Sufism: What Is it Exactly? Paul Heck Article Critique

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Sufism: What is it exactly? Paul Heck argues that Sufism is inextricably interwoven with the fabric of Islam on social, psychological, spiritual, and political levels. It is impossible to speak of Sufism without referring to Islam. As Heck puts it, "Sufism is intimately connected to the theological and ethical outlook of Islam," (151). Although Sufism may be most simply defined as Islamic mysticism, it is more than that; mysticism is only one facet of Sufism. Sufism is best described as the "perfection of Islam," and Islam's spiritual pinnacle (148).

Heck refers to the complex relationship between Sufism and Westernization, noting that while Sufis ranked among the most strident preservers of Islamic heritage and faith that it was the West that would ironically help save Sufism from vanishing. Within the diverse and multifaceted world of Islam, Sufism plays a strange role and one that is often at odds with the religious establishment. Wahabism, for example, is vehemently opposed to the very idea of sainthood. It is sainthood that remains a core tenet of Sufism and what drives its followers to seek spiritual intercession.

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Sufism also raises religious taboos related to the relationship between the individual and God, notes Heck. Even questioning the very definition of God as being transcendent and never immanent, "some Sufi figures…transgress social and religious norms," (149). Dervishes and ascetics exhibiting extreme behaviors in the name of religious devotion also caused much controversy within the Muslim establishment. As Heck points out, for the Sufi "extreme asceticism, including bodily mutilation, and disregard for all convention represented the height of sanctity (i.e., discounting the ways of this world as fulfillment of the qu'ranic disclosure of the other world)," (149). Yet in addition to the more peculiar outward manifestations of Sufi mysticism, Heck explains the practical role Sufis played in the social and political realms. Sufis, notes Heck, sometimes developed "symbiotic relationship with sultans," (154). The rule of Sufism within Muslim communities cannot be underestimated.

Article Critique on Sufism: What Is it Exactly? Paul Heck Assignment

Heck further describes Sufi practice as embracing both asceticism and mysticism. The central elements of Sufism include sainthood, or closeness to God; asceticism or detachment from the material world and the ego; and mysticism, or the path of self-awareness and insight. Because of the spiritual integrity Sufism entails, the path and its practices are central to Islam even in contemporary Muslim society. Sufism is "part and parcel of the Islamic heritage," (148).

Hecks' analysis of the role of Sufism in Islam is thoughtful and well presented. Inspired by the role Sufism plays in traditional and modern contexts, Heck avoids excessive jargon and distills the matter into a language accessible for all readers. Even as it seems necessary to describe Sufism with esoteric terms, Heck avoids the type of oblique writing that would destroy an astute analysis. The challenge of defining Sufism and its role in Muslim society is a difficult one, which is why "Sufism: What is it exactly?" succeeds.

First, Heck clarifies what mysticism means within the context of Islam and does not waste space exploring all the possible implications of the Sufi path. The author states plainly, "It is not right to call all Sufism mysticism, although the mystical experience constitutes one important aspect of Sufism," (148). This statement is in itself reason to pause, for Sufism is so often considered to be the mystical branch of Islam. if, as Heck suggests, Sufism is "the perfection of Islam," then the tradition of Sufism must be integral to and inseparable from Islam (148). Indeed, this is what Heck sets out to prove in the article.

That Sufism is more than mysticism is borne out by the fact that there are real social and political dimensions to Dervishes and saints. Those dimensions are manifest on many levels… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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