To be a Sufi is to be equipped with exoteric sciences and realities and to thereby reach beyond the climes of the heart-world.

Scholarly disciplines come into existence consequent upon the inborn interest human beings have for inquiry. Each of these disciplines investigates laws and principles regarding the realities in the area of its specialty. Through its investigation each discipline reaches, intentionally or unintentionally, certain points in common with Sufism, which itself incorporates and covers the same given field from broader perspective; that is from the vantage of wisdom. This mutuality is not relevant only to religious sciences, but also to all other sciences, theoretical and practical, ranging from fine arts to philosophy. In this relation, we will now look briefly into the relation of Sufism to other scholarly disciplines under five categories.


The purpose of religion is to make man acquainted with his Creator to mankind, to inform him of the obligations and responsibilities he has in Divine presence and to guide him to organize his social interactions in accordance with Divine will. Corresponding with this is the goal of Sufism; to lead a believer to this direction and endow him with a moral and spiritual strength to help him actualize these religious goals. Sufism also provides a spiritual background and explanation for the external aspects of religious commands and spiritually motivates a believer to offer his duties with a passionate sincerity and piety. As is therefore expected, the Sufi way is inextricably connected with all other branches of Islamic learning. An analysis of the intimate relation of Sufism with other Islamic disciplines will suffice to throw greater light on this fact.

Sufism and Theology

The subject matters of Islamic theology are primarily the Almighty’s essence, attributes and oneness. Since it is principally related to creedal topics, theology is regarded as the most important Islamic discipline (ashrafu’l-ulum). One of the basic goals of theology is establishing intellectual bases for endorsing true beliefs and rejecting false ones. Therefore, one of Islamic theology’s main functions is to respond to the critiques and opposition directed against Islam and to convince people of that Islam is a true and authentic religion revealed by the Almighty. The goal of Sufism is similar; it aims at knowing Allah, glory unto Him, Who has perfect attributes and is free from any kinds of defect, but through the heart.

Theology tries to find solutions to creedal issues on the basis of the Quran and Sunnah and by use of the human rational faculty. In this regard, theologians’ position may be comparable to that of philosophers. Yet, unlike the latter, the former do not use human reason independently from religion; instead, they put reason under the service of religion. Nevertheless, through its logical move from cause to effect, the rational faculty of man is not sufficient, on its own, to enable one to reach the truth. This is a journey of knowledge that requires the utilization of other means, first and foremost the heart.

Exactly at the point where reason arrives at a dead-end and cannot proceed to figure out the solution, the heart takes the lead and ensures man proceeds on this journey to see the solution for himself. In the Sufi path, these solutions manifest in the heart, in the form of spiritual unveilings and inspirations; and it goes without saying that the way in which these clarifying solutions are comprehended must be in agreement with the Quran and Sunnah. Eventually, at the end of this epistemological process, Sufism leads a servant to a satisfactory finale.

To be sure, Muslim theologians also acknowledge the necessity of the heart as an authentic instrument of knowledge. In this regard, as has already been mentioned, they differ from philosophers, the majority of whom acknowledge only the faculty of reason as an instrument of knowledge. Historically speaking, there are many theologians who theoretically acknowledge the validity of spiritual explanations, not to mention many others to have personally practiced the Sufi way.

In effect, the mental activity of man, his reason and judgment, are always derived from the sensory impressions received from the material world. He thus tries to reach the truth by means of drawing similarities and discerning opposites. Reaching and grasping, however, the existence and realities of metaphysical beings, of which ordinary human mental activity does not have previous impressions, is impossible in this manner. The human faculty of reason, therefore, cannot satisfy man’s inborn inclinations towards reaching the Real, save to a limited extent. In relation to metaphysical realities, to which ordinary human reason does not have access, man can improve his level of intellectual satisfaction and perfect it through spiritual inspirations and manifestations that are impressed upon the heart. The main function of Sufism comes into existence at this point, for it provides an indispensable service to man in making him reach out to realities of a more advanced nature, which otherwise stand beyond the capacity of ordinary human reason. Sufism actualizes this possibility by invigorating man through Divine remembrance and thus renders the heart suitable to receive spiritual unveilings and inspirations. In this context, mainly with respect to the essential and performative attributes of the Almighty, Sufism is not only closely connected to Islamic theology; it further improves the theological explanations and hence human satisfaction, especially with regards to the metaphysical issues for which the human faculty of reason cannot provide sufficient answers.

