New Age Islam
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Islamic Society ( 6 Sept 2017, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Salafis and Sufis Can Strike a Meeting Ground

By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam

In the chaos that prevails around us there is a growing feeling of desolation and misery. The pace of modern life has driven man to a state where the rhythm of life is fast growing erratic and the music is slowly ebbing out .Living in a harsh world we have developed cynicism and hatred.

The most authentic hope for a serious spiritual catharsis   comes from mystics whose philosophy combines the virtuous message of formal religion with the transcendental values of love and harmony. The finest exponent of this luminous philosophy was Rumi (which means daylight), the great 13th century Sufi mystic. Rumi sought freedom for his soul through a mystical connection with the divine. Not every wayfarer who sets out on the path may attain the goal, but for Rumi it is the Sufi path which offers the best potential of attaining to true knowledge.  .

Sufism   is a mystical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. It consists of a variety of mystical paths that are designed to ascertain the nature of humanity and of God and to facilitate the experience of the presence of divine love and wisdom in the world.

 Sufism is in fact the confluence o the noble virtues of all the great prophest of Islam. The all-pervading and tolerant spirit of the Sufis is not surprising when we consider their sources of inspiration. Although the Prophet [Muhammad] is their ultimate model, other spiritual figures - which include Abraham, Moses and Jesus - also mould them. This is enunciated in 'The Eight Qualities of the Sufi' by a well-known Sufi master, Junaid of Baghdad: 

“In Sufism, eight qualities must be exercised. The Sufi has:  
Liberality such as that of Abraham;  
Acceptance of his lot, as Ismail accepted;  
Patience, as possessed by Job;  
Capacity to communicate by symbolism, as in the case of Zachariah;  
Estrangement from his own people, which was the case with John;  
Woollen garb like the shepherd's mantle of Moses;  
Journeying, like the travelling of Jesus;  
Humility, as Muhammad had humility of spirit. “

(Shah 1990:246)


By educating the masses and deepening the spiritual concerns of the Muslims, Sufism has played an important role in the formation of Muslim society. Opposed to the dry casuistry of the lawyer-divines, the the true  mystics nevertheless scrupulously observed the commands of the divine law. The   Sufis have elaborated the image of the Prophet Muhammad and have thus largely influenced Muslim piety by their Muhammad-mysticism. 

 Sufis believe that the heart is the most important centre governing our spiritual consciousness. With diligent practice, teachers of Sufism perfected techniques that activate the heart, cultivating profound intuition and realization. The polished heart becomes a mirror that catches the light of truth and reflects it in one’s consciousness.

A fundamental concept in Sufism is the idea of the seeker having direct access to God, with no intermediary; that is, inner transformation can only be experienced, not discussed. An equally central notion is the idea of developing a person's potential.

Sufis consider the spirit and body to be one whole. They believe in integration, not dichotomies. What we do in our physical lives affects us spiritually, and vice versa. We cannot look at our lives in a vacuum. The critical element is the balance between the mundane and the divine. A well known Sheikh Muzaffer says, “Keep your hands busy with your duties in this world, and your heart busy with God.” Our faith has to be practised daily within our everyday lives. As Sahi, an eminent Sufi mystic exhorts: “A man should be in the marketplace while still working with true reality.”

Ibn Khaldun, the 14th century Arab historian, described Sufism as:

.”.. dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone.” (Ibn Khaldun, quoted in Keller, Nuh Ha Mim, The Place of Tasawwuf in Traditional Islam,, 1995)

 Several Sufis feel that the time was approaching when their esoteric knowledge, their maps of the unconscious, accumulated over centuries, would   spread to the west, which was now a spiritual desert. Sufism is already leading the way. While the West has been developing its technological prowess, the mystics have developed a sophisticated type of inner technology in the form of their practices – a way of moving towards self-realization. 

Historically, there are a couple of features about Sufism that rankle the fundamentalists. One is that Sufism, many feel, encourages a kind of fatalism and withdrawal from the real world. The second is that Sufism looks a little like Christianity. Sufis believe in intercessors (in Arabic wali or auliya')—people with special spiritual access, who can help a person's prayers be heard by God. Mainstream Islam rejects intercessors, since it holds that every Muslim is equal before God. (Even the prophet Muhammad is not prayed to but prayed for.)  

