SUFISM – De Lacy O’lery

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Sufism or Islamic mysticism, which becomes prominent in the course of the 3rd cent. A.H., was partly a product of Hellenistic influences, and exercised a considerable influence on the philosophers of the time of Ibn Sina and afterwards. The name Sufi is derived from suf “wool,” and so means “wool-clad,” thus denoting a person who from choice used clothing of the simplest kind and avoided every form of luxury or ostentation. That this is the true meaning is proved by the fact that Persian employs as its equivalent the term pashmina-push, which also means “wool-clad.” By a popular error the Arabic writers on Sufism often treat the word as derived from safa, “purity,” and so make it something akin to “puritan”; and still more incorrectly certain Western writers have supposed that it is a transliteration of the Greek σοφός. The emphasis is laid upon the ascetic avoidance of luxury and the voluntary adoption of simplicity in clothing on the part of those to whom the term is applied. If we regard this as a form of asceticism it will be at once objected that asceticism has no place in the teaching of the Qur’an and is alien to the character of early
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Islam. In a sense this is true, and in a sense untrue according to the meaning we attach to the term “asceticism.” As it is used in the history of Christian monasticism, or of the devotees of several Indian religions, or even of the latter Sufis, it implies a deliberate avoidance of the normal pleasures and indulgences of human life, and especially of marriage, as things which entangle the soul and prevent its spiritual progress. In this sense asceticism is alien to the spirit of Islam, and appears amongst Muslims only as an exotic. But the term may be used, not very accurately perhaps, of the puritanical restraint and simplicity which avoids all luxury and display, and deliberately tries to retain a primitively simple and self-denying manner of life. In this latter sense asceticism or puritanism was a distinguishing mark of the “old believer” as contrasted with the secularised Arab of the Umayyad type, and this attitude always had its admirers. The historians constantly refer with commendation to the abstemious lives of the early Khalifs and the “Companions” of the Prophet, and describe how they were abstinent not from poverty but in order to put themselves on an equality with their subjects, and to preserve the traditional mode of life of the Prophet and his first followers, and very often in the recognised Traditions we find mention of the bare and simple mode of life of the first Muslims. Quite early this simplicity appears as the distinctive mark of the strict Muslim, and emphasizes the difference between him and the
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worldly followers of the Umayyads, and similar instances appear amongst the devout Muslims of the present day. Such were not Sufis, but they may be regarded as the precursors of the Sufis. The historian al-Fakhri, describing the abstemious life of the first Khalifs, says that they endeavoured by this self-restraint to wean themselves from the lusts of the flesh. This is reading a later idea into a much earlier practice, which was originally designed simply as a more accurate following of the Prophet, who was unable to enjoy any luxury or splendour; but it shows that later generations were inclined to ascribe a more definitely ascetic motive to the affectedly simple life of the earlier Muslims, and no doubt that early puritanism, misunderstood by later ages, contributed to spread asceticism.
Al-Qushayri (cited Browne: Lit. Hist. of Persia, i. pp. 297-8), after referring to the “Companions” and “Followers” of the first age of Islam, then mentions the “ascetes” or “devotees” as the elect of a later age, those who were most deeply concerned with matters of religion, and finally the Sufis as those elect of still later times, “whose souls were set on God, and who guarded their hearts from the disasters of heedlessness.” Historically this is an error, for the saints of early Islam were inspired by a spirit of strict adherence to the traditional life of their desert ancestors and rejected luxury as an “innovation,” very much the same spirit as that observed in the ancient Hebrew prophets; whilst the Sufis were no
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enthusiasts for tradition, but eschewed bodily indulgence as an entanglement of the flesh which hindered the progress of the spirit, so that they were in no sense the successors of the “Companions,” but were influenced by new ideas unknown to early Islam. Yet superficially the results were very much alike, and this caused the two to be connected, and helped the later custom of connecting the early puritans with the ascetics of a subsequent age. In its earliest form, also, Islam made a strong appeal to the motive of fear, an appeal not based on divine severity so much as on divine justice and on man’s consciousness of his own sinfulness and unworthiness, and on the fleeting passage of the life lived in this present world. There was an intense concentration on the Day of Judgment and on the perils of the sinner, a teaching which is perceived in the Qur’an even by the most casual reader: but all this was not altogether congenial to the Arab, although he in poetry certainly inclined towards a tone of sadness. The inevitable result of this teaching was asceticism in the puritanical sense, or, perhaps we should say, a tone of severity in religion.
