Imam Abū Hāmid Al-Ghazzāli in his Deliverance from Error talks about having investigated all the intellectual discourses in order to find certainty. The only discourse he couldn’t intellectually comprehend was that of the Sufīs. He read their books and tried to figure it out, but eventually acknowledged that this was one discourse that can’t be intellectualized – it must be realized. That’s the meaning of his statement:
فعلمت يقينا أنهم أرباب الأحوال، لا أصحاب الأقوال
I knew with certainty that they [Sufis] are people of states, not people of statements
Islam is a tradition about obtaining a state. This is embedded within the name of the religion, which unlike others is not named after a person or location. It’s a state where those who see you are automatically reminded of God. If the only way you remind people of God is through your tongue, know that your state hasn’t really been transformed by the statements you utter. People ask what Sufism is, wondering if it’s about dancing and whirling or asking dead people in their graves for blessings or just hanging out with the brothers or sisters and singing nasheeds. It’s none of that. Sufism is the transformation of Sharīa (outward practices of Islam) into Haqīqa (inward reality of Islam). It’s the transition from statements into states. It’s the movement of knowledge from your brain into your heart. It’s the transformation of seeing the world using your sight into seeing it using your insight. It’s the beginning of an intellectual acknowledgement of Nothing Worthy of Worship Except God (Lā Ilāha Illa Allah) and ending with complete consciousness of that acknowledgement with your whole being (to worship God as if you see Him and if you don’t see Him know that He sees you).
It’s unfortunate that many Muslims have developed a type of allergy towards anything that carries the scent of Sufism. This is in much the same way that many Muslims have also developed a type of allergy to anything that carries the scent of Salafism. Both of these terms are constantly used by scholars of Islam to indicate different realities – Sufism as that of an internal realization, and Salafism as that of an external one. An important principle in Islamic jurisprudence states that judgment of a thing is a branch of conceptualizing it. If the conceptualization is faulty, it’s highly likely that the judgment is also faulty.
The heart of Sufism is about setting on the path of fulfilling the Quranic commands to leave the outward of sin as well as the inward of it (Al-Anaam 6:120). It’s about having a constant concern over the state of one’s heart, because when all is said and done, only a sound heart will be of benefit (Ash-Shuara’ 26:88). Sufism is about taking the recitation of the Quran with the tongue and turning it into a recitation with the heart. It’s about adhering to the Sharia not because of an ulterior motive of obtaining Paradise or avoiding Hell, but because God is deserving of it. It’s the ultimate realization of the love of God and fearing not His punishment, but His not accepting our always deficient prayer and fasting. It’s the hope that He accepts our repentance for not being able to fulfil his due rights upon us. This type of worship and relationship with God is what Imam An’Nawawi, in his commentary on his 40 Hadith collection, calls the Worship of the Free People as opposed to the Worship of the Slaves or the Worship of the Merchants.
Rābi’a al-‘Adawiyya said in one of her famous supplications:
يا رب إذا كنت أسلمت طمعا في جنتك فاحرمني منها، وإذا كنت أسلمت خوفا من نارك فأدخلني فيها، وإذا أسلمت طمعا في رؤية وجهك الكريم فلا تحرمني منه
O Lord, if I submitted hoping for Your Paradise, then deny me it, and if I submitted out of fear from Your Fire, then enter me into it, and if I submitted out of hope of seeing Your Blessed Countenance then don’t deny me it.
In the current age of Islamic discourse that focuses on the rewards that await the believers and punishments that await the transgressors, this supplication of Rābi’a is usually met with great apprehension. Many have misunderstood it to indicate a belittling of Paradise and Hell. However, what Rabi’a showed here was her complete submission to her Lord, seeking nothing in return but His acceptance. It’s a realization of her answer to a simple, yet profound question: if you knew that Paradise and Hell didn’t exist and once you die you will not come back, would you still worship God?
This language of love is usually lost upon the ones who go through life treating their relationships as balance sheets with assets and liabilities. Meanwhile they forget the verses praising those who seek the highest calling:
ومن أحسن دينا ممن أسلم وجهه لله وهو محسن
And who has a better religion than one who submits themselves entirely to God while doing good? (An-Nisa’ 4:125)
ولا تطرد الذين يدعون ربهم بالغدوة والعشي يريدون وجهه
And do not drive away those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, they desire only His favour. (Al-Anaam 6:52)
واصبر نفسك مع الذين يدعون ربهم بالغدوة والعشي يريدن وجهه
And withhold yourself with those who call on their Lord morning and evening desiring His goodwill. (Al-Kahf 18:28)
ومن يسلم وجهه إلى الله وهو محسن فقد استمسك بالعروة الوثقى
And whoever submits themselves wholly to God while doing excellent work has indeed taken hold of the firmest thing upon which one can lay hold
True knowledge of God, and in turn awe of Him – This is the final end every Muslim is seeking. When looking upon the world, most people are amazed by its harmony, balance, and overall beauty. Sufism is about turning that amazement by the Creation into amazement by the Creator. A Sufī is one who doesn’t see the effects or the material causes of these effects. A Sufī sees the efficient cause behind it all. Rather than seeing it as a creation, a Sufī sees it as a manifestation of the attributes of God. Sufism is the path of transcendence from the physical to the metaphysical, and seeing the metaphysical within the physical. A Sufī is at heart a Salafi who adheres to Sharīa as a means to attaining this Haqīqa.
