Islam, as a religion, is divided into two different sects, Sunni and Shi i. These divisions have their own separate values and rituals that create an unconquerable schism between them. The gap, however, is somewhat bridged by a twist on the Islamic faith known as Sufism. The mystic ways of the Sufi society make it very appealing to both Sunnis and Shiites, not to mention the newcomers to the Islamic faith. Sufism uses the quality of unification and the quality of appeal to make it one of the strongest aspects of Islam.
Sufism was founded on the belief that Muslims could obtain a one-on-one relationship with God through mystical practices. Mysticism is defined as a particular method of approach to Reality making use of intuitive and emotional spiritual faculties which are generally dormant and latent unless called into play through training under guidance. Since mysticism is connected with many other religions also, the Sufis had to be extremely careful to be under guidance at all times. They prefer the word guidance to the word teaching because they believe that the sought-after relationship with God can be reached only through personal experience.
The original Sufis, though they seem far from the orthodox views, maintained a very close tie with original Islamic doctrine. Their differences were considerable, but the link with orthodoxy was guaranteed by their acceptance of the law and ritual practices of Islam.
The Sufis believe that a person s soul abides with God before it ever inhabits the body of man. This connection is the reason for all Sufi practice. Their rituals and ceremonies are an attempt to reconnect their soul with God, its original keeper. This pursuit of God also leads Sufis to believe in a pursuit of ecstasy, which can be reached through repeated convocations, breathing exercises, and chants, all of which are accompanied by vocal and/or instrumental music. This ecstasy requires freedom from conscious thought, which Sufis believe can be attained through music.
Although Sufism was a response to communal worship, they have developed a form of communal worship to help each other discover God. The Sufis sit in a circle around the choir, which is also in a circle around the Master. They begin to chant slowly and quietly with very little movement. Then, the Master encourages them to the next stage with some sort of ejaculation, be it clapping or shouting. The movement is increased at this time, and the chanting becomes more rapid and louder. The Master proceeds to stand in the midst of this chanting, and he is followed by the circle of devotees around him. The entire group then begins to chant very loudly while they jump, clap, sway, or bounce. At the end of this two-hour session, the Master gives some verbal command, which causes the devotees to stop their chanting while the choir drops to a very low tone, and the ceremony comes to an end. The Sufis believe that this type of worship will bring them to ecstasy, thereby shortening the distance between God and themselves.
Sufis also believe that the ecstasy for which they strive can only be reached by a Pure Love for the Beloved or God. Sufis believe that their God is omniscient and omnipotent. They hold faith in his ability to give and take away. Their God has the undeniable ability to do anything and everything that he wills. Their strength comes from the Beloved, and they strive solely for the right to be one with the Beloved. The end of the Path come when the mystic soul is rapt up into union with the Divine and the soul becomes one with God in much the same manner as the drop subsists when it is merged in the ocean for the part has returned to become one with the Whole.
The Sufis have one particular story, which shows this deep infatuation with the Beloved. The story speaks of a man who is asked where he is going, where he comes from, what he desires, etc. His replies always contain the word Beloved (i.e. From the Beloved and Near to the Beloved ). This shows the extreme desire for this Sufi to be with the beloved, but it is all brought to a climax when the inquisitor asks, How long will you say the Beloved, the Beloved and the devotee replies, Until I see the Face of the Beloved. This man is typical of Sufi Muslims. His wants, needs, and desires all center on the act of becoming one with Beloved.
The Pure Love with which the Sufis search is a necessary component to completing the path. The Pure Love guides the Sufi from station to station until he reaches the form fitted to reflect the Light of God . The stations that the Sufi must first pass through are sevenfold. First, the Sufi must purify himself of his natural thoughts and desires. Secondly, he must substitute love for these thoughts. Next, he is cast into the flames of passion where he is overtaken by a love for the Beloved. Then, the devotee is taken into a state of union with God. Fifth, the Sufi passes through a transmutation of self, followed by the gifts of dazzlement and wonder, which are given by God. Lastly, the righteous Sufi is taken into a state of everlastingness by his Maker. This completes the cycle and promotes a regular Sufi to the ranks of Master within his religion, thereby completing the highest form to the fullest amount possible.
Upon the completion of this final level of religion, the Sufi is allowed to give one of the most powerful recitations in Sufism. It goes as follows:
By the welcome of every gift was I called.
My Beloved refreshed me with a draught of knowledge;
You see, my friend, my judgment is above all creatures,
I am a pillar of the universe a gift from my Lord.
I am the treasure of lights in the midst of creation;
I am the door, my authority is over east and west.
I am the first who existed.
This chant shows the level of importance that is found in reaching the plateau of everlastingness. It shows the pride found in becoming one with God. Being chosen by the Beloved also carries strong importance in this piece, not to mention the preexistence of the soul with God underlined by the last line. Reaching the oneness and total ecstasy is a very appealing part of the Sufi belief.
Another appeal of Sufi belief is that it opens itself to another, previously unmentioned aspect of Islamic life. Sufism, unlike traditional Islam, opens its doors to women as active participants in the religious activities. The women are allowed to play roles in the choirs of the religious ceremonies as well as participate directly as a devotee to the faith. Until this point, Sunni and Shi i women were allowed only to play very small roles, if any at all, in society as a whole. The Sufis, on the other hand, were more than happy to allow women to carry on the most important duties of the faith, which had previously been assigned to men alone.
The Sufi religion is one of many diversities. It obviously strays from the roots of orthodox Islam, but at the same time, it holds very close ties to the original plans laid out by the prophet Mohammed. Its appeal lies in the fact that it is somewhat universal through its mysticism, but it is very strict on the rules of Islam. It opens doors to Sunnis, Shiites, and outsiders. It allows for near equality for Islamic women, and it leaves the attainment of a devout relationship with God to all humans. The practically worldwide bonds that Sufism creates allow it to be on the strongest aspects of the Islamic faith today and in days past.