About: The Islamic Live and way of Worship
Stories About Sufism
Sufism or taṣawwuf (Arabic: الصوفية) is a religious branch historically deriving from Sunni Islam, defined by some adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam, others contend that it is a perennial philosophy of existence that pre-dates religion, the expression of which flowered within Islam. Its essence has also been expressed via other religions and metareligious phenomena.
A practitioner of this tradition is generally known as a ṣūfī (صُوفِيّ). They belong to different ṭuruq or “orders”—congregations formed around a master—which meet for spiritual sessions (majalis), in meeting places known as zawiyahs, khanqahs, or tekke. Sufi turuq/orders may trace many of their original precepts from the Islamic Prophet Muhammad through his cousin and son-in-law ‘Alī, with the notable exception of the Naqshbandi who trace their origins through the first Caliph, Abu Bakr.
Prominent orders include Ba ‘Alawiyya, Chishti, Rifa’i, Khalwati, Mevlevi, Naqshbandi, Nimatullahi, Oveyssi, Qadiria Boutshishia, Qadiriyyah, Qalandariyya, Sarwari Qadiri, Shadhiliyya and Suhrawardiyya.
Sufis believe they are practicing ihsan (perfection of worship) as revealed by Gabriel to Muhammad: “Worship and serve Allah as you are seeing Him and while you see Him not yet truly He sees you”. Sufis consider themselves as the original true proponents of this pure original form of Islam. Sufism is opposed by Wahhabi and Salafist Muslims.
Classical Sufi scholars have defined Sufism as “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God”. Alternatively, in the words of the Darqawi Sufi teacher Ahmad ibn Ajiba, “a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one’s inner self from filth, and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits”.
Muslims and mainstream scholars of Islam (such as René Guénon and Cyril Glassé) define Sufism as simply the name for the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam which is supported and complemented by outward or exoteric practices of Islam, such as Islamic law. 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”.
In contrast, author Idries Shah states Sufi philosophy is universal in nature, its roots predating the rise of Islam and Christianity. Some schools of Sufism in Western countries allow non-Muslims to receive “instructions on following the Sufi path”. Some Muslim opponents of Sufism also consider it outside the sphere of Islam.
Classical Sufis were characterised by their attachment to dhikr, (a practice of repeating the names of God, often performed after prayers) and asceticism. Sufism gained adherents among a number of Muslims as a reaction against the worldliness of the early Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 CE). Sufis have spanned several continents and cultures over a millennium, originally expressing their beliefs in Arabic, before spreading into Persian, Turkish, Indian languages and a dozen other languages.
Two origins of the word sufi have been suggested. Commonly, the lexical root of the word is traced to ṣafā (صَفا), which in Arabic means “purity”. Another origin is ṣūf (صُوف), “wool”, referring to the simple cloaks the early Muslim ascetics wore. The two were combined by the Sufi al-Rudhabari 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. Abd al-Karīm ibn Hawāzin Qushayri and Ibn Khaldun both rejected all possibilities other than ṣūf on linguistic grounds.
According to the medieval scholar Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī, the word sufi is derived from the Greek word sofia (σοφία), meaning wisdom.
While all Muslims believe that they are on the pathway to God and hope to become close to God in Paradise—after death and after the “Final 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 Qur’an.
In this state nothing one does defies God, and all is undertaken with the single motivation of love of God. A secondary consequence of this is that the seeker may be led to abandon all notions of dualism or multiplicity, including a conception of an individual self, and to realize the Divine Unity.
Thus, Sufism has been characterized[by whom?] as the science of the states of the lower self (the ego), and the way of purifying this lower self of its reprehensible traits, while adorning it instead with what is praiseworthy, whether or not this process of cleansing and purifying the heart is in time rewarded by esoteric knowledge of God.
This can be conceived in terms of two basic types of law (fiqh), an outer law concerned with actions, and an inner law concerned with the human heart. 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.
The typical early Sufi lived in a cell of a mosque and taught a small band of disciples. The extent to which Sufism was influenced by Buddhist and Hindu mysticism, and by the example of Christian hermits and monks, is disputed, but self-discipline and concentration on God quickly led to the belief that by quelling the self and through loving ardour for God it is possible to maintain a union with the divine in which the human self melts away.
To enter the way of Sufism, the seeker begins by finding a teacher, as the connection to the teacher is considered necessary for the growth of the pupil. The teacher, to be considered genuine, must have received the authorization to teach (ijazah) from another Master of the Way, in an unbroken succession (silsilah) leading back to Muhammad. [dubious – discuss] It is the transmission of the divine light from the teacher’s heart to the heart of the student, rather than of worldly knowledge transmitted from mouth to ear, that allows the adept to progress. In addition, the genuine teacher will be utterly strict in his adherence to the Divine Law.
According to Moojan Momen “one of the most important doctrines of Sufism is the concept of the “Perfect Man” (al-Insan al-Kamil). This doctrine states that there will always exist upon the earth a “Qutb” (Pole or Axis, of the Universe)—a man who is the perfect channel of grace from God to man and in a state of wilaya (sanctity, being under the protection of God).
The concept of the Sufi Qutb is similar to that of the Shi’i Imam. However, this belief puts Sufism in “direct conflict” with Shi’ism, since both the Qutb (who for most Sufi orders is the head of the order) and the Imam fulfill the role of “the purveyor of spiritual guidance and of God’s grace to mankind”. The vow of obedience to the Shaykh or Qutb which is taken by Sufis is considered incompatible with devotion to the Imam”.
As a further example, the prospective adherent of the Mevlevi Order would have been ordered to serve in the kitchens of a hospice for the poor for 1,001 days prior to being accepted for spiritual instruction, and a further 1,001 days in solitary retreat as a precondition of completing that instruction.
Some teachers, especially when addressing more general audiences, or mixed groups of Muslims and non-Muslims, make extensive use of parable, allegory, and metaphor. Although approaches to teaching vary among different Sufi orders, Sufism as a whole is primarily concerned with direct personal experience, and as such has sometimes been compared to other, non-Islamic forms of mysticism (e.g., as in the books of Hossein Nasr).
Scholars and adherents of Sufism are unanimous in agreeing that Sufism cannot be learned through books.[dubious – discuss] To reach the highest levels of success in Sufism typically requires that the disciple live with and serve the teacher for many, many years. For instance, Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari, who gave his name to the Naqshbandi Order, served his first teacher, Sayyid Muhammad Baba As-Samasi, for 20 years, until as-Samasi died. He subsequently served several other teachers for lengthy periods of time.
The extreme arduousness of his spiritual preparation is illustrated by his service, as directed by his teacher, to the weak and needy members of his community in a state of complete humility and tolerance for many years. When he believed this mission to be concluded, his teacher next directed him to care for animals, curing their sicknesses, cleaning their wounds, and assisting them in finding provision. After many years of this he was next instructed to spend many years in the care of dogs in a state of humility, and to ask them for support.
