Sufism and the Revival of the Ummah

Zardari’s regime, announced on 7th June 2009 that it was setting up a 7-member ‘Sufi Advisory Council’ (SAC) with the aim of combating extremism and fanaticism by spreading Sufism in the country. Many in the west have made it no secret that they see Sufism as a way to promote western interests and values within the Muslim world. In the 2005 RAND Report – Civil Democratic Islam, it states as a part of the west’s strategy to ‘Assertively Promote the Values of Western Democratic Modernity: ‘Build up the stature of Sufism. Encourage countries with strong Sufi traditions to focus on that part of their history and to include it in their school curricula. Pay more attention to Sufi Islam.’

In Uzbekistan where the oppression and torture of Muslims tops the charts, the government is also encouraging Sufism. The Keston News Service reported back in 2002 that the Uzbek regime is: ‘using Sufism as a distinctive counterweight to those Muslims who are independent of the authorities, the so-called Wahhabis (the name given in Central Asia to Islamic fundamentalist groups, which often have little in common with the Islam that predominates in Saudi Arabia) and the international Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which campaigns for the unification of Muslims throughout the world into a single caliphate.’

It should come as no surprise then that whilst NATO which is currently occupying Afghanistan should invite the Sufi Muslim Council based in the UK to its headquarters to “have a look around,” and the Pakistan government should establish a Sufi Advisory Council in the midst of its war in Swat.

Although the west sees Sufism as a partner in their attempts to suppress and reform Islam, if we look back to Islamic history we see a very different picture of Sufism to that being painted by the west and its allies in the Muslim regimes.

What is Sufism?

Imam Abu Hanifa (85 H. – 150 H) said: “If it were not for two years, I would have perished.” He said, “for two years I accompanied Sayyidina Ja’far as-Sadiq and I acquired  the spiritual knowledge that made me a Sufi in the Way.” [Ad-Durr al-Mukhtar, vol 1. p. 43]

Imam Malik (95 H. – 179 H.) said: “Whoever studies Jurisprudence / Fiqh [tafaqaha] and didn’t study Sufism [tasawwaf] will be corrupted; and whoever studied Sufism and didn’t  study Jurisprudence will become a heretic; and whoever combined both will reach the Truth.”  [‘Ali al-Adawi , vol. 2, p 195]

Imam Shafi’i (150 – 205 AH.) said: “I accompanied the Sufi people and I received from them three strands of knowledge: …how to speak; how to treat people with leniency and a  soft heart… and they… guided me in the ways of Sufism.” [Kashf al-Khafa, ‘Ajluni, vol. 1, p 341.]

Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (164 – 241 AH.) the said: “O my son, you have to sit with the People of Sufism, because they are like a fountain of knowledge and they keep the Remembrance of  Allah in their hearts. they are the ascetics and they have the most spiritual power.” [Tanwir al-Qulub p. 405]

The above four Imams are the founders of the four universally accepted schools of law (mazhabs, or maslaqs).

Imam Nawawi, the famous Shafi’i scholar states in his al-Maqasid:

“The way of Sufism is based on five principles:

1.     having godfearingness privately and publicly,

2.     living according to the sunna in word and deed,

3.     indifference to whether others accept or reject one,

4.     satisfaction with Allah Most High when in scarcity and when you have plenty

5.     and returning to Allah in happiness or affliction.

The principles of treating the illnesses of the soul are also five:

1.     lightening the stomach by diminishing one’s (excessiveness) in food and drink,

2.     taking refuge in Allah Most High from the unforeseen when it befalls,

3.     shunning situations that involve what one fears to fall victim to,

4.     continually asking for Allah’s forgiveness and His blessings upon the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم night and day with full presence of mind,

5.     and keeping the company of him who guides one to Allah.”

These principles outlined by Imam Nawawi do not in any way lead themselves to supporting and aiding western foreign policy interests. Moreover having godfearingness privately and publicly, and living according to the sunna in word and deed means that Muslims cannot remain silent against the oppressive regimes ruling over Muslims today such as in Uzbekistan, or supporting western foreign policy.

Sufism in Islamic History

Looking back to some of the famous Sufi scholars in Islamic history we see they were are at the forefront of enjoining good and forbidding evil, jihad and working against oppression.

Imam Ghazali is renowned for his works on refuting the incorrect philosophical thoughts that had penetrated the Muslim Ummah in his time. He also differentiated between the legitimate and illegitimate Sufi practices and worked to cleanse the Ummah of those incorrect Sufi practices that existed.

