word Sufi is derived from the Arabic word 'suf' which
means ' wool ' and which refers to the coarse woolen robes
that were worn by the Prophet
Muhammad (pbuh) and by his close companions. The goal
of a Sufi is none other than God Himself. There are signs
of God everywhere in the universe and in man himself.
origin and essence of man
is the mystery of God. For a mysterious purpose, man was outwardly
created of clay and God breathed life into him, and all of
the angels were commanded to prostrate themselves before him.
As the Qur'an, which we believe is the highest form of revelation,
remember when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo I am creating
a mortal out of potter's clay. So when I have made him and
shaped him and have breathed into him of My Spirit, do ye
fall down prostrating yourself unto him."
is this Divine Spirit which is the essence of man. The body
is merely the outward physical form which contains the Divine
body is made of the material elements fire, earth, air and
water, and has five external senses -- sight, hearing, smell,
taste and touch; and five internal faculties -- discursive
thinking, imagination, doubting, memory and longing. All these
powers, that is, both the external senses and the internal
faculties, serve the heart. By the 'heart' we do not mean
the physical organ which pumps the blood, and which is possessed
by both man and animals. Rather by 'heart' we mean the Divine
spark which distinguishes man from the animals. And unlike
the physical heart which dies and decomposes with the rest
of the physical body, the Divine spark or heart is indivisible
and transcends death because its origin is in the spiritual
position of man in the universe is most important. Man is the
microcosm, that is, a miniature universe. As such, he comprises
in his outward or physical aspect all the elements found in
the universe. In his inner aspect, he contains the potential
qualities of all creation from the lowest to the highest, that
is, animal, satanic and angelic. He shares the qualities of
lust and selfishness with the pigs; the qualities of jealousy
and anger with the dogs; his cunning and deceit with Satan;
his power and his spiritual light with the angels. But, what
is more important, through love and devotion to God he can rise
even higher than the angels, for he is the mystery of God before
whom the angels were commanded to fall in prostration. He was
given command over the whole universe.
is God who created the heavens and the earth and sent down
out of heaven water, wherewith He brought forth fruits to
be your sustenance, and He subjected to you the ships to run
upon the sea at His commandment, and He subjected to you the
rivers, and He subjected to you the sun and moon constant
upon their courses, and He subjected to you the night and
the day and gave you all you asked Him."
although the universe was created for the service of man, man
was created for the service of God and for that purpose
alone. To the extent that he deviates from that purpose,
he becomes unworthy of Divine guidance and favour. Consequently,
he is left to his own devices with all his enormous powers,
which, under the influence of his animal and satanic qualities,
are capable of dragging him to the lowest of the low.
helps man to be increasingly aware of his purpose of life
-- namely, unfailing service to his Lord
and Creator. It is a path travelled under the guidance of
a Sufi master, who is able to deliver man from the narrow
confines of the material world into the limitless reality
of a spiritual life, wherein he can experience the Divine
spark which eternally shines within him.
is most important to understand that material man acquires
his knowledge generally through the five external senses and
five inner faculties of which we spoke earlier. The spiritual
man, on the other hand, has, in addition to these, a number
of other means of acquiring knowledge, such as prophetic dreams
and inspirations from beyond the material world. To the extent
that a man adheres to the truth in his waking state, his dreams
too disclose a similar degree of certainty. The Prophet (pbuh)
expressed this in the saying: "The more truthful a man, the
more prophetic his dreams."
knowledge through dreams comes in a state of sleep, insights
through inspirations are gained in a state of wakefulness.
The shaykh, or the Sufi teacher, interprets the dreams of
a disciple, helps him to understand his inspirations, and
resolves his doubts and uncertainties.
spiritual mentor (shaykh)
disciple's need to have a shaykh is inevitable. If a man does
not have a shaykh, Satan becomes his shaykh and lures him back
into the temptation of his ego and finally destroys him in confusion
and error. A disciple keeps unwavering faith in the words of
his shaykh and receives infinite love and care from him. The
relationship is strictly based on the pattern of the Prophet's
(pbuh) relations with his companions which enjoyed Divine support.
