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Archive for January 10, 2011

Sufism, part 1

Sufism means a lot to me because it is the path followed by an individual who is seeking to free themselves from human vices and weaknesses in order to acquire angelic qualities and conduct that is pleasing to God. Only if we live in accordance with the requirements of God’s knowledge and love, then the resulting spiritual delights can be achieved. It requires that we should strive continuously, like a honeybee flying from the hive to flowers and from flowers to the hive, to acquire this knowledge. We should purify our heart from all other attachments, and resist all carnal inclinations, desires, and appetites. Then we should lead our lives in a spiritual manner, always being ready to receive divine blessing and inspiration, and in strict observance of the example left behind by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), convinced that attachment to God is the greatest merit and honor. That’s why I wanted to write about what it is and explain it to those who don’t know what it exactly is. I have divided this article with part one where I explain about what it means and part two where I write about Jalaluddin Rumi, one of the great spiritual masters and poetical geniuses of mankind and he was the founder of the Mawlawi Sufi order, a leading mystical brotherhood of Islam.

Sufism is the ancient tradition of spiritual development and originated inside Islam as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam and a practitioner of this tradition is known as a Sufi and another name for a Sufi seeker is called Dervish.
Many Sufi scholars have defined Sufism as a “science the heart is repaired and turned away from everything except from God”. Some Sufi teacher sheikhs have said that Sufism cannot be limited to a particular religion, historical period, society or language. “Sufism is the pure essence of all religions and it have always existed “.
A Sufi teacher named Ahmad ibn Ajiba explained this as; “a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one’s soul and beauty it with various of praiseworthy traits. Non – Muslims often mistake Sufism as a sect of Islam, but this is not right. Sufism is accurately described as an aspect or dimension of Islam.
While all Muslims believe in that they are one the same path to God and will become close to God in Paradise after death and after the final judgment day, Sufis do believe that it is possible to draw closer to God and embrace the Divine Presence in this life. To enter the way of Sufism, the seeker begins by finding a teacher who has received the authorization to teach called ijazah that is a certification used to indicate that one has been authorized by a higher authority to transmit Islamic knowledge in an unbroken succession, silsilah that leads back to Sufism’s origin with prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The transmission goes from heart to heart between the teacher and student, rather than from mouth to ear, and many scholars are agreed on that Sufism cannot be learned through books. To reach the highest level of success in Sufism, it requires that the student live with and serve the teacher for many years. Modeling themselves on their teachers, students hope that they will glean something of the Prophetic character.

Dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone.
~ Ibn Khaldun, the 14th Century Arab historien describing Sufism.

Although Sufis are few in number, they have yet managed to shape the Islamic thought and history. Sufis have contributed hugely to the Islamic literature like Rumi, Omar Khayyam and Ghazali’s influence extended beyond Muslim countries and quoted by western philosophers, writers and theologians as Islam spread to Africa, India and the far-east.

History and Origin
The word “Sufi” may derive from the word wool, the woolen garments worn by early Sufis and some say it may have connection with the word for purity or the Greek word for wisdom, “Sophia”. However, a Sufi is understood to be a person of religious learning who aspires to be close to Allah.
Except from the goal that they worship Allah, Sufi’s belong to Tariqas, orders that was first established in the first few centuries after the Prophets death. These orders have a master who teaches sacred knowledge to the group. Sufi’s acknowledge that Tariqas were not established at the time of the Prophet. They consider that the Prophet, his companions and their immediate successors, the first three generations embraced this Islamic mysticism but the later Muslims became distracted because it didn’t have a specific name and those in minority who were dedicated to worship Allah were given the name Sufi.

Between the 13th and 16th centuries CE, Sufism produced a flourishing intellectual culture throughout the Islamic world like a Golden Age. In many places, a lodge would be endowed through a pious foundation in perpetuity (waqf) to provide a gathering place for Sufi’s as well as for seekers of knowledge. This system of endowments could also be used to pay for a complex of buildings, such as the surrounding around Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, including a lodge for Sufi seekers,, a hospice with kitchens where these seekers could serve the poor and/or complete a period of initiation, a library and other structures.

