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Eleonora Karamiants
      Muslim Faith and the Nation of Islam
      Dr. Laughlin
      Winter, 2001

      Tasawuf, or Sufism is the esoteric school of Islam, founded on the
pursuit of spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain: the truth of
understanding reality as it truly is, as knowledge.  When Sufism speaks of
understanding of insight that refers to the perfect self-understanding that
enchains the understanding of the Divine. Sufis believe that it is the
unique human right and privilege to be able to find the way towards
understanding and reality of the Divine.
      The origins of Sufism still are a highly debated topic amongst
scholars.  Some accounts refer the rise of the mystical school during reign
of Abu Bakr and later, Usman, other sources point at the flourishing in a
sinful abundance of wealth Umayyads’ regime, when Islam ceased practicing
spiritual, mental and physical rigors.  However, another version suggests
the Prophet Muhammad to be the founder of Sufism.  The mysterious time he
spent in mountains contemplating and, perhaps, meditating before the
encounter with divinity along with certain quotations from Hadith, the
compendium of stories and sayings of the Prophet, permits a legitimate
presumption that Muhammad, at least indirectly correlates to the
establishment of the esoteric school of Islam.  “An hour of contemplation
is better than a year of prayer” (Ch.7, p.92) directly contradicts the
custom of traditional praying at mosque.  Sufis cultivate the seed of a
school of spiritual practice based on knowledge of the self.  Avoiding
persuasive public prayers, their gatherings were held in private.  Instead
of preaching in public, these pious individuals were searches of truth and
not rhetorical opponents – “the first stage of worship is silence”(Ch.7.
      As the perceptive tools of ordinary mental logic are limited in their
ability to comprehend such a great and all-embracing subject based on
language alone cannot open any door to understanding such reality.  Instead
such a path of understanding demands spiritual striving, the understanding
and the knowledge of the heart, in its quest to realize the existence of
the Divine.
      Become a person of the heart,
      - or at least the devotee of one;
      Or else, you will remain
      Like a donkey stuck in the mud.
                       (Rumi, Ch.9, p.103)
      Between God and a human lies nothing, except for artificial obstacles
to the unifying created by humanity.  This veil hinders a seeker from
ascending to the level of Reality (Bayazid Bistami, Ch.10, p.111 top.)  If
people were free from the limitations of the material and physical tools
that humankind possesses; thus, the immense and eternal unity of all the
Being, the Creator and His creations would become transparent.  According
to Sufis, there is a chance for humanity to ascend to such a level of
understanding, a path that can be traced through purification and
meditation to the realization of its achievement.  As al-Ghazzali believes,
when one’s heart is purified, the “light of divine secrets” is reflected in
the mirror of the heart (Al-Ghazzali, Ch.9, p. 102.)  Along with
purification of the heart, one has to remember God as the first and only
priority in life in order to unify with Reality (Sheikh Muzaffer, Ch.8,
p.98 top.)  Sufi compare relationship with God as between lovers, who live
only by each other and their love.  Nothing else exists in their world
(Jami, Ch.8, p.99.)
      Sufis’ way of life does not exhibit the most accurate instance of
severe asceticism and a practice of physical rigors.  The perfect Sufi
lives in accordance with Qu’ran and “never forgets God for a single
moment.”(Abu Sa’id, Ch.1, p.40) The essence of the mystic’s life
corresponds to constant remembrance of God.  Islamic mystics are aware of
the true value and function of everything in the world; thus they
accentuate Reality as the major concern of a human life.  They advocate
moderation in food and physical comforts as a profound condition to
liberate hearts and minds from everything that is peripheral and
transitory, and stay focused on God (Al-Ghazzali, Ch.1, p.37.)  The eternal
path of Sufis commences with their approach to daily life.  Soul remains
the primary tool in search of Reality.  Body serves only as means of
ensuring physical health, and the care for it is provided as to a camel in
a caravan – without adoration and contemplation, for camel is merely a
device to reach the destination (al-Ghazzali, Ch.2, p.47.)  Sufis’
destination is the unity with God, the truth and knowledge exposed when the
“veil” is elevated.  Muslim mystics teach that nothing is perpetual and
everything is perishable in the world (Attar, Ch.6, p.80.)  Everything has
a beginning, a purpose and an end, and after completing the cycle returns
to its original pattern.  “The end is maturity, and the goal is freedom.
