DO Sufis worship the saints and prophets?
Saudi Arabian scholars have thought so, as have Salafi-Wahhabis world-wide. Victims of oil-dollar da’wah, traditional Sunni communities have been seeded with doubt, propaganda and socio-political fitnah with regards to their classical beliefs.
Response to my article (The Saudi Footprints, Muslim Views, September) has indicated that in Cape Town we’re not exempt from this unfortunate syndrome, a syndrome where uncertainty is deliberately cast over established tradition to systematically undermine it.
The basic assumption that those who follow tasawwuf, or Sufism, are fundamentally “wrong” is the direct consequence of Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab’s pseudo-reformist creed being exported to the rest of the Muslim world.
As a clumsy and discredited dogma, it would have evaporated in the hot sands of the Najd had not Ibn Sa’ud, an 18th century chieftain, used its crude tenets for political purposes – the subjugation of his fellow tribes.
The fact that Salafi-Wahhabism has its roots in desert imperialism – where by its very nature there has to be a “right” and a “wrong” – is the most forgotten factor in its chequered and bloody history.
Its sharp dichotomy of believer/unbeliever creates the climate for the band-aid ideology that so characterises extremism. From the black-and-white laager of absolutes it’s just so easy to marginalise anything outside the ring of camels. It’s a model used by dictators and fanatical religious figures alike. You’re either with us or against us.
But, like so many ego-driven dogmas, Salafi-Wahhabism has glaring flaws. Borrowing religion to shape a socio-political destiny is fraught with theological pitfalls. Reductionism cuts corners, and the Salafi-Wahhabis have been the biggest theological corner-cutters in history.
Take their concept of tawhid, the Oneness of the Creator, for example.
Hamstrung by literalism, and having completely sacrificed the metaphor so resplendent in Qur’an and Islamic tradition, Salafi-Wahhabism is forced to assert that Allah, the Unimagineable, actually has a head and a body, and actually sits on a throne.
When faced with the Qur’anic verse which states that Allah, the Highest, will destroy everything save His Face, Salafi-Wahhabis stumble and stutter. This is because they’re unable to explain away the absurdity of their reductionism – the indivisible Creator destroying parts of Himself!
Yet these very same people, unable to understand tawhid, will turn around and accuse Sufis of violating the same because they visit graves. The validity of grave visitation (clearly indicated by Prophetic tradition) was dealt with in my first article. For a sane Muslim there is nothing polytheistic about visiting, and paying respect to, a dead person.
Of course, there have been fraudulent and impious charlatans who will contravene the Shari’ah in this respect. They’ve been roundly condemned by all major scholars from Imam Junaid Baghdadi in the 9th century to modern times.
But the biggest Salafi-Wahhabi bugbear, by far, is the insistence that building over graves, if not a bida’h (an undesirable innovation) is shirk, or polytheism. This is arrant nonsense supported by whimsical superstition.
The point is that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) requested before his death that he be buried in his house, a structure that had walls and a roof. No serious scholar has ever contested this, or requested the demolition of the green dome in Madinah, which makes the Salafi-Wahhabi view that you can’t build over graves even more baffling.
And if they want to argue that those other than prophets can’t have decorated tombs, there is the case of the Prophet (SAW) allowing the Companion Ibn Madh’un’s grave to be marked in Jannat ul-Baqi’.
To honour our prophets and saints with beautiful mausoleums is not to worship them, but to remember and to respect them. Sayyidah A’isha’s Hadith that the Prophet (SAW) did not fear shirk after his passing is a sober reminder that sane Muslims – and Sufis – will not fall prey to worshipping the dead.
It was, after all, the Prophet’s (SAW) confidante, Sayyidina Abu Bakr (ra), who said that to – God forbid – worship the Prophet (SAW) would be to render him truly dead to Islam. What Muslim alive today would want to do that?
Then there is the celebrated Hadith that to visit the Prophet (SAW) in his grave is the equivalent of visiting him while alive, and the further tradition that he greets everybody who greets him. This is corroborated by the sound saying of the Prophet (SAW) that prophets are alive in their graves, and that he would answer Nabi ‘Isa (or Jesus) from the grave.
Countless scholars agree that martyrs and saints enjoy a similar status, the Qur’an clearly stating that the pious – who are not “dead” – do not suffer or grieve in the afterlife.
In spite of overwhelming evidence, Salafi-Wahhabis will blithely brush these classical arguments aside. They will even ignore, or re-interpret, the verses in Surat ul-Kahf (the Chapter of the Cave) that specify a “masjid” could be built over the Seven Sleepers.
Oh, that’s “pre-Islamic” they will say, blithely disregarding the classical application of Qur’anic context and the core, universal understanding of Islam. Of course, the “pre-Islamic” argument is as specious a supposition that elephants can fly.
The Prophet (SAW) was given permission by Allah, the Merciful, to visit his parent’s graves because they’d died on their fitrah, their primordial Islamic essence.
Yet it was the Salafi-Wahhabis who poured petrol on his mother Aminah’s grave and set it alight, claiming that she was kafir. And when the grubby minions of the Saudi muftis dug up his father Abdullah’s grave, his body was found to be as fresh as the day he died.
What is forgotten here is that the prophets also died on their fitrah, Ibrahim (as) being described in the Qur’an as “hanifan Musliman”. Of further interest is that during the Mi’raj, the Heavenly Ascension, the Prophet (SAW) discovered that Ibrahim (as) looked exactly like him. This is a subtle message of prophetic universality, something totally lost on the Salafi-Wahhabis.
So is the tenability of their views. They removed the boulder upon which the Prophet (SAW) sat before the battle of Uhud in Madinah, saying we were worshipping it. But, strangely, have never called for the demolition of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Fortunately for all of us, the rock upon which the Prophet ascended into the Heavens is way beyond their imagination.