The allies of Allah do not have any special appearance with which they differ from other people. They have no special dress other than just being permissable dress, and are not distinguished by shaving of hair, or cutting it short, or braiding it, as long as it is within the permissable. Thus it has been said: “So many truthful believers in rough dress, and so many apostates in beautiful cloaks.” Rather, the allies of Allah are to be found in all categories of the nation of Muhammad (ﷺ), except for the fact that they may not be found among the people of blatant innovations (bid’a) and moral corruption. They are found among people of the Qur’an, scholars, just as they are found among the fighters of jihad with weapons, and they are found among the businessmen, the manufacturers, and the farmers.
Allah has mentioned the categories of the nation of Muhammad (ﷺ), saying:
“Surely, your Lord knows that you stand less than two thirds of the night and half of it and one third of it, as does a group among those who are with you. Allah has apportioned the night and the day. He knows that you will not keep track of it accurately, so He has forgiven you. So read that which is easy for you of the Qur’an. He knows that there will be among you the sick, and others striving and moving on the earth seeking bounty from Allah, and others fighting in the path of Allah, so read that of it which is easy for you.” Qur’an 73:20
The early generations used to call the people of religion and knowledge “the readers”. This term included scholars and devout worshippers. After that, people invented the term As- sufiya (Sufis) and Al-Fuqarah (the impoverished). The name Sufiya is derived from the word Suf i.e. wool and its origin is the wearing of woolen clothes. This is the correct derivation.
It has also been said that it is derived from: 1) Sufah ibn Murr ibn Add ibn Taabikha, a tribe of Arabs known for their worship and devotions. 2) As-Suffa, related to the people who stayed in As-suffa in the Prophet’s masjid already discussed. 3) As-safaa’ i.e. clarity or purity. 4) As-safwah i.e. the purest, combining the finest elements of others. 5) As-saff i.e. row, meaning the front row, that closest to the Prophet (ﷺ) (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam). All of these derivations are weak, and do not stand up to critical analysis, because none of them would yield the word Sufi as the relative noun (nisba) in the grammar of Arabic, rather, they would give the following constructions: 1) (omitted) 2) Suffi, 3) Safaa’i, 4) Safwi , and 5) Saffi.
And so, Sufi became the name given to the (intentionally) impoverished i.e. the ascetics. This was a new tradition, and the people have differed over this question: which is preferable, that which is denoted by the word sufi, or that which is denoted by the word faqir (impoverished). They have also differed over the question of which is preferable, the rich man who is thankful, or the poor man who is patient.
This discussion goes back to the very early days of the Islamic Ummah, it was discussed by Al-Junaid and Abi Al-Abbas ibn Ataa’, both opinions have been attributed to Imam Ahmad, i.e. that it is preferable to be rich and thankful to Allah, or that it is preferable to be poor and patient. That which is correct in all of this is that which Allah said in the Qur’an:
“O, people, we have created you from a male and a female and made you into peoples and tribes that you may know each other. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the greatest in righteous practice.” Qur’an 49:13
Abu Huraira narrates in a sahih hadith:
“The Prophet (ﷺ) (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) was asked: Which people are the best? He said: Those greatest in taqwa (righteous practice). Then they said: That is not what we mean. He said: Yusuf the prophet of Allah the son of Ya`qub the prophet of Allah the son of Is-haq the prophet of Allah the son of Ibrahim the friend (khalil) of Allah. Then they said: That is not what we mean. He said: Do you ask, then, about the elements (lit. minerals) of the Arabs? People are minerals like the minerals of gold and silver, the best of them before Islam are the best of them in Islam when they obtain knowledge and understanding (i.e. of Islam).” (Muslim and Bukhari)
Thus the Qur’an and the sunnah show clearly that the best people in the sight of Allah are those greatest in taqwa.
“An arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor has a non-Arab any superiority over an Arab, nor has a black man any superiority over a white man over a black man except by the criterion of taqwa (righteous practice). All of you are from Adam, and Adam is from dust.”
“Allah has removed from you the arrogance of the jahiliya, and its pride in ones ancestors. People are only two types: a pious practicing believer, and a rebellious corrupt sinner.”
Thus anyone from any category of people who is more pious in his practice for the sake of Allah is better in the sight of Allah, and if they are equal in taqwa, they are equal in rank.
