What has just been said of the followers of different faiths is even more patent in their mystics. Despite the abrogation of their religions, we do not doubt the possibility of mystics of other faiths reaching a higher spiritual plane, for when the lower soul is negated and sublimated by spiritual disciplines, the powers of the higher soul seldom fail to appear, and it is not impossible that in such a condition it might behold Ultimate Reality, which is, after all, as real and objective as Detroit or anything else in the physical world.
But what a difference between the few hundred Jewish, Christian, or even American Indian mystics of the Western tradition who left any record of their experiences-men and women such as Catherine of Siena, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Francis of Assisi, Moses Cordovero, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John Tauler, Henry Suso, Jakob Böhme, Handsome Lake, Isaac Luria, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross-and the literally thousands of Sufi masters of the Islamic tradition who founded the great mystical orders, had immense influence for centuries at all levels of society, produced an unparalleled and monumental body of mystic literature in poetry and prose, and left countless adepts in the beatitude of the Divine Presence, a living tradition that continues to this day. What other religion has ever seen a Mathnawi like Rumi’s? There is a tremendous difference between a few outstanding spiritual personalities that appeared at times and places in the West, like occasional watering places scattered across a hinterland, and the throngs of mystics of the Islamic milieu, on a sea of the Divine whose tides flooded regularly.
Not only in the numbers of contemplatives, but in the abidingness of their personal experiences, there is a great difference between the mystics of Islam, who proceeded from the light of true monotheism to a state of perpetual illumination, men such as Sahl al-Tustari, al-Ghawth Abu Madyan, Shams al-Tabrizi, Ibn ‘Arabi, Abul Hasan al-Shadhili, and others whose testimony is unambiguous, and those of other faiths, who through self-mortification caught momentary glimpses of the Godhead in “experiences” they then translated to others in spiritual depositions.