For Sufis, there’s a thin veil between the world of man and the natural world, and it is our work to lift that veil. In that, we follow the Hermetic tradition of “as above, so below,” — something shared with Jewish mysticism.
It’s our belief that the cosmic order of the heavens can be found in the smallest seed here on Earth. Bridging a connection between ‘above and below’ is what deeply spiritual Sufis will spend a lifetime trying to perfect. We become conduits.
The journey towards the divine is most poetically captured in Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi. In the inspiring Sufi work of part fiction, Elif best captures the Sufi relationship with the natural world when she notes there’s a balance, a music, or rhythm “underlying all forms of life… Don’t they see that all nature is singing?” She continues:
Everything in the universe moves with a rhythm – the pumping of the heart, the flaps of a bird’s wings, the wind on a stormy night, a blacksmith working iron, or the sounds an unborn baby is surrounded with inside the womb… Everything partakes, passionately and spontaneously, in one magnificent melody. The dance of the whirling dervishes is a link in that perpetual chain. Just as a drop of seawater carries within it the entire ocean, our dance both reflects and shrouds the secrets of the cosmos.’
What it Means to be a Sufi
Sufis are known to get ‘lost’ in the moment, in a thought or in a pursuit. You see it in the dance of the whirling dervishes, you hear it in their music, and you see it in how they live their life — seeming to outsiders as sometimes both here and not here. We call this dhikr, or remembrance of God. As Rumi would say, there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, and so there are a thousand ways to pray or offer dhikr to God.
Sufi music and literature also often speaks of a drunkenness, a natural intoxication that loosens the serpents of influence and control — and that allows us to see the world more clearly in its true form. That belief in losing the anchor tethering us to this world is not that different from beliefs in Irish culture, which also embraces a defiant breaking of the chains through drink and merriment as a form of escape.
Another way Sufis break their shackles is by shunning the material world, and opting instead for a simpler life. It brings us back to why Sufis are devout lovers of the natural world. We see nature as a doorway to God. In nature, Sufis can find Oneness with the Most High – an ecstatic moment for a Sufi who pines for God as if a lost lover.
How Sufis Threaten Islamic Extremism
Sufi belief of a bigger community, an ummah beyond the world of man that stretches out to the natural world means that respect must be had for all life and all creation. Believing in the Oneness of God means we witness His creation and see His signs everywhere, in both the creation of God and the creations of men.
For us, the Earth isn’t just our charge; it’s where we find God.
This means the world is sacred. People are sacred. And that is a threat to Islamic extremists for whom nothing but the most draconian implementation of religion is sacred.
- Sufism arose from within Islam in the 8th and 9th centuries
- Between the 13th and 16th centuries, Sufism heavily contributed to a flourishing intellectual culture
- Sufis make up the third-largest denomination within Islam, after Sunni and Shia
- Sufis strongly protest corruption that comes from love of the material world
- Considered mystics and spiritual ‘drunks’, Sufis strive for love of the Divine