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Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam that focuses on reaching God in the present life rather than waiting

for the afterlife. In order to reach God in the present, Sufis rely on concepts of love and of self-knowledge and understanding. The Sufis believe in the universal truth of all religions and that mysticism is the path that binds all religions together in unison before God. This paper will examine the ways in which Sufis interpret the Quran and how their path to God allows them to see the Divine in other religions. Some concepts that will be discussed are the following: the Universal Man, Sufi imitation of the Prophet, and their belief in the universal Reality. In order to reach God in this life, Sufis live a path trying to reach the universal Reality, which is their unity with God. On this path there is a need to extinguish the self in order to reach unity with God. This extinguishing of the self allows the Sufi to become accepting of those that possess differing backgrounds not as the opposite but as the same since we all are of the same reality. Parallels with Christianity will be examined by looking at similar beliefs shared by Sufi mystic IbnArabi in comparison with Gregory Palamas. Hinduism will also be examined in the context of the Indian independence movement as well as similarities between Sufi doctrine and the renouncing of the ego in the BhagavadGita. Introduction of Sufism Before diving into specific Sufi beliefs and practices it would be wise to examine the general aspects of Sufism and what is central to it. Many have the misconception that because Sufism looks at Islam in an esoteric manner that it neglects the actual law and virtues as commonly held. Sufis hold the exoteric beliefs of Islam close to them because they believe without them there would be no Sufism, Sufism without Islam is like a candle burning out in the

open with no lantern.1 It is also argued at times that Sufism is not orthodox; this argument is faulty for two reasons: it is the inward aspect of the outward dogma that frees itself from the formal constraints of the dogma from within. The second point being that the Sufi path is derived from the Quran itself, which is the basis of orthodoxy.2 In the Quran, many of the great figures and prophets of Judaism and Christianity are given importance. Not only is the Prophet venerated greatly but also Jewish and Christian figures. The Sufis believe that there is an essential universal truth given by these prophets and that because they all come from God, then they should be accepted and loved as well. Love is another important aspect of Sufism and was discussed in detail by the Sufi teacher and poet Jalal ad Din Rumi. For the Sufis, it is important to recognize the love in all things. Love is a continually expanding capacity that culminates in certainty, in the recognition that there is nothing in this world or in the next that is not both loved and loving.3 Love also plays into the Sufis role in the world. Rather than being detached from the world like in a monastery, Sufis are to love and serve others in the world. Through actions towards others is the way to show real commitment to loving others.4 How these concepts play a role in Sufism will be explained later in greater detail.

Sufism in context of the world of Islam

Sufism and Shia Islam Shia Islam and Sufi Islam share a rich history together as both have played a role in each others development. The importance of Ali in both Shiism and Sufism is one example of how

James Fadiman and Robert Frager, eds. Essential Sufism, (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 4. William Stoddart, Sufism, (St Paul: Paragon House, 1985), 42-43. 3 Ibid., 14. 4 Ibid., 17.

intimately the two branches are connected to each other.5Shiism is also concerned with the spiritual stations of the Prophet, which essentially is the spiritual life of Sufism. The Shia and Sufis both venerate saints and in Sufism a saint is known as a wali, and sanctity is known as wilayah. In Shiism, the role of the Imam is synonymous with the word walayat, which comes from the same root and shares a deep connection.6 Derivative of this concept is the practice and symbolism of Sufis wearing a cloak and the exchange of it from the master to the student as a symbol of spiritual teaching being transmitted. This comes from the Shiahadith of the Prophet passing on his cloak upon his daughter Fatima, Ali, Hasan, and Husayn, which passed on the sanctity from Muhammad onto them.7SeyyedNasr argues that the conception of wilayah and the symbolism of the cloak is the most important element shared between Shiism and Sufism, which is the presence of a hidden form of knowledge and instruction.8 The function of the Imam in the Shia realm is also similar to that of a Sufi master in terms of their role as the spiritual guide, just as in Sufism each master is in contact with the pole (qutb) of his age, in Shiism all spiritual functions in every age are inwardly connected with the ImamThe qutb and the Imam are two expressions possessing the same meaning and referring to the same person.9 There is another concept shared by between the two branches, although in a slightly different form. In Shiism, there is the concept of the Muhammadan light which is the concept of the primordial light that has been passed on from prophet to prophet before Muhammad and then from Muhammad to the Imams. This is what allows them to be free from sin and inerrant, and as a result man can be attached to this light through the Imam who becomes

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Shiism and Sufism: Their Relationship in Essence and in History. Religious Studies Vol. 6 No. 3. (Sept 1970), 231. 6 Nasr, 232. 7 Ibid., 233. 8 Ibid., 234. 9 Ibid., 235.

the intermediary of divine knowledge.10 This concept is similar to the Sufi concept of silsilah, which is the chain that a man needs to become attached to, in which the source of the revelation is brought to the student. This chain goes back all the way to the Prophet and in this manner resembles the light of Shiism.11 The relationship between Shiism and Sufism was the most deeply connected during the period of the first eight Imams of Shiism; many Shia compositions of gnosis served as the building block of Sufi commentaries in the future centuries. 12 The asceticism of the Imams influenced early Sufis greatly. Before taking the name of Sufi, the early practitioners preferred to be called zuhhad or ascetic.13 After the period of the Imams, both branches began to become distinct in their own ways and it wasnt until the Mongol invasions that they began associating with each other again. Further evidence of the re-kindling of relations was the integration of IbnArabis writings into Shia gnosis.14 Sufism and Fundamentalist Islam Although Sufism has shared a relationship of mutual respect with Shiism, it has been at odds with the more fundamental branches of Islam. Because literal interpretation of the Quran is at the center of fundamentalism, Sufism cannot be tolerated because of its approach to Quranic exegesis and customs.15 There has been a strong rivalry between fundamentalist Islam and Sufism, mostly because the Sufis offer the strongest claim to the truth, which would jeopardize the fundamentalist monopoly on interpretation.16 The biggest movement at odds with Sufism is
10 11

