Sunnah: Accepted by Sufis?
It is not only jurists who have recognized the Sunnah and relied on it as the second source of legislation and deduction of rulings in Islam; indeed, all the scholars of the Ummah have adopted this view too. Sufi sheikhs are no exception. They adopted the Sunnah as a guide for conduct in the same manner as the jurists took it a source of the Shari`ah.
It is a fact that some Sufis have made some statements that indicate lack of interest in the science of Hadith or in other Shari`ah-related sciences in general and allude to their dispensing with it altogether.
For example, some of them were reported to have said, “If you know a Sufi interested in matters related to the narration [of Hadith], then brush him aside.”
Another Sufi, when advised to go and learn from Abdur-Razzaq, a prominent scholar of Hadith, said, “What benefit could a person who directly learns from the Creator possibly gain from listening to [a creature like] Abdur-Razzaq!”
Still, another Sufi addressed non-Sufis saying, “You acquire knowledge from the mortals, whereas we derive knowledge from the Everlasting Who will never pass away.” He means that they get their knowledge directly from Almighty Allah. In this regard, a Sufi is reported to have said, “My Lord has inspired me through my heart [that…].”
However, these statements and the like neither represent the viewpoint of the majority of the Sufis, nor do they express the opinion of the eminent among the Sufi sheikhs. Hence, it is no surprise that many prominent Sufis have condemned some deviants who claim that there is no need for the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
We cite here some statements by eminent moderate Sufi sheikhs reported by Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim, the renowned Sunni scholar, in his book Madarij As-Salikin:
Al-Junaid ibn Muhammad (may Allah have mercy upon him) said, “All paths are blocked before people except for those who follow in the footsteps of the Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him).”
Al-Junaid also said, “He who has not memorized the Qur’an and learned Hadith shouldn’t be followed in this matter [Sufism], for our knowledge is to be derived solely from the Qur’an and the Sunnah.”
Abu Hafs (may Allah have mercy upon him) said, “He who does not weigh his deeds at all times in light of the Qur’an and Sunnah and does not question his own ideas, then he is not among the men [of Sufism].”
Abu Al-Yazid said, “If a person is made to perform some miracles and you witness him go up in the air, still you should not take him as a model until you see whether he abides by the commands and regulations of the Shari`ah or not.”
Ahmad ibn Abu Al-Hawari said, “He who does something without following the Sunnah, his act is invalidated.”
Sufis and Weak Hadiths
The Sufis have been criticized for their use of weak (da`if) and denounced (munkar) hadiths. Worse still, they often accepted fabricated (mawdou`) hadiths because they were not well-versed in the sciences of Hadith and, consequently, failed to distinguish between the authentic and inauthentic narrations.
However, this is not exclusive to Sufis. Non-Sufi Muslim scholars not specialized in Hadith shared, to some extent, this problem. Even juristic books included such hadiths. Books concerned with examining the authenticity of hadiths — such as At-Tahqiq, At-Tanqih, and Nasb Ar-Rayah — testify to this fact.
Thus, the task of the scholars of Hadith is to carefully examine the books containing hadiths and sift out the accepted hadiths from the rejected ones, with a watchful eye to catch the fabricated ones. This is what Al-Hafiz Zain Ad-Deen Al-`Iraqi, a prominent scholar of Hadith, did with regard to the book Ihya’ `Ulum Ad-Deen by Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, the famous jurist and the leading Sufi imam. Al-`Iraqi sorted out the hadiths included in this book in two books: a big one that is yet unpublished, and a small one entitled Al-Mughni `an Haml Al-Asfar. The latter is appended as an annotation to Al-Ghazali’s book. These two books of Al-`Iraqi have actually added greatly to the benefit of Al-Ghazali’s book.
Some Sufis are also criticized for their authentication of some hadiths based on “inspiration” and kashf (which literally means uncovering, unveiling. Kashf means acquiring inner knowledge of some things of the unseen (ghayb) through inspiration or, as claimed by some Sufis, through direct revelation from Allah), although such hadiths are discredited as week, baseless, or fabricated by leading scholars of Hadith. For example, one Sufi commented on the fabricated hadith qudsi, “I [Allah] was a hidden treasure and I wanted to be known, so I created the creation so that they know Me” saying, “We [the Sufis] consider this hadith as authentic by means of kashf, though its authenticity is not proved through its chain of transmission (isnad).”
There is consensus among the scholars of the Ummah on the rejection of this kashf approach in authenticating hadiths. Kashf is an absolutely subjective criterion, while the criteria set by the scholars of Hadith are objective and have to do with the text and the chain of transmission of the hadith in question. The kashf cannot be counted on even if it occurs to pious persons, let alone fakers. Should this approach be approved of, many people would take it as a pretext for introducing fabricated and invented things into Allah’s religion and for tampering with Shari`ah rulings, allowing what is prohibited and prohibiting what is lawful.
Affirming this fact, Imam Muhammad ibn Sirin, one of the prominent early jurists, said, “(studying and verifying) isnad (the chain of transmission) is part of Allah’s religion, without which any one would be able to make whatever allegations one likes.”
Also, Shiekh Abu Al-Hasan Ash-Shadhili, the founder of the Shadhilliyah Order, said, “Unlike the Qur’an and the Sunnah whose infallibility is confirmed, it cannot be guaranteed that kashf is infallible.”
* Translated from the author’s book Al-Marji`iyah Al-`Ulia fil Islam lil-Qur’an wa As-Sunnah.