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Islam and Mysticism

By: Professor Maqsood Jafri



In Greek philosophy Plato promoted Gnosticism.  The author of Fasusul Hikim and Fatoohat-e-Makkiya, eminent Muslim thinker and saint Sheikh-e-Akbar Ibn-e-Arabi seems under the influence of Platonic mysticism.  An eminent philosopher and agnostic of our age Bertrand Russell in his book “Logic and Mysticism” believes in some immaterial powers but names such miraculous forces as mental super activities.  The materialists do not believe in spiritual and mystical powers.  IN the history of Prophets we find Abraham doing miracles with the command of God.  He minced the meet of four birds, mixed it, and put it at four mounds and called them and the four birds were raised to life and flew towards him.  He was thrown into flames by Nimrod but the fire extinguished and he remained safe.  This was a miracle.  David used to touch the iron and it melted like wax.  Moses threw his staff on the ground and it devoured the rope made snakes instantly.  He threw his staff in the Red Sea and it gave way to him and to his people, the Israelites.  Jesus cured the blind and the leper.  Even he raised the dead to life.  Prophet Muhammad parted the Moon in to two pieces.  He picked up the pebbles and they recited Kalima.  What these miracles show?  These miracles tell us that God can interfere in the Natural system.  He has the power of changing the Natural rules.  The natural law is that Fire burns.  But when it did not burn Abraham that proved the supremacy of soul over matter.  It is the negation of materialism and atheism.  It is not with the Abrahamic or Semitic prophets that they have shown miracles.  In Hinduism we read about the miracles of Krishin.  Yoga is a rigorous physical and spiritual practice which trains the people to do wonders.


Taoism in the expression of mysticism in ancient Chinese religion, and the Tao Te Ching (The book of the way and the Power) is one of the great mystical scriptures.  Buddah was a miraculous personality.  These founders of different religions like Guro Nanak of Sikhism with their spiritual message showed miracles.  Not only the Prophets, their followers ere endowed by God such miraculous powers that hundred of thousands people embraced their religions after seeing their miracles.  They were saints.  The Christian monasticism represents mysticism.  Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of Cross were great saints.  Hazrat Ali is famous for his spiritual and miraculous attributes.