Ibid. Ibid. 12 Ibid., 237. 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid., 239. 15 C. W. Ernst, The Shambala Guide to Sufism, (Boston: Shambala, 1997), 211. 16 Ibid.

the Wahhabi movement that spawned out of Arabia. They believe the Sufis commit shirk or association of elements with God. They also condemn veneration of saints as idolatry and do not consider the shahada or proclamation of faith to be sufficient proof of being a Muslim.17 Essentially a clash between the two is ensured because both groups view themselves as the truth model of the Islamic ummah or community that existed at the time of the Prophet. However, it must be noted that the views are radically different; Sufism claims that it is the true Islam in the sense that Islam is by definition an inclusive religion. Wahhabism, on the other hand, believes that it is the true form by remaining true to the literal interpretation and that foreign elements have corrupted Islam thus the need to stick with a fundamentalist interpretation. This comes at the expense of the inclusion of other religions.18

Sufi Terms
Universal Reality and Fana-Extinguishing of the Self The concept of wahdat al-wujud or oneness of being plays a central role in the concept of Ultimate Reality. The concept is derived from the shahada. According to this belief in Ultimate Reality not only is there no god but God but also there is no reality except Reality.19Sufism has no theory of its enlightenment but rather provides a path one embarks on. This path is not contained to a group of those learned in theology but is readily available to those unfamiliar with its ideas. Not only is Sufism discussed through metaphysics but also through poetry and the arts, in fact, it may often be received more easily by the unlearned than by the

Elizabeth Sirriyeh, Wahhabis, Unbelievers and the Problems of Exclusivism., Bulletin (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies) Vol. 16 No. 2 (1989), 125. 18 Alexander Knysh, A Clear and Present Danger: Wahhabism As a Rhetorical Foil. Die Welt Des Islams Vol.44 No.1, 6-7. 19 Stoddart, 43.


learned.20 The concept of Divine Unity or Tawhid requires every Muslim to witness the Unity of God. This idea is also found in Sufism but for Sufis it means that the Sufi is to witness nothing short of the knowledge of God.21 In order to know God, one must be able to extinguish the ego, which perceives itself as a sort of addition to the Divinity. This means that the mental processes that are determined by the ego such as passions, desires and imaginations must be done away with in order to break down the veil of selfishness in order to see God. It is said that in order to become aware of God, man must utilize his heart rather than his brain, the heart is the seat not of the sentiments, but of the Intellect or Spirit, which penetrates to Reality and transcends mental forms.22 According to some Sufis there are seven levels of the self that transform until it arrives to union with God. Once the self has traveled to the highest level possible there is no longer any duality or separation from God.23 The goal of Sufis is to reach complete union with God and extinguish any remnant of the self. Tawhid The concept of tawhid, is argued to be important to the theme of inter-religious dialogue in terms of the relation of the self and the other. The lowest form of the self is the most selfish because it is still concerned with its own passions and desires, which are expressed by the Arabic word taassub.24 The verb taassaba means binding cloth around ones own head which would signify the selfs close mindedness and preoccupation with its own interests rather than others.
20 21

Ibid., 45. Ibid. 22 Ibid., 45-46. 23 Fadiman, 19. 24 James S. Cutsinger, ed. Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East. (Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2002), 144

The concept of oneness can become a cure to stop extreme ideas and fanaticism that separates and divides people into groups of the self and the other, The metaphysics of integral tawhid can be regarded as the most complete and effective antidote to fanaticism insofar as it undermines this idolatry of the selfhood25Fana or the extinction of the self is the realization of Sufi spirituality, because it allows one to become free from the idolatry of the self and realize that there is no other Truth or Reality other than God, Thus the greatest of all sins is indentified by the Sufis not in moral but in ontological terms; it is the sin of ones own separate existence.26 The existence of the self will again come up later when comparing Sufism and the Hindu text the BhagavadGita. Shirk and Fana In this sense even though one may assert that there is no god but God they are avoiding overt theological shirk which is associating other gods with God; they still are caught in subtle ontological shirk by keeping the self in relation to God.27 The cure for ontological shirk is the concept of fana, which allows one to see through the delusion of the self and allows one to come to the realization that there is nothing but God.28 Once one is able to see the truth then they will become aware of the nature of Reality as it is not subject to finality, cancellation, extinction, non-being. That which is absolutely real is That which is eternal: it is the Face of thy Lord that, alone subsisteth. Conversely, all that which is impermanent is, by that very fact, unreal in the final analysis.29 There are two lessons from this: that the ego is to be negated as a source of pride due to the fact that nothing is absolute other than the Absolute, and second, the inclusive

25 26

Cutsinger, 145. Ibid., 146-147. 27 Ibid., 148. 28 Ibid., 148. 29 Ibid., 150.

