Synthesizers and Saints: Sufism in the Medieval Era
Meena Sharify-Funk [+]
Wilfrid Laurier University
William Rory Dickson [+]
University of Winnipeg
Moving deeper into history, in Chapter Five, we consider those Sufis who integrated Islamic law, theology and philosophy with the aesthetics and practices of Sufism to forge a holistic paradigm in the medieval era. It was between the 11th and 13th centuries that Sufism crystalized as a comprehensive worldview, one that would define Islam for centuries to follow, shaping the culture of Muslim societies and empires. The great synthesizers of Sufi thought, figures such as Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-‘Arabi (d. 1240) and Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111), played paramount roles in drawing the outlines of classical Sufism. Some Sufi scholars like al-Ghazali worked within government instutions, seeking to reconcile Sufism with both Islamic jurisprudence and the political powers of his day. Philosophically, Ibn al-‘Arabi articulated a metaphysics of oneness alongside a conception of human perfectibility, leading to a cosmology of unity and sainthood. Socially, Sufism was institutionalized during this period as a series of religious orders, four of which will be explored in this chapter (the Shadhili, Qadiri, Naqshbandi, and Chishti orders), each representing a different cultural region within Islamic civilization. With Sufism’s institutionalization in a system of orders, Sufi practices became more codified, with each order developing its own particular forms of devotion, meditation, and contemplation. We see during this time the development of a sound mysticism, as Sufi devotion was integrated with musical traditions, and Sufi chanting coordinated with breath and body, producing spiritual practices of song, dance, and ecstasy.