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Sufism

Category: Mystic groups and systems

The Sufis – Idries Shah
The English word "Sufism" is anglicised from the Latin, Sufismus; it was a Teutonic scholar who, as recently as 1821, coined the Latinisation which is now almost naturalized into English.

Before him there was the word tasawwuf - the state, practice or condition of being a Sufi.
This may not seem an important point, but to the Sufis it is. It is one reason why there is no static term in use among Sufis for their cult. They call it a science, an art, a knowledge, a Way, a tribe - even by a tenth-century portmanteau term, perhaps translatable as psycho-anthropology (nafsaniyyatalinsaniyyat) - but they do not call it Sufism.

Tarika-sufiyya stands for the Sufi Way; and makes a very good English parallel because tarika stands for Path, as well as a way of doing something, and also conveys the notion of following a Path, - the Path of the Sufi.

Sufism is referred to by different names in accordance with the sense in which it is being discussed. Thus, ilm-al-ruaarifat  (the science of Knowing) may be found; or el-irfan (the gnosis); and the organized Orders or groups tend to be called the tarika.

Similarly, the Sufi is known as the Seeker, the Drunken man, the enlightened one, the good, the Friend, the Near One, the dervish, a Fakir (humble, poor in spirit), or Kalandar, knower (gnostic), wise, lover, esoterist.

 

Sufism these days tends to be associated with Islam.  It is described on many [western] websites as the ‘mystical’ branch of Islam.

But Sufism is not religion dependant.  It is intended to be both dogma free, but also a synthesis of the inner truth within every religion.  If the spiritual world is one ‘place’ with one truth, then we should expect that there is a common thread that can be extracted from all who ‘have seen’ – experienced the spiritual plane.  And this is what Sufism aims to do – explain and extract the common truth.

Its teaching and its explanations are entirely based on people’s experience.  So analogously they have no interest in the guide books that purport to describe ‘Rome’, or the  TV programmes or the newspaper reports or the websites.  Their only interest is in people who have been to ‘Rome’ and can actually tell what they have seen and how they got there.  Thus their teaching is based on experience and the methods and techniques they teach are based on known success.  A teacher to be a teacher has to have had extensive spiritual experience.

So in effect, like all mystic practises, the aim is to gain direct experience of the spiritual world in this life and to rely on direct experience to understand it.

 

Rumi – He who tastes not, knows not.

The great Sufi Omar Khayyam in his Rubaiyat stressed this inner experience, which has no real connection with many of the theologies of the institutionalised religions, or even what people consider to be ‘religion’………..

In cell and cloister, monastery and synagogue, one lies
In dread of hell; one dreams of paradise
But none that know the divine secrets
Has sown his heart with suchlike fantasies

 

Sufism as a Way of Life

Sufism does incorporate descriptions of a spiritual path, but unlike, for example, the Christian recluse or monk, the Buddhist monk or the Hindu following the ashram system, there is not a set ‘stage’ where you start to become a spiritual person. You do not withdraw from life, or set a stage of your life aside to pursue spiritual aims. 
From the word go you live your life as a spiritual person.  You are always a Sufi, you never turn off and be something else.  Sufism is a way of life

The Sufis – Idries Shah
Anchorites, who are nothing more than professional obsessives, have given the impression that the desert or mountains are the places where the mystic must spend his whole life.  They have mistaken a thread for the whole carpet.

 

Who can be a Sufi?

Anyone can become a Sufi, including those who have followed other religions such as Christianity.  Furthermore, you can be a Christian and a Sufi at the same time.  You simply follow the moral teachings of Jesus, who could be classified as one of the more famous Sufis being someone who had considerable direct experience of the spiritual world, whilst pursuing your destiny via a Sufi master.  Sufism  is not exclusive.