History of Sufism | Origins
Eminent Sufis such as Ali Hujwiri claim that the tradition first began with Ali ibn Abi Talib furthermore Junayd of Baghdad regarded Ali as the Sheikh of the principals and practices of Sufism.
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. Others have held that Sufism is the strict emulation of the way of Muhammad, through which the heart’s connection to the Divine is strengthened.
More prosaically, the Muslim Conquests had brought large numbers of Christian monks and hermits, especially in Syria and Egypt, under the rule of Muslims. They retained a vigorous spiritual life for centuries after the conquests, and many of the especially pious Muslims who founded Sufism were influenced by their techniques and methods. According to late Medieval mystic Jami, Abd-Allah ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah was the first person to be called a “Sufi.”
Important contributions in writing are attributed to Uwais al-Qarni, Harrm bin Hian, Hasan Basri and Sayid ibn al-Mussib. 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.
Formalization of doctrine
Towards the end of the first millennium CE, 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 Hujwiri, and the Risâla of Qushayri.
Two of Imam Al Ghazali’s greatest treatises, the “Revival of Religious Sciences” and the “Alchemy of Happiness”, 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.
This became the mainstream position among Islamic scholars for centuries, challenged only recently on the basis of selective use of a limited body of texts.[example needed] Ongoing efforts by both traditionally trained Muslim scholars and Western academics are making Imam Al-Ghazali’s works available in English translation for the first time, allowing English-speaking readers to judge for themselves the compatibility of Islamic Law and Sufi doctrine.
Growth of influence
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 Sudan are one of the strongest adherents of Sufism. Sufi poets and philosophers such as Khoja Akhmet Yassawi, Rumi and Attar of Nishapur 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 CE, Sufism produced a flourishing intellectual culture throughout the Islamic world, a “Golden Age” whose physical artifacts are still present. In many places, a lodge (known variously as a zaouia, khanqah, or tekke) would be endowed through a pious foundation in perpetuity (waqf) to provide a gathering place for Sufi adepts, as well as lodging for itinerant seekers of knowledge.
The same system of endowments could also be used to 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.
Current Sufi orders include Alians, Bektashi Order, Mevlevi Order, Ba ‘Alawiyya, Chishti, Jerrahi, Naqshbandi, Nimatullahi, Qadiriyyah, Qalandariyya, Sarwari Qadiri, Shadhiliyya, Suhrawardiyya, Ashrafia and Uwaisi (Oveyssi). 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 was closely affiliated with the Ottoman Janissary and is the heart of Turkey’s large and mostly liberal Alevi population. It has been spread westwards to Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Bosnia, Kosovo and more recently to the USA (via Albania). Most Sufi Orders have influences from pre-Islamic traditions such as Pythagoreanism, but the Turkic Sufi traditions (including Alians, Bektashi and Mevlevi) also have traces of the ancient Tengrism shamanism.
Sufism is popular in such African countries as 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 around contemporary spiritual teachers such as Sidi Hamza al Qadiri al Boutshishi. 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 Emir Abd al-Qadir is instructive in this regard. Notable as well are the lives of Amadou Bamba and Hajj Umar Tall in sub-Saharan Africa, and Sheikh Mansur Ushurma and Imam Shamil in the Caucasus region. In the twentieth century some more modernist 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 Abd al-Hadi Aqhili (also known as 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 G. I. 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 and Muzaffer Ozak.
Currently active Sufi academics and publishers include Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Abdullah Nooruddeen Durkee, Waheed Ashraf, Omer Tarin and Abdal Hakim Murad.
Theoretical perspectives in Sufism
Traditional Islamic scholars have recognized two major branches within the practice of Sufism, and use this as one key to differentiating among the approaches of different masters and devotional lineages.
On the one hand there is the order from the signs to the Signifier (or from the arts to the Artisan). In this branch, the seeker begins by purifying the lower self of every corrupting influence that stands in the way of recognizing all of creation as the work of God, as God’s active Self-disclosure or theophany. This is the way of Imam Al-Ghazali and of the majority of the Sufi orders.
On the other hand there is the order from the Signifier to His signs, from the Artisan to His works. In this branch the seeker experiences divine attraction (jadhba), and is able to enter the order with a glimpse of its endpoint, of direct apprehension of the Divine Presence towards which all spiritual striving is directed. This does not replace the striving to purify the heart, as in the other branch; it simply stems from a different point of entry into the path. This is the way primarily of the masters of the Naqshbandi and Shadhili orders.
Contemporary scholars may also recognize a third branch, attributed to the late Ottoman scholar Said Nursi and explicated in his vast Qur’an commentary called the Risale-i Nur. This approach entails strict adherence to the way of Muhammad, in the understanding that this wont, or sunnah, proposes a complete devotional spirituality adequate to those without access to a master of the Sufi way.
Contributions to other domains of scholarship
Sufism has contributed significantly to the elaboration of theoretical perspectives in many domains of intellectual endeavor. For instance, the doctrine of “subtle centers” or centers of subtle cognition (known as Lataif-e-sitta) addresses the matter of the awakening of spiritual intuition in ways that some consider similar to certain models of chakra in Hinduism.
In general, these subtle centers or latâ’if are thought of as faculties that are to be purified sequentially in order to bring the seeker’s wayfaring to completion. A concise and useful summary of this system from a living exponent of this tradition has been published by Muhammad Emin Er.
Sufi psychology has influenced many areas of thinking both within and outside of Islam, drawing primarily upon three concepts. Ja’far al-Sadiq (both an imam in the Shia tradition and a respected scholar and link in chains of Sufi transmission in all Islamic sects) held that human beings are dominated by a lower self called the nafs, a faculty of spiritual intuition called the qalb or spiritual heart, and a spirit or soul called ruh.
These interact in various ways, producing the spiritual types of the tyrant (dominated by nafs), the person of faith and moderation (dominated by the spiritual heart), and the person lost in love for God (dominated by the ruh).
Of note with regard to the spread of Sufi psychology in the West is Robert Frager, a Sufi teacher authorized in the Khalwati Jerrahi order. Frager was a trained psychologist, born in the United States, who converted to Islam in the course of his practice of Sufism and wrote extensively on Sufism and psychology.
Sufi cosmology and Sufi metaphysics are also noteworthy areas of intellectual accomplishment.
The devotional practices of Sufis vary widely. This is because an acknowledged and authorized master of the Sufi path is in effect a physician of the heart, able to diagnose the seeker’s impediments to knowledge and pure intention in serving God, and to prescribe to the seeker a course of treatment appropriate to his or her maladies. The consensus among Sufi scholars is that the seeker cannot self-diagnose, and that it can be extremely harmful to undertake any of these practices alone and without formal authorization.
