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Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Adham
by Seyedeh Sahar Kianfar
from Vol. 2, No. 4

posted August 1, 2002

Shari'a, Tariqa & Haqiqa
by Seyedeh Sahar Kianfar

from Vol. 9, No. 2

Rumi and the Whirling

by Sheikh Abdul Azziz

from Vol. 9, No. 2

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AT-TASAWWUF By Titus Burckhardt*

Part Two

The orthodoxy of Sufism is not only shown in its maintaining of Islamic foms; it is equally expressed in its organic development from the teaching of the Prophet and in particular by its ability to assimilate all forms of spiritual expression which are not in their essence foreign to Islam. This applies, not only to doctrinal forms, but also to ancillary matters connected with art.
Certainly there were contacts between early Sufis and Christian contemplatives, as is proved by the case of the Sufi Ibrahim ibn Adham, but the most immediate explanation of the kinship between Sufism and Christian monasticism does not lie in historical events. As 'Abd al'Karim al'Jili explains in his book al-Inan al Kamil ('Universal Man") the message of Christunveils certain inner--and therefore esoteric--aspects fo the monotheism of

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In a certain sense Christian dogmas, which can be all reduced to the dogma of thte two natures of Christ, the divine and the human, sum up in a 'historical' form all that Sufism teaches on union with God. Moreover, Sufis hold that the Lord Jesus (Sayyidna 'Isa) is of all the Divine Envoys (rusul) the most perfect type of the contemplative saint. To offer the left cheek to him who smites one on the right is true spiritual detachment; it is a voluntary withdrawal from the interplay of cosmic actions and reactions.
It is nonetheless true that for Sufis the person of Christ does not stand in the same perspective as it does for Christians. Despite many likenesses the Sufi way differs greatly from the way of Christian contemplatives. We may here refer to the picture in which the different traditional ways are depicted as the radii of a circle which are united only at one single point. The nearer the radii are to the centre, the nearer they are to one another; nontheless they coincide only at the centre where they cease to be radii. It is clear that this distinction of one way from another does not prevent the intellect from placing itself by an intuitive anticipation at the centre where all ways converge.
To make the inner constitution of Sufism quite clear it should be added that it always includes as indispensable elements, first, a doctrine, secondly, an initiation, and thirdly, a spiritual method. The doctrine is, as it were, a symbolical prefiguring of the knowledge to be attained; it is also in its manifestation, a fruit of that knowledge
The quintessence of Sufi doctrine comes from the Prohpet, but, as there is no esotericism without a certain inspiration, the doctrine is continually manifested afresh by the mouth of masters. Oral teachings is moreover superior, sincie it is directed and 'personal,' to what can be gleaned from writings. Writings play only a secondary part as a preparation, a complement or an aid to memory and for this reason the historical continuity of Sufi teaching sometimes eludes the researches of scholars.
As for initiation in Sufism, this consists in the transmission of a spiritual influence (barakah) and must be conferred by a rrepresentative of the 'chain' reaching back to the Prophet. In most cases it is transmitted by the master who also communicates the method and confers the means of spiritual concentration that are appropriate to the aptitutedes of the disciple . . .

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* Sufism gratefully acknowledges permission from Thorsons, part of HarperCollins Publishers to reprint ‘At-Tasawwuf’ which comprises Chapter One from Titus Burckhardt: An Introduction to Sufism (trans. D. M. Matheson), Aquarian/Thorsons (1990). This chapter is printed in two parts due to space limitations.

1 Certian Sufis deliberately manifested forms which, though not contrary to the spirit of the Tradition, shocked the commonality of exotericists. This was a way of making themselves free from the psychic elements and mental habits of the collectivity surrounding them.

2 In some turuq, such as the Qadiriyah, the Derqawiyah, and the Naqshbendiyah, the presence of 'outer circles' of initiates in addition to the inner circle of the elite results in a certain popular expansion. But this is not to be confounded with the expansion of sectarian movements, since the outer circles do not stand in oppostion to exotericism of which they are very often in fact an intesified form.

3 What is in these days usually called the 'intellect' is rreally only the discursive faculty, the very dynamism and agitation of which distinguishes it from the intellect proper which is in itself motionless being always direct and serene in operation.