Sufism or Taṣawwuf
(Arabic: التصوف), which is often defined as “Islamicmysticism,” “the inward dimension of Islam,” or “the phenomenon of mysticism within Islam,” is a mystical trend in Islam “characterized … [by particular] values, ritual practices, doctrines and institutions” which began very early on in Islamic historyand which represents “the main manifestation and the most important and central crystallization of” mystical practice in Islam.
Although the overwhelming majority of Sufis, both pre-modern and modern, have been adherents of Sunni Islam, there nevertheless also developed certain strands of Sufi practice within the ambit of Shia Islam during the late medieval period.
Practitioners of Sufism have been referred to as “Sufis” (/ˈsuːfi/; صُوفِيّ ; ṣūfī), an Arabic word which is believed by historians to have originally indicated the “woollen clothes (ṣūf) or rough garb” worn by the early Islamic mystics.Historically, they have often belonged to different ṭuruq or “orders”—congregations formed around a grand master referred to as a mawla who traces a direct chain of teachers back to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.
“Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him; if you can’t see Him, surely He sees you.”
Rumi stated: “The Sufi is hanging on to Muhammad, like Abu Bakr.” Sufis regard Muhammad as al-Insān al-Kāmil, the primary perfect man who exemplifies the morality of God, and regard Muhammad as their leader and prime spiritual guide.
All Sufi orders trace many of their original precepts from Muhammad through his son-in-law Ali with the notable exception of the Naqshbandi, who claim to trace their origins from Muhammad through the first Rashid Caliph, Abu Bakr. The orders largely follow one of the four madhhabs (jurisprudent schools of thought) of Sunni Islam and maintain a Sunni aqidah (creed).
Classical Sufis were characterized by their asceticism, especially by their attachment to dhikr, the practice of repeating the names of God, often performed after prayers. They gained adherents among a number of Muslims as a reaction against the worldliness of the early Umayyad Caliphate (661–750). and have spanned several continents and cultures over a millennium, originally expressing their beliefs in Arabic before spreading into Persian, Turkish, and Urdu among dozens of other languages.
The term Sufism came into being, not by Islamic texts or Sufis themselves but by British Orientalists who wanted to create an artificial divide between what they found attractive in Islamic civilization (i.e. Islamic spirituality) and the negative stereotypes that were present in Britain about Islam.
These British orientalists, therefore, fabricated a divide that was previously non-existent. The term Sufism has, however, persisted especially in the Western world ever since.
Historically, Muslims have used the Arabic word taṣawwuf to identify the practice of Sufis. Mainstream scholars of Islam define Tasawwuf or Sufism as the name for the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam which is supported and complemented by outward or exoteric practices of Islam, such as Sharia. In this view, “it is absolutely necessary to be a Muslim” to be a true Sufi, because Sufism’s “methods are inoperative without” Muslim “affiliation”. However, Islamic scholars themselves are not by any means in agreement about the meaning of the word “sufi”.
Sufis themselves claim that Tasawwuf is an aspect of Islam similar to Sharia,inseparable from Islam and an integral part of Islamic belief and practice.Classical Sufi scholars have defined Tasawwuf as “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God”.
 Traditional Sufis such as Bayazid Bastami, Rumi, Haji Bektash Veli, Junayd of Baghdad, and Al-Ghazali, define Sufism as purely based upon the tenets of Islam and the teachings of Muhammad.
The original meaning of sufi seems to have been “one who wears wool (ṣūf)”, and Encyclopaedia of Islam calls other etymological hypotheses “untenable”. Woollen clothes were traditionally associated with ascetics and mystics. Al-Qushayri and Ibn Khaldun both rejected all possibilities other than ṣūf on linguistic grounds.
Another explanation traces the lexical root of the word to ṣafā (صفاء), which in Arabic means “purity”. These two explanations were combined by the Sufi al-Rudhabari (d. 322 AH), who said, “The Sufi is the one who wears wool on top of purity”.
Others have suggested that the word comes from the term ahl aṣ-ṣuffah (“the people of the bench”), who were a group of impoverished companions of Muhammad who held regular gatherings of dhikr. These men and women who sat at al-Masjid an-Nabawi are considered by some to be the first Sufis.
Sufi orders are based on the bayʿah (pledge of allegiance) that was given to Muhammad by his Sahabah. By pledging allegiance to Muhammad, the Sahabah had committed themselves to the service of God. According to Islamic belief, by pledging allegiance to Muhammad, the Sahaba have pledged allegiance to God.
