As a child growing up in a Pakistani family, there was always Sufi music playing in our house. Sufi music, if you don't know is music devoted to the divine. In South Asia, we call it qawwali.
I liked it but I didn’t ‘get it’. I had no idea then, that three decades later, this music would make complete sense to me. Although, it would take suffering to understand God, in the way the Sufi’s were referring to. That I would have to confront the darkest corners of my soul to fully appreciate what matters most in this life rather than the shallow egoic desires and insecurities that I was unconsciously functioning from.
So what is Sufism?
“Sufism is a religion of intense devotion; love is its manifestation, poetry, music and dance are the instruments of its worship and attaining oneness with the divine is its ideal”.
Sufism known as ‘tasawwuf’ in the Muslim world originated during the 7th century. It is the inward dimension of Islam, away from worldly egoic desires. At its core lies divine love. Sufis believe that there is one God and we are not separate from it.
‘A true Sufi lives a life of presence and selfless love and makes no claims to virtue or truth’.
Sufism was first practised in the ‘Hejaz’; west of Saudi Arabia which includes Mecca, Medina, Jeddah, Tabuk, Yanbu, Taif and Baljurashi. It later spread throughout the Muslim world from the Balkans, Africa, South Asia to Indonesia. Beginning as a practise which was shared in small circles, and later developed into written literature.
The first female Sufi, Rabiah al-Adawiyah born in 8th century, Iraq, taught the concept of selfless love. That an individual should worship God out of love rather than the fear of hell or the promise of paradise.
Between the 8th and 13th Century, Sufism experienced it’s golden age and the Islamic Empire became an economic global leader in the sciences, medicine, philosophy, and the Arts. Just some of the most notable scholars, mystics and poets to have emerged during this period were Ibn Al’Arabi from Spain, Ibn al-Farid from Egypt, Farid al-Din Attar from Persia, Najmuddin Kubra in Turkmenistan, Yunis Emre in Turkey and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) from Uzbekistan.
The Islamic empire welcomed diversity and different religious and ethnic communities lived side by side. Many scholars during the time were from non-Muslim backgrounds.
The most well-known order in the western world was the Mevlevi order, founded in the 13th century and based on the teachings of Persian scholar, poet, and mystic; Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi. Rumi quoted by many, is one of the most read poets in the west today. It is in the Mevlevi order that Sufi whirling originated; a form of physically active meditation through which the dervish aims to reach the source of all perfection.
Sufism has been practised far and wide including Mali, Senegal, Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. This has meant a rich legacy of beautiful music, art, dance, and poetry which still has, as much relevance today as it did in the time that it was created.
I believe there is as much need for Sufi teachings today, than ever.
In a world that is becoming increasingly fast paced, where individuals are so caught up in the system, they are losing sight of who they are. Where loneliness and isolation continue to create poorer physical and mental health. Where an emphasis on the ‘I’ takes precedence over the ‘we’. Where the yearning to be seen is so deep but overshadowed by the fear of removing the mask in case of being misunderstood, seen as weak or worse, taken advantage of.
Sufism can allow for healing and purification of the self. Shared experiences of world music, poetry and art can create connection, a higher vibrational frequency, joy, optimism, and beauty. Learning about another people’s culture can allow for overcoming ‘otherness’, giving us a sense of unity rather than separateness. This is how I see Sufism playing out today.
Since embarking on this journey, I have been pleasantly surprised by how much appreciation there is for Sufism in my circles. I refer to non-Muslim friends and acquaintances who are also seekers and question, rather than accept. Who see life as a gift and want to use it for the betterment of others. This has been very heartening and soul enriching.
Thank you for reading this post. If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Religion of Love by Ibn Al-Arabi
“My heart holds within it every form, it contains a pasture for gazelles, a monastery for Christian monks. There is a temple for idol-worshippers, a holy shrine for pilgrims; There is the table of the Torah, and the Book of the Koran. I follow the religion of Love and go whichever way His camel leads me. his is the true faith; This is the true religion.”
*Pls note- everything I share comes from a place of passion. I am on my own journey and self-teaching. If you notice any errors in my writing, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Bearing in mind, some historical dates have been disputed.