By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©1999
Sufism seeks the union of God and man.



Info at a Glance

Name: Sufism.

Purpose: The union of God and man.

Founder: Uncertain.

Source of authority: From one perspective the only authority is individual experience, but Sufi literature (a product of Islam, Hinduism and mysticism) is a reliable guide.

Examples of occult potential: Psychic powers, trance states, possession (although psychic powers are a natural by-product of Sufi practices, some groups do not stress them).

Attitude toward Christianity: Rejecting.

Note: Defining the whole of Sufism in uniform doctrinal terms is impossible. Sufis may make claims for their beliefs or non-beliefs, the accuracy of which may rest upon contradictory traditions, theology, mysticism or mere semantics. Some Islamic traditions within Sufism variously oppose certain Hindu precepts. However, since Sufism is composed of both these religions, others may combine them. Typically, it is Hinduism, not Islam, that gains the upper hand, at least doctrinally if not in practice.

The eclectic and inclusive philosophy of Sufism presents a related difficulty, illustrated by Indries Shah. Possibly the leading exponent of mystical Sufism in the West, he asserts, “Is there a conflict between Sufism and other methods of thought? There cannot be, because Sufism embodies all methods of thought” (Indries Shah, The Way of Sufi, pp. 286-287). According to Shah, the problem of defining Sufism lies not with the internal inconsistencies of Sufism but with the obstinate attitude of the non-Sufis. “So many people profess themselves bewildered by Sufi lore that one is forced to the conclusion that they want to be bewildered” (ibid., p. 9). The problem, then, is not due to Sufi secrecy, inscrutability or mysticism but the “ignorance” of the unenlightened. Since Shah maintains that “the knowledge of ordinary people” is not legitimate, one can perhaps understand his position (ibid., p. 238). Thus, one cannot study Sufism “from the single standpoint that it is a mystical system designed to produce ecstasy and based on theological concepts”; and Sufism will not be truly understood “until more scholars avail themselves of Sufi interpretive methods” (ibid., p. 33; cf. p. 34). In other words, we cannot know what “true” Sufism is unless we become mystics also. Shah’s approach is typically Sufi.

Doctrinal Summary

God: Ineffable.

Jesus: A Sufi master (murshid).

Salvation: The divine aspect of Jesus or (sometimes) the divine part of all great religious teachers.

Man: By psycho-spiritual techniques to achieve mystical union with God. Inwardly man is divine.

The Bible: One of many scriptures; not particularly important.

Death: A spiritual advance.

Heaven and Hell: Mental conditions; temporary experiences or places.

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