By Dr. Tan Kheng Khoo


The true mystic goes in and out amongst the people and eats and sleeps with them and buys and sells in the market and marries and takes part in social intercourse, and never forgets God for a single moment.

                     Abu SA’id ibn Abi ’l-Khayr

 Sufism is Truth without form.

                                                                                                 LBN Jalalt



Sufism is the mystical, esoteric path of Islam. There is no Sufism without Islam. In a similar vein, there is no Zen without Buddhism, no Vedanta without Hinduism. Sufism is the inward mysticism of the outward expression of Islam. Islam is the outward circumference, which is the exoterism; and Sufism is the center of the circle, which is the esoterism of the inner Truth. The radius from the circumference to the center is the mystical path. This means that Muslims must take this inward path of Sufism to convert his belief to a vision.

In Arabic, the word suf means wool, the material that makes up their robes. It signifies a poor community. A Sufi applies strictly to one who has attained or who has awakened, but in extension it is also applied to the initiates who are travelling towards this attainment. In summary, Sufism comprises of initiation into the esoteric path and the Islamic Law or sharia applies to the doctrine and method of the exoteric religion of Islam. The latter religion is for all Muslims, but Sufism is a practice of a small number who has the necessary qualification and inclination. They are in the minority.

In order to understand Sufism superficially, one must have a brief review of the religion of Islam.



From my understanding, Muslims grade the importance of God, the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad in this order. In practice, the Qur’an is of paramount importance. Muhammad is the messenger in bringing down the teachings of Allah. There have been 124,000 prophets sent down to humanity since civilization began. Adam was the first prophet. Muhammad was the last.


Prophet Muhammad’s personal life


Prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca in the year 571. Being an orphan at six he was brought up by his uncle with whom he worked as a shepherd. He grew up in poverty until he became a long-distance trader with caravans. As a teenager he rejected the immoral habits of his people. He then periodically withdrew to the desert to meditate. His society was steeped in idolatry. Mecca was an important urban center and at the same time a place of pilgrimage. The Ka’bah was a central temple where all the deities were worshipped. This small structure was said to have been built by the prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael.

At the age of 25 Muhammad was employed by a wealthy widow of 40 named Khadijah. He managed her business. Khadijah found him to be very honest and proposed marriage, which he accepted. They were happily married for 25 years with six children despite their difference in age. After Khadijah died Muhammad married several women for political and humanitarian reasons, as was expected of a man of his position; all but one were widows and divorcees. He was a loving and devoted husband and father.

It was in 611 that Muhammad received his first revelation from God with these words: “Recite in the name of your Lord!” From thence onwards, these revelations were given in drips and drabs in 23 years.  All the utterances were made through the intermediary of the Archangel Gabriel. All these revelations were later collected to form the text of the Qur’an. Some of these were directed to the Prophet, some were to his followers and the remainder to everyone or to all mankind.

Slowly he collected a following of Meccans in the worshipping of one God and rejecting of polytheism. Some thirteen years later, he and his followers were forced into exile to Medina in 622. In Medina he expanded the size of his Muslim community and then later raised armies to combat battles and have skirmishes with Mecca. Finally, he conquered Mecca and cleansed the Ka’bah of idols in 630. He died in Medina and was buried 2 years later at the age of 61.

The Qur'an

The language of the Qur’an is in Arabic, which is the sacred language of Islam. Arabic is as fundamental to Islam as Sanskrit is to Hinduism or Hebrew is to Judaism. However, reciting the Qur’an in the original Arabic can constitute a liturgical act, as the words have been faithfully preserved in the form in which they were originally received. It also follows that it is the Qur’an and not Muhammad, which is the center of the Islamic religion. In Christianity, Christ is the center of the religion and therefore its adherents are called Christians. In Islam, its adherents are called Muslims and not Muhammadans, because the Quran is the ‘uncreated word of God’. ‘Muslim’ means ‘one who summits’ and ‘Islam’ means ‘submission’ (to God). Muhammad is the perfect man and is the messenger of God (Rasul Allah).

The ultimate source of the Islamic religion is the Qur’an, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. A secondary source is the Sunna (Wont) of the prophet. The Sunna includes not only the customs but also the verbal teachings (hadiths) of the Prophet. These two sources are separate and distinct.

Seeing that there is no Sufism without Islam, let us study what tenets hold up the teachings of Qur’an. Let us first learn about the exoteric practices.

