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An Introduction to Islam: 6. Suffis and Suffism

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An Introduction to Islam: 6. Suffis and Suffism

Khaled Nusseibeh

A Word On Sufism

Sufism in the modern age has gained prominence in the Western world- as a philosophy of inward piety, love, compassion, universalism and religious devotion. In the Islamic historical tradition, its genealogy is traceable to the acetic and mystical practices of zuhhad (penitents), such as Al-Hassan Al-Basri (d.801) and Rabi`a Al-Adawiya, a woman from the city of Basra, whose form of religiosity underlined love of God as opposed to a yearning for His reward in paradise or fear of His hellfire.

The term Sufi, it has been asserted by some historians, is related to the woolen garments worn by some early penitents in the 8th century/2nd century Hijri. Sufism entails many concepts, two of which are central, namely tawakkul (trust in God) and dhikr (remembrance of God). The sufi tradition acquired gnostic elements (ma`rifa) through the figure of Dhu Al-Nun Al-Misri (d.857). Through the doctrine of fana`a, or dissolution into the Divine being, Sufism evoked the criticism of piety-minded orthodox ulama. Al-Hallaj epitomized the doctrine of fanaa when he declared the heresy of ‘I am the Truth’ or ‘Ana Al-Haq’, which event led to his execution, a rare event in the history of Islam- rare to the extent that it was highly unusual for a Muslim to be killed for his religious beliefs or scientific research or philosophical speculation; in other words, perhaps with the exception of period of rule by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma`mun, who sought to impose the Mu`tazili school of thought, the Islamic tradition did not witness an inquisition.

Introduction to Islam
Table of Contents

Introduction to Islam

Fundamentals of Islam

Sources of Doctrine in Islam

Doctrine in Islam

Islamic View of Man and the Universe

Suffis and Suffism

Islam in the Modern World - Interfaith Dialogue


As mentioned earlier , orthodoxy and Sufism achieved a fusion or synthesis in the thought of Al-Ghazali, particularly his monumental work “Ihyaa Ulum Al-Din” “Revival of the Religious Sciences”. Among subsequent important protagonists of Sufism was Muhieddine Ibn Arