Language :  
Theme Color: blue green oren
Text Size : 
A- A A+

al afkar 89


In the opinion of Dato’ Seri, when does the terminology ‘Sufi’ and ‘Tasawwuf’ started to be used in the Islamic world?



Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.

As explained in Al-Afkar series 86: The Definition of Tasawwuf, its expansion as a discipline of knowledge and the reasons why it emerges and expands a bit late. It is the same as other disciplines of knowledge like Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), Nahu (Arabic Syntax), Sarf (Arabic Morphology), Tawheed and etc. However, its essence has come into existence since the time of the Prophet PBUH.

In fact, tasawwuf itself already exists since the time of Prophet Adam AS stated in a clear dalil in the saying of Allah SWT in the Quran:

فَتَلَقَّىٰ آدَمُ مِن رَّبِّهِ كَلِمَاتٍ فَتَابَ عَلَيْهِ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ

Then Adam received from his Lord [some] words, and He accepted his repentance. Indeed, it is He who is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.

Surah al-Baqarah (37)

The salafussoleh differ on the meaning of ‘words’ in the above verse:

  • According to Sa’id bin Jubair, Mujahid and al-Hassan, it means:

رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَا أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمْ تَغْفِرْ لَنَا وَتَرْحَمْنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

"Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers."

Surah al-A’raf (23)

  • According to Mujahid and Muhammad bin Ka’b al-Qarzi, it means:

لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَانَكَ وَبِحَمْدِكَ رَبِّ عَمِلْتُ سُوءًا وَظَلَمْتُ نَفْسِي فَاغْفِرْ لِي إِنَّكَ أنت الغفور الرَّحِيمُ، لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَانَكَ وَبِحَمْدِكَ رَبِّ عَمِلْتُ سُوءًا وَظَلَمْتُ نَفْسِي فَارْحَمْنِي إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ

"There is no deity except You. Exalted are You and the praise be with You O lord. I know the wrong and I have wronged myself. Forgive me. Indeed, You are the Forgiving and the Merciful. There is no deity except You. Exalted are You and the praise be with You, O lord. I know the wrong and I have wronged myself. Have mercy on me. Indeed, You are the most merciful of the merciful.”

Therefore, the maqamat (spiritual levels/ranks) in tasawwuf start with tawbah (repentance). These levels or ranks are not the same in shape and turn according to the Sufis, but they are of the same opinion that the start of each maqam is tawbah. (See al-Luma’, pg. 68; 'Awarif al-Ma'arif, pg. 428)

The Usage of Sufi/Tasawwuf Terminologies

The phrase ‘Sufi’ was not used by the Prophet PBUH, the Companions and the Predecessors. This is as stated by Abu Nasr al-Sarraj:

“We never heard of the name al-Sufiyyah during the era of the Companions, the same goes for the time after it..the nickname ‘Sufi’ has never been given to any companions of the Prophet PBUH.” (See al-Luma’, pg. 42).

According to al-Suhrawardi, the cause of late usage of the phrase ‘Sufi’ is due to the usage of the title Companions and Predecessors. (See Awarif al-Ma’arif, pg. 63). These titles are sufficient and has a high standard in Islam which makes it unnecessary for them to use another title. Imam al-Qushairi added, the title of atba’ al-tabi’in is also the cause of late usage of the title ‘Sufi’. (See al-Risalah al-Qusyairiyyah, 1/61).

Ibn Khaldun stressed out that starting from the 2nd Hijri century, the society is inclined to the worldly affairs. During that time, the title “Sufi” was given to those who are inclined towards acts of worship. (See al-Muqaddimah, 3/76)

Al-Qushairi is of the opinion that the rise of tasawwuf starts before 200 Hijri. (See al-Risalah al-Qusyairiyyah, 1/62) while al-Surahwardi states that the terminology is not known until 200 Hijri. (See Awarif al-Ma’arif, pg. 63).

Abu Nasr al-Sarraj criticized their opinion which says that the terminology is new and introduced by the people of Baghdad. According to him, the terminology ‘Sufi’ is known since the time of al-Hassan al-Basri who studied from the companions of the Prophet PBUH. It is narrated that he once said: “I once witness a Sufi perform tawaf. Hence, I gave him something, but he refused and he said: ‘I already have four dawaniq (small silver coins). So, it is enough for me.” (See al-Luma’: 42)


Based on the above arguments, we are inclined to view that the terminology ‘Sufi’ and ‘Tasawwuf’ is known since the time of the Predecessors which is the early 2nd Hijri century. This is because, al-Hassan al-Basri passed away on 110 Hijri. As he had the chance to learn from some of the Companions and even narrated hadith from Uthman bin Affan, Ali bin Abi Thalib, Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, Abdullah bin Umar, Abdullah bin Abbas, Anas bin Malik and many more, then he is considered as a tabi’in.

The argument which states that the terminology existed since the early 2nd Hijri century is also in accordance with the statement of Imam al-Qushairi and Imam al-Surahwardi that the terminology exists in the 2nd Hijri century and even earlier. While the statement of Ibn Khaldun specifically may refer to the early 2nd Hijri century which is before 110 Hijri. In fact, the societal condition stated by Ibn Khaldun is in line with what is told by al-Hassan al-Basri in al-Risalah.