By Hazrat Inayat Khan
Is Sufism a religion? It should be clear that the religion of the Sufi is not separate from the religions of the world. People have fought in vain about the names and lives of their saviors, and have named their religions after the name of their savior, instead of uniting with each other in the truth that is taught. This truth can be traced in all religions, whether one community calls another pagan or infidel or heathen. Such persons claim that theirs is the only scripture, and their place of worship the only abode of God. Sufism is a name applied to a certain philosophy by those who do not accept the philosophy; hence it cannot really be described as a religion; it contains a religion but is not itself a religion. Sufism is a religion if one wishes to learn religion from it. But it is beyond religion, for it is the light, the sustenance of every soul, raising the mortal being to immortality.
As matters stand today, each one claims his own religion to be the best, and he has his own religion. The Sufi tolerates all, and considers them all his; therefore he does not belong to a religion but all religions belong to him. He can see all the religions like so many forms in a school: some are in one, others are in higher forms, that is, some study life more deeply. And in each class in the school there are pupils who like to play.
To say, 'You are not of my religion; my religion alone is true,' is as reasonable as to say, 'You are not a lawyer, a merchant, a scholar; your way of carrying on life is false; you must become as I.'
To say, 'All who are in my religion are saved' is as reasonable as to say, 'Every lawyer, merchant, scholar (as the case may be) is earnest, and performs his work perfectly.' […]
Is Sufism a belief? What do we mean by the word 'belief?' It is the nature of mind to believe, and disbelief comes after. No unbeliever was born an unbeliever; for if a soul disbelieved from childhood he would never learn to speak. All the knowledge that man possesses he has acquired by belief. When he strengthens his belief by knowledge then comes disbelief in things that his knowledge cannot cope with, and in things that his reason cannot justify. He then disbelieves things that he once believed in. An unbeliever is one who has changed his belief to disbelief; disbelief often darkens the soul, but sometimes it illuminates it. There is a Persian saying, 'Until belief has changed to disbelief, and, again, the disbelief into a belief, a man does not become a real Muslim.' But when disbelief becomes a wall and stands against the further penetration of mind into life, then it darkens the soul, for there is no chance of further progress, and man's pride and satisfaction in what he knows limit the scope of his vision.
A constant 'why' arises in the minds of the intelligent, and when this 'why' is answered by life to man's satisfaction, he goes on further and further, penetrating through all different planes of life. When this 'why' does not get a satisfactory answer from life, the doubt, dismay, and dissatisfaction arise and result in confusion, bewilderment, and despair. Sometimes belief proves to be worse than disbelief. This is when a person, set in his belief, hinders his own progress not allowing his mind to go further into the research of life, refusing guidance and advice from another, in order that he may preserve his own belief. Thus, a belief which is preserved as a virtue becomes the greatest sin. Both belief and disbelief, by practice, in time become natural tendencies; the person who is inclined to believe gets into a habit of believing all things and everything, and an unbeliever in time comes to disbelieve everything, whether right or wrong. The optimistic temperament is the temperament of the believer, and pessimism is as a rule the nature of the unbeliever. The prophets have always promised a reward for the believer, and have threatened the unbeliever with punishment, because the chance for spiritual enlightenment is only in the life of the believer, while the unbeliever covers his soul by his own disbelief.
Sufis Are Inclined To Recognize Four Stages Of Belief:
Iman-i Muhmil, when someone believes in a thing which others believe in, but, no matter how strong his belief may be, when those in his surroundings change their belief, he will likewise change his.
Iman-i Kamil, the next stage of belief, is the belief of the idealist who has faith in his scripture and saviour. He believes because it is written in the scripture, or taught by the saviour. His belief, of course, will not change with the weather, but still it may waver, if by any means reason were awakened in his soul. At least it would be dimmed just as the light of a candle would become dimmed by the rising sun. When the sun of the intelligence rises, it would break through and scatter the clouds of emotion and devotion made by this belief.
Haqq al-Iman, the third stage of belief, when man believes because his reason allows him to believe. Such a man is journeying through life with a torch in his hand. His belief is based on reason, and cannot be broken except by a still greater reason, for it is the diamond that alone can cut the diamond, and reason alone can break reason.
