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Sunday 25 September 2016



The Greek σοφός (sophos), related to the noun σοφία (sophia), had the meaning "skilled" or "wise" since the time of the poet Homer, originally it was used to describe anyone with expertise in a specific domain of knowledge or craft. For example, a charioteer, a sculptor, or a warrior could be described as sophoi in their occupations. Gradually, the word also came to denote general wisdom and especially wisdom about human affairs, for example, in politics, ethics, or household management. This was the meaning ascribed to the Greek Seven sages of 7th and 6th century BCE (such as Solon and Thales), and it was the meaning that appears in the histories of Herodotus.

From the word σοφός (sophos) is derived the verb σοφίζω (sophizo), which means "to instruct or make learned", and in the passive voice means "to become or be wise", or "to be clever or skilled in a thing". From this verb is derived the noun σοφιστής (sophistes), which originally meant "a master of one's craft" but later came to mean "a prudent man" or "wise man". The word for "sophist" in various languages comes from sophistes.

According to Edward William Lane Lexicon Sufi is an borrowed word derived from Greek word σοφός (sophos) that signifies wisdom, contemplation of divine things - one who thinks away from common perceptions [The arrow turned aside from the butt], one who focus on resolving existential questions about the human conditions, and not someone who discourses upon theories or comments upon other authors. The modern Arabic meaning of word sufi are – people who wear clothes made of wool or cotton, people with long hair, people who turn away from evil or mischief, devoted to religion are some of the post classical meanings of Sufi.

The early sophists charged money in exchange for education and providing wisdom, and so were typically employed by Kings, wealthy traders and business men. For example Aristotle was a paid tutor to Alexander the Great, Nizamuddin Aulia was a mentor to Alauddin Khilji of Delhi Sultanate... 

The current labels of Muslims, Kafir, Mushrik, Yahood, Nasrani or Sufi don't represent the essence of their core meaning. These words are actually adjectives that describe the quality but today they have become noun, name, labels; synonymous with certain communities.

The Sufis are mostly misunderstood by their followers because Sufis don’t teach, preach or propagate; they live and lead by example. Basically they are humble, independent and out of box thinkers in their own field but now these people are related to religious cult of mysticism or spiritualism. 

These humble thinkers were always an integral part of wealthy families. They  were story tellers, poets, philosophers and guides to the moving armies, sailing traders and business men. This migration with wealthy and influential people was one of the basic causes why they had to travel all the way to Spain, Russia, Africa, China, India, Bangladesh then finally to Maldives, Malaysia and Indonesia all along the silk route. Sometimes they were with the invading armies but their intentions were never aggression but to provide guidance and wisdom to wealthy and deserved families. Their impeccable character was their only strength.

Originally Arabic was the native language of Sufis but later on it was adopted by Persians. The first thing they did after migrating to foreign land was to learn the local language and mingle with the locals. Note their initial intention was not to spread their philosophies but to find livelihood and adapt the environment around them. For that they had to learn the culture of natives and participate in their local music, folk singing, poetry and dancing. The love for all and secular attitude of theirs made them enemies of medieval Sunni theologians.

Gradually, when they established their foot hold, they began to interpret the teachings of the book Quran in their local languages in the form of folk songs, poetry and storytelling. The Sufis never tried to imposed any restrictions on the way of life of the individuals or societies, because they very well knew the original teachings of the book Quran which was secular and had nothing to do with any religion.

Sufism is mainly a lone inner journey of deep contemplation. Wherever the Sufi migrated with wealthy people they won the hearts of local people with their fair dealings and respect of their cultures. This was their main forte which brought thousands of local inhabitants to their fold. History is witness to it that Islam reached peacefully to the western Indian shores, Maldives, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh and even southern China without any aggression.

Sufism is basically spiritualism which embraces everyone as being their own self. Sufism or spiritualism does not make any distinction with caste, creed or religion. Neither does it follow any religious ideologies. Over a period of years Sufism was wrongly associated with performing of miracles, cataleptic prayers, singing, dancing and monasticism. As the original Sufis are no more and the purpose of their learning the art and mingling with other cultures no longer makes sense to the general masses who were influenced by Salafi Islam funded by oil money.

Today Sufis are being accused of pluralism by the so called puritanical Islamists - But the fact is Sufis of old were the main torch bearer of Islam, to the lands where Wahabism is now spreading its tentacles.

Having said that I would add that majority of present day Sufis do not represent the original Sufis of the past. Today's Sufism has become a cult like other branches of Islam and it no longer represent true teachings of Islam or the book Quran.

Yahya bin Muadh al Razi (830 AD - 871 AD) said " Avoid the society of three classes of men; headless Ulemas, hypocritical Quran readers and ignorant pretenders to Sufism."

My analysis towards understanding of Sufism…

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