Sufism, Healing Humanity Crises and Authoritarian Concept of Religion

Moh Yasir Alimi, Semarang | 07/15/2011

Ibn Arabi, a great Sufi master, once said: “My heart became an image of every picture; it is the place for a Dervish to dance; it is a monastery for a monk to learn.

“It is a house for all or none to worship. It is a Ka’ba to make the pilgrimage. It is the ten commitments of Thora, it is the holy Koran — my religion is the religion of love. Wherever I direct my face it is love to God.”

Yunus Emre, a Sufi teacher in 13th-century Turkey, also taught: “Love is like the shining sun; a heart without love is nothing more than a stone.”

“Love to all, malice to none,” Mu’inuddin Chisti (1141-1230), the celebrated Sufi saint from India, advised his students.

Only through that way, according to the founder of the Chisti Sufi order, can we “develop river-like generosity, sun-like affection and earth-like hospitality”.

These Sufi words are not only inspiring, they are everlastingly fragrant, heaven-sent, and represent the force of moderation and tolerance in Islam.

Very popular in the past, such inspiring words can scarcely be heard in the public sphere of the contemporary Islamic world, however.

The stage of the contemporary Islamic world, dominated by an increasing influence of Wahhabism, is currently more preoccupied with hedonism, politics, legalism and outer forms of Islam.

The Islamic world is lessened and engulfed by the struggle to enforce Islamic law; fatwas from ulema institutions; challenges to local practices as being anti-Islamic; and attempts to prove other Muslims as blasphemous or non-Muslims as non-believers.

Inner enlightenment and growth of conscience are suppressed in the name of religious authenticity and textualism. The world needs the wisdom of the Sufi.

Sufism is more concerned with the unity of being, the oneness of humanity and oneness within the “Light of the Divine”, rather than with political unity.

Sufism emphasizes the contents rather than the cloth, communitarianism rather than individualism, humanity rather than identity, love rather than hatred.

“The Sufis’ main goal,” according to Syaikh Hisyam Kabbani, a Sufi teacher in America, “was never to become the leaders of a country but rather to become its social workers.”

Within the deep thirst for spiritual enlightenment, it is very pleasing that the wisdom of Sufism, with its fragrance of the ancients, will scent Jakarta this month. Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, will host an international Sufi meeting July 15-17, 2011.

From this meeting, we hope there is something we can do to counter the emptiness, violence, ecological destruction, greed and corruption that currently work hand-in-hand to destroy the planet. It is also to be hoped that an alternative will be offered to the practice of public Islam, which is currently trapped in the authoritarian concept of religion.

The public expression of Islam not only fails to enlighten people but also impoverishes people from their humanness. Public Islam lacks tender-heartedness and fails to respect the sacredness of life. Public Islam also fails to prevent people from becoming corrupt.

Islam, as expressed in the public sphere, is left only as a form, without substance. It is within such a spiritual vacuum that hatred, suspicion and fundamentalism escalate.

The loving message of Sufism can offer freshness to the Islamic world and the current world order. Sufism, defined as the esoteric form of Islam, is the core of Islam. Its essence is self-purification, the training of the heart so that it is able to experience, feel and listen to the Divine presence.

At the core of Sufi teaching is the belief that God is ever-present in everything. This understanding makes a Sufi respect the sacredness of every life form on earth. Sufis believe that only from a steady connection with the Divine — not thought — can the self grow and achieve enlightenment.

As Rumi, a great Sufi master, once described: the Divine is like the Ocean and the self is like used water. Only through entering the Ocean, can used water be purified.

Nowadays in the Islamic world, the used water has become disconnected from the Ocean and is continually reused. Be aware, therefore, that behind the noisiness of the current Islamic resurgence is spiritual emptiness; separated from Divine presence, Islam is left merely skin-deep.

Sufism invites us to fullness and meaningfulness. Through training our hearts, it allows our spiritual connection to love and consciousness flourish.

Far from the principles of Sufism, the oil-rich Islamic countries indulge in hedonistic lifestyles. They show little solidarity toward the rest of the Islamic world and the problems facing humanity.

They think that they can perform Islam formally and abandon the connection to the Divine. In the separation of self from the Divine, ego rules.

Four crises are facing the contemporary world: a lack of inner peace and meaningfulness of life; ecological destruction; protracted conflicts and wars; and corruption. All four are created by greed and the tyranny of the ego.

In the effort to reconnect to the Divine, Wahhabism offers nothing except dry doctrine. Mouth mentions God, but heart worships worldliness. It cannot offer a solution because it puts thought, blanketed with scriptural quotations, on everything.

It fails to nurture love and respect toward those living “outside the fence”. In contrast, Sufism uses wisdom of thought to awaken the wisdom of the interior, and uses that interior wisdom to feel the Divine presence.

Feeling the Divine presence, one can discover his ability of awareness, creativity and love beyond the ability of the intellect.

Unfortunately, Wahhabism, once popularized by colonialism, continues to have influence over the Islamic world. There are at least three reasons for this. First, the Saudi regime, the primary advocate of Wahhabism, controls the most important Muslim sites in the Islamic world: Mecca and Medina.

Second, the Saudis have petrodollars to support the internationalization of this religious ideology and so reach isolated places.

Third, the US often ends up working together with radicals, as we see currently in many parts of Islamic world, such as Libya and Afghanistan in the past.

In general, Sufi groups get less support from the current world order. For world peace and the advancement of humanity, the forces of moderation and humanity in the world should work together to support the Sufis so that they can give more to the world. Peace in people’s hearts will create peace in the world.

As Kabir Helminski, an inspiring Sufi writer in the US puts it: “A school of love is a corrective to both the authoritarian concept of religion, lacking in Mercy and a materialist ethic that indulges human ego.”

The writer, former member of Nahdlatul Ulama’s Executive Board of Australia and New Zealand special branches, is a lecturer at the Semarang State University.

Courtesy: The Jakarta PostThere was a problem loading Disqus. For more information, please visit