The word faqr (poverty) in legal terminology means a lack of wealth, or it can mean the poverty (i.e. complete need) of every created being for its creator. Allah said about the first meaning:
“Zakat is only for the impoverished and the poor and…” Qur’an 9:60 and, about the second meaning:
“O, you people, you are the impoverished for Allah” Qur’an 35:15
In the Qur’an, Allah has praised two groups of poor people: those of (i.e. deserving of being given) zakat, and those deserving of being given from the public property known as fei’. About the first group, He said:
“For the impoverished who are who are fully engaged in the path of Allah, and are unable to move about in the earth, striving to seek a living. The ignorant one believes them to be without need because of their refraining (from asking). You will know them from their signs. They do not ask the people, begging.” Qur’an 2:273
And, about the second group, Allah said:
“For the impoverished, the migrators who were expelled from their homes and their property. They seek the grace of Allah, and His pleasure. They come to the aid of Allah (i.e. His cause) and His prophet. These are the truthful ones.” Qur’an 59:8
This is the category of those who fled from evil, and struggled against the enemies of Allah internally and externally, as the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“The believer is he from whom the blood and the property of the people are safe.”
“The Muslim is he with whom the Muslims are in safety from his tongue and his hand. The migrator is he who flees from that which Allah has forbidden.” And, in another version: “and the mujahid (fighter of jihad) is the one who struggles against his nafs (self, here wrong tendencies and desires) for the sake of Allah.”
As for the hadith which is narrated by some in which the Prophet (ﷺ) is alleged to have said upon the return of the Muslims from the battle of Tabuk:
“We have come back from the minor jihad to the major jihad.”
This is a false hadith, having no origin, and none of those knowledgeable of the words and actions of the Prophet (ﷺ) (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) have transmitted it. (Note: Actually, this supposed hadith is found in one minor book of hadith, the book of Al- Baihaqy, with a weak chain of narration. Scholars of hadith, among them Ibn Hajr, one of the most knowledgeable scholars of the hadith have said that the only origin of this statement is that it is the statement of one of the Muslims, and not of the Prophet.) Fighting against the disbelievers is on of the greatest of works. In fact, it is the best thing which a person can volunteer. Allah said:
“The believers who sit back without any valid excuse are not the same as those who fight in the path of Allah with their property and their lives. Allah has preferred those who struggle with their property and their lives over those who sit back by a degree, and to both Allah has promised good. And Allah has preferred those who struggle over those who sit back by a great (difference in) reward.” Qur’an 4:95-96
“Do you equate providing waters for the pilgrims and maintaining the sacred masjid with those who believe in Allah and in the last day and struggle in the path of Allah? They are not equal in the eyes of Allah, and Allah does not guide the oppressors. Those who believe and migrate and fight in the path of Allah with their property and their lives are greater in rank with Allah, and they are the successful ones. Allah gives them glad tidings of mercy from Him and acceptance and gardens wherein for them is a permanent bliss. They will stay in it forever, verily with Allah there is a very great reward.” Qur’an 9:19- 22
In Sahih Muslim and other collections, An-Nu’maan ibn Basheer narrates:
I was in the presence of the Prophet (ﷺ) (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam), when a man said: I have no concern if I do no other work after Islam than the providing of water for the pilgrims. And, another man said: I have no concern if I do no other work after Islam than the maintenance of the Holy Masjid (i.e. in Makka). Then, Ali ibn Abi Talib said: Jihad in the path of Allah is better than that which you two have mentioned. Umar said at that point: Do not raise your voices near the minbar of the Prophet (ﷺ), rather, after the prayer is over, I will ask him. And so, when he asked him, this aya (i.e. Qur’an 9:19-22 above) was revealed.
In the books of Muslim and Bukahari, Abdullah ibn Masood narrates:
Righteousness towards your parents. I said: Then what? He said: Jihad in the path of Allah ta’ala. (The narrator then said): The Prophet (ﷺ) (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) informed me of these, and if I had asked for more, he would have given me more.”
In another hadith, also in Muslim and Bukhari, the Prophet (ﷺ) (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) was asked about the best act, and he said:
“Belief in Allah and jihad in His path.” When it was asked of him: And then what? He said: “A pilgrimage free of transgression.”
In a third hadith found in Muslim and Bukhari, the following is narrated:
A man said to the Prophet (ﷺ): O, Prophet of Allah (ﷺ), tell me about an act which is equal to jihad in the path of Allah. The Prophet (ﷺ) said: You are not capable of it. Then the man said: But tell me about it. The Prophet said: Are you able, when you go out as a fighter in the path of Allah to fast and never break your fast and stand (in prayer) and never take a rest?
