Sufism is mystical and spiritual side of Islam. It focuses on the twin and mutually complementary themes of love and luminosity – the core of Islamic mysticism. Naturally, notes of tolerance and ‘Suleh-e-kul’ (equal respect and peace for all creeds predominate). The great Andalusian Sufi, Ibn Al Arabi (d.1240) penned in one of his poems:
My heart is capable of every form
A cloister of the monk
A temple for idols
A pasture for gazelles,
The votary’s Kaabah.
These lines recall the flute’s fancy in Moulana Jalaluddin Rumi’s (d.1273) MATHNAVI that may be rendered in English as:
Dry my veins, dry my body and dry my skin,
So wherefrom comes the Friend’s call?
Humanism is the secular version of Sufism, and the two are inseparably intertwined. Sufism gives hope and its poetry gives a healing touch and reminder to man of his duty towards himself, life, world, faith and God. The Sufi poetry is the poetry of man and of all-embracing shades of life. It covers love, peace, tears, time, dreams, aspirations, hope, man-woman relationship, injustice, courage, beauty, charm, light, goodness, sincerity, pity, innocence, grace, sympathy, pity and faith.
Sufism aims at conquering the inner self and to reduce the ego to zero. It deals about annihilation of the human self and reaching the higher self.
In Sufism, four consciousnesses have been recognized. ‘Naf’s-e ammarah’ (the self that dictates evil-Q 12:53-animal self, with characteristic and instincts of lower and baser self). ‘Nafs-e-lawwamah’ (the reproaching self Q 75:2 – moral, intuitive self).’Nafs-e-Mutmaeena’ (satisfied self, realized self or conscious self- Q 89:28) and ‘Nafs-e Radhia’ (Totally surrendered self or highly purified consciousness – The self well pleased with Lord Almighty Q 89:28-30). There is reference in Holy Quran to Naf e Marziya: Allah is pleased with human self. Q 89:28-30) and to Nafs e Saliheen: Self of Righteous (Holy Prophets) Q 29:9. Each has a discipline and represents a subject for guidance with its rules viz. canon law (Shariat), ‘Tariqat’ (spiritual path), ‘Marifat’ (Gnosis) and ‘Uboodi-yat’ (servant hood, a true sense of being subject entirely to Lord (Rabb, Truth or Allah). The ultimate aim of the entire journey is to reach ‘as-sakinah’ (Q 48:4, 18, 26) i.e., absolute peace, supreme bliss, ecstasy and tranquility; by polishing the inner consciousness to the highest degree of purity of thought and action. In this journey, the soul and inner consciousness yearns and struggles to overcome the baser elements and perseveres to remain within moral bounds, to reach echelons of highest spiritual life by transcendental meditation. Sufi poetry is one form of expression of inner urges, trials, tribulations and pangs of restless soul.
Holy Quran dawned on Holy Prophet, which is one example of highest form of consciousness, the ‘Al-Huq’, Truth revealing itself for guidance to mankind. The revelations are pure, sublime, profound and unique.
We have been introduced to great Persian Sufi poets like Moulana Jalaluddin Rumi (d. 1273 ), Shaikh Sadi (d. 1292), Hafiz Shirazi (d.1389), and Abdur Rahman Jami (d. 1492 ) to name a few. Illustrious Sufi writings have come from Al Ghazzali (d. 1111), Shaikh Abdul Qadir (d. 1166), Shaikh Fariduddin Attar (d.1220), Shaikh Shahabuddin Suharwardi (d. 1234), Ibn Al Arabi (d. 1239), Shaikh Bahauddin Naqsbandi (d.1389) and scores of them.
The Sufi doctrine greatly held that man, if he be left to his own devices, will inevitably go astray; therefore he must choose a Master to guide him in the right path. The Master is God’s representative, his actions are God’s action, in spirit he is one with God.
Sufism believes that all religions and revelations are only the rays of single eternal Sun; that all Prophets have delivered and proclaimed in different tongues the same principles of eternal goodness and eternal truth which flow from the Divine soul of the world. The Sufi writings and their lives is to realize the inherent Divinity of Man, as each of is the child of God. Man can realize God- Consciousness through practicing truth, love, harmony, service and universal brotherhood. Sufism hopes to transform the very character of man, his follies, vices and attachment with materialism. The dominant theme of Sufism is ‘love for human being’ and ‘love for God rather than dread – which is the essence of genuine Sufism. It stresses on Universal brotherhood and unity of mankind as the religion of the world. Self-imposed poverty and riddance from avarice is the pre-requisite of Sufism. The Prophet himself, the supreme model of excellence of the Sufis is reported to have said repeatedly “Al-faqr-o-fakri” (penury is my pride). Humility is the twin-sister of poverty and a window to spirituality. A true Sufi is ever vigilant and is in quest of the Divine Beloved. The lover’s quest, however, is not a one-time operation; it has to be renewed and aflame every moment of life. Besides, God lives within, and reveals Himself at His will (Faith). Repeatedly, one is reminded that true love is the precondition of spiritual ascent.
