What is the purpose of religion? To be certain, the teachings of morality are fundamental to all of the world’s major religions. Each religion teaches a form of the Golden rule: do unto others as you would have done to you. In Judaism, followers are instructed, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary” (Talmud, Shabbat 3id).
Is the purpose of religion also to teach wisdom and enlighten the followers of that faith? Most religions provide exoteric or fundamental teachings, as well as, a path of esoteric study for those who seek it. Perhaps it could be said that once a fundamental understanding of the tenants of a religion is obtained, a door swings open providing the seeker a deeper level of wisdom and understanding. In Christianity, the Apostle Paul writes, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (1 Corinthians 3: 1-2). Similar to all world religions, the dichotomy of basic and advanced study exists within the religion Islam, where Sufism serves as the esoteric branch of the religion.
What is Sufism?
Sufism is the esoteric school of Islam, which was founded for the pursuit of spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain. The word Sufi is Persian in origin, meaning “Wisdom.” From the original root word, many derivations can be traced into other languages, including the Greek, “Sophia.” Students of Sufism seek knowledge in order to understand reality as it truly is which they believe will ultimately allow the individual to achieve Ma’arefat: divine gnosis. Thus, perfect self-understanding will lead to the understanding of God, as the Prophet Mohammed stated, “Whoever knows oneself, knows one’s Lord.”
As with many forms of mysticism, the exact origins of Sufism are unknown, some evidence suggests that it dated back to ancient Egypt. According to the Muslim 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 Order was officially founded in 657 C.E.
The Teachings of Sufism
Sufism is rooted in the teachings of the Koran, the Holy Book of the Muslims. The central message of Islam is the declaration of faith, referred to as the Shahada which states: “There is no god but God [Allah] and Muhammad is the Messenger of God [Allah].” From the esoteric perspective of the Sufi, this statement can be understood as “there is no reality except Reality.” Within Islamic esotericism, knowledge is made accessible depending on the integrity and cognitive abilities of the individual. This measured unveiling of spiritual truths is called Hikmat at-Tadrij: the “Wisdom of Gradualness.”
To a Sufi, there exists no gulf of separation between the Creator and His Creation. The perception of fundamental unity, however, is masked to most of humanity due to the limitations of the material and physical tools that mankind possesses. Sufism provides a pathway that can be followed through purification and meditation in order to perceive what is already a reality. When the heart is purified, the God is reflected in the mirror of the heart, transporting man from his carnal state to the true human being.
Poetry and Ritual of Sufism
One of the beautiful aspects of Sufism is the poetry written by its followers. Two of the most famous Sufi poets are Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz of Shiraz. Jalaluddin Rumi was a 12th century saint and mystic who provided the inspiration for the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, which practices the Sufi ritual of revolution in order to be in harmony with all things in nature offering praise to God.
You’ve no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You.
Nothing seemed right.
What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the Ocean.
Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.
It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.
So, I’ve brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me.
Hafiz of Shiraz also lived in the 12th century and is considered the greatest lyric poet of Persia, whose poetic form has been described as taking unparalleled heights of subtlety and beauty.
Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”
Look what happens
with a love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.
Sufism and Freemasonry
How does Sufism relate to Freemasonry? Freemasonry is not a religion, rather, it teaches its members to respect all religions and faiths. Religious tolerance is an important tenet of Masonry because members of the Fraternity belong to all major faiths. It is not uncommon to find Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists all belonging to the same Masonic obedience and happily working together to assist humanity and to glorify God.
At its core, Freemasonry is a search for truth: a guiding principle the fraternity shares with Sufism. The Sufi Hadith wrote, “Our cause is the truth of truth. It is the exoteric, the esoteric of the exoteric and the esoteric of the esoteric. It is the secret of the secret; it is the secret of that which remains wrapped in secret.” In our modern world, confusion, ignorance, and falsehood blind humanity to the true nature of reality: the universal oneness of the All.
Like Masonry, Sufism requires the individual to be initiated, after a period of time where he or she has been subjected to various trials. In Sufism, these trials are aimed at provoking what is referred to as “Awakening of the Sufi” or the “Awakening of a Friend.” The Sufi Scholar Omar Ali Shah explains that the esoteric school is based on the “doctrine which seeks to remove the veil from the eye of the heart to see what is real.” Thus, initiates of both organizations are prepared in their hearts to serve and enlighten.