Sufi Pilgrimage: The Mystic’s Inner and Outer Journeys

Sufi Pilgrimage:  The Mystic’s Inner and Outer Journeys

Sufi Pilgrimage:

The Mystic’s Inner and Outer Journeys

“Whichever way you turn,

 There is the face of God”

               (Q, 2:115)            


 Introduction:  Sufism, a Pilgrimage of the Heart

            The above quote is used quite often in reference to the Mevlevi Whirling Dervishes, a Sufi sect in Konya, Turkey.  They use whirling movement in their ceremonies to transcend the mundane world and achieve direct communion with Allah.  This phenomenon of staying physically in one spot, yet going on an inner journey to the heart is indicative of the Sufi mystical path.  In this paper I argue that pilgrimage does not always have to mean physically travelling to another destination, and that the outer journey is optional for the Sufi.    Just as in orthodox Islam the Kaaba in Mecca is the true center for Muslims, for Sufis the true destination is the “Kaaba of the heart”, or the center of the soul where Oneness with Allah resides.  I will briefly outline some of the definitions of Sufism, but this paper is not meant to be a discourse over the definitions or history of Sufism, but rather what it means to be a Sufi in reference to the concept of pilgrimage and how music is used, or not used.

  1. Sufism: The Mysticism of Islam

Definitions of Sufism in reference to pilgrimage

“The Sufi, through creative expression, remembers and invokes the Divine order as It resides in a hidden state within all forms.  To remember and to invoke, in this sense, are the same; to act on a form so that that which is within may become known. The Sufi thus re-enacts the process of creation whereby the Divine came to know Itself.  The receptacle in which the creation is re-enacted may be an external form such as an artifact, or it may be the life form of the mystic which is transformed.  Here the very soul of the Sufi-to-be reaches towards the Divine centre through the mystic Quest” (Bakhtiar, 6).

Sufism has come to be called the Mysticism of Islam with the descent of the Quran from Allah to Mohamed (PBUH), but most Sufis would argue that it is “timeless”.  Some argue that Sufism is older than Islam, and that the religion simply assimilated Sufism practices and behaviors to accommodate Islam philosophy.  Some Sufi sects, such as the Alevi in Turkey, show strong ties to the Shamanism they inherited from their Mongolian descent in their practices of ritual initiation (Basgoz, 1999).  Also, it is rumored amongst Sufis that Sufism originated in India but then became immersed in Islam via the Moghuls of Northern India.  Regardless of its origins, the emphasis of Sufism is on the direct link with God that one can encounter with the practices of remembrance of God that have become to be known as “Sufism”.  Bakhtiar illustrates in the passage above that the importance of the “mystic Quest” is essential, and that regardless of the means of the journey, the ultimate outcome is always the same:  Oneness with God.

Other terms such as, “dervishes” and “faqirs” are also used to describe Sufis.  The meaning of the word “Sufi” may come from the word “wool”, as Sufis would often wear wool shirts that would enhance their physical suffering, and help them to stay away from the nafs, or inferior desires.  Sufis follow the five pillars of Islam, just as orthodox Muslims do; the difference is that they “seek to attain deeper levels of understanding of the wisdom of the Revelation and to have ‘tastes’ of Paradise in this lifetime” (Gamard, into xxiii).  Sufi poetry is a reflection of teachings of the Quran, and is encoded with an esoteric meaning; terms are not literal, but figurative.  For instance, “wine-drinking” or being “drunk”, does not refer to the actual consumption of alcohol, but rather refers to being “drunk on God”.  Another popular phrase taken from the Quran and interpreted in Sufi poetry is, “die before you die”.   This does not refer to a physical death with both usages of the word “die”, but rather indicates an “ego death” that must occur in order for the soul to become enlightened to Allah before the physical death of the body.