The Islamic Law (sharia)

The Islamic Law is basically characterized by the ‘Five Pillars (arkan) of Islam: Faith (iman), Prayer (salat), Fasting (sawm), Almsgiving (zakat) and Pilgrimage (hajj). In addition, Muslims are forbidden to consume wine and pork. They are also prohibited from gambling and usury. Men are also not allowed to wear gold or silver. The concept of ‘holy war’ (jihad) although outwardly applies to the defence of the Islamic community, inwardly it is the destruction of the ego. We will now deliberate a little on the Five Pillars.

1. Faith (Imam): This includes the ‘testimony of faith’, which bears witness to ‘There is no god but God’ and ‘Muhammad is His Messenger’. The true believers are also: those who believe in God, His angels, His Holy Books as completed in the Qur’an. They should also believe His messengers with Mohammad being the last of them all, the Day of Resurrection and that of Final Judgement, the absolute knowledge and wisdom of God and in destiny. They should also believe that all good and bad come from God, and that there is life after this life.

2. Prayer (Salat): One must be clean before prayer can be offered. Both the body and the clothes must be cleansed. The following are considered unclean:

i)    Human faeces or urine.

i)        The urine and faeces of quadruped animals and droppings of birds.

ii)       Blood of humans and animals.

iii)     Intoxicating liquors.

iv)     Semen.

The prayer room should be clean. Ablution must be performed with clean water. Any unclean thing falling into the water pollutes the water.

Ablution (Wudhu): Ablution must precede prayer.

i)        Wash the hands three times.

ii)       Rinse the mouth three times, and brush the teeth.

iii)     Clean the nose three times.

iv)     Wash the face and beard three times.

v)      Wash the arms including the elbows, the right arm first.

vi)     Wipe the head, neck and ears with wet hands once. This is to remove dust, etc.

vii)   Wash the feet, right foot first, including ankles three times.

The ablution is nullified by:

i)    Passing out of urine, faeces and wind.

ii)       Blood and pus flowing out of the body not simply gathering at the wound.

iii)     Vomiting.

iv)     Sleeping.

v)      Unconsciousness, madness, intoxication to the extent of being unable to walk.

The private parts have to be washed with water after voiding oneself.

Other practices of personal hygiene are:

i)    Regular cleaning of teeth.

ii)       Keeping the nails short and clean.

iii)     Growing a beard but keeping the moustache short.

iv)     Removing hair from armpit and pubic area.

v)      Circumcision for men.

Things which necessitate bathing:

i) Emission of semen. 

ii)       Coitus.

iii)     Completion of menstruation and puerperal discharge.

The basic requirements of prayer are:

i)        To stand and recite prayers.

ii)       Bowing with recitals.

iii)     Prostration with recitals.

iv)     Sitting with recitals.

v)      Salam at the end of prayer.

Prayer is nullified by:

i)        Talking.

ii)       Weeping for anything not connected with prayer.

iii)     Laughing aloud.

The Five Prayers:

i)        The Morning Prayer: The time of the morning prayers lasts from dawn to sunrise.

ii)       The Midday Prayer. It can be offered after the sun has past the meridian and the time lasts until the shadow of a thing is equal to its own length or twice its length.

iii)     The Afternoon Prayer: This can be offered between the last time of the Midday Prayer and sunset.

iv)     The Sunset Prayer: This is offered between sunset and the time the light on the horizon starts to disappear.

v)      The Evening Prayer: This is given from the time the Sunset Prayer ends to the first light of the dawn.

 Besides the above five prayers, there is a night prayer is a voluntary one, and it is recommended for those who are pursuing enlightenment.

3.   Fasting (Saum):

This third pillar of Islam is a process of purification, and is said by the Sufis to be ‘half the journey’. As our true essence is spirit, fasting is one way of preparing ourselves for that destination towards Allah. Fasting during the month of Ramadhan is one way of reminding ourselves of our spiritual essence. There should be abstinence from food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk. Refreshments and rest are allowed at night. During the fast, one is reminded of Allah’s grace for providing us food and drink, especially at times of poverty. All these sacrifices will bring the Muslim nearer to Allah, who said: ‘fasting is for Me only, and I am the Reward thereof.’

The Mode of Fasting:

1)      Fasting should be done in the month of Ramadhan and it is obligatory for all males and females above the age of puberty.

2)      Women in menstruation or with puerperal discharge should not fast. Those who are sick or travelling are not obliged to fast. They can fast on other days during the year. Pregnant women and those who are suckling children may also be excused.

