Imam Sadiq (as) and a group of Sufis
From: Anecdotes of the Pious Ones, #15, v. 1

Sufyan Suri who lived in Madinah came at the presence of Imam Sadiq (as). He noticed that the Imam (as) had a delicate and thin outfit on. He told him (as): "It is not befitting that you would groom yourself in such a manner with the luxuries of the world. You are expected to be pious, and keep aloof from the worldly gifts."

Imam (as): "I will tell you something which is beneficial in your present and next world. If you are misguided and understand that this is the essence of Islam, then perhaps what I will say will be of some good to you. However, if you wish to introduce an innovation in Islam, it is a whole different matter, and my words shall not benefit you.

Perhaps you are thinking about the simple life style of the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions and you deem that to be the ideal till the day of judgment, and goal of all Muslims is that they live in poverty. But know that the Prophet (pbuh) lived at a time when people had economical hardship. Most people didn't even have basics of their livelihoods. The specific living conditions of the Prophet's (pbuh) and his companion's life was due to the general public's living standards. But when the conditions become more favorable and the obtaining material goods become feasible, then the believers are most fit to benefit from them rather than the nonbelievers.

What do you see worthy of objection in me? Allah is my witness that while you find me rightfully enjoying Allah's blessing, from the day I have reached legal maturity, I have been watchful of others portion not polluting mine."

Sufyan couldn't respond to Imam's logical arguments. Thus he left Imam (as) defeated and ashamed. However, he discussed the case with his friends. They decided to come collectively and argue with the Imam (as).

So they came to him as a group and said: "Our friend couldn't clarify his stance. We have come to have a clearer discussion with you and tell you our arguments."

Imam (as): " What are your arguments?"

The sufis: "Our arguments are from the Qur'an."

Imam (as): "What argument can be better that a Qur'anic one ? Tell me, I am ready to listen."

The Sufis: "We shall present two Ayas (verses) from Qur'an in support of our practice and lifestyle. And that is enough of an argument for us. Allah (swt) praises some companions in such term: "while they are financially restricted, they prefer others to themselves. Those who are free from tight handiness, they are the felicitous one." And also Qur'an says: "While they still love and need food, they give it to the poor, orphans and the captives."

When they were done, a man who was sitting at the periphery of the group, was intently listening to them said: "As I understand, I don't think you really believe in what you say. You say these things so that you could disinterest people in their property, so that they would give it to you. No one has seen you refuse delicious food."

Imam (as): "Let us leave these arguments. No one benefits from these." Then he looked at the Sufis and told them: "Now that base your arguments on Qur'an, do you understand the Mahkam, Mutashabih, Naasikh and Mansookh of the Qur'an? Whoever is lost among this Ummah, is due to their reliance on, without knowledge of Qur'an."

The Sufis: "Sure, we know a bit about it but not completely."

Imam: "This is the root of your problem. The same principle applies to the traditions of the Prophet (pbuh). One needs to be well informed about them." "However the verses that you just quoted do not apply to refusal of Allah's blessings. These verses refer to a sense of charity and giving. It praises a group of people who prioritize the need of others over their own, and gave their Hallal portion to other. Had they not given, it still would be acceptable to Allah, and they would not have committed a sin. Allah had not ordered them to behave in such a manner, neither had Allah prohibited them from doing so either. They put themselves in hardship in response to their kindness and gave to others. Thus Allah will repay them.

Your behavior, however, doesn't reflect the message of those Ayas. You prohibit and blame people for using and enjoying the blessing granted to them by Allah (swt). Those companions gave to that extent on that particular moment in history.

However, Allah (swt) sent a clear guidance and specified the terms and limits of charity. Thus when these further Ayas were revealed, they served as outdating their behavior. Thus we must follow Allah's command, not the behavior of a group. Allah (swt) with his grace and for the well being of the believers prohibited people from excess in charity, that will put a person and his family in hardship. He is not allowed to give everything to others since he might have children and elderly in the family who may not tolerate hardship. If I give away the only piece of bread at my home, my family who is my responsibility will be destroyed.

Thus the Prophet (pbuh) said: "whoever has a few dates for charity, he must on the first hand give to his parents, then to his wife and children, then to his relative and to his believing brothers and as the last resort as charity."

