Sufism originated from the Islamic faith and the followers of Sufism are called Sufis. They believe in turning away from worldly things and focussing on God only. To them, poverty is a sign that they are not associated with worldly things. In a real sense, poverty is what everyone is fighting against to make the world a better place but a Sufi will convince you that as you look for worldly riches, it keeps you away from God. They consider life as a journey or a path of divine reality. Spiritual poverty is a principle of a classical Sufi and a poor man or woman (faqir) is a true Sufi. As a Christian, the Bible teaches us that we should give to those who do not have but to help a Sufi, he said that he does not believe in being given anything by human beings because they believe that everything comes from God. Although as Christians we believe that God is our provider, we also believe that God can bless us through someone else.1
A Sufi cannot be convinced that divinity is both internal and external because they believe that internal divinity is the key aspect. They have a metaphor that contradicts the Christian faith. Convincing a Sufi that drunkenness from wine is not right in the eyes of the Lord cannot work because for them, it is an experience of being closer to God and this is contrary to the Islamic teachings from which Sufism came from. However, at some point, we came to agree on some issues that are ethical and by my Christian faith. For example, their principles of human conduct which includes speaking the truth, not breaking promises, not cursing others, not harming others, being unsinful (although some of the things considered as sins in Christianity are not considered as sins in Sufism), looking at good things, not the negative ones, and never swearing by God’s name.
According to my encounter with Sufis, most of their ideas and theories are not meant to harm mankind and they reduce the conflict between politics and religion. They also have credible teachings which are done through inspiring and humorous poems, stories, and satires, for example, Divan-I Shams-I Tabriz and masnavi by Rumi. According to what is written in Essentials Sufism by Robert Frager and Clifton Fadiman, Sufism is a mystic of Islamism. Muslims believe that they will see God after death but Sufis are said to be impatient and they want to see him before death. That is, be with him day by day and in this very life. This leaves me wondering how one can see God who is considered as a supernatural being in Christianity and Islam. However, some things unite the three religions. The book comprises the compilations from prominent saints who followed the path of Sufism. Sufis have a mode of union with the divine; ecstatic. This is lifting the soul out of the physical body and they call it “spiritual drunkenness’’. They even talk of a youth who heard a bird singing in a garden and he was unconscious for forty years. This is amazing and can be seen as untrue because in a real sense, this is impossible and it makes Sufism questionable.
According to the book, Sufism is considered as a path that leads someone to a great end of self-realization. This is evident in the saying by Al-Ghazzali that ‘Know o beloved, that man was not created in jest or at random, but marvelously made but for some end’. This shows that these people have a strong belief that their great end is to realize God. Sarraj’s classic defines Sufism as ‘preferring God to everything and God preferring the Sufis to everything else.2 This means that they believe that they can experience knowledge of God through their self-knowledge. This has led them to teach their doctrines and beliefs through stories, poems, calligraphy, reading, and body movements to acquire this knowledge. Sufism is mystic which is reached by love of the absolute, which is truth, love, or God. They consider Sufism as a river that passes through many countries and so, they have direct experience of the divine (God) and rely on nothing else but God.
The creed of faith by Islam forms the basic tenets of Sufism. They believe that God is the creator of all things and is all-powerful. Contrary to Islam, they do not believe that God is in Mecca but one’s heart. There is a hierarchy between humans and God and this is the inward or an outward reality which is an angelic nature. Sufis believe in four Books: Torah that was brought by Moses, the Psalms of David, the Gospel inspired by Jesus, and the Koran that was revealed to Muhammad. This reflects that Sufis have the Christianity faith that is intertwined with the Islamic faith. I wonder how the different teachings are incorporated into one faith. There are contradicting aspects in different Books. For example, Islam considers Jesus as a prophet contrary to Christianity who believes Jesus is the son of God.1
The prophets in Sufism got their truth from the same source which is God and God is the source of all other things; either pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad. This may not be controversial with Christian teachings since we believe that all things happen with God’s knowledge. One of the controversial beliefs is that life does not end with death but life on the earth is like a dream and the true life starts in the next world.
Rumi who is a great Sufi teacher and a poet says ‘Love is the only force that can transcend the bounds of reason, the distinctions of knowledge, and the isolation of normal consciousness’,3 this is a powerful description of love and as universally known, love is a key virtue that holds mankind together. God is love and this is common in both Christian and Sufi writings. The Bible says that the summary of all the commandments is love. Also, Sheikh Muzaffer, a Sufi writer said in his writings, ‘The essence of God is love and the Sufi path is a path of love…Love is to see what is good and beautiful in everything…’.4 This shows that Sufism considers God as love, as it is for Christians. This is also evident in Rumi’s poem that says: Love brings the lover to union with the beloved.
Sufis opens their heart through remembrance where they believe that remembrance comes about by repetition. They perform remembrance ceremonies during which they practice the unity of breath, sound, and body movement. They believe that remembrance comes from the tongue and descends to the heart from which it goes to the soul. The way they do it may be different, but this is a key practice of building one’s faith, that is, remembering the set rules. For them, they believed that repeating the name of God several times (Kadhir-as they called it), will make them closer to the divine. In Christianity, remembrance comes through reading the word of God from the Bible and through teachings and this reminds Christians of the set rules in their faith. This also happens to Islam who also does it through prayers and reading of the Quran.
Sufism has a principle of living in the world to achieve the highest mystical goals which are serving others (is the same as serving God). This is considered the highest level of worship. To be a Sufi, you have to love and serve others, and actually, this is the duty of human beings. A service is a form of worship to God. They also show gratitude by thanking God. When a Sufi Sheikh was thanked by a group of guests after treating them well, he said that they should thank God for it was his will that he served them right.
According to my view and what is reflected in this book and also from experience, Sufism like Christianity and Islam preaches love and unity in humankind. It also emphasizes more on worshipping God as the creator of all things that exist in the world. However, contradictions appear in the way these things are done. The other different thing is how the practices of each religion are taught. Otherwise, the doctrines are not interfering with the lives of mankind.
Robert, Frager. Clifton Fadiman, Essential Sufism. HarperSan: Francisco University, 1997.
- Robert, Frager. Clifton Fadiman, Essential Sufism (HarperSan: Francisco, 1997), 26.