Sufism vs. Salafism / Wahabism

  1. Islam is a complete and cohesive system of life (Deen) designed by Allaah SWT with His perfect knowledge and absolute wisdom to ensure that Muslims individually excel in their attitude, actions and dealings to be the best a human being can be and collectively establish the best human society that is characterized by justice, fairness, peace, excellence, care, courtesy and dignity for all people. Acts of worship are only a small part of this system of life and they are designed to help in achieving the aforementioned excellence.
  2. The Islamic system is based on the premises that Allaah is the Creator, Sovereign, Master and Owner of human beings, in addition to the whole universe, and that human beings are His slaves who must please Him by submitting to Him in obedience with humility and by living according to the lifestyle system (Islam) provided by Him. If they do so, they will be rewarded, otherwise punished by the Master in the Hereafter. It considers human life as one unit where the whole unit must be in obedience to one Master, Allaah SWT. It does not allow a person’s life to be compartmentalized into private/public, spiritual/carnal, etc. All human actions are under the purview of Deen, nothing is outside His realm of governance. Islam divides human actions only in two categories: good and bad. Good actions are those which please the Lord, bad actions are those which displease Him. Collectively, as well, all of the sub-systems of the society must be in obedience to Allaah according to Islam. There is no concept of separation of church and state or sacred and secular. This concept of One God as Master of every aspect of human life is called Towheed. Under this system of life, the Khaleefah of Muslims was their leader in all matters of Deen, in all parts of it, and obedience to him in good deeds was a must for every Muslim.
  3. Being a system, it is made up of parts that are well-integrated and work together to attain its objectives. Each part has its defined role, and if a part is not engaged according to its role, system malfunction occurs. Because we are accustomed to labelling different parts of life, we can say that Deen of Islam has all kinds of components in it; religious, social, economic, political, legal, etc. However, Islam uses its own division of human actions and its own terminology. On the whole, it is a delicately balanced system between different aspects of life in such a way that no aspect of human life is neglected, over-emphasized or underemphasized and that the objective of justice, optimal performance of individuals and society is attained and opportunities of excellence are utilized.
  4. A very high level overview of Deen showing only the major components or modules of Deen strictly based on the Qur-aan is depicted below: (click image to enlarge)
    Click to enlarge
  5. The chart shows the components of Deen where no dissension or disagreement is allowed. These components must be followed exactly as they were believed in and practiced by the Prophet and his companions. They are comprised of “beliefs”, “paradigms”, “principles” and “key commands”. Any dissension in or deviation from these matters nullifies one’s faith. Such a person is counted among disbelievers by Allaah SWT.
  6. The Prophet’s life comprised the perfect model of individual practice of Islam, while the society of his companions under his leadership presented the best collective model of Islamic practice. Thus anyone who wants to follow Islam as it should be followed must conform to the personal model of the Prophet and the collective model of his companions.
  7. Every Muslim is obligated to strive hard in the way of Allaah so that the Deen as a complete system of individual and societal life is established and maintained and that the individual and collective objectives of excellence are attained and maintained. All hard work needed for this purpose is called Jihad. This is essentially a democratic process in the sense that we have to sell the ideas and views and win the hearts and minds of people as the Prophet and his companions did. Islamic excellence can come to a society only if a majority of the people freely and happily accept the idea and enthusiastically make a personal decision to excel. Explaining the right message of Islam to people and educating people to help them adopt the right view about Islam is a very slow, daunting task demanding much dedication, patience and arduous work and that is why it is called Jihad. That is the way of the Prophet and there is no shortcut or easy way.
  8. Under these components of Deen, there were many rules of Sharee’ah where there was flexibility in their execution as demonstrated by the Prophet himself performing them in different ways at different times or allowing his companions to vary their performance. In such matters, as long as a person is conforming to one of the ways of the Prophet or his companions, either literally or deductively, he is doing the right thing. In other words, in such matters, as long as a rule or practice is justifiably and reasonably based on the actions, words, or approval/disapproval of the Prophet, he is following the Sharee’ah. These differences should be respected and must not lead into parochial or sectarian attitudes.
  9. This approach would naturally lead to a variety of rules and practices followed by different people. But that was the intent of Sharee’ah so that people had flexibility in minor, routine matters, instead of being strait-jacketed by intricate sets of rules.
  10. The ways of the Prophet were communicated to subsequent generations in two ways: Actively taught and demonstrated from one generation to the next consistently without break; and reported to other people in spoken word. The rules derived from both sources were compiled in written form by Jurists (Fuqahaa) in the books of Fiqh. The spoken word reports were compiled by Muhadditheen (the reporters) in the books of Hadeeth.
  11. Like every other prophet and messenger, after the departure of the Prophet and his companions, the next generation deviated somewhat from that model and the generation after them deviated a little more. This is what is described by the Prophet when he said. “The best era is my era, then the generation that follows, then the generation that follows them”. These deviations continued from generation to generation until our time. These deviations are not homogeneous throughout a generation or a society. Rather some people deviate in one direction, others in some other direction, so on and so forth. Most deviations happen in slightly incremental forms, nuances or manners but they add up over time. Such deviations created Judaism and Christianity among the followers of Moosa and ‘Eesa peace be upon them, who preached the same Islam as described above.
  12. The deviations take the form of :
    1. Neglecting or abandoning one or more components of Deen,
    2. Over-emphasizing one or more components of Deen,
    3. Underemphasizing one or more components of Deen,
    4. Corrupting Islamic concepts under non-Islamic influences,
    5. Mixing up principles of Deen with rules of Sharee’ah,
    6. Insisting on only a certain set of rules of Sharee’ah, and/or
    7. Introducing new views and practices in Deen from other religions and societies.
  13. The first three deviations in this list are those that the Qur-aan calls “partitioning /dividing the Deen” or “breaking the Deen into parts”, because instead of following the complete package of Deen as described above, people break the Deen into segments and then abandon some segment(s) or exaggerate in some segment(s) or underemphasize some segment(s). In either case, the system ceases to perform as it should perform and the Ummah becomes divided into sects. The Qur-aan regards all such partitioning as Kufr/Shirk, but especially warns those who abandon a segment with humiliation in this world (what the Ummah is facing nowadays), and the severest punishment in the Hereafter.