Jami, one of the greatest Persian authorities on Sufism, tells us that the name “Sufi” was first applied to Abu Hashim (d. 162), an Arab of Kufa who spent the greater part of his life in Syria, and is typical of the early Islamic devotee who followed the simplicity of the Prophet’s life and was deeply influenced by the Qur’anic teaching about sin,
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judgment, and the brief passage of earthly life. Similar devotees, claimed as Sufis by later Sufi writers, but more properly devotees who were their precursors, appear in the course of the 2nd century, such as Ibrahim b. Adham (d. 162), Da’ud of Tayy (d. 165), Fadayl of ‘Iyad (d. 188), Ma’ruf of Karkh (d. 200), and others, both men and women. Amongst these there was gradually evolved the beginnings of an ascetic theology in traditional sayings and narratives of their lives and conduct, a hagiology which lays great emphasis upon their penances and self mortification. Of this material the most important is the recorded teaching of Ma’ruf of Karkh, from which we may quote the definition of Sufism as “the apprehension of divine realities,” which, in a slightly altered sense perhaps, becomes the keynote of later Sufism.
Can we trace the origin of these early recluses? Von Kremer (Herrsch, p. 67) considers this type as a native Arab growth developed from pre-Islamic Christian influences. Christian monasticism we know was familiar to the Arabs in the country fringing the Syrian desert and in the desert of Sinai: of this we have evidence both in Christian writers like Nilus and in the pre-Islamic poets, as in the words of Imru l-Qays:—

Friend, see the lightning—it flashed and is gone,
like the flashing of two hands on a crowned pillar:
Did its blaze flash forth? or was it the lamp of a
monk who poured oil on the twisted wick?”

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The hermit’s life was known even in Arabia itself, and tradition relates that Muhammad received his first call when he had retired to the cave of Hira and was living as a recluse there, returning periodically to his home and taking back food with him to the cave (cf. Bukhari: Sahih, i.). It seems likely, indeed, that the early recluses of Islam were inspired by the example of Christian monasticism, either directly or through the medium of Muhammad’s traditional retirement. But these recluses were not numerous, and admittedly neglect the Qur’anic command to marry (Qur. 24, 32).
Thus the earlier asceticism shows the character of devout quietism, of a puritanical abstinence from display of wealth and from self-indulgence, of a strict simplicity of life rather than of a voluntary poverty and mortification, of occasional retirement from the world, and only in rare instances of the permanent adoption of the hermit life. An instance of this type occurs in Abu l-‘Abbas as-Sabti (d. 184), son of the Khalif Harunu r-Rashid, who renounced rank and fortune for a life of meditation and retirement.
In the latter part of the 3rd cent. we begin to find evidences of a “new Sufism,” which was inspired by religious ideals other than those which had been dominant in early Islam, and which developed from those ideals a theology of its own, which for a long time was not admitted as orthodox. Asceticism still occurs, but whilst, on the one hand, it begins to
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take a more definite character in the deliberate seeking of poverty and mortification, it is, on the other hand, relegated to a subordinate place as a merely preparatory stage in the Sufi life, which is technically described as a “journey.” Poverty, which amongst the early Muslims was esteemed simply in so far as it reproduced the modest life of the Prophet and his companions, and was a standing protest against the secularisation of the Umayyads, now assumed greater prominence as a devotional exercise, a change which appears definitely in Da’ud at-Ta’i (d. 165), who limited his possessions to a rush mat, a brick which he used as a pillow, and a leather water bottle. In later Sufism poverty takes a position of great prominence: the terms faqir, “poor man,” and darwish, “mendicant,” become synonyms for “Sufi.” But in Sufi teaching religious poverty does not mean absence of possessions only: it implies the absence of all interest in earthly things, the giving up of all participation in earthly possessions, and desiring God as the only aim of desire. So mortification is the subjugation of the evil part of the animal soul, the nafs which is the seat of the lust and passions, and so the weaning of the soul from material interests, a “dying to self and to the world” as a beginning of a living to God.
