Sufism exists in many forms and includes several different practices and followers, including some of the better known Sufi masters such as Ibn al Arabi, and perhaps the best known of all Sufis, the poet Rumi. In its simplest and most generalized essence, the Sufi religion represents one of the most dynamic and original manifestations of the mystical religious life according to Islam (“Sufism” 1508). Many scholars identify Sufism as the core mystical tradition that emanates from the Islamic traditional religious practice; indeed, the term Sufism has become synonymous with Islamic mysticism (Johnson 11; Von Schlegell 578; Zarcone 110).
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In terms of metaphysics, herein understood as the non-empirical, religious, and philosophical inquiry into the nature of being, Sufism represents a powerful oral and written tradition devoted to manifesting a real and lasting union with the essence of God. As Puntel explains, “metaphysics, requires theories not only of beings but also, on a deeper…indeed, on the deepest…level, theories of Being” (299). Though all religions contain this feature to a certain extent, Sufism stands apart as a spiritual practice guided by mysticism and unity of the soul with God. Metaphysics has a long history of inquiry, one which reached its zenith during the Middle Ages (Peters 11; Ryan 75). As Rizvi explains:
the distinction between existence and essence in contingent beings was a central metaphysical doctrine in medieval scholasticism [that was] inherited from the Islamic tradition… They utilized it for their ontological and cosmological arguments for the existence of God. As such it was an important pivot for medieval metaphysics (Rizvi 219).
Sufism exists at the nexus point between the oral traditions of Islam and its written doctrine; the practice of Sufism, specifically in its metaphysical component, provides a novel interpretation of the Quran, as well as a deeply committed spiritual practice grounded in “psychosomatic exercises” (Zarcone 110). Many scholars have pointed to the similarities that exist between Sufism and yoga; like yoga, Sufism holds interest and popularity among many people of Western heritage (Zarcone 110). Zarcone notes that the conversion among many Western people to Islam occurs via Sufism (110). “The reasons for conversion to Sufism among Europeans, for the most part from intellectual milieu, rest on concerns of a spiritual dimension linked to the climate of religious crisis which the modern West has experienced since the end of the nineteenth century” (Zarcone 110). As Terry Eagleton explains:
advanced capitalism is inherently agnostic. It looks particularly flaccid when its paucity of belief runs up against an excess of the stuff–not only abroad, but domestically too, in the form of various homegrown fundamentalisms. Modern market societies tend to be secular, relativist, pragmatic, and materialistic, qualities that undermine the metaphysical values on which political authority in part depends. And yet capitalism cannot easily dispense with those metaphysical values, even though it has difficulty taking them seriously (9).
At the heart of the Western capitalist model lies an emptiness that leads many raised in this tradition to seek a form of worship that offers depth and meaning beyond that of material wealth.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, interest in the ancient religion of Sufism grew significantly among Western converts, particularly those of European descent, and reached its zenith in the 1930s (Zarcone 110). At that time a large number of Sufi followers and converts were organized into groups based in several European countries such as the United Kingdom, France, and Switzerland, whereupon several members became shaikhs or spiritual guides (Zarcone 110). While many of these groups are still intact in the 21st century, a number of them have disbanded due to internal division (Zarcone 110).
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At the heart of the Sufi religion is the mystical element, the understanding of wahdat al wujud. Numerous scholars indicate this to be the fundamental contribution Islam made and continues to make, to the practice of religious mysticism. The metaphysical concept of wahdat al wujud has been translated in many ways by many different scholars over the years. For this dissertation, the term will be translated as the oneness of being, essentially a reference to the unity of existence that exists between human beings and God, as well as the potential for this revelation to occur in the study of metaphysics (Chittick 70; Zarcone 112). While not all variations of the Sufi religion adhere to or recognize the concept of wahdat al wujud, this paper will concern itself with the contribution that wahdat al wujud has made to metaphysics in Islam, as well as metaphysics in general.
Sufism also operates a powerful and robust living oral tradition, one which it has maintained through generations of spiritual guides down throughout the ages, a feature that several Western religions have lost (Zarcone 112). Several scholars assert that the ascetic cultural institution alive in Islam remains beyond the comprehension of those raised in the Western tradition; indeed, many “have concluded that the usual procedures among Western social sciences lead to a distortion of the lived experience of the Sufis and may not encapsulate Islamic tradition faithfully” (Waugh 56). With this understanding in mind, this study also investigates the role of the oral tradition in Sufism and offers some insight into how it strengthens the practice of its followers and widens its appeal to those not brought up in the tradition of Islam.
The purpose of the study is to investigate how the concept of wahdat al wujud, while rooted in Islam, has enriched the larger metaphysical idea that the human being has the power to achieve the ultimate unity with God through his or her religious practice. Wahdat al wujud speaks to the larger union with God that transcends all religious vehicles and denominations and delivers the ultimate transcendence, not only for those who practice the Sufi religion but also for any individual interested in the metaphysical, essential union with God that all religious practice seeks to create for its followers.
The paper begins with an overview of Sufism itself and then proceeds to define some of the core metaphysical concepts that trace their origin to Sufism. The paper will investigate the concept of wahdat al wujud in detail, and present how this concept has contributed to the study of metaphysics. The emphasis of the study will be placed on the concept of wahdat al wujud in particular, with additional focus given to the aforementioned oral tradition and its role in the metaphysical study, as understood by Sufis. The goal of the study is to shed new light on the contribution that Islam has made to metaphysics via Sufism.
Sufism as a term and a way of life have stubbornly resisted classification since its inception. While the basic understanding of Sufism is that of Muslim ascetic, the term encompasses a range of activities and states of being that transcend this definition. As Akasoy explains:
there have been major disagreements about what Sufism essentially entailed. For some, it was and still is above all connected with certain doctrines concerning the relationship between God and the created world, the nature of prophecy, the interpretation of scripture, and so on. For others, it is mainly associated with certain rituals such as intense prayer or fasting…which are practiced in a more moderate form by Muslims who are not Sufis…or dancing and playing music…which are more specific to Sufis. For yet others, its implications were mostly social, in other words, the significance of being affiliated with one or several Sufi orders, or the role of a Sufi shaykh, or a saint in local communities (171).
The term is known as Sufism most likely derives from the Arabic word for wool, which is ṣūf. In the early days of Sufism, the ascetics that came from the Islamic tradition to found Sufism wore woolen outfits which were coarse and rough to symbolize their renunciation of the material world (Nettler 75). In this sense, the early Sufis resembled monks of the orthodox Christian faiths that clothed themselves in simple garb to demonstrate their lack of materialism (Schimmel 332; Seligman 1073). According to Harmless, these early Sufis “drew their deepest inspiration from and fashioned their distinctive self-understanding and practices out of Islam’s own unique spiritual resources…For their core of their mystical theology, they drew on that most central of Islamic affirmations, the shahāda…there is no god but God…and on the core doctrine that flows from it, the absolute oneness of God, ,[or] tawhīd. This doctrine inspired the Sufi search for mystical union” and led to the creation of the ideal of wahdat al wujud (162). These early Sufis demonstrated an outward severity and simplicity as well as “inner detachment” (Harmless 161). Through this sense of detachment, the early Sufis also practiced an ability to “find joy in the heart at the coming of sorrow” (Rumi 11).
