The Sufi-Rumi Connection

Kabir Helminski, a sheikh of the Mevlevi order, talks about Rumi, Sufism, and their roots in Islam.

Continued from page 2

Sufis have had a place of respect throughout the history of traditional Islam. It has only been in relatively recent times, and through the confusion of modernity, that people within Islamic cultures have been denying the centrality of the Sufis. There have been a few times that Sufis have been on the outs--because of political reasons. But within the Mongol Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and throughout much of the Islamic world, the role of the tariqas was respected, and people at the highest levels, even the


or the learned scholars, were familiar and at ease with Sufism.

Many of the great Muslims have been Sufis: Abdul Qadir Jilani, Rabia, Al-Ghazali, Rumi, as well as four of the five founders of the recognized


or schools of law.

But when you point this out, the critics might say, "Oh, that's not who we mean by Sufis. We mean those people who are lazy and don't follow the Shar'iah or those sheikhs who create cults around themselves and manipulate people."

For instance, when someone like Muhammad Iqbal, a popular Muslim writer and thinker, suggests that Sufis stand in the way of human progress, he is talking about a degenerated Sufism that may have existed in the India of his time. Iqbal described himself as a devoted student of Rumi and asked that a


(or shrine) be built for him behind Rumi's tomb.


Imam Malik, a preeminent scholar of Islam and the originator of the Maliki school of thought, said, "To follow the shariah without tariqah is to be a


(misbeliever)." And vice versa.

Those who are critical of Sufism seem to view Islam as almost a contractual relationship with God. God has spelled out his part of the deal, and human beings had better fulfill it or they will be punished. But I do not believe that this was the mentality of Muhammad (PBUH).

Sufism would be inconceivable without the Qur'an and the example of Muhammad (PBUH). So those who tried to cut themselves off from Islam by ignoring the example of Muhammad and the revelation of the Qur'an have in fact cut themselves off from the source of Sufism.

Also, those who understand Sufism as the blending of all religious traditions into some new eclectic message are approaching Sufism superficially. The source of Sufism must be understood through a deeper understanding of the Qur'an and the character of Muhammad (PBUH). And when one understands the Qur'an and the character of Muhammad (PBUH), one will also have a compassionate and tolerant viewpoint of all faiths because that is the perspective of the Qur'an. But to create a spirituality by mixing a little bit of this and that tradition doesn't do justice to any of those paths. We can respect them--but we cannot walk them all.

How does Rumi's poetry fit into Islam? What order was he a part of?

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