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Sufism or ‘tasawwuf’, as it is called in Arabic, has been interpreted differently by western scholars but they all concur that Sufism is the inner, mystical, esoteric, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. R.A.Nicholson describes Sufism as “Islamic mysticism,” which came into being as a result of varied spiritual and philosophical influences including those of Christianity, Buddhism and the Vedanta School of the Hindu philosophy. A.J.Arberry describes a Sufi “as a Muslim who dedicates himself to the quest after mystical union with his Creator” and Sufism as “the mystical movement of an uncompromising monotheism”. He suggested that Sufism essentially originated from the teachings of the Holy Quran and the ‘Sunnah’ or ‘Ahadith’ of Prophet Muhammad. This approach of considering Sufism as the very kernel of Islam finds acceptance by many later scholars.

Victor Danner in his book ‘The Islamic Tradition’ describes Sufism “as the spiritual path (‘tariqah’) of Islam, with which it had remained identified for more than thousand years”. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the foremost scholars of Islam, contends that Sufism is simply the esoteric dimension of Islam. Sometimes, the esoteric and the exoteric are intermingled within the general structure of the religious doctrines and practices themselves. This quest for the spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain is based on a ‘hadith’ of Prophet Muhammad which says: “Whoever knows oneself, knows one’s Lord.” Unlike Christian mysticism, Sufism is a continuous historical and even institutionalised phenomenon in the Muslim world that has had millions of adherents down to the present day.

In the recent times many contemporary western scholars have tried to portray, though erroneously, Sufism as a phenomenon which is outside the sphere of mainstream Islam.

Origin of Sufism:

The origins of Sufism can be traced to the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, whose teachings attracted a group of scholars who came to be referred as the “Ahle Suffe”, the ‘People of Suffe’, from their practice of sitting at the platform of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. The early Sufis used to call themselves “Ahl-e-Haqq” or the ‘followers of the Real’. There they engaged themselves in discussions concerning the reality of ‘being’ and search of the inner path and devoted themselves to spiritual purification and meditation. These companions of the Prophet were the founders of Sufism. Among the most famous of these individuals were: Salman Farsi, Ammar Yasser, Balla’al, Abdullah Masoud and Oveys Gharani. Within a century or two, Sufism spread to Persia, India, Indonesia, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia and North Africa.

Fundamental Principles of Sufism :

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 believe that a particular Divine Attribute dominates the being of every prophet and saint, such that they can be considered as the incarnation of that Attribute. All of the Prophets are manifestations of the Divine Unity and Perfection, but Prophet Muhammad is its supreme manifestation.

The ultimate objective of Sufism is to reach the state of a “Perfect Being” or ‘Wali’ (saint), who could reflect the Divine Names and Attributes. The basic framework of Sufism is built upon the concept of teacher, ‘pir’ or ‘murshid’, who guides his followers to the straight path. Sufism inculcates the sentiments of fraternity, equality, communal harmony, social stability and a sense of service to the humanity.

Sufi Literature:

Some of the rare and valuable documents on Sufism include Abu Abdur Rahman’s ‘Adab-us-Sufiyah’ (1021 A.D.), Abul Makarim Ahamad Alaud-Daulah’s ‘Al Urwah-li-Ahl-il-Khalwah’ (1339 A.D.), Shaikh Muhibullah’s ‘Tarjumat-ul-Kitab’ (1649 A.D.), Syed Mohammad Hasan Al Husaini’s ‘Sharhu Awarif-ul-Maarif’(1421 A.D.) and other works like ‘Mazhar-un-Nur’ (1779 A.D.), ‘Naqd un Nusus’, ‘Asrar-ul-Ahkam Sharhu Shariat-ul-Islam’, ‘Jawami-ul Kalim’ and ‘Tabaqat-i-Shahjehani’.

Sufi Orders:

Abul Fazl gave a list of the Sufi orders in India, which comprises dozens of ‘silsilahs’. The most important among the Sufi orders include the ‘Chistiya’, ‘Qadriya’, ‘Naqsbandiya’ and the ‘Suhrawardiya’. < Read More>

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