Sufism: Love and Wisdom

Sufism: Love and Wisdom

Edited by Jean-Louis Michon 
and Roger Gaetani
Foreword by Seyyed Hossein Nasr

These essays by such contemporary writers on Sufism as Seyyed Hossein Nasr, William Chittick, Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, René Guénon, and Frithjof Schuon, unlock for modern readers some of the language, the thinking, and the history of classical Sufism. Covering a wide range of topics related to Sufism, the book also includes several essays translated into English for the first time and some contributions from a new generation of interpreters of Sufism.

World Wisdom

From the Introduction:

The Doctrine of Unity (Tawḥīd)

The dominant theme of the Quranic Revelation, divine Unity, is expressed by the testimony of faith—shahāda—which every Muslim repeats a number of times every day when performing the five canonical prayers and which he hopes to be able to utter at the moment of his death: “There is no god if not God (Allāh); Muhammad is the Envoy of God.” The two formulas composing this testimony are strictly complementary: the first one proclaims the dogma of absolute monotheism (tawḥīd) and concerns only the transcendent Principle, whereas the second one introduces the Envoy, bearer of the heavenly Message, a link between the Principle and manifestation. Proclaimed as the first of the five pillars of Islam, the shahāda is comparable to the apex of a pyramid whose basis would rest upon the four other ritual obligations (i.e., the five daily prayers, the fast of Ramadan, required almsgiving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca). It represents the emblem, the specific identification mark of the Islamic religion in its outer as well as inner forms and contents, and it constitutes a most frequent leitmotif and reference point in the commentaries of the theological and legal scholars, as well as in the inspired works of
the Sufi masters.

According to the mystical interpretation, the lucid believer who testifies that “there is no god if not God” denies the reality of anything which does not possess its own sufficient reason; he is aware of the illusory character of contingent phenomena, of the outer world, of individual existence; he empties himself from pretension, becomes “poor” (Arabic: faqīr, Persian: darwīsh; both terms often used as synonyms of ṣūfī) and “submitted” (Arabic: muslim) to the sole Real existing by itself, whose supreme Name is Allāh, literally: “the God,” unique, infinite, and absolute (concerning this Name, see the essay by Schaya).

Thus, it is only by his own obliteration that man can attain to the consciousness of the Real, or Truth (al-Ḥaqq), which is one of “the beautiful Names of God”; by realizing his own nothingness, fragility, and dependence, he perceives the Presence, the Power, and the other qualities of the self-sustaining Being. As aptly described by Junayd of Baghdad, the ninth century C.E. “Master of the Circle” (Shaykh aṭ- Ṭāʾifa): “The loss of his individual being completes the purity of his real being; in this state of absolute purity, his individual attributes are made absent, while this absence makes himself present . . .”

Universal Man (al-Insān al-Kāmil)

The second part of the shahāda, which complements the dogma of divine Unity, points out the medium that makes it possible for human beings to realize this Unity. This medium is Muhammad, God’s Prophet and Envoy, “the intermediary” (al-wāsiṭa) chosen to be the receptacle of the Revelation. Whereas Muhammad is a model for the generality of Muslims, who strive to imitate his virtues and whom they like to call “the best of created beings,” for the Sufis their relationship with this “friend of God” is even more intimate, being based on the fact that they view him as the perfect symbol and form of the Prime Intellect (al-ʿAql al-awwal), the very root and prototype of all creation, the original Light of which all particular intelligences are but a refraction. When offering prayers and salutations upon the Prophet, as prescribed in the Qurān, the faqīr is thus praying for the good of the whole creation and also for the recovery of his own pristine nature (on that subject, see the essay by Burckhardt).

The Way of Recollection (Dhikr)

The idea of a return to a primordial, paradisiacal state in which man, created in the image of God, played his full role as a “lieutenant (khalīfa) of God on earth,” according to a recurrent Quranic expression, is a theme of reflection often proposed by the Qurān, the hadīth, and the teachings of the Sufi masters. In this Adamic condition, there was no place for the individual will, the human soul being naturally submitted to the Creator and thus celebrating His praise as spontaneously as the leaves of trees sway to the rhythm of the wind, or as joyfully as the birds herald with their chirping the coming of a new dawn. Even more, enlightened by the Spirit which God had breathed into her, the soul was in harmony with all creatures, knowing their names (i.e., their essences) without being enraptured by their mirage and drawn away from worshiping the one Truth. After his own transgression— the “original sin”—had left him bereft of this privileged status, man received good tidings that ways and means existed to compensate him for his loss. These paths to salvation are the sacred Traditions which have been bestowed on every human community in the course of history and, singularly, when the last heavenly Message was delivered through the descent of the Qurān.

Generally known as the “Book of God” (Kitābu ʾLlāh), or as “the Collected Pages” (al-Muṣḥaf), the Qurān is often called Dhikru ʾLlāh, which means “the recollection of God” and which is also one of the many names given to the Prophet Muhammad. Chapter 38 of the Holy Book (Ṣād) opens with the words “By the Qurān, bearer of recollection!”, and it is a fact that the most repeated and pressing injunctions made to men are commands to remember God, mention Him often, invoke His Name a great deal, day and night, standing, sitting or lying on their side, with reverence, humility and attention . . .

For Sufis, these commands have not gone unheeded. Conscious of having been granted a rope of salvation through the Qurān, a mine of sacred formulas ready to unveil their secret meanings and offer their liberating gifts, Muslim mystics have developed a very rich and effective science and art of dhikr: invocation with the tongue, with the mind, with the heart, with the breath, with or without concomitant
use of music, percussion, song and dance (for more details, see the essay by Michon).

However, the practice of invocation, in particular when it entails a rhythmic repetition of one of the divine Names, including the supreme Name Allāh or the pronoun Huwa (“He”), is not an exercise within everyone’s capacity. Whether it is carried out during solitary retreats or in collective sessions, it requires from the participants some serious qualifications which are only acquired via a regular discipline of the body and soul, a scrupulous adherence to the common religious law, and a spiritual education entrusted to an authentic guide (murshid), a master who has himself followed the way (ṭarīqa) to enlightenment (for more on this, see the essay by Nasr).