Islamic Mysticism: The Sufis


1.      Early Sufis:

a.       Some devout Muslims protested what they saw as worldliness, corruption and spiritual shallowness of Muslim empire. 

b.      Drew on Christian monastic models: Fasting, long vigils, meditation on the Qur’an, garments of coarse wool (suf)

c.       Overcome domination by transitory joys and fears of earthy life through asceticism. Spiritual freedom through devotion to God. Some: surrender of all worldly possession, some through relinquishing all attachments.

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.      Later: more focus on love of God, which became their consuming passion.

a.       Al-Ghazzali: theological became Sufi.  Human perfection lies in the conquest and complete passion of the human heart by the love of God.

b.      Persian mystic al-Rumi (1207-1273):

The man of God is drunken without wine
The man of God is full without meat
The man of God is distraught and bewildered,
The man of God has no food or sleep .. . .
The man of God is not learned from book,
The man of God is beyond infidelity and religion,
To the man of God right and wrong are alike.

4.      A mystical path straight into God’s presence.

a.       Most Sufis believe that the mystical path begins by following the sharia, the rules laid down by God.

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

c.       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.

d.      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. 

e.       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.

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

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

b.      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.

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

d.      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.