In Sufism is another branch of Islam.’ ‘Islam is

In this essay I’m going to analyse
the influence of non-Islamic religions like Christianity has had on the
development of Sufism and what it is. Sufism is another branch of Islam.’

‘Islam is a
religion that tells people what to do and what is wrong and right. These
practices are delineated and codified by the Sharia, which is the Islamic law
based of Koranic teachings and prophetic practice. The Sharia can be like
Islam’s ”body” because it designates proper activities all of which are
performed by the body, and it supports the traditions life and awareness. On
the deepest level Islam is a religion that teaches people how to transform
themselves so that they may come into harmony with the ground of all being’1.

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‘Islamic Mysticism
otherwise known as Sufism, has an undeniable role in Islamic history.’2 It ’emerged at the very early stage of Islam’s development.
Sufism’s internal diversity has produced an equally wide variety of it
assessments by both insiders and outsiders. They range from soberly detached
and critical to empathetically enthusiastic and apologetic.’3If we are to look at Sufism then we must
‘first look at what mysticism means. Mysticism contains something mysterious
not to be reached by ordinary means or intellectual effort. Mysticism has been
called ”the great spiritual current which goes through all religions” not
just Islam. It can be defined as the consciousness of the One Reality. It can
be described as love of the Absolute.’4’During the Ummayed period, there was a
direct contact between Christianity and Islam this contact gave rise to
mysticism which was influenced by the Islamic faith and principle. Mystical
religiosity was deemed as an independent movement despite its Islamic cultural
outlook. People who have adopted this movement are known as Sufi’s.’5’Sufis
trace their origins to Islamic teachings, which they believe succeeding
generations of the Prophet passed on over time and established in Sufism. They
never tire of insisting that their teachings and practices are rooted in the
Qur’an, the prophets exemplary custom and the moralethical standards set by the
first two generations of Muslims’6’Many people both Muslims and non- Muslims
consider Sufism to be alien to Islam.’7’As a structured discipline, Sufism developed
into a distinct system of thought and practice in the late 10th century,
emphasizing a definable course of personal and spiritual development in
relation to the divine with the ultimate goal of attaining union with the
divine’8’Sufism is
the study of seeking the knowledge of the One Ultimate Reality. Muslims
conceive Allah as the one who is unique in his attributes and essence, Allah is
unlike anything in the whole creation. Sufis on the other hand hold ”God as
the one Real Being which underlines all phenomena”. The purpose of a Sufi is
to get rid of his ‘I-am-ness’ they do this by realizing that there exists
nothing but God. They pass through stages to which are known as magamat to
purify their inner-self. After they get the purification of the inner-self they
reach the stage of annihilation also known as fana, this is the stage where
they touch the peak of perfectness. They can only achieve this by attaching
themselves to Tariqat this can be regarded as a sufi order and their submission
towards a master.’9Sufism ‘extends
significantly beyond this structured approach to spirituality, and has
historically been influenced by its specific local contexts and diverse
expressions of Islam (Morris, 1993), According to Murata and Chittick (1994),
in its wider sense Sufism is an interiorization of Islam based on a vision of
the unity of God {tawhid). Practically it requires adherents to follow the
example of the Prophet and to embody the Qur’an in order to attain awareness of
God in everything and to actualize the divine qualities within oneself.’10

‘Sufism has a
resemblance with other traditions such as Kabbalah, Christian Mysticism, Yoga,
Vedanta and Zen. In early texts load
of definitions where gave for the words Sufi and Sufism.’11’One interpretation of the word Sufi is that
it is derived from the Arabic word suf which means a woollen cloth. The reason
for this interpretation is that Sufis where supposed to wear a woollen garment,
why they wear this garment is it is to avoid worldly luxuries and it is also to
show simplicity’12’The word Sufism is an Arabic word, it is problematic in
Islamic civilization. It was widely used in several languages, it did not
however have the broad meaning that it has now. The meaning it now has comes
from the writings of Western scholars. As Carl Ernst says the word was given
prominence not by the Islamic texts but by British Orientalists, who wanted a
term that would refer to various sides of Islamic civilization that they found
attractive and would avoid the negative stereotypes that was attributed to the
Islamic religion. In Islamic texts there is no agreement on what they word Sufi
means. Those who used the word in a positive way connected it with human
perfection by following the example of the prophet Muhammad. Those who used it
in a negative way associated it with the various distortions of Islamic
teachings.’13