In another sahih hadith, Mu’adh ibn Jabal tells of the Prophets advice to him when he sent him to Yemen:
“O, Mu’adh, have taqwa of Allah wherever you are, and follow up the bad action with a good act which will erase it, and be with people on the best of character and manners.” And he said in another hadith: “O, Mu’adh, verily I love you, so never neglect to say at the end of each prayer: O, Allah aid me in your remembrance, and gratitude to You, and the best forms of worshipping You.” And, the Prophet (ﷺ) said to Mu’adh on another occasion: “O, Mu’adh, do you know what Allah right over His slaves? I said: Allah and His Prophet (ﷺ) know best. The Prophet said: His right over His slaves is that they worship Him and associate no partners with Him. And do you know what is the right of the slaves over Allah when they do that? I said: Allah and His Prophet (ﷺ)know best. The Prophet said: “Their right over Him is that He not punish them.”
In another hadith, the Prophet (ﷺ) said to Mu’adh:
“The head of the affair is Islam (i.e. submission), and its central pillar is prayer, and the tip of its peak is jihad in the path of Allah.”
“O, Mu’adh, should I not inform you of the elements of righteousness? Fasting is a preventive, and giving in charity extinguishes minor sins as water extinguishes fire, and the standing of a man in prayer in the middle of the night, upon which he read the verse: “Their sides are repelled form their places of rest, they call to their Lord in fear and hope, and of that which we have provided them, they spend. So, no soul knows of the peace-giving delights which have been hidden away for them as a reward for that which they used to do.” Qur’an 41:16-17 Then, the Prophet said: O, Mu’adh, should I not inform you of something which is even better for you than that? Hold back this tongue or yours. (While saying this, the Prophet took hold of his tongue.) Mu’adh said: O, Prophet of Allah, are we to be held to account for that about which we speak? The Prophet said: Your mother is bereaved of you O, Mu’adh, did the people get thrown into the fire on their faces for anything other than the harvests of their tongues?”
The meaning of this is found in another hadith which is in Muslim and Bukhari in which the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“Whoever believes in Allah and the last day, let him speak that which is good, or keep quiet.”
i.e. speaking that which is good is better than silence, and silence is better than speaking that which is evil. As for complete and perpetual silence, this is an innovation (bid’a), and is interdicted, as is complete abstinence from bread or meat or from the drinking of water. All of that is blameworthy innovation (bid’a), as has been established in the hadith found in the book of Sahih Bukhari, narrated by Ibn Abbas:
The Prophet (ﷺ) saw a man standing in the sun and said: What is this? Those around him answered: Abu Isra’il swore an oath that he would stand in the sun, not seek shade, not speak, and fast. The Prophet (ﷺ) said: Order him to sit down, seek shade, speak, and let him complete his fast. (Note: This hadith proves that of the four parts of the man’s oath, only the fasting is obedience to Allah, since it is a mode of devotion prescribed by Allah, as for the other three, they are bid’a and blameworthy innovation, and so the Prophet (ﷺ) had the man ordered to stop them even though he had made an oath (nadhar).)
Also in Muslim and Bukhari, Anas narrates:
Some men asked about the acts of worship of the Prophet (ﷺ), and it was as if they thought them little. They said: And which of us is like the Prophet of Allah? Then one of them said: As for me, I fast every day, and never break it. And another one said: As for me, I stand in prayer in the night, and do not sleep. Then a third one said: As for me, I do not eat meat. And a fourth one said: As for me, I do not marry women. The Prophet said: What is with people who say such things? As for me, I fast and I break fast, I stand in prayer and I sleep, I eat meat, and I marry women. Whoever turns away from my way (sunnah) is not of me.
i.e. took another path with the conviction that it is superior to the path of the Prophet (ﷺ) (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam). Whoever does such is unconnected to Allah and His Prophet (ﷺ). Allah said:
“And who turns away from the tradition of Ibrahim (i.e. pure monotheism) except for the one who has immersed himself in foolishness?” Qur’an 2:130
Rather, it is obligatory upon every Muslim to believe that the best discourse of all is the Book of Allah, and that the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad (ﷺ) (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) as it has been established in the sahih hadith, i.e. that the Prophet (ﷺ) used to say that in his khutba every Friday.