Glossary of Sufism (tasawwuf)

04 June 2012

التصوف - tasawwuf "s" pronunciation as in "sorry"

"Sufism" (tasawwuf) is the science through which we can attain the modalities for our journey toward the King of kings; it is also the inner purification (tasfiya) from the vices (radhaa' il) and the inner beauty by the means of all virtues (fadhaa'il); or the erasing (ghayba) of the creature, be it lost in the vision (shuhuud) of Truth (God; al-Haqq), or going back to the manifested world (al-athar).

Its beginning is "science" ('ilm), its medium "action" ('amal) and its aim "gift" (mawhiba) [from God].

Regarding the word itself, it derives:

-possibly from safaa', purity, as its aim is purification (tasfiya) ;
-possibly from sifa, quality, because it is the qualification (ittisaaf) derived from perfections ;
-possibly from suffa, the "bench" at the Prophet's Mosque, as the sufis look very much like the People of the Bench from their orientation [towards God] (tawajjuh) and from their renouncing to the world (inqitaa') ;
-and possibly from suuf, the wool, because most of them used to wear garments made with wool as a sign of detachment of the things from this world, and also imitating those Prophets that were dressed with clothes made in wool.

This last etymology seems the most convincing from a linguistic point of view, it also corresponds in a better way to the literal sense. Effectively, the garment made in wool is what has a connection with the external judgment (hukmzaahir), based on the appearances, while the other derivations imply an inner interpretation (baatin) ; but the external interpretation is more direct. It is said: "he has taken the suuf" (tasawwafa) from someone who is dressed with wool, as well as it is also said: "taqammasa" from someone who has dressed himself with a shirt (qamiis) , and this person is qualified as "suufii".

Sahl [al-Tustari] said: "The sufi is someone who is pure (safaa) from trouble (kadar), he is filled with thinking (fikr) and has renounced to the human for the Divine ; someone for whom gold and mud have the same value", that is to say, someone who doesn't desire or wish anything but his Lord and Master.

Al-Junayd said: "The sufi is like the earth: the rubbish is thrown over it, and only good things come up". He also said: "The sufi is like the earth, a place where both an innocent and a guilty walk on in, like the sky that shadows everything, like the rain that waters everything".

I will post today the essential words in sufism as I learned from Ibn'Agibah in his French-Arabic book "Glossaire du Soufisme", edited by A. Saleh Hamdan. Of course, in the beginning it seemed quite complex the series of terms and their significancies but it was their difficulty what made me feel more their beauty.
Here are the most essential terms that constantly are used in sufi treatises, studies, conferences and even in poems. I have not included the phonetical accents as this will come later. Just for you to have right now a view of the series of words and expressions in a simple way. As we will learn each time one of these words and its interpretation as well as metaphysical meaning in sufism, the accents will be explained and the way to pronounce each word.
Sometimes the sense of the word, once translated to other languages could vary slightly from the original subtilities inherent in its own meaning and emanation(sometimes word vibrates and follows a natural law along with its meaning) But anyway, it will be very helpful to get used to them, and, little by little, "feel" them in their original language, once every term has been understood and accepted in the soul.

1. tasawwuf
2. tawba
3. inaba
4. khawf
5. raja'
6. sabr
7. shurk
8. wara'
9. zuhd
10. tawakkul
11.-12. ridaa wa' l-taslim
13. muraqaba
14.-15. mushasaba wa'l-musharata
16. mahabba
17.-18. mushahada wa'l - mu'ayana
19. ma' rifa
20. taqwa
21. istiqama
22. ikhlas
23. sidq
24. tuma' nina
25.-26. shawq wa'l-ishtiyaq
27. ghayra
28. futwwa
29. irada
30. murid
31. mujahada
32. walaya
33. hurriyya
34. 'ubudiyya
35. qana'a
36. 'afiya
37. yaqin
38. 'ilm al-yaqin 39. 'ayn al-yaqin 40. haqq al-yaqin
41. ni'ma
42. firasa
43. khuluq
44. jud 45. sakha' 46. ithar
47. faqr
48. dhikr
49. waqt
50. hal 51. maqam
52. qabd 53. bast
54. khawatir 55.waridat
56. nafs 57. ruh 58. sirr
59. nasr 60. ta'yid 61. 'isma
62. hidaya 63, rushd 64. tasdid
65. hikma
66. 'aql
67. tawhid
68. tafrid
69. ahadiyya 70. ihad 71. fardaniyya
72. wahdaniyya 73. infirad

