Whereas orthodox Islam focuses exclusively on “submission to Allah”, the esoteric sects of Sufi and Druze also focus on “union with Allah”. To the esoteric believers, the Islamic religious system of Quran, hadith, and all the prophets are but stepping stones to a higher spiritual awareness. This is reminiscent of the Christian belief that the law is a tutor that leads us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). In our modern age, spiritual union is starting to become more the rule than the exception. Astrologers say they predicted this from the zodiac as the coming “Age of Aquarius”. Others associate with the “Shift” in human consciousness which started accelerating at the end of the countdown of the Mayan calendar in 2012.
NASA categorically denies any changes have occurred in the universe except reductions in its budget. Meanwhile, people are having visions, they are dancing in the streets, and their poets are finding new ways to express with metaphor those ancient mysteries that have eluded modern logic.
Even astronauts like Edgar Mitchel have reported mystical experiences. While on the moon in 1971 during the Apollo 14 mission, he experienced the equivalent of what Hindu and Buddhists call Savikalpa Samadhi (defined in reference below). The following one minute video entitled “One Minute Shift” describes his experience: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UVuzDDTdgs. Edgar Mitchel later went on to study paranormal experiences and become founder of the Institute for Noetic Sciences, which focuses on scientific research into higher consciousness.
With all this in mind, let us now study and welcome the contribution of the Sufi to the Shift.
[Reference for Savikalpa Samadhi: http://www.srichinmoy.org/spirituality/concentration_meditation_contemplation/samadhi]
Union through Dance
The Sufi, in particular, are known for opening their bodies and souls to the light of Allah through aesthetic experiences such as the dance of the “Swirling Dervish” depicted in the picture. A dervish is simply a devoted student of the Sufi ways, who is usually under the spiritual guidance of a kind of guru called a Sheikh. In some instances the swirling is intended to induce spiritual ecstasy in a trance-like state, a prelude to enlightenment. The traditional dance is also used in performances and festivals to spread interest in Sufism. The Turkish version of this is so incredible that the UNESCO branch of the Unities Nations proclaimed it one of the greatest masterpieces of intangible cultural heritage, and is committed to funding and preserving it.
I am not much of a dancer, at least “in public”, so I do not consider myself qualified to write more about this yet. You can google this topic for more. “In private” is another story; only my dog gets a glimpse of this, and she usually stands there with her ears straight up and head tilted for a while, before she joins in and tries to mimics me. My greatest accomplishment so far in this performing this intangible cultural heritage is that at least I am better at it than she is, because it is very difficult to swirl on all fours, and comes out looking more like frantically chasing ones tail, which she also does when hungry or wants a walk.
I will add that union with Allah brings union with one another. At times I get the impression that I have returned to something or someone familiar, like I have come home, and in that sense, it seems more like a reunion.
Union through Poetry
Like the Druze, the Sufi believe in immediate reincarnation of the soul into a body. The soul of the Sufi is eternal and cannot exist without a body, so it is through the body that the soul unites with Allah. This is an Allah who to the Sufi is not a being, but who marvelously inhabits all of creation. Even our attempts to refer to Allah as a “who” are but a metaphorical substitute for things we cannot explain with words and grammar. To know Allah is to love Allah, and to be imbued with love until we are again in union with its source. This is expressed in a poem the “Call of Love” written by the most famous of Sufi poets, Rumi, who was a dervish living in Persia (Iran) during the century. Notice that Rumi likens enlightenment to “a wave that comes from the soul”.
“At every instant and from every side, resounds the call of Love:
We are going to sky, who wants to come with us?
We have gone to heaven, we have been the friends of the angels,
And now we will go back there, for there is our country.
We are higher than heaven, more noble than the angels:
Why not go beyond them? Our goal is the Supreme Majesty
What has the fine pearl to do with the world of dust?
Why have you come down here? Take your baggage back. What is this place?
Luck is with us, to us is the sacrifice!…
Like the birds of the sea, men come from the ocean–the ocean of the soul.
Like the birds of the sea, men come from the ocean–the ocean of the soul.
How could this bird, born from that sea, make his dwelling here?
No, we are the pearls from the bosom of the sea, it is there that we dwell:
Otherwise how could the wave succeed to the wave that comes from the soul?
The wave named ‘Am I not your Lord’ has come, it has broken the vessel of the body;
And when the vessel is broken, the vision comes back, and the union with Him.”
Union through Music
Nothing can explain the Sufi as much as their music. Music as a part of religion was condemned by fundamentalist Muslims, and considered a dangerous distraction. Listen to the four YouTube media presentations on Sufi music by Jayson Wiggens listed below. They explain not only the Sufi music, but also the Sufi spirit, their beliefs, history, and worldwide purpose. One Sufi he interviewed explained that whereas Islam prescribed procedures to repent for human weakness, the Sufi understood human weakness in the same way Jesus Christ did.
Hint: use headphones and leave them off during the advertisement preceding each part.
Union though History
According to Steven Schwartz, author of “The Other Muslims: Sufism and Global Harmony” there are at least 700 million Sufis now on this planet, nearly half of all Islam. Roughly half of the Sufis are members of formal Sufi congregations, the others are involved with supplementary Sufi activities but are members of orthodox Mosques. This reminds me of some Baptists who attended their churches on Sunday and Wednesday nights with their family, and snuck off alone to the local charismatic churches on Thursday nights to worship more freely.
