Sufism and the Sufi

What is relevant to us today about Sufism is that it has maintained a clear thread and line of direct transmission of wisdom back to original Islam. The key to Sufism is that of inner awakening, freedom and joy through recognition of outer restriction by choice and discrimination. …

The reason that the majority of current studies on Sufism are of little use in a practical sense is because of the nature of inner awakening itself, which is the core of Sufism. Writing books about inner awakening is only really possible if one has experienced it, just as understanding of such books is only really possible if one genuinely desires, or has already attained, such awakening. The Sufi is the locus of connecting the outer, physical reality with a timeless, spaceless dimension which is experienced within the self. The Sufi lives like the tip of the iceberg which is apparent in the seen world, while experiencing aspects of the hidden and veiled world which is the foundation of what is visible, and which forms the rest of its reality. He does his best to understand the causal, physical outer life while awakening to an immense inner Reality, which encompasses both the known and the unknown worlds, the unitive Reality of the seen and the unseen, of time and space and non-time-space.

It is for this reason that the inner life of the Sufi has no bounds, and yet he acknowledges and accepts the outer bounds with courtesy towards nature and the natural creation. The Sufi is totally content with the immeasurable bliss within. Yet he struggles outwardly towards a better quality of life on earth and does his best without being overly concerned about the ultimate results. Outer struggle and work are necessary companions to inner purification and contentment.

Genuine Sufis are essentially similar wherever they come from, in that they share an inner light and awakening, and an outer courtesy and service to humanity. Apparent differences between Sufis tend to relate to matters concerning spiritual practices or prescriptions for the purification of hearts. The sweet fruit of Sufism is the same. It is only the trees which may look different and which may flower in different seasons.

In this work, we have tried to show that those who claim that it is possible to have Sufism without Islam are only looking at one side of the story. Inner purity is generally attainable, but without its being contained outwardly, it will not result in any real flourishing of a spiritual culture or an enlightened environment. Inner light and joy may be sufficient for an individual living in a cave, but once we start interacting with others, we need to know where and what the bounds are for that social interaction to be able to take place, and this is where we find that the laws of Islam are necessary and inseparable from Sufism.

So the relevance of Sufism today is greater than it has been in any other age, for nowadays we can cross cultural and political boundaries much more easily, because of ease of access through communications, travel and closeness of the world. The message of Sufism is more urgent now, especially due to the fact that the world is increasingly becoming bound by materialism and consumerism. The awakening to the inner life of man is a necessary condition of his fulfillment as a human being. It comes as the pinnacle of his struggle with the elements and the fulfillment of his basic needs. Once our outer needs are met, then the inner must also be fulfilled. The two are so interlinked that those who are awakened to both the outer and inner realities see them as inseparable and continuous in the one creational, unific truth. The heart of an awakened being reflects the entire universe and such a being is described by the Sufi master, Ibn Arabi, in these words:

My heart has become capable of every form:
It is a pasture for gazelles,
And a monastery for Christian monks,
And a temple for idols,
And the pilgrim’s Ka’bah,
And the tablets of the Torah,
And the Book of the Qur‘an.
I follow the religion of Love:
Whatever way Love’s camel takes,
That is my religion and my faith.

By Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri from the book ‘The Thoughtful Guide to Sufism’