What Are the Fundamental Teachings of Sufism? Essay

Any discussion of the Sufi way, its methods and goals (and indeed those of any mystical tradition) will inevitably come up against certain difficulties, and these should be addressed immediately. Perhaps the most problematic issue we face is raised by the intrinsic ineffability of mystical experience, whether a moment of divine revelation or the lifelong quest for understanding. QUOTE. Because of this, important ideas and doctrines are often expressed through the medium/a of metaphor and symbolism, and this is particularly true in the context of the poetic sensibility of early Arabic culture.The exoteric, outward aspect of most religions is a complex combination of various doctrines and practices, which may take years to gain an understanding of, and Islam is no exception.

Sufism however, representing the esoteric face of Islam, requires a dedication and commitment which may see the student devote his life to learning its ways. Entire volumes have been devoted to the sufi path and its goal without even approaching a conclusive description of the subject, and an essay of this length can only hope to scratch the surface.With this brief discussion I hope to outline TITLE, yet it would be hopeless to attempt this without acknowledging that ??. ((((not just long but also impossible to arrange/structure…. not intended to be written about! ))) A notable feature of Sufi training is the importance of the initiate (murid) belonging to an order, and being under the instruction of a master or spiritual director known as a sheikh.

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Before setting out along the Sufi path one must find a guide whose every instruction must be followed.It is considered dangerous to attempt Sufi practices without the initiation and guidance of such a guide, and it is said of one who does so that “his guide is Satan” (nic. 32). For this reason, “the selection and following of a spiritual guide is the most important duty of a Sufi” (arch. 65) Although the teachings and instructions received may seem contradictory, counterproductive, and even blasphemous at times, they must be accepted without question. A full understanding of the truth cannot be imparted all n one go, and things which are taught early in the process may seem nonsensical until understood from within the context of things which are yet to be taught.

Even if the reason for an instruction is not understood, it must be obeyed, and this is why the poet Hafiz implored those seeking understanding to “stain thy prayer carpet with wine if Pir-e-Mughan (a spiritual guide) bids thee. For the salik (guide) will not be ignorant of the ways and laws of the stages” (arch. 66) .

Once accepted and initiated by a sheikh, one may begin to work through the various states and stations which make up the Sufi path. The nature of the path which is followed will depend on the brotherhood or order to which the sheikh belongs, and indeed the word tariqa, meaning path, is also used (in the plural ; turuq) to refer to these Sufi orders. Although there are many different turuq in which can be found many different approaches to spiritual training, they should not be regarded as separate and distinct sects of Sufism.They share the same fundamental principles and are simply different paths to the same goal. As I have said, the methods used along the path will depend on which of these turuq one is associated, and although many practices such as meditation and recitation of sacred words or phrases are common to most turuq, some are more distinct, such as the dance of the Mevlevis (who came to be known as whirling dervishes).

Various turuq differ also in the states and stations which they recognize as making up the path which must be traveled.As AJ Arberry mentions in his discussion of al-Qushairi’s Risala, we must distinguish between states and stations. Whereas the station (maqam) is achieved through personal effort, the state (hal) represents a spiritual condition which can be reached only through divine inspiration, and over which man has no control. To quote al-Qushairi, “the states are gifts, the stations are earnings” (arb. 75).

Lists of states and stations which must be reached along the path are lengthy, and there is much variation between the different turuq.There are, however, certain stations which are commonly considered indispensable to one traveling the path, and I will briefly discuss several of these. In particular, there seems to be some consensus concerning the first station which must be reached.

Tawbat, usually translated as conversion or repentance, refers to an awakening of the soul leading one to become aware of previous sins and to vow not to repeat them. This repentance is believed to occur because “the human soul, being pure in its essence, when polluted, becomes restless and asserts its true nature by feeling repentance for its unnatural tendency. (arch. 73). All Muslims are required to abstain from, for example, drinking alcohol or gambling, yet the Sufi interpretation of renunciation (zuhd) encompasses far more than rejecting these forbidden pleasures. Theirs is a renunciation even of permitted pleasures, and is considered to have two elements, external and internal.One must first renounce worldly objects of enjoyment, and then eliminate the very desire for these pleasures. A similar theme is found in the Sufi ideal of poverty (faqr), yet the Prophet’s declaration that “the poor shall enter Paradise five hundred years before the rich” (arb.

