Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Saints and Sufis during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents Sufism, their beliefs, practices, Sufi Masters and Saints, miracles among Sufis, and opposition to Sufism. 


  Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: Saints and Sufi’s


Welcome back to understanding the Quran. And we’re now moving on to our final topic, saints and Sufis, which connects very closely with the topic for the previous, lecture pair of lectures, that dealt with divine imminence and transcendence. Now in this topic, we have a set of readings, and these are these readings provide a snapshot into the world of Islam’s Sufi masters and saints, as well as the, miracles that they are believed by many to have performed. Also considered in the readings for this lecture is the entrenched opposition to Islamic mystical expressions that have come from more legally minded Muslims down the centuries. Also, Christian scholar John Gilchrist contributes an article on manifestations of folk Islam.


Remember that all these tendencies and trends relate to the notion of different ways that Muslims have understood the Quran and Allah’s injunctions in the past and continue to do so in the present. So we must lose lose sight of the connection between what we’re doing and understanding the Quran. We’ll refer to our readings as they occur in connection with the slides. In discussing Sufism and the lives of great Sufis, one of the questions which arises very very readily, and which attracts much discussion is the the issue of possible Christian influence in the life and works of the early Sufi ascetics. Ascetics, those who withdraw to a life of contemplation.


We’re reminded by that of nuns and and monks living in monasteries, especially those monasteries that pursue a life contemplation. That was also a feature of some of the early Sufi ascetics. Were they influenced in any way by Christian monastics? And even the name Suf, which comes from the word for wool, were they influenced by Christians who also wore woolen garb or woolen clothing as they withdrew into their places of meditation. That’s an interesting topic in itself and would be the subject of a very good assignment.


John Williams in his book on Islam, points out that, after the Mongol invasions, the Sufi orders offered a vision of beauty in a cruel period. This is where it’s important in looking at theology and in looking at texts to keep one eye on history as well because history often shapes, theological developments and textual emergences, new texts that come out. In 1258 AD, the great Muslim Empire of the Abbasids, which had reigned supreme in the Middle East since 750 for about 500 years in various geysers. That empire collapsed in 1258 under the invasions of the Mongols. The capital of Baghdad was captured and sacked.


The caliph at the time was killed, and there was genocide on a large scale at the hands of the Mongol invaders. Life was difficult. Society was in chaos for decades afterwards. And in such a situation of social chaos, it’s little wonder that you find various trends emerging in society. Among some, there was a turn to Sufi orders, which offered, as the slide says, a vision of beauty in a cruel period.


Among others, there was a turn back to a literalist understanding of the text with a callback to the Quran and the Hadith among those who are who are more literalist and legalistically minded. So Sufism flourished in the 1300 and afterwards. And, interestingly, it was a period of the flourishing of mystical thought in the Christian world as well. And a potential assignment, if you are interested, would be to do a study of mystical thinking in Christianity and in Islam around the 1300 1400. Going back well beyond that, though, we’re talking about the earliest years, the 700 the 800.


And this was the period of emerging Sufism, emerging Sufi thought and some of the great writers, the great minds, the great names. The early ascetics, asceticism meaning the life of withdrawal and contemplation. Who were some of the greatest names in this period? Well, Al Hasan al Basri, Ibrahim ibn Adam, Rabia, Al Mohasibi, and Junaid. They’re some of the early aesthetics.


And notice on your website on the on the Moodle page that you have, a reference by Jaudi to the early saint Rabia. She died in 801 AD. She was a female saint, early early ascetic, well worth looking at. The early aesthetics represented a stage in the development of Sufism, but following a set the aesthetic tendency came ecstatics, an ecstatic form of Sufism, which moved from a state of withdrawal and contemplation to an involvement in practices which produce states of ecstasy and transportation. The ecstatic ecstatics represent a significant development.


These are the ascetic sufi thought by the concept of seeking the unitive state. That is that through attaining ecstasy, a kind of ecstasy, these Sufis were seeking to attain this unitive state with the divine, seeking communion with Allah through ecstatic practice. Now ecstatic worship and ecstatic practice has many manifestations both historically and in the contemporary period in Islam. And what I’d like you to do now is to pause this recording and to watch the film dancing dervishes in Istanbul. That’s available, through linkages on your Moodle page.


