Islamic spiritualism has come to have two schools of thought. One may be called the original Quranic school of thought (see the next section for details), and the other school of thought is commonly known as tasawwuf.
Tasawwuf is a spiritual school based on meditation in Muslim history that has come through Sufi practices. There are several branches and forms of tasawwuf. These varied forms cannot be described in the form of a single principle. However, tasawwuf, is basically another name for two things—the concept of shaikh (spiritual mentor) to guide to the path of spirituality, and muraqabat (specified time of day or night devoted to private worship in addition to the five prescribed prayers), divine contemplation, recitation of different words and phrases repeatedly. But in actual fact, none of these two practices are a part of Islam. They are later-day innovations (bid‘a) in religion, none of which existed during the times of the Prophet and his Companions.
Although, the reference point of tasawwuf is the Quran, but a number of its practices have been derived from the Vedanta. That is why there are great affinities between tasawwuf and Hindu philosophy. For instance, the term lataif-e-sitta (six points) in tasawwuf has been directly taken from the Hindu system. Probably this was first introduced into the Hindu system, and was then adopted by Muslim Sufis, as they thought it conducive to the attainment of spirituality.
Lataif-e-sitta indicates six points in the human body, which are the centres of spiritual feelings. According to tasawwuf, if these points are fully concentrated upon for a certain period of time, they become activated and, as a result, the entire human personality begins to receive spiritual sustenance. These practices, as well as other such practices are said to suppress the material proclivities of one’s personality and awaken its spiritual aspects.
Tasawwuf is an innovation (bid‘a) in Islam. The original Quranic concept of spiritualism, according to which the spiritual quest is a means for the creature – the receiver – to make contact with his Creator – the Giver, is the true Islamic school of spiritual thought.
Why is Tasawwuf an innovation in Islam?
Tasawwuf is an innovation in Islam because it is against the teachings of the Islamic Scriptures. In Islam the Qur’an (the word of God) and Sunnah (the Prophet’s words and deeds) enjoy the status of the only authentic sources, and it is to them that we must turn if we are to have a true appreciation of the essence of the religion of Islam.
Holding the shaikh to be a means of spiritual progress certainly amounts to incorporating gurudom in Islam. Islam in fact had come to negate this concept of gurudom. Since ancient times all religions had accorded the religious gurus the status of intermediaries between God and man. Islam put an end to this middle link and proclaimed that man can establish contact with God directly and that there is no need for an intermediary. But after three hundred years of the emergence of Islam, the pre-Islamic concept came to be held sacred once again and thus found its re-entry into Islam. Therefore, this is an innovation in Islam.
In fact according to Islam, any such concept is an obstacle to the path of spiritual progress instead of being conducive to it. All such new methods place obstacles to the realization of God. These can never be stepping-stones to it. It is a fact that the prevalent methods of additional devotions are not established from the traditions of the Prophet. Furthermore, all these are physical exercises and such physical exercises can never lead to spiritual progress. Physical action can produce physical results. It is impossible for a spiritual attribute to be produced from physical action.
Other presentations of Islam which figure in the books produced in the later period of Islam are also based on personal interpretations and hence do not have the status of sacred books. Some examples of this are the visiting of dargahs and holding the graves of saints as intermediaries to reach God. These are also innovations and are against the teachings of Islam. Set litanies recited by the Sufis many times a day consisting of Quranic formulas and the entire body of aurad-o-wadhaif or the wearing of amulets with Quranic formulas in them are also innovations (bid‘a) adopted by Sufis of later times and are also against the teachings of Islam as these methods were not taught by the Prophet.
So, we see that tasawwuf is a Sufi system that has used meditation and incorporated monistic concepts. This, as well as other innovations (bid‘a), are in fact a deviation from the original Islam, and are held by the majority of Islamic scholars to be an incorrect interpretation and not truly representative of Islam.