Monday, January 17, 2011

The Gnostics of Islam

If gnosis were to take visible shape all who looked
thereon would die at the sight of its beauty and loveliness and goodness and
grace, and every brightness would become dark beside the splendour thereof.

– Sufi saying

Today Gnosticism is generally regarded as the heart of the Western esoteric tradition. But the Gnostic way of thinking is not confined to the West and Christian forms. Within Islam, that other great monotheistic religion to emerge from the Middle East, there is a vibrant esoteric tradition represented principally by the Sufis, the Gnostics of Islam.

Sufis believe along with exoteric or ‘outer’ teachings, the Prophet Muhammad (570-632 CE) imparted to his closest companions esoteric or ‘inner’ teachings. The Prophet’s secret teachings were passed down through a line of enlightened masters. From the earliest days of Islam it was also said the Quran, the sacred book of Muslims, has both an ‘outer’ or apparent meaning as well as a secret or ‘inner’ meaning. Like the Christian Gnostics, the Sufis are known for emphasising the spirit of the text over the letter.

The world’s great religions and spiritual traditions are respected by the Sufis as sharing in the same essential Truth. Suhrawardi of Aleppo, known as the ‘Master of Illumination’, executed for heresy in 1191 CE, revered the sages of the ancient world (including Pythagoras and Plato) and studied their writings.

Sufis hold Jesus in the highest regard, hailing him as virgin born and an inspired prophet of God. His life of pure devotion is celebrated prominently in Sufi poetry and numerous stories. Some Sufis were even moved to announce “There is no God but Allah and Jesus is His prophet.”

The Sufis share with Christian Gnostics the conviction that Man in his ordinary state of consciousness is literally asleep (“and when he dies he wakes,” as Prophet Muhammad said). He lives in a dream, whether of enjoyment or suffering – a phenomenal, illusory existence. To the Sufi, God is the One Reality, and in turning away from the Divine, Man is exiled on earth. The great Sufi master Rumi writes:

The mind sees things inside-out. What it takes to be life is
really death, and what it takes to be death is really life.

by Mehmet Sabeheddin

Complete article here