Pro Sufi & Anti Sufi Hadith Ascribed to Imam Malik on Tassawuf

“Turn you back in repentance to Him, and fear Him: establish regular prayers, and be not among those who join gods with Allah,- Those who split up their Religion, and become (mere) Sects,- each party rejoicing in that which is with itself!” (Qur’an 30:31-32)

“O mankind! there hath come to you a direction from your Lord and a healing for the (diseases) in your hearts,- and for those who believe, a guidance and a Mercy.” (Qur’an 10:57)

When looking at the issue of forgeries of hadith one does not have to look further than the pro-Sufi and anti-Sufi forces within the ‘Ahl Sunnah‘.

Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak said, “The isnad is from the religion; were it not for the isnad anyone could say anything they wanted.”

(source: Reported by Muslim in the introduction to his Sahih, vol. 1, pg. 9, Dar Taibah.)

The isnad -is the chain of narration.

Anyone who has been among people who claim to practice ‘Sufism‘ and/ or have inclinations towards a branch of study in Islam called ‘tassawuf‘ has most likely heard innumerable times the following statement attributed to Imam Malik. (May Allah has mercy on him.) …..

He who practices tassawuf without learning Sacred Law corrupts his faith (tazandaq) , while he who learns Sacred Law without practicing Tasawwuf corrupts himself (tafassaqa).”

Now when I studied at Zaytuna in 2001 I was told time and again the importance of being connected in an ‘unbroken‘ chain of sacred knowledge that goes all the way back to the Blessed Messenger (saw) himself.

Of course, what I’m about to say may seem cynical to you the reader, but it is the atmosphere that was created around Zaytuna when I was there.  The atmosphere seemed to say to me, “Don’t you dare question anything that is presented to you, because after all who are you to question? You don’t have the requisite tools; and you didn’t study under a Shaykh who toes the line that we tell you to tow.  Therefore, all of your sincere lines of inquiry are invalid.”

So let us say that someone has reservations about giving their complete allegiance (the custody of their soul) to a Shaykh.   However, this person agrees to or understands the necessity of following someone learned in jurisprudence.

Thus the concept of the following someone learned in jurisprudence is used as a jump-off point for handing over complete sovereignty of your soul to a Spiritual guide or Shaykh.   Many who call themselves ‘Sufi’ today use the following modus operandi:

Start by getting the spiritual aspirant the necessity of following someone learned in jurisprudence. Use the idea of following Imams in jurisprudence to advance their position. Thus, if Imams like Shaf’i and Malik are seen to be in favor of Sufism or ‘Tassawuf‘  than whom are we to question it!

So even until today, you have world-renown people like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf(May Allah have mercy on him) attributing such statements to Imam Malik (May Allah have mercy on him).

You can see the following video where he attributes the above-mentioned statement to Imam Malik. @ 1:14 in the video you can hear Shaykh Hamza attribute this statement to Imam Malik (May Allah have mercy on him.)

Interestingly the term Sufi was applied to those given the appellation “Mutazalites” long before it was applied to Junayd.  

This is according to the research of Christopher Melchert in his article: “The Piety of the Hadith Folk” which can be found here:

The term Sufi was applied to Mu’tazili ascetics before it was to Junayd and his circle. Early Mu’tazili ascetics and the later Karramiyya, who more or less absorbed Mu’tazili asceticism, sometimes exalted complete renunciation of normal gain, counting it best to live off alms.”

Origins of the term ‘Ahl al sunnah’

Christopher Melchert also gives some very keen insights into the term ‘Ahl al sunnah’ and the fact that a great many factions were called themselves by this appellation.

He says,

The 9th-century hadith folk’s own preferred term for themselves was “Ahl al-sunna. It is not convenient for us to call the hadith folk “Sunnis”  because that term now calls to mind the great tripartite division of Sunnis, Shi’is, and Kharijis. At least for the 9th century and earlier, a mere tripartite division is simplistic and practically impossible to document. To begin with, 9th-century definitions of Shi’ism were considerably different from those of later times; for example, traditionalist rijal critics regularly distinguished between ‘tashayyu’, special regard for ‘Ali and his house that the hadith folk was willing to overlook, and rafid, the rejection of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar that they thought put one outside the Muslim community. With equal emphasis, the 9th-century hadith folk distinguished themselves from Qadariyya, Murji’a, Mu’tazila, and other theological parties not accounted for by a simple, anachronistic dichotomy between Sunnis and Shi’is. The polarity of Sunni and Shi’i was not strong until the mid-10th century, and full Sunni mutual recognition and self-awareness appeared only in the mid 10th century. Finally, modern scholars should avoid endorsing the hadith folk’s own estimate that they were the overwhelming majority, as calling them “Sunnis” might do.”

