What is Sufism? | Nov 2008

FMBR Editorial: Nov, 2008

What is Sufism

William C. Gough and Mohammad Locks


This summer I went onto the Sufi web site of Shaykh Taner Ansari – a member of FMBR. The question that was being addressed was “What is Sufism?”

I responded by asking the question: How does Sufism address the issue of uncertainty in the universe? To the question I attached my FMBR editorial, The Trickster(www.fmbrmerge.sitedistrict.com/editoral/edit03_04/edit4-jan04.htm), which discusses how uncertainty has become a proven aspect of modern physics. The following is a thoughtful response from a Sufi living in Mexico, Mohammad Locks, which I believe will interest FMBR members. (Note: the following text has been edited for clarity).

Response from Mohammad Locks

Bill Gough wonders how Sufism addresses the issue of “uncertainty” in the universe and then he goes on to explain very nicely how Sufism deals with the question.

Physics and Sufism are basically the same thing, the only difference being the methodology. Sufism is the science of reality. When we explain what Sufism is to someone, we need to tell how Allah explained the realities of existence to one prophet after another – he didn’t explain or give him a “religion” but rather provided the science of how things work and how people can function best within that structure.

But then the prophet died and people invented what we know as religion and complicated things (Note: The Arabic word “din” in the Qur’an, which is most often translated as religion, really has a much broader meaning: it also means way of being or acting). But while he was alive the prophet taught the Truth in two ways: one way was through rules and rituals (which eventually became the formal religion) and the other way was to experience the reality of the truth, for those people who weren’t satisfied with second-hand information. It’s similar to Moses (peace be upon him), who came down from the mountain with the stone tablets and Ten Commandments (the formal religion), but who also brought another teaching (called variously oral, occult, esoteric), which is the science of the essence or deeper meaning of the superficial teaching of the “religion”. That teaching, which the prophets taught to their close companions, became Kabbalah, Gnosis, and now Sufism. This system was then passed on “orally” from teacher (Shaykh), to student (murid), to this day.


In formal religion, the information is exterior: the spoken word, books, and rituals. Although esoteric systems also take advantage of the exterior form (sharia), the information is essentially interior and passed from teacher to student by way of the heart. The “oral” part of the teaching is in the way of practices or methods by which the student can make the interior connection. Sufism and physics are part of the same thing, one being an extension of the other.

"Uncertainty" as an example

Take for example “uncertainty”. It has been proven in physics and other branches of science, such as meteorology, that nothing can be predicted with complete certainty due to the interconnectedness of everything, including the predictor and his intentions. 

That doesn’t mean that everything (or anything) is chaotic or that the universe doesn’t follow a perfectly organized plan, only that we don’t or can’t understand that plan completely. If everything was static for one moment, a scientist could predict with certainty a great number of things. But the world, universe, and existence are moving and changing constantly. Every movement causes a chain reaction that changes everything else such that, as hypothesized, the flapping of the wings of a butterfly in Timbuktu could cause a hurricane on the coast of New York.

The normal scientist receives his information through observation and experiment; the Sufi also observes and experiments but also learns to listen to his heart and receives guidance as well as information internally. Like the quantum physicist, the Sufi knows that the solidness and separation of human beings, as well as everything else, are an illusion –we are all connected and the only thing that separates us is our ego.

Thus, “uncertainty” is in fact an ideal Sufi state. Being uncertain is to accept Allah’s plan and be ready to adjust at a moment’s notice; to reject the urgings of the nafs (which are always certain). A Sufi is only certain that Allah is in control and that everything that happens is in his (our) best interest.

Mohammad Abdullah Locks al-Ansari (Mexico)

Bill Gough, FMBR Co-founder

To send comments by email regarding this editorial to Bill Gough click here .