The Role of Taṣawwuf in Complementing the Study of Fiqh


Translated and adapted by Jamaal Diwan from Saʿīd Ḥawwā’s Tarbiyatunā al-Rūḥiyya..

Books of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) usually begin with the chapter of purification (al-ṭahāra), but rarely do they dwell upon its inner aspects and spiritual dimensions. They then move on to prayer, its prerequisites, its pillars, its required actions, its recommended actions, its manners, its disliked actions, and actions that invalidate it. However, they do not discuss the internal states that should be adhered to during prayer. An example of this is the absence of discussions on how one can attain khushūʿ (deep concentration) in prayer, and what actions lead to its realization. This is despite the fact that it is recognized as a type of knowledge that will be among the first to be removed from the earth.

With that in mind, when we reflect upon the science that best completes and complements the study of fiqh, we immediately think of the science of taṣawwuf. It is the science that examines actions of the heart, such as sincerity, and the way to obtain it. It certainly develops within the individual the ability to follow the rulings detailed in fiqh. After all, a person’s commitment to fiqh rulings is intertwined with the state of their spiritual development. Usually, knowledge of Allah allows a person to taste the sweetness of belief and results in a stronger commitment to following His commands. Thus, it is very misguided for those who belittle taṣawwuf to think that the spiritual journey towards Allah is associated with trying to escape from the adherence of His rulings. How can that be possible when Allah said to the Prophet ﷺ:

45:18 “Then We put you, [O Muhammad], on an ordained way concerning the matter [of religion]; so follow it and do not follow the inclinations of those who do not know.” (Qur’an, 45:18)

This is also why (Imam) Junayd said about a group of people who associated reaching (the heights of one’s relationship with) Allah with not following the rulings of shari’ah: “Yes, they’ve reached, but they’ve reached Hell.” The scholars of old used to say, “If someone studies fiqh and not taṣawwuf, they will become corrupt; and if they study tasawwuf and not fiqh, they will become heretics. They will achieve their desired goal only if they study both fiqh and taṣawwuf.” Therefore, taṣawwuf is needed to complement the study of fiqh, and fiqh is necessary in the study of taṣawwuf to show what is allowed and what is not. Whoever neglects either of the two has missed half the point.

It is a big mistake if the two are separated from each other. This happens if the sufi strays far from the study of fiqh or if the jurist (faqīh) strays from the study of taṣawwuf. It can be avoided if the jurist studies – along with fiqh rulings – what is needed spiritually to adhere to those rulings. At the same time, the sufi should study what is required of him or her as related to fiqh rulings, and not stray from these rulings throughout his/her spiritual journey. For this reason some of the major scholars of sufism, like al-Rifāʿī said: “Verily the end goal of the scholars and the sufis is one.” We say this here because some ignorant people amongst the sufis threaten people by saying, “If one does not have a shaykh, then his shaykh is the shaytan.” Rather, Satan is the shaykh of the ignorant person who neither learns nor appreciates learning. As for the person who seeks Allah through gaining knowledge, his imam is knowledge itself, and the shari’ah.

In his book Principles of Tasawwuf, Shaykh Zarrūq discussed the concept of a seeker’s need for a shaykh. He said: “Taqwā does not need a shaykh to explain it… the intelligent one needs no more than the Qur’an to guide his or her spiritual progression, but they will not be safe from the weaknesses of their soul [without a spiritual guide].” Therefore, it is important that the person be capable of learning and implementing what they learn. This is the minimum that Allah obligated upon His servants. It can be accomplished by an able person learning and understanding through personal readings of reliable books, or it can be achieved by following one of the righteous scholars who practice what they preach – whether they are called “sufi” or not.

In conclusion, the sciences of fiqh and tasawwuf are complementary and necessary for every person. The amount of each that is needed will differ from person to person, but studying them in depth is obligatory for the community, and recommended for each individual.

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25 Comments

  1. Excellent article. Islam is both Law (fiqh) and Spirit (tasawwuf) together to form the Sharia. Jazakum Allah khayr.

  2. Haq says:

    A refreshing read. JAK Ust. Jamaal.

  3. Brother says:

    I think Sh. Abu Bakr al-Jazaairee’s work Minhaj al-Muslim has a good balance of Aqeedah, Ihsan & Fiqh.

  4. salih says:

    Assalamu Alaikum Br. Jamaal: Thank you so much for such a beautiful and beneficial article. I truly understand the need to apply both sciences(fiqh and tasawwuff). However, the concept of tasawwuff seems to be so vague. It seems like tasawuff is applied to Dikr, to purification of the heart, to seeking help from the Prophet and Awliya, and etc. Pls kindly define tasawwuff and its relation to tazkiya. Where is the limit for doing tasawwuff? Are there any verses in the Quran or hadiths of Rasullalah(SAW)that directly talk about tasawwuff. Please reponse. Barakallahu Fik.

