History of Sufism and Introduction to Classical Spirituality Texts is a ground-breaking programme for the first time in the English language that explores in detail the history and the sources of sufism. There is so much of confusion and controversy surrounding sufism with some Muslims considering it to be an essential part of Islam while others considering it to be a rejected innovation. Hence this is an invaluable course for anyone wanting to have a deeper insight into sufism and the texts of spirituality.
Module 1 -History of Tasawwuf or Sufism
Sufism or Tasawwuf is regarded as the inner mystical dimension of Islam. Practitioners of Sufism, referred to as Sufis, often belong to different ṭuruq or “orders”—congregations formed around a grand master referred to as a Mawla who maintains a direct chain of teachers back to the Prophet Muhammad. They say, Sufis strive for ihsan (perfection of worship) as detailed in a hadith: “Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him; if you can’t see Him, surely He sees you.”
This seminar explores the origins of sufism and its relationship to Islam; the meaning of sufism or tasawwuf; aims, objective and teachings of sufism; distinctive beliefs of sufism; distinctive practices of sufism; major branches of sufism; the evolution of different sufi orders; important personalities in the history of sufism; position of different schools and prominent scholars on sufism; modern manifestations of sufism; influence of sufism on public and private spheres; sufism and other religions; sufism and philosophy; and criticism of sufism.
Module 2 – Al-Risāla al-Qushayriyya (Al-Qushayri’s Epistle on Sufism)
‘Abd al-Karīm al-Qushayrī al-Naysābūrī (d465H)
This text is essentially a reminder to the people of his era that Sufis had authentic ancestral tradition, as well as a defence of Sufism against the doubters that rose during that time of his life. It has sections where al-Qushayrī discusses the creed of the Sufis, mentions important and influential Sufis from the past, and establishes fundamentals of Sufi terminology, giving his own interpretation of those Sufi terms. Al-Qushayrī finally goes through specific practices of Sufism and the techniques of those practices. This text has been used by many Sufis in later times as a standard, as is obvious from the many translations into numerous languages.
Module 3 – Ihya’ Ulumuddin (The Revival of Religious Sciences)
Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (d510H)
This work is widely regarded as the greatest work of Muslim spirituality, and is perhaps the most read work in the Muslim world, after the Qurʾān.
Ihya’ Ulumuddin is divided into four parts, each containing ten chapters. Part one deals with knowledge and the requirements of faith—ritual purity, prayer, charity, fasting, pilgrimage, recitation of the Qurʾān, and so forth; part two concentrates on people and society—the manners related to eating, marriage, earning a living, and friendship; parts three and four are dedicated to the inner life of the soul and discuss first the vices that people must overcome in themselves and then the virtues that they must strive to achieve.
Ihya’s great achievement was to bring orthodox Sunni theology and Sufi mysticism together in a useful, comprehensive guide to every aspect of Muslim life and death. The book was well received by Islamic scholars such as Nawawi who stated that: “Were the books of Islam all to be lost, excepting only the Ihya’, it would suffice to replace them all.”
Module 4 – Masnavi al-Ma’navi (Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning)
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (d723H)
The Masnavi is a poetic collection of rambling anecdotes and stories derived from the Quran, hadith sources, and everyday tales. Stories are told to illustrate a point and each moral is discussed in detail. It incorporates a variety of Islamic wisdom but primarily focuses on emphasizing inward personal Sufi interpretation. This work by Rumi is referred to as a “sober” Sufi text. It reasonably presents the various dimensions of Sufi spiritual life and advises disciples on their spiritual paths. “More generally, it is aimed at anyone who has time to sit down and ponder the meaning of life and existence.”
Module 5 – Kitab al-Hikam (Book of Aphorisms)
Ibn Ata Allah al-Iskandari (d709H)
This text is a masterpiece of Islamic spiritual literature by the renowned Sufi scholar Ahmed Ibn Ata Allah Al-Iskandari, third master of the tariqa Shadhiliyya. In form it is a collection of aphoristic statements in beautiful Arabic. However it is an ocean of meanings whose outer simplicity often veils one from the depth and profundity of its teachings. [Al-Hikam] are considered among the jewels of Arabic prose. They are short phrases with few words which include a lot of meaning. Most of the [Hikam] are in the form of a speech addressing the [mureed] on the Sufi path, alerting to the rules of conduct to be observed.
Module 6 – Talbis Iblis (The Devil’s Deception)
Abu’l-Faraj ibn al-Jawzi (d597H)
This text enumerates many of the mechanisms and modus operandi used by the devil in deceiving and leading mankind away from the Straight Path. It is of particular value and importance because only by unearthing and accentuating some of the traps of the devil, can mankind avoid them as well as navigate others away from falling prey to his harm. Speaking about the devil and his plotting, the author wrote that, “he was only able to do so while creeping during the night of ignorance. Had the dawn of knowledge shone on him, he would have been exposed. Thus I decided to warn from his plots for identifying evil is a form of warning from it.”