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The Role of the Sufi Centre within the Muslim World

For Muslims generally, and Sufis in particular, the Sufi Centre is often the heart of a community across the Muslim world. Known variously as a zawiya, ribat, khanaqah, tekke, and dargah, the development of these institutions shows some historical diversity that has converged into a soteriologically significant place for individual development and congregational worship. In tracking the historical development of these institutions, this paper highlights how the once literal meanings have retained symbolic significance in referencing the functions of a Sufi Centre. There have been some scholarly attempts to make specific distinctions between these institutions. However, the convergence with regard to function and content has meant the differences are often indicative of location and/or cultural heritage, and the titles used to refer to a Sufi Centre have become almost equivalent.

The Place of the Sufi Centre within Islam

The Sufi Centre occupies a significant place within Islam generally and the Sufi community in particular. For the general population, a Sufi Centre may be seen as a place wherein people gather and worship. For the adherents of Sufism, the Sufi Centre is a transformative space wherein teaching is transmitted, subtle energy (baraka) is concentrated, and soteriological development is intensified. This paper is divided into three sections. The first section will provide a historical overview of the diversified institutions that mutually developed into the Sufi Centre. The second section will detail what a Sufi Centre ideally contains and how this informs its functionality. The third section will explore how companionship (suhba) is an important aspect of the Sufi Centre and how this can contribute to an intensified soteriological development for the adherents of Sufism.

Supplication (du’a) and Slavehood (ubudiyyah)

Du’a or supplication has a multifunctional role within the individual’s soteriological development. One key function of du’a is the development and refinement of the individual’s etiquette (adab) in their approach to, and relationship with, Allah. This initially manifests in an understanding of the individual’s dependence on Allah and their relationship with the Divine name the Provider (al-Razzaq). As this relationship deepens, the individual begins to manifest and develop their sense of slavehood (ubudiyyah). This, in turn, as the individual develops soteriologically, changes the relationship between the slave (abd) and their Lord (rubb) such that the du’a becomes a means of intimate discourse (munajat).

The Subtle Centres of the Heart

Besides being known as the subtle centres of the heart, the lata’if are also referred to as the senses of spiritual perception. The physical heart is the centre of the physical body connecting to all areas of the body through the blood. Similarly, the spiritual organ is the centre of the human being. Thus, the heart can be understood as the centre of our spiritual awareness. Just as the human has five physical senses to access and understand the material world, so too does the spiritual centre have five senses.

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