Sufi gathering engaged in Dhikr.
Prerequisites to practice include rigorous adherence to Islamic norms (ritual prayer in its five prescribed times each day, the fast of Ramadan, and so forth). Additionally, the seeker ought to be firmly grounded in supererogatory practices known from the life of Muhammad (such as the “sunna prayers”). This is in accordance with the words, attributed to God, of the following, a famous Hadith Qudsi:
My servant draws near to Me through nothing I love more than that which I have made obligatory for him. My servant never ceases drawing near to Me through supererogatory works until I love him. Then, when I love him, I am his hearing through which he hears, his sight through which he sees, his hand through which he grasps, and his foot through which he walks.
It is also necessary for the seeker to have a correct creed (Aqidah), and to embrace with certainty its tenets. The seeker must also, of necessity, turn away from sins, love of this world, the love of company and renown, obedience to satanic impulse, and the promptings of the lower self. (The way in which this purification of the heart is achieved is outlined in certain books, but must be prescribed in detail by a Sufi master.)
The seeker must also be trained to prevent the corruption of those good deeds which have accrued to his or her credit by overcoming the traps of ostentation, pride, arrogance, envy, and long hopes (meaning the hope for a long life allowing us to mend our ways later, rather than immediately, here and now).
Sufi practices, while attractive to some, are not a means for gaining knowledge. The traditional scholars of Sufism hold it as absolutely axiomatic that knowledge of God is not a psychological state generated through breath control. Thus, practice of “techniques” is not the cause, but instead the occasion for such knowledge to be obtained (if at all), given proper prerequisites and proper guidance by a master of the way.
Furthermore, the emphasis on practices may obscure a far more important fact: The seeker is, in a sense, to become a broken person, stripped of all habits through the practice of (in the words of Imam Al-Ghazali) solitude, silence, sleeplessness, and hunger.
Magic has also been a part of Sufi practice, notably in India. This practice intensified during the declining years of Sufism in India when the Sufi orders grew steadily in wealth and in political influence while their spirituality gradually declined as they concentrated on Saint worship, miracle working, magic and superstition. The external religious practices were neglected, morals declined and learning was despised. The element of magic in Sufism in India possibly drew from the occult practices in the Atharvaveda.
The most famous of all Sufis, Mansur Al-Hallaj (d. 922), visited Sindh in order to study “Indian Magic”. He not only accepted Hindu ideas of cosmogony and of divine descent but he also seems to have believed in the Transmigration of the soul.
Dhikr is the remembrance of God commanded in the Qur’an for all Muslims through a specific devotional act, such as the repetition of divine names, supplications and aphorisms from hadith literature and the Qur’an. More generally, dhikr takes a wide range and various layers of meaning. This includes dhikr as any activity in which the Muslim maintains awareness of God. To engage in dhikr is to practice consciousness of the Divine Presence and love, or “to seek a state of godwariness”.
‘’The Qur’an refers to Muhammad as the very embodiment of dhikr of God.’’ [65:10-11].
Some types of dhikr are prescribed for all Muslims and do not require Sufi initiation or the prescription of a Sufi master because they are deemed to be good for every seeker under every circumstance.
Some Sufi orders engage in ritualized dhikr ceremonies, or sema. Sema includes various forms of worship such as: recitation, singing (the most well known being the Qawwali music of the Indian subcontinent), instrumental music, dance (most famously the Sufi whirling of the Mevlevi order), incense, meditation, ecstasy, and trance.
Some Sufi orders stress and place extensive reliance upon Dhikr. This practice of Dhikr is called Dhikr-e-Qulb (remembrance of Allah by Heartbeats). The basic idea in this practice is to visualize the Arabic name of God, Allah, as having been written on the disciple’s heart.
The practice of muraqaba can be likened to the practices of meditation attested in many faith communities. The word muraqaba is derived from the same root (r-q-b) occurring as one of the 99 Names of God in the Qur’an, al-Raqîb, meaning “the Vigilant” and attested in verse 4: 1 of the Qur’an. Through muraqaba, a person watches over or takes care of the spiritual heart, acquires knowledge about it, and becomes attuned to the Divine Presence, which is ever vigilant.
While variation exists, one description of the practice within a Naqshbandi lineage reads as follows:
He is to collect all of his bodily senses in concentration, and to cut himself off from all preoccupation and notions that inflict themselves upon the heart. And thus he is to turn his full consciousness towards God Most High while saying three times: “Ilahî anta maqsûdî wa-ridâka matlûbî—my God, you are my Goal and Your good pleasure is what I seek”. Then he brings to his heart the Name of the Essence—Allâh—and as it courses through his heart he remains attentive to its meaning, which is “Essence without likeness”.
The seeker remains aware that He is Present, Watchful, Encompassing of all, thereby exemplifying the meaning of his saying (may God bless him and grant him peace): “Worship God as though you see Him, for if you do not see Him, He sees you”. And likewise the prophetic tradition: “The most favored level of faith is to know that God is witness over you, wherever you may be”.
In popular Sufism (i.e., devotional practices that have achieved currency in world cultures through Sufi influence), one common practice is to visit or make pilgrimages to the tombs of saints, great scholars, and righteous people. This is a particularly common practice in South Asia, where famous tombs include those of Khoja Afāq, near Kashgar, in China; Lal Shahbaz Qalander, in Sindh,Ali Hajwari in Lahore Bawaldin Zikrya in Multan Pakistan; Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, India; Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi, India, and Shah Jalal in Sylhet, Bangladesh.
Likewise, in Fez, Morocco, a popular destination for such pious visitation is the Zaouia Moulay Idriss II and the yearly visitation to see the current Sheikh of the Qadiri Boutchichi Tariqah, Sheikh Sidi Hamza al Qadiri al Boutchichi to celebrate the Mawlid (which is usually televised on Moroccan National television).
Sufis and Sufism has been subject to destruction of Sufi shrines and mosques, suppression of orders and discrimination against adherents in a number of Muslim countries where most Sufis live. The Turkish Republican state banned all the different Sufi orders and closed their institutions in 1925 after Sufis opposed the new secular order. The Iranian Islamic Republic has harassed Shia Sufi, reportedly for their lack of support for the government doctrine of “velayat-e faqih” (i.e. that the supreme Shiite jurist should be the nation’s political leader).
In most other Muslim countries, attacks on Sufis and especially their shrines has come from some Muslims from the more puritanical schools of thought who believe Sufi practices such as celebration of the birthdays of Sufi saints, and Dhikr (“remembrance” of God) ceremonies are Bid‘ah or impure innovation, and polytheistic (Shirk).