reality of God. This inclusive reality is the presence of God that flows through and binds everything thus giving them their true being.30 Once the ego is extinguished, one does not see the world in terms of You and I as separate beings. Seeing the Divine in the other becomes natural as we face the truth that God is within each and every one of us. When this happens there is no need to identify other religious creeds as the other thus allowing the opportunity for pluralism and inter-religious dialogue. Certain verses in the Quran reflect this inclusive reality: He is with you, wherever you are (57:4); Is he not encompassing all things? (41:54); God cometh in between a man and his own heart (8:24). IbnArabi wrote that these verses explain that God is with everything because everything that exists must come from the universal reality yet that reality has nothing common from anything that exists. His oneness both includes and excludes all things; hence the affirmation of Gods immanence within the world. Because God is in everything, that does not diminish his transcendence and yet his transcendence does not necessarily mean he is absent in the world either.31 God also hides Himself from creation through Himself, but also reveals himself through his creation. Man is the only being that reflects all of Gods qualities, it is for this reason that man is the valid interlocuter. The receptacle and the mirror of the Divine qualities, the other to whom and through whom these qualities are revealed. The function of the other is to serve function of knowledge of God, which goes back to the hadithsaying I was a hidden treasure, and I loved to be known, so I created the world.32

Sufi Practices
The Path
30 31

Ibid.,150-151. Ibid., 152. 32 Ibid., 154.

There are four stages to Sufism: sharia, which is the religious law; tariqah, the mystical path; haqiqah or truth; and marifah, which is gnosis. The Sufis follow the sharia because it gives them their developed moral and ethical code on how they should strive to live. The mystical path is the road of Sufi inner practices. Both the sharia and mystical path go hand in hand, The sharia makes the outer day to day life clean and attractive. The tariqah is designed to make the inner life clean and pure. Each of these supports the other.33 From the first two stages comes Truth, which is a result of following the sharia and mystical path. Once Truth is attained then it is possible to achieve marifah or Gnosis. This is beyond a great understanding of the inner practices but it is becoming attuned with God and becoming aware of the knowledge of reality.34 As stated, Sufis are some of the most observant Muslims of the law. Because of this, Sufis closely follow and imitate the Sunnah or actions that the Prophet exemplified or excluded. One of these actions includes the constant recitation of the Quran in order to bring one closer to God; this is an essential Sufi practice.35 Another important practice is dhikr or the recitation and remembrance of all of Gods Names. The reason behind this is to put oneself into the Sacred Name being invoked in order to become aware of the reality we have been deceived by or ego into forgetting our true identity.36 The practice of dhikr is designed to remind us of the Absolute Reality and the importance of integrating all of ones being into remembrance. One Sufi dervish explained, It is not I who have left the world. It is the world that has left me. Although some

33 34

Fadiman, 12. Ibid., 13. 35 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islams Mystical Tradition. (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 114. 36 Nasr, 115.

Sufis do choose to live a monastic lifestyle it is not required, But for most followers of Sufism the mode of life has been to be in the world but not of the world, as Christ said.37 Imitation of The Prophet and The Universal Man Imitation of the Prophet coincides with the concept of the Universal Man.38 Because of the Prophet; humanity is able to experience the reality of the Universal Man, which is an androgynous example of the human state that reflects all of Gods names. The Prophet serves as the most perfect of human beings and hence the most perfect human model to be imitated.39The life the Prophet lived is possible to be lived by anyone. Everyone has the chance to reach the state of Universal Man by reflecting the way of the Prophet in order to achieve fana and the extermination of the ego. 40 One of the most important verses regarding the Prophet is Verily in the Messenger of God you have a good model. (68:4) Sufis interpret this not only regarding his outer lifestyle but also the inner lifestyle such as his strictness with himself and his love and generosity he showed everyone else.41 There are three central virtues of the Universal Man or Muhammadan Reality: humility, charity, and nobility, which include sincerity and truthfulness.42 These virtues are to be taken as being intellectually and honestly guided rather than being done out of sentimental reasons. For example it would not be genuine charity if one did it out of the reason for merely feeling better about oneself. In order for it to be spiritually healing we would need to give out of the awareness that the other and ourselves are deeply connected, it must be based on the

37 38

Ibid., 118. Ibid., 122. 39 Ibid., 122. 40 Ibid.,20-21 41 Ibid., 124. 42 Ibid., 126.


metaphysical awareness that the other is in the deepest sense ourselves and that in giving we also overcome the walls of our own ego, which separates us from others43 Following these virtues is the way Muslims imitate the Prophet who is considered the example per excellence. Not only is imitation of the Prophet important to Sufis, but also a thorough examination of the Quran

Hidden Nature There are many verses in the Quran that reveal its hidden nature and that some verses are meant to be symbolic whereas some verses have fixed meanings. They believe that the Quran must be reflected on intensely in order to get the most out of the message, there Is no way to be connected to the best, toward which the Quran guides, except by reflection, thought, wakefulness, recollection, and the presence of the heart while reciting it.44 There are three different levels of those who hear the message of God. The first level concerns those who are content with remaining in the world rather than submitting to God. These are the people who believe in God yet they are preoccupied with only the clear verses that stand out to them. They are led astray because of their desires and do not see the true understanding of the verses.45 The second level deals with those who listen to God; they are the ones who seek forgiveness, obey the commandments and strive to grow spiritually. These are the ones who are guided by God and will receive rewards in the afterlife. Those who know are included in the third level. Those in this level are intimately connected to the hidden meaning and special knowledge that comes from God, God gives them much knowledge, and He intends for them the implications of the verses of the Quran, which he intends for no one else. They dive into the ocean of knowledge with
43 44

Ibid., 126. Carl W. Ernst, Teachings of Sufism, (Boston:Shambala,1999), 4. 45 Ibid., 8.


