It would be idle to assume a common origin from mere resemblances in the two systems, even though the similarity may be very definite, both in substance as well as in form. Simply because one belief is identical with another it does not follow that the one is generated by the other. Wherever the human mind is exercised on the why and the wherefore of existence, the whence and the whither of the spirit confined in the carnal cage, wherever there is the same longing and the same striving, there has been and there will be the same lisping and the same smattering of “infants crying for the light”. Therefore it is that we come across utterances of mystics of different countries and of different ages which would pass current, word for word, for those of others, even though they could never have heard the words or even the names of one another. It would be a blunder to designate Sufism as but a Muslim adap­tation of the doctrine of the Vedanta School, and it is strange that a student of Islam, like Hughes, should have allowed such a statement to creep into his notes on Muhammadanism. The life and the teachings of the early Sufis do not warrant such an assumption and the entire history of Persian mysticism is against it.

Sufism is certainly not an exotic. It is the product of Islam’s own native soil. There are verses in the Quran which lend themselves to mystical interpretation. For instance,

“If my servants ask thee about Me, lo, I am near.”

“We are nearer to him than his own neck-vein.”

“In the earth are signs to those of real faith, and in yourselves.

What, do you not see?”

For the devotional and ascetic type of Sufis there was enough inspiring material of this kind in the Quran itself. But the Prophet is believed to have left for his select disciples a good deal more than what is embodied in the Holy Book. It is said that he taught certain esoteric doctrines to a few select companions and that Sufism is based on those doctrines. The question arises, who initiated him in those mysteries? The answer is, the awliyā the saints, the invisible spiritual guides and the masters of compassion, in whose existence and benign dis­pensations the Sufis believe. It is, however, hard to reconcile this theory with the internal evidence of the Quran. Islam as taught by the prophet of Arabia is a virile protest against asceticism. No doubt, some of the sayings of the Prophet lend themselves easily to mystical interpretation, for instance, al-faqru fakhri (poverty is my pride), but at the same time there is the unequivocal dictum: “There is no monasticism in Islam”. He extolled poverty and prescribed fasting, but never advocated the cultivation of “fugitive and cloistered virtue”. It may, nevertheless, be argued that for reasons not difficult to conceive, the Prophet may have deemed it desirable to preach to the people generally what he considered proper for the time being, and that he may have initiated only a select few in his esoteric doctrines. This is the view taken not merely by theologians who wish to reconcile Islam with Sufism, but also by philosophic thinkers and authors like al-Ghazali. To the student of history’ however, nothing can be a more confounding riddle than this that a Prophet who throughout his life advocated an active life and infused into his disciples a strenuous spirit of proselytism should have in the same breath propounded contrary esoteric doctrines, leading to a passive quietism, if not rigid asceticism. Here is an instance, cited by Bjerregaard, in ‘The Path’ (1886), of Muhammad’s avowed dislike of an attempt made to engraft the elements of a contemplative life upon his doctrines:—

“One evening after some more vigorous declamations than usual on the Prophet’s part—he had taken for his theme the flames and tortures of hell—several of his most zealous companions, among whom the names of Omar, Ali, Abou-Dharr and Abou-Horeirah are conspicuous, retired to pass the night together in a neighbouring dwelling. Here they fell into a deep discourse on the terrors of divine Justice, and the means to appease or prevent its course. The conclusion they came to was nowise unnatural. They agreed that to this end the surest way was to abandon their wives, to pass their lives in continued fast and abstinence, to wear hair-cloth and practise other similar austerities: in a word, they laid down for themselves a line of conduct truly ascetic. But they desired first to secure the appro­bation of Muhammad. Accordingly, at break of day, they presented themselves before him, to acquaint him with the resolution of the night, as well as its motives and purport; but they had reckoned without their host. The Prophet rejected their proposition with a sharp rebuke and declared marriage and war (crusade) to be far more agreeable to the Divinity than any austereness of life or mortification of the senses whatever, and the well known passage of the Quran: “O true believers, do not abstain from the good things of the earth which God permits you to enjoy”, revealed on this very occasion, remains a lasting monument of Muhammad’s disgust at this premature outbreak of ascetic feeling.”