The term "Sufi" derives from the Arabic word "suf" meaning "wool" in the sense of "cloak", referring to the simple cloaks the original Sufis wore. Some initiates are given a specially designed, colored wool vest which is symbolic of the woolen robes of poverty worn by ancient dervishes, and signifies the loving commitment of the dervish to serve humanity. The Sufis use letters of words to express hidden meanings, and so the word could also be understood as "enlightenment". According to some the word is derived from safa which means purity. According to another view it is derived from the Arabic verb 'safwe' which means "those who are selected" - a meaning quoted frequently in Sufi literature.

The problem with understanding Sufism, is thus illustrated by the diversity of possible derivations of the word itself. There are many different Sufi movements, and many dimensions of Sufism. Although frequently characterized as the mystical component of Islam, there are also "Folklorist" Sufis, and the "Traditional" Sufis.

Sufis 'Tariqa' i.e. "movements", are within, and in a few extreme cases outside of mainstream Islam. Sufis in general, are complex, and cover many different "stripes" of Islam. Sufism started out as a Shia movement, but over the past several hundred years, has almost disappeared from Shia Islam, and is now, mainly a Sunni movement. Hanbalis, Shafiis, Malikis and Hanafis can all belong to different Sufi "tariqas" or "brotherhoods, as they are called. In fact, the Islamic brotherhood in Egypt are both Sufi based movements.

The Traditional Sufis, are actually people like the Wahhabiyya who eschew that type of thing as apostasy, and instead, insist that Sufism is all an Internal (internal to an individual) movement/spiritualism, that should never adopt external/folkloric elements, like the Dervishes, etc.

Sufism is a movement of organized brotherhoods, who are grouped around a spiritual leader or Shaikh There are no Islamic states which regard themselves as officially Sufi. Sufism is characterized by the veneration of local saints and by brotherhoods that practice their own rituals. Sufis organize themselves into "orders" or groups, called Tariqas. These groups are headed by a leader called a Shaykh who is considered the most spiritual man with the most Taqwa among them.

These orders emerged in the Middle East in the twelfth century in connection with the development of Sufism, a mystical current reacting to the strongly legalistic orientation of orthodox Islam. The orders first came to Sudan in the sixteenth century and became significant in the eighteenth. Sufism seeks for its adherents a closer personal relationship with God through special spiritual disciplines. The exercises, Dhikr (Zikr in Persian and Urdu) include reciting prayers and passages of the Quran and repeating the names, or attributes, of God while performing physical movements according to the formula established by the founder of the particular order. Singing and dancing may be introduced. The outcome of an exercise, which lasts much longer than the usual daily prayer, is often a state of ecstatic abandon.

A mystical or devotional way (sing., tariqa; pl., turuq) is the basis for the formation of particular orders, each of which is also called a Tariqa. The specialists in religious law and learning initially looked askance at Sufism and the Sufi orders, but the leaders of Sufi orders in Sudan have won acceptance by acknowledging the significance of the sharia and not claiming that Sufism replaces it.

The principal turuq vary considerably in their practice and internal organization. Some orders are tightly organized in hierarchical fashion; others have allowed their local branches considerable autonomy. Some are restricted to that country; others are widespread in Africa or the Middle East. Several turuq, for all practical purposes independent, are offshoots of older orders and were established by men who altered in major or minor ways the tariqa of the orders to which they had formerly been attached.

The four main Sufi orders are the Chishtiyya, the Naqshbandiyya, the Qadiriyya or Quaddiri and the Mujaddiyya. Other orders include the Mevlevi, Bektashi, Halveti, Jerrahi, Nimatalahi, Rufi, and Noori. The Mawlawis, the whirling dervishes, are famous for their dancing ritual, an organized variation of earlier practices which were confined to music and poetry.

Three Sufi orders are prominent: the Naqshbandiya founded in Bokhara, the Qadiriya founded in Baghdad, and the Cheshtiya located at Chesht-i-Sharif east of Herat.

Among the Naqshbani, Ahmad al Faruqi Kabuli, born north of Kabul, acquired renown for his teachings in India during the reign of the Moghul Emperor Akbar in the sixteenth century. Sometime during the nineteenth century members of this family moved back to Kabul where they established a madrassa and a khanaqah in Shor Bazar which became a center of religious and political influence.

The Cheshtiya order was founded by Mawdid al-Cheshti who was born in the twelfth century and later taught in South Asia. The Cheshtiya brotherhood, concentrated in the Hari Rud valley around Obe, Karukh and Chehst-i-Sharif, is very strong locally and maintains madrasas with fine libraries. Traditionally the Cheshtiya have kept aloof from politics, although they were effectively active during the resistance within their own organizations and in their own areas.