There are two main duties that we have to perform inside of Ramadan: dhikr and fikr. During these 16-17 hour days when we’re fasting, we have to busy ourselves. Everyone talks about how difficult it is going to be to not eat and drink for so long, for so many days, during the heat of July, but Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) has not given us a burden we cannot bear. While we fast and decrease our intake of food and drink, our material manifestations of nourishment, we must increase our spiritual nourishment to replace it.
The way this is done is through dhikr, the remembrance of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala). While food and drink is the nourishment andrizq (sustenance) of the body, dhikr, the remembrance of Allah is the nourishment, and the rizq, of the ruh and the soul. If the soul is full, the body will be full even if it has no food in it. This is something I can attest to from personal experience, and many others can testify to that as well. If you begin a regimen where every day you are constantly remembering Allah, you will feel full despite the fact that you are going 16 hours and fasting. You have to combine this with Qur’an, and with the dhikr from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ that are known and accepted in our collections of hadith.
These recitations must be done with the tongue, and in the mind itself. For example, reading the Qur’an as much as possible every single day should be the habit of every single Muslim. It is the habit of the Muslims to complete a juz every day. We are not supposed to be completing the juz of the Qur’an for the sake of completing the juz of the Qur’an. That’s not the purpose, to just check every day off that you’ve done it. The purpose of reading Qur’an every day is to feed your ruh, to feed your soul, while your body is fasting from food. Why? So that we can develop the habit of nurturing ourselves spiritually, and so that we don’t rely so much on material forms of rizq and nourishment. So in the morning when you wake up to go to work, there should be dhikr on your tongue and in your mind. If all you know is “La ilaha illallah”, then there should never ever be five minutes of the day when you’re fasting where you don’t say “La ilaha illallah”, either with your tongue or your heart.
Constant dhikr of Allah is what is required during long fasts, and also during short fasts. The blessed opportunity here is that the more that you remember Allah in your mind and in your tongue, the more your mind is taken off of the hunger.
Related to dhikr is fikr. Fikr means contemplation, deep thought and reflection. It’s not enough for us to constantly read the Qur’an, and not ponder and reflect on what the Qur’an is saying. What’s the purpose of reading a juz of Quran, and you have no idea what is being said? What’s the purpose of reading the Qur’an, and you’re thinking about what kind of food you’re going to eat for dinner? What’s the purpose of reading Qur’an, and you’re thinking about what movie you’re going to see after iftar with your friends?
The purpose of the Qur’an is to concentrate and contemplate on the Quran, to really digest that. Subhanallah, the Prophetic adab (manners) of eating food, as we were taught by our Shaykh Muhammad Emin, is that you ponder and do fikr of the food that you are eating. If you are eating chicken, then you ponder where the chicken came from, which farm the chicken was raised on, how it was cared for, and how it got from that farm to the grocery store, and how it got to your plate. If you’re eating lettuce, think about where in the world did that lettuce grow, how was it harvested, and put on a truck and shipped to a grocery store. You purchased that piece of lettuce that came from somebody’s farm and it’s now on your plate, and you gain nourishment from it.
If the adab of eating material food is that you contemplate and do fikr about the food, then what do you think the adab of reciting the Qur’an and taking in spiritual food is? Of course it is tadabbur, fikr and contemplation of the Quran. Whatever dhikr that comes out of your mouth, whatever form of remembrance that you choose to adopt during the month of Ramadan, you must accompany that with contemplation. What comes off of the tongue must be realized, understood and contemplated in the mind and in the heart. In that way, spiritual change is slowly produced.
Fikr is very important. This fikr should be contemplated in moments of ease and hardship throughout the fasting day. We all have times in the day when the fast is easy for us and we have moments where it is hard. During the hard times the recitation of the Qur’an should increase, and the dhikr should increase. With that, the reflection should increase, and should be deeper. We should give more attention to the deeper meanings of what we are saying. In the times of hardship, if we put more energy into recitation and contemplation we find that the pains of hunger and thirst disappear. All those physical sensations are drawn back and become less of a priority. They literally disappear into oblivion and are eviscerated while you are doing dhikr and remembering Allah. Because our hunger and thirst come from Him, He can remove it. He removes it traditionally through the remembrance of His Attributes, His Book and all the adhkaar that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ narrated in the authentic collections of hadith.
Dhikr and fikr. May we increase our spiritual nourishment and find deeper meaning in our life in this month.