For the I-Faith Forum on Mysticism In Islam and Christianity
Bismillah Hirahman Niraheem
Alhamdullilahi Ladhi Alamal Bil Qalam
Allamal Insana ma lam Ya'lam
(In the Name of God Most Merciful and Compassionate
Praise be to Him who has created Qalam (speech/pen/Knowledge)
And created Man And what he does not know)
Wa salatu wa salamau alal Khatamul anbiya wal Mursalin, Sayidna Habibina wa Mawlatina Muhammad, Salla Allahu alayhi wa alihi, wa Ahlil Bayt Tahirin (alahyimus Salam), wa Ashabi Muntajirin (Radialahhu anhum)
My friends, allow me to greet you the universal Islamic Greeting of Peace:
The Slides I have prepared, actually does not coincide with my paper,as its aim is to provide a simplified presentation accordingly to western persepective. It was taken from a presentation prepared by one of my elders, Dr. Mirza Ahmad of the Naqshabandiya foundation.
However, I believe that it would prove to be helpful in the event of the open forum in the aim of simplifying answers.
This talk is dedicated to the Spiritual chains of our tradition both in the Ikhwanu-Safa and the Sadiliah Branch of Naqhabandiyah Order.
Indeed it is said that in every object, there lies its essence, its heart, its embodiment. And like the great Sage Hermes known as the prophet Khaidr has said, the essence lies in the heart of an object.
Sufism, as the masters say is the heart and essence of Islam. It is the crystalization of all known knowledge; as Imam Ali, karamallahu wajhah said, it is the key to knowing oneself, and knowing God.
Basically, what do we refer as Tasawuff?
As a practitioner of this discipline, it is not that easy to elaborate on this vast expanse of knowledge. But I will try in my own humble way to crystalize what I have received from My Masters and share with you what little I know of Sufism.
Sufism stands for the mystical Islamic science and practice in which the faithful seeks to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God.
It consists of a variety of mystical paths that are designed to ascertain the nature of man and God and to facilitate the experience of the presence of divine love and wisdom in the world.
Islamic mysticism is called tasawwuf (literally, “to dress in wool”) in Arabic, but it has been called Sufism in Western languages since the early 19th century. An abstract word, Sufism derives from the Arabic term for a mystic, Sufi, which is in turn derived from suf, “wool,” plausibly a reference to the woollen garment of early Islamic ascetics. The Sufis are also generally known as “the poor,” fuqara', plural of the Arabic faqir, in Persian darvish, whence the English words fakir and dervish.
By educating the masses and deepening the spiritual concerns of the Muslims, Sufism has played an important role in the formation of Muslim society. Opposed to the dry casuistry of the lawyer-divines, the mystics nevertheless scrupulously observed the commands of the divine law (Shari'a). The Sufis have been further responsible for a large-scale proliferation activity (nashr) all over the world, which still continues. Sufis have elaborated the image of the prophet Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him) and have thus largely influenced Muslim piety by their Mohammedian mysticism.
Without the Sufi vocabulary, Arabic, Persian and other literatures related to it, such as Turkish would lack their special charms. Through the poetry of these literatures mystical ideas spread widely among the Muslims.
Sufism had several stages of growth, including (1) the appearance of early asceticism (zuhd), (2) the development of a classical mysticism of divine love (mahabba laduniya), and (3) the rise and proliferation of fraternal orders of mystics (turuq). Despite these general stages, however, the history of Sufism is largely a history of individual mystic experience. The first stage of Sufism appeared in pious circles as a reaction against the worldliness of the early Umayyad period (76-661/164-749). From their practice of constantly meditating on the Quranic words about Doomsday, the ascetics became known as “those who always weep” and those who considered this world “a hut of sorrows.” They were distinguished by their scrupulous fulfilment of the injunctions of the Quran and tradition, by many acts of piety, and especially by a predilection for night prayers.
The introduction of the element of love, which changed asceticism into mysticism, is ascribed to Sayyida Rabi'a al-'Adawiya (d. 216/801), a woman from Basra who first formulated the Sufi ideal of a love of God that was disinterested, without hope for paradise and without fear of hell. In the decades after Sayyida Rabi'a, mystical trends grew everywhere in the Islamic world. A number of mystics in the early generations had concentrated their efforts upon tawakkul, absolute trust in God, which became a central concept of Sufism. An Iraqi school of mysticism became noted for its strict self-control and esoteric insight. The Iraqi school was initiated by Sidi al-Harith ibn Asad al-Muhasibi's (d. 243/828), who believed that purging the soul in preparation for companionship with God was the only value of asceticism. His teachings of classical sobriety and wisdom were perfected by Sidi Abul Qacem al-Junaid of Baghdad (d. 297/882), to whom all later chains of the transmission of doctrine and legitimacy go back.