Charity is the fourth in order. When the Prophet (pbuh) heard that a man among Ansar had died and has left orphans behind, while he had given all his belonging for charity, said: "Had you informed me of his action, I would not have allowed him to be buried in the Muslim graveyard. He has left orphans who will need public assistance."

"My Father, Imam Baqir (as) said that the Prophet (pbuh): "Start charity at home in order of relation. Whoever is closer, is more deserving. "Moreover, Qur'an prohibits your attitude and behavior, when it says: "The pious are those who are neither extravagant nor stingy in giving charity. They chose a middle path."

In many Ayahs of Qur'an, it strongly prohibits excess in giving such as it discourages tight handiness. Qur'an shows a middle path for this. One should not give everything away such that he remains financially broke and then raise hands in prayer asking for sustenance.

Allah never responds to such prayer, because the Prophet ( pbuh) said that Allah doesn't accept the prayer of few groups of people:
  1. The person who asks for a disaster or his parents.

  2. The person who has given a loan and has not taken a witness, when his property has been devoured by the other side, he raises his hands for prayer and seeks Allah's help. This person has destroyed his property by his own hands and has given it without a witness.

  3. A man who asks Allah to rid him of his wife. This man, if has a real problem that can't be solved with his wife, can get a divorce.

  4. The man who wits at home and asks for sustenance. Allah perhaps tells him: "My servant. Have I not shown you means of earning? Have I given you will proportioned organ? I have granted you hands, legs, eyes, ears, and a brain so that you can move, see hear and think. There is a purpose for the creation of all these organs. To thank Allah for them us to use them. Thus my favor is over unto you. Now you must move, and obey my order for working hard and not become an excess on someone else. Of course, had I seen if fit, I could have provided you with immense sustenance. Nonetheless even if you can't earn enough with your own hard work, which may be due to a good reason, you have done your duty and tried.

  5. The one who was given generous sustenance and he gave excessively and is in financial hardship. When he raises hands in prayer, Allah (swt) responds: "Had I not provided you generously ? Why didn't you choose the middle ground?" "Had I not ordered you to be moderate in giving charity?" "Had I not prohibited you from giving too much?"

  6. That who prays for cutting off womb relations, or asks for something that results in break in family ties.

Allah (swt) has taught the Prophet (pbuh) the etiquette's of giving charity. Once there was a certain amount of gold with the Prophet (pbuh) which he wanted to spend for the poor. He didn't want to keep the gold in his place even for one night. So he gave it all the next morning. A wayfarer asked the Prophet (pbuh) for assistance, the Prophet (pbuh) didn't have anything, so he became sad, that is when the Aya was revealed: "Neither your hands to your neck, nor leave them outstretched to become broke and be blamed by the poor."

These are the traditions from the Prophet (pbuh), Qur'anic verses also support them. Obviously those who believe in Qur'an believe in the verses of Qur'an. When they asked Abu Bakr to leave a will regarding his property, he said spend one-fifth of my property to the poor. The rest belongs to my relatives. One-fifth of his property was significant amount. A dying person is allowed to give one-third of his property towards charity. Had he known he would have given all one-third.

You know about Salman and Abu Dhar's piety and asceticism. They didn't do excess in charity when he was getting his annual payment from the public treasury, he was putting away his year's expenditure. Someone asked him: "How is it that you save for a year? Perhaps you will die today or tomorrow, and not live till the end of the year."

He said: "Perhaps I live, why do you assume the possibility of dying, there is the possibility of living also. If I live then I have expenses. O' ignorant ones, you must know that if a person is in material hardship, it sows down in obeying and supporting truth. It looses it's energy and enthusiasm in support of truth. However once it is provided with some, it calms down."

And Abu Dharr had few camels and sheep. He used their milk. If he needed the meat or when he had guests, or when someone was in need, he would consume their meat. Whenever he wanted to give, he would keep an equal portion for himself.

Who was more pious than these people? You know how the Prophet (pbuh) has praised them. They never gave all their property in the name of charity, they never followed the path that you suggest and live your lives.

I shall tell you this Hadith which comes to me from my father and ancestors from the Prophet ( pbuh): "One of the strongest phenomena is the state of the believer who deems everything the some whether he is cut into pieces or is given the kingdom of east and west."

