Sufism is a trend of Islam that puts the stress on experiencing God, by trying to find direct and intimate knowledge of God. The etymology of the Arabic word suf which means wool because of the garments worn by the first Sufis, is a good illustration of the ascetism they adopt to purify their soul and prepare themselves to the ultimate goal of this path: annihilation and continuance in God.
To follow the tariqa, the path to God, Sufis have to pass by stations and states and to perform some practices that are not mentioned in the Shari'ah that does not say anything about Sufism. As a result, the new concepts and attitudes introduced by Sufis have sometimes been criticized as unorthodox and occasionally in early Islam, even the very premises of Sufism were rejected as outside the realm of Shari'ah. It is thus is legitimate to wonder if these allegations were founded, especially considering the fact that after the 11th century Sufism became considered as central to Islam.
To discuss the question of the compliance of Sufis to Shari'ah, we need to study the behaviour of Sufis, the allegations against them and the way they replied to them. But we also need to consider the complexity of the Shari'ah itself, whose the bases (i.e. the Qur'an, the Sunnah, the consensus and analogy) have given rise to different interpretations. I am going to demonstrate that: 1/ Sufism is born as a way for Muslims to be more respectful of the Sunnah and is based on Qur'anic verses, as a result it respects the main bases of Shari'ah. 2/ If some concepts or utterances of early Sufis have been considered as contrary to the Shari'ah, we should not forget that the flexibility of Shari'ah permits to integrate these concepts. 3/ There has been a watershed in the 11th century, essentially thanks to Al-Ghazali, which has led Sufism to be considered as central to Islam.
[...] Without falling into the trap of a total relativism, it seems acceptable that the Sufi interpretation of Islamic law might sometimes be divergent from the Sunnis interpretation, considering that Islamic law is the result of interpretation and that no one knows if the ijtihad of a jurist is correct. So, even if some Sufi practices and new concepts shocked early Muslims, Sufism should be considered as inside the realm of Shari'ah, because it relies on the sources, even if it might have some different (and more esoteric) interpretation. We now need to see how the Sufis themselves have replied to these allegations, in order to draw definitive conclusions about the link between Sufism and Shari'a-mindedness. [...]
[...] XIII, pp. 8809- 8825 William Shepard, Introducing Islam, Routledge (Chapter: The path to God, Sufism and wisdom), p153 Peter J. Awn, Sufism, Encyclopaedia of Religion, Vol. XIII, pp. 8809- 8825 Peter J. Awn, Sufism, Encyclopaedia of Religion, Vol. XIII, pp. 8809- 8825 Peter J. [...]
[...] 8809- 8825 Montgomery Watt, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, Encyclopedia of religion, Vol. pp. 3469-3472 Montgomery Watt, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, Encyclopedia of religion, Vol. pp. [...]
[...] There has been a watershed in the 11th century, essentially thanks to Al-Ghazali, which has led Sufism to be considered as central to Islam. I. The early Sufism has emerged as a way to adopt a more respectful attitude as regards the Prophet's Sunnah and has based its main principles on the Qur'an, which leads us to draw the conclusion that Shari'ah is of absolute importance to Sufism. Sufism as an early movement began in order to be more respectful of the Sunnah. [...]
[...] However, this became a turning point for Sufism that started to become discredited. In fact, what has really led to tensions between Sufism and Shari'a- mindedness was the behaviour of the “drunken” Sufis. Early intoxicated Sufis (in ecstatic state, by opposition to the state of sobriety in which Sufis can control their mind and actions), uttered some sentences during their ecstatic state that was considered as totally heretic. Al-Hallaj, the most famous Sufi of the 9th century, was executed for uttering publically “I am the truth”. [...]
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