The Sufis – Idries Shah
Among the Sufis have been former Zoroastrian, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and other priests; Persians, Greeks and Arabs, Egyptians, Spaniards and Englishmen. There are in the ranks of the Sufi masters theologians, a reformed captain of banditti, slaves, soldiers, merchants, viziers, kings and artists. Only two are well known to many contemporary Western readers. They are the poet and mathematician Omar Khayyam of Persia, and the prince Abu ben-Adam of Afghanistan - the subject of a poem by Leigh Hunt: "Abu ben-Adam, may his tribe increase. . . ."
Among those directly influenced by Sufism we can name at random Raymond Lully, Goethe, President de Gaulle, and Dag Hammenkjold of the United Nations.

 

It is clear that this perplexes those seeking some dogmatic exclusive club with rules and set belief systems.  The only belief is the belief in the existence of the spiritual world, the importance of destiny to one’s path and the need to experience the spiritual world in this life.  There are no other dogmas, there are not pages and pages of creeds to learn, books of hymns or chants, no learning of prayers or past deeds.  You ‘do’ Sufism, you don’t learn it.  There is probably only one real moral rule DON’T HURT.  And LOVE.

The Sufis – Idries Shah
The Sufis … have been hailed as saints, executed and persecuted as heretics.
They teach that there is only one underlying truth within everything that is called religion. 
Some have said, "I believe in nothing;" others, "I believe in everything."
Some say, "Let there be no levity among Sufis” others, "There is no Sufi without humor."
Scholasticism and mysticism are opposed to one another. But the Sufi gave rise to, among others, a school of each. Were these Moslem schools? No, they were Christian, associated with the Augustinians and St. John of the Cross, as Professor Palacios and others have established.
From being an Oriental mystic, the Sufi now appears as the antecessor of Catholic mystics and philosophers.

The approach has produced an army of very gifted men and women.  Furthermore it has influenced western and eastern cultures in ways that very few of us realise

 

The Sufis – Idries Shah
The Sufis … have produced great theologians, poets, scientists. They accepted atomic theory and formulated a science of evolution over six hundred years before Darwin.
Let us add a few more facts. The coffee which we drink was traditionally first used by Sufis, to heighten awareness.
We wear their clothes (shirt, belt, trousers); we listen to their music (Andalusian, measured music, love songs); dance their dances (waltz, Morris dancing); read their stories (Dante, Robinson Crusoe, Chaucer, William Tell); employ their esoteric phrases ("moment of truth," "human spirit," "ideal man"); and play their games (cards).
We even belong to derivations of their societies, such as Freemasonry, and certain chivalric orders.  The monk in his cell, the Fakir on the mountain top, the merchant in his shop, the king on his throne - these can be Sufis, but this is not Sufism. The Sufi tradition has it that Sufism is a leaven ("Sufism is yeast") within all human society. If it has never been removed from the field of academic study, this is because it was never made available to scholasticism as a subject of investigation.
Its very diversity prevents it from being systematized in the semi-permanent manner which would make it static enough to investigate.
 "Sufism," according to the Sufi, "is an adventure in living, necessary adventure."

Selected Poems from the Divani Shamsi Tabriz – R A Nicholson
What: is to be done, O Moslems ? for I do not recognise myself.
I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Gabr, nor Moslem.
I am not of the East, nor of the West, nor of the land, nor of the sea;
I am not of Nature's mint, nor of the circling heavens.
I am not of earth, nor of water, nor of air, nor of fire;
I am not of the empyrean, nor of the dust, nor of existence, nor of entity.
I am not of India, nor of China, nor of Bulgaria, nor of Saqsin;
I am not of the kingdom of 'Iraqain, nor of the country of Khorasan.
I am not of this world, nor of the next, nor of Paradise, nor of Hell;
I am not of Adam, nor of Eve, nor of Eden and Rizwan.
My place is the Placeless, my trace is the Traceless;
‘Tis neither body nor soul, for I belong to the Beloved.

