By Sadia Dehlvi
Apr 14 2010
I come across many people who believe that Sufism has little or no connection with Islam. They mistake Sufis as freestyle mystics outside the boundaries of religion. Socially, I come across people who refer to themselves as Sufis, often signifying nothing more than a fashionable attitude. Many others add that they are “spiritual” but not “religious”. Frankly, such words sound hollow, for spirituality simply cannot exist without religious foundations. One must go through some specific religious discipline in order to transcend its ritualistic form and unite with God. Just as there can be no Zen without Buddhism, Vedanta without Hinduism, Sufism cannot exist outside of Islam.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of Sufism is its music and dance, where the word, “Sufi” is often robbed of its spirituality and exploited by market-driven agendas. “Sama” literally means “to hear” and sama mehfils, Sufi music assemblies, require certain conditions of physical and spiritual purity. Sama is not about the listener, but the addressee. Poetry is sung or recited for God, Prophets and Sufi masters to invoke blessings. Sama must be presided by a Sufi master, who controls both, the singers and the gathering. In these collective gathering of remembrance, a definite etiquette is required, where clapping from the audience is unacceptable.
In Sufi philosophy, the most distinctive theme of the Quran to understand the meaning of human existence on earth is Misaq, the pre-eternal covenant that Allah made with unborn human souls prior to their creation. “When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam — from their loins — their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): ‘Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?’ — They said: ‘Yes! We do testify!’ (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: ‘Of this we were never mindful’”. (7:172)
This day of the covenant, when nothing but Allah existed is called Yau-e-Alastu, when the fate of all souls was sealed by Divine predestination. The foundation of Allah’s love was laid; the souls that responded instantly with a passionate yearning became His chosen friends. The friends experienced union with the Beloved, understanding that moment as the most precious one. Sufism teaches that man’s duty on earth is to know God and fulfil this primordial covenant with Him. Sufis believe that the first music assembly occurred on this day, when the souls of the lovers danced in spiritual ecstasy on hearing the voice of their Lord.
The ultimate goal of the mystic is to achieve fana, annihilate himself in God. The use of music to induce hal, a state of spiritual ecstasy, is practiced by most Sufi orders barring some sections of the conservative Naqshbandi order. In hal, the Sufi loses consciousness and reaches higher spiritual levels. The term for ecstasy is wajd, which literally means “finding”, that is to find God.
Be it the recitation of scriptures or listening to mystic verse, the devotee experiences a sense of spiritual bliss which may manifest as celestial lights, mystical states and physical effects. These are derived from the present world and the angelic sphere.
Sufis teach that music assemblies provide nourishment for the soul, for during sama Divine grace flows from the Heavens. It is a time where Allah unveils Himself to His Friends. This uninterrupted shower of blessings is called sharaab-e-marifah, the wine of gnosis, and sharaab-e-mohabbah, the wine of love.
Bayazid Bistasmi, the 9th century Sufi of Iraq, wrote:
I have planted love in my heart
And shall not be distracted until Judgment Day
You have wounded my heart when you came near me
My desire grows, my love is bursting.
He has poured me a sip to drink.
He has quickened my heart with the cup of love
Which he has filled at the ocean of friendship.
Mevlana Rumi wrote at length on the beauty and force of sama:
Sound drum and fellow flute, resounding to Allah Hu
Dance ruddy dawn, in gladness bounding Allah Hu
Sound exalted in the centre, o thou streaming light
Soul of all wheeling planets resound Allah Hu
Participating in a genuine sama mehfil is a purifying experience, one that fills the listeners’ hearts with the remembrance of God; releasing it from selfish desires, worldly pursuits; the only claim on one’s soul being that of the Lord.
— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The Asian Age, New Delhi