Tasawwuf is really the heart of Islam and the message of God as revealed in the Koran and that it is Tasawwuf which explains the real meaning of Islam."
At the very beginning I should like to point out that there is a difference between Tasawwuf, as such, and the teachings of the Sufi leaders of the past; Tasawwuf is a later name for an earlier practice. It is agreement with reality. The criterion was set by the life of the Prophet. In his life he was trying to be true to himself, to his fellowmen, and to God. In the second century to his flight from Mecca to Medina, the example of his life was been sought and followed by certain devotees. Asceticism, in one measure or another, was invariably among their qualities. It stood them apart from the rest of the people. It is then that the name of Sufia (plural of Sufi) came into popular usage. A Sufi, is a man who tries to imitate the Prophet's way of life, namely, who tries to be true to himself, to his fellowmen and to God, inasmuch as the Prophet was such. As time passed, the imitation, through ignorance, became more concerned with the letter than the spirit; and we invariably have the pseudo-Sufi.
The teachings of the Sufi leaders of the past, on the other hand, represent, at best, the individual attainments by those men of the example set by the Prophet. This difference between Tasawwuf and the teachings of the Sufi leaders of the past is important. It is with this difference in view that I agree with the Professor from Tehran in his statement about Tasawwuf.
Tasawwuf in this case is tantamount to the Prophet's practice. In other words, it is the Prophet alone who can be considered as an exponent of true Islam. This is not to belittle the excellent efforts of the Sufia.
a & b) The Sufi leaders of the past, in general, made contributions to Islamic culture that are equalled by none, in depth of thought and richness of quality.
Ibn Arabi and men of his caliber, passed through profound spiritual developments. They tried in their writings to convey to us experiences that belong to the greatest heights and depths that the spirit of man has yet reached - for all I know. Their revelations, expressed in words, are up to now unintelligible to most learnt men, yet their force of argument is irresistible. They ignited the ambition of lesser men to follow their example - men who would, otherwise, have thought that the example of the Prophet was beyond them.
The good contribution was not without bad effects. The bad effects were due partly to the utterings of the freakish and the immature (and there were plenty of them), and partly to the pseudo-Sufia. The shortcoming of the contemporaries of the great Sufi leaders to understand their teachings contributed its share to the bad effects. They were misunderstood, misquoted and grossly misrepresented. Many of the greatest of them all were killed on religious pretences. The mere fact of their having been killed greatly contributed to their bad effect on Islamic history. The day is dawning when justice will be done to the lives and memories of those great men.
I will come back later to say a word about the part of your question which touches on the idea of Wusul and unity with God; but then it will be in respect of Tasawwuf itself and not what the various Sufi leaders said about it.
c) Professor Sanderson is also right in his comment about the Turug in the Sudan. He probably understated their case. The Turug in the Sudan are responsible for the introduction of Islam itself to the Sudan.
The Gadria Tariga - the teachings of Sheikh Abdel Gader El Gailani of Baghdad - played the major role.
The men who were brought up in the ways of the Turug, by their sheer example, were able to keep the uneducated people of the Sudan in the religious fold. Some of these men were illiterate. By their modesty, simplicity, sincerity and truthfullness in regarding their religious rites, they attained such heights of wisdom that commanded the respect and love of a nation of illiterates to religion itself.
There are bad effects of course, but they are due to the pseudo-Sufia, as I mentioned before.
There are no important differences between the various Turug in the Sudan. The teachings, thanks to the Koran and the Tradition, are essentially the same. The cardinal rituals are the same. Slight differences, however, exist in the manner of performing religious usages of minor importance.
The Khatmia, in the northern and some parts of the central Sudan, superseded the Gadria. In eastern Sudan it is almost pioneer. The followers of the Khatmia Tariga in the Eastern Sudan are more enlightened than the Unsar of Western Sudan. The enlightenment of the followers of the Khatmia Tariga does not take its origin from the Tariga, as such. The Tariga found the people more enlightened than the rest of the population when it first came, about 150 years ago. They are the population of the Sudan proper that is why.
The holy man in the Sudanese society has an important position, no doubt. The average person in the Sudan is generally a follower of one Tariga or another. He, almost invariably, pay great attention to the counsel of the religious leaders.
The influence of the holy men had, on the whole, good effects; they kept the love and respect for religion kindled in hearts of all men - to say the least.
