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Sufism is different from monasticism. Sufism is based on Quran and Sunna. Allah says in Quran:

Then in the footsteps of these Messengers, We sent (other) Messengers and We sent ‘Isa, the son of Maryam (Jesus, the son of Mary) after them and gave him the Injil (the Gospel). And We created kindness and mercy in the hearts of those who were (the true) followers (of ‘Isa [Jesus]). And they themselves invented the innovation of monasticism. We did not prescribe it for them. But they (introduced this innovation of monasticism) merely to seek Allah’s pleasure. Then they could not practically keep and maintain that check which was its due (i.e., could not continue its spirit and discipline). So We paid those of them who believed (and continued the innovation of monasticism to seek the pleasure of Allah) their reward. And most of them (who left it and changed their ways) are disobedient. (57: 27)

In the aforementioned verse, word “Rahbaniya” (monasticism) is used which means fear. Rahbaniya means the religion of fear. It means that a person, due to fear (regardless of whether it is the fear of someone’s cruelty or the fear of his own weakness), flees from the worldly life and takes refuge in the forests and mountains. (Islam Aur Rahbaniyat)

Monasticism in Christianity

Monasticism is deeply rooted in Christianity. The Christian church did not adopt monasticism for about two centuries after Jesus. But it would not be wrong to say that the germs of monasticism were present in Christianity from the beginning. They considered asceticism and dervish life to be superior and preferable to married and business life. It was considered undesirable for those who performed religious services in the church to be married, have children and maintain a household.  By the third century, monasticism had taken the form of a contagion and it started to spread around like a pandemic.

Sufism And Monasticism

The main reason for the popularity of monasticism in the ancient polytheistic Christian society was moral depravity, lasciviousness and worldliness. In order to break this growing wickedness, the Christian Church preferred intensity and extremism instead of adopting the path of moderation and imposed a way of life in which worldly relationships, marriage, wife and children, business, even drinking and eating was reduced to bear minimum. Some of the things that Christian ascetics used to adopt included: 

  • Torture one’s body
  • Staying dirty, avoiding cleanliness and water
  • Prohibiting marriage
  • Severing ties with relatives
  • Going against human nature
  • Sectarianism

Due to sectarianism, many sects and groups started to arise in the Christian community. All these sects had strong differences and hatred towards other sects. By the fourth century, around 90 sects had born in Christianity. A brief history of some of Christian priests is described here. 

Incidents of Christian Ascetics

St. Macarius used to carry a weight of 80lbs at all times. For 6 months he slept in a swamp and poisonous flies kept biting his body. It is written about a group of 130 nuns that they never washed their feet. Taking shower was like death for them.

St. Vitus was the father of two children.  When he became an ascetic, his wife wept, but he separated from her.  According to St. Jerome, severing marital relations was the foremost duty of a Christian ascetic.  The darkest reality of Christian monasticism was that it separated blood relations. According to the priests, it was a sin to have soft feelings for blood relations.  St. Jerome says about it, “If your nephew puts his arms around your neck and clings to you, if your mother tries to stop you, if your father lies down in front of you to stop you, even then, leave everything behind, run towards the flag of the cross without shedding a single tear.  On this path, ruthlessness is piety.  

St. Simeon Stylites spent 27 years away from his parents.  His father died from the shock of separation. When his mother found out about him, she went to see him but he refused to meet her.  For three days and three nights she kept waiting there and finally she died lying there.  (Islam Aur Rahbaniat

The religion that goes against human nature, nature takes its revenge.  The Christian religion is a prime example of this. This is the worst state of a religion in history from the 8th century to the 11th century AD.  

What is Renunciation of World in Sufism?

Mostly people incorrectly portray the concept of ‘Tark-e-Dunia’ (renunciation of world) in Sufism and try to link it with monasticism. Thus, diverting people from Sufism. Sultan ul Ashiqeen Sultan Muhammad Najib ur Rehman says in his book Sufism – The Soul of Islam:

“The critics and deniers of Sufism heavily scandalised the term ‘renunciation’ and labelled it as monasticism and un-Islamic. In fact, the term renunciation has never been understood in its true sense. According to the philosophy of Sufism, renunciation means renouncing the lust of worldly pleasures inwardly.”

Daata Ganj Bakhsh Ali ibn Usman al-Hajveri says:

The more a man gets fed up with the world, the stronger becomes his relation with Allah. It does not mean that he must leave his home and family to start living in a jungle. Rather, it means that he should remove the love of the world from the inward. Live in the world but do not become worldly. It is the very excellence of Sufism, not to be drenched while remaining in the river. This is not courageous to avoid going near a river and keep boasting about not getting wet. To the Sufis, renunciation of the world is in fact spiritual rather than physical. The excellence is to live physically among the creation being spiritually away from it. (Kashf-ul-Mahjub

Sultan ul Faqr VI Sultan Muhammad Asghar Ali says:

Live in the world like a boat floats on water. Consider the boat as your esoteric self and the water as the world. The boat is safe until the water enters it. When water enters the boat, it definitely sinks. You are like a boat and the water is like the world. Save yourself from the world and its love. 

