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Reynold A. Nicholson - The Mystics of Islam

Reynold A. Nicholson - The Mystics of Islam

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Published by Luminon Saman
An interesting document, written in 1914.
An interesting document, written in 1914.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Luminon Saman on Mar 26, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Introduction1.The Path2.Illumination And Ecstacy3.The Gnosis4.Divine Love5.Saints And Miracles6.The Unitive StateBibliography
The title of this book sufficiently explains why it is included in a Series 'exemplifying theadventures and labours of individual seekers or groups of seekers in quest of reality.' Sufism, thereligious philosophy of Islam, is described in the oldest extant definition as 'the apprehension of divine realities,' and Mohammedan mystics are fond of calling themselves Ahl al-Haqq, 'thefollowers of the Real.' {Al-Haqq is the term generally used by Sufis when they refer to God.} Inattempting to set forth their central doctrines from this point of view, I shall draw to some extent onmaterials which I have collected during the last twenty years for a general history of Islamicmysticism--a subject so vast and many-sided that several large volumes would be required to do itanything like justice. Here I can only sketch in broad outline certain principles, methods, andcharacteristic features of the inner life as it has been lived by Moslems of every class and conditionfrom the eighth century of our era to the present day. Difficult are the paths which they threaded,dark and bewildering the pathless heights beyond; but even if we may not hope to accompany thetravellers to their journey's end, any information that we have gathered concerning their religiousenvironment and spiritual history will help us to understand the strange experiences of which theywrite.In the first place, therefore, I propose to offer a few remarks on the origin and historicaldevelopment of Sufism, its relation to Islam, and its general character. Not only are these mattersinteresting to the student of comparative religion; some knowledge of them is indispensable to anyserious student of Sufism itself. It may be said, truly enough, that all mystical experiencesultimately meet in a single point; but that point assumes widely different aspects according to themystic's religion, race, and temperament, while the converging lines of approach admit of almostinfinite variety. Though all the great types of mysticism have something in common, each is marked by peculiar characteristics resulting from the circumstances in which it arose and flourished. Just asthe Christian type cannot be understood without reference to Christianity, so the Mohammedan typemust be viewed in connexion with the outward and inward development of Islam.The word 'mystic,' which has passed from Greek religion into European literature, is represented inArabic, Persian, and Turkish, the three chief languages of Islam, by 'Sufi.' The terms, however, arenot precisely synonymous, for 'Sufi' has a specific religious connotation, and is restricted by usageto those mystics who profess the Mohammedan faith. And the Arabic word, although in course of time it appropriated the high significance of the Greek--lips sealed by holy mysteries, eyes closed invisionary rapture--bore a humbler meaning when it first gained currency (about 800 A.D.). Untilrecently its derivation was in dispute. Most Sufis, flying in the face of etymology, have derived itfrom an Arabic root which conveys the notion of 'purity'; this would make 'Sufi' mean 'one who is pure in heart' or 'one of the elect.' Some European scholars identified it with «sophós» in the senseof 'theosophist.' But Nöldeke, in an article written twenty years ago, showed conclusively that thename was derived from suf (wool), and was originally applied to those Moslem ascetics who, inimitation of Christian hermits, clad themselves in coarse woollen garb as a sign of penitence andrenunciation of worldly vanities.The earliest Sufis were, in fact, ascetics and quietists rather than mystics. An overwhelmingconsciousness of sin, combined with a dread--which it is hard for us to realise--of Judgment Dayand the torments of Hell-fire, so vividly painted in the Koran, drove them to seek salvation in flightfrom the world. On the other hand, the Koran warned them that salvation depended entirely on theinscrutable will of Allah, who guides aright the good and leads astray the wicked. Their fate wasinscribed on the eternal tables of His providence, nothing could alter it. Only this was sure, that if they were destined to be saved by fasting and praying and pious works--then they would be saved.Such a belief ends naturally in quietism, complete and unquestioning submission to the divine will,an attitude characteristic of Sufism in its oldest form. The mainspring of Moslem religious life

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