Earlier orientalist studies have been at pains to show the non-Islamic descent of Tasawwuf. Islam, according to these studies, have emerged from the dry wastelands of Arabia, could never contain within itself the seeds of such a profoundly inspiring wisdom. The beautific vision of the Sufis simply could not have its roots in the desert. This was one of the prejudices which blinded many western orientalists to the visual sense and insights contained within the Qur`an itself and within the Prophetic custom. The Qur`anic origins, however, have been conclusively proven.
Amongst the many Qur`anic verses which the Sufis turn to in support of their position are those contained in Surah Waaqiah. In these verses Allah classifies people into three categories:
The people of the left-hand (Ashaab al-Mash-amah).
The people of the right-hand (Ashaab al-Maymanah).
Those who are near to Allah (Muqarraboon); alternatively referred to as the "Foremost".
The first group are those who have rejected faith. The second group are the righteous ones who are consistent in the fulfilment of their duties towards Allah. They are described as "a multitude of those of old and a multitude of those of later times (Waaqiah :39-40). And finally their are the Muqarraboon. They are a special group of believers who have attained the highest rank in spiritual development. They are often described as the elect of the elect (Khawaas ul-Khaswaas) whose intensity of faith (iman) has bestowed upon them the special privilege of enjoying nearness to Allah.
They are described in this Surah as being "a multitude of those of old and a few of later times" (Waaqiah : 13-14). It is the attainment of this high level of faith and spiritual development that describes the aspirations of the Sufi.
This idea of nearness to Allah is similarly expressed in a Sacred Tradition;
"My servant continually seeks to draw near to Me through supererogatory acts until I love him. And when I love him I become the ears with which he hears, the eyes with which he sees, the hand with which he grasps, and the feet with which he walks" (Bukhari).
When the ideas of the nearness of Allah and His love are combined with the aspect of His beauty as expressed by the Prophetic Tradition:
"Indeed Allah is beautiful and loves beauty" (Muslim), then prayers of the previously quoted Sufi Saint, Rabia al-`Adawiyyah can more readily be comprehended,
"O Allah if I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell; and if I worship you in hope of Paradise exclude me from Paradise; but if I worship You for Your own sake, grudge me not Your everlasting beauty".
It is within the context of this spiritual longing that we come to appreciate the intensity of the devotional acts in which the Sufi engages.