Umar ibn al-Khattab, a companion of the prophet, said:
“One day we were sitting in the company of Allah’s Apostle (peace be upon him) when there appeared before us a man dressed in pure white clothes, his hair extraordinarily black. There were no signs of travel on him. None amongst us recognized him”.

At last he sat with the Apostle (peace be upon him). He knelt before him placed his palms on his thighs and said: Muhammad, inform me about Islam.
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “Islam implies that you testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and you establish prayer, pay Zakat, observe the fast of Ramadan, and perform pilgrimage to the House if you are solvent enough to bear the expense of the journey”. He (the inquirer) said: “You have told the truth”.
“It amazed us that he would put the question and then he would himself verify the truth.
He (the inquirer) said: “Inform me about Iman (faith)”.
He (the Holy Prophet) replied: “That you affirm your faith in Allah, in His angels, in His Books, in His Apostles, in the Day of Judgment, and you affirm your faith in the Divine Decree about good and evil”.
He (the inquirer) said: “You have told the truth”.

He again said: “Inform me about Ihsan (beneficence)”.
He (the Holy Prophet) said: “That you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, for though you don’t see Him, He, verily, sees you”.
He (the enquirer) again said: “Inform me about the last hour (of the Doom)”.
He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: “One who is asked knows no more than the one who is inquiring (about it)”.
He (the inquirer) said: “Tell me some of its indications”.
He (the Holy Prophet) said: “That the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress and master that you will find barefooted, destitute goat-herds vying with one another in the construction of magnificent buildings”.
Then he (the inquirer) went on his way but I stayed with him (the Holy Prophet) for a long while. He then, said to me: “Umar, do you know who this inquirer was”? I replied: “Allah and His Apostle know best”. He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: “He was Gabriel (the angel). He came to you in order to instruct you in matters of religion.”
Sahih Muslim, Book 1: Number 1

In this hadith the angel Gabriel asks about pivotal features of the Islamic belief. They included Islam, Iman and Ihsan. Iman is the belief in the unseen and what the prophets have informed us about. Ihsan is to worship Allah as though one sees him. It is the Muslim responsibility to obtain perfection and excellence in worship, such that Muslims try to worship God as if they see Him, and although they cannot see Him, they undoubtedly believe he is constantly watching over them.

Practice of Sufism
….hearts become tranquil through the remembrance of Allah….
Qur’an 13:28

The seeker must turn away from sins, love of this world, the love of company and renown. The seeker must also be trained to prevent the corruption of those good deeds which have accrued to his or her credit by overcoming the traps of ostentation, pride, arrogance and envy. Beside the Islamic norms where the believer must implement the Islamic ritual prayer five times a day, fast in Ramadan and so on but the seeker should also be firmly grounded in the practices known from the life of Prophet Muhammad. The seeker is in a sense to become a broken person, stripped of all habits through the practice of solitude, silence, sleeplessness and hunger.

The Fundamentals of the Sufi teachings
Sufism holds a belief that the universe consists of 7 “planes of existence”.
The subtlest dimension, which the Sufis call Zat, is the Abode of God in the aspect of the Creator. The Creator and the whole diversity of his creation (Sifat) compose the Absolute. The Creator pervades the entire Creation with His love.
The multidimensional human organism, similar to the multidimensional structure of the Absolute, can reveal itself more subtle forms of beingness. One realizes this by cognizing and perfecting oneself. Only knowing this true essence, man can achieve the direct perception of God and union with him. On the final stages of such cognition, the individual human consciousness merges with the Divine Consciousness.
The final goal is described in the Sufi tradition as the highest state of consciousness Baqi bi-Allah (eternity in God). The foundation of Sufism is love and the Sufis also say that their teachings as a “hymn to the Divine Love” and call it tessitura, love-vision. Love is considered in Sufism as the power which strengthens one’s feeling of being contained God. A truly loving Sufi gradually submerges, sinks and becomes dissolved in the Creator – in his or her Beloved. When a man traverses a certain part of the Path of Love, God begins to help him more actively by drawing him to His Abode, and then man begins to feel more intensely God’s Divine Love.