Sufism addresses people in proportion to their intellectual capacities and enriches general theological arguments for the use and satisfaction of competent minds. It strengthens a person’s belief and conviction in the existence and oneness of the Almighty. Fakhruddin Razi, a prominent Muslim theologian and exegete, elucidates the relation between Sufism and Islamic theology and says, “Even though the methodologies of theologians are not sufficient enough to attain to reality, they are still the necessary first steps to be taken as a prelude to Sufism. Religious perfection can be attained through a healthy transition from exoteric religious sciences to the esoteric ones; the latter being based on knowledge of the underlying realities of things.”[1]

Sufism and Quranic Exegesis (Tafsir)

The science of Quranic exegesis explores the meanings of Quranic revelations and elaborates on them. The Holy Quran is a Divine guidance for mankind and its expressions comprise a depth of meaning. From this perspective, tafsir functions like a pharmacy for Sufism. Sufism aims at purifying and perfecting the inner dimension of man, an aim which the field of tafsir complements by providing the required prescriptions and medicine. In its application and analysis of topics, as well as in establishing its foundational methodology, Sufism relies principally on the Quran.

By offering instructions in every aspect of life, the Holy Quran leads mankind to attain to the pleasure of the Lord. It informs man the exact manner of leading a life dominated by the ever-present feeling of responsibility before the Almighty, of offering deeds of worship in the most sincere manner thinkable and pursuing life of piety adorned by an unremitting remembrance of the Divine. These considerations are equally central to the Sufi way.

As has already been underlined, the primary aim of a Sufi is to reach the Lord through the heart. And the authentic Sufi conception acknowledges the Holy Quran, the touchstone of human life, whose brilliant verse call for the deepest of all reflections, as the exclusive means to lead man to this direction. Reciting the Quran is an indispensable part of a Sufi’s life; it is the first thing he is required to do in the earliest hours of the morning. Capturing the subtle meanings conveyed by the Quranic verses, however, requires, in turn, a purified heart.

Since through his moral conduct the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was the Quran come-to-life, saints, being dedicated to moral perfection, strive to regulate every aspect of their lives in accordance with the ideal the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- provided. By practicing and actualizing the Quran in every dimension of their lives, they become living Qurans in their own right.

As the Holy Quran is their main source of blessing and inspiration, Sufis have contributed immensely to tafsir literature, providing an invaluable service for enriching this literature through bringing the allegorical meanings of the verses of the Quran to light. Sufi commentators of the Quran have worked meticulously on unearthing the subtle meanings and inner wisdoms of Quranic expressions. Of course, their undertaking should not be confused with an attempt to imprison the illimitable Divine Words within limited human expressions; this was never their intention, insofar as a Sufi would never even think of devaluing the priceless expressions of the Quran. Furthermore, the Sufi methodology does not justify arbitrary and baseless interpretations. The general principles for a proper spiritual commentary as has been set by Sufi masters, is as follows:

1) The inner meaning posited for any given Quranic statement must not contradict the external message of the given verse.

2) The suggested meaning must have a place the general content of the Quran and Sunnah.

3) The wording and context of the given Quranic verse must be suitable for the proposed allegorical meaning.

As some authoritative examples of Sufi commentaries of the Quran, we may mention the Haqaiqu’t-Tafsir of Abu Abdullah Rahman as-Sulami, the Lataifu’l-Isharat of Qushayri and the Ruhu’l-Bayan of Ismail Hakki of Bursa. In addition to these complete commentaries of the Holy Quran, there are many others that include allegorical interpretations of specific Quranic verse, such as the works of Ibn Arabi and Rumi. Doubtless is the fact that the Quran is the inimitable word of the Almighty that has come directly from His attribute of Speech (kalam). Therefore, however competent a commentary may be, in the final reckoning, it is still a commentary; the reflections and words of a human being which cannot encompass the entirety of the semantic world of the Quran.

