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Sufism has been described differently by scholars writing in English but they all consider it as being the inner, esoteric, mystical, or purely spiritual dimension of the religion of Islam.

R. A. Nicholson in The Mystics of Islam (1914) describes Sufism as "Islamic mysticism" and says that Sufism was largely the product of diverse philosophical and spiritual influences, including Christian, Neoplatonic and others.
A.J. Arberry similarly states in Sufism (1950) that Sufism is "the name given to the mysticism of Islam" and "the mystical movement of an uncompromising Monotheism". He says that Sufism in essence derived from the Quran and Prophet Muhammad’s tradition and attempted to view "the movement from within as an aspect of Islam". This approach became generally accepted and was echoed by later scholars.

Victor Danner says in his book The Islamic Tradition (1988), "Sufism is the spiritual Path (tariqah) of Islam and has been identified with it for well over a thousand years...It has been called `Islamic mysticism' by Western scholars because of its resemblance to Christian and other forms of mysticism elsewhere. Unlike Christian mysticism, however, Sufism is a continuous historical and even institutionalized phenomenon in the Muslim world that has had millions of adherents down to the present day. Indeed, if we look over the Muslim world, there is hardly a region that does not have Sufi orders still functioning there".

Sufism or tasawwuf, as it is called in Arabic, is generally understood by scholars and Sufis to be the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. Today, however, many Muslims and non-Muslims believe that Sufism is outside the sphere of Islam. Nevertheless, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the foremost scholars of Islam, in his article 'The Interior Life in Islam’ contends that Sufism is simply the name for the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam. It is founded on the pursuit of spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain. This very logical principle is based on a typically succinct saying of Prophet Muhammad: "Whoever knows oneself, knows one's Lord." According to many scholars, it is impossible to relate Sufism to any religion outside of Islam.

The Origin of Sufism

The origins of Sufism can be traced to the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, whose teachings attracted a group of scholars who came to be called "Ahle Suffe", the People of Suffe, from their practice of sitting at the platform of the mosque of the Prophet in Medina. There they engaged themselves in discussions concerning the reality of Being, and in search of the inner path and devoted themselves to spiritual purification and meditation. They were the Companions of the Prophet and were the people of principles practicing certain disciplines and meditations for the sake of purification, the realization of Divine love and the understanding of reality. These individuals were the founders of Sufism. Among the most famous of these individuals were: Salman Farsi, Ammar Yasser, Balla'al, Abdullah Masoud and Oveyse Gharani. Within a century or two their style of self understanding and discipline were introduced by their students to nations as diverse and widely separated as Persia, India, Indonesia, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia and North Africa.
Through this process of diffusion, different schools and orders of Sufism gradually emerged from the single original group of Suffe at Medina. Their practices differ from one another in emphasis and doctrine, but all legitimate Sufi schools trace their ultimate origins back to the original group of the Prophet's spiritual disciples.

Fundamental Principles:

Sufis represented the inner side of the Islamic creed, which stresses on self-realisation, beautification of the soul through piety, righteousness and universal love for all. The Sufis consider that there is a particular Divine Attribute that dominates the being of every prophet and saint, such that they can be said to be the incarnation of that attribute. All of the Prophets are manifestations of the Divine Unity and Perfection, but Prophet Muhammed is its supreme manifestation. The aim of Sufism is the cultivation of Perfect Beings who are mirrors reflecting the Divine Names and Attributes.

In Sufism, a perfect being is also called a Wali (saint), a word that literally means 'sincere friend'. All who have been prophets have also been saints. The superstructure of Sufism is built upon the concept of teacher, pir or murshid.

To be initiated into the Sufi cult one is required to have implicit faith in his teacher and consider his commands as divine and the path shown by him as the straightest. Sufism had succeeded in inculcating the sentiments of fraternity, equality and equity, coupled with sense of service to humanity, in the followers, irrespective of race, community, caste, creed and colour.

In the earlier stages, it emphasised only on the Love of God but later it also stressed on the need of the development of man with the purification of mind, through prayer and meditation. In India, Sufism helped in maintaining communal harmony and social stability by advocating religious tolerance and by borrowing spiritual techniques and practices from other religions, which were not against the principles of Islam and which were conducive to spiritual attainments. Sufism has adapted extensively from the Vedanta school of the Hindu philosophy.

The musical and ecstatic aspect of Sufism is called Sama. This is a particular kind of devotional dance akin to Kirtana and was introduced by Jalaluddin Rumi, the great and the celebrated founder of the Vedantic type of Sufism. The Sufi, while being spiritually enraptured, gives the attention of his or her heart to the Beloved. With particular movements and often special and rhythmical music, he engages in the selfless remembrance of God. In this state, the Sufi becomes unaware of everything but God. Sufisidentify two types of Sama poetry - first praising God (this is called Hamd), Prophet (this is called Naat) and the Sufi saints (this is called Manqabat) and the second focussing on spiritual emotion or mystical love, ecstatic states and on separation and union. The Sama poetry is mostly sung in the form of Qawwali. Music of Sama is set within metric framework, accompanied by Dholak, Tabla, Sarangi, Harmonium and Sitar.

Sufi Literature:

Some of the rare and valuable documents on Sufism include Adab-us-Sufiyah written in 1021 AD by Abu Abdur Rahman, Mazhar-un-Nur (1779 AD) translated by Syed Nurl Huda, Al Urwah-li-Ahl-il-Khalwah (1339 AD) written by Abul Makarim Ahamad Alaud-Daulah, Tarjumat-ul-Kitab (1649 AD) by Shaikh Muhibullah, Sharhu Awarif-ul-Maarif (1421 AD) by Syed Mohammad Hasan Al Husaini Banda Nawaz Gesu Daraz, Naqd un Nusus, Asrar-ul-Ahkam Sharhu Shariat-ul-Islam, Jawami-ul Kalim andTabaqat-i-Shahjehani.

|| Important Sufi Orders ||  


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