During the Safavid era of Iran, “both the wandering dervishes of ‘low’ Sufism” and “the philosopher-ulama of ‘high’ Sufism came under relentless pressure” from power cleric Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d1110/1699). Majlisi—”one of the most powerful and influential” Twelver Shi’a ulama “of all time”—was famous (for among other things), suppression of Sufism, which he and his followers believed paid insufficient attention to Shariah law. Prior to Majlisi’s rise, Shiism and Sufism had been “closely linked”.
In 1843 the Senussi Sufi were forced to flee Mecca and Medina and head to Sudan and Libya.
Before the First World War there were almost 100,000 disciples of the Mevlevi order throughout the Ottoman empire. But in 1925, as part of his desire to create a modern, western-orientated, secular state, Atatürk banned all the different Sufi orders and closed their tekkes. Pious foundations were suspended and their endowments expropriated; Sufi hospices were closed and their contents seized; all religious titles were abolished and dervish clothes outlawed. … In 1937, Atatürk went even further, prohibiting by law any form of traditional music, especially the playing of the ney, the Sufis’ reed flute.
In recent years, Sufi shrines, and sometimes Sufi mosques, have been damaged or destroyed in many parts of the Muslim world. Some Sufi adherents have been killed as well. Ali Gomaa, a Sufi scholar and Grand Mufti of Al Azhar, has criticized the destruction of shrines and public property as unacceptable.
Since March 2005, 209 people have been killed and 560 injured in 29 different terrorist attacks targeting shrines devoted to Sufi saints in Pakistan, according to data compiled by the Center for Islamic Research Collaboration and Learning (CIRCLe). At least as of 2010, the attacks have increased each year. The attacks are generally attributed to banned militant organizations of Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith (Salafi) backgrounds. (Primarily Deobandi background according to another source—author John R. Schmidt).
Deobandi and Barelvi being the “two major sub-sects” of Sunni Muslims in South Asia that have clashed—sometimes violently—since the late 1970s in Pakistan. Although Barelvi are sometimes described as Sunni Sufis, whether the destruction and death is a result of Deobandi’s persecution of Sufis is disputed.)
In 2005, the militant organizations began attacking “symbols” of the Barelvi community such as mosques, prominent religious leaders, and shrines.
2005: 19 March: a suicide bomber kills at least 35 people and injured many more at the shrine of Pir Rakhel Shah in remote village of Fatehpur located in Jhal Magsi District of Balochistan. The dead included Shia and sunni devotees.
27 May: As many as 20 people are killed and 100 injured when a suicide-bomber attacks a gathering at Bari Imam Shrine during the annual festival. The dead were mainly Shia. According to the police members of Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) were involved. Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), were arrested from Thanda Pani and police seized two hand grenades from their custody.
2006: 11 April: A suicide-bomber attacked a celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (Eid Mawlid un Nabi) in Karachi’s Nishtar Park organised by the Barelvi Jamaat Ahle Sunnat. 57 died including almost the entire leadership of the Sunni Tehrik; over 100 were injured. Three people associated with Lashkar-i-Jhangvi were put on trial for the bombing. (see: Nishtar Park bombing)
2007: 18 December: The shrine of Abdul Shakoor Malang Baba is demolished by explosives.
2008: March 3: ten villagers killed in a rocket attack on the 400-year-old shrine of Abu Saeed Baba. Lashkar-e-Islam takes credit.
2009: 17 February: Agha Jee shot and killed in Peshwar, the fourth faith healer killed over several months in Pakistan. Earlier Pir Samiullah was killed in Swat by the Taliban 16 December 2008. His dead body was later exhumed and desecrated. Pir Rafiullah was kidnapped from Nowshera and his beheaded body was found in Matani area of Peshawar. Pir Juma Khan was kidnapped from Dir Lower and his beheaded body was found near Swat. Faith healing is associated with Sufi Islam in Pakistan
Pakistani faith healers are known as pirs, a term that applies to the descendants of Sufi Muslim saints. Under Sufism, those descendants are thought to serve as conduits to God. The popularity of pirs as a viable healthcare alternative stems from the fact that, in much of rural Pakistan, clinics don’t exist or are dismissed as unreliable.
… and suppressing it has been a cause of “extremist” Muslims there.
March 5: The shrine of Rahman Baba, “the most famous Sufi Pashto language poet”, razed to the ground by Taliban militants “partly because local women had been visiting the shrine”.
8 March: Attack on shrine of “famous Sufi poet” Rahman Baba in Peshawar. “The high intensity device almost destroyed the grave of the Rehman Baba and the gates of a mosque, canteen and conference hall situated in the spacious Rehman Baba Complex. Police said the bombers had tied explosives around the pillars of the tombs, to pull down the mausoleum”.
May 8: shrine of Shaykh Omar Baba destroyed.
12 June: Mufti Sarfraz Ahmed Naeemi killed by suicide bomber in Lahore. A leading Sunni Islamic cleric in Pakistan he was well known for his moderate views and for publicly denouncing the Taliban’s beheadings and suicide bombings as “un-Islamic”.
2010: 22 June: Taliban militants blow up the Mian Umar Baba shrine in Peshawar. No fatalities reported.
1 July: Multiple bombings of Data Durbar Complex Sufi shrine, in Lahore, Punjab. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up killing at least 50 people and injuring 200 others.
7 October: 10 people killed, 50 injured in a double suicide bombing attack on Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine in Karachi
7 October: The tomb of Baba Fariddudin Ganj Shakkar in Pakpattan is attacked. Six people were killed and 15 others injured.
25 October: 6 killed, and at least 12 wounded in an attack on the shrine of 12th-century saint, Baba Farid Ganj Shakar in Pakpattan.
14 December: Attack on Ghazi Baba shrine in Peshawar, 3 killed.
2011: 3 February: Remote-controlled device is triggered as food is being distributed among the devotees outside the Baba Haider Saieen shrine in Lahore, Punjab. At least three people were killed and 27 others injured.
3 April: Twin suicide attack leaves 42 dead and almost a hundred injured during the annual Urs festival at shrine of 13th century Sufi saint Sakhi Sarwar (a.k.a. Ahmed Sultan) in the Dera Ghazi Khan district of Punjab province. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claims responsibility for the attack.
2012: 21 June: Bomb kills three people and injures 31 others at the Pinza Piran shrine in Hazarkhwani in (Peshwar). “A police official said the bomb was planted in a donkey-cart that went off in the afternoon when a large number of people were visiting the popular shrine”.
In this predominately Muslim, traditionally Sufi region, some six places of worship have been either completely or partially burnt in “mysterious fires” in several months leading up to November 2012. The most prominent victim of damage was the Dastageer Sahib Sufi shrine in Srinagar which burned in June 2012, injuring 20.
