By Dr. Shadee Elmasry
There’s a common misconception that spirituality (Sufism in Islam) is independent from doctrine and law (aqida & Sharia). In an age of interconnected disciplines, holistic approaches to ‘challenges’ (which we used to call problems), and organic everything (FYI you can get organic toilet paper for $2 a roll), the persistence of this misunderstanding is very strange. Everything is connected. This likely has to do with Christian influence, specifically the doctrine of Paul which overshadowed the more correct understanding of James. Paul said:
“Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:15-16, KJV).”
When applied to Islam, you get a lot of groups who celebrate Sufism and Sufi masters in their dhikr and love, but not in their beliefs or actions. I met a group like this. (Two members of the order, who attended the zikrs religiously have been in a lesbian relationship for a decade with the support of their so-called shaykh.) At a broader level, there’s the idea that there is some undifferentiated spirit of love out there and that everything else is relative. So it doesn’t matter that two people have completely opposite, mutually exclusive positions on things, because love prevails over all. This is basically saying, spirituality over beliefs. We say the opposite, what’s absolute is the correct understanding of Islam; everything after that is relative.
In reality, we don’t even have the word ‘spirituality’ in prophetic language. We have deen (religion), shar’ (law), hidaya (guidance), rida’ Allah wa Rasulih (pleasing Allah & His Messenger). Because it’s all one. Mind, body, and soul are all connected. Remove the soul from a body and you have a corpse not a human being. A soul without a body does not exist in this world. A body without intellect is a vegetable. So why should we imagine that teachings are so different? Aqida, Fiqh, and Tasawwuf are all connected. You cannot remove one. There is no Sufism without correct aqida and fiqh. You can even add correct political stance, because much of politics is intertwined with beliefs and Sacred Laws. It’s all intertwined.
If a brother or sister out there feels crummy and dry on the inside and feels they need to improve their spirituality, know that what you’re looking for is in the possession of Allah. Putting ourselves in His pleasure is what will deliver us where we want, even if it is a rational or physical act. Correcting our creed makes us beloved to Him. Correcting our interactions and our fiqh pleases Him. Our clothes. Lowering the gaze. At the top of the list is emphasizing salat. At the essence is getting to know His Beloved, Sayyidina Muhammad ﷺ and imitating him in big and small (defending the obligation to believe in him for example), draws us near to the Possessor of what we are seeking. Then when we have set all our ducks lined up in order, then the dhikr is gravy on top.