As part of their research for their assignment into how Sufi Islam prepares people for life in modern Britain, the Young Ambassadors from Broughton High School interviewed a Sufi Muslim in order to better understand the religion.
Broughton High School’s Young Ambassadors for RE, Alex, Anna, Rachel, Zara and Poppy with their teacher Ms. Harris at the Young Ambassadors’ Conference.
Please could you begin by telling me a little bit about what Sufism means to you and what it’s like to be a Sufi?
For me, if religion is the oyster shell, then Sufism is the pearl that lies within. It is wrong to consider Sufism as something that was created as an addition to religion – it was there from the first moment! The aim is to become an embodiment of peace – both inner peace and outer. It’s peaceful and spiritual because Sufism is all about love. You find peace within yourself so you don’t need to look for happiness in other things. During life, all humans experience some level of love and friendship. The first form of love is friendship love, with the no-expectations-love of normal people. The second form of love is based on solid foundations between people that usually live together and have mutual expectations of one another. This type of love is usually in a family setting and involves an equal, give-and-take kind of relationship between the people. The third kind of love transcends everything and is the kind of love whereby you declare ‘I accept you without any expectations’. Sufi expectations exemplify the third love because it’s not based on conditions and constraints. Sufis with this kind of love are successful and peaceful.
For me, being a Muslim is an important part of being a Sufi because ultimately Sufism is still about Allah. Sufism is a sector within Islam, but you don’t have to be born a Sufi to become one. It originated in Turkey and has spread widely. Sufis follow the example of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) who was a peaceful man that would often spend time alone to meditate and think.
In Sufism, are men and women equal?
The spirit of a person does not have a gender – it is neither male nor female. Men and women are therefore equal in their essence. In every age, there have been accomplished female masters of the spiritual path of Sufism.
I would say that men and women are fully equal, but have been made different for different purposes, remembering that this is simply the way that it has to be to ensure peace and harmony. The perception that some people have about how women are treated in Islam is wrong. Celebrating diversity also means accepting difference – we are equal but different.
How do you think a Sufi would explain what it means to be a Muslim in modern Britain and are there any aspects of Sufism that you think are particularly helpful for living in a multi-cultural, multi-faith society?
As a Sufi Muslim, I believe that every person has a Spirit, which is considered as the ‘pure essence’ of that person’s being and reflects the attributes of God. Each person also carries a Nafs, which is the antithesis of the Spirit. If the Spirit draws a person towards a Godly action, then the Nafs will strive to make that person deviate or do the opposite to what the Spirit wants. The Nafs causes conflict, confusion, darkness, disharmony, greed, lust and egoistic behaviour in a person. A Sufi tries to be mindful of his or her own Nafs in order to ensure that he or she acts in accordance with what is Godly. The Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) described a person’s battle with his or her own Nafs as the Great Battle because this is the single biggest obstacle that prevents a person from becoming united with the ‘The One’. In modern life, there are many things that might tempt us away from Godly action, but being a Muslim means we must do what we know to be right.
Sufism is helpful for life in modern Britain as it helps me find peace. There is inner peace with my persona, emotions, intellect and views and then there is outer peace with the cultural, societal and creedal diversity of the world.
Sufism is about purifying the heart. Modern life is a constant cycle of trying to achieve materialistic things and goals. Sufism is about being content, whereas modern life seems to me to be about being discontent, as a person can never have all of his or her materialistic desires fulfilled. Sufism teaches you to be happy with what you have and to have inner peace. In modern Britain, many people appear to be stressed, but being a Sufi helps with stress because you can take time out and chill out with many forms of meditation.