Throughout history Sufi’s have been pivotal in Islamic reform and Jihad. It was Yusuf bin Tashfin the Berber and his Murabiteen Sufi movements of North West Africa in the name of the Khaleefah in Baghdad that launched the Jihad against the crusaders in Spain, and defeated them. When the Muslim rulers in Spain divided themselves and effectively split from the Khilafah, dividing the Ummah again it was Yusuf bin Tashfin under guidance from the great Sufi Imam Ghazali, with his Sufi Murabiteen movements, that dethroned these corrupt rulers by war in 1094, asserting the need for the rule of the Shariah and unity with the Khilafah.

In an almost identical fashion to the initial Murabiteen movement, inspired by great Sufi jurists and Faqihs like Imam Ghazali, the al-Muwahhidun Sufi movements came a couple of centuries later in North Africa, dethroning the by now declined namesake Murabiteen family, and again calling for the stricter application of Shariah. 

Shah Wali Allah (1703-1762), a well-known Sufi scholar, and political activist in India is known to have written letters to Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Durrani, as well as prominent local Muslim rulers urging them to cooperate with Durrani in undertaking a jihad against the (Hindu) Marathas and Jats, to establish the Shariah in India. Shah Wali Allah was thus not only an inspiration for Durrani’s invasions of 1756-57 and 1760-61, he was also responsible for helping to organize a unity of Muslim powers against the (Hindu) Marathas in Northern India.

Also famous is the anti-Russian jihad of the Naqshbandi Sufi Sheikh Mansur Ushurma. Following his destruction of an entire Russian brigade during the battle of the Sunzha River in 1785, Sheikh Mansur: “…called the mountaineers to holy war against the encroaching infidels and for some years unified practically the whole of North Caucasus, from the Chechen territory in the west to the Kumyk steppes in the east. His appeal-at least what we know of it-sounds very much like the appeals to jihad by Naqshbandi murshids [masters; leaders of Sufi Brotherhoods] of later date…”

From this watershed late 18th century jihad, through to the present era, the Naqshbandi tariqah [Brotherhood] has played a critical role defending Muslims, in the face of encroachments by both Czarist and Soviet Russia. It can said that the nearly fifty-year-long [19th century] Caucasian wars made an important contribution to the material and moral ruin of the Tsarist empire and hastened the downfall of the Romanov monarchy. During the violence of the communist revolutionary years of 1917-1921, the Sufi brotherhoods, especially the Naqshbandiya, once again played a pivotal role. Their ultimate goals in resisting the Communists were to establish the Shariah.

Naqshbandi Sheikh, Uzun Haji, one of the leaders of the brotherhood said: “If so God wills, we shall construct a Shari’ah government, for in a Muslim land there can be no republic. Were we to accept a republic, we would thereby renounce the Khilafah, which would be paramount of renouncing the Prophet and finally God himself” [Excerpts from: “Mystics and Commmissars: Sufism in the Soviet Union” X, Alexandre Bennigsen and S. Enders Wimbush,C. Hurst and Company, London, 1985]

The Ottomans were also heavily influenced by the Sufi Mawlawīyah order established by followers of the famous Sufi scholar Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī in the 13th century. Many members of this order served in various official positions of the Ottoman State.


Western foreign policy pundits are desperately employing various styles and means in their strategy to reform Islam and create a ‘new’ secular Islam similar to what happened to Christianity during the ‘Reformation’ period. Much of this campaign is aimed at rewriting Muslim history and attempting to portray modernist interpretations of Islam as well-established Islamic traditions. Those Muslims working to revive Islam according to an independent Islamic agenda what the west calls ‘extremists’ or ‘Islamists’ are portrayed as innovators whose ideas have no basis in Islamic tradition and history. Rewriting Sufism is one example of this.

The way to determine the correct Islamic position on any topic is to always keep in mind two things. Firstly, the attitude of the leaders of the kuffar (disbelievers) towards Islam, and secondly what the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم told us would keep us safe from going astray.

The attitude of the leaders of the kuffar towards Islam is very clear. They have one objective in attempting to reform Islam which is to extinguish the light of Allah.

Allah سبحانه وتعالى says:

يُرِيدُونَ لِيُطْفِؤُوا نُورَ اللَّهِ بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَاللَّهُ مُتِمُّ نُورِهِ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْكَافِرُونَ

“They wish to put Allah’s light out with their mouths. But He will perfect His light, even though the disbelievers hate it.” [As-Saff, 61:8]

On the authority of Abu Najih Al-Erbadh bin Sariah, who said: The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم gave us a sermon by which our hearts were filled with fear and tears came to our eyes. We said: “O Messenger of Allah, it is as though this is a farewell sermon, so counsel us.” He صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “I counsel you to fear Allah and to give absolute obedience even if a slave becomes your leader. Verily he among you who lives [long] will see great controversy, so you must keep to my sunnah and to the sunnah of the rightly-guided Khalifahs – cling to them stubbornly. Beware of newly invented matters, for every invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is a going astray, and every going astray is in Hell-fire.” [Abu Dawud and Al-Tirmidhi]