Sufism and Wine

Author: Oleg Cherne

Sufism and Wine

There will circulate among them young boys made eternal with vessels, pitchers and a cup [of wine] from a flowing spring — No headache will they have therefrom, nor will they be intoxicated.

Surah 56 Al-Waqi’ah «Resurrection», 17-19

Here we offer readers an article about the connection of wine and Sufism in the author’s column of Code de Vino editor-in-chief, Oleg Cherne. I’m sure many of our readers acquainted with the writings of Omar Khayyam or other great poets of the Islamic world have paid attention to their numerous remarks about wine. Wine and Islam… what links them together? This issue is the focus in the material of researcher Oleg Cherne, a specialist in world cultures and the author of several books on Sufism under the name Shaaban.

Sufism and Wine

Sufism is a formula for spiritual development, granting practical experience for unification with the highest natural force, capable of revealing itself or being actualized in a person. Sufism represents a cultural-historical environment where Islamic culture and the nature of purity, which recurs in both knowledge, and the nature of formation of Sufi groups and fraternities, consists of 12 matrix schools.

It is difficult to discuss Sufism, as it is a way of practice, not an ideology, where the fundamental alignment rests in Islam, which is primarily the science of the existing fields that a Sufi reunites with. And every union carries with it the nature of ecstasy and experience, which is exactly what Sufi call wine.

The appreciation of wine in Sufism is seen exclusively through the nature of experience, which extols the Sufi, transporting them from one spiritual stop on their path (or from one quality) to another. We can see a similar concept in the early mysteries of Dionysus and Orpheus.


Sufism (tasawwuf, Arabic) is an ascetic and mystical trend in Islam. The word tasawwuf is not mentioned in the Quran, yet the foundations of Sufism were formulated by the Prophet Muhammad and reflected in the hadith (the prophet’s sayings, included in the Sunnah, or sacred tradition). For the Sufi, the Prophet Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, who by his example indicated the paths of spiritual perfection for man.


All that creates shackles for the mind Sufi find odious. And of course, understanding and studying wine can’t be made commercial or perceived in a linear fashion. Wine, mentioned so often by Sufi poets and masters, is the object of a spiritual love allowing Sufi to habitate the higher realms of existence.

It is important, that Sufism teaches not just experience, but also control over it, so when we discuss Sufism, we must start with this concept trying to correlate wine as a product and wine as experience.


Sufism and Wine

Khamriyat is a genre of poetry dedicated to praising wine, with roots dating back to the pre-Islamic period of Arabic and Persian poetry. In the early stages of development, khamriyat was a kind of kasyda poetry, or a transitional phase from folklore to the author’s poetry. Among the most famous ancient poets are Al-A’sha (570-629) and Al-Ahtal (640-710). The works of Abu Nuwas (8th century-813) are considered the golden age of Khamriyat.

O spewing out blasphemy for a wine-rapture,

Not that poured into the bowl, drunken spirit in my dungeon.

Oh, no, my vine grows from the intoxication of the soul,

And the one who sheds dawns to me pours buckets of wine into my soul!


Rumi, Rubaiyat 432


To comprehend Khamriyat, a special genre of poetry taking wine as their focus, it is important to understand that it involves a complex Sufi lexicon requiring a skilled explanation and interpretation. A Sufi doesn’t seek pleasure; Sufism is a path consisting of different forms of knowledge, and wine in it is a symbol that allows us to perceive the phenomenon of a hidden world. The ecstasy of Sufi is a condition a Sufi reaches through inner transformation, a kind of fermentation experience they need to be able to drink, that is to assimilate.


Wine that is forbidden for the sober,

Is allowed for the drunk dervish.

O, cupbearer, don’t tell it’s enough for me —

I will drink till I wine ends!


Rumi, Rubaiyat 1108


Wine in Sufism is a direct experience of supreme reality, which is required for spiritual perception. And talking about it is only permissible with a prepared individual. For the unprepared individual, not only misconceptions are dangerous, but an overall interpretation of wine used to potentially deviate from the path or even abandon it.

It is dangerous to allow a primitive perception of wine and a primitive experience of it, which in turn destroys human nature. Wine is a kind of witness, but this witness should not challenge the person’s experience of the ultimate manifestation of love, which has different forms of fermentation.


