Islamic Encounter Series: Sufism, Transformation, and the Needs of Our Time
Islam once gave birth to a great civilization that respected religious diversity, freedom of conscience, and scientific thought, and Islamic knowledge contributed to the birth of humanism in the Renaissance. Today’s world is desperately in need of a spirituality that is free of dogma, based in experiences not beliefs, one that can reconcile the human and spiritual realms. In his new book, renowned spiritual teacher and Sufi sheikh Kabir Helminski, gives us a compelling interpretation of spiritual or holistic Islam that will hearten contemporary Muslims looking for a faith suited for our times, and providing non-Muslims a brilliant introduction to this rich spiritual tradition.
Helminksi’s holistic Islam is an emerging force in the world. It is reflected in the rise of the popularity of the writings of Jalal ad-Din Rumi who is loved by followers of all faiths and none. Helminski shows how it is the great Sufi teachers of the Islamic tradition who show the way to this universal wisdom. Holistic Islam is an expression of the primordial religion of humanity that recognizes a journey through levels of consciousness leading to the transformation of self and the mature human being.
While all religions have a tendency to decline into sectarianism, legalism, fundamentalism, and superstition, humanity is never without the presence of realized human beings who have shared the knowledge and practice of communion with Ultimate Reality.
Holistic Islam is a spiritual antidote to extremism and fundamentalism, established on a clear Quranic basis
Holistic Islam uses Quranic arguments to establish a spiritually progressive Islam.
“Sufism has long been the kernel of Islamic truth and the embodiment of its wisdom. Kabir Helminski’s Holistic Islam is a sagacious and indeed perspicacious walk through the heart and soul of Islam. It is an essential source for anyone who is interested in Sufism or in the moral impulse that motivated great sages like Rumi and Hafiz. Perhaps, more importantly, I think this book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the real Islamic faith.” Dr. Khalid Abou El Fadl, Distinguished Professor of Islamic Law at the UCLA Law School, UCLA. and author of The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists
“Kabir Helminski has written an important and redolent book which deserves to be read and reread. His book, rebalances the understanding of Islam, away from the political and theological, and towards the realm of the spiritual and the ethical. For Islam above all is a way and a discipline that seeks to encounter the ever-present traces of the divine in the world. Helminski evokes the beauty and solace that countless millions in history have witnessed and experienced in Islam, and continue to do so to this very day. Holistic Islam is not only about Sufism. It is about a profoundly spiritual religion which continues to be a touchstone for those seeking an authentic path of inner awareness and outer harmony.” Ali Allawi, author of The Crisis of Islamic Civilization (Economist “Best Book of the Year”), and former Minister of Finance and Minister of Defense, Iraqi Transition Government
“Like Judaism, Christianity and every other religion, Islam has a variety of different stands and interpretations, some extremely repressive, others deeply enlightened. In the midst of an historical period of growing Islamophobia, Kabir Helminski’s presentation of the Sufi version of Islam, much like Christian and Jewish liberation theologies, opens us to the creativity, beauty, and spiritual wisdom of this tradition. Helminski himself is a spiritual master of great depth, and anyone reading Holistic Islam will inevitably find in it wellsprings of inspiration and have new insights about why 1.5 billion people on our planet are attracted to Islam.”
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine and author of the national bestsellers Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation and of The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right
” In this age when we see strife everywhere around us, it is no surprise that the spiritual and mystical dimension of Islam offers us a return to wholeness and unity. Kabir Helminski’s Holistic Islam reminds us that tawhid is not only about the oneness of God, but, fundamentally, the means whereby we as human beings become whole, striving for a holistic path towards the One.” –Omid Safi, Director, Duke Islamic Studies Center, author of Memories of Muhammad
Holistic Islam awakens readers to the realization that moral and spiritual perfection should be the primary goal of every Muslim. Normative models associated with formal religious practice—such as those embedded in classical Islamic law—should not be absolutized nor allowed to harden into dogma. In this book, Shaykh Kabir convincingly demonstrates how Islam may be practiced in a holistic manner, and thus help to bring about a world in which Islam, and Muslims, are truly beneficent and contribute to the well-being of all humanity. Kyai Haji Yayha Cholil Staquf, General Secretary, Supreme Council of Nahdlatul Ulama (50 million members)
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster
Transcending politicized arguments, this book emphasizes holistic, dynamic spirituality over “correct” belief and practice.
In Holistic Islam: Sufism, Transformation, and the Challenge of Our Time, Kabir Helminski debunks myths about Islam. Drawing on the Qur’an and his own Sufi tradition, he points to love and the search for divine revelation as twin antidotes to religion’s dangerous slide towards legalism.
An adult convert from Catholicism, Helminski is now a Mevlevi sheikh, part of the same order as the Sufi mystic Rumi. He believes that Sufism presents a middle way between secular, materialist Western culture on the one hand and “rigid, reactionary, and harsh Islam” on the other. Instead of focusing on individual adherence to rules, he argues, Islam needs to concern itself with developing mature human beings who have awoken to the truth and respond
in love to the world’s needs.
The book highlights a number of aspects of Islam that are often overlooked, such as environmental consciousness and a radical message of equality before God—not just parity between different races and classes, but also between men and women. Several chapters address these controversial issues through responses to frequently asked questions about the role of women and the Qur’an’s teachings on sex.
The notion of Shariah law is not explicitly stated in the Qur’an, the author notes, but is a human formulation, and therefore subject to interpretation. Rather than looking to scripture for codified doctrine, then, he turns to it for spiritual guidance. For instance, he cites verses that describe Abraham’s relationship with God as an intersection of human surrender and divine sustaining. These excerpts and any Arabic terms are set apart in italic type. Quoting from Rumi, along with other poets and scholars, creates a tapestry of voices of wisdom and introduces Sufism’s potent metaphors of human maturation—“ripe” and “cooked” as opposed to raw.
Helminski balances positive statements about Islam with explanations of what it is not. This is especially helpful when discussing a religion so plagued by misconceptions: “Westerners fear Islam because they confuse it with the political reaction known as Islamic fundamentalism,” he asserts. But Islam is not the enemy of Christianity, a backward culture, or a “membership club,” but rather the “state of being of one who has surrendered to Truth.”
Transcending politicized arguments, this book emphasizes holistic, dynamic spirituality over “correct” belief and practice. Spiritual hunger is universal, and Sufism offers rich, satisfying fare.