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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sufism; Of saints and sinners

To orthodox Sufis, all this is absurd. Islam’s mystical strain, like the Jewish and Christian traditions it somewhat resembles, is a strictly delineated path to self-knowledge. The proper Sufi seeks to attain this state through rigorous disciplines, of which dhikr, the remembrance of God, by reciting or meditating on his name, is the most common. Through self-knowledge, the devout mystic strives to attain knowledge of God Himself. This sets Sufis apart from Islam’s other functionaries, its jurists, or mullahs, and its theologians.

Throughout Islamic history, Sufis and mullahs, dedicated to enforcing Koranic laws, have clashed. Mullahs demand obedience; Sufis tend to stress tolerance. In their poetry, which mullahs shudder to read, Sufis often represent the state of rapture that they seek in the language of physical love or drunkenness. “I have no concern but carousing and rapture,” wrote Rumi, Sufism’s greatest poet, whose followers, of the Turkey-based Mawlawi order, remember him in a whirling dance, the saga, which has become synonymous in the West with all Sufism.

Yet—despite what the hordes at Sehwan may believe—orthodox Sufis are also law-abiding Muslims. There should be no contradiction between these two positions. “Sufism is Islam and Islam is Sufism,” says Khwaja Hasan Thani Nizami, the hereditary keeper of the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi. In orthodox Islam, for example, the limits of sainthood are strictly prescribed. Dead Muslim saints cannot intercede with God or perform miracles. If Muslims pray at their shrines, it can only be for the dead man’s salvation. They may not pray to him, which would be shirk, a form of idolatry. According to Ahmed Javed, a bearded Pakistani Sufi and scholar: “You can’t ask a dead saint to mediate, to solve a problem, to fulfil a wish, never, never, never. That is shirk in law and in Sufism.”...


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