In February 2011, WORDE participated in the Guerrand-Hermes Forum for the Interreligious Study of Mysticism and Spirituality.
WORDE President Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi and WORDE Specialist Shaykh Hisham Kabbani joined leaders from major world religions in Marrakech, Morocco to explore the potential of spirituality and mysticism as a means to advance interfaith relations. The group determined that since mysticism and spirituality occupy an important place in the lives of believers of all faiths, it should actively be used to build bridges of mutual understanding with people from different faith backgrounds. It was also suggested that spirituality and mysticism are useful to combat extremism because people who have spiritual and mystical lives share something in common, which allows them to humanize and build compassion for each other.
One of the important contributions of the discussion was the fact that sharing and borrowing have taken place between different religions for centuries. Throughout the four-day forum, the participants uncovered common spiritual ground between different faiths by sharing spiritual practices with each other. The group joined Shaykh Hisham Kabbani as he made a pilgrimage to the seven saints of Marrakech. It is a tradition of old that the visitor to Marrakech first visits these seven saints and only then takes up his business. Later, the group joined him in a session of Islamic meditative chanting called dhikr.
Prior to the conference, participants were asked to submit position papers that would set the stage for the forum in Marrakech. The following are excerpts from Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi’s paper which explored the intersections of Islamic spirituality and mysticism, and their capacity for promoting interfaith relations.
“Sufism: Islamic Spirituality and Mysticism in Action”
A Position Paper for the Guerrand-Hermes Forum for the Interreligious Study of Mysticism and Spirituality
By Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi
Islam conceives of man possessing both corporeal and spiritual dimensions. At the very core of Islamic belief is the development of the spirit and its relationship to God. The spiritual dimension of Islam is manifested in Islamic mysticism or Sufism. Today, the term Sufism invokes images of whirling dervishes in Turkey, illuminated Persian poetry, and colorful celebrations at saints’ shrines across South Asia. Although numerous practices and traditions have emerged over time, Sufism has always existed as an integral component of Islam.
Those on the Sufi path often seek a Shaykh, or a teacher to guide them through practices and spiritual tests that transform the heart and soul by God’s divine attributes. 99 of these attributes (including Compassion, Love, and Kindness) are enumerated in the Quran. Over time, the Sufi disciple’s love for God extends to the whole creation. Once the realm of the spiritual transcends the realm of the physical, the apparent differences between humanity, religion and society cease and the disciple begins to indiscriminately see God’s beauty, His goodness, and His attributes in everyone. In essence, the Sufi begins to celebrate and accept – not just tolerate – humanity’s differences.
By cultivating respect and love for humanity, Islamic spirituality and mysticism foster a sense of collective responsibility and social wellbeing for all. For Sufis, it is imperative to go beyond “doing onto others as you would like others to do onto you,” by sacrificing one’s own interests for that of others. As a result, since the early days of Islam, Sufis have established social welfare institutions and centers in economically disadvantaged areas. This call to social welfare can be used to advance relations between faiths.
There are a number of practices of spirituality and mysticism that can be shared and borrowed across different faiths which can enhance interfaith understanding. For example, several mystical traditions observe some form of meditation. Sufi meditation or dhikr Allah, takes the seeker to travel from this world of illusion to the Divine Presence. It can involve several components including constantly striving to be mindful of God, a repetition or invocation of a mystical formula or divine name, or a temporary state (hal) in which awareness of God overwhelms us, and we are divorced of all worldly concerns. Breathing exercises which form the core of most mystical exercises can be shared across faith traditions.
Spiritual retreats or seclusion are another common practice in mystical traditions. Seclusion is a time to practice the remembrance of the divine. Some faiths model seclusion practices after Prophet Moses’ retreat on Mount Sinai. Similarly, many Sufis practice a forty-day meditative seclusion, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his seclusion in the cave of Mount Hira.
Fasting is another practice in almost all religions and spiritual traditions. Fasting is intended to control one’s physical desires, diminish the ego and become more God-conscious. Fasting in Islam is carried out in the month of Ramadan during which Muslims abstain from food, drink and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset each day for one lunar month. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to fast for days or weeks at a time throughout the year. This practice is still carried out by many ascetic Sufis.
Spiritual healing is another spiritual practice that is shared across faiths. The lata’if , or the Nine Points of the self, are related to the chakras of Kundalini Yoga, which is a central part of both Hindu and Buddhist mysticism, and to the nodes of the Tree of Life, a key concept in Jewish Kabalistic spirituality. The lata’if are points of maximum energy intake and are instrumental in maintaining the body’s energy balance. Sufis believe that illnesses can be treated by activating the appropriate lateefa.
Artistic expressions of spirituality can also be shared and borrowed across faiths. Islamic traditions of geometric arts, and calligraphy are immensely popular, along with devotional music and dance or sacred movement. Poetry can also unite people from different faiths under universal themes of love and peace. It is no wonder then, that the famous Sufi master and poet of the thirteenth century, Mevlana Jalal al-Din Rumi once said:
O Muslims, what do I have to say? I do not know myself whether I am a Christian, a Jew, a Zoroastrian or a Muslim. And I do not know myself if I am eastern or western, upper or lower. And I do not know myself if I am from earth or I am from on high. And I do not know myself if I am Indian, Chinese, Bulgarian, Iraqi or Khorasani. I do not know myself if I even have an appearance or not, whether I have existence or not, if have a location or not. I do not know myself if I am a body or a soul. But what I do know is that my soul is the soul of souls. When I put my name with my Lord’s, I saw the universe as one. I see One, I sing One, I know One and I read One.”
 Shams Tabriz, Diwan, (translated by R. A. Nicholson), p. 344.