The circle is complete.  Completing the circle of existence is freedom”
(Nasaft, Ch.2, p.53.)
      Sufis teach that on the path of spirituality one must first learn to
draw the fundamental distinction between deception and truthfulness.  “You
may follow one stream.  Know that it leads to the Ocean, but do not mistake
the stream for the ocean” (Jan-Fishan, Ch.6, p.81.)  It is easy to fall
into falsehood by thinking that one may appropriate the knowledge of others
as one’s own.  Such mere information should not be mistaken for actual
knowledge of Reality.  The perceptions of senses can be misleading and even
more so, the judgements that are derived from them.  The superficial
knowledge acquired through human senses can not develop into a foundation,
from which humankind can ascend to the level of understanding the knowledge
of Reality.  A Sufi avoids falling into falsehood by learning how not to
mistake imagination and assumption for the truth of reality (Dhu-l-Nun,
Ch.10, p.110.)
      Sufis, similar to Zen masters believe that nothing external should be
a source of distraction on the pathway to Reality.  One has to concentrate
on his/her own within.  Sufis strongly oppose influence of a public
opinion.  “If someone remarks, ‘What an excellent man you are!” and this
pleases you more than his saying, “What a bad man you are!” know you are
still a bad man” (Sufyan al-Thawri, Ch.3, p. 61.)  Also, mystics teach that
people should not disguise their deeds as acts done for the cause of God,
when in reality they are committed in order to earn applause, seek praise
of the people, be called charitable or brave (al-Ghazzali, Ch.3, pp.62-63.)
 Unless one frees oneself from the lower self, one will not arrive at the
gateway, separating humanity from Ultimate Reality.  To tame one’s lower
self enacts avoiding the inferior qualities that can overcome the heart and
mind of the seeker and hinder the person from progressing on the spiritual
path (Kashani, Ch.4, top p.68.)  Lower self extinguishes the light of
divine love in the heart of a seeker.  A person searching for a spiritual
path has to remain stable and strong so not to become motivated by the
lower qualities such as jealousy, greed, and egotism.  Instead, one should
develop “practice of remembrance, awareness, and heedfulness”(Sheikh Tosun
Bayrak, Ch.4, p.71.)
       In the mystical traditions of Islam, Sufism, God is immanent versus
God being a remote entity in Islam itself.  According to Sufis the world
itself is a mirror of the divinity.  All the beauty and perfection of it,
even though temporary, allows humans to sense the impeccable splendor of
Paradise, while the hideousness and ugliness of the same world conveys the
gloominess of Hell.  However, the underlying message of such conception is
that “it is God who is real and so forever” (Jami, Ch.5, p.74.)  Nature,
the earth, which humans behold and feel is the subjective visions of God,
suggested to human minds by the Creator.  The most beautiful, sensuous and
eloquent creations in the world are merely pale shadows of the greatest in
its perpetuity beauty of God (Moinuddin, Ch.5, p.78.)
