Magoosh GRE

The importance of the Baghdad School of Sufism

| August 24, 2016

Abstract

The Baghdad School of Sufism has been argued to have had many important contributions to religion and the world.  This study will examine the philosophy with the goal of determining the reach of Baghdadi Sufism and the influence that it has had on the world today. The evidence presented in the study confirms the argument that the tradition is well rooted throughout the religious establishment and has been a defining factor in modern international culture. This study will be of value to anyone studying the evolution of the Sufi tradition and the influence it has had.

 

The importance of the Baghdad School of Sufism

The Baghdad School of Sufism has had a profound impact across the entirety of the world of Islam from its inception to the modern day[1]. The “Sufiyya”, or Sufis, were forged out of a convergence of differing religious ideals that coalesced into a distinct movement within Baghdad during the second half of the third/ninth century[2].  The critical nature of this evolution of Islam was to give rise to a form of worship that devoted attention to attaining experiential knowledge of God, profound examination of the concept of a spiritual path, as well as the elevated nature of the friends of God[3].  The Sufi school of thought was built on the foundation of emerging trends taking root in the evolving cultural centre of Baghdad[4].  Brought about as a cultural means of bringing together disparate pieces of worship, Baghdadi Sufism serves to form a vital and valuable link to God for many around the world.

This study will examine what importance the Baghdad School of Sufism has had on the world.  Beginning with an overview that illustrates the definition of the Baghdadi Sufism tradition alongside a portion of the rich history that has given this tradition form, this essay will build an infrastructure upon which to develop theory. Following this section by identifying key leaders and teachers within the tradition will serve to demonstrate the nature of the philosophy and its attraction. A combination of the first sections will provide evidence that illuminates the fundamental value and importance that many have come to associate with the Baghdad School of Sufism.

Baghdadi Sufism

Sufism is a reality without a form[5]—Ibn al-Jala

Baghdadi Sufism is argued to have taken shape as a social movement directly challenging the existent interpretive justification of the exoterically minded traditionalists[6].  The city of Baghdad was perceived as a centre of culture during this period of Sufi evolution which adds to the value of the emerging concepts capacity to reach most of the classical world. The rise of the city of Baghdad provided a fertile crossroads for mysticism and religion to come together in classic society[7].  Known as the “the lords of declaring God one”, there have long been debates regarding the veracity of the Baghdadi Sufi claim to a distinct school[8].  Others hold that the Sufi tradition is deeply unique and separate from all others[9]. The distinction between the Baghdadi Sufi and other classical traditions were evident during this period with some equating the early Sufi’s traditions with a moral laxity and private exploration[10].  Teachers among the early Sufi travelled in every direction with the intent to teach the emerging style of piety, which in turn was a fundamental shift away from existent practice[11]. In every respect, the nature of the Baghdadi Sufi stood ready to change the tradition and instil a growing sense of companionship with God.

Ma’ruf al-Karkhi is argued to be present at the inception of the Bagdad School of Sufism[12].    This legendary social figure was born of a Christian background in the karkh quarter of Bagdad. Through his teachings, he brought the element of Kufan ascetic piety to the Sufi tradition[13].  Incorporating the elements of mysticism and Islamic asceticism served to offer insights into the nature of God.  Others argued that his combination was adverse to the traditional paths to worship[14]. This element of teaching was of a critical nature as it was a counter point to the ecstatic and uncontrollable religious immersion of the era[15].  Conversly, opposition to this used these very elements to prove that the sect was mistaken[16]

Islam is built upon the concept of social religion that compels a believer to take an active role in the family or community as defined by the Qur’an and hadij[17].  This fostered a very important sense of duty and respect for culture and society which in turn was a critical component of the teachings of the Baghdadi Sufism traditions. Bishr al Hafi, the barefooted, served as an important example to the worshipers during the formation of the Baghdadi Sufism[18]. He led the masses to a life of scrupulous expression of religious piety, whereby they grew closer to God.  Succinctly, al-Hafi incorporated the simplicity of his worship in these words illustrating his devotion, “Nothing is left to me of the pleasures of this world but lying down on my side under the heavens in the Dome of the Rock.”[19] This unswerving devotion to God, served to build a following that would develop into Sufism.

