What are common misconceptions about Sufis?

What are common misconceptions about Sufis?


(Urgent) Salaams, I was looking through the index page and I saw a question in regards to Sufis and other Muslims. I was wondering if you could debunk any common misconceptions surrounding Sufis? I realise that many people speak from a place of ignorance and fear but I don’t want these opinions to cloud my perceptions of Sufis (and other groups). But as a result I feel extremely confused and I don’t know what to believe. If you could shed any light surrounding the matter I’d be grateful.

Wa alykum as-salaam,

With all due respect, that is a very large question, because the myths and misconceptions surrounding Sufis are far-and-wide. For example, if I asked you to debunk the myths regarding Muslims, you’d probably ask “which ones?”

Now, I think the only issue I have is that people use the term “Sufi” as one that is analogous to “Sunni” or “Shia,” but that would be highly inaccurate. There are Sunni Sufis, like Rumi, who wrote, “The Sufi is hanging on to Muhammad, like Abu Bakr.” There are Shia Sufis, like the Bektashi Order.

“Sufism” emerges from a desire to do more in their devotion to God, and what defines “Sufism” changes, because there are different methods to do this. There are orders which are considered more “moderate” like the Shadhili, and then there is Ibn Taymiyyah who actually was not a opponent of Sufism, as a concept, rather, he felt the practices of many Sufis was heretical.

This is illustrated by this excerpt from Ibn Taymiyyah’s work Al-Ihtijaaj bi Al-Qadar:

“As for the Sufis, they affirm the love (of God), and this is more evident among them than all other issues. The basis of their Way (tariqa) is simply will and love. The affirmation of the love of God is well-known in the speech of their early and recent masters, just as it is affirmed in The Book [Qur’an] and the Sunnah and in the agreement of the salaf.”

I, personally, do not really engage in any practices that could be considered “Sufi,” which I say not to demean Sufism or anything, but to underline that I have no vested interest in making Sufism “nice,” rather I am more inclined towards accuracy of terms.

My issue is that “Sufi Islam” has become a byword for “nice Islam” in our modern lexicon, and that is as problematic as the use of the charge of someone being “a Sufi” to render a particular scholar’s work to be of little value. I do not like either usage of the term, and find it to be rather problematic.

While I have read a bit on Sufi practices, I am by no means the best resource on Sufism, but I would suggest Sufism for Non-Sufis? by Dr. Sherman Jackson, while for more advanced readers I’d suggest The Mystics of Islam by Reynold A. Nicholson (it was first published in 1914, so you’re gonna have to let some things go).

In short, if you had specific questions about Sufism, I could try and answer your question, but again, I don’t think I’m exactly the best resource on it.

I pray this reaches you and your families in the best of health and Iman, insha Allah.

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