In an Egyptian school of Sufism, the mystic Sidi Dhu an-Nun (d. 274/859) reputedly introduced the technical term ma'rifa (gnosis), as contrasted to learnedness; in his hymnical prayers he joined all nature in the praise of God. In the Iranian school, Sidi Abu Yazid Bastami (d. 261/846) is usually considered to have been representative of the important doctrine of annihilation of the self, fana' (extinction); the symbolism of his sayings prefigures part of the terminology of later mystical poets. At the same time the concept of divine love became more central, especially among the Iraqi Sufis. Its main representative is Sidi Abul Hassan an-Nuri (d. 295/880), who offered his life for his brothers.
The first of the theosophical speculations based on mystical insights about the nature of man and the essence of the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) were produced by Sidi Sahl Tustari (d. 311/896) and Sidi al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi (d. 313 898). Sidi Sahl Tustari was the master of Sidi Hussein ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (d. 309/894), who has become famous for his phrase ana al-haqq, “I am the Creative Truth” (often rendered “I am God”), which was later interpreted in a pantheistic sense but is, in fact, only a condensation of his theory of huwa huwa (“He He”): God loved himself in his essence, and created Adam “in his image.” Sidi Hallaj was executed in 407/922 in Baghdad as a result of his teachings; he is, for later mystics and poets, the “martyr of Love” par excellence, the enthusiast killed by the theologians. His few poems are of exquisite beauty; his prose, which contains an outspoken Mohammedian mysticism is as beautiful.
Sufi doctrine was in these early centuries transmitted in small circles. Some of the Shaykhs, Sufi mystical leaders or guides of such circles, were also artisans. In the fourth/tenth century, it was deemed necessary to write handbooks about the tenets of Sufism in order to ease the growing suspicions of the orthodox; the compendiums composed in Arabic by Sidi Abu Talib al-Makki (d. 386/971), Sidi Sarraj, and Sidi Kalabadhi in the late fourth/tenth century, and by Sidi Abul Qacem al-Qushayri (d. 467/1052) and, in Persian, by Sidi Hujviri in the fifth/eleventh century reveal how these authors tried to defend Sufism and to prove its orthodox character. It should be noted that the mystics belonged to all schools of Islamic law and theology of the times.
The last great figure in the line of classical Sufism is Sidi Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 526/1111), who wrote, among numerous other works, the Ihya' 'ulum ad-din (“The Revival of the Religious Sciences”), a comprehensive work that established moderate mysticism against the growing theosophical trends and thus shaped the thought of millions of Muslims. His younger brother, Ahmad al-Ghazali, wrote one of the subtlest treatises (Sawanih; “Occurrences” [i.e. stray thoughts]) on mystical love, a subject that then became the main subject of Persian poetry.
Slightly later, turuq, mystical orders (fraternal groups centring around the teachings of a shaykh-founder) began to crystallize. The seventh/thirteenth century, though politically overshadowed by the invasion of the Mongols into the Eastern lands of Islam and the end of the 'Abbasid caliphate, was also the golden age of Sufism: the Andalusian Sidi Muhyiddin ibn Arabi ("Shaykh al-Akbar," d. 636/1221) created a comprehensive theosophical system (concerning the relation of God and the world) that was to become the cornerstone for a doctrine of “Unity of Being.” According to this doctrine all existence is one, a manifestation of the underlying divine reality. His Egyptian contemporary Sidi Ibn al-Farid (d. 650/1235) wrote the finest mystical poems in Arabic. Two other important mystics, who died 635/1220, were a Persian poet, Sidi Farid ad-Din 'Attar, one of the most fertile writers on mystical topics, and a Central Asian master, Sidi Najmuddin Kubra, who presented elaborate discussions of the psychological experiences through which the mystic adept has to pass.
The greatest mystical poet in the Persian language, Sidi Jalaluddin ar-Rumi (d. 688/1273), was moved by mystical love to compose his lyrical poetry that he attributed to his mystical beloved, Shamsuddin of Tabriz, as a symbol of their union. Sidi Jalaluddin ar-Rumi's didactic poem Mathnawi in about 26,000 couplets—a work that is for the Persian-reading mystics second in importance only to the Quran—is an encyclopaedia of mystical thought in which everyone can find his own spiritual meaning. Sidi Jalaluddin ar-Rumi inspired the organization of the whirling dervishes—who sought ecstasy through an elaborate dancing ritual, accompanied by superb music. His younger contemporary Sidi Yunus Emre inaugurated Turkish mystical poetry with his charming verses that were transmitted by the Bektashiya order of dervishes and are still admired in modern Turkey.
At that time, the basic ideals of Sufism permeated the whole world of Islam; and at its borders as, for example, in India, Sufis largely contributed to shaping Islamic society. Later some of the Sufis in India were brought closer to other models of mysticism by an overemphasis on the idea of divine unity which became almost monism—a religio-philosophic perspective according to which there is only one basic reality, and the distinction between God and the world (and man) tends to disappear. The syncretistic attempts of the Mughal emperor Akbar (d. 1020/1605) to combine different forms of belief and practice, and the religious discussions of the crown prince Dara Shukoh (executed for heresy, 1074/1659) were objectionable to the orthodox (Ahl Sunna).
