The Sufis are the
main 'mystical' manifestation of Islam. Although its acceptability to
orthodox Muslims has always been essential to the function of Sufism as
an 'Inner Tradition' within Islam, there remains speculation that its
origins lie in much older near-eastern mystical traditions, perahps even
dating back to ancient Egypt. According to Sufi tradition, the descriptive
term 'Sufi' was decided at a council of 45 mystics in 623 c.e., the second
year of the Islamic calendar, and the first documentary evidence of Sufis
arrives with the founding of the first Sufi Order in 657 ce.. This gives
some historical credence to the tradition that the Prophet Mohammed was
himself a Sufi. Like many of the important Sufi terms, the word 'Sufi'
is itself a complex pun on Arabic words of similar sound and meaning.
Two of these are 'suf', meaning 'wool' (a reference to the cloth from
which the cloaks worn by Sufis are made), and 'sufiy', meaning 'pious'.
Sufis always aimed at the heart of Islam, it wasn't until the 'Golden
Age' of the Abbasid Empire 750-1258 c.e.) that Sufism rose to prominence.
Whilst the early Islamic Empire was characterized more by the petty tribal
bickering of th Arab armies who created it, the Abbasid dynasty (based
in Baghdad) saw a shift of power to the more ancient Persian culture.
The greater influence of music, poetry and intellectual pursuits suited
the Sufis, many of whom began to make important cultural contributions
to Islam. Perhaps most significant of these was Mohammed El-Ghazali, a
great poet but also an influential theologian, who is still often referred
to as 'the Authority of Islam' even by the most orthodox Sunni Moslems.
Although a controversial figure in his own times, Ghazali's work offered
acceptable solutions to some of the most pressing Theological questions
of the era (the early 12th century). This effectively guarunteed the acceptability
of the Sufis doctrines around which these solutions were based, thereby
securing the future of the Sufi cults. The writer Idries Shah has often
put foward the argument that Ghazali was also a major influence on St.
Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi, who may have been a Sufi initiate
is not uncommon for esoteric traditions to exist fairly comfortably within
an exoteric doctrine for long periods of time, with various sects occasionally
wielding enormous power. Many Sufi Orders continue to be very influential
within orthodox Sunni Islam. For example the Tijaniyah Order is strongly
associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which began as an anti-British
movement in Egypt in the 1920s, later playing an important role in the
revolution which deposed King Faroukh in 1952. Today the Brotherhood is
effectively acting as an intermediary between the oil-rich Saudi Arabia
and Egypt, where it is still technically illegal. Many of the features
which made Sufism so succesfull as an occult underground (for example
the secret recognistion codes and 'cell' structure) helped the Muslim
Brotherhood function effectively as a 'terrorist/freedom fighter' (as
you Will) organisation and spy network. As with western Freemasonry, however,
it seems likely that in many cases any esoteric aims have long sonce been
submeregd by political objectives.
Christianity, ceremonial magic has a legitimate place in Islam. According
to Islamic law, sihr-al-halal or pemitted magick may be used as
a vehicle for religious discovery. This has given Sufis room to preserve
magickal practices from the ancient world which were systematically supressed
in Europe, which had to wait for the Renaissiance for their re-introduction.
Like Qabalah, Sufi ideas played an important
part in the European Rennaissance, in particular being hugely influential
on the Rosicrucian movement. In terms of esoteric practice, there is also
a large overlap between Qabalistic and Sufic magickal practice, hardly
surprising when one considers the related languages, geographical proximity,
and common religious heritage. Like Qabalists, Sufis have alway sought
to maintain their legitimacy within mainstream religion. Like Qabalists,
they maintained an intellectual tradition in continuity from the Hellenistic
culture of the last few cenuries b.c.e.. There are also some similarities
which both refuse to acknowledge. The practice of demonic magic (summoning
and binding demons) has a central role in the magick of both traditions.
This doesn't sit easily with modern Sufis, who like to stress the more
image-friendly "spiritual development" side of their tradition. Nevertheless,
demonic magick is probably one of the most ancient threads in the Sufi
tapestry, dating back to the ancient Canaanite/Babylonian/Egyptian cultures.
Many medieval grimoires (which mark the point at which demonology entered
Western Europe) contain lists of demons with names directly traceable
to these traditions. When Aleister Crowley
'restored' the Invocation of the Bornless One, he found good correlations
between the nonsense-names contained in the Graeco-Coptic original and
Egyptian godforms, correspondances born out by the context of the ritual.
well as similarities, there are also important differences between Sufism
and Qabalah. One is of scale. While the educated Jewish population was,
for many hundreds of years, tiny, Islam has been the official religion
of some of the largest Empires the world has seen. As a result of this,
there is a much greater diversity within traditional Sufi thought and
practice than in the Qabalah. In many ways,
Qabalah as a force within Judaism has declined since its heyday in the
17th century. Partly to counter accusations of heresy, Jewish Qabalists
adopted a conservative, traditional, aescetic image. This has resulted
in a tradition which has become so divorced from mainstream culture, it
is all but irrelevant. In many ways the bastard forms of Qabalah adopted
by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and their contemporaries are
truer to the original aims of the Qabalah than the fossilized versions
being practiced amongst the ageing bearded orthodoxy. Whilst some forms
of Sufism have undoubtedly suffered this fate, and others have been subverted
by politics, there are many Sufis still actively working within their
communities. This is another disctinctive feature of Sufism. Withdrawal
from the world is only a temporary phaze of a cycle which must inevitably
lead the Sufi back into society. This concept has countered the anal autoconsumptive
tendencies implicit in many 'spiritual' paths, which often fall into the
trap of defining themselves as an alternative to ordinay human experience
instead of as an extension of it.
to the Golden Dawn's adoption of the Tree of Life, the influence of Qabalah
on western ceremonial magick is highly visible. However, the no less significant
influence of Sufism has been all but ignored. Scholars are only now starting
to admit the enormous influence on the Rennaissance exerted not only of
Sufism but Islam in general. This is doubtless partly due to the endemic
racist and Eurocentric tendencies of western scholars, but there are other
mitigating circumstances. Whereas Qabalah is quite tightly described by
the ritual practices it uses, Sufism has always been more of a free-form
affair, stressing the importance of the 'internal' individual experience,
rather than the means by which it is produced (the latter, according to
Sufis, being a poor guide to the former). Where Qabalah can be recognised,
for example, by schemes such as the tree of life, the name of an angel,
or by some clever use of numerical equivalents of words, Sufi ideas are
much harder to spot. Many authors trying to demonstrate the Sufi influence
on Rennaisance art, literure, and music, such as the great Idries Shah,
have found themselves foiled by need to explain the end-point of Sufi
initiation in order to describe how one may move towards it.
CROWLEY A SUFI?
well as the invisible influence on the Rosicrucians, it seems likely that
Crowley was also heavily influenced by Sufi ideas. He spoke Arabic and
travelled extensively in many areas where Sufis practiced. And he was
also fond of that least tangible means of Sufi teaching, the self-as-paradox.
Crowley, like many Sufis before him, was not scared to contradict himself
regularly, to cheat his pupils of their savings whilst lecturing them
on the importance of honesty, to marry his friend's sister to save her
from choosing between two lovers. The regressive nature of modern Thelema
may be judged by the fact that this important, even central aspect of
Crowley's teaching is still widely ignored, in favour of his boring and
often inaccurate pronouncements on magick in books with impressive sounding
titles. For God's sake, Wake Up!