Sufism - An Introduction

Islamic spiritualism has come to have two schools of thought. One may be called the original Qur’anic school of thought, according to which the spiritual quest is a means for the creature to contact his Creator. The other school of thought is commonly known as Sufism or Tasawwuf or the form which mysticism has taken in Islam. The term Sufism embraces the philosophy and practices in Islam that aim at direct communion between God and man. Sufism: An Introduction is a historical study of Sufism (Tasawwuf) with specific reference to its spread throughout the Indian subcontinent. It deals with the major Sufi orders, their distinguishing features and the ideology and method of Sufism. The aim of Tasawwuf, to put it briefly, is to attain the realization of God. The realization of God produces all kinds of spiritual qualities. Although the term Tasawwuf came into vogue as late as the 2nd century A.H., Tasawwuf was actually integral to the believer’s life from the very beginning. Tasawwuf is, in fact, another name for the Islamic realization of God. In later periods of Islamic history, the propagation of Islam all over the world was due less to the spread of the Muslim empire than to the efforts made by the Sufis. The greatest feat of the Sufis has been the development, by dint of great striving, of a version of Islam which has been found acceptable to all. This version of Islam is free of all negative features such as hatred, the desire for revenge, and the urge to perpetrate violence. It is characterized rather by love, compassion and charitableness. This is why Sufism became so popular in the medieval world. If the ruling class can take credit for the political expansion of Islam, the Sufis can take credit for the spiritual spread of Islam. In respect of method, Tasawwuf places great emphasis on meditation. The Sufis held that, in reality, meditation existed in the form of reflection, contemplation and pondering in the days of the Prophet and his companions. However, the Sufis developed it into a discipline. Generally, religious scholars regard it as a deviation from the real Islam, but the Sufis do not subscribe to their views. They think that meditation facilitates the attainment of the higher stages of Tazkia, (purification of the self) Ihsan (excellence in worship) and Maarifah (realization of God)—the goal of Islam.

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