What was the source of the theology developed in the newer Sufism? Undoubtedly this was neo-Platonic, as has been proved by Dr. Nicholson (Selected Poems from the Diwan of Shams-i-Tabriz,
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Camb., 1898, and The Mystics of Islam, Lond. 1914), and by Prof. Browne (Literary Hist. of Persia, Lond., 1902, chap. xiii.), and forms part of the influence which came into Islam at the introduction of Greek philosophy under the ‘Abbasids. But as in philosophy and other cultural transmissions direct Greek influence was preceded by an indirect influence brought to bear through Syriac and Persian, so it was also in neo-platonic theology, for neo-Platonic influences had already been brought to bear upon the Syrians and Persians in the pre-Islamic period. In the forefront of the later direct influence must be placed the so-called Theology of Aristotle, which it is no exaggeration to describe as the most prominent and the widest circulated manual of neo-Platonism which has ever appeared. It is, as we have already stated, an abridged translation of the last three books of Plotinus’ Enneads. Now the mysticism of Plotinus is philosophical and not religious, but it lends itself to a theological interpretation very easily, just as neo-Platonism as a whole very readily became a theological system in the hands of Jamblichus, of the pagans of Harran, and such like; and the Sufis were inclined to make this application, whilst the falasifa confined themselves to its philosophical side. It seems probable that the influence of the Pseudo-Dionysius was brought to bear upon Islam about the same time. The Pseudo-Dionysian writings consist of four treatises, of which two, a treatise “On Mystical Theology” in five chapters,
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and a treatise “On the Names of God” in thirteen chapters, have been the chief source of Christian mystical theology. The first reference to these writings occurs in A.D. 532, when the claim was made that they were the work of Dionysius, the Areopagite, a pupil of St. Paul, or at least represent his teaching. In several places the writer cites Hierotheus as his teacher, and this enables us to identify the source as a Syrian monk named Stephen Bar Sudaili, who wrote under the name of Hierotheus (cf. Asseman, Bibl. Orient. ii. 290-291). This Bar Sudaili was abbot of a convent at Edessa, and was involved in controversy with James of Sarugh, so that we may refer the writings to the latter part of the 5th century A.D. They were translated into Syriac very soon after their first appearance in Greek, and, as familiar to Syriac Christians, must have become indirectly known to the Muslims. We have no direct evidence as to their translation into Arabic, but Mai gives fragments of other works of Bar Sudaili which appear in Arabic MSS. in his Spicilegium Romanum (iii. 707). The traditional view of the relations between Sufism and philosophy is described in the anecdote cited by Prof. Browne (Lit. Hist. of Persia, ii. 261, from Akhlag-i-Jalali) of the Sufi Abu Sa’id b. Abi l-Khayr (d. 441 A.H. = 1049 A.D.), who is said to have met and conversed with Ibn Sina; when they parted Abu Sa’id said of Ibn Sina, “What I see, he knows,” whilst Ibn Sina said, “What I know, he sees.”
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But there were other influences of a secondary character at work in Iraq and Persia which become important when we remember that it was the subject population of those parts which had, to a large extent, replaced the Arabs as the leaders of Islam during the ‘Abbasid period. In connection with the Sufis probably we cannot refer any influence to the Zoroastrian religion proper, which had a non-ascetic and national character; but the Manichæan and Masdekite religions, the two “free churches” of Persia, show a definitely ascetic tone, and when we find, as is the case, that many of the early Sufis were converts from Zoroastrianism, or the sons of such converts, we are inclined to suspect that, though professing that recognised religion, they were in all probability actually Zindiqs, that is to say secretly heretics and initiates of the Manichæan or Masdekite sect making external profession of the more recognised cult, as was the common practice of these Zindiqs. Note must also be made of the Gnostic influences transmitted through the Saniya of the fen country between Wasit and Basra, the Mandæans, as they are called to distinguish them from the so-called Sabians of Harran. The Sufi Ma’ruf of Karkh was himself the son of Sabian parents. And again we must not ignore the probability of Buddhist influences, for Buddhist propaganda had been active in pre-Islamic times in Eastern Persia and Transoxiana. Buddhist monasteries existed in Balkh, and it is noteworthy that the ascete Ibrahim b. Adham (d. 162—cf. supra) is
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traditionally described as a prince of Balkh who left his throne to become a darwish. On closer examination, however, it does not appear that Buddhist influence can have been very strong, as there are essential differences between Sufi and Buddhist theories. A superficial resemblance exists between the Buddhist nirvana and the fana or re-absorption of the soul in the Divine Spirit of Sufism. But the Buddhist doctrine represents the soul as losing its individuality in the passionless placidity of absolute quiescence, whilst the Sufi doctrine, though also teaching a loss of individuality, regards everlasting life as consisting in the ecstatic contemplation of the Divine Beauty. There is an Indian parallel to fana, but it is not in Buddhism, but in the Vedantic pantheism.
