Tasawwuf is nothing but shari’at
A problem that arises in the final couplet of “What is Tasawwuf ?” is that in equating Tasawwuf and shari’a, the poet brings up and then resolves an apparent tension between Tasawwuf and shari’a. Such a tension, however, exists only to the degree that one defines these two terms as being mutually exclusive. While various extremists persist in excluding one from the other, we do have many inclusive statements – such as that of the poet of “What is Tasawwuf ?” Â– in which Tasawwuf and shari’a are interwoven, similarly defined, or equated. Qushayri (d. 465/1074), for example, defined “shari’a” as “assiduous observance of servanthood.” Defining Tasawwuf in a comparable fashion, Abu al-Hasan al-Shudhili (d. 656/1258) stated: “Tasawwuf is training the self (nafs) through servanthood and subjecting it to the commands (ahkam) of Lordship.”
Supporting the close relationship between Tasawwuf and shari’a, the Sufi Abu Yazid al-Bistami (d. 260/874) asserted that observing the shari’a was a touchstone for judging a person’s spiritual degree: “Were you to see a man who performs miracles such that he ascends into the air, do not be deceived by him. Instead, observe how well he is following the Divine commands, abstaining from what is prohibited, keeping within the limits set by God, and observing the shari’a.”Similarly, Abu al-Husayn al-Warraq (d. before 320/932), asserted the futility of trying to reach God without conforming one’s actions to shari’a and the sunna: “A servant will only reach Allah through Allah and by being in harmony with his loved one [the Beloved Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah Almighty upon him)] through his laws (shari’a). And whoever believes that he can follow a path without emulating (al-iqtida) [the Beloved Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah Almighty upon him)] will become lost, on account of imagining that he is being guided.”Undoubtedly, for all but a minority of Sufis throughout history, carefully observing the shari’a has been a crucial and on-going component of their spiritual practice.
One way of understanding the interrelationship of Tasawwuf and shari’a was expressed by the Kubrawi Sufi, Najm al-Din Razi (d. 654/1256). Using the term tariqa (path) to denote Tasawwuf Â– as Sufis commonly do Â– he clarified its relationship to shari’a: “The shari’at has an outer (zahiri) and an inner (batini) aspect. Its outer aspect consists of bodily deedsÂ… The inner aspect of the shari’at consists of deeds of the heart (qalbi), of the inner mystery (sirri), and of the spirit (ruhi) and is called the tariqat. “Hence, for Razi, the tariqa (or Tasawwuf) is not separate from shari’a, it is, rather, its inner dimension.
In summary, it should be clear, then, that in spite of extremist views that see Tasawwuf and shari’a as mutually exclusive, the author of “What is Tasawwuf?” Â– like most Sufis Â– bridges the false dichotomy between Tasawwuf and shari’a.