It is important to understand that in the beginning of the recorded history of Sufism, philosophies of practice were more varied.  Perhaps they were more liberal then because pre-Islamic practices were still being employed, as Islam was still relatively young.  Jelalludin Mevlana Rumi, the founder of the Mevlevi Sufi Sect in 13th century, Konya, Turkey, had ecstatic rituals that would last all night, and even included women.  Over time the rituals have become more set, and little variation or opportunity for improvisation is present today.  The Sufis of today in the Middle East are much closer to Orthodox Islam than 700 years ago.  This leaves the floor wide open for new interpretations of Sufism on different soils, namely, in the West.

  1. Inner Journey

There are several Sufi sects that agree that the focus of Sufism is on the inner journey, but the means by which they travel that inner journey are highly debated.  I have chosen to discuss two forms of the inner journey that are common to almost all Sufi sects, retreat and dreams; this section will not include the use of music, as it will be discussed further down in my article.

Khalwat, “Spiritual Retreat”

Achieving a state of permanent retreat is the goal of Sufism.  Khalwat is central to this aim, as the Sufi must literally retreat to his “cell” at a monastery in order to remember God.  This practice is seen by all Sufi orders to be the most important part of the practice of Sufism.  According to Shaykh Al-Alawi the khalwat is described as “a cell in which I put the novice after he has sworn to me not to leave it for forty days if need be.  In this oratory he must do nothing but repeat ceaselessly, day and night, the Divine Name (Allah), drawing out with each invocation the syllable ah until he has no breath left.  Previously he must have recited the Shahadah (la ilaha illa’Llah, there is no god but God) seventy-five thousand times.  During the khalwat he fasts strictly by day, breaking his fast only between sunset and dawn…Some fuqara (mystics) obtain the sudden illumination after a few minutes, some only after several days, and some only after several weeks. (Quoted by Martin Lings) (Bakhtiar, 94).

There are various states that descend upon the Sufi as he enters khalwat.  It is important to remember that the Sufis see the aspiration of the soul towards God as the “arc of ascent”, and the direction is counter-clockwise; the “arc of descent” is God channeling down through us, and is clockwise.  These stages of the journey are divided into ten tens; ten sections with ten principles each.  The order goes:

  1. Gateway: this is the beginning of the journey towards the Absolute;
  • Awakening
  • Repentance
  • Reckon with
  • Conversion
  • Reflection
  • Meditation
  • Hold fast
  • Fleeing
  • Ascetism
  • Audition
  1. Doors: once inside the door, the mystic needs to learn how to orient his actions and encounters;
  • Sorrow
  • Fear
  • Concern
  • Humility
  • Enjoying Quiet
  • Self Denial
  • Scruples
  • Devotion
  • Hope
  • Yearning
  • Conduct:  the aspiring Sufi learns rules of conduct, such as full submission to Allah, trust and commitment, as well as vigilance;
  • Vigilance
  • Fix Attention
  • Respect
  • Sincerity
  • Amending
  • Rectitude
  • Trust
  • Commitment
  • Reliance
  • Full Submission
  1. Character: this happens as a result of becoming disciplined with one’s self, and creating praiseworthy forms of self ;
  • Patience
  • Satisfied
  • Grateful
  • Bashfulness
  • Being True
  • Preference
  • Firmness
  • Modesty
  • Generosity
  • Largesse
  1. Principles: what stems from the self flows outwards to the structures of one’s life, one’s foundation;
  • Purpose
  • Resolution
  • Will
  • Discipline
  • Certainty
  • Intimacy
  • Invocation
  • Poverty
  • Spiritual Richness
  • Without Desires
  1. Valleys: this is where the mystic is tested upon the above achievements of self and community;
  • Goodness
  • Knowledge
  • Wisdom
  • Spiritual Sight
  • Sagacity
  • Reverence
  • Inspiration
  • Tranquility
  • Peacefulness
  • Spiritual Power
  • Mystical States: after trials one achieves a release from the tests, and encounters emotional states such as ecstasy, but also bewilderment and anxiety, too;
  • Love
  • Jealousy
  • Nostalgia
  • Anxiety
  • Thirst
  • Ecstasy
  • Bewilderment
  • Distraction
  • Flashes
  • Spiritual Taste
  • Sanctity:  this is where spiritual powers make their appearance, and where one’s soul is exalted;
  • Secret Glance
  • A Moment
  • Purity
  • Joy
  • The Secret
  • Breath
  • Exile
  • Drowned
  • Absence
  • Stability
  1. Realities: this is where the Sufi forgets his physical self and is absorbed in God, and all actions are towards Him;
  • Unveiling
  • Contemplation
  • Beholding
  • Life
  • Contraction
  • Expansion
  • Intoxication
  • Sobriety
  • Union
  • Separation
  1. Supreme Goal: this is the ultimate Unity with God, where the self it totally annihilated (Bakhtiar, 96-97);
  • Gnosis
  • Annihilation
  • Subsistence
  • Realization
  • Concealment
  • Discovery
  • Subtraction
  • Solitude
  • Gathering
  • Unity

