[A]n umbrella term for the ascetic
and mystical movements within Islam
. While Sufism is said to have incorporated elements of Christian monasticism, gnosticism
, and Indian mysticism, its origins are traced to forms of devotion and groups of penitents (zuhhad) in the formative period of Islam. The early pious figures, later appropriated by Sufism, include Ali, Hasan al-Basri (d. 801), and Rabia al-Adawiyya, a woman from Basra (Iraq) who rejected worship motivated by the desire for heavenly reward or the fear of punishment and insisted on the love of God as the sole valid form of adoration. The word Sufi first appears in the 8th cent., probably in connection with the coarse wool that many ascetics wore.
Two central Sufi concepts are tawakkul
, the total reliance on God, and dhikr
, the perpetual remembrance of God. Al-Muhasibi (d. 857) and his disciple Junayd (d. 910) are representative early figures. The introduction of gnostic elements (marifa) into Sufism is often attributed to Dhu-n-Nun al-Misri (d. 859). Sufism nonetheless faced growing opposition from orthodox clerics. The scholastic and ecstatic paths further diverged with the concept of fana, the dissolution into the divine, advocated by al-Bistami (d. 874), and used by Hallaj in the declaration of his unity with God, which eventually led to his execution in 922. Islamic orthodoxy and Sufism were not irreconcilable, as attested by the attempt by al-Ghazali (d. 1111) to infuse conformist Muslim religious life with mysticism.
, The Columbia Encyclopedia
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. Nevertheless, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the foremost scholars of Islam, in his article The Interior Life in Islam
contends that Sufism is simply the name for the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam.
Sufism is often regarded as the mystical branch of Islam, but to Sufis it has always been considered the heart of Islam. In this brief but dense introduction, one of the foremost scholars on Sufism opens up the tradition of the Sufis themselves. While many introductions to Sufism reveal only the "intoxicated" Sufism of paradoxical parables and poets drunken with love for God, Sufism is also balanced by a sober side. William Chittick presents both sides, touching on the major beliefs and practices of Sufis through the ages. What distinguishes Chittick's work is that he draws directly from his vast knowledge of original Sufi writings. He introduces us to Arabic terms, which if merely translated into English would mislead the reader. Instead, he describes the nuances of a few key terms that deliver the reader beyond our usual understanding and into the minds and hearts of Sufi mystics, philosophers, and theologians. Chittick's writing can be difficult, tossing off words like ''supererogatory'' and ''deracinated,'' but a patient reading will reward you with an understanding of the subtlety and dynamism that Sufism brings to the Islamic tradition.
Source: Amazon.com review by Brian Bruya
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Sufism's Many Paths
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