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Sufism in Yemen: Concept and Reality

By \ Mohammad N. Al-Hakimi

Sufism emerged during the early years of Islam. The name was taken after a certain religious group known as Al-Soffah. However, to many people it is related to Al-souf (wool) which is worn by ascetic people as a sign of looking down upon life. It has many supporters and followers and its date of emergence has been reported in many books to be the second half of the second century of Hijirah. One of the main reasons leading to its emergence was people's love of pleasures which made them distanced from God. The main objective was to direct people's love to God away from all pleasures of life. Among founders of Sufism in the third century of Hijirah are Salman Al-Darani, Dho Al-Noon Al-Missry, Ibraheem ben Adham, Al-Bostami, Al-Shabli and Al-Jonaid. There have also been many parasites to Sufism who harmed its spiritual transparency. A few of Sufism's advocates were moderate. They played a great role in supporting oppressed people against rulers and Sultans. Throughout history, a luminary Sufi appeared in every Arab country to revive Sufism which aims at purifying man. In the second half of the sixth century and beginning of the 7th of Hijirah there was Mohiaddin ben Al-Arabi in Spain, Abu Al-Hassan Al-Shadhili and Ahmad Al-Badwi in Egypt, Abu Madyan Al-Ghawth in Morocco, Al-Roomi and Al-Attar in Persia, Ahmad ben Alwan, Al-Ahdal and Al-Hakami in Yemen who abandoned all pleasures and attractions of life for the sake of worshipping God. In his preface to Alwan's, Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Maqaleh said that Ben Alwan is considered one of those who explicated the principles of Sufism in Yemen. He established a sufi school which is still there at the present time. He wrote many books some of which are Al-Fotooh, Al-Tawheed Al-Adham, Al-Mahrajan, Al-Kibreet Al-Ahmar and Al-Bahr Al-Moshkel. Unlike other Arab countries there was no scientific, philosophical or intellectual conflicts during his life in Yemen and this gave Sufism in Yemen its specialty. He confronted the Sultan at his time by a very famous poem depicting the suffering and miseries of people. Fortunately, he did not find the same fate imposed on other Sufi poets. He was very reasonable and moderate in his diction away from the spiritual transcendentalism. Many Sufi poets who surpassed and went beyond the public understanding were beaten up or even killed. For example, Al-Halaj died for writing a line in which he said that 'Nothing in Paradise but the truth'. The public perceived the truth as God. Another Sufi was Ibn Arabi who once addressed people by saying: 'What you are worshipping is nothing to me'. He meant the pleasures of life while people thought that he meant God. Mohammed Yahya Abdul Mo'ati Al-Jonaid, is a well-known Sufi in Saber, Taiz, who has studied medicine, literature and astronomy for more than 28 years. He has to his credit a number of studies and books about many life aspects. He believes that immortality before and after death can be reached through the services one offers his/her society. Many people, claiming Sufism, practice things that absolutely have nothing to do with Sufism, said Al-Jonaid, indicating qat sessions in which such people shake their bodies and insert sharp metals inside them. Al-Jonaid has supporters and opponents who deny his thoughts and opinions. Through the following dialogue he defends what he stands for. Q: How can you define Sufism? A: It is a search for man's good, truth and sincerity. It is making mankind happy and lifting them to supreme positions in their relation with God. Sufism is there in all religions. It is a religion, thought and behavior. Q: Some Islamic scholars accuse Sufis of being infidels, especially because of what you say about unity of existence. What do you mean by that? A: Unity of existence have been mentioned in works of Sufi philosophers. Unfortunately, many people misunderstand it. Those who contemplated the beginning of existence like Aristotle and Averroes, came at the conclusion that there could not be an existence had there not be existence of the Creator who is beyond creation. They knew that creatures came to being as a result of the existence of God. Q: Why was Al-Halaj accused of being an infidel? A: He who does not know the truth may accuse poets of being so. Blasphemy is rejected by Islam, freedom and reason. God says: " Do not tell who solute you, you are an unbeliever." Blasphemy is against Islam. Muslims must not accuse each other of being infidels for an opinion that does not touch the essence of Islam. Q: It is said that you follow Alwan's method which you regard as global? What do you mean by global? A: Islam is a global religion. We say that our way is global because it makes of the Holy Qur'an its basis. Any practices that violate Islam teachings are rejected by Sufism. Q: Many mosque preachers are against what you say about 'Sahih Al-Bokhari' (a collection of some of the Prophet's Hadiths compiled by Al-Bokhari) that it contains fabricated Hadiths. What are your comments? A: The Prophet (may peace and prayers be upon him) would not say something that did not agree with the Holy Qur'an. We call upon Islamic scholars to study every Hadith carefully and determine whether it could be said by the Prophet or not. This does not mean that I am against Al-Bokhari. We want a careful and a deep study of those Hadiths which are used as a basis for accusing others of being infidels or unbelievers and cracking unity of society. Q: What do think of translating the Holy Qur'an into foreign languages? Some scholars say its forbidden. A: The letters which our Prophet sent to the Roman kings and other non Arabic speaking kings included verses from the Holy Qur'an. These of course were not read out to them in Arabic but translated. How can we convert people into Islam while we ask them to learn Arabic first. Interpretations of the meanings of the Holy Qur'an is not forbidden at all.

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Comment by Kuesta on April 23, 2012 at 3:22pm

Very interesting post. Thanks for the information, it contains so many authors..,. I read with pleasure Al - Roomi, Al - Arabi and Al Hallaj.

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