Thursday, June 20, 2013


I took this grainy photo from my cellphone a few months ago at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. I had put the two labels together and my friend watched me do so with amusement. I later put the photo on facebook and it got a fair amount of attention. Months later, I've decided to actually write about why I took this photo.

I've been interested in what is known as Sufism for some time and I'll be honest, I still don't really know what it is. What exactly is Sufism, and what makes someone a Sufi? Does someone have to be part of an Order to be a Sufi? Is it something that someone studies, or is it more of a state of mind? And does someone have to study in order to achieve that state of mind?

I've been having these questions (and other questions about Islam) for a couple years or so now, and along the way I've been to some Sufi gatherings, in an attempt to learn a bit more, and I've continued along in my journey.

What I realized is, is that I kept coming back to this same thought: aren't Sufis basically just trying to get closer to God? Various orders have various means of doing so, but isn't it all just essentially a way to seek God, to become closer to God? And isn't that what Muslims do in general, attempt to become closer to God, through actions and rememberance?

So, why separate the two? If being a Sufi is about seeking to become closer to God, and if just being a Muslim in general is also about seeking to become closer to God, does this make all Muslims Sufis? And if so, then the terms are just redundant at that point aren't they? Thus there's no need to differentiate between Sufis and all other Muslims, since we're all trying to become closer to God. Or we can keep the labels to differentiate between practices if needed, but basically the reason for the practices are the same: becoming closer to Allah.

And so that was my main reason for putting the two labels of Islam and Sufism together on this bookcase at B&N. Because they're not separate religions, Sufism is a part of Islam and indeed I believe, is just Islam.

I could be wrong. I could be very, very wrong and maybe I don't understand Sufism at all. But at least for me, Islam is about our relationship with God, and our relationships with people. And with our relationship with God, we seek to become closer to God. It's not just about the rules, which people get hung up on, both Muslim and non-Muslim. It's about showing gratitude and respect and using the "rules" or commands, such as praying 5 times a day and abstaining from certain things, to show that gratitude and respect to God, and coupled with sincere intentions and reflections inshallah we can become closer to our Creator. And I think that's what Sufis are doing, and so perhaps all Muslims are Sufi Muslims, or we are all just Muslims.

Please feel free to agree or disagree with me. I'm writing and putting this out there in an attempt to gather some of my thoughts and come to a better understanding myself. 

** In case you're wondering, I started using the term "Sufismo" (Sufism in Spanish) a few years ago. I don't speak any Spanish at all. I took a class in Mexican and Brazilian Cinema in college and heard words like "Mexicanismo"and "Machismo" all the time and they got stuck in my head, and so I started to say other words like that, like Sufismo.