Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Sufism, which is an English version of the word “Tasawwuf” in Arabic and Persian, which refers to the inner spiritual dimension of Islam as a religion and as a revelation, that is Islam not only revealed a sacred law, Sharia, which all Muslims are bound by, but also a path, a Tariqa towards God, an inner path which is not for everyone. Not everyone is made to be saintly or saint and that path is associated primarily with Tasawwuf or Sufism in Islam, and it therefore goes back like Islamic law to the prophet himself. And Sufis believe that there is an initiation, a spiritual right through which a spiritual power is transmitted from master to disciple, from the prophet, to such companions as Ali of Abu Talib and one or two others of his companions, including Salman al-Farsi and then Abu Bakr, the first Caliph. But primarily through Ali, and from him to others, step by step up to our own day and gradually Sufi orders were created, more organized Sufi orders from the 12th century onwards, and had the most powerful impact upon the whole of Islamic civilization, having affected everything from art to philosophy to guilds of the bazaar, ethics in society, about everything in the Islamic society was affected by the presence of Sufism.
And when modernism came into the Islamic world, it began to set itself against Sufism, as did the new fundamentalism, which was the other side of the coin of modernism, which both having begun in the 18th century. But classicalist Islamic civilization, traditional Islam, as it survives today, is deeply impregnated by Sufism. But the heart of Sufism, is not to create art or philosophy or guilds, it is to reach God.1 It’s to reach God, to purify the soul, to live virtuously, to open the eye of the heart, to be able to see the invisible world through the spiritual practices, and it corresponds really to the original teachings of Christ when he said “I am the way, the life and the truth”, that is a way to God. Not all Christians can live by his exalted teachings, which in fact they’re very close to Sufism, because they’re really esoteric, they’re inward, and most of what they said and did, and Sufism also is the inner esoteric dimension of Islamic revelation.2