: Nov 02, 2016

Dr. Shadee Elmasry

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Some words of wisdom from Dr. Elmasry differentiating classical Sufism from modern Sufism. I personally have read the works of many Sufi giants like al-Muhasibi and Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, and if that is Sufism, then count me in. Problem is that many later people who claim to be Sufis are doing things that the classical folks of tasawwuf would never have done.

Nonetheless, as I have said many times, there are good people in all strands of mainstream Islam, and Allah will judge people by their personal beliefs and actions, and not the label they put on themselves.

Let’s not start a sectarian war in the comments please. Keep it civil 🙂

Dr. Shadee Elmasry

In everything, there is always a quest for authenticity. Of course things develop, but in most cases—religion for sure—you need to go back to the original model every once in a while in order to be authentic. What was the first generation like? If we go back to the original Sufis, we get a very different picture than what’s visible (mostly) today. I think it’s time we revisit that. Here are five features of the original Sufis which we would all benefit from applying today…

-Zuhd & Wara, asceticism and scrupulousness. The original Sufis observed inner *and* outer asceticism. They would leave off nine tenths of the halal out of fear of falling into the haram. Uways al-Qarni and Ibrahim ibn Adham were models of this. They weren’t afraid of the word “haram.” The more you stayed away from the haram, the closer you got to sanctity.
Worldliness is a big distraction too. At the worst, it completely corrupts you. I have literally seen shaykhs with orders who—not joking—their murids keep a gold-leafed sofa chair on hand. A throne in case he wants to sit down. Apologists say, “The shaykh doesn’t want that, the murids force it.” I’m sorry but that’s not an excuse. He can’t say stop? Is he an adult? He has to end it.
Asceticism and scrupulousness are siblings. The link between the Sufis and those who indulge in dunya and are lax in deen probably has to do with the next element that needs revival…speaking up.

-Forbidding wrong. Among the chiefs of the Sufis is Sh Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani. But have you read his books? His relentless attacks on sinners, innovators and hypocrites? I always think…If he was alive today people would think he was a mean extremist because of his sternness and cutting critiques of our laziness and weak commitment. The titles sound so starry and mystical (The Secret of the Secrets or The Unseen Openings), but the content is hard hitting and decisive.

-Hatred of Fame. This is a big one. Ibn Ata says, (paraphrasing) ‘You will never grow if you never get buried. No seed sprouts unless it is buried deep in the ground.’ While dawa is a duty, it has to be done carefully. In many cases the line is blurred between the shaykh as teacher and the shaykh as celebrity. There were two men from whom I took knowledge for a period of time. They were so good at what they did that the conference and media invitations kept coming and it made me very nervous. As I expected and feared, they never said no to these, or even limited them, until in the end, they stopped teaching altogether. Teaching five students must have become boring in comparison to appearing on shows or on a stage in front of 10,000 people. Today they have no more students. They just have followers and fan-boys; people who only know them as celebrities. Their new life as celebrity imams has changed them (I always wonder how they have any family life or raise their kids.) I had another teacher who balances it well, May Allah preserve him. And a third who turns down all these invitations out of fear for what it would do to him. This latter one, his circle is a lot more genuine because there is no thrill of being around somebody famous. People there just want to become better.

-Avoiding rulers (let alone jabaabira, tyrants). Something bizarre and unprecedented has happened over the past century. You can hardly find a tyrant except that he has a pet shaykh, and nine times out of ten, it’s one who claims to be a Sufi. This isn’t a Sufi, this is a fraud.
What happened? Some say it originated with the established orders of colonial times when the shaykhs had a lot to lose and would join the colonizers over the rebels. Sufism then became the way of the oppressive establishment while Salafiyya became the people’s way, the way of the anti-establishment. The rebellion of Emir Abdul Qadir in Algeria was opposed by many different Sufi shaykhs; they didn’t want to lose what they had. This is documented. Customarily, murids will justify this through unseen knowledge: the shaykh knows something we don’t. In contrast, every Sufi manual from the beginning of time tells us that our actions must be determined by Sharia not miracles or kashf or unseen sources. It’s really frustrating and disheartening when there’s a great shaykh, but he takes an inexcusable political position. You can make excuses for him, and you know he has more knowledge, but you still can’t ever stomach that position.

-Ilm. Aqida and fiqh. There’s a line in Ibn Arabi’s biography that I love. He says: We were in a gathering and in it was so-and-so. However, I kept away from him because the purity of his creed was suspect. A visitor said, ‘He believes in the oneness of God.’ I replied, ‘It is not that which I doubt; it is his other doctrines.’
Wow. Ibn Arabi said the words “purity of creed.” Tweet that to the perrenialists and the laundry list of other groups who imagine that the way of the spirit has no theological boundaries.
Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani was a Hanbali and taught the great Ibn Qudama. Just go back a few decades and you will see all the shaykhs were also theologians and jurists. In Egypt you couldn’t be a Sufi shaykh unless you were an Azhari scholar. The British saw that and dropped that requirement as a way to weaken the power of the orders. They became headed by ignorant leaders.

A shaykh was once asked, “Are you a Sufi?” He replied, “No. Because I doubt that I can ever reach that lofty station.” I think a lot of us have forgotten where the bar used to be. And these are things, if we all followed them even a little bit we would immediately start seeing results reflected in our deen and iman. May Allah show us the truth as it is and give us tawfiq to follow it, and show us misguidance for what it is and give is tawfiq to avoid it. Ameen.



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