Of all the strands of thought, tradition, and belief that make up the Islamic universe, Sufism in its doctrinal aspect stands out as the most intact, the most purely Islamic: the central strand. Opponents of Sufism often charge it with having originated outside Islam, but a close study of the various schools of philosophy and theology, and a comparison with "primordial" Islam as revealed in the Koran and hadith (authentic sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), will vindicate the Sufis' claim of
centrality, of strict adherence to the original purity of the Revelation.
In the context of the history of thought, in fact, Sufism - always insisting
on a return to the sources of the Tradition - can be seen to have functioned
at times as a positive and healthy reaction to the
overly rational activity of the philosophers and theologians. For the Sufis, the road to spiritual knowledge - to Certainty - could never be confined to the process of rational or purely intellectual activity, without sapiential knowledge (zawq, "taste") and the direct, immediate experience of the Heart. Truth, they believed, can be sought and found only with one's entire being; nor were they satisfied merely to know this Truth. They insisted on a total identification with it: a "passing away" of the knower in the Known, of subject in the Object of knowledge. Thus, when the fourth/tenth century Sufi Hallaj proclaimed "I am the Truth" (and was martyred for it by the exoteric authorities), he was not violating the "First Pillar" of Islam, the belief in Unity (tawhid), but simply stating the truth from the mouth of the Truth. So the Sufis believe.
This insistence of total involvement in "mystical" realisation, and
on a participative understanding of religious doctrine, sharply distinguished
Sufism from other Islamic schools of thought. In fact, considering themselves
the true core of Islam, Sufis appeared as outsiders not only to the philosophers
and theologians, but even to "ordinary" Muslims. Their peculiarity, their
distinctness, manifested itself in every aspect of their lives: their daily
activities, their worship, social relations,
and even style or means of expression. Like mystics in all Traditions, they tended to remake language and form for their own purposes, and as in all Traditional civilisations, the potency and directness of their expression tended to flow out and permeate other areas not directly
related to mysticism in the narrow sense: literature, the arts and crafts, etc.
"Everything perishes save His Face"; the first step on the Path is to
begin to contemplate the futility of the world of dust, the world in which
one's lower self is doomed. The seeker must renounce it all,
including his own self, and seek that which is Everlasting. He must travel from things to Nothing, from existence to Nonexistence.
How does one get lost on purpose? Our present state is one of forgetfulness
toward the Divine - the true Self - and remembrance of worldly affairs
and the lower self. The cure for this is a reversal:
remembrance of the true Self, the Divine within, and forgetfulness toward everything else.
In Sufism the basic technique for this is invocation or "remembrance"
(zekr) of the Divine Name, which is mysteriously identical with the Divine
Being. Through this discipline the fragments of our directionless minds
are regathered, our outward impulse turned inward and concentrated. This
is the act of a lover who thinks of nothing but his beloved.
posted on the Ismaili.List
reposted on the Donmeh List Wed, 10 Mar 1999
back to Sufism page