While investigators have so far found no sign of arson, according to journalist Amir Rana the fires have occurred within the context of a surging Salafi movement which preaches that “Kashmiri tradition of venerating the tombs and relics of saints is outside the pale of Islam”.
… mourners outside the burning shrine cursed the Salafis for creating an atmosphere of hate, [while] some Salafis began posting incendiary messages on Facebook, terming the destruction of the shrine a “divine act of God”.
Under the Al-Shabab rule in Somali, Sufi ceremonies were banned and shrines destroyed. As the power of Al-Shabab has waned, however, Sufi ceremonies are said to have “re-emerged”.
In the ancient city of Timbuktu, sometimes called “the city of 333 saints”, UNESCO reports that as many as half of the city’s shrines “have been destroyed in a display of fanaticism”, as of July 2012. A spokesman for Ansar Dine has stated that “the destruction is a divine order”, and that the group had plans to destroy every single Sufi shrine in the city, “without exception”. In Gao and Kidal, as well as Timbuktu, Salafi Islamists have destroyed musical instruments and driven musicians (music is not Haraam under Sufi Islam) into “economic exile” away from Mali.
International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda described the Islamists’ actions as a “war crime”.
A May 2010 ban by the ministry of awqaf (religious endowments) of centuries old Sufi dhikr gatherings (devoted to the remembrance of God, and including dancing and religious songs) has been described as a “another victory for extreme Salafi thinking at the expense of Egypt’s moderate Sufism”. Clashes followed at Cairo’s Al-Hussein Mosque and al-Sayyida Zeinab mosques between members of Sufi orders and security forces who forced them to evacuate the two shrines. In 2009 the moulid of al-Sayyida Zeinab, the prophet’s Muhammad’s granddaughter, was banned ostensibly over concern over the spread of swine flu but also at the urging of Salafis.
According to Gaber Qassem, deputy of the Sufi Orders, approximately 14 shrines have been violated in Egypt since the January 2011 revolution. According to Sheikh Tarek El-Rifai, head of the Rifai Sufi Order, a number of Salafis have prevented Sufi prayers in Al-Haram. Sheikh Rifai said that the order’s lawyer has filed a report at the Al-Haram police station to that effect. In early April 2011, a Sufi march from Al-Azhar Mosque to Al-Hussein Mosque was followed by a massive protest before Al-Hussein Mosque, “expressing outrage at the destruction” of Sufi shrines.
The Islamic Research Centre of Egypt, led by Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb, has also renounced the attacks on the shrines. According to the Muslim Brotherhood website ikhwanweb.com, in 2011 “a memorandum was submitted to the Armed Forces” citing 20 “encroachments” on Sufi shrines.
Following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, several Sufi religious sites in Libya were deliberately destroyed or damaged. In the weeks leading up to September 2012, “armed groups motivated by their religious views” attacked Sufi religious sites across the country, “destroying several mosques and tombs of Sufi religious leaders and scholars”.
Perpetrators were described as “groups that have a strict Islamic ideology where they believe that graves and shrines must be desecrated.” Libyan Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A’al, was quoted as saying, “If all shrines in Libya are destroyed so we can avoid the death of one person [in clashes with security forces], then that is a price we are ready to pay,”
In September 2012, three people were killed in clashes between residents of Rajma (50 km south-east of Benghazi) and “Salafist Islamists” trying to destroy a Sufi shrine in Rajma, the Sidi al-Lafi mausoleum. In August 2012 the United Nations cultural agency Unesco urged Libyan authorities to protect Sufi mosques and shrines from attacks by Islamic hardliners “who consider the traditional mystical school of Islam heretical”. The attacked have “wrecked mosques in at least three cities and desecrated many graves of revered Sufi scholars”.
In an article on the rise of Salafism in Tunisia, the media site Al-Monitor reported that 39 Sufi shrines were destroyed or desecrated in Tunisia, from the 2011 revolution to January 2013.
Said Atsayev—also known as Sheikh Said Afandi al-Chirkavi—a prominent 74-year-old Sufi Muslim spiritual leader in Dagestan Russia, was killed by a suicide bombing August 28, 2012 along with six of his followers. His murder follows “similar religiously-motivated killings” in Dagestan and other regions of ex-Soviet Central Asia, targeting religious leaders—not necessarily Sufi—who are hostile to violent jihad. Afandi had survived previous attempts on his life and was reportedly in the process of negotiating a peace agreement between the Sufis and Salafis.
According to Seyed Mostafa Azmayesh, an expert on Sufism and the representative of the Ni’matullāhī order outside Iran, a campaign against the Sufis in Iran (or at least Shia Sufis) began in 2005 when several books were published arguing that because Sufis follow their own spiritual leaders do not believe in the Islamic state’s principle of “velayat-e faqih” (i.e. that the supreme Shiite jurist should be the nation’s political leader), Sufis should be treated as second-class citizens. They should not be allowed to have government jobs, and if they already have them, should be identified and fired.
Since 2005 the Ni’matullāhī order—Iran’s largest Sufi order—have come under increasing state pressure. Three of their houses of worship have been demolished. Officials accused the Sufis of not having building permits and of narcotics possession—charges the Sufis reject.
The government of Iran is considering an outright ban on Sufism, according to the 2009 Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. It also reports:
In February 2009, at least 40 Sufis in Isfahan were arrested after protesting the destruction of a Sufi place of worship; all were released within days.
In January, Jamshid Lak, a Gonabadi Dervish from the Nematollahi Sufi order was flogged 74 times after being convicted in 2006 of slander following his public allegation of ill-treatment by a Ministry of Intelligence official.
In late December 2008, after the closure of a Sufi place of worship, authorities arrested without charge at least six members of the Gonabadi Dervishes on Kish Island and confiscated their books and computer equipment; their status is unknown.
In November 2008, Amir Ali Mohammad Labaf was sentenced to a five-year prison term, 74 lashes, and internal exile to the southeastern town of Babak for spreading lies, based on his membership in the Nematollahi Gonabadi Sufi order.
In October, at least seven Sufi Muslims in Isfahan, and five others in Karaj, were arrested because of their affiliation with the Nematollahi Gonabadi Sufi order; they remain in detention.
In November 2007, clashes in the western city of Borujerd between security forces and followers of a mystic Sufi order resulted in dozens of injuries and the arrests of approximately 180 Sufi Muslims. The clashes occurred after authorities began bulldozing a Sufi monastery. It is unclear how many remain in detention or if any charges have been brought against those arrested. During the past year, there were numerous reports of Shi’a clerics and prayer leaders, particularly in Qom, denouncing Sufism and the activities of Sufi Muslims in the country in both sermons and public statements.
Not all Sufi’s in Iran have been subject to government pressure. Sunni dervish orders—such as the Qhaderi dervishes—in the Sunni-populated parts of the country are thought by some to be seen as allies of the government against Al-Qaeda.
