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An overview of "Universal Sufism"

(Dr. H. J. Witteveen)

by Ken Shaw

Universal Sufism by Universal Sufism

Introductory Comments:

The author of "Universal Sufism", Dr. H. J. Witteveen, grew up in a family that was deeply involved with the work of Wikipedia link Hazrat Inayat Khan, an Indian classical musician and Sufi who attempted to introduce Sufism into the West in the first years of this century.

The pupose of the book is to present an introduction and overview of both Sufism and the life and work of Hazrat Inayat Khan.

Chapter One:  The History and Origin of Sufism

Dr. Witteveen takes the position that Sufism is a living continuation of the religious tradition of Ancient Egypt, especially the tradition of Toth-Hermes who became known as Hermes Trismegistus in Hellenistic times.  He sees Dhul-Nun al-Misti as the connecting link between Islamic Sufism and the Hermetic tradition of Hellenistic Egypt.  He quotes Hazrat Inayat Khan as saying that Abraham built the Kaaba after his time in Egypt, and that Abraham concentrated his inner force into the Black Stone of the Kaaba as a memorial of the training he had recieved in Egypt.

Dhul-Nun is of special interest to people in the West because he is the founder of the Sufi school called "The Builders" which was the inspiration of the Masonic Lodges of Europe.  Dhul-Nun is said to have learned to read the Egyptian Hieroglyphs by means of the special insight he devolped by the diciplines of the Path.

Dr. Witteveen sees the next key figure in the development of Sufism to be in Persia by Shihabuddin Yahya al-Suhrawardi.  Suhrawardi worked out a brilliantly coherant synthesis of Islam, Egyptian Hermeticism, Zoroastrianism, Neoplatonism and Buddhism.

Dr. Witteveen notes the importance of Moses and Jesus in Persian Sufism, Moses being mentioned as often as Krishna is in Hinduism.  He sees the Jesus as the main influence on the next key figure in the development of Sufism, Mansur al-Hallaj.  Al-Hallaj proclaimed the "Sufi Secret" openly in public, and it cost him his life.  He understood what Jesus meant when He said "whoever has seen Me has seen the Father" and "the Father and I are one".  Sufism understands "The Father" to be "The-Whole-of-Existence-Itself" which is a single living being.  In this view, "God" is the only "Being" that exists at all, and the various orders of "individual" organisms are like minute "reflections" of that Absolute Self in the ripples of Space-Time.  Each one of us is like a "Holographic Projection" of that One Self, our experience of "seperatness" coming from our identification with the electro-chemical organic machine which is picking up our conciousness like a radio station.

Jesus followed a Path that allowed Him to "Realize the Self" and awaken to His true identity, the One Absolute Self who is God.  It was like a person in a dream realizing that he is in a dream and becoming fully conscious in that dream.  He is both the "dreamer" of the dream and one of the characters in the dream, but he realizes the truth of both the "waking world" and the "dreaming world" he is in.

The first followers of Jesus refered to what they were doing as "The Way", and they understood "the Way" to be a tradition of "inner development" that went back to the begining of man's presence on Earth.  The Sufis believe that they are following this very same Way.  Al-Hallaj began to announce his own awakening to his friends in no uncertain terms when he said to them:

"Ana' al Haqq" -- "I Am The Truth"

The word got out that Al-Hallaj was proclaiming that he was God, and the orthodox religious authorities of Baghdad had him arrested.  He was eventualy crucified and dismembered for his "crime", but his passion changed the course of history in the East and the West and established Sufism as a permanent feature of Islamic life.

Dr. Witteveen points out that later Beyazid Bastami was able to proclaim "Glory to Me" and come to no harm, because Al-Hallaj had forced Islamic civilization to come to terms with the paradoxes of mystical realization.

He points out the importance of the city of Balkh in Turkistan for its ancient connections to Buddhism and Yoga from India.  Balkh is the birthplace of "sober" Sufism which places more emphasis on silent concentration and psychological insight than on the more outwardly "religious" forms of devotion.

Dr. Witteveen finishes this chapter with the introduction of Sufism into India, where it began to bridge the gulf between Islam and Hinduism and heal some of the deep wounds that seperated the two communities.  The Hindu sages and yogis could see eye-to-eye with the Sufis and embrace them as brethren, and the tombs of Sufi saints are revered as much by Hindus as they are by Muslims in India.

My only real problem with this brief overview of Sufi history is that it never mentions Muhammed or the tradition that has survived among the Arabs since the days of Abraham.  Moses went to Jethro, "Priest of the Midianites" in the Arabian desert to find shelter and a new direction for his life.

The Midianites were a fierce Bedouin people who had lived in the Arabian peninsula since the time of Abraham their father.  They lived in deep devotion to the God of their father Abraham, "Yahu Saboath" (Yahu of Warriors), and it was while with Jethro that Moses met the God of Abraham who called Himself "Yahue" (Eternal) and "Hayah" (I Am).  The Midianite Arabs had kept the living contact with the God a Abraham alive, and it was from them that Moses got the key to his own Prophetic mission.  There is a whole story to be learned about how Jethro came to Moses and the Israelites after the Exodus and taught Moses how to be a tribal Chief.  The decendants of Jethro accompanied the Camp of Israel from then on and kept alive thier secret tribal traditions.

These decendants of Jethro where later known as the Rechabites in the Land of Israel, where they kept alive their ancient Abrahamic Bedouine lifestyle, never touching wine or cutting their hair or beards.  It was from them that the tradition of the "Nazarite" came, which came from the word "Netzerim" which means "Keepers of Secrets".  The decendants of Jethro, the Rechabites, where the "Keepers of Secrets" that kept the ancient Abrahamic mysteries alive and functioning until the coming of Jesus and his brother James the Just.

So Sufism isn't just an amalgam of various streams of esotericism from Egypt to India, it is the true core of the whole Biblical tradition that comes down from Adam to Seth to Enoch to Noah to Melchezidek to Abraham to Moses to Jesus to Muhammed.

Kenneth Shaw

posted on the Donmeh forum Fri, 21 May 1999

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page uploaded 29 June 1999, last modified 6 September 2004