The Tasawuf is a word of Urdu language with
Persian and Arabic roots, meaning the inwardness. Basically, it refers to the
‘inwardness of Islam’ and that is why it is associated with the spirituality.
The Urdu language has a collection of great literature on Tasawuf. In fact, many
people learn the Urdu language to get their hands on the Tasawuf books. One of
the basic teachings of anyone practicing Tasawuf is to remain peaceful. The
Tasawuf or the Sufism is very much relevant in the today’s world, as there is a
dearth of peace, harmony, and tolerance. The Muslims should tell the world
through this branch of their religion that they are peace-loving people.
Tasawwuf has been variously defined by various scholars. In his book "awaarif al
Ma`aarif" (the Fragrances of Inner Knowledge), Suhrawardi mentions that more
than a thousand definitions exist for Tasawwuf. However, a cursory study of some
of these definitions will reveal that they differ mostly in their wording and
their emphases. For the purposes of this essay I will provide three definitions.
Shaykh Abu Bakr ash-Shibli has defined Tasawwuf as follows:"Its beginning is the
knowledge (Ma`rifa) of Allah and its end is His unification (Tauheed)."
Junayd al-Baghdadi defines it as "... being dead to one`s self and alive in
And Shaykh ul-Islam Zakariyya Ansari has said:
"Sufism teaches one to purify one`s self, improve one`s morals, and build up
one`s inner and outer life in order to attain perpetual bliss. Is subject matter
is the purification of the soul and its end or aim is the attainment of eternal
felicity and blessedness."
These three definitions - the first pertaining to the intellect (`aql), the
second to a state of being (hal), and the third to ethics (akhlaq) - cover the
major concerns of the Sufi quest.
The first definition therefore, sets out the ultimate nature of things viz. That
everything subsists through and by the Will of Allah. The second emphasises the
importance of renouncing the ego or lower self. Arrogance, conceit, and
self-centredness are considered amongst the greatest veils between man and
It is this state of being or condition (hal) which Rabia al-`Adawiyya gave
expression to when she said: "If I seek repentance of myself then I shall have
need of repentance again". Rabia counted the mere acknowledgement of the
individual ego amongst the greatest of sins. The third definition has in mind
the development of the human personality along the best of moral values. This
process is made possible through the twin processes of purification (Tazkiyyah)
and adornment (Tahliyya). That is, purifying the self from all blameworthy
qualities, and adorning it with all praiseworthy qualities.
Lexicographers have identified a number of source words from which the term Sufi
is derived. The most widely accepted word from which Sufi is derived is "suf"
meaning wool. The earlier ascetics often donned woollen garments to express
their inner detachment from the world and their rejection of the excessive
materialism of the earlier Islamic dynasties, particularly the Umayyad dynasty.
Other terms that suggest themselves as source words are the following:
Safa, meaning purification.
Safwe, which means those who are selected.
Suffa, meaning a bench or low veranda. During the time of the Prophet (May the
peach and blessings of Allah be upon him) a number of Companions disengaged
themselves from normal worldly activities and devoted themselves to an ascetic
way of life. They came to be known as the Ashaab us-Suffa or "Companions of the
Bench". They spent the greater part of their lives in acts of devotion on a low
veranda in the vicinity of the Prophet`s (may the peace and blessings of Allah
be upon him) mosque.
Saff, meaning rank, line, or row. The first row in congregational prayers in
Islam has been accorded a special status for it symbolises those who are in the
first rank of spirituality.
From the etymological point of view the only term that qualifies as a source
word is "Suf". Nevertheless the other terms are normally included in discussions
on the origin of the term "Sufi" for the simple reason that all of them convey
one or another of the manifold dimensions of the Sufi Way.