74. haiqat al-dhat al-'aliyya
75. 'amaa
76. fanaa' 77. baqaa'
78. qudra 79. hikma
80. farq 81. jam'
82. hiss 83. ma'naa
84. mulk 85. malakut 86. jabarut
87. nasut 88. lahut 89. rahamut
90. tawajud 91. wajd 92. wijdan 93. wujud
94. dhawq 95. shurb 96. sukr 97. sahw
98. mahw 99. ithbat
100. sitr 101. tajalli
102. muhadara 103. mukashafa 104. musamarra
105. lawa'ih 106. lawami' 107. tawali'
108. -109. bawadit wa'l -hujum
110. talwin 111. tamkin
112. qurb 113. bu'd
114. shari'a 115. tariqa 116. haqiqa
117. dhat 118. sifat
119. anwar 120. asrar
121. -122. dama'ir wa'l-sara'ir
123. nafas
124. fikra 125. nazra
126. shahid
127. khamra 128. ka's 129. sharab
130. murid 131. faqir 132 malamati 133. muqarrab
134. 'ubbad 135. zuhhad 136. 'arifun

137. salihun 138. awliya' 139. budala' 140. nuqaba'
141. nujaba' 142. awtad 143. qutb

الرضى و التسليم - (ridaa wa’ l-tasliim)

“Contentment” (al-ridaa) is to face the vicissitudes with a smiling face; or a joy that fills the heart when the divine rules happen; or to let the decision (tark al-ikhtiyaar) to God in all that God organizes and does; or to feel at ease (sarh al-sadr) and free from criticism (inkaar) in relation with what comes from The One Almighty.

“Submission” (al-tasliim), is to let with serenity that God organizes and decides the course of destiny. It is a synonym of “contentment” if we consider the last definition of “al-tasliim”. But the contentment is higher in the other senses. It is said that contentment appears the moment when the divine rule is realized, while submission comes before: it is then called tafwiid, -total acceptation- in a proper sense.

Both of them start by the constancy – steadfastness - (sabr) and the internal fight (mujahaada); their middle stage is the suspension of agitated and bitter thoughts; their completion is in the joy, the tranquility, the absence of agitation.

The first degree is the vulgar one; the second, the one belonging to the elite; the third degree belongs to the chosen elite.

The first thought which happens [when the test takes place] is forgiven, according to the general opinion, because of the weakness of human nature, as no human being is exempt of having it.

التوكل - Abandonment to God (tawakkul)


The “abandonment to God” happens when the heart confides in God to a point that the heart only leans on God; or to be tied to God and address only to God in everything, knowing that God knows everything, and to count on what is in His hands than what is in ours. The lowest degree of “abandonment to God” is to be in the same position as when the asker is in front of the giver, alert and anxious about his interests. De medium degree is like when it happens with a child and his mother: in all circumstance, it is only towards him that she focuses her attention. And the highest degree of “abandonment to God” is to be like a corpse – dead body - in the hands of the washer of the dead.

These three degrees are, respectively, the ones of the vulgar, the ones of the elite and the ones of the chosen elite. As for the first ones, a suspicion (tuhma) comes at times to the mind. Regarding the second ones, there is no wariness (ittihaam) but they get attached to their mothers because they are in need for it. And as for the ones belonging to the third degree, there is no suspicion at all, nor “interested” attachment, because they fade to their own soul (faani ‘annafsihi) and expect at all times what God will make from them.

لزهد - Detachment (zuhd)

The detachment –ascetism- is the emptiness of the heart which doesn’t know any other commitment than what is in relation to God, or the coldness of the heart and the dislike of the soul in relation to the world.

For the vulgar it is renunciation, in everything, to what surpasses the strict necessity. For the elite, it is the reinforcement to what diverts the connection towards God at any circumstance. For the elite chosen ones, detachment means renunciation to see other than God, in all times. In short words, it is the coldness of the heart regarding what is not Him, in relation to any other desire than the Beloved’s. It is the cause of love (mahabba), as it has been said by the prophet: “Pull away from the world. God will love you.”, etc; it is the cause of slow progression [towards God] and the arrival to the highest purpose (wusuul), as the heart would not be able to walk when it is attached to everything but the Beloved.