As human beings, we cannot completely understand the reality of the Almighty’s essence and attributes. Likewise is the case of understanding the Quran. Being a product of the Lord’s unique attribute of Speech, the Quran cannot be comprehended by any mind and rephrased by any tongue, however well-gifted they might be.  Our grasp of the real meaning of the Quran might is comparable to taking a drop from a vast ocean; and this is highlighted by the Quran itself: “And if all the trees on earth were pens and the ocean [were ink], with seven oceans behind it to add to its [supply], yet would not the Words of the Almighty be exhausted [in the writing]; for The Almighty is Exalted in might and wisdom.” (Luqman, 27)

We might argue that the Almighty uses a higher level of speech to address human beings than their own conventional level, so that they could concentrate on the timeless and infinite aspects of Divine Speech and appreciate it in proportion to their level of understanding. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- explains this peculiarity of the Quranic style and states, “There is no end to the appearance of the Quran’s meanings.” (Tirmidhi, Fadailu’l-Quran, 14) Rumi says, in similar fashion that “…it is possible to transcribe the text of the Quran with a little amount of ink; but when it comes to expressing all the secrets comprised therein, an unlimited amount of ink of the size of immeasurable oceans would not suffice; nor would all the trees on earth as pens.”

The abovementioned Quranic and prophetic statements indicate that the Quran in fact comprises the entirety of all realities and truths in the form of a nucleus. Had this inner signification of the Quran been given an explicit mention, its size would exceed all boundaries. For this reason, the Quran mentions some truths in an explicit manner, while alluding to others only implicitly. Only those who are firmly grounded upon knowledge can discover these secrets; those who possess a profound insight to understand the realities embedded in the Quranic phrases and who execute its commands with a sound mind and heart.

Enumerating the scholarly qualifications required to embark upon an interpretation of the Quran, scholars of the methodology of tafsir include a branch they refer to as ‘God-given (wahbi) knowledge’, an expertise bestowed exclusively upon the exceptional servants of Allah, glory unto Him. This kind of knowledge is attained only by virtue of embodying piety, modesty and abstinence, and remaining in a ceaseless battle against the ego. Indicating this is a hadith which states, “Whoever practices that which he knows, the Almighty teaches him that which he does not know.” (Abu Nuaym, Hilya, X, 15) This effectively means that one cannot attain a portion of the secrets of the Quran, so long as he does not embark upon purifying from immoral traits and shortcomings like conceit, jealousy, love of the world, and so forth. For the Quran says, “I will turn My signs away from those who are arrogant on the earth without right.” (al-Araf, 146)

Sufism and the Sayings and Actions of the Blessed Prophet
-upon him blessings and peace- (HadithSiyar)

The science of hadith focuses on the sayings, actions, confirmations and physical and moral characteristics of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. As is valid for all the other Islamic scholarly disciplines, hadith constitutes the second most important authoritative source for Sufism after the Holy Quran. Hadith collections contain authentic accounts of all aspects of the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace-life, be they physical, moral, and spiritual. From this perspective, it is not very hard to arrive at a conclusion that hadiths play a decisive role in the formation and development of Sufism. Hadiths that convey good moral qualities such as abstinence (zuhd), moral scrupulousness (wara), internalization of faith (ihsan), modesty (tawaddu), altruism (ithar), patience (sabr), gratitude (shukr), and trust in the Almighty (tawakkul) constitute the grounds of mystical theories and practices. These have a close relevance to Sufism, as they present the words and deeds of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. It is there that the inseparable connection between Sufism and the science of hadith becomes most evident.

As was mentioned during the discussion of the relation of Sufism to Quranic exegesis, the foremost aim of Sufis is to seek closeness to and ultimately reach the Lord.  They are aware that the journey of Divine love cannot be undertaken, except by following in the footsteps of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. Sufis, therefore, follow the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- under all circumstances and enjoy making use of the records of hadith that present glimpses of his exemplary words and deeds.