Islam and Sufism
Sufism and Islamic law.
Scholars and adherents of Sufism sometimes describe Sufism in terms of a threefold approach to God as explained by a tradition (hadîth) attributed to Muhammad,”The Canon is my word, the order is my deed, and the truth is my interior state”. Sufis believe the sharia (exoteric “canon”), tariqa (esoteric “order”) and haqiqa (“truth”) are mutually interdependent.
The tariqa, the ‘path’ on which the mystics walk, has been defined as[weasel words] ‘the path which comes out of the sharia, for the main road is called branch, the path, tariq.'[clarification needed] No mystical experience can be realized if the binding injunctions of the sharia are not followed faithfully first. The tariqa however, is narrower and more difficult to walk.
It leads the adept, called salik or “wayfarer”, in his sulûk or “road” through different stations (maqâmât) until he reaches his goal, the perfect tawhîd, the existential confession that God is One.
Shaykh al-Akbar Muhiuddeen Ibn Arabi mentions, “When we see someone in this Community who claims to be able to guide others to God, but is remiss in but one rule of the Sacred Law – even if he manifests miracles that stagger the mind – asserting that his shortcoming is a special dispensation for him, we do not even turn to look at him, for such a person is not a sheikh, nor is he speaking the truth, for no one is entrusted with the secrets of God Most High save one in whom the ordinances of the Sacred Law are preserved. (Jami’ karamat al-awliya’)”.
The Amman Message, a detailed statement issued by 200 leading Islamic scholars in 2005 in Amman, and adopted by the Islamic world’s political and temporal leaderships at the Organisation of the Islamic Conference summit at Mecca in December 2005, and by six other international Islamic scholarly assemblies including the International Islamic Fiqh Academy of Jeddah, in July 2006, specifically recognized the validity of Sufism as a part of Islam—however the definition of Sufism can vary drastically between different traditions (what may be intended is simple tazkiah as opposed to the various manifestations of Sufism around the Islamic world).
Traditional Islamic thought and Sufism
The literature of Sufism emphasizes highly subjective matters that resist outside observation, such as the subtle states of the heart. Often these resist direct reference or description, with the consequence that the authors of various Sufi treatises took recourse to allegorical language. For instance, much Sufi poetry refers to intoxication, which Islam expressly forbids.
This usage of indirect language and the existence of interpretations by people who had no training in Islam or Sufism led to doubts being cast over the validity of Sufism as a part of Islam. Also, some groups emerged that considered themselves above the Sharia and discussed Sufism as a method of bypassing the rules of Islam in order to attain salvation directly. This was disapproved of by traditional scholars.
For these and other reasons, the relationship between traditional Islamic scholars and Sufism is complex and a range of scholarly opinion on Sufism in Islam has been the norm. Some scholars, such as Al-Ghazali, helped its propagation while other scholars opposed it. W. Chittick explains the position of Sufism and Sufis this way:
In short, Muslim scholars who focused their energies on understanding the normative guidelines for the body came to be known as jurists, and those who held that the most important task was to train the mind in achieving correct understanding came to be divided into three main schools of thought: theology, philosophy, and Sufism.
This leaves us with the third domain of human existence, the spirit. Most Muslims who devoted their major efforts to developing the spiritual dimensions of the human person came to be known as Sufis.
Traditional and Neo-Sufi groups
The traditional Sufi orders, which are in majority, emphasize the role of Sufism as a spiritual discipline within Islam. Therefore, the Sharia (traditional Islamic law) and the Sunnah are seen as crucial for any Sufi aspirant. One proof traditional orders assert is that almost all the famous Sufi masters of the past Caliphates were experts in Sharia and were renowned as people with great Iman (faith) and excellent practice. Many were also Qadis (Sharia law judges) in courts. They held that Sufism was never distinct from Islam and to fully comprehend and practice Sufism one must be an observant Muslim.
“Neo-Sufism” and “universal Sufism” are terms used to denote forms of Sufism that do not require adherence to Shariah, or a Muslim faith. The terms are not always accepted by those it is applied to. The Universal Sufism movement was founded by Inayat Khan, teaches the essential unity of all faiths, and accepts members of all creeds. Sufism Reoriented is an offshoot of Khan’s Western Sufism influenced by the syncretistic teacher Meher Baba.
The Golden Sufi Center exists in England, Switzerland and the United States. It was founded by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee to continue the work of his teacher Irina Tweedie, herself a disciple of the Hindu Naqshbandi Sufi Bhai Sahib. The Afghan-Scottish teacher Idries Shah has been described as a neo-Sufi by the Gurdjieffian James Moore. Other Western Sufi organisations include the Sufi Foundation of America and the International Association of Sufism.
Western Sufi practice may differ from traditional forms, for instance having mixed-gender meetings and less emphasis on the Qur’an.
A manuscript of Sufi Islamic theology, Shams al-Ma’arif (translated as “The Book of the Sun of Gnosis”) was written by the Algerian Sufi master Ahmad al-Buni during the 12th century
Abul Hasan al-Shadhili
Abul Hasan al-Shadhili (died 1258 CE), the founder of the Shadhiliyya Sufi order, introduced dhikr jahri (The method of remembering Allah through loud means). Sufi orders generally preach to deny oneself and to destroy the ego-self (nafs) and its worldly desires.
This is sometimes characterized as the “Order of Patience-Tariqus Sabr”. In contrast, Imam Shadhili taught that his followers need not abstain from what Islam has not forbidden, but to be grateful for what God has bestowed upon them. This notion, known as the “Order of Gratitude-Tariqush Shukr”, was espoused by Imam Shadhili. Imam Shadhili gave eighteen valuable hizbs (litanies) to his followers out of which the notable Hizbul Bahr is recited worldwide even today.
Bayazid Bastami (died 874 CE) is considered to be “of the six bright stars in the firmament of the Prophet”, and a link in the Golden Chain of the Naqshbandi Tariqah. He is regarded as the first mystic to openly speak of the annihilation (fanā’) of the base self in the Divine, whereby the mystic becomes fully absorbed to the point of becoming unaware of himself or the objects around him.
Every existing thing seems to vanish, and he feels free of every barrier that could stand in the way of his viewing the Remembered One. In one of these states, Bastami cried out: “Praise to Me, for My greatest Glory!” His belief in the unity of all religions became apparent when asked the question: “How does Islam view other religions?” His reply was “All are vehicles and a path to God’s Divine Presence”.
Muhyiddin Muhammad b. ‘Ali Ibn ‘Arabi (or Ibn al-‘Arabi) AH 561- AH 638 (July 28, 1165 – November 10, 1240) is considered to be one of the most important Sufi masters, although he never founded any order (tariqa). His writings, especially al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya and Fusus al-hikam, have been studied within all the Sufi orders as the clearest expression of tawhid (Divine Unity), though because of their recondite nature they were often only given to initiates.
