Perfection of the Prophets and Fallibility of their Followers: Sheikh al-Islam Sidi Ahmed Zaruq [ra] and Imam al-Shatibi [ra]
Sheikh al-Islam Sidi Zaruq quotes Aba Ishaq al-Shatibi saying, “Every action committed by the recognized people of tasawwuf, such as Junaid, and others like him, is not free [from scrutiny]. Regarding those [acts of theirs] whose origins are established by the Sacred Law, then they were its successors just like the Companions [may Allah be pleased with them] and their students. If there is no basis found in the Sacred Law [regarding their actions], then it is not to be acted upon, because the Sunna is proof upon the entire Ummah, and no one’s actions from this Ummah represent a proof against the Sunna.
This is because the Sunna is protected from error and its companion [the Prophet whom upon be Allah's peace and blessings] was infallible, while the rest of the Umma’s infallibility was not established except in the case of a unanimous agreement [Ijm'a] in which case such an agreement represents a [sound] legal evidence.
The Sufis and the Scholars of Ijtihad are like others in that their infallibility was not affirmed. Therefore, it is probable that they would fall into error, forget, or fall into major or minor, acts of disobedience. Just as it is plausible that they would fall into forbidden, or disliked, acts of innovation. For this reason the scholars coined: “Every one’s statements can be accepted or rejected except for the Prophet [may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him].”
This was affirmed by Imam al-Qushayri [may Allah have mercy upon him] who was asked, “Are the Awliyah infallible?” He responded, “If it is the obligatory infallibility [like that of the Prophets may Allah be pleased with them] then no. However, if what is meant is the protected type of infalibility [ guided by Allah from sins and falling into evil] and from time to time there are slip ups and falling into the prohibited, then there is no problem attributing this ascription to them.”
Commenting on this Sidi Zaruq wrote, “Therefore, as it is probable for others to fall into acts of innovation, then the same can also be said of the wali. Thus, what is obligatory upon us is to stop [without a second thought] and follow the one protected from any errors[the Prophet may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him], and to stop [with a second thought] from following the one who was not protected from falling into errors if there appears in following him problems.
What the scholars brought must be placed before the Book [the Quran] and the Sunna. What they [the Book and the Sunna] deem acceptable, we accept and what they reject, we reject. If one comes to us from the people of ecstasy, perception with a heightened state of knowledge and awareness, he is to be subjected to the Book [the Quran] and the Sunna. If they affirm what he brings, then he is correct. If not, then he is wrong.”
Abridged from Qaw’id al-Tahdith min fan ‘ulom al-Hadith of Sh. Qassimi