It is generally accepted that the first exponent of Sufi doctrine was the Egyptian, or Nubian, Dhu n-Nun (d. 245-246), a pupil of the jurist Malik b. ’Anas, who lived at the time when there was much percolation of Hellenistic influence into the Islamic world. He was indeed nearly contemporary with ’Abdullah, the son of Maymum, whose work we have already noticed. Dhu n-Nun’s teaching was recorded and systematized by al-Junayd of Baghdad (d. 297), and in it appears essential doctrine of Sufism, as of all mysticism, in the teaching of tawhid, the final union of the soul with God, a doctrine which is expressed in a way closely resembling the neo-Platonic teaching, save that in Sufism the means
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whereby this union is to be attained is not by the exercise of the intuitive faculty of reason but by piety and devotion. Still the two come very close when we find in the teachings of the later philosophers that the highest exercise of reason consists in the intuitive apprehension of the eternal verities rather than in any other activity of the intellect. Al-Junayd is stated by Jami to have been a Persian, and it is chiefly in Persian hands that the doctrines of Sufism develop and turn towards pantheism. Both agnosticism and pantheism are present practically in the later neo-Platonism; agnosticism as regards the unknowable First Cause, the God from the Agent Intellect is an emanation, a doctrine which develops in the teaching of the philosophers and of the Isma’ilians and kindred sects; but Sufi teaching centres its attention upon the knowable God, which the philosopher would describe as the Agent Intellect or Logos, and this develops more usually in a pantheistic direction. The doctrines thus developed and expressed by al-Junayd were boldly preached by his pupil, ash-Shibli of Kurasan (d. 335).
Al-Husayn b. Mansur al-Hallaj (d. 309) was a fellow-student of ash-Shibli, and shows Sufism as allied with extremely unorthodox elements. He was of Zoroastrian descent and closely in touch with the Qarmatians, and seems to have held those doctrines which are usually associated with the ghulat or extreme Shi‘ites, such as transmigration, incarnation, etc. He was put to death as a heretic for
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declaring “I am the truth”, thus identifying himself with God. The accounts given of him show great differences of opinion: for the most part the earlier historians, approaching the subject from an orthodox stand-point, represent him as a wily conjurer who by pretended miracles gained a number of adherents, but later Sufi writers regard him as a saint and martyr who suffered because he disclosed the great secret of the union between the soul and God. The doctrine of hulul, or the incarnation of God in the human body, was one of the cardinal tenets of the ghulat. According to al-Hallaj, man is essentially divine because he was created by God in his own image, and that is why, in Qur. 2, 32, God bids the angels worship Adam. In hulul, which is treated as tawhid taking place in this present life, the deity of God enters the human soul in the same way that the soul at birth enters the body. This teaching is a fusion of the old pre-Islamic Persian beliefs as to incarnation and the philosophical theories of neo-Platonism, of the Intellect or rational soul or spirit, as it is more commonly called by English writers, the part added to the animal soul as an emanation from the Agent Intellect, to which it will ultimately return and with which it will be united (cf. Massignon: Kitab al-Tawasin, Paris, 1913). This is an extremely interesting illustration of the fusion of oriental and Hellenistic elements in Sufism, and shows that the theoretical doctrines of Sufism, whatever they may have borrowed from Persia and India, receive their interpretative hypotheses from
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neo-Platonism. It is interesting also as shewing in the person of al-Hallaj a meeting-point between the Sufi and the philosopher of the Isma‘ilian school.
Very similar was the teaching of Abu Yazid or Bayazid of Bistam (d. 260), who was also of Zoroastrian descent. The pantheistic element is very clearly defined: “God,” he said, “is an unfathomable ocean”; he himself was the throne of God, the preserved Tablet, the Pen, the Word—all images taken from the Qur’an—Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Gabriel, for all who obtain true being are absorbed into God and become one with God.
