Islamic Sufism    Notes From A Speech
By S H Nasr


evil in the world

other items:

levels of reality
multiplicity of religions
sacred art
Ultimate Reality

When referring to 'religion' we would like to stress that due to the 'wheel of time', Islam is the the only valid answer left for the salvation of man. Although a deepening and intensification of religious practice of members of other faiths and religions might be seen as spiritually positive, it is nevertheless Islam - as the latest revealed religion - which provides a functioning tradition for spiritual enlightenment and for the knowledge of God.

This can be compared with the example of someone wanting to travel to New York, in which case he may embark on a Viking sailing-vessel, or on an ocean steamer or onto a yet plane, the goal is the same, not so the means and their efficacity.

Concerning the edition of the text:
The text is based on almost verbatim quotes from a speech by S H Nasr, where not verbatim it is in round brackets. [Other type of brackets were for our own explanations.]

The speeches were held in Stockholm, Sweden, on 2001-04-21/22.


Islamic Sufism

Islamic Sufism [ tasawwuf (*1)] [is the way for man to get into contact with ] the inner aspect of reality, with the Sacred.

No aspect of reality can be [limited in our understanding of it] to appearance, [because Reality is on so many more levels than the manifest].

There is a Reality of which the phenomena is the phenomena.

[Therefore we 'need'] the inner teaching of religion [of Islam].
Because religion[s] is [are] from God, it [they] must have an inward and outward [aspect].

The outward forms [of a religion], such as its doctrines, its symbols, or [its religious] art are sacred, [but] religion is not exhausted by these forms.

The mystery of the multiplicity of religions is the new intellectual challenge of our time and how to understand it.

[This understanding has two aspects:]
the doctrinal and the experiencial aspect (i.e. the language of the heart) [and this can be understood] only by those who can deal with it.

[Concerning the multiplicity of religions:]
Islam was the one religion which was in contact with all other religions on earth, (Islam knew about Shamanism, Hinduism, Taoism, Konfucianism, of course Christianity and Judaism and this was long before modern times). ( Now in modern times other religions too, are in contact with the Orient, see for example Christianity which has borrowed from the East ).

[Concerning the inward and the outward aspect:]
ism - the name = the outward meaning
ma`nah = the inner meaning

The difference of people comes from the name,
when you go to the inner meaning, you arrive at the Truth.

The more 'inner' one becomes, the more universal one will be, because one will be more [open, aware] to the reality of things.

[But particularity] particulars are [is] the gateway to universality, for example learning [Arabic, grammar or fiqh will (also) open up to the Sacred.]

[Concerning the multiplicity of religions, one could ask:]
What about Truth? Every religion claims the truth, so - are there multiple truths? [Of course not - but there are:]
[Truth is] levels of reality. You have to develop the eye of inwardness:
tawîl = go to the inner meaning of things!

Ultimate Reality is a good name to 'encompass' the Supreme of every religion (*2), [which is] beyond sense experience.

[Here two points have to be stressed:]

1st. There is only one Absolute.
2nd. Only the Absolute is absolute [ there can no other absolute]

[Concerning the revelation of the Absolute:]
The Quran is not the scripture of the Word of God,
it is the Word of God, [it is the main miracle of Islam], (like Christ is in Christianity).

In sura al-mâida [there is an allusion to] the diversity of peoples and religions. [verse: created - to learn from each other]
Only those with inner knowledge have this [ approach of understanding other religions].


Three Main Points

1. Doctrine

There is a difference between [on the one hand] methaphysical truths, meaning of doctrines and [on the other hand] theological formulations. [The latter are necessary and will] protect us, so the mind does not fall into error. [And remember that ] all ethics come [originally] from religion.

[If there is no intellectuality intimately linked to sacred knowledge, there will be intellectual decline, as European history shows us:]
In the Renaissance for example, theology could not answer the doubts [ of religious people concerning the truth on all its levels, evoked by scientific discovery ] any more.
Here is where [in Islam] Sufism comes in, [namely] to understand the inner meaning of theology.

[Christianity once had an alive inner tradition, but it eclipsed] One of the last great metaphysicians, Nicolas de Cusa, sent a Christian mission to Istanbul, [to make peace].