Since the inception of the faith, the Sufis have subscribed to a whole being an approach to religion:
Is not religion all deeds and all reflection, and that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom? Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations? Who can spread his hours before him, saying, This for God and this for myself; This for my soul, and this other for my body? All your hours are wings that beat through space from self to self. He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked. The wind and the sun will tear no holes in his skin (Gibran 34).
This sentiment was echoed in the actions of the earliest Sufis, who endeavored to inject their religion into every aspect of their daily lives.
Sufis also favored simplicity and faith over rationality and empiricism. “If you would know God, be not therefore a solver of riddles. Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children. And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the cloud, outstretching His arms in the lightning and descending in rain. You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising and waving His hands in trees” (Gibran 34). The tendency of rationality and empiricism to parse reality into independent units of experience was staunchly opposed by the practice, as it still is today, through the value that the Sufi devotees placed on mysticism. “In mystic states we become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness. This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed” (James 419). Since the earliest days of Sufism, devotees have sought to overcome “all the usual barriers between the individual and the Absolute” (James 419).
The written tradition that underlies Sufism at its fundamental essence is the Quran. Also, Sufis adhere to the doctrinal texts compiled by several of the historical figures of Sufism. The Sufi oral tradition has been called one of the main strengths of Sufism (Zarcone 113). The Sufi oral tradition draws on the teachings and body of knowledge passed down from one generation of shaikhs to the next; the oral tradition of the Sufis also includes several key interpretations and readings of the Quran which generations of shaikhs have passed down to each other over time. These readings and interpretations hold the keys to the understanding of the Quran and the practice of repetition involved in the ritual attached to Sufism. These include dhikr – in this case, the repetition of the divine names in Islam which have been established according to tradition (Zarcone 113; Marmura 8279).
In the oral tradition followed by the Sufis, the dhikr refers to those teachings rendered by the Prophet Mohammed, as well as his son-in-law, Ali, or Mohammed’s Khalifat-ul-Rasūl and Companion, Abu Bakr. The dhikr from these sources have arrived to be employed by modern-day shaikhs through an “uninterrupted chain of spiritual masters” (Knysh 211).
The tariqas or orders of Sufis refer to a vast number of religious orders that follow a particular shaikh. Tariqas are hierarchical structures that are overseen by one or shaikhs; these shaikhs are endowed with the responsibility of conveying the knowledge of Islam which it inherits from previous orders and shaikhs. This knowledge varies widely according to the particular tariqa order (Knysh 211). The doctrine of Sufism typically follows from the teaching of the founder of the order, as well as several masters that would have been affiliated with the order and with its shaikh (Zarcone 113)
In the same way that contemplative practices separate the written tradition from the oral one, the Sufi shaikh will compose his works and add their contributions to the written doctrine and body of knowledge associated with the teachings of Islam; however, the actual practice of reading these texts was always reserved for the oral teaching. Only the shaikh or his disciples are allowed to disseminate and interpret the texts as part of the oral tradition. Thus another significant contribution that the Sufi tradition has made to the study of metaphysics is to provide a living oral tradition that can trace its existence back several centuries (Knysh 211).
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As for the contemplative practices, these would have been brought down to the simplest forms of exercises, namely repetition or dhikr, visualization, and the use of meditation; in many ways, these practices will resemble that of the yogi. The devotees of some orders will seek a solitary retreat or isolated location in which to perform the meditative ritual or even the “ecstatic dance” in the quest for divine communion (Knysh 211).
For Sufis that originate in the Eastern tradition, the question of the origin and legitimacy of a given tariqa remains the fundamental question. Followers look for this legitimacy to rest assured that the passage of the oral tradition has been properly passed down from generation to generation with no break in the chain of shaikhs and disciples. As Zarcone explains, Sufi devotees remain concerned that the:
the oral transmission has been effected well, without any break. It thus rests on the chain [or] silsila of the spiritual masters or shaikhs who have led that order. The appearance of a silsila is generally sanctioned by the handing-over by the shaikh of authorization or certificate of investiture [or] ijaza to his disciple or to his representative, the latter being authorized in his turn to transmit the oral teaching (113).
Authenticity in the Sufi silsila notwithstanding, the legitimacy of a tariqa of Sufis can never be measured simply by the ability of the shaikh in charge to produce a declaration or authentic ijaza. While this element remains critical, Sufis also look to the “fidelity with which [the shaikh] keeps the group of his disciples to the true path outlined by the master and which he himself received from the order” (Zarcone 113). Thus the leadership of many Sufi tariqas often become destabilized due to these arbitrary perceptions that despite the authenticity of the ijaza, the order may not be on the proper path to divine communion.
Core Sufi Concepts
In considering this very large subject of Sufism, it is important to differentiate between three of its aspects: these include the Ṣufī concept of the soul, specifically what the Sufi mystics considered the human soul to be; the purification of the soul and the path of holiness that the soul needs to follow to meet God, and thirdly, the relationship between the soul and God, particularly the role that the soul plays in the intimate experience of the divine presence (Awn 8806). These aspects are related; however, the third element represents a crucial problem for Sufis in the area of interpretation upon which Ṣufīs were divided, and which caused significant disagreement in the overall history of Islamic religious practice and tradition (Nūrbakhsh 29).
According to Awn, the Ṣufī and Asharī theologian al-Qushayrī, who dies in 1074, observed that the term:
soul refers to those of man’s characteristics that are afflicted with illness and to his blameworthy actions. It is possible, al-Qushayrī maintains, that the soul is a subtle entity placed in a bodily mold, [and] being the receptacle of ill dispositions, just as spirit is placed in this mold, being the receptacle of praiseworthy dispositions” (8806).
This interpretation of the soul as being inherently evil often shocks readers and scholars alike, particularly those raised in the Western tradition, since it differs so completely from the Christian interpretation of the soul. As Awn explains:
the earlier Ṣufī al-Tirmidhī…also gives expression to the view that the soul is evil. Both, moreover, reflect traditional and kalām concepts of the soul as material. Al-Ghazālī, on the other hand, often uses Avicennian language in his discussions of the soul…al-Ghazālī also indicates that Ṣufīs subscribe to the doctrine of the soul’s immateriality as they reject the concept of physical reward and punishment in the hereafter (8806).
Thus, within Sufism, several differences in belief exist as to whether the essence of the soul remains material or non-material. While there remains significantly less difference, contention, or doubt on the subject of soul purification as a path to God, there remains significant emphasis, however, on the means of its purification and the proper ascetic devotional plan of action necessary to attain communion between the soul and God. As Awn posits, “differences between Ṣufī orders here are largely a matter of ritual, not substance” (8806). Nonetheless, the relationship between the human soul and the divine is of utmost importance to all Sufis, regardless of their orders (Awn 8806).
For the Sufi mystic, the relationship between the human soul – otherwise known as the self, the observer, or the consciousness behind the term I – and the divine presence of God remains at the heart of the Sufi religious practice. This issue is the principle issues that precipitate conflict between the orders and between interpretations. As Marmura explains:
It was this issue that caused conflict. The mystical experience itself is both overwhelming and ineffable. Utterances attempting to convey it are symbolic, sometimes prone to overstatement, and hence prone to being misunderstood. Central to this issue is the interpretation of the mystical experience of fanā, the passing away or annihilation of the self in the divine essence, the latter representing baqā or permanence (8569).
