Sufism in America
Honoring the One God in All Religions
By Azima Lila Forest
As a longtime student of the Edgar Cayce readings, and a longtime journeyer on the path of Sufism, I was delighted to read Peter Woodbury’s article "The Way of the Sufi" in the Jan-Mar 2015 issue of Venture Inward magazine. I find such a strong correspondence and harmony between the principles and practices given in the readings and the principles and practices I receive in my Sufi context. Unity, the loving nature of the Creator, the importance of living a balanced life, the practices of prayer, meditation, and service—all of these are common to these two wisdom traditions. I am grateful indeed for having stumbled upon both of them. But then, both of them teach me that there are no accidents!
Peter Woodbury’s article "The Way of the Sufi"
I was inspired to offer some follow-up information on Sufism in America.
Sufism was first brought to the West in the teens of the last century by Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi master from India. From that first beginning, five brother/sister Sufi orders have sprung up and taken root in the United Sates: The Sufi Order International, The Sufi Ruhaniat International, The Sufi Movement, The Fraternity of Light, and The Sufi Way. Each one has a bit of a different flavor and emphasis. I am an initiate of the Ruhaniat, and so I will draw most extensively on the practices and atmosphere, we might say, of that order.
All five of these Sufi orders draw upon the teachings of our common ancestor Hazrat Inayat Khan. This brand of Sufism might be called universal Sufism, as it acknowledges and honors the truth and wisdom to be found in all the world’s major religions and spiritual paths. There are American Sufis who are also Buddhists, and Jews, and Christians, and Muslims, and devotees of the Great Mother, and followers of the Red Road (Native American spirituality). Sufis meditate and chant and sing and dance and pray. Some do more of one than another.
Since the birth of this universal path of Sufism on American soil, several more traditional Islamic Sufi orders have established branches here as well, among them the Mevlevis, who are well known for the dervish whirling; the Helveti-Jerrahis, and the Naqshbandis. While all these orders may differ somewhat in their practices and teachings, there is a bond of commonality that unites us all. The annual Sufism Symposium held each spring in California is a beautiful demonstration of the mutual respect and affection one finds in the larger Sufi community. Speakers from many different orders may be heard, as well as recitation of the poetry of Rumi in Persian and English. One may participate in Dances of Universal Peace (more about that later). The grand finale of the Symposium, the zikr, has everyone participating.
Zikr is an Arabic word that means remembrance. Remembrance of what? Of the truth that we and all and everything—all are part of One God. Zikr also refers to the Arabic phrase la ilaha illa’llah, which is most often translated by universal Sufis as "there is nothing but the one Reality." Sound familiar? It’s another formulation of Edgar Cayce’s Law of One. The zikr phrase is often used in the individual practices of Sufi initiates, and it is also used all over the world in group ceremonies of chanting and/or singing the phrase together. Some groups chant together seated in circles; others move in circles, and in a few cases, squares and lines.
Music is an important part of the heritage of Sufism as practiced in India; Hazrat Inayat Khan was a great musician who sang and played the vina, a stringed instrument of Indian origin. It is perhaps no accident then that his student Samuel Lewis, the first Sufi master born in the West, would give birth to the Dances of Universal Peace, also sometimes called Sufi dancing. Murshid (teacher) SAM, as we lovingly refer to him, was a native San Franciscan and an early student of Inayat Khan. In the late 1960s, he received the inspiration to set sacred phrases from the world’s spiritual traditions to simple melodies and dance movements to be done in circles. By the time of his passing in 1971, he had brought through some dozens of these dances. His students have carried on this work, and now there are Dance circles all over the world, and at last count, I knew of over 500 dances, with phrases in Arabic, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Aramaic, Hawaiian, Spanish, Yoruba, English, and more. Finding a dance circle in the U.S. is a simple matter: go to the website dancesofuniversalpeacena.org and click on "Find The Dances."
In addition to the zikr phrase, Sufi practitioners often work with wazaif (singular wazifa), also called the Beautiful Names of God. These are divine qualities, and repetition of their names is a way of calling upon them to manifest in one’s life or in the world as a whole. Some of these qualities are Mercy, Compassion, Truth, Life, Peace, Healing, Love, Strength, and Beauty. The usual list of wazaif contains 99 qualities, but it is said that in truth there are 999 beautiful names, and even more beyond those.
If you were to attend a Sufi event such as a camp, a retreat, or a workshop, you might have the opportunity to participate in a morning meditation, a dream group, a workshop, or all of these—very much like an A.R.E. Camp or an A.R.E. Conference or retreat.
Azima Lila Forest is a longtime student of the Cayce readings and longtime initiate and Sheikha (teacher) in the Sufi Ruhaniat International. She is a dreamworker, a Reiki healing practitioner, a far memory (past/future life) guide, and a Unitarian Universalist minister. Azima lives in Silver City in southwestern New Mexico. Her website is Zianet.com/Azima.
A.R.E. Members will find the current issue and past issues of Venture Inward magazine in the online member section at EdgarCayce.org/members.