Later those who followed his teaching became known as the school of wahdat al-wujud (the Oneness of Being). He himself considered his writings to have been divinely inspired. As he expressed the Way to one of his close disciples, his legacy is that ‘you should never ever abandon your servanthood (‘ubudiyya), and that there may never be in your soul a longing for any existing thing’.
Junayd Baghdadi (830-910 CE) was one of the great early Sufis, and is a central figure in the golden chain of many Sufi orders. He laid the groundwork for sober mysticism in contrast to that of God-intoxicated Sufis like al-Hallaj, Bayazid Bastami and Abusaeid Abolkheir. During the trial of al-Hallaj, his former disciple, the Caliph of the time demanded his fatwa. In response, he issued this fatwa: “From the outward appearance he is to die and we judge according to the outward appearance and God knows better”. He is referred to by Sufis as Sayyid-ut Taifa, i.e. the leader of the group. He lived and died in the city of Baghdad.
Mansur al-Hallaj (died 922 CE) is renowned for his claim “Ana-l-Haqq” (I am The Truth). His refusal to recant this utterance, which was regarded as apostasy, led to a long trial. He was imprisoned for 11 years in a Baghdad prison, before being tortured and publicly dismembered on March 26, 922. He is still revered by Sufis for his willingness to embrace torture and death rather than recant. It is said that during his prayers, he would say “O Lord! You are the guide of those who are passing through the Valley of Bewilderment. If I am a heretic, enlarge my heresy”.
Sufism did not always enjoy wide acceptance. Especially in its early stages, Muslim Ulema looked down on Sufi practices as a form of extremism in religion.
Perception outside Islam
Sufi mysticism has long exercised a fascination upon the Western world, and especially its orientalist scholars. Figures like Rumi have become well known in the United States, where Sufism is perceived as a peaceful and apolitical form of Islam.
The Islamic Institute in Mannheim, Germany, which works towards the integration of Europe and Muslims, sees Sufism as particularly suited for interreligious dialogue and intercultural harmonisation in democratic and pluralist societies; it has described Sufism as a symbol of tolerance and humanism—nondogmatic, flexible and non-violent.
Influence of Sufism on Judaism
Both Judaism and Islam are monotheistic. However, there is evidence that Sufism did influence the development of some schools of Jewish philosophy and ethics. A great influence was exercised by Sufism upon the ethical writings of Jews in the Middle Ages. In the first writing of this kind, we see “Kitab al-Hidayah ila Fara’iḍ al-Ḳulub”, Duties of the Heart, of Bahya ibn Paquda. This book was translated by Judah ibn Tibbon into Hebrew under the title “Ḥovot ha-Levavot”.
The precepts prescribed by the Torah number 613 only; those dictated by the intellect are innumerable.
This was precisely the argument used by the Sufis against their adversaries, the Ulamas. The arrangement of the book seems to have been inspired by Sufism. Its ten sections correspond to the ten stages through which the Sufi had to pass in order to attain that true and passionate love of God which is the aim and goal of all ethical self-discipline. A considerable amount of Sufi ideas entered the Jewish mainstream through Bahya ibn Paquda’s work, which remains one of the most popular ethical treatises in Judaism.
It is noteworthy that in the ethical writings of the Sufis Al-Kusajri and Al-Harawi there are sections which treat of the same subjects as those treated in the “Ḥovot ha-Lebabot” and which bear the same titles: e.g., “Bab al-Tawakkul”; “Bab al-Taubah”; “Bab al-Muḥasabah”; “Bab al-Tawaḍu'”; “Bab al-Zuhd”. In the ninth gate, Baḥya directly quotes sayings of the Sufis, whom he calls Perushim. However, the author of the Ḥovot ha-Levavot did not go so far as to approve of the asceticism of the Sufis, although he showed a marked predilection for their ethical principles.
The Jewish writer Abraham bar Ḥiyya teaches the asceticism of the Sufis. His distinction with regard to the observance of Jewish law by various classes of men is essentially a Sufic theory. According to it there are four principal degrees of human perfection or sanctity; namely:
1. of “Shari’ah”, i.e., of strict obedience to all ritual laws of Islam, such as prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, almsgiving, ablution, etc., which is the lowest degree of worship, and is attainable by all
2. of Ṭariqah, which is accessible only to a higher class of men who, while strictly adhering to the outward or ceremonial injunctions of religion, rise to an inward perception of mental power and virtue necessary for the nearer approach to the Divinity
3. of “Ḥaḳikah”, the degree attained by those who, through continuous contemplation and inward devotion, have risen to the true perception of the nature of the visible and invisible; who, in fact, have recognized the Godhead, and through this knowledge have succeeded in establishing an ecstatic relation to it; and
4. of the “Ma’arifah”, in which state man communicates directly with the Deity.
Abraham ben Moses ben Maimon, the son of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides, believed that Sufi practices and doctrines continue the tradition of the Biblical prophets. See Sefer HaMaspik, “HaPrishut”, Chapter 11 (“Ha-ma’avak”) s.v. hitbonen eifo bi-masoret mufla’ah zu, citing the Talmudic explanation of Jeremiah 13:27 in Chagigah 5b; in Rabbi Yaakov Wincelberg’s translation, “The Way of Serving God” (Feldheim), p. 429 and above, p. 427. Also see ibid., Chapter 10 (“Ikkuvim”), s.v. va-halo yode’a atah; in “The Way of Serving God”, p. 371. There are other such references in Rabbi Abraham’s writings, as well.> He introduced into the Jewish prayer such practices as reciting God’s names (dhikr).
Abraham Maimuni’s principal work is originally composed in Judeo-Arabic and entitled “כתאב כפיא אלעאבדין” Kitāb Kifāyah al-‘Ābidīn (“A Comprehensive Guide for the Servants of God”). From the extant surviving portion it is conjectured that Maimuni’s treatise was three times as long as his father’s Guide for the Perplexed. In the book, Maimuni evidences a great appreciation for, and affinity to, Sufism. Followers of his path continued to foster a Jewish-Sufi form of pietism for at least a century, and he is rightly considered the founder of this pietistic school, which was centered in Egypt.
The followers of this path, which they called, interchangeably, Hasidism (not to confuse with the latter Jewish Hasidic movement) or Sufism (Tasawwuf), practiced spiritual retreats, solitude, fasting and sleep deprivation. The Jewish Sufis maintained their own brotherhood, guided by a religious leader—like a Sufi sheikh.
