- Sufism and Islam
Sufism is about total submission to love, love is everything, and everything is that "that has no name," which can go by many names, such as God, Truth, Allah and Haq. Therefore, Sufism is about total submission to that which has no name -- God. Islam also at its sub-atomic level is about total submission to that that has no name --God.
- Early Years of Sufism
Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, in his book, "Discourses On The Sufi Path," provides historical context and the backdrop of how Sufism came into being.
The Persian empire was the cross-roads where many cultures and religions came into contact with each other. Prior to the Arab invasion of the land making up the Persian empire, the people of the region, specifically in what's known today as Iran, practiced Zoroastrianism and had a rich tradition of javanmardi (chivalry) where men were trained to be chevaliers (javanmardan). These men were trained to develop and practice attributes like:
- Consideration for others
- Helping of unfortunate and unprotected
- Kindness to all created beings
- Keeping one's word
These attributes embodied the perfect human being that Sufis aspire to be with every breath.
Around 637 A.D., through the Arab invasion, Islam and the tradition of chivalry met in the conquered land. The men trained in javanmardi embraced the religion of Islam while retaining their own rich cultural traditions. Around this time, the creed of Sufism was being developed and its early foundation incorporated both Islam and chivalry.
Sufis draw to different degrees from both elements that joined to form this spiritual path. Some Sufi orders follow more closely the etiquette and code of religious Islam, while some incorporate the soul of Islam --unity and total submission-- and practice the etiquette of chivalry.
- All Sufis Are Not Whirling Dervishes
There are different Sufi orders that have developed their own experiential spiritual rituals. The Mevlevi order founded in Konya, in what was part of Ottoman empire --today's Turkey, by followers of Rumi. The whirling is part of their spiritual ceremony known as Sema.
Rumi is the 13th century Persian poet, theologian and spiritual master to many in his own time and even now through his writing and poetry.
Since Turkey is a bridge between the East and the West, many Westerners first exposure to Sufism came through their travels in Turkey whirling dervishes. That's one of the primary reasons why the whirling dervishes is the first thing that comes to mind when Sufism is brought up in circles unfamiliar about its roots, diversity and complexity.
- Rumi transcends time and place
Even if Sufism is new to you, Rumi's poetry is probably not. Back in 2002 Rumi was the best selling poet in America. There is no recent data, but Rumi is most likely still holding his own in the sales and readings of his poems, especially since spirituality is on the rise in America, according to recent study by Pew Research Center.
Rumi's "Masnavi" is about the relationship between man and God on one hand, and man and man on the other. The trained mind and soul of one on a Sufi path of spiritual learning will be able to decode from versus hidden symbolism that could otherwise be missed in the journey.
- Embarking on a spiritual path like Sufism, one must first find a trusted guide and teacher
Every Sufi becomes connected to the source through a teacher. In every spiritual path there is a teacher called by different names, like Master, Pir and Guru. Even Rumi who was a Master himself, unleashed his creativity and expanded his vision by coming into contact with Shams of Tabriz.
- Sufism is like an onion with many layers and as soon as you feel like you've reached the end, there is another layer to discover.