Sufism has been a conspicuous faction within Islam throughout most of Islam’s history. Sufism grew out of an early movement of ascetics within Islam, who sought to counterbalance the worldliness they witnessed with the rapid expansion of Islam.
Sufism is more a mystical approach to the Islamic faith rather than an Islamic sect. It is a mystical belief system in which Muslims seek to the truth of divine knowledge and love through a direct personal experience of God.
Sufis are Islamic mystics and their way of life is called Sufism. The framework of Sufi beliefs are firmly based in orthodox Islam and the Quran. However, some Sufi teachers have embraced monism or pantheism to closely to really reamain orthodox.
The core principles of Sufism are an absolute trust in God, and tawhid, that the truth is, there is no deity other than God. The word tawhid has a rich meaning for these mystics; it has been interpreted as meaning that nothing truly exists but God. Likewise, it can be understood that nature and God are just two aspects of the same actuality.
God’s love for humankind and humankind’s love for God are central to Sufism, and form the theme of most Sufi mystical poetry and song.
Sufi base their practices in the purity of life, absolute obedience to Islamic law and emulating the Prophet Mohammed. Sufis hope to purify themselves from all selfishness, through acts of self-denial, deep introspection and mental effort. Through these practices, a Sufi can attain ikhlas, or absolute purity of intention and act. Fasting is one of the most important Sufi practices for a spiritual life.
Experiencing the mystical divine is central to Sufism. Their ardent seeking of dhawq makes Sufis distinct from other Muslims.
Dhawq is defined as a „tasting“ that precedes an illumination above and beyond the standard forms Islamic of learning. However, any insights of such experience are not recognized as valid if they contradict the Qur’an.
The Path: Tariqah
The Sufi way is called a „path.“ This path starts out with repentance as well as submission to a spiritual guide. If one is accepted by the guide, the Sufi seeker becomes a disciple and is instructed in the ways of asceticism and meditation. These practices usually include fasting, sexual abstinence, and poverty. The ultimate goal of a Sufi’s path is to fight a Holy War against the lower urges of the self.
On his path to illumination the Sufi will undergo a succession of spiritual states such as constraint, happiness, spiritual expansion, fear, hope, longing and intimacy, which God may grant according to the spiritual state in which the Sufi abides at that moment.
The apogee of the path is interior knowledge, or gnosis (ma’rifah) or love (mahabbah), which implies a union of man and God. The final goal of the path is annihilation of one’s ego (fana‘), but sometimes of one’s personality too. Achievement of this goal is accompanied by a spiritual ecstasy.
After this annihilation of the ego and the ecstatic experience, the Sufi re-enters the world and continues the „journey to God.“
Rituals, Prayers and Whirling
A central focus of the Sufi path is ritual prayer; this consists of repeating either one or all of the exquisite names of God, or repeating a religious formula, such as the profession of faith. Sufis have used a rosary of either 33 or 99 beads since the 8th century for keeping count of thousands of repetitions.
Some time in mid-9th century Baghdad, some Sufis began prayer sessions with music and poetry recitals to reach the ecstatic experience. Narcotics were also used in some historical periods, as well as coffee by what was called the “sober” mystics.
The famous „Whirling Dervishes“ are in fact, members of the Mevlevi order of Turkish Sufis. This sect bases their teachings on the famous mystic Rumi,who died in 1273. The spiritual practice of spinning is the sect’s unusual form of prayer. The whirlers are called semazens, and practice a form of meditation in which they attempt to abandon the self by contemplating God. They sometimes achieving the desired ectastic state during this ritual. While the Mevlevi Sufi sect was banned in Turkey in 1925, “Whirling Dervish” performances for tourists are common throughout Turkey.
The costumes worn for the whirling ritual and the bodily positions taken during the spinning are very symbolic; for example, the conical camel-hair hat is representative of the tomb of the ego, the white robe represents the ego’s shroud, and the upraised right hand shows a readiness to receive the grace of God.
The Seven Stages of Sufism
Surrender to Love
The Sufis speak of annihilating the self into God through the path of love. The Sufi will respond with kindness and love towards anyone who harms him. The Sufi sees everything as the same as himself, and as a result, it is believed that “Sufi Love” is the highest form of human love.
Chanting the Divine Name
Quite a few spiritual traditions practice chanting the divine name, as a means of purifying the mind and attaining divine qualities. For example, in the Hindu religion, the practice of chanting the 108 divine names is seen as the most effective way to handle life’s challenges.
Sufism goes even further, combining their ecstatic chants with ritual dance, becoming totally absorbed in the rhythmic repetition. This recognition of the Divine keeps the practioner’s focus on attaining higher wisdom, nd transforms life with the sacred. An example of a translated Sufi mantra is: God is love, lover and beloved. Another is based on the Quaran verse in which God says: ‘Remember Me and I will remember you’. These prayers are spoken individually or in a group.
Working with Dreams
The Sufis look to their dreams for clarity, guidance, and wisdom. It was an important aspect of the spiritual path. The world of dreams is an important doorway to the Divine and to receiving higher guidance. The Sufis believe when we sleep we return to God, and thus, it is a powerful time for healing, and spiritual growth. Take time to remember your dreams, and share them with your spiritual teacher to deepen your spiritual understanding.
Devotion and Service
The primary message of Sufism is to not only remember God, but to serve others. If you wish to serve God, you must serve others. It is in selfless service that we begin to see our Self clearly. We will learn the valuable lessons of humility and love. The twin pillars of Sufism are love and selfless service.
Revelry in Rumi
The 13th-century poet, Rumi, is a central figure in Sufism. Rumi passionately believed in using poetry, music, and dance as the perfect path to God. Rumi believed music assisted the devotee to focus his whole being onto the divine, and to do this intently that the soul was both destroyed and resurrected. The whirling dervishes developed this concept into a ritual, which has become the foundation of the Mevlevi order.
Death Before Dying
Sufis love life, and celebrate every aspect of life. They believe everything in life is cause to celebrate. To the Sufi, every moment could be the last, so it’s vital to live as if you could die in this very moment, with a pure heart and good deeds.
Honoring the Divine Feminine
Sufism has a deep reverence for the Divine Feminine. It is the esoteric aspect of what appears to be a patriarchal religion. However, the Divine Feminine is at the center of Islam, as the compassionate heart of Islam. In Islam, the Divine Feminine is the metaphysical manifestation and the inner expression of this religion. As we py homage to the Divine Feminine, we are opened to receiving higher wisdom.
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