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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Followers: The Sufis

When I come to Love, I am ashamed of all
that I have ever said about Love."

Mevlâna Jelaleddin Rumî (1207 - 1273)

As most Sufis claim to be Muslims - they accept the Koran as scripture, and trace the lineage of their teachers back to Muhammad - Sufism is usually described as an "esoteric," or "mystical" branch of Islam, but its essence incorporates all faiths, as described by S.R Sharda:

"Sufism regards all religions as more or less perfect shadowings forth of the great central truth which they seek fully to comprehend, and consequently it recognizes them as good, in proportion to the matter of truth they contain."

Novelist and dervish fan Doris Lessing put it another way: "Sufi truth is at the core of every religion, its heart." Ted Hughes put it a third: "Sufis are the most sensible collection of people on earth."

The central doctrine of Sufism, sometimes called Unity, is the understanding that all things are manifestations of a single Truth. They believe that this Truth has no form and yet is inseparable from every form and thing either material or spiritual. This implies that everything has an aspect or part of that Truth within it.

The definition of the Sufi is one who is a lover of the single Truth or God, who by means of love and devotion moves towards the Truth. Within Sufi traditions, the recognition of this philosophy has encouraged the spiritual maturation of women in a way that has not always been possible in the strict interpretations of religion, too.

Sufi Paths

There are three ways of knowing a thing. Take for instance a flame. One can be told of the flame, one can see the flame with his own eyes, and finally one can reach out and be burned by it. In this way, we Sufis seek to be burned by God.
Unknown Sufi scholar

Sufis believe that love is a projection of the essence of God to the universe.

The practice of Sufism is the intention to go towards this essence. The means by which this is done is called the the Spiritual Path or way towards God. The way is taught by a teacher-student relationship in personal confraternities, or religious orders. Those that belong to these orders are known as dervishes. The word dervish comes from the Persian darwish (for door sill) and some say it refers to a person on the threshold of enlightenment.

Different orders have different ways to God, for example the Mevlevi Path is through a whirling dance which induces a trance-like state of euphoria.

Its practice as a concept is not easy to define, but its essence seems to be an individual's quest for union with God, associated with an ecstatic state, and contained within the framework of Islam. The desired state can be achieved through meditation, dance or music:

"The purpose of music, considered in relation to God, is to arouse longing for God, and passionate love for Him, and to produce states in which God reveals Himself and His favor, which are beyond description and known only by experience. These states are called ecstasy." al-Ghazali, 10th Century Mystic

The chief aim of all Sufis then is to let go of the individual self, and realize this divine unity. As such, it is characterised by inward-looking meditation or trances, such as the kind manifested in the whirling ceremony of the Mevlevi school, rather than an engagement with the outside world.

It's easy to see how this emphasis on the individual's path could lead to withdrawal from the world as a whole in a monastic or heremetic way, but it's not necessary to do so to consider oneself a Sufi, as with the Mevlevi who believe that being an integral part of the community is important, too. Mevlevi members have families and have professional lives as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and artists.

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