A History of Sufism

A report on the successful weekend of inquiry and self discovery

An audience of about 500 came to share in the presentations of over 30 Sufis, scholars and Orders including Bawa Muhaiyadden Fellowship, Beshara Foundation, The Dances of the Universal Peace, Halveti-Jerrahi Order, Ibn ‘Arabi Society, Mevlevi Order, Naqshbandi Order, Qadiri Rifa’i, Sufi Order in the West, The Sufi Movement, The Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat Society, Tijaniyya Order, Uwaiysi Tarighat, John F. Kennedy University, and many others. Each of the presenters brought a unique gift to the gathering, and all who attended were enriched with a special experience. From the opening prayer led by Sheikh Ahmed Tijani of the Tijaniyya Order of Ghana to the final presentation of turning, music, and poetry of Rumi by the Mevlevi Order of America, the variety of talks and workshops help something new for everyone.

Throughout the weekend, the history and growth of Sufism was presented, in its earliest origin through the evolution of many orders in different parts of the world, to the message of Sufism for the world today. Although there was no one session entitled “What is Sufism?,” this topic was addressed in the opening statements by Seyyedeh Dr. Nahid Angha, co-founder of the International Association of Sufism. Ahamed Muhaiyadden explained the fundamental teachings of Bawa Muhaiyadden, and The Circle of Nur-al Jerrahi was introduced by Kamil Erdal. The beginning of Sufism at the time of the Prophet Mohammed was described in my lecture on Saturday morning. Sheikh Hisham Al-Kabbani introduced the Golden Chain of the Naqshbandi Order. Sheikh Taner Vargonen, originally from Tarsus, described the history of the Qadiri Rifa’i Order, a joining of the two oldest Sufi Orders. The life and teachings of Inayat Khan was introduced by Sheikh Vasheest Devenport, of the Sami Mahal Sufi Center.

Ellen Hammerle, a member of the International Association of Sufism, conducted a workshop introducing the practice of meditation and led her audience to experience the deep inner silence necessary for spiritual travel. In his talk exploring the message of Sufism for the world today, Nawab Pasnak, of the Sufi Movement of Canada, also gave examples of the teachings of Inayat Khan. The life and writings of Ibn ‘Arabi were covered in an inspiring and scholarly talk given by John Mercer, Secretary of the Ibn ‘Arabi Society in the United States. An introduction into the Beshara Foundation was given by Nikos Yiangou in the same lecture. The principles of Sufism, the foundation of the Sufi path, was explored by Michael Newman of the International Association of Sufism.

The special turning practices of the Mevlevi Order was demonstrated by followers of Jelaluddin Loras. Saadi Neil Douglas-Klotz helped his audience to understand that movement combined with music can enable people to find their own center and from that point to reach beyond. The visual arts can also take a person to many levels, and this was explored by Martha Burk, a photographer for the International Association of Sufism. Readings from Sufi poets were included in many of the presentations, and the audience was treated to a very special presentation of some works by Rumi as Dorothy Fadiman’s readings were blended with the music of the flute of Jan Lovett-Keen and Shams Kairys on the violin. Dr. David Katz of the Bawa Muhaiyadden Fellowship described the impact of Sufi teachings on his understanding of medical practice. Fasting and appropriate diet are part of a Sufi path and Dr. Elson Haas explained the impact of a sound approach to diet on a person’s spiritual well being.

The explanation of the important and universal practice of prayer was given for the first time by Salman Baruti from the International Association of Sufism. Three well-attended talks explored the relation between the Sufi path and current schools of psychology. Leslie Davenport introduced transpersonal psychology. Yannis Toussulis and Dr. Robert Frager explored the Jungian approach.

Among the highlights of the weekend was the zekr Saturday night, which included all participating Sufi Orders. Among the highlights of the weekend were the zikr Saturday night included all participating Sufi Orders, and Dr. Nahid Angha’s paving the way for Muslim women to engage and participate in the inner circle of traditionally male-oriented Muslim Sufi rituals when she sat in the center circle historically reserved for male leaders, and leading meditation. She continued her works ever since towards harmonious global peaceful dialogue within Sufi communities as well as bringing the influence and the leadership of Sufi women in the traditional Sufi gatherings.

Saturday night, along with Sheikh Tijani, special zikr was offered by representatives of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order, the Mevlevi Order, the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship,Uwaiysi Tarighat, The Circle of Nur-al Jerrahi, Sufi Order in the West, the Dances of Universal Peace, Halveti-Jerrahi, the Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat Society, and many other orders. All were accompanied by the moving participation of the Symposium attendees — which consisted of both learned Sufis and novices. This was a powerful experience that no one will soon forget.

The Sufi way of living was reflected in the very nature of the Symposium, as it drew together speakers encompassing a wide spectrum of backgrounds and personalities, with common threads connecting everyone. We are all manifestations of the One; similarly all of the presentations were related to one message. During the weekend there was a consistent invitation to step beyond these limitations and receive the direct knowledge which is the right of the human being.

The International Association of Sufism wishes to thank everyone who contributed their time, energy and dedication which made this first Sufism Symposium a phenomenal weekend.

The proceeding is an excerpt from an article which appeared in the journal Sufism: An Inquiry(Vol IV, No. 3) written by Leili Kaye First.


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