As a young Ph.D. student, Muinuddin Charles Smith was traveling around studying religious communities in the early 1980s when he came across a commune of Sufis. He stopped studying and started meditating.
Smith and his wife Sharifa Felicia Norton will lead the Mystic Heart Meditation Program for Week Seven, guiding Sufi meditations from 7:15 to 8 a.m. Monday through Friday of Week Seven at the Main Gate Welcome Center. They hope to riff off of the week’s Interfaith Lecture theme of “The Limits and Transcendence of Humanity” to show how Sufism teaches people to transcend their normal existence and reach their true selves.
Although Sufism is the mystic branch of Islam, neither Norton nor Smith are Muslim. They are both practicing Christians who found Sufism without giving up their original faiths. Norton said that was part of Sufism’s appeal: it embraces all religions as offering a unique path to God. One does not need to be Muslim to follow mystical Islam.
“Sufism is more of a religion of heart that honors all religions and tries to find the similarities between religions rather than the differences,” Norton said.
Norton and Smith each bring Sufism into their secular lives, Norton said. A dance and yoga instructor, Norton showcases performances with Sufi themes and toured the country performing an evening solo dance/theater piece called Noor, based off the life of Sufi pacifist and World War II Allied Special Operations Officer Noor Inayat Khan. Sufism also informs their environmental work as they lead the Ziraat Activity, a branch of Sufism that advocates sacred ecology. Sufism preaches humanity’s interconnectedness with the Earth, Norton said.
“Sufism says all Earth is sacred so you can’t separate yourself from nature,” Norton said. “If you pollute the river, you pollute the water you drink.”
Outside of work, Norton said Sufism has allowed her to slow down life and be open to more possibilities. She said it also taught her simple things like breathing well, seeking wisdom from every experience and living in each moment, lessons she hopes to pass down to Chautauquans.
“In morning meditation, we hope to have opportunity for everyone to have experience of setting down their conventional, worried mind to some place that’s a little more settled and deeper,” Norton said.