If you have wealth but you do not foster love for it and spend it generously for the sake of Allah, it is not worldliness. However, if you make worldly things your priority then all these things would become worldliness. Thus, evade yourself from the appetite of material things while living in this world, just as a wild duck lives in water but does not drown. Get your destiny from the world like a crane who while living on a riverside gets livelihood from it but does not drown.

Do your business of the world but for the sake of Allah; eat from your livelihood but for the sake of Allah and move in the world but again for Allah. I do not suggest alienate yourself from the world but you must continue to remember Allah while doing everything. Your inward should be attentive towards Him while your hands are busy in the worldly affairs. (Sultan-ul-Faqr VI Sultan Mohammad Asghar Ali-Life and Teachings)

Sufism Discourages Monastic Life

Monasticism means to leave the worldly life in a way that you go to jungle or in isolation, away from the people. Whereas, Islam is the religion which is complete and perfect way of life because it satisfies all the needs and aspects of life. It gives perfect guidance to every individual and social affair.

Islam teaches rights of Allah as well as the rights of human beings. That is the reason there is no concept of things like monasticism in Islam. 

The life of our Prophet (pbuh) is perfect example and guide for us. He used to remain intensely engaged in spreading the message of Islam and at the same time he gave lessons on excellent and fruitful ways of spending our worldly life whether it’s individual or collective.

Cutting ties with worldly means is against the nature. The essence of renouncing the world is to fulfil the worldly responsibilities and duties whilst keeping one’s inward enlightened with the remembrance of Allah. This is what renunciation of world means according to Sufism. Allah says in Quran:

The life of this world is nothing but sport and pastime and the Home of the Hereafter is the only (true) life. Would that they knew (this secret)! (29: 64)

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) also declared the love of the world a danger for faith. He said “The love of this world is the root of all evil”. (Ibn Majah 4112)

The System of Khanqah in Sufism

Residing in Khanqah for training has some commonality between Islam and Christian monasticism. However, they are fundamentally different to each other. The key difference is that in Christian monasticism, people who reside in a Khanqah sever all kinds of family ties and worldly affairs. Whereas the Sufi Khanqah which flourishes under the supervision of a perfect spiritual guide does not teach the seekers to leave worldly life. Instead, they are inculcated to renounce the world inwardly whilst discharging their worldly duties and responsibilities. And this is accomplished under the supervision of a perfect spiritual guide. By the blessings of his spiritual sight and esoteric attention, the spiritual guide, cleanses the spiritual self of sincere seekers.

By gaining closeness to the perfect spiritual guide, his blessings and favour, his inspired knowledge (ilm-e-Ludduni), the seeker gains freedom from attachments, love of this world and its lusts. There is no room for heresy, monasticism or anything that goes against Sharia in a Sufi Khanqah. The importance of Khanqah is proven from Quran. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) laid the foundation of the system of Khanqah from the platform of al-Suffa. Allah says in Quran:

(O Beloved Prophet!) Stay tenaciously in the companionship of those who remember their Lord morning and evening, ardently seeking His pleasure. (18: 28)

Companions of al-Suffa

Shaikh Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi writes in his renowned work Auarif-Al-Ma’araf:

The Companions of al-Suffa have a special place in Islam who stayed and got trained at the platform of al-Suffa. For them, this was their first school, where faith (Iman) was entered into their inwards and Islam spread in the whole world.

The rank of Companions of al-Suffa is so exalted that Allah mentioned them in Quran. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) gave them glad tidings. He said: “O Ashab al-Suffa, glad tidings to you that those of you who remain steadfast on these qualities that you have adopted here and would remain content on this state, would be raised and remain closest to me on the day of Judgement (Auarif-Al-Ma’araf).

Khanqah is the only place where people of same point of view and thoughts live and remember Allah. They don’t become oblivious to remembrance of Allah even for a moment. They live there day and night. Whilst residing there, they fulfill the tasks and duties assigned to them by their spiritual guide which in turn cleanses their inwards. By being in Khanqah it is not at all meant that the seeker will turn away from his duties towards his mother, father, sisters and brothers nor will he become negligent towards the family. Rather, Khanqah teaches beautiful way of life of Islam and the golden rules which when seeker applies to his life will succeed in both the worlds.

Khanqahs in Sufism are according to Mohammadan Sharia

Following the Sunna of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), the perfect Fakirs in every era established Khanqah for enlightening the souls of the seekers of Allah. In our time, the best example of Khanqah has been setup by Sultan ul Ashiqeen Sultan Mohammad Najib ur Rehman who is the 31st and present Shaikh of the Sarwari Qadri order.

