Book Review: Sufism & Good Character

Sufism & Goos Character

Title: Sufism & Good Character
Author: Imam Zafar Uthmani
Translator: Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Publisher: White Thread Press (November 2004)

Imam Zafar Uthmani (1892-1974) was one of the greatest hadith experts of the 20th century. His early teachers included Mawlana Muhammad Yasin who was the father of Mawlana Mufti Muhammad Shafi Uthmani, the founder of Darul Uloom Karachi. Another one of Imam Zafar’s teachers was his maternal uncle, Imam Ashraf Ali Thanawi. He also attended the hadith classes of Maulana Khalil Ahmad al-Saharanpuri while living in Saharanpur. Imam Ashraf Ali Thanawi commissioned him to write the book, I’la al-Sunan, an 18-volume compendium of hadith-proofs for the Hanafi madhab of which Sufism & Good Character is the translation of the last chapter. The project of compiling I’la al-Sunan was a 20-year project.

The book, Sufism & Good Character, is a short and concise read of 48 pages, however it is also very comprehensive in demonstrating the centrality of good character in the Islamic tradition. The book has 5 main chapters, namely, The Book of Sufism, On Renunciation & Scrupulousness, On Warning Against Base Character, On Encouraging Good Character and On Remembrance & Supplication. Among these chapters is a total of 80 hadiths, and Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, the translator, has added the commentaries of Mulla Ali al-Qari and Mawlana Ahmad Diya al-Din al-Kumushkhanawi to some of the hadiths for the reader to derive further benefit.

This book is a great resource for someone looking for an introduction to the science of sufism, and additionally one who desires to be reminded of the importance of good character in the Islamic tradition. A few excerpts from book are cited below for the benefit of a potential reader:

On Page 8 & 9, Imam Zafar writes:

Hence, Sufism is entirely manners [adab]. Every time, state, and station has its manners. Therefore, whoever adheres to the manners of each moment shall reach the stations of the accomplished Sufis [rijal]. And whoever strays from manners and proper conduct is far from the proximity he thinks he enjoys, and is rejected when he thinks he is accepted.

In short, Sufism gives life to both the outward and inward. As for the outward, it does so through good deeds. As for the inward, it does so through the remembrance of Allah, leaving reliance on other than Him, adorning oneself with praiseworthy traits [akhlaq], and purifying oneself of the taint of base traits.

This was possible for the early Muslims [salaf] merely though keeping good company, just as knowledge of the Book of Allah and the Prophetic Sunna was gained in this way without the need for books and the sciences recorded in them. Then, when the situation changed, it became necessary to record the sciences, to compile and transmit them, and to build centers of learning to teach these recorded sciences. Likewise, when the Sufis saw the change in people’s condition, they introduced spiritual exercises and retreats to develop the outward and inward, and they built Sufi hostels [zawiyas] and centers.

On Page 25, Imam Zafar writes:

Refining character traits [tazkiya] is one of the central concerns of the Sufis, for they consider noble traits to be stations on the spiritual path. They were distinguished from others by their good character, and through it they were known. Whoever examines the Quran and Sunna with deliberation will know that good character is as central to religion as a foundation is to a building.

On Page 43, Imam Zafar writes:

As for spiritual struggle, performing good works, and acquiring good character, these may be possible without the company of a spiritual guide. However, acquiring these in their company with a keen spiritual will [himma] is realized with relative ease, and, outside their company, with much difficulty and hardship.

More details of the book, including the table of contents and more excerpts are found here:

May Allah give us all the ability and capacity for constant spiritual striving and enable us to develop our good traits of character, leaving bad traits and help us to attain His nearness. Ameen.

One thought on “Book Review: Sufism & Good Character

  1. Masha Allah at this beautiful review, it made me interested to actually grab this book ASAP (I think Shaykh Sirhindi’s book “Sufism and Shariah” might parallel this too). Would you please review Ibn Ata’allah Al Iskandari books “Taj Al ‘Arus” or “Al Hikam” next time? 😀 They are golden as well.

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