The Sufis trace the origin of Sufism, which in tradition known as ‘Tasawwuf’ or ‘Irfan’, study of Gnosis, to the Holy Prophet of Islam himself and from the origin and creation of Man. Sufis though follow the traditional Islam as per the Holy Quran and Sunna of Holy Prophet yet scrupulously follow the Sufi path laid down by the respective orders of Sufi Masters.
The novice, referred as Mureed or Salik receives the rite of initiation from his Master, the Shaikh or Murshid who has received it from his Shaikh and this chain goes back to the Holy Prophet himself. This chain of succession is known in Arabic as ‘Silsilah’. The novice mystic is a seeker, then a traveler and then an initiate, who aims to merge in the Shaikh or Murshid. This merger is refered as ‘Fana fi Shaikh’. This process further proceeds with merger with Holy Prophet himself. This merger is refered as ‘Fana fi -Rasool’, and ultimately ends up with merger with Lord, the Allah, ‘Fana fi Allah’.
Traditionally, the novice has to rid himself of material concerns and temptations, which is followed by a rigorous remembrance (Dhikar) of Allah (God). But the quest of God is a challenging undertaking and requires adept steering by a “sound captain”, the illumined ‘Murshid’.
Faith (Iman), Certitude (Yakin) and doing what is beautiful, gratitude (Ihsan) are the fundamentals of ‘Tasawwuff” or ‘Irfan’.
Prayers, Remembrance (Dhikar), struggle with the carnal desires for its perfection (Mujahida) forms the central core of “Tasuwuff or Irfan”.
Sufi Masters, founders of various orders, have laid down specific methods of practices and rules for the novices to follow throughout their life till they reach the goal of everlasting goodness and ultimate merger with the Creator, the Lord, the Almighty Allah.
Shrines and saints are reminders and receivers of divine grace, but not as His incarnations. No temple, mosque or the Kaaba holds Him; He lives in the enlightened heart. Hence the famous Sufi maxim ‘man arafa nafsahu faqad arafa rabbahu’ – self- realization leads to God realization. A well-known Sufi maxim is ‘dar duniya bash, bara-e duniya ma- bash. Live in this world, but not for the world. Therefore, they perform the obligations of the Shariat, and attend to their secular interest as well in addition to their spiritual exercises. The Sufis have valued balance in nature and practiced frugal consumption of natural resources as a gratitude to the Supreme Being for the gift of life-sustaining elements. To them wastefulness of these gifts is a sin. Sufis have always been deeply concerned with time and eternity. In fact, Ibn Al Arabi, reportedly referred to the Sufi as ‘Ibn-ul-Waqt -man of the time-that is the soul lost in present contemplation and zikr of God with little care for the future or the sops of reward and punishment. Sufism is nothing but a selfless service to mankind and sincere love of humanity at large.
Sufism has come in for attack on the ground of pantheistic thoughts and certain practices which the puritans consider as innovations (Bida) and ‘Shirk” (heresy).
Sufism has survived the onslaught from its opponents, chiefly the Salafies, ruling the Middle Eastern Countries. Within the frame work of Holy Quran, the present day Sufis are able to practice ‘Tasawwuff’/ ‘Irfan’ under the canopy of ‘Ahle Sunnat ul Jamaat.’
Sufism is all about silence and to attempt with all humility at one’s command to reach and merge with the Lord, the Most Gracious and Loving.
Sufism is all about shattering faith and belief in all the myths, mythologies and fictions of imaginations created by fertile ghostly mind. It seeks to reach the Divine, the Unitary and Solitary Master, who have Himself no master no guide, no partner, no associates, nor He comes in any format of Avatar, Son or any other form in the world. But His presence is found in the signs of creation of the world and universe and the world around us i.e., He is Omnipresent, Omnipotent closer than jugular vein. He has created man in His own image. He was a hidden treasure and wanted to reveal himself. He bestowed on man His Divine Qualities in the soul and heart of man. Man needs only to discover and know his own self to realize the uniqueness of his Lord and the Master full of Compassion, Mercy and Beneficence.