8) has been interpreted in several ways. It can be taken to mean that one should abandon material goods, but is also understood to mean that one should abandon the desire for material goods. As Nicholson puts it, one should aspire to “the empty heart as well as the empty hand” (nic. 37). MORE FAQR?? NIC37 Nicholson also writes that there is one practice which Sufis “unanimously regard as the keystone of practical religion” (nich.

45) and which can be considered more important than all other religious duties, including the five daily prayers.This is the practice of dhikr, a term which is usually translated as recollection (of God), but which can also be understood as contemplation or invocation. The reason that this recollection is so crucial is that man has fallen into a state of forgetfulness (ghafla), and must strive to remember his own true nature through that of God. There are many methods which have been developed to guide one through this process, some involving extremely detailed routines of physical and mental exercises (such as those proposed by al-Naqshabandi in his Tanwir al-qulub (arb. 29)). A more common approach involves invocation of the Divine Name or some other religious formula, also to be performed in a very precise manner.

Opinion is divided as to whether this invocation should be spoken (jali) or silent (khafi), and as to whether it should be accompanied by music or drums. However it is approached, dhikr should be practiced in some form constantly, until one’s “whole being is absorbed by the thought of Allah” (nich. 46). This is tied in with the principle of fana, or annihilation (of self).This means not only the elimination of individual desire, but is achieved when “individual consciousness gives place to universal contemplation and the Sufi’s heart becomes a passive medium for the divine will” (arch. 77). As such it is said that “forgetfulness of self is remembrance of God” (nov.

323) The teachings and practices discussed above represent only a small fraction of those that would be encountered along the Sufi path. The path is long and complex and without direct knowledge it can only be hinted at, yet this is nothing compared to the journey’s end.This point is eloquently made in Jalaluddin Rumi’s Masnawi, one of the central works in Sufi literature, where he writes ; “The story admits of being told up to this point, But what follows in hidden, and inexpressible in words. ” (nich. 148) Despite this, many have tried to express the goal of Sufism, and to describe the state the Sufi aspires to. It has been claimed that “the goal of all religion is salvation” (stod.

53) and that the Sufi aims to achieve this salvation not through divine judgement in the afterlife, but “in this life, here and now”.The goal has also been expressed as “self purification and union with the beloved” (arch. 66), achieved through elimination of any sense of self.

This is a theme common to almost all mystical traditions but, unlike some of these, there is no concept in Sufism of becoming one with God, instead the realization that one is and always has been one with God. A sufi saying attributed to al-Bistami describes this state thus ; “I sloughed off my self as a snake sloughs off its skin. Then I looked into myself and saw that I am He” (nov. 323) Most commentators agree however, that the goal of Sufism lies in knowledge of God.But, to quote Nicholson again, “How shall a man know God? Not by the senses, for He is immaterial ; nor by the intellect, for He is unthinkable. Logic never gets beyond the finite ; philosophy sees double ; book-learning fosters self-conceit and obscures the idea of the Truth with clouds of empty words. ” (nich. 69).

The only way man can know God is through through revelation, through divine inspiration and illumination. This direct knowledge of God is known as gnosis (ma’arifat), and is seen as a gift from God, which no amount of human endeavor could achieve.Indeed, the Qu’ran states that “they cannot comprehend anything out of His knowledge except what He pleases” (sura II) and the poet …..


.. writes of Divine Unity that “this is not easy to know. It is a thing that cannot be rightly learned by instruction, nor sewed on with needle nor tied on with thread. It is the gift of God. ” (nov. 325) As has already been pointed out, it would be impossible for this knowledge of God to be expressed in words, but those who have experienced it can give us some indication of what they have learned, and so we are told of Divine Unity (tawhid) and the ‘oneness of being’ (wahdat al-wujud).According to Nicholson, this Divine Unity is “the first and last principle of gnosis” (nich.

79). This doctrine teaches, essentially, that there is no reality other than God. The universe and everything in it, including man, is seen as merely an extension of God. To the sufi, “creator and creature are both the same, one the real and the other the shadow or reflection” (arch. 67). The whole of creation is the process of God revealing himself to himself, as Jumi put it, “He was both the spectator and the spectacle” (Jumi from nich.



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