As Marmura understands it, well known Ṣufī sages of the past such as al-Ghazālī interpreted fanā to mean closeness or qurb to God; this interpretation allowed Sufi devotees to:
reconcile Sufism with the generally accepted tenets of Islam. The issue, however, remained a sensitive one, as reflected, for example, in the philosophical tale, Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓān, by the Andalusian philosopher Ibn Ṭufayl. Ḥayy, the story’s hero, who grows up on an uninhabited tropical island, undergoes a process of self-education that culminates in the mystical experience. At first, he falls into the error of thinking that his soul becomes one with the divine essence; he is delivered from this mistake through God’s mercy as he realizes that such concepts as unity and plurality and union and disjunction apply only to bodies, not to immaterial selves that have experiential knowledge of God (8569).
This understanding sits at the heart of much of the controversy surrounding Sufism and the Islamic interpretation of the soul. A certain degree of mysticism becomes necessary to conceive of the non-material self in the first place, particularly in the social and physical world. One of the most important contributions that modern Sufism makes to metaphysics therefore is the modeling of the metaphysical understanding of the non-material soul as practiced in everyday life.
The relation of the soul to God in Ṣufī thought takes on a highly metaphysical turn in the complex theosophy of the great mystic Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1240) and his followers, particularly ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Jīlī (d. 1408). Ibn al-ʿArabī is noted for his doctrine of the unity of being (waḥdat al-wujūd) wherein creation (al-khalq) is a mirroring of the Truth (al-ḥaqq), the Creator. Perfect souls are reflections of the perfection of the divine essence. The prophets are the archetypes of these perfect souls: each prophet is a word (kalimah) of God. The perfect soul is a microcosm of reality. The idea of man as a microcosm did not originate with Ibn al-ʿArabī; it was utilized by the falāsifah and by al-Ghazālī. But with Ibn al-ʿArabī and those who followed him, it acquires a spiritual and metaphysical dimension all its own, representing a high point in the development of the concept of soul in the history of Islamic religious thought (Marmura 8569).
Wahdat al-Wajud (the Unity of Being)
“A mystical movement of Islam. The name derives from the woolen clothing (suf), worn by Sufis as a token of penitence, similar to the Christian penitent tradition of wearing hair shirts. In medieval times Sufism was characterized by a complex system of striving for spiritual attainment and divine grace. The spiritual stages involved include conversion, abstinence, renunciation, poverty, patience, trust in God, and contentment; with spiritual states of meditation, nearness to God, love, fear, hope, longing, intimacy, tranquility, contemplation, and certainty. Much of this is analogous to the yama and niyama of Hindu yoga.
There were four orders of Sufis: the Qadiriyya, an orthodox wing emphasizing devotional exercises leading to spiritual experience; the Suhrawardiyya, less orthodox and with a suggestion of pantheism; the Shadhiliyya (widespread in Egypt and North Africa) with intense devotion and utter dependence on God; and the Mevlevi order, founded by the poet Rumi, which developed the special mystical dance of the dervishes.
Sufism has influenced religious movements in India, Java, and elsewhere and played a part in the development of such unorthodox prophets as Baha’u’llah of the Baha’i faith and the mystic Meher Baba. The major emphasis in Sufism is an intense love for God, expressed in the perfection of the soul.
A Western Sufi organization is the Sufi Order (headed by Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan), whose traditions are said to predate Islam and to have become incorporated in it. In 1910 the Sufi Order was established in Europe and the United States through the lectures of Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan. The order stresses that God is one and that there are no barriers between religions.
A separate group of the Sufi movement is the Sufi Cultural Center in London, established in 1971. It places great emphasis on the mysticism of music and encourages the teaching of classical Indian music with the more modern adjunct of health foods and alternative healing (Sufism 1508).
It was believed by the Sufis that to attain the coveted state of mystical contemplation, it was necessary to close the gateway of the physical senses so that the inner or spiritual senses might operate more freely. This injunction was sometimes taken literally, as by the Brahmin Yogis, who carefully closed eyes, ears, nose, and mouth to attain visionary ecstasy. The Mystical Night was thus a shutting out of all external sense impressions—of hope, fear, the consciousness of self, and every human emotion—so that the interior light might be more clearly perceived. (Marmura 1082)
“Wahdat al wujud, which means “oneness of being” or “unity of existence,” is a controversial expression closely associated with the name of Ibn al-’Arabi (d. 1240), even though he did not employ it in his writings. It seems to have been ascribed to him for the first time in the polemics of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328). Through modern times, critics, defenders, and Western scholars have offered widely different interpretations of its meaning; in “Rumi and Wahdat al wujud” (1994), William Chittick has analyzed seven of these.
Taken individually, the two words are among the most discussed in Sufism, philosophy, and kalam (theology). Wahda or “oneness” is asserted in tawhid, the first principle of the Islamic faith. Wujud—being or existence—is taken by many authors as the preferred designation for God’s very reality. All Muslims agree that God’s very reality is one. The controversy arises because the word wujud is also employed for the “existence” of things and the world. According to critics, Wahdat al wujud allows for no distinction between the existence of God and that of the world.
Protectors of this legacy are quick to counter that Ibn al-’Arabi and his disciples provide an understated metaphysics akin to the line of the Ash’arite formula, which asserts that the
attributes are neither God nor other than God. God’s signs [or] ayat and traces [or] athar — the creatures — are neither the same as God nor different from him, because God must be understood as both absent and present, both transcendent and immanent. Understood correctly, wahdat al wujud elucidates the delicate balance that needs to be maintained between these two perspectives (Chittick 70).
Ibn al Arabi has been credited with the concept of wahdat al-wojud, translated as the oneness of being or the unity of existence. The philosopher never directly applies the term; however, the essence of the concept remains inherent through many of his works, thus both the concept and term wahdat al wujud are associated with Ibn al Arabi. As Chittick explains, wahdat al wujud remains the single most contentious theoretical concept for the Sufis, particularly in the latter epoch during the Persian era (112). Ibn al-‘Arabi:
employs the term would refer to God as the Necessary Being. Like them, he also attributes the term to everything other than God, but he insists that wujud does not belong to the things found in the cosmos in any real sense. Rather, the things borrow wujud from God, much as the earth borrows light from the sun. The issue is how wujud can rightfully be attributed to the things, also called entities (Chittick 112).
Review of Literature
In reviewing a select body of scholarly contributions to this topic, a lingering problem faced by many metaphysical scholars who seek to investigate the core concepts and contributions of Sufism arose in the realm of the persistent exclusivity not only of Islam but of mysticism itself. An understanding often arises, particularly among the Sufi shaikhs, that non-Muslims remain incapable of fully appreciating the metaphysical contribution made by Sufism. Similarly, an understanding exists that Westerners of a rational bent remain incapable of truly comprehending the metaphysical realm. As Waugh explains, “one could not comprehend Sufism or the mystical tradition at all if one was not first Muslim.
[One] certainly could have no insight into the complex theories undergirding Islamic mystical tradition…[which] raised again the problematic of understanding religious realities as a scholar” (56). The metaphysical study, in this regard, is limited by the empirical bias implicit in the Western social sciences. The understanding, therefore, implies that the metaphysical study of Sufi mysticism remains outside the purview of Western scholarship, simply because it must be experienced and not studied from a rational framework, and no non-Muslim can ever hope to experience it effectively.
