It is a well known historical fact that in spreading the ethical and spiritual
values of Islam, major and effective contributions have been Made by the
Walis of ALLAH (saints). It was their humanistic position, and piety which
won over the hearts of lacs of people. They made a direct contact with
the masses served and loved them, lived with them in the realization of
Eternal Truth. The proof of this is more than evident from the history of
growth of Islam in India. Although Islam had penetrated in this
subcontinent in the first century of Hijra, but the noble task of inspiring
the people to its tenets and values in India was accomplished by Hazrat
Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty (R.A.) http://www.kgn786.com popularly
known as Khwaja Saheb and Khwaja Gharib Nawaz.
The word Sufi is derived from the Arabic word 'suf' which means ' wool ' and
which refers to the coarse woolen robes that were worn by the Prophet
Muhammad (pbuh) and by his close companions. The goal of a Sufi is none other
than God Himself. There are signs of God everywhere in the universe and in man
The Sufis have pointed out useful things about Iblis. Let's continue with some of
their teachings. Let us quote shaykh Fariduddin 'Attar who has written these
lines in his "Mosibat Nama"(Book of Adversity), p. 63, for people looking for a
Gar to gu'i nist piri aashkaarTo talab kon dar hazaar andar hazaarZe aanke gar
piri namaand dar jahaanNa zamin bar jaai maand na zamaanPir ham hast in
zamaan penhaan shodaTang-e khalqaan dida dar kholqaan shoda
If you say: There is no pir openly to be seen,Then you should seek
another thousand times.For if no pir would remain in the world,Then
neither the earth nor time would remain in place.The pir exists even
now, but he is hidden.Having seen the narrow-mindedness of the
people,He is wearing worn-out clothes.
Shaykh 'Azizuddin Nasafi speaks about the role of Iblis in this respect:
"O, dervish! You will not find this wise man or this verifier of thetruth in
mosques, preaching from the pulpit or reciting dhikr. You will not find
him in the religious schools giving lessons, and you will not find him
among the people of high office among the bookish people or among the
idol worshippers. You will not find him in the Sufi centre prostrating
himself with the people of fantasy and self-worshippers.
Out of these three places for worshipping God, there may be one person out of a
thousand working for the sake of God". " O dervish! The wise man and the
verifier of the truth, and the men of God are hidden and this hiddenness is their
guardian, their club, their fortress, and their weapon. This is the reason why
they are clean and pure. He that is not hidden is a plot and a trick of Satan". O,
dervish! Their exterior is like the exterior of the common people and their
interior is like the interior of the elite. They don't give access to any leader or
chief and they have no claim to be a leader…They spend most of their time in
retreat and seclusion, and they don't enjoy interaction with this world. They are
opposed to company with those of high position. If it is useful, they spend their
time in association with the dear ones and the dervishes".
Sufis Serving Love :- The truly virtuous are they who? give food — however
great be their want of it — unto the needy, the orphan, and the captive, saying,
in their hearts, "We feed you for the sake of God alone: we desire no
recompense from you, nor thanks: behold, we stand in awe of our Sustainer..."
One of the traditional roles of the dervish lodge was as community kitchen and
hostel, providing food and shelter for the poor and for travelers. Many early
Sufis were "sons of the road," wandering during the warm season, and relying
on the grace of God and the spontaneous generosity of fellow Sufis for shelter
and sustenance. Followers of other faiths also could count on such generosity,
with no questions asked about their religion.
One who entertains dervishes will be compensated in paradise. Uthman Haruni
A kitchen in which meals were cooking around the clock was the hallmark of
many Sufi saints. The great Chishti Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya was known to
entertain large groups of traveling dervishes — even thirty or more — for up to
three days at a time. The three-day limit is in keeping with Muhammad's
counsel: "Hospitality extends for three days, and anything beyond that is
charity." Ibn Batuta enjoyed and documented such hospitality during his travels
in the 14th century, as did Evliya Efendi in the 17th century.
The desire to share food was one basis for the development of communities —
the Turkish word tekke referred to a refectory or dining hall long before it
became exclusively identified with a Sufi establishment. With the development of
orders and communities came a greater capacity to serve greater numbers; but
no matter what its size, each Sufi center had lodgings reserved for guests, and a
place of honor for them at the table.
The Persian word langar was synonymous with a soup kitchen and resting place
for travelers, or a Sufi residence. Ahmed Uzgani's largely mythical "History of
the Uwaysis," set in East Turkestan around 1600 CE, includes stories of Sufi
saints who established langars and spent years in this way of service. Legend
has it that the kitchen of one of them, Ghiyath al-Din of Shikarmat, was
miraculously granted a limitless supply of fire and water. The many references to
holy men and women engaged in such work reflect the great value attached to
it, and the widespread presence of langars throughout Central Asia.