           Throughout the world of Sufism, love is an eternal theme, which
Sufis in all eras have gracefully glorified in exuberant poetry.  It is
love that refines, enhances, and brings beauty to the world.  In Sufism the
treasure of love has been likened to fire: it burns and through such
burning longing it purifies and intensified.  The metaphor of fire
expresses the truth of search for reality.  If fire did not burn nor would
it purify and illuminate (Sheikh Muzaffer, Ch.11, p.119.)  A beautiful and
profoundly meaningful narrative about Caliph Harun al-Rashid’s favorite
concubine, who refused all the riches when, offered by the Caliph to his
mistresses to take the most precious amongst the jewels he presented and to
walk away free.  She stayed until it was only two of them left in the empty
hall.  All she wanted was the Caliph himself and no gold or gems could
substitute her love for Harun al-Rashid.  That was what be, the real Sufi,
wanted – not the palace, or power, or any of the jewels and other gifts of
the Caliph – but the Caliph himself (Sheikh Muzaffer, Ch.11, pp.123-24.)
      Tariqah, the word for mystic path in Sufism means the path in the
dessert that the Bedouin takes to travel from oasis to oasis.  To find the
way in the trackless desert one need to know the area intimately.  “Whoever
travels without a guide needs two hundred years for a two-day journey”
(Rumi, Ch.12, p.145.)  Sufi teachers are those who know the area
intimately.  They are reliable guides to the tariqah that crosses the
desert of the Absolute and take their students from oasis to oasis of
gnosis and revelation with an astonishing effortlessness.  “On all paths of
spiritual training, the teacher is of central importance.  He or she
embodies the teaching as a living representation of the tradition.  He or
she helps the student to grow beyond the boundaries of self” (Ozelsel,
Ch.12, p.128.)
       Worship that is based on traditional customs such as praying and
meaningless imitations is deprived of truth.  It is the heart of the
believer that must become open to faith, so that it may see and hear truth
until it can believe the reality of the Divine (Rumi, Ch.13, p.152.)
Sufis’ practice of Islam is significantly deeper rooted in spiritual
practice and mental concentration rather performing prescribed procedures
in a common manner.  When performing an ablution, spiritual cleansing is
paramount.  When nothing is available to perform the ritual washing prior
to praying, one should “cleanse yourself with intention so that you
approach the moment as free of the past as possible” (Reshad Feild, Ch.13,
      The effect of fanaticism to destroy a person’s sense of humor is well
known.  The Sufis make use of this, too, in their insistence that those
interested in their Way should study and understand jokes and humorous
recitals.  Even though jokes seem a frivolous device when applied to
studying Sufism, the profoundly eloquent jokes help in learning and
understanding the concepts of Sufism (Ch.14, p.164, in the middle.)  Even
though laughter may not seem as a useful tool, yet it provides spiritual
awareness and assists in learning (Ch.14, pp.168-169.)
      Sufism is a hidden gem, not a jewelry that can be bought or sold in
the marketplace.  The Sufis have released themselves from the world of
mortality, they have passed the stages of purification, have freed
themselves from attachment to the realm of appearance, and have striven for
the annihilation of their limited “self” into the eternal Being (Ibrahim
Adham, Ch.15, pp.182-183.)  The Sufi is free from all attachments to
material goods and also free from influences of the desires, he/she is
therefore poor, possessing nothing and letting nothing possess him/herself
(Ibrahim Adham, Ch.15. p.182.)
      Patience as it is practiced in Sufism possesses both an outwardly
apparent and inwardly essential aspect.  A seeker always thinks before he
speaks, awaiting the opportune moment, so as not to say what he/she may
well later regret (Ibn ‘Arabi, Ch.15, p.184.)  Sufis teach that the one who
is patient is grateful even in times of difficulties and misfortune through
perseverance in God (Sheikh Muzaffer, Ch.15, p.184.), Ch.15, p.184.)
      Sufis teach that God with always present with humans, it is humans who
are veiled from God.  Once a seeker commences the path to knowledge of
Reality, he/she approaches closer to God, whereas God is still, already
with the seeker (Muhammad, Ch.16, p.199) At the hardest times God is with
humanity, however, the duty lies on people to recognize God.  “We are
always surrounded by the Help of God.  The question is to realize it”
(Irina Tweedie, Ch.16, p.202.)  In Sufism prayer is the most significant
element of worshipping.  The highest is Divine love, which is the finality
of the spiritual journey, and is known only to the truthful (al-Ghazzali,
Ch.17, p.204.)  When a seeker prays, the mirror of his heart shines pure
and clean, and so becomes a mirror of the whole world since God “lifts a
veil and opens the gates of the invisible” (Muhammad, Ch.17, p.204.)