Watch that film. Notice how the dancers enter as, an ecstatic state. I hope you enjoyed that that that film because it does capture in the modern day the practice of the dervishes in Turkey and how they end up enter a kind of ecstatic state in their in their in their practice. Now, in terms of the historical chronology, we’re we’re looking here at the 8 100, the 9 100, that period. And we come again across the name of Al Hallaj.


We’ve encountered his name on several occasions. Remember, he was the the Sufi who, was, executed in 922 for blasphemy because he dared to say, I am the truth. And the truth is one of the names for Allah, one of the 99 names for Allah. Now he was executed as a result. But one an inevitable question is, was he influenced in any way by Christianity?


It’s reported in the literature that Al Hallaj chose Jesus as his model among the prophets. Did he draw on John 146 in making his famous statement that led to his his his execution? I am the truth. Read about Al Hallaj in the literature. Go online and Google him and read about his life.


He’s a very important person in the in the, history of Sufism. Following Al Hallaj, there was a a movement against the those who executed him. The movement came to be known as the antinomians. It’s a term that exists within the history of Christianity as well. And if you’re unfamiliar with it, I encourage you to go online and, Google it and just read about the antinomians within Christianity.


Now Al Hallaj had been executed by legally minded, literalist, Hadith based scholars, and the antinomians were hostile to that group. They were hostile to the ulema. The ulema were the scholars. The antinomians separated faith from works, and they drew on theosophical ideas that were common among the extremist Shia. For antinomianism in Islam, I’ve uploaded an article which which gives you an overview of that particular movement, And they represent a, an offshoot of the thinking of Al Hallaj, all part of the process that was leading on to more Theosophical ideas among the emerging Sufi scholars and and, and practitioners.


I’d like you to refer to sources in your library or online to find information on the key names that are mentioned in the preceding slides. We’ve only had a few slides, but we’ve covered some key people. It’s important that you know about Junaid, that you know about Rabiya, that you know about Ibrahim ibn Adam. Go back and read about them, compile information as you proceed. Welcome back to understanding the Quran.


We’re continuing on with this topic of saints and Sufis to complement our previous discussion about Sufism. I do hope you’re keeping your eye on the, Moodle page, where there are a rich collection of, relevant materials, that relate to this topic. There’s a very good link on the Moodle page under this lecture to, professor Godless’s, site that’s called a website that’s called Sufism’s Many Paths. It’s part of a much broader site that professor Godless maintains, which provides an, a vast array of very good resources, both on generally on the study of Islam, but also specifically on Sufism of relevance to this this current lecture. Also, linked on the site is the, the book, which is now a century old, but it’s still very useful, the book the book by, professor Nicholson, called the mystics of Islam.


I’ve provided link to, his chapter 5, which deals with saints and miracles, which is going to be the topic of this present, sub lecture. But I would also refer you to the other chapters of the book, which could be, reached by looking around that that same web address. The the link we have here is to chapter 5, but it’s very easy to locate the other chapters of his book, by following through the the links. So let’s turn our attention specifically to the idea of the of the saints of of Islam and the Sufi masters. The wali.


Now the term wali, is quite, prolific in in Islam, but it came to to represent different things to different people. The scholar, Yogananda Sikand, writing in the bulletin of the Henry Martin Institute of Islamic Studies, points out that popular Islam came to view the wali different from orthodox Islam. He said orthodoxy orthodoxy simply saw the wali as signifying those who obeyed God, led pious lives, and followed the Sharia. Whereas popular Islam, he said, added the notion of a saint who was especially close to God and could therefore mediate between God and ordinary people. Now an idea to hold in your minds for now is this fundamental opposition, because this is where, at different times in history, clashes have developed between orthodox Muslims who who are primarily Sharia minded and popular Muslims who follow saints right up to the present day.


We’ll come back to that later. How do how does a Sufi become a saint or a? Well, Nicholson, says that the only indispensable qualification is outward ecstasy and rapture, though miracles are also a yardstick, and he discusses this at length in his chapter 5 chapter 5 of his book. Nicholson also makes a very useful distinction between high Sufism and low Sufism, which I think is a much more helpful set of terms than, for example, Sufism and folk Islam or Sufism and popular Islam. Having a distinction between Sufism and popular Islam misses the connection between popular Islam or folk Islam and Sufism.


