SUFISM

"ALL DAY I THINK ABOUT IT
THEN AT NIGHT I SAY IT
WHERE DID I COME FROM
AND WHAT DID I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING?
I HAVE NO IDEA
MY SOUL IS FROM ELSEWHERE,
I AM SURE OF THAT, AND I INTEND TO END UP THERE
THE DRUNKENESS BEGAN IN SOME OTHER TAVERN
WHEN I GET BACK AROUND THAT PLACE,
I'LL BE COMPLETELY SOBER.
MEANWHILE I AM LIKE A BIRD FROM ANOTHER CONTINENT,
SITTING IN THIS AWARY,
THE DAY IS COMING WHEN I FLY OFF,
BUT WHO IS IT IN MY EAR?
WHO HEARS MY VOICE?
WHO SAYS WORDS WITH MY MOUTH?
WHO LOOKS OUT WITH MY EYES?
WHAT IS THE SOUL?
I CANNOT STOP ASKING
IF I COULD TASTE ONE SIP FOR AN ANSWER,
I COULD BREAK OUT OF THIS PRISON FOR DRUNKEN
I DID'NT COME HERE ON MY OWN ACCORD,
AND I CAN'T LEAVE THAT WAY
WHO EVER BROUGHT ME HERE
WILL HAVE TO TAKE ME HOME"
RUMI

Of all the people in the world, the Arabs are undoubtely those who have associated music and trance the most closely: First, in their religious life, with Sufism, in which trance ("Wajd" in Arabic), which for many adepts occupies a very large place in the search for God, is achieved very often through music; and second, in profane life, in which musical emotion ("tarab" in Arabic) leads very often to trance behaviour.

The mystical philosophy of Sufism is most closely linked with Islam. Few terms have been more widely debated than "Sufi". To this day, scholars still disagree over the origins of the Sufis, the nature of their practices, and the meaning of their doctrines.

AL GHAZALI (known as "Algazel" in the Middle Ages) wrote the "Book of the Right Usages of Audition and Trance" in the early years of the twelfth century which constitutes one of the most important writings on Sufism.

Sufism means that divinity can be reached directly through the gateway of the human heart. Its emphasis is on love, equality and compassion.

It is said that the great 8th century Sufi- woman Rabi'a, ran through the streets of Basra in Iraq with the blazing torch in one hand and a container of water in the other. When asked why she was doing this, she said "The water is to extinguish the fires of hell forever, so that no-one worship God for fear of hell, and the torch is to set fire to paradise, so that none may worship God for greed of heaven."

The introduction of the idea of gnosis, or knowledge of spiritual mysteries, into Islam is the result of Sufi doctrine. The Sufis distinguish three organs of communication: the heart, which knows God; the spirit which loves Him; and the innermost ground of the soul, which contemplates Him. The nature of the heart is considered perceptive rather than emotional or intellectual; for whereas intellect cannot gain real knowledge of God, the heart is capable of knowing the essence of all things, and, when illuminated by faith and knowledge, the heart reflects the whole content of the divine mind.

While ordinary knowledge ("'ilm" in Arabic) is obtained by study and hard work, mystic knowledge or gnosis ("ma'rifa" in Ar.) can be obtained by conventional means. Sufis follow different paths to the elusive ma'rifat, giving rise to different schools, which all see themselves as links in one continuous chain.

The first Sufis were 9th century ascetics who wandered around the Islamic world, preaching love, peace and brotherhood. Many of them were scholars, poets, musicians and dancers, who attracted large followings to their gentle form of Islam. There was complete equality between the sexes, as far as rank among "the friends of God" was concerned and the dignity of sainthood was conferred on women as well as men. The woman saint made her appearance at a very early period in the history of Sufi thought.

Externally, the Sufi path is kindness to the young, generosity to the poor, good counsel to friends, forebearance with enemies, indifference to fools and respect to the learned.

Sufi thought is extremely diverse in many forms. The agreement of Sufis themselves upon who constitutes a Sufi is the only test of being one. This is because, as the known and well respected Sufi-master Jalal ed-din RUMI and others pointed out, Sufism is based not on theology but on experience.

To be a Sufi is to be born anew and to become aware of what has always been from eternity (azal in Arabic) without one's having realised it until it has happened. The Sufi way is an intense preoccupation with the Ultimate Unity and an awareness of its closeness, which is at the same time its distance. It can be broached in metaphors, radiated in a glance or diffused in music.

Sufism developed parallel to the orthodox officials of Islam. From Africa to Asia, Sufi-masters left their mark, embracing all belief systems, enjoining upon its followers the message of peace, brotherhood and unity for all. The key concepts are divine love ('ishq), the pain of separation from the beloved (firaq), and the joy of eternal union (visal).

SUFI WOMEN

Muslim women have been exposed throughout modern history to a stream of negative images: "Muslim women are oppressed" this stereotyped statement is rarely questioned and passes for general knowledge.

in 1991 a unique manuscript of "The Book of Sufi Women" written in 1084 by the great systematizer of Sufi doctrine and author of the famous "Tabaqat As Sufiyya" (categories of the Sufis), Abu Abd ar-Rahman as-Sulami, was found in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The work contains notices on 84 women and provides a picture of independent female spirituality in Islam that calls into question many long-held myths about the status of women in the Muslim world. As Seyyed Hossein Nasr (George Washington University) wrote:" Not only does Sufi spirituality possess a marked feminine dimension, but throughout the centuries numerous women in different areas of the Islamic world have participated in the spiritual teachings of Sufism."

