Modern men and women are in search of meaningful existence as they encounter materialist culture, which consumes their inner peace and sense of wholeness and integrity. Human life is full of challenges. But of all the challenges that confront humanity, it is the loss of social interconnectedness that breeds loneliness and extreme forms of self-indulgence. People are searching for a path and a teacher who treads that path and is qualified to call others to follow it. In the growing literature on Sufism, M. Fethullah Gulen’s book makes the search for that inner tranquility possible, because it is the authentic voice of a master who has helped hundreds of people reach that goal.
Gulen’s book promises to show that Path by describing it and through the example of a teacher who personifies the human struggle for perfection. It is no ordinary path that the book under review describes. It is the Sufi path that leads an aspirant to the goal of perfecting oneself by conquering the lower self and orienting it toward the Self: God. Sufism teaches a moral process that must be undertaken by all who seek to be purified and admitted into the state of perfected personhood. Gulen takes the aspirant through this journey of self-discipline to attain the self- hood, in which God reflects His own attributes. This is the journey that is willingly undertaken to become a mirror that reflects Divine qualities as they are lived in human society-compassion and love, forgiveness and magnanimity.
In the chapter on the origins of Sufism, Gulen does not simply delineate the historical development of the spiritual movement in Islam. He also engages the reader, in a style that befits his own position as a practicing master, by anchoring Sufism appropriately in the Qur’an and Sunna and showing the indispensable connection between the Sufism and the Shari’ah. The goals of the Sufi path and the Shari’ah are identical in the sense that Islam, as a religion, inculcates virtues that lead to obedience of the Merciful Creator, with a deeper spiritual and intellectual awareness and commitment. There is a realistic assessment of human religiosity in the section in which Gulen states that Sufis divide people into three groups: perfected ones, aspirants, and lay believers who “cling heavily to the earth.”
The Sufi path, that begins with “turning toward God,” lists all the states and stages in the psychological and spiritual development of the God-loving and human-caring personality of a novice. Whether it is a virtue or a state, Gulen describes it in detail to make it accessible for the one who wishes to understand these stations directly derived from the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunna. The relevance of each state is underscored by the poems of some Sufi masters, especially those of Rumi, that have captured the essential meaning of these states in human spiritual and moral development.
The arrangement of these stations is not hierarchical, in that they do not require the aspirant to go through the path in the order adopted by Gulen. Rather, the author seeks to provide each station and stage as a point of entry on the path, which resembles a river that can be entered from any point and journeyed to reach the Final Source: God. In a way, Gulen follows Mawlana Rumi in inviting the aspirant at any stage of his or her spiritual development to join the travelers on the path of God’s Love through love for God’s creation and creatures-the life of harmony and peace. The book is a welcome, original addition to the growing literature on the Islamic Sufi tradition.
Department of Religious Studies
University of Virginia