Remembrance of God: The Sufi Circle

SufismSufism is often called “the heart of Islam,” as its emphasis on the inner life enlivens and supplements the outward practices of ritual and legal obligation. It is not a sect of Islam, but rather a stream of interpretation stressing the interior path,... is often called “the heart of IslamIslam in Arabic literally means “submitting” or “submission.” One who submits or surrenders his or her will to God is called a Muslim. While the whole of God’s creation is described as being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to...,” as its emphasis on the inner life enlivens and supplements the outward practices of ritual and legal obligation. The early SufisSufism is often called “the heart of Islam,” as its emphasis on the inner life enlivens and supplements the outward practices of ritual and legal obligation. It is not a sect of Islam, but rather a stream of interpretation stressing the interior path,... attempted to follow MuhammadThe Prophet Muhammad, known as “the Seal of the Prophets,” was born in the city of Makkah on the Arabian peninsula in 570 C.E. At 40, he began to receive a series of revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. His small group of followers met with... in the direct experience of the Love and Light of GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality.. By the 12th century, the mystical path was systematized by spiritual masters (shaykhsThe Arabic term “shaykh” literally means a gray-haired old man. The Persian term “pir” means “elder, master.” Both terms have become titles of respect for a leader with great authority or religious piety. In the context of Sufi orders, the sha... or pirs), whose followers were initiated into orders called tariqahs, worshipping together under the guidance of the master.

The SufiSufism is often called “the heart of Islam,” as its emphasis on the inner life enlivens and supplements the outward practices of ritual and legal obligation. It is not a sect of Islam, but rather a stream of interpretation stressing the interior path,... form of devotional worship known as dhikrDhikr means “remembering” and refers to the Sufi form of devotional worship which usually involves rhythmic chanting of the names of God or litanies, sometimes accompanied by poetry, dance, drums or a reed flute. (remembrance) usually involves rhythmic chanting of the names of GodThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities., sometimes accompanied by poetry, dance, drums or a reed flute. The most well-known form in the West is the muqabalah (encounter) dance of the Mevlevis or “Whirling Dervishes” of Turkey. Inspired by the 13th-century mystical poet Jalal al Din Rumi, the dancers revolve while moving in a circleIn some Pagan traditions, a “circle” refers to the people who gather for a ritual. When standing in a circle, all the participants are able to see each other, with no one member elevated over any other. This practice is often felt to encourage egalita..., symbolizing the return of all creation to the One Creator.

From the Mevlevi orderInspired by the 13th century mystical poet Jalal al Din Rumi, the Mevlevi Sufi order originated in Turkey. Its distinctive mystical dance concert in which the dancers revolve while moving in a circle, symbolizing the return of all creation to the One Crea... in Vermont and the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship in Philadelphia to MasjidMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit... Jamil in Palo Alto, California, Sufi Muslims gather today to practice dhikr. CirclesIn some Pagan traditions, a “circle” refers to the people who gather for a ritual. When standing in a circle, all the participants are able to see each other, with no one member elevated over any other. This practice is often felt to encourage egalita... of Muslims chant “La ilaha illa’llah,” or, “There is no God but God,” attending to their breath, concentrating their thoughts, and praying to the One. The flexibility and accessibility of Sufism make it remarkably effective in the missionary spread of Islam. Some American “Sufi” groups practice an eclecticEclectic Pagans bring aspects of many spiritual paths together. Some Pagans pride themselves on the high degree of authority granted to each person to develop his or her own spiritual path. Hence, many practitioners adapt practices from a variety of Pagan... form of spirituality and do not consider themselves to be Muslim at all, but Sufism, by definition, cannot exist outside of the discipline of Islam. The blessing and spiritual teaching of the Sufi masters in the United States traces its lineage to the ProphetA prophet is one who communicates a divine message or vision, sometimes calling people to repentance or awakening, sometimes predicting future events. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all look to Hebrew prophets, including Abraham and Moses. Muslims believe ... Muhammad and ultimately to the One God worshipped by all Muslims. Sufi practice and the literature associated with it, the excesses of which are often criticized by reformist Muslims, continue to shape the devotional lives of many American Muslims, even if they have no formal affiliation with a Sufi order.

Many Americans, especially Euro-Americans, have come to embrace Islam through involvement in Sufi devotional practice. Experimentation with “Eastern” religions during the 1960s contributed to the growth of small Sufi orders in the United States. In the 1990s, Sufism has reached out to younger, mainstream American audiences through Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Khan, jokingly referred to as the “Pavarotti of Pakistan,” performed qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional music which dates back to the 12th century. Khan packed concert halls throughout North America and Europe with his compelling performances, and in 1995, recorded two duets with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder for the film soundtrack of “Dead Man Walking.” Since his passing away in 1997, other Sufi-influenced musicians have continued to be heard by an American audience. Notably, A.R. Rahman, the famed Indian composer influenced heavily by Sufi musical traditions on the sub-continent, has found a remarkable following in the United States through his collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the Broadway musical “Bombay Dreams,” and his scoring of the music for the hit film, “Slumdog Millionaire.”


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