Many Iraqi Sunni Kurds belong to Sufi orders, of which the Qadiri and Naqshbandi are the largest. Both orders have followers across the Middle East, Central, and South Asia. A Qadiri Sufi shrine in Baghdad attracts annual transnational pilgrimages. While Sufi Islam has broad acceptance in Iraqi society, Sufism has frequently been viewed by orthodox Sunni Muslim theologians with some degree of suspicion because of its strong mystical components. Shia Muslims tend to be hostile towards Sufism because they believe it is heretical. Sufi orders serve to both strengthen and divide Kurdish society. Kurds of the same order feel a common bond, regardless of tribe. There is, however, tension between rival orders. Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), follows the Qadiri order. The Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), and the influential Barzani family are Naqshbandi Sufis.

The Tijaniyah (Tijaniyya) Order, founded in Morocco by Ahmad at-Tijani in 1781, extended the borders of Islam toward Senegal and Nigeria, and their representatives founded large kingdoms in West Africa. The Tijaniyah Order is strongly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which began in Egypt in the late 1920s and later spread throughout the Arab world. Hasan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 in Egypt, called for measures to bring about a return of Islamic government. The goal of the Muslim Brotherhood was the establishment of an Islamic state based on Shariah. It transcended the narrower sectarianism of the more traditional political parties. Moreover, the Brotherhood's superior organization made it a political force far stronger than its numbers might suggest. Many of the methods which made Sufism a succesfull occult underground helped the Muslim Brotherhood function effectively.

Bayat ("taking hand") is sanctioned by "Verily, those who give thee their allegiance, they give it but to God Himself" Quran 48:10. It is the initiation ceremony specific to many Sufi Orders. The Prophet Muhammad established this ceremony when he allowed his trusted companions to take his hand and commit themselves to vastly increase their love and loyalty to God and the Messenger: this is directly referred to in the Qur'an. Most Sufi Orders still practices some form of this sacred ceremony as a sacramental reenactment of the initiation offered by Prophet Muhammad to his companions. During the "taking hand" ceremony, the new dervish receives the blessings of the lineage, and a promise of spiritual protection along their life's journey.

Because of Islam's austere rational and intellectual qualities, many people have felt drawn toward the more emotional and personal ways of knowing God practiced by mystical Islam, or Sufism. Found in many parts of the Muslim world, Sufism endeavored to produce a personal experience of the divine through mystic and ascetic discipline.

Sufi adherents gathered into brotherhoods, and Sufi cults became extremely popular, particularly in rural areas. Sufi brotherhoods exercised great influence and ultimately played an important part in the religious revival that swept through North Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Sufi followers understand Islam in a mystic way. Sufi doesn't differ from Islam in the theological point of view, to use a Western term. The Sufi interpretation is a different way to look at Islam. Ardor is the medium to get in touch with God. Sufi followers use a variety of techniques to move toward God, like singing, circular dances, etc.

The fundamental nature of Sufi is that the person who has chosen this path can reach an individual contact with God. Sufi followers have a teacher who acts as an intermediary between God and the person. The teacher gives the precepts according to which people should behave. Usually Sufi followers respect these rules. A 'Wali Allah' or 'Waliullah' is a Sufi who has reached the end of the Journey to God.

Sufism has come to mean those who are interested in finding a way or practice toward inner awakening and enlightenment. This movement developed as a protest against corrupt rulers who did not embody Islam and against the legalism and formalism of worship which paid more attention to the form rather than content of the faith. Many of the sufis became ascetics, began to gather disciples around themselves and developed into religious orders, known as dervishers. Others forsook the orders and became mendicants, traveling around the country side, living off the charity of others. Many sufis were outstanding men of saintly stature. Not all sufis were accepted by the more conservative elements of Islam due to their unorthodox habits and beliefs. Sufi influence has grown over the centuries and today there are literally hundreds of mystic orders with millions of adherents. They are most prevalent in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Arabia.

Islam’s mystical tradition emphasizes the direct knowledge, personal experience, and spiritual sovereignty of God, is at odds with the official Sunni establishment and its dedication to enforcing the legal and political sovereignty of God. Sufism, which makes use of paradigms and concepts derived from non-Islamic sources, is generally less concerned with reinforcing and defending religious boundaries. The Sufi doctrine of “the unity of being,” moreover, has inclined Sufis to emphasize interiority and the oneness of humanity, often at the expense of militant Islam’s insistence on the conformity of the external world of state and society to Shari‘a.