To follow the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- is to feel an extreme love for him and to prefer him over everything else. There are many Quranic verses that underline the necessity of loving and obeying the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace. Concrete examples how one ought to love and obey the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- can be found only in the scholarly sources of hadith and prophetic biography. Not only with respect to offering acts of worship and social interactions but also with respect to possessing good moral character traits, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- is the most perfect human being who ever graced this life. In detailing and confirming these fine aspects of the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace-works of hadith and prophetic biography are indispensable.

The meticulously recorded words of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- have come to our day, thanks to the narrative reliability of Muslim generations. In addition to his profound words, the actions and behavior of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- were also reported, in detail, by his Companions, and passed onto one generation after another to this day. The exemplary qualities observed in the conduct of great Sufis were inspired by none other than the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- ideal characteristics; the pattern each believer must emulate as much as his capacity allows, since the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was sent as a perfect example for humankind entire. Those who can properly actualize this ideal are indeed exceptional individuals, for understanding the spirit of the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- instructions and embodying them diligently in their lives. The fact that Sufis strive to lead people to this prophetic direction through their theoretical and practical teachings suffices to prove that they always act in accordance with the essence of the Sunnah.

The praiseworthy conduct of Sufis is but a reflection from the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- typical qualities and living practices as transmitted in the textual records of hadith. From this vantage, the actions and behavior of exemplary Sufis are to be considered as the living commentaries of the words and conduct of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-. To put it in another way, by embodying the contents of the transmitted hadiths, Sufis uphold and perpetuate prophetic practices in different times and places.

Even before the appearance of Sufism as a scholarly discipline, both Sufis and scholars of hadith compiled works entitled Kitabu’z-Zuhd (The Book of Abstinence), which acts as a bridge connecting Sufism to the science of hadith.

On the other hand, Muslim mystics enriched the field of hadith by affording allegorical interpretations of various hadiths and expanding on their spiritual meanings. And although scholars of hadith have generally rejected this kind of possibility, some Sufis further argued that it was possible to personally receive hadiths from the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- under his spiritual influence and command. According to this approach, this would occur through spiritual unveilings.

In Islamic intellectual history, we find many Sufi scholarly figures, like Hakim Tirmidhi and Kalabadhi, who presented works in the fields of both hadith and Sufism. Furthermore, there are many authorities in the field of hadith, who produced works in line with the Sufi methodology. The great Imam Bukhari -may Allah have mercy on him-, for instance, who compiled the most authoritative work in the field of hadith unanimously regarded as the second most important Islamic religious scripture after the Holy Quran – had an exemplary custom in writing down each hadith he had memorized. Before proceeding to transcribe each hadith, the Imam would perform two units of prayer to ask the Almighty to bestow upon him a conviction regarding the authenticity of the record in question. Only after a sincere supplication and spiritual conviction with respect to the report would the great Imam include the given narration in his work.[2] Similarly, another great hadith scholar Ahmad ibn Hanbal is said to have taken three hadiths directly from the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- in a dream.[3]

Sufism and Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh)

Fiqh literally denotes knowing, understanding and comprehending. During the early days of Islam, the word fiqh would encompass all kinds of knowledge, both temporal and spiritual, a person needed; and one who had amassed an expertise in knowledge in its broadest significance was referred to as a faqih, in the sense of an alim or a scholar. In this context, a faqih was person with insight into the wisdom underlying being and physical occurrences, as well as an intellectual capacity to discern and acknowledge his religious rights and responsibilities. Accordingly, Imam Abu Hanifa defines fiqh as “…a person’s knowledge of the things in favor of and against him with regards to religion.”

The central aspect of this knowledge was to ‘know the Lord’, the knowledge most essential to human happiness. Thus, Abu Hanifa’s writings on creedal topics were later compiled by his students under the title of “al-Fiqhu’l-Akbar”, or ‘the greatest fiqh’. In the early days of Islam, that was what the term fiqh meant. In time, however, when the body of Islamic knowledge became immensely extensive, the word fiqh acquired its terminological sense and scholars of fiqh began to exclude creedal and ethical discussions from fiqh and restricted its usage to practical and legal matters. And today, this is what is meant by fiqh.