4.   Charity (Zakat):

Charity is the fourth pillar and it is either compulsory or voluntary. The former is given to the poor and destitute and is at a rate of 2.5 percent of one’s wealth. The voluntary variety is a sacrifice for the Beloved (Allah). It is given to one’s favorite charity to prove one’s love to the Lord. It can be given in gold, silver, cash, animals and agricultural products.

5.   Pilgrimage (Hajj):

This last pillar is the pilgrimage to Mecca. This pilgrimage must be done at least once in a lifetime if one is financially, mentally and physically fit. Spiritual elevation can be accrued through the sacrifice of wealth and the rigors of the journey. The visit to the Ka’bah is encouraged. The Ka’bah was originally built by the prophets Abraham and Ishmael long ago. The Ka’bah is the center of Islam, the religion of monotheism till the end of time. However, the black stone was laid down by Muhammad in the reconstruction of the Ka’bah after he conquered back Mecca. This was some years before the advent of Islam. The kissing of the black stone is not obligatory, but kissing or touching it is a token of respect to the Prophet Muhammad. This has been the action by all pilgrims who returned from exile as a coming home gesture in remembrance of the Prophet.

The Hajj is the annual convention of Faith of all Muslims to promote welfare to mankind and peace with God and one’s soul and all creatures on earth. There is no stratification or differentiation in status, dress and utterances amongst the pilgrims. The main aim is their commitment and devotion to God. Although visiting Muhammad’s tomb at Medina is not obligatory it is recommended. The climax is an animal sacrifice to feed the poor, and this sacrificial act is performed all over the world. This is symbolic of Abraham’s son, Ishmael being sacrificed but spared and a ram was substituted instead.

Sufism  (Tasawwuf)

The word Sufi means wool. It refers to the clothes worn by Muhammad and his followers. It symbolizes humility, simplicity and purity. Sufis are Muslim mystics who can trace their beginnings to the prophet Muhammad. Most Muslims would like to see and be with God after death, but the Sufis are impatient. They want to be with God now. Hence the Sufi path is the discipline and practice towards experiencing God in this very life. There are no exclusive monasteries for the dervishes or wayfarers to differentiate the Sufis from the ordinary Muslims. The first quotation of this lecture describes what they are. They must look and behave like normal people. Even the clothes they wear and food they eat must not distinguish them from others. Humility and simplicity are their characteristic features. Sufism is a path for the individual to unite with God. It is a love affair with Allah (the Divine Beloved), in which the lovers merge in mystical union. In this world of duality we mistakenly deem ourselves as separate and in this process we miss the fact that Allah is everywhere and everything. We are also God, but we miss the point because our egos conceptualize this separateness with attributes of ourselves. This truism is obscured by the ego’s attachments to the world. It is always there for us to see. “Knock and the Door will be open to you,” said Salih, but the Sufi saint Rabi’a admonished him by saying “What are you talking about, the Door has never been shut”. Rumi also said “I knocked and the Door opened, but I found I’d been knocking from the inside.”


Seeing that Allah is the Supreme Reality, there are 99 names in the Qur’an for God, which really means the 99 attributes of Allah. The name Allah means “The Oneness of Being and Nothingness.” Allah embraces all opposites: “He is the first and the last, the apparent and the hidden.” Rumi calls him the ‘Soul of all souls.’ He is the one God that speaks through all genuine religions manifesting Himself in different ways to the individual seeker. Some of the reverential and inspiring descriptions of God are:

i)        “Allah is non-being and being, existence and non-existence. He is the relative and the Absolute. All these concepts return to Allah. For there is nothing we can comprehend or write or speak about that is not Allah.” By Abd Al-Kader.

ii)       “Whatever you think concerns Allah know that he is different from that.” By Abd Al-Kader. It is similar to ‘The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.’

iii)     God is nearer to man than the Jugular vein. Qur’an 50-16.

iv)     Everything is a signpost to the oneness of God.  Ahmad LBN ATA ALLAH.

v)      God said, “To reveal the secret of my abundant love, I created a mirror whose face is consciousness and whose back is the world.”  Jalaluddin Rumi.

vi)     Sometimes God says “You are Me,” and sometimes He says, “ I am you.”