understanding, seeking yet more. Reserved hidden treasures of understanding, and marvelous texts are unveiled to them beneath every letter and word...46 Means of Interpretation Sahl al-Tustari argued that the Quran has four different means of interpretations: the exoteric, the inner sense, limitations, and a lookout point. From this understanding, the recitation of the verses are exoteric, understanding is the inner sense, limitations are what verses prohibit and permit, and the lookout is the elevation of the heart.47 Al-Ghazali openly engaged with those who opposed Sufism and explained that those who believe that only exoteric understanding is the correct interpretation is thus limiting themselves, and therefore is right with regards to himself, but is wrong in an opinion which brings everyone else down to his level.48 However, not all Sufis were as blunt in their affirmation of the hidden meaning within the Quran. Ruzbihan alBaqli believed that the separation between the esoteric and exoteric camps was a part of Gods plan. He believed that exotericists were necessarily so that the laws and regulations could be implemented and that the hidden meaning was reserved for those who were the most well versed in understanding.49Ala al-Dawla al-Simnani explained that finding the hidden meaning within the Quran was a process. First one would have to study the exoteric nature in order to become in tune with the laws and commandments then in order to comprehend the inner meaning of the Quran the inner self would need to be purified. The final step involves the limitations, You should contemplate the gnosis of its limit in the realm of hearts.50 Divine Separation
46 47

Ibid., 8-10. Kristin Zahra Sands Sufi Commentaries on the Quran in Classical Islam, (New York: Routledge, 2006),9. 48 Ibid., 10. 49 Ibid., 10. 50 Ibid., 12.


The Quran indicates that differences between humanity were Divinely willed, We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another(49:13)51 The distinctions here are part of the connection between knowledge of the self, other and of God. The word used in that ye may know one another is the Arabic world taarafu and the word for known in the hidden treasure hadith is arafa, which both have a connection to the word marifah or spiritual knowledge. This is expressed in the famous saying man arafanafsahufaqad arafarabbahu or Whoso knows himself knows his Lord. In this sense the knowledge of the self, the other and of God are part of the spiritual knowledge or gnosis.52The above-mentioned verse is often given as an essential text for establishing dialogue and while it does establish coexistence and Divinely willed diversity, it also means much more. It leads to dialogue that is grounded in the desire for greater self-knowledge and knowledge of God and the other that will lead to seeing the hidden treasure mirrored in the other.53 Unity Among Religions For Sufis, Islam meaning submission is the universal call for all religions to submit to God. This does not mean that one religion necessarily is above another but that in essence all monotheistic religions ask the same of their adherents to follow a similar code. Muhammad Asad, one of the most renowned of translations explains that the word Islam would have been understood in terms of its universal meaning at the time of the Qurans revelation, It should be borne in mind that the institutionalized use of these terms, that is, their exclusive application to the followers of the Prophet Muhammad represents definitely post-Quranic development and,

51 52

Cutsinger, 154. Ibid., 154. 53 Ibid., 155.


hence, must be avoided in a translation of the Quran.54 When the first community was established they would not understood Islam and Muslim in terms of exclusivity but in terms of returning to the true religion of God, He hath ordained for you of religion that he commended unto Noah, and that which We reveal to thee, and that which we commended unto Abraham and Moses and Jesus, saying: Establish the religion and be not divided therein.55 The unity of prophets is affirmed by the Quran in verse 2:136, We make no distinction between any of them. The Persian Sufi poet Rumi affirms that there seems to be a spirit of faith which transcends all the forms that religious traditions assume.56 Frequently it is said to believe in what was revealed to the prophets such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus, for instance verse 3:84 declares, We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have submitted. This verse coupled with the following, And whoso seeketh a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him, and he will be a loser in the Hereafter (3:85) can be understood as defending Christianity and Judaism because Islam entails both those religions who brought and affirmed essentially the same message of the Divine as Islam.57 The universal message is also linked to the knowledge of God that is innate in all humanity and that the soul needs this remembrance reawakened by revelation. Adam is regarded as not just the first man but also the first prophet of the Lord because of the spirit God breathed into him. The prophets starting with Adam are giving the same precedence as in Judaism and Christianity, Naught is said unto thee, but what was said unto the Messengers before thee. (41:43) 58

54 55

Ibid., 160. Ibid., 161-162. 56 Ibid, 166. 57 Ibid., 168-169. 58 Ibid., 172.


IbnArabi understood the revelations as being transcendent of each other, the essence of the religions narrow down to submitting toward what is divinely ruled. To clarify it can be noted that there is such and such a religion in terms of that religion is distinct from others that has its own rituals and rites and that such a religion can be found within it and all religions. Religion as such in the sense that there is no exclusivity at all and constitutes an inner substance that pertains to all religions.59 This allows for the diversity in the sense that is not seen as a hindrance but rather something to be embraced and cherished. Verse 5:48 explains that God could have divinely made humanity into a single grouping, but chose not to, For each We have appointed from you a Law and a Way. Had God willed, He could have made you one community. Despite the diversity between the various communities, this does not refute the universal nature of the message that was revealed to the prophets.60 Islam essentially embodies both religion as such and such and such a religion. Because it is unique in its own customs, laws and rituals it can be called such and such a religion and yet because its essence is identical to the rest of the religions it is also religion as such which effectively makes it the religion.61 One of the most frequently cited verses used to defend the pluralist nature of Islam is verse 2:62, Truly those who believe, and the Jews and the Christianswhoever believeth in God and the Last Day and performeth virtuous deeds surely their reward is with their Lord.62 In Islam and World Peace: Explanations of a Sufi, M. R. BawaMuhaiyaddeen calls for a return to the understanding that we all are united with one another. He gives the explanation of the elements and how the natural elements, which are enemies to one another, came together in
59 60