Abdul Qadir Gilani, pir of the Qadiri Order, was known as Ghauth al-'Azam,
"The Great Helper," and was renowned for his charity. According to the Qadiris,
he was 'born of love, lived in a perfect way, and died having achieved the
perfection of love." One of his characteristics was generosity, and the tradition
which he started of feeding the poor is perpetuated every year by his followers
on his urs, the anniversary of his death. On the 11th day of Rabi'al-Thani, at his
shrine in Baghdad and throughout the Muslim world, thousands of people gather
at meetings and festivals to recite Qur'an, to honor the memory of Abdul Qadir
Gilani, and to partake of the large quantities of food cooked and distributed in
Following the example of their founder, Muinuddin Chishti, Chishti
khanqahs have always kept open kitchens and have provided vital
services in public emergencies. In 1976, when monsoon floods
destroyed many houses in Ajmer, India, the Chishti khanqah there fed
and housed many of the homeless. For centuries the Ajmer Langar
Khana has cooked and distributed twice daily a barley porridge, itself
known as langar. In 1904 the Rajputana District Gazetteer reported:
Two maunds and six seers of grain (178 lbs.) with six seers of salt (13
lbs.) are cooked and distributed to all comers before daybreak in the
morning, and the same quantity before five o'clock in the evening...
Besides the 1,570 maunds of grain (65 tons) which are thus yearly
consumed, 644 maunds (27 tons) are annually distributed to infirm
women, widows, and other deserving persons at their own houses.
Rajputana District Gazetteer
From the 15th to the 19th centuries CE, the Ansari caretakers of the
shrine of Ali in Balkh (now Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan) offered to all
comers a meal of bread and soup every Friday and Monday evening; and
when they could afford it, sweets and fruit were set out after Friday and
Monday evening prayers. The 16th Century Helveti Shaikh Ibrahim ibn
Muhammad Gulshani established a dergah in Cairo which became widely
known for its public offerings of food; its staff included a baker, a cook,
and a "tablesetter for the poor."
In Ottoman lands, the imaret was a public institution serving travelers, the
needy, dervishes, and the keepers of the mosques. The public kitchens of the
imarets and many of the Sufi tekkes and zawiyas (all of which had open
kitchens) were supported by waqf, charitable foundations established by
government, and by wealthy and prominent men and women. Support also
came from private donations and from the dervish orders' agricultural activities
and industries. (For instance, for centuries the Bektashi Order controlled the
most productive salt mines in the Ottoman Empire; the salt from those mines
was called Hajji Bektash salt.) In the 16th century, the Istanbul imaret of Sultan
Mehmed II Fatih prepared meals for over 1,100 people every day; its guest
house accommodated up to 160 visitors at a time. Stores of cheese, cream and
honey were earmarked for guests, and those fortunate enough to attend a
banquet there were served special rice dishes such as dane and zerde.
Sufis have carried this tradition of service into modern times. Although Kemal
Ataturk outlawed the Turkish dervish orders in 1925, in the 1930's Mevlevi
Shaikh Suleyman Loras was permitted to open the kitchen of a Mevlevi tekke in
order to feed the poor. Three evenings a week the Karagumruk Helveti-Jerrahi
dergah, located in a poor section of Istanbul, accommodates 500 or more diners.
Many local community residents come for dinner and leave after the meal, to be
replaced by others who come to participate in dhikr. The Jerrahi dergah in
Spring Valley, New York, serves 125 or more diners every Saturday night, and
even more — and more frequently — during the month of Ramadan. Once a
month, community members directly distribute cooked meals, person to person,
to local families in need.
In Rufai dergahs throughout Turkey, tables are routinely set for 200-250 people.
During Muharram, the Tirana, Albania, Bektashi tekke prepares ashura, a
pudding of legumes and dried fruits, for 600 people. Throughout the year at the
Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship in Philadelphia, 50 to 200 people take their
evening meal together every night.
In modern Egypt, offerings of food and hospitality are central to Sufi life. The
Sufi center or saha offers meals and lodging to guests; some have enormous
concrete tables accommodating one hundred of more diners at a sitting. At
annual moulid observances honoring the anniversary of the death of Sufi saints,
khidamat — hospitality stations — are set up in tents, at nearby buildings, or on
simple cloths laid out upon the ground. Guests are offered food and drink, called
nafha — a word with the dual meaning of "gift" and "fragrance." Nafha must be
accepted, for not only is it a gift of the heart, but it carries with it the baraka of
the saint being honored. Poor people partake of nafha for its nourishment; poor
and rich alike partake of nafha for its baraka.
Dervish hospitality in the grand manner was described by an American guest of
the Shaikh of the Tripoli Mevlevi tekke in the 1920's:
[The Shaikh] shouted welcome in French and Arabic as he came, embraced Dr.
Dray like a grizzly bear, shook hands with me, deplored the hot weather, and led
us to a terrace where he hoped there would be a little breeze...
