What is the Role of Asceticism and Abstinence in Sufism?
It is clear, that Sufism is not based upon ascetic practices such as abstinence from food. In our school, the traveler on God's Way is only instructed to abstain from food when he is sick or entangled in excessive desire or fear. In this case, the master or spiritual guide permits one to refrain from eating for a brief period of time, and instead directs one to concentrate on spiritual practices. In this way, the excess is transmuted and the seeker's inner being becomes harmonious. Then, the dervish will be enabled to continue on the dangerous ascent to the Infinite.
Some have thought that by fasting the strength necessary for purification is attained. On the contrary, in Sufism abstinence alone is not enough to purify the self. It is true that asceticism and abstinence give one a certain spiritual state, and in this state one's perception may be clarified. But if the self is likened to a dragon that by fasting becomes powerless, it is certain that when the fast is broken and enough food is eaten, the dragon will revive, and stronger than ever will go about attempting to fulfill its desires.
In Sufism, it is by the tariqat (spiritual path) that the self is gradually purified and transformed into Divine Attributes, until there is nothing left of one's commanding self. Then all that remains is the Perfect, Divine Self. In such extensive and precise work, asceticism and abstinence are virtually worthless.