To the Sufi, perhaps the greatest absurdity in life is the way in which people strive for things — such as knowledge — without the basic equipment for acquiring them. They have assumed that all they need is “two eyes and a mouth,” as Nasrudin says. In Sufism, a person cannot learn until he is in a state in which he can perceive what he is learning, and what it means ... This is why Sufis do not speak about profound things to people who are not prepared to cultivate the power of learning—something which can only be taught by a teacher to someone who is sufficiently enlightened to say: “Teach me how to learn.” There is a Sufi saying: “Ignorance is pride, and pride is ignorance. The man who says ‘I don’t have to be taught how to learn’ is proud and ignorant.”

Sufism follows the basic tenets of Islam but does not follow all of the orthodox practices of Sunni or Shi'ah Islam. In many Muslim areas, a mystical version of Hanafi Sunnism provided the means by which pagan and Christian practices were accommodated within Islam. Sufism centers on orders or brotherhoods that follow charismatic religious leaders.

There is a distinction between official and folk religion. Official religion stresses religious texts, the sharia (Islamic law), the literal interpretation of religious teachings, and worship at mosques. Folk religion, reflecting Arabic and Kurdish nomadic heritages, emphasizes sacred forces, the symbolic interpretation of texts, and worship at shrines. Folk religion continues to flourish in rural areas. Sufi orders, like folk religion, focus on the allegorical interpretation of texts and have historically been organized around a pious founder or saint.

The Folklorist Sufis, have been under attack, and discriminated against, for centuries. The Folklorists Sufis, have incorporated "un-Islamic" beliefs into their practices, such as celebrating the Birthday of Prophet Mohammed, visiting the shrines of "Islamic saints", dancing during prayer (the whirling dervishes), etc.

The followers of Salafi Islam, such as Wahhabis, oppose all practices not sanctioned by the Qu'ran. Wahabbism is named after Abdul Wahab, a religious thinker who two centuries earlier had fought the influence of Sufism in Sunni Islam and propageted puritanical Islam. Wahhabis look at Sufi Islam as a deviation from the original Islamic rules. This view of Islam rejects "magical rituals," pilgrimages to saint shrines, or recitations of the Qu'ran in cemeteries -- all activities that had become commonplace among the Sufi orders. Wahhabis deny the role of the teacher, which for the Sufi is very important. They also deny the cult of the saints and pilgrimages to the saint shrines that are widespread among the followers of Sufi Islam. The inner link with God, typical for the Sufi followers, is denied by the Wahhabis. Wahhabis follow the old concept holy war to convert the infidels. The Sufis have another interpretation of holy war. They see it not as a war against the non-Muslims, but as a war that a Muslim has to fight against his own defects to try to reach perfection.

Islam was introduced into Chechnya over a period of centuries, gaining a number of converts by the 15th and 16th centuries but not taking firm root until well into the 18th and mid-19th centuries. The Chechens were converted to the Sunni branch of Islam, with particular emphasis on its mystic Sufi form. The Chechens practice the mystical version of Islam known as Sufism. This wins the Chechens little sympathy from the Sunni and Shi'a establishments in most Muslim states. The prevalent form of Islam as practiced in the north Caucasus is Nakshbandi Sufism, which is not favored in Saudi Arabia -- which is a Wahhabi regime -- and is not favored in Shi'a Iran, either. The Chechens, through a combination of Islam which is popular in their homeland, combined with economic issues, have dropped below the level of Islamic solidarity that one might expect from other Islamic countries. Zikr, which means "remembrance of God," is the central ritual practice of most Caucasian Sufi orders. This mystical ceremony, designed to lead participants into an ecstatic union with God, involves the group repetition of a special prayer.

Albania is the world center of the Bektashi school (a particularly liberal form of Shi'a Sufism), which moved from Turkey to Albania in 1925 after the revolution of Kemal Ataturk. Bektashis are concentrated mainly in central and southern regions of the country and claim that 45 percent of the country's Muslims belong to their school. The Bektashis are also present in Kosovo.

Alawiya is an underground movement that appeared in the third century on the Hijri calendar. The group followers do prayers different from that of Muslims and allow many practices prohibited under Islam. Turkish Alawiya Muslims’ number vary from 5 to 25 million, mostly inhabited in impoverished central areas of the country. The situation of the Shadhiliya/'Alawiya Sufi order of Sanaa is a typical case of the problems facing Sufi orders in Yemen, where covert but commanding devotion to the saints and Sufi shaykhs of Yemen can still be found.