Ibid., 173. Ibid., 174. 61 Ibid., 174. 62 Ibid., 175.


unity to establish creation.63 In his writings, Muhaiyaddeen explains that we must embrace each other, as was custom in the days of Adam before, mankind developed more and more differences and forgot the meaning of Islam.64 He argues that it is not Islamic that to exclude others if they belong to a different religion, Hindus may call themselves saivam, which means purity. Buddhists acknowledge purity. And Muslims say that Islam is purity. There are many different names for purity.65 He goes on to explain that as Muslims pray in unity that we need to become aware of the universal unity we all share before God and to embrace that we are different in many beautiful ways rather than allowing differences come between us.66

Poetry is an important aspect within the Sufi world and none is more respected and loved than Rumi. A frequent theme in Rumis writings is the theme of love. Love is emphasized because it is able to overcome the qualities of humanity that are negative in order to bring humanity back to the unification with God. In this sense, love is able to transcend the self, which opens up the path to the Divine. Only love, among all human experiences, has the universality and open-endedness to suggest something of the nature of the ultimate transfiguration that is the goal of human life.67Rumi also wrote of the extinguishing of the soul in order to become one with God as a , Pre-condition of admittance to the divine hall of audience, to ascension to heaven.68Poetry is used to remind us that love can only be experienced not explained; their expression of love is sometimes referred to as a spiritual drunkenness because it allows for
M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, Islam and World Peace: Explanations of a Sufi, (Philadelphia: The Fellowship Press, 1987), 99. 64 Muhaiyadden, 103. 65 Ibid., 104. 66 Ibid., 107-109. 67 William C. Chittick, The Pluralistic Vision of Persian Sufi Poetry. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations. Vol. 14. No. 4 (Oct 2003), 425 68 Fakhry, Majid. A History of Islamic Philosophy. New York: Colombia University Press, 2004


sameness to dominate difference. Because love allows for the return to God, Sufi poetry celebrates Divine unity as well, unity in the sense between humanity and also unity with God.69 It is not sufficient for the cosmos merely to existIn order for creation to achieve its purposethey must see themselves and all things in the divine contextjust as love brings about separationso also it brings about union70 Love for anything essentially is love for God. Because all belong to God, as He is the one true reality, God is the supreme lover and the beloved.71 In Christianity, God is love; in the Quran, one of Gods names is love or al-Wadud. Because love comes from Gods Divine Nature, then the entire universe is penetrated by love.72 Some Sufis believe in a hierarchal system of love, at the lowest point is the love of the self or the ego. This state of love prohibits spiritual growth and prevents moving on to a higher level of love.73 Following states of love include: love of others such as humans or other members of creation; sacred reality such as books, messengers etc; and then the highest level is the love of God. These varying degrees of love can lead to a higher state of love. Despite the imprisoning nature of the love of the self, it is possible that becoming aware of the egos deception can lead to a higher level of love.74 Love itself isnt enough to reach the Divine Truth, it needs to be in conjunction with knowledge, In Sufism love is the complement of gnosis and is related to the reality of realized knowledgeboth knowledge and love are always present in any integral Sufi teaching75

Sufism In Comparison With Christianity

William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi. (Albany: State University of New York Press), 194. 70 William C. Chittick, The Spiritual Path of Love in Ibn al Arabi and Rumi Mystics Quarterly. Vol 19. No 1. (March 1993), 9. 71 Ibid., 11. 72 Nasr, 61. 73 Ibid., 63. 74 Ibid. 75 Ibid., 69.


IbnArabi and Gregory Palamas Sufism shares parallels with other religious mystics as well. The other traditions examined here with are in regards to Christianity and Hindusim.Bewteen Sufism and Christianity it is helpful to compare the theology of IbnArabi and Gregory Palamas. Palamas was interested in the spiritual experience of Hesychasm, which was the dedication to contemplation and continuous prayer. This practice is similar to the Sufi practice of dhikr or the remembrance and recitation of Gods names.76 There are many parallels between the two great thinkers, Palamas even shared similar thoughts on the nature of reality, Our religion is not a question of words, but of realities.77 Both share similar beliefs concerning the essence of God. Palamas wrote that God is incomprehensible and that He is not only unknowable, but also simple, independent and self generating. IbnArabi similarly wrote that God simply is and that nothing is capable of being attached to Him as He is the only absolute unity.78 Palamas and IbnArabi, both affirmed the different modalities comprising of God. Palamas recognized that the Trinity represented its own distinct faces yet comprised the same God, God is not only in three hypostases, but He is also the All-powerful OneThe Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one source79IbnArabi recognizes that it is possible for the Trinity to be recognized while remaining true to the concept of unity, Number does not beget multiplicity in the Divine Substance, as the Christians declare that the Three Persons of the Trinity are made one Person in essence. It should be acknowledged that the Quranic critique of the Trinity is mostly concerned with early heretical Christian understanding rather than the developed concept

76 77

Cutsinger, 192. Ibid., 194. 78 Ibig., 194-195. 79 Ibid., 195-196.


