sciences consists in ‘aqida or “orthodox belief.”
All Muslims believe in Allah, and that He is transcendently beyond anything conceivable to the minds of men, for the human intellect is imprisoned within its own sense impressions and the categories of thought derived from them, such as number, directionality, spatial extension, place, time, and so forth. Allah is beyond all of that; in His own words,
If we reflect for a moment on this verse, in the light of the hadith of Muslim about Ihsan that “it is to worship Allah as though you see Him,” we realize that the means of seeing here is not the eye, which can only behold physical things like itself; nor yet the mind, which cannot transcend its own impressions to reach the Divine, but rather certitude, the light of iman, whose locus is not the eye or the brain, but rather the ruh, a subtle faculty Allah has created within each of us called the soul, whose knowledge is unobstructed by the bounds of the created universe. Allah Most High says, by way of exalting the nature of this faculty by leaving it a mystery,
The food of this ruh is dhikr or the “remembrance of Allah.” Why? Because acts of obedience increase the light of certainty and iman in the soul, and dhikr is among the greatest of them, as is attested to by the sahih hadith related by al-Hakim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
“Shall I not tell you of the best of your works, the purest of them in the eyes of your Master, the highest in raising your rank, better than giving gold and silver, and better for you than to meet your enemy and smite their necks, and they smite yours?” They said, “What may that be, O Messenger of Allah?” and he said: “The remembrance of Allah Mighty and Majestic.” (al-Mustadrak, 1.496. S).
Increasing the strength of iman through good actions, and particularly through the medium of dhikr has tremendous implications for the Islamic religion and traditional spirituality. A non-Muslim once asked the author, “If God exists, then why all this beating around the bush? Why doesn’t He just come out and say so?”
The answer is that taklif or “moral responsibility” in this life is not only concerned with outward actions, but with what we believe, our ‘aqida—and the strength with which we believe it. If belief in God and other eternal truths were effortless in this world, there would be no point in Allah making us responsible for it, it would be automatic, involuntary, like our belief, say, that Chicago is in America. There would no point in making someone responsible for something impossible not to believe.
But the responsibility Allah has place upon us is belief in the Unseen, as a test for us in this world to choose between kufr and iman, to distinguish believer from unbeliever, and some believers above others.
This why strengthening iman through dhikr is of such methodological importance for Tasawwuf: we have not only been commanded as Muslims to believe in certain things, but have been commanded to have absolute certainty in them. The world we see around us is composed of veils of light and darkness: events come that knock the iman out of some of us, and Allah tests each of us as to the degree of certainty with which we believe the eternal truths of the religion. It was in this sense that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said,
Now, in traditional ‘aqida one of the most important tenets is the wahdaniyya or “oneness and uniqueness” of Allah Most High. This means He is without any sharik or “associate” in His being, in His attributes, or in His acts. But the ability to keep this conviction in mind in the rough and tumble of daily life is a function of the strength of certainty (yaqin) in one’s heart. Allah tells the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in Sura al-A‘raf of the Qur’an,
yet we do tend to rely on our selves and our plans, in obliviousness to the facts of ‘aqida or belief that ourselves and our plans have no effect, that Allah alone brings about effects.
If one wants to test oneself on this, the next time one contacts someone with good connections whose help is critical to one, let one take a look at one’s heart at the moment one asks him to put in a good word for one with someone, and see whom one are relying upon. If one is like most people, Allah is not at the forefront of one thoughts, despite the fact that He alone is controlling the outcome. Isn’t this a lapse in one’s ‘aqida, or, at the very least, in one’s certainty?
Tasawwuf corrects such shortcomings by step-by-step increasing the Muslim’s certainty in Allah. The two central means of Tasawwuf in attaining the conviction demanded by ‘aqida are mudhakara, or learning the traditional tenets of Islamic faith, and dhikr, deepening one’s certainty in them by remembrance of Allah. It is part of our faith that, in the words of the Qur’an in Sura al-Saffat,
yet for how many of us is this day-to-day experience? Because Tasawwuf remedies this and other shortcomings of iman, by increasing the Muslim’s certainty through a systematic way of teaching and dhikr, it has traditionally been regarded as personally obligatory to this pillar of the religion also, and from the earliest centuries of Islam, has proved its worth.