Keeping the remembrance alive after the retreat is over is done through arts and crafts, chanting, poetry, music and other sciences (ibid).  Guilds (asnat) and chivalric orders (futuwwat) are examples of societies that have continued on the remembrance through expressive arts.  All master craftsmen were initiates of Sufi orders.  The retreat is seen to help awaken the initiates Spirit, which is then expressed through their art.  The hierarchies of the chivalric orders are in nine grades:  apprentice, journeyman, and master; the second three relate to ceremonies; the last three are the Shaykh and his representative.  Mystical prose and poetry expressed the concepts of the futuwwat, and like chivalry, spread over Islamic lands, and is still very much alive today (ibid).


            Mystical Dreams, “Ruya’ha”

It is believed in Islam that Mohamed the Prophet (PBUH) is the last prophet that God will send to this Earth.  Therefore it is believed by Muslims that their dreams are not revelations from God, but rather expressions of inspirations.  The world from whence these inspirations come from lies between the “sensible, phenomenal world and the world of intelligible noumena (the “thing-in-itself”)” (116).  In other words, dreams come from a world of forms and images in suspense, compared as images reflected in a mirror.  The world we live in is referred to as maya, or illusion.  The world that our dreams come from is called the alam-i-mithal, or world of symbols.  These are important concepts to think about when one considers the inner journey that all Sufis must take; one cannot be taken in by false dreams, and one must be able to interpret one’s dreams, also.

When one compares ancient Shamanic initiation rituals to Sufi ritual, one sees threads of continuity that makes one question the origins of Sufi traditions and customs.  In the article, “Dream Motif in Turkish Folk Stories and Shamanistic Initiation”, by Ilhan Basgoz, he compares the shamanistic initiation rites, which include ecstatic experiences and formal training, and the themes, or motifs, used within them to the dream motif commonly found in both Turkish mystical and Ottoman court romance poetry.  He speculates that because of later Christian and Islamic suppression of folk/pagan religion, the dream motif had to conceal itself within the various types of Turkish poetry.  After the arrival of the Turko-Mongol tribes in Anatolia the shamanistic culture mutated and merged with the cultures already present there; in Eastern Anatolia the Iranian influence was particularly powerful, and especially the Zoroastrian rituals seemed to affect the initiations of shamans.  The motif of the “wine cup” was not indigenous to Asian shamanism, but is key in Turkish shamanism (Basgoz, 15).  This implies that the Turkish tribes borrowed it from their new neighbors, the Iranians, and also perhaps in Western Anatolia from the Mediterranean cultures.  Basgoz sees a transformation from the Turkish shamans to the Turkish bards, “asiks”, or musical poets.  Both shamans and bards act as spiritual leaders in their respective communities, and the use of music is central to their physical and mental healing techniques.  In traditional Siberian shamanism, such as in the Tunguz tribe, the use of rhythm in the form of beating of drums and rattles is common in not only the initiation but also the healing rituals; it is no wonder that the Turko-Mongol tribes brought that influence with them from their old neighbors to their new world of Anatolia.  The ancient Turkish technique of music therapy that was and still is commonly used in the Sufi tekkes must stem from these shamanistic practices.  Once the religions of Christianity and Islam took hold in the urban centers the poetry and stories created there were deleted of any paganistic dream motif; Basgoz maintains that only in the folk literature can one find any link to shamanistic motifs in their complete form.  He says that the ecstatic experiences of the initiations of shamans and their relationship with their leader turns into the love of God that is seen in Islamic mystical poetry, and hence once the same motifs reached the Ottoman court the ecstatic experiences are played out as interactions of human love.