 

The Importance of the Master

Sufis achieve their spiritually open state using such methods as whirling [so called whirling dervishes] and by using music, contemplation, befuddling and so on.  There are quite a large number of practises included under this system, all of which work.  If there was any criticism that one could make of the system, it is that it is not so much a system, as a collection of working techniques and that you do need a master to guide you through them.  There is a reason for the Sufi insisting that you need a master:

The Sufis – Idries Shah
In Sufism, practical methods of instruction are essential.  This is partly because Sufism is an active undertaking; partly because, although people pay lip service to truths when they are told them, the reality of the truth does not usually penetrate beyond their discursive faculty.

There is a ‘Chain of Transmission’ of both people and Sufi schools that goes back to before Mohammed.  One of the most respected 7th century Sufi masters – Ulways, who died in 657 – never met Mohammed, though he was living in Arabia at the same time and outlived him.
So Sufi masters existed and exist outside the Islamic religion and teach and help those who they recognise as being on a particularly key path – one with a quite distinct destiny that requires assistance. 

 

In Sufi tradition, more than perhaps any of the other systems on this website, there is the constant emphasis that the path a person follows is always unique because it depends on his or her destiny.
“each of us will set out upon the search for it along a different road, and none will find his road easy to follow, each may, if he be wise, discover compensations for his toil by the wayside”
Living life is the process, we learn by doing
A person over their life may have a number of Sufi masters, at different stages.  Occasionally they may not even recognise they are getting help from a Sufi.  Few Sufis ever say ‘I am a Sufi’.  In fact, it is more than likely that those who do in western society are not the genuine article.
And here we have a problem, a problem recognised from the very early days of the Sufi movement, there are a lot of so called Sufis who are not.  The problem with the Sufi system is that it is very open to abuse.  Spiritual experience can leave you wide open to exploitation and the system attracts the unscrupulous and the dishonest.

Selected Poems from the Divani Shamsi Tabriz – R A Nicholson
How many deceivers are there at the wine drinkers feast!
Take heed lest thou fall, o easy simple man!
Beware!  Do not keep in a circle of reprobates
Thine eye shut like a bud, thy mouth open like a rose

 

The secret language

Neither Sufism in translation in its literary forms, nor the writings of many eastern poets can be properly understood without realising that behind many of the words used is a ‘secret language.  It is possible to understand the symbolism of some of the texts because the symbolism used is universal – a ‘castle’ has universal symbolism, as does an ‘island’ or a ‘boat’, or the ‘sea/ocean’, a spring, fire, air, grapes, pine cones, snakes, rods, vines and so on. 
But the Sufis have applied an additional level of encipherment called the Abjad scheme which Idries Shah describes as ‘a fairly simple substitution cipher, often coupled with allegorisation of the recipherment [sic]  which is widely used in literature.  Many people read it, or at least look for it, almost as a matter of course, especially poets and writers’.
I noticed that a number of people on Amazon in their reviews, for example, have taken some of Idries Shah’s stories as children’s stories with a useful moral message, and in some senses they are, but apply a different level of symbolism and you get other results.  So these are clever stories.  They are designed to be read with a master so that you are helped through the levels of understanding and there is no harm done in only understanding them at a superficial level, but they are worth re-reading frequently as the ‘truths’ reveal themselves.
The secret language and the use of the master disciple system, are all by-products of the level of persecution Sufis have experienced and the need for secrecy. 
One wonders whether the same level of secrecy is really needed today – at least in many western countries – those still dominated by Islam may still need the protective umbrella.
It is theoretically possible to describe the principles of Sufism in book form [without, obviously, all the help given concerning destiny] without needing a master, Ibn’Arabi did it ………

Henry Corbin – Alone with the Alone
This little book, which he entitled Mawaqi’ al-nujum ( the orbits of the stars ) , was written in eleven days under stress of an inspiration confirmed in a dream, which commanded him to write an introduction to spiritual life. "It is a book," he writes elsewhere, "which enables a beginner to dispense with a master, or rather: it is indispensable to the master. For there are eminent, exceedingly eminent masters, and this book will help them to attain the highest mystic degree to which a master can aspire." In it, under the veil of the astronomical symbols, our shaikh describes the Light that God bestows on the Sufi in the course of the three stages of the Way. The first stage, purely exoteric, consists in the outward practice of the shari'a, or literal religion. Ibn 'Arabi symbolizes it by the stars whose brilliance darkens as soon as the full moon of the other two stages rises, the stages in the course of which the Sufi is initiated into the tawil, the symbolic exegesis which carries back the literal statements to that which they symbolise.

