Sufism now and then

(Written from an Indian perspective.)

Initiated Into Sufism

Anwar was filled with excitement, anticipation, and a bit of fear. After completing nearly a year of exercises to be accepted into his father’s order of Sufism, he was to be initiated at last and would become a Murid, or a disciple in mystical communion with Allah, through the power of his spiritual guide, his Murshid.

He arrived at the appointed hour and found the room already filled with disciples, those to be initiated, listening to a younger man in the front of the room singing a devotional song. Then the Murshid himself, a middle-aged man with a long beard and the long hair of a mystic, appeared and led the rapidly growing group in hypnotic chanting of the phrase, “There is no god but God”. The guide prayed a prayer of blessing and forgiveness for them. Each responded in a vow of complete obedience to their Murshid.

History of Sufism

Sufism goes back to the founding of Islam; as Islam spread from Arabia to other parts of the world, it interacted with new cultures and philosophies. Islam encountered Christian monks in the desert, Gnostics of various sorts, Neoplatonic philosophy, and Buddhism and Hinduism from India. Some Muslims came under these influences and began to develop a mystical version of Islam that was centered less on shari’a, or law, and more on an expression of hunger for God and longing for union with Him. It adopted the emphasis on God’s love from the Christian mystics, an emphasis on ascending spiritually through secret, esoteric knowledge from the Gnostics, and a pantheistic interpretation of “union” with God from both Neo-Platonism and the Indian religions.

Early on, Muslims persecuted the Sufis, even crucifying an early Persian Sufi leader. However, largely through the efforts of 12th century Islamic theologian Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, Muslims eventually brought Sufism within the mainstream of acceptable Islamic thought.

The Sufi Path

The Sufi path is generally marked by an increasing union with and eventual absorption or annihilation of one’s personal identity, first into one’s spiritual guide, and eventually into God. At the core of most Sufi belief is a deep yearning for intimacy with God, which can only be fulfilled in Christ. In spite of the pantheism that is mixed in with the Sufi understanding of God’s nature, often Sufis have a more Biblical understanding of God’s character and love for humankind than the stern understanding often emphasized in more orthodox expressions of Islam.

Prayer requests:

* Pray that God would reveal Himself directly to Sufis who are truly “hungering and thirsting for righteousness” (c.f., Matthew 5:6).

* Pray for the Lord to raise up more people with a desire to reach Sufis with discernment and boldness in their witness to the reality of Jesus.

* Pray against the powers of darkness who would want to keep Sufis from grasping, “…the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6 NKJV).

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