Sufism Lecture Notes
Guest Lecturer: Lily Kern

What is Sufism and who are Sufis?

      A name given to describe Islams vastly diverse mystical traditions

o   Mysticism: A doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation or ecstasy (

      A Sufi is one who practices Sufism

      Sufism is alive and well today. Almost all Sufis consider themselves to be Muslims but not all Muslims consider Sufis to be Muslims.

How does Sufism start?

      Many scholars believe that Sufism begins as a reactionary movement to the perceived corruption and worldliness of the Muslim Empire

      The root word of Sufism, suf, probably references the coarse wool garments that Sufis donned to symbolize their ascetism and detachment from the world

      Sufis early Sufi practices draw inspiration from Christian monastic models  

o   Fasting, meditation, long vigils, renunciation of worldly attachments

What do Sufis believe?

      Sufis believe in a inner dimension of the revelations given to the Prophet Muhammad and that they elaborate the mystical side of path he embarked on

      The basic tenets of Islam, aka the oneness of God, the five pillars, sharia  (sometimes)

o   However, they believe that these basic principles are not enough and that they can be transcended to achieve union with the divine

      That it is possible to experience God in this life, do not need to wait until the afterlife

      The way this union is achieved is through love (more on this later)

How do Sufis go about achieving this union?

      A mystical path, tariqah

      The path is followed under the strict guidance of a Sufi master called a Shaykh in Arabic and a Pir in Persian

o   These Sufi masters developed followings which eventually transformed into different Sufi schools

o   Student/teacher relationship and school membership are important

      Main action is remembrance of God or dhikr, sometimes spelled zikr. This practice takes many forms. A few examples are.

o   Repetition of the 99 beautiful names of God mentioned in the Quran, can be done aloud or silently

o   The whirling of the Dervishes of the Mevlevi order

o   Qawwali music (Sufi devotional music meant to induce ecstatic states)

      The purpose of these actions is to lead the devotee to union with the divine called fana.

o   As the devotee empties the mine of everything but God, eventually all the remains is God into which the individuals is absorbed.

What is this state like? How is it characterized?

      Fana is often characterized as a state of ecstasy in which consciousness of everything but God falls away

      The ego is totally annihilated; one is not even aware of their contemplation of God

      This is yet another ineffable state which is often described through metaphor. Imagery of a mirror is often used. The devotee polishes the mirror of the self to better receive the divine illumination of God. However, when one looks into the mirror, they behold the self, symbolizing the intense union of God and the devotee.

      Also described as a drop of water dissolving in an ocean, through metaphors of drunkenness (intoxication is spiritual knowledge), and metaphors of love

What does love have to do with it?

      It is through intense love between the divine and the devotee that fana is achieved; God rushes to meet the devotee out of love

      I think this concept of love is a fascinating part of religious experience. Ask the class about love?

      Famous Sufi poet saints such as Jalal al-Din Rumi, Hafiz, and Rabia Basri describe the longing for and love of God through various metaphors

What are the implications of Sufism? Knowing what we know about the Indian religions weve studied thus far, how might Sufism have appealed to people?

      Provided a popular, devotional form of Islam which was accessible to individuals of all classes

o   Use of vernacular language, local saints, alternative pilgrimage sites

      Serves as a major vehicle for spreading Islam to India

      Sufisms adaptability allows for intermixing with other faiths and traditions

o   Has similarities with devotional Hinduism  

      Today, Sufi shrines in India are visited by individuals of many faiths, which serves to show the appeal of Sufism and the vast plurality of Indian religious thought and practice