The Sufi Path

The principle underlying Sufism is that when one is born in this world of duality, an ego is born with it. The ego is composed of body, emotion and mind. The ego then gets stronger and stronger with its desires and attachments in order to establish and strengthen its separateness. In order for the individual soul (lover) to merge with Allah (Beloved), it must undergo a disciplined process of purification. This cleansing process may take years until the ego is destroyed spiritually. However, the ego must be maintained in order for the wayfarer to live in this world. This wayfarer is a traveller, who has been awakened (tauba) to embark on the path, i.e. to destroy the influence of the ego on the soul. But on the spiritual side of the soul when the influence of the ego is totally annihilated (fana), then the empty, purified self can merge with the Self. The Self is the Beloved Allah who has always been waiting in the heart for the wayfarer to recognise Its Presence. In this article these names are synonymous: wayfarer, traveler and dervish. The core of Sufi spiritual practice includes meditation, prayer, fasting and other day-to-day routines. This is on top of the five pillars of Islam that is mandatory to the Sufi. There are four stages of practice and understanding in Sufism:

1)      Religious Law (shariah). This basically consists of morality and ethics found in all religions. This provides the path to live properly in this world so as not to upbraid the equilibrium of society. Shariah means ‘road.’

2)      The Path (tariqah) literally means the practice or the path that the wayfarer would follow in the desert from oasis to oasis. This path is not clearly marked and it is not even a proper road. To travel in this trackless desert, one needs to know the area very well. Otherwise the wayfarer must follow a guide who knows it and has traveled many times on this bewildering terrain. The guide must also recognise the landmarks amidst the many sandstorms, which wipes away all previous tracks. This is the inner practice of Sufism. This guide is the sheikh or the Sufi teacher. The religious law (shariah) makes the exoteric practice of Islam clean and attractive. The spiritual path (tariqah) makes the inner sojourn pure and peaceful. One supports the other.

3)      Truth or (haqiqah). This truth refers to the direct experience of the mystical states of Sufism, the direct experience of God within. Without the Truth (haqiqah) the traveller is practicing blindly following or imitating someone else who professes to know. With the attainment of the Truth (haqiqah) the dervish solidifies the practice of the first two stages of religious law and the inner path (shariah and tariqah). Now he knows.

4)      Gnosis (marifah) is superior wisdom or knowledge of spiritual truth. This is a deep level of inner knowing. There is now a continuous attunement with God even while he is performing his daily chores. He is in constant touch with Reality attainable by only a very few, like prophets and saints.

The Sufi saint Ibn Arabi explained these four stages as the following: At the level of the law (shariah) there is “yours and mine.” The law guarantees individual rights and ethical relationship between members of society. At the level of the spiritual path (tariqah), “ mine is yours and yours is mine.” The dervishes open their homes, their hearts and wallets to one another. At the level of the Truth (haqiqah), “there is no mine and no yours.”  All things are from God. They are only caretakers and they possess nothing. They have also gone beyond attachment to fame and status. At the level of Gnosis (marifah), there is “no me and no you.” At this final stage the advanced Sufi realizes that all is God. Nothing and no one is separate from God.

Three modes of Union

Three modes of union with the divine are seen in every religion and these are present in Sufism as well:

1)      Ecstasy: In this instance a special visitation lifts the soul out of its body and transports it to a higher, distinctly different level of consciousness. The individual may be in a trance and the experience is dramatic and intense, so much so that the person goes into convulsions. These are called “spiritual drunkards” by the other Sufis who honor them.

2)      Gnosis: Gnostic Sufis or intellective Sufis. These are the marifahs of the last section. These “sober,” enlightened Sufi graduates return to normal life with “altered traits of character”, unlike those who only enjoyed “altered states” of consciousness.

3)      Love: This class of advanced Sufis is the largest as it taps into the strongest emotion of the heart. In testimony, the best-selling poet in the USA is Rumi. He wrote eloquently on love. Rabi’a comes a close second.


Spiritual Practice


Spiritual practice is the core of Sufism. All the practices are to cleanse the soul of the influence of the ego so that there is an empty space in the heart for the lover to await the Beloved Allah. Besides the five pillars, there are specific techniques and practices pertaining to each individual sheikh. One cannot cover all the practices, but we will discuss some of the essential ones. Najm al-Din Kubra (d. 1220) was very concerned with training of the disciples. The Bewildered Traveler is a short Persian text, from which we have picked out the sections on silence, fasting, seclusion, recitation of the first half of the Muslim profession of faith, and control of thoughts. Other topics include purity, keeping good company, avoiding sleep, and control of eating and drinking. The format includes the benefits of each practice.

Silence of the external tongue, except for Recollection of God Most High.