Verily, those who give Bai’âh (pledge) to you (O Muhammad) they are giving Bai’âh (pledge) to Allâh. The Hand of Allâh is over their hands. Then whosoever breaks his pledge, breaks it only to his own harm, and whosoever fulfils what he has covenanted with Allâh, He will bestow on him a great reward. – [Translation of Quran, 48:10]
Sufis believe that by giving bayʿah (pledging allegiance) to a legitimate Sufi shaykh, one is pledging allegiance to Muhammad and therefore a spiritual connection between the seeker and Muhammad is established. It is through Muhammad that Sufis aim to learn about, understand and connect with God. Ali is regarded as one of the major figures amongst the Sahaba who have directly pledged allegiance to Muhammad and Sufis maintain that through Ali, knowledge about Muhammad and a connection with Muhammad may be attained. Such a concept may be understood by the hadith, which Sufis regard to be authentic, in which Muhammad said, “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate”. Eminent Sufis such as Ali Hujwiri refer to Ali as having a very high ranking in Tasawwuf. Furthermore, Junayd of Baghdad regarded Ali as sheikh of the principals and practices of Tasawwuf.
Practitioners of Sufism hold that in its early stages of development Sufism effectively referred to nothing more than the internalization of Islam.According to one perspective, it is directly from the Qur’an, constantly recited, meditated, and experienced, that Sufism proceeded, in its origin and its development. Other practitioners have held that Sufism is the strict emulation of the way of Muhammad, through which the heart’s connection to the Divine is strengthened.
Modern academics and scholars have rejected early orientalist theories asserting a non-Islamic origin of Sufism, The consensus is that it emerged in Western Asia. Many have asserted Sufism to be unique within the confines of the Islamic religion and contend that Sufism developed from people like Bayazid Bastami, who, in his utmost reverence to the sunnah, refused to eat a watermelon because he did not find any proof that Muhammad ever ate it. According to the late medieval mystic Jami, Abd-Allah ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah (died c. 716) was the first person to be called a “Sufi”.
Important contributions in writing are attributed[by whom?] to Uwais al-Qarani, Hasan of Basra, Harith al-Muhasibi and Said ibn al-Musayyib. Ruwaym, from the second generation of Sufis in Baghdad, was also an influential early figure,as was Junayd of Baghdad; a number of early practitioners of Sufism were disciples of one of the two.
Sufism had a long history already before the subsequent institutionalization of Sufi teachings into devotional orders (tarîqât) in the early Middle Ages. The Naqshbandi order is a notable exception to general rule of orders tracing their spiritual lineage through Muhammad’s grandsons, as it traces the origin of its teachings from Muhammad to the first Islamic Caliph, Abu Bakr.
Over the years Sufi orders have influenced and have been adopted by various Shi’i movements, especially Isma’ilism, which led to the Safaviyya order’s conversion to Shia Islam from Sunni Islam and the spread of Twelverism throughout Iran. Sufi orders include Ba ‘Alawiyya, Badawiyya, Bektashi, Burhaniyya, Chishti, Khalwati, Mevlevi, Naqshbandi, Ni’matullāhī, Uwaisi, Qadiriyya, Qalandariyya, Rifa’i, Sarwari Qadiri, Shadhiliyya, Suhrawardiyya, Tijaniyyah, Zinda Shah Madariya, and others.
As an Islamic discipline
Existing in both Sunni and Shia Islam, Sufism is not a distinct sect, as is sometimes erroneously assumed, but a method of approaching or a way of understanding the religion, which strives to take the regular practice of the religion to the “supererogatory level”through simultaneously “fulfilling … [the obligatory] religious duties” and finding a “way and a means of striking a root through the ‘narrow gate’ in the depth of the soul out into the domain of the pure arid unimprisonable Spirit[disambiguation needed] which itself opens out on to the Divinity.”
As a mystic and ascetic aspect of Islam, it is considered as the part of Islamic teaching that deals with the purification of the inner self. By focusing on the more spiritual aspects of religion, Sufis strive to obtain direct experience of God by making use of “intuitive and emotional faculties” that one must be trained to use.
Tasawwuf is regarded as a science of the soul that has always been an integral part of Orthodox Islam. In his Al-Risala al-Safadiyya, ibn Taymiyyah describes the Sufis as those who belong to the path of the Sunna and represent it in their teachings and writings.
Ibn Taymiyya’s Sufi inclinations and his reverence for Sufis like Abdul-Qadir Gilani can also be seen in his hundred-page commentary on Futuh al-ghayb, covering only five of the seventy-eight sermons of the book, but showing that he considered tasawwuf essential within the life of the Islamic community.
