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p. 136


Ṡūfism: The Interior Religion of the Community

Despite the claims of the Law, another aspect of Islam has been almost equally important for the rank and file of the faithful--this is Ṡūfism: mysticism, as it is usually translated.

The Ṡūfīs are those Muslims who have most sought for direct personal experience of the Divine. While some of them have been legalists of the most fundamentalist stamp, their emphasis on direct religious experience has more often led the Ṡūfīs into tension with the legalists, and their attitude toward the Law has ranged from patronizing irony to outright hostility.

The discredit brought upon Ṡūfism by its more extravagant adherents has led in most areas of the modern Muslim world to the disrepute and neglect of mysticism, and at times, even to its persecution. It is quite possible that this aspect of Islam is doomed today. But one may doubt it. Proteuslike, Ṡūfism has assumed many forms and guises in the past, and as long as there are lovers of God among the Muslims, there will be those who will respond to the moving testimony of the Ṡūfī saints.

The Sūfīs have been the great missionaries of Islam. Their interpretation of what Muhammad brought has proved the most winning to members of alien religious traditions, in India, Anatolia, Africa and Indonesia; and

p. 137

even in those parts of the world longest Muslim, the Ṡūfīs made themselves responsible for the spiritual care of the masses. One eminent scholar even maintains, "It is thanks to its mysticism that Islam is an international and universal religion." 1


137:1 Louis Massignon, Lexique Technique de la Mystique Musulman (2nd ed.; Paris, 1954), p. 15.

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