Thursday, December 24, 2009

Five definitions on Sufism by Shaykh Ahmad Zarruq


Many explanations have been made about the derivation of the word Sufism. The explanations closest to the truth are five:

First those who say that the term is derived from a piece of wool (sufah). The reason is that the Sufi vis-a-vis God is like a piece of wool tossed on the ground with neither will nor direction.

Second: the term is derived from the lock of hair on the nape of the neck (sufat al-qifa) because of its softness. The Sufi, like the lock of hair, has a soft and flexible nature.

Third: the term is derived from "attribute" (al-sifah). This is to say that the Sufi is characterized (ittasafa) by performing good deeds and turning away from bad qualities.

Fourth: the term is derived from purity (al-safa). Abu al-Fath al-Busti (may God have mercy on him) has confirmed this, going so far as to say: "People have argued and differed about the term 'Sufi'; some think it derived from wool (suf). I do not grant this name save to the noble person who dealt purely with God and was purified until he was called a Sufi."

Fifth: the term is derived from the Bench (al-suffah). For the Sufi has the same characteristics as the People of the Bench*, whom God has endowed with certain characteristics, saying of them: "They call upon their Lord at morning and evening desiring His countenance." (Qur'an 6:52) This is the origin to which every explanation of the word goes back. But God knows best!

- Shaykh Ahmad Zarruq (1442 - 1493 CE)
in Principle 7 of Qawaid al-Tasawuf (The Principles of Sufism)
FROM: Sister Zaineb S. Istrabadi PhD thesis for Indiana University 1987

Tomb of Sidi Shaykh Ahmad Zarruq

* People of the Bench refers to a group of Muhajirun (the generation of Muslims who immigrated with Prophet Muhammad s.a.w from Makkah to Madinah. They were later joined by other Muslims who settled in Madinah but had no dwelling place. They lodged in a corner of the mosque and lived on public charity. They spent their time performing various acts of worship.


  1. Assalamualaikum (wbt),

    Abu Hurayra was one of the most famous among the People of the Suffa. He believed three years before the death of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, and spent all his days during those three years among the People of the Suffa. Although he did not live with the Prophet as long as many of the Companions, since he was very intelligent and had a keen memory, he memorized many sayings of the Prophet. This is why many of the Prophetic Traditions were narrated from him. He explained his narrating more Traditions than others in this way:

    'While my Muhajir brothers (Emigrants from Makka) were usually occupied with trading in the market and my Ansari brothers (Helpers from Madina) with farming, I used to stay with God's Messenger and heard from him what the others did not.'
    When I was afflicted with severe hunger, I would go to a companion of the Prophet and asked him about an ayah of the Qur'an and (stay with him) learning it so that he would take me with him to his house and give food. One day, my hunger became so severe that I placed a stone on my stomach. I then sat down in the path of the companions. Abu Bakr passed by and I asked him about an ayah of the Book of God. I only asked him so that he would invite me but he didn't. Then Umar ibn al-Khattab passed by me and I asked him about an ayah but he also did not invite me. Then the Messenger of God, passed by and realized that I was hungry and said: "Abu Huraira!" "At your command" I replied and followed him until we entered his house. He found a bowl of milk and asked his family: "From where did you get this?" "Someone sent it to you" they replied. He then said to me: "O Abu Huraira, go to the Ahl as-Suffah and invite them." Abu Huraira did as he was told and they all drank from the milk.

    *Just sharing this waqi'at reffering to the defintion of "People of the Bench" from your note.

  2. Wa'alaikumsalam warahmatullah wabarakatuh,

    Thank you very much for sharing this beneficial information so we know more about Abu Hurayra (the cat lover). May we emulate the characteristics of the pious 'backbenchers' - People of the Bench/People of the Suffa.

  3. may allah bless you sister
    its great to know that other muslims from around the world still have respect and admiration for our great scholars .
    may allah have mercy on you and on sidi imam zarrouq

  4. Salam brother al-Hanafi, your du'a. Thank you! May Allah bless you too dear brother. You stopped by at this blog and greeted a fellow Muslim, for this may Allah count us as people who meet and part for the sake of Allah so we belong with 1 of the 7 groups of people who will be granted mercy on the Day of Resurrection. Ameen.