What is the aim of sufism? Here’s answer…

On glancing at the comprehensive definition and subject matter of Sufism, it is easy to see that it carries a significant and sublime objective for humankind. The implementation of this objective began with as early as the first prophet and was perpetuated by all the prophets through to the final prophet, and after him, by saints. One may encapsulate this objective as, ‘embodying the duty of servanthood to the Almighty in the best manner possible’. Judging from this approach, Sufism typifies the highest aim of humankind; the objective to free each and every human being from moral defects and endow them with the attributes or moral traits of the Lord and His Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- and thereby enable them to attain to the pleasure of the Almighty. This entails that the ego be subjected to the authority of religion and attuned to offering deeds of worship with sincerity, as befits the notion of ihsan. This purifies the heart and steers it in the direction of spiritual realities, and ultimately, to the pleasure of Allah, glory unto Him.

Insofar as his original essence is concerned, man has been created as the best of all creation and ‘in the best nature’ (at-Tin, 4); yet, on the other hand, with an ever-looming potential to alienate itself from his original reason of existence, man has a tendency to defy and corrupt its otherwise incorrupt nature and become even more bewildered than animals. Therefore, the only criterion to determine the honor and value of man is faith (iman) and, afterwards, good morality (akhlaq). The duty of prophets has consisted of purifying the hearts and souls of their followers and equipping them with faith and good morals. Being the heirs to the prophets, saints continue and uphold the practice of this blessed duty and represent living examples of prophetic teachings by teaching and practicing the knowledge of the heart in their communities.

Sufis try to follow the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- in every manner, both outwardly and inwardly. In their communities, they perform the theoretical and practical duties fulfilled at one time by prophets. The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- alludes to the integrity of their mission when he says, “The real scholars are heirs to the prophets.” (Abu Dawud, ‘Ilm, 1) Sufism therefore partakes in the aim of prophets; that of leading people to the direction of spiritual maturity by safeguarding them from sensual, egotistical desires and immorality.

In a hadith al-qudsi, the Almighty declares, “This religion is the religion that I approve. Most fitting of this religion are generosity and good morals… so promote these two qualities as long as you follow this religion.” (Haythami, Majma‘u al-Zawa’id, VIII, 20) Compliant with this Divine command, the Sufi way aims to impart the zest of morality onto the heart of a believer; a zest for mercy, affection, generosity, forgiveness and gratitude.

A further aim of Sufism is to help those, who have an inborn spiritual capacity, in improving themselves on the path of abstinence and piety. Sufi teachings guide such people in the direction of spiritual betterment and maturity, by enabling them to suppress the desires of their ego and draw nearer to their Lord; and thereby guiding them in the way of acquiring the knowledge of the Divine. Inspiring Sufis in this regard is the Quranic verse,

اِنَّا عَرَضْنَا اْلاَمَانَةَ عَلَى السَّمٰوَاتِ وَ اْلاَرْضِ وَ الْجِبَالِ فَاَبَيْنَ اَنْ يَحْمِلْنَهَا

وَ اَشْفَقْنَ مِنْهَا وَ حَمَلَهَا اْلاِ نْسَانُ اِنَّهُ كَانَ ظَلُومًا جَهُولاً

“Indeed, We offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to]bear it. Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant.” (al-Ahzab, 72) Likewise, the aim of the Sufi way is to save people from tyranny, against both themselves and other, and ignorance and equip them with the characteristics perfection. The antonym of tyranny (zulm) is justice (adl), which refers to the validity and balance of the deeds offered by a servant. While the antonym of ignorance (jahl), on the other hand, is knowledge (ilm), in order to become a truly knowledgeable person, one needs to absorb both exoteric and esoteric sciences. In this context Ghazzali says, “The heirs to prophets are those who possess a combined knowledge of both exoteric and esoteric sciences.”

The salvation of man depends on purging the bad characteristics existent in the ego and on performing deeds in accordance with the criteria laid down for valid righteous deeds (amal salih), and no less, on putting knowledge into practice, exclusively through which one becomes a better human being. In Sufi terminology, this implies transforming ordinary knowledge into irfan, i.e. gnosis or wisdom. In the final analysis, Sufism deals with theoretical and practical instructions to bring this project to life. Saints are those who realize this objective through perfecting the quality and intensity of their faith and piety; though they are quite few in number. In the Quran, the Almighty alludes to them when He declares,

اَلاَ اِنَّ اَوْلِيـَاءَ اللّٰهِ لاَ خَوْفٌ عَلَيْـهِـمْ

وَ لاَ هُـمْ يَحْزَنُونَ الَّذِينَ اٰمَنُوا وَ كَانُوا يَتَّقُونَ

“Unquestionably, on the friends of the Lord there is no fear, nor will they grieve; those who believe and feel [constantly]the consciousness of the Lord.” (Yunus, 62-63)

Properly manifested in the heart, faith saves a believer from all kinds of superstition and brings him closer to his Lord. Piety, in the sense of having a constant consciousness of the Lord, on the other hand, purifies the heart from all else besides the Lord. In this way, the heart of a believer assumes a quality where it becomes ‘the precinct of the Divine Gaze’ and a recipient, thereby, of the Divine inspirations and wisdoms.

The Day when there will not benefit [anyone]wealth or children, but only one who comes to The Almighty with a sound heart. (as-Shuara, 88-89)

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, Sufism, Erkam Publications