Muslim Faith and the Nation of Islam
Tasawuf, or Sufism is the esoteric school of Islam, founded on the pursuit of spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain: the truth of understanding reality as it truly is, as knowledge. When Sufism speaks of understanding of insight that refers to the perfect self-understanding that enchains the understanding of the Divine. Sufis believe that it is the unique human right and privilege to be able to find the way towards understanding and reality of the Divine.
The origins of Sufism still are a highly debated topic amongst scholars. Some accounts refer the rise of the mystical school during reign of Abu Bakr and later, Usman, other sources point at the flourishing in a sinful abundance of wealth Umayyads' regime, when Islam ceased practicing spiritual, mental and physical rigors. However, another version suggests the Prophet Muhammad to be the founder of Sufism. The mysterious time he spent in mountains contemplating and, perhaps, meditating before the encounter with divinity along with certain quotations from Hadith, the compendium of stories and sayings of the Prophet, permits a legitimate presumption that Muhammad, at least indirectly correlates to the establishment of the esoteric school of Islam. "An hour of contemplation is better than a year of prayer" (Ch.7, p.92) directly contradicts the custom of traditional praying at mosque. Sufis cultivate the seed of a school of spiritual practice based on knowledge of the self. Avoiding persuasive public prayers, their gatherings were held in private. Instead of preaching in public, these pious individuals were searches of truth and not rhetorical opponents – "the first stage of worship is silence"(Ch.7. p.89.)
As the perceptive tools of ordinary mental logic are limited in their ability to comprehend such a great and all-embracing subject based on language alone cannot open any door to understanding such reality. Instead such a path of understanding demands spiritual striving, the understanding and the knowledge of the heart, in its quest to realize the existence of the Divine.
Become a person of the heart,
or at least the devotee of one;
Or else, you will remain
Like a donkey stuck in the mud.
(Rumi, Ch.9, p.103)
Between God and a human lies nothing, except for artificial obstacles to the unifying created by humanity. This veil hinders a seeker from ascending to the level of Reality (Bayazid Bistami, Ch.10, p.111 top.) If people were free from the limitations of the material and physical tools that humankind possesses; thus, the immense and eternal unity of all the Being, the Creator and His creations would become transparent. According to Sufis, there is a chance for humanity to ascend to such a level of understanding, a path that can be traced through purification and meditation to the realization of its achievement. As al-Ghazzali believes, when one's heart is purified, the "light of divine secrets" is reflected in the mirror of the heart (Al-Ghazzali, Ch.9, p. 102.) Along with purification of the heart, one has to remember God as the first and only priority in life in order to unify with Reality (Sheikh Muzaffer, Ch.8, p.98 top.) Sufi compare relationship with God as between lovers, who live only by each other and their love. Nothing else exists in their world (Jami, Ch.8, p.99.)
Sufis' way of life does not exhibit the most accurate instance of severe asceticism and a practice of physical rigors. The perfect Sufi lives in accordance with Qu'ran and "never forgets God for a single moment."(Abu Sa'id, Ch.1, p.40) The essence of the mystic's life corresponds to constant remembrance of God. Islamic mystics are aware of the true value and function of everything in the world; thus they accentuate Reality as the major concern of a human life. They advocate moderation in food and physical comforts as a profound condition to liberate hearts and minds from everything that is peripheral and transitory, and stay focused on God (Al-Ghazzali, Ch.1, p.37.) The eternal path of Sufis commences with their approach to daily life. Soul remains the primary tool in search of Reality. Body serves only as means of ensuring physical health, and the care for it is provided as to a camel in a caravan – without adoration and contemplation, for camel is merely a device to reach the destination (al-Ghazzali, Ch.2, p.47.) Sufis' destination is the unity with God, the truth and knowledge exposed when the "veil" is elevated. Muslim mystics teach that nothing is perpetual and everything is perishable in the world (Attar, Ch.6, p.80.) Everything has a beginning, a purpose and an end, and after completing the cycle returns to its original pattern. "The end is maturity, and the goal is freedom. The circle is complete. Completing the circle of existence is freedom" (Nasaft, Ch.2, p.53.)