    The last four constitute Bid‘ah or innovations because they are against the Sunnah of the Prophet and his companions.
  14. After the departure of the Prophet, the first major deviation that occurred was that the kings took over the realm of the Islamic world. In other words, practically for all intents and purposes, politics were taken out of the Deen or out of the obedience to Allaah SWT. This gave rise to Shias who believed that kingship belonged to the household of Fatimah, one of the four daughters of the Prophet, and Ali, her husband and one of the cousins and companions of the Prophet. The mainstream Muslims were called Ahlus-Sunnah-wal-Jamaa’ah, as opposed to those who segregated themselves as Shias. Then, people started carving pieces out of the Deen of Islam until it was reduced only to religious rituals. Unfortunately, now most of the Muslims of the world think of Islam only as a set of rituals and corresponding rules. Deviations have also been occurring in the form of categories ii to vii listed above. These deviations and their variety are responsible for the existence of sects among Muslims.
  15. The ahlus-Sunnah jurists over time became specialized in the preferred decisions of a major jurist, and thus four schools of Fiqh came into being. Although all four opinions were considered right, and they were, people started to follow only one school’s opinion and avoiding other opinions completely. Initially this was done to stop people from hunting for the most convenient opinion, instead of the best opinion, but such an approach created strong parochial loyalties and caused the loss of flexibility demonstrated by the Prophet.
  16. Every now and then, a reformer comes along who tries to bring the Ummah back to the original model of the Prophet, and not all Muslims listen to him. Sometimes, when the reformer departs, his followers become another sect or group with their own deviations.

This preamble gives a very brief overview of how groups and sects formed despite having one God, one Book, one Deen and one Ummah.


