Skip to content

Sufism Today

At first the fire of love was but
     a flickering flame.
But many have come along since then
     to add to its intensity

- Hajj Mulla Hadi Sabziwari

In view of the common misunderstandings that exist today regarding Sufism, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh decided it would be appropriate to provide some clarification of certain fundamental points. People should be aware that Sufism today differs considerably from that of a thousand years ago. Moreover, it is undergoing constant evolutionary developments in accordance with the changing conditions of society.

Let's cite three such developments:

  1. Quietism and Seclusion In sufi practice, quietism and seclusion – sitting in isolation, occupying oneself day and night in devotions – are condemned. All masters of the Path have had active professional lives, never freeloading off society. In the past, certain masters were forced at times to isolate themselves from the world in the face of the insidiousness of dogmatic clerics who opposed Sufism both covertly and openly. Such masters retired from mainstream society in order to avoid harassment by mobs incited by hostile clerics who had branded all sufis as unbelievers and heretics.Today, however, retiring into seclusion and isolating oneself from society are considered unacceptable in Sufism. All sufis are enjoined to have jobs, work productively in society, earn wages and support their families. Above all, they must serve others. If a sufi is found idly sitting off in a corner, one can be sure that such a person is either deluded or hypocritical. Thus, the sufi of today is neither a hermit nor a recluse, but an active participant in society.
  2. Service to Creation A cardinal principle of Sufism is service to the creation, that is, to the world around one. As a result, a true sufi will never be idle. Not only is the sufi a productive earner in society, but such a one also gives generously to aid others, to gladden their hearts. If in the past sufis engaged in mendicancy, it was done purely as a discipline, for the purpose of breaking down the ego. And, in fact, such sufis would give away whatever they received to the poor. In the present day world, however, each sufi must work and be productive, and none has any business begging from people or sponging off society.If a sufi engages in external devotions and spiritual exercises, it is strictly for the purpose of disciplining the ego in an effort to resist its desires and to purify oneself inwardly. Such a sufi understands perfectly well that God has no need of our devotions.Service to the creation is service to God, and one who serves others receives God’s favor and blessing. Thus, the sufi appreciates life as an opportunity to be of service to the people of God, to help them and ease their hearts, seeing them solely as manifestations of God. One’s intention is focused on God alone, for in being a lover of God, one seeks nothing of God’s creatures in one’s practice of loving Him.
  3. Annihilation in God The sufi sets out on the Path to become annihilated in God. The difficulty in achieving this aim is indicated in a verse by Rumi, who explains:Out of a thousand initiates,
         maybe one is a sufi;
    The rest are simply living
         off the master’s fortune.The strength, stamina, and aptitude to achieve this end are not within everyone’s grasp. However, as long as a person’s service to the creation is always focused on God and he or she remains constant in striving, that person will be rewarded by Divine success in one form or another.In summary then, Sufism is a school for the worship of God and for service to humanity, with no trace whatsoever of pretention or sanctimony.