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What is Sufism?

Program #WILP001. Recorded in Boulder, CO on July 18, 1989.

Sufis and Sufism are terms bandied about. There are romantic images of whirling dervishes and mystics deep in esoteric practices. But who are they and what do they do? Sufis are said to strive to be in the world but not of it. Genuine Sufis are usually hidden. Peter Lamborn Wilson critically discusses Idries Shah, the best known propagator of Sufism in the West, about whom he says, “I have some wonderment about him. He has contributed a lot to the popular understanding of Sufism but he has some whacky ideas.” Orthodox Islam frowns upon Sufism, regarding it as a heresy. Wilson forcefully rejects this view. Sufis in South and parts of West Asia use music to attract people to their ideas. You will hear some wonderful examples of Sufi music. Iran has been a historical center of Sufism and is mostly underground during the Islamic Republic. He talks about the importance of Ali to Sufis who Wilson says, “has a special role to play in the transmission of secret esoteric doctrines, It is believed the Prophet chose him for this purpose.” He talks about the importance of poetry to Sufism and reads some poems.

Interviewed by David Barsamian.


Peter Lamborn Wilson

Peter Lamborn Wilson is a writer, essayist, poet, and radio broadcaster. He is co-author of The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry.

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