Sufi Concepts And How They Relate To The Quran
In contrast to the Sufi doctrine of wahdatul wujud (Unity of Being) made famous by Ibne Arabi, the doctrine of wahdatul shuhud (Apparentism) was conceived by Shaikh Alauddin Samnani (d. 1332 CE). This was later made prominent by Shaikh Sirhindi (1564-1624 CE) in the subcontinent. It basically means that the world is a shadow of God; the man is not a part of this shadow but can elevate himself (through spiritual exercises) to a level where he can unite with Him.
Proponents of wahdatul wujud and wahdatul shuhud have argued with each other over time as to which doctrine is more authentic. Shah Waliullah tried to marry both and pronounced, “…wahdatul wujud came first, therefore, it is the foremost mazhab; wahdatul shuhud came afterwards, therefore, it is the subsequent mazhab. Both are nevertheless truthful…”. However, as discussed earlier, both of these concepts do not corroborate with the Quran.
As explained earlier, the roots of wahdatul wujud lie in Christianity. In Christian mysticism, nuns remain celibate because they are supposed to be the “brides of Christ”. The same concept was imported into Sufism when a saint’s death is celebrated as his wisaal (union/marriage) with Divinity. His followers, therefore, commemorate the saint’s urs (union/wedding) quite enthusiastically on his death anniversary. At the urses of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and Waris Shahi, one can often find their malangs dressed as brides (of the Divine).
One imagines that after merger with God (according to Sufi beliefs), a Sufi’s journey would come to an end. On the contrary, in the Sufi biosphere, the Sufi not only remains alive after death but also sustains his worldly contacts and interests. If anything, his powers are supposed to increase because he becomes a part of the system (Rejalul Ghayb), which controls the world. He is supposed to listen, accept petitions, and physically help his muridain (followers), and even accept gifts (nazrana) from them at his tomb. According to Ismaili beliefs, a gang of 40 people called Abdaal (supported by 70 Najeeb and 300 Naqeeb) controls this system. Abdaal are line-manged by 700 avatars, 3-4 amood, and one great qutub or ghous. Ismaili beliefs did not gain much religious traction but some of their concepts e. g, abdaal, ghous, and qutub have found their way into mainstream Islam through Sufism.
The Quran remains categorical in promulgating that being dead and being alive cannot be the same (35:22), and that “…Whosoever they call for help other than God, has no power or jurisdiction” (35:13-14). Furthermore, God is certain that the dead can neither hear the living, nor they can answer their calls (Quran 6:36; 42:6; 39:3). The Quran believes that people who die, including Prophet Muhammad (S), cannot come back as life is about going forward not backwords (23:100). Therefore, the idea of offering reward (sawab) to someone dead (or alive) through good deeds or prayers done by someone else is also non-Quranic. The Quranic law of requital means that personal good or bad deeds bring personal rewards or penalties; and one cannot transfer these to someone else. A simple example would be that if you exercise regularly, you cannot transfer its health benefits to someone else.
As soon as we hear the word “Aoulia” (Sufi saints), our minds somehow turn to a special cluster of very pious Muslim personalities who have unimaginable powers to predict the future, better lives, and whose displeasure could ruin everything. This group neither includes the Companions of the Prophet (S) nor the leading scholars in Islam; yet they are uniformly held in very high esteem by the public as well as the intellectuals. This is interesting because the Quran does not mention any such group despite containing the words Wali, Aoulia and Aoulia Allah in it. Therefore, it is worth examining what these words actually mean, and how the Quran uses them.
Al-Wali means to be near someone (friend, helper) or is used for a ruler/sovereign or an overseer. It also has the opposite meaning “to follow” or ‘to be a subject”. The Quran names God as a Wali (Sovereign) of momineen (righteous Muslims); labels momineen as a Wali (helpers, subjects) of God; and identifies momineen as Wali (friend) of one another. God as a just Ruler/Overseer makes sure that those who obey his commandments are brought to light and those who defy his laws disappear into darkness (Quran 2:257). The Quran strictly forbids making anyone a Wali except God and also that as a Sovereign He does not share this role with anyone (42:9; 18:26; 7:3).
When the Quran uses the words “Aoulia Allah”, it does not mean a separate group but actually they are momineen and the pious Muslims. Momineen are those Muslims who follow God’s commandments and support each other; and similar to being honest and righteous, “Wali Allah” is one of their attributes. Therefore, the Quran repeatedly mentions that God’s law-abiding people are momineen who are relaxed and contented, and that the latter are Aoulia Allah and vice versa (10:62-63; 2:38). God does not accept others in that position and calls those who hold such beliefs as ignorant because false Aoulia can neither benefit themselves nor others (Quran 29:41; 13:16). Hence, they cannot be a waseela (intermediary) for God either because the purpose of the institution of Prophethood was to liberate people from such burdens and chains they were subjugated with (Quran 7:157) and establish a direct relationship with God. Jews used to claim that they were Aoulia Allah but, “…Messengers came to them with clear signs but they rejected them and turned away. God can do without them…” (Quran 64:5-6).
