Shiʻism and sufism: Their relationship in essence and in history: Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Religious Studies 6 (3):229-242 (1970)
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Abstract

In discussing the intricate and somewhat complex relationship between Shiʻism and Sufism, both in principle and essence or in their metahistorical reality as well as in time and history, we need hardly concern ourselves with the too often repeated criticism made by certain orientalists who would doubt the Islamic and Quranic character of both Shiʻism and Sufism. Basing themselves on an a priori assumption that Islam is not a revelation and, even if a religion, is only a simple ‘religion of the sword’ for a simple desert people, such would-be critics brush aside as un-Islamic all that speaks of gnosis and esotericism, pointing to the lack of historical texts in the early period as proof of their thesis, as if the non-existent in itself could disprove the existence of something which may have existed without leaving a written trace for us to dissect and analyse today. The reality of Shiʻism and Sufism as integral aspects of the Islamic revelation is too blinding to be neglected or brushed aside by any would-be historical argument. The fruit is there to prove that the tree has its roots in a soil that nourishes it. And the spiritual fruit can only be borne by a tree whose roots are sunk in a revealed truth. To deny this most evident of truths would be as if we were to doubt the Christian sanctity of a St Francis of Assisi because the historical records of the first years of the Apostolic succession are not clear. What the presence of St Francis proves is in reality the opposite fact, namely, that the Apostolic succession must be real even if no historical records are at hand. The same holds true mutatis mutandis for Shiʻism and Sufism. In this paper in any case we will begin by taking for granted the Islamic character of Shiʻism and Sufism and upon this basis delve into their relationship. In fact Shiʻism and Sufism are both, in different ways and on different levels, intrinsic aspects of Islamic orthodoxy, this term being taken not only in its theological sense but in its universal sense as tradition and universal truth contained within a revealed form

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