Waugh’s 2000 study sought to elucidate a modern hermeneutic through which to interpret the Sufi ascetic tradition, albeit from the standpoint of a rational, empirical social science base. With this ambitious goal in mind, Waugh posited that previous attempts to do the same had failed because the study authors followed a Western assumption that did not apply in the study of Sufism (Waugh 57). The scholar explained that the typical approach of the Western scholar toward the study of Sufism was to unearth the “perceived notion of mystical orientation from the Qur’an, through the life of the Prophet, and then to examine the authoritative superstructure that gives it leadership and intellectual content,” a path deemed implicit in the ascetic tradition of Sufi, as practiced by Islam (Waugh 56). Also, Waugh spoke of a “standard Western treatment” that scholars applied to the origins of the ascetic tradition of Sufism, beginning with the “theological-philosophical system constructed by the elite…Hasan al-Basri, al-Ghazali, Ibn ‘Arabi, [and] Rumi” (Waugh 57).
This approach, Waugh asserts, leads scholars to investigate the histories of the most well known Sufi shaikhs in history such as Abdul-Qadir and Muhammad al-Shadhili, analyze the structure of a given tariqa or order of Sufis, and focus on the dissemination of Sufism and Sufi ascetic culture through said: “tariqa/shaikh culture” (Waugh 57). However, Waugh’s investigation led him to adopt a very different approach. The ascetic culture of the Sufis, Waugh argues, is one that is learned through what he calls an “experiential environment” that is unique to Sufism (Waugh 57). As Waugh explains, his research into the trademark mysticism of the Sufi tariqas “suggests that initiates become introduced to an ascetically-cast spiritual dimension through various catalysts of which the most basic of all is integration into a coherent socio-spiritual organization that transcends the normal time/space framework” (Waugh 57).
Essentially Waugh’s study argues that the metaphysical and spiritual realm unique to Sufism resembles a process rather than a direct result. What Waugh deems the “experiential environment has its denizens, its geography, its definition of moral/religious value and its meaning of existence. It consciously blurs the dividing line between the physical/political world and the religion-spiritual world and constructs a meaning system encompassing both” (Waugh 57). As such, the contribution that Sufism makes to metaphysics, in Waugh’s estimation, has to do with the closeness to God and the essence of existence that the religious practice facilitates; in knowing the Sufi way, Sufis come to know God intimately. “When one knows God, God teaches one very deep things; one comes to know great things because God is great. He’s not limited by the human mind. The Qur’an tells us to dhikr…remember, recollect, ritually encounter God…constantly, and as soon as you begin to remember God…when you awake, when you are asleep, at any time or place. If you listen to your heart pumping, it is saying, Allah, Allah, so you realize your whole being, is remembering (Waugh 57).
Also, learning God for the Sufi, according to Waugh’s study, includes a social element and repetitious practice – another reason that Sufism often generates comparisons with yoga – and also involves adherence to a specific religious code. This code affects not only conduct but also the way of seeing. As Waugh explains, the Sufi:
learns the code by adhering to the group that expresses special insight and knowledge. Once engaged by them, one learns to dhikr, and suddenly, all parts of the universe begin to fit together. Thus the foundational ingredient in the ascetic tradition in Islam is a reflective consciousness that meditates upon the givens of the spiritual world. One learns about the facticity of this world, and that becomes the grounding for remembrance, a remembrance that encounters the root source of existence, God (Waugh 57).
This practice of ritual remembering implicit in Islam finds its ultimate expression through Sufism. Waugh’s study also offers some insight into the Sufi experience of the soul. Several religious traditions understand the soul as a direct link to God; in Sufism, the soul or ruh can be experienced through safa – what Waugh defines as “mental purity” – the Sufi way of mediation employed to access the soul (58). As Waugh explains:
the state of heart that the devotee has contributes to whether the spiritual encounter will be successful. If he and his brothers in the dhikr have safa’, that is, they adopt a state of mental purity and submission and rid their consciousness of all else but a meditation on the spiritual beings and their presences, the shaikhs or more correctly, the founding shaikh’s souls will become present. Thus, to move into this domain of the spirit, one must cultivate a certain state of the heart” (58). Mediation therefore in the Sufi tradition remains the “embracing vision that drives Islamic ascetic culture (Waugh 58).
Waugh’s study does not mean to suggest in any way that Sufism is anti-intellectual or somehow averse to the facts of the world and of life; on the contrary, many of the converts to Sufism, particularly of the Western variety, come to the practice through the academic tradition (57). However, the difference, Waugh explains, is that Sufis understand that there is more to life and more to God than facts and that intellectual knowledge remains an inappropriate vehicle for the soul (57). Waugh speaks of several Sufi shaikhs “who knew less about Sufi philosophy or even local lore than my own informant/assistant” (58).
The connection between the soul and the sheikh does not exist in the rational realm, and “intellectual acumen does not define this” (Waugh 58). Rather, as Waugh explains, “the local shaikh is fundamentally a tangible connection with the world of ruh where the long ancestry of the adept is deemed to be resident” (58). Therefore, to understand the ascetic tradition of the Sufi, Waugh argues, one must understand that “it is not the biological aspect that determines relationships but the connection to the Spirit world” (58). The inherently social nature of Sufism that Waugh’s study indicates belies the monastic lifestyle that many scholars attribute to Sufism as a fundamentally ascetic practice. Rather, Waugh’s study suggests that among Sufi tariqas,
individuality is maintained while resources are mutually renounced… they can be passed back and forth…If we understand tariqa membership as a symbolic kin-line confederative system, each member is fathered by a great shaikh through an isnad [or] chain of authorities…ultimately reaching back to Muhammad, but concretized by adherence to the award [or] disciplinary recitations…of the order as practiced by the local shaikh. Within the group, insights gleaned from spiritual meetings are shared with the brethren. Thus a gift from God is never possessed but passed on in a corporate system of renunciation: one renounces the exclusivity of spiritual achievement to edify the entire group. In the edifying, the status of the adept gain, while losing control over the spiritual insight (58)
Waugh’s investigation reveals a similarity with the Sufi tariqas and other spiritual orders of a more traditionally monastic bent in that the Sufi “devotee accepts the renunciation of the physical world as absolute in the understanding of reality” (59). Thus the contribution of Sufism to metaphysics in Waugh’s findings point to its unique social order that legitimizes the presence of others in the spiritual path. The Sufi tariqa recognizes the value of the other, whereas traditional monastic and ascetic traditions favor the solitude of reflection and contemplation as the only true paths to the soul.
Wright’s 2002 study reflected on the nature of mysticism and the ascetic tradition of the Sufis found in the work of Abu Yazid Bistami. Bistami described the experience of the Sufi in communion with God herein:
I gazed upon Allah with the eye of truth and said to Him: Who is this? He said This is neither I nor other than I. There is no God but I. Then he changed me out of my identity into His Selfhood… Then I communed with him with the tongue of his Face saying: How fares it with me with Thee? He said, I am through Thee, there is no god but Thou (Bistami 133).
