MYSTICISM AND THE DARWISH ORDERS
mystics in Islam as called sufis from suf, wool, because the early
mystics used it for their outer garment. The system itself is known as Sufism
and goes back, some say, to
takes up the question of
According to Nicholson, the Mystics of Islam borrowed not only from Christianity
and Neoplatonism, but from Gnosticism and Buddhism. Many gospel texts and sayings
of Jesus, most of them apocryphal, are cited in the oldest Sufi writings. From
Christianity they took the use of the woolen dress, the vows of silence, the litanies
(Zikr), and other ascetic practices. Their teaching also has many interesting
parallels which Nicholson summarizes as follows: "The same expressions are applied
to the founder of Islam which are used by St. John,
Neoplatonism gave them the doctrine of emanation and ecstasy. The following version of the doctrine of the seventy thousand veils as expounded to Canon Gairdner by a modern darwish, shows clear traces of Gnosticism: "Seventy Thousand Veils separate Allah, the One reality, from the world of matter and of sense. And every soul passes before his birth through these seventy thousand.
The inner half of these are veils of light; the outer half, veils of darkness. For every one of the veils of light passed through, in this journey towards birth, the soul puts off a divine quality; and for every one of the dark veils, it puts on an earthly quality. Thus the child is born weeping, for the soul knows its separation from Allah, the one Reality. And when the child cries in its sleep, it is because the soul remembers something of what it has lost."
In regard to Buddhist influence, Professor Goldziher has called attention to the
fact that in the eleventh century, the teaching of
"While fana," says Nicholson,
The cultivation of character by the contemplation of God in a mystical sen was the real goal. To know God was to be like Hi and to be like Him ended in absorption or ecstasy. And this is the spiritual aim and goal of Sufism.
The leading Sufis organized their pupils into ordi and each had a special ritual (Zikr) to attain this ecstasy.
These "Confreries Mussulmanes" (Coppolani) are found in every part of the world of Islam. They have their organizations (tariqas), hierarchies, special dress, initiation-ceremonies, rituals (zikr), and monasteries (zawiya). "Their home is the mosque, and there they gather the circles who hang upon their words. In the fourth and fifth centuries of Islam, oratories were built for them.
Their sanctity becomes an asset to the community; living or dead, their presence is a protection; whom they bless, prosper; whom they curse, are doomed" (Margoliouth, Mohammedanism, p. 199). The lives of these saints form a vast, popular library and their miracles before and after death are manifold. To become a Sufi is the Islamic equivalent of entering the monastic life. We are not concerned here, primarily, with their origin, teaching, or mysticism, but with the fact that there arc such religious orders in Islam, and of Islam, as powerful and numerous as the various orders of monks in the Roman Catholic Church 3.
Dr. Macdonald says that the parallel between Romanism and Islam in "the way" of salvation "could be worked out" (Religious Life and Attitude in Islam, p.219). I have attempted it thus:
Different hierarchies belong to different systems; the lowest rank of one of these consists of three hundred "heroes," while the "Pole of Poles" constitutes the head (Margoliouth, p.206).
The Encyclopaedia of Islam lists over one hundred and fifty orders and sub-orders of these Islamic fraternities, who live in monasteries, wear special dress and are initiated into the order as brethren. The principal orders number thirty-two. Massignon gives an extensive bibliography on these Religious Orders (Tarika, Encyc. of Islam), and the curious reader will find in the beautifully illustrated work of
Goldziher devotes one hundred pages to saint-worship in Islam. He traces its origin
to the first century, portrays its character, extent, its extravagances, its strange
hierarchical nature, in
From the seventh century these orders were gathered in monasteries or convents called khanakas, tekkehs, or zawiyahs. There were convents even for women in Syria in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Every order included a grand-master or pir who had absolute authority over the other members. They were sworn to be as inert in his hand "as the corpse in the hands of those who wash their dead 4."
And it is interesting that Louis Rinn in his standard work on the Marabouts et Khouan of Algeria entitled his second chapter,
George Swan, writing on Saintship in Islam (The Moslem World, Vol. V., pp- 232 ff.) gave a complete table of the spiritual hierarchy of the Sufi orders, their grades, functions, and spiritual attainments. He is thoroughly acquainted with the whole system in Egypt and has lived close to the people as missionary in the Delta villages. Here is his table:
In regard to saint-worship, E. Montet, Professor ir the University of Geneva, wrote:
And it was from these societies especially that there arose the walis, the "friends of Allah." That they are chosen of God above their fellow men appears from manifest tokens of a miraculous nature (karamat). Their prayers can heal the sick, their blessings bring happiness for time and eternity, and their curse, misery. These influences are believed to issue from their graves after their death; hence vows are made at, and presents brought to their holy tombs.
