Islamic Sufism consists of a set of mystical practices, of an initiatory character, developed by Islamic scholars.
In the Western world, especially from the turn of the 20th century to the 21st century, a somewhat skewed, if not negative, view of the Islamic religion was built. This is due to several factors, but one of the main ones is the question of the terrorist practices perpetrated by radical Islamic groups, such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, generally inspired by Sayyid Qutb, one of the ideologies of the Muslim Brotherhood. The direct association between Islamic terrorism and Islamic religion also stems from a profound ignorance of the very structure of Islam. One of the lesser known characteristics of the Islamic religion is its mystical aspect , expressed in Sufism , a name that refers to the wool tunic used by the first Sufi masters.
Every great religious system produced saints and mystics. That is, people who tried to rise spiritually through the excellence of the exercise of virtues and through asceticism – a practice of abstaining from earthly pleasures. Christianity (both Catholic and Orthodox and Protestant) had its mystics, Hinduism and Buddhism as well. It is no different with Islam.
In fact, the term Islam is just one part of the religion that takes its name. As the scholar of comparative religions and perennial wisdom, William Stoddard, says in his work Sufism: Metaphysical doctrine and spiritual path in Islam , the practice of Islamic religion “comprises, for the believer, three major categories: Islam (submission to the revealed law ), iman (faith in shahada) and ihsan (virtue or sincerity). ” The practice of Sufism is related to the latter category, ihsan , or practice of virtue.
Thus, Sufism is organized around a spiritual path (or path) of Islam, a path taken through the cultivation of virtues. For this path, the Sufis call themselves dhirk, that is, the invocative prayer that conveys the “remembrance of God”. One of the most practiced methods to achieve dhirk is the recitation of the Sufi rosary, called the wird . There are several formulas for recitation, which can vary from tariqa to tariqa. Taricas are organizations that hold practitioners of Islamic mysticism – although there are examples of many ecumenical taricas. Every tarica is headed by a shaikh(or cheike) that guides initiates who want to go deeper in the cultivation of virtues and in the study of religion. The shaikh , roughly, is a Sufi master.
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Above, the image of a Sufi master at the market in the city of Isfahan, Iran *
Because it is organized in this way, Sufism has an initiatory characteristic . That is, it maintains a closed circle of guidance between teacher and disciple. The latter therefore depends on the initiation of the former – it must be initiated in Sufi practice. This feature radically differentiates Islamic mysticism from Christianity, for example, which has nothing of an initiatory or esoteric nature.
The practice of Sufism led several Islamic mystics to the composition of magnificent works related to religious and interior knowledge, which are testimonies of the greatness of Islamic civilization. Our view of Islam, distorted by terrorism – which wants to claim a monopoly on the virtues of Islam for itself – hides this greatness.