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The First Manifestation of Islamic Tasawwuf and `Irfan

The ascetic tendencies among Muslims became the basis of tasawwuf and `irfan from the time when its context was changed from being a means of escaping hellfire and attaining to heavenly rewards to becoming a vehicle for drawing nearer to God, when it came to embody the notion of love referred to in such Qur’anic verses as “…He loves them and they Him…” (Ma’idah 5: 54). Wearing woollen clothes was common practice among the ascetics of the first generation, among whom Hasan Basri represented the faction opposed to the dominant prodigality of their society, while Rabi`ah Adawiyyah stood for the party who focused on the divine countenance, thus the belief that Rabi`ah was the first to introduce the element of love into Sufism. It was Rabi`ah’s emphasis on the need to confine worship of God to His love which provided an opening for the notion of divine love to enter into the Sufi jargon and thus lay the ground for the transformation of asceticism from a mere trading of the material blessings of this world for the heavenly rewards of the next to a quest for the attainment of a vision of God. Thus, tariqah, which was the method of Sufis, came to be distinguished from shari`ah, which was the way of the religiously austere.

The first generation of ascetic mystics who, during their day or shortly thereafter, came to be known as Sufis steered clear of engaging in discursive discussions engaged in by theologians, which in turn had the potential of dragging them into various political and religious disputes of the day, which could threw obstacles in the way of their spiritual lifestyle. Thus, they searched for God within themselves and through worship and love and considered the worldly conflicts as a source of temptation. Therefore, they chose the way of heart, which was free from any disputatiousness and doubt, over the way of discursive thought, which was fertile ground for uncertainty and scepticism, and through pondering the truths contained in the Qur’an and Hadith attempted to secure the foundations of tariqah, or journey towards God, on the basis of certainty. In other words, theirs was a method focused on the path of truth running through the stations of asceticism, worship, love and submission, rather than the way of the advocates of knowledge or mere religious ritual; a sounder method free from any sophistry or fallacious argumentation.

 source: Zarrinkoob , Abdol Hossein "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.471- 472


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