A great spiritual teacher was once asked, what is tasawwuf, or “Sufism,” the spiritual path and dimension of the faith and religion of al-Islam.
He replied, “To be dressed in the Attributes of Allah,” referring to the 99 Names and Attributes of God, al-Asma ul-Husna, regarding which the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Whosoever preserves and protects (hifz) the Asma ul-Husna, the 99 Names and Attributes of Allah, shall enter Paradise,” [Bukhari, Muslim].
What exactly does it mean to be “dressed in the Attributes of Allah?”
We often believe that physical acts of worship such as prayer and fasting bring us nearer unto the Presence of God, however it is important to remember that physical forms are but containers for intention and spiritual energy.
The Holy Prophet ﷺ reminds us of this in his statement, “Actions are based upon the intention with which they are performed,” [Bukhari].
The true path to God and the Eternal Divine Presence is not based on outward actions, but rather primarily upon one’s inward state and level of consciousness, the development of taqwa, or God-consciousness.
It is only when the forms, rites and rituals of religion are infused with love, light and presence that they truly benefit, and it is only when we cultivate the Attributes of Allah, such as love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, tolerance, patience, generosity and the like, that we truly progress spiritually.
“To be dressed in the Attributes of Allah” is but this, to purify and perfect one’s character and thus to “be dressed” in the beauty and light of the Divine Presence.
As believers, it is of utmost importance to remember this, for in the end, nothing shall avail a human being but a pure and sound heart [Surah ash-Shu’ara, 26:89], and all forms will be dissolved, the only thing remaining, Love.
To perform acts of worship and observe the forms of religion yet not cultivate and “be dressed in the Attributes of Allah” leads to what is known as nifaq, or hypocrisy, and in this there is great danger for the believer.
The path that leads to increase in pride and self-righteousness is not the Prophetic Path, and will ultimately lead a human being to utter failure in the Hereafter.
To the contrary, the Way of the Prophet ﷺ is precisely the the progressive development of selflessness, humility and compassion.
To truly approach the Divine Presence and come to know God, one must cultivate those positive qualities of love, compassion and selflessness, and this specifically is the purpose of tasawwuf, Sufism, also known as tazkiyyah, or self-purification.