What is Sufism?

It should be obvious to everyone who is searching for Truth that it is often forgotten how we humans rush to pin labels on things we don’t really know much about and understand. We are in a era full of change and a great deal has changed since the time and leadership of Imam Ahmad Raza Khan al-Qadiri, Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani and other Friends of Allah (may Allah be pleased with them). Today almost every bookstore from Las Vegas to Cape Town carries a few collections of books on Sufism and most seekers  have some idea what the word ‘Sufism’ means and others attach Sufism to some New Age group or fad.  Whatever its origin, the term Sufism has come to mean those who are interested in inner knowledge, those who are interested in finding a way or practice towards inner awakening and enlightenment.

A sufi mystic according to His Eminence should surrender himself completely to Almighty Allah. He should evince self-control. He should eat less, sleep less and talk less. He should devote himself to Zikr and prayers. Fast is useful as it assists and empowers self-control and purifies the soul from vices and selfishness. He should not feel proud of his achievements, power or prestige, but instead he should show utmost meekness and humbleness. He should see and count himself as one of the lowest creatures in the Universe. Some of us try to get far away from Almighty Allah and there are those who perform sins and gain nearness to Almighty Allah because they are ashamed of their actions and repent humbly and constantly ask for forgiveness for their sins. A mystic should surrender himself to the will of Almighty Allah. He has nothing to ask, nothing to wish. Whatever Almighty Allah wills, that is best for him. He should be contented. Contentment is necessary for spiritual progress. It is a sign of thankfulness and gratitude.

His Eminence lays great stress that his disciples should have sincerity, patience and perseverance. Patience implies a firm determination, a strong heart and a well-balanced mind. It conveys the idea of an immensely strong rock withholding all onslaughts, troubles and tribulations. The vision of Almighty Allah is the source of patience. A disciple’s intention should be good. Whatever good actions he does, it should only be for the sake of Almighty Allah. The merits of our deeds depend on our intentions. Show and ostentation should be non-existent.

Sufism and Islam cannot be separated, in the same way that higher consciousness or awakening cannot be separated from Islam. Islam is not a just historical phenomenon that began 1,400 years. Sufism is the timeless art of awakening by means of submission. Sufism is the heart of Islam. It is as ancient as the rise of human consciousness. Sufism spread across the land without its being a centrally organized movement. The Sufi brotherhood was a reality without much of an outer co-ordination or organization. Its reality was the awakening of the original ascetic and joyful qualities within people’s hearts and the acceptance of the outer Prophetic law.

What is relevant to us today about Sufism is that it has maintained a clear thread and line of direct transmission of wisdom back to original Islam. The key to Sufism is that of inner awakening, freedom and joy through recognition of outer restriction by choice and discrimination. Most of the Sufi Orders kept a record of their lineage, that is their chain of transmission of knowledge from master to master, which was often traced back through Hazrat Imam Ali and Hazrat Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with them) to the Prophet of Islam, as a proof of their authenticity and authority.

The reason that the majority of current studies on Sufism are of little use in a practical sense is because of the nature of inner awakening itself, which is the core of Sufism. Writing books about inner awakening is only really possible if one has experienced it, just as understanding of such books is only really possible if one genuinely desires, or has already attained, such awakening. The Sufi is the locus of connecting the outer, physical reality with a timeless, spaceless dimension which is experienced within the self. The Sufi lives like the tip of the iceberg which is apparent in the seen world, while experiencing aspects of the hidden and veiled world which is the foundation of what is visible, and which forms the rest of its reality. He does his best to understand the causal, physical outer life while awakening to an immense inner Reality, which encompasses both the known and the unknown worlds, the unitive Reality of the seen and the unseen, of time and space and non-time-space.

It is for this reason that the inner life of the Sufi has no bounds, and yet he acknowledges and accepts the outer bounds (Islamic Sharia/Law) with courtesy towards nature and the natural creation. The Sufi is totally content with the immeasurable bliss within. Yet he struggles outwardly towards a better quality of life on earth and does his best without being overly concerned about the ultimate results. Outer struggle and work are necessary companions to inner purification and contentment.

Genuine traditional Sufis are essentially similar wherever they come from, in that they share an inner light and awakening, and an outer courtesy and service to humanity. Apparent differences between Sufis tend to relate to matters concerning spiritual practices or prescriptions for the purification of hearts. The sweet fruit of Sufism is the same. It is only the trees which may look different and which may flower in different seasons

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