Pantheistic views and the doctrine of hulul occur frequently in Sufi teaching, but they are by no means universal. Indeed, we cannot make any accurate statement of Sufi doctrine in detail, but only of general principles and tendencies. The Sufis do not form a sect, but are simply devotees of mystical tendencies spread through all the branches of the Muslim community. In the 3rd cent. they are most prominent amongst the Shi‘ites, and so Shi‘ite views seem to be incorporated in Sufism, but they form no integral part of it. Precisely similar conditions occur in Christianity where mysticism has flourished in the extremer Protestant sects as well as in the contemplative orders of the Catholic Church, and, in spite of theological differences, has a very considerable amount of common material. Only it must be noted that no basis of mysticism exists unless some such relations between the human soul and God are
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pre-supposed, as are suggested by neo-Platonism. Christian mysticism, in the true sense, does not begin in the West until the works of the Pseudo-Dionysius were translated into Latin in the 9th cent. A.D., and Muslim mysticism dates from the translation of the Theology of Aristotle. On the other hand, it must also be noted that mysticism exercises a strong modifying influence on theology generally. The tendency of mysticism is towards a latitudinarian type: it is consequently opposed, consciously or unconsciously, to definite dogmatic teaching and so to speculative theology and philosophy.
Superficially Muslim mysticism seems to be organised like a sect. Reference is often made to the various “grades” of Sufis. But these are not official grades like those of the Isma’ilians and similar bodies, but denote successive stages on the path of personal holiness: it is no more than a fanciful terminology, perhaps borrowed from some of the sects because it seems that Sufism flourished earliest and most freely in some of the extremer Shi‘ite groups. It was, and is, most usual for the beginner in the path of holiness to put himself under the direction of some experienced spiritual guide, who acts as his teacher, and is known as sheikh, murshid, or pir. In many cases this pupilage involves absolute and blind obedience to the teacher, because the renunciation of personal wishes and inclinations and all that can be described as self-will is one of the forms of abnegation required of those who seek to
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be weaned from earthly interests. From the grouping of devotees around some prominent teacher has arisen the foundation of darwish confraternities, sometimes as sodalities of laymen, who pursue their secular occupations and meet from time to time for religious exercises and instruction, and sometimes as permanent communities living in strict obedience under a sheikh. Traces of such monastic institutions appear in Damascus about 150 A.H., and in Khurasan some fifty years later. None of the existing orders of Islam, however, seem to be of so early a date. We hear of a sheikh Alwan (circ. 149), whose shrine is at Jedda, and who is the reputed founder of the Alwaniya community, a body now existing only as a subdivision of the Rifa’ite order. There are also orders known as the Adhamiya, Bastamiya, and Saqatiya, which trace their origin to Ibrahim b. Adham (cf. above), to Bayazid Bastami, and to Sari as-Saqati respectively, but whose real origin is uncertain.
In the 6th century we are on surer ground. There is no reason to question the claim of the Rifa’ite order to trace its foundation to Abu l-‘Abbas Ahmad b. ‘Ali l-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Abi l-‘Abbas Ahmad Rifa’i (d. 578), a native of the village of Umm Abida, near the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates. In his lifetime he gathered a large body of disciples, whom he incorporated in an order in 576, the members living in community under a sheikh, to whom they owed unquestioning obedience, but having also, like other orders, a number of lay adherents. Dying without issue the headship of
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his order passed to his brother’s family. It exists to-day in two main branches (i.) the Alwaniya, already mentioned, and (ii.) the Gibawi, who are best known from their association with the ceremony of the dawsa, at which the sheikh used to ride over the prostrate bodies of his followers. Of all the orders now flourishing in Egypt it is the one most inclined to fanatical observances at its zikr or prayer-meeting, the members cutting themselves, driving sharp skewers and knives into their bodies, swallowing snakes, etc., and in prayer allowing the name of God oft-repeated to become at last no more than a half articulate groan. They are usually distinguished by black turbans. The Qadariya claim ‘Abdu l-Qadir Jilani (d. 561) as their founder. At their zikr there is none of the fire-eating, serpent-swallowing, or self-mutilation of the Rifa’ites, but only the name of God is repeated, always clearly enunciated and followed by a pause. The Badawiya were founded by Abu l-Fita Ahmad (d. 675), whose shrine is at Tanta, in Lower Egypt. The zikr is of a sober kind, the Divine name being repeated in a loud voice without cutting, fire-eating, etc. The Mawlawiya or dancing darwishes were founded by the Persian mystical poet Jalalu d-Din Rumi, the author of the poem known as the Masnawi. The Suhrwardiya trace their origin to Shihabu d-Din, a pantheistic Sufi of Baghdad, who was put to death by Saladin in 587.