They both really are two sides of the same mystical quest. One is more esoteric and academic and intellectual, the other is more populist and mass based. So high high Sufism and low Sufism, I think, are better terms. Now Nicholson points out that high Sufism tends to focus on penetrating the innermost shrine of truth, whereas low Sufism responds to the popular demand for miracles. So as you can see, one is more intellectual and one is more popular.


Now what about these miracles of the saints? This the miracles that set saints apart from the masses around them. Well, Nicholson records, miracles which are described by the masses as including walking on water, levitation, rainmaking, appearing in various places at this at the one time, healing by the breath, resurrecting the dead, predicting future events, and turning earth into gold, and so forth. You can read more about this on the Moodle page. Think about those miracles.


Think about them in the context of Jesus’ miracles according to various categories. How do those miracles square with the miracles recorded of Jesus Christ in the bible? It’s noticeable that saintly miracles of, of Islam are bestowed by God on the saint, whereas prophetic miracles cannot be imitated by anyone. That’s a distinction that’s observable in Islam. Note also that the saintly miracles, which are attributed to to the saints of Islamic Sufism, are often just designed to amaze without any ethical purpose, unlike those of Jesus.


That’s a point of distinction. Staying with the saints, how how how is a saint distinguished? Apart from miracles, what other qualities set a Sufi person apart from the masses so that their saintly status is recognized? Well, this has been addressed by many different writers and a very famous writer is Abu Naim al Isfahani, and he writes an account about a certain saint by the name of Shaddad ibn als. And he said that what set him apart was being restrained yet forthright, prudent, self controlled, emotional, humble, devout, well versed, fallible, manifesting a concern for others, and being an advocate of repentance.


There’s the term that we encountered in an earlier lecture, and one associates the emphasis on repentance with Sufis. So those were the qualities of this saint Shaddad ibn Aus. Al Ghazali, another famous, classical Islamic writer, he died in 11:11. He comments that the usual subjects taken by students of orthodoxy, which are thick or that is jurisprudence, tafsir or exegesis, and kalam, which is theology, they do not necessarily engage with the inner and outer dimensions. This is taken from Al Ghazali’s treatise on the direct knowledge from God, and I’ve provided a link to that on the Moodle page for you to read.


It’s a translation that was undertaken by professor Godlas. So do pause the recording at this point and read that reading in full. So in the reading presented by Godlas on the, web on the middle page, Al Ghazali again draws this distinction between the inner and outer dimensions, the inner and outer dimensions. And he suggests that orthodox non sufi Muslims focus on the outer dimensions, and they study subjects such as jurisprudence and exegesis and theology, but they don’t really engage with the inner dimensions, he says, the inner dimensions which is the focus of the Sufi quest. Another very famous Muslim associated with Sufi Islam is Ibn Al Arabi.


I’d like you to look him up, go online, read about him as much as you can. He is an important, very important person in the history of Sufism. I’ve also provided a reading on the myrtle page about him by by Morris who is presenting Ibn Arabi’s book of the quintessence. Ibn Arabi was the father of the stream of Sufism, which we discussed in the last lecture. Now ibn Arabi writes a work that’s in called that that’s entitled instructions to a postulant instructions to a postulant, to an apprentice Sufi, really.


And he gives guidelines to the postulant as to what they must do in order to attain the their this their goals as a Sufi. He calls on postulants to follow the following practices, abstinence, prayer, self criticism, humility, to observe the pillars of Islam, the 5 pillars, ritual purity, nobility of action, to be forgiving, to be compassionate for animals, to shun worldly matters, to follow God, to be generous, to overcome evil, and to fear Allah. You see, this is a very different expression of Islam to some of the other expressions we’ve encountered in this course. They provide different angles on understanding the Quran, different perspectives on approaching the sacred text, different mindsets. How would you respond as a Christian to those guidelines given by Ibn al Arabi to postulants.


A further statement by Ibn al Adamee bears thought by Christians. How would you respond to this statement? Which is also included in his instructions to a postulant. He says, all the commandments are summed up in this, that whatever you would like the true one to do to you, that do to his creatures step by step. Another very famous writer who writes on Sufism is Al Qusayri.


Read about him. Search about him on the Internet. See what you can find out about his life. Now he reports some common features of the Sufi masters as follows. He says that the common features of Sufi masters are repentance, piety through suffering, responding to prayers, curing ailment ailments, denial, and renunciation of the world.


