– What/ who is a Sufi?

70 viewsOther

– What/ who is a Sufi?

In: Other

Anonymous 0 Comments

Sufism, “Tasawuf” in Arabic, is a mystic understanding of Islam often said to derive from the term “suf” or “wool,” in reference to the rough, woolen garments of its adherents. It’s normally classified as an expression of Sunnism. Sufism heavily emphasizes an ecstatic, inspired experience of communion with God/Allah, one that’s brought about by constantly practicing an elevated or “altered” state of mind. Sufis might fast from food, repeatedly chant phrases of worship, live an austere lifestyle, take a pilgrimage to a local shrine, in order to achieve an emotional state in which they are more aware of, or even feel the presence of, God. Arguably the most famous group of Sufis, although they’re quite unusual/atypical, is what’s called the “Whirling Dervishes” in Western literature, named for their practice of a repetitive spinning dance. The physical exhaustion, the hours spend focusing the mind on this one activity, and even the dizziness are meant to contribute to making you humble, vulnerable, and otherwise open to God.

This is in contrast to what some call more “orthodox” Sunni Islam, which teaches that worship should be more knowledge-based rather than experiential. In this view, knowledge of God comes from the careful study of books that describe his attributes and commandments rather than, for example, intensely meditating on the nature of God, or repeatedly chanting one of God’s names. Rituals of worship should never be improvised or innovated, but should derive from proven and proofread, orthodox texts. Conservative Sunni clerics often denounce the more “extreme” Sufi practices as being heretical, and inventing ways of worship that Muhammad himself never engaged in. (Obviously, Sufis themselves certainly feel they’re following in their prophet’s footsteps.)

Sufis are traditionally arranged in tariqas, or “Sufi orders,” which is essentially a type of discipleship. Most tariqas claim an unbroken chain of ordination back to Ali, the cousin and disciple of Muhammad. In other words, Muhammad taught Ali, who taught a student who taught a student, etc., all the way down to the current “master” of the tariqa. This also means that some knowledge is initiatory, given only when you join the tariqa or attain certain ranks. Because of this, detractors might accuse a specific tariqa of being a secret society or even a cult, and tariqas have sometimes been persecuted or outlawed by Muslim governments.

Edit: For some geopolitical background, Sufism exists everywhere in the Muslim world but is particularly associated with North Africa, West Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Turkey. Sufism is often seen as a more pacifistic and quietistic version of Islam, distancing itself from secular politics. It was more prominent in the past; the Mughals of India and the Ottoman Empire were generally more friendly to Sufi thinkers than say, modern Saudi Arabia, whose intellectuals have been fairly influential in delegitimizing Tasawuf for many people. A common slur against Sufis is “grave-worshipper,” because they believe that praying near the grave of a holy man is more meritorious than praying elsewhere.