We found ourselves[...] sipping a delicious pale-green liquid, mixed from freshly
crushed white grapes and lime juice... The luncheon was an Arabian Nights feast
of more than twenty courses and lasted for two hours. Whole roasted chickens,
and chicken pilaf with rice, almonds, and raisins; lamb on skewers; lamb
wrapped in grape leaves and cooked in olive oil, lamb stewed with eggplant;
lamb cooked with peppercorns; delicious salads; cucumbers peeled at the table
and eaten as we eat fruit; no less than six desserts, beginning with a great pan
of custard, running the gamut of pastries with ground-up nuts and honey, to end
at last with watermelons cooled in the fountain.
[...] through all the exuberance of his welcome, through the elaborate material
luxury of our entertainment and his obvious whole-hearted enjoyment of the
delicious food, I sensed continually that there was another side to this man and
felt that his abundant physical vitality was not incompatible, perhaps, with
powers which might be equally unusual in other directions. I had been told that
he was a great mystic, and I was not prepared to doubt it on the superficial
Six hundred years earlier, that Shaikh's Pir had written:
Sufis waits for the fulfillment of their desires —
that's why they eat so much!
But the Sufi who takes nourishment from the light of God
is free from the shame of begging.
Such Sufis are one in a thousand,
the rest live under their protection.
Both guest and host stand at the threshold between the known and the unknown
worlds, between the mundane and the sacred. Whether the material setting be
opulent or simple, the ultimate value of the relationship lies in the degree to
which both are willing to reflect the divine qualities. The offering and acceptance
of an invitation reflect the willingness of guest and host to render service and
honor, to identify with each other, and to acknowledge that, in fact, there is no
other. Knocking at the door, opening it in welcome, sharing company at the
hearth, breaking bread in fellowship — these actions mirror the inner capacity
for unconditional acceptance of the hospitality and sustenance God offers to all
creatures. The epitome of such openness was depicted by the Hungarian traveler
Arminius Vambery, who in 1862 was a guest in the tent of Allah Nazr, on the
plateau to the north of Gomushtepe, Anatolia:
This old Turkoman was beside himself from joy that heaven had sent him
guests; the recollection of that scene will never pass from my mind. In spite of
our protestations to the contrary, he killed a goat, the only one which he
possessed, to contribute to our entertainment. At a second meal, which we
partook with him the next day, he found means to procure bread also, an article
that had not been seen for weeks in his dwelling. While we attacked the dish of
meat, he seated himself opposite to us, and wept, in the exactest sense of the
expression, tears of joy. Allah Nazr would not retain any part of the goat he had
killed in honor of us. The horns and hoofs, which were burned to ashes, and
were to be employed for the galled places on the camels, he gave to Ilias; but
the skin, stripped off in one piece, he destined to serve as my water-vessel, and
after having well rubbed it with salt, and dried it in the sun, he handed it over to
Whether he wore the robes of a Bektashi or not, it is clear that Allah Nazr
understood the words of Hajji Bektash:
This is the state of the world: those who come shall pass away. Serve thou also.
Lay out the meal. If you need help, seek it in generosity. When the people
wanted courage and a miracle from 'Ali, he commanded Kanbar, saying, "Lay on
the meal." Let all who would enter the tariqat and wear its dress seek out a
traveler and serve him.
Hajji Bektash Veli
The origin and essence of man
Man is the mystery of God. For a mysterious purpose, man was outwardly
created of clay and God breathed life into him, and all of the angels were
commanded to prostrate themselves before him. As the Qur'an, which we
believe is the highest form of revelation, declares:
"And remember when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo I am creating a mortal
out of potter's clay. So when I have made him and shaped him and have
breathed into him of My Spirit, do ye fall down prostrating yourself unto him."
Sufism is a mystic tradition of Islam encompassing a diverse range of beliefs
and practices dedicated to Allah/God, divine love and sometimes to helping
fellow man. Tariqas (Sufi orders) may be associated with Shi'a Islam, Sunni
Islam, other currents of Islam, or a combination of multiple traditions. It has
been suggested that Sufi thought emerged from the Middle East in the eighth
century, but adherents are now found around the world. Some Sufis have also
claimed that Sufism pre-dates Islam and some groups operate with only very
tenuous links to Islam.
The Qur'anic roots of Sufism
Sufism really has its roots in the Qur'an itself and in the religious experience of
the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The preliminary signs of revelation were given
to the Prophet (pbuh) in the form of visions and the Prophet (pbuh) deliberately
sought solitude until the book of his heart, which was pure and unspoiled by
schoolmen, was opened and the Divine Pen engraved upon it the revelation, the
The Sufi's knowledge of God comes from the Qur'an directly. And in spite of the
Sufi's proximity to God, the undisputed basis of their direct experience of God
has always been the Qur'an. The Qur'an contains instructions suitable to man
with varying levels of spirituality. It satisfies those who are content with merely
exoteric practices, but also contains the deepest and most profound esoteric
meaning for those who desire a closer, more mystical relationship with God.
The Qur'anic verses which are the favourites of the Sufis include:
"We [God] are closer to him [man] than his jugular vein." "Say, surely we
belong to God and to Him do we return." "He is the First and the Last and the
Manifest and the Hidden." "God is the light of the heavens and the earth."