To quote the Qur'an:
there has come to you a messenger from among yourselves. Grievous
to him is your suffering, anxious is he over you, gentle to
the believers, compassionate."
Qur'anic roots of Sufism
really has its roots in the Qur'an itself and in the religious
experience of the Prophet Muhammad
(pbuh). The preliminary signs of revelation were given to
the Prophet (pbuh) in the form of visions and the Prophet
(pbuh) deliberately sought solitude until the book of his
heart, which was pure and unspoiled by schoolmen, was opened
and the Divine Pen engraved upon it the revelation, the Qur'an.
Sufi's knowledge of God comes from the Qur'an directly. And
in spite of the Sufi's proximity to God, the undisputed basis
of their direct experience of God has always been the Qur'an.
The Qur'an contains instructions suitable to man with varying
levels of spirituality. It satisfies those who are content
with merely exoteric practices, but also contains the deepest
and most profound esoteric meaning for those who desire a
closer, more mystical relationship with God.
Qur'anic verses which are the favourites of the Sufis include:
[God] are closer to him [man] than his jugular vein."
verses are limitless in their depth, scope and meaning, and
man may draw from them as much mystical meaning as he has the
capacity to understand.
surely we belong to God and to Him do we return."
is the First and the Last and the Manifest and the Hidden."
is the light of the heavens and the earth."
says in the Qur'an that God sent His Prophet
Muhammad (pbuh) first and foremost as a Mercy unto all
peoples. And men of different levels of spiritual understanding
may avail themselves of this Mercy according to their various
Prophet (pbuh) and his close associates never stopped at merely
observing the minimum requirement in regard to prayer and
devotional practices. All through his life, the Prophet (pbuh)
kept long night vigils and practised voluntary fasts during
most days. He never ate barley bread (the staple food of his
day) on three consecutive days, and he never even touched
a loaf of wheat bread -- which was a luxury. One of his favourite
sayings was "Poverty is my pride," and this saying came to
be quoted in every manual of Sufi doctrine, making the rule
of poverty a basic characteristic of Sufi life.
Sufis live with an ever increasing awareness of God. One aspect
of this awareness is the practice of zikr. Zikr
means 'remembering God,' usually by pronouncing His name or
by uttering a number of recognized formulae. The Qur'an repeatedly
admonishes believers to celebrate the praises of God and to
do this often. For remembering the name of God brings satisfaction
and comfort to man's heart. The following verse of the Qur'an
reveals the significance of zikr:
that which has been revealed to you of the scripture, and
observe prayer. For prayer restrains one from lewdness and
iniquity, but remembrance of God is the greatest virtue."
one passage of the Qur'an, the importance of zikr is
enhanced to such an extent that a response to it from God Himself
remember Me, and I will remember you."
Qur'an warns those who neglect zikr: "Whoso blinds
himself to the remembrance of the All Merciful, to him we assign
Satan for a comrade and debar them from the way, and yet they
think they are guided." Again, "Be not as those who forgot
God, and so He caused them to forget their own souls. Those,
they are ungodly." The key to human happiness lies in the
remembrance of God, as in the Qur'anic verse: "Verily, in
the remembrance of God do hearts find peace."
orientalists who considered themselves experts on Islam invented
the myth that the history of Sufism began with the appearance
of certain introductory treatises on the Sufi tradition in
the ninth and tenth centuries. In their assessment of the
Sufi writings, they failed to give due consideration to the
esoteric aspect of the Qur'an and the enormous literature
on the sayings and deeds of the Prophet (pbuh), which has
inspired the Sufis of all generations.
history and methodology of Sufism
is an esoteric doctrine transmitted by word of mouth, and
sometimes without even a spoken or written word, by an authorized
teacher to a disciple, and from disciple to another disciple,
in confidence. These secret instructions are acted upon by
a disciple with perfect faith in the teacher. The disciple
gives a report of his condition and experience in confidence
to his teacher and receives another set of instructions most
suitable to his state.
is only the writings of the Sufi teachers, who speak from
within the tradition, that allow an outsider a glimpse of
the inner beauty of Sufism. One of the greatest scholars of
all times was al-Ghazzali. He lived in the later eleventh
and early twelfth centuries. He wrote his famous work The
Revival of the Sciences of Religion in Arabic, with an
abridged form, The Alchemy of Happiness, in Persian.
