Islamic Mysticism: The Sufis


1.     Mysticism: An extreme type of religious experience in which one comes into direct awareness of the Ultimate Reality

a.     Accompanied by feelings profound feelings of joy, sacredness, and paradox

b.     Tend to be experiences of unity and not duality

c.     Considered to be ineffable

d.     Often paradoxical – shatters ordinary perceptions; experienced as a unity of opposite

e.     Noetic – experienced as states of knowledge, as sources of deeply significant illuminations.  The truths revealed in mystical states have their own authority

f.      Often in tension with orthodox beliefs and practices


2.     An Inner dimension of prophesy: Muhammad as intimate of God, M’s consciousness radically altered through long meditations and revelations

a.     Sufis believe that they explained and elaborated the mystical side of the path that M had begun

b.     Don’t need to wait until the next life to encounter God, one can experience God here and now.

3.     A mystical path straight into God’s presence: producing an experience of love

c.     One shouldn’t pursue the path without the guidance of a spiritual master -- a shaykh/pir

d.     Remembrance of God and the repetition of God’s name > progressively empty the mind and turn away from all other things except the one transcendent being on whose name they are focused.  Eventually, they hope, the name of God will give way to absorption into the One who is named.

                                      i.     Zikr

e.     Spiritual breakthrough as an act of grace - God rushes to meet pilgrims seeking him in love, draws them out of themselves into a state of ecstasy. 

                                      i.     Fana

f.      Self consciousness is obliterated, only awareness of God remains, not even aware that one is contemplating God. 

                                      i.     No words can express this experience, use an esoteric language, nothingness (but God) metaphors: blending of a drop of water in the sea; the incinerating of a moth in the candle’s flame.  Poetry is the proper medium for expressing  the experiences of mystical reality.

                                    ii.     Polishing the self’s mirror -- progressively removing all attachments and thoughts that impede reception of the divine illumination.  Self as mirror, focus on the transcendent One who has blessed them.

4.     The Crisis of Sufism: some theologians held that the Sufi idea of intimacy between God and human creatures is blasphemous

g.     Some Sufis were led by their experience of mystical love of God to make statements that seemed pantheistic or “incarnationist”:

h.     Mansur al-Hallaj (Persian mystic, died 922) declared “I am the Truth” (Truth = one of God’s names) - interpreted as I am equal to God (blasphemous) or above the moral law (dangerous). He was publicly flogged, crucified, and beheaded.

i.      In the end: Sufism not seen as heretical but orthodox.  For many Muslims it was the crown of Islam.

j.      Statements like “I am the Truth” interpreted as God speaking directly through the person in a state in which all individuality of the men had been effaced.


Terms and Questions



1.    Sufi

2.    Mysticism

3.    Noetic

4.    Shaykh/pir

5.    Fana

6.    Ineffibility

7.    Zikr