Rumi is often described as the best-selling poet in the United States. He is typically referred to as a mystic, a saint, a Sufi, an enlightened man. Curiously, however, although he was a lifelong scholar of the Qur’an and Islam, he is less frequently described as a Muslim. Rumi was born into a religious family and followed the proscribed rules of daily prayer and fasting throughout his entire life,

Islam’s  colossal intellectual poet Sir  Muhammad  Iqbal was a great admirer of Rumi but  regarded as ‘nullification’ the search for ‘inner meanings’ or ‘hidden meanings’ in either the code of Muhammad   or in his way of life, which he found not only satisfying but also convincing. He blamed the Persian poets for confusing the message of Islam. As he put it, “the Persian poets tried to undermine the way of Islam by a very roundabout, though apparently heart –alluring, manner. They   made contemplation in a monastery the highest crusade in the way of God”. 

To Iqbal the Hellenic –Persian mysticism was ‘nihilism’.   As he observed: “Having lost the vitality to grapple with the temporal, these prophets of decay apply themselves to the quest of a supposed eternal, and gradually complete the spiritual impoverishment and physical degeneration of their society by evolving a seemingly charming ideal of life which reduces the healthy and powerful to death”.

As he exhorts in his famous poem:

“Tu Shaheen Hai, Parwaz Hai Kaam Tera
Tere Samne Asman Aur Bhi Hain
Issi Roz-o-Shab Mein Ulajh Kar Na Reh Ja
Ke Tere Zaman-o-Makan Aur Bhi Hain”
(You are an eagle, flight is your vocation:
You have other skies stretching out before you.
Do not let mere day and night ensnare you,
Other times and places belong to you

Though some Muslims may find Rumi and Sufism unorthodox, Rumi does not reject the Sharia, but rather assumes that it is the rudiments of religion. As he explains in the prose introduction to book five of the Masnavi, the Sharia is like a candle that lights the way – without that candle we cannot even see to set foot on the spiritual path. But once the path is illuminated by the law, the wayfarer must begin the quest, and his action of walking along the way is the Sufi mode  (tariqa). The goal of the quest is nothing short of truth (haqiqa).

 Rumi’s masterpiece, the Masnavi, is a six-book epic poem that he wrote toward sthe end of his life. Its fifty thousand lines are mostly in Persian, but they are studded with Arabic excerpts from Muslim scripture .It is heavily informed by Islamic thought, and frequently alludes to Qur’anic anecdotes that offer moral lessons. The work has been nicknamed the Persian Qur’an.)  .Rumi himself described the “Masnavi” as “the roots of the roots of the roots of religion”—meaning Islam—“and the explainer of the Qur’an.”  And yet little trace of the religion exists in the translations that sell so well in the United States. Sadly the translators have stripped the poetry of its Qur’anic ethos.   

This is totall;y against the convictions of Rumi. In an authentic quatrain composed by him, he tells us:

“I am the servant of the Qur’an as long as I have life.
I am the dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen one.
If anyone quotes anything except this from my sayings,
I am quit of him and outraged by these words.”

(Rumi’s Quatrain No. 1173, translated by Ibrahim Gamard and Ravan Farhadi in ‘The Quatrains of Rumi,’)
To understand Rumi without the Qur’an is like reading Milton without the Bible. Even if Rumi was heterodox, it’s important to recognize that he was heterodox in a Muslim context—and that Islamic culture, centuries ago, had room for such heterodoxy. Rumi’s works are not just layered with religion; they represent the historical dynamism within Islamic scholarship.

Rumi advocated an individual and interior spirituality, and it is the love, rather than the fear, of God that lies at the heart of his message. He attempts to merge the spirit of the human with the ideal of a god of love, whom Rumi locates within the human heart. Rumi’s first biographer, Aflaki, tells of a man who came to Rumi asking how he could reach the other world, as only there would he be at peace. “What do you know about where He is?” asked Rumi. “Everything in this or that world is within you.

Incidentally, Sufism has become a kind of New-Age amalgam of spiritual practices, even though its roots reach back to the earliest days of Islam. As the early Muslim conquerors took their faith to different lands, Sufism began to borrow from different traditions, including Greek and Hindu philosophy and Christian theology. Hence, many of the early Sufis believed that all faiths were equal. This is where Sufism went astray.The way forward that can provide a unifier effect to the Muslims would be that the Salafis soften their stance and the Sufis to  discipline their loose practices.

 The dilemma of Sufism is best summed up in this lovely quote:
“Today Sufism is a name without a reality. It was once a reality without a name.”
(Abu l-Hasan Fushanji, quoted in Lings, Martin, What is Sufism?, The Islamic Texts Society, 1999,)

Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades.