The early Sufis used to live in communities where they would farm together, or work copper together. Some would live within the community until they got married. Suffice it to say that social involvement and community were very important in Sufi practice both presently and in the past. Take a look at the following excerpt from the book The Sufi Orders in Islam by John Spencer Trimingham:
and that the initial organization of the religious orders owes much to that of the guilds, and that the tariwas sanctify such secular associations.Every form of social life embodies itself in associations and in a religious culture the need for acting together for what we call secular purposed is given a sacred character by religion. A particular guild and its members tended to be linked with a particular tariqa and saintnd saint. At initiations and other ceremionies, religious rites were the predominant feature and it was behind the banner of that tariqa that the guild members proceeded ….
According to some scholars both the formation of Guilds and religious order in Medieval Europe were inspired by these sufi communities. While I dont propose to get involved in a history lesson, I wanted to illustrate how important this sense of community was to sufism and its evolution.
The Word futuwwa
I have taken the following excerpt from Wikipedia to talk again about the the role of community. There are more specific examples I will site but I wanted to really establish how important community was.
Futuwwa is a Sufi term that has some similarities to chivalry and virtue. It was also a name of ethical urban organizations or “guilds” in mediaeval Muslim realms that emphasised honesty, peacefulness, gentleness, generosity, avoidance of complaint and hospitality in life. Through membership of a futuwwa order, artisans and craftsmen were linked in a social connection that stabilized local communities and balanced the power of the aristocracy. Some were the equivalent of trades-guilds, constituted with a sufi ideology along with preference for self-government. Their precise historical origins are obscure.
This work still continues. Once a week some dervishes come together to clean the Sufi house before our meetings. We also do service projects together in our community. There is always an emphasis on community and doing things together no matter how small.
While on the one hand being in a group allows us to check our ego’s it really teaches us patience I feel and it evens out some other aspects of the day to day demands of the path. Sometimes as some inner changes start to make themselves more and more felt in our daily lives, there is this propensity towards isolation which can be detrimental to continued spiritual growth. Community is an indispensable part of one’s spiritual search and practice to say the least.
Also I have seen at least in America, that many of us are taken by the beauty of sufi poetry. We no matter how much we try, get fooled I feel the poetry. There are no lines about the loneliness of the path, no lines about the pain and many other things. I think it’s quite easy to get caught in saying beautiful flowery phrases, to talk about the Beloved, to talk about love, and like cool pictures of kitten and puppies and anything that resemble a heart on Facebook or other social media site.
Working in a community for a community is in many ways a corrective to this propensity to get caught up in the system of emotional stimulus that a lot of sufi poetry have become an vehicle for. Again not that that is wrong, but it can be a rather serious barrier to spiritual growth. And rightly so looking at modern life it would be wrong to deny a person the right to surround themselves with whatever makes them happy. A teacher of mine used to say: ” books can make a great door stop, imagine though what doors you could keep open and open if you really read the book “
Community in the Quran
It goes without saying that the Quran serves as the inspiration for a lot of sufi practice. let me share with you one example:
And to you We have sent this Book
of the Truth, confirming the truth
of whatever remains of earlier revelations
and guarding what is true within.
Judge in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high,
and do not follow erring views,
forsaking the truth that has come to you.
For every one of you have
We designated a law and a way of life.
And if God had so willed,
He could surely have made you all one single community:
but He willed it otherwise in order to test you
by means of what He has bestowed on you.
Strive, then, with one another in doing good!
Your goal is God;
and then, He will make you understand
the truth of everything in which you have differed.
[Surah al-Ma'idah 5:48]
I am not a Quranic scholar, and I didn’t grow up reading it at all but I can say that there seems to be a precedence established in the passage above that alludes to quite clearly the importance of not only community but the diversity of communities. Striving to serve each other despite our personal differences is always trumpetted in the media. However this sense of other seems to be referred to only on a personal level. There isn’t this sense of service at a communal level. It’s not so much we as a community lets help another community of people
What do you feel? What community are you a part of ?