Sufism is no different in the sense of relating to the knowledge of things in favor of and against human beings. In addition to the mutual epistemological ground it shares with fiqh, Sufi knowledge includes both internal and external aspects of religious matters. Fiqh gives us information about the external requirements for practical religious topics, such as ritual ablution, ritual prayer, fasting and so forth. As for Sufism, it imparts knowledge with regard to their internal requirements; to clean and purify the heart in order to prepare one for the spiritual contentment, knowledge and inspiration that beckon in the practice of these deeds. The Sufi path thereby functions as the ground for the sincere and perfect devotion to be embodied when offering these deeds. On account of this, Sufism is also called “internal fiqh” (al-fiqh al-batin) or “the fiqh of conscience” (al-fiqh al-wijdani), insofar as it constitutes the spiritual basis and essence of fiqh.

There is no doubt that the ultimate goal of the science of fiqh is to ensure that deeds of worship are offered with a certain blend and quality, so that they are accepted in Divine presence. This perfection of quality comes only from a spiritual maturity that Sufism gets one to strive for. In this subtle context, fiqh and Sufism function complementarily to each other; for the fundamental goals of Sufism is making a believer reach metaphysical and spiritual realities through the practice of the external deeds and behaviors fiqh lays down as obligatory. Putting the requirements of fiqh to practice cannot yield the desired results without acquiring the moral and spiritual maturity outlined by Sufism.

In the case of daily prayer, for instance, the science of fiqh describes its external requirements, such as cleanliness and executing the ritual in an acceptable order. Furthermore, fiqh outlines the necessity of intention, which itself is an internal requirement. But in doing so, fiqh does not keep itself busy with the detailed spiritual requirements of prayer, such as purifying the heart from ostentation and jealousy, however necessary they may be for a consummate prayer and complementary to its external requirements. Sufism organizes the inner requirements of prayer and tries to harmoniously combine their external and internal aspects. Since fiqh is a branch of Shariah, imperative for all believers to follow, it basically regulates the outward aspects of religion on which human responsibility is based. Be that as it may, it is the inner quality in which one conducts himself that renders the fulfilling of this responsibility accepted by the Lord; an inner quality the Lord wills to see in His servants.

Scholars of fiqh unearth the religious rulings that regulate all acts of worship, as well as social interactions, like marriage, divorce, trading, and punishments. They examine and systematize these rulings. Complementarily, Sufis provide the moral and spiritual background of these rulings and emphasize the importance of the required spiritual mindset to adopt when offering them. It is none other than the Holy Quran that inspires Sufis in this regard; for it is the Quran that first and foremost places emphasis on the inner and spiritual aspects of deeds of worship.

Of course, all this does not mean that Sufis do not consider the science of fiqh important; nor does it mean that they are not sufficiently interested in Islamic legal studies. On the contrary, great Sufi figures were at the same time competent scholars in the traditional exoteric disciplines, including fiqh. We might, for instance, mention the names of Ghazzali, Ibn Arabi, Rumi, Imam Rabbani, and Khalid Baghdadi in this context.

Those unable to comprehend the real content of outward religious rulings and spiritual realities claim that there is a huge difference and even an unbridgeable opposition between the science of fiqh and Sufism. Indeed, there are some dramatic examples of this situation in Islamic religious history. As far as the relationship between the real scholars of fiqh and competent Sufis is concerned, however, there are a host of cases testifying to their mutual respect and recognition. Disagreement and controversy occurs only between the ignorant who think of themselves as infallibly knowledgeable in fiqh and the crude Sufis who would regard themselves spiritually perfected.


We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the T/truth. But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness? (Fussilat, 53)

Natural sciences, whose basic doctrine maintains that sense perceptions are the only admissible basis of human knowledge and whose scientific data are produced under laboratory conditions, might on the surface seem unrelated to Sufism. But the reality of the matter is not quite so.

Every kind of scientific activity that aims at understanding the underlying wisdoms and realities of beings and natural occurrences, reaches only as far as the point where metaphysics begins; and this is the point where natural sciences and Sufism meet. Sufism peers into and reveals the secrets and wisdoms of all beings, the metaphysical dimensions of the universe in general. It leads human beings to a more reliable, comprehensive, and convincing level of knowledge regarding the Almighty and the worlds. In short, Sufism takes man to the realm of reality.

