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RLG 204 Denny pages 211-259.docx

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Alireza Haghighi

RLG 204 Exam Notes: An Introduction to Islam by Frederick Mathewson Denny pages: 211-259 Done by: Sabrina Kapisaska Sufism is generally understood by scholars and Sufis to be the inner, mystical, or psycho- spiritual dimension of Islam. Today, however, many Muslims and non-Muslims believe that Sufism is outside the sphere of Islam. Since Sufism represents the inner aspect of Islam its doctrine is in substance an esoteric commentary on the Qurʾān. Now the Prophet himself gave the key to all Qurʾānic exegesis in teachings he gave orally which are verified by the concordance of the chains of inter mediaries.1 Among these sayings of the Prophet some are fund a mental for Sufism and they are those which the Prophet enunciated, not as a law-giver, but as a contemplative saint, sayings which were addressed to those of his companions who later became the first Sufi masters. There are also the “holy utterances” (aḥādīth qudsīyah) in which God speaks in the first person by the mouth of the Prophet. These latter have the same degree of inspiration as the Qurʾān, though not the same “objective” mode of revelation, and in the main they set forth truths not intended for the whole religious community but only for contemplatives. This is the basis of the Sufi interpreta tion of the Qurʾān. As the Prophet stated, the Qurʾān contains in each part several meanings.2This is a characteristic common to all revealed texts because the process of revelation in a way repeats the process of divine manifestation, which equally implies a number of levels. ASCETICISM IN ISLAMIC CONTEXTs Every religion crystallizes after the death of its founder into differentiated exoteric and esoteric institutional forms. We tend to call the exoteric "religious" or "outer" practice and the esoteric "spiritual" or "inner" practice, while both strands are organically linked to each other in the original form as practiced by the founder and his immediate disciples and followers, as organically linked as body is to soul for a human to be alive and called human. The exoteric crystallization within Islam became popularly known as the Sharia, Divine Law or Canon, and the esoteric crystallization as the Tariqa, the Way. The Tariqa's focus and praxis became known as tasawwuf, or Sufism in English. Religion's objective as a whole, both exoteric and esoteric practice taken together, is human perfection according to the religion's existential worldview of the nature and purpose of humankind. Religion's given is that we humans are imperfect: either inherently at birth--born with original sin in the Christian worldview, for example--or as in the Islamic worldview born perfect but derailed from the pure state of birth by the urgings of our appointed demons as we grow older. Asceticism, or zuhd in Arabic, is not an end in itself in the Islamic worldview but is one of several tools and aids towards attaining or catalysts to kick--start religious/spiritual development. The term zuhd embraces a spectrum of meanings including abstinence, withdrawal, renunciation from pleasure and/or from society; frugality and modesty in material comforts, clothing, food, being spartan in one's life style, with a presumption of piety and being devoted to the service of God. Asceticism is therefore not a necessary end or required permanent practice to attach oneself to but rather a tool to be used for attainment of these ends. When, whether, how and for how long it should be dispensed by the spiritual teacher is a function of the individual character and personality, his or her phase of religious/spiritual development and the context. Sufism has come to mean a wide range of beliefs that center on the quest for personal enlightenment in the union with God. Sufis are sometimes described as the mystics of Islam, but Sufism fits awkwardly in the categories of religions. Technically Sufism is a denomination of Islam, however there are many Sufis that are not Muslims and there are many Muslims that are reluctant to consider Sufism part of Islam. One of the few concepts that Sufis seem to agree on is that all religions offer a path to salvation or enlightenment and that true God realization, no matter how it is achieved, transcends the limitations and classification of any religion. Basically, a saint in any religion is equal to a saint in any other religion because they are inspired by the same Divine source. Initially the term Sufi referred only to those who had achieved God realization, but it has since come to be applied to anyone who follows that particular spiritual path. The name Sufi comes from “suf,” the Arabic word for wool or “saf,” the Persian word for pure. The dervishes or advanced students of Sufism wore inexpensive wool clothes as part of their life of renunciation. Sufism and Islam Sufism began as religious teachers in the Middle East came to learn the Truth of Islam directly from Mohammad. Masters who were “ordained” directly by Mohammad founded three major Sufi schools or orders. The most essential mystical knowledge was then passed down from each