Simplified Introduction to Sufism

Amidst the growing materialism of our modern societies, I found myself experiencing a growing attachment to Sufism and the spiritual experience of seeking truth about the essence of life, however, this doesn’t mean I’m considering becoming a Sufi.

But before going through details regarding the Sufi practice and doctrine, pros and cons and what’s been said about it, I need to stress one essential fact- that all Islamic traditions or schools, whether Sunnah, Shia, or Sufism should be regarded with equal respect.

A lot has been said about Sufism- and lot of people have actually deviated from truth in explaining Sufism- going so far as to label it a Bidaah- a term used to describe any un-Islamic practice that is being faultily linked to the religion of Islam.

A lot of those who strive to know what it really means to have inner peace and enjoy ultimate state of spiritual tranquility would like to gain insight into what Sufism entails.

The most commonly used explanation is that the term Sufism is derived from the word Suf, or wool in Arabic, referring to the primitive material of cloaks early Muslim ascetics used to wear, an emphasis on the Sufi followers’ rejection of the growing materialism of life.

Other scholars, in explaining Sufism, suggested that the word originated from the Arabic word Safa, stressing the process of spiritual purification and purgation of heart and soul a Sufi experiences.

There’s yet a third explanation to the term Sufism, offered by Al-Biruni, a 10th century Persian Muslim scientist, physicist, astronomer, chemist, historian, geographer,  mathematician,  and philosopher, who linked the word “Sufeya” to Sophia, or “wisdom” in Greek – But this explanation was refuted by the vast majority of  present Sufi scholars.

Bottom line, Sufism is not a cult or a sect that is separable from Islam as some mistakenly believe, it’s simply a practice of devotion linked to one’s (a Muslim’s) pursuit of the Traiqat (or path) to Allah through love, contemplation, and meditation. A Sufi’s heart is always occupied with Allah (SWT) and nothing but Allah, and this what the Almighty refers to as “Ihsan”.

To attain this goal, a Sufi is in a constant state of inner peace and harmony with his spiritual being, seeking the Ultimate Truth  and particular closeness to the Almighty, and this experience of devotion is what takes him eventually beyond this physical existence.

The Sufi doctrine and practice is usually referred to by scholars as the mystical branch of Islam.

At first Sufism sprang in a place near Iraq. Almost all traditional Sufi scholars or teachers trace their Tariqas or schools and so-called chains of transmission back to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib, his cousin and son-in-law, but there’s one Sufi school, named Naqshbandi that traces its origin to Abu Bakr Al Siddiq. Later on, as it is commonly believed, the practice of Tasawwof or Sufism, quickly spread throughout different parts of the Arab region, including countries that had been ruled by the Byzantines.

Moreover, some scholars explained that  “Ahl Al Suffa”  are originally some of the companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who decided to dedicate much of their lives to fasting, praying and pleading for salvation.

But corruption among present Sufi schools or Tariqas shouldn’t be overlooked or downplayed. There are Sufi schools, the masters of which defend deviant beliefs that have no links to Islam and actually elevated themselves to the state of Saints and Gods.

Allah describes such people in the Qur’an saying:

“Surely, those whom you invoke besides Allâh are slaves like you. So invoke them and let them answer you if you are truthful.” (Qur’an 7:194)

Maha Youssuf


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