Sayed Ali El Mirghani commands great respect in the Sudanese community as a whole. He is genuinely loved by many.
Political discord of the last twenty years opened him to criticism. It clouded the love in which he was formerly held in some circles. He is still looked upon as the most influential man in the Sudan.
The major elements of corruption in the contemporary world of Islam are many and divergent. The mother of them all is lip-devotion. Religion has become divorced from the social scheme of things.
b) The most effective instruments for the purification of Islam is the appearance and guidance, in the Islamic world, of the Muslim who has first purified Islam in himself.
There is an organisation at the present time which is heading in the right direction. It is trying to pave the way for the coming in the scene of the man who has purified Islam in himself. I, personally, belong to that organisation.
Al-Azhar has been the custodian and propagator of Muslim learning for over a thousand years. Its real value lies in its historic service. In our present atomic age, when life is moving so fast, this Islamic Institute is losing touch, Islamic communities of modern turn of mind look for guidance elsewhere.
The Islamic Institute in Omdurman has all the demerits of Al-Azhar with none of its merits.
Mohammed Abdu was a great man. He was a product of Al-Azhar himself. He had a Sufi turn of mind. He tried to bridge the gap between the traditional thinking of his Institute and life in his own day. He met with great opposition from his contemporary Azharites.
Posthumously he was recognized as a great Muslim thinker. His ideas at reform left their effect on his own day and in the days since, but they fall lamentably short of the requirements of our present day.
The Ikhwan AL-Muslimun, under their leader the late Hassan Al-Banaa, were more politically conscious than Mohammed Abdu. They felt the need for an Islamic come-back which will accommodate for all the political questions for our day. Hassan Al-Banaa died prematurely and the leadership fell to lesser hands. The organisation met with catastrophe and there was an end to it.
The Wahhabi group in the Sudan is an offshoot of the Wahhabi group in Saudi Arabia. They have no political conviction as a group. As a matter of fact, during the British regime in the Sudan they were standoffish. They have a claim on Islamic reform, but nothing good can possibly come out of them.
The Islamic congress in Cairo is a political instrument. The present rulers of Egypt, with their Arab-Nationalism, think little of Islam. The Islamic congress in Cairo, therefore, uses Islam as a means to political ends.
The founders of Pakistan, on the other hand, are very well meaning. There was a day when Islam meant to them more than it did to any other community in modern history. They were a minority in the Sub-Continent India. They staked their claim for autonomy on Islam and they got it, hence Pakistan. They tried and still try to organise their society on Islamic principles, but they just can't.
The reason for their failure is that, for Islam to properly organise present day society, it has to be renewed. Any measure short of downright renewal is only an escapist device and will not take us far. At the end of my letter I shall write a little about what I mean by the renewal of Islam.
e) My own party was "The Republican Party". It built its ideology on Islam. We opposed the tendencies of some of the political parties towards an Islamic state, because we were sure they did not know what they were talking about. An Islamic state built on ignorance of the pure facts of Islam can be more detrimental to progress than a secular state of average ability. Religious fanaticism is inalienable from religious ignorance.
We were aiming at universality, because universality is the order of the day. Only the universal contents of Islam were tapped. What do I mean? This brings me back to the idea of the renewal of Islam which I promised to discuss.
Intrinsically Islam means peace. "Peace be with you." is the form of greetings of the Muslims at the times of day or night. You must be in peace with yourself, with your fellow creatures and with God.
This status cannot be attained merely by wishing for it. It comes at the end of a long drawn-out spiritual experience. It is the Subject of Tasawwuf.
Tasawwuf is the art of acquiring a correct outlook towards the general scheme of things in the universe.
The central belief in Islam is monotheism. Monotheism means that God alone is the architect of every thing that happens inside us, to us or to the elements, visible or invisible, of the universe around us. God is the Embodiment of Kindness, Knowledge and Wisdom. That being that, good is fundamental, and evil only a lapsing phase. The cause of evil is our deficient degree of consciousness. If, and when, we achieve a certain degree of consciousness, the different elements of life are no longer presented as contrasting, but as strangely unified. In this particular region of consciousness the problem of evil is resolved and good stands as fundamental.
From the premise of monotheism proceeds the most controversial proposition of all times. That is the doctrine of determinism. To the Sufi, that is to say to the good Muslim, the universe is a completely deterministic scheme. That is his outlook. He sets out to prove it for himself by his spiritual endeavour in his daily life and worship.
will be continuous....