This lesson will seek to explain the Islamic offshoots of Sufism and the Bahai Movement. In doing so, it will highlight both the similarities and differences in reference to Orthodox Islam and its teachings on the Prophet Muhammad and the Koran.
Most world religions have different sects or branches, each with their own school of thought. For instance, Western Christianity has branched off into Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, and Evangelicalism, just to name a few.
In today's lesson, we're going to turn our eyes a bit more to the East and use this concept of religious branches to discuss the offshoots of Islam, specifically Sufism and the Bahai Movement. As we do this, we'll need to keep in mind that much of the information about these offshoots is a bit contested. In fact, many orthodox Muslims, or followers of Islam, would denounce both of these groups as heresy, with no rightful place in pure Islamic society.
Adding to this, we also need to note that even some of the historical evidence behind these offshoots is sketchy at best. For this reason, we'll try to stick to the most agreed-upon aspects of these faiths as we give a very brief synopsis of Sufism and the Bahai Movement.
In doing this, there's one main point I'd like you to grasp. Unlike Orthodox Islam, Sufism and the Bahai Movement both believe that Muhammad's revelation is incomplete. This is in direct opposition to the Islamic belief that the Prophet Muhammad received the final and complete revelation from Allah, Islam's deity. If you can keep this in mind, we'll be in pretty good shape.
Now, onto some details.
Stated very plainly, Sufism is defined by many as the mystical sect of Islam, believed by most to have originated sometime during the 8th century. If you can remember this, you'll also be in pretty good shape to answer the most commonly asked question on the topic of Sufism.
To add to your knowledge, Sufism is considered an offshoot of Islam because it upholds the validity of Islam's holy texts, known as the Koran. Like Orthodox Muslims, Sufism believes the Koran to be the direct words of Allah spoken to the Prophet Muhammad. However, with this similarity, there are also some pretty big differences.
Being very hard to understand by our more Western mindset, Sufism is the belief that all humans can gain spiritual liberty through revelations about and from God. Being very mystical, it doesn't rely on intellectual proof or logical reasoning. It's more the vague idea that contemplation and meditation can lead one to God. It's the idea that God is still in the business of revealing Himself to individuals. This concept places Sufism in direct contradiction to Orthodox Islam, which, like we mentioned earlier, firmly holds that Allah gave his complete and final revelation to the Prophet Muhammad.
Adding to the chasm between Orthodox Islam and Sufism, many early Sufis, or followers of Sufism, began incorporating the practice of Christian monasticism, or simply becoming monks, into their faith. This is in direct violation of the Islamic sacred Hadith texts, which are believed to be the actual teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. In the collection of the Hadith, Muhammad specifically warns against the practice of monasticism.
Making the gap even greater, many of the more liberal Sufis allowed other faiths to meld with their own. For instance, being very mystical, many Sufis adopted the Buddhist concept that all humans are part of a cosmic universal truth. In other words, some followers of Sufism began to teach that there isn't really just one god. Instead, they began to worship more of a god-like force that they believed all humans could be a part of through meditation and prayer.
Unfortunately for Sufi and Muslim relations, this flew (and still flies) directly in the face of the Muslim belief that Allah and Allah alone is God. Being so opposed to this concept, many Sufis throughout history have been accused of blasphemy, or speaking against sacred things, by Orthodox Muslims. So serious is this charge that some Sufis have been killed for these beliefs.
With all these differences in mind, it's not too difficult to see why many Orthodox Muslims deny Sufism as the mystical sect of their faith. Despite this, Sufism still has a presence in the East as well as the West.
Next we move to the Bahai Movement, another offshoot of sorts of Islam.
Originating in 19th century Iran, the Bahai movement is based on the teachings of Mirza Ali Muhammad. As the founder of the Bahai Movement, Mirza Ali Muhammad was originally a follower of Islam and its sacred texts. However, when he began teaching that he also had received revelations from Allah, things got a little heated between him and Orthodox Muslims.
When he began asserting that his teachings were equal to the Koran and the Hadith, let's just say those were fighting words.
Soon, the followers of the Mirza Ali Muhammad were facing great persecution at the hands of the Muslim community. Many were killed and many were exiled into foreign lands. In fact, Mirza Ali Muhammad was himself executed for being a heretic.
Despite its leader's death, and the persecution of his followers, the movement continued to grow. In place of Mirza Ali Muhammad, one of his followers, known to history as Bahaullah, picked up the mantle and took the helm. Interestingly, it is from this disciple of Mirza Ali Muhammad, and not the original founder, that the Bahai movement gets its name.
Under the leadership of Bahaullah, the Bahai movement continued to grow. Despite the fact that it is now outlawed in Iran, the Bahai movement of today has a strong presence in places like Israel, Africa, and even the United States.
Like Christianity, the faith of Islam has broken into sects and offshoots. Two of the most controversial, yet well-known, of its offshoots are Sufism and the Bahai Movement. Unlike Orthodox Islam, these offshoots believe that Muhammad's teachings were not the final revelations of Allah.
Sufism, known as the mystical branch of Islam, believes that all humans can be spiritually liberated through revelations from and about God. Believed to have originated sometime during the eighth century, Sufism contradicts Orthodox Islam by incorporating the practice of monasticism as well as the Buddhist belief that all humans are sort of a divine whole.
Like Sufism, the Bahai Movement also contradicts the teachings of Orthodox Islam. Originating in 19th century Iran, the Bahai Movement is based on the teachings of Mirza Ali Muhammad, but it is named after one of his followers, Bahaullah.
Unlike Orthodox Islam, the Bahai Movement asserts that Mirza Ali Muhammad also received divine revelation. Making it further opposed to Islam, it also asserts that his teachings were equal to the Koran, the sacred texts of Islam.
Despite the persecution it has historically faced, the Bahai Movement, like Sufism, continued to grow. Although it is now outlawed in Iran, it has a presence in places like Israel and the United States.
By the end of this lesson, you might achieve these goals:
- Describe the Sufism movement and recall what religions it is influenced by
- Discuss the history of the Bahai movement
- Compare and contrast the Sufism and Bahai movements with Orthodox Islam