Sufism and Way of the Fool

Sufism is a branch of Islam that claims a different interpretation of Quran and relies on the fact that you can extract many meanings from a text. I personally do not believe there is any hidden meaning embedded in Quran or Bible, but merely the interpretation of the learned initiates coming in later centuries.

With this perspective in mind, we can see this idea of claiming they also rely on Quran for guidance protected Sufis from being considered completely heretical  and killed. Yet, Islamic history is full of martyrdom stories of Sufis. Besides there are so many branches of Sufism that it is very hard to distinguish which branch has genuine being and information that authorities would not tolerate.

Here, I would like to make a connection between Way of the Fool and a specific kind of Sufi tradition. In this tradition, we have individuals who travel around their countries and live a life full of pain and suffering with very little material possessions. They preach tolerance and Unity of Being, meaning how Godhead resides in each created thing.

These people, at least in Anatolia, were called dervishes, and though they carry the same name as whirling dervishes, they were less respected by the society in comparison. They were often considered as crazy and foolish, but they carried their own foolish wisdom that would speak to the ordinary people. Another name they carried was Abdal, derived from arabic word abid which means servant or worshipper. In this case it means these dervishes were servants of Godhead and carry out Divine Will down here on earth.

This Abdal tradition in Anatolia consists of poets and learned man traveling around, teaching heresies in the eyes of orthodox Islam, but still gaining respect in the eyes of the people. There is a remarkable depth of poetry and everyday life wisdom coming from them that still influences the reader. And their foolish way looking at life along with their pantheist teachings lead them to be misunderstood and some of them were hunted down and executed for their foolish words.

An extreme example would be Mansur  al-Hallaj, who said ‘I am Truth!’ which implied that he was God himself. In addition, he had certain interpretations of holy books that were quite hard to swallow. In Islamic tradition, it is claimed that when Allah created Adam, he asked all his angels to worship him. Devil refused saying that Adam is created from earth and he is created from divine fire, so he would not worship this inferior creature. As a result, he was banished from the heaven and he will work until Judgement Day to force humanity towards evil and sin.

Mansur interprets this story a little differently. He says that God is the ultimate source of meaning and anything God creates is only a drop of this meaning. The biggest sin in Islam is to worship anyone or anything other than God and this wisdom is summarized in the term Tawhid which means oneness of God . When we humans worship our material possessions and desires, we are sinning. When Devil refused to worship Adam, he did it because he understood oneness of God better than anyone. Mansur says humans have a lot to learn from Devil when it comes to Tawhid.

Now we can see why he was a problem to the orthodoxy, but he goes even further. He says Devil made a pact with God. Devil said if he is to worship humans, first they need to prove themselves. Devil sworn to divert humans from God’s eternal Being with any distraction he can find. If, despite these obstacles, human beings can reach God, and if they act in accordance with oneness of God, that means they have awakened the God within them. They are no longer a seperate drop of the ocean, but now they are one with it. Then and only then Devil would stop his efforts in diverting man from God and he will also worship human being along with other angels.

Have you ever heard of something more Foolish than this? Devil is actually helping us to discover God we have within? Similar wisdom stories were common among the Abdal’s and maybe it should not surprise us to learn that Turkish word “Aptal” which means Fool is derived from Abdal. Is it not true that a servant of Divine Will who disregards his/her comfort  and well-being would be considered Foolish by our society today? Maybe our perception of how to experience and understand God has not changed one bit during this one thousand years…

On that note, it is appropriate to finish this topic with a song performed by a group called Abdal and written by a Turkish poet from Abdal tradition. It is about how useless it is to have material wealth, charm and beauty in this world where Death can take all of that from you in any second:

Gafil Gezme Saskin

While actual death is not so scary, we should all remember that what we have or seek for our desires are useless if we want to satisfy the desires of our soul. In that case, the song has the meaning that those of us who wants to die to our false self before our actual death should let go of these attachments that are not ours in the first place.


2 thoughts on “Sufism and Way of the Fool

  1. What is this site 😉 What a great article and as I learn more of Sufi culture my respect and adoration grows. Ah Rumi. All mystic paths seems to end in the same understanding.


  2. The Sufis are the Fools of the Beloved 🙂 ❤ And he, Jesus Christ, the Master of all Fools (peace and blessings be upon him), said: “'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'” — Matthew 18:3.


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