Leaders and Teachers of Baghdadi Sufism

If intellect were a man, it would have the form of Junayd[20].   One of the fundamental teachers of the Baghdadi Tradition has been heralded with finding a means to transform the nature of Islam away from excess into a more ‘sober’ form. Junayd is argued to have refined the very art of speaking in isharat, an allusion to the truth that became a fundamental characteristic Sufi writing[21]. The importance of this concept is fundamental as Junayd utilized his connection with God to consistently purify the mind and body in order to be closer to the divine[22]: “We did not take Sufism from talk and words, but from hunger and renunciation of the world and cutting off the things to which we were accustomed and which we found agreeable[23].   This concept of divesting the individual in order to grow closer to God was important and cemented the path forward for adherents.  In this tradition, Junayd was able to divide the Sufi tradition into recognizable elements including the renunciation, the devotion and remembrance of God, sincerity and contemplation[24].  This establishment of tradition was vital during an era that had an influx of mysticism and religious devotions.  Further, this division led to the formation of understandable steps to finding God[25].  This attainment of spirituality or ‘fana’, or the passing away of self-consciousness taught a believer how to find the wisdom of God in order to live a better life[26].  This approach was a clear distinction from other forms of worship taught by Junayd that related to the logical expression of mysticism thereby forming the ‘sober’ attribution[27].

The creation of a ‘sober’ Sufism was an important concept in that it sought to rein in those that absorbed themselves in the worship of God to the exclusion of all else[28].  In this form of Sufism it was vital that the adherent allow God to return them to their body in order to retain their footing in the world. This was a very transformative teaching as Junayd asserted that as a person approaches God, they must become separate from their ego or self-consciousness in order to escape the imprisonment or the diminishment of progress[29]. Further, this was a concept that suggested a return to a higher state of spiritual being as in the Day of the Covenant.  Junayds teaching demonstrated that the Baghdadi Sufi tradition was a light in the darkness, describing their vital role as:

God has made them unfurled flags of truth, lighthouses erected for guidance, beaten path for humanity.  These are indeed the scholars among the Muslims, the truly trusting among the faithful, the noblest of those who are pious[30]

This set the Sufi apart from the typical adherent in that it allowed them to teach that their approach was mirrored in the eyes of God. Further, these teachers were given important positions in the culture following the teachings of Junayd:

They are those who guide in the crises of religion and theirs is the light which leads in the darkness of ignorance….God has made them the symbol of His mercy for His creatures, and a blessing of whom He chooses. They are the instruments whereby he instructs the ignorant, reminds the negligent, guides the seeker aright.”[31]

This is a concept that divided the tradition as Junayd taught that this state of spirituality could be attained and still provide for God in a person’s everyday life, or the state of baqa[32].  It was this critical formation of fana/baqa that enabled society to understand the devotion necessary to attain spiritual remedies, yet remain effective in the culture. This approach further elevated the Sufi in the eyes of their fellows, making this an important allocation of authority[33].

This Sufi concept as taught by Junayd illustrated the perception that “Only the extinction of the ego in the divine Oneness could satisfy both the necessity of initiation and religious orthodoxy[34].  Sufism strives to reach the ideal balance that Junayd taught could be attained between esoterism and exoterism in the expression of Islam.  This method early on taught the very important concept that reverberates in the modern era: ‘There is no god but God[35].

In the Baghdadi tradition, humans are viewed as God-servants, which in turn grant them opportunity for audience on the Day of the Covenant[36]. This illustration of value in the tradition is vital to provide incentive for the believers to work for the promised intimate closeness that is to arrive upon the Day of the Covenant[37].  A far reaching implication of the adherence to the Baghdadi doctrines rests in the cultural adjustment that accompanies the spiritual journey.  The piety measures instilled in the sober approach are attained through the domestication of the lower self, through deprivation and reduction, which in many cases means seclusion and poverty[38].  This was broadly appealing to those outside the Sufi circles as well. Upon Sufism becoming a recognized tradition these same principles attracted a substantial number of Jews interested in Conversion[39].  Judaism is credited with having a large influence during the early years of Sufi emergence enhancing the ease of incorporated elements of each tradition, which in turn added depth and attraction for potential followers.

