Someone asks me how on earth anyone can have any respect for the Sufis, when it is reported that they hold that ‘You can sin against God, but not against man’.
This kind of question provides an ideal opportunity to show how wildly the obsessives who have taken Sufi as their targets will (often unknowingly) distort the facts, and also to recall a very delightful lesson given by one of the ancients.
This lesson, valid to this day, is reported of Sheikh Ahmad of Manyar*, in Bihar, India, who was born in the thirteenth century, the seventh century of the Islamic Era. It is upon the evidence of this story that the allegation against the Sufis is based.
A man once visited the Sheikh and not knowing that he was fasting, offered him some food. To refuse food is a discourtesy, and the Sheikh immediately ate some.
Literalists who were present at once asked the Sufi how he could so lightly break an undertaking made to God.
The Sheikh answered:
“God will forgive the breaking of a fast; but how can one compensate a man for breaking his heart?”
In the eyes of the Sufi, a sin against a man, which may include distressing him, is also a ‘sin against God’. This kind of thinking, however, is generally appreciated only feebly – if at all – by formalists who are, in reality, frequently less ‘people of religion’ than ‘people of idolatry’. Their idolatry is to the limited number of observances and principles which they recognise, without perceiving the principle which underlies all.
*Sheikh Ahmad Sharafuddin Ibn Yahya Manyari, recorded in the Manaqib al Asfiyya.
Evenings with Idries Shah