The vast majority of Muslims in Chad are adherents of a moderate branch of Sufism known locally as Tidjani, which originated in 1727 under Shaikh Ahmat Tidjani in what is now Morocco and Algeria. Tidjani Islam, as practiced in the country, incorporates some local African religious elements. Over 60 percent of Chad population is Muslim.

Mouridism is one of four Sufi movements in Senegal, and one of the most distinctive aspects of contemporary Senegalese social life. Sheikh Amadou Bamba (1853-1927), the spiritual leader of four million Muslims in Senegal and thousands more around the globe, was a Sufi who resisted French colonial oppression through pacifism. The influential Senegalese Sufi movement called the Mouride Way is grounded in his teachings about the dignity and sanctity of work. The abundant images of Bamba convey the saint's blessings to his followers.

Inayat Khan was a Sufi teacher of Chishti traiqa from South Asia who started "The Sufi Order in the West" (now called the Sufi Order International) in the early part of the 20th century. Though his family background was Muslim, he was also steeped in the Sufi notion that all religions have their value and place in human evolution. Mohammed Abu Hasana was Sufi teacher and he advised Inayat Khan to go to Europe and America to spread Sufism. Inayat began to travel and lecture first in the United States and later in Europe. He traveled widely between 1910 and 1920. Inayat Khan died in 1927 and later his son Vilayet Khan, who died in 2004, had continued to spread the message of Sufism in the west. He also traveled and taught extensively and wrote several books. One of his disciples was a founder of Omega Institute, a large "new age" teaching institute in Rhinebeck New York.

In Pakistan, Sufism became organised, and adopted a form and institution in the 12th and 13th centuries CE The two great pioneers in this field were Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani and Hazrat Shahabuddin Suhrawardy. By introducing the system of 'silsila' or 'tariqa' which was a sort of association/order, and takia/khankha, a lodge or hospice, they invested the movement with a sense of brotherhood and provided it with a meeting place. The first organised work in this region was started by Ismaili missionaries who achieved considerable success in Sindh and southern Punjab where they gained political power as well by installing Ismaili rulers at Multan and Mansura. But the success of Ismaili missionaries was short-lived. Both Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi (997-1030) and, 150 years later, Sultan Mohammad Ghori (1175-1206), championed orthodox Sunni Hanafi Islam and defeated the Ismaili rulers which resulted in the slow withering away of Ismaili Shiaism in Pakistan. Among the early Ismaili missionaries to gain ground in Pakistan were Pir Sadruddin, Pir Kabiruddin and Syed Yusufuddin. The Ghaznavid period was marked by the arrival in Lahore of the important spiritual figures of Hazrat Shaikh Ismail and Hazrat Ali Bin Osman Hujweri, popularly known as Data Ganj Baksh (died between 1072-79) The latter was among the leading sufi philosophers of the day and since no organised 'silsilas' had started in his time, he did immense missionary work in an individual capacity and set an outstanding example for future generations. Sind claims the distinction of being the home of South Asian sufism. Suhrawardy sufis were the first to arrive in South Asia and made their headquarters in Sindh. Suhrawardy order attained great influence in Pakistan under the leadership of Hazrat Bahauddin Zakaria of Multan. The famous Qadirya order entered South Asia through Sindh in 1482 Syed Bandagi Mohammad Ghouse, one of the descendants of the founder (Shaikh Abdul Qader Jilani 1078-1116) took up residence in Sindh at Uch (now in Bahawalpur) and died in 1517.

The great pioneers of this 13th century sufi movement in Pakistan were the four friends known as 'Chahar Yar' (Four Friends): Hazrat Fariduddin Masud Ganj Shakar of Pak Pattan (1174-1266); Hazrat Syed Jalaluddin Bukhari of Uch-Bahawalpur (1196-1294); Hazrat Bahauddin Zakaria of Multan (1170-1267) and Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar of Sehwan (1177-1274). It is said that 17 leading tribes of the Punjab accepted Islam at the hands of Hazrat Fariduddin Masud Ganj Shakar. Among them were the Kharals, Dhudhyan, Tobiyan, etc. According to some , Wattu, a Rajput tribe was also converted to Islam by Baba Farid. Hazrat Jalaluddin Bukhari converted Sumras and Sammas of Sindh while Hazrat Zakaria and Shahbaz Qalandar attained great success in Multan and the northern areas of Sindh. Saqi Sarwar Sultan converted a large number of Jats and a group among them is still known as Sultani Jats.