The Master loves man and expects him to give his undivided and total unwavering devotion to Him. Man needs to submit like a slave to his master or a child to his mother or a patient to the nurse, to the Supreme Master’s Will and Commands pronounced through His perfect beings His Messengers or Prophets. But the Prophets are devoid of any power of the Master except to communicate the experiences felt by them during the course of the journey to reach the Lord and experience the truth during their perfect living. They are illustrious personalities and were examples to the humanity to emulate.
Sufism is all about the purification of soul from all the animal tendencies of anger, lust, jealousy, capriciousness, lying, fraud, deception, greed, covetousness and other despicable and pervert tendencies. To become morally sound with courage of conviction and adopt truth with humility, simplicity and sincerity as a way of life, is the basic teaching of Sufism. It further teaches to earn one’s own bread with one’s own efforts, to be charitable, gracious, forgiving, loving, and become a perfect gentleman; to evolve and elevate the soul to divine consciousness by consciously realizing and practicing the qualities of Lord; to color oneself in the color of the Lord Almighty of Mercy and Compassion by total reliance on Lord and practice patience and fortitude; to be thankful and be satisfied at all times; and to be grateful for all the gifts received from nature created by the Lord, the Merciful and Loving.
Sufism is about silence of tongue, heart and mind. It is an old adage that “talk is silver and silence is golden”. Silence requires that heart and mind be stilled and should not meander nor be full of worries. A silent mind is possible only through meditation and regular practice. The life’s rigmarole is such that the soul is caught in the web of worries and thoughts. Since Sufism is all about love and devotion for the Master, the mind should be put to conditioning of single- minded devotion to the Master alone. This is possible when the mind does not get fixed to the worldly desires, passions and pleasures. All disappointments and frustrations lead to mental strain, tensions and pressures. Therefore, a Sufi keeps aloof from the worldly affairs to achieve silence of mind, heart and the tongue.
Sufism is about peace “As Salaam”. Salaam is one of the attribute of the Master. Master is all Love and Affection. To achieve total surrender and love for Master, a Sufi has to cultivate peace with all. He has no quarrels, no grievances, or grouse or pain, no desires, no demands with anyone, for it is the Master who has arranged all the affairs of the world. For a Sufi, every situation of his life is a test of love and he has to maintain his peace, for which he has to have absolute control over his passions, anger and all the despicable and undesirable qualities. Peace cannot be achieved unless the inner self is at peace with one and all. Only and only then, the Master bestows “As-Sakina” (bliss) in the heart. A Sufi achieves total joy, ecstasy and happiness.
Sufism Is About Iman (Faith) Yaqeen (Certainty-Certitude) and Ihsan (Gratitude)
Iman is faith in the existence of Master, the Allah and it should be complete and full. He provides all the sustenance and takes care of all the affairs of His creatures. This is the Yaqeen or certainty. The certainty is by recognizing the signs of the Lord, the Beneficent. A Sufi develops certainty by realizing the truth and shunning all the doubts, false images, falsehoods, myths, superstitions and mythologies. His certainty and faith is un-wavering and strong. Nothing can shake his faith in his Master. The faith and certainty brings forth ‘Ihsan’, gratitude for all the blessings showered on him by the Master. He sees the Master’s works in all the affairs of the world and recognizes that the Master is keeping a careful watch on His beloved creatures, who are fully dependent and have full and complete reliance on Him. A Sufi is totally convinced that he is a spark of divinity and by shunning the gross and impurities in him; he will be able to achieve and see the light of divinity in him.
A Sufi realizes the Attributes of his Master, the Allah and His Prophets. He colors himself in the attributes of his Master of love, compassion, mercy, godliness and goodness. He achieves everlasting goodness by performing good deeds every moment of his life. He shuns all that is despicable, detestable, unwarranted and considered as undesirable and bad.
A Sufi is always in Zikr (incantation).He negates the existence of any other god but Allah by unceasingly repeating in measured tones the incantation of “La Ilaha Illallah” there is no god but Allah. He keeps repeating the name Allah as many times as he breathes.
A Sufi accepts a Peer or Murshid for his guidance and follows the teaching of his guide, the Peer, until a Sufi perfects himself.
A Sufi emulates the examples of the Divine saints by carefully studying their lives and being in the company of attained adepts and purified Sufis.
