By Tahir Iqbal
The essence of Sufism , as stated by Martin Lings is ,“plunging into the ebb of the waves of ‘revelation’ and being drawn back with it to its Eternal and Infinite Source”. Given the etymology of the word ‘Sufi’, scholars differ in their views. Some opine, it is derived from Greek word ‘Theosophy’ (Divine Wisdom), others relate its origin from an Arabic word ‘Suffah’ which means a ‘raised platform’.
Given the significance and historical background of the word ‘Suffah’ in the Islamic context, it is generally associated with the ‘Ashaab-e-Suffah’ (people of the raised platform) during the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). These people used to congregate at a platform near Masjid-e-Nabwi and busy themselves in the remembrance of Allah; offering prayers, doing Dhikr, and seeking knowledge.
However, the most widely accepted view, among both its promoters and critics, is that ‘Sufi’ is derived from ‘Suff’ which means wool, as Sufis loved to wear woolen dresses as these were regarded as the symbol of simplicity and being divorced of mundane entanglements.
Sufism is a spiritual activation and evolution through participation and practice of the Islamic religious traditions in the context of one’s own spiritual experience. A Sufi makes a conscious effort to evolve to the stature of a perfect man. It is not something as parallel deen to Islam as some modern theologists like Javed Ghamdi would put it, but the very edifice of Islamic Weltanschauung of spiritualism.
The idea of an intimate communion of the self with the Eternal reality is central to being a Sufi. “Verily we are for God and verily unto Him we are returning.” This communion is not something like dying in the vast ocean of Divine Essence as Hindu Upanisads teach the unification of all beings both animate and inanimate with the universal soul, but to be in harmony with the universe, and The Divine.
It is pertinent to mention here that the Islamic concept of spiritualism is totally based on the Tawhidic doctrine as expounded in the sacred text of the religion. Tawhid, according to Junaid of Baghdad, is the separation of the eternal from that which was originated in time, for, as he puts it, “God cannot be comprehended by any of the categories of our phenomenal existence.” Futuh al-Ghaib( Revelations of the Unseen), a collection of eighty sermons which Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani delivered on different occasions, reflects a clear stand of a Sufi on the importance of Tawhid. Refuting the claims of ‘having beatific’ vision here in this world or a total knowledge of ultimate reality, Mujadid Alf Sani clearly states “ He, the Almighty, is unapproachable, inexperienceable, inexplicable and unknowable. He , the Holy One , is beyond the beyond; again, beyond the beyond; again, beyond the beyond.”
Many people, who are not well versed with the mystical experiences, have developed complexity in their thoughts against t mysticism and its validity. It is true that the charlatans and masqueraders contaminated the purity of its essence and imbrued it in the colour of non-Qur’anic way. The imposters had made it a mythological lore and attributed every kind of so called “experiential” nonsense to its very edifice. The incarnation and the pantheistic doctrines of heathens got entered into its domain and have disrupted its reality but no intellectual who is firmly grounded in Islamic literature and annals of the great saints of Islam can debunk the Qur’anic roots of ‘Tasawuf’ (mysticism) and the spiritual ethos of Prophetic traditions. Tasawuf is one of the core and the basic dimensions of the religion. “The vision is there,” says Plotinus. “For him who will see it.”
The contemporary man is suffering from the psychological pandemonium and Franz Kafka, a great German thinker, has rightly defined the current state of a man in terms of ‘Kafkaesque’. The spiritual crisis has engulfed us so badly that we are getting weak and emaciated with each passing day not only spiritually but intellectually as well. Therefore, we need to ponder on our state of morass and religious imbroglio and have to go back on the path propounded by the great Sufis and religious scholars of Islam.
—The Author is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the Higher Education Department, Jammu and Kashmir. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org