Sufis teach that on the path of spirituality one must first learn to draw the fundamental distinction between deception and truthfulness. "You may follow one stream. Know that it leads to the Ocean, but do not mistake the stream for the ocean" (Jan-Fishan, Ch.6, p.81.) It is easy to fall into falsehood by thinking that one may appropriate the knowledge of others as one's own. Such mere information should not be mistaken for actual knowledge of Reality. The perceptions of senses can be misleading and even more so, the judgements that are derived from them. The superficial knowledge acquired through human senses can not develop into a foundation, from which humankind can ascend to the level of understanding the knowledge of Reality. A Sufi avoids falling into falsehood by learning how not to mistake imagination and assumption for the truth of reality (Dhu-l-Nun, Ch.10, p.110.)
Sufis, similar to Zen masters believe that nothing external should be a source of distraction on the pathway to Reality. One has to concentrate on his/her own within. Sufis strongly oppose influence of a public opinion. "If someone remarks, 'What an excellent man you are!" and this pleases you more than his saying, "What a bad man you are!" know you are still a bad man" (Sufyan al-Thawri, Ch.3, p. 61.) Also, mystics teach that people should not disguise their deeds as acts done for the cause of God, when in reality they are committed in order to earn applause, seek praise of the people, be called charitable or brave (al-Ghazzali, Ch.3, pp.62-63.) Unless one frees oneself from the lower self, one will not arrive at the gateway, separating humanity from Ultimate Reality. To tame one's lower self enacts avoiding the inferior qualities that can overcome the heart and mind of the seeker and hinder the person from progressing on the spiritual path (Kashani, Ch.4, top p.68.) Lower self extinguishes the light of divine love in the heart of a seeker. A person searching for a spiritual path has to remain stable and strong so not to become motivated by the lower qualities such as jealousy, greed, and egotism. Instead, one should develop "practice of remembrance, awareness, and heedfulness"(Sheikh Tosun Bayrak, Ch.4, p.71.)
In the mystical traditions of Islam, Sufism, God is immanent versus God being a remote entity in Islam itself. According to Sufis the world itself is a mirror of the divinity. All the beauty and perfection of it, even though temporary, allows humans to sense the impeccable splendor of Paradise, while the hideousness and ugliness of the same world conveys the gloominess of Hell. However, the underlying message of such conception is that "it is God who is real and so forever" (Jami, Ch.5, p.74.) Nature, the earth, which humans behold and feel is the subjective visions of God, suggested to human minds by the Creator. The most beautiful, sensuous and eloquent creations in the world are merely pale shadows of the greatest in its perpetuity beauty of God (Moinuddin, Ch.5, p.78.)
Throughout the world of Sufism, love is an eternal theme, which Sufis in all eras have gracefully glorified in exuberant poetry. It is love that refines, enhances, and brings beauty to the world. In Sufism the treasure of love has been likened to fire: it burns and through such burning longing it purifies and intensified. The metaphor of fire expresses the truth of search for reality. If fire did not burn nor would it purify and illuminate (Sheikh Muzaffer, Ch.11, p.119.) A beautiful and profoundly meaningful narrative about Caliph Harun al-Rashid's favorite concubine, who refused all the riches when, offered by the Caliph to his mistresses to take the most precious amongst the jewels he presented and to walk away free. She stayed until it was only two of them left in the empty hall. All she wanted was the Caliph himself and no gold or gems could substitute her love for Harun al-Rashid. That was what be, the real Sufi, wanted – not the palace, or power, or any of the jewels and other gifts of the Caliph – but the Caliph himself (Sheikh Muzaffer, Ch.11, pp.123-24.)