In his commentary, Ibn Taymiyya stresses that the primacy of the Sharia forms the soundest tradition in tasawwuf, and to argue this point he lists over a dozen early masters, as well as more contemporary shaykhs like his fellow Hanbalis, al-Ansari al-Harawi and Abdul-Qadir, and the latter’s own shaykh, Hammad al-Dabbas the upright. He cites the early shaykhs (shuyukh al-salaf) such as Al-Fuḍayl ibn ‘Iyāḍ, Ibrahim ibn Adham, Ma`ruf al-Karkhi, Sirri Saqti, Junayd of Baghdad, and others of the early teachers, as well as Abdul-Qadir Gilani, Hammad, Abu al-Bayan and others of the later masters— that they do not permit the followers of the Sufi path to depart from the divinely legislated command and prohibition.
Al-Ghazali narrates in Al-Munqidh min al-dalal:
The vicissitudes of life, family affairs and financial constraints engulfed my life and deprived me of the congenial solitude. The heavy odds confronted me and provided me with few moments for my pursuits. This state of affairs lasted for ten years but wherever I had some spare and congenial moments I resorted to my intrinsic proclivity. During these turbulent years, numerous astonishing and indescribable secrets of life were unveiled to me. I was convinced that the group of Aulia (holy mystics) is the only truthful group who follow the right path, display best conduct and surpass all sages in their wisdom and insight. They derive all their overt or covert behaviour from the illumining guidance of the holy Prophet, the only guidance worth quest and pursuit.
Formalization of doctrine
In the eleventh-century, Sufism, which had previously been a less “codified” trend in Islamic piety, began to be “ordered and crystallized” into orders which have continued until the present day. All these orders were founded by a major Islamic saint, and some of the largest and most widespread included the Qadiriyya (after Abdul-Qadir Gilani [d. 1166]), the Rifa’iyya (after Ahmed al-Rifa’i [d. 1182]), the Chishtiyya (after Moinuddin Chishti [d. 1236]), the Shadiliyya (after Abul Hasan ash-Shadhili [d. 1258]), and the Naqshbandiyya (after Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari [d. 1389]).
Contrary to popular perception in the West, however, neither the founders of these orders nor their followers ever considered themselves to be anything other than orthodox Sunni Muslims,and in fact all of these orders were attached to one of the four orthodox legal schools of Sunni Islam. Thus, the Qadiriyya order was Hanbali, with its founder, Abdul-Qadir Gilani, being a renowned Hanbali jurist; the Chishtiyya was Hanafi; the Shadiliyya order was Maliki; and the Naqshbandiyya order was Hanafi.
 Thus, it is precisely because it is historically proven that “many of the most eminent defenders of Islamic orthodoxy, such as Abdul-Qadir Gilani, Ghazali, and the Sultan Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn (Saladin) were connected with Sufism” that the popular studies of writers like Idris Shah are continuously disregarded by scholars as conveying the fallacious image that “Sufism” is somehow distinct from “Islam.”
Towards the end of the first millennium, a number of manuals began to be written summarizing the doctrines of Sufism and describing some typical Sufi practices. Two of the most famous of these are now available in English translation: the Kashf al-Mahjûb of Ali Hujwiri and the Risâla of Al-Qushayri.
Two of al-Ghazali‘s greatest treatises are the Revival of Religious Sciences and what he termed “its essence”, the Kimiya-yi sa’ādat. He argued that Sufism originated from the Qur’an and thus was compatible with mainstream Islamic thought and did not in any way contradict Islamic Law—being instead necessary to its complete fulfillment. Ongoing efforts by both traditionally trained Muslim scholars and Western academics are making al-Ghazali’s works more widely available in English translation, allowing English-speaking readers to judge for themselves the compatibility of Islamic Law and Sufi doctrine. Several sections of the Revival of Religious Sciences have been published in translation by the Islamic Texts Society. An abridged translation (from an Urdu translation) of The Alchemy of Happiness was published by Claud Field (ISBN 978-0935782288) in 1910. It has been translated in full by Muhammad Asim Bilal (2001).
Growth of influence
Historically, Sufism became “an incredibly important part of Islam” and “one of the most widespread and omnipresent aspects of Muslim life” in Islamic civilization from the early medieval period onwards, when it began to permeate nearly all major aspects of Sunni Islamic life in regions stretching from India and Iraq to the Balkans and Senegal.
The rise of Islamic civilization coincides strongly with the spread of Sufi philosophy in Islam. The spread of Sufism has been considered a definitive factor in the spread of Islam, and in the creation of integrally Islamic cultures, especially in Africa and Asia. The Senussi tribes of Libya and the Sudan are one of the strongest adherents of Sufism. Sufi poets and philosophers such as Khoja Akhmet Yassawi, Rumi, and Attar of Nishapur (c. 1145 – c. 1221) greatly enhanced the spread of Islamic culture in Anatolia, Central Asia, and South Asia. Sufism also played a role in creating and propagating the culture of the Ottoman world, and in resisting European imperialism in North Africa and South Asia.