Sufi’s traditionally meet on Saturday and Wednesday nights, but they hold festivals open to the public throughout the year. According to their numbers and eagerness for outreach, we might think they should have the capacity to transform the regions in which they live; but unfortunately the governments of Islamic countries are aligned with the other half – the orthodox Mosques; these readily provide them with the support and justification for wielding their power. But look on the bright side, it is impossible to be a true Sufi and a terrorist without being totally schizophrenic, so at least half the Muslim population have built-in immunity to terrorist recruiters. Some believe the Sufi can change the world if they just keep on doing what they are doing- singing, praying, dancing, writing poetry, and holding festivals. Is it not surprising that young Iranian women dancing in the streets without wearing the traditional hijab (shawl) and singing “Happy” are promptly arrested? Seriously, if this caught on, it would be more of a threat to the powers that be than foreign sanctions.
Sufi practices started to catch on a few centuries after Mohammad died. No one knows exactly how and when, but it was believed to evolve as a popular movement to fill the spiritual vacuum formed as Islam became more and more distanced from its founding prophet. The wealth of the Islamic empire that reached its peak in the 14th century brought secularity and greed. The Sufi emphasized devotion, modesty and love for one another, regardless of ethnic origin or religion. Some believe they were influenced by the Christians that lived in scattered communities among them, many of whom emphasized the same virtues. It is certain that they were impressed by pious Christian monks who had fled from the corruptions of the orthodox churches to settle in surrounding monasteries. They practiced asceticism and looking within for salvation. The Sufis’ were looked down on by the orthodox Muslims, who prohibited music for spiritual purposes.
When the Islamic empire began to crumble in the 15th century due to competition from Europe after the Renaissance, it split up into separate regions, some of which were frequently overrun by competing powers. Without the yoke of stable orthodox Muslim governments on their shoulders, the Sufi’s were freer to run their own show and they flourished and spread across the Middle East and into Pakistan and India. They adopted well in other cultures and adapted the best of the customs and spiritual wisdom of the regions they inhabited, while still remaining Muslims. The Indian practice of guiding groups of devout disciples under a guru was adapted. The Sufi guru is called a Sheikh. The disciples who traditionally took a vow if asceticism, were called dervishes.
Expansion of the Sufi continued until about the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, when European imperialism had reached its peak of corruption and leaders of Muslim countries, like the Americans in the 18th century, had had enough of it. They began to reestablish Islamic states under Sharia law and the orthodox Muslim identity throughout Islam. The Sufi, because of their belief in tolerance and pluralism, were sometimes used to help bring together opposing Islamic factions, like the Shiites and Sunni. They were actually instrumental in starting the Muslim Brotherhood, but withdrew its influence when the Muslim Brotherhood started to exhibit terrorist tendencies in recent times and aligning themselves mostly with the Shiites. At other times they were suppressed, and their use of music officially forbidden.
Today the Sufi have penetrated the entire globe. Some branches have become very pluralistic and do not require identification with Islam. In comparison to the Druze who are very secretive, the Sufi are very open. Sufi have diversified into several divisions, based on the guidance of its Sheiks.
Sufism in its various forms constitutes one branch of esoteric spirituality, of which many are converging toward a good and common purpose. In today’s world, where major powers have the bomb, and still others want in, we stand at the crossroad of two paths. One path leads to confrontation, the other to reconciliation. Just as the Sufi believe, everything we do as individuals in our daily lives will make a difference. Everything we do as groups will change the world. We are together in this. And grace and mercy are at our sides.
My post “Jesus in the Quran, Part One” briefly introduced us to some of the commonality of Islam with Christianity. “Jesus in the Quran, Part Two” went deeper into the historical development of orthodox Islam, describing its flaws as a fundamentalist religion and how that is contributing to its share of political turmoil around the modern world.
In “Esoteric Muslims: The Druze” we learned about a sect of Muslims that isolated itself from the influence of orthodox Islam and other fundamentalist religions by forming closed communities. This freed them to explore world philosophies and theologies without persecution, and develop a home-grown exoteric and esoteric climate of spirituality and culture. In contrast to the confrontational nature inherent in orthodox Islam, they have lived peacefully and with a good reputation in the all the nations that host them. Even the Jewish state of Israel considers them a valuable asset.
And this post “Esoteric Muslims: The Sufi” we learned of an offshoot from Islam that has permeated the entire globe; enriching it with its music, poetry, dance, and pluralistic spirituality; to give this world a vision and a hope.
In this series of posts we have explored a religion different from our own, and witnessed its evolution and redemption through esoteric growth. I did not plan it that way. I was simply curious about Islam and this happened as I went along. My hope is that this has taught us to understand our own evolution from orthodox religion, and will help us participate better in the combined purpose of all religious evolution.
Sometimes we may think we are not good enough to participate, or too busy, or too comfortable in our ways to risk a challenge. My answer from the combined wisdom of both Bible and Quran is “Grace is always there waiting for those who choose it”. It may be a new and unfamiliar path, but the wisdom of Bible still applies, that if you stumble, you will not fall headlong; and if you do fall, you will recover if you choose to. The path is waiting. Come now. Take the next step.