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The Religionists and Opposition to Sufism

Unlike philosophers, religionists and faqihs have tended to regard Sufis with suspicion and distrust. Tabsirat al-`awam and Bayn al-adyan are examples of works written in opposition to Sufism. Many faqihs and mujtahids of the Safavid period also wrote works in refutation of Sufi shaykhs and claimants as well as their beliefs and sayings. They include the author of Hadiqat al-shi`ah, Mawla Muhammad Tahir Qumi, in Risalah fawa’id al-diniyyah, Shaykh `Ali `Amili, in Kitab al-Saham al-bariqah, Shaykh Yusuf Bahrani, in Nafahat al-mulukiyyah, and Aqa Muhammad `Ali, in Risalah Khayratiyyah. 

Among the members of early fiqhi schools, an overwhelming majority of the Hanbalites were severely opposed to Sufism, while there were some who defended its methods. The former include Ibn Jawzi, Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim Jawziyyah, who devoted numerous works to the refutation of Sufi views. The interesting point to note is that there were many among the ranks of Sufis themselves who lashed out against pseudo-Sufis. Ghazzali, Hujwiri and Shaykh Ahmad Jam were among such critics. In fact, the latter claims that what transpires in a sama’ assembly is no different from what takes place in a tavern. 

The practice of sama’ was among the factors which greatly contributed to the condemnation of Sufis, as did their unconventional forms of worship and extreme ascetic practices, which were deemed as lacking religious sanction and being de facto innovations. Being accused of establishing innovations (sing. bid`ah) was something that Sufi masters tried to avoid at all cost. In the face of such charges they retorted by accusing their opponents of confining themselves to the exterior of religious rites and of engaging in a trade with God, something which they believed was beneath the dignity of an `arif. 

Ghazzali’s defense of sama’ and his fatwa regarding its permissibility, with the caveat that no acts should be committed in contravention to religious law, should not be viewed as a blanket license. None the less, though the likes of Abu Sa`id Abu ’l-Khayr, in the early parts of the Seljuk reign, in Khurasan, and Mawlana Jalal al-Din Balkhi Rumi, centuries later, in Quniyah, considered sama’ as unobjectionable, given that the above caveat was taken into account, faqihs and religionists continued in their opposition to such practices. Sama’ sessions were held in a variety of venues, from ordinary homes to the private quarters of high officials and even courts of the caliphs, however, the fact that khanaqahs were also a common place for such assemblies did little to quell the wrath of the religionist opponents. The funding of khanaqahs was raised through various charitable sources and they provided a wide range of services, from provision of facilities to travelers to feeding the needy. Of course, they also served as venues for religious preaching as well as for sama’ assemblies, however, on occasion, they attracted drifters and sundry riffraff, which resulted in a breakdown of order and commitment of religiously unlawful activities. 

If fact, even in cases where the funds were managed by the master of the khanaqah and his deputy, and in spite of the disciplinary actions and punishments meted out to the malefactors, the very practice of singing and dancing provided sufficient ammunition for the detractors who used the appearance of these practices as pretext to mock the Sufis as loafers and merrymakers and as people fond of dancing and gorging themselves. In fact, it was said that if a Sufi in Samarqand catches the news of a khanaqah in Egypt where much eating and dancing is going on he would set out for that place at once. Some opponents of the Sufis accused them of believing that certain individuals may reach a state where they would no longer be obligated to perform religious rituals. This charge, even if it be leveled against the pseudo-Sufis, or be targeted against the leaders of the movement who subscribed to the theory of the unity of existence, is in blatant contravention to the most fundamental tenet of Sufism, i.e. asceticism. In fact, some Sufis were chastised by religionists for their arduous retreats and other acts of extreme austerity and self-denial.

 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.480

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