If we look at typical Sufism, it took its present form due to the following deviations:

Components of Deen abandoned:

  1. Towheed – they have adopted shirk philosophies (e.g, believing in wahdatul-wajood --  Allaah and His creations to be one, giving such devotion that is only appropriate for Allaah to their shaykh also) while claiming to believe in Towheed, just like the misguided Christians
  2. Islamic objectives of collective excellence -- establishment of justice and peace and excellence in the society, implementation of Islam as a complete system of life and ensuring its dominance in the society – like the condemned Jews
  3. Amr bil Ma‘roof and Nahee ‘anil Munkar (actively encouraging others to do good and forbidding bad behaviour) – like the Jews
  4. Full engagement and participation in the society as opposed to withdrawing from it – like the Jewish Essenes and the Christian and Buddhist monks. (This applies to those who fully practice Sufism, not their followers who subscribe to their paradigms but live normal lives).
  5. Jihad – like the Christian monks

Their accepting of the rule of the Taghoot (anti-Islamic authorities) instead of working hard to replace it by Islam as commanded in the Qur-aan is the main reason that the enemies of Islam tolerate and accommodate Sufis.

Components of Deen Corrupted / Innovations Added

Component   Original Islamic Concept   Sufi Concepts Adopted from Un-Islamic sources (Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and others)
Life   Life is one unit and all of it, as one unit, must be lived in obedience to Allaah SWT in a balanced Islamic manner, without abandoning any aspect.   Life is broken into individual (private) /collective (public) and spiritual / carnal, where a Sufi focuses only on individual and spiritual aspects.
This also goes against Islamic division of all human actions only into good and bad.
Goal of life   Goal of life is to maximize the pleasure of Allaah SWT and through His pleasure to attain Fowz (ultimate success, being taken away from the hell Fire and being admitted into Jannah).   Attain so much spirituality to become one with Allaah SWT (na‘oodzu billaah).
Deen   Deen of Islam as defined in the overview above.   Islam reduced to a set of rituals and adulterated by their so-called spiritual activities.
Tazkiyah   Tazkiyah – to come as close as possible to the model of the Prophet in excellence of conduct through a process of continuous self-improvement, by growing in virtuous motive, attitudes, habits, actions, qualities, dealings and interactions, while purifying from bad ones.   Spiritual growth though “Dzikr” chants and incantations, in a way not taught or practiced by the Prophet.
Dzikr   Dzikr – being conscious and thoughtful of Allaah’s presence and remembering Him while making every decision of life and taking every step in life, and continuing this throughout normal activities, whether sitting, standing or lying down. Also, expressing that consciousness and remembrance through the words, du‘aas and phrases used/taught by the Prophet, is also included in Dzikr.   Repetition of names and attributes of Allaah or verses of the Qur-aan for a specific number of times in a specific manner and physical position at specific occasions, not practiced or taught by the Prophet, but taught by their shaykh based on un-authentic, Jewish and other un-Islamic sources.
Obedience to authorities   Obedience to the leader (Ameer or Khalifah) of Muslims in matters that are allowed or approved of by Islamic teachings and by the conventions (Ma‘roof) of the society.   Unqualified and unconditional obedience and reverence that is reserved in Islam only to Allaah SWT, they extend it to their shaykh.
Mutashaabihaat   The Qur-aan mentions many facts that are beyond human comprehension and hence are called Mutashaabihaat. Because only Allaah knows their real and exact nature, they must be believed as described by revelation, without anyone trying to determine their exact nature.   They chase those concepts to discover their exact meanings or nature and, as a result, are misguided in that pursuit. Usually, they end up adopting esoteric human meanings that confuse them and make them adopt the views of Kufr (disbelief), as had happened to followers of previous messengers, especially the Christians.
Sharee‘ah   Sharee‘ah is the body of rules and regulations for the maters of Deen given by Allaah and His Messenger.   Tareeqah rules and regulations devised by a Sufi order that a person must follow to progress in their invented spirituality.

Not all of those who claim to be attached to Sufism may be suffering from all of the distortions and deviations listed above. People follow Sufism at different levels, but there is some un-Islamic aspect at any level Sufism is followed. Obviously, everything in Sufism is not bad. There are many good and Islamic things in Sufism as well. But those who want to follow those good and Islamic matters do not have to go to Sufism for them. They can simply follow the model of the Prophet and his companions to act upon those good aspects. The real Deen of Islam as modeled by the Prophet and his companions has everything that is needed to succeed in this life and the Hereafter. So a new name or new order is not needed for any valid reason.

Salafis / Wahabis / Ahlul-Hadeeth

Different names are used for this school of thought and there may be some minor differences among them but their views and paradigms are essentially the same.