But this is in many ways only the beginning.

The complexities of translation

 

Much of the more profound writing in the Sufi tradition is in Arabic.
Now this does pose a real problem for anyone who wishes to get to the heart of Sufism.  Idries Shah describes the problem well:

The Sufis – Idries Shah
There is a translation of a Persian book into English, not from Persian, but from a French translation of an Urdu rendering of a classical Persian abridgment of an Arabic original. There are modern versions of Persian classics, sometimes edited to remove references offensive to current Iranian religious beliefs. Add to these the works of Christian (missionary), Hindu and Western neo-Hindu and Western neo Sufi non academic writers and popularisers. The presentation of Sufism to the average literate man in a Western language reveals a condition of literature which is perhaps unmatched in any other field.

So most of the time, we in the west get a very warped version of whatever writings do get translated.  This means that a teacher or master is of particular importance.  If they want to find you.  You do not find a Sufi master, they find you.
Sufi writing is ALL symbolic.  It teaches by allegory, by myth, by symbolism, by coded message, by humour.  It can be read at numerous levels.  Taken literally it often makes perfect sense as a story of the material world or a jolly yarn with a moral.  But all of the stories go much much deeper than this, and it is to us westerners something of a tragedy, when the translators are not of a spiritual frame of mind, because very often the symbolism is entirely lost.
On many an occasion I have had to compare translations to see what damage has been done in the translation process and thereby try to glean something of the original.

 

A very brief history

The Sufis – Idries Shah
Exactly how old is the word "Sufism?" There were Sufis at all times and in all countries, says the tradition. Sufis existed as such and under this name before Islam. But, if there was a name for the practitioner, there was no name for the practice.

It is incorrect to say that Sufism is an Islamic offshoot, or that it can trace its roots back to the founding of Islam.
But, there is an historical link with the rise and spread of Islam. 
Towards the middle of the 7th century, Islam expanded beyond the borders of Arabia.  The Middle East became an early stronghold of Islam and the armies of Islam pressing on and composed mainly of Bedouins, conquered the lands of the Hebrews, the Byzantines, the Persians, the Greeks and the Buddhists.  They reached the South of France in the west and the Indus in the east.  In the end they founded an empire which even today extends from Indonesia in the Pacific to Morocco and the Atlantic.  These days it is an empire without an emperor.
The centres of learning of all these peoples were as a consequence of this territorial gain, opened up to the Arabs of the Muslim world, particularly the traditional schools of mystical teaching in places like Egypt, Greece, India, Palestine, Syria and so on. 
But the Sufi will say that by this route they found fellow Sufis, not that they ‘converted’ these people.  There was an exchange of ideas.  The empire enabled ideas to travel.
One indication that a Sufi owes very little to Islam in its dogmatic form is the fact that quite a large number of  Sufis believes in reincarnation.  In addition they also adhere to a spiritual path whose goal is that of attaining unity with the Higher spirit in this life

Jalaluddin Rumi – Mathnawi story XVII
I died as inert matter and became a plant
And as a plant I died and became an animal
I died as an animal and became a man
So why should I fear losing my human character?
I shall die as a man, to rise in ‘angelic form’

I have not included Islam as a system because it is, principally, a political movement rather than a religion.  It has its own laws to which its followers must adhere which makes it on some occasions like a state within a state.  But it is clear that the heart of the Sufi movement still lies within the Islamic culture.
Historically, on the one hand the march of the armies of Islam opened the centres of learning to the Sufis, on the other hand, mysticism and politics of the sort inherent in Islamic law do not mix.  Sufis have been murdered, tortured, hounded and generally treated extremely badly in many of the Islamic countries in which they attempted to practise.  The freedom to interpret the Koran cost Suhrawardi his life at the not very enlightened hands of Saladin's son for example.
If we look at what happened to Ibn’Arabi we get some idea of the dangers……………