How would you respond to that from a Christian perspective? And further on Al Khosseidi, writing on the Sufi masters, he cites Ibrahim ibn Adam’s 6 stages of renunciation where the following are renounced, the favored life, nobility, ease, sleep, wealth, and hope. And the following are embraced and encouraged, namely distress, loneliness, strenuousness, wakefulness, poverty, and preparations for death. How would you respond to that as a Christian? Now the final issue that I would like to look at in this sub lecture is agility’s notion of the perfect man.


We’ve mentioned on a number of occasions in lectures up until now that for Sufism, Mohammed is somewhat elevated above the normal the normal position of a normal man, though a prophet, that is held by orthodox Muslims. For Sufis, Mohammed is elevated, and he attains a level which suggests at times an almost supernatural dimension. And the the clearest context where this is manifested is in the notion of the perfect man that was articulated by the classical writer, Awjili. In this notion, this is described in the book by FE Peters, a reader on classical Islam. In this notion of the perfect man, Mohammed becomes most excellent, and he becomes the perfect man.


The perfect man has various guises, but he’s a copy of God. It’s noticeable that in high sufism, Mohammed becomes the bridge between god and the world through notions such as the perfect man. Though in low Sufism, saints serve as this bridge. The issue here is how does Islam bridge a transcendent distant God and the ordinary human beings? Within Sufism, Mohammed is the bridge for high Sufis, for the more intellectual kind of Sufis.


But for low Sufism, the bridge is provided by the saints of Islam in their tombs. And I’d like to conclude by looking at the tomb of a Sufi saint, Abdur Ra’uuf of Sinkil, who we encountered earlier in some of his writings. These photos were taken by myself on a visit to Aceh in North Sumatra in the 19 eighties and this is a photo of Abdul Raouf’s tomb and the caretaker of the tomb. The caretaker claims that his family has cared for the tomb since the death of Abdul Raouf in 16/93. He is the 7th generation caretaker, and his ancestors are buried inside the building next to the tomb of Abdulrauf.


Here’s another photo of the graves of the wives and the disciples. These are the graves of Abdul Raouf’s wives and the graves of Abdul Raouf’s students. And as is so often the case at these Sufi, tombs, there are mosques and other buildings built near the tombs for studies for studies of the Quran and for studies of the works of the particular saint. So this was a very famous place of retreat for ordinary Indonesians who were mystically inclined. They would come and visit the tomb of Abdula’uuf, and some would stay on and engage in some studies.


Now, sadly, in December of 2004, when the great Asian tsunami hit Aceh, This location was right near the coast, right near the beach, and it was devastated by the great tsunami. And this is the this was the result after the tsunami of 2004. Now Abderail’s tomb survived, but the building surrounding it were devastated, and the process of reconstruction is underway. Now the preceding slides have identified qualities that set a Sufi master apart from other Sufis. How do these qualities reconcile with the qualities of outstanding Christian leaders?


How would you respond as a Christian to the discussion about Sufi masters and the qualities required to lead? Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re continuing on with the lecture topic of saints and Sufis, and this will be the final segment on this topic and indeed the final lecture in this course. In this, segment, we’re going to focus on opposition to Sufism, Opposition that has come down the ages and is expressed in classical writing, but is also expressed in the modern day. We’ll begin with, a piece of writing by Ibn Khaldun, a famous medieval historian.


I’ve provided a link on the course website to an article about Ibn Khaldun entitled Ibn Khaldun and the rise and fall of empires. It’s a very good article, and it gives you a snapshot of this very important figure. Now Ibn Khaldun considers some aspects of the original Sufi quest as legitimate, but others as more dubious. And in an excerpt from his writing presented by FE Peters in the book, a reader on classical Islam, Ibn Khaldun approves of Sufi discussions of pious exertions, the resulting mystical and ecstatic experiences, and self scrutiny concerning concerning one’s actions, as well as activities in the various worlds and among the various created things connected with the different kinds of divine grace. However, Ibn Khaldun argues that Sufism was fine until it was corrupted by the Shiites with their preoccupation with Ali.


Later Sufism became pantheistic. He writes, the oneness assumed by the sufis is identical with the stated opinion of the imam Shia concerning their imams. So the latest Sufi concepts, such as the theory of poles, did not conform to the Sharia. Now here, ibn Khaldun is alluding to some of the kinds of approaches to Sufism that we encountered in our discussion of, the Achinese polymix in the 17th century in one of our earlier lectures. The idea of oneness assumed by the Sufis, oneness being where all is 1 and one is God.