Components of Deen abandoned

They have abandoned the Islamic objective of individual excellence gained through the process of Tazkiyah and the objectives of collective excellence -- establishment of justice and peace and excellence in the society. Thus they have completely abandoned the objectives for which Allaah had sent the Prophet with the Deen of Islam. In addition, the concept of Deen has been corrupted to mean only a set of rituals and rules. Separation of clergy and kings has been accepted. Salaah and Zakaah that were two pillars of the Islamic state to establish the Islamic political and fiscal system have been reduced to rituals. Although they claim to be strict in Towheed, by taking away the political and economic system out of Deen and giving it to the kings, they have divided the Deen and committed Shirk according to the Qur-aan.

These are the same deviations for which all Jewish sects incurred the wrath of Allaah.

Components of Deen Corrupted / Innovations Added

  1. They take Mutashaabihaat literally according to the human understanding of the words used to describe those Mutashaabihaat (instead of believing in them as revealed without assigning a specific human meaning to them). Then, anyone who differs with their faulty understanding, the person is labelled as misguided or even Kaafir and his ‘Aqeedah is questioned. This way, not only do they create discord in the Ummah but also waste Muslim time, energy and resources on the issues that are self-created issues, not the issues of Deen of Islam.
  2. The Islamic concept of Sunnah applies to all Deen-oriented actions performed regularly by the Prophet. The word Sunnah itself means a beaten-path. Firstly, it has been reduced to apply only to those actions that are described in Ahaadeeth. If a Sunnah was practically passed on continuously from generation to generation before being documented by fuqahaa (jurists) in their books of Fiqh, they do not accept it if it was not reported by a Muhaddith (a reporter of Hadeeth). On the other hand, even if an action is reported in a Hadeeth but it was undertaken only once, or randomly or sporadically, they regard it as Sunnah.
  3. The Ahaadeeth are reports in the narrators’ words of the things the Prophet talked to people about. Many of them need to be understood in the light of the period in which the talk took place and in the light of the addressee to whom the words were spoken and the background of the circumstances in which those words were uttered. They disregard all those factors and take the words of Hadeeth literally as if they were eternal words of Allaah, or as if they were exact words of the Prophet, not of the narrators who may have used different words than the original words of the Prophet or their words may reflect the narrator’s misunderstanding.
  4. They reject others’ interpretation of rules and other tradition of Fiqh emanating from the behaviour of the Prophet and his companions, and insist that people follow only the rules and rituals adopted by them. Thus, they destroy the flexibility that the Prophet had allowed in minor matters of Sharee‘ah. In addition, on the one hand, they condemn those Muslims who follow a particular school of Fiqh, but then turn around and blindly follow their “scholars”.
  5. Jihad is a very noble and virtuous act of striving hard in the way of Allaah to establish the Deen of Allaah in individual affairs of Muslims and collective matters of their society and to attain excellence in both. Their attitude of abandoning the objectives of individual and collective excellence and of taking matters literally and out of context has created some extremist and misguided elements among them who go around blowing innocent people up and think that they are doing Jihad.
  6. They over emphasize the rules so much that even the objectives of the acts of worship are totally neglected.
  7. They put too much emphasis on learning and promoting the knowledge of Deen and its sciences but that knowledge is all about rules and rituals, instead of promoting the understanding of Deen and objectives of Deen, as it was understood by the companions of the Prophet.

In these matters, they have adopted the ways of the Jewish sect of Pharisees.

As with Sufis, not all those who profess to be Salafis may be beset with the problems mentioned above, but even mild or moderate Salafism will not align or match properly with the Deen of the Prophet and his companions unless all the objectives of personal and societal excellence are adopted and all societal systems including political and economic systems are brought into Islam under one Ameer or Khaleefah of Muslims, without separation between clergy (scholars) and state.

Thus both groups have deviated in different ways from the Islam of the Prophet and his companions as mentioned in the overview at the beginning. Those who want to succeed as Muslims in this world and the Hereafter must follow the complete Deen as was practised by the Prophet and his companions, the real Salaf. This must be done as Muslims, the name given by Allaah SWT, without adopting any new name.

Note: For further reading, please see the detailed discussions on the meanings of Qalb, Nafs, and Rooĥ as used in the Qur-aan and Hadeeth.
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