The Indispensability of Tasawwuf
The level of Ikhlaas in deeds determines its acceptability and barakah (blessings). A great deed can become futile, and an insignificant deed can become a means of salvation, due to the level of ikhlaas in the heart. The Sahabahs attained a rank and a level of ikhlaas, which will remain unsurpassable, purely by virtue of spending a few moments in the Suhba (company) of the Best of Mankind. This is why, according to the Hadith, the charity of a handful donated by a Sahabah, will always supersede the charity of even a mountain's worth of gold donated by anyone else. The fact that the deeds of the Sahabahs produced immeasurable barakah is undeniable when considering only the fact that an illiterate, inexperienced and ill-equipped desert tribe, triggered a tidal wave of Tawheed that engulfed half the known world, including the so-called 'civilized' superpowers of Rome and Persia, within thirty years - a feat unmatched in the recorded history of mankind.
Shaykh Rashid Ahmad Gangohi states the reason for the superiority of the first few generations:
“The spiritual strength of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was such that the most unruly disbeliever would reach the state of ihsan by just saying La Ilaha Illa Allah Muhammad Rasul Allah (There is no deity except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah)...they were not in need of the different types of struggles (mujahadah) and spiritual exercises (riyadah). This strength existed in the Companions on account of the Prophet’s fayd (spiritual blessings), but this was less than what the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) had. It was also in the Followers (Tabi’in), but this was less than what was in the Companions. It was also present in the Followers of the Followers (Atba’ al-Tabi’in) albeit it had become very weak."
The fact that the quantity of deeds performed by the Tabi'in and the Atba' al-Tabi'in far exceeded that of the Sahabahs, compensated partially for the lack of Suhba of the Messenger . Anecdotes of the people of these generations praying continuously throughout every night and fasting every single day, for many decades, are not unusual.
In a similar sense, the science of tasawwuf, and the exercises involved in it, compensate to a certain extent for the Suhba required for spiritual progress which only the early generations were blessed with, and enables one to attain a level of sincerity more acceptable to Allah. Mawlana Gangohi continues to state:
"...To compensate for the shortcomings, the mashayikh developed forms of mujahadah and riyadah which remained for some time as a means (wasa’il) that were not the purpose themselves..."
Just as the perfection of sciences such as Tajweed or Arabic grammar, is virtually unattainable nowadays without the exercises of Tajweed, Nahw or Sarf, supervised by a master, the perfection of sincerity (ikhlas) is virtually unattainable without pursuing the path of tasawwuf.
The indispensability of tasawwuf is borne out by the fact that the vast majority of those who have brought about significant Tajdeed (revival) and preservation of the religion in whole regions, attained their perfections through this science. They include the likes of Abdul Qadir Jilani, Shihabuddin Suharwardi, Moinud Deen Chishti, Ali Muttaqi, Tahir al-Patni, Mujaddid Alf-e-Thani and Shah Waliullah. A recent example worth mentioning is the impact of the Deobandi Akabir on Islamic scholarship, in every field including Tafseer, Hadith, Fiqh, Tableegh, Jihad, and in the reformation and education of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.
Mujaddid Alf-e-Thani re-iterates in many of his letters, the fact that the Sufi path is taken only to enhance the quality of ikhlaas:
"Tariqah and Haqiqah, qualities with which the Sufis are distinguished, are both the third part of Shari’ah, i.e. they serve to complete the quality of sincerity. Hence, the purpose of acquiring them both is perfecting Shari’ah, not something other than Shari’ah."
Just as the various sciences developed after the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) to aid in the preservation of the Deen, such as Ilmul Rijaal, Fiqh, Tajweed, Nahw and Sarf, are not bid'ah, the science of tasawwuf is not a bid'ah, and its true purpose and importance has been re-iterated throughout the ages by the Muhaqqiq Sufis, many of whom were Mujaddids whose signs were clearly evident in the barakah placed in their legacy by Allah. Shaykh Zakariyyah Khandhlawi states:
"The writings of the Akabir are explicit that the original purpose [of Tasawwuf] is acquiring the state of ihsan, and that the struggles and spiritual exercises that have been prescribed by the Sufis have been devised for the ailments of the hearts in the same way doctors prescribe new types of medicine for new forms of physical illnesses. In the same way there is no doubt regarding physical medicines that they may be bid’ah, to consider spiritual medicines bid’ah is ignorance. They are not the original purpose. They are special methods of remedy for particular illnesses."
As with the perfection of any other aspect of life, there will naturally exist a difference in the level of ikhlaas possessed by the one who has perfected his heart through a rigorously developed system under the mentorship of a perfected master, and the one who attempts to perfect it by himself. This difference is explicated well here by Mujaddid Alf-e-Thani:
Volume 1, Letter 59
"On the whole, beliefs and practices are known from the Shar', and sincerity (ikhlaas) which is the essence of belief and practice, is to be attained only through the suluk of the Sufis. Unless you perform the meditation leading to Allah and enter into the meditation in Allah, you are away from the reality of sincerity and unaware of the excellences of the sincere. Certainly, an ordinary Muslim acquires by his effort and struggle a kind of sincerity in some actions. But the sincerity we are talking of is sincerity in everything you say or do, and in all your movements and rests, without making any effort and struggle. This sincerity depends upon the negation of all kinds of gods, within and without, and follows upon fana' and baqa'. By this only you attain real Wilayat (sainthood).
The sincerity which is the result of effort and struggle is not a permanent thing. In order to be permanent, it has to be spontaneous and effortless. This occurs at the stage of absolute certainty. Hence whatever the Auliyah (saints) do, they do for the sake of Allah, not for themselves, because their selves have been sacrificed to Allah. They do not have to purify their motives in order to attain that sincerity; their motives have already been purified through fana' and baqa' in Allah. He who is still in love with his self, does whatever he does for his own sake whether he is aware of it or not. But when the love for the self disappears and is replaced by the love of Allah, whatever he does, he does for the sake of Allah, whether he deliberately attends to his intention (niyyat) or not.
You need to specify your intention when you have alternatives; but when you have no alternative you do not need to specify.
"This is the favour with which Allah blesses whom He likes, and Allah is most gracious."
The man whose sincerity is permanent is the mukhlas (that is, the one who has been chosen by Allah and reserved for Himself), and the one whose sincerity is not permanent and who has to strive for it, he is mukhlis (that is, the sincere). What a difference between the two!
The benefit you get in matters of belief and practice by following the Sufi tariqah is that you see in vision the same truths of theology which you know by arguments, you find that the performance of the duties of the Shari'ah is extremely easy, and you feel that the sloth which Satan causes in you has completely disappeared. This is a great thing. Let us see who attains it."