Sufism:An Introduction to the Mystical Tradition in Islam
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Sufism:An Introduction to the Mystical Tradition in Islam, by Carl Ernst
Thebook aims to demystify Sufism as practiced by groups from variouscountries around the world. It has an objective of creating anunderstanding among the westerners and the fundamentalist Islam. Theauthor is keen to depict Sufism as a branch of Islam that is morerational in its approach. Whereas the doctrine does not fullysubscribe to the western style of music, it also doesn`t entirelyreject the use of music and dances in its religious activities. Thereligious group is, therefore, more liberal in comparison with thefundamental Islamism (Ernst,2011). It clearly rejects the hard-linestance adopted by the fundamentalists.
Thesoaring voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan`s rising voice and the wellhappy exciting dance by Jalaluddin Rumi are some of the depictions ofSufism and frequently referred to as pure fascination of Islam(Ernst,2011).They are mystical in the sense that the expressions arebeyond human understanding. It would be significant to understand whothe Sufis are in the Islamic religion. According to the Islamicfaith, the Sufis are beyond mystery as they are guided and empoweredby the Quran and the holy prophet of Allah, Mohammed. That level ofempowerment is to most Muslims, the highest level of spiritualconnection.
Questionswould be raised why the Sufis consider themselves different from themainstream Muslims if indeed they subscribe to same teachings. Theyare guided by the angels and the highest ranks of spiritual masters(Ernst,2011). It is also curious to know that they are only found inparticular countries unlike the mainstream group of Muslims. TheSufis are in the category of Islam in Turkey, India and Central Asia(Ernst,2011). This order of Islam also belongs to North Africa. Justlike the rest of Muslims they follow rules of the Islamic faith, theSufis practice prayer and fasting as dictated by the Quran as Allahexpects of all the Muslims. In addition, the Sufis employ uniquetechniques of meditation designed for soul-searching to bring anindividual closer to Allah (Ernst, 2011).They perform and enjoy participating in music and poetry. It isimportant to mention that music and dancing are condemned by theQuran leaving one wondering why the Sufis do not adhere to the rule.One would be left wondering if the group only follows parts of theholy book that suits their convenience. They also perform danceswhose goal is to unite the Sufis with God. Unlike other functions inthe contemporary world, dancing can never be employed forentertainment purposes. That is contradictory to the mood thatcharacterizes the dancing sessions which shows that the group is incelebratory mood. All their activities center on the acknowledgmentof their maker.
Theauthor highlights the significant issues of Sufism about the largerworld of the Islam (Ernst, 2011). The author also focuses on theencounters of Sufism with the rest of populations, both Muslims andnon-Muslims. The author also highlights the development of Sufitraditions in the western countries. One is persuaded to agree withthe fundamentalist Muslims because according to the teachings of theIslam, only the full adherence to the Quran is acceptable. There areno two ways about it, which makes Sufism appear like a relaxed formof Islam.
Mostpeople in the western countries consider Sufism as an Islamicmysticism but Ernst advocates for a more detailed understanding ofthe religious division. The Europeans and the Americans perceiveSufism as some form of mystical philosophy, which is connected orderived from mysticisms of the principal religions of the world suchas Christianity, Buddhism or Hindu (Ernst,2011). This, however, iscontrary to assertions by the author, Ernst.Thestatement implies that Sufi mysticism has its origins in the Koranespecially in the journey that Mohamed embarked at night and ascendedto a God from a rock that was dome-shaped. The Sufi literature isdominated by images of the ascent that took place that night whichimplies that Sufi mysticism is clearly anchored on the teachings ofthe Koran. The pursuit of divine understanding by the Sufi ischaracterized by hundreds of years of literature, dance and music,whose prominence the author demonstrates.
Theauthor also underscores sainthood among the Sufis and the order ofmasters and learners or disciples (Ernst, 2011). The spiritualpractices of the Sufis and the difficult position of Sufis in modernIslam are also covered to a great extent. Fundamentalists considerthe group blasphemous mainly because of the role and position theSaints are accorded in the lives of the Sufis. From the book nhowever, it can be found that Sufism teachings are common among mostof the religions. The clean and idiomatic translation of the book byErnst provides an exciting of the book. This is mainly because of themystic content which often dazzles the reader but which could bemonotonous due to lack of suspense (Ernst,2011). The exciting poemsby Rumi who lived in the 13th century have been significant among theSufis. Mevlevis is a Sufi order that was founded by Rumi`s son. TheMeylevis incorporated Rumi`s poems in music and dances that caughtthe attention of the Westerners. Rumi is highly regarded in the laterstages, and his symbolism among the Sufi cannot be quickly forgotten(Ernst,2011). His poetry pieces express the love for God and nothuman being. Ernst, who is a lecturer, makes an effort to introducereaders to Sufism for a better and more comprehensive understandingof the doctrine.
Theauthor gives a detailed history and origins of Sufism together with asummary of the ways in which Westerners belittle the faith to implythat the Sufis follow certain ascetic rules that are ethical innature (Ernst,2011). The author depicts Sufism as a group of peoplewho are out to obey the dictates of the Quran, in collaboration andguidance of the saints and seeking to be in peace and agreement withGod. Ernst also evaluates the sacred origins of Sufism. Heunderscores the role of angel and sainthood in the lives of theSufis. It is however not clear if saints are humans who have beenelevated spiritually to the level of superhuman. Any reader who isencountering the reading for the first time could have severalunanswered questions. For example, one would be tempted to ask thepoint at which God should be consulted if the individual is inconstant and continuous interaction with the angels. The spiritualpractices such as meditation help the Sufis understand the word ofGod better (Ernst,2011). Other aspects of the doctrine are the ordersof masters and discipleship, poetry, dance and music(Ernst,2011).The relationship of the master and the disciple requires clarity too.For example, readers would ask if human beings could have amaster-disciple relationship while still alive. That kind ofrelationship could be interpreted in some quarters as slavery if itever existed.
Therelationship between the Sufis and the fundamentalist Islam is alsoexhaustively addressed by the author. The reader who is non-Sufiwould be persuaded to take the position of a fundamentalist at timesas the Sufis seem to occupy a middle position. They don`t fullysubscribe to the entire teachings of the Islam yet at the same timehave practices that are different from those practiced by otherreligions such as Christianity. The author has made every effort todemystify Sufism, but the reader is still left wondering if there areclear differences that should warrant division between the Sufis andother groupings such as Shiite.
Inconclusion, the author has made every effort to address thecontentious issues in Sufism. The practices adopted by the Sufiscould, however, be seen be seen to be contrary to some teachings ofthe Quran (Ernst,2011).Many would, however, argue that no religion or discipline is cast instone and that the origins and contexts under which the doctrineemerged should be well understood. Music, poetry, dance andmeditation are some of the dominant features of Sufism, and theauthor has asserted the important role they play in the life of aSufi. The author should be commended for initiating a debate in anarea that has not been exhaustively tackled. The relevance of thebook to the understanding of contemporary religious issues cannot beunderrated.
Ernst, C. W. (2011). Sufism:An introduction to the mystical tradition of Islam.Boston, Mass: Shambhala.