Sufism: God is all around us
Sufism is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam that seeks divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. It consists of a variety of mystical paths that are designed to ascertain the nature of mankind and God and to facilitate the experience of divine love and wisdom in the world. Sufism arose as an organized movement after the death of Muhammad (AD 632), among different groups who found orthodox Islam to be spiritually stifling. The practices of contemporary Sufi orders and suborders vary, but most include the recitation of the name of God or of certain phrases from the Quran as a way to loosen the bonds of the lower self, enabling the soul to experience the higher reality toward which it naturally aspires. Sufi literature, especially love poetry, represents a golden age in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu languages. Sufism had an important part in the formation of Muslim societies as it educated the masses and met their felt needs, giving spiritual meaning to their lives and channeling their emotions. Sufis were also great missionaries who converted new regions to Islam. The term "Sufi" derives from the Arabic word "suf" (meaning "wool") and was applied to Muslim ascetics and mystics because they wore garments made out of wool. Sufism represents a dimension of Islamic religious life that has frequently been viewed by Muslim theologians and lawyers with suspicion. The ecstatic state of the mystic can sometimes produce extreme behavior or statements that on occasion appear to border on the blasphemous. The cause of this is that the Sufis can sometimes feel so close to God that they lose a sense of their own self-identity and feel themselves to be completely absorbed into God. This in fact is the goal of the Sufi. Through following a series of devotional practices, which lead to higher levels of ecstatic state, Sufis aspire to realize a condition in which they are in direct...
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