Below I’ve highlighted the journey that the Shamanistic dream must take, and compare it to the Sufi Alevi tradition of the initiation ritual:

Dream Motif in Ecstatic Shamanistic Initiation:


  • Youth is called by souls of dead shamans or spirits
  • Psychological crisis ensues
  • During sleep the youth is carried away by the spirits for a magical journey
  • Instruction is imparted during the magical travel; youth learns shamanistic treatment, technique and culture
  • A female spirit may be present, and may become the heavenly spouse of the future shaman
  • Youth has gone through a symbolic death to assume his future role as shaman


Sufi Alevi Initiation Ritual “Ayini Cem”:


  • Tests made to the initiate before he can be a part of the brotherhood
  • Possibly wrapped in a shroud: symbolic death
  • Instructed in the moral conduct expected of him
  • Led to a holy site with a cord wrapped around his neck; meets spiritual master of the order
  • Cup of wine from spiritual leader as symbolic of sacred knowledge
  • Symbolic death seen as burning and melting of the heart; waking up to new self
  • Men and women partake in ceremony


Dream Motif in Folk Stories of Asik Initiation:


  • Dream comes after a physical or moral ordeal; induced by suffering of hero
  • It comes after the hero prays to God for help
  • Usually takes place at a holy site, or on a holy day; graves and fountains common places
  • Holy person/s offer a cup of wine, symbolic of sacred knowledge imparted to the hero; goes through transformation, symbolic death, flame of fire consumes the body
  • Presence of a celestial maiden may substitute the above holy person/s
  • Hero falls into trance from the cup of wine; stays there for three, six, or seven days
  • The hero is visited by an old woman; only she understands his illness, as everyone else thinks he’s mad
  • She brings him a saz, and begins to play; he wakes upon hearing the strings, and begins to improvise poetry, play music, and sing; he uses his new revealed name
  • Outer Journey

            Visiting Saints’ Shrines

            The pilgrimage of Sufis and Muslims alike to Saints’ shrines highlights the notion of the outer journey towards Allah.  While it is believed that direct communication with God can be maintained by the individual, belonging to a Sufi brotherhood with a master, or Shaykh, is very common.  The reason for this is that the master has already walked farther along the path than the disciple, so he can give good advice and mentoring to newcomers.  Once the master dies, a tomb is built in his honor, and disciples will flock to visit it in hopes that praying at it can give them blessings, or baraka, from God.  Knowing of Islam’s belief in One God, and only praying to that One God, one can see how this practice of praying to a human can be seen as a pagan practice by the Islamic Orthodoxy.  Therefore, most Muslim clerics frown upon such pilgrimages to anything but the Kaaba in Mecca.  However, they allow it, and particularly for women this is very important.

As women are not allowed into the mosque to pray alongside the men, most of their religious outer practices include these visits to Saints’ shrines.  When Elizabeth Fernea went to Morocco she noted that trance-dancing, fortune-telling, healing rituals and these visits to saints’ shrines were the ways in which women worshipped (Maier, 71).

            It is interesting that even Sufi masters would partake of physical pilgrimage on their own, and sometimes not necessarily within their own faith.  A good example of this is Rumi; he was quite friendly with the Christians in Konya, Turkey, where he had his own tekke, or Sufi order, called the Mevlevi Order.  Rumi was known to have visited the church of St. Amphilochius in Konya to pay reverence to Plato’s tomb.  The site was called “Plato’s Monastery”, because Muslims consider Plato a prophet.   Rumi had good relations with the monks and priests there, so much so, that one of them became his disciple after becoming impressed with Rumi’s piousness of asceticism (Gamard, intro-xvi).   So beloved was Rumi by his community that at his funeral Jews and Christians could not be held back from attending; his saintliness transcended borders of social and religious spaces.