Wright recognizes Abu Yazid Bistami as one of the earliest of the Sufi mystics. Born in 804, Abu Yazid Bistami came from a family of Zoroastrians that converted to the Islamic faith, whereupon the ascetic tradition was faithfully continued by Abu Yazid Bistami (Bistami 133). Abu Yazid Bistami’s interest in Sufism, according to Wright, stemmed from his interest in achieving “direct communion with the divine” (Wright 22). While Wright accepts that the desire for this direct link between human beings and God exists at the heart of many other faiths, which also have their mystical traditions, he argues that “mysticism has become debased” in the Western culture (22).
As Wright explains, “anything that steps outside of the ordinary is often branded incorrectly as mystical. Strictly speaking, a mystical experience refers to states of consciousness where we can feel a deep sense of connection with, falling into or being embraced by God, the Absolute or the cosmic consciousness” (22). The contribution of the Sufi tradition, Wright posits, is in essence to normalize the mystical experience. As Wrights explain, “our secular, rationalist age has trouble working with anything that does not fall neatly within its self-defined paradigm” (23). Interestingly, Wright’s study ponders the idea that mystical experiences, or at the very least a curiosity in regards to metaphysical concepts such as the soul, are rooted in evolution, and that the early mystics of the Sufi tradition continued in the vein of Darwinian survival of the fittest (Wright 23).
Newberg et al published Why God won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, as an introduction to the interdisciplinary field of neurotheology, a hybrid of metaphysical inquiry and cutting edge empirical neurological science. Newberg et al’s study investigated the idea that the brains of human beings contain mechanisms that allow them to be wired to the metaphysical concepts of God and the soul, and these mechanisms are survival mechanisms that have allowed human beings to thrive despite the knowledge of their deaths.
Newberg et al’s study in the rising field of neurotheology offers some convincing proof that mysticism and evolution are mutually supportive systems. In essence, Newberg et al present scientific evidence that the religious urge to experience oneness with the Creator – what the Sufis and mystics of their ilk refer to as wahdat al-wujud or the unity of being – is a core structural component of the brain’s biology. The theory behind Newberg et al’s study is that as the consciousness of human beings evolved from apes to human beings, they became increasingly mindful of death and what Newberg et al referred to as their “minuteness in the face of the vastness of the universe” (Newberg et al 54). According to the theory, some of the early human beings found the discovery of death and the finiteness of being too overwhelming, such that it leads them to depression. As Newberg at la explains, these early humans that “were inclined to nihilism or depression [were] therefore were more likely to die.
The humans who survived did so because they developed experiences or belief systems that gave them hope, for example belief in an afterlife” (Newberg et al 54). These early humans that developed a religious affiliation became more equipped to stay alive because they created the possibility of something beyond the ordinary truth of birth and death. As Newberg et al explain, “in the best Darwinian tradition [these early humans] were more likely to survive and reproduce and, therefore, humans that are around today have brains attuned to God. The theory assumes there is not really a God, but we somehow created one to survive a sometimes harsh reality we must inhabit” (54). Ascetic religious practice such as that espoused by the Sufis and by Islam presupposes the reality of God, with the caveat that only the faithful who have experienced wahdat al-wujud will have access to the reality of God. For the Sufi devotees, “there is…a different theory – that there is a God and the God-shaped hole in our consciousness was divinely ordered so we could connect to a reality deeper and grander than this one” (Newberg et al 54).
Thus, the Newberg et al study suggests that the presence of mysticism and metaphysics in the human consciousness equates to a survival mechanism; it more or less negates the idea that God exists. Rather, the study assumes that the creation of a higher religious force or mind and the existence of an afterlife are fantasies that early human beings developed to persist in the face of the awareness of their mortality, and imaginative practice that began with the Neanderthal species during the Stone Age. As Newberg et al explain:
Neanderthals… became the earth’s first living creatures to bury their dead with ceremonies. We can only imagine what dark thoughts possessed those gruff and shaggy nomads as they gently lay their clan mates to rest..What we do know is that more was going on than the simple disposal of human remains because the graves had been carefully provisioned with tools, weapons, clothing, and other essential supplies. Perhaps these were gifts, comparable to the flowers…we plant in memoriam today. More likely, it seems our Neanderthal progenitors were outfitting their dead with gear to help them meet whatever mysterious adventures lay ahead (54)
The Newberg et al study highlights the aforementioned bias of rationality that
infuses most if not all social science disciplines in the study of metaphysics. Neurotheology represents one of the newer empirical approaches to the study of metaphysics, which Sufi mysticism transcends. While the science and the theories postulated are fascinating, they point to the continued inability of Western culture to perceive anything beyond science.
In the Islamic perspective the creator and the Lord of the universe in his supreme mercy and beneficence sent to the people of the world from time to time messengers, apostles to recite revelation to purify and to teach them scriptures and wisdom. This process was completed and ended once and for all with Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H). He then assigned the task of refreshing and renewing the commands and prohibitions of God and guiding to qualify the righteousness and love of God to the Sufi saints. Sufism is called the reality of religion, the reality of Islam, for its focus on the inner experience of the Lord, on coming to know the Divine beloved. A true understanding of Sufi thoughts only comes from personal experience, without that experience it remains incomprehensible and intellectual illumination of Divine, which Sufis consider a gift of Grace and Mercy from God. This article attempts to present the Sufi vision of Shah Muhammad Ghous (d.1759 A.D-1173 A.H) and Shah Wali Ullah (d.1762 A.D- 1176 A.H) in the light of Quranic Studies exoteric and esoteric both viewpoints. It thus represents a different, yet complementary aspect of the Islamic Sufi understanding of the Holy Quran, which is multidimensional; it is, therefore, luminous and can never be adequately explained in words” (Salma 3)
“In this study, two such oppositions to rational and metaphysical thought will be examined alongside one another: Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi’s critique of nazar or reflective thought and Jacques Derrida’s much wider reexamination of the entire theo-philosophical tradition of the West–the “fundamental conceptual system produced by the Greco-European adventure,” as Derrida puts it. (2) In dealing with texts whose origins lie almost eight hundred years and many more kilometers apart, one important point should be kept in mind. It is not the intention of this study to turn a thirteenth-century Sufi into a postmodern theorist, any more than we desire to Islamicize’ Jacques Derrida or transform his writings into a form of Islamic mysticism (producing a “Jacques of El-Biar,” as John D. Caputo has already quipped). Over the past fifteen years, scholars from departments of comparative religion and theology around the world have been rediscovering in their religious traditions various precedents for Derrida’s deconstructive writings, a trend there is certainly every reason to encourage.