Sufis, Sufism in Islam and their Presence in India
What Sufism can give to those who have reached the twilight zone and are in the evening of their lives after having felt the mirth and pleasure, the humdrum of life? To quote a famous Sufi Poet Omar Khayyam:
Ah! My beloved fill the cup that clears
Today of past regrets dead future fears
Unborn tomorrow and yesterday
why fret about them when today be sweet
For a Sufi every moment is precious. He lives moment by moment. He has no past, no future, no regrets, no morose, no pain. The past and future are painful and full of regrets and fears. If you live for this moment and for now you are thinking not of yourself but you are filling your consciousness with that of Divine Beloved whom you have realized by shunning your ego, your inner I, your ‘ahankara’ and merged your soul in the Supreme I, the super consciousness. Your presence is your merger and the merger has brought pleasure immensely and deeply, an enlightenment and opening of your inner eye. You have acquired self-knowledge and power of realization. Your every moment in the presence of your beloved is worth million hours of the worldly existence. You do not wish to lose His Divine Presence of Bliss and Eternal Happiness, When lovers mingle, time has lost its meaning. Neither there is beginning nor end, thus it is expressed in one of the passages of Holy Quran, Chapter 97:1-5:
We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power: The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah's permission, on every errand; Peace! This until the rise of morn!
That moment of being in the Divine Presence is the most joyous moment. It is the merger and union. This is what the Sufi yearns for. He wishes to be always in the company of the Beloved. He loses his personal identity and attains Moksha in his own life by breaking the law of karma or rebirth. When light dawns there are enlightenment, the darkness disappears. The light eats away the darkness. There is glory and the fragrance spreads all over. Hence, the joy of the union and merger destroys the past regrets and future fears. The Sufi feels that he is like a faithful dog. In ancient Egyptian civilization, a dog was akin to god. Why so? Because a dog loses his identity with his master. He is at the master’s beck and call forever without grouse or complains. If he is chained, he remains in that position as long as the master wishes day in and day out. If food is offered he wags his tail, if denied he does not bite the master nor does he abandon the master. A dog identifies the friends and foes of the master. His loyalty is unquestionable. Sufi yearns to be like a dog to the master, always at the master’s service, at the beck and call without any complain or grouse, always in joy, bliss and happiness, always in cheerful mood; feels fully secure without any fear as he is in his master’s presence. A Sufi’s love is eternal and his moments are ecstatic and joyful. A Sufi’s mind is doubtless and soul serene. With the Master beside him, life for him is a trifle. The rudder of faith in his Master cuts off the turbulence of life. He realizes that there are no meanderings, no confusion. The mind is at total peace. The shackles of iron or walls of bricks cannot curb or prevent his pure and sublime love to his Master. A Sufi realizes that his Master’s Grace grants him His Effulgence, which leaves the Sufi in a trance. A Sufi’s face radiates his Master’s glory, His beneficence, His might and mercy. A Sufi feels that his being is enveloped with his Lord’s compassion. He feels that each particle of his body is his Lord’s creation. He feels that his consciousness is merged with his Master’s and the Master’s consciousness dwells in him serenely and life glows in him sweetly and calmly. Songs flow from his lips in his Master’s love, which the Master showers on him eternally. A Sufi is totally a surrendered being.
I love Him, Respect Him and honor Him;
Each breath of mine is spent in His service
Day and night, merge and I slave forever
Out of dedication and love of labor
Neither vagaries of weather, ill health
Nor desires, nor slumber can deter me
With deep devotion, I burn the candle
Of my life at His feet in total, surrender
I have no complaints, demands, compulsions
No grievances, grief or pain
Undoubtedly, I am captured by Him;
I am now left with no will of my own.
My Master’s service is my main motto
I wish I were a dog to befriend him.
Come, come let us fill our vacuums
In heart, in mind and our souls
With love, affection and warmth
Illumine with millions light of knowledge
Let us enliven our sagging spirits
With rhyme and rhythm, with melodies
With cheers and allow them to soar
Higher and higher like a skylark
Let us dwell deeper and deeper
In the realms of the heart
And bring out treasures to gleam
Our eyes and to enlighten ourselves
Let us purify ourselves afresh
With the cool streams of love
Sufis and the nature of Sufis
The Sufies, the “mutaqeens” the truthful
Are those who have attained
In truth, that True Master
Who exits by means of infinite,
Absolute, and colorless existence.
Their whole goal is to negate
All the inner baser instincts,
The inner desires passions.
