What is the Main Subject Matter of Tazkiyah (Sufism-Mysticism)? By Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani

Compiled By: Mufti Umar Anwar Badakhshani

سیپارہ دل بیں کہ کتابے بہ ازین نیست

What is meant by human being?

We are humans and we are proud of our humanity. But did you ever think what makes a human being? Is it the skeleton of human body that makes a human? Is it the flesh, the bones and the limbs, the ears and the nose that make a human being? Certainly, the answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Let us explain it, further by an example.

Zayd is a man. While alive, he is the owner of his wealth, his land and his property. He is the husband of his wife; he is an officer obeyed and feared by his subordinates. As long as he lives, nobody can steal away his wealth or seize his property or snatch away his wife. If someone does so, he will surely be punished by law.

But as soon as he dies, he is no more the owner of his wealth or the husband of his wife or the master of his servants. His body, still intact, is lying in his house and, yet, his house is no more his. His wealth and all his belongings have passed over to someone else. His servants take orders, not from him but from others .

How come this great and sudden change? Why is he not called now a human being? He has still the skeleton of a body; he has still a face, a nose, ears; he has all the limbs of a human being. yet he is not called an human any more. Why?

It is clear now that Zayd was not the name of a skeleton, flesh and bones. what was he, then?

Let us find out what Zayd is missing now and why he is no longer ceiled a human. If you reflect over it, you will discover that Zayd is missing one vital thing – soul. He has got everything  except a soul. Hence, he is no more called a man.

The foregoing example has made it lucidly clear that a human is not a body but a body and soul together. As long as the soul is connected with the body, a person is called a human being. But when the soul leaves the body, the person becomes lifeless, a corpse, a mere nothing.

Two worlds inside the human being

We can put this fact in a different way. A human being has two worlds:

1) a material or external world which we can see, feel and touch,

2) and an immaterial (or spiritual) or internal world which we can neither see nor touch.

It is this internal world where the ‘soul’ resides. It is here where the heart beats, hopes are horn, and desires and ambitions take hold. Joy and sorrow, hate and love, benevolence and spite are all seated here and nowhere else!

It is this inner world, the world we cannot see, that makes the essence of man, the real man. As long as this internal, spiritual world continues to function, the man continues to live, and has all human rights. But as soon as this world ceases to function, the man ceases to live and loses all his rights!

Outward and inward both are important

In the same way, just as human body is healthy and sound at times and gets sick at others, so is the human soul. It, too, is healthy at times and gets sick at others. Cold, influenza, fever are the ailments of body while despair, anger, selfishness, vanity, hypocrisy and egoism are the ailments of heart or human soul.

Islam is a comprehensive, all-encompassing religious system. It ignores no aspect of human life. Just as it takes into account the external world of man, his body, so does it take into account his internal world. It gives instructions for both. While it enjoins us to pray, fast, and pay the poor due, actions which relate to our external world, so does it enjoin us to shun away base qualities and take on good qualities to embellish our inner world, the world of our soul.

The commandments of Islam relating to our external, visible world are the subject of Islamic jurisprudence while those relating to our internal world, or soul, come under mysticism or, say, Sufism.

What is the main subject matter of Tazkiyah (mysticism)?

So the subject-matter of Tazkiyah or Tasawwuf (mysticism) is the invisible world of our heart, our soul. We cannot see this world with our eyes but, yet, it has a very deep, profound relationship with our life.

Now the question is: what is a heart? Physicians would define it as a piece of flesh on the left-hand side of a person’s chest with a lot of congealed dark blood in its cavity. It is like a pump that forces the blood to circulate, sending it on its journey through the blood vessels of the body. When the muscular walls of the heart relax, blood enters the auricles, the two top chambers of the heart, from the lungs or from the body. Then the heartbeat begins. As for the soul, physicians say that it is like steam generated in the heart by blood and circulated throughout the body by men of arteries.

But mystics (Sufis) define “heart” and “soul” in quite a different way, in mystical terminology, these two terms have a different connotation. ‘Heart and ‘soul’, according to mystics, are two fine, delicate energies created by Allah alongside what is popularly known as heart and soul. Just as the eye can see, the ear can hear and hand can touch, so can this lump of blood and flesh called heart desire. It is this that the mystics mean by the word ‘heart’. The heart is the power that generates desires and passions in man.

But what connection is there between a human heart and these two fine, hidden powers? What is the nature of this connection or relationship? We do not know. We know only that there is a relationship between the two but, as to the nature of this relationship, we are completely in the dark. Only God Who created this relationship knows best. We do not know the nature of the relationship between a magnet and a piece of iron. A magnet cannot attract cotton or paper. Why we do not know. So also we do not know in what way are these two hidden energies connected with this lump of blood and flesh called ‘heart’. Remember that when the pagans queried about the soul, Allah only replied;

قل الروح من أمر ربي

 Say: The spirit is by command of my Lord. (al-Quran 17:85)

Mystics (Sufis) tell us that this hidden, internal power of the heart is the foundation of man’s external world. Upon it rests man’s success and failure, his prosperity and adversity.

If this ‘heart’ is sound and healthy, functioning properly, generating fair desires and noble feelings and passions, the man is sound and healthy. But if this ‘heart’ is unhealthy, then the external, visible, world of the man is bound to be unhealthy, too. The Messenger of Allah, peace on him, alluded to this very fact more than fourteen hundred years go, saying

أَلَا وَإِنَّ فِي الْجَسَدِ مُضْغَةً إِذَا صَلَحَتْ صَلَحَ الْجَسَدُ كُلُّهُ، وَإِذَا فَسَدَتْ فَسَدَ الْجَسَدُ كُلُّهُ، أَلَا وَهِيَ الْقَلْبُ

Beware, there is a lump of flesh in (human) body. If it is sound, the whole body is sound. But if it is unsound, the whole body becomes unsound. Beware, it is the heart.

What is a sound or unsound heart? What makes it sound or unsound? What are the ailments of heart and how to cure them?

These questions and their answers make up the subject-matter of Tazkiyah (mysticism) and about these very matters, I will speak in greater detail in my later sittings.

Source: Dil ki Dunya, By Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani, Translated By: Muhammad Kamal Myshkat


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