Eleven benefits are evident and the salient ones are:

1.      Release from the reckoning on Resurrection Day.

2.      When the external tongue is silent, the tongue of the heart begins to speak.

3.      Salvation from Hell.

4.      The carnal soul is disciplined by silence, for this carnal soul is an idle talker.

5.      If one is silent, it may be that one hears the speech of angels.

6.      Treasures of Wisdom are opened for him.

7.      If speech is silver, silence is gold.

8.      In silence, there is a continuous recollection of God by heart.


Constant Seclusion and Isolation from the People

This practice brings in 12 benefits and some of them are:


1.   Protecting the sight from gazing with desire.

2.   Protecting the foot from walking toward the forbidden.

3.   Protecting the hand from taking and receiving the forbidden.

4.   When the external senses are shut off, the internal senses, which are the doors of the hidden world, are opened.

5.   Being far away from the annoyances of the people.

6.   Resembling spiritual beings, for the people do not see them.

7.   Attaining concentration of the heart.

8.      Banishing from the heart the images of the world and the practices, the giving, and the taking of worldly people.

Fasting has 22 benefits and some of the important ones are:


1.   Resemblance to spiritual beings, for they do not eat.

2.   Overpowering the carnal soul that commands evil.

3.   Washing the psychic dirt from the seed of the pure soul so that divine knowledge becomes clear.

4.   Understanding the suffering of the hungry.

5.   Attaining bodily health.

6.   Emptying the worst of containers, for “no full container is worse than the belly.”


Constant Recollection of “There is no god but God”


There are at least 18 benefits in this recollection, two of which are:

1.      Whoever once honestly says, “There is no god but God,” and then dies, will go to Heaven.

2.      The Prophet said: The key to Paradise is “There is no god but God.”


The Denial of Thoughts


This practice is very difficult. It is almost similar to the Buddhist practice of awareness of thoughts and to replace it by a mantra e. g. ‘Buddho.’ In this Sufi practice the wayfarer uses recollection in the form of a Dhikr e.g. Allah. In this teaching thoughts are of five kinds:


1)   The first is from God, which enters the heart spontaneously. Denying of this thought is an impossibility.

2)   The second thought is from the heart and the third is from the angel. These thoughts are close, but there is a subtle difference. The angelic thought makes one more chivalrous than the one from the heart.

3)      The fourth is the one from the carnal soul and the fifth is from Satan. Both are close to one another with a difference. If the carnal soul desires something and does not get it, it continues to desire it and conflicts appear. When Satan commands something that is a sin, if a man does not do it, Satan wants him to do something else, for his goal is to mislead.

4)      Thoughts from the heart and angel seek the nearness of God and rewards from the next world. Thoughts from the carnal soul and Satan avoid the nearness to God and they incline towards worldly vanities and passionate desires. Those from the heart and angel produce peace and quietude, whilst those from the carnal soul and Satan bring out an internal heaviness with objections from every corner. The former is praiseworthy and the latter is blameworthy. The former thoughts always appear at the moment of death, but the latter arise at the time of bodily health and happiness. The former brings purity, while the latter brings forth obscurity and heaviness of the heart.

The most powerful tools and consistent techniques in the cleansing of the ego are the Dhikr (recollection) and meditation.


There is a polish for everything that taketh away rust;

And the polish for the heart is the invocation of Allah.

The moment of awakening (tauba) is an act of grace and a gift from God. From thence onwards, the wayfarer’s task is to keep longing for the Beloved until there is no more sense of separation. During our daily routine this recollection of union must be continuously remembered so that the heart’s desires can be brought up into our consciousness. This is the purpose of the dhikr. The dhikr is used like a mantra: a sacred word or phrase to be repeated in every moment of our life. It can be a phrase like “La ilaha illa llah,” (there is no god but God). Normally it is one of the attributes of God, e.g. truth, patience, and love. The foremost of the 99 names is Allah, which contains all His divine attributes.

The dhikr can be repeated silently or vocally. In groups this chanting produces a very powerful effect as to propel the wayfarers into the arena of love. To the lover only the Beloved exists and in that temporary merging there is no more duality. Abu Sa’id said, “recollection is forgetting everything else besides Him.”

Some chants Allah vocally, and some prefer a silent invocation. Nashband said: “God is silence and is most easily reached in silence.” This silent invocation can become a continual prayer of recollection. This practice is continued until it goes beyond words, beyond form to the center of the heart, where the Beloved is always present. This dhikr at first is in words. Then it spreads throughout one’s being and going down to the heart, after which it rises to the soul. Thence it goes further down to the realm of secret and then to the hidden to the most hidden of the hidden. How far and how deep it goes down depends on Allah.