الورع - The Scruple (wara')

The "scruple" is the abstention of anything with implication of despising consequences.
For the vulgar, it means to avoid what is forbidden (haram) and what is doubtful (mutashaabih).
To the elite, it means to avoid whatever could cause trouble in our hearts, whatever provokes an aversion or darkness in our hearts. They follow the Prophet words . "Let what is doubtful and go toward what you don't know."

For the elite's chosen ones, it is the rejection of attaching oneself to what is not God, the act of closing the door to the desire for what is not God, to concentrate upon God absolutely all our thoughts and only want shelter from God. This last form of "scruple" has an equivalent as the "religion's pivot" (milaak al-diin) as defined by Hasan al-Bari when, someone having asked him: "What is the pivot of Religion"?, he replied:"the scruple!". And, to the question:"What is the corruption of religion"?, he replied:"concupiscence!" (al -tamaa).But, the scruple, which in all views, is its counterweight belongs to the elite's chosen ones. A fraction of this scruple equals a thousand prayers and fasting days. This is why the author of Tanwiir has written: "It is not the abundance of science what proves the understanding of the servant, but the fact that he waits everything from Him, the fact that he consecrates to Him (inhiyaash) in the heart's intimacy, that he is set free from the concupiscence's servitude and dressed by the jewel of the scruple", understanding here the scruple of the elite's chosen ones or the scruple of elite. But God knows More!

لصب - Sabr (Constance)

Following with the Glossary study , we are now going to understand the meaning of (Es Sabr, being constant...) in Sufism

"Being constant" means to have the heart to the disposition of the divine decissions. For the common people, being constant means to confine the heart obeying the most difficult prescriptions and to refuse the transgressions. To the elite, it means to confine the soul to pious exercises and spiritual disciplines and it is also to face and defy the dangers that one encounters along the mystical path (tariq al-ahwal); this patience and dedication comes also with the "surveillance of the heart" (muraqabat al-qalb), which by all means tries to keep in a state of concentration (hudur) and to look for the veils uplifting.

As for being constant in the chosen ones, it is the spirit confinement (al-ruh) and also the confinement of the innermost secret (al-sirr) in the glory (al-hadra) of the contemplations and of the visions (al-mushahadat, va'l-mu' ayanat).
Or even, it is the constant dwelling (dawam al-nazra) and the keeping of the Divine Presence (al-'ukuf fi'l hadra).

لرجاء - rajá - Hope

The "hope" is the peace of heart awaiting the object of its love, along with the intense searching for the means leading to it, if not it is a simple and vain desire.

As for the common popularity, hope means to attain a perfect term (husn al-ma'aab) by obtaining the reward [paradise]. Hope means to the elite to attain the divine satisfaction and the approach of God. Hope means to the chosen ones to obtain a strong vision (shuhuud) and to progress onwards in the knowledge of the secrets (asraar) of the worshiped King.

Fear and hope are, to the heart, very alike to the two wings of a bird, without them the bird could not be able to fly. Maybe, nevertheless, hope remains present in the gnostics ('arifuun) and fear in the virtuous (saalihuun)

الخوف- khawf - (as in Holy) Fear

The "fear" is the trouble of a restless heart from being taken by what is repugnant or from being loosen by what it is attached to. Its fruit is the desire to the obeisance and getting far from the non obeisance.

The fact of manifesting fear without conforming one's acts is simulation.

Fear for the common popularity is of punishment or the fact of being deprived from reward. What the elite is afraid of is to be reprimanded and to loose the occasion to approach [God]. As for the chosen ones, it is the fear from being veiled [of the Divine Presence] because of an act of indelicacy [in regards to God].

الانبة - innaaba
(two consonants mean a strong consonant
two vowels mean a long vowel)

The "conversion" (innaaba) corresponds to a more distinguished degree than repentance, because, within the conversion the return is accompanied by a break [of self-pride] (inkisaar) and by an impulse of spiritual progression.

The Conversion comprises three degrees: conversion of sin into repentance, conversion of unawareness (ghafla) into wakefulness (yaqaza) and conversion from the dissociable conscience (farq) into spontaneous conscience, bringing back all things to God (jam' 'ala Allaah)

التوبة- tawba

"Repentance" (tawba), is the returning of any bad action towards a good action, or the returning of any vile quality towards the realisation (tahaqquq) of a noble quality, or the sight of the creatures' (al-khalq) absorption (istighraaq) to the vision of the True God (al-Haqq).