These works were followed by the other writings and poetry
by such Sufi teachers as Abdul-Karim al-Jili, Ibn Arabi, Suhrawardi,
the famous Chishti saints, Hafiz, Sadi, Rumi and so many other
the same time there was an immense upsurge of open Sufi activity
under the auspices of different Sufi orders in all parts of
the Islamic world. Each Sufi order constituted a focal point
of activity, from which Sufi teachings were carried to the
mass of the population by the representatives of the head
of the order. The Sufi organizations constituted the social
cement of the society in which they lived. Because of the
strength of this social cement, Islamic civilization was able
not only to withstand the many political upheavals of this
period, but it also acted as a civilizing influence on the
powers that were responsible for these upheavals.
the spiritual journey
brings us to say something about the Sufi discipline. The first
and foremost requirement is the purification of the soul. The
process is generally a long and difficult one. It consists of
the three stages.
the first stage, one struggles against the carnal soul or nafs
al-ammara as it is called by the Sufis. Nafs al-ammara
is the tendency in man to disobey God, and to take pleasure
in evil deed and thought. This inclines man towards gossip,
backbiting, vain talk, pride, selfishness, lust, hatred and
jealousy. The struggle to overcome nafs al-ammara involves
the purifying of the body, tongue, mind and heart.
The body is purified by keeping it free from dirt, by preserving
its members from harm and by not indulging in sexual license.
The tongue must be purified by restraining it from backbiting,
malicious gossip and vain talk, or from using it to alter
The mind must be purified by abstaining from suspicion, plotting
and thinking ill of others.
The heart must be purified by keeping it free from lust, jealousy,
greed, selfishness, hatred and pride.
In this stage, a Sufi constantly examines the motives of his
likes and dislikes.
he has subjugated the carnal soul, nafs al-ammara, the
Sufi enters upon the second stage of purification in which he
is able to respond readily to the call of the reproaching soul
which is called nafs al-lawwama. It is the nafs al-lawwama
which reproaches man for his evil deeds and impels him to acts
of mercy and generosity.
this stage has become firmly established in him, the Sufi enters
the third stage which is known as the station of the contented
soul, nafs al-mutma'inna. In this stage, the Sufi
develops to the fullest the tendency to obey God and to act
in perfect harmony with His commandments. Here the soul is reconciled
with all other stations of the path, such as poverty, patience,
gratitude and trust in God. Here the soul finds perfect satisfaction
in being governed by the heart, the Divine spark in man. Here
the Sufi becomes truly free from fear and grief. As God said
in the Qur'an, "Lo, indeed, the friends of God have no fear,
nor are they grieved." Fear and grief are qualities of man,
and friends of God are relieved of the burden of these qualities.
Fearlessly, and with the strength of faith, they invite man
to God, the source of man's creation and the goal of his life.
lies the difference between a true teacher and a false one
-- the true teacher invites man to God, and the pretender
invites man to himself.
this stage, a Sufi is filled with love, mercy, kindness, and
a burning zeal to help others. In order to reach this high
station, a Sufi must constantly strive to control his ego,
to curb his anger and impatience. He must eat less, sleep
less, talk less, and deny himself the pleasure of other people's
company. Sometimes he withdraws completely from the worldly
activities and occupies himself entirely with the remembrance
of God and meditation.
he makes progress spiritually, he is able to extend the length
of his periods of seclusion, culminating in retreats of forty
days' duration. In this seclusion, the Sufi fasts during the
day, breaking his fast after sunset with only a small piece
of bread and some water. During the nights, he keeps constant
vigil and chants a selected verse from the Qur'an 125,000
times. The verse usually chanted is: "There is no God but
Thou, the Holy Lord. I am indeed one of the evil doers."
