Islam & Sufism: The Honey and Its Sweetnessby Deborah Addington on 04/14/11
I may be only a humble grad student, but I think I've learned something. We have this nasty tendency in the West to find something we like and then disassociate it from anything we might not like. Take Sufism, for instance.
The West loves Sufism. We love its poetry (well, what awkward interpretations we have access to in English, anyway). We love its orientation on Love and Beauty. Of course, anything so exquisitely lovely couldn't possibly be related to anything we find as scary and dangerously menacing as Islam, right?
For all of you out there who are profoundly in love with Rumi, I ask that you remember one thing: Rumi and his Sufism come from Islam. That's right--the faith tradition we're being media-schooled to fear and hate as radical and terrifying. Rumi comes from that big, scary "monster." I recently heard a statistic stating that at least 25% of the Masnavi is directly connected to the Qur'an.
Clearly, a process must occur. We must either tear Sufism away from its parent tradition, forbid it its own language and make it conform to our needs (sound familiarly colonial?), or we must find ways to understand Islam as something not monolithic and capable of producing exquisite beauty.
One of the 99 Name of God is "Most Beautiful." Allah is beauty, and every possible manifestation of beauty (both the chair and the idea of chair, if you need some Greek framing). Allah is also everything horrible, and every manifestation of horror. In order to see things as they are, we have to know that each thing we see may have multiple manifestations but only one Divine, peerless source.
Allah made Rumi. Submission to Allah is Islam. Rumi submitted. Rumi is islam. It's just not possible to take Sufism out of Islam any more than you can take Teresa of Avila or Thomas Merton out of Christianity. So, since we can't remove the sweetness from the substance and still rightly call it honey, we must come to more reasonable grips with Islam.
Rumi gives us a way in to Islam, not an invitation to divorce it. There's an hadith that says Allah told Muhammad that the thing Allah hates most (of all the legal things) is "divorce," which is better translated as "separation." Here's my invitation to you: use the Rumi you love as a way to kneel and kiss the ground of Islam, instead of refusing to even entertain the notion that Islam--at least, the ugly face we've insisted it wear in public--is the parent of such exquisite beauty.
Put down the Coleman Barks and go read some William Chittick, or a good translation of the Masnawi. Confront yourself with ambiguity that forces you to wrestle with difficult things. Find the beauty in the struggle for beauty, and gaze in awe and wonder at the miracle of your own heart.
To read more by those far wiser than I, please click here.