master to a disciple selected to follow as the leader of the school. Other disciples were sent out as masters to establishnew schools. A Sufi school (ashram or convent) is often a community center that may include a residence for the students and master, a school, hospital, orphanage or any number of community services. Some of these services may be very modest and others may be very extensive, but they are often a vital part of the local community. Schools are sometimes set up near the tomb of a Sufi saint in order to maintain the shrine and provide services to pilgrims, including places to retreat and meditate. While mainstream Islam promotes community service, mosques rarely umbrella such services beyond theological schools since mainstream Islam distinguishes the needs of the spirit from the needs of the body. There is no firm historical source for Sufism. Many of the early orders were considered an integrated part of Islam, but as teachings were codified and the elements of Shi’i and Sunni Islam became more distinct, Sufism emerged with an identity. One of the basic ideas of Sufism is to minimize the self or individual identity. Belonging to a particular group with a unique name is contradictory to this effort. It is said, “a Sufi is one who is not,” and with a philosophy that seeks the destruction of self-identity it is thought that Sufi’s received their name from outsiders. Initially the term Sufi referred only to those who had achieved God realization, but it has since come to be applied to anyone who follows that particular spiritual path. While Sufism did not exist prior to Islam, Sufi doctrine contains many elements that go beyond the teaching of Mohammad. Islam is an external structure in which the individual exists while the internal quest for enlightenment belongs to a realm of Sufi knowledge. This knowledge integrates Islam and ancient doctrine that resembles elements of Greek Philosophy, Zoroastrianism and Hinduism that are part of the Sufi path to God-realization. The most sacred knowledge of the Sufi masters is not written and is passed to each generation orally, which makes it somewhat difficult to historically trace the evolution of Sufi doctrine. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable that the Sufi doctrine that differs the most from the rest of Islam had its beginnings much earlier (although this is a very non-Muslim view of Sufism). For many years these extra qualities created a great deal of friction between mainstream Islam and the Muslim mystics. After centuries of falling in and out of favor, Sufis became integrated and an important central part of Islamicculture and society. A cornerstone of mysticism is that true knowledge of God is achieved directly and not through an intermediary like a prophet, saint or priest. Over the centuries this has led to a great deal of political conflict between mystics and non-mystics. If a cleric or Priest behaves or commands something that seems in conflictwith dogma, the individual is not in a position to disagree as long as there is no direct relationship between God and the individual. Many Sufi orders encourage honoring Saints and Prophets by visiting them if the are alive or their tombs if they have passed on. Pilgrims often will go to ask for favors in the form of miracles or prosperity. In many communities the pilgrims are people from other religions who come to the tombs in hopes of finding favor or receiving miracles. The high status afforded saints in communities influenced by Sufism implies an alternative means to communicate with God other than through the Imam, the Islamic clerics. In a fundamentalist Islamic community the highest-ranking Imam is the supreme authority, both politically and religiously, and Sufism presents a potential conflict to this authority that has over the centuries led to persecution of Sufis in several Arab countries. Saudi Arabia and Iran are two countries where the tombs of Sufi saints have been destroyed. In some areas teachings of the Sufi masters are held in high regard practicing Sufism is discouraged or even criminalized. Sufism Outside of Islam The difference between Sufis and Islam is sometimes as extreme as the difference between Mormons and Catholics, depending on the particular order. Some Western Sufi orders have even completely divorced themselves from Islam altogether. Yet, Sufism is integrated in Islam. The mystical aspects of Sufism may have ancient influences, but these traditions center on what goes on within a individual. Islam stresses service, virtue, honesty and charity, the essence of Sufism and a foundation that is necessary for the inner spirituallity of Sufism. It may seem that either Sufism influenced Islam or the other way around, but there is little surviving recorded history that sheds light on this. Even when an order does not incorperate Islam for the laws and practice of daily life, there are disciplines and doctrine to the place of Islam. Islam recognizes Abraham, Moses and Jesus, but they credit Mohammad for reintroducing the true religion without contamination. Sufis extend this, believing that all prophets and saints of all religio
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