In each of these orders a special course of instruction has taken a more or less conventional form, and
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there have been certain great teachers whose writings have come into use as manuals, and so have impressed their views upon Sufism generally. Yet the fact remains that Sufi teaching is essentially eclectic, and can be formulated only in broad principles and tendencies. Of these the following seem to be of most general application:—
(i.) God alone exists; God is the only reality, all else is illusive. This is the Sufi rendering of the doctrine of the unity of God. Strictly speaking “God” here signifies the Agent Intellect, that is to say, the revelation of God who in Himself is unknowable, but the Sufi does not make this philosophical distinction clear, or else deliberately regards the revelation of God as God. But in man there is a rational soul, which is to God as a mirrored image is to the object which it reflects, and is capable of approaching the Divine reality. As other than God is merely illusive it is obvious that a knowledge of God the Reality cannot be attained by the medium of created things, and thus the Sufis were led, like the neo-Platonists, to attach greater value to immediate intuition by the rational soul than to the use of arguments, and so to place direct revelation above what is ordinarily described as reason. This is a line of development common to all forms of mysticism, and results in a preference for ecstasy or similar spiritual experience above the record of past revelation as given in the Qur’an. The doctrine of ecstasy (hal or maqama) was first formulated by Dhu-n-Nun,
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and implies fana or “passing away,” i.e., insensibility to the things of this world, and finally baqa or “continuance” in God. Usually this experience is accompanied by loss of sensation, though this is not always the case, and there are many legends of Sufi saints which represent them as totally unconscious of violence of wounds; and this is not confined to legend, for most extraordinary sufferings are endured, apparently with perfect placidity, by darwishes at the present day, perhaps in accordance with psychological laws which are imperfectly understood, and this is the underlying idea in the exercises undergone by the Rifa’i darwishes and others. The exercise known as zikr (dhikr) or “remembering,” in accordance with the command in Qur. 33, 41, “remember God often,” is an attempt to make an advance towards the ecstatic state. It was perhaps under Sufi influence that we find philosophy inclining to prefer knowledge obtained by immediate intuition; it was certainly under such influence that ecstasy is treated as a means of obtaining such direct apprehension of truth in the later philosophers.
(ii.) The Sufi doctrine of God as the only reality has a direct bearing not only on creation but also on the problem of good and evil. As a thing can only be known by its opposite, light by darkness, health by sickness, being by non-being, so God could only be made known to man as reality contrasted with non-reality, and the mingling of these two opposites produces the world of phenoma in which light is made
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known by a background of darkness, which darkness is itself only the absence of light: or, as being proceeds by successive emanations from the First Cause, and becomes weaker or less real in each emanation as it recedes further from the great Reality, it incidentally becomes more perceptible as it becomes less real. Thus evil, which is merely the negation of the moral beauty of the Reality, appears in the latest emanation as the unreal background which is the inevitable result of a projection of the emanation from the First Cause, who is entirely good, into a world of phenomena. Evil is therefore not real, it is merely the result, the inevitable result, of the mingling of reality with unreality. In fact, this is implied in the doctrine that all other than God is unreal.
(iii.) The aim of the soul is union with God. This doctrine of tawhid, as we have seen, received early expression in Muslim mystic theology. Dr. Nicholson is of opinion that “the Sufi conception of the passing away (fana) of individual self in universal being is certainly . . . of Indian origin. Its first great exponent was the Persian mystic Bāyazīd of Bistām, who may have received it of his teacher, Abū ‘Alī of Sind (Scinde.”) (Nicholson: Mystics of Islam, p. 17.) But this is only one particular way of presenting a doctrine which has a much wider range and is present in all mystical teaching, including that of the neo-Platonists. In the highest sense it is the basis of Sufi ethics, for the summum bonum is defined as the
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union of the individual soul with God, and all is good which helps towards this, all is evil which retards it, and this is true of Christian and all other forms of mysticism equally. We cannot say definitely that the doctrine of the unitive state is borrowed from neo-Platonism, from Buddhism, or from Gnosticism; it is the common property of all, and is the natural conclusion from the mystics premises as to the nature of God and of the human soul. It may well be that certain presentations of this doctrine show Indian details, but in this as in all other parts of Sufi speculation it seems that the constructive theory employed in forming a theological system was neo-Platonic: even in mysticism the Greek mind exercised its influence in analysing and constructing hypotheses.