  1. The Art of Remembrance: Using Music and Movement in Sufi Ritual

            Using music as a means to an altered state of consciousness is not uncommon in many religions.  However, there are opposite schools of thought in Sufism as to the effectiveness of the use of music, one of intoxication (sukr), and one of sobriety (sahw).   These phenomena are seen as spiritual stations on the inner journey; other stations of opposites include:  contraction/expansion (qabd/bast); gathering/separation (jam’/tafriqah); annihilation/subsistence (fana/baqa); and presence/absence (shuhud/ghabat) (Bakhtiar, 100).  Music can be viewed as too intoxicating because it can stir the senses and hence inferior desires, known as nafs, leading one off the Mystic’s Quest to Allah.

In contrast to spiritual stations are spiritual states (hal), and spiritual presences, which are seen as the means of psychological participation of the inner journey.  The states and presences of spirit are seen to be transitory, just as emotions are fleeting, and this is where music fits into the schema.  The hal are seen as descending from Heaven in vibrational form, and since music is made of vibrations, it is a natural fit that music should be incorporated on the ascent towards God.

I will discuss two examples of the opposite ends of the spectrum of the use of music and movement in Sufism, the Sema ceremony of the Mevlevi Sufi Order of Turkey, and the silent chanting of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order of Uzbekistan.

A Station of Intoxication (sukr)

“There are thousands of wines

That can take over our minds.

Don’t think all ecstasies

Are the same!

…Drink from the presence of saints,

Not from those other jars…” Rumi (Barks, 6)


The use of music is most prominent in the Mevlevi Sufi Order; as noted above in the discussion of Basgoz’s article, ancient Turkish music therapy was used by the shaykhs of a tekke in Turkey to heal his disciples.  I had the opportunity in 1998 to be hired to dance and travel with a Turkish Sufi musician, Latif Bolat,  He told me about this ancient Turkish healing practice, and I will summarize my experience below.

The Sufi dance I will look at is the sema of Turkey, which translates as “time of listening” (K. Helminski, intro).  Jelalludin Mevlana Rumi is the inspiration behind the Mevlevi Sufi Order in Konya, Turkey.  His son, Sultan Velad, began the order in the 13th century upon the death of his father.  Rumi’s family fled Balk, Afghanistan, then a part of the Persian Empire, during the conquests of the Turko-Mongol tribes at the time, and ended up in Konya.  His inspiration was a wandering dervish named simply Shams I-Tabriz (in Farsi), or “the Sun of Tabriz”.  As Rumi was a scholar and Shams was a mystic, the relationship was quite controversial and had destructive consequences (C. Helminski, intro).  The spiritual love Rumi felt for Shams propelled him to whirl in ecstasy, and out of this love he created poetry and a band of followers that evolved into the modern day Mevlevi Sufi Order.  Even though the dance practice and technique of whirling seems to have its roots in pre-Islamic shamanism of Central Asia, it has been incorporated into the spiritual ascension practice, or tariq, of the mysticism of Islam.

 Shaikh Kabir addressed a Festival of World Sacred Music, Jahan e Khusrau, in New Delhi, March 8-10, 2002 and offered a Sema ceremony with the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey. See:

In the early days of Rumi, the whirling was quite improvisational, and would last until the wee hours of the morning.  No set ceremony took place, and both men and women partook in the dancing (Bolat, personal interview).  However, over time the practice became more similar to fundamental Islam, and more dogmatic; women were banned from whirling, and the whirling took the shape of what it is today, a strict ceremony not open to improvisation.  The repetitive movement of the whirling puts the dancer into an altered state of consciousness whereby he can ascend the seven heavens to Allah.  The music is structured into a ceremony, and the dancer enters after the recitation of the Quran, in what is called the Peshrev, and then begins to whirl.  This ceremony represents the whirling of the planets of the galaxy around the sun; on the microcosmic level this is the spiral ascension of the soul through the seven heavens of Islam towards Allah, which is represented as the heart in the physical body.

