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Sufism is generally understood to be the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. A practitioner of this tradition is generally known as Sufi, though some adherents of the tradition reserve this term only for those practitioners who have attained the goals of the Sufi tradition. Classical Sufi scholars have defined Sufism as “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God.” Alternatively, in the words of the renowned Darqawi Sufi teacher Ahmad ibn Ajiba, “a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one’s inner self from filth, and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits.”

During the primary stages of Sufism, Sufis were characterised by their particular attachment to dhikr “remembrance [of God]” and asceticism. Sufism arose among pious Muslims as a reaction against the worldliness of the early Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 CE). The Sufi movement has spanned several continents and cultures over a millennium, at first expressed through Arabic, then through Persian, Turkish and a dozen other languages.

According to some modern proponents, such as Idries Shah, the Sufi philosophy is universal in nature, its roots predating the arising of Islam and the other modern-day religions; likewise, some Muslims feel that Sufism is outside the sphere of Islam, although some scholars of Islam contend that it is simply the name for the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam.

Basic Views

While all Muslims believe that they are on the pathway to God and will become close to God in Paradise — after death and after the “Final Judgment” — Sufis also believe that it is possible to draw closer to God and to more fully embrace the Divine Presence in this life. The chief aim of all Sufis is to seek the pleasing of God by working to restore within themselves the primordial state of fitra, described in the Qur’an and similar to the concept of Buddha nature. In this state nothing one does defies God, and all is undertaken by the single motivation of love of God. A secondary consequence of this is that the seeker may be led to abandon all notions of dualism or multiplicity, including a conception of an individual self, and to realize the Divine Unity.

Thus Sufism has been characterized as the science of the states of the lower self (the ego), and the way of purifying this lower self of its reprehensible traits, while adorning it instead with what is praiseworthy, whether or not this process of cleansing and purifying the heart is in time rewarded by esoteric knowledge of God. This can be conceived in terms of two basic types of law (fiqh), an outer law concerned with actions, and an inner law concerned with the human heart. The outer law consists of rules pertaining to worship, transactions, marriage, judicial rulings, and criminal law — what is often referred to, a bit too broadly, as shariah. The inner law of Sufism consists of rules about repentance from sin, the purging of contemptible qualities and evil traits of character, and adornment with virtues and good character.

To enter the way of Sufism, the seeker begins by finding a teacher, as the connection to the teacher is considered necessary for the growth of the pupil. The teacher, to be genuine, must have received the authorization to teach (ijazah) of another Master of the Way, in an unbroken succession (silsilah) leading back to Sufism’s origin with the Prophet Muhammad. It is the transmission of the divine light from the teacher’s heart to the heart of the student, rather than of worldly knowledge transmitted from mouth to ear, that allows the adept to progress. In addition, the genuine teacher will be utterly strict in his adherence to the Divine Law.

Scholars and adherents of Sufism are unanimous in agreeing that Sufism cannot be learned through books. To reach the highest levels of success in Sufism typically requires that the disciple live with and serve the teacher for many, many years. For instance, Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari, considered founder of the Naqshbandi Order, served his first teacher, Sayyid Muhammad Baba As-Samasi, for 20 years, until as-Samasi died. He subsequently served several other teachers for lengthy periods of time. The extreme arduousness of his spiritual preparation is illustrated by his service, as directed by his teacher, to the weak and needy members of his community in a state of complete humility and tolerance for many years. When he believed this mission to be concluded, his teacher next directed him to care for animals, curing their sicknesses, cleaning their wounds, and assisting them in finding provision. After many years of this he was next instructed to spend many years in the care of dogs in a state of humility, and to ask them for support.

As a further example, the prospective adherent of the Mevlevi Order would have been ordered to serve in the kitchens of a hospice for the poor for 1,001 days prior to being accepted for spiritual instruction, and a further 1,001 days in solitary retreat as a precondition of completing that instruction.

Some teachers, especially when addressing more general audiences, or mixed groups of Muslims and non-Muslims, make extensive use of parable, allegory, and metaphor. Although approaches to teaching vary among different Sufi orders, Sufism as a whole is primarily concerned with direct personal experience, and as such has sometimes been compared to other, non-Islamic forms of mysticism (e.g., as in the books of Seyyed Hossein Nasr).

Fatimiya Sufi Order

According to, “The Fátimíya Súfí Order is an Iranian post-Islamic and Neo-Bayânî universalist-perennialist and syncretic initiatic mystery school that weds the central currents of High Shi’ite Islamicate gnosis, Kabbalah, Shamanism and Hermetic High Paganism within the central experiential grounding of the divine sacrament of Haoma [also known as Ayahuasca]… …We are Súfí oriented esotericists and gnostics transformed by the baraka (blessing, grace) of the Shekinah through the vehicle of the Haoma, which we believe to be none other than the Soma of the Rg Vedas and the Manna of the Children of Israel in the Sina’i. While we do not shun ritual as such, our qalandarí (antinomian) path is the Path (taríqat) of pure esotericism (‘irfán) seeking pure gnostic realization (haqíqat) and vision (ruyá) of the interior realities (bátin) and the infinite multiversal worlds through the marriage of Haoma with dhikr (mantra). Our shari’a, therefore, is the shari’a of the tariqa. Just as the Bektáshí Súfí Order of Turkey utilize wine together with psychoactive plants to attain altered states of noetic realization and illumination, the Fátimíya utilize Haoma to the same end. As such we are not orthodox Muslims but rather esoteric initiates of the Ahl al-Bayt (People of the House) and hence Fátimiyyun (Fátimis).”


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Sufism Information

Articles on Sufism

International Association of Sufism

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Poems by Rumi

Fatimiya Sufi

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