Sufi is simply an active participle for a person who practices the science of tassawuf by study and application. Tassawuf, although new in terminology, is in fact from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. It is described in the Qur’an as tazkiyah, and is known in the Ahaadeeth as Ihsaan. Imaam Ibn Taymiyyah states that “Tassawuf is the state of Ihsaan and it is described in the Qur’an as Tazkiyah an-Nafs…”
In short Tassawuf is the science of purification of the heart, mind, body and the soul, by the development of taqwa to avoid what Allah has forbidden and take the path that Allah has enjoined, and to have adab and Akhlaaq knowing “Allah is seeing you” at every moment. So not only is tazkiyah purification from sins, but also perfection of character. Tassawuf is therefore simply a synonym
Wahhabis all to often try to paint Sufis as a deviant cult but yet are unaware that Imaam Ibn Taymiyyah has dedicated a whole volume [volume 11] from his Majmu’a al-Fatawaa to the science of tassawuf, in which he wrote the following: “The Sufi is in reality from amongst the people of truth. So he is one who specialises in the field of Zuhd and worship… “as-Sufi huwa fil-haqiqah naw’un min as-siddiqeen. Fahuwa as-siddiq alladhi ikhtassa bil-zuhadi wal-’ibadah…”
The Shaykh says further: “…Some of the people accept blindly the wrong practices that has been innovated with Tassawuf, causing others to reject it in totality. The right attitude, however, is to accept what is in agreement with the Qur’an, and the Sunnah, and to reject whatever has no foundation upon [the Qur’an and the Sunnah]…”
We cannot deny the reality that not every Muslim is guided correctly on the path of Islam due to the division of the 72 cults, however it would not be correct to claim that every Muslim is misguided. Sufis are from the Muslims, some are rightly guided some are misguided. This is a reality that the true Sufiyah accept. Imaam ‘Abdur Rahmaan al-Jawzi has made a point of the deviant Sufis in his text Talbees Iblees, however we cannot forget who his teacher was, the great Shaykh Abdul Qaadr al-Jilaani!
Shaykh Abdul Qaadir al-Jilaani said in his text Sirr al-Asrar, p. 65:
“There is a group of people called the Sufis. Four interpretations are given for this name. Some see, looking at their exterior, that they wear rough woollen garb. In Arabic the word for wool is suf, and they call them Sufis from this. Others, looking at their way of life free from the anxieties of this world, and at their ease and at peace, which in Arabic is safa, call them Sufis on that account. Yet others, seeing deeper, look at their hearts, which are purified of everything other than the Essence of Allah. Because of the purity of those hearts, in Arabic safi, they term them
Sufis. Others who know call them Sufis because they are close to Allah and will stand in the first row, in Arabic saff, before Allah on the day of the Last Judgement.”
The word tassawuf and its active participle [ism faa'3l] has been around as long as Imaam Maalik’s time, for Imaam Maalik has been reported to have said ” “Whoever practices tassawuf and does not practice his fiqh has corrupted his faith; likewise, whoever practices his fiqh and does not practice tassawuf has corrupted himself. Whosoever combines the two together, has proven to be true”
We see from this that Muslims upon the Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah have long identified themselves with being upon the path of Sufis, throughout almost 1400 years as Imaam Maalik was from the first generation! The same cannot be said for the term “Salafi” which has only appeared in the 13th century AH/ 1900ce.
With this said, the claim that the Sufis are a deviant cult, simply falls to the ground