What is a Sufi?



What is a Sufi?

Strictly speaking, every seeker after the ultimate truth is really a Sufi, whether one calls oneself this or not. But as he/she seeks truth according to his/her own particular point of view, he/she often finds it difficult to believe that others, from their different points of view, are yet seeking the same truth, and always with success, though to a varying degree. That is in fact the point of view of the Sufi and it differs from others only in its constant endeavor to comprehend all others as within itself. It seeks to realize that every person following his/her own particular line in life, nevertheless fits into the scheme of the whole and finally attains not only his/her own goal, but the one final goal of all. Hence every person can be called a Sufi either as long as he/she is seeking to understand life, or as soon as he/she is willing to believe that every other human being will also find and touch the same ideal.

All beliefs are simply degrees of clearness of vision. All are part of one ocean of truth. The more this is realized, the easier is it to see the true relationship between all beliefs, and the wider does the vision of the one great ocean become.

Limitations and boundaries are inevitable in human life; forms and conventions are natural and necessary; but they none the less separate humanity. It is the wise who can meet one another beyond these boundaries.

In considering the question of being initiated into The Inayati Order, there is in the first place the inclination to know something different from what is taught in the world. One feels the desire to seek for something though one knows not what. One feels that the opposites, good and evil, right and wrong, friend and foe, are not so far apart as one used to think. At the same time the heart is felt to be more sympathetic than ever before, and the sense of justice makes one wish to judge oneself before judging others. This all shows that one may look for a guide through these unknown paths.

Then there is the feeling, especially after reading or hearing something about Sufism, that one is already really a Sufi, that one is at one with the circle of Sufis. One may now feel drawn to the spirit of the Teacher from whose hand initiation may be taken.

And thirdly there is the feeling, after studying the books published by the movement, or after speaking with the Pir-o-Murshid, that the message is genuine.


Is Sufism a religion? It should be clear from the above explanation that the religion of the Sufi is not separate from the religions of the world. People have fought in vain about the names and lives of their saviors, and have named their religions after the name of their savior, instead of uniting .with each other in the truth that is taught. This truth can be traced in all religions, whether one community call another pagan or infidel or heathen. Such persons claim that theirs is the only scripture, and their place of worship the only abode of God. Sufism is a name applied to a certain philosophy by those who do not accept the philosophy; hence it cannot really be described as a religion; it contains a religion but is not itself a religion. Sufism is a religion if one wishes to learn religion from it. But it is beyond religion, for it is the light, the sustenance of every soul, raising the mortal being to immortality.

As matters stand today, each one claims his/her own religion to be the best, and he/she has his/her own religion. The Sufi tolerates all, and considers them all his; therefore he/she does not belong to a religion but all religions belong to him. He/She can see all the religions like so many forms in a school: some are in one, others are in higher forms, that is, some study life more deeply. And in each class in the school there are pupils who like to play.

To say, ‘You are not of my religion; my religion alone is true,’ is as reasonable as to say, ‘You are not a lawyer, a merchant, a scholar; your way of carrying on life is false; you must become as I.’

To say, ‘All who are in my religion are saved’ is as reasonable as to say, ‘Every lawyer, merchant, scholar (as the case may be) is earnest, and performs his/her work perfectly.’ Some speak of ‘nominal’ Christians, and ‘true’ Christians; this is only another way of saying that some persons are earnest about their work and others play.

Is Sufism a belief? What do we mean by the word ‘belief’? It is the nature of mind to believe, and disbelief comes after. No unbeliever was born an unbeliever; for if a soul disbelieved from childhood he/she would never learn to speak. All the knowledge that man possesses he/she has acquired by belief. When he/she strengthens his/her belief by knowledge, then comes disbelief in things that his/her knowledge cannot cope with, and in things that his/her reason cannot justify. He/She then disbelieves things that he/she once believed in. An unbeliever is one who has changed his/her belief to disbelief; disbelief often darkens the soul, but sometimes it illuminates it. There is a Persian saying, ‘Until belief has changed to disbelief, and, again, the disbelief into a belief, a man does not become a real Muslim.’ But when disbelief becomes a wall and stands against the further penetration of mind into life, then it darkens the soul, for there is no chance of further progress, and man’s pride and satisfaction in what he/she knows limit the scope of his/her vision.

A constant ‘why’ arises in the minds of the intelligent, and when this ‘why’ is answered by life to man’s satisfaction, he/she goes on further and further, penetrating through all different planes of life; but when this ‘why’ does not get a satisfactory answer from life, then doubt, dismay, and dissatisfaction arise and result in confusion, bewilderment, and despair. Sometimes belief proves to be worse than disbelief. This is when a person, set in his/her belief, hinders his/her own progress, not allowing his/her mind to go further into the research of life, refusing guidance and advice from another, in order that he/she may preserve his/her own belief. Thus a belief, which is preserved as a virtue, becomes the greatest sin. Both belief and disbelief, by practice, in time become natural tendencies; the person who is inclined to believe gets into a habit of believing all things and everything, and an unbeliever in time comes to disbelieve everything whether right or wrong. The optimistic temperament is the temperament of the believer, and pessimism is as a rule the nature of the unbeliever. The prophets have always promised a reward for the believer, and have threatened the unbeliever with punishment, because the chance for spiritual enlightenment is only in the life of the believer, while the unbeliever covers his/her soul by his/her own disbelief.


Sufis are inclined to recognize four stages of belief:

  1. Iman-e Muhmil, when someone believes in a thing which others believe in, but no matter how strong his/her belief may be, when those in his/her surroundings change their belief, he/she will likewise change his.
  2. Iman-e Kamil, the next stage of belief, is the belief of the idealist who has faith in his/her scripture and savior. He/She believes because it is written in the scripture, or taught by the savior. His/Her belief, of course, will not change with the weather, but still it may waver, if by any means reason were awakened in his/her soul. At least it would be dimmed just as the light of a candle would become dimmed by the rising sun. When the sun of the intelligence rises, it would break through and scatter the clouds of emotion and devotion made by this belief.
  3. Haq al-Iman, the third stage of belief, when the human believes because his/her reason allows him to believe; such a one is journeying through life with a torch in his/her hand. His/Her belief is based on reason, and cannot be broken except by a still greater reason, for it is the diamond that alone can cut the diamond, and reason alone can break reason.
  4. ‘Ain al-Iman, the fourth stage of belief, is a belief of conviction; not only reason, but every part of one’s being is convinced and assured of the truth of things, and nothing on earth can change it. If a person were to say to him, ‘Do not cross over this place, there is water here,’ he/she will say, ‘No, it is land, I can see for myself.’ It is just like seeing with the eyes all that one believes. This belief is the belief of the seer whose knowledge is his/her eyewitness, and therefore his/her belief will last for ever and ever. Of course, as a soul evolves from stage to stage, it must break the former belief in order to establish the later, and this breaking of the belief is called by Sufis Tark, which means abandonment; the abandoning of the worldly ideal, the abandonment of the heavenly ideal, the abandoning of the divine ideal, and even the abandoning of abandonment. This brings the seer to the shores of the ultimate truth.

‘Truth is that which cannot be fully spoken, and that which can be spoken is not necessarily the truth.’