later made official.80 God as the All-Merciful is also a shared concept, both refer to the merciful God who created existence with His own breath.81 The two mystics agree that creation was brought forth because of Gods own love. Palamas argues that because God is all-good and was not content in his own contemplation. Creation was brought forth through the uncreated energy that was in the knowledge of God who, Calls those things which do not exist as though they did.82 Sufism shares a similar view in regards to this concept. One can reflect on the hadith of God as a hidden treasure and see the connection. God saw himself as a treasure to be cherished, and because of his love he brought creation into existence so that he would be known.83 The properties that lead to spiritual transformation in Sufism and Christianity in terms of the role Jesus and the Prophet share can also be compared. Transformation of the human spirit would not have been possible without the incarnation of Jesus into the flesh, He was made man, that we might be made god.84 In order to become transformed it was necessary that the Law became incarnate in the form of Jesus. By taking the sacraments humanity is transformed by purification in baptism and becomes unified with grace and energy through the Eucharist.85 In contrast, the salvation of mankind comes from the revelation of the Quran through the Prophet, however it serves the same function as the role of Jesus: guidance towards transformation through the observance of the Law. The rationale behind this is that unlike Christianity, Islam considers sin as a problem of forgetfulness rather than original sin.86 Muhammad is to be the perfect locus of the Divine self-disclosure because of the way he lived his life according to the Quran. Muhammad and Christ share the same function as the most perfect model of life that
80 81

Ibid., 196. Ibid., 197. 82 Ibid., 203. 83 Ibid., 204. 84 Ibid., 213. 85 Ibid., 214. 86 Ibid., 215.


should be imitated in their respective religions. Similarly to how Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, it is said of Muhammads life, If a person in the community of the Messenger who has not met the Messenger of God desires to see him, let him look upon the Quran. When he looks upon it, there is no difference between looking upon it and looking upon Gods messenger.87 Imitation of the Prophet is one of the most important aspects of becoming a Sufi and the relationship between Sufi master and disciple is similar to the relationship between the Prophet and his followers. The dynamic is similar to how Christians follow Jesus. Surely no Christians believe that they can follow his divinity or perform miracles such as raising the dead and the like. Christians seek to imitate Jesus ethics and spiritual life. The same is said of Sufis, rather than seeking to imitate his politics and military strategy, they turn to his inner life, exemplified by his emphasis on frequent prayer, fasting and remembrance of God.88 The Prophet like Jesus spoke often of a life of poverty and stressed that, Poverty is my pride. This idea extends to the metaphysical world in terms of all reality is poor whereas God is rich. Johann Arndt and Sufism In addition to Gregory Palamas, Johann Arndt shares much in common with Sufi philosophy. Arndt was a Lutheran mystic who argued that knowledge of Christ was not sufficient enough, but that one needed to submit to the will of Christ in order for the perfect union with God. Arndt once wrote It is not enough to know Gods work; one must also practice it in a living, active manner. Many think that theology is a mere science or rhetoric, whereas it is living experience and practice.89 This is in comparison with Sufi imitation of the Prophet. The model of the Prophet set the ultimate model to live life in order to reach unity with God, because
Ibid., 216. Nasr, The Garden of Truth, 121. 89 Bernard McGinn, The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, (New York: Modern Library, 2006), 276.
88 87


Muhammad reflected the perfect nature of humanity. Arndt quotes Matthew 7:21, which says that not all those who proclaim the Lord necessarily will get into heaven. Arndt argues there are two approaches to attaining wisdom and understanding: by reading and debate, and then prayer and love, which he refers as holy, Through the first way you will not find the inner treasure; through the second you will find it in yourself.90 Arndt continues to state that the Kingdom of God is not something that exists in the exterior world, but that it exists within ourselves, and that we do not require a special sort of knowledge but that were merely need to surrender before God with a pure heart.91 The goal in Sufism is also the attainment of inner truth, in Arendts view the Kingdom of God is attained by living with a pure heart and finding God in the inner self. This too, is the goal of Sufism, Sufi psychology has for its goal freedom from the self or the ego.92 Arendts concept of the transformation of the soul is also similar to the Sufi concept of fana or the extinguishing the ego or self. He explains the soul becomes at peace once it has been directed away from the world. He explains that the denial of the self is necessary in order to reach God, perfection is not as some think a high, great, spiritual, heavenly joybut it is a denial of your own will, love, honor, a knowledge of your own nothingness93 Arendts idea right here reflects a couple of Sufi concepts. The first is as previously stated, the concept of fana, and the Sufi belief in the one true Reality: God. Once the soul is extinguished it becomes apparent that the only thing that truly exists is God and we acknowledge our own nothingness. Dialogue Between Christianity and Sufism

90 91

McGinn, 278. Ibid. 92 Nasr, Garden of Truth, 118. 93 McGinn, 279.


There has also been engaged and rigorous dialogue between the Christian mystics and Sufis. One example is the dialogue engaged with Thomas Merton with a Sufi student by the name of Ch. Abdul Aziz.94 Merton was greatly impacted by Louis Massignons influence in relations between Islam and Christianity. Merton was deeply interested in members of other religious traditions and did not believe that grace was confined just to Christianity. The manner in that he engaged with Abdul Aziz clearly reflected the belief he was in dialogue with a fellow man of God whom would be able to further his own spiritual journey, I believe that our friendship is a blessing from God that will bring much light to us both, and help Him to be made know through us.95 It is shown that is all of his letters; Merton remained inquisitive about new books and sources of articles to expand his understanding of Sufism. Merton refused to send Abdul Aziz a copy of his early work Seeds of Contemplation because he felt shameful about making ignorant and foolish statements especially about the nature of Sufism.96 It is interesting to look at the selection of wording Merton used in one letter sent to Abdul Aziz in 1960, I speak to you from my heart of our obligation to study the truth in deep prayer and meditation, and bear witness to the light that comes from the All-Holy God into this world of darkness where He is not known and not remembered97 He continues on to wish Aziz luck in his quest to remind Muslims of God. The fact that he brought up memory and noted the importance of remembrance is reflective of the Sufi goal of remembering God through their practice of reciting the names of God. He furthermore disclosed with Aziz of his position regarding difference of dogma between religions. Merton believed that there was no need to discuss dogmatic beliefs and whether one was more perfect than the other because that just took
Sidney H. Griffith, Mystics and Sufi Masters: Thomas Merton and Dialogue between Christians and Muslims. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations Vol. 15 No.3 (July 2004), 303. 95 Griffith, 304. 96 Ibid., 305. 97 Ibid.


