Islamic Cosmology and Sufism Term Paper

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Islamic Cosmology and Sufism

Islam and Sufism

In order to appreciate the relationship between Islamic cosmology and Sufism it is necessary to understand why the Sufi doctrine emerged and how it relates to the canon and philosophy of Islam. Sufism, known as tasawwuf in Arabic, is usually understood as the mystical or interior spiritual component of Islam. While there are some scholars who see Sufism as being outside the proper context of Islam philosophy, authorities like Seyyed Hossein Nasr claim that Sufism is an integral part of Islamic faith and cosmology and is the more esoteric or mystical dimension of Islam.

Nasr states categorically that Sufism is a part of the Islamic tradition that extends the spiritual and the ' esoteric' dimensions of the faith.

The truth and reality of the inner teachings of Islam became crystallized mostly in Sufism. Sufism therefore embodies more than any other facet of Islam the various aspects of Islamic spirituality." (Nasr, 1987. p 3) as such, Islamic Sufism also extends and adds to the understanding of the essential cosmological elements that characterize Islam. Sufism is related to these cosmological aspects as an extension and a deepening of the spirituality of Islam.

2. Islamic cosmology

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Central to the Islamic faith is the concept of the One God as the certainty and the Way. "There is no reality save the one reality. (Schuon F. 106) Schuon also outlines the two essential statements of Islam. "... first 'there is no divinity or reality, or absolute) outside the only Divinity (or Reality or Absolute)'.... And 'Muhammad... is the Envoy, the Intermediary, the Manifestation, the symbol of the Divinity. " (Schuon F. p 16) Schuon also points out that these two essential statements represent the two opposites or central dimensions in Islamic faith. They refer to the "two levels of reality: the Absolute and the relative." (ibid)

Term Paper on Islamic Cosmology and Sufism Islam and Sufism Assignment

The cosmology of Islam creates a complex and interweaving picture of dimensions and levels of attainment of the apprehension and understanding of the one God. In Islamic cosmology God is essentially unattainable and distant; however there are various worlds or levels of separation, and closeness, between God and man. One of the most basic aspects in understanding this cosmology is the realization of the importance of the numerous worlds and their relevance and relationship to one another.

In Islamic terms, any world only makes sense in relation to the worlds that surround it, whether spatially or temporally.... Islamic cosmology looks at our own experienced world as one of several worlds that exist simultaneously, and it also looks upon it as one in a series of worlds that come one after another.

(Murata and Chittick, p. 63)

For Islam, the Cosmos or al-'alam, is defined as 'everything other than God'. In one sense God is unattainable or distant from the cosmos - God is "incomparable" to anything else. This thinking forms part of the dogmatic Islamic philosophy known as 'Kalam'. This is also seen as a form of 'negative theology'. However, there is an apparent paradox in the essential cosmology as there is also another perception that stresses the relationship between God and man which is characterized as love and care. This is the view put forward in the Koran. While these two views may seem contradictory they form the fulcrum around which the Islamic spiritual understanding of the universe revolves. One could interpret this paradox as similar to the same way that the Chinese Yin and Yang philosophy functions. God and man are opposites but there is a reciprocity and connection between the two which engenders the spiritual center of Islamic cosmology. The aim of the spiritual search is to overcome the opposites and to transcend the apparent disunity and distance between man and God. Like many other mystical and spiritual complexes, the concept of the resolution of opposites forms the basic underlying meaning of Sufism. There is a sense in which Islamic mysticism strikes a delicate and subtle balance between these two opposites in the cosmology. The universe is seen as being created and having its impetus from the continual play of opposites which is also related to the opposition and congruence of man and God. This can be seen in the symbols and actuality of male and female, light and dark and many other opposites.

Bazrahm and intermediate worlds

As discussed above, the central concept within Islamic cosmology is the separation and distance between the opposites of God and man and between the spirit and the body. The Bazrah is the intermediate world that exists between the unmitigated source of God and the world of man. The Bazrah, also referred to as the Imaginal world by Sufi Mystics, is the intermediate plane which separates the worlds of the sprit and the body. This is also represented in metaphoric and symbolic terms as two seas.

These two worlds are seas because, like the ocean, they are full of an enormous variety of living things, about which we know little.... If we understand the two seas as allusions to spirits and bodies, then we can understand the Barzakh as the intermediate world of imagination that keeps the two seas separate. "

Murata and Chittick 224)

The Barzakh, while it refers to the separation of spirit and body is also the 'meeting between the sweet and the salty'.

Murata and Chittick 224) Therefore, in Islamic philosophy the term Barzakh signifies an intermediate world or reality. This is further explained in a cosmological context.

When we look at the cosmos from a temporal, static perspective, we see that it is a spectrum extending from light to darkness. At the summit of the created world stands the world of pure created light, inhabited by angels, spirits, and intellects. At the bottom is found the world of almost pure darkness, inhabited by bodies. in-between is found a vast world inhabited by souls, jinn, and satans. The middle world is the world of imagination or the Barzakh, because it acts as a barrier between the sweet sea of the spiritual world; and the salty sea of the corporeal world, or because it partakes of qualities that pertain to both sides. (ibid)

The Barzakh is therefore the intermediate stage between the impure domain of the world and the pure domain of light or the next world. This is the 'imaginal' world that the Sufi mystic explores and studies as a form of Islamic knowledge and faith.

An important aspect that impacts on the significance of Sufi mystic and the nature of Islamic cosmology is that the world of the imaginal is seen to be more real and permanent than the world of common experience. In this sense those mystics who enter the intermediate realms realize that the ordinary world is like a dream or an illusion.

This is the sense of a famous saying that is often attributed to the Prophet: "People are asleep, and when they die, they wake up." The Koran makes the same point when it says that the sight of people who die is 'piercing' (50:22).

Murata and Chittick 226)

3. Sufism

Sufism can therefore be considered to be the process of the deepening of the essential spiritual dimensions of Islam. The reason for the emergence of Sufi mystics can be viewed as a natural development and reaction to the more dogmatic doctrinal side of Islam. The development of an esoteric dimension in contradistinction to the more formal and dogmatic approach is a common factor in all major religions.

It is conceivable that the inner life of Islam might have been suffocated in the ever-narrowing net of dogmatic definitions and scholastic methods, or in the external ritual and legal prescriptions which seemed to increase almost year to year. However, a new current mysticism appeared in the world of Islam and gave it, in many areas, a special form. This mystical current is called Sufism; a word derived from... 'wool'.

Schimmel, p. 101)

Early Sufism developed from an extreme esthetic movement within Islam who saw the 'Holy War' of Islam as a fight against the 'naf' or self-centered ego.

They constantly fought against the nafs, the lower soul principle that 'instigates to evil' (Sura 12/53), for according to a saying of the Prophet, struggle against the nafs is 'the greatest jihad', the true 'Holy War' in the service of God.

Schimmel p. 102)

This early Sufi esthetic movement can be seen as a natural extension of the Islamic cosmology of hell and the need to escape the binding and degrading force of the human ego in the search for God. "To understand the reason for the growth of such a movement, one has to remember that soon after Muhammad's death tension arose between the world-conquering Umayyad rulers and pious believers, who were deeply influenced by the terrible descriptions in the Koran of the Last Judgment..."

(Schimmel p. 101)

Later Sufi continued the principles but mot the extreme practices of these early mystics.

Nasr states that the foundations of Sufism rest on the essential cosmology of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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"Islamic Cosmology and Sufism."  December 16, 2004.  Accessed March 1, 2021.