Such verses are limitless in their depth, scope and meaning, and man may draw
from them as much mystical meaning as he has the capacity to understand.
God says in the Qur'an that God sent His Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) first and
foremost as a Mercy unto all peoples. And men of different levels of spiritual
understanding may avail themselves of this Mercy according to their various
The Prophet (pbuh) and his close associates never stopped at merely observing
the minimum requirement in regard to prayer and devotional practices. All
through his life, the Prophet (pbuh) kept long night vigils and practised voluntary
fasts during most days. He never ate barley bread (the staple food of his day) on
three consecutive days, and he never even touched a loaf of wheat bread --
which was a luxury. One of his favourite sayings was "Poverty is my pride," and
this saying came to be quoted in every manual of Sufi doctrine, making the rule
of poverty a basic characteristic of Sufi life.
The exact form of the basic beliefs depends on the Sufi School or current in question. While
there are significant variations in approach among them, the underlying concepts remain
Sufis believe that love is a projection of the essence of God to the universe.
The central doctrine of Sufism, sometimes called Wahdat or Unity, is the understanding of
Tawhid: all phenomena are manifestations of a single reality, or Wujud (being), or al-Haq
(Truth, God). The essence of being/Truth/God is devoid of every form and quality, and hence
unmanifested, yet it is inseparable from every form and phenomenon either material or
spiritual. It is often understood to imply that every phenomenon is an aspect of Truth and at
the same time attribution of existence to it is false. The chief aim of all Sufis then is to let go
of all notions of duality, therefore the individual self also, and realize the divine unity.
Sufis teach in personal groups, as the interaction of the master is considered necessary for
the growth of the pupil. They make extensive use of parable, allegory, and metaphor, and it
is held by Sufis that meaning can only be reached through a process of seeking the truth,
and knowledge of oneself. Although philosophies vary between different Sufi orders.
The following metaphor, credited to an unknown Sufi scholar, helps describe this line of
There are three ways of knowing a thing. Take for instance a flame. One can be told
of the flame, one can see the flame with his own eyes, and finally one can reach out
and be burned by it. In this way, we Sufis seek to be burned by God.
A significant part of Persian literature comes from the Sufis, who created great books of
poetry (which include for example the Walled Garden of Truth, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,
the Conference of the Birds and the Masnavi), all of which contain teachings of the Sufis.
Sufism has produced a large body of poetry in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Kurdish, Urdu,
Punjabi, Sindhi, which notably includes the works of Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, Farid Ud-
Din Attar, Abdul Qader Bedil, Bulleh Shah, Amir Khusro, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Sachal
Sarmast, Sultan Bahu, as well as numerous traditions of devotional dance, such as Sufi
whirling, and music, such as Qawwali.
History of Sufism
The history of Sufism can be divided into the following principal periods:
The history and methodology of Sufism
Sufism is an esoteric doctrine transmitted by word of mouth, and sometimes without even a
spoken or written word, by an authorized teacher to a disciple, and from disciple to another
disciple, in confidence. These secret instructions are acted upon by a disciple with perfect
faith in the teacher. The disciple gives a report of his condition and experience in confidence
to his teacher and receives another set of instructions most suitable to his state.
It is only the writings of the Sufi teachers, who speak from within the tradition, that allow an
outsider a glimpse of the inner beauty of Sufism. One of the greatest scholars of all times
was al-Ghazzali. He lived in the later eleventh and early twelfth centuries. He wrote his
famous work The Revival of the Sciences of Religion in Arabic, with an abridged form, The
Alchemy of Happiness, in Persian. These works were followed by the other writings and
poetry by such Sufi teachers as Abdul-Karim al-Jili, Ibn Arabi, Suhrawardi, the famous
Chishti saints, Hafiz, Sadi, Rumi and so many other Sufi poets.
At the same time there was an immense upsurge of open Sufi activity under the auspices of
different Sufi orders in all parts of the Islamic world. Each Sufi order constituted a focal point
of activity, from which Sufi teachings were carried to the mass of the population by the
representatives of the head of the order. The Sufi organizations constituted the social
cement of the society in which they lived. Because of the strength of this social cement,
Islamic civilization was able not only to withstand the many political upheavals of this period,
but it also acted as a civilizing influence on the powers that were responsible for these
The conventional view is that the word originates from Suf ( ,)فوصthe Arabic word for wool,
referring to the simple cloaks the early Muslim ascetics wore. However, not all sufis wear
cloaks or clothes of wool. Another etymological theory states that the root word of Sufi is the
Arabic word safa ( ,)افصmeaning purity. This places the emphasis of Sufism on purity of
heart and soul.
Others suggest the origin is from "Ashab al-Suffa" ("Companions of the Veranda") or "Ahl al-
Suffa" ("People of the Veranda"), who were a group of Muslims during the time of the
Prophet Muhammad who spent much of their time on the veranda of the Prophet's Masjid
devoted to prayer.