Typically, the countermovement was again undertaken by a mystical order, the Naqshbandiya, a Central Asian fraternity founded in the eight/fourteenth century. Contrary to the creed of the school of wahdat al-wujud (“existential unity of being”), the later Naqshbandiya defended the wahdat ash-shuhud (“unity of vision”), a subjective experience of unity, occurring only in the mind of the believer, and not as an objective experience. Sidi Ahmed Sirhindi (d. 1039/1624) was the major character of this order in India. His stands of sanctity were surprisingly daring: he considered himself the divinely invested master of the universe. His refusal to concede the possibility of union between man and God (characterized as “servant” and “Lord”) and his sober law-bound attitude gained him and his followers many disciples, even at the Mughal court and as far away as Turkey. In the eleventh/eighteenth century, Shah Sidi Wali'Allah of Delhi was connected with an attempt to reach a compromise between the two inimical schools of mysticism; he was also politically active and translated the Quran into Persian, the official language of Mughal India. Other Indian mystics of the same century, such as Sidi Mir Dard, played a decisive role in forming the newly developing Urdu poetry.
In This context, the idea of Mystical Islam can be best described by words, fast keywords that may immediately describe Ideas, concepts and realizations. Let us then define sufism accordingly to these words:
- “Islamic Spirituality”
- “Islamic Mysticism”
- Tazkiyatun Nafs wa Qalb (Purification of the heart)
- Ihsan (sincerity)
- Thrust towards Perfection and excellence
- Sufism aims in effect to bring man to Yaqeen or what laymen say as the point of Certainty which is divided into several levels:
Ilm-al-Yaqin (Knowledge of Certainty)
Ain-al-Yaqin (Vision of Certainty)
Haqq-al-Yaqin (Essence of Certainty)
To a sufi, to be able to cross the path, he must pass through four portals of disciplines which we may call
Shari'ah which is understanding the basic and basis of Islamic law so he may be guided instrinsically by what is legally acceptable and what is not legally acceptable. Allow me to share what Sheik Ahmad Sirhindi has said about this:
Shariah consists of 3 parts, a.Knowledge(ilm),b. Deeds(amal)& c.Sincerity(ikhlas)Until all 3 are realized,Shariah cannot be fulflled. When Shariah is fulfilled,the pleasure of God Almighty results&this is superior to all forms of happiness.The Shariah is gaurantor of all happiness both in this world&hereafter.Tariqah is servant of Shariah&perfects the Sincereity(Ikhlas). Ahmad Sirhindi (d.1624)
Tariqah , Initiation into the way (tariq) into which a journeyer is led into the unveiling of himself so that he may prepare himself into the experience of understanding and knowing himself
Maarifah, this is the stage where on already discovers and knows(ma'araf) himself, the stage which prepares himself for Yaqeen
Haqiqah, this is the stage where in the language of other Masters, one attains fana (elimnation) when he reaches the point of discovering truth (al-Haqq)
In the eyes of a sufi, Sharia'h is his Qawli, Tariqat is his Fi'li and Haqiqat Ahwali (interior garment)
Indeed as one may say Sufism is the path to discovering Spiritual life through the path of elimination (haya min tarikhul fana), and as such, they say those who has reached the level of haqiqah is said to have died in the embrace of Wisdom.
Most Sufi poets declare this as the embrace of truth.
Why do Sufi's go all the way just to attain these things?
The simple answer is that Sufis aim to :
“Acquire attributes of God” (Takhhaluque bi akhlaquillah)
“Die before your death” (Mootoo qabla unta Mootoo)
“The faithful is the mirror of the faithful” (Al-mumin mirat al-mumin)
To acquire nearness of God (Qurb)
To achieve contented self (Nafs-ul-Mutmainna)
To cultivate God awareness (Taqwa)
To transform self (Tazkiya-e-Nafs )
Removing the bad habits and acquiring the good manners
Of course many people have a hundred and one ways of defining Sufism. The previous definitions were culled from my own personal intellectual and spiritual experiences.
This is the tradition of sufism; engaging the traveller to a personal experience in knowing oneself as it leads one to knowing God.
It is also important that there are five other things that define a Sufi:
he loves all creation, being one in creation
he respects all men since all men descended from banu Adam
He respects all religion because they all originated from one source
he views all in the light of Allah's Pleasure
Truth and light does not contradict, as light is a manifestation of truth
And this sums up my simple talk on Sufism.
Wa ma tawfiq illa bi Allah
Wa salatu wa salamu alal Sayiddna Muhammad,wa alal alihi tahirin wa ashabi muntajirin, wa ummati wasiyin
Wa salamun alal Mursalin wal hamdullillah Hirabbil alamin
Quezon City Philippines
7 October 2008
Dedicated to My Sufi Guide (Hafidhu Allah) and the Shuyukh of His Chain