I can personally attest to the fact that modern Sheikhs of the Sufi tekkes do not look kindly upon anyone doing any improvisational whirling, especially women, and calling it Sufi sema.  I went on tour to whirl/dance for Latif Bolat in 1998, and at our show at the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana campus a Sufi Grand Sheikh from Chicago showed up and was not happy to see me doing something that was not exactly the “proper” way whirling is done in the modern ceremony.  Latif told him that it was his show, and he could do as he pleased, much to my satisfaction.  We did not claim to be doing authentic Sufi music or dance, so I thought we were clear of any criticism.  We were doing a modern world spirit concert, but being that Latif is from Turkey, his compositions are in the classical style, which is the basis of Sufi music.

It is interesting to note, however, that in modern Turkey women have been allowed to whirl once again in public; they do not wear the traditional white gowns and pants of the men, but instead wear various colors (Larsen, personal communication). The public ceremonies there are allowed mostly for touristic purposes, since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire meant the end of the tekkes as valid religious places of worship.  During the sema, trance is the link that brings the dancer into contact with Allah.  Trance must be achieved; in fact, that is the point of the ceremony.

Even though sema is used for a spiritual journey towards Allah, it is also used for physical healing.  The ancient Turkish practice of music therapy is incorporated into the ceremony through the different ayins, or compositions, that are written for the practice.  Bolat said that every maqam has an effect on the listener, and these can be directed to heal a person of mental or physical ailments.  A different maqam, or scale, is chosen for the ayin for that day’s ceremony, or for a certain patients treatment, depending on what kind of vibration is needed (K. Helminski).  For instance, the maqam of Hijaz is used for sensuality, the maqam of Nihavendt is for humility, and the maqam of Ussak gives one a philosophical perspective of “the big picture” (Bolat).

This quote from Hazrat Inayat Khan’s book, The Mysticism of Sound and Music, to describe perfectly the intention of the music and movement of the Whirling Dervishes:

“They (Sufis) are the ones who are really entitled to enjoy the beauty of music, whose spirit and soul are responsive with open centres, who make themselves as a medium of resonance of the music they hear.  Therefore music touches them differently from any other person; music touches the depth of their being.  Thus moved by music, they manifest different conditions, termed by Sufis hal, which means condition.  Whoever among them is moved by spirit may manifest the ecstasy, which is called wajad, in the form of tears, sighs, or dance.  It is therefore that those who do not understand the meaning of their dance call them howling dervishes or dancing dervishes” (57).

A Station of Sobriety (sahw)

The Naqshbandi of Uzbekistan embodies the idea of abstinence from music on the inner journey towards Allah, and replaces it instead with silent chanting, or dhikr (in some dialects, zhikr), and various breathing exercises.  They believe that asceticism, or self-denial, is the way to travel towards Oneness, and chanting in their mind keeps them on the “straight path”, ira al-mustaqam.  The devotees chant the Shahadah (la ilaha illa’Llah, there is no god but God) in a group setting, or alone to achieve the desired results.

This order believes that they are the first spiritual inheritors of the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH), and

what distinguishes the Naqshbandi School from other Sufi orders was the fact that it took its foundations and principles from the teachings and example of six bright stars in the firmament of the Prophet (s). These great figures were: Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, Salman al-Farisi, Jacfar as-Sadiq, Bayazid Tayfur al-Bistami, cAbdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani, and Muhammad Baha’uddin Uwaysi al-Bukhari, known as Shah Naqshband–the eponymous Imam of the tariqat.  Behind the word “Naqshband” stand two ideas: naqsh which means “engraving” and suggests engraving the name of Allah in the heart, and band which means “bond” and indicates the link between the individual and his Creator. This means that the Naqshbandi follower has to practice his prayers and obligations according to the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) and to keep the presence and love of Allah alive in his heart through a personal experience of the link between himself and his Lord.” (

The reason that this order is affiliated with Uzbekistan is because of cAbdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani, who was born in the village of Ghujdawan, near Bukhara in present-day Uzbekistan; he was raised and buried there. He studied Qur’an and the Islamic sciences of both external and internal knowledge until he reached a high station of purity. He then traveled to Damascus where he established a school from which many students graduated and went on to become masters of fiqh and hadith as well as spirituality in their time, both in the regions of Central Asia and in the Middle East (ibid).