Yet another etymology, advanced by the 10th century author Al-Biruni is that the word, as
'Sufiya', is linked with the Greek term for 'Wisdom' - 'Sophia', although for various reasons
this derivation is not accepted by many at the present.
The Great masters of Sufism
The Sufis dispersed throughout the Middle East, particularly in the areas previously under
Byzantine influence and control. This period was characterised by the practice of an
apprentice (murid) placing himself under the spiritual direction of a Master (shaykh or pir).
Schools were developed, concerning themselves with the topics of mystical experience,
education of the heart to rid itself of baser instincts, the love of God, and approaching God
through progressive stages (maqaam) and states (haal). The schools were formed by
reformers who felt their core values and manners had disappeared in a society marked by
material prosperity that they saw as eroding the spiritual life.
Uwais al-Qarni, Harrm Bin Hian, Hasan Ul-Basri and Sayid Ibn Ul Mussib are regarded as
the first mystics among the "Taabi'een" in Islam. Rabia was a female Sufi and known for her
love and passion for God. Junayd was among the first theorist of Sufism; he concerned
himself with 'fanaa' and 'baqaa', the state of annihilating the self in the presence of the
divine, accompanied by clarity concerning wordly phenomena.
Formalization of philosophies of Sufism
Al Ghazali's treatises, the "Reconstruction of Religious Sciences" and the "Alchemy of
Happiness," argued that Sufism originated from the Qur'an making it compatible with
mainstream Islamic thought and theology. It was around 1000 CE that the early Sufi
literature, in the form of manuals, treatises, discourses and poetry, became the source of
Sufi thinking and meditations.
Propagation of Sufism
Sufism, during 1200-1500 CE, experienced an era of increased activity in various parts of
the Islamic world. This period is considered as the "Classical Period" or the "Golden Age" of
Sufism. Lodges and hospices soon became not only places to house Sufi students, but also
places for practising Sufis and other mystics to stay and retreat.
The propagation of Sufism started from its origin in Baghdad, Iraq, and spread to Persia,
Pakistan, North Africa, and Muslim Spain. There were tests of conciliation between Sufism
and the other Islamic sciences (sharia, fiqh, etc.), as well as the beginning of the Sufi
One of the first orders to originate was the Yasawi order, named after Khwajah Ahmed
Yesevi in modern Kazakhstan. The Kubrawiya order, originating in Central Asia, was named
after Najmeddin Kubra, known as the "saint-producing shaykh" , since a number of his
disciples became shaykhs. The most prominent Sufi master of this era is Abdul Qadir Jilani,
the founder of the Qadiriyyah order in Iraq. Others included Rumi, founder of the Mevlevi
order in Turkey, Sahabuddin Suharwardi in Asia minor, and Moinuddin Chishti in India.
A number of scholars perceive influences on Sufism from pre-Islamic and non-Islamic
schools of mysticism and philosophy. Some of these new perspectives originate from the
synthesis of Persian civilization with Islam, an emphasis on spiritual aspects of Islam, and
the incorporation of ideas and practices from other mysticisms such as Gnosticism, Judaism,
and Hinduism into Islam . There are also claims regarding ancient Egyptian roots of Sufism
which are not widely accepted.
The Six Subtleties
Drawing from Qur'anic verses, virtually all Sufis distinguish Lataif-e-Sitta (The Six
Subtleties), Nafs, Qalb, Ruh, Sirr, Khafi & Akhfa. These lataif (singular : latifa) designate
various psychospiritual "organs" or, faculties of sensory perception.
Sufic development involves the awakening of these spiritual centers of perception that lie
dormant in an individual. Each center is associated with a particular colour and general area
of the body, ofttimes with a particular prophet, and varies from Order to Order. The help of a
guide is considered necessary to help activate these centers. After undergoing this process,
the dervish is said to reach a certain type of "completion."
Man gets acquainted with the lataif one by one by Muraqaba (Sufi Meditation), Dhikr
(Remembrance of God) and purification of one's psyche from negative thoughts, emotions,
and actions. Loving God and one's fellow, irrespective of his race, religion or nationality, and
without consideration for any possible reward, is the key to ascension according to Sufis.
These six "organs" or faculties: Nafs, Qalb, Ruh, Sirr, Khafi & Akhfa, and the purificative
activities applied to them, contain the basic orthodox Sufi philosophy. The purification of the
elementary passionate nature (Tazkiya-I-Nafs), followed by cleansing of the spiritual heart so
that it may acquire a mirror-like purity of reflection (Tazkiya-I-Qalb) and become the
receptacle of God's love (Ishq), illumination of the spirit (Tajjali-I-Ruh) fortified by emptying of
egoic drives (Taqliyya-I-Sirr) and remembrance of God's attributes (Dhikr), and completion of
journey with purification of the last two faculties, Khafi & Akhfa. Through these "organs" or
faculties and the transformative results from their activation, the basic Sufi psychology is
outlined and bears some resemblance to the schemata of kabbalah and the tantric chakra
Although there is no consensus with regard to Sufi cosmology, one can disentangle at least
three different cosmographies: Ishraqi visionary universe as expounded by Suhrawardi
Maqtul, Neoplatonic view of cosmos cherished by Islamic philosophers like Ibn
Sina/Avicenna and Sufis like Ibn al-Arabi, and Hermetic-Ptolemaic spherical geocentric
world. All these doctrines (each one of them claiming to be impeccably orthodox) were freely
mixed and juxtaposed, frequently with confusing results - a situation one also encounters in
other esoteric doctrines.
