Sufism (Mystical Islam)
Around the ninth century Sufism began to grow out of the
ground of the Muslim faith. The Arabic word sufi means "mystic." It
stems from suf, meaning "wool"-most likely an allusion to the
traditional woolen garment that early Muslim ascetics wore. Others contend is
comes from the Arabic word tassawuf meaning "purification." Though
most Muslims teach a transcendent God, beyond personal encounter, the Sufi
Muslims believe otherwise. They pursue mystical experiences with Allah through
various means, especially a whirling kind of dance designed to project the
worshipper into a trancelike state of blissful union with God. Other practices
include fikr (meditation) and dhikr (the remembrance of God by
frequent repetition of his names). Being a lover of the Beloved (God) is the
emphasis in Sufism.
Sufis have long been noted for their spiritual "love poetry' concerning
this theme. The Qur'an is revered, though Sufis add levels of symbolic, inner
meanings. Though many ascetics are found among Sufis, still, this religion does
not "demand' an ascetic-like withdrawal from the world. Rather, it
emphasizes the goal of seeking God while involved in the world. Sheikh Muzaffer
explains, "Keep your hands busy with your duties in this world, and your heart
busy with God."1 There are many different
Sufi brotherhoods. Given the emphasis of "dying to self' in Sufism, possibly
the best description of this religious group is enigmatic statement-"The Sufi
is the one who is not."2
1 James Fadiman and Robert Grager, Essential Sufism (Edison,
New Jersey: Castle Books, 1998) p. 35.
2 Abu al-Hasan Kharaqani, in Jami, Nafahat, p. 298;
quoted in Carl W. Ernst, Ph. D., The Shambhala Guide to Sufism (Boston,
Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, 1997) p. 228.
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