Alone with the Alone – Henry Corbin
But to relate such visions and their teachings in hermetic language is one thing; to indulge in over-transparent allusions that may come to the ears of the redoubtable Doctors of the Law,  the fuqaha' of Cairo, is another.
Undoubtedly lbn 'Arabi held the fuqaha' in horror; he made no secret of his disgust at the stupidity, ignorance, and depravity, and such an attitude was not calculated to win their favour. The tension rose, giving rise to denunciations and arrests; our shaikh was in mortal peril. At this critical moment the irreducible antagonism between the spiritual Islam of Sufism and legalitarian Islam became patent.
Saved by the intervention of a friendly shaikh, Ibn 'Arabi had but one concern, to flee far from Cairo and its hateful, bigoted canonists. Where was he to seek refuge? He returned to Mecca.

Religions have always seemed to attract those who would control others.  Sufis, just like mystics the world over espoused a form of spiritualism that required no religion or religious leaders and certainly did not condone control, for example:

Henry Corbin – Alone with the Alone
Ibn 'Arabi died peacefully in Damascus on the 28th day of Rabi' II, a.h.. 638 (November 16, a.n. 1240), surrounded by his family, his friends, and his Sufi disciples. He was buried north of Damascus in the suburb of Salihiya, at the root of Mount Qasiyun…………Today pilgrims still flock to the tomb of the "disciple of Khidr." One day, we were among their number, savouring in secret - but who knows with how many others?-the paradoxical triumph: the honours and popular cult devoted to this man whose disciples traditionally salute him as Muhyi’d-Din, "Animator of the Religion," but whom so many doctors of the Law in Islam have attacked, inverting his honorific surname into its antitheses: Mahi’d-Dln, "he who abolishes the religion".

So on the one hand Sufism gained by the opening up of routes to other countries .  On the other hand the presence of the ‘Doctors of law’ had a profound effect upon how Sufism was taught and expanded.

Basic beliefs

 

Energy and spirit

Energy is recognised, as is the unit of energy see 003120 – Hazrat Inayat KhanRuh in Arabic means spirit and its meaning is identical to the definition I have given.  The word is used in the Islamic religion and in Sufism.  The Islamic religion appears to have had more difficulty defining what a body was than the spirit, the spirit – the ruh was a ‘given’.  Form is regarded as ‘solidified’ [more slowly moving]  spirit.

Rumi – the Mathwani
Form is born of that which is without form.

Trinity

The Trinity as the Creator, Created and Higher spirit/Implemented area are recognised and the Creator, in particular is symbolised as the Sun.  The moon is symbolic of the resting place of the dead.

Intelligence hierarchy

The Sufis recognise the existence of an Intelligence hierarchy.  ‘God’ to a Sufi is not accessible.  The Sufi prays to his Higher spirit because it is a part of spirit as a whole – the Beloved.

Rumi  - the Mathnawi
A blade of grass cannot perceive a mountain
If the sum that illumines the world
Were to draw nigher; the world would be consumed

Rumi – the Mathwani
But as God has no opposite, He remains hidden
God’s light has no opposite in the range of creation

Spirit beings are called Jinn or Djinn or Djin.

 

Spiritual path

Sufis believe that humanity as a whole is evolving towards a certain destiny.  Our individual destinies are in a sense the individual goals of a larger plan with a very specific objective - The Great Work.  see  Idries Shah.
So the spiritual path of the Sufi has stages which are classified by type of spiritual experience.
The book The Parliament of the Birds by Fariduddin Attar is an allegorical tale of the stages above.  It is divided into seven ‘valleys’ [stages]  - the valleys of the Quest, Love, Intuitive Knowledge, Detachment, Unification, Astonishment and then Death – meaning death of the ego, the Personality.
The final objective is Unity and annihilation , but this is not the end in itself.  The end is that by doing this one will be able to fulfill one’s destiny perfectly.

