Peace, Harmony and Islamic Mysticism


Hilaly M Basya Leiden

Historians believe that Islamic mysticism (tasawuf or sufism) has existed as a religious practice and discipline since the beginning of Islamic history (around the 8th century). But it was in the 12th century, during the era of Imam Ghazali, that it began to have a greater influence.

Ghazali gave contextual character to the development of Islamic mysticism. His magnum opus Ihya ‘Ulum ad-Din (Reviving Religious Sciences) has become an important reference for many Indonesian Muslim scholars.

The book appeals to them because it provides answers to existential problems human being’s face. It is not surprising then, that the book is admired by many Muslims to this day.

According to Martin Van Bruinessen, a Dutch expert on Islam in Indonesia, the development of Islam in Indonesia cannot be separated from the influence of Islamic mysticism. It can be traced back to the role of tarekat (the strict community of Islamic mystics) in spreading Islam in Indonesia in the 14th century through to their role in educating Muslims up until Indonesian independence. In this period, similar tarekat movements grew in other Islamic regions, including Mecca and Madina.

Beside Ghazali’s works, other Tasawuf texts have served as important references for Indonesian Ulemas.

This is evidenced by the number of pesantren’s (traditional Islamic schools) that make sufi works such as Bidayat al-Hidayah (The Beginning of Divine Guidance) and Minhaj al-’Abidin (The Method for the Worship of God) required texts.

In addition, Bruinessen found that Abdul Karim al-Jilli’s al-Insan al-Kamil and Ibn al-’Arabi’s Futuhat al-Makkiyah were still taught in some Indonesian pesantrens until the turn of the 20th century. According to Bruinessen, these two books are rather difficult to understand as they discuss philosophical mysticism.

This all indicates that development of Islam in Indonesia has been strongly influenced by Islamic mysticism. Moreover, it is believed that Islamic mysticism strengthens the peaceful values of Indonesian Islam. Unlike Islamic theology (Ilm al-Kalam) which talks more about the rationality of faith and fiqh, which treats religious teachings as regulations, Islamic mysticism seeks to evaluate, contemplate and purify the human soul.

Sufis believe that the more people reflect and think deeply about life and themselves, the wiser they will be. Experts assume that Islamic mysticism arose as an attempt to explain and deal with people’s anxiety and fear about their own existence. Imam Ghazali, for instance, began his life’s work as a theologian and a philosopher.

Rabi’ah al-Adawiyah is another interesting example. She is a female sufi, who was born into slavery. Her life struggle led her to become a lover of God. She promoted a concept of love that does not try to dominate and control the loved object; it is kind of love that does not need compensation and possession. Based on her conception of love, Adawiyah advises people to conquer their bad desires.

Moreover, she states that love should liberate people from oppression and domination.

In general, Islamic mysticism calls on people to conquer themselves and create a harmonious life. Peace with is believed to be the key to happiness. For Sufis, human desire to dominate is the cause of suffering. Desire is defined as will that is not related to primary need.

Creating peace within means conquering inner conflict. According to Islamic mysticism, human happiness is found in the love of and obedience to God.

Such teachings were a large part of the spread and color of early Indonesian Islam and they remain important.

Therefore, the moderate character of Islam in Indonesia is attributable to Islamic mysticism, which is focused on the contemplation of human existence, including how people see their life and their relation with nature. We hope that the development of Islam in Indonesia will bring peace and harmony.

The writer is a student of Islamic Studies at Leiden University, the Netherlands and a Muhammadiyah activist.

Courtesy: The Jkarta Post

blog comments powered by Disqus

Add this page to your favorite Social Bookmarking websites