At quite an early age the soul’s desire for union with its Divine source began to be clothed in terms borrowed from the expression of human love. With some hesitation we may say, perhaps, that this is distinctly oriental, although it was so only as a means of expressing a desire which is characteristic of ill mysticism. We find the same, at a later period, though in a much more restrained fashion, in Christian mysticism, and it is not easy to see the actual line of contact, if any. Perhaps we must be content to regard it as independently developed as a means of expressing the soul’s longing.
The rise of Sufi teaching was not without opposition, and this was mainly on three grounds (i.) the Sufis advocated constant prayer in the form of unceasing
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silent intercourse with God, and by this tended to discard the fixed salawat or five obligatory prayers at appointed hours, one of the compulsory duties of Islam and one of its distinctive marks. Ultimately the Sufi position was that these fixed ritual observances were for the people at large who had not made any advance in the deeper spiritual knowledge, but might be disregarded by those who were more mature in grace, a position which is closely parallel to that attained by the philosophers. (ii.) They introduced zikirs or religious exercises, consisting in a continuous repetition of the name of God, a form of devotion unknown to older Islam, and consequently an innovation. And (iii.) many of them adopted the practice of tawakkul, or complete dependence on God, neglecting all kinds of labour or trade, refusing medical aid in sickness, and living on alms begged from the faithful. All these were “innovations,” and as such met with very definite opposition, mostly, no doubt, because they were repugnant to the sober tone of traditional Islam, which has always been suspicious of oriental fanaticism. The more serious objection, that it really dispensed with the religion of the Qur’an is implied if not expressed; it introduced an entirely new concept of God and a new standard of religious values; if Sufi ideas prevailed the practices of the Muslim religion would be at best the tolerable and harmless usages of those who were not initiated into vital religion. In fact, however, the philosophical
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principles brought forward by the neo-Platonic Aristotelian works in general circulation were so far influential and regarded as reconcilable with the Qur’an that Sufism, in so far as it was neo-Platonic, did not appear to be destructive of Islam, but only at variance with customary usage.
Nevertheless, Sufism was generally looked upon as heretical, not only from the “innovations” we have mentioned, but because of the close alliance between the doctrines of its extremer advocates and those of the more advanced Shi‘ites. It is indeed most significant that it developed chiefly amongst the same elements which gave the readiest hearing to philosophy and still adhered to Zoroastrian and Masdekite ideas. No doubt the ill repute of Sufism was largely due to the bad company it kept. It was not until the time of al-Ghazali (d. 505) that Sufism began to take its place in orthodox Islam. Al-Ghazali, left an orphan at an early age, had been educated by a Sufi friend, and, after becoming an Ash‘arite and as such acting as president of the Nazimite academy at Baghdad, found himself in spiritual difficulties, and spent eleven years in retirement and in the practices of devotion, with the result that when he returned to work as a teacher in 449 his instruction was strongly leavened by mysticism, practically a return to the principles he had been taught in his early years. As al-Ghazali became in course of time the dominant influence in Muslim scholasticism, a modified and orthodox Sufism was
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introduced into Sunni theology and has since held its own. At the same time he reduced Sufism to a scientific form, and gave, or rather supported, a terminology derived from Plotinus. Such a Sufism may be described as Muslim mystic theology purged of its Shi‘ite accretions. This admission of a modified Sufism into the orthodox church of Islam took place in the sixth century A.H.
In the following century Sufism appeared in Spain, but there it arrived as transmitted through an orthodox medium, and hence differs from Asiatic mysticism. The first Spanish Sufi seems to have been Muhyi d-Din ibn ‘Arabi (d. 638), who travelled in Asia and died at Damascus. He was a follower of Ibn Ham, who, as we shall see later, represents a system of jurisprudence of a type more reactionary even than that of Ibn Hanbal. In Spain itself the leading Sufi was ‘Abdu l-Haqq ibn Sab’in (d. 667), who shows the more characteristic Spanish attitude of a Sufi who was also a philosopher, for Spanish Sufism was essentially speculative. Like many other philosophers of the Muwahhid period he adhered outwardly to the Zahirites, the most reactionary party of the narrowest orthodoxy.
