Tasawwuf & Tazkiyya – Sufism & Reformation


A recent comment on my blog propelled me to writing a short description on Tasawwuf and Tazkiya; its meaning, methods, purpose and reality in Islam.

Tasawwuf and Tazkiya are regarded, by some, as a completely separate section, department and form of worship in Islam. It is regarded as a path that one ‘specialises’ in. However, in reality every part, section and action in Islam contains the essence of Tasawwuf and requires its presence.

Tasawwuf and Tazkiya are usually translated in the English language as Sufism or Reformation of the Self and its master is regarded as a Sheikh or a Sufi, whilst the followers of the masters are regarded as Mureeds.

There is a variation of opinions regarding the etymology of Tasawwuf in the Arabic language. Some regard it to originate from the word Saff (صَفَّ), whilst others from Safa (صَفَا), Suffa (صُفَا) or Soof (صُوف).

Saff means the row in congregation prayer which in denotes to the piety of the people that stand in the first row in prayer whilst; Safa refers to purity and cleansing. It is an indication towards the cleansing of the heart and the efforts placed by the Sufi in cleansing his inner self.

Suffa is the Arabic word for platform. Its indication is towards the residents of the platform of the Masjid Nabawi. These people were those who dedicated their lives for the knowledge of Islam and bore the difficulties of huger etc.

Finally, the word Soof, which has also been mentioned to be the one which is most grammatically correct, means wool. Once again its reference is towards the Sahaba رضي الله عنهم who used to wear woollen clothing either as a sign of their detachment from and discomfort with the material world or due to their dedication towards the religion of Islam whilst refraining from the pleasure of the world. The rough woollen cloak without any undergarments would be constant irritation to the skin. This pricking of the skin by the wool would keep the wearer in discomfort. This would serve as a constant reminder that the seeker has nothing to do with the comforts of this world, his only goal being to please Allah.

Another word used for Tasawwuf, as mentioned above, is Tazkiyah. Similarly, the word Ihsaan has also been used. These are the synonyms of Tasawwuf and denote the same principle of Sufism and spiritualism. It is these words that have come in many places in the Qur’an and Ahadeeth:


It should be noted that even if the word Tasawwuf or Tazkiyah did not exist in the time of our beloved Prophet صلي الله عليه و سلم its reality and practice always existed amongst the Prophet صلي الله عليه و سلم, the Sahaba رضي الله عنهم and those who followed their examples. The word Tasawwuf, as explained by Ibn Khaldun, is “the name of ‘total dedication’ to Allah the Most High. Thus, its existence in the time of our beloved Prophet صلي الله عليه و سلم was essential and obvious taking into consideration his rank, status and devotion”.

The actual word of Tasawwuf does not exist in the Qur’an within context. However, there are many places in the Qur’an where the synonym of the word has appeared or places where its notion and concept have been discussed.

Following are but a few examples of the mention of Tasawwuf in the Qur’an:

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن زَكَّاهَا

“Indeed he has achieved success who purifies it (the soul)”
[Surah as-Shams – 91:9]

هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولًا مِّنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِن كَانُوا مِن قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ

“It is He who sent among the unlettered ones a Messenger from amongst themselves who recites upon them His Verses, purifies them and teaches them the Book (Qur’an) and Hikmah (wisdom). And verily, before this, they had been in manifest error.”
[Surah Jumu’ah – 62:2]

جَنَّاتُ عَدْنٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا وَذَلِكَ جَزَاء مَن تَزَكَّى

“Everlasting Gardens, under which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever: such is the reward of those who purify themselves.”
[Surah Ta Ha – 20:76]

وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَى وَإِن تَدْعُ مُثْقَلَةٌ إِلَى حِمْلِهَا لَا يُحْمَلْ مِنْهُ شَيْءٌ وَلَوْ كَانَ ذَا قُرْبَى إِنَّمَا تُنذِرُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُم بِالغَيْبِ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَمَن تَزَكَّى فَإِنَّمَا يَتَزَكَّى لِنَفْسِهِ وَإِلَى اللَّهِ الْمَصِيرُ

“And a burdened soul cannot bear the burden of another and if one weighed down by burden should call another to carry his it they shall not carry in, even though he is closely related. You warn only those who fear their Lord in secret and keep up prayer; and whoever purifies himself, he purifies himself only for (the good of) his own soul; and to Allah is the eventual coming.”
[Surah Fatir – 35:18]

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن تَزَكَّى

“Indeed whosoever purifies himself has achieved success.”
[Surah al-A’laa – 87:14]

فَقُلْ هَل لَّكَ إِلَى أَن تَزَكَّى

“Then say, do you desire to purify yourself?”
[Surah Naziaat – 79:18]

الَّذِي يُؤْتِي مَالَهُ يَتَزَكَّى

“He who spends his wealth for increase in self-purification.”
[Surah Layl – 92:18]


قال: فأخبرني عن الإحسان, قال “أن تعبد الله كأنك تراه, فإن لم تكن تراه فإنه يراك

He (Hadhrat Jibreel عليه السلام) questioned, “What is Ihsaan?” He صلي الله عليه و سلم replied, “That you worship Allah as though you are able to see Him, and if you are not able to see Him then (to bear in mind) that He is watching you.”
[Saheeh Muslim]

ان الله لا ينظر الى صوركم ولا الى اجسامكم ولكن ينظر الى قلوبكم وأعمالكم

“Indeed Allah does not look towards your appearance and neither towards your bodies (physique) but instead He looks towards your hearts and actions.”

ان القلوب لتصدأ كما يصدأ الحديد قيل وما جلاءها يا رسول الله، قال ذكر الموت وتلاوة القرآن

“The Prophet of Allah صلي الله عليه و سلم stated, “Indeed the hearts rust just as metal does.” It was asked, “What is its treatment O Messenger of Allah صلي الله عليه و سلم?” He صلي الله عليه و سلم replied, “The remembrance of death and the recitation of the Qur’an.”

These are just a few of the Ahadeeth that have a connection with Tasawwuf and Sufism. Any Hadeeth that relates to the heart will have some sort of connection with spirituality and ‘Tazkiya’. Therefore, there are many Ahadeeth that contain this notion.

In addition to the above mentioned, there are various other topics related to the topics of Tasawwuf; these include topics such as methods of finding a Guide (Shaykh), things to look for in a Shaykh, methods of reformation, chains of Sufism etc. Insha Allah, if the opportunity arises I will mention these on another occasion.

May Allah guide us all and give us the inclination to reform ourselves so that when we appear before Him we come with a قلب سليم (sound heart). Aameen.


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