Returning to Indonesia, Andrew Rippon and Jan Nappert, in their edited work textual sources for the study of Islam, have presented a very interesting Javanese mystical tract. Now this text identifies 3 stages on the way to god, and again we find a separation or a distinction drawn between religion for the masses and religion for the elect. This Javanese text identifies the 3 stages on the way to God as being first staying within the law of Islam, so staying at the level of the sharia. 2nd, taking the path to god. And 3rd, and very controversially, witnessing the ultimate reality.


Now you’re gonna hear even within this short this small summary potential for a polemic. This Javanese mystical track suggests that Haqqiqah is the highest stage on the upward path. Haqfeqha is seeing the secret close by, the secret, the divine secret close by. It is interior knowledge. And a key method of attaining this extra level, this extra awareness and consciousness and truth is through the practice of dhikr.


Dhikr is it comes from the Arabic word meaning to mention and it refers to mentioning the names of God, of Allah, and in the process, acquiring the qualities represented by the names. So if the name is if the if, the word in focus is merciful, one of the names of Allah, then by using this practice of, it is believed that the the individual Muslim will acquire the quality of being merciful from this practice. Now there are 6 degrees of according to this text. There’s of the mouth, which means articulating and repeating some of the names of Allah. There’s dhikr of the soul, of that process taking place in the soul, dhikr in the heart, dhikr in the interior, dhikr in the spirit, dhikr in the subtle being.


And even here, we get this multilayered sense of understanding on the part of Sufis. Now this Javanese text warns its readers to stay away from the modernists for they bring evil, it says, the those modernists who are anti Sufi. And it reflects a fundamental tension between text based rationalist modernizers who often targeted mystical Sufis as having strayed from the true path of Islam. Now opposition to Sufism has come various quarters down the years, and Linda Clark, writing in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, summarizes the sources of some of this opposition, different ideologies that have opposed saint veneration in the past, the Orthodox Ullama, especially ibn Taymiyyah. I’d encourage you to look up that name, ibn Taymiyyah, a very important medieval theologian.


He died in 1328, an important name to read to to read up on. He was very opposed to Sufism, and he wrote prolifically on this subject, and his opposition was used as the basis of opposition by a lot of later legal scholars. Also in opposition to the, Sufis were the, Wahabis, the Wahhabi, literalist revolution that took place in Arabia in the late 1700 and the school of thought that came out of them, very narrow, literalist school of thought. Also, in opposition to Sufis were modernist early 20th century modernist writers, such as Mohammed Amru and Rashid Rida. And also in opposition to the Sufis were secularists, such as Ataturk and his secularist revolution in Turkey in the 19 twenties.


So Sufism has been doing it tough in the 20th century and into the 21st century. And also to be added to this list are 21st century radicals, such as Al Qaeda and other groups, which have often targeted saints’ tombs and Sufi practice in different parts of the world. To get a sense as to the kind of opposition that comes from young literalists, I’d like you to listen to the film that’s linked to on your course website, the film, a message to the Sufis. It’s a lecture by a young Muslim scholar who is highly critical of Sufism. He argues that the state of decay of the Islamic community worldwide or the Ummah is due to the abandonment of the sunnah, the way of Mohammed, the model of Mohammed, as well as spreading of innovations, and Sufism is seen as spreading of innovations.


Give a Christian response to this. I’d also draw your attention to the, the reading by John Gilchrist on the course website. He talks about the cultic trends in popular Islam, low Sufism. This brings us to the end of this course. Thank you for staying with us.


I do hope that you’ve got a lot out of this course and that the various topics, that we have dealt with in the lectures have helped you to understand the Quran and have especially helped you to shape a Christian response to the various issues that have arisen. The purpose of the course, as we stated at the outset, was indeed to better understand Islam in all its manifestations and especially as it relates to the Quran, the core text of Islam, and then to take that knowledge and shape your Christian response to it and equip yourself as a Christian to engage with Muslims. So as you go about this task of Christian engagement with Islam, I do wish you every blessing in this task and hope that all goes well in the future as you apply this material in your own lives and ministries. Thank you for joining us.