Irfan and Sufism – Reaching for Perfection



Open Discussions in association with Gulf Cultural Club held an event entitled: Islamic mysticism; Sufism and Irfan: Self-realisation to achieve perfection. A packed audience at Abrar House in London heard Shaikh Faid Mohammad Sheikh Saeed Bahmanpour and Dr Ali Paya make a diverse range of presentations – mystical and philosophical.
They may have worshipped in their own ways in the mountains of the Levant or the caves of Arabia and Persia in the middle ages, but Sufis and Irfanis are still present in force in the 21st century world. Their dervishes, tariqas, dhikr circles, sama or khanqah dominate the world of mysticism. It is a world of spiritual focus that attempts to circumvent excessive materialism and aspires to achieve the purity of soul, the cleansing of the inner and the subjugation of evil desires. Within the realm of Islamic mysticism rose great sufi mystics like Rumi and Ibn Arabi whose names surface in modern literature especially in the West.
The speakers explored what makes spiritualism capable of attracting the diversities of modern world? They also addressed issues within the religious orders that provides modern mysticism with the religious, artistic and media credentials?
Shaykh Bahmanpour summarized his presentation with the irfani assertion of the heart as the ultimate access to reality and recollected the Prophet Mohammad’s assertion that there were private moments he had with Allah (swt) which would have been unbearable for even the Angels such was the intensity. The metaphysical aspect of the Prophet is celebrated by Irfani’s and Sufis alike deriving greater certitude in God upon hearing of, for example, the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh’s) miraculous night journey or ascension to the heavans and a direct audience with Allah (swt).
Shaykh Faid argued that Tassawuf was a science in itself – a means for self realization to achieve deeper  understand of the Divine Lord of the Worlds. He said the most important tools for this quest were ‘sincerity and honesty’ and love being the key to unlocking access to Reality.
Dr Ali Pasha, whilst respecting the experiential impact of mysticism, at the same time disgreed with the other panellists on some issues. He argued that mystics did not have an epistemologically sound argument for their conclusions and more work needed to be done in conjunction with Islamic philosophers to achieve a more coherent expression of mystical knowledge.
He asserted that ultimately human knowledge of our reality can only be confirmed through our minds and the use of reason trumps the mystical intuitive experiantialism which, he said, was a fleeting momentary phenonena occurring at a point when the human being is likely lost in the experience of the act, making it a fallible and subjective interpretation of reality for the individual who tries to evaluate it when he reemerges to his human dimension. His critique of Ibn Arabi, the great Muslim mystic of the 12th Century is that his followers today are themselves confused by some of his utterances.
Esoteric Islamic metaphysics, irfan or tassawuf are a shared Shia and Sunni heritage which potentially carries far greater appeal to many deeper spiritual  thinkers in the West. You only need to observe the hige rise in Yoga classes, Mindfulness workshops and other meditational industries which are undoubtedly popular among a metropolis forced to be competitive, working long hours, stressed and often lonely in an unforgiving City environment which defines them as mere consumers and producers. Significantly though inspite of the depth of Islamic mystics and their practices they have still attracted relatively few devotees in the West. The more binary literalist Wahhabist sponsored evangelical approach of groups like Tablighi Jammat has certainly attracted another type of Westerner – one looking for a simple black and white ideology and more importantly a community or family to belong too. For such entrants to Islam Irfan Tassawuf and mysticism is too subtle, too complex and as many are endoctrinated to believe – ‘biddah’ (innovation).
In Britain both the political establishment and liberal Muslims have superficially promoted an apolitical tassawuf driven Sufism as the version of Islam most likely to be compliant to British establishment  values like democracy ( read as kakitocracy) and unethical foreign policy  However the
British and French know full well that the men of tassawuf and irfan, from North Africa and the Sudan to Iran and India took on the Western colonialism militarily, when the time was right.
A lively question and answer session was chaired by Syed Shabbir Razvi before the customary dinner was served. The Open Discussions programme is a regular montly event attracting a diverse multi ethnic multireligious multicultural audience. Arguably one of the best of its kind in London. More events are in the pipeline.
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