away from spiritual reality shared equally between the traditions, In the realm of realities we may have a great deal in common, whereas in words there are apt to be infinite complexities and subtleties which are beyond resolution.98Ultimately Merton would proclaim what the Sufis for so long have believed in and strove towards in their path to the truth, At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to GodThis little pointis the pure glory of God in us.99

Sufism In Comparison With Other Mysticisms: Hinduism

The BhagavadGita and Sufism The text of the BhagavadGita is in the context of a battlefield and Arjuna is tasked with fighting his kin. Krishna serves as his charioteer and gives advice on what he should do. The orthodox viewpoint is that the text justifies war and that in some certain instances it is just impossible to avoid. The mystical view on the other hand, understands the text as an allegory of the struggle between good and evil. The battle Arjuna faces is not a physical battle but a spiritual battle.100 In this context Arjuna represents the human soul struggling to overcome evil. The mystic meaning of the BhagavadGita becomes the struggled for self-realization with Krishna representing the atman or the fully realized Self.101 Krishna explains to Arjuna that the atman is the eternal self and the way of reaching the eternal self is by renouncing all attachments.102 Krishna explains that detachment will also lead to a cessation of being motivated by selfish actions and live in the wisdom that they see themselves in everyone else because the atman is

98 99

Ibid., 306. Ibid., 313. 100 Eknath Easwaran, trans, The Bhagavad Gita, (Berkeley: Blue Mountain Center of Meditation), 75 101 Easwaran, 83-84. 102 Ibid., 94.


present in all.103 Krishna explains that it is necessary to destroy the ego in order to reach the true self, They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the egocage of I me and mine to be united with the Lord. This is the supreme state. Attain to this, and pass from death to immortality.104 When Arjuna asks Krishna if knowledge is better than action Krishna replies that action is a necessity and that one who has a calm mind will understand that selfless service is necessary in attaining perfection, action is better than inactionSelfish action imprisons the world. Act selflessly, without any thought of personal profit.105 Furthermore, Krishna equates selfishness, as being a sin and that serving others will hasten the road to perfection, Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind. It was by such work that Janaka attained perfection106 Krishna elaborates that he is deluded by his ego and must relinquish it, Deluded by identification with the ego, a person thinks, I am the doer107 Krishna advises that Arjuna should let the atman take control of the ego.108 Eventually Krishna reveals to Arjuna of his identity as the personification of God in creation and explains to him that, mystical union with him is possible through devotion, by which one can enter the state of divine love in which one sees God in every creatureIn this sense Krishna is the inner Self in all beings.109 Krishna explains that once wisdom is attained Arjuna will be able to see everyone in his own true Self and all in the eternal Brahman or God.110 Once Arjuna has knowledge of his true inner Self then

103 104

Ibid., 95. Ibid., 97. 105 Ibid., 105. 106 Ibid., 106. 107 Ibid., 107. 108 Ibid., 109 Ibid., 112-113. 110 Ibid., 120-121.


he will be free from ignorance and will have attained true knowledge, They see the same Self in a spiritual aspirant and an outcasteSuch people have mastered life.111 Nizami and Sufi-Hindu Relations in British India During the time in which India was trying to throw out the British, there was an Indian Sufi KhwajaHasanNizami, who was engaged with Hindus in order to create a movement of Indian nationalism based on mutual respect between Islam and Hinduism. This came at a time when the relations between the two great religions were becoming increasingly strained as the thought of partition became more of a viable solution.112Nizami himself was a prominent Sufi sheik of the Chishti Sufi order. The Chishti order is especially tolerant and open to spiritual dialogue and inter-religious cooperation. The Chishtis are considered to be the most Indianized of all the Sufi orders because of their willingness to allow Hindus into their order without making them convert to Islam.113 The order would adapt Hindu rituals and blend them into the Islamic rituals; the Hindu act of rubbing sandalwood paste on idols was adapted and used on Sufi saints graves.114 The doctrine of the Unity of being also permitted them to relate more with the Hindu concept of all is one or the everything is Brahman concept.Nizami would go on and write on religious figures such as Krishna, Jesus, the Sikhs and Bahaullah.115 He went on to write a biography on Krishna in a favorable way as to demonstrate to his fellow Muslims of the need for understanding of other religions, it demonstrates that a prominent Muslim opponent of

111 112

Ibid., 129-130. Marcia Hermansen, A Twentieth Century Indian Sufi Views Hinduism: The Case of Khwaja Hasan Nizami. Comparative Islamic Studies Vol 4. (2008), 157. 113 Hermansen, 159, 161. 114 Ibid., 161. 115 Ibid., 163.


