In his introduction to the anthology The Wisdom of the Sufis, Kenneth Cragg offers the Western reader valuable insight into the religion and richly poetic literature of the Middle East, and the esoteric, deeply experiential inner tradition of Islam. Bishop Cragg’s selections of prayers and legends concern the task, search, and goal of the Sufi mystic—the dervish—and his introduction explains the unlikely growth of mysticism out of medieval orthodox Islam.
About the Author
The Rt. Rev. Kenneth Cragg is an eminent Anglican priest and scholar who has commented widely on religious topics for over fifty years, most notably Muslim-Christian relations. Born in 1913 and educated at Oxford, he served parishes in England and in Beirut, Lebanon, before becoming Assistant Bishop of Jerusalem in 1970. He has lectured in Muslim universities and taught in the US. Bishop Cragg is a careful translator, expositor, and analyst of the Qur’an (Koran) and modern Islam. A prolific author, he retired to Oxford in 1982.
He is the author of:
Muhammad and the Christian: A Question of Response
The Qu’ran and the West
Call of the Minaret
The Wisdom of the Sufis
Stories, Poems and Sayings
“We”—In Unitive Desire
“Thou Lord of the Worlds”
From Part 1: The Wisdom of the Sufis
I do not know the man so bold
He dare in lonely place
That awful stranger—consciousness
Yet the will to do so is much less daunting if the place, the human scene, is not believed to be “lonely,” but, rather, somehow responsive and reciprocal in an ultimate sense. The wisdom of the Sufis lies in finding out the loneliness of the egotistical self and attaining the community of the essential self. Their report of that discovery is not without conflicts of interpretation. These must be left to speak for themselves. What matters is the consensus of their wisdom.
In the Qur’an of Islam, the Scripture with which Muslim mysticism, no less than Islamic orthodoxy, belongs, there is an often quoted verse. All the generations of humanity are heard responding to a divine question: “Am I not your Lord?” with the sure affirmative: “Yes! Indeed. We acknowledge it.” (Surah 7.172.) In that brief exchange is summarized all the fervor, the poetry, the discipline, the subtlety of Sufism and its themes. The mutual love of God and man is the single ground of all its forms, in a rich, if sometimes sharp, diversity of awareness and experience. The meaning of this Quranic verse is that the human of every generation, even before it is born and housed in the flesh, is pledged to a God relationship which is its deepest mystery and secret.
Sufi poets and saints have loved to cite this passage as the text of their discipleship. It states both the vision and the impulse within their search for reality. One of the sweetest of their writers, Ibn al-Farid, who lived in Cairo in the early thirteenth century, wove the words into his master poem.“Verily Thou art the desire of my heart, the end of my search, the goal of my aim, my choice and my chosen.”
From Part 2: Stories, Poems and Sayings
What a sorry creature is this son of Adam, who effaces the cosmos (by multiplicity of desires) until not a trace of it remains and whom the cosmos, in its turn, will obliterate until not a trace of him remains, save a faint odor which, in a little while, fades away altogether.
Why do you make a search for my heart?
For I do not know where it is.
Tell me yourself, what is a heart?
I do not find its trace anywhere.
My life, which is not my own,
Has no asset except its sense of wonder:
Thou art the king of the realm of beauty,
I am but a helpless beggar.
“We”—In Unitive Desire
He lies and perjures all that’s true
Who swears he is in love with two.
The heart has not sufficient place
To hold two loves in one embrace,
Nor may the second love affair
Claim with the first an equal share.
For as the reason is unique,
It cannot know, though it may seek,
Another power to create
Beside the all Compassionate.
And so the heart’s that likewise one
Is constituted to love none
Except that single darling dear
Be he afar or be he near.
The man who claims a dual role
Is thus, as these examples prove,
A doubtful follower of love’s laws,
And traitor to religion’s cause.
And by that self same reasoning,
True faith is too a single thing.
He who a second serves as well
Condemns himself an infidel.