Sources of Sufism: Transmission of the Prophetic Word
Meena Sharify-Funk [+]
Wilfrid Laurier University
William Rory Dickson [+]
University of Winnipeg
In Chapter Seven we conclude our journey back through history to consider Sufism’s origin during the 7th and 8th centuries. The many principles and practices of Sufism explored in the book can be traced back to the Qur’an, the revelatory experience of the Prophet Muhammad. To understand the roots of Sufi hermeneutics and concepts such as kashf, we take a closer look at the interpretive approach of Ja‘far al-Sadiq, one of Islam’s early polymaths and mystics. His suggestion that kashf revealed deeper layers of meaning in the Qur’an would shape Sufi approaches to the text thereafter. We further consider those verses of the Qur’an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that have shaped later Sufism. Sufi understandings of the Qur’an were controversial, and their claim to have access to the Qur’an’s deepers meanings was contested by scholars who rejected the possibility of esoteric interpretation. This started a debate that continues to this day among Muslims over how to understand the Qur’an. We then explore Muhammad’s life and spiritual practices, which are exemplary for Sufis, and further consider the Prophet’s metaphysical status and meaning for Sufi practitioners. Attention also be given to Sufi use of Quranic calligraphy to beautify expression of the Divine word, and to the development of Sufi thought about the mystical significance of Arabic letters. Finally, we consider Sufism in larger world historical context. Although Sufism may not have originated outside of Islam, it has undoutedly integrated various mystical and philosophical systems prevalent in the Near East. As such, we look at the influence of some of these, including Christian mysticism, Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and Zoroastrianism.