” The significance of their calling themselves ‘Ahl al-sunna’ is not that their views were identical to those of the later, great Sunni community, which they were not, but that the later community deliberately identified them as its forebears. We need to understand their piety. Their adversaries preferred not to call them ‘Ahl al-sunna’ and proposed various other terms.’ Al-Jahiz disparaged the nabita, those who sprouted up like weeds to extol the enemies of ‘Ali and to promulgate such crass ideas as assigning God an imaginable body (tajsim, taswfr). Other writers attributed similar errors to the hash- wiyya (vulgar). The hadith folk complained that the Murji’a called them shukkak (doubters) for saying, “I am a believer, God willing,” while the Qadariyya called them mujbira or jabriyya for upholding divine predestination. To use any of these terms for the hadith folk would mean taking sides as much as it would mean calling them ‘Ahl al-sunna’, which is needless for modern scholars.”

“The hadith folk emerged as a distinct group at about the end of the 8th century. They lost importance in the 10th century. Chroniclers usually refer to their 10th-century successors in Baghdad as the Hanabila or simply al-‘amma (the general), periodically rioting against the Shias. Meanwhile, their own name for themselves, ‘Ahl al-sunna’, was claimed by virtually all parties except the Shi’is. Even Mu’tazila called themselves Ahl al-sunna wa-al-jama’a, on the plea that if they were not actually the great majority, they ought to have been. (I have not compared the piety of the hadith folk with that of 9th-century Shi’is, rewarding though such a comparison would be. At least a wing of the Shi’ movement probably had something very close, which ought to show up in Shi’i hadith.)”

So again we can see there was a lot of conflict and turmoil in the very early history of Islam.  Conflict and turmoil that is with us until this very day. So less I digress let me go back to the opening quotation attributed to Imam Malik (r):

He who practices tassawuf without learning Sacred Law corrupts his faith (tazandaq) , while he who learns Sacred Law without practicing Tasawwuf corrupts himself (tafassaqa).”

Gibril Fouad Haddad (May Allah have mercy on him) who is a follower of the Sufi group ‘The Naqshabandi Haqqani*  has provided some very insightful information to this claim above.

* note: This Sufi group is to be distinguished from their rivals the ‘Naqshabandi Mujaddidi‘ as well as other rival Sufi groups.

He has the following to say about the above quotation attributed to Imam Malik (r)

“Cited without the chain of transmission by Al-Qari in Sharh ‘Ayn al-Ilm  and Mirqat al-Mafatih, Ahmad Zarruq in the Forth of his Qawa’id al-Tassawuf in his commentary on Ibn Abi Zayd’s Risala (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Kutub al Arabiyyah, Ibn Ajiba in Iaqaz, Al Himan fi Sharh al-Hikam and Al-Tata’i in his commentary on Ibn Rushd’s  Muaqaddima.

Source: (The Four Imams and their Schools page 180)

Ponder that for a moment, respected readers.   A statement seemingly in support of ‘Tassawuf‘ redacted into the mouth of Imam Malik and then repeated by men like Al Qari, Ahmad Zarruq, Ibn Abi Zayd, Ibn Ajiba, and At Tata’i. Yet, no chain of narration! 

In my conversations with  Abdullah bin Hamid Ali and  AbdasSamad Clarke, both have confirmed to me that it is not authentically ascribed to Malik (r).

Anti-Sufi reports  attributed to Imam Malik 

Incident no. 1 )

“Al -Tinnisi said: We were sitting with Malik with his companions around him. A man from the people of Nasibin said, ‘We have some people who go by the name of Sufis. They eat a lot then they start (chanting) poems (qasa’id), after which they stand and start (chanting) dancing.” Malik asked, “Are they boys (sibyan)?” He said no. Malik asked, “Are they insane?” He said, No, they are old men (mashaykh) and other than that, and they are mature and sane (‘uqala.” Malik said, “I never heard that any of the people of Islam do this.” The man said to him, “Indeed, they do! They eat, then they stand up and start dancing intensively (dawa’ib), and some of them slap their heads, and some of their faces.” Malik started laughing then went into his  house. His companions said to the man. “You were, O man, ill luck (mash’um) for our friend [Malik]. We have been sitting with him thirty-odd years and never saws him laugh except today.” “Narrated without a chain by Al-Qadi ‘Iyad in Tartib Al-Madarak.”

Source: (The Four Imams and their Schools by Gibril Fouad Haddad page 180) 

Incident no.2 )

“Abd al-Malik ibn Ziyad al-Nasibi said: “We were with Malik when I mentioned to him Sufis in our city. I said to him that they wear fancy Yemenite clothes, and do such and such. He replied, ‘Woe to you! Are they Muslims?’He then laughed until he lay on his back. Some of his companions said to me, ‘What is this?’ We have not seen more trouble (fitna) caused to the Shaykh than you, for we never saw him laugh!” “Narrated by al-Khallal in al-Hathth ‘ala al-Tijara wal-Sina’a wal-Amal (Abu Ghudda) with a weak chain because of ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Ziyad al-Nasibi who is “disclaimed in his narrations and untrustworthy” (munkar al hadith, gahyr thiqa) according to al-Aazdi as per Ibn al-Jawzi in al-Du’afa wal-Matrukin (1:149) while Ibn Hibban in his Thiaqat (8:390) said he reports oddities from Malik.”