Figures such as Pseudo-Dionysius, Meister Eckhart, Samkara, Lao Tzu, and Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani have all been credited with deconstructing the rigid logocentric assumptions within their respective faiths, rescuing a more authentic spirituality from the legalistic metaphysics of their times. (3) Certainly, one aim of this study is to show how a similar deconstructive process can be found in the writings of Ibn Arabi–a demonstration, however, that is far from turning the Great Shaykh into a medieval poststructuralist… “The first thing the attentive reader notices about both Derrida and Ibn Arabi is the absolute singularity of their positions” (Almond 5). Neither of the two seems willing to attach his writings to a particular school of thought (madhahib) or tradition; a curious solitude seems to pervade their work as they critique–sometimes subtly, sometimes openly–practically every thinker they encounter, be they Mu’tazilites or phenomenologists, Ash’arites or structural linguists, esotericists (al-batiniyya) or existentialists…In other words: just as Ibn Arabi believes that no thinker can provide “a definition of the Real [al-haqq],” (11) Derrida insists that no thinker can escape the history of metaphysics” (Almond 26)
In 2010, Suryadi studied a particular form of Sufism known as urban Sufism practiced in Indonesia. The author observed the rituals practiced by the Sufi devotees to ascertain the quality of traditional and contemporary Islamic worship in Indonesia. This study pointed to the flexibility of urban Sufism, a modern incarnation of Sufi thought. As Suryadi explains, urban Sufi rituals are customarily “performed in various places, such as mosques, pesantren, squares, and even in luxury hotels, [where] religious Muslim observances are now also incorporated in the phenomenon called urban Sufism. Take, for example, the recent trend of holding tabligh akbar, which means a mass religious rally, and holding a religious meeting in a hotel, which is called pengajian di hotel. These religious observances, which often include supplication rituals, are urban and modern and involve middle class and upper-class Muslim communities living in metropolitan areas (355).
. Another example occurs during the fasting month (Ramadhan) when political elites and upper-class Muslims in big cities like Jakarta, surabaya, and Bandung carry out buka bersama with lavish foods in luxury hotels, which are followed by tabligh and taraweh bersama, guided by a famous ustadz. It is out of the question that such a religious gathering is conducted without political, economic, and social interests being involved. It is expected that the ustadz leading this elaborate event will receive a thicker ‘envelope’ than his colleagues performing the same religious service in a town or village prayer house attended by lower classes. Supplication rituals, like other characteristics of Islam in contemporary Indonesia, have been assimilated with certain aspects of modernity. They are practiced not only by traditional Muslim rural village communities but also by modern Muslims in urban communities.
What I want to point out is that in the contemporary Indonesian social environment, the supplication ritual, including traditional forms in particular ethnic communities living in rural areas as well as modern forms found in modern inter-ethnic Muslim communities living in cities, involve both religious and profane aspects. It is not merely a religious activity related to eschatological matters. It is a performance with social, political, and economic significance. It is represented, for example, in the regular religious learning forums (majlis ta’lim) where it is usually performed by married women (kaum ibu) living in cities. The women who come to this religious activity purportedly come not only to perform a religious observance but also to show off (ajang pamer) their fashionable clothes and jewelry (Suryadi 355).
Setia’s 2006 study examined some of the discrepancies in Islamic metaphysics. In this study, Setai focused on two core concepts or theories promoted by Islamic theorists and scientists to explain both the physical and the metaphysical nature of the world: Hylomorphism, the theory of matter and type, according to Islam, and atomism, the theory of atoms and accidents, according to Islam. As Setai explains, “hylomorphism…[the] theory of matter and form…and atomism [the] theory of atoms and accidents…have been the two main Islamic physical theories attempting to account for the structure of the world, the former defended by the philosophers [or] falasifah, and the other by the theologians [or] mutakallimun (Setia 113).
In Islamic philosophical thought, these two theories represent essentially the schism between rational empiricism and mysticism in the realm of metaphysics. An obvious comparison comes to mind between the Creation theories of Christian scientists and the evolutionary theories of secular scientists. Where hylomorphism accounts for the independence of physical matter and form and bears a closer relation to the standard rational empiricist paradigm, the theory of atomism depends wholly on the will of God to explain all physical properties. As Setia explains:
for the mutakallimun, God is not only the ultimate transcendent inceptor…[or] mujid, muhdith…and motivator [or] muharrik of the world [or] al-‘alam, [God] is also the proximate, immanent sustainer [or] mubqi and administrator [or] mudabbir of the world, directly involved through His knowledge, will and power in every particular aspect of the structures, processes, and ends of nature (113).
Setia’s study points to the metaphysical explanation of the universe as understood by God’s will. “The affirmation of atomism had been one of the solutions found by Muslim theologians for the apories of their theology …apories concerning the omnipotence and omniscience of God” (Setia 113).
In 2008, Saniotis conducted a study of the mystical practice of several of the Sufi orders localized in northern India. This study aimed to provide some insight into the Sufi body of knowledge, rituals, and religious practice observed by these Sufis, what the author describes as “exploring [the] Sufis’ mystical practice of sensuous awareness of the Other,” without referring to any of the common political and social problems related to many Sufi movements (17).
Saniotis understands that the mistake many studies that seek to comprehend the Sufi mystical practice begin with is to focus on shrine culture and political issues as a means to understand the mystical practice. In contrast, the study undertaken by Saniotis sought to investigate how Sufis from the north of India “sensuously engage with the Muslim shrine complex [or] dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya, and how this engagement may be considered mystical practice” (Saniotis 17). The study author asserts that Sufi mystical practice occurs as a result of a “sensuous awareness of the body’s contours, textures, and rhythms, and by its participation with the sacred lifeworld of the Nizamuddin shrine complex” (Saniotis 17). In other words, the author sets out to observe the experiential world of the Sufis of northern India and create an empirical definition of that practice. As Saniotis explains:
The sufi practice is not merely the observance of arcane scriptures or strict religious habits but is a vital tradition. Sufi peregrinations are akin to sacred ballets, which incorporate various forms of verbal and gestural speech. The sensorial domain of perception engages in the sentient landscape with consideration to its sacred character. Such engagement revivifies Sufi knowledge and practice and enables Sufis to participate in the sacred life of the shrine. Sufis often reminded me that the saints are alive and seek to engage in the lives of people. The saints are friends of those who seek to be touched by the sacred (18).
Singh’s 2010 study focused on an interpretation of a section of the Qur’an and compared it to a section of the Christian bible. The story in question that Singh referred to in the study concerned the prophet Moses and a travel companion referred to only as Khidr, which means a saint. The purpose of Singh’s study was to demonstrate the opportunity for interfaith dialogue that the Sufi mystics’ interpretation of this particular passage from the Qur’an facilitates. As Singh explains, the Qur’an “contains an extraordinary narrative of the prophet Moses and his mysterious travel companion. Parallel canonical traditions provide tantalizingly little additional detail apart from naming the companion as Khidr. It seems likely that there was much shared between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions on the legends of Khidr” (61). The Sufis or so-called “Muslim mystics” that Singh studied gave their interpretations as a means of offering a further explanation of the genesis and meaning of this particular narrative; the passage in question, as Singh posits, remains “diverse [in its] contexts, [and] appears to have been a source of addressing the problem of the authority of Sufi knowledge” (64).
For many centuries, Singh explains, the Sufi tradition followed the idea that the saint in Sufism can be recognized as the heir of the teachings of the Prophet. Similarly, Sufis understand that sainthood is the heir to prophesy and that sainthood facilitates revelatory actions. As Singh explains, “some Sufis even proposed the idea of the one succeeding the other to support their aspiration for revelation to be progressive and their role as the agents of revelation. Khidr seems to play an important role in this context” (64). In Singh’s study, the Sufis in question advanced the idea of the saint as heir to the word of the prophet, and took the notion to “another level in supposing a sense in which sainthood was deemed to be a virtually new phase of revelation and saints the new type of prophets” (Singh 67).