So in repeating His name we remember Him in the mind and then in the heart until every cell in the body repeats the dhikr. “First you do the dhikr and then the dhirk does you.” The dhikr is used to re-program our mind to God. It alters our mental, psychological and physical bodies. Mentally one is focussing the mind towards one-pointedness---God. The daily haphazard scattering of the thoughts is re-arranged to one subject---God. You become what you think. When we think of Allah we become one with Allah. Here it is subtler and more powerful than that. This sacred dhikr literally links the individual with the essence of the word---Allah.

Abu-Hamid al-Ghazali notes that remembrance or dhikr has four basic meanings.

First, it is a constant act of being mindful of Allah. Prayer is also a recollection, inviting the Sufi into Allah’s presence.

Second, the dhikr is the repetition of a Mystical Name or phrase like Allah. This requires intention, awareness, concentration and initiation into the practice. This is the remembrance of the tongue.

Third, the recollection means a temporary inner state in which awareness of God overwhelms the person and he becomes divorced from all worldly concerns temporarily. This is the remembrance of the heart.

Fourth, remembrance is a deep and stable inner condition in which invocation and mindfulness become constant. This is the remembrance of the soul.

Weekly, the dervishes come together to perform the dhikr together. They practice unity of breath, sound and movement (dervish dance) in the Remembrance ceremony. Unity brings them closer to God, Who is also Unity. They do all these activities as if they are one. During this ceremony, remembrance descends from the tongue to the heart, thence to the soul.


This practice is the essential core and the principal method for the transformation of the heart. In fact meditation is the end-all and be-all of all mystic practices. The sheikh or master of a group will teach his own brand of meditation: they differ from sheikh to sheikh. The technique here is to see who you are and what you are. Meditation must also be preceded by a period of withdrawal of the senses. The discipline here is the purification of the senses. Then one can embark on the meditation proper. As most of my lectures are basically on spiritual growth and the pursuit of truth and reality, one can search for different methods of meditation in my other lectures. Most techniques on meditation boil down to two types: one-pointed concentration (samatha) and awareness (vipassana). The preliminary practice of using a mantra (dhikr) is very useful and appropriate to the practice of one-pointed concentration. In fact mantra is one of the objects used for one-pointed concentration. The one-pointed concentration (samatha) makes the mind absorbed into the object. Subject and object are fused into one, which can be dissipated or blown away into emptiness or nothingness. In the practice of awareness (vipassana), the thoughts and emotions would finally come to nought—emptiness or nothingness. The wayfarer has now come to a stage of stillness emptiness and silence. Silence is a powerful tool. From this stage the meditator should bring his awareness of emptiness down the region of the heart. Keeping this stance steady there will now be a deepening of emptiness, layer after layer until one reaches the ground of the soul. This really means that all cares and worries of the world are completely annihilated (fana). The meditator has become the lover waiting for the Beloved to turn up. When will the Beloved turn up is wholly dependent on Allah's grace. Finally the lover and Beloved merge into Unity. This exhilarating moment is what the wayfarer has been waiting for years or a lifetime.

All mystical practices follow the above description: Vedanta, Zen Buddhism, Christian Mysticism and Taoism. Not only are the practices similar, Sufi practice mimics Christian Mysticism to the letter. The Christian awakening is the tauba of Sufism. The Christian purification of the senses corresponds with the Sufi path (tariqah). The Sufi Truth (haqiqah) is the Christian Illumination--the direct experiencing of God. Although the Christians mystics emphasize the Dark Night of the Soul, most mystics of other religions also experience it, but it is taken as part and parcel of the path. The Dark Night will finally end up with Gnosis, the marifah of Sufism, which brings up the superior knowledge and inner knowing. This is followed by constant attunement with Allah.  Finally both end up with Unity.

Love is the weapon to open up the heart

Love. Rumi said that love is the only force that can transcend reason, knowledge and normal consciousness. Love does not only give one sensual pleasure but also mental bliss. Once you are in love, you tend to love all things and all of God’s creation. In Sufi practice love will continue to expand until one is certain of being loved and loving. Sheikh Muzaffer the Sufi master wrote, “The essence of God is love and the Sufi path is a path of love…. Love is to see what is good and beautiful in everything. It is to learn from everything, to see the gifts of God and the generosity of God in everything. It is to be thankful for all God’s bounties.” By loving God, one gets a quick response, and finally love brings the lover to union with the Beloved. If you take two steps towards God, God runs to you.

While loving God, He will draw the lover to divine presence. As this occurs, striving melts into surrender.

