The law and suf ism

The law is essential to the perfection of divine servitude. As such, it is also fundamental to Sufism and the spiritual disciplines of Islam. Santillana notes the marked mystical tendency of Islamic law, which he attributes to its concern for the life of body and soul as two complementary aspects of a single phenomenon:

[Islamic] religion and law belong to two distinct orders, yet they integrate themselves into each other in turn because they are intimately united by the common goal they share, which is the well-being of man. The principles of the faith regulate the internal form and determine what man ought to believe in pursuing eternal life. The positive law imposes discipline upon human activity and, in this, directs it toward those precise mundane foundations and becomes the necessary complement - the body - of that organism which is made up of the faith and the soul.60

The masters of mainstream Islamic Sufism insisted upon the law.61 A Moroccan Sufi master, Muhammad al-'Arabi al-Darqawi (d. 1845), wrote:

Whoever desires that Freedom show him her face, let him show her the face of servitude [to God]. This means having upright intentions, truthful love, a good opinion of others, noble character, and careful adherence to what the law commands and prohibits without any alteration or change. [Freedom] will then show him her face, and veil it from him no more.62

Traditional Western scholarship sometimes supposed that rigorous adherence to Islam's outward (legal) tenets was antithetical to the spiritual pursuits of Muslim mystics. There were, without question, strong antinomian Sufi strains on the periphery of Islamic spiritual history, but the mainstream tradition associated with Junayd, one of the earliest mentors of Sufism, insisted upon adherence to the law. In the eyes of the Junaydi Sufis, their spiritual discipline corresponded to Islam's third and highest dimension, that of ihsan (human perfection), and, therefore, was ''the life-blood of Islam''. Junayd said: ''This knowledge of ours [Sufism] is built upon the foundations of the Qur'an and the Sunna.''63

Historical evidence shows that early Sufi notables took both law and spiritual teaching seriously, and the endorsement of the law remained central to mainstream Sufi tradition. The characteristic genius of Islamic mysticism was its ability to strike a balance between the law and spirituality, and to insist upon the complementary nature of the ''exoteric'' and ''esoteric'' dimensions of Islam.64 Shitibi, one of the most illustrious of medieval Islamic jurisprudents, censured his juristic colleagues for their laxity in the law, while charging that the Sufis of his day were excessively rigorous in its application.65

Sha'rani (d. 1565), a renowned jurist and prominent Sufi, held that it was a matter of consensus among the mystics that none of them was qualified to preside over their path who lacked profound mastery of the religious law. Every mystic, he argued, must be a jurist, but not every jurist can be a mystic. In his eyes, the Sufis were beyond reproach regarding the religious law. It was, indeed, their adherence to the law that, in each case of individual enlightenment, had brought them into the presence of God.66

As a rule, the jurists of Islam were more comfortable with Sufism than with rationalistic theology. Mainstream Sufis of the Junaydi tradition insisted upon the inseparable bond between the law and the spiritual path; many of them were prominent jurists. In proverbial Sufi wisdom the world of spiritual enlightenment is compared to the oceanic flood of Noah. The esoteric knowledge of God and the realm of ultimate realities lies at the threshold of a boundless inward sea without a floor and without shores. The believer's spiritual quest may open upon that sea but none can survive it without an ark like Noah's. For the Sufis, that ark is the prophetic law.

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