Natural sciences focus on the material and visible world. Things invented through the study of natural sciences are in fact qualities already embedded in those things by the Almighty. This means that every invention pertaining to material world comes into being as a testimony to the power and might of the Creator. Proceeding from this point, we can argue that natural sciences help us appreciate the miracles of Divine art.

On the other hand, Islam explores matter together with its immaterial and metaphysical dimensions. The modern natural sciences of today have verged upon this approach. Every novel invention in this material world opens a metaphysical door to new unknowns and leads the human mind to the infinite realm. Man begins with the sensory impressions offered to him by material world, though in the end he is led to the metaphysical realities underneath. This is especially the case in contemporary times; science has made an extraordinary advance to the point of coming face to face with metaphysics. For this reason, the materialist theories of old devised to imprison reality into the strict confines of matter have lost their credibility. Lavoisier’s theory of conservation of mass/matter, for instance, considered an indisputable taboo in the last century, has now lost its validity in scholarly circles. Likewise, ‘the law of the eternity of matter’, one of the most controversial points of conflict between philosophy and religion, is not able to find passionate supporters anymore. Even science now prefers the theory that matter is not an essential, but only an accidental form. That matter is a condensed form of energy has now been established by the breaking of the atom into pieces, whereby it has become clear that what we call “matter” is in reality an energy that is imprisoned in a certain form. In addition, many new scientific discoveries, especially in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy, serve to confirm countless facts already mentioned in religious scriptures, first and foremost the Holy Quran, regarding the nature of things.

New discoveries on human genes indicate that every human being has a kind of individual and particular code; just one example among many others that testify to the incapacitating nature of Divine art in creation. Paying tribute to this is Ziya Pasha, a 19th century Ottoman intellectual and poet:

I glorify He whose art makes minds meek,
And whose might leaves the wise weak…

From the beginning of Islam, Muslims were taught and knew the innate weakness of human capacity with respect to the wonders of Divine art. The possibility that, towards the end of time, such scientific discoveries might come close to the level of miracles is also no secret to them. Yet, every new scientific discovery reinforces human conviction of his incapacity at the face of the majestic art of the Almighty, whose infinite wisdom he then feels compelled to acknowledge. It is this human weakness Ziya Pasha brings to the fore when he says:

These Divine wisdoms the tiny mind cannot understand;
For its scales cannot weigh a weight so grand

Sufism reflects on all beings in order to comprehend the metaphysical mysteries underlying their existence; the very threshold natural sciences reach at the end of their inquiries. This interconnectedness renders a positive relationship between Sufism and natural sciences apparent and undeniable.

In fact, the Holy Quran diverts attention to the innumerable secrets and wisdoms in creation. The following Quranic verse, for instance, underlines this fact, declaring,


اَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ اَوَلَمْ يَكْفِ بِرَبّـِكَ اَنَّهُ عَلٰى كُلِّ شَىْءٍ شَهِيدٌ

“We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the Truth. But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness? (Fussilat, 53) The word “horizons” in this verse points to external world that encompasses the human being. As for the phrase “within themselves”, it indicates wisdoms, lessons, and secrets existent in the biological and spiritual aspects of human existence.

In His Holy Quran, the Almighty highlights the importance of examining external word and thus of paying attention to His signs embedded in His creation. We might mention the following Quranic verses in this regard.  “Do they not travel through the earth, so that their hearts [and minds] may thus learn wisdom, and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts.” (al-Hajj, 46) “And We did not create the heavens and earth and that between them in play. We did not create them except in truth (for just ends), but most of them do not understand.” (ad-Dukhan, 38-39)

As far as the creation of human beings is specifically concerned, the Holy Quran underlines that just like it is in the case of all other beings, the creation of human being is directed to certain purposes and just ends, as indicated by the declaration,

اَفَحَسِبْتُمْ اَنَّمَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ عَبَثًا وَ اَنَّكُمْ اِلَيْنَا لاَ تُرْجَعُونَ

“Did you then think that We created you in jest and that you would not be brought back to Us [for account]?” (al-Muminun, 115)

From the macro to the micro level of creation, extraordinary manifestations of Divine art exist in every particle. Sufism aims at providing a universal comprehension of all these realities, in the center of which lies human being. In addition to this theoretical aspect, Sufism aims at maturing a believer’s religious and spiritual qualities through certain trainings like the remembrance of Allah, glory unto Him, and a variety of other spiritual meditations. Sufism, therefore, includes both theoretical and practical instructions.