Other notable sufis of Pakistan were: Hazrat Shah Mohammad Ghouse who migrated from Sindh and settled down in the Punjab; Hazrat Mian Mir, who was born in Sindh and migrated to Lahore where he is buried. Hazrat Shah Jamal of Ichra, Lahore; Hazrat Shah Khairuddin Abul Maali of Lahore, Shaikh Ismail of Lahore; Hazrat Syed Yakub Zanjani (d. 604 H) Lahore, Hazrat Abdul Nabi Sham of Sham Chourasi who was originally a Hindu; Ruknuddin Rukne Alam of Multan who was grandson of Hazrat Bahauddin Zakaria whose family had also migrated from Sindh; Hazrat Jalaluddin Bukhari Makhdoom-e-Jahanian Jahan Gusht of Uch who was the grandson of Hazrat Jalaluddin Bukhari; Syed Ahmad Saqi Sarwer Sultan of Dera Ghazi Khan; Shaikh Yusuf Gardezi of Multan (1026-1152); Shaikh Safiuddin Haqqani of Uch; Pir Jalaluddin Qutub-al-Aqtab who died at Uch in 1293 AD converted the Mazaris and several other Baluch tribes to Islam; Channan Pir of Cholistan, Bahawalpur; Sharfuddin Bulbul Shah, Syed Ali Hamdani and Mir SyedHasan Samnani of Kashmir; Shaikh Badruddin Sulaiman and Shaikh Budruddin Ishaque of Pak Pattan; Shaikh Sadruddin Arif, Shaikh Ruknuddin Abul Fatah and Shams Subzwari of Multan; Alaul Aque; Hazrat Khardari Baba Mulla Taher of Ziarat; Pir Hunglaj on the coast of Makran in Balochistan; Pir Shori in Bugti territory; Shah Bilawal in Lasbela; Pir Omar in Khuzdar; Zinda Pir in Lund area, Chatan Shah near Kalat, Sultan Shah in Zehri territory. Pir Baba of Swat, Kaka Sahib of Nowshera in Sarhad; Khwaja Makhdum Chisti, Sakhi Sultan (Mangho Pir) and Hazrat Abdullah Shah of Karachi; Syed Shah Ali Makhi, Ghazi Baba, Makhdoom Mohammad Nooh, Hazrat Mohiuddin Gilani, Shah Khairuddin Gilani and Hazrat Shah Inayat of Sindh.

These sufis were great intellectuals, well-read and widely travelled. Most of them were speakers of high calibre, men of letters and poets of eminence. Because of their merits and morals coupled with their spiritual attainments they succeeded in making a powerful impact on the life of the people among whom they settled. It was no mean achievement to change the religion and transform the entire social life of millions of people in South Asia.

The sufis always advocated the path of peace and askd people to avoid rift and bloodshed. Shaikh Fariduddin Ganj Shakar of Pakpattan advised his disciples to placate one's enemies. He once told a vistor: "Do not give me a knife; give me a needle. The knife is an instrument for cutting asunder and the needle for sewing together."

Another aspect of sufi teachings was that they stressed God's love rather than His wrath; treated their enemies softly, sympathetically and never abused other systems or creeds. Though greatly instrumental in bringing back Ismailis of Sindh and Punjab into the fold of Sunni Islam, they always praised the services of Ismaili missionaries who preceded them. Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia had commended the work of the well-known Ismaili missionary Nur Turk although he was responsible for the rising against early Turkish Sultans in Delhi.

Thus, Khanqhas (hospices) not only brought non-Muslims and Muslims together but they also narrowed the gulf that divided the Muslims of foreign origin and local converts. If the sufis had not played this vital role of far reaching importance there would have hardly been a common meeting ground between some of the ruling classes obsessed with a superiority complex, and the ruled who comprised both non-Muslims and newly converts. Without sufis, most Muslim rulers of the early period would have remained isolated, lacking a broad base, always in danger of extinction.

As against the stiff, nonchalanat and contemptuous attitude of some Sultans towards converted Muslims, the sufis gave them a sense of pride and enhanced their social prestige by various means. They usually conferred on them such titles of nobility as Khawaja (also pronounced Khoja), Momin (Memon), Malik, Shaikh, Akhund, Khalifa, etc.

Sufis in South Asia by adopting an attitude of river-like generosity, sun-like affection and earth-like hospitality, struck at the very roots of Hindu casteism and religious exclusiveness and paved the way for large-scale conversions to Islam.

Pakistan has deep historical Sufi tradition but the mix of orthodox Deobandi and puritanical Wahhabi influences in the 20th century have sidelined the mystical Sufi movements in Pakistan and has made its mark throughout the nation's governmental as well as religious institutions.




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