    • Jamaal Diwan says:

      salamu alaykum,

      Said Hawwa, to use the same author, defines tasawwuf as: “The journey towards Allah, following the path that Allah has defined in order to seek His pleasure.”

      It is somewhat vague and the true defining factor for whether or not something is allowed on the spiritual journey to Allah is through its fiqh ruling, hence the importance of fiqh in relation to tasawwuf.

      Another point is that many times we get caught up on terminology and this is a mistake, as Abu al-Hasan al-Nadwi discusses in his book “Rabbaniyya, La Rahbaniyya.” Many names of Islamic sciences were not mentioned in the Quran or hadith, that does not mean that they are invalid. Rather, what is valid or not in regards to tasawwuf is, again, known through studying fiqh.

      Regarding its relationship to tazkiya, they are often used interchangeably.

      JAK
      Jamaal Diwan

      • salih says:

        Wa Alaikum Salaam,
        Thank you for your response. May Allah rewards you and keeps you in good health and Eman! Ameen.

      • Elfatih says:

        Why emphasize in a term that is so controversial and it’s basis is not rightly grounded in Islam, and moreover, there is threats concerning ((following other paths)) in our worship of Allah سبحانه, And Allah سبحانه said: Say, [O Muhammad], “If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (31) Al imran – henceforth ((No to Tasawwuf in terms of finding a sheikh)) or atleast as i understood from this Ayah, pls comment

      • Elfatih says:

        I searched the saying that you wrote in your article about the “If someone studies fiqh and not taṣawwuf, they will become corrupt; and if they study tasawwuf and not fiqh, they will become heretics” this saying is falsely attributed to great Imams may Allah سبحانه have mercy on them all; http://www.islamweb.net/ver2/Fatwa/ShowFatwa.php?lang=a&Id=62464&Option=FatwaId.
        As for why doesn’t the books of Fiqh talk about Tazkiyyah, i guess that answer is found on the name of the book itself, because its a fiqh book.
        And Allah سبحانه mentions in Surat Annour these interesting Ayats:
        إِنَّمَا كَانَ قَوْلَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِذَا دُعُوا إِلَى اللَّـهِ وَرَسُولِهِ لِيَحْكُمَ بَيْنَهُمْ أَن يَقُولُوا سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا ۚ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ ﴿٥١﴾وَمَن يُطِعِ اللَّـهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَخْشَ اللَّـهَ وَيَتَّقْهِ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَائِزُونَ ﴿٥٢﴾ النور
        The response of the believers, when they are invited to Allah and His Apostle that he may judge between them, is only to say: We hear and we obey; and these it is that are the successful. (51)And he who obeys Allah and His Apostle, and fears Allah, and is careful of (his duty to) Him, these it is that are the achievers. (52) Annour
        And Subhan Allah, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم mentioned many many Ahadiths about Tazkiyyah and he never mentioned Tassawuff, as for the sayings related to Sufism i have never met any Hadith that speaks about Sufism or anything like it in the way that contemporary Sufi sects and tareeqats are appearing to be, actually i find many Hadiths that describe the contemporary sufis actions and misguidance.
        قال مالك لأهل الكلام ((فإذا أردتم الكلام والتوسع في العلم فابحثوا في الفقه ومسائله وأحكامه والفرائض ومسائلها والمناسخات وقسم التركات ومسائل الإقرار والولاء ودوره وجوه ثم الوصايا ومسائلها ثم المسائل التي تعمل بالجبر والمقابلة والحساب والمساحة فلكم في هذا سعة عما قد نهيتم عن الخوض فيه مما لم يتكلم فيه سلفكم وكرهه إمامكم ولا يفضي بكم إلى خير ولا تخلون فيه من إحداث بدعة إمامكم فيها إبليس يمقتكم الله بها ويتبرأ منكم نبيكم صلى الله عليه وسلم من أجلها ويفارقكم إخوانكم من أهل السنة لمفارقتكم سنة نبيكم عليه أفضل الصلاة والسلام وتردون عن حوض نبيكم صلى الله عليه وسلم كما قد جاء أنه يأتي يوم القيامة قوم إلى الحوض فيختلجون دون النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال فأقول أصحابي أصحابي فيقال إنك لا تدري ما أحدثوا بعدك فأقول بعدا وسحقا أعاذنا الله وإياكم من ذلك ولكن إن لزمتم سنة نبيكم صلى الله عليه وسلم وقبلتم وصيته وسلكتم طريق سلفكم وتركتم الفضول فكونوا على يقين من السلامة وأبشروا بالفضل والكرامة والخلود في دار المقامة {مع الذين أنعم الله عليهم من النبيين والصديقين والشهداء والصالحين وحسن أولئك رفيقا)) أرجو قراءة هذا الكتاب تحريم النظر في كتب الكلام