     In the Quranic scripture, there are verses that call attention to the wisdoms embedded in the physical world; and every now and then, the Quran resorts to question forms in order to make its statements more emphatic. Even though these emphases may appear to be related primarily to the physical qualities of the things in question, they are not reserved exclusively to that. For that reason, in our inquiries to comprehend the wisdom inherent in the visible qualities of entities, we need a more advanced and able methodology than what natural sciences offer us in this regard. And this fact equally accentuates the need one has to improve the spiritual conditions of his heart in order to make it receptive to this spiritual way of sensing and comprehending. In providing such a possibility and competence for human beings, this is where the Sufi way enters the framework.

As hinted at before, a renowned principle of Sufism considers the visible universe as the manifestation of the Names of the Almighty. Every single being in this world is hence a miracle of art. We might proceed and attempt to write voluminous books to explain the nature and realities of the seemingly ordinary happenings we experience on a daily basis; yet we would still miserably fail in offering a complete picture. When a gazelle eats a mulberry leaf to produce musk, for instance, a silkworm consumes the very same leaf to produce silk. The universe around us abounds in the miracles and signs of Allah, glory unto Him, all within the reach of our observation; though we do not spare sufficient time to properly reflect on them.  When one observes a greening grass, a blossoming flower and a tree generously offering its fruits with the purpose of deriving a personal lesson; and when one contemplates on the ways how all these plants take their colors, smells and tastes from the simple earth, one cannot help but be awestruck by the glory of Divine art and power. Sufism encourages human beings to look at the whole creation with an eye to take a lesson. Consequently, Sufis believe that nothing in this world was created in vain, without a purpose, a conviction which they confirm by setting the hearts sail towards that very same purpose.

Similar to the Holy Quran and man, the universe has also come into existence as a composition of the manifestations Divine Names. One might say that all natural sciences ultimately aim towards tapping into the Divine wisdom and law that govern the universe entire, which fundamentally are certain compositions of the manifestations of the Divine Names impressed upon the conditions of the world; as has been stated. Strangely, all natural sciences and most scientists constitutionally suffer from an ingrained weakness to appreciate and duly reflect on these manifestations; as only those who improve and mature their moral and spiritual dimensions, may acquire in their hearts the skill of comprehending the secrets and wisdoms of creation, an existential and epistemological capacity that exceeds far beyond the horizons of natural sciences. To venture beyond these horizons at which natural sciences stop short, Sufism takes the lead; and this is the very point in which the two band together.


It is Sufism that brought Turkish literature into existence, developed and matured it.

Sufism conducts its spiritual operation in the heart and the Sufis reflect the subtle ideas and insights impressed upon their hearts onto various forms of literary arts, including poetry and prose.  Bringing these reflections and teachings to life through words, Sufis have had a durable impact on the minds across centuries, leaving behind many extraordinary pieces of artwork, enriched in both content and form. The immense Sufi contribution to literature has aided humankind in gradually reaching a refined depth of aesthetic taste, through giving voice to the deepest and most sophisticated feelings ever accessible to human sensation.

In the history of Turkish literature, there is a tradition called ‘Tekke Literature’, explicitly of a religious nature, which emerged from the lodges of (tekkes) of Sufi orders. The linguistic style of Tekke literature varies from being quite simple and fluent to lyrical and even didactic. Religious and spiritual symbols are embedded in the products of this tradition. Munacat and Nat are two of the most common poetry forms of Tekke literature. The main subject matter of the former is the Oneness of The Almighty (tawhid) and seeking refuge in Him, while the latter is a passionate expression of love and yearning for the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. Despite this seeming difference of content, all forms Tekke literature encourage people to improve their levels of piety, to console and comfort their yearning hearts; and aim at steering them clear from sins and heedlessness, and thereby establishing love, solidarity and peace in society.