Khidr or saint stories such as the one described in the Qur’an have been fodder for intense debate among the religious scholars of Islam, according to Singh, and the main contentious area remains “the question of the relationship between the prophet and the saint. A particular reading of the narrative through Islamic mysticism or Sufism also suggests evidence of continuity and exchange between the Islamic and the Judeo-Christian traditions” (Singh 67). Given the particularities of Islam in that nothing beyond the interpretation of the word of the prophet Mohammed can be deemed new, the position of the Sufis toward this particular passage and sainthood itself remains of interest to metaphysical scholars. As Singh explains:
The Sufi position appears to be rather simple and not one that can be understood by the literalistic approach. Unsurprisingly, therefore, Sufism relied on philosophy in Islam to argue for the priority of sainthood and its exemplar, Khidr, without denying the notional centrality of the prophet Mohammed (67)
The interesting element of Sufism that Singh’s study points to is the union of multiple faiths that exists at a deep philosophical level, in this case specifically between Islam and Christianity. As Singh posits, “at a deeper philosophical level, as in Sufism, this narrative can be a promising basis for interfaith dialogue” (78). Thus, the Sufi interpretation of texts and narratives contributes to tolerance between faiths and promotes a wider understanding of fundamental philosophical and metaphysical questions such as these.
This study also reviewed three studies of Rumi, one from Carol Tell, one from John von Heyking, and the other from William Chittick. Jelaluddin Rumi was a thirteenth-century poet from Persia; he was born in 1207 in the country that is present-day Afghanistan and died in 1273, after composing some of the world’s most famous poems, including the Maṭnawīye Ma’nawī or Spiritual Couplets, six volumes of mystical poetry, as Rumi was also a practicing Sufi mystic. Rumi’s poetic works and spiritual verses have been venerated in the world of Islam for centuries; however, Rumi is also widely read by contemporary poet aficionados. The work of Rumi has more recently gained widespread popularity with generations of contemporary American readers, regardless of faith (Tell 204).
In 1997, the Christian Science Monitor reported that sales of Rumi’s work had soared and that the poet had claimed the top spot among all poets living or dead in the United States. More recently, in 2007, BBC News referred to Rumi as the most widely read poet in the United States, and described the power of his words, 800 years after his death, thus: “when a religious scholar reads the Mathnawi, he interprets it religiously. And when sociologists study it, they say how powerful a sociologist Rumi was. When people in the West study it, they see that it’s full of emotions of humanity” (Haviland n.p.). The work of Rumi represents one of the clearest cut contributions that Sufism has made to metaphysics. Also, the fact that Rumi has become so popular in recent decades also attests to the contribution made by Sufi mysticism in general.
Rumi is perhaps the best known of all Sufis. His work offers a primary source of understanding the ecstatic love that Sufi mystics experienced in their relationship with God. While Rumi was essentially writing about his relationship with God, the power of that experience speaks on multiple levels, both physical and metaphysical. Rumi enthusiasts often mistake his love poetry as being directed at his wife; however, it was unlikely that a man of Rumi’s time would have experienced any such deep affection for a female, given the staunch separation observed between the genders at that time in history. The object of Rumi’s affections, according to Tell, was his teacher, Shams al-Din of Tabriz, a wandering mystic whom Rumi met when he was in his twenties and who introduced the mystic Rumi to the wonders of divine love (204). Regardless of the errors that many readers make as to the origins of Rumi’s words, as Tell explains:
Even though Rumi wrote about a world far different from our own, his lyrical poems are accessible, provocative, and surprisingly relevant. A man with firsthand experience of tragedy, war, and exile, Rumi offers us a vision of humanity that seems, even next to our contemporary notions of multiculturalism, boundless in its vitality and compassion. Rumi was a practicing Sufi, a branch of Islamic asceticism that originated in the eighth century in Persia…or Iran today. Yet his spiritual devotion led not to intolerance but a greater feeling of unity among all living beings, disproving all-too-common misperceptions of Islam as a monolithic, fundamentalist faith (205).
The second study reviewed was a study undertaken by renowned Sufi scholar William C. Chittick. In this study, Chittick attempts to discern the usage of the term of wahdat al wujud in Rumi’s time as well as by Rumi himself. As Chittick explains, Rumi “never employs the term wahdat al wujud,” and the poet’s greatest works were created before the term came into common usage among Sufis (91). While Rumi refers to the concept of divine communion, he does use the term wahdat al wujud per se, which leads Chittick to believe that Rumi’s understanding of wahdat al wujud would have been akin to the Islamic concept of tawhīd (70). As Chittick explains, “the basic sense of tawhīd or the declaration of God’s Unity is that everything in creation derives from God, who is one reality. The word tawhīd comes from the same root as wahdat, as do other related terms such as ahad and wāhid” one and unity respectively (70).
Chittick’s study uncovers many of the shortcomings of modern metaphysical scholarship, namely, the empirical biases that drive scholars to fixate on one all-encompassing definition and genesis that will explain the behavior and modus operandi for an entire religious movement. As Chittick explains, for Rumi and those of his ilk, such as prime source does not exist:
For Rumi and Ibn al Arabi, the historical influence was simply irrelevant to what they were saying. Like other Muslim sages, they considered the divine as primary and the human and historical as secondary. The spirit or meaning is the root and the source, while the body or form is the branch and the shadow. Whether metaphysically, cosmologically, or intellectually, the meaning of a doctrine takes precedence, while the forms it assumes are of secondary interest (92).
What this study suggests is that the concept of wahdat al wujud may well have suffered under the Westernized ideal of metaphysical scholarship, namely, the desire to create and maintain a form of reductionist sense out of that which remains irreducible. As Chittick explains, “both Rumi and Ibn al Arabi repeatedly affirm that they have not taken the content of their teachings from any human being. Their vision is of primary importance, not the source from which they derived the various formal elements that go to express it. For them, the vision was all” (92).
Von Heyking experiments with mysticism as a means to recover the “commonsense experience of the world, distorted neither by Islamist ideological fantasies, nor by a groundless secularism and relativism” (71). This article asserts that the connection between mysticism and common sense is not so far fetched as it might seem. As Heyking points out:
both share mysticism as an attempt to move past those secondary realities, [while] noetic mysticism is more successful. Even so, while it issues in a dialogic view of society that would sustain democracy…Sufi mysticism, like that of Ka, is individualistic as [it] fails to provide what might be called a phenomenology of friendship that can fulfill the traditional Islamic demand for communal religious existence (71).
The main contribution that Islam makes to metaphysics, therefore, resides in the awareness of mysticism that the devotees bring to their normal lives, which in turn creates and maintains a space for the presence of God in their normal lives. The mysticism inherent in the Sufi tradition of religious practice becomes so ingrained in the religion that the devotees experience mysticism as a normal part of life. In essence, the Sufi practice that places high regard for mysticism and the active seeking of oneness with God functions as a buffer for the overly empirical and reductionist study of metaphysics that attempts to explain God in scientific and rational terms, as evidenced by disciplines such as neurotheology. The Sufi devotees provide the evidence, for lack of a better term, that God can only be experienced through non-rational means such as meditation and psychosomatic exercises. In this way then, the most important contribution that Sufism makes to metaphysics as a whole is to serve a grounding function for scholars – namely – to remain aware of the limits of rationality in the realm of the spiritual and to cautiously interpret the findings of the metaphysical study with this awareness in mind.