Source: (The Four Imams and their Schools by Gibril Fouad Haddad page 181) 

So you can imagine the incongruity of all of this. Notice the similarities between the two seemingly Anti-Sufi reports attributed to Imam Malik.

1) His strong reaction: ‘I never heard that any of the people of Islam do this. & Woe to you! Are they Muslims?’

2) His hearty laugh after hearing of their doings. ‘Malik started laughing then went into his house. & He then laughed until he lay on his back’.

3) The shock of the people present at Maliks’ reaction. ‘You were O man, ill-luck (mash’um) for our friend [Malik]. We have been sitting with him thirty-odd years and never saws him laugh except today.  & What is this?’ We have not seen more trouble (fitna) caused to the Shaykh than you, for we never saw him laugh’!

Now let us look at how these statements are treated

You can scroll down to the section:  “Imam Malik and the Sufis”  Gibril Fouad Haddad has the following to say about the two incidents, reported above:

Concerning the first incident, he says, “This is narrated without chain by al-Qadi `Iyad. in Tartib al-Madarik (2:53-54).” That is all he has to say.  There is no chain of transmitters.  Case closed.

Concerning the second incident, he simply gives the reason one of the transmitters is dismissed. Then he concludes by saying:

“Content-wise, neither of the above reports shows unambiguous condemnation of group dhikr but only that some people who passed for Sufis in the Imam’s time reportedly committed certain childish excesses or irrational breaches of decorum. The reports only show that Imam Malik found the story amusing. The delator seems obsessed with the ‘eating and dancing’ which he mentions twice as if afraid Malik didn’t hear it the first time. There is also on the part of Malik’s circle clear disapproval of the delator who is apparently perceived as an interloper. And Allah knows best.”

Actually what the reports show assuming they are true at all is the following:

The reports show that Imam Malik (r) does not even seem to be even vaguely familiar with such groups.   The asking ‘if the people are Muslim‘, and making statements such as ‘the people of Islam are not heard of doing this‘ would be very difficult for Muslims having a pro-Sufi bias to fathom.  Especially in the first report since, we don’t have Imam Malik (r) laughing until after hearing about people slapping their faces.

There are also statements attributed to Imam Shafi’i they seem that they can be either pro ‘Sufism‘ or anti ‘Sufism‘.


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6 responses to “Pro Sufi & Anti Sufi Hadith Ascribed to Imam Malik on Tassawuf

  1. Ammar

    welcome back bro. I personally wasn’t aware that sufis used Imam malik’s reference as defence. Thanks

    • Bismillah,

      As salamu ‘alikum wr wb, Thank you. I will try and write here and there, when I can.

      I need to correct many spelling and grammatical errors in this entry. I also have more to add to this particular entry.

      Bringing such statements forward and using them as proof text actually shows how weak the ‘Sufi’ position really is. Because in the light of opponents whom say, “Islam is a religion based upon proofs and evidences” they have to come up with something.

      However, earlier Sufis skirted this altogether by basically manipulating the doctrine of ‘ilham’ or inspiration. In other words ‘who cares about the hadith, we are the Arrifin-the ‘knowers of Allah’ -we talk to Angels and Jinn; and thus are not contained by the constraints placed upon tradition that chains of transmission bring!’

      So they were able to skirt using ahadith as proof text altogether.

  2. Muslim

    Welcome Back! Thanks to Allah SWT

  3. We should be very sceptical of orientalist research. For example Hasan al Basri was described by many early sources as being called a Sufi. This is known with isnad (read his biography in Arabic) and thus refutes the idea that Sufism was taken from mu’tazilites.

    • Saeed Baker, Thank you for your comment.

      I believe it would be of great benefit to you if you re-read the article again carefully.

      “This is known with isnad (read his biography in Arabic) and thus refutes the idea that Sufism was taken from mu’tazilites”

      First if you could show any where in the article above where the claim is made that Sufism comes from the mu’tazalites I myself, and I am sure the readers would appreciate this.

      All that is made is the claim that many rival groups laid claim to the term ‘ahl al sunnah’.

      The other claim is that the term ‘sufi’ was applied to the Mutazalites long before it was applied to Junayd.

      So there is no claim in the article that Sufism came from the Mutazalites; but rather the Mutazalites had use of the term ‘sufi’ long before the term was applied to Junayd.

      So I would caution you to re-read the entry.

      As for your other statement.

      “We should be very sceptical of orientalist research.” Maybe we could be skeptical of everyone’s research? As everyone has an agenda or presuppositions and suppositions they are using as a starting off point?

      I do not believe in ‘poisoning the well’ simply because someone is not a Muslim and is an orientalist. There has been too much of this from some Muslim circles.

      I would encourage you to be skeptical of your own circles of knowledge and the claims they make as well.

      Thank you.

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