The act of repeating the name of Allah silently or aloud, in solitude or in a group, is known as Dhikr, which is an invocation or remembrance, and for the Sufi it is a means of experiencing a true sense of Allah’s presence. To achieve this sublime state, each Sufi tariqa (order) uses its own individual practices. The word ‘tariqa’ means “pathway” in Arabic. The Sufis’ shaikhs (or sheikhs) and pirs (religious leaders) began meeting together in the community in the 12th century. Every Sheikh can trace his genealogy back to the Prophet Mohammed; if he traces it back to the Prophet through Ali, his sect takes the name Alevi; if through Abu Bakr, his sect is named Bakri. The Sufi master is their role-model and the source of their knowledge. He is revered as a God-inspired teacher, and respected as a person through whom God’s blessing can be passed on to others. Today there are 70 different orders of Sufism, such as Alevi, Bektashi, Burhani, Khalwati, Madari, Mawlawi, Naqshabandi, Qadiri, Rahmani, Rifa’i, Shadhili, Suhrawardi, Tijani and many others, the largest brotherhoods today being the Qadiri and the Shadhili.
Some scholars divide into two the systems of thought governing the sects, according to whether they conform or contravene Islamic rules. With the passing of time, theories were developed which put their own interpretation on Islamic rules, defining the practices, principles and decrees of Sufism, and produced theories bearing the influence of beliefs and traditions from Ancient Greece, India, Iran, and of Judaism and Christianity. They arrived at theoretical ways for the transformation of human qualities into divine qualities. Certain Sufis, for instance al-Hallaj, emphasised the union of the soul with Allah to such an extent that they were impugned for maintaining that the soul and Allah were one and the same. In the year 922, al-Hallaj was condemned to death for stating, “I am the Truth”. Abd al-Karim al-Jili in the 15th century is credited with elucidating the concept of water as the symbol of God and ice as representing the creation, in their apparent differences and hidden identities. Yet another movement came to life which, developing from this line of thought, sought to balance these theories or to reinterpret them in the light of Islamic decrees, and resolved to give as much importance as possible to intelligence and reasoning. In the 12th century, al-Ghazzali, who was an important representative of this second movement, stressed the idea that although Islam was a monotheistic religion, it was not monistic, that is, the belief that all beings, God and soul included, are ultimately composed of a single substance. In a way, the belief in visiting shrines can be interpreted as a violation of Islamic tenets. Beliefs of this kind are supposed to have infiltrated the world of Islam through mysticism (tasawwuf) from the religions of ancient India and from Christianity.
The main methods of training for the Sufi orders are penance and Dhikr. Although fundamentally the same, depending on the tariqa they bear dissimilarities in form. Candidates for the Dervish brotherhood undertake a fast for varying periods, the most common being forty days. During this time, the Dervish candidate renounces wordly pleasures, begins a life of strictest abstinence and spends his time in prayer, invocation, strife against sexual desire and assessment of his life. The life of the hermits is an example of the Muslim mystical ideal, which is to transcend all that alters and degenerates, in order to reach unchanging eternity. A symbol of Sufi endeavour to attain union with the divine is known as the Simurgh.
Each order has its own special costume, such as cloak, belt or crown. A Sufi training centre is named zawiya, or tekye -a lodge, or khanqah- a kind of seminary.
In many of the Sufi orders, team dancing is practised. Muslims generally steer clear of music because it excites the senses, but in the mystical Sufi brotherhoods music has always been highly regarded. They customarily play musical instruments, such as the pipe, the tambourine and the lute, and usually Sufi music includes vocal or choral compositions, using the notation and scales of profane music. Hymns are sung in nearly all Sufi orders. Sufi thought is of great importance in Islamic history. Some of the best examples of Sufi literature are Sufi love poems, written in Arabic, Persian, Turkish or Urdu.
The crescent moon, (hilal) is the accepted symbol of Islam, and this particular form of the moon has a religious significance. It is the symbol of rebirth, because it possesses both an open and closed form, like a person caught in the throes of death, before opening up and reviving. Thus the crescent is an image of heaven and a symbol of revival.
Apart from pork, blood, alcohol and narcotics, everything is permissible. Muslims are forbidden to eat the meat of any animal that dies of natural causes instead of being slaughtered in the prescribed manner. Traditionally, animals are slaughtered after first pronouncing the name of Allah and then the blood is drained, a method similar to that used by the Jews.
Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men, but Muslim men are permitted to marry other “Peoples of the Book”, i.e., Christians and Jews.
Like Jewish males, Muslim males are circumcised, but Muslim circumcision is performed on no fixed date just before reaching puberty and is a festive occasion, with special clothes for the boy, and entertainment provided. Islam forbids usury.
In Islam, conduct and practices which are in accordance with the words of the Prophet Mohammed are known as Sunna. The branch of study which organises this learning is called Hadith. SUNNISM is the collective name for the doctrines based on the form of belief determined and practised by the disciples according to the Prophet Mohammed’s Sunna. Sunni Muslims regard the first four Caliphs as the true successors of the Prophet. In Sunnism it is held that the Caliphs should be chosen through decisions of the Islamic community. They may be chosen from people of any race or region.