The inhuman qualities.
And fill their cup
Of their being and life
With divine love, to utter
Forever and ever His deep
Love and sing His songs.
Sufism or Tasawwuf or Irfan (Marifat e Ilahi) is not a cult or a separate religion. It believes in creating World Brotherhood or citizenship through “Tawheed” (monotheism). A Sufi has to have a master to follow and learn a way of life to achieve perfection in manners, cultivate and culture the heart with purity of thought and good behavior, through possession of virtues and negation of all vices and surrender of will before the Supreme Will of Almighty Allah.
Sufism is absolutely peaceful and totally non-violent movement to awaken the soul to greater grandeur through simple living and practicing lofty ideals through meditation, Zikr (incantation), Sama (singing of holy rhymes set to music) and other Sufi practices by accepting the Risalat (prophet-hood) of our Holy Prophet Mohammed [peace be upon him], by strengthening of faith (yaqeen), servitude by protecting the precepts of our Holy Prophet [peace be upon him], performance of Namaz (prayer), acts and deeds of righteousness, seeking and observing Taqwa (awe of Allah), Tawba (repentance), Tawakkul (full surrender and trust in Allah), Ikhlas (sincerity), Sidq (truthfulness), Tawakkul (contentment), Haya (shame) Shukr (gratitude, thankfulness), Khawf (fear), Rida (hope), Khushu (fearfulness, humility), Istiqamat (uprightness) a state in which Allah’s grace comes perpetual for it implies the perfect performance of Allah’s service. Firasa (insight) as Prophet [peace be upon him] said Beware of the believer’s insight for he sees with the sight of Allah; Wara (abstaining from all unnecessary and seemly occupation) and Simt (silence). The Prophet [peace be upon him] is quoted as having said “whoever believes in Allah and last day, let him speak good or else let him be silent. Silence is interpreted both literally as meaning that the man should learn to govern his tongue and metaphorically is referring to a heart that silently accepts whatever Allah-God may decree. Adab (descent manners) as Prophet [peace be upon him] said “Allah mannered me and taught me good manners” live in righteous conduct. Dua (prayer) seeking constantly supplicant to Allah, for Allah God says, Supplicate and I will answer you. Faqr (poverty) – for Prophet [peace be on him] said “the poor shall enter paradise five hundred years before the rich”, Tafakkur (meditation), Muraqaba (contemplation) and Muhasaba (self-examination) Tawheed (belief in One God Allah), Mahabba (love), Shawq (yearning), Uns (intimacy), Rida (satisfaction).
Truth is realized by daily submission to the rule of law laid down by Allah for achieving perfection of human self by Mujahida a collateral form of jihad mean earnest striving after the mystical life. As the holy Quran says “And they that strive earnestly in our cause, we surely guide them upon our paths” Holy Quran Ch. 29, Verse 69. Prophet [peace be on him] said that the Greater Warfare (Jihad e Akbar) is against the earnest striving with the carnal soul (Mujahida tun Nafs). It is by seeking refuge in Allah–God and to seek His protection from the animal and satanic forces working in man, by observing Saum (fasting) for the purification of inner and outer actions of man by Qurbani (sacrifice) so as to enable man to breakaway shackles of selfishness, self-centeredness and to break away from the indulgence of pleasure seeking, materialism, ritualism, taboos and superstitions so as to achieve perpetual peace As-Sakeena (eternal peace) through deeds of everlasting goodness (baqiyatus Saalihaat) thus to achieve Allah’s (God’s) realization. To elevate the soul from moral consciousness (Nafs e Lawwama) to divine consciousness (Nafs e Mutmainna) by shunning and annihilating animal consciousness (Nafs e Ammara).
The practices of Irfan i.e., Sufism enlightens the mind, sharpens the wit, broadens the outlook and purifies the heart and thinking. Above all Sufism or Irfan makes a person humane and a perfect gentleman in every sense of the term. Sufism is a branch of Islamic spiritualism and its study and practice is known as “Tasawwuf” (Gnosis). The study is divided into four branches; Shariat (common Law), Tariqat (spiritual Path), Ubudiat (servant-hood unity with Allah God) and Ma’rifat (Allah’s God realization Gnosis). Sufism begins with the acceptance of Tawheed (Monotheism) and Risalat (Prophet-hood of Prophet Mohammad [peace be upon him]) by observance of personal hygiene, strict disciplined life, doing charity and earning one’s living through the sweat of the brow.