Sufism’s ‘main goal is for the person to develop a strong and unique
relationship between the creator who is God and the created. Sufis reject the
concept of incarnation, the also deny the belief that God can incarnate in man.
People who are true Sufis are not influenced by western
mystical tendencies, these true Sufis reject the pantheistic approach and
distinguish God from his servants. They maintain the goal that they must develop one’s self to such a high level of consciousness
that it may resemble the character and essence of God. In order for them to
reach this stage man would have to strive to gain knowledge through mystical
experience’14’The early Sufi teachers held that they
spoke for the animating spirit of the Islamic tradition. From their view where
ever this spirit flourishes, Islam is alive to its own spiritual and moral
ideals. This identification of Sufism with Islam’s spirit is seen in the sayings
of the prophet known as they ”Hadith of Gabriel”.  According to this hadith, the prophet and his
companions where sitting together when a man approached the prophet and asked
him questions. When the man left the prophet told his companions that the man
had been the angel Gabriel who had come to teach them their religion. The
religion of Islam has three basic dimensions they are submission otherwise
known as Islam, faith known as Iman and the spiritual dimension known as
Ishan.’15

On the eve of
Islam, the Middle East and North Africa were home to several highly developed
and sophisticated traditions. Judaism was one such tradition as was
Christianity which inherited its ascetic, world-renouncing attitudes not only
from Judaism but also from pagan traditions of the Greco-Roman world. Early
Sufis admired the devout and self-abnegating beliefs and practices of the
Christian monk.’16’Many European scholars such as Adalbert
Merx and Arend Jan Wensink where interested in the influence of Christianity.’17’The British scholar of early Christianity
and Islam Margaret Smith (1884-1970), recognized the Christian roots of Muslim
ascetic-mystical piety. Smith also pointed out the possible role of Christian
wives of the Arab conquers, in steering their children towards living lives
like the Christian monks. According to smith, the high opinion that Muslim
ascetic’s and mystics had of the beliefs and practices of Christian monks in
the middle east was genetically inherited. Other Western scholars of Sufism focused
their attention on the socioeconomic conditions of the early Muslim state. They
constructed these conditions as the reason why some Muslims attempted to escape
this imperfect world into an internal immigration. The ubiquitous presence of
Christian monasteries in Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia made contact between
early Muslims and Christians unavoidable.’18

‘European scholars
have responded to Islamic mysticism in different ways. Europe’s first encounter
with Sufi ideas can be traced back to the middle ages. The works of the
Catalanian mystic and Ramon Lull show a remarkable influence of Sufi
literature. The first figure of Sufi history to be introduced into European
literature was Rabi’a al-Adawiyya, who was the great woman saint of the eighth
century. Her legend was brought to Europe by Joinville who was the chancellor
of Louis IX in the thirteenth century. In the nineteenth century, historical
sources and important Sufi texts were made available in print in both the
Middle East and in Europe. Scholars could now form their own ideas about the
origin and early development of Sufism. However, most of the sources that where
available were of late origin and rarely contained reliable information about
the earliest stages of the mystical movement. Therefore, most interpreters
agreed that Sufism was a foreign plant in the sandy desert of Islam. A German
professor of Divinity, F. A. D. Tholuck produced the first comprehensive book
on Sufism in 1821 called Ssufismus sive theosophia persarum pantheistica and
four years later he produced an anthology called Bluthensammlung aus der
Morgenlandische Mystik. During the following decades several theories about the
origin of Sufism where brought fourth. E. H. Palmer in his book Oriental
Mysticism (1867), held that Sufism is the development of the primeval religion
of the Aryan race. Sufism has often been considered a typically Iranian
development inside Islam. Many eminent scholars mainly in Great Britain have
stressed the importance of Neo platonic influences upon the development of
Sufism. Many scholars are interested in Indian influences on the formative
period of Sufism, some of these scholars are Alfred von Kremer (1868) and
Reinhart P. Dozy (1869). However, even Max Horten’s numerous articles on this
Indian influence could not bring any stringent proof of such influences. Some
scholars where also interested in influences from Turkestan such as Richard
Hartmann. Ignaz Goldziher pointed out parallel traditions in Islamic mystical
tales and Buddhist stories. Some scholars like Omar Farrukh where interested in
the influence of Chinese traditions. The Japanese scholar Toshihiko Izutsu has
drawn some interesting parallels between Taoist structures of thought and Ibn
Arabi’s mystical system.’19The view that Sufism came under the influence of
non-Islamic religions is not accepted by all ‘the reason they don’t accept the
view that it came under influence is that it is casting doubt on Islam’s
self-sufficiency and ability to develop its own vaulted spirituality and
sophisticated philosophy that Sufi Islam is often seen as representing. Some
find this notion to be offensive to the majesty that is Islam.’20