This formation of tradition based on Baghdadi Sufism resulted in an important cultural result including the formation of Sufi communities[40].  Utilizing the core teaching of the Baghdadi Sufi tradition enabled a thriving community to grow, which in turn elevated the leaders into positions of societal power. Alongside the expansion of reach and power of the Sufi tradition rests the leaders, or Shayks ascension into the leadership opportunities[41].  This is a direct result of the religious expression of value within the Sufi society that has allowed the society to take a greater control in the governing of their world.

The Baghdadi Sufism tradition

As the Baghdadi Sufi tradition gained ground there was a very real expansion of the philosophical conception that served to influence generations of worshipers[42].  The Sufi tradition began to spread across Western Iran into Arabia and beyond.  This in itself signalled a growing integration that has led to modern issues. Many equate the Sufi movement with a branch of the Sunni Islam, which is a division of wider cultural identifications[43]. This modern cultural division has arisen in part due to the separate interpretations of the means to attain spirituality.  The modern world of Sufi has a clear delineation for those that rest outside of their philosophy[44].  Yet, this value of tradition among the Baghdadi Sufi culture has the potential to lead to tremendous examples of piety[45].

Over time the Sufi communities that have sprung up due to the teaching of Baghdadi Sufism tradition, have become a brotherhood that profess specific forms of worship[46]. This practice continues the teaching of the Sufi and enables interpretation of the traditions.  In every facet of life the modern impact of the Baghdadi Sufi tradition influences adherent’s day to day existence in a dramatic fashion[47].

Conclusion

Junayd described the Baghdadi Sufi tradition as: “…noble qualities made manifest by the Noble One (Al-Karim) at a noble time through a noble man from among a group of noble men[48].  This philosophy served to provide the mystical essence of Islam a place to take form. Serving the vital purpose of welding the diverse cultures and beliefs together into an understandable concept, the very inception of the Baghdadi Sufi tradition was a very important religious evolution. The subsequent adherence to the ‘sober’ Sufi led to a piety movement that has transformed a culture, shaping the very means by which believers live their daily lives.

Lessons espoused by the Baghdadi Sufi’s, including the need to step away from the self in order to find God have found their way into people’s lives across the world. Further, the concept that it is possible to both find God and still walk in the world enable the Sufi culture to thrive in a very complicated religious environment.  The influence of the Baghdad School of Sufism has managed to touch even those that are unaware of it as followers continue to live their life as an example of what it means to be truly spiritual.

In the end, the Baghdadi Sufism expression of reverence has not only been fundamentally important to the evolution of modern religion it has incorporated many elements that are continually echoed around the modern world.

Bibliography

Abun-Nasr, J. 2007. Muslim communities of grace. New York: Columbia University Press.

Chiabotti, F. 1970. A Soaring Minaret. Abu Bakr al-Wasiti and the Rise of Baghdadi Sufism (Albany, 2010). Bulletin d’\’etudes orientales.

Ephrat, D. 2008. Spiritual wayfarers, leaders in piety. Cambridge, Mass.: Distributed for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies of Harvard University by Harvard University Press.

Frank, D. and Leaman, O. 1996. Routledge history of world philosophies. London [etc.]: Routledge.

Geoffroy, E. and Gaetani, R. 2010. Introduction to Sufism. Bloomington, Ind.: World Wisdom.

Karamustafa, A. 2007. Sufism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Knysh, A. 2000. Islamic mysticism. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill. P. 1-200

Landolt, H. and Lawson, T. 2005. Reason and inspiration in Islam. London: I.B. Tauris.

Melchert, C. 2001. The hanabila and the Early Sufis. Arabica, 3 (1), pp. 352-367.

Melchert, C. 2005. Baṣran Origins of Classical Sufism. Der Islam, 82 (2), pp. 221–240.

Melchert, C. 2001. Sufis and competing movements in Nishapur. Iran, 39 pp. 237–247.

Neale, H. 2007. Sufism, godliness and popular Islamic storytelling in Farīd al-Dīn ʻAṭṭār’s Tad̲kiratu-l- ʼawliyāʼ.

Renard, J. 2009. Tales of God’s friends. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Schimmel, A. 1975. Mystical dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Sells, M. 1996. Early Islamic Mysticism:  Sufi, Koran, Mi’raj, Poetic and Theological Writings. Mahway, New Jersey. Pauliast Press.

Silvers, L. 2013. A soaring Minaret: Abu Bakr al-Wasiti and the Rise of the Baghdadi Sufism.

Wong, E. 2005. Sufis Under Attack as Sunni Rifts Widen. NYTimes, 1 (2), pp. 1-3. [Accessed: 2 Dec 2013].

Wright, J. 1995. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. Cambridge Univ Press.

 

[1] Karamustafa, A. 2007. Sufism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 20

[2] Ibid p. 20

[3] Ibid p. 20

[4] Knysh, A. 2000. Islamic mysticism. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill. p.48

[5] Geoffroy, E. and Gaetani, R. 2010. Introduction to Sufism. Bloomington, Ind.: World Wisdom. p. 1

[6] Silvers, L. 2013. A soaring Minaret: Abu Bakr al-Wasiti and the Rise of the Baghdadi Sufism p. 3.

[7] Ibid. p. 3

[8] Ibid, p. 26

[9] Geoffroy et al p. 2

[10]Melchert, C. 2001. The hanabila and the Early Sufis. Arabica, 3 (1), p. 352.

[11] Karamustafa, A. 2007 p. 30

[12] Frank, D. and Leaman, O. 1996. Routledge history of world philosophies. London [etc.]: Routledge.

[13] Ibid p. 49

[14] Schimmel A. 1975. Mysitical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill: University fo North Carolina Press. P. 57

[15] Ibid. p. 58

[16] Neale, H. 2007. Sufism, godliness and popular Islamic storytelling in Farīd al-Dīn ʻAṭṭār’s Tad̲kiratu-l- ʼawliyā

[17] ʼ.Ibid, p. 20

[18] Ephrat, D. 2008. Spiritual wayfarers, leaders in piety. Cambridge, Mass. p. 16

[19] Ibid, p. 18

[20] Schimmel, A. 1975. p. 58

[21] Schimmel, A. 1975 p. 61

[22] Ibid, p. 58

[23] Ibid, p. 59

[24] Sells, M. 1996. Early Islamic Mysticism:  Sufi, Koran, Mi’raj, Poetic and Theological Writings.  p. 27.

[25] Sells M. 1996. p. 28.

[26] Karamustafa, A. 2007 p. 2

[27] Ibid p. 28

[28] Geoffroy, E. and Gaetani, R. 2010. Introduction to Sufism. Bloomington, Ind.: World Wisdom. p. 72.

[29] Karamustafa, A. 2007 p. 3

[30] Ibid. p. 18

[31] Karamustafa, A. 2007 p. 18

[32] Ibid. p. 72.

[33] Ibid p. 72

[34] Ibid. p. 72

[35] Karamustafa, A. 2007. p. 19

[36] Knysh 2000 p. 755

[37] Ibid. 20.

[38] Ibid. 21

[39] Knysh 2000 p. 755

[40] Karamustafa 2007 p. 31

[41] Ibid. p. 31

[42] Karamustafa, A. 2007 p. 56

[43] Wong, E. 2005. Sufis Under Attack as Sunni Rifts Widen. NYTimes, 1 (2), pp. 1-3. [Accessed: 2 Dec 2013].

[44] Ibid. p. 2

[45] Ibid. p. 3

[46] Abun-Nasr, J. 2007. Muslim communities of grace. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 1

[47] Ibid. p. 140

[48] Renard, J. 2009. Tales of God’s friends. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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