Sufis, rooted in the first century after Muhammad, pursue the mystical stream of Islam. I sometimes get cornered when discovered as a Muslim Sufi. “You mean you actually converted to Islam?” Perhaps they recognize Rumi as a poet of love, but rarely do they see him as a practicing Muslim.
In parallel with other mystical streams, Sufism centers on meditation (Sufi dhikr) and diminishment of the false self to find closeness to Being. One contribution of Sufi Islam is the 99 names of God, a useful way to understand good and evil and enhance communication between God and humanity.
Today’s Islamic extremism has eclipsed world-class Sufi ideas. It was not always like this. As a friend of mine recounts, in the 60s and 70s, young Westerners packed themselves into vans and explored Muslim countries, having the time of their lives. They slept by the side of the road and were invited into homes for family meals. Not a wise travel destination today.
What changed? The major reason was the Saudi Government’s massive funding of the global spread of their harsh literal strain of Wahhabi Islam.
Yousaf Butt, senior advisor to the British American Security Information Council, estimated that over 100 billion oil dollars were spent to spread Wahhabism. In the 80s and 90s, missionaries, professorships, publishing opportunities, and publications all supported this massive effort.
Wahhabis inspired ISIS and Al Qaeda. All three detest Sufis.
So what are these iconoclastic ideas of Sufism? Here are quotes from three of my favorite Sufis.
“O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell
and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your Own sake,
grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.” (Kushwant Singh rendition
Rabia of Basra, famed as an early woman Muslim Saint and Sufi mystic (714-801)
“He who restricts the Reality (to his own belief) denies Him (when manifested) in other beliefs, affirming Him only when He is manifest in his own belief. He who does not restrict Him thus does not deny Him, but affirms His Reality in every formal transformation, worshiping Him in His infinite forms, since there is no limit to the forms in which He manifests Himself.” (R.W.J. Austin Translation)
Ibn Arabi, known as the Greatest Sheik of Sufism, whose perspective ranged far beyond his strict Muslim practice (1165-1240)
“The hypocrite’s zeal makes religion a burnt harvest: So burn your wollen cassock, Hafiz, and go.” (Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs Translation)
Hafiz, Persian Sufi poet who wrote of gay and straight love and wine to echo experience of the Divine. He exposed religious hypocrisy where he found it, even among Sufis (1315- 1390)
Rabia rejected of manipulation by threats of heaven and hell. Ibn Arabi wrote of the loss resulting from restricting God to one religious system. Hafiz, beloved by Shia and Sunni, used his rapier wit to skewer narrow mindedness and affectation wherever he found them.
So what’s not to like?