Maulāna Ashraf Ali Thānvi rehmatullah alayh once said, “In our times the greatness (of a person) is judged by the number of his wazā’if, and no one cares about rectification of one’s character anymore.”*
Malfuzāt Hakīmul Ummat Malfuz # 306 – vol. 15 pg. 137
* Maulana Thanvi rehmatullah alayh has depicted the dilapidation of the institute of Tazkiyyah and Tasawwuf in a very subtle manner. Hence, a deeper insight is required to understand the depth of this statement.
It is common that a Mubtadi’ (beginner) or Mutasawwif (one who joins the Tarīq with incorrect intentions) in this field is genrally anxious to get his adhkār. He is always worried about how big a Misbāh (rosary beads) he has to carry, and how many a time he has to flip the beads. This trend continues now into a digital age of digital misbāhs which show the digits. One simply presses the button to count another tasbīh. All this is nothing but a self consolation along the lines of saying, “Yes, I exerted my nafs 3000 times today to recite a certain Wazīfah”. Even as we read these words, some of us are wondering in our minds, “If we speak of our pious predecessors doing so much excess in their adhkār, then how can such an analysis be correct?”
While all these adhkār are beneficial in their own right, we forget the aim of our endeavour and make our daily adhkār as our guiding goals. This causes us to lose focus of that which was intended from choosing this path of Tasawwuf. The term tasawwuf, as explained by some, is derived from the donning of plain cotton clothing (normally coarsely woven), symbolizing the simplicity in apparel. Just as these clothing were plain and an adornment for the poor and lowly, likewise the Sufiyā’ too adhered to poverty (distanced from the luxuries of this perishable world) and lowliness of their Nufūs (souls) (choosing simplicity in their living both internally and externally). But this simplicity was not superficial, rather more spiritual, so much so that the inner-self and the outer-self both reflected the glaring example of simplicity.
Also, ‘simplicity’ here is not only in the adherence to a certain code of etiquettes alone, as many modern Sufiyā’ incorrectly assume. They think that Ma’rifah (gnosis) reveals itself in a character which accepts everyone, no matter how different their ideologies and views may be. This form of being an overly compromised and reconciliatory character appeals to many, yet reveals loose footing on aspects where compromise is not tolerable in Sharī῾ah. Hence, the simplicity of sufiyā’ was not a love-all-at-any-cost character that destroyed the essence of Ahkām and rulings. Tasawuf’s simplicity was and remains an adherence to the core essence of Sharī῾a, its rules and its principles. This is the simplicity of the soul; Tazkiyyah (cleansing) from all the Shahwāt, whether they be in the form of abandoning Bid῾ah, or shedding off excessive Ghulū in one of Sharī῾ah’s fields, or disinfecting oneself from all the diseases of the heart.
This simplicity is the rectification of character from adherence of desires towards the adherence of Do’s and Don’ts of Sharī῾ah. Hence, their Tasawwuf was following a simple path of submission to the commandments of Allāh. This was the Tazkiyatun Nafs which the Sufiyā’ called Tasawwuf, a path to attain the greatness in Wilāyah. Beyond these basics, if one excels in their adhkār, then Nūrun ῾alā Nūr.