Its conditions are the sincere regret (nadam) , the abandon (iglaa) [of transgressions ] and the regret of insistent stubborness (israar) [in sin]. As for the mending of faults, it's an independent duty without which repentance can exist, as well as the repentance of a sin can coexist within the stubborness of a different kind of sin.

The repentance of the common popularity is of sins; the repentance of the elite is of shortcomings; the repentance of the chosen ones is of anything that aways the inner conscience (sirr) from the presence of the Knower of Secrets ('allaam al-ghuyuub).

Every spiritual action (maqaamaat) is tributary of repentance, while repentance by itself is tributary of another repentance as long as it is not truly sincere: fear (al-khawf) is tributary of repentance when security and false self-assurance show up; hope (al-rajaa') when affliction and despair come; constance (al-sabr) when fright appears; detachment (ascetism) (al-zuhd) when concupiscent thoughts appear; scruple (al-wara') the moment we are seduced by the search of easy ways (rukhas) or by thoughts of longing (tama), the abandon of self towards God (al-tawakkul) when we are subject to an immoderate anticipation or foresight, imagining to have the free will regarding something or when we worry about ways of surviving; contentment (al-ridaa) and submission (al-tasliim) when there is bitterness and rebellion against the failures of destiny; watchfullness (al-muraaqaba) when we show tactlessness [vis-a-vis of God] (suu' al-adab) or when we are filled inside with bad thoughts; self examination (al-muhaasaba) when we loose our time in things other than those that bring us closer to God; love (al-mahabba) when the heart leans on other but the Beloved; contemplation (al-mushaahada) when the inner conscience worries about something else but the One that Is Contemplated or when it rests attached to a sensitive object and doesn't progress anymore on the Divine's secret levels.

From this reasoning, the Prophet repeated in one only session (majlis) seventy or one hundred times the session of petition for forgiveness (istighfaar).

True repentance can be summarized in four points: the act of asking forgivenes "by word"; the corporal abstention; the absence of stubborness inside the heart and the abandon of bad company.

Sufyan al -Thawrii (161H-777AD) said: "True repentance can be recognized by four signs: modest condition (qilla), frailty ('illa), humbleness (dhilla) and expatriation (ghurba)"

( muraaqabah )

"Watchfulness" is the servant's perpetual concious condition in which Allah is instructed [of everything], or the one who respects God's rights (huquuq Alllah) secretely and openly, keeping pure from all illusion, sincere in his veneration (ihtiraam).

She is the source of all goodness, and the contemplation (mushaahada) is at its level: whoever keeps an extreme watchfulness will attain an extreme contemplation.

To the exoterics (ahl al-zaahir), watchfulness consists in the preservation of the external organs from distractions (hafawaat); to te esoterics (ahl al -baatin), it consists in not letting the heart to be taken by self-propagating thoughts (khawaatir), and by distractions (ghafalaat); to the deepest esoteric ones, watchfulness consists in keeping the deep inner being (sirr) from resting in everything but the divine Presence.

Muhasaba wa'l-musharata المحاسبة والمشارطة

“Soul searching” (Muhasaba) consists in blaming oneself for the breathings (anfas) and wasted moments other than to obey God through different ways. It happens at the end of the day, like the coordination (musharata) takes time in the beginning of day, when one says to oneself: “Here is a new starting day which will be a witness against you; try then, Oh my soul, to fill every instant with what takes you closer to God; because, if you had died the day before, you would have been in need of the goodness that you would enjoy today.” It is this way that one addresses to the soul when the nights is gong to start and that is examined the moment when the night ends, this with tenacity until  the Divine presence settles steadily in it. Then, time will gather in the unique moment (yattahid al-waqt), which corresponds to the dip in the vision (shuhud), and there will not be examiner nor punisher. So, as long as the spiritual progression (al sayr) lasts, coordination comes first, soul searching comes last and the watchfulness -prudence (muraqaba) is done in permanence. Once the intention is attained, there is no more soul searching nor coordination.

Source : 

Translated from Glossaire du Soufisme, by Iban Agibah, edited by A. Saleh Hamdan.