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Nguyễn Ngọc Châu




In Islamic doctrine, exoterism is "es-shariyah" i.e. the "great road" common to all people, and esoterism is both "el-haqîqah" i.e. the inner "truth" accessible only to the elite having the necessary capability and ability to acquire its knowledge and the "tarîqah", the "way" or "path" leading from the shariyah to the haqîqah.

The shariyah is the religious part of Islam, its social and legislative side, which can be defined as the rule for human being action, while the haqîqah is pure knowledge and the tarîqah, the means to acquire such knowledge.

Islamic esoterism, which is composed of both haqîqah and tarîqah, is called in Arabic "et-taçawwuf". For René Guénon, this word can be applied to any esoteric and initiatic doctrine since its good translation is "initiation", while the name "Sufism" applies precisely to the only Islamic esoterism.


Sufism comes from "çufi" which appears under the califat of the Abbasids in the early 9th century, therefore relatively late. The word çufi would come from the Arabic "çuf" which means "wool" to designate the coarse woollen garments of the Nestorians monks adopted by some Muslim mystics having ascetic practices or from the word "safa" which means "pure".

According to René Guénon, its meaning should be understood from the addition of the numerical values of the letters with which this word is constituted, the result being the same number than the one of "El-Hekmah el-ilahiyah" which means "divine Wisdom". "The real çufi, wrote R.Guénon, is therefore the one who has such Wisdom, he is "el-ârif bi'Llah" i.e. "the one who knows by God", because He can be known only by Himself, and this is the supreme and total degree in the knowledge of the haqîqah".

Sufism arose when small circles of pious Muslims, reacting against the growing worldliness of the Islamic community, began to emphasize the inner life of the spirit and moral purification. During the 9th century Sufism developed into a mystical doctrine, with direct communion or even ecstatic union with God as its ideal. This aspiration to mystical union with God violated the orthodox Islamic commitment to monotheism, and in 922 al Hallaj, who was accused of having asserted his identity with God, was executed in Baghdad.

Rejected by traditional Islam until the 12th century, Sufism was finally accepted by the Islamic world, thanks to the efforts and the writings of well-known Sunnites philosophers like le theologian al-Ghazali whose aim was to reconcile Sufism and the coranic law. He de-emphasized the pantheistic aspects of Sufism, maintaining, on one hand, that the individual should strive to attain the Divine Presence, but, on the other hand, that the good Sufi must live in peace with all other people of the community. His interpretation of Islam, which stressed the personal, emotional relationship of the individual to God, was accepted by the Islamic community within a century after his death.


Characteristics of Sufism showed great similarly with the ones of the ascetic and mystical non-Islamic traditions from the period before Islam, such as nestorianism of the oriental christianism, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, manicheism and Buddhism, which were present in the region when appeared the first Sufis.

Sufism is a "set" of various very different elements, a variety of traditions and customs. The shariyah, the "great road " accessible to all, is like the circumference, while the haqîqah, the unique and immovable truth, is the centre. To move from the circumference to the centre, it is necessary to follow one of the radiuses, i.e. the tariqah, the path accessible to a small number of people, the initiates. There is a lot of radius and therefore a lot of tariqah, which lead to the same haqîqah. "Ways to knowledge are as numerous as the children of Adam", while "Et tawhidu wahidun", i.e. "Unity doctrine is unique".

All Sufis believe to possess the necessary potential to access to the spiritual union with God and therefore to the intuitive knowledge of the haqîqah, the divine truth, by effort of contemplation and meditation. This faculty is a grace given by God to the Sufi, but the spiritual path i.e. the tariqah followed by the latter is full of stages (maqamat) (at last seven: repentance, abstinence, renunciation, poverty, patience, trust in God, and acquiescence to the will of God): and states (halat). This progression is made under the teachings of a qualified master Sufi (shaik or pir) having himself realised the "gnosis". The master transmits to his disciple the spiritual influence ( baraka) that himself has received from his own master through an initiatic chain (silsila) undisrupted from master to disciple from Mahomet and Ali ibn Abu Talib.

The Sufis believe also that each generation of initiates is linked to a secret master who is " the "perfect human being" (qutb) . Only the ones having totally realized Sufism i.e. renunciation of one-self (fana), survival with God (baqa) and knowledge (marifa) can recognise him.

The Sufis live anchorite's life or group life and extol poverty. Since the 12th century , they have tendency to group themselves by brotherhoods ( or tariqah, path to knowledge).

Nguyên Ngoc Châu


- Aperçus sur l'ésotérisme islamique et le taoïsme, René Guénon, Ed. Gallimard
- Encarta Encyclopedia, Microsoft
- Le soufisme, la mystique de l'Islam, A.J.Arberry, Ed. Le Mail
- Universal Sufism, Dr H.J. Witteveen, Ed.Element
- La voie Soufie, Faouzi Skali, Ed. Albin Michel
- Qu'est-ce que le soufisme, Martin Lings, Ed du Seuil
NCGL: Quí vị có thể đọc thêm (tiếng Pháp) tại:
Nguyễn Ngọc Châu
Les Voies méditatives / Nguyễn Ngọc Châu

SOUFISME / Nguyễn Ngọc Châu

Le Tao / Nguyen Ngoc Chau

Les Nombres sacrés / Nguyễn Ngọc Châu

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