Abraham Maimuni’s two sons, Obadyah and David, continued to lead this Jewish-Sufi brotherhood. Obadyah Maimonides wrote Al-Mawala Al Hawdiyya (“The Treatise of the Pool”)—an ethico-mystical manual based on the typically Sufi comparison of the heart to a pool that must be cleansed before it can experience the Divine.
The Maimonidean legacy extended right through to the 15th century with the 5th generation of Maimonidean Sufis, David ben Joshua Maimonides, who wrote Al-Murshid ila al-Tafarrud (The Guide to Detachment), which includes numerous extracts of Suhrawardi’s Kalimat at-Tasawwuf.
In The Jewel of the Nile (1985), the eponymous Jewel is a Sufi holy man.
In Hideous Kinky (1998), Julia (Kate Winslet) travels to Morocco to explore Sufism and a journey to self-discovery.
In Monsieur Ibrahim (2003), Omar Sharif’s character professes to be a Muslim in the Sufi tradition.
Bab’Aziz (2005), a film by Tunisian director Nacer Khemir, draws heavily on the Sufi tradition, containing quotes from Sufi poets such as Rumi and depicting an ecstatic Sufi dance.
Abida Parveen, a Pakistani Sufi singer is one of the foremost exponents of Sufi music, together with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan are considered the finest Sufi vocalists of the modern era. Sanam Marvi another Pakistani singer has recently gained recognition for her Sufi vocal performances.
A. R. Rahman, the Oscar-winning Indian musician, has several compositions which draw inspiration from the Sufi genre; examples are the filmi qawwalis Khwaja Mere Khwaja in the film Jodhaa Akbar, Arziyan in the film Delhi 6 and Kun Faya Kun in the film Rockstar.
Bengali singer Lalan Fakir and Bangladesh’s national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam scored several Sufi songs.
Junoon, a band from Pakistan, created the genre of Sufi rock by combining elements of modern hard rock and traditional folk music with Sufi poetry.
In 2005, Rabbi Shergill released a Sufi rock song called “Bulla Ki Jaana”, which became a chart-topper in India and Pakistan.
Madonna, on her 1994 record Bedtime Stories, sings a song called “Bedtime Story” that discusses achieving a high unconsciousness level. The video for the song shows an ecstatic Sufi ritual with many dervishes dancing, Arabic calligraphy and some other Sufi elements. In her 1998 song “Bittersweet”, she recites Rumi’s poem by the same name. In her 2001 Drowned World Tour, Madonna sang the song “Secret” showing rituals from many religions, including a Sufi dance.
Singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt’s record The Mask and Mirror (1994) has a song called “The Mystic’s Dream” that is influenced by Sufi music and poetry. The band mewithoutYou has made references to Sufi parables, including the name of their album It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright (2009). Tori Amos makes a reference to Sufis in her song “Cruel”.
Mercan Dede is a Turkish composer who incorporates Sufism into his music and performances.
The Persian poet Rumi has become one of the most widely read poets in the United States, thanks largely to the interpretative translations published by Coleman Barks. Elif Safak’s novel The Forty Rules of Love tells the story of Rumi becoming a disciple of the Sufi dervish Shams Tabrizi.
Modern: Contemporary Sufi scholars
- Abdallah Bin Bayyah (b. 1935) – Saudi Arabia
- Habib Ali al-Jifri (b. 1971) – Yemen
- Habib Umar bin Hafiz (b. 1962) – Yemen
- Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki (1944–2004) – Saudi Arabia
Levant and Africa:
- Abd al-Hamid Kishk (1933–1996) – Egypt
- Abdalqadir as-Sufi (b. 1930) – South Africa
- Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri (1912–2004) – Syria
- Ahmad al-Alawi (1869–1934) – Algeria
- Ahmad Tijani Ali Cisse (b. 1955) – Senegal
- Ahmed el-Tayeb (b. 1946) – Egypt
- Ali Gomaa (b. 1951) – Egypt
- Gibril Haddad (b. 1960) – Lebanon
- Hassan Cisse (1945–2008) – Senegal
- Muhammad al-Yaqoubi (b. 1963) – Syria
- Muhammad ibn al-Habib (1876–1972) – Morocco
- Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy (1928–2010) – Egypt
- Nuh Ha Mim Keller (b. 1954) – Jordan
- Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam – Egypt
- Wahba Zuhayli (b. 1932) – Syria
- Yusuf an-Nabhani (1849–1932) – Palestine
- El Hadji Malick Sy (1855-1922) – Senegal
- Cheikh Omar Foutiyou Tall – Senegal
- Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba (1853-1927) – Senegal
- Abdal Hakim Murad (b. 1960) – United Kingdom
- Ahmed Babiker – United Kingdom
- Frithjof Schuon (1907–1998) – Switzerland
- Idries Shah (1924–1996) – United Kingdom
- Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee (b. 1953) – United Kingdom
- Martin Lings (1909–2005) – United Kingdom
- Muhammad Imdad Hussain Pirzada (b. 1946) – United Kingdom
- Hüseyin Hilmi Işık (1911–2001) – Turkey
- Nazim Al-Haqqani (b. 1922) – Turkey
- Necip Fazıl Kısakürek (1904–1983) – Turkey
- Said Afandi al-Chirkawi (b. 1937) – Dagestan
- Said Nursî (1878–1960) – Turkey
- Ahmed Tijani Ben Omar (b. 1950) – United States
- Hamza Yusuf (b. 1960) – United States
- Hisham Kabbani (b. 1945) – United States
- Hossein Nasr (b. 1933) – United States
- Kabir Helminski (b. 1942) – United States
- M. A. Muqtedar Khan (b. 1966) – United States
- Muhammad bin Yahya al-Ninowy (b. 1966) – United States
- Nooruddeen Durkee (b. 1938) – United States
- Zaid Shakir (b. 1956) – United States
- Ahmed Raza Khan (1856–1921) – India
- Akhtar Raza Khan (b. 1943) – India
- Khwaja Shamsuddin Azeemi (b. 1927) – Pakistan
- Meher Ali Shah (1859–1937) – Pakistan
- Muhammad Abdul Qadeer Siddiqi Qadri (1871-1962) – India
- Qalandar Baba Auliya (1898–1979) – Pakistan
- Qamaruzzaman Azmi (b. 1946) – India
- Saheb Qiblah Fultali (1913–2008) – Bangladesh
- Tajuddin Muhammad Badruddin (1861-1925) – India
- Waheed Ashraf (b. 1933) – India
- Omer Tarin (b. 1966) – Pakistan
- Ahmed Ullah Maizbhanderi (1826- 1906) – Bangladesh
Eastern and Central Asia:
Muhammad Abdul Aleem Siddiqi (1892–1954) – Singapore
- Muhammad Ma Jian (1906–1978) – China
- Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas (b. 1931) – Malaysia