Islam, as a religion, is divided into two different sects, Sunni and Shi'i. These divisions have their own separate values and rituals that create an unconquerable schism between them. The gap, however, is somewhat bridged by a twist on the Islamic faith known as Sufism. The mystic ways of the Sufi society make it very appealing to both Sunnis and Shiites, not to mention the newcomers to the Islamic faith. Sufism uses the quality of unification and the quality of appeal to make it one of the strongest aspects of Islam.
Sufism was founded on the belief that Muslims could obtain a 'one-on-one'; relationship with God through mystical practices. Mysticism is defined as 'a particular method of approach to Reality making use of intuitive and emotional spiritual faculties which are generally dormant and latent unless called into play through training under guidance.'; Since mysticism is connected with many other religions also, the Sufis had to be extremely careful to be under 'guidance'; at all times. They prefer the word guidance to the word teaching because they believe that the sought-after relationship with God can be reached only through personal experience.
The original Sufis, though they seem far from the orthodox views, maintained a very close tie with original Islamic doctrine. Their differences were considerable, but the link with orthodoxy was 'guaranteed by their acceptance of the law and ritual practices of Islam.';
The Sufis believe that a person's soul abides with God before it ever inhabits the body of man. This connection is the reason for all Sufi practice. Their rituals and ceremonies are an attempt to reconnect their soul with God, its original keeper. This pursuit of God also leads Sufis to believe in a pursuit of ecstasy, which can be reached through repeated convocations, breathing exercises, and chants, all of which are accompanied by vocal and/or instrumental music. This ecstasy requires freedom from conscious thought, which Sufis believe can be attained through music.
Although Sufism was a response to communal worship, they have developed a form of communal worship to help each other discover God. The Sufis sit in a circle around the choir, which is also in a circle around the Master. They begin to chant slowly and quietly with very little movement. Then, the Master encourages them to the next stage with some sort of ejaculation, be i...
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...nlike traditional Islam, opens its doors to women as active participants in the religious activities. The women are allowed to play roles in the choirs of the religious ceremonies as well as participate directly as a devotee to the faith. Until this point, Sunni and Shi'i women were allowed only to play very small roles, if any at all, in society as a whole. The Sufis, on the other hand, were more than happy to allow women to carry on the most important duties of the faith, which had previously been assigned to men alone.
The Sufi religion is one of many diversities. It obviously strays from the roots of orthodox Islam, but at the same time, it holds very close ties to the original plans laid out by the prophet Mohammed. Its appeal lies in the fact that it is somewhat universal through its mysticism, but it is very strict on the rules of Islam. It opens doors to Sunnis, Shiites, and outsiders. It allows for near equality for Islamic women, and it leaves the attainment of a devout relationship with God to all humans. The practically worldwide bonds that Sufism creates allow it to be on the strongest aspects of the Islamic faith today and in days past.