No. A Believer excellence isn't dependent on his poverty. Excellence in a believer comes from his faith. For whether he is in poverty or wealth, he is aware of his duty which he accomplishes with perfection. So a believer has a strange state with which all that happens to him from ease to distress become sources of good.

I wonder if I have told you enough?

Do you know that at the beginning of Islamic movement when the number of Muslims was small the law of Jihad commanded that one man should fight ten infidels. If he didn't, it would be considered a sin and a transgression. But later when the situation changed and there were more Muslims, Allah granted a major relief with His mercy. The law was changed such that each Muslim was to fight only two infidels, not any more.

I will ask you of a judiciary matter: Assume that you are in the court and the judge asks you to pay your wife's sustenance alimony. What will you do? Will you present an excuse that you are an ascetic and have turned you face away from the riches of the world? Will this excuse be accepted? Do you think that the judge's order that you pay the alimony is a just one? Or is it unjust?

If you assert that it is unjust you have lied, and have insulted the whole Muslim Ummah and if you say it is just, then your excuse is invalid. Thus you know that your behavior is wrong.

The other issue is: There are times when a person give obligatory and non obligatory charity. For instance, one pay Zaka or Kaffara. Suppose every one agrees with you and run away from material gains in the world how sould they pay for these obligatory charitable acts. What happens to the Zaka which must be paid off on gold, sliver, sheep, camel, cow, dates and raisin? Aren't these obligatory, so that the poor people may have a chance to live better and enjoy goods in life? It is obvious that the goal of religion in these matters is providing for goods in life. Had the goal of reilgion been poverty, then the poor have reached the peak of excellence. Why would others be obligated to give them goods and take them out of their blessed state?

Also if the poor are happy, they should refuse to come out of happiness. If what you assert to be true were valid then no one had to keep any money and them there world not be any need for Zaka.

It is clear, therefor, that you have chosen a very dangerous and ugly path and guide people into destruction. The path you are on and intend to bring other in is due to your ignorance of Qur'an, the Sunna and tradition of the Prophet (pbuh).

These are not traditions that could be doubted. Qur'an support their authenticity.

But you refuse the traditions that do not agree with your way of life. This is ignorance. Leave ignorance as it has many followers. But knowledge has fewer supporters. Allah (swt) said: "A wise man is superior to a knowledgeable person."

In the begining of the 2nd century, there was a group of people who called themselves Sufi and ascetic. This group had a particular lifestyle which they asked others to follow as well. They would pretend as if this was the real religion.

They would argue that one should leave the goods of the world. A believer must not dress well, must not eat delicious food, must not live in a good house, they would advertise.

They used to criticize these would take advantage of the goods of life, and would defame them as worldly people and away from Allah (swt). Sufyan had this same criticism against Imam (as).

This life style has existed in many parts of the world, specifically in Greece and India. This life style gradually influenced some Muslims who gave it a religious identity. This lifestyle was passed on to the next generations and became very popular. In fact one could say that it became as a special school of thought among Muslims. It's most direct influence was that of making people disregard in laws and principles in life that was partly responsible for decay and regression of civilization in Islamic societies.

The influence of this ideology wasn't only among Sufis alone, but also among other groups and schools of thought who didn't and don't consider themselves Sufis and infact would, at times, call themselves antagonistic to the Sufi practices. Also, not all people who were called Sufis, had such practices, either.

There is no doubt that such lifestyle should be considered a dangerous social ailment, which paralyzes the spiritual growth of the society. One must struggle against this disease, and eliminate this ideology.

Unfortunately, most of the social movements that label themselves as against this lifestyle, aren't really struggling against the ideology. They are merely struggles against names and titles, and for some, it is a strive for name and gain. Indeed, some of those who claim to be struggling against such ideologies have acquired the lifestyle, themselves, who propagate it.

It is the ignorance of some immature people who think that they are fighting against such ideologies, which channels antagonistic energies against some excellent thoughts, which are no less than masterpieces of human intellect.

Struggle against negative Sufism, must be against that disease, and that ideology in the manner shown to us by this Hadith of Imam Sadiq (as), at any time, any place, and under any title.

Nonetheless, Imam's (as) presentation, is the most conclusive stance available against this ideology that has unfortunately plagued Muslim nations. Fortunately, it is safe, and intact in Hadith book.