By Farida Khanam, "A Mystic Faith Soaked In Universal Love" - The Times of India - IndiaMonday, April 7, 2008
Sufism is the form which mysticism has taken in Islam. The term Sufism embraces the philosophy and practices in Islam which aims at direct communion between God and man. The Islamic values of love, peace and kindness, embodied in the Prophet of Islam were embraced by Sufis. They devoted their lives to spreading these virtues all around the world.
The original intention of Sufism was to deliver man from slavery to worldly passions by destroying the power of the flesh and uniting souls to God by spiritual ties. The Sufi movement's origins lie in asceticism. In one sense self-denial was a reaction to the worldliness of some of the faithful who were absorbed in the pursuit of worldly goals.
Sufis felt the need to help the poor and the helpless. During the reign of the Abbasids a rich minority enjoyed all the comforts of life, while the majority lived as poor peasants and labourers. Sufis reiterated that God was all-loving and all-merciful; that God wants people to love one another, be merciful and compassionate. They raised such questions as how we are justified in expecting love and compassion from God, while we have nothing to offer to our fellow- men but hate and ill will.
Sufis spread the message of harmony, brother-hood, peace and friendship. The Sufis hold that despairing of love and mercy is a greater fault than committing sin.
For, as we learn from traditions, everything in life is mortal, except for God and good deeds. All worldly things are characterised by impermanence. Good deeds alone can bring us salvation.
The Qur'an says: "Do not despair of My mercy. God turns to those who repent and surrender themselves to Him" (39:53).
Shaykh Nizamuddin Awliya devoted his life in saving mankind from sin and suffering. He believed that, in the eyes of God, no deed was of greater significance than freeing fellow human beings from their misery and helping the helpless.
Once someone asked Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti what was the highest form of religious devotion in the eyes of God. He replied: "Develop river-like generosity, sun-like bounty and earth-like hospitality".
Love is most important. Sufis conceive God as the beloved and man as the lover. According to Ibn Arabi, no religion ranks higher than the religion of love. Love is the source and the essence of all creeds. Therefore, a Sufi thinks that all the evil thoughts which breed dislike, hatred and religious division and prejudice must be replaced by love.
When he has come to his last stage of enlightenment, his self is annihilated in the complete sense. This is the stage when he comes closer to God, and naturally he becomes a servant to God's people.
He rises above vested interests, above all biases and predilections. A realised Sufi has no other interest but his love of God and world brotherhood.
Love of God is a process that purifies the human personality. That is, the soul comes to realise itself, in the sense that the latent natural potential of the soul is ultimately awakened and, in the words of the Qur'an, it becomes the 'serene' or 'pure soul'.
A heart filled with God's love will necessarily be filled with the love of other human beings, all the creatures of God. As Bayazid Bistami says: "A Sufi belongs to the sect of God".
The writer is a reader in the Islamic Studies department of Jamia Millia Islamia.