Sufism – the mystical branch of Islam – is dedicated to the purification of the inner self through direct personal experience of God. It’s had a huge influence on Islamic art and literature and thanks to its gentle practices, was instrumental in the peaceful spread of Islam.
The metaphor of lovers is often used by Sufis to describe divine oneness with God. This state of ‘Dhikr’ manifests in the heart rendering the outward person sober while the inner person is drunk on divine love.
Sufism, building on the Islamic condemnation of idol worship, rejects the material world in favour of a more spiritual existence. Here, in The Infidel’s Garden, Marjit voices her discomfort with the Christian adulation of saints and the clerical hierarchy to Pieter.
“Dependence on father figures leads to idol worship!” I reply angrily. When Pieter’s eyes widen at my passionate reply, I remind myself I’m starting to worship him like an idol.
Aware of the murder of Marjit’s Sufi family at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition, (who accused them not only of following a blasphemous faith but also of sorcery), Pieter, is also deeply conflicted. While he struggles to reconcile the prejudices of a monarchy and church he supports with his own devotion to the Christian faith, he’s also challenged by the more esoteric elements of Sufism. Which culminates in this passionate exchange between the tormented pair:
He looks at me and frowns. “Some might say a mystic faith like that would drive people to insanity.”
My blood already hot, feels as if it might boil. “Love of God is not insanity,” I reply, more tersely than I intended.
Although she feels she can trust Pieter; by voicing her opinions so passionately, Marjit is putting herself in considerable danger. This was a time of religious bigotry and intolerance. People snitched on each other. If the wrong person overheard their conversation, Marjit could be accused of trying to corrupt her master. Or even worse, bewitch him.
May I add here that people closing their minds to the teachings of other faiths isn’t just another historical detail. Government-sanctioned religious discrimination, persecution and murder of people peacefully practicing their faiths still happens today.
There’s some more on Sufism here: