I’ve been meaning to write about Sufism for a while now, for it is the only branch of Islam that has always intrigued me, simply because it focuses not so much on literal religious dogmas, but rather on the discipline of introspection and refined psychology. Thus, Sufism can be both an “Islamic” science and the collective spiritual practices of a person who desires to have a more encompassing experience of submitting to a metaphorical God.
It is a primarily a mystical path that focuses on the direct perception of truth or “God” through mystic practices based on divine love. It differs from the other branches of Islam, significantly, in that it generally focuses on the inner aspects of Islam instead of the external aspects. In other words, Sufism allows a person to focus on herself/himself internally, so that it reflects her/his actions or state-of-mind, in a positive way, externally. And just to take it one step further, Sufis strongly believe that the essence of God is not somewhere up in the sky, smiling down at us, but rather, it is within us. Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, a very famous Iranian Sufi poet, and one of my greatest inspirations (I could read and get lost in his beautiful and enchanting poetry forever), put it very beautifully in the following poem:
I tried to find Him on the Christian cross, but He was not there
I went to the Temple of the Hindus and to the old pagodas,
but I could not find a trace of Him anywhere.
I searched on the mountains and in the valleys
but neither in the heights nor in the depths was I able to find Him.
I went to the Caaba in Mecca,
but He was not there either.
I questioned the scholars and philosophers but He was beyond their understanding.
I then looked into my heart and it was there where He dwelled that I saw Him
He was nowhere else to be found.
It appears that the development of Sufism is derived from the philosophy of Wahadat-ul-Wajood, which is a doctrine that originated from Plato and Plotinus with whom love has been praised to essence. So, the central concept in Sufism is “love.” Dervishes—the name given to the initiates of Sufi orders—believe that love is a projection of the essence of God to the universe. Thus, Sufism expresses itself in passion, poetry, and music as modes of spiritual fulfilment. Moreover, the word Sufi is derived from the Arabic word “suf” which means wool. Sufis were distinguished from other people by their habits of wearing wool which was symbolic of the Sufi’s high sense of physical human comforts. Apparently in pre-islamic times, a woolen dress was associated with spirituality and sainthood.
Nevertheless, in a social and cultural context, Sufism is sometimes misunderstood as something akin to philosophy and as rejecting the strict rules of Islam. Sufis are sometimes thought to be especially addicted to two fobidden fruits: wine and young boys – a view resulting largely from taking the images, which are used in certain Sufi poetry literally rather than symbolically. Yet, what people fail to realize is that in these poems, intoxication, in fact, refers to a metaphorical “God” and not alcohol per se and the “beloved” represents the divine, where the use of the male gender to refer to presumably female lovers is a somewhat, strange tradition of Arabic poetry.
Furthermore, it has been argued that “music is one of the several components leading to trance.” And as someone who is a strong advocate and lover of music, especially New Age music, I am not surprised to learn that music is central in the context of Sufism. Music communicates emotions resulting in a trance, which is a combination of neurological responses. So, the role of music and achieving trance in Sufism is very crucial and is usually achieved through the following key practices: Dhikr (remembrance), Muraqaba (meditation), Sama (listening), and Qawwali (Sufi music). While dhikr and muraqaba do not involve music and focuses on achieving trance and ecstasy through chant and meditation, Sama and Qawwali on the other hand focus mainly on listening to music, singing, dancing, and other ritual activities, where trance is achieved through poetry set to music.
Since, Sufism goes against traditional Islamic beliefs and practices, it is considered “heretic” by many fundamental Muslims, which is why it makes it that much more appealing to me. Perhaps the reason could be that I don’t like to follow common norms and beliefs (especially those that don’t make sense to me, logically). So, the ideology of Sufism, I find, to be extremely unique and fascinating. And I hope to learn more about it in the very near future.