“From a traditional Muslim’s perceptions, there is a concern with Sufism that it is:
(a) distancing itself from the primary sources of Islam: the Qur’an and Sunnah, particularly in matters of how best to serve God;”
Rather than distancing itself from the Sunnah, Sufism embraces it totally if it is genuine and goes beyond the norm in devotion, humility, and attempts to develop a character that is like those that are described in the first community to the extent possible at the end of time.
“(b) The above two are what gives Islam its authenticity and uniqueness;”
True. But there is also a tradition of interpreting them that has been rejected by the Salifis, and that is heresy. So there are two extremes accepting only Quran and Hadith and making up Islam based on those alone rejecting the Mathabs, and pseudo-Sufis that think they can jettison practices and beliefs that are central to Islam.
“(c) Furthermore, only God has the knowledge of how He should be served and a human attempt to connect with God based on human thoughts rather than divine is likely to misguide individuals.”
But God has conveyed that knowledge through his Prophets and so we are not bereft of it. My point is that Sufism is only Ihsan which cannot be separated from Iman and Islam. If we get rid of everything that is not Ihsan that calls itself Sufism then we are close to the genuine article.
What are people’s perceptions of this? The key hadith is that where the Angel Jabil appears in public, as an intersubjective vision of the whole community, and questions the Prophet Muhammad, who then asks Jabril to answer his own questions, saying that the one who questions knows better than the one asked. In that Hadith Jabril (Gabriel) gives the definitions of Islam, Iman, and Ihsan. We learn from this that it is not God who is divided into three parts but actually genuine religion. It is not only Muhammad who sees Jabril but the whole community that encounters him as a living angelic sentient existent who is giving the message to us all, not just to one man. So the first instance of people’s perception of Islam was in this encounter between the Muslim community and the intermediary between the Absolute and the human messenger who is dependent on the Angelic Messenger who is dependent on the Absolute which the Angel bears tidings from. The whole idea that the Absolute be the source of messages delivered in time though angels to humans to a community in history is awe inspiring in itself. And somehow it is deeper than the idea that God has an avatar like Jesus, instead of him being a prophet.
So the first perception of Sufism was by the Muslim Community present with Muhammad when Jabril arrived without any signs of travel on him to confront not just the Prophet Muhammad but also his community. In that encounter Jabril mentions Ihsan, along with Iman and Islam, and the mention of all three, and their definition together with Jabil answering his own questions to Muhammad, is the first time and place that Sufism was perceived by anyone as being something named as part of the religion from the authentic source, the actual angelic messenger. Now that was an emergent event par excellence as it was a message from the out-of-time, i.e. the Absolute, to the in-time, i.e. the finite human beings of the Muslim community, via the endless time nature of the Angel. And from this encounter we learn something crucial which is that the Angel answers his own questions. This is the same Angel Jabril who came to Abraham, and to Mary mother of Jesus, and all other prophets with genuine revelations from the Absolute. Jabril is what Hegel calls Absolute Spirit. This angel is the intermediary between ourselves as finite in-time humans and the Absolute itself. And his appearance intersubjectively to the community of Muhammad in intimate conversation with Muhammad, who answers his own questions at the request of Muhammad, shows us that there is something angelic about reflexivity, and that the essential nature of the Angelic from the human perspective is seen in reflexivity, that appears in humans as self-consciousness as Hegel mentions which is a step below spirit itself.
Hegel says interestingly that the intermediary between self-consciousness and Spirit is Absolute Reason. Reason is Logos constrained by Logic and Experience. As Kant says Pure Reason outside of those constraints cannot be trusted and leads to rescission (technical term for the impasse of the antinomies and the anagogic swerve that takes us beyond nihilism). What is happening in the encounter of Jabril and Muhammad watched by his community of Muslims was that Jabril was speaking, i.e. using language, and thus transferring logos to Muhammad. He does this in a way that he asks what something is, and then is asked to answer his own question, and then he answers it with a definition and some examples. This practice of asking questions and giving answers in order to define things is called in philosophy dialectics which was engaged in by Socrates. Interestingly enough Socrates often answered his own questions, with the interlocutors asking him to do so, or merely agreeing to his statements so he will continue his discourse. Thus we see in Socrates the same behavior that is exhibited by Jabril in his public encounter with Muhammad, being carried out on the human level. Socrates also claimed to have a Daimon which guided his thoughts and actions. However, we are not saying that Socrates was a prophet. But merely saying that Socrates engagement with his community is an imitation before the fact of how Jabil acts in this famous hadith. So reason is controlled speech within constraints of practical experience and logic, but also in this case in the form of question and self-answer based on the response of the interlocutor.
