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Sufism
When I come to Love, I am ashamed of all that I have ever said about Love Rumi

Sufism or tasawwuf, as it is called in Arabic, is generally understood by scholars and Sufis to be the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. Today, however, many Muslims and non-Muslims believe that Sufism is outside the sphere of Islam. Sufism is a school for the actualization of divine ethics. It involves an enlightened inner being, not intellectual proof; revelation and witnessing, not logic. By divine ethics, Sufis are referring to ethics which transcend mere social convention; a way of being which is the actualization of the attributes of God.
To explain the Truth is indeed a difficult task. Words, being limited, can never really express the Perfection of the Absolute, the Unbound. Thus, for those who are imperfect, words create doubt and misunderstanding. Yet: If one cannot drink up the entire ocean,
one can drink to one's limit.
Philosophers have written volumes and spoken endlessly of the Truth, but somehow their efforts have always fallen short. For the Sufi, philosophers are those who view the Perfection of the Absolute from a limited perspective; so all they see is part of the Absolute, not the Infinite in its entirety. It is indeed true that what philosophers see is correct; nevertheless, it is only a part of the whole. One is reminded of Rumi's well-known story of a group of men in India who had never seen an elephant. One day they came to a place where an elephant stood tall. In complete darkness they approached the animal, each man feeling it. Afterwards, they described what they thought they had perceived. Of course their descriptions were different. He, who had felt a leg, imagined the elephant to be a pillar. The man, who felt the animal's ear, described the elephant as a fan, and so on. Each one of their descriptions with respect to the various parts they had experienced was true. However, as far as accurately describing the whole, their conceptions had all fallen short. If they had had a candle, the difference of opinions would not have come about. The candle's light would have revealed the elephant as a whole.
The main substance of Sufism in its early stage was asceticism and aversion of the world, “escape from the world and condemnation of wealth, profusion and idle life”. Thus a cult of poverty arose as ideal condition for “spiritual salvation”. The main rule for mendicant ascetic (who later were called dervishes) was to collect alms only for one day. It was a custom of ascetics to wear coarse clothes (suf), which was the usual cloth of poor men and repentant. From this the name Sufism appeared for ascetic school in Islam and Sufi (wearing suf) for ascetics. Sufi had to earn his living either by personal labor or by begging.
Dervish - mendicant ascetic-mystic, without personal property, wandering about or living in special dormitory style accommodation (Khanaka). In a wider meaning the term “dervish” used as synonym of “Sufi”. Young dervishes surrounded a tutor (sheikh). Under the direction of his sheikh, a student would study a long course of ascetic and meditative life of self perfection. There are four levels of the Path: Shariat implicit observance of Muslim legislation in all its details; Tariqat taking the path of Sufism; Ma'rifat enlightening and the superior level Haqiqat the Truth. One, who reached Haqiqat, has given up a material world and merged with the Truth.
In order to travel the path, the Sufi needs strength supplied by proper bodily nourishment. It has been said that whatever the Sufi eats is transformed into spiritual qualities and light. However, the food of others, since it but serves their own desires and fears, only strengthens their selfish attachments and takes them further away from the Truth. In Sufism, it is by the Tariqat (Spiritual Path) that the self is gradually purified and transformed into Divine Attributes, until there is nothing left of one's compulsive self. Then all that remains is the Perfect, Divine Self. In such extensive and precise work, asceticism and abstinence are virtually worthless.
Between XI and XV centuries the influence of Sufism strengthened. During this period separate Sufi cloisters started to unite into orders. At the head of each order was the vali or senior sheikh. The most influential and numerous order on the territory of modern Uzbekistan was the Naqshbandi order, the most prominent figure of which was Bakhauddin Naqshbandi from Bukhara. The Naqshbandiya order denies asceticism, all members of brotherhood were laity and there was no necessity to live in special dormitories (Khanaka). Special attention was paid to the spiritual connection between a tutor and a student. However Bakhauddin Naqshbandi was not the founder of the order, he was its fifth leader. The tutors of Naqshbandi were sheikhs from Bukhara. In XVI century Naqshbandi's teaching reached India and became the leading order of Sufis. Also there were numerous wandering dervishes Kalandars in Iran and Central Asia.
It is typical for Sufism to blend together different philosophical systems, customs and regulations of orthodox Islam and elements of ancient creeds, deep-rooted in local traditions. The latter promoted Sufism among common people.
To this day, Sufis from all over the world visit Bukhara and the many Sufi shrines throughout Uzbekistan.


by Niyara Ibragimova & Andrey Kim

Discovery Central Asia #15

Discovery Central Asia supplement #4/2005

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