What Is Sufism?

A sufi saint performing a ritual in Khartoum, Sudan.
A sufi saint performing a ritual in Khartoum, Sudan.

What Is Sufism?

Islam is one of the largest religions in the world and also the fastest growing with a current following of over 1.7 billion people. Muslims are divided into three main branches including the Sunni, Shiah, and the Kharijite depending mainly on their origin. Muslims believe in one God, angels, Quran, and Prophet Mohammad. They pray five times a day, give alms, fast in the holy month of Ramadan and make a pilgrimage to the city of Mecca as an act of worship. Another important aspect of Islam is an attempt to find a direct personal experience of God which is practiced by all the branches of Islam. This act of turning the heart away from all else but God is known as Sufism in Islam.

Overview Of Sufism

Sufism is an inner mystical dimension of Islam practiced by different turuq which is a congregation formed around mawla who trace their teachings to Prophet Muhammad. Turuq meet for spiritual sessions referred to as majlis in places known as Zawiyas or tekke. Sufi seeks to find direct connection and spiritual experience with God by turning the heart away from all things worldly and focusing entirely on God. The precepts of Sufi can be traced from Muhammad through Ali who was his cousin and Naqshbandi who traces their origin from Muhammad through Rashid Caliph. The Sufi followed one of the four madhhabs of the Sunni Muslim and gained prominence among the Muslims are an attempt to fight worldliness in the early Umayyad Caliphate between 660 and 750. Sufi has since spread to different continents and culture over the past millennium.

The term Sufism originated from the British Orient lists who wanted to separate what they found attractive in Islam from what they thought was negative. However, Muslims have used the term Tasawwuf or Sufism to refer to the inner character of Islam supported by the outward rituals of the religion such as Sharia. Therefore, for one to be a Muslim, he or she must be a true Sufi. Sufism is not a sect within an Islam religion but a part of Islamic practice that concentrates on purification of the inner self. It focuses on more spiritual dimentions of the religion and strives to obtain a direct encounter with God through the use of emotional faculties through regular practices.

History And Spread Of Sufism

Sufi orders are anchored on bayah or pledge of allegiance that is said to have been given to Prophet Muhammad by his companions (Sahabah). The Sahabah committed themselves to serving God by pledging allegiance to the Prophet. The first manuals containing the Sufi doctrines and practices were written towards the end of the first millennium. Two of the notable articles include Kashf al-Mahjub and Risala. Sufism produced a great culture in the Islamic world between the 13th and 16th centuries. During this period several places were endowed through waqf to provide a suitable meeting place for the Sufi adept and lodging for those seeking Sufi knowledge. The same endowments were used in constructions such as the famous Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. Sufism was critical in the growth and development of Islam and creation of several Islamic practices, especially in Africa and Asia. Experts in Sufism assert that the initial period of development of Sufism was referred to the internalization of Islam direct from Quran which was regularly recited, meditated upon, and experienced. Sufism played an important point of contact between the Hinduism and Islam in India during the pilgrimage to the Shrines of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti who was the founder of Chishtiyya order. More Hindu than Muslims were converted to the Sufi practices during this period.

The conquest of the South Asia by the Turkic was accompanied by the Sufi mystic of the Chashtiyya order and spreading its roots across India. The Suhrawardi order was brought into India by Baha-Ud-din Zakariya of Multan. Other Sufi orders introduced in India in the 13th and 16th centuries include Naqshbandiyyah and Qadiriyyah. The modern Sufi order is made up of the Ba’Alawiyya, Chishti, Khalwati, Naqshbandi, Sarwari Qadiri among other orders. Sufism is popular in countries like Morocco and Senegal whereas it is traditional in Morocco. Sufism is popular in Senegal because it can accommodate the local cultures which lean towards the mystical. However, Sufism has suffered a setback in some North African countries and among the modernist Muslims who consider it a superstitious practice which holds back Islamic progress in the field of technology and science. Some of the prominent Sufis include Abul Hasan Ash-Shadhil who introduced dhikr, Bayazid Bastami, Ibn Arabi, and Mansur Al-Hallaj among other prominent Sufis.

Objectives Of Sufism

Sufism believes that one can get into the presence of God and embrace the divinity of the present life. The main goals of Sufism are to seek to please God by building within self the primeval state of fitra as highlighted in the Quran. In teaching, the Sufis believe that the passage of divine light is from a teacher to the student through the heart rather than the worldly knowledge. Devotion to Muhammad is a definite aim and an exceptional practice within the Sufis. Muhammad is revered because of his spiritual greatness. In fact, the Sufis believe that Islam is the best religion because of the Prophet Muhammad because he is supreme and master of greatness. Sufis also believe that the Sharia, Tariqa, and haqiqa are all independent.

Devotional Practices Of Sufism

The devotional practices of Sufism vary because of the acknowledged and authorized paths in attaining spirituality. The requirement for the practice includes adherence to the Islamic pillars while the seekers are also required to be rooted in the practices of the way of life of Prophet Muhammad. The seeker must have the correct creed and hold on to its tenets and turn away from sin and love for this world and obedience to satanic impulses. Other devotional practices include Dhikr (remembrance of Allah), Muraqaba (meditation), Sufi whirling (active physical meditation), and visitation.

Persecution Of The Sufis

The persecutions of Sufis include the destruction of their shrines and other places of worship, suppression, and discrimination in many parts of the Muslim world. In Pakistan, over 200 Sufis were killed and 500 injured in 2005. Sufi ceremonial practices which accompany their worship were banned and shrines destroyed under the Al-Shabab rule in Somali. In 2010, Dhikr gatherings were banned in Egypt while several Sufi religious sites in Libya were destroyed during the Libyan Civil War. The government of Iran considers total ban on Sufism with the destruction of several Sufi places of worship


More in Society