‘The assumption
that Sufism has emerged from the pristine sources of Islam is captured in the
famed assertion by the French islamologist Louis Massignon. According to
Massignon ”the Qur’an, through constant recitation, meditation and practice,
is this source of Islamic mysticism, as it is beginning and throughout its
growth”. Massignon’s thesis is ignored by the advocates of Sufism’s Qur’anic
roots.  Massignon was right about the
centrality of the Qur’an to the Muslim intellectual and spiritual universe and
the Sufi version of it in particular.’21 ‘Massignon provides a list of terms that
are used in Islamic mysticism and shows how the great Sufi al-Hallaj deepened
their meaning. Massignon draws several conclusions, the most important being
the originality of Islamic mysticism. He was the first orientalist to assert
that Sufism was based on the Qur’an and the Hadith, at a time when most
orientalists claimed that Sufism could not have emerged within Islam and,
rather, owed its existence to Aryan sources. Massignon argues that, after the
first three centuries of Islam, Sufism entered into decomposition, especially
after al-Hallaj. He believes that Sufis cannot achieve perfection if they do not
follow the figure of Christ, as did, in his opinion, al Hallaj.’22’Tor Andrae like the French scholar Louis
Massignon, emphasized the primacy of the Islamic roots of Sufism,
notwithstanding the latent influence of Christian ideas, Andrae was a committed
Christian. He ranks among the first scholars of Sufism who focused on the
movement’s early formative period, he concentrates on leading figures between
750 and 900 A.D such as Dha’n-Nfin, Muhasibl and Junayd, and shows how the
gloomy and stern piety of asceticism develops, under the influence of love
mysticism, into a dynamic and powerful spiritual movement that seeks to
transform the human self to the likeness of God’23

In conclusion ‘Islam teaches people what is right and what
is wrong.’24
Sufism is a form of Islam most people know it as the
Mystic form of Islam. ‘The Sufi persons role is to get rid of his I-am-ness,
they do this by passing through the stages of magamat. Their aim is to reach
the last stage where they enter perfectness. There is an ongoing debate about what the
‘term Sufi means but the most widely accepted term is the Arabic word Suf which
means woollen cloth.’25 For people who
are Sufi’s their main goal is for the person to develop a strong and unique
relationship between the creator and the created. They reject the concept of
incarnation, they also deny the belief that God can incarnate in man. For
people who are true Sufis are not influenced by western mystical tendencies,
they pantheistic approach and distinguish God from his servants. Their main
goal is to develop one’s self to such a high level of consciousness that it may
resemble the character and essence of God. For them to reach this stage man
would have to strive to gain knowledge through mystical experience.’26 There is a huge debate about whether Sufism has been
influenced by non- Islamic traditions, most scholars will agree that Sufism was
influenced by other religion such as Buddhism and Christianity. Some scholars
will also say it was not only influenced by religions but by other countries
such as China.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Abdullah, Somaya, ‘Islam and
counseling: models of practice in Muslim communal life’, Journal of Pastoral Counseling, Vol.42, (2007),
pp.42-55.

Asani, Ali, ‘In the Garden of Myrtles:
Studies in Early Islamic Mysticism (Book Review)’, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol.109, Issue.4, pp.705-706.