The levels and layers

Rumi – the Mathwani
Air, earth, water and fire are God’s servants
To us they seem lifeless, but to God living
In God’s presence fire ever waits to do its service

Higher spirit

Just like Buddhism that calls our Higher spirit the Buddha essence, or like the mystic Christian’s naming of the Higher Spirit as the ‘Son’, the mystic Moslem and the Sufi may give the Higher spirit the name of ‘Mohammed’ and in this we need an explanation.

The Sufis – Idries Shah
Ibn El-Arabi is explicit in his explanation of this point.  There are two versions of Mohammed – the man who lived in Mecca and Medina and the ‘eternal Mohammed’.  It is the latter one of whom he speaks.
This Mohammed is identified with all the prophets, including Jesus. 
This idea has caused people with a Christian background to claim that Ibn El-Arabi or the Sufis or both were secret Christians.  The Sufi claim is that all individuals who have performed certain functions are in a sense one.  This oneness they call in its origin haqiqat-el-Mohammedia, the reality of Mohammed.

As such Sufis, along with numerous other cultures and civilisations believe that the ‘Mohammed’ in us was ‘good’.  The Higher spirit – the ‘Mohammed’ of the Sufis is ‘good’ in the way that Jesus was good and that Mohammed was an example of the Higher spirit in full operation. 
Mohammed had merged with his Higher spirit, as such the objective was to emulate Mohammed and become the ‘Son’/’the Mohammed reality’, the ‘Buddha reality’ – whatever synonymous name you wish to use.
The Sufis thus believed [and believe] that in order to become your Higher spirit and thus be in a position where you are in direct communication with the spiritual realm you had to be ‘good’ – kind, compassionate, gentle, empathetic, generous, wholly unselfish, - a model of the ‘virtues’ as they were perceived at the time by all the philosophers from Socrates and Plato to Thomas Aquinas.
In effect to merge with the Higher spirit you had to follow the rule DON’T HURT and also attempt to practise a form of unselfish LOVE.
Another name given to this Higher spirit when the person was not a Moslem or wanted to use a more generic term was the BELOVED.

He who knows himself knows his Lord”  

The Devil

One of the most fascinating aspects of Sufi thought is where they place the ‘Devil’.
Perceptions, emotions, the 5 senses, the nervous system, the sexual system are all shared functions with other animals.  An animal is not and cannot be evil, whatever reasoning power it possesses is geared towards some simple survival.
But human beings, endowed with large memories and far more reasoning power are capable of quite unspeakable acts of hurt.  Learnt behaviour lies in memory.  We may suffer the excesses of emotion, but it takes an act of reason to kill or hurt and this too is what the Sufis believe – it is the conscious middle-man of the three worlds who has the potential to be evil.  The Devil is the man of high intellect and reason, the cunning man, the driven man with ambition, the quick learning man, who misuses this gift.

Hafiz of Shiraz
Seek the real Devil in the scholastic sophist, or the hair splitting doctor – for he is the opposite of Truth.

The Sufis – Idries Shah
Two main forces are used by those who have no insight, to combat those who have 

  • The first force is that of the Men of Power, who kill, punish and harm
  • The second is that of the People of Learning, who use deceit, hypocrisy and heresy

Sufi techniques

Every disciple is supposed to proceed with a master, thus there are no set techniques in Sufism, the techniques are for selection by the master according to the needs of the pupil.

On the whole, however, apart from some fairly mild fasting, there are no techniques which hurt anyone – other people or the aspiring Sufi.  Sheikh el-Mushaikh addressing a number of candidates for admission to the Azamia Order summed this up quite well when he said:

The unification which the Sufi attains is termed ‘fana’ or annihilation.  Self mortification is not permitted and the proper physical upkeep of the body is essential.

What other points are worth noting? 

