Mystics (isl.)

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(Arab. Tasawwuf, Turk. Tasavvuf)

The term commonly used to refer to Islamic mystics (Sufism), tasawwuf, derives from the root of the Arabic word suf (wool); it means the wearing of woollen clothing. While sundry sources reference other derivations, none of them can explain the relationship to the root based on the derivation. In view of the fact that, both in Muhammad’s time and later on, the wearing of woollen garments was a sign of asceticism (zuhd), the derivation put forward would appear to be sound. Abu Hashim al-Kufi (d. 767) was the first to be called Sufi (ascetic/mystic). In Islamic tradition, the mystics take an approach different to philosophy or theology in matters of existence, knowledge, and ethics. Mystics assume that being is an absolute unified whole, variety the result of illusion. To arrive at an adequate understanding of this reality, in the relationship between God and humanity mystics attach particular importance to intuition and experience. The aim of the mystics is to keep the bond between God and humankind alive at all times. In this, it orients itself by the model of the perfect person (al-insān al-kāmil), which is modelled in turn after Muhammad’s way of life. Mysticism is based upon the Qur’an and the Sunnah, yet in addition to revelation and reason it also accepts enlightenment (kashf) and inspiration (ilham) as sources of knowledge. Knowledge of this kind is not absolute knowledge and can be trusted only, if it is not in contradiction to the basic principles of religion. The preconditions indispensable to closeness to God and union with Him are inner purification and liberation from worldly zeal and desires. This can be achieved through a spiritual and ethical learning process that affects heart and soul. A mystic’s highest aim is the experience of the love of God. All worldly love relationships and interests in the world present opportunities to achieve this aim. Just as a person can become physically ill, so, too, can he or she be afflicted by spiritual unwellness. Mysticism aims at transforming negative human properties into positive ones through inward reflection. The mystics refer to this process as the forming of human character through divine character. Accordingly, the mystic is a person who passes through this process in hopes of attaining maturity of character. At the same time, the mystic strives to demonstrate the religious dimension of love through his or her actions. Working from the conviction that God has created all things in a beautiful form, the mystic tries to discern goodness and beauty in all of creation. That is why the mystic makes an effort to take the greatest possible joy in life. Yet because the mystics focus upon the inner dimension of religious life, significance is attributed more to qualities of spirit and character than to outward manifestations. Even in modern-day Islam, mysticism takes different forms among Muslims. In addition, mysticism is a branch of science in its own right and is taught as such in theological faculties in Turkey.


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