One of the biggest attractions to Sufism is their ability to predict the future. In the subcontinent, these predictions range from begetting a son and success in exams to winning a legal case and reaping huge profits in business. However, such examples are only for the general public because muridain and close associates acquire the next level of forecasts where they receive good news of various types e.g., their enemies’ destruction through illness or financial disasters. Sometimes, Sufi predictions extend to national or international scene where floods, wars, and earthquakes are forewarned. If any of these predictions come true (as a result of natural phenomena!), people refer to them as Sufi miracles but they get forgotten when most of these go amiss. For example, whatever Prof Rafiq Akhtar predicted in his published lectures after 2001, has proved to be almost entirely wrong but he has never thought about retirement.
The Quran has clearly determined, “No one knows the future/unknown except God” (10:20). Prophet Muhammad (S) did not know it either (Quran 11:31) and was asked to publicise, “Say! None in the heavens or on earth knows the unknown except God…” (Quran 27:65). When God desired, He informed His Prophets about the future or the unknown through the phenomenon called wahy (Quran 3:179; 76: 23-24). Since the route of wahy came to end after Prophet Muhammad (S), that mode of communication about knowing the future has also extinguished. Therefore, the Quran has unambiguously proclaimed that nobody knows what will happen tomorrow or when someone is going to die (31:34). Consequently, whosever tries to proclaim that he knows about the future through kashaf or Ilham is actually trying to open the door of Prophethood knowingly or knowingly.
Durood, wazaif, and taveez excite a lot of people about Sufism. Quranic verses are usually used in all the three practises. You will be surprised to know that these ploys (durood, wazaif and taveez), called “Amaal-e-Qurani”, are equally acceptable in all mainstream Islamic sects – Sunni (Ahle Hadith, Deobandi, Barelvi) and Shiite. The people who are “experts” in prescribing these Amaal are called Aamil. However, no qualifications are required for this “expertise” as you often come across experts who are neither educated nor spiritual (not even Muslims sometimes). If you question these aspects and point out that they still produce similar “results”; the ready-made answer is that these characters actually practice black knowledge (magic) instead of Nuri (Sufi) wisdom. In other words, if these tricks are performed by Aoulia, they are miracles (karamaat); otherwise, they are termed as black magic despite having the same modus operandi.
Before we move further, I want to clarify that Durood is a Persian term introduced into Islam by the Zoroastrian “converts”; just as Salat was changed to the Parsi Namaz, Salawat was denatured into Durood. The original words of Salawat are, “Verily, Allah and His angels honour the Messenger and support his Mission. O You who have chosen to believe! Salute him and give yourself up to him and his Mission in totality (Quran 33:56). But unsurprising Muslims are told to send Durood on the exalted Prophet while in the old Persian (Pahlavi) it meant, “To cut off something from its root”.
Ahle Hadith usually accuse other Islamic sects of creating innovations (bidah) in religion. However, one of their Tafsirs mentions how Prophet Muhammad (S) used Quranic verses for the treatment of different afflictions. For example, one verse is mentioned as a remedy for snake-bite and other poisons, therefore, it is recommended for use as a taveez for children. Apparently, Imam Baqir also supported the practice of taveez for children. Similarly, there is a long list of wazaif, amaal, and taveez referred to Ghazali, Tamiah, Shah Waliullah, and others in the Deobandi books. These include how many times certain verses need repeating, how often people need to fast, and what time a certain charity needs to be given so that one can succeed in different trials and tribulations of life. For example, if you want someone to fall in love with you, you need to read something seven times on a glass half-full of water. Then rinse this water in your mouth and puke back into the same glass before ticking the object of our affection into drinking that water.
Several books containing Ruhani Elaaj (spiritual treatment) are available in the market in several languages including English. Hardly a day goes without receiving one or the other Quranic verse on social media as a remedy for some illness or a problem in life. What is being done to this great book (the Quran) in the name of tasawwuf is beyond belief; and this practice is getting worse day by day.
If we were raised in cultures where governance systems worked according to rules and regulations, we would have been used to having most of our life problems resolved in routine. However, the inherent injustice and inequality in our native cultures leads to lack of general access to basic facilities (e.g., health, education) which sends hordes of desperate and needy people to the Sufis and Aoulia for support. Needless to say, this state of perpetual ignorance and bigotry leads to a lack of ethical investment in state institutions and causes further deterioration of our cultures and their governance systems. (to be continued)
M. Aamer Sarfraz is a philosophical psychiatrist based in London.