Islamic concepts

Taṣawwuf (@tSwf@) — Sufism, mystical movements within Islam

Taṣawwuf is such a broad concept that it’s impossible to say anything about it in general. So many different things get lumped together under the term Sufism.

Mystical verses of the Qurʾān

Traditional mystics


As a Qurʿānic name for the phenomenon that often came to be called Sufism, some authors have chosen the term iḥsān, “doing what is beautiful,” a divine and human quality about which the Qurʿān says a good deal, particularly that God loves those who possess it. In the famous ḥadīth of Gabriel, the Prophet describes

Modern groups with strange practices

A person is called a Sūfī

In general, Ṣūfīs have looked upon themselves as Muslims who take seriously God's call to perceive his presence in the world and the self. They generally stress inwardness over outwardness, contemplation over action, spiritual development over legalism, and cultivation of the soul over social interaction. Theologically, Ṣūfīs speak of God's mercy, gentleness, and beauty more than of the wrath, severity, and majesty that play defining roles in both fiqh (jurisprudence) and kalām (apologetic theology). Sufism has been associated with specific institutions and individuals as well as with an enormously rich literature, not least poetry.

most of Sufism's own theoreticians have understood it to be the living spirit of the Islamic tradition. One of the greatest Ṣūfī teachers, al-Ghazālī (d. 1111), summarizes Sufism's role in the title of his magnum opus: Iḥyāʿ ʿulūm al-dīn (giving life to the sciences of the religion).

  • iḥsān as the innermost dimension of Islam
  • islām (“submission” or correct activity) -- Historically, islām became manifest through the sharīʿah and jurisprudence,
  • īmān (“faith” or correct understanding) -- īmān became institutionalized through kalām and other forms of doctrinal teachings.

. Iḥsān is a deepened understanding and perception that, in the words of this ḥadīth, allows you “to worship God as if you see him.” This means that Ṣūfīs strive to be aware of God's presence in both the world and themselves and to act appropriately. whereas In the same way, iḥsān revealed its presence mainly through Ṣūfī teachings and practices (see Murata and Chittick).

By codifying the sharīʿah, jurisprudence delineates the manner in which people should submit their activities to the instructions of the Qurʿān and the sunnah. Kalām defines the contents of Islamic faith while providing a rational defense for Qurʿān teachings about God. Sufism focuses on giving full due to both submission and faith, so it functions on two levels—theory (corresponding to īmān) and practice (corresponding to islām). On the theoretical level, Sufism explains the rationale for both faith and submission. Its explanations differ from those of kalām both in perspective and focus, but they are no less carefully rooted in the sources of the tradition. On the practical level, Sufism explains how Muslims can strengthen their understanding and observance of Islam in order to find God's presence in themselves and the world. It intensifies Islamic ritual life through careful attention to the details of the sunnah and by focusing on the remembrance of God (dhikr), which is commanded by the Qurʿān and the ḥadīth and taken by Ṣūfī authors as the raison d’être of Islamic ritual. Dhikr typically takes the form of the methodical repetition of certain names of God or Qurʿān formulae, such as the first Shahādah. In communal gatherings, Ṣūfīs usually perform dhikr aloud, rhythmically and sometimes with musical accompaniment. In some Ṣūfī groups, these communal sessions became the basic ritual, with a corresponding neglect of various aspects of the sunnah. At this point, Ṣūfī practice became suspect not only in the eyes of the jurists, but also in the eyes of other Ṣūfīs.

n historical terms, it is useful to think of Sufism on two levels. On the first level—which is the primary focus of the Ṣūfī authorities themselves—Sufism has no history, because it is the invisible, life-giving force of the Muslim community. On the second level—which concerns both Muslim authors and modern historians—Sufism's presence is made known through observable characteristics of people and society or specific institutions. Ṣūfī authors who looked at Sufism on the second level wanted to describe how the great Muslims achieved the goal of human life, which is nearness to God (qurb). Their typical genre was hagiography, which aims at bringing out the extraordinary human qualities of those who achieve divine nearness. In contrast, Muslim opponents of Sufism have been anxious to show that Sufism is a distortion of Islam, and they have happily seized upon any opportunity to associate Sufism with unbelief and moral laxity

The most characteristic emphasis of the Sūfī teachers is on the need to love God. One of their favorite Qurʿānic passages is surah5:54: “He loves them, and they love Him.” Typical Qurʿānic rhetoric highlights God's greatness and human smallness, God's wisdom and human ignorance, God's lordship and human servitude, but here the Qurʿān attributes love to both sides—even if God's love necessarily precedes human love, just as grace precedes good works. It was lost on no one that the goal of love is union with the beloved, and this led to endless meditations on the nature of the nearness that is to be achieved by responding to God's love. It was understood that God already loves human beings, so much so that he is nearer to them “than the jugular vein” (surah50:16), but, for human beings to love God in return, they must heed the call in the verse, “Say [to the people, O Muhammad!]: If you love God, follow me, and God will love you” (surah3:31). Here is the rationale for following the sunnah: lovers of God are attempting to achieve an intimate nearness. This is made explicit by the often quoted authentic ḥadīth qudsī, “My servant draws near to Me through nothing I love more than that which I have made obligatory for him, and My servant never ceases drawing near to Me through supererogatory works until I love him. Then, when I love him, I am his hearing through which he hears, his eyesight through which he sees, his hand through which he grasps, and his foot through which he walks.”

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