Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Sufism and Islam

on November 30, 2022

(Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak on Unsplash)

Islam is a living religion because Muhammad was a living man who lived in the world as husband, father, business manager, politician, negotiator, mediator, religious leader, and warlord. He became a model of behavior for all of these human roles. With all of its emphasis on a Day of Judgment, Islam is really about everyday life and how human beings conduct themselves in their relations with each other. Muhammad, as both Prophet of Allah and social activist, used his Prophethood to create a more just society for the people of Arabia.

The Qur’an, as revealed to Muhammad, provides divine guidelines for living a life that brings believers into constant remembrance of God (dhikr). Right behavior is modeled on the examples given by the Prophet and his Companions. If any questions come up, religious and legal scholars can consult the Qur’an, study the examples of the Prophet (sunna), and the collected sayings and events of the Prophet as reported by others (hadith). Legal rulings can be made according to the precedent set by Muhammad and his revelations in the Qur’an. This ensures that legal rulings remain in conformity with the religion and social order established by the Prophet.

Sharia Law is based on all of these components and developed to counter the corruption that was slowly undermining the Muslim Caliphate. Islamic life became a set of laws that believers were obligated to accept and follow. It was believed that if all believers ritualistically followed the same rules, society as a whole would become more just and equitable. Conformity, however, leads ultimately to nonconformity. Believers who craved a more spiritual fulfillment began to form spiritual philosophies and communities that rejected the emptiness of a life oppressed by religious and governmental control.

Sufism is a departure from the empty rules and obligations imposed on daily Islamic life. While Sunni Islam rejects monasteries and asceticism, Sufism embraces them. While the Qur’an condones violent jihad against others for self-defense, Sufism emphasizes jihad of the self (fana, which means overcoming the ego and the self (nafs) in order to dissolve into a complete union with Allah). Sufism was meant to be an ecstatic experience that rises above mundane daily life.

The central tenet of Sufism is the divine union between the lover (the believer) and the beloved (Allah). This individual relationship with God automatically excludes others, which contradicts the social nature of Islam. It emphasizes the exclusive authority of God over the individual. Many Sufis and Sufi communities came into conflict with governmental authorities because of their bizarre behavior and rejection of orthodox Islam and government authority. Some, like al-Hallaj, were executed for heresy.

Sufism developed a mystical philosophy that elevates Muhammad to a saint with mystical powers – something Muhammad fought against. The mysticism of the Night Journey, in particular, has been expanded on by Sufi philosophers. For Sufis, inner experience is more important than outer knowledge. And practices developed that cultivate the divine experience, such as chanting Al-Ghazali’s 99 Names of God; reciting mystical poetry that enhances the believer’s drunken, erotic union with God; and performing the mind-altering dances of the whirling dervishes. For Sufis, union with God IS the Divine Reality that trumps ordinary life.

Popular culture gradually embraced Sufi saint worship, pilgrimages to the tombs of saints and holy places, and items such as prayer beads and icons. When Sufi communities began to get rich off of the public, however, their influence gradually faded away. Sunni Islamic leaders have always been skeptical of Sufism and regarded Sufi practices as innovations that detract from the example of the Prophet Muhammad and pure Islam. But the remnants of Sufi practices still exist among Sunni Muslims and Sufi communities still exist today.

Sufism added a spiritual dimension to Islam that helped it to grow and develop as a living religion that would survive into the modern era.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 14, 2019; November 30, 2022

Copyright 2019-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.


20 responses to “Sufism and Islam

  1. Bewilded says:

    Beautifully explained Dawn🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  2. revruss1220 says:

    I really appreciate this discussion on the origins of Sufism. On our recent trip to Turkey, we had the opportunity to watch a dervish dance demonstration. Of course, these were not actual dervishes as the whirling dance is not done for public display. But it was fascinating nonetheless.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing Dawn 🌸🌺🌹

    Liked by 1 person

  4. utahan15 says:

    THE PROPHETS. AM IN THE BOOK OF DANIEL OH KING LIVE FOREVER!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderful sharing Dawn!
    ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A brilliant exposition and clear explanation. Wonderful Dawn.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Michele Lee says:

    Interesting article, Dawn. I have been curious about Sufism but knew very little.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. kvbclarke says:

    Well done, Dawn. I was in a Sufi meditation and concentration group for a couple of years. So beneficial!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jenn Moreau says:

    Great Article. I think of Sufism as a mystical branch of Islam.

    Liked by 1 person

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