Who Are Sufis and How Do They Differ from Other Muslims??

who are sufis

As of 2020, there are roughly 1.9 billion Muslims in the world.

Of these nearly 2 billion Muslims, a small percentage consider themselves to be Sufis.

Who are Sufis, and how do they differ from other Muslims? Is Sufism a religion?

Let’s take a look at everything you might want to know about Sufism.

Who Are Sufis? What is the Difference Between Sufism and Islam?

Sufism is often mistakenly described as a sect of Islam, but this isn’t the case. A better way to describe this eastern philosophy is as a dimension or aspect of Islam.

The main sects of Islam are Sunni and Shia, and Sufi orders (known as Tariqas) are found in these and other Islamic groups.

The word Sufism (or Taṣawwuf in Arabic) roughly means “Islamic mysticism.” Other definitions of the word translate to “the phenomenon of mysticism within Islam” and “the inward dimension of Islam.” Basically, inner piety and deep devotion are infused into Islam through Sufism.

So while all Sufis are Muslim, not all Muslims are Sufis. Sufism is a religious order that can exist within any sect or denomination of Islam. It is best understood as a method of approaching Islam rather than a distinct sect.

Sufis belong to orders that are formed around a wali, or grandmasters. These walis can trace themselves back to the prophet Muhammad through a direct chain of successive teachers.

History of Sufism

Some consider the first Sufi figures to be the prophet Muhammad himself as well as his companions. Though Sufi teachings were first institutionalized through the creation of devotional orders in the early Middle Ages, many argue that the internalization of Islam had been in existence since the time of Muhammad.

Until the 11th century, Sufism was a trend in Islamic piety but had not yet been institutionalized. At this time, it began to be organized into orders which still exist in modern times. Major Islamic scholars founded each of these sects, many of whom were Sunni Muslims.

The doctrines and practices of Sufis were documented in a number of manuals that were written towards the end of the first millennium. The two most famous of these manuals are the Risâla of Al-Qushayri and the Kashf al-Mahjûb of Ali Hujwiri.

Sufism grew in its influence to be an incredibly important part of Islam starting in the early medieval period. Sufi philosophy spread along with the rise of Islamic civilization.

A rich intellectual culture was produced by Sufism between the 13th and 16th centuries during what is known as the “Golden Age” of Islam.

Sufi Symbolism

Sufi mystics have historically been given glimpses of divine truth through dreams and visions. As these experiences are ethereal and nonmaterial, Sufism symbols of wine, cup, and cupbearer became quite popular in comparing the experience to intoxication.

The mystery of diversity and unity has been symbolized using mirrors that reflect different aspects of the divine. This has also been symbolized using prisms changing pure light into colors.

In Sufism, God is considered to be connected to every aspect of nature. The soul-bird is a symbol that compares the human soul to a flying bird. This symbolism is later expanded beyond with the symbolism of the nightingale and rose, in which the red rose represents God’s perfect beauty and the nightingale represents the human soul.

Sufi Beliefs

An important aspect of this mystical order of Islam is a close personal experience with God. With justification from some passages of the Qur’an, which describes the nearness of God, Sufis’ relationship with God is based on personal experience rather than doctrine. Awareness, contemplation, and a quest for purity are important aspects of Sufism.

Sufis use their mystical intuition and bodily discipline in order to pursue spiritual experiences. They also engage in ecstatic experiences as well as the veneration of saints.

While each order of Sufism has it’s own beliefs, teachers, techniques, and philosophies, they are similar in their spiritual quest for nearness to God.

Sufi Rituals

The main focus of Sufi rituals is the remembrance of God. This might include chanting short surahs from the Quran or God’s name. In addition to this, there is dancing and music.

These practices are often communal. You may be familiar with the term whirling dervish, which refers to followers of the Sufi sant Jalal al-Din Rumi of the Mevlevi Order. These Sufis engage in a spinning dance that they do in combination with an internal concentration on God’s presence.

Sufi Culture

One of the most famous and influential figures of Sufism is the 13th-century Persian poet named Rumi. He is considered to be one of the greatest poets of all time and in the United States is one of the most widely read poets.

Although the percentage of Sufis in the Muslim world is not large, this mystical wing of Islam has had a disproportionately large impact on Islamic history and thought. Other hugely influential Sufis have been Al-Ghazali and Omar Kayyam. It was in part due to Sufism that Islam was able to spread so far out into Asia, India, and Africa.

Sufism, Mysticism, and the Search for the Divine

There is so much inspirational and fascinating material to dig into if you find yourself still wanting to dive deeper into the question: who are Sufis? This mystical aspect of Islam focuses on the personal relationship with the Divine and ecstatic experiences that connect you with God.

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