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Introduction to Sufism.pdf

Introduction to Sufism.pdf

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Introduction to Sufismhttp://muslim-canada.org/sufi/introductionsufism.htm1 of 64/7/2009 7:48 PM
 
 
An Introduction to Sufism
byZakir Hussain
A paper presented toDominion Lodge No 117A.F. & A.M. G.R.A.On 11th February 1998
With minimal editing by Syed Mumtaz Ali, in deference to the learned author's gratuitousrequest and his kind remarks: "I am pleased and honoured that you consider this essayworthy of a wider audience. Please feel free to edit and/or add additional notes as youdeem fit." 
What is Sufism?Origin and BackgroundFormative YearsOrders and LodgesRituals and PracticesThe "Path" - Its Teachings and TenetsSufi Literature and PoetrySufi Music and DanceContemporary SufismConclusion
 
What is Sufism?
Sufism is the mystical dimension of Islam based on the esoteric, or "inner-meaning" of its scripture, namely theQur'an. Sufism's central doctrine is based on a verse of the Qur'an; in which God says, "I created man andbreathed My spirit into him." This "Divine spark" placed into every individual, says the Sufi, must be nurtured andcherished. Furthermore, each individual "spark" or "spirit" separated from the Universal Spirit, desires to returnand reunite with the Universal spirit. This is confirmed by another verse in the Qur'an, which says "
from God wecame, and to God shall we return
." This "returning" is vital and central to the Sufi doctrine. Now, the Sufi embarkson a spiritual journey known as the Sufi Path; a path of devotion and love; which leads to none other than GodHimself. I shall have more to say [about this] ater on.
Origin and Background
The word "Sufi is derived from the Arabic word "
suf 
," meaning "wool," Garments woven from wool were generallyworn by early mystics, who came to be known as "Sufis," There are other explanations and meanings of the word'Sufi' but the one I have just given is generally accepted by most Sufis and Sufi scholars. Sufism is known inArabic as '
Tassawuf 
' or Islamic Mysticism. A Sufi is a mystic, if by "mystic" we mean a person who strivestowards intimate knowledge or communion with God; through contemplation, meditation and or "inner-vision."The origin of Sufism goes back to the Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, who received the DivineRevelation known as the 'Qur'an,' over a period of 23 years. As all Muslims know; the Holy Qur'an is a "multi-layered revelation," whose verses can be interpreted literally, metaphorically, philosophically, and mystically.The Prophet used to explain and clarify the meaning of each chapter and verse of the Qur'an to his immediatefriends and companions. To a select few of his Companions he explained the mystical interpretation of the verses;thus starting a "chain of transmission" of the esoteric meaning of the Qur'an. This was conveyed first by "word of  
Introduction to Sufismhttp://muslim-canada.org/sufi/introductionsufism.htm2 of 64/7/2009 7:48 PM
 
present day. It is interesting to note that the "Sufi pledge" between a Sufi-master and his disciple is still an oralone. It was much later that Sufi teachings and practices were formally [laid] down in writing for futuregenerations.
Formative Years
The formative years of Sufism were between 620 to 1100 AD. It was during this time the Sufi masters, known inArabic as "
Shaikhs
," started to form the first Sufi fraternities. These early fraternities, and indeed some individualSufis, met with great hostility and resistance from certain sections of the Muslim community; on points of interpretation of Islamic Theology and Law. Some early Sufis were even persecuted on account of their mysticalutterances and beliefs. The most famous Sufi-martyr was AL HALLAJ of Basra in Iraq.Nevertheless, individual Sufis achieved great eminence because of their piety and practices. The well-knownamong them are RABIA BASRI (a [female] Sufi Teacher), JUNAID, IBRAHIM ADHEIM, and HASAN BASRI.Perhaps the most notable one was the great theologian and philosopher AL GAZALLI who lived in Syria around1100 AD. His famous treatises, called the "Reconstruction of Religious Sciences," the "Alchemy of Happiness,"and other works; set off to convince the Islamic world that Sufism and its teachings originated from the Qur'anand were compatible with mainstream Islamic thought and theology. It was AL-GAZALLI who bridged the gapbetween traditional and mystical Islam. It was around 1000 AD that the early Sufi literature, in the form of manuals, treatises, discourses, and poetry, became the source of Sufi thinking and meditations.
Orders and Lodges
Around 1200 AD Sufism was institutionalized into Sufi orders. Generally, the political atmosphere from NorthAfrica to India was "ripe" for the formation of Sufi orders. Under the patronage of kings and sultans, prominentSufi masters received financial grants to build lodges and hospices to house the master; his disciples, students,novices and even travellers. The lodges soon became schools of Sufi learning and scholarship. Attached to thelodges were other places of learning, such as colleges and universities; where students could learn Islamic lawand theology, philosophy, and natural sciences.The most prominent Sufi master of the day became the "founder" of a particular Sufi order. One of thewell-known orders is the "Qadiryya" founded by the great Sufi-master ABDUL QADIR GILANI in Iraq. Otherswere founded in different parts of the Islamic world by Sufi-masters such as JALALUDDIN RUMI in Turkey,SUHARWARDY in Asia minor, and MUINUDDIN CHISHTI in India. Although each order had a regional flavour,their basic teachings and practices remained fundamentally the same. Because of this, a mutual respect andadmiration exists between various orders. Hence, a Sufi may belong to more than one order.It was between 1200 - 1500 AD that Sufis and Sufism enjoyed a period of intense Sufic activity in various part of the Islamic world. Hence this period is considered as the "Classical Period" or the "Golden Age" of Sufism.Lodges and hospices soon became not only places to house Sufi students and novices but also places for "spiritual retreat" for practising Sufis and other mystics.Some of the original orders, which I mentioned before, along with new ones are to be found in the Middle and Far East, India, Africa and various parts of Europe and North America. It is estimated, that presently, there are some40 Sufi Orders in the world.
Rituals and Practices
Now, I should like to talk about the Sufi rituals and practices. It is rather difficult to summarize all the practicesand rituals associated with the various orders. However, there are certain practices common to all the orders.They are:1 Ritual prayer and fasting according to Islamic injunctions.2. Remembrance of the "spiritual lineage" of each order.3. The practice of "
dhikr 
," an Arabic word for remembrance of God, by invocation.4. Meditative and contemplative practices, including intensive spiritual training, in "spiritual retreats" from time totime.5. Listening to musical concerts, to enhance mystical awareness.
Introduction to Sufismhttp://muslim-canada.org/sufi/introductionsufism.htm3 of 64/7/2009 7:48 PM

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