Transforming the Self

The goal of all mysticism is to transform the self, which has been hitherto endowed with greed, pride and lust. The extreme opposite is the cleansed self, in which its purity will allow it to merge with God. The pure self becomes Self, where no duality exists. The self-centered self is mainly driven by the ego with its wants and desires. As the wayfarer practices the Sufi path he will be transformed. In Sufi terms, there are seven levels of self, ranging from the absolutely selfish and egotistical to the spiritually pure:

1.      The Commanding Self. It tends to dominate and control others to evil ends. He is immoral without compassion. Aggression and lust are the characteristic features with greed, wrath, passion and envy. He is addicted to negative habits with very little chance of change. At this stage, he is unaware and unconscious.

2.      The Regretful Self. For the first time, with deepening faith insight starts to arise. He now realizes the previous self-centered desires and cravings are negative and detrimental to his path. Being regretful, he tries to raise himself above the crass animalistic desires and lust. The battle between the self and the soul is on. At this level there will be not much change, but the wayfarer will begin to realize that his addiction to his desires and lust causes trouble to himself and others.

3.      The Inspired Self. The wayfarer is now beginning to enjoy his spiritual practices like prayers and meditation. His foibles are now being converted to service and compassion. This is the real Sufi practice. Before this it was exoteric outer performance. His baser values are now not the mainstay of his drive. He is now trying to live in this higher plane. Without this effort, these higher motivations will wither. His behavior now includes compassion, gentleness with moralistic values, making him respectable and respected.

4.      The Contented Self. He is now at peace with no more struggles with the old desires and attachments. The ego is letting go more and more and attuning to the Divine. This contented self accepts both adversities and benefits. This period of transition is destroying the influence of the ego and integrating with the universal consciousness.

5.      The Pleased Self. He is now pleased even with all the adversities and difficulties of life realizing they all come from God. He now no more avoids pain or looks for pleasure.

6.      The Self Pleasing to God. At this stage he realizes that all acts come from God and he has no free will. As there is no fear, he does not ask for anything. It is a marriage of the self with the soul. He has now achieved inner unity and wholeness. The multiplicity has made him see the world as one entity.

7.      The Pure Self. Having transcended the ego-self he realizes that he is not separate from God. He has realized the truth. The truth is “there is no god but God”. The accomplished Sufi now knows only the Divine exists and there is nothing else but God. There is no individuality and separation is an illusion. Rumi says:

                        If you could get rid of yourself just once,

                        The secret of secrets would open to you.

                        The face of the unknown, hidden beyond the universe

                        Would appear on the mirror of your perception.



Fana is the annihilation of the lover or ego to create the holy space for the arrival of the Beloved. This is the beginning of Divine attunement. The attunement can start as soon as the lover is being eradicated until there is no more lover. The lover has been dissolved into the Beloved as sugar in water. The utmost attunement means complete detachment from the world although compassion for fellow human beings is still there. The more one is attuned to the Divine the more power is given to the Sufi. The individual has become nought to the outside world, i.e. utter humility. To become nothing is to ‘die before you die.’ This burning and destruction of the self in order to melt with the Self is the only way to annul the pain of separation. The ego and the Self cannot live together in the chamber of one heart. It is with the help of the teacher or sheikh that we can eradicate the ego. It is also the traditional Sufi practices that help to bring on the grace of God to break the links of attachment to the world. Sometimes we have even to relinquish the desire to merge with God. The final act is to totally ‘surrender’, which is the surest way to empty the space for the Beloved. Once we surrender, the Self rushes to reach us. In the act of surrender the ego and mind just simply melt away. And when that happens we see nothing but God. When the ego is present the mind cannot experience unity with God, where there is no duality, no distinction between observer and observed. When fana is achieved the individual knows that he has always been united with God. It is the ego that veils us of this Truth.


Unity leads us to baqa, ‘abiding in God.’ Baqa is the beginning of a new journey. From thence he becomes more and more lost in God, as he lives in a dual state of separation and union. We need the ego to live and function in the world, but we also know that the Beloved is all the time in our heart. His presence is always there, although He has no form or image. However His Presence is always felt as a guiding force and a sweetness that gives out a lovely fragrance. Finally in meditation we enter into that dark silence and stillness, which confirms that He is at home in our heart. There we abide. In this meditation of silence the expansion of the heart reveals its power in the state of union where, God takes us to God. This is the deepest fulfillment any human can experience.

