In all my studies and travels, I have found no complete manifestation of the Islamic spirit anywhere except within the context of the sufi orders. It was said by the Prophet that there would always be at least forty men in whose hearts would be found the Reality of the Divine Message. Let us be thankful that there are indeed many more than that still available, and hope and pray that they only increase. The spiritual stations, if not all the identities, of these people are known and talked about in sufi lore -- many of them are the recognized masters of any age and many of them are hidden from view and some of them don't know yet who they are.
Defining Sufism as the science of divine realization within the Islamic context, we emphasize 'within the Islamic context', but stress that this 'Islamic context' is defined in the heart of the Sufi Master. This definition could range from ultimate liberality and nonchalance for one student or community to a strict and intensive learning situation for another.
Massive portions of Islamic knowledge can be learned from books. The libraries and bookstores are full to the brim with contemporary and ancient literature on the subject, and there seems to be no end to the number of seekers in the world today. However it must be realized that the realities and arenas for the practical application of these knowledges cannot be found in books, indeed the best possible description of these realities is that they cannot be even described, let alone transmitted, through writing. Service (`ibadat), and seeking (suluk), are for the most part forgotten sciences.
Please recognize and honor the true purpose and benevolent nature of the Islamic revelation. This understanding is a prerequisite to sufihood. For without believing in the Benevolent Nature of The Divine and by extension, the prophets, books, and revealed lifestyles, one would have no reason to accept the teachings of a sufi master and hence no reason to apply oneself to membership in a sufi community.
If we do recognize the nature and purpose of the Divine Message, then we will have no difficulty in recognizing the benefit and blessing both to ourselves and to humanity in general, derived from seeking out and applying ourselves to the services, studies and practices indicated by these teachers.
Surrender to Allah (Islam) implies limitless freedom, while subservience to the self and its personal concerns guarantees endless slavery. Illusion is deceptive. That is its very nature. A well-known maxim among the sufis is that 'the gates of paradise are surrounded by the fires of hell, and the gates of hell are surrounded by the temptations of paradise.' If one sees the fulfillment of one's personal ambitions as the ultimate goal of life, (i. e. the illusion of paradise), and that their dead sacrifice in the service of other-than-self is what is being asked of them in exchange for true personal and spiritual fulfillment, one can get a taste of the meaning of this maxim.
The Prophet said that he (and Islam) would always be found among the poor. This implies also that many of the rich will be too hopelessly under the sway of fear for loss of what they had gained of worldly wealth and position to be able to offer the surrender and help necessary for the attainment of true spiritual service. Also that among the poor would always be where the service was needed.
In reality these fears are unfounded and detrimental to individual and social well being. There have been many very well-to-do individuals throughout history who have realized the benefit of either leaving or offering their wealth and service for the cause of spiritual and social benefit. In Reality nothing is lost. But the social harms and personal dangers that are caused by clinging to a limited, personal concept of life and material substance are extremely evident contemporarily and historically.
The real distinction is between slavery (to everything: self, desire, worldly life, and temptation to evil), and freedom (liberation from said slavery) to serve transcendent goodness and help in the liberation of others. Hence the famous statement '"If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem"'