Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education

The Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE) is a non-profit, tax exempt, religious and educational organization dedicated to serve Islam with a special focus on Tasawwuf(Sufism),

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sufism: Holistic Approach to Islam.Dr.Arthur Buehler- Part 1 of 2

 Sufism: Holistic Approach to Islam. A lecture by Dr.Arthur Buehler, Professor, Islamic Studies, University of Victoria at Wellington, NZ, delivered at International Mawlid un Nabi Conference 1996, UIC, Chicago.Sponsored by Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education ( VIDEO LECTURE: 1 of 2 TRANSCRIPT: 1 of 2 Sufism: A Holistic Approach to Islam Arthur F. Buehler Victoria University, Wellington, NZ A. A Brief History of Sufism Even during Muhammad's lifetime some of his followers desired to enter into a more intimate relationship with God beyond performing required ritual practices. Over the next three centuries a discipline of pious self-examination and refined religious psychology came into existence. The specialized technical vocabulary of this discipline, now known as Sufism, came directly from the Qur'an. Muslims who engaged in these pious activities, in addition to the required religious practices of the wider community, became known as sufis, presumably because they wore simple woolen (sufi) robes as tokens of their interiorized piety. In short, Sufism can be both an Islamic religious science and the collective spiritual practices of a person who desires to have a more encompassing experience of submitting to God (the literal meaning of islam). Sufism (or a variant thereof) is the word used in western languages since the nineteenth century to designate an Arabic word, tasawwuf, the practice of those wearing wool. As an Arabic term it misleads people by labeling a profound practice by an exterior, often ostentatious distinction of the type of clothing one wears. The ascetic al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 110/728) accused sufis of concealing pride in their hearts by wearing such clothing. The English version, “Sufism,” is not any more felicitous since the “ism” of Suf-ism has allowed misconceptions, all too prevalent today in western countries, to consider Sufism and Islam as separate religious paths. This linguistic awkwardness points to other prevalent misunderstandings of Sufism. Sufi practice began in the Arab-speaking world and is coterminous with the worldwide spread of Islam itself. To the extent that sufis desire closeness or intimacy with God, Sufism can be roughly translated as Islamic mysticism. Insofar as these interior experiences and transformations are not apparent to others (in contrast to woolen clothing) Sufism can be said to be the esoteric aspect of Islam. Sufism is not a discipline where its practitioners have “secrets” to conceal. Reports from the earliest Muslim sources communicate what the Sufi enterprise entails in a more holistic manner. B. Gabriel's Hadith It is related that one day a man came walking from the desert into the presence of the Prophet and his companions. He proceeded to ask the Prophet a few questions. He asked first about submitting to God (islam) and Muhammad replied that Islam consists of the five pillars (attestation of one God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God, prayer, fasting, alms and pilgrimage). To everyone's shock, the guest remarked that the Prophet had spoken correctly. He then inquired about faith (iman) and the Prophet responded by listing the articles of faith mentioned in the Qur'an, e.g., God, His messengers, angels, scriptures, and the Day of Judgment. His last question was about beneficence (ihsan) and the Prophet answered that ihsan was worshiping God as if you see Him; if you do not see Him He sees you. At that point the visitor left and Muhammad informed his astounded companions that the angel Gabriel had visited them in human form. Such a three-dimensional conception of Islam assumes that different persons have varying potential and ability for spiritual accomplishment. The vast majority of Muslims seek salvation through their daily practice of islam, informed by a faith commitment (iman). For a person who has an inclination to delve further into either of these dimensions of the Islamic tradition, he or she can spend a lifetime studying their respective fields of knowledge. Sufism encompasses the activities working toward the field of consciousness and experience represented by ihsan. Such an enterprise, explicit in the Naqshbandi context, assumes a firm foundation in faith (iman) and in the practice of submitting to God (islam) before achieving an extraordinary degree of proximity to God. Surely not all who call themselves sufis are able to achieve this advanced goal and not all of the few who reach this stage are necessarily sufis. Another oft-mentioned triad associated with explicating Sufism is shari`a (Arabic original meaning: path leading to the water hole but now commonly meaning Islamic law), tariqa (Arabic word meaning path or method), and haqiqa (Arabic for truth or reality). For Muslims the shari`a represents the wide path outlining the timeless God-given rules that govern everyday life for all humans. It is the path leading to salvation. The tariqa is a narrower path, often associated with the Sufi path, leading to haqiqa, the experience of the Ultimate. These three interrelated aspects of Islam have been depicted as the one circle of shari`a with a multiplicity of radii or paths (the tariqas) leading to the center (haqiqa). In transformative terms, shari`a [hereafter sharia] is medical science, tariqa is preventing disease and taking medicine, and haqiqa is eternally perfect health. The latter metaphor implies a necessary doctor or guide who has eternally perfect health -- the heirs of the Prophet Muhammad. These triads clearly show the critical role of Islamic law in the practice of Sufism.


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