An Introduction to Sufism

Tasawouf, or Sufism, is the mystical and inner dimension of Islam, historically originating from a group of people who used to gather on the platform of the Prophet’s mosque, in Medina in the 7th century, to listen to his teachings so they might learn the meaning of revelation, attain spiritual truth and understand the meaning of unity, develop practices for spiritual transformation, and ensure their belief was founded upon knowledge embedded in reality.  It is from this group, Ahle Suffa, the People of the Platform, that Sufism derives its origin.  Their devotion contributed to the establishment of one of the most celebrated human movements of peace in the history of civilization.  Ahle Suffa was comprised of a few individuals at the beginning, but their numbers increased as time passed.  They came from different nations, cultures, and backgrounds.  

Over the centuries, Sufis and their students traveled across many lands, introducing this spiritual practice into the fabric of different cultures and times.  Thus, over time, many schools, orders, and tariqat, of Sufism were established.  Each School began to focus on certain principles and practices, and gathered around a teacher.  History also tells us that sometimes the surface of Sufism has taken the colors of cultures and times, yet the essence of Sufism remained unchanged in the hearts of its practitioners.  The central principles of Sufism, a journey of personal transformation, have remained free from the dimensions of time or place, gender or race, cultures or ceremonies.  Passing from the world of multiplicity to discover the essential unity became a key pursuit, in the hope that the walls of limitations fall and the manifestation of the Divine illuminates the heart of the seeker, and that the wayfarer discovers the bounty of Being.  

Around the 10th and 11th centuries, Sufi teachers began to explain this inner journey through philosophical terminology.  Integrating the Sufi understanding, they developed a language of philosophy to explain the stages of the journey, the stations of the traveler, and the meaning of Divine Reality.  As a result, many terms and terminologies we use today are the outcomes of that era.  Persian Sufis have made the greatest contributions towards the development of Sufism; Arabic and Persian (Farsi) remain the major languages, and Turkish and Urdu and a few others remain the minor languages in the Sufi literature.  

One of the most important elements in the success of a spiritual journey is the presence of a teacher, and the history of Sufism has been sanctified with the richness of its noble and magnificent teachers, who have shared their wisdom with many.  Over time, students gathered around these teachers establishing centers.  As time passed, those teachings and those centers developed into Sufi Schools, turuq (plural of tariqat).  

There are about twenty major Sufi Schools around the world, extending from the border of Malaysia to the coast of West Africa and many lands and nations in between, there are also many organizations that have devoted their missions, teachings and endeavors to the teachings and study of Sufism.  One such organization in the International Association of Sufism, with members from around the world.

– Dr. Nahid Angha, Caravan