Read the English translation of ‘Munkidh min al-Dalal’ (Deliverance from Error) by Muhammad Abulaylah.
It is a sort of intellectual autobiography of Imam Ghazali. Imam Ghazali talks about the spiritual crisis he went through and how he set out in quest of certain knowledge about the ultimate questions of life. He examined the beliefs and practices of all religious sects and philosophies prevalent at his time and ultimately found truth and certitude in the way of Sufis. In a very succinct way, he presents the gist of his intellectual and spiritual journey. It’s a must read being one of the most important classical Islamic books.
Dr. Israr started with a brief overview of how Islam came to South Asia. Initially, the Islamic Fiqh and Tassawuf came here and all the focus was on these two. Scholars used to be identified with their association to one of the Schools of Fiqh and one of the Sufi silsilas. Name of scholars used to denote their Fiqhi and Sufi associations like Hanafi Qadari or Hanafi Chisti. Shiaism later came to South Asia during the time of Sher Shah Suri when Humayoon took refuge in Iran and came back with Irani support to take back the empire. Later on scholars made efforts to bring Muslims closer to Hadith and Quran also, rather than just focusing on Fiqh and Tassawuf.
Dr. Israr mentioned that there are two major hurdles in revival of Islam today: sectarianism and a cerain form of sufism. He didn’t consider the sufi practices to be un-Islamic but he rather believed them to be appropriate for their time and not essential part of Islam as they were not taught by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). In the past, Shariah was implemented and rulers were Muslims so all the emphasis was on ibadaat and tazkiya-e-nafs. This is the context where sufi practices like Chila and Maraqba made sense. But in the current context the focus should be on establishment of ideal islamic state which is the important religious duty of Muslims. To counter sectarianism, Dr. Israr proposed that Muslims should be directly exposed to the message of Quran. This will reduce the sectarian tensions within the society as Muslims will be able to realize what is primary and what is of secondary importance in religion. In the Arab world, the sectarian conflicts doesn’t have the same intensity because they are able to directly read and understand Quran.
Sallook-e-Muhammadi (Tariqah-i-Muhhamdiyah), founded by Syed Ahmed Barelvi was closer to the teaching of Muhammad (pbuh) in its understanding of Tasawuf and according to Dr. Israr, it would be better if we use the term Ehsan for it which is from Quran and Hadith.