  • There is no use and should be no use of drugs of any sort in the Sufi path.  A number of western commentators have taken literally references to ‘grapes’ and ‘vines’, ‘bread’ , ‘mushrooming’ and so on as being somehow indicators of the use of alcohol and possibly hallucinogenic mushrooms.  WRONG.  All of the words used in books like the Parliament of the Birds have symbolic meaning – all of them.  To get a clue read the section on Dionysos.  I repeat, there is no use of drugs or intoxicants in the Sufi path 
  • Love plays a very very strong part in the approach – and this love can be expressed using sexual love.  A Sufi can be married, or single; can be homosexual or heterosexual or if he/she wishes celibate.  All you need is love.  There is more detail on this aspect in the techniques section - see actions
  • There are some techniques that appear to have been borrowed from the yogins [a person who is a master of yoga] and which have their equivalent in yoga, there are also a lot of references to Chinese techniques – marrow brain washing is one – see Qigong.  A lot of sharing of workable techniques has taken place across many cultures 
  • There are techniques that appear to go back to the dawn of time and were probably Neolithic in origin, these techniques are shared with the Greeks, the Hindus, the Chinese, the Japanese, the shamanic cultures, the native American Indians and the Polynesians, amongst many others

It is worth pointing out that the Sufis have little patience with those who confuse emotional release or imagination with true spiritual experience, so I’m afraid that a whole raft of techniques espoused in the USA these days [and which I have not included on the website] would not pass muster……….

The Sufis – Idries Shah
In dervish meetings, there are examples of ecstatic convulsions and other signs of false experience or states. Once, Ghazali recalls, the great Sheikh Junayd reprimanded a youth who fell into frenzy at a Sufi meeting.
"Never do that again, or leave my company," Junayd told him.
Sufi belief is that outward evidences like this of supposedly inner changes are counterfeit or merely emotional. True experience carries no physical concomitant of this kind - whether it be "speaking in tongues" or rolling on the floor.
The illustrious Mahmud Shabistari, in his Secret Garden, comments: "If thou know not these states, pass on, nor join the infidel in ignorant counterfeit  . . . But all learn not the secrets of the Way."
These demonstrations are, in a way, associated with the emotional use of words which is the shortcoming and ultimately the downfall of the formal religions. Making phrases connected with God, faith, or any religion is an external, at best an emotional, matter. This is one reason why Sufis will not discuss Sufism in the same context as religion.
Different planes are involved.

There is a group – quite large, that adheres very strongly to Islam and a more pious ascetic and ‘traditional’ form of mysticism.  It is somewhat unclear whether their techniques based on contemplation, meditation, chanting, and fasting  is particularly successful, as the number of observations for this group appear to be virtually non existent. This group are the remnants of the ‘original’ Sufis, uninfluenced by their contact with eastern and Greek thought

Selected Poems from the Divani Shamsi Tabriz – R A Nicholson
The early Sufis – they were not yet distinguished by this name – showed, perhaps under Jewish and Christian influence, a strong tendency to asceticism. Self-control, self sacrifice, patience, boundless trust in God, all the virtues of a Bernard and a Thomas a Kempis, animate their zealous and devout, if somewhat narrow and practical, aspiration.  They were not in opposition to Islam, but formed an extreme wing of the orthodox party.

The other group headed by the well known of the Sufi community, such as Rumi, Hafiz, Ruzbehan Baqli, Suhrawadi, and Ibn ‘Arabi, follows the path of Love and this Love is true Love not Lust or passion – though passion may be a by-product.  This group have been hugely successful at achieving spiritual experiences as well as unification with the Beloved. 
This group are named the Fedeli d’amore.  Through human love for something or someone one then attains Divine love.  Through the love of another and the merging of two souls, one succeeds in merging with the Higher spirit.  Love of the human beloved, leads to unification with the Beloved.

Henry Corbin – Alone with the Alone
We shall observe that this term Fedeli d'amore does not apply indiscriminately to the entire community of Sufis; it does not, for example, apply to the pious ascetics of Mesopotamia, who in the first centuries of Islam took the name of Sufi. In making this distinction we only conform to the indications provided by the great Iranian mystic Ruzbehan Baqli of Shiraz in his  beautiful persian book entitled The Jasmin of the Fedeli d'amore. Ruzbehan distinguishes between the pious ascetics, or Sufis, who never encountered the experience of human love, and the Fedeli d'amore, for whom the experience of a cult of love dedicated to a beautiful being is the necessary initiation to divine love, from which it is inseparable.

