Sufi metaphysics is the heart of the mystical philosophy of Islam. Learn about Sufism and the meaning and symbolism of the Sufi practices.
Sufism is not a religion or an ethnic group, it is rather a movement that emerged among Muslims as a reaction against the worldliness of the Islamic world during the Umayyad Caliphate in the 8th century. Muhammad is said to have been the first Sufi master, who passed his knowledge orally to his successor Ali, who, in turn, passed the teachings to his disciples,creating a chain of divine transmission that links every Sufi master to the prophet.
Mystical Philosophy – the Sufi Mystics
The Sufi mystics (also called dervishes) believed that there were hidden meanings and symbols in the Quran and Hadith and therefore, the literal interpretation of the sacred texts would lead to misunderstandings, so the foundations of the Sufi philosophy can be found in the symbolic interpretation of the Islamic scriptures.
Believing that the annihilation of the ego was the path to the union with God, the early Sufis were ascetics and practiced mortification of the flesh and abstinence, as they understood that what made men distant from the divine, was the body and the personality – God is above emotions, intelligence, mental faculties and personality traits, but since most people spend their lives focusing on the bodily sensations or the emotional turbulence, they never reach this level of consciousness that allows union with God.
So, meditating in silence or practicing abstinence was seen as a way to transcend all the human lower levels of consciousness in order to meet God in a higher instance.
Sufi Practices – the Whirling Dervishes
Sufi mystical practices include the whirling, which is a form of meditation through circular movements in which the dervish spins his body repetitively with the right arm pointing to the sky and the left arm pointing toward the earth.
This practice symbolizes the planets revolving around the sun, as the sun is seen as the microcosm of God – so just like celestial bodies orbit around the sun, the dervish revolves around God in his meditative dance, leading to a spiritual ecstasy.
Sufi Metaphysics – Sufi Cosmology
The philosophical system of illumination states that everything that exists is a result of variation of light, so from the Absolute light to lower degrees of light, things take different forms and shapes, revealing the hierarchy of the universe in which the Unity or the Absolute is the highest instance of light and the angels are emanations from this light, who, in turn, shed weaker degrees of light constituting all that exist. So, all universe is a result of God’s mind (light) and this is why sometimes Sufis are called Panentheists.
Sufi Cosmology derives from this theory, which is also advocated by other monist doctrines, and it divides the cosmos in five realms — pre-existence, realm of divinity, realm of power, angelic realm and human realm — which are seen as emanations of God.
Life on other planets is seen as natural by the Sufis, like in most mystical doctrines, and every planet that holds human life are said to have four levels of existence and each of these divisions have characteristics that correspond to the degree of light they represent:
Human realm – where all physical things exist;
Angel realm – the plane of the messengers of God, or God’s assistants, who do not have free will and work to maintain the harmony of the universe;
Jinn realm – the plane of other incorporeal beings that organize themselves in societies like humans and can be either good or evil as they have free will;
Astral realm – where the soul goes when it detaches from the physical body, in the occasion of death and while the body is sleeping.
Because of the division of the universe into planes of consciousness and its concept of universe’s mechanism that includes the concept of microcosm and macrocosm, Sufi cosmology can be compared to Hindu and Buddhist esotericism. In fact, the Sufi doctrine claims to be universal as the heart of every religion in its origin links to the same source of knowledge – the Unity.
Sufism in Islam
The greatest Sufis were brutally killed in the past, accused of blasphemy and heresy and were looked upon with suspicion because of their mystical doctrine and rigorous practices but today they are completely integrated to the Islamic society and Sufism is regarded as the mystic part of Islamic philosophy, remaining an important part of Islam.