Historical and Social Causes of the Mystical Approach


Different external and internal factors can catalyze a realization or shift in thinking that has lead many to take a mystical approach to religion. This phenomenon can occur on a personal and societal level. Famous figures and saints have found mysticism because of unique divine encounters but large scale conversions can often be seen in a societies reaction to a previous generations misdeeds. The companions of the Prophet, namely Abu Dharr Ghifari and Salman Farisi, personified an austere lifestyles and their simple garments of wool, suf, would come to symbolize the ascetics of the first century.

At its foundation Sufism encourages the internalization of Islamic principals and renunciation of the material world. As stated earlier often times a religious movement of this nature is prompted by preceding environmental conditions. Geoffroy susinctly lays out the succession of events, “The ascetic movement was mainly a reaction to the worldly character of the Umayyad dynasty, which governed the muslim community from 661 to 750. It was also a reaction to the many injustices of this dynasty…such as the usurpation of the position of Hasan, the son of Imam Ali, by Mu’awiya, the first Umayyad Caliph. This irreparable shift from a legitimate spiritual authority to hereditary royalty created in some people a desire to withdraw from worldly affairs”. The desire to redirect the spiritual emphasis from the mundane to the ascetic makes sense in a corrupt socio political climate. We continually see rejections or modifications of previous belief systems responding to one another again and again extending to contemporary times. Virtues such as altruism, humility and scrupulous adherence to the Law were preached by such important figurers as Hasan Basri from Basra. He supported the idea of moderate asceticism, however more radical factions formed that encouraged fully withdrawing from worldly affairs and to engage with society as little as possible, leaving wives and children behind. Another group, the Malamatis, had a related ideology based on anonymity, extending the strategy of removal practiced by Sufis to the extreme, aiming for an entirely internal, invisible spiritual battle. The practiced jihad as an inner combat against the ego . They did not even wear dress that differentiated them from other civilians. In the 9th century a group of Iraqi Sufis experimented with shifting their concentration to tasawwuf instead of zuhd , so in lieu of renunciation they sought an intimacy with God, to love him and know him.

Many of the old ascetic principals remained central to mystical life, such as poverty and the fear of god, but a new framework was established. This type of piety was a celebration and exploration. It produced innumerable intellectuals and poets such as Rumi and Khoja Akhment Yassawi. A famous mystic and feminist icon Rabi’a Adawiyya of Barsa sought a totally selfless love aimed solely at connecting with god. Her extreme devotion and piety was singularly tailored to her philosophy of Divine love. Mysticism , borne out of strict asceticism, had developed into a quest for searching for the nature of humanity and mastering Divine Love. There is less concern with attaining future paradise or avoiding hell but instead wholly committing the present existence to love of Allah. Sufism was proliferated through mystical orders where worshipers and intellectuals congregated. The inherent and total unity between humanity and the Divine is strongly supported by hadiths and Quranic passages such as the saying that “God is closer than your neck vein”. Through poetry and literature inspired by these themes mystical ideology spread around the world.