`Abdul Khaliq continued the work of his predecessors by formulating the dhikr (remembrance of God) passed down from the Prophet (s) according to the Sunnah. In his letters he set down the code of conduct (adab) that the students of the Naqshbandiyya were expected to follow (ibid).

I would now to like to look at the description of the daily practices of the Naqshbandi Sufi, and an example of their dhikr for three different levels of devotees; there is a chart from, and is shown in its entirety, as I believe trying to interpret it would alter the true meaning of the text.  As this article is about the actual journey towards Oneness with the Beloved, it is important to take a close look at the dhikr and what is expected of the Sufi along the path.  As this order of Sufism is associated with the station of sobriety, its methodology is seen as “taking away” distractions in comparison to other orders that use music and are seen as “giving to” distractions to the Sufi.  The Grand Shaykh’s duty is to “strip the Sufi of spiritual adornment” so that they may be humble to God. The Naqshbandi Sufi Shaykhs say that whoever works according to the following series of recommendations, and acts on it, will attain the exalted stations, especially the Station of Closeness (Qurb) to Allah, Who is Powerful and Sublime, on the Day of Resurrection. The faithful and diligent application of these practices is certain to temper the influence of the lower elements which exist in every human being: the nafs (ego); dunya (worldliness); hawa (vain desires) and shaytan (the devil). A person who manages to keep these principles of the Naqshbandi Order will achieve the light of his Shaykh, who will lift him to the Presence of the Supreme Teacher, the Prophet (s), who in his turn, will lift him up to the Station of Annihilation in Allah.


My hope in putting this article together is that the reader understands the inner journey of pilgrimage to the heart, so that one sees that physical travel is not necessary to attain the goal of understanding of and Oneness with God.  Certainly remembrance is enhanced by the emotions being taken upon a trip away from ones home, but it is not believed to be necessary to attain spiritual enlightenment by Sufis.  I hope that I have also shown that music, or the lack of music, is vehemently debated in Sufism as a means of the journey towards the Center, and that while there are many paths on the way towards Oneness, not all are equal or appropriate to each individual.

I do believe that there is something fundamentally universal about the concepts of seclusion to gain enlightenment, repetitive chanting/use of breath, and the use/non-use of music and movement, and that through these lenses we can view other religions in a different light.  While I am not advocating that the reader converts to Sufism, I am hoping that he/she can extract the information and see that these concepts are the building blocks of the inner pilgrimage.

In comparing and contrasting these concepts of inner pilgrimage to other religions, it appears that there are fundamental aspects common to many belief systems, such as transformation through altered states of consciousness, and a sense of belonging to a marginal community while on pilgrimage.  The idea of “communitas” put forth by Victor Turner speaks of this sense of belonging to a group while on pilgrimage; this can be seen in the inner journey as well, because Sufis definitely feel a sense of belonging to a group when they encounter other Sufis, even though it is a mystic path.  If maintaining a state of “permanent retreat” is the goal of these Sufi practices, then the conscious Sufi is always on retreat; whoever he encounters is a figure of importance on his inner journey.  Looking at the world in a symbolic and archetypical way the Sufi sees that everything is related; it is all One.  Therefore, there is no separation between the inner world and the outer; there is no difference between experiences in one’s everyday life and one’s spiritual life; it is all ecstatic experience.

Sources Cited

  • Bakhtiar, Laleh. Sufi:  The Expressions of the Mystic Quest.  Thames and Hudson, Inc., New York, New York.
  • Barks, Coleman. The Essential Rumi:  Translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne.   Harper San Francisco Publishers.  New York, NY.
  • Basgoz, Ilhan. “Dream Motif in Turkish Folk Stories and Shamanistic Initiation”. Turkish Folklore and Oral Literature: Selected Essays of Ilhan Basgöz.
    Edited by Kemal Silay (Bloomington: Indiana University Turkish Studies
    Series, 1999, pp. 11-23.
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