Sufi Muslims break Ramadan mold
Practitioners alter rituals of month long fast to build better connection with God
By Manya A. Brachear
It is the first time Mavric, a member of the Islamic Cultural Center in Northbrook, Ill., has observed Ramadan as a Sufi, a Muslim who seeks a direct and personal relationship with God."It seems hard, but with heavenly support it's easy," said Mavric, 39, of Mt. Prospect, Ill., a member of the Naqshbandi Sufi order.During Ramadan, now under way, Muslims are commanded to fast from dawn to dusk as a show of empathy for those less fortunate. The fast prohibits eating and drinking during daylight hours and forbids vices such as smoking, profanity and ill temper.Though Sufi Muslims fast in the same prescribed fashion, they also recite extra prayers and abstain from vices for the purpose of expunging their ego to connect with God."
Fasting is the best weapon against the ego," Mavric said. "Nothing works better."Mavric reflects a worldwide renaissance of Islamic spirituality or the Sufi way that encourages heightened devotional activities, open-mindedness about all faiths and universal love.Though some orthodox Muslims believe Sufis commit heresy by adding extra rituals to Islam's fundamental tenets, scholars say that at least half of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims have chosen to embrace a degree of Sufi practice, feeding an apparent spiritual hunger and transforming the annual month long fast in many communities."Ramadan is clearly a high-water mark for spiritual practices for Muslims, especially for Sufis," said Carl Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill."It's commonly believed that because of the importance of Ramadan, there will be more efficacy of late-night vigils. Special times, special effects."Marcia Hermansen, a Loyola University Chicago professor and author of a forthcoming book on Sufi devotion in America, said Sufi practice permeates almost every mosque, but many practitioners stay in the closet to avoid criticism. Ramadan is the one time of year when most Muslims share their spiritual intensity, she said.But Laleh Bakhtiar, a former lecturer at the University of Chicago and the first woman to translate the Quran from Arabic into contemporary English, said Sufis' motives for performing acts of devotion during Ramadan come from a different place.
Many Muslims adhere to the rules of Ramadan to avoid God's wrath, she said. Sufis adhere to show God their love."Because you love God, you want to do what God asks you to do," said Bakhtiar, a member of the Shadhili Sufi order.The goals of praying and fasting also vary. Sufis aspire to abstain from food and ill will. Few reach the highest tier, which prohibits any thoughts that don't pertain to God. While all Muslims seek mercy and redemption in the holy month, Sufis also seek an experience with the divine.This aspiration for a personal union with God had kept Sufis from fully integrating into the mainstream Muslim community, scholars say. For that reason, Imam Senad Agic of the Islamic Cultural Center knows he is an exception. During Ramadan, he offers an abbreviated dhikr once a week for the throngs who come to pray at the Northbrook mosque."After fasting all day, they feel victorious," he said. "They want to continue on that way."