Tamarkoz or Muraqaba is the word used by many Sufis when referring to the practice
of meditation. The Arabic word literally means observe, guard or control one's
thoughts and desires. In some Sufi orders, muraqaba may involve concentrating
one's mind on the names of God, on a verse of the Qur'an, or on certain Arabic
letters that have special significance. Muraqaba in other orders may involve the Sufi
aspirant focusing on his or her murshid, while others (such as the Azeemia order)
imagine certain colors to achieve different spiritual states.
Dhikr (Zekr) is the remembrance of God commanded in the Qur'an for all Muslims. To
engage in dhikr is to have awareness of God according to Islam. Dhikr as a devotional act
includes the repetition of divine names, supplications and aphorisms from hadith literature,
and sections of the Qur'an. More generally, any activity in which the Muslim maintains
awareness of God is considered dhikr.
It is interesting to note that the practice of Muraqaba and Dhikr have very close resemblence
with the practices of the Jewish mystics. Muraqaba is very similar to the Merkavah practice,
which is one of the meditations used by Kabbalists to attain higher states of consciousness.
Kabbalists also use a practice called Zakhor which in Hebrew literally means remembrance.
Zakhor serves the same purpose in Kabbalah as Dhikr serves in Sufism. Another thing to
notice here is that there is not only similarity in practice but also a strong similarity in the
spelling and sounding of the words in Sufism and Kabbalah. This may imply that the Sufi
mystical system has its origins in Judaism and its mystical tradition the Kabbalah.
Some Sufi orders engage in ritualized dhikr ceremonies, the liturgy of which may include
recitation, singing, instrumental music, dance, costumes, incense, meditation, ecstasy, and
trance. (Touma 1996, p.162).
Hadhra is a dance associated with dhikr practiced primarily in the Arab world. The word
Hadhra means Presence in Arabic. Sometimes the sufi songs, or dances are performed as
an appeal for the Presence of God, his prophets, and angels.
Qawwali is a form of devotional Sufi music common in Pakistan, North India, Afganistan, Iran
and Turkey. It is known for its secular strains. Some of its modern-day masters have
included Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the Sabri Brothers.
Sama or Sema' (Arabic "listening") refers to Sufi worship practices involving music and
dance (see Sufi whirling). In Uyghur culture, this includes a dance form also originally
associated with Sufi ritual. See Qawwali origins and Origin and History of the Qawwali,
Adam Nayyar, Lok Virsa Research Centre, Islamabad, 1988.
Khalwa refers to a form of retreat, once widespread but now less common. A khalwa may be
prescribed by the shaykh (spiritual advisor) of the murid or talib (student). Muslims believe
that most of the prophets, and also Maryam (Mary) the mother of Issa (Jesus), lived in some
form of seclusion at some point in their life. Muhammad, for example, used to retreat to the
cave where he received his first inspiration - but had been going there for many years prior
to his meeting with the angel Gabriel. Similar examples include Moses' going into seclusion
for 40 days in a cave in Mt. Sinai. Mary was in seclusion in the Jewish temple for a year,
where only Zakariya was permitted to see her.
Orders of Sufism
The traditional Sufi orders emphasize the role of Sufism within Islam. Therefore the Sharia
(traditional Islamic law) and the Sunnah (customs of the Prophet) are seen as crucial for any
Sufi aspirant. Among the oldest and most well known of the Sufi orders are the Qadiri, Chisti,
Oveyssi, Shadhili, Jerrahi, Naqshbandi, Nimatullahi, Mevlevi and the Ashrafi. One proof
traditional orders assert is that almost all the famous Sufi masters of the Islamic Caliphate
times were also 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 live correct with Sufism
one must be a practicing Muslim obeying the Sharia.
Non-traditional Sufi groups
In recent decades there has been a growth of non-traditional Sufi movements in the West.
Some examples are Universal Sufism movement, the Mevlevi Order of America, the Golden
Sufi Center, the Sufi Foundation of America, and Sufism Reoriented.
Mainstream Sufism is seen by its scholars and supporters as a part of traditional Islam.
However, there is a major line of non-Islamic or offshoot-Islamic Sufi thought that sees
Sufism as predating Islam and being a universal philosophy, that is independent of the
Qur'an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. This view of Sufism has been popular in
the Western world, and the terms yogi and sufi are used interchangeably. Universal Sufism
tends to be opposed by traditional Sufis, who argue that Sufism has always been practiced
from within an Islamic framework and can never be separated from it. Inayat Khan founded
Universal Sufism whilst also maintaining his lineage in Chisti sufism, and Idries Shah
advocated similar concepts. Irina Tweedie and Abdullah Dougan also taught outside the
Islamic context while maintaining the connection to their Naqshbandi heritage.