In the popular belief, their mediation with Allah (who is of course too exalted to occupy himself with the small wants of his creatures), is almost indispensable, and the request for their good offices differs little from a prayer (The Achenese, p.154).
A recent example of the popular belief in the superior virtue of saints comes from Yunnan S. W. China:
Because prophets, saints, and martyrs have this superior virtue, intercession
for ordinary sinners is one of their attributes. All Moslems believe that the
In the Majma'u'l-Bayan, (Collection of Explanation), it is said that
The wali, or patron saint, (plural, auliya) is fully treated by Goldziher in Volume II of his Mohammedanische Studien (pp.287-295). The word is used in the Koran in the sense of "friend of God." The title was given to the prophet and even to God himself in the list of ninety-nine names. It is almost a synonym of the Hebrew goel, redeemer, so writes Goldziher. Today the word signifies a Moslem saint. Not only as Hudjwiri says,
Hudjwiri even goes so far as to say that the auliya govern the universe bring rain from heaven and influence the tide of battle. (Encyc. of Islam, Wali, by Carra de Vaux). Goldziher mentions instances of all these spiritual powers on the part of the wali, under twenty categories, in such saints as Ahmad-al-Bedawi of Tanta, Ibrahim-al-Dasuki, and several others in North Africa and the Near East.
While living, the wali blesses, intercedes, heals, and helps. When dead, his grave becomes a shrine that often rivals Mecca in its annual pilgrimage. Goldziher states (p.290) that
The orthodox theologians naturally opposed this teaching but saint-cult waxed stronger down the centuries. Even oaths were sworn by the saints, as by Allah (p.339); intercession and forgiveness were sought at their shrine (p.309), the reliques of the saints worked miracles (p.356); and most astonishing of all, this saint-worship, by the dogma of Ijma, finally received the stamp of approval even of Al-Ghazali in orthodox Islam (pp. 368-377).
So everywhere, from Morocco to China, from Turkey to Capetown, it is the wali alive or dead, who exercises such priestly functions between Allah and the Moslem laity; and we recall that of these, ninety per cent are illiterate (Lammens, Islam: Beliefs and institutions, p.222).
But if mysticism is the religion of these leaders of the masses; we must realize that it is Moslem not Christian mysticism. And we also need to bear in mind that mysticism is always a revolt against external authority.
The Darwish Orders
As Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield remarked: "Mysticism is religion, and supplies a refuge for men of religious minds who find it no longer possible for them to rest on 'external authority.' Once turn away from revelation and little choice remains to you but the choice between mysticism and rationalism. There is not so much choice between these things, it is true, as enthusiasts on either side are apt to imagine. The difference between them is very much a matter of tern- perament, or perhaps we may even say of temperature. The mystic blows hot, the rationalist cold. Warm up a rationalist and you find yourself with a mystic on your hands. The history of thought illustrates repeatedly the easy passage from one to the other. Each centers himself in himself, and the human self is not so big that it makes any large difference where within yourself you take your center. Nevertheless, just because mysticism blows hot, its 'eccentricity' is the more attractive to men of lively religious feeling."
And this holds true also of the history of mysticism in Islam. It is illustrated by the lives and the theological views of many of the great Sufis including Al-Ghazali 6.
Archer, Mystical Elements in
2 The Mystics of Islam.
3 T.Titus, Indian Islam, pp.110-130.
4 Henri Mass�, Islam, pp.212, 213, and L. M. J. Garnett, Mysticism and Magic in Turkey, ch. vi and viii. According to Westermarck (Vol.11, p. 57) it is at the shrines of these saints that istikhara, divination, is asked by dream or rosary. Like the Urim and Thummim of the Jewish priest in ancient Israel.
5 Translated in Moslem world, Vol. xxxi, p. 280ff.
6 Cf. Zwemer - A Moslem Seeker after God. Life of Al-Ghazali, Chapters VIII and IX.