Basic Knowledge About Sufism

Sufism or tasawwuf, as it is called in Arabic, is generally understood by scholars and Sufis to be the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. Today, however, many Muslims and non-Muslims believe that Sufism is outside the sphere of Islam.

The Origin

The origins of Sufism can be traced to the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, whose teachings attracted a group of scholars who came to be called “Ahle Suffe”, the People of Suffe, from their practice of sitting at the platform of the mosque of the Prophet in Medina. There they engaged themselves in discussions concerning the reality of ‘Being’, and in search of the inner path and devoted themselves to spiritual purification and meditation. These individuals were the founders of Sufism.

Fundamental principles

Sufis represented the inner side of the Islamic creed, which stresses on self-realisation, beautification of the soul through piety, righteousness and universal love for all. The Sufis consider that there is a particular Divine Attribute that dominates the being of every prophet and saint, such that they can be said to be the incarnation of that attribute. The aim of Sufism is the cultivation of Perfect Beings who are mirrors reflecting the Divine Names and Attributes.

Sufism and Communal Harmony

In India, Sufism helped in maintaining communal harmony and social stability by advocating religious tolerance and by borrowing spiritual techniques and practices from other religions. Sufism has adapted extensively from the Vedanta school of the Hindu philosophy.

In Sufism, a perfect being is also called a Wali (saint), a word that literally means ‘sincere friend’. The superstructure of Sufism is built upon the concept of teacher, pir or murshid.

The cardinal doctrines of the Sufism included

  1. Complete surrender to the will of God
  2. Annihilation of the self
  3. Becoming a perfect person

These three cardinal principles altogether make the Doctrine of Fana which means annihilation of human attributes through Union with God.

Sufism had succeeded in inculcating the sentiments of fraternity, equality and equity, coupled with sense of service to humanity, in the followers, irrespective of race, community, caste, creed and colour.


The musical and ecstatic aspect of Sufism is called Sama. This is a particular kind of devotional dance akin to Kirtana and was introduced by Jalaluddin Rumi. The Sufi, while being spiritually enraptured, gives the attention of his or her heart to the Beloved. With particular movements and often special and rhythmical music, he engages in the selfless remembrance of God.

Sufis identify two types of Sama poetry:

  • First praising God (this is called Hamd), Prophet (this is called Naat) and the Sufi saints (this is called )
  • The second focussing on spiritual emotion or mystical love, ecstatic states and on separation and union.

The Sama poetry is mostly sung in the form of Qawwali. Music of Sama is set within metric framework, accompanied by Dholak, Tabla, Sarangi, Harmonium and Sitar.

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