Now the reasoned speech of the Angel to Muhammad but also those others who were present and listening and watching which defined Islam, Iman and Ihsan gave us the religion of Islam and included within that genuine Sufism as Ihsan within the context of Iman and Islam. This goes a step beyond the axiom of the Shahada. Instead it articulates the three realms: Mulk, Malakut and Jabrut. Islam is what is practiced outwardly in the world (kingdom on earth). Jesus said that the Son of Man was coming to dispense justice on earth and to establish a kingdom of God on Earth. That kingdom was the Muslim community around Muhammad who saw the Angel Jabril. Jabil explained that that this community was based on three tenets. There is the outward aspect of Islam rooted in the Mulk. There is then the inward beliefs that support those outward actions that exist in the Malikut and are manifest in the Mulk. Notice that the term of Angel in Islam is Malika which is from the same root as Mulk and Malikut, I believe. So we have the kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Earth joined in one body in this community of Muslims wandering between Mekkan and Madina in the desert. Finally, there is the Ihsan which exists in the Jabrut. This is called the realm of power and glory of Allah being manifest as a tajalliat (sending down). The Jabrut is the barzak (interspace) between Mulk and Malikut. Mulk can be thought of as being like the Nafs (Spirit) and Malikut can be thought of as being like the Ruh (Soul). Between these two complementary aspects of the human being which gives rise to Islam in the Mulk that shapes the Nafs, and Iman in the Malikut that refines the Ruh, there is also what is between them holding them apart yet together supra-rationally. That is the Jabrut or the realm of sending down as Tajalliat as power and glory of the manifestation of Allah where Ihsan happens where the witnessing by God overwhelms the witnessing of the human. It is at once a barrier between Man and Angel, and at the same time an interspace of its own with an independent standing, i.e. manifestation, which is still there when the opposites of men and angels vanish either through annihilation, cancellation, or rescission, i.e. via annulment. Tawhid tells us that this third realm cannot be present as long as the other two are present.
So in this situation there was all three types of annulment occurring at the same time that the reasoned speech of the Angel was being uttered and responded to by Muhammad in the presence of witnessses. At the level of speech the fact that the definitions of the three tenets were offered and by the one asking the questions shows the rescission being fulfilled that takes us beyond nihilism because based on those words we can make nonnihilistic distinctions, that is because the words are a message from the ground of the Haqq (reality/debt/truth). But also on the level of spacetime there is a cancellation, because Jabril arrived as a stranger with no signs of travel on him. So he begins by canceling our idea of the necessities of travel though time and space. But also Muhammad as human messenger and prophet, and Jabil as Angelic Messenger from the Absolute are physically embodied presumably in matter and light. But between them and annihilating them as opposites is the Jabrut as the Tajalliat of Manifestation itself occurring in the situation, and overwhelming it, and engulfing it in every way so that this is the major thing that was happening in the midst of the exchange viewed from a nondual perspective. Jabril who is a creature of light with sentience and reason but without sex and passion, and without will power of his own so he is able to convey an uncorrupted message. It is interesting that the basic opposites are Men and Jinn, and that Angels are the nondual between them. Yet in this case the Jinn are constrained so that they cannot interfere with the message, and the opposites in the situation is the representative of the barzak which is delivering the message from God who is merciful and compassionate. So this means that Jabril, Jabrut, and Ihsan are aligned in the situation we are discussing. Jabril embodies the interspace between opposites Men and Jinn. But there is another relationship between the Angel and the Man to which the Jinn have no access. In that encounter which is wholly nondual encounter with a nondual living sentient existent as Angel there is mentioned last the nondual between Outward Practice and Inward Belief. Notice that the rational logos takes place as a transmission between the outward and inward, Jabril embodied outwardly appears to Muhammad and his community to deliver a message which confirms and defines their belief. Actually this definition is a meta-belief because what is to be believed is part of a bigger picture that includes Islam and Ihsan. In the nondual speech in which Jabril answers his own questions at the behest of Muhammad there is outward annihilation of Muhammad and Jabril and when they vanish what remains is the Face of Allah, and everywhere you turn is the face of Allah. Everything is in annihilation except the Face of Allah. Therefore, in this situation there is a nondual entry of manifestation directly into history through the annihilation of the opposites man and angel, the highest sentient creature (not man) and the lowest (man) with the Jinn excluded. So in the moment the interspace between Men and Jinn mentions the Jabrut which is the interspace between Mulk and Malikut governed by Malika. And in that mention the definition of Ihsan is given which is reflexive witnessing of existence by manifestation, posed in terms of self-answered questions that define the tenets of Islam, Iman, Ihsan. And this is the advent of Sufism, which continues from then down to this day. So this social situation which is the primal encounter between men and an angel that is witnessed by a whole community not just a single man the Spirit is embodied with the manifestation of the Absolute between Man and Spirit. Man has Ruh. Every Ruh will taste death. Spirit and Ruh are opposites, as Nafs (Spirit) and Ruh (Soul). So we get this paradox that Spirit as Nafs (meaning air breathed) is identified with the Angel and opposite the Ruh as Soul (breathing of lungs, surging of the sea wave and tides) is identified with the Man. This means when the Nafs become Angelic the soul of Man shines forth unhampered. The Nafs become Angelic by approaching the nondual in every possible manner.
So this hadith which is the basis for the definition of Islam, Iman, Ihsan as the primordial religion expands upon what is found in the shahada which is the single axiom, the fundamental statement whose elaboration is given as Islam Iman and Ihsan. The Shahada is the statement of witnessing by the Human Being that is part of that community to which the Angel appeared that is now about a billion strong among the 7 billion humans alive today, which is about one tenth of the humans that have ever been alive. But that witnessing is witnessed by the witnesser. In other words Mulk, Malikut, and Jabrut appear embodied in the situation, and Annulment happens in the three realms, and the definition of religion is given as threefold as well specifying Ihsan which is genuine Sufism as the nondual interspace between mulk and malikut, nafs and ruh, Islam and Iman. This is the last point of the entry of the Absolute into history that is revelatory. Now Prophethood is broken up into seventy fragments and scattered amongst humanity with different humans who have taken the sufic path exemplifying one or another of those seventy fragments of prophethood. This intersubjective manifestation of Haqq within the confines of Sharia.