During this last period of attunement and fulfillment the heart spins faster and faster with love energy. This love energy has a much faster velocity than the material body. Sometimes the wayfarer cannot take this pace psychologically and a psychosis may ensue. However, the teacher and the members in the Sufi order can help to prevent the psychosis. Or sometimes he goes into ecstasy, a ‘spiritual drunkenness.’ The group accepts this state endearingly.
In the World but not of the World

Sufism is different from all the other mystical practices, in which the groupings or sects live in monasteries, wearing robes of different attire to distinguish themselves from the lay public. The Sufi order has one teacher or sheikh, whose lineage can be traced back to Prophet Muhammad. The Sufi wayfarers wear normal clothes, work in ordinary occupations, marry and bring up families. Most of their jobs are humble ones like artisans, schoolteachers or merely sweepers. In their occupations and dealings with the outside world, they try to be inconspicuous and become ‘nothing.’ Because they have not been secluded in the temples or monasteries, they do not get ‘enlightened' and then return to the market place. Most of these eastern, religious mystics get so disappointed with the return to the secular as to coin a phrase “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.” The Sufis never leave the common community. They practice working as ordinary members of the community. The work and duty to God has always been “Love and Service.” This theme remains in baqa after ‘enlightenment.’ A Sufi prayer says it aptly:

                        I do not ask to see.

                        I do not ask to know.

                        I ask only to be used.


Being filled with love, the enlightened Sufi wants only to serve all of God’s creatures. Watering the plants and feeding the animals are pleasurable acts of service to God. As far as humans are concern there is not a single enemy amongst them and to serve them is the highest act to serve God. How to serve? Whoever asks you for help, give it within the limits of your capability with love. Do not promise beyond your means. In serving there should not be any distinction between friends, relatives and strangers. Service includes helping your nearest and dearest. Do not take to heart any hostile acts by mischievous people. Treat them as friends who have gone astray. With love be very compassionate and sympathetic towards those who are serving you. If one is called upon to serve the community or nation, be enthusiastic about it, but make sure that there is no kudos attached. If accolades or praises are given it is equivalent to being paid. So do not take any notice of them. While performing all the above acts, continue to maintain the Divine Presence in the heart. One is not allowed to be unaware of His Presence for a second. Love in the heart must be encouraged to bloom.

Throughout the day prayers must be performed according to the religious laws. Then go home at the right hour to be with one’s family. After dinner and the night prayers, prepare for the evening’s meditation practice. Look forward to the evening’s going into silence and stillness. Be thankful that the day’s proceedings have been uneventful. If mishaps had taken place, accept them as chores and work allocated to you by God. Be grateful that you have been chosen for these chores. There should not be any negative emotions accrued.

As long as one is in tune with the Beloved, the power to act and to serve is gradually increased to super-human proportions. This fact is seen in most of the Christian saints when they come back to the market place to serve and work. In addition, some have greatly enhanced intuitive capability, telepathy, clairvoyance and healing energy. These are by-products of enlightenment for some, but not for all.

Die Before You Die

Throughout one’s spiritual journey, one principle should be kept in mind: contemplation of death. This is the inevitable end of every human: the minute one is born one is walking towards one’s death. Mindful of our mortality is the best way to be detached. Death makes our greed and status achievement ridiculous. Nobody has ever taken with him his wealth and fame when he dies. Nobody knows the timing of one’s demise, as most people do not know their G-plan (one’s life plan that was constructed before birth). Wealth and health do not guarantee one’s longevity. The date and time of one’s death is inevitable and unalterable. So don’t waste time. Walk the spiritual path at every moment of one’s remaining days.


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2.      William C. Chittick, Sufism, A Short Introduction. Oneworld Publications, Oxford, OX2 7AR England.2000.

3.      James Fadiman and Robert Frager, editors, Essential Sufism. HarperCollins New York. 1997

4.      Kabir Helminski, The knowing Heart, A Sufi Path of Transformation. Shambala, Boston and London. 2000.

5.      Martin Lings, What is Sufism? The Islamic Texts Society. Cambridge, UK. 1993.

6.      Wahid Bakhsh Rabbani, Islamic Sufism. Premier Publishing Company Aligarh-India or The Sufi Foundation, Lahore, Pakistan. 1984.

7.      W. Stoddart and R.A. Nicholson, Sufism. Adam Publishers and Distributors, Delhi, India.1998.

8.      Mark J. Sedgwick, Sufism, The Essentials. The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, Egypt. 2000.

9.      A.M.A. Shustery, Early Sufis and their Sufism. Adam Publishers and Distributors, Delhi, India. 1999.

10.  Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Sufism, The Transformation of the Heart. The Golden Sufi Center, California, USA. 1995.