Between the 13th and 16th centuries, Sufism produced a flourishing intellectual culture throughout the Islamic world, a “Golden Age” whose physical artifacts survive. In many places a person or group would endow a waqf to maintain a lodge (known variously as a zawiya, khanqah, or tekke) to provide a gathering place for Sufi adepts, as well as lodging for itinerant seekers of knowledge. The same system of endowments could also pay for a complex of buildings, such as that surrounding the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, including a lodge for Sufi seekers, a hospice with kitchens where these seekers could serve the poor and/or complete a period of initiation, a library, and other structures. No important domain in the civilization of Islam remained unaffected by Sufism in this period.
Sufism continued to remain a crucial part of daily Islamic life until the twentieth century, when its historical influence upon Islamic civilization began to be undermined by modernism as well as be combated by the rise of Salafism and Wahhabism.
“[In] classical, mainstream, medieval Sunni Islam … [the idea of] ‘orthodox Islam’ would not … [have been possible] without Sufism,” and that the classical belief in Sufism being an essential component of Islam has only weakened in some quarters of the Islamic world “a generation or two ago” with the rise of Salafism. In the modern world, the classical interpretation of Sunni orthodoxy, which sees in Sufism an essential dimension of Islam alongside the disciplines of jurisprudence and theology, is represented by institutions such as Egypt‘s Al-Azhar University and Zaytuna College, with Al-Azhar’s current Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb recently defining “Sunni orthodoxy” as being a follower “of any of the four schools of [legal] thought (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki or Hanbali) and … [also] of the Sufism of Imam Junayd of Baghdad in doctrines, manners and [spiritual] purification.”
Current Sufi orders include Alians, Bektashi Order, Mevlevi Order, Ba ‘Alawiyya, Chishti Order, Jerrahi, Naqshbandi, Mujaddidi, Ni’matullāhī, Qadiriyya, Qalandariyya, Sarwari Qadiriyya, Shadhiliyya, Suhrawardiyya, Ashrafi Family, Saifiah (Naqshbandiah), and Uwaisi. The relationship of Sufi orders to modern societies is usually defined by their relationship to governments.
Turkey and Persia together have been a center for many Sufi lineages and orders. The Bektashi were closely affiliated with the Ottoman Janissaries and is the heart of Turkey’s large and mostly liberal Alevi population. It has spread westwards to Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and, more recently, to the United States via Albania.
Sufism is popular in such African countries as Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Senegal, where it is seen as a mystical expression of Islam.Sufism is traditional in Morocco but has seen a growing revival with the renewal of Sufism under contemporary spiritual teachers such as Hamza al Qadiri al Boutchichi. Mbacke suggests that one reason Sufism has taken hold in Senegal is because it can accommodate local beliefs and customs, which tend toward the mystical.
The life of the Algerian Sufi master Abdelkader El Djezairi is instructive in this regard. Notable as well are the lives of Amadou Bamba and El Hadj Umar Tall in West Africa, and Sheikh Mansur and Imam Shamil in the Caucasus. In the twentieth century, some Muslims have called Sufism a superstitious religion that holds back Islamic achievement in the fields of science and technology.
A number of Westerners have embarked with varying degrees of success on the path of Sufism. One of the first to return to Europe as an official representative of a Sufi order, and with the specific purpose to spread Sufism in Western Europe, was the Swedish-born wandering Sufi Ivan Aguéli. René Guénon, the French scholar, became a Sufi in the early twentieth century and was known as Sheikh Abdul Wahid Yahya. His manifold writings defined the practice of Sufism as the essence of Islam but also pointed to the universality of its message. Other spiritualists, such as George Gurdjieff, may or may not conform to the tenets of Sufism as understood by orthodox Muslims.
Other noteworthy Sufi teachers who have been active in the West in recent years include Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, Inayat Khan, Nazim Al-Haqqani, Javad Nurbakhsh, Bulent Rauf, Irina Tweedie, Idries Shah, Muzaffer Ozak, Nahid Angha, and Ali Kianfar.
Aims and objectivesEdit
While all Muslims believe that they are on the pathway to Allah and hope to become close to God in Paradise—after death and after the Last Judgment—Sufis also believe that it is possible to draw closer to God and to more fully embrace the divine presence in this life. The chief aim of all Sufis is to seek the pleasing of God by working to restore within themselves the primordial state of fitra, described in the Quran. In this state nothing one does defies God, and all is undertaken with the single motivation of ishq.
To Sufis, the outer law consists of rules pertaining to worship, transactions, marriage, judicial rulings, and criminal law—what is often referred to, broadly, as “qanun“. The inner law of Sufism consists of rules about repentance from sin, the purging of contemptible qualities and evil traits of character, and adornment with virtues and good character.