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Sufi Islam, Humanism and an Universalist Creed

Imran Ahmed Asian Classics Institute (Singapore) July 2013

I searched for God among the Christians and on the Cross and therein I found Him not. I went into the ancient temples of idolatry; no trace of Him was there. Then I directed my search to the Kaaba [Islams holiest site], the resort of old and young; God was not there even. Finally, I looked into my own heart and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else.*
- Rumi
* Several lines edited for brevity. However, significance and meaning of original retained.

Tonights Sequence of Events

Sufism: philosophy, thought and practices Relating Sufism to other belief structures, particularly Buddhism Discussion of similarities and contrasts Extracting universal principles Conclusion: a Transcendent Entity?

Who are Sufis?

People who wear woollen robes, lead ascetic lives, wander the world praising the glories of God, develop large (posthumous) followings, and then are worshipped (at shrines) as Saints with miraculous powers?

Sufism by Sufis
Sufism is that you should be with God--without any attachment. (Junayd) Sufism consists of abandoning oneself to God in accordance with what God wills. (Ruwaym ibn Ahmad) Sufism consists of extending a spiritual station and being in constant union [with God]. (Ali ibn 'Abd
al-Rahim al-Qannad)

Sufism is that you should not possess anything nor should anything possess you. (Samnun) 5

A Quest for Allah

Sufis are individuals on a spiritual journey towards God, to find the Inner Truth or haqiqa

Sufism: the Basics

Striving towards God requires adhering to inner and outer aspects of Islam One cannot be a Sufi without practicing orthodox Islamic rituals Outer forms: essentially the Five Pillars of Islam and Sharia Islamic law Five Pillars: belief in unity of God and Mohammed as last Prophet, praying, fasting, alms-giving, Hajj pilgrimage 7

Respect of the injunctions of divine law (Sharia) is like the wax on the cork which prevents the liquid from seeping out of a bottle. A receptacle can be filled with water but if the bottom is cracked all the liquid will escape. One may well attempt to refill the receptacle to no avail. This metaphor illustrates a disciple who does not respect the Sharia.
- Shaykh Sidi Hamza el Qadiri el Boutchichi

The Mystics Journey

Being a good and pious human Joining a Sufi religious Order or Tariqa for the purpose Being formally initiated in an Order by a Sufi Master Murshid or Sheikh Union with God through transcendental Religious Experience Sufi Orders have been compared to Benedictine, Franciscan and Dominican Monastic Orders 9

Religious Experience
The extinction of everything other than God? A spiritual encounter with a Greater Being or Transcendental entity - often seen as proof of the existence of God Such experiences are transient, ineffable, noetic and passive (James)



Enabling the Experience

Dhikr: the invocatory prayer the remembrance of God through recitation of the Wird Wird: the rosary which typically sticks to a three point formula Forgiveness of God Bless the Prophet and grant him peace Attestation of Divine Unity Formula represents movement from outer to inner, existence to being 12

Buddhism: Appealing to a Sufi?

Spiritual quest in a material environment Personal journey, though often in a communal setting Monastic Orders with emphasis on hierarchy, rituals and incremental advancement towards final goal Ascetic tendencies: subdue worldly temptations in path towards salvation Meditation, chanting and even music as religious tools Negating the Self and infusing soul with larger, transcendent Being Accountability for personal actions 13

Buddhism: some Sufi objections

The absence of Islamically ordained behaviours such as prayer, fasting, alms giving, etc. Broadly, the centrality of the Sharia in a Muslims life Worshipping of idols and other discouraged behaviours Continuous rebirth until Nirvana achieved Islams special place of humans in the universe 14

Universalism: Back to Basics!

Hunger of human Spirit to achieve Fulfilment and Understanding Engendering security by creating Order out of Chaos Being a good human by adhering to fundamental moral principles Belief and faith in a Transcendent Being / Force as a Guiding Light for humans 15

Any soul that drank the nectar of Your passion was lifted. From that water of life he is in a state of elation. Death came, smelled me, and sensed Your fragrance instead. From then on, death lost all hope of me.
- Rumi


Thank You!
Imran Ahmed +65 9786 7210


Suf: wool in Arabic Earliest Sufis wore woollen robes Sufiya: purified or chosen as a friend [by God] in Arabic Sufi: one who has attained the goal, not an initiate striving towards goal


Sufism and Conservative Islam

Near worshipping of Saints in a religion forbidding such activity Broad acceptance of music, dance and chanting as vehicles to induce religious experience Establishment of a religious hierarchy in a nonhierarchical religion Note there exist several conservative Sufi Orders, including Naqshbandi


Postscript: A Singapore Footnote

The existence of Keramats or shrines within Malay tradition Habib Noh (1788-1866), the Saint of Singapore, has shrine on Palmer Road The Nagore Durgha Shrine in honour of Pir Shahul Hamid of Nagore, South India Nagore Durga now a protected site converted into an Indian Muslim Heritage Centre 20

The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James. Sufism, William Stoddart. The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife, AlGhazzali. Sufi Ritual: the Parallel Universe, Ian R. Newton. The Message from on High, Al-Ghazali. Many other publications in the public domain.