In the 7th century, also, we have Jalalu d-Din Rumi (d. 672), who practically completes the golden age of Sufism. Although a Persian he was an orthodox Sunni. He was a native of Balkh, but his father was compelled to leave that city and migrate westward, and finally settled at Qonya (Iconium),
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where he died. Jalalu d-Din had been educated by his father, and after his death he sought further instruction at Aleppo and Damascus, where he came under the influence of Burhanu d-Din of Tirmidh, who had been one of his father’s pupils, and continued his training in Sufi doctrines. After this teacher’s death he came in touch with the eccentric but saintly Shams-i-Tabriz, a man of great spiritual power but illiterate, who left a great impress on his age by his tremendous spiritual enthusiasm and the strange crudity of his conduct and character. It was after the death of Shams-i-Tabriz that Jalalu d-Din commenced his great mystical poem, the Masnawi, a work which has attained an extraordinary eminence and reverence throughout the whole of Turkish Islam. As already mentioned, Jalalu d-Din founded an order of Darwishes known as the Mawlawi order, or “dancing darwishes,” as they are called by Europeans.
The whole course of doctrinal Sufism begins with Dhu n-Nun and ends with Jalalu d-Din; later writers do little more than repeat their teaching in new literary form, and it will be sufficient to select a few typical examples. In the 8th cent. we have ‘Abdu r-Razzaq (d. 730), a pantheistic Sufi who wrote a commentary on and defended the teaching of Muhiyyu d-Din ibnu l-‘Arabi. He advocated the doctrine of free will on the ground that the human soul is an emanation from God, and so shares the Divine character. This world, he holds, is the best possible world: differences in condition exist and justice
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consists in accepting these and adapting things to their situation; ultimately all things will cease to exist as they are re-absorbed in God, the only reality. Men are divided into three classes: the first contains the men of the world, whose life centres in self and who are indifferent towards religion; a second class contains the men of the reason, who discern God intellectually by his external attributes and manifestations; and as a third class are the men of the spirit, who perceive God intuitively.
Although Sufism has now taken a recognised place in the life of Islam, it was not allowed to pass without occasional challenge. The leading opponent was the Hanbalite reformer, Ibn Taymiya (d. 728), who represented the reactionary but popular theology. He rejected formal adherence to any school, dismissed all importance attached to Ijma or “consensus” save that based on the agreement of the Prophet’s Companions; he denounced the scholastic theology of al-Ash‘ari and al-Ghazali, and defined the Divine attributes on the lines laid down by Ibn Hazm. At that time the Sufi an-Nasr al-Manbiji was prominent in Cairo, and to him Ibn Taymiya wrote a letter denouncing the Sufi doctrine of ittihad as heresy. From this arose a quarrel between the two rival forces of Islam, traditional orthodoxy and mysticism, in the course of which Ibn Taymiya suffered persecution and imprisonment. Towards the end of his life, in 726, he issued a fatwa or declaration of opinion against the lawfulness of
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the reverence paid to the tombs of saints and of the invocation of saints, the Prophet himself included. In this he was the precursor of the Wahibi reformation of the 18th cent. A.D. MSS. exist in which the works of Ibn Taymiya are copied out by the hand of ‘Abdu l-Wahhab, who was evidently a close student of that reformer, all of whose theories he reproduces.
Ash-Sha’rani of Cairo (d. 973) is typical of the later orthodox Sufi. He was a follower of Ibn ‘Arabi on general lines but without his pantheism. His writings are a strange mixture of lofty speculation and lowly superstition, his life was full of intercourse with jinns and other supernatural beings. The truth, he states, is not to be reached by the aid of reason, but only by ecstatic vision. The wali is the man who possesses the gift of illumination (ilham), or direct apprehension of the spiritual, but that grace differs from the inspiration (wahy) bestowed upon the prophets, and the wali must submit to the guidance of prophetic revelations. All walis are essentially under the qutb, but the qutb is inferior to the companions of Muhammad. Whatever rule (tariqa) a darwish follows he is guided by God, but ash-Sha’rani himself preferred the rule of al-Junayd. The varying opinions of the canoeists are adapted to the different needs of men. Ash-Sha’rani was the founder of a darwish order which forms a sub-division of the Badawiya (cf. above). His writings have considerable influence in modern Islam, and form the programme of those who advocate a neo-Sufi reformation.
Next: Chapter VIII. Orthodox Scholasticism

– De Lacy O’lery