The Sufis hold these values in mind via the practice of dhikr, as they remember, recollect, and ritually encounter God daily, allow for the presence of Wahdat al wujud to continue. Also, the Sufi way of ritual, meditation, and spiritual, psychosomatic exercises as a means to encounter God daily promotes a non-intellectual experience of the spiritual realm.
Sufism is one of many religions of the world that favors mysticism; indeed, mysticism remains an integral component of all of the world’s religions and the ascetic tradition practiced by the Sufis remains an ancient practice. As a general rule, the value of a way of being that favors and develops the mystical approach encourages human beings to transcend base ego desires, to purge themselves of animal behaviors such as territorialism, aggression, and covetousness, and to continue the practice of dhikr – to remember, recollect, and ritually encounter God as a living presence in the everyday life.
Dhikr is another area that the Sufi devotees contribute largely to the metaphysical practice as well as the metaphysical study. In the mystical tradition, the ritual practice of encountering God daily takes many forms. Sufism and yoga share a common vision in that both practices seek to experience God in a manner that includes their whole being. The Sufi practice of integrating religious rites with everyday life encourages a whole-being approach to God, as opposed to a wholly rational approach, which largely discounts the reality of God, or a wholly emotional approach, which in some cases leads to cultism, isolationism, and also breeds fear and intolerance of other religious facilitations and practices. In this regard then, another contribution that Islam makes to metaphysics is to provide a living example of a functional balance between the rational and the spiritual and the corporeal in the area of metaphysics.
In Sufism, the ascetic devotee or mystic who regularly practices dhikr, in the most general sense of the term, can be set apart from other religious devotees as an individual intoxicated with the living experience of God. The Sufi devotee, particularly those residing in urban centers and practicing an urban form of Sufism, also represents a human being that has harnessed his or her thoughts and deeds exclusively to seek the presence of God in his or her daily lives and to facilitate daily encounters with God.
Tasawwuf is one of the keywords in the Islamic faith, yet it stubbornly and notoriously defies a clear-cut and explicit translation into the English language. This study essentially discovered that while many modern scholars define tasawwuf simply as the mysticism particular to the Islamic faith, tasawwuf has also been applied generally to denote the practice of Sufism. While one of the most significant features of tasawwuf is certainly its mystical component, the concept also supports the larger definition of Sufism, given that it stands for not only the diversity of the Islamic faith but the diversity of experience available to human beings.
In the etymological sense, tasawwuf is also linked to the aforementioned earliest definition of Sufi, the Arabic word for wool, suf, since woolen garments were the primary garb of the early ascetics of the Islamic faith. A second feature that this study discovered was a similar etymology for tasawwuf with the term falsafa, which is the Arabic word for philosophy. Falsafa is a concept that grew to prominence during the Middle Ages, at which time the concept was equated with the etymology of the Greek word for wisdom, Sophia. In the Greek tradition, the root of tasawwuf therefore denotes a combined definition of ascetic philosophy and renunciation of worldliness. However, this study found that by and large, tasawwuf continues to resist simple definitions and remains a provocation to empiricism – this remains another important contribution that Sufism has made to the study of metaphysics.
Another area in which the Sufi devotee contributes to the area of metaphysics is in the realm of spiritual knowledge. It is vital to note for this study that according to the way of Islam, the bona fide Sufi mystic or ascetic devotee can never claim to have received a new type of knowledge via his or her spiritual exercises and practices. The actual event of knowledge, in the Sufi tradition, progresses from one stage of developmental awareness to the next. In other words, while it must be underscored that in Islam and Sufism, an authentic mystic cannot assume, or state publicly, that he or she has grasped a new kind of knowledge, as such a declaration would run in opposition to the understanding that undergirds Islam that the prophet Mohammed delivered the ultimate and final word of God, a Sufi mystic does have the authority to legitimately make known that he or she has reached a new stage of understanding (Chittick 51; Elmarsafy 127; Karamustafa 641)
This next stage of knowledge is characterized by the mystic’s newfound appreciation for deeper elements of Islam and Sufism – essentially, a new insight into the inner workings and truths of religious practice and thus one step closer to God.
Finally, one of the most important contributions that Sufism has made to the study of metaphysics overall is its steadfast refusal to pin down the meaning of God, or the meaning of wahdat al wujud for that matter, to one point or one essence. This represents perhaps the most vital contribution that Sufism makes to metaphysics, in that it actively attests to and respects the fluidity of God, the universe, and life, and understands that the vastness of these concepts can never be reduced to one. Rather, the Sufi mystics understand, through Wahdat al wujud, that God is always simultaneously one and all. The inability to classify Wahdat al wujud or define it succinctly, rather than frustrate the study of metaphysics, actually supports the reality of God in all of its multiplicity and omnipresence.
In conclusion, this study endeavored to investigate the impact of Sufism on the larger religious model and to elucidate the contribution that Islam has made to the study of metaphysics via its ascetic arm, the practice of Sufism. Sufism is best described as the mystical element of Islam manifested in everyday observance and ritual. While the roots of Sufism lie in the rejection of the worldly forces, in essence as an ascetic model for the purification of the body and the use of asceticism and mysticism to renounce political worldliness, over many centuries the practice of Sufism evolved and soon came to represent a concrete and active desire on the part of devotees to achieve and maintain divine communication within the confines of ordinary life.
As such, the followers of Sufism play a very important role in the Islamic world, as well as the world at large, via their preaching, their ascetic practice, and their literary contributions to metaphysics and spiritualism. Within the large majority of Sufis one witnesses a strong condemnation of worldliness, similar to other ascetic traditions; however, the Sufi religion also coincides with the materialism of modern life, particularly in its urban manifestation. In this sense then, one of the most important contributions that Sufism has made to modern metaphysics is to promote the balance between both the material and the spiritual. Sufi devotees encourage the well-being of all realms of experience: the mind, the body, and the soul. As such, their faith provides a model for the social, cultural, and religious life of the human being. Scholars note the outstanding contribution that Sufis have made to humanity – essentially, through the Sufi way, devotees adopt a revolutionary role in service to humanity.
At its core, mysticism is simply a cohesive system of behavior that denotes and encourages a message of love, universal peace, equality, and the union of human beings toward a common future (Ostrowicki 3). Thus the Sufi mystic traverses the realm of wahdat al wujud to provide a model for his or her fellow human beings to follow an integrated life. As such the Sufi mystic promotes the openness of mind among human beings; he or she opposes social and community barriers such as racism, sexism, and classism. The Sufi mystic understands that any belief that causes social conflict or threatens harmony between human beings runs counter to the designs of God (Massoudi 341).
Thus the Sufi mystic seeks to embody a model for the universal aspirations of the human soul and balance these with the social and physical demands of everyday life. The Sufi mystical tradition endeavors to encompass all the fields of human action, and to promote the understanding and awareness of wahdat al wujud as it pertains to spiritual, material, individual, social, educational, cultural, political, national, and international unity. The Sufi mystical tradition provides living proof that the demands of human social organization do not have to supersede the spiritual needs of the human being. Thus the uniqueness of the Sufi mystical tradition lies in its ability to positively spiritualize the entire environment of human life.
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