Tasawwuf is not mentioned in the Holy Quran
The word Tasawwuf is not mentioned in The Holy Quran. Yet Traditional Classical
Muslim Scholars place great emphasis on this concept of spirituality. Kindly
define this term, explain it's origin and it's relevance to our modern lives.
Thank you for your excellent question on an important concept in Islam.
Firstly, as you rightfully pointed out, the word ‘Sufi’ or ‘Tassawuf’ is not mentioned anywhere in the Quran. Unfortunately, this has given some weak-Muslims an opportunity to undermine its importance, and even suggest that there is no place for Sufism in Islam. To answer such an objection is simple; we all know as Muslims that perhaps the most important belief in Islam is Tawhid, or the oneness of Allah Almighty. In fact, this forms the basis and foundation of Islam. But there is no mention of the word Tawhid in the Quran at all. Now just because this word has not been mentioned in the Quran, no one can claim that this implies it is not important, or that Tawhid is not a part of Islam. The word Tawhid is simply not mentioned by word; but in meaning, the entire Quran is a direct or indirect reference to the Tawhid of Allah. In exactly the same way, Tassawuf does not appear in word in the Quran, but Islam teaches it in many areas of our lives.
As for the definition, the origin and relevance of this term, I will quote from the book ‘al-Risala al-Qushariyya’ written by Abd al-Hakim al-Qushairi (died 1072 AD). This is an early work on Sufism that has won praise from all corners of the world.
In a Hadith recorded by al-Dar al-Qutni, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was reported to have said, ‘the earth’s purity (Saf) has gone and only impurity remains. Death, today, is a blessing for every Muslim.’ Thereafter, this title came to be widely applied to this group so that a person might be called Sufi. Someone who is attempting to reach this level is called a Mutassawif.
On this basis, the word Sufi has derived from ‘Safa’ which means cleanliness. The aim of the Sufi is to attain cleanliness, of mind, spirit and body.
There are other explanations as to where the term derived from. Imam al-Qushairi writes that some believe the word derives from the Arabic word ‘Suf’ which means wool. The Sufis were known for their simplicity and wore simple clothing. However, this is not a major opinion.
A third explanation is that the term derives from the word ‘Suffa’, or the bench. This relates to the bench that existed in the Prophet’s mosque. This area was occupied by the simple, poor and ascetic followers of the Prophet, like Abu Huraira.
As for its relevance, Sufism grows day by day in terms of importance. In a materialistic world, where our wants seem never-ending and the attractions ever-appealing, Sufism is an answer to those who realize real content cannot be achieved through material and worldly goods. They teach that real content is the contentment of the heart, something that can only be attained through meditation and the remembrance of Allah Almighty. The Qur’an affirms this in several places, most notably in the verse, ‘Behold! In the remembrance of Allah lies the content of hearts.’
It is important to note that Sufism is not a sect, it is a discipline. Let me conclude with some heartwarming quotes regarding Sufism and Tasawwuf that will highlight the reality and significance of it. All quotes are taken from Imam al-Qushairi’s work on the topic.
Abu Muhammad al-Jurayri was asked about Sufism and said, ‘Sufism means to take on every sublime moral characteristic from the life of the Prophet and to leave behind every lowly one.’
Abu Hamza al-Baghdadi said, ‘the sign of a genuine Sufi is that he is poor, after been rich, abased after been honoured, abased after been famous. The sign of the false Sufi is that he has worldly wealth, after having been poor, is honoured after been abased and becomes famous after having been obscured.’
Sumnun said, ‘Sufism means that you own nothing and nothing owns you.’
Abu Yaqub al-Mazabili said, ‘Sufism is a state in which the hallmarks of humanity melt away.’