Begum, Shagufta & Awan, Aneega Batool, ‘A Brief Account of Sufism and
its Socio-Moral Relevance’,
The Dialogue (1819-6462), Vol.10, (2015), pp.23-34.

Chitick, William C., Sufism:
A Beginner’s Guide, (Oxford, Oneworld Publications, 2011), Kindle E-Book.

El-Zein, Amira, ‘Essay on the Origins of the Technical Language of
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(1999), pp.84.

Knysh, Alexander, Sufism:
A new history of Islamic Mysticism, (Oxfordshire, Princeton University
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eds., Mystical Dimensions of Islam,
35th Anniversary Edition, (United States, University of North
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1
William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Beginner’s
Guide, (Oxford, Oneworld
Publications, 2011), Kindle E-Book, Locations.221 & 228.

2 Shagufta Begum & Aneeqa Batool Awan, ‘A Brief Account of Sufism and its Socio-Moral Relevance’, The Dialogue (1819-6462), Vol.10, (2015), pp.23-34, p.24.

3
Alexander Knysh, Sufism: A new history of
Islamic Mysticism, (Oxfordshire, Princeton University Press, 2017), Kindle
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4
Annemaire Schimmel, and Carl W. Ernst, ‘What is Sufism’ eds., Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 35th
Anniversary Edition, (United States, The University of North Carolina
Press,2011), Kindle E-Book, Chapter Location: 488-1040, Locations.493 &
503.

5 Begum & Awan, ‘A Brief Account of Sufism’, p.24.

6
Knysh, Sufism: A new history of Islamic Mysticism, Kindle E-Book, Location.478.

7
Chittick, Sufism
a beginner’s Guide, Kindle E-Book, Location.182.

8
Somaya Abdullah, ‘Islam and Counselling: models of practice in Muslim communal
life’, Journal of Pastoral Counselling,
Vol.42, (2007), pp.42-55, p. 49.

9
Begum & Awan,
‘A Brief Account of Sufism’, p.24.

10
Abdullah, ‘Islam and Counselling’, p. 49.

11
Chittick, Sufism: A Beginner’s Guide,
Kindle E-Book, Locations.154, 161, 169,182 & 190.

12
Begum & Awan, ‘A Brief Account of Sufism’, p.24.

13
Chittick, Sufism: A Beginner’s Guide,
Kindle E-Book, Locations.154, 161 & 169.

14
Begum & Awan,
‘A Brief Account of Sufism’, pgs.25 & 26.

15
Chittick, Sufism: A Beginner’s Guide,
Kindle E-Book, Locations.190 & 197.

16
Knysh, Sufism:
A new history of Islamic Mysticism,
Kindle E-Book, Location.613.

17
Schimmel & Ernst, ‘Mystical Dimensions of Islam’, kindle E-Book, Chapter
Location.488-1040, Location.620.

18
Knysh, Sufism:
A new history of Islamic Mysticism,
Kindle E-Book. Location Chapter.606-690, Location.622 & 630.

19
Schimmel & Ernst, ‘Mystical Dimensions of Islam’, kindle E-Book, Chapter
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20
Knysh, Sufism:
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Kindle E-Book. Location Chapter.606-690, Location.638.

21
Knysh, Sufism: A new history of Islamic Mysticism, Kindle E-Book. Location
Chapter.606-690, Location.648.

22
Amira El-Zein, ‘Essay on the Origins of the Technical Language of Islamic
Mysticism by Louis Massignon and Benjamin Clark (Book Review’, Vol. 33, (1999),
pp.84, p.84.

23
Ali Asani,
‘In the Garden of Myrtles: Studies in Early Islamic
Mysticism (Book Review)’, Journal of
the American Oriental Society, Vol.109, Issue.4, pp.705-706, p.705.

24
Chittick, Sufism a beginner’s Guide,
Kindle E-Book, Location.221.

25
Begum & Awan, ‘A Brief Account of Sufism’,
p.24.

26
Begum & Awan, ‘A Brief Account of Sufism’,
pgs.25 & 26.