In Islam material and spiritual go side by side.  As a human being is compound of matter and soul, similarly “Shariah” (The Law) is the body and “Tariqah” (The spirit) is the soul.  The clerics stress more on the law while the Sufis give more importance to the spirit.  But there is another group of Muslim Sufis who believe in the amalgamation of the law and the spirit.  They are known as Ahl-e-Haqiqah; the people of reality.  To them the jurists pay more attention to the religious legalism and the theologians are more concerned with the religious dogmatism while the Sufis believe in asceticism.  The people of Reality believe in full truth; not in half truth.  The people of the Law and theology are strict about rites, rituals and practices.  They are hard liners.  They are sectarian and extremists as well.  While the people of spirit claim to be moderate, humane and universal.  The Sunnis and the Shias believe in Shariah and Tariqah while the Wahabis do not believe in Sufism.  There are so many sunni sufistic orders such as Qaderiyya, Naqshbaniyya, Chistiyga and Mouliviyya etc.  The Shais believe in the Wilayya of Hazrat Ali.  It is interesting to note that nearly all Sunni mystical orders stem out from Hazrat Ali.  Sufism has been controversial in the Muslims.  The theologians have always opposed it.  The Mosque and Monastery have been clashing with each other.  Many famous Muslim scholars and poets were Sufis.  They believed in Shariah and Tariqah and condemned the clerics for their dry and spiritless religious ritualism.  Malcolm Clark in his book entitled “Islam For Dummies” writes; “Sufis played a major role in converting people to Islam in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia (today’s Pakistan, India and Bangladesh), and Central Asia.”  Sufism is a search for God.  The Arabic word Tasawwuf is from “Suf” which means wool.  The early Sufis used to wear coarse woolen dress and were ascetics.  They practiced physical self-denial.  Such Sufism of self abnegation and self-denial is prohibited in Islam.  There is a famous saying of the Holy Prophet; “no asceticism in Islam” On the other hand there is a sober mysticism and ecstatic mysticism.  The former means mysticism of “Salik” or “Arif”; the people who are self-conscious and practice religious rituals with their spirit.  The latter deals with “Majzoob” i.e; the ecstatic and engrossed and possessed persons.  These people are mostly naked and ascetics.  They are not conscious about themselves and about religious rites.  Behlol Dewana is its best example.  Such people are not mad.  They have spiritual and miraculous powers.  Religion is silent on such exceptional cases.  The Sufis believe in experiencing God.  They claim that merely soulless rituals cannot take you near to God.  It is spirit that is more important.  In Sura “The Heifer” God says; “when my servants ask you concerning me, I am indeed close to them” (2:186).  Then in Sura “The Table Spread” God says: “As to those who turn (for friendship) to Allah, His Messenger, and the (fellowship of) believers, it is the Fellowship of Allah that must certainly triumph.” (5:56). The term “Waliullah” (the Firend of God) is used in Sufism.  The Sufis believe Muhammad’s night journey through the seven heavens to the throne of God as the model for stations of the Sufi path.  They use the word Faqir or Dervish which means a poor person.  They derive it from the Hadith of the holy prophet; “My poverty is my pride”  The holy prophet distributed all his wealth in the poor  and needy and that is the spirit of Islamic mysticism.  Tawakul (Absolute Trust in God); Sabr (Patience) and Rida (Contentment) are the three golden principles of Sufism.  The Sufis reacted against the Umayyad monarchic luxuries and devoted themselves to Jihad-e-Akbar (The greater struggle) by purifying their souls.  For this purpose they practice “Dhikr” (recollection and recitation) and Sama (singing of spiritual songs).  They have established the Sufi orders, chains or brotherhoods.  The Qadiriyya, the Rafaiyya, the Shadliliyya, the Subrawariyya, the Moulavi, the Bektashiyya, the Chistiyya, the Naqshbandiyya, the Badawiyya, the Kubrawiyya and the Tijaniyya are the famous sunni sufi orders.  Amongst Muslim Sufis some are following; Hassan Basri, Ibrahim ibn Adham, Rabia Basri, Sufyan Thuri, Abu Yazid Bistami, Junaid Baghdadi, Mansur al –Hallaj, Data Ganj Baksh, Nizam-ud-Deen Awlaya, Boo Ali Qalaudar and Moeen-ud-Deen Chishti Ajmeri.  The famous Sufi Muslim poets are; Ibu al-Farid; Farid al-Din Attar; Hakim Sanai; Jalal al-Din Rumi and Yunus Emre.  In the end it is necessary to mention that the real Sufi achieves divine attributes and powers.  The holy prophet says: Fear the sagacity of the believer for the sees with the eyes of God.”  In Hadith Qudsi it is said; “When a Believer says Be: it is done:  It is an allusion to the following verse of Sura Yasin “verily, when He intends a thing, His command is, “Be”, and it is” (36:82) when the Quran regards the pelting of stones by the prophet as the deed of God Dr. Iqbal in a couplet regards the hand of Believer as the hand of God.  Maulana Rumi in a couplet also says that when a man attains godly attributes he attains godly powers.  It is not infidelity but the sublimity of Man.  There is no doubt in it that Sufism is movement of purity and spirituality.  But, unfortunately some people made it a profession and are exploiting common Muslim folk in the name of Sufism.  Ibn Tamiyya and Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab rejected Sufism and regarded it equivalent to heresy.  Sufism has been made a trade which is, of course, un-Islamic.  But we should not forget that the Quran announce: “The friends of God have neither fear nor woe”.  The friends of God are saints and mystics.  Islamic mysticism is a vast world having Sheikhs, Qutubs, Abdals, Majzoobs and Qalanders.  If there are false prophets we can not reject the true prophets.  If there are sham mystics we cannot reject the true mystics.  Mysticism is a branch of Islamics and is super knowledge of spirit.



(The writer is an eminent speaker and scholar on Islam.  He can be reached at


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