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Editorial    by Royce Carlson

February 6, 2000

Sufism – The Mystical Side of Islam

Each major religion has its mystical side – Christianity has the Gnostics and Islam has the Sufis for its mystical counterpart. Although somewhat influenced from outside Islam, Sufism is mainly based on the Koran. All Muslims believe that it is possible to become close to God after death and judgment. The Sufis believe, like most mystical groups, that this is possible while alive. They believe that we are on a spiritual journey to God and on the way we must battle with our "false self" – the ego. To win the battle we must surrender to God. Along the path, ecstatic experiences called Wajd may occur where one is drawn into the presence of God.

Some Muslims claim no relation to Sufism, but most scholars agree to Sufism’s Islamic origins. Apparently, when the Prophet was alive 1500 years ago, scholars would sit on the "suffe" in the mosque where the Prophet taught and discuss the meaning of life and the implications of being. This supposedly was the beginning of Sufism.

There are many Sufi Orders, some very Islamic, like the Mevlevi, or Whirling Dervishes. They whirl in a carefully choreographed dance designed to produce a mystical trance in which they become closer to God. Other orders, particularly those recently developed in the West, are not particularly Islamic, but mystical and ecstatic in the Sufi Tradition.

Sufism in the West was popularized by a prolific writer, Idries Shah, who wrote a series of books of stories about a (probably) fictitious mullah named Nasruddin. Each story has a spiritual lesson or moral. The most well-know western Sufi order is possibly the one founded by Hazrat Inayat Khan – The International Sufi Order. Another fairly well known order was founded by a student of Khan’s named Murshid Samuel Lewis who recorded some fairly popular Sufi spiritual chanting and singing in the early 70’s.

Zenzibar has a Sufism sub-category with links to several sites. Visit it to find out more about active orders both east and west and about the history and teachings of Sufism.

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