      The Almighty Lord commanded “Remember me, so that I remember you”
(Qu’ran, II, 152.)  Remembering does not mean the occasional recollection
of God.  Rather it means to remember and remind one’s self of His existence
at all times.  “All creations are calling upon God.  You cannot hear or see
it on the outside, but the essence in everything is continuously
remembering and calling upon God”(Sheikh Muzaffer, Ch.18, p.210.)  In
remembrance of God, one has to put everything aside, so “he sees nothing
but God, [and] nothing moves him but the will of God” (Dhu-l-Nun, Ch.18,
p.211.)  Service is a very important aspect of Sufism.  The significance of
it is the sincerity and intentions.  In the meaning of service still the
preponderance of Love is addressed to the issue.  A young man leaving his
old father in the mountains because his wife demanded so, a young water
carrier whose vow was to give all the money he collected on Fridays for the
sake of his parent’s souls, a brother who was so used to give money to his
younger brother that when the youngest needed an advice, the older brother,
following the habit offered money instead of his ear to listen to, and his
heart to comfort (Ch.19, Sheikh Muzaffer, pp.222-223; p.218, pp.2190220.)
All these narratives depict moral self-transformation, which is as
essential in Sufism as the worship and a sincere prayer.
      Although Islam is a monotheistic religion, Sufism as its mystical
school slightly drifts away from the monotheistic mold.  In Sufism God is
not a remote Creative Force that interferes from time to time into human
affairs.  Sufis regard God in everything.
           Rose and mirror and sun and moon – where are they?
           Wherever we looked, there was always Thy face.
                                   (Mir, Ch.20, p.228)
      Sufi’s monistic interpretation of God also suggests that everything is
God, thus assigning every creature in the world a divine shadow.  “The eyes
that regard God are also they eyes through which He regards the world”
(Traditional, Ch.20, p.229.)  Contrary to Christian doctrine about Satan as
an opposing force to God, balancing on the scale of Good and Evil, Satan in
Islam is not a destructive entity within or outside of the Divine Council.
Banished for the refuse to prostrate in front of Adam, Satan still loves
God, moreover, loves unconditionally.  Satan explains it that “so that I
would not mix with the sincere ones and worship Him out of passion or fear
or hope or craving” (Sana’i, Ch.21, p.237.)  To Satan God is still the
Friend, even though Satan loves Him without a hope to be loved in return.
“From the hand of the Friend it matters not whether it is honey or poison,
sweet or sour, grace or wrath” (Hallaj, Ch.21, p.238.)
      Those who are free from their ego become united with God at the stage
of selflessness.  They leave the transient “self” behind and, and will
exist through the existence of God (Hallaj, Ch.22, p.246.)  The seeker is
dissolved into the divine existence and breaks the limitation of the self.
The one who truly believes in unity is the one, who has gone through
spiritual stages of understanding the truth into the single essence and has
broken from the limits of the self (Rumi, Ch.22. p.250.)
      Sufis are not afraid of death, for it is not a physical condition as
much as transition to the unification with God.  “Death is a bridge whereby
the lover rejoins the Beloved” (Rabia, Ch.23, p.253.)  Death is crushing
the bonds of physical existence to become one with a universe beyond the
limitations of nature.  Death is completing the circle.  The goal is
reached.  Freedom.
        When you see my funeral, don’t say,”What a separation!”
      It is time for me to visit and meet the Beloved.
      Since you have seen my descent, then do see my rising.
      Why complain about the setting of the moon and the sun?
      Which seed that went under the earth failed to grow up again?
                                        (Rumi, Ch.23, p.256)


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