Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Esoteric and Exoteric Schools of Thought in Islam at the time of the Prophet: In Spirit, Not Form

Hazrat Shaykh Wahid Bakhsh Rabbani r.a.

There has been a long drawn-out controversy between the esoteric (Sufi) and exoteric (Zahirites) schools of thought in Islam. Both of the schools blame each other for having deviated from the right path.

While the externalists are trying to determine the period when Sufism entered into Islam, the Sufis are at pains to find out when exotericism found its way into Islam. The Sufis maintain that Sufism is real Islam and that exotericism is of later growth. They regard it as the result of carelessness and ease loving tendencies of the later generations who were contented with the bearest minimum of Islamic worship and failed to maintain the full standard of Islamic worship as urged in the Quran and practised by the Prophet(s) and his companions. Therefore they failed to reach the stages of Divine nearness, presence, union and communion with God, reached by the Prophet(s), his companions and companions of the companions, while the Sufis who maintained that standard of Islamic worship, did and still do reach these stages of Divine nearness.
Let us now see in the light of the Quran and Sunnah (practice) of the Noble Prophet, which school of thought is right and which is wrong.

It is true that the word Tasawwuf (Sufism) was not in vogue in the Prophet’s time, similarly all the Islamic sciences like Tafsir, Hadith, and Fiqh etc., were also not known by these names during the Noble Prophet’s time. Are then these sciences (Ulum) also alien to Islam?

The reality is that Tasawwuf and all these Islamic sciences were very much present during the Prophet’s time but they were there in spirit, not form. They were formulated into regular sciences later on, when the companions of the Prophet(s) were free from Jihad (sacred warfare).

Those who pondered upon and provided the meanings of Quran were known as Mufassireen and the branch of their knowledge was called Tafsir. Those who formulated the science of Hadith were known as Muhaddithin and their science was called Ilmul Hadith. Those who worked on the formulation of Muslim Law were known as Fuqaha and the branch of their knowledge was called Fiqh (jurisprudence). Those who specialized in the science of spirituality were called Sufis and their science was called Tasawwuf (Sufism). This did not mean that those who worked on one science were ignorant about others. The fact of the matter is that the companions of the Prophet(s) were proficient in all these sciences.

By virtue of his company and teachings they were well versed in the meanings of the Quran, Hadith, Islamic Law, as well as spiritual science without being known by the names of Mufassireen, Mohaddithin, Fuqaha and Sufis.

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Biography: Hazrat Wahid Bakhsh Sial Rabbani (R.A.)

He was initiated into the Chishtiyya Spiritual Order in 1940. He retired from military service in 1946 and joined the Civil Secretariat of the Bahawalpur Government and retired in 1968.

He wrote several important books in Urdu and English, such as ''Islamic Sufism, Mushahida-e-Haq, Maqam-e-Ganjshakar, Reactivsation of Islam, Hajj-e-Zauqi, Ruhaniyat-e-Islam,'' etc. He also translated significant Sufi books from Persian to Urdu, including ''Mirat-ul-Asrar, Iqtabas-ul-Anwar, Maktoobat-i-Quddusiya, Maqabis-ul-Majalis, Talqeen-e-Ladunni,'' etc.

His translations with commentary of ''Lawaih-e-Jami, Jawami-ul-Kalim, and Kashful Mahjub'' have also been published. He was buried in his hometown of Allahabad, in district Rahim Yar Khan (Pakistan).

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