The four schools of law that have survived in Sunni Islam are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali. The Hanafi is the most followed and which was accorded official recognition by the Ottoman Empire. Most Muslims in central Asia, India and Turkey, and many throughout the Middle East, follow Hanafi. The Maliki School prevails throughout northern and western Africa, in the Sudan and parts of the Persian Gulf, The Shafi’I is found mostly in eastern Africa, parts of Arabia and throughout southeastern Asia, and the Hanbali, now the least followed among the Wahhabis of central Arabia and parts of the Persian Gulf.
There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world that is one person in every five. 20% of Muslims are from the Arabic-speaking world. 5% of Arabs are not Muslims. 83% of Muslims are Sunni, 16% Shi’ite and 1% other sects.
Charity or almsgiving (zakat) is required of every Muslim who possesses the means for the relief of the poor, and for other social and charitable causes. The preferred amount is usually two-and-a-half percent of the annual income.
In the Islamic lunar calendar, the 9th month is known as Ramadan, the month of fasting. For the whole month, Muslims do not eat, drink or engage in sexual intercourse during the hours of daylight. The aim is to demonstrate the physical will-power involved in the service of God and to share the suffering of the world’s many hungry people. Towards the end of the month of Ramadan, the most sacred night (Kadir, Laylat al-Qadr), when the Koran was first revealed to Mohammed, is commemorated. Ramadan ends with a feast called “Id al-Fitr”.
The 12th month of the Islamic calendar is the month of pilgrimage (Hajj), which involves a visit to Ka’ba, the sacred place in Mecca. A visit made in any other month is called “umra”, the Lesser Pilgrimage. At least one pilgrimage is expected of every Muslim who is capable of undertaking it. The Prophet himself only once undertook the Hajj, and that was in the last year of his life. Men wear two seamless pieces of white cloth (ihram), one round the waist and the other draped over the left shoulder. Women wear garments which show only their face and hands. This apparel is usually put aside to be used later as a shroud. Almost two million people go on a pilgrimage each year. Ka’ba is the most holy shrine, perhaps the first sanctuary, on a site many believe to have been first consecrated by Adam; and then by Abraham, who rebuilt it at God’s command with Ishmael, his son by Hagar. Muslims believe that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, at a site near Mecca, and the three pillars that stand at Mina are said to represent the three times that Satan attempted to dissuade Abraham and was repulsed. The Ka’ba was once a shrine to 360 Arabian deities in pre-Islamic times, but all its religious images were removed by Mohammed. He purified it and rededicated it to the one true God. A pilgrimage involves many ceremonies, the first being the seven anti-clockwise circuits (tawaf) of the Ka’ba, on each of which the pilgrim tries to touch the Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad), or at least point in its direction. Muslims believe that this stone was given by the angel Gabriel to Adam and later to Abraham. Then pilgrims process seven times between the two hills of al-Safa and al-Marwa. This reminds them of the mother of Ishmael, Hagar’s (Hajar) search for water for her son. It was at this point, that holy water, known as Zam-Zam gushed out from the ground. The pilgrim visits the well and takes holy water from it. On the eighth day, the pilgrim must stand on Mount Arafat and ask for enlightenment and salvation. This is the most sublime act of worship. After this, stones are thrown at Satan, representing his punishment for trying to dissuade Abraham from sacrificing his son. Then the pilgrimage ends with the slaughter of a sacrificial animal, in remembrance of Ishmael, the meat of which is shared out among the poor. Pilgrimage forms a strong bond between all members of the whole Muslim world.
The Holy Book of Islam is called the Koran, the Word of God (kalam), and it is believed that only when written in Arabic, does it express God’s word without fault. For this reason, the Koran may be interpreted or paraphrased, but not translated into any other language. Some of its passages are hard to understand and therefore need interpretation. This is known as ‘Tafsir’ and ‘Ta’wil’. Only Arabic is used in prayer, even though the majority of Muslims do not understand this language since only 20% of them belong to the Arab world. The Koran is the foundation, the non-negotiable authority of Islam. The divine revelation of the Koran to Mohammed, which began in 610, continued until his death. After His death these revelations and His sayings were written down by witnesses, the complete text being compiled during the first Caliphates. The Koran is considered to be the most widely-known book, which has remained unaltered throughout the ages. While the Biblical text consists of the words of divinely inspired human authors, the Koran is the Word of Allah. The prophetic practices, known as Hadith or Sunna, and all Islamic acts of worship are based on the Koran, which is divided into chapters (surah) and verses (ayat). The surah’s are not compiled in chronological order, but each bears a name and each begins with the Besmele, the Arabic phrase: “Bism illah al-rahman al-rahim”, meaning, “In the name of God the merciful, Giver of mercy”. Since the Koran prescribes how a human should live on earth, no intermediary is necessary.
The Shari‘a (the Path), is the body of holy Islamic law, composed after the death of the Prophet to regulate the activities of both the individual and the community. The Shari’a covers all areas of life and in its preparation four sources were accepted by scholars. These are: the Koran, sunna (conduct and practices of the Prophet), ijma (consensus) and qiyas (analogy). From these evolved various schools and methods of interpretation, four of which have had a lasting influence on Sunni Muslims. The legal knowledge of Shi’ism is based on the tradition of imams. The guardian of the Shari’a was the Caliph who succeeded the Prophet as his deputy as both religious and political leader. In 1924, the Caliphate was abolished by Kemal Ataturk, since then independent nation-states have been created out if what was the Ottoman Empire. In every Muslim country observance of the Shari’a depends on the degree of secularity of the State.