Sex can be involved, it is an expression of love, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Henry Corbin – Alone with the Alone
Ibn ‘Arabi says ‘the divine Lover is spirit without body; the purely physical lover is body without spirit; the spiritual lover – that is the mystic lover – possesses spirit and body’.

The Diwan of the great poet Hafiz, is still observed today by Sufis as a Bible of the religion of love.  Much of Rumi’s early work – before the death of his first wife and the disappearance and probable death of his beloved master Shamsi Tabriz is also a work of love.  Rumi is said to have instituted the order of Mavlavi dervishes with their special dress – ‘the Indian garb of mourning’ – and the whirling dance in memory of his teacher.  Rumi’s Diwan was written in memorium.


Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul

References

Ibn El-Arabi

  • Interpreter of Desires [Le Chant de l'ardent désir] - Ibn El-Arabi 
  • Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi - by Henry Corbin 
  • The Tarjuman al-ashwaq – A collection of mystical odes by Muhyi’ddin Ibn al-‘Arabi – translated by R A Nicholson.

Ruzbihan baqli

  • Kashf al-Asr'r wa Muk'shaf't al-Anw'r  - The Unveiling of Secrets and Disclosures of the Light
  • Les Jasmin des Fideles d’Amour [tr Henry Corbin] - Ruzbehan Baqli of Shiraz

Al-Ghazzali

  • Alchemy of Happiness – Al-Ghazzali

Mawlana Jalal-ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

  • The Masnavi/Mathnawi -  Jalal al-Din Rumi – note that although this is Rumi’s classic text, it is more suited to those not pursuing the path of love as most of it was written after those he did love had died. 
  • Selected Poems from the Divani Shamsi Tabriztranslated by R A Nicholson

Idries Shah

  • The Sufis – Idries Shah 
  • Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin – translated by Idries Shah 
  • The Perfumed Scorpion – Idries Shah 

Nizami

  • The Story of Layla and Majnun -  highly suited to those on the path of love 
  • Treasury of Mysteries 

Fariduddin Attar

  • The Parliament of the Birds by Fariduddin Attar 

Hazrat Inayat Khan

  • The Mysticism of Sound and Music - Hazrat Inayat Khan

Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa’i

  • Kitab Sharh al-Ziyara - Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa’i  [translated by  Henry Corbin and Nancy Pearson]

Kabir

  • Poems of Ecstasy – Kabir 

Shabistari

  • Garden of MysteryThe Gulsham-i  raz of Mahmud Shabistari 

Sir Richard Burton

  • The Kasidah – Sir Richard Burton 
  • Thousand and one nights – translated by Sir Richard Burton.  Also called the Arabian nights, is a coded text.  The work contains essential stories.  A study of the stories according to Shah ‘decoded according to the rules of the secret language gives the concealed meaning’.  Many of them are encoded Sufi teaching stories or enciphered lore.  It is actually possible to decipher the meaning of the stories even without the cipher using the symbol system common to many mystic sects, but you have to know this to be able to do it.

Sir Fairfax Leighton Cartwright

  • The Mystic Rose from the Garden of the King – Sir Fairfax Cartwright/Sheikh Haji Ibrahim of Kerbela.

Suhrawardi

  • Awarif el-Maarif – Sheikh Shahabudin Suhrawardi translated by Lt Col Wilberforce Clarke

Amir Khusrau

  • In the Bazaar of Love – The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau – translated by Paul E Losensky and Sunil Sharma

Yassawi, Khoja Akhmet 

  • Divine wisdom - the Diwani Hikmet of Hoya Ahmed Yassawi - translated into Russian by Anuarbek Bokebay and into English by Jonathan and Virve Trapman 

Also

Please note that source entries and extracts of their work will be added for other people in due course.

Observations

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