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Authentic Sufism – Sufism is Not Mysticism

There are two types of Sufism: authentic and pseudo, or theosophical, Sufism. Authentic Sufism is a product of Islam alone and is nothing else but the quintessence of orthodox Islam.

Pseudo, or theosophical, Sufism, on the other hand, is an abominable innovation which was influenced by alien-to-Islam worldviews and traditions.

One of the widely articulated misconceptions about Sufism is that it is identifiable with mysticism.

Moreover, to some people, Sufism is also similar, albeit not completely identical, to the notions of monasticism, a lifestyle that involves the renouncing of worldly interests for the sake of devoting one’s self to the pursuing of religious goals, and excessive asceticism, a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various worldly pleasures also for the sake of devoting one’s self to the pursuing of certain spiritual goals.

Authentic Sufism is a product of Allah’s final revelation given to the seal of prophets, Muhammad. It is thus exclusively an Islamic phenomenon.

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Mysticism, on the other hand, preceded the existence of Sufism by centuries and even millennia, and its various forms and expressions could be traced back to almost every religious as well as philosophical tradition known to man.

Those traditions signify either distorted versions of once Allah’s revealed messages to mankind through various prophets who preceded the prophetic mission of Muhammad (peace be upon him), or are philosophical and religious legacies generated by man in the complete absence of the former.

Mysticism is thus a universal, fluid and open-ended, so to speak, phenomenon whose conceptual and procedural parameters border on indefinite.

By and large, it is associated with religions, ideologies and philosophies where the ultimate truth is yet to be fully established and put into practice.

It follows that mysticism, in point of fact, is a desperate seeking of that full truth, where some desperate and unconventional means and ways are undertaken in the process, rather than being any reliable and true knowledge and experience of, and communion with, the ultimate divine Reality.

Mysticism is an infinite quest, an endless journey.

By no means is it realizing a projected vision, or arriving at a coveted destination, or a station.

Mysticism is a venture into the unknown, most of the time at the initiative of a mystic himself. It is a self-initiation within the soul towards some fairly distorted and ambiguous goals wrapped up in the cliché of enlightenment and Divinity-seeking. It is a one-way passage, the results of which a mystic can never predict and which can take him by surprise.

It is a spiritual adventure which, admittedly, can give its adventurers some genuinely blissful, albeit transient, moments. Nonetheless, it also can turn seriously disappointing and hollow.

More often than not, however, mysticism is a mode of constant wandering from one spiritual uncertainty and deficiency to another, from one dubious mystery to another. It is an endless and open-ended most sophisticated display of people’s spiritual qualms, anxieties and vagueness.

Although a mystical system could stem from a particular religious or philosophical thought, its spontaneously absolute appeal, passion and aspirations in the end transcend the latter’s often hardened, monolithic, absolutist and obscurantist principles and ritual ceremonies.

A mystical system thus could be called “Christian”, “Jewish”, “Buddhist”, “Hindu”, etc., but once a mystic adopts a comprehensive esoteric method and strategy, and as a result rises above the confines of worldly existence where even his religious affiliation which was dominated by clergy, formal hierarchies and mandated sacred texts and creeds belongs, making a way into a spiritual kingdom and trying to attain a conscious awareness, intuition and experience of, and even communion with, an ultimate and supreme transcendent Being — a mystic’s initial identity then becomes as good as lost.

He becomes just one of many fervent truth and God-seekers, in the sense that he joins a multitude of spiritually charged persons who crave to connect to that Being within, and through this connection to become the recipient of divine wisdom, love, and compassion.

It stands to reason that mysticism, by definition, is one community whose paths differ in form but not in essence and goals. It denotes attaining direct knowledge of God through subjective experiences, as well as attaining mystical union or direct communion with God.

In other words, mysticism is the seeking of that perennial truth whose completeness and unity, however, have always been eluding man in domains of both religion and philosophy.

What mystics were doing thousands of years ago, as a matter of fact, still do today. The search still goes on, so much so that mystics readily display in the process a propensity to defy their religious institutional structures, including formal hierarchies and authorized sacred scriptures and dogmas for the purpose.

It seems that the historical, geographical and cultural omnipresence of mystics and their diverse-yet-unified mystical thought had some bearing on the subsequent birth of what came to be known as perennial philosophy.

It could be safely said, therefore, that a Christian mystic, for example, is firstly a mystic, then a Christian. The same holds true with reference to Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. mystics.

Mystics, in certain ways, are spiritual rebels. They are inclined to skepticism and doubting, pushing the limits of theirs and other people’s spirituality.

However, neither do they admit it nor give sufficient evidence to their detractors so that the latter could convict them of any, especially spiritual, felony.

Finding it both insufficient and unconvincing, a mystic might revolt against what his religious order is able to serve to him.

A mystic’s avid pursuit of a higher and deeper order of things where one allegedly forms an internal union with God, renders only that particular mission a supreme and absolute one; everything else, including a mystic’s past professed religious conditions, is deemed relative and of less importance.

The former condition affects and dictates the latter; it should never be the other way round, that is, that the exoteric ritualistic formalism should hold sway over a mystic’s pursuit of identity with the Divinity through direct experiences or insights, while evolving practices intended to nurture those experiences.

Some mystics, expectedly, even ended up regarding the physical religious laws and rituals as completely superfluous. What they possessed of gnosis (spiritual knowledge in the sense of mystical enlightenment) and enlightening mystical experiences, visions and states of consciousness, was a complete and foremost condition beyond ordinary levels of being and normal human perception.

Certainly, this was one of the reasons why many critics often viewed mysticism as a dangerous and controversial enterprise, knowing that it could lead to blasphemy, and was occasionally a cause of schism inside various religious communities.

Besides, many mystics, especially those who in their spiritual adventures and quest for enlightenment and gnosis made recourse to philosophy, were not only rejected but also were somewhat regarded as naïve fantasists because where reason proved powerless they gave way to feelings and imagination.

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About Dr. Spahic Omer
Dr. Spahic Omer, an award-winning author, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. In the year 2000, he obtained his PhD from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in the field of Islamic history and civilization. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and theory of Islamic built environment. He can be reached at: [email protected].