The famous Egyptian Sufi Dhu an-Nun al-Misri (d. 861) said:
"I saw a woman on the coast of Syria and asked her:
"Where are you coming from?" She replied: "From a people who "are move to rise from their beds at night (calling on their Lord in fear and hope)." Then I asked: "And where are you going? She said: "To "men whom neither worldly commerce nor striving after gain can divert from the remembrance of God" "Describe them for me" I said. And she recited:

"A people who have staked their aspiration on God,
And whose ambitions aspire to nothing else.

The goal of this folk is their Lord and Master,
Oh what a noble goal is theirs, for the One beyond compare!

They do not compete for the world and its honours,
Whether it be for food, luxury, or children,

Nor for fine and costly clothes,
Nor for the ease and comfort that is found in towns.

Instead they hastens toward the promise of an exhalted station,
Knowing that each step brings them closer to the farthest horizon.

They are the hostages of washes and gullies,
And you will find them gathered on mountain-tops."

THE WHIRLING DERVISHES

The Mevlevis are followers of the mystic and poet Jalal ed-Dine RUMI (died 1273), 700 years ago.Mevlana Rumi himself has sung his immortal verses while whirling, enthralled by passionate longing for his friend "Shams", the "Sun of Tabriz", who opened to him the way to immediate experience of the Divine beloved.

The Sema ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes was inspired by Mevlana Rumi. It acts as a gateway for the spirit to commune with the divine while integrating music . According to Rumi music is uplifting to the soul. The legend tells that Rumi heard the hammer clang of a blacksmith as he was walking in the market place in Konya and began to whirl.

Angela Wooi writes in Mosaic Magazine of Winter 2003: "It is with great anticipation and reverence that the Sema begins. To the left on the stage is a red sheepskin. This post represents the manifestation of God to man. The Shaikh enters first, he is the guide and acts as intermediary between the dervish and Allah (). The Dervishes enter and bow to the red post. They hold their arms tightly across their bodies, left hand to the right shoulder and right hand to left, the position of humility. In the next part of the ceremony the Peshrev the Shaikh and the Dervishes bow to the ground and strike the floor with their hands. Swathed in long black cloaks they walk in single file, each step slow and deliberated. They walk anticlockwise to form a circle, circling three times thus representing the three levels of knowledge according to Sufi teaching (knowing, seeing and becoming).As each Dervishes passes the red post he will turn and salute the Dervishe behind him in the circle and as they bow they place their right hand over their heart expressing humility and love for their fellowman. Once this part of the ceremony is fulfilled the Dervishes take off their capes symbolizing spiritual birth" - According to some writers, the black cloak represents the tomb or Mother Earth. "and each in turn walks before the Shaikh to ask for permission to dance.One by one they take his right hand, kiss it and in return the Shaikh kisses their hats to give his blessing.They now begin to whirl."

The Dervishes spinn in their white robes with incredible lightness and grace. They spin with the right arm extended to the cosmos (to heaven) and the left to Mother Earth. Grace is received from Allah and distributed to humanity. The dancers themselves represent the heavenly bodies circling the sun who is the Shaikh, the spiritual leader.

SUFI MYSTICS

MEVLANA 'ABDELKADER DJILANI ( 1077-1168) known also as "'Abdelkader Al Baghadi", was Imam (priest) in Baghdad and one of the greatest mystics, very well celebrated in India and North Africa where his followers are still very strong as the "QADIRIYA"Brotherhood.

Muhyiddin IBN 'ARABI, one of the very greatest mystics of any age, was born in Moorish Spain in 1165, and from his earliest youth displayed remarkable spiritual aptitude. He travelled extensively throughout the Islamic world, conversing with the greatest mystics of the time. His teaching is based on the primordial principal of the Absolute Unity of Existence.

THE MEANING OF LOVE

Love, however, means to die to one's self and to be revived in the Beloved, and as much as the whirling dance can be interpreted as the dance of everything created around the central Sun of Divine Love, it also means to re-enact death and resurrection: the dervishes cast off their black coats, symbols of earthly life, and appear in their unfolding white gowns - garb of immortality - like moths in enraptured and yet carefully measured dance, burning, it seems, in the flames of transfiguring Love.

The Sufi ceremony is called a "Zikr" which means "remembrance", the performance is about spiritual purification and reconnection to the Divine.

"Dance is the movement of those who try to shed off their earthbound bodily garb to leave the material center of gravitation and to be drawn into a loftier, spiritual world; of those who leave the real of confused everyday movements to whirl around the spiritual sun like dust motes, like atoms; of those who join the movement of the blessed in Paradise." Annemarie Schimmel

"DANCING IST NOT RISING TO YOUR FEET PAINLESSLY
LIKE A SPECK OF DUST BLOWN AROUND IN THE WIND
DANCING IS WHEN YOU RISE ABOVE WORLDS
TEARING YOUR HEART INTO PIECES
AND GIVING UP YOUR SOUL"
MAULANA RUMI

"SEEING YOU HEALS ME
NOT SEEING YOU,I FEEL THE WALLS CLOSING,
I WOULD NOT WISH FOR ANYONE ELSE
SUCH ABSENCE"
MAULANA RUMI

AMEL TAFSOUT, London January 2003

 

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