politicized aspects of Hinduismcould at the same time have written sympathetically about a Hindu religious icon.116 Nizami drew on the Islamic concept of the multiple names of God and how they represent the qualities of God and made the comparison to the Hindus use of images for teaching about the divine qualities, Everyone knows that in the olden times Hindus made images for the divine qualities and through these they would teach people about Gods attributes as in the case of the feminine principle.117Nizami would continue to take Hindu concepts and mold them in ways that Muslims could understand; he portrayed Krishna as a guide in order of giving him an appearance of a prophet without outright calling him as such. He also compared Krishna to Moses and made similar comparisons of the feminine figure Jasudha to Asiya who was Pharoahs wife who found and saved Moses. 118 Throughout the biography of Krishna it becomes apparent that Nizami was trying to make Muslims aware of the connections between Hinduism and Islam and that together they could forge an united Indian identity, that could form the basis for social coexistence and political cooperation.119 Summary: How Pluralism Arises Out of The Sufi Path, Concepts and Interpretation The goal of the Sufi path is experiencing God in the present life. The central concept of the path is the concept of the Ultimate Reality in the sense that God is the only true Reality. Because there is only one God, there must be only one true Reality. In order to become aware of the one true Reality, it is necessary to extinguish the self and discard the idea of a separate existence from God. This idea allows for the emergence of pluralism in two ways: the idea that

116 117

Ibid., 165. Ibid., 165. 118 Ibid., 166. 119 Ibid., 167.-


we are all inter-connected through the Ultimate Reality; and from the extinguishing of the self in order to achieve the Reality. Once we are free from the self we can see the Divine in the other through the understanding that there is nothing but God and God is in everyone. Thus the Sufi path to Ultimate Reality creates the ability to see the Divine in the other rather than viewing them as the other. The imitation of the Prophet is used on the path to the Divine and it is through that imitation that one will become the Universal Man. This requires being aware of the connection between us and those who surround us. Following the virtues of the Prophet it is possible to transcend the ego and the self. Because imitation of the Prophet is based on humility, charity and nobility, we can then give up our selfish notions and realize the connection between all humanity. In comparison with Christianity, Christians are instructed to follow Jesus model of loving others as well. Christians are supposed to act selfless towards others and love all even their enemies. Love plays an important role in this transformation because not only is loving God then translated into showing love for all, but love also allows one to transcend the self by opening the path to the Divine by loving and recognizing God in all of humanity. Once someone becomes aware of the knowledge of Reality it then serves as a complement to that knowledge. The Sufi understanding of verses reinforces the notion of pluralism as it explains that Islam came to reinforce the previous traditions of Christianity and Judaism rather than repudiating them. The verses explain that there was no distinction between the essence of Judaism and Christianity because they too were revelations from God, many times in the Quran it states the importance of Judaism and Christianity as Abrahamic religions. Furthermore the Quran states the divinely willed separation of different paths to the truth that ultimately contains the same truth.


In terms of its connection with Hinduism, Sufism is similar in the struggle to rid itself of the ego. In order to attain perfection in Hinduism, the ego is to be overcome by selfless detachment from the world. By negating the ego it becomes possible to become aware of the atman or the true Self, which becomes free from delusion of the ego and its selfishness. The concept of transcending the ego allows Hindus to become one with Brahman or the supreme God of Hinduism. Similarly Sufis need to overcome their ego and renounce the self in order to become one with God once they realize there is only one Reality: God. In the BhagavadGita, Krishna reveals himself as personification of God and that he is present in every creature and urges Arjuna to see the Divine in everyone including himself. This is the same goal of the Sufis: to experience God now by extinguishing the ego and seeing the Divine in everyone as a result of the all-penetrating Reality of God in the universe. A similar theme between the two traditions is the need to act out of love towards others in a spirit of love. The virtues of the Ultimate Man require that one acts out of sincerity and love towards others, Krishna advises Arjuna to do the same in order to find his true inner Self. Conclusion There is something to be said about the influence of mysticism as a morality. What is it about mysticism in terms of its influence on moral action? In Sufism there resides a universal acceptance of all that extend beyond Islam, The universal perspective of Sufism, fully rooted in Islamic revelation, yields a lived (and not just studied) ethics with the potential to view and embrace all creatures through a single ethical vision, regardless of religious or other affiliation.120 Mysticism goes beyond the confines of each individual religion and recognizes the unity of all of Gods creation. In the case of Sufism, it still uses Islamic concepts and

Paul L. Heck, Mysticism as Mortality: The Case of Sufism, Journal of Religious Ethics Vol. 34 No. 2 (2006), 253.


principles, but recognizes its equivalent in others. In terms of Abrahamic religion, this is because of the fact that Islam does not regard itself as a whole new religion that seeks to replace the others but that it sees itself as a return to the true form thus allowing the others to relate to it. Regarding other religions such as Hinduism concepts of the ego and self are found in both religions. Unfortunately people tend to overlook the mystical aspects of their respective religion that would allow for a more fruitful and sincere inter-religious dialogue. This paper set out originally to show in what ways Sufism itself allowed for religious dialogue. As the research intensified and became more cohesive it became apparent that all mysticisms seem to hold this principle of transcending the self in order to see the Divine in the other. It must be upheld that all mysticisms not just Sufism allow for this dialogue as seen in the common principles shared with the other religions. Mysticism overcomes the shackles of doctrine and creed and allows for a unity that is applicable to all. The transcendence of the self that is prevalent in all the mysticisms allow for a cessation of the ego and the self, through this process one is able to see the Divine in the other rather than applying to them the label of the other.


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