by Murshid F. A. Ali ElSenossi

In the Name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.

Sufism (Tasawwuf) is the esoteric teaching of Islam. We are living in the 21st Century, the age of instant communication, social media and YouTube and so would hope by now that Sufism does not require too much explanation. This teaching has been made more accessible around the world not only by way of the internet, but by the thousands of books written on the subject and the biographies of the great Saints of Islam. We are not surprised when we discovered that the best-selling books around the world are by the great Sufi mystical poets. For the sake of clarification and explanation, and as an introduction to our web site, we put forward a short introduction to this great esoteric teaching of Islam. Like anything else, there is an inward and an outward and Islam is no exception.

There are many different explanations of where the name 'Sufi' began. One is 'suf'- the Arabic word meaning 'wool'. It has been said in the Traditions of the Holy Prophet that the Prophet Musa (Moses) was wearing wool when he went to speak with God on Mount Sinai . In the early days wool was a very cheap commodity, worn by ascetics as a sign of humility and detachment. Wool is the opposite of silk, which represents wealth and material comforts. In some Traditions the Sufis are connected with the Companions of the Holy Prophet. There was a group of very highly devoted and sincere seekers of God named Ahl as-Suffa, the People of the Bench. They spent their lives in a state of remembrance of God and complete detachment from this world.

It has also been said, that Sufism is related to the root of the word "safa" - to purify - here meaning to purify the heart of everything other-than-God. There are many names attached to this particular teaching. The Sufis nonetheless say: "If one says he is a Sufi, he is not a Sufi". To be a Sufi is to be in a state of complete awareness of the self, in service to the creations, and complete awareness of the Divine Supreme Being (Allah).

"The goal of self-transformation is to remove all the veils between us and God. The final veil is the "I", the sense of separateness we each carry. To remove this is far from easy. Ask yourself, "How can I take the "I" out of me?"

The Sufis take as their starting point the Unity of God - Laa ilaha illa'Allah - There is no god but One God; There is no reality but One Reality. It is not that we have to acknowledge the Unity of God. God does not need our confirmation. It is for our own benefit that we make this declaration. When one starts with Unity it is easy to integrate all the different "I's" which have no function except to confuse and mislead us. For this reason the Sufis use the remembrance of Allah (Dhikr) in all of its forms, including prayer, fasting, charity and selfless actions in order to awaken the subtle centres of the self.

In Islam and in Sufism there are seven states of consciousness that have been mentioned in the Holy Qur'an. When we progress through them we will reach the Ultimate Truth and the Ultimate Unity of Realization of God. It is hard; and at the same time it is easy. If we are sincere and if we desire and really wish to be with God then, as Allah says in the Holy Qur'an, 'He is closer to us than our jugular vein'. And, 'If you take one step towards Me, I will come running towards you'.

"The Sufis are people who love God over everything and God loves them more intensely".

So the first step on the journey is , as we mentioned, the acknowledgment of God, which includes the acceptance of 124,000 prophets and messengers of God who have been sent to humanity and to the entire creation at large. This should not be difficult since we did not create ourselves, but were created by the Merciful and Loving Allah, who is the Creator and Sustainer of all things.

The last Prophet and Messenger of God is the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him). If we acknowledge this then the second step is to worship, because there is no point in acknowledging God if we do not obey Him. As a Sufi poet said: "You disobey Allah and you claim His Love. That is indeed a very strange kind of love!" If you are truly a lover of God you will obey Him because the lover is in a state of total surrender to his Beloved. So - worship you must! However, worship is not just the movements of the body. It is a state of knowledge, because in the true sense you cannot worship something that you do not know. So, the Sufis say: "Worship!" Worship in the Arabic tradition is called ibadat. Ibadat should take us to ubudiyya meaning slavehood. If worship does not produce this result then it has not been done properly. The highest state of consciousness is to be completely and totally submitted to our Beloved, Allah.

There are four stages of practice and understanding as taught by the Holy Prophet:

Shariah (religious law),
Tariqah (the mystical path),
Haqiqah (Truth),
and Marifah (Gnosis).
Each is built upon the stages that go before.

There are also other steps in this method of development of the self. It is highly recommended to observe the one month of fasting every year (the Holy month of Ramadaan) in order to experience something of hunger and to tame the animal self. The Murshid, or Teacher, of a Sufi order or school to whom one attaches oneself, may recommend other fasts if they are required.

There is also zakat, the poor tax, which deals with material wealth. When we practise zakat, which requires 2.5% of our wealth to be given to the needy, then, according to the esoteric Teaching, we are learning detachment and generosity and many other qualities. We must know that the best gift one can give to others is a heart full of love and respect for all the creations of God. The required poor tax is the absolute minimum, but it is much better to be generous at all times in every area of life. This practice will accelerate the illumination of the self.

Additionally there is the Hajj or pilgrimage. The Holy Prophet said: "Whoever dies without the intention to go on the Pilgrimage, may die on a different faith than that of surrender to Allah". One must strive to perform pilgrimage to the House of Allah once in a lifetime. However, the real pilgrimage is to travel to one's heart because it is the Real House of Allah. Allah says 'Neither My heavens or My earth contain Me, but the heart of My believing slave contains Me'.

Die before you die.
The Sufis use all of these methods and more to transform the self. It is common knowledge that the ego-self cannot surrender to itself. From day one we are learning from our parents, our peers, schoolteachers, our university lecturers, and the masters of whatever trade we undertake. There is always someone at the beginning who must show us how to learn. No one is born knowing everything and the Sufi aspirant is no exception. In Tasawwuf there is something called the Spiritual Genealogy. In some parts of the world it is called Mukafaf - People of the hand. That is, you must take the hand of the one nearest to you to link you to the chain which goes back to the First Teacher who brought this Teaching to us, the Holy Prophet Muhammad, who links us to Allah Himself. It is like a magnetic circle. The one who attaches himself becomes like a magnet, receiving the barakah, spiritual blessings, and participating in the Universal Remembrance of God, because this Teaching is for all humanity. It is Universal. It is fresh and unadulterated and it gives you access to everything that your heart desires and everything that you wish for on this earth and beyond.

Almiraj Sufi & Islamic Study Centre was established in Australia in 1983. It provides all those who want to know - and who really want to know - with a large range of books on the Sufi traditions and their original sources and other traditions as well. So, I hope this introduction helps to give you some idea, but if you want more than the menu - the kitchen and the Cook are here on the Web. May your search bring you success in this life and the next.

And may Allah fill our hearts and yours with Peace, Love and Knowledge and Guide us all to Him, by Him. Ameen.

Wa ma tawfiq illa Billah.
Murshid F.A. Ali ElSenossi- Spiritual Director, Almiraj Sufi & Islamic Study Centre
Recommended Reading for further information