What does happen when this much love leads man to God according to the views of Jalaluddin Rumi:
1) Through the development of the emotional, cordial love for all the beautiful and harmonious in the world;
2) Through active, sacrificial love-service to people;
3) and then-through extending this love to all manifestations of the world without discriminating between them; the Sufi’s say: “ If you make a distinction between things originating from God – you are not man of a spiritual Path. “If you think that a diamond can ennoble you and a stone lower you, then God is not with you…”
4) such developed love for all elements of the Creation is redirected then to the Creator – and man begins to see that, according to Rumi, “the Beloved is present in everything”.

One technique used in Sufism is zikr (remembrance). Zikr is the remembrance of God commanded in the Qur’an for all Muslims through a specific devotional act such as the repetition of divine names of Allah and text and verses from the Qur’an. This may come in the form of recitation, lyrical chanting or simply just remembering God in one’s heart. There are many variations of zikr according to the traditions of the brotherhood or order. Zikr is usually done individually but in some Sufi orders it is instituted as a ceremonial activity. One example is when all participants stand or sit in a circle. The sheik gives meditative attunement and then
Another interesting technique is Sufi whirling. This whirling can be performed with or without music. The person starts whirling not sooner than three hours after meat meal. Whirling is performed to any convenient side, against the background of full relaxation of the body while the eyes are opened and fixed on one of the raised hands or not fixed on anything at all. The whirling is performed in individual rhythm, with as smooth beginning and end of the exercise as possibly. If it wouldn’t happen that one falls down during whirling, the person can turn on the stomach and relax, and after the exercise it is necessary to relax. The duration of this exercise can last from several minutes to several hours. The process of Sufi teaching can be subdivided into several stages. The initial stage of the spiritual practice – Sharia (law) concerns strict obedience to all religious precepts and initial learning of Sharia is an obligatory condition for entering on the path of spiritual development.

The next learning begins on the next stage – tariqa (path, way). Mastering the tariqa is related to mastering a series of steps – maqams. These maqams imply finding one’s own vices and repentance (tauba), abstaining from the forbidden (zuhd), strict distinction between the allowed and non allowed (wara), refusal of non-spiritual attachments and desires (faqr). Murids learn patience (sabr), swallowing something bitter without showing distaste. Constant remembrance about death, about its inevitability leads Murids to reassessing many things and they develop a careful attitude to the time which they have on the Earth. Reflections on death are an efficient means of fighting unwanted attachments and habits. On the stage of Tariqa, one performs intense intellectual work. Sheiks constantly suggest to their students new themes for reflection; talk with them about the fundamentals of the teachings. As the murid goes through all steps of this stage, he or she develops a strong desire to attain the unity with the Creator and enters the state of rida, a state of serenity, calm in respect to what is happening.

They who successfully passed maqams of tariqa receive the possibility to go further the path of marefat, meditative cognition of God. On this stage, further ethical “polishing” of the students takes place; students love wisdom and power are perfected. The Sufi who traversed this stage really cognizes the multidimensionality of space “illusiveness” of the values of material life receives living experience of communion with God. As Arif (he who has cognized) such a person receives initiation into sheiks. Some Arif’s managed to reach the fourth stage – haqiqat (haqq means truth), on which one finally masters the true beingness. It brings the Arif to the full mergence of the individual consciousness with the goal of his or her aspirations – with the Creator. If you go to the deep of the roots of Sufism, it will touch your soul and your being and give you tranquility and peace of mind. Sufism never accepts violence and brutality, but demands that you obey just one God. In time it will give you self confidence and self-respect buy separating you from the materialistic world and bound you to the spiritual world.
You will learn to have sympathy would everyone and develop pure love in your heart. The world of Sufism is beyond the world that we live in. It will change our internal world and give a meaning for our life.

“This faith, we become a lover and God our beloved.
You will be able to sacrifice everything for the sake of God”.

Jalaluddin Rumi

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