Sufism and Wine

Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273)

The theme of wine was touched upon in the writings of prominent Sufi poets. In fact, some researchers refer to al-Harith al-Muhasibi (781-857) and al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi (755-869) as the first Sufi poets. Among the Sufi poets, the name Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273), whose works are used in Sufi ceremonies, stands out in particular. Rumi was the spiritual ancestor of the dervishes (ascetics) of the most influential tariqat in Ottoman Turkey, which still exists today, as a method of spiritual elevation in Sufism.


The degree of maturity, tenacity and love quality makes it a product comparable with the nature of a true wine, which is not abundant in its pure form, if we use Sufi notions to evaluate it. Among other ways of understanding it, love for a Sufi (ishq in Farsi, or ashk in Turkish) is wandering or directed fermentation, sharab (wine, Farsi).

This identity sometimes causes a rebuke from those who do not understand the nature of following the path and development of human nature, which should not only clean, but also destroy the rough forms of addictions.


Sufism and Wine

Ahmad Ghazali (?-1123)

He struck once the ray of the mind of the Prophet
The dullard that was sitting nearby.
He realized a lot in life suddenly –
As a genius, entirely, not in stages.

Fell into euphoria, the fool
without stopping started to loudly shout to no avail,
Interrupt beyond decency,
Showing non-personalities a custom.

The non-personality emerges when you’re nervous,
With in anger, fear or intoxication.
A dervish, albeit drunk with alcohol,
keeps his non-personality under control.

But most sober hide the meanness,
That simplifies the intimate between them.
Suppressed by the sober are arrogance, anger.
The drunk will show them through the shame.

That’s why the intoxicating wine
was by the Prophet forbidden to all.




Thus, wine in Sufism has a transcendental meaning that carries the nature of the divine unity of Tawheed (monotheism, Arabic). Wine is a certain attribute that needs a cup on the ground (kadah, Arabic, shaghar, Farsi), which is the heart, and this cup is filled from heaven. This is not linear concept, but is indeed measured, indicating what to drink, from which vessel and how much of the Deed of divine knowledge it holds.


Oh, limitation of the mind!

With you I find no bliss,

That only wine could grant.




Sufism and Wine

Ibn Al-Farid (1181-1235)

Divine unity in Sufism is connected with the concepts of spiritual stops, or unique stages, on an individual’s spiritual path. From a certain perspective this requires the ability to assimilate and absorb what one has accomplished, but on the other hand, to prepare oneself for a new phase. This embodies the entire concept of Sufi illumination, which dictates the need not to react to a concept or question, for example, but to be able to live through it. So the very question of what wine is for Sufis is of the utmost importance in understanding wine culture as a manifestation of the absolute and indivisible, wujud-i mutlaq, Arabic, through direct/genuine contemplation, or shuhûd , Farsi, ru’yat, Arabic and discovery, or kashf .

Thus, wine is an abstract and speculative image, testing the human perception of how things are in reality. There is the nature of the world, and there is its reflection, which must be considered, if not studied directly, in order to create a bridge from the visible world to the invisible world, or from unity to detail. Not only everything, but every action has its own individuality if it is a thing in itself or an unchangeable object ‘ayn-i thabitah, in which the Sufis also include the concept of wine. In other words, wine is something which possesses its own reality.

Sufism and Wine

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131)

Even when translating this concept to the physical aspect of wine, we must ascertain the relevance of matter even in this field, if you look at wine as food or perceive it as energy. Just as intoxication from knowledge is dangerous for the Sufi, so is intoxication from wine dangerous for all. Intoxication from wine begins with the fact that people do not embrace the nature and natural properties of wine, which ultimately prevents them from assimilating it. Wine for the Sufi is a key symbol hiding two important aspects: knowledge and cognitive experience. In other words, qawl fi-l-khamr.

Another issue of interest is the equilibrium and i’tidal as a kind of harmonic state of union with God. Tariqat, the way of the Sufi, is a distinct scheme requiring a certain mind state and way of thinking in line with an informal attitude to space, which is very similar to the properties of fermentation.

To reiterate, the fairly frequent mention of wine by Ibn Al-Farid (1181-1235), Ahmad Ghazali (?-1123) and Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) is a good indication of the existence of an entire Sufi science about wine or wine philosophy, which is all the more interesting in the view of both space and practice. Thus, wine for the Sufi is a model of metaphysical teaching, and a mystery of unity in its multiplicity.