2. Methods - Actions

Methods and actions of attaching ourselves (our [spirit, our] soul and our body) to God. [It is significant in this context, that everyone is claiming their rights,] all have rights, but no-one performs rights [does what is right on him- herself, as ordained by God and which of course often goes against the self (nafs)].
Sufism has methods, but [and] it draws inward - first of all, for example [it makes aware of] the inner meaning of these acts of worship.

[Quotation from Islamic tradition:]
qalbu-l mumin al-`arshu-r rahmân
The heart of the believer is the throne of the All-Compassionate.

(Example from a daring poem of Shabistari, which says something (else than) like:)
If the Muslim knew the meaning of an idol, ... [he would see the meaning of idolworship].

3. Sacred Art

Sacred art [means that really] the world is [created in] images. Very beautiful for example is the Christian religious art in Lund, Sweden. It is meant to [bring close to man an aspect of divine beauty], because it draws from the Inner Reality, [and therefore it] has the power of universality.

[Because of the universality of sacred art, it can also facilitate the dialogue of religions, and although this dialogue already takes place], there should be more of it going on between religions and [compared with the old days, for example in al-Andalus], (there was a much more frequent and intensive dialogue.)

[In the context of the universality of sacred art, there is the example of] the Taliban [destroying Buddha statues], (as if the Muslims of the past 14 centuries were just waiting for those [Muslim] peasants [or villagers to finish the job]), [when people the world over have a feeling for this art, as belonging to the whole of humality], it is the sacred art of the world.

Mysticism [Sufism] can untie the knot of what is sacred art.


The Role of Sufism in Political Understanding

[For political understanding among peoples and states] mysticism [Sufism] is not of much use.
But mysticism [Sufism] has an important role to play [sic?],
because religion is on the rise [in the world], except for Western Europe.

Now-a-days there is more fanaticism [against other religions] and a hardening [of hearts, of positions] is taking place. (Example of those times in muslim countries, when children from different religions could play together [and good relations among their parents!].)

These political events [in the world's recent history, not mentioned here, but known to all] call in mysticism [Sufism] to play a more active role, including
Christianity. [Learn from Saint] Assisi, who travelled to Tunisia.

[Concerning the role of mysticism [Sufism] in political understanding among peoples and states] there is the example of Chechnia, which (was led by a government with Sufi adherence - Naqshbandi - and which) is now fighting an anti-colonial war and this country will never again belong to Russia.

Where mysticism [Sufism] can still be applied is Bosnia, which - of course - before the war was multi-ethnic, multi-religious.


The Question Of Evil In The World

God is Infinite, Omnipotent ( his qudrah)
[therefore there are all] possibilities
[hence there can be] separation [from the source of goodness]
[the result will be] evil.

The good - ontological reality - the being = God [Allah, which includes the other possibilities in His creation, although]
evil - is not a state of being, it is not independant of good, [neither of God, Allah]
ultimately there is no evil, because only God is!

But of course, as sitting in the shade of a tree,

has an effect on someone, who sits there,
so has evil a detrimental effect upon man.

To deny the role of evil is spiritual suicide.


*1: see: tasawwuf, which is a better name than the orientalistic name of 'Sufism' or 'Mysticism'
*2: meaning that this is the name which members of all religion will accept for the Supreme.

- More texts by [S. H. Nasr]


First of all it is Islam that reigns (see Sura 5:3). Traditional Islam does not accept the notion that the world-religions (or even any other man-made belief systems) are equally valid roads to God - Allah, these are perennialist interpretations.

◊ Even so - except for elements of corruption and deviation - they still reflect some sacred truth, they did not turn into complete falsehood by being abrogated.

◊ In the words of Muhyiddín Ibn `Arabi:

”The religious laws (shara`í - of different religions) are all lights, and the law of Muhammad ( Allah bless him and give him peace ) among these lights is as the sun's light among the light of the stars…” [more]

And he wrote:
”So all paths return to look to the Prophet's path (Allah bless him and give him peace): if the prophetic messengers had been alive in his time, they would have followed him just as their religious laws have followed his law.…”

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latest update: 2017-02-14


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