Sufism

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Open—Year

Critics of Sufism, both Muslim and non-Muslim, claim that many of its teachings and practices seriously distort the Islamic message to the point where some declare Sufis heretical. Many of its adherents and admirers, on the other hand, believe that Sufism represents the very core and heartbeat of Islam. These disagreements are ultimately traceable to different assumptions concerning the nature of reality and knowledge. This course will explore this controversy, which continues to the present day, by examining the distinctive doctrines of Sufism on sainthood, ethics, mystical states, the nature of the self, and the relationship between the divine and human. We will look at examples of the more obvious points of conflict, such as Sufi notions regarding the importance of passion in spirituality and the portrayal of Satan as a tragic lover of God. Reading the writings of Muslim critics of Sufism, we will examine the criteria they use to distinguish between what they judge to be praiseworthy, neutral, or reprehensible aspects of Sufi thought and practice. We will study the practices of Sufism, including meditation techniques, communal structures and networks, and creative expression in music and poetry. Finally, we will explore the popularity of Sufism today in Europe and America and its role in conversions to Islam.