Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, is the most accessible, liberal and pluralistic aspect of
Islam, and a uniquely valuable bridge between East and West.
All existence and all religions were one, maintained the great Sufi saints, and were merely different manifestations of the same divine reality. What was important was not the empty external ritual of the mosque or temple, but simply to understand that divinity can best be reached through the gateway of the human heart – that we all have paradise within us, if we know where to look.
Sufis believe that this search for God within, and the quest for fana – total immersion in the absolute – liberates the seeker from the restrictions of narrow orthodoxy, allowing the devotee to look beyond the letter of the law to its mystical essence. This allows the Sufis to bring together Muslim and non-Muslim in a popular religious movement which spans the perceived gulf separating Islam from its neighbouring religions, whether Christians in Africa and the Middle East or Hindus in India.
The teachings of the Sufis conveyed in poetry and song also provide a link between the devotions of the ordinary villagers and the high philosophical subtleties of the great mystics, utilizing the power of music and poetry to move devotees towards greater love of God.
From the very beginning of Sufism, meditation, music, song and dance were seen as a mean of helping devotees to focus their whole being on the divine. In the process, the Sufis have produced some of the most beautiful art, poetry and music.
The lyrics and poetry of Sufi music have always been sung not in the literary or court languages of the Islamic world but instead the local vernacular used by the ordinary people, and they draw on symbols taken from dusty roads and running water, the dried-up thorn bush and the blessings of rain, images that speak directly and forcefully to simple folk of any religion.
Dance is also important to Sufis, and in some cases – such as the whirling of Rumi’s Mevlevi Sufi brotherhood, known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes – has developed into a highly developed and stylized ritual form.
In Sufi shrines across the Islamic world from Mali to Indonesia you can still see thousands of devotees lifted by the music into a state of ecstasy, and in many places Sufism and Sufi music are more popular than ever before.
This album aims to introduce the listener to the full range of Sufi music played and listened to today in a whole variety of different contexts. It contains music from Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central Asia, by men and women, and ranges from ultra-traditional Sufi ney music of the Mevlevis to club remixes of devotional Sufi chants by the London music collective Transglobal Underground. This is a journey to
the other side of Islam, one that is very far from the usually negative stereotypes of the religion so often propagated in the West.