Or, "Say, He, Allah is One. Allah is Sufficient unto Himself."
ecstasy, states, stations and ascension
various stages on the mystical path are known as maqamat,
or the 'stations', which can be reached by any Sufi by means
of prayer, fasting, meditation, and the hal or 'mystical
state', which may be vouchsafed to the Sufi by the Grace of
God but is not attainable by the mystic's own efforts. A Sufi
may be blessed by an experience which reveals to his soul
the reality of the whole universe, from the lowest layer of
earth to the highest heaven. This experience is called mi'raj
or the 'ascension.' In this, a Sufi is generally accompanied
by the spirit of his shaykh, and comes in contact with the
spirits of other shaykhs and prophets. Various stations are
also revealed to him with different colours and lights.
(fana) and subsistence (baqa):
of the important phases of mystical experience which is attained
by the Grace of God by a traveller on the mystical path is the
state of fana fi Allah, 'extinction of the self in God',
which is the transition to the state of baqa billah or
the 'eternal life in union with God.' By passing away from self,
the individual does not cease to exist, but is permitted to
enjoy the supreme mystical experience in union with God. He
is fully absorbed into the Love of God which gives him an everlasting
awareness of the all-pervading presence of God.
doctrine is further explained in an authentic tradition of
the Prophet (pbuh) which states that God said:
is more pleasing to Me as a means for My slave to draw near
unto Me than the worship I have made binding upon him. And
My slave does not cease to draw near unto Me with added devotions
of his free will until I Love him. And when I Love him, I
am the Hearing wherewith he hears, and the Sight wherewith
he sees, and the Hand wherewith he smites, and the Foot whereon
Sufis who have gone through this experience have preferred to
live eternally in the greatest depth of silence which transcends
all forms and sounds. Yet a few others have produced works of
unsurpassed glory, especially in the fields of literature and
music, which have crowned the culture of the entire Islamic
world. Their works have inspired Sufis and non-Sufis for generations.
As the great Persian Sufi poet, Hafiz of Shiraz, who is fondly
remembered as the 'tongue of the unseen', said centuries ago
for all times: "He whose heart is alive with love, never dies."
the centuries, as the Sufi orders grew, the Sufi masters were
generally recognized as sages and men of wisdom and grace, enjoying
the esteem of the general populace.
growing social prestige of the Sufis attracted self-seekers
who posed as Sufis and dervishes and embarked upon exploiting
the goodwill of the people. These pretenders indulged in superstitious
practices, neglected moral order and religious ordinances,
and boasted of their ignorance and lack of learning. In order
to cover their own lack of discipline and dedication to the
goal, some of these charlatans even tried to cut Sufism from
its very roots--namely, the Qur'an and the practice of the
acts of these pseudo-Sufis never altered the true course of
Sufism. The heart of Sufism remained pure, well guarded by
the traditional practice of the initiation of a seeker into
a Sufi order by a Sufi master. The master's authority had
properly been passed upon him by a previous master through
the investiture of the traditional mantle of authority, symbolized
by the presentation of a patched cloth. This initiation is
supported by the tree of lineage going back through all the
previous masters to the Prophet (pbuh) from whom the authority
to instruct in the esoteric doctrine originated. Even today,
this is the general practice of all the recognized Sufi orders.
is Sufi masters such as al-Junayd, al-Ghazzali, Ibn Arabi,
Shaykh Abdul-Karim al-Jili, Khwaja
Muinuddin Chishti, and Jalaluddin Rumi, among
many others, who devoted their lives to spreading the light
and grace among all men, irrespective of man's geographical,
social, religious and racial origin. They left for all men
a rich tradition of love and peace for all times. Even today,
their example is a source of light and guidance to the seekers
of truth everywhere. Indeed, only through total surrender
to the Will of God can man hope to attain freedom and peace.
Courtesy – www.muslim-canada.org