Khanqah Sultan ul Ashiqeen is exactly as per the sacred way of our Prophet (pbuh). Here, the seekers of Allah get their inwards cleansed and enlightened under the spiritual guidance of Sultan ul Ashiqeen. Their (inner) self progresses from an-nafs al-ʾammārah (inciting self) to an-nafs al-muṭmaʾinnah (self at peace). By remaining in blessed company of our Perfect Spiritual Guide, the seeker’s inner (self) and outward being is enlightened with Divine light.

Address of Khanqah: Masjid-e-Zahra and Khanqah Sultan-ul-Ashiqeen, village Rangil Pur Sharif via Sundar, Lahore.

Monasticism in Islam  

There is no concept of monasticism in Islam as the Holy Prophet (pbuh) said in a hadith:    

There is no monasticism in Islam. 

In another hadith, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) emphasised that Islam prefers Jihad over monasticism.

Abu Saeed al-Khudri (r.a) narrates that a man came to me and asked for advice. I said: I had asked the Holy Prophet (pbuh) the same question and he said, “I advise you to fear Allah Almighty because this is the foundation of everything. Hold Jihad firmly since it is the monasticism of Islam. And remember Allah and recite Quran. Since it is the source of blessings in the sky and the remembrance for you on the earth. (Masnad Ahmad bin Hambal: 8982

 

We can infer from the aforementioned hadith that monasticism in Islam means Jihad in the way of Allah and the best Jihad is ‘Jihad with one’s self’ i.e. training and purifying one’s inward. In order to achieve this goal, sitting in company of a perfect spiritual guide became permissible for the seekers in Khanqah because the main purpose of the Khanqah is to purge seekers’ inciting self. 

Seclusion in Faqr (Sufism)

In monasticism or asceticism the ascetics adopt the path of seclusion and austerities. Faqr (Sufism) discourages such practices. Sultan Bahoo says in Qurb-e-Didar:

باھوؒ کاملاں را نیست مشکل راز راہ

طالبان را میرساند یک نگاہ

Explanation: O Bahoo, for a perfect Murshid (spiritual guide), succeeding on the path of Divine secrets is not difficult at all. He takes the (true) seeker to the highest station on this path with a single glance. 

Know that a perfect Fakir who is accomplished in the contemplation of Ism e Allah Zaat sees Divine Essence exactly. He stays away from seclusions and hard mystic endeavours. This is because the mystic endeavours are pretence that make the self even more arrogant. There are countless Satanic dangers in seclusion for a seeker. A perfect Fakir does not need to adopt such acts. He has control and authority over the world, Satan, and the inciting self. (Qurb-e-Deedar)

 Sultan Bahoo further says in Noor ul Huda Kalan: 

The path of Sufism is full of trials and hard mystic endeavours. However, in Sarwari Qadri order the perfect Spiritual guide can bless a sincere seeker with Divine vision and presence on the very first day. 

In the end, we mention this beautiful saying of Ghawth al-Azam Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani:

“O servant of Allah! Adopt the company of Saints, because their glory is that when they look and pay attention to someone, they revive and enlighten their inward. Whether that person is a Jew, Christian or worshiper of fire.” (Al-Fath Al-Rabbani)

  

You are invited to adopt the company of the perfect spiritual guide of this age. So that you may purify your soul, attain the closeness and gnosis of Divine Essence and presence in Mohammadan Assembly which is real success in this world and hereafter.

Books Consulted:

  1. Noor ul Huda Kalan – Sultan Bahoo
  2. Qurb e Deedar – Sultan Bahoo
  3. Sufism – The Soul of Islam – Sultan ul Ashiqeen
  4. Khanqah Sarwari Qadri – Sultan ul Faqr Publications
  5. Awarif ul Maarif – Shaikh Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi
  6. Kashf ul Mahjub – Ali ibn Usman al-Hajveri
  7. Rahbaniat: Tareef, Asbaab, Tarikh, Waqiat – Abu al-‘Ala al-Maududi

 

What is the difference between Sufism and Monasticism?

The main difference between Sufism and monasticism is that in monasticism the monks sever their ties with blood relations. They stop all kinds of engagements with worldly life such as business, family etc. and subject their bodies to torturous endeavours. 

Whereas in Sufism, the perfect spiritual guide trains the seekers to remove the world and its desires from their inward whilst still living a normal life. They discharge their duties as a son, father, husband etc. but inwardly they remain attached to Allah Almighty every moment. The source of guidance and example to follow is the life of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) in Sufism.  

Note:

This is English translation of Urdu Blog. رہبانیت اور تصوف that appeared in the December 2022 issue of monthly Sultan ul Faqr Magazine. Mrs. Fatima Burhan Sarwari Qadri authored the original article. Mohammad Sami ur Rehman, Syed Abrar and Mohammad Asif Raza have translated it in English. 

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