There is also an attempt to reconsider Sufism in contemporary Muslim thought from within.
According to this view, Sufism represents the core sense of Islam that gives insight to God
and His creation.
Traditional Islamic schools of thought and Sufism
Islam traditionally consists of a number of groups. The two main divisions are the Sunnis and
the Shia. Sunni Islam consists of a number of schools of legal jurisprudence (called
Madhabs). Sufis do not define Sufism as a madhhab - what distinguishes a person as a Sufi
is practicing Sufism, usually through association with a Sufi order. Belief in Sufism is not
sufficient for being recognized as a Sufi. Classic Sufi tariqas insist on adherence to one of
the four Madhabs of Fiqh and one of the two orthodox schools of Aqida. In this sense,
traditional practicers of Sufism don't see it as an exclusive group but just as a form of
training necessary to cultivate spirituality and Ihsan in their lives.
The relationship between traditional Islamic scholars and Sufism is complicated due to the
variety of Sufi orders and their history.
According to the followers of Sufism, the founders and early scholars of the schools
(madhhabs) had positive attitudes towards Sufism, for example Imam Ibn Hambal used to
visit the Sufi master Bishr al Hafi frequently. Later, there were some scholars who
considered some aspects of Sufism rank heresy as well as those like Al-Ghazali who
defended Sufis as true Muslims. In time, even the controversial words of Al-Hallaj came to
be accepted by some scholars.
Today, many Islamic scholars (though not all) hold Tasawwuf, in the sense of Sufi doctrines
and philosophies, to be the science of the heart or gnosis (as distinct from other branches of
Islamic knowledge which are exoteric in nature) and appreciate Sufis for their extensive
contributions to Islamic arts and philosophy. Many Muslims who are not themselves Sufis
are influenced by Sufi teachings.
Here are the views of some famous scholars about Sufism.
Imam Abu Hanifa (85 H. - 150 H) "If it were not for two years, I would have perished." He
said, "for two years I accompanied Sayyidina Ja'far as-Sadiq and I acquired the spiritual
knowledge that made me a gnostic in the Way." [Ad-Durr al-Mukhtar, vol 1. p. 43]
Imam Malik (95 H. - 179 H.) "whoever studies Jurisprudence (tafaqaha) and didn't study
Sufism [tasawwafa] will be corrupted; and whoever studied Sufism and didn't study
Jurisprudence will become a heretic; and whoever combined both will be reach the Truth."
[the scholar'Ali al-Adawi , vol. 2, p 195.)
Imam Shafi'i (150 - 205 AH.) "I accompanied the Sufi people and I received from them three
knowledges: ... how to speak; .. how to treat people withleniency and a soft heart... and
they... guided me in the ways of Sufism." [Kashf al-Khafa, 'Ajluni, vol. 1, p 341.]
Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (164 - 241 AH.) "O my son, you have to sit with the People of
Sufism, because they are like a fountain of knowledge and they keep the Remembrance of
Allah in their hearts. they are the ascetics and they have the most spiritual power." [Tanwir
al-Qulub p. 405]
Imam Nawawi (620 - 676 AH.) "The specifications of the Way of the Sufis are ... to keep the
Presence of Allah in your heart in public and in private; to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet
(s) ... to be happy with what Allah gave you..."[in his Letters, (Maqasid at-tawhid), p. 201]
Ibn Khaldun (733 - 808 AH.) "The way of the Sufis is the way of the Salaf, the preceding
Scholars between the Sahaba and Tabi'een of those who followed good guidance..."
[Muqaddimat ibn al-Khaldun, p. 328]
Tajuddin as-Subki (727 - 771 AH.) "May Allah praise them [the Sufis] and greet them and
may Allah cause us to be with them in Paradise. Too many things havebeen said about them
and too many ignorant people have said things which are not related to them. And the truth
is that those people left the world and were busy with worship. ... They are the People of
Allah, whose supplications and player Allah accepts and by means of whom Allah supports
human beings" [Mu'eed an-Na'am p. 190, the chapter entitled Tasawwufl
Jalaluddin as-Suyuti (849 - 911 AH.) "At-Tasawwuf in itself is the best and most honorable
knowledge. It explains how to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) and to put aside
innovation." [Ta'yid al-Haqiqat al-'Aiiyya,p 57]
lbn Qayyim (691 - 751 AH.) "We can witness the greatness of the People of Sufism, in the
eyes of the earliest generations of Muslims by what has been mentioned by Sufyan ath-
Thawri (d. 161 AH), one of the greatest imams of the second century and one of the
foremost legal scholars. He said, "If it had not been for Abu Hisham as-Sufi (d. 115) 1 would
never have perceived the action of the subtlest forms of hypocrisy in the self... Among the
best of people is the Sufi learned in jurisprudence." [Manazil as-Sa'ireen.]
Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab (1115 - 1201 AH.) "My father Muhammad
ibn Abdul Wahhab and I do not deny or criticize the science of Sufism, but on the contrary
we support it, because it purifies the external and the internal of the hidden sins, which are
related to the heart and to the outward form. Even though the individual might externally be
on the right way, internally he might be on the wrong way. Sufism is necessary to correct it."
[ad-Dia'at mukathaffa did ash-Shaykh Ibn Abdul Wahhab,p.85 ]
Ibn 'Abidin (1198 - 1252 AH.) "the Seekers in this Sufi Way don't hear except from the
Divine Presence and they don't love any but Him. If they remember Him they cry, and if they
thank Him they are happy; ... May Allah bless them." [Risa'il Ibn'Abidin p. 172 & 173]
Muhammad 'Abduh (1265 - 1323 AH.) "Tasawwuf appeared in the first century of Islam
and it received a tremendous honor. It purified the self and straightened the conduct and
gave knowledge to people from the Wisdom and Secrets of the Divine Presence." (Majallat
al-Muslim, 6th ed. 1378 H, p. 24].
Abul Hasan 'Ali an-Nadawi (1331 AH b.) "These Sufis were initiating people on Oneness
and sincerity in following the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) and to repent from theirsins and to
be away from every disobedience of Allah 'Azza wa Jail. Their guides were encouraging
them to move in the way of perfect Love to Allah 'Azza wa Jail. "...In Calcutta India, everyday
more than 1000 people were taking initiation into Sufism. "...by the influence of these Sufi
people, thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands in India found their Lord and
reached a state of Perfection through the Islamic religion."[Muslit-ns in India, p. 140-146]
Controversy and criticism of Sufism
Sufism is a somewhat controversial subject today. For didactic convenience, the
perspectives on Sufism as a part of Islam will be mentioned first and after that, the non
Muslim groups who claim to be Sufi adherents.
Classic position on Sufism
Sufism was traditionally considered the systematisation of the spiritual component of Islam.
It dealt with matters of the heart (just as Fiqh dealt with the body and Aqida dealt with the
intellect). Many of the greatest Islamic scholars wrote treatises on the subject (eg. Al-
Ghazali's ihya ulum-aldeen (····· ···· ·····), Imam Nawawi's Bustan al-Arifeen etc.). Many of
the traditional scholars who were part of famous Islamic institutions (eg. Al-Azhar) like Ibn
Ata'illah were Sufi masters. Even today, many of the traditional Islamic universities like Al-
Azhar endorse Sufism as a part of the religion of Islam. Many of the famous Islamic scholars
have praised Sufis and their practices. For a list, please refer to scholars on Sufism.
However, Sufism emphasises non quantifiable matters (like states of the heart). The authors
of various Sufi treatises often used allegorical language which couldn't be read by an
unknowledgeable person to describe these states (eg. likened some states to intoxication
which is forbidden in Islam). 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. An
example of such a deviant sufi was Abu Hilman. One of the most vocal critics of such
deviations from the Islamic creed was Ibn Taymiya.
For a detailed essay on the role that Sufism plays in traditional Islam, please refer Place of
Tasawwuf in traditional Islam.
Criticism of Sufism
The adherents of the Salafi school form the majority of Muslims opposed to Tasawwuf. They
hold that Sufism was always held to be an innovation even by the earliest scholars. Some of
their main criticisms are listed below.Sufi masters have introduced many special prayers and
devotional acts into their schools. These are criticised as being reprehensible innovations
which are at best unnecessary. The supporters of Sufism defend their position by saying that
innovations can be classified into good and bad ones. They hold that the textually
transmitted prayers and invocations are superior in all respects to the ones they institute and
that the latter only plays a reinforcing role rather than a main one.
Some point to certain practices like singing being inconsistent with the Sharia. Sufis defend
their position by quoting prophetic traditions that condone certain forms of non instrumental
music (refer links above).
The allegorical and often abstruse language used by Sufis in their texts when interpreted by
unqualified people opens avenues for many misunderstandings. eg. The concept of divine
unity Wahdat-ul-wujood which critics consider equivalent to pantheism and therefore
incompatible with Islam. Sufi masters in many of their introductory texts caution aspirants
from reading and interpreting texts by themselves. They hold that the subject can only be
taught by a master to a student under strict guidance and supervision owing to its delicate
Islamic positions on non Islamic Sufi groups
The use of the title Sufi by many groups to refer to themselves and their use of traditional
Sufi masters (notably Jalaluddin Rumi) as sources of inspiration as well as the existence of
interpretations of classical Sufis texts by people who have no grounding in traditional Islamic
sciences has created a group of non-Islamic Sufis. These are considered by certain
conventional Islamic scholars as "beyond the pale" of the religion. However, Sufis are often
encouraged to observe a higher degree of forebearance. Some Sufi Sheikhs, although
having been initiated in an Islamic setting themselves, have gone on to teach more widely
and to make it clear that students of Sufism need not formally embrace Islam