Image: "shadow over Nerja boat" by Rahal Eks.
What exactly do the Sufis believe? What beliefs do they have that are different from the rest?
Of course, these are somewhat tricky questions for two reasons:
A) Sufi manifestations can be extremely diverse, depending on the context, time, place, people, and culture.
B) Generally speaking, Sufis are somewhat less concerned with beliefs and dogma than non-Sufis. Instead, they focus per se primarily on tasting, i.e., experiencing and refining their commanding self, thus being busy ideally on the evolving front and trying to lift the veils of separation of the world of duality.
This implies direct interaction with the teacher, the transformative energy impacts of the Sufi Tradition, and direct knowledge such as received via kashf, unveiling, and other diverse means.
Nevertheless, Sufis do, of course, hold certain individual beliefs, which are colored by the seeker’s conditioning and environment, and to degrees by the fact that the Sufis in question belong to specific Sufi Orders or groups.
For example, in an Eastern context, they might happen to be wandering dervishes, or free-roaming Qalandars, or Malang, attached to a Sufi shrine.
Or it might depend on the Sufi manifestations taking place in a traditional society of an Islamic or a more secular country. And in the traditional religious context, the question arises if it is colored by Shia, Ismaili, Alevi, or by Sunni doctrines (even though, essentially, the Sufis stand somewhat above these religious and sectarian divisions).
For example, in India, people of all types of religious backgrounds – regardless if they are Muslim, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, or whatever – are welcome at Sufi shrines. That indicates a clear belief in tolerance and acceptance of diversity.
A similar spirit was active in Moorish Spain, and its contemporary universal Sufi settings where also non-Muslim, and people from various religious backgrounds or none are welcome.
But Sufi manifestations and beliefs also differ in flavor somewhat depending on the actual cultural areas, regardless of whether the location happens to be in the Orient or the Occident.
For example, a Sufi gathering in Sudan or Somalia will look different than one in Pakistan, Canada, Senegal, Argentina, France, Australia, Turkey, Puerto Rico, Iran, Italy, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, or the USA.
The Sufi Tradition usually manifests within a local cultural context, and so we could have an Arabic flavored Sufism or Persian, Turkish, South Asian, African, or European and American forms. Anything is possible, including mixtures.
And even in the Western context, the cultures, languages, and formats may vary quite a bit. Add to this the impacts of migration and the world becoming a more multicultural and inter-cultural place, making room for new global manifestations, including fusion forms due to the diverse backgrounds of the Sufi group members in question.
So there isn’t a right or wrong; it rather is and diversely so. And in my view, that is the beauty of it. It can be compared to the colorful patchwork on certain Sufi khirqas, or cloaks.
Now those variations are basically just external forms, and any of them may also present universal or more traditional ideas; it all depends on the surroundings. In essence, the Sufi Tradition is one with the same purpose and intention, in spite of its multiple schools, using different techniques and tools and speaking in all sorts of languages.
So you don’t have to learn Arabic or Persian or Urdu or Turkish in order to walk the Sufi Path, even though some people do.
According to how I was taught by my teachers, the required basic belief as a prerequisite to enter the Sufi way starts with a clear intention and willingness to work on yourself and a whole-hearted interest in the Sufi Tradition and its multifaceted cultures as your chosen way, and above all the belief in an eternal Divine Being (not necessarily in a patriarchal God concept colored by orthodox religion, regardless if that would come from the Temple, Synagogue, Church or the Mosque).
The God concept of the Sufi Tradition is based on the belief in a Supreme Being, the Creator, who is seen at the same time as the Lord, the Friend, and the Beloved.
It is a God who also contains the Divine Masculine, the Divine Feminine, Divine Gender Neutrality, and is at the same time transcendent and immanent, something hard to comprehend when operating from a purely intellectual level.
But when operating from a heart space, which is the seed of the Divine Spark in us all, things indeed do get easier to comprehend, and the door to perceive union begins to open up.
This God – called many names, among them Allah and Khuda – is closer to us than our jugular vein. He/She/It “…was a hidden treasure who wanted to be known, therefore creating the universe…” (A Hadith Qudsi).
This Divinity, the One, has endless Names, Attributes, and Qualities. However, traditionally the Sufis use a list of Ninety-Nine Most Beautiful Names that can also be seen as relationships from the Creator towards creation in order to manifest these Divine Qualities in 3D reality.
In other words, the goal is to activate these seeds of the Most Beautiful Names in all of us, each in his or her unique way, according to our own capacity.
The human being has a very special position with the unique potential to become God’s Khalifa, or Deputy on earth, to become Al-Insan Al-Kamil, a perfected human being.
The Sufis believe that it is possible to polish the mirror of our heart, which is the seat of the higher intelligence, in order to clearly reflect and manifest the Most Beautiful Names, to refine and transform our copper heart into gold, using alchemical terminology.
The practice of activating the Names is called the remembrance, or in Arabic: dhikr. While Turkish, Persian, and Urdu speakers would pronounce this word: zikr.
Don’t worry and don’t get confused; it is the same spiritual activity of silently or loudly reciting the Names, and it does work. Dhikr, the Remembrance of the Beloved, is one of the important Sufi exercises that are done by all Sufis in East and West, alone or also as group activities. We will discuss the Sufi practices in detail later on.
The Sufis believe that we need to know who we are, including our shadow side, so we can work under the guidance of a Sufi teacher towards refinement and transformation of the false personality.
It is the Sufi teacher who indicates the Sufi tools and exercises to be done and when. This requires a relationship of trust and friendship between students and teachers.
It can be said as a general inclusive statement that the Sufis hold the firm belief that service to others and increasing one’s practice of loving-kindness towards all of creation is a definite must on this Path of Love and Knowledge.
Regardless if some Sufis believe in reincarnation or not (and some do, while others don’t), the focus is placed, in either case, on the present to become a child of the moment and grab an opportunity when it presents itself.
Sufis believe in harmony and balance; they try to reduce stress and tension and avoid discord. They are known for good adab, manners, and to build bridges, engage in intercultural and inter-religious dialogue and try to facilitate peace and healing.
Sufis also believe that change for the better is a definite possibility, especially when we opt to take the route slightly uphill and try a little harder. While sects and cults try to indoctrinate people with brainwashing attempts, the Sufi Tradition’s aim is to empower the seeker to dissolve restrictive conditioning and limited thinking in order to face reality!
Sufism is about evolution on a personal and cosmic scale, and the Sufi Tradition lives through people dedicated to the Path. Now that’s a fact and not a belief.
Saludos. May love and blessings be with you! Ishq bashad wa baraka bashad! Ya Haqq!
Want to read more from "Sufism 101"? Here are the links, just click on the section you want to read: Sufi Origins, Sufi Beliefs, Sufi Practices, Sufi Spaces, and Sufi Personalities.
ولا غالب إلا الله
© 2020 Rahal Eks.