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Spirituality in Modern Civilization

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carnation

We have been asked to address the topic of “Spirituality in Modern Civilization.” Such topics are typically chosen by professors who find such combinations of concepts catchy, flashy and even a little spicy. However, when I hear the term “modern civilization” bandied about, I often wonder what it really means. After all, did people in the past consider themselves backwards, out-of-date, ancient, or behind the times? Did they consider their time uncivilized, looking towards our era as one in which they would finally be “modern?” Was not the time of our Prophet (s) also a “modern” one for those who were blessed to live during it? I propose that “modernity” exists in every era, depending on the circumstances of the time, and thus can be applied equally to each of them as well.

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The Sufis – Enlightened Community Builders

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Sufi Shaykh

Sufism created community. In every age and era since the time of Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, to whom all Sufis look as inspiration, role model and guide, the Sufis have sought to establish the infrastructure that, in modern parlance, would be termed privatized social welfare. It was through institutions designed not only to serve the destitute, the homeless and the ill, but whose overall purpose was to redirect the society as a whole to the goal of uplifting the people spiritually, psychologically, morally and physically, that the Sufis were able to have a immense impact on the societies in which they functioned.

The primary focus of the Sufi tradition was to establish societal order based on a hierarchical pattern of organization. Such a hierarchy governed Central Asia, South Asia, North Africa and most other areas of the Islamic world by means of Sufi societal infrastructure and institutions.

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Sufism and the Perennial Conflict of Good and Evil

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Evil has been a problem for mankind since the advent of the first humans on earth. Cain killed his own brother, Abel, so that his ritual sacrifice might seem more worthy in the eyes of Allah — proof that the outward forms of religiosity are not sufficient to check the negative traits of the lower self. More is required to purify the self from these evil impulses. Abel had developed this quality, as evidenced by his refusal to harm his brother even when faced with the threat of death. His was the state of purified spiritual character. That character is not developed in a vacuum, but requires a focused discipline to achieve. It is a discipline that was developed and refined by subsequent generations into a systematic path of self-analysis and self-correction that became known as the “Science of the Self,” or Sufism.

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Emphasis on Art

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Through Artworkthe Sufi emphasis on the figurative, art became a metaphor for the Path to the Divine, and in its various forms took on a life of their own, expressing the yearning of the seeker, the satisfaction of the benign self, and the passion of the lovers. Poetry, an art form dear to the early Arab Muslims, grew into a particularly potent vehicle for expressing the Sufi devotions. Sufism’s social calling found expression in the sciences, particularly in alchemy, astronomy and in seeking to heal, through medicine, massage and natural healing methods.

As with all things, the openness of the Sufis allowed the variety and diversity of the many cultures it encountered to enter, expand and decorate the expressions of Sufi art and works of social welfare. Similarly, in the field of philosophy and intellect, the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, the Jewish sages, the Zoroastrians and the Buddhists all found a “second home” within the Sufi camp. It was in this spirit of acceptance that an eclectic milieu emerged that allowed individuality to flourish while, at the same time and under the careful guidance and wisdom of the Sufi masters, maintaining society’s focus on a common, final goal.

 

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