Sufism, otherwise known as Islamic Mysticism, is a branch of Islam. It deals with special powers that are contained in the Qur’an. It is a more philosophical approach, where a person tries to become one with nature, and feel the power of God. The term mysticism can be defined as the consciousness of the One Reality — be it called Wisdom, Light, Love or Nothing. (Shcimmel 23)
A Sufi tries to unite his will with God’s will. They try to isolate themselves, so they can fear and become close to God. By isolating themselves, a Sufi tries to stay away from politics and public affairs, so as too not get corrupted. The Sufi’s path is a path of love, to be thankful of all God’s bounties. Many Sufi’s try to help individuals in trouble. They use special powers, which enable them to help people who are suffering. Of course this power can only be given by God, and Sufi’s in no way equal to God’s power. In fact, Sufi’s that claim to be at the same level of God cannot be classified as a Muslim. (Frager 11)
Sufi’s stress love, because they believe that love will help you in the Day of Judgment. That the people who you truly love, will give you their good deeds, so that you may enter Paradise. Normally these people who give their good deeds away are known as dervishes (this is quite different from the belief in Islam).
Sufi’s also stress the remembrance of God, which is called Zikr. They try to get close to God, to be one with God. They define God as something that is close to you but you can’t see it. That God is all around us, but His presence is too overwhelming to see. An example is like fish who is in water. The fish can’t really see the water, even though it is all around the fish. Once a person realizes the presence of God, he or she will feel closer to God. (Frager 27)
Sufi’s believe that God remains hidden, so that people don’t complain to Him (this however is not an Islamic belief). In Islam, God’s presence isn’t seen, because He has too much power for the human eyes to see. Sufi’s also believe that pain increases the devotion to God. To get close to God, one must experience pain. To suffer pain is a true test of faith. Life becomes a test for that person, and if he or she remains close to God, then he or she passes the test. (Frager 33)
When a person feels close to God, he or she has a sense of hope when they pray to God. Part of the work of a Sufi is to change the state of your nafs, nafs meaning your soul. The soul and body are two different things, the soul comes from God and the body is made out of clay. A Sufi believes that the soul is good, but man misuses the soul to cause undesirable effects. He does this by being dominated by his wants and desires. (Shcimmel 45)
A Sufi tries to change the state in a person, to bring him closer to God. They go through four stages the first one being the lowest form, to be dominated by yours wants and desires. The second stage is to struggle within you, to criticize yourself whenever you fail. The third stage is a be satisfied with whatever God gives you, be it good or bad. The final stage is to accept death. When this stage has been reached, a person becomes closer to God, which creates a sense of unity with God. (Frager 40)
Another way to become closer to God is understand the Qur’an. The degree of understanding a person has about the person is equal to the degree of closeness with God. The Qur’an teaches people how to act like a human being. It tells people what is lawful and unlawful. It contains certain mysteries which can boggle the human mind. It has the answer to all question of life, and that’s why a Sufi goes in depth when studying the Qur’an.
Dreams are very important to. The reason being is that they contain important messages. There are two types of dreams, which are: the truthful dream and the bolic dream. The truthful dream can be literally translated, and the bolic dream on the other hand needs to be interpreted by dervish. Dreams are a means of communication between the Creator and humanity. To dervish, dreams indicate what type of spiritual state they are in. When the spiritual state of a dervish changes, the duties and prayers change. (Frager 55)
What you see in your dream is in the realm of divine knowledge. That which is hidden from you is known within the realm of the Divine Knowledge of God. At sleep the soul comes out of the body, without losing its connection with the body, like a beam of light coming from a flashlight. This light extends to that divine screen and “reads” those entries that pertain to it. In waking up, the light of the soul comes back to the body, as in shutting off the flashlight.
According to Sufi’s there are several different souls in each person: the mineral soul, the vegetable soul, the animal soul, the human soul, the angelic soul, the secret soul, and the soul of the secrets of the secrets. The dream symbols are different depending on the soul it pertains to, the soul that receives them and the person who see them. For example a Sultan and a slave may have the same dream, but the images in the dream may mean completely different things. The various souls in the human being are not distinct from each other. They are intertwined with each other and soul evolves toward higher souls. (Frager 60)
The dreams that people have should only be told to truly loved ones or dream interpreters (who are mainly dervishes). To tell someone else a dream can lead to disastrous results. If they are interpreted the wrong way, or someone is jealous of your dream, the reactions can be devastating. True interpretation is almost inherited, a gift of God, as was given to Jacob and Joseph (other prophets).