Since the tumultuous times of the Mongol invasions, Yunus Emre’s poems have functioned as guidance and consolation for people up to this day. Thorough their poems and other forms of literature, Sufis have offered an immense service in passing religious sentiments onto the following generations and keeping moral and spiritual virtues alive. Khoja Ahmed Yesevi, Haci Bayram Veli, Eshrefoglu Rumi and Aziz Mahmud Hudayi are just some of the leading Sufi authors who not only contributed to the flourishing of Islamic-Turkish literature, but also guided believers through their literary output.

As for the tradition of classical or Diwan literature, it consists of poetic works written mostly in the form of the metrical system referred to as aruz, and expressed in a highly advanced level of artistic style. Despite the fact that it also includes exquisite pieces of art in the form of prose, the main body of the Diwan literature consists of rhymed poetry immersed in Sufi ideas. Sufism’s decisive influence on the Diwan literature is unquestionable, as one can find therein many examples of Islamic spiritual symbolism, skillfully articulated in a highly sophisticated style.

Each poetic form employed in the Diwan literature highlights specific religious notions. Munacat, for instance, is about the Oneness of the Almighty; and especially the ones written by Sufi poets are filled of spiritual enthusiasm. Similarly, in the case of nat, whose main topic is the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, one is met with heartfelt yearnings of prophetic love. Fuzuli, for example, expresses the depth of his longing for the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- in the following lines from his famous Su Kasidesi (Ode of Water), where he traces the ultimate trajectory of flowing water:

All their lives, dashing their heads against one rock to another,
To reach the grounds He walked, like a drifter, flows water

Consequently, under the great influence and inspiration shone upon by Sufism, many celebrated Sufis of the likes of Rumi, Fuzuli, Naili, Nabi, Nahifi and Sheikh Galib, were able to produced exquisite pieces of artwork.

All this gives an idea of the profound enrichment spirituality has bestowed upon all forms of literary art. The moral and spiritual elements of the Sufi way that figure in literary works have enabled made artistic taste of poetry and prose to reach the hearts of the general public. Testifying to this fact is the eminent contemporary scholar of Turkish literature Nihad Sami Banarli, who says, “It is Sufism that brought Turkish literature into existence, developed and matured it.” The immense influence Sufism has exercised on literary forms may also be observed in the works of poets who did not have any personal affiliation with Sufism. Nabi, for instance, was a poet who usually wrote on profane topics; though he could not stop himself from writing a nat. The first poem that brought Tevfik Fikret fame was in fact a munacat.

The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- himself encouraged believers to improve their artistic skills and called attention to this dimension of human existence. He especially acknowledged the great influence of poetry on the heart and mind. According to a hadith narrated by Aisha -may Allah be well-pleased with her-, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- had his Companions build a special pulpit for the poet Hassan ibn Thabit in the mosque. Hassan would sit on this pulpit and give poetical responses to the poems written against the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. For Hassan, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- said, “The Almighty supports Hassan through the Holy Spirit, as long as Hassan defends His Messenger.” (Tirmidhi, Adab, 70; Abu Dawud, Adab, 87) The fact that Jibril –upon him peace-  accompanies the poet Hassan indicates that if an artist sets out to produce something for the sake of the Almighty, he can receive Divine inspiration and confirmation in what he does.

[1]        Muhammad Salih al-Zarqan, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi wa-ara’uhu al-kalamiyya wa-al-falsafiyya, p. 76 (taken from Muhammad Abid al-Jabiri, Arab-Islam Kültürü’nün Akıl Yapısı, p. 626.

[2]        See Ibn Hajar, Hady al-Sari  Muqaddima Fathu’l-Bari, p. 489; Ibn Hajar, Taghliq al-Taliq, V, 421.

[3]        See Majmū‘ al-Hadith, manuscript 110a-112b.