Sufism And The Spiritual Side Of Islam
Over a period of time, Islam has received a lot of negative connotation. Consciously or subconsciously everything horrible and terror inducing is related to this one religion, leading to coining of the word, Islamophobia.
In times of social disarray and security unrest, we forget that each religion on a foundational level originates with good intentions. So if you thought music, art and free expression was taboo, then you need to know about the other side to Islam which rejoices creative expression and they are the mystical Sufis.
Who are the Sufis?
Sufism is an aspect of Islam and unlike Sunnis and Shias, it is not a sect. The origin of this practice is still debated but what's interesting is their teachings are influenced by Christianity and Hinduism, especially the mystical ascetic aspects.
Sufi teachings reflect the path to spiritual enlightenment through its extreme devotion to finding the divine. However the term ‘sufism’ did not originate from the Islamic texts, it came into being by British Orientalists who found this intriguing and spiritual side to Islam fascinating. Their intention was to break the stereotype and negative association towards Islam in Britain. Although the term Sufism was derived by the British, the practice of being one with the divine was called ‘Taṣawwuf, a name for the esoteric side to Islam. The word ‘suf' known as ‘wool’ in Arabic is the source for Sufi, which meant ‘he draped in wool', as Sufis from the early days wore wool and this term was applied to any person who renounced the world and became abstinent.
Sufism and creative expression
The Sufi community is led by a Sufi teacher known as the 'dervish' who guides the community and instills in them the need to release negativity, ego and to focus on universal values common good and love.
During their teachings, the dervish is known to indulge in a rhythmic movement also known as ‘dhikr’ and this happens in a Sufi event called ‘sama’. Their events include dancing, reciting poetry, playing instruments and singing, all of which is all done to reach a hypnotic state of release, to connect with god.
The Sufis are very interested in exploring beyond the seven climes of Earth. Through 'dhikr' they move to the eighth clime which exists the reality of our world and can only be explored on a mental plane.
Henry Corbin, a philosopher and professor of Islamic Studies calls this “ an intermediary state between waking and sleeping”. A world known example of a Sufi mystic is the globally famous, best selling poet, Rumi, a man whose contribution to poetry is indispensable. Through his words Rumi always showcased an expression of the deepest truths of spiritual life in God and beauty.
The Sufi community has always been rich in story telling, music and dance, yet the world is blinded by the spiritual lessons that exist within Islam. What leads Sufis to be creatively free is their hunger. Their focus on finding the divine is so strong and pure and the journey is completely mystical and spiritually fulfilling, something that has been instrumental in shaping and elevating their creativity expression.
Modern day researchers consider inborn motivation and the love to search for searching sake, a crucial step in the creative process.
Sufi teachings and its relevance in our present day society
The most interesting aspect to Sufism is that Sufis reject the idea of a one way approach to salvation. They rely on different forms of art, writing and meditation to stimulate their experience to connect with the divine. Some of those could be classed as a punishable offence or sin in conservative religious doctrines and that's where us as a society fail to realise that there's beauty within every religion and practice.
In today’s conflict ridden world, the notion Sufis hold of having no single tried and tested method to connect with god is a breath of fresh air, but also has huge implications to traditional teachings.
The truth is, dominating and forcing dogmas only hinders creativity. This is why the early Sufis rejected unnecessary religious ideologies as it gave them a chance to explore newer terrains in an attempt to connect with the ultimate source. Welcoming diverse viewpoints from different cultures possibly helped the early Sufis explore different depths in their creative endeavours within arts and literature.
So regardless of the biases towards Islam, the centuries old teachings of Sufism still enlightens us and prompts us to lift our veils to embrace knowledge and let our mind expand for creative freedom and self realisation.
The principle of Sufism is founded on faith, love and emancipation from personal and religious tenets. In Sufism, all the five senses need to be stimulated as it instills the thoughts and desires towards realisation and pursuit of the truth.
Today mankind and our society struggles to strike a balance between material and spiritual and the Sufi teachings challenges this unrest. The Sufi books and teachings talk about exploring the lines between consciousness and unconsciousness. They explain why those margins are important, hence the Sufis are an extraordinary example of how different cultures are often the trailblazers making sufism an interesting gem within Islam that can guide us into explorations of that mental head space.
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