Besides the interpretations of dreams, submission is also very important in Sufism. Sufi’s (along with other Muslims) strongly believe in the submission of God. The term Islam means “Submission to the will of God.” Submission to God reminds the Sufi’s that God has all the power, and that he controls everything including their actions. The Sufi’s look at the story of Abraham as a perfect model of submission to God.
Abraham, who was a prophet of God, decided to sacrifice one thousand rams, three hundred oxen and one hundred camels in the name of God, because God had saved him from fire in Nimrod (the people there tried to burn him alive). When people asked him why he sacrificed so much for God, he said that he was willing to sacrifice his life for God, and since God saved him why not sacrifice his personal possessions. He even said that he would sacrifice his own son (if he had one), if God wished it.
As the years went on Abraham finally had a son by the name of Ismail. After that God revealed to prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son for him. When prophet Abraham awoke the next day, he couldn’t believe his dream. He thought that it was the devil, because he knew that God didn’t allow human sacrifices. This happened for a period of three nights, and then prophet Abraham decided to carry out God’s wishes. Prophet Abraham took Ismail to an altar near by and told Ismail about his dream, and what he was ready to do anything for God (an act of submission). As they were walking to the altar, the devil tried his best to convince Abraham, then Ismail, and finally Hagar (prophet Abraham’s wife) not to do this sacrifice. However, the devil came to no avail. When Prophet Abraham tried to cut Ismail’s throat the knife wouldn’t cut. No matter how hard he tried it wouldn’t cut, so he then threw the knife into a rock, and the rock split in half. It was then that God commanded prophet Abraham to sacrifice a ram, and he did so.
This story represents total submission to God, on both Abraham’s and Ismail’s side. Prophet Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son in the name of God, and Ismail was willing to be sacrificed.
But besides submission, a Sufi also needs to have patience. In order to study and understand the Qur’an one needs to have tremendous amounts of patience, otherwise the Sufi’s are suppose to help other people, and if he doesn’t have any patience, he will become a failure in aiding other people. A person can have a plethora of knowledge, but if he has no patience that knowledge will not help or benefit him, as in the case of the story of Hussain (another famous story of the Sufi’s). (Frager 75)
In a Turkish village a man by the name of Hussain got married, but he felt that he didn’t have any knowledge, in other words he didn’t feel like he was worth anything. So he set out on a journey to gain knowledge, and did so for thirty years. After thirty years he started to come back home, where he met another man on the way, who asked him what the real meaning of wisdom was. Hussain gave all the answers he could think of, but he couldn’t come up with the one the man wanted. So the man told him that he would tell him the answer, if he came with him and did work. For one year Hussain asked the man, and the man would always say he would give the answer the next day. Finally Hussain became fed up and screamed at the man for an answer. The man finally said that patience was the answer to wisdom. That if a man doesn’t have patience, then he has no real knowledge, no matter how many years he studied. (Frager 85)
But besides being patient a Sufi must also not give into temptation. A Sufi must have a strong will and be able to control their inner soul (nafs). This also part of the reason why they isolate themselves, so they do not get tempted by any worldly desires. A Sufi’s outside appearance should represent his inner soul. If a person does commits a sin then he/she must repent to God, and ask for forgiveness. If a Sufi sees a fault in someone else, then he should correct. It is a Sufi’s duty to correct other people and help them.
These beliefs are followed by many Sufi’s around the world. All aspect of Sufism are considered Islamic, unless the basic principles of Islam are broken. These basic principles are found in the Qur’an and also in the hadith. Anything else added to the religion is called bidah, and is not accepted in Islam. Sufism deals with a whole other side of Islam, a part which deals with mystical powers and mysteries (some of which are not meant to be understood, that is only for God to know). To understand these powers and mysteries are very difficult and take a great deal of studying and self searching. But when one taps into these mystical powers, that person opens a door of unlimited knowledge.
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