Re: religious singularity?

From: Amara Graps (
Date: Wed Oct 03 2001 - 05:15:33 MDT

From: Greg Burch (, Sun Sep 30 2001:

>Interestingly, the radical monotheism of Islam has given rise to the
>pantheism that naturally follows from a rigorously unitary notion of
>god -- in Sufism. Unfortunately, this has then also been coupled with
>the radically totalitarian vision of shariah, so that the
>all-pervasive notion of Sufistic pantheism then doubles back on itself
>to return to the kind of obsessive social universalism we see in all
>facets of Islam. As my study of Islamic thought and history deepens
>and widens, I keep looking for signs of the kind of moderating
>influence that the 18th century deists had on Christianity, but to no
>avail. The history of Sufism is a good example of why.

Greg, this paragraph totally confused me. Your use of 'Sufism' makes
no sense to me. Yes, Sufis tolerate worship of all gods of different
creeds, cults, or peoples indifferently, but I don't follow the
'doubling back' part or why you appear to be equating Sufism with
Islam. Could you please describe what you mean by Sufism? I will
tell you what I know about Sufism, from by own books and from personal
experience and perhaps we can reach an understanding.

(My source for the next several paragraphs is _The Sufis_
and _The Way of the Sufi_ by Idries Shah, and several more
of his books.)

One of the best ways to describe Sufism is to describe what it's *not*:
it is not a sect, these people are not bound by religious dogma, and
they use no regular place of worship. They have no sacred city, no
monastic organization, no religious instruments, no sacred book. They
don't like even being given a name ("Sufi"), which is more like a
nickname to them, and prefer to refer to themselves as "people like
us" or "we friends". (They recognize one another by certain natural
gifs, habits, qualities of thought.) Sufism is only known by means of
itself. The function of Sufism is to be a 'nutrient' for society, and
to then transmute and disappear, leaving _alterred_ traces only.

The Sufis are at home in all religions because they believe that
Sufism is the secret teaching within all religions. To them, Islam is
a 'shell' of Sufism as equally as other religions are a 'shell' of
Sufism. However, the Sufi thought has an eastern flavor because Islam
protected it for a long time. Sufism's origin is not known, but it is
thought to have existed in B.C. times. The largest impact of Sufism,
though, was made between the eighth and eighteenth centuries.

For the Sufis, enlightenment is gained via love, meaning a (poetic)
love of perfect devotion to a wise Muse. The poets are the chief
disseminators of Sufi thought ("Under the poet's tongue lies the key
of treasury" says Nizami, a Persian Sufi). For example, here are some
words from the Sufi's "Master Poet": Ibn El-Arabi (1165-1240), a
Spanish Arab from Murcia:

"I follow the religion of Love.
Now I am sometimes called
A Shepherd of gazelles [divine wisdom]
And now a Christian monk,
and now a Persian sage.
My beloved is Three-
Three yet only one;
Many things appear as three,
Which are no more than one.
Give her no name,
As if to limit one
At sight of whom
All limitation is confounded."

The Sufis' quest for enlightenment is a self-knowing, overcoming as
much as possible social conditioning. One way to overcome our social
conditioning is by using multi-layered stories, parables, poetry,
which have a new meaning each time you read the same one. If you read
one and say to yourself "huh" ?, then that means that you didn't
understand one of the messages, but you shifted your mind in a useful
new way. (Try reading: _Tales of the Dervishes_ by Idries Shah, to see
what I mean).

Another way the Sufis like to shift our thinking patterns is to
present something as 'ridiculous' (court jesters, clowns, tricksters,
for example are Sufic). The most famous 'Idiot' ( or Sage?) is the
Mulla Nasrudin, and the stories of his adventures are pervasive
throughout Sufi schools because they are teaching stories.

For example, here is one of my favorite Mulla Nasrudin stories:


A man was walking home late one night when he saw the Mulla Nasrudin
searching under a street light on hands and knees for something on
the ground.

"Mulla, what have you lost?" he asked.

"The key to my house," Nasrudin said.

"I'll help you look," the man said.

Soon, both men were down on their knees, looking for the key.

After a number of minutes, the man asked, "Where exactly did you drop it?"

Nasrudin waved his arm back toward the darkness. "Over there, in my house."

The first man jumped up. "Then why are you looking for it here?"

"Because there is more light here than inside my house."

(from _Nasrudin_ by Idries Shah)

OK, I hope that I've described to you my understanding of some
of the Sufi ideas (there are many more, and I'm far from expert).

My personal experience with some Sufis occurred in 1989/1990 via some
close friends that were volunteering their time doing office work and
computer programming for a local Bay Area Sufi organization. Through
them, I participated in a festival in Fort Mason, San Francisco, that
winter, where a group of Afghanis were holding a festival, in order to
raise money to buy goods, supplies, agricultural products (especially
seed to replant their crops), in order to rebuild Afghanistan after
the devastation wrecked by the Soviets. During the festival, they were
selling handworks, music, you could participate in a many-course meal,
and then at the end of the day they performed some plays of Mulla
Nasrudin stories. I was a stage-hand, backstage, taking care of the
props, while my friends were acting the stories. Not once throughout
that day did anyone there ask me my religious beliefs or impose their
own religious ideas upon me. I found this group of Afghan Sufis to be
one of the warmest, deepest, and most interesting groups of people
that I have ever encountered.


Amara Graps, PhD email:
Computational Physics vita:
Multiplex Answers URL:
     "Trust in the Universe, but tie up your camels first."
               (adaptation of a Sufi proverb)

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