        • Syed Hafiz says:

          Salam.. I was also wondering the same thing but then i found out tasawwuf is actually al ihsan.(Worship Allah as though you can see him, and if u cant, know he sees you.
          Its from the hadith where Gabriel(as) came down as human form in the masjid to Muhammad(saw)infront of all the companions.

        • Syed Hafiz says:

          And Allah knows best.

  5. Nice.

    In response to the beginning of the post talking about books that only focus on the inner or the outer, rather than both, one exception I believe is Shaykh Abdul Qadir al-Jilani’s work as-Sirr al-Asrar (The Secret of Secrets). Highly recommended.

  6. Leo says:

    So, should I be looking for a spiritual guide, is that what you reccomend?

  7. ummyusuf says:

    Excellent article. Jazak’Allahu khayran. The hard thing is keeping the right balance.

  8. Veronica says:

    Salam alaikum. May Allah bless you for writing such a beautiful article. Subhannallah, AS a convert to Islam I have struggled immensely. I always felt that many Muslims were caught up in rituals and rules that the spiritual connection is often ignored. This resulted in the loss of the spiritual connection that I once felt with Allah. And losing that connection can only be likened to that of losing the greatest love of one’s life and never being able to fill that void.

    Accepting Islam is truly an amazing spiritual experience. I seem to be recovering and working back towards that spiritual connection once again. Inshallah, I will draw nearer to Allah until He is dearer to me that the world and all the riches it holds.

    Articles such as this reaffirm that I am not alone in the loss of spiritual connectivity. Thanks for bringing this much needed subject to light.

  9. Qasim says:

    Assalamu Alaikum Br. Jamaal

    1. Said Hawwa, to use the same author, defines tasawwuf as: “The journey towards Allah, following the path that Allah has defined in order to seek His pleasure.”

    Brother considering the above definition of tasawuuf by the author it is no where near described as a Science of Islam instead it is described as a path.

    Please correct me if i am wrong. Is it not that Prophet of Allah has described the PATH of allah to us and Allah named it Islam?

    Also if we read the following Aya from Quran it makes it very clear to us that the best title we can have is Muslim. Quran (41:33)

    وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ قَوْلًا مِّمَّن دَعَا إِلَى اللَّهِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا وَقَالَ إِنَّنِي مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ

    Abdul Daryabadi : And who is better in speech than he who summoneth Unto Allah, and worketh righteously, and saith: verily I am one of the Muslims.
    Dr. Mohsin : And who is better in speech than he who [says: "My Lord is Allâh (believes in His Oneness)," and then stands firm (acts upon His Order), and] invites (men) to Allâh’s (Islâmic Monotheism), and does righteous deeds, and says: “I am one of the Muslims.”
    Pickthal : And who is better in speech than him who prayeth unto his Lord and doeth right, and saith: Lo! I am of those who surrender (unto Him).
    Yusuf Ali : Who is better in speech than one who calls (men) to Allah, works righteousness, and says “I am of those who bow in Islam”?

    This is the same PATH and TITLE Ibrahim, Musa, Eesa, and all the other prophets were on peace be on them all.

    Secondly you pointed out that

    Another point is that many times we get caught up on terminology and this is a mistake.

    My Brother in Islam i understand that you are trying to highlight the importance of the purity of inner self. I may not have objected on the word tassawuf or spirtuality if these words dont have a different understanding in the masses. (especially when you use those words on Internet reaching out to different parts of world having their own understanding of the word tasawwff)

    Allah has used the word for the purity of the soul, or the inner self and called it Tazkiyya.

    You can see the Duaa of Ibrahim peace be upon him

    رَبَّنَا وَابْعَثْ فِيهِمْ رَسُولًا مِّنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِكَ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

    and our Lord, do thou send among them a Messenger, one of them, who shall recite to
    them Thy signs, and teach them the Book and the Wisdom, and purify them; Thou art the
    All-mighty, the All-wise.” (Al-Baqarah: 129)

    Allah accepted his prayer and said.

    كَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا فِيكُمْ رَسُولًا مِّنكُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيكُمْ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُم مَّا لَمْ تَكُونُوا تَعْلَمُونَ

    Similarly (to complete My Blessings on you) We have sent among you a Messenger (Muhammad ) of your own, reciting to you Our Verses (the Qur’ân) and sanctifying you, and teaching you the Book (the Qur’ân) and the Hikmah (i.e. Sunnah, Islâmic laws and Fiqh – jurisprudence), and teaching you that which you used not to know. (Al-Baqarah 2:151)

    Is it not appropriate for us to use what Allah has used rather then using words whose definitions are vague and controversial?

    And Allah knows best.

    • Abu Somebody says:

      Assalamu alaykum,
      I second brother Qasim in the first point strongly and regarding the second point, I would say it doesn’t matter what terminology you use since what matters is the act, not the title. In fact, I think, if we use a terminology mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah but on the other hand the PATH is again not from the Sunnah, then that is, I believe, even more dangerous, because then it would lead the masses to believe the PATH is also from the Sunnah.

      Secondly, as far as the Tasawwuf complementing Shariah is concerned then, as far as I know, Sufi’s divide the population into three categories:
      1) Commoners/Awam unaas
      2) High Class/Khawas
      3) Elite/ Khawas ul khawas

      The thing is that in front of ordinary people like us, they speak in the same language as we do, i.e. Quran and Hadith. But as we progess upwards, i.e. among themselves, they speak about meanings of the Ayat of Allah or acts etc more and more based on “nothing”. So we should be careful before choosing a “Shaykh” and see whether the PATH is based on Quran and Sunnah or not.

      A very small but sensitive example is the following:
      La Ilaha Illa Allah, at Level 1 means:
      “La Ma’booda Illa Allah”
      (None is worthy of Worship except Allah)
      Level 2:
      “La Maqsooda Illa Allah”
      (None is wanted other than Allah”
      Level 3:
      “La Mawjuda Illa Allah”
      (None exist except Allah)
      (english my own)
      Now in this example, the second meaning can be somewhat derived from the texts, but the third? From Which ayah or hadith or sahabi do we derive this?

  10. raheem says:

    Brother Jamaal Diwan, salaams. Nice article. I have one question. I read somewhere that the book that the 3rd brother above quoted, “Sh. Abu Bakr al-Jazaairee’s work Minhaj al-Muslim”, has some week ahadith. Can you clarify and tell me if it is a good book to read as a Muslim trying to practice my deen. I am not a student of knowledge and looking to read a book to help me. Jazakallah, any thing helps. Salaams.

  11. Khairul Huda Khan says:

    This is the saying of Imam Maalik (R.), one of the Imaam of Four Madh-hab- “If someone studies fiqh and not taṣawwuf, they will become corrupt; and if they study tasawwuf and not fiqh, they will become heretics. They will achieve their desired goal only if they study both fiqh and taṣawwuf.”

  12. Excellent article. I am much relieved by knowing that according to some sufi scholars, having a shaikh is not mandatory

  13. Murad says:

    Assalamualaikum warahmatullah,

    “If one does not have a shaykh, then his shaykh is the shaytan.”

    This saying belongs to Bayazed’i Bestami (ks) and for sure he wasn’t an ignorant sufi and much deeper in the path of fena fillah when compared to today’s fake scholars rejecting mursheed requirement.

    And I think that one should search for Mursheed Al Haq (not the fake ones) by praying to Allah (swt) as far as he/she can while gaining Shariah knowledge. Strong iman is the first requirement in tasavvuf as I know so Shariah knowledge is a must. Also tasavvuf is not a very simple thing which can be learned through books only as Shaykh Zarrūq made the point clear about mentioning the importance of mursheed.

    Jazak Allah al khayr.

  14. Abu Noobody says:

    Asalam alaykum brothers and siters.

    MashaAllah brother Suhaib! Allot of us have negativity towards sufism due to our ignorance. Many of the greatest ulama praised sufism , and at the same time disapproved some acts carried by certain sufis. Alhamdullilah purification of the nafs is a must, especially in the world we are living in today.

  15. Khadim al-Shar' says:

    As-salaamu alaykum,
    Tasawwuf is being around pious people.

  16. O H says:

    Assalamalaykum. The issue people have with tasawwuf and spirituality is due to the incorrect beliefs and actions of many of the modern day claimants of tasawwuf. Those who were famous for their tasawwuf in the past, like Imam Junaid, approached it in the correct manner unlike the widespread innovations of the current sufis, some of which are shirk. This article is a balanced approach as I don’t agree with the complete condemnation of tasawwuf as done by many, nor the modern version of sufism which doesn’t mirror the ways of our righteous predecessors. Allaahu ‘Alam

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