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Excerpted from Essential Sufism by James Fadiman and Robert Frager. Copyright 1997 by James Fadiman and Robert Frager. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"Sufism is not different from the mysticism at the heart of all religions."


James Fadiman and Robert FragerEssential Sufism, Part 2

For the Sufis, not only love but also self-knowledge leads to knowledge of God. The Sufi philosopher Al-Ghazzali says, "Real self-knowledge consists in knowing the following things: What are you in yourself and where did you come from? Where are you going and for what purpose are you tarrying here awhile? In what does your real happiness and misery consist?" Many pitfalls, both real and imagined, render us unable or even unwilling to seek this inner knowledge.


Historians usually describe Sufism as the mystical core of Islam and date its appearance to the beginnings of Islam, at about the ninth century A.D. According to many Sufis, however, the essential Truths of Sufism exist in all religions. The foundation for all mysticism includes the outer forms of religious practice, as well as a life based on moral and ethical principles. The roots of the tree of religion are founded in religious practices and principles, which focus on outer behavior. The branches of the tree are mysticism, the spiritual disciplines that extend the individual upward, toward the Infinite. The fruit of the tree is the Truth, or God.

In this universal sense, Sufism existed before Islam. Before the time of Muhammad, religious law had died out in Arabia and the people had lost their understanding of ethics and morality. Without the outer practice of religious law and moral principles, there could be no inner practice of Sufism. The adoption of the moral and ethical teachings of Islam created a climate in which Sufism could develop and flourish. Sufism is not different from the mysticism at the heart of all religions. Just as a river that passes through many countries and is claimed by each as its own is still only one river, all mysticism has the same goal: the direct experience of the Divine.

One who practices Sufism is called a Sufi, or dervish, or faquir. Sufi has several meanings in Arabic, including "pure" and "wool." (Early Sufis wore simple wool cloaks in addition to seeking inner purity.) Dervish is a Persian term derived from dar, or "door." It refers to one who goes from door to door. (Many dervishes used to go from house to house, begging for food or lodging.) It also means one who is at the threshold (between awareness of this world and awareness of the Divine).

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