'Ain al-Iman, the fourth stage of belief is a belief of conviction; not only reason, but every part of one's being is convinced and assured of the truth of things, and nothing on earth can change it. If a person were to say to him, 'Do not cross over this place, there is water here,' he will say, 'No, it is land. I can see for myself.' It is just like seeing with the eyes all that one believes. This belief is the belief of the seer whose knowledge is his eyewitness, and therefore his belief will last forever and ever. Of course, as a soul evolves from stage to stage, it must break the former belief on order to establish the later, and this breaking of the belief is called by Sufis tark, which means abandonment; the abandoning of the worldly ideal, the abandonment of the heavenly ideal, the abandoning of the divine ideal, and even the abandoning of abandonment. This brings the seer to the shores of the ultimate truth.
'Truth is that which cannot be fully spoken, and that which can be spoken is not necessarily the truth.'
Is Sufism Muslim? Is a Sufi a Muhammadan? In joining a Sufi community, is one associating with Muslims? Is a Sufi a follower of Islam? The word Islam means 'peace'; this is the Arabic word. The Hebrew word is Salem (Jeru-salem). Peace and its attainment in all directions is the goal of the world.
But if the following of Islam is understood to mean the obligatory adherence to a certain rite; if being a Muslim means conforming to certain restrictions, how can the Sufi be placed in that category, seeing that the Sufi is beyond all limitations of this kind? So, far from not accepting the Quran, the Sufi recognizes scriptures which others disregard. But the Sufi does not follow any special book. The shining ones, such as 'Attar, Shams-i Tabriz, Rumi, Sadi, and Hafiz, have expressed their free thought with a complete liberty of language […]
What is the position of Sufism with regard to Christianity? There is a place in the Sufi understanding for all the teachings contained in that Faith, and there can be no antagonism in the mind of him who understands. The writings of the Christian mystics evidence the intensity of their pursuit and devotion to the Beloved – and there is only one Beloved. The devotion to the Sacred Heart will be found to be a link with the Sufi philosophy, which recognizes and practices it in the truest sense.
Is Sufism mysticism? As green is considered to be the colour of Ireland, yet it cannot be said to belong exclusively to the Irish people, for anybody can wear green, and green is found all over the world, so mystics in Islam have been called Sufis. Sufism, divine wisdom, is for all, and is not limited to a certain people. It has existed from the first day of creation, and will continue to spread and to exist until the end of the world. Sufism is a mysticism of one [who?] wishes to be guided by it in the unfoldment of the soul. Yet it is beyond mysticism.
Is Sufism theosophy? Sufis have no set belief or disbelief. Divine light is the only sustenance of their soul, and through this light they see their path clear, and what they see in this light they believe, and what they do not see they do not blindly believe. Yet they do not interfere with another person's belief or disbelief […] Therefore Sufis leave belief and disbelief to the grade of evolution of every individual soul. The Murshid's work is to kindle the fire of the heart, and to light the torch of the soul of his Mureed, and to let the Mureed believe and disbelieve as he chooses, while journeying through the path of evolution. But in the end all culminates in one belief, Huma man am, that is, 'I am all that exists'; and all other beliefs are preparatory for this final conviction, which is called Haqq al-Iman in the Sufi terminology.
As soon as the word 'theosophy' is taken to mean certain fixed beliefs or disbeliefs, there is a difference from Sufism. Beliefs and disbeliefs are the cause of sects, each of these being blinded from the vision of the singleness of the whole of existence. As soon as thought is restricted, it ceases to be Sufism.
Is Sufism a school of thought? Wisdom is not restricted to one geographical spot such as a country, a city, a building or meeting place. Sufism cannot be correctly described as a school of thought, if by that is meant the instruction of a certain doctrine. It might be correct to speak of it as a school of thought in the sense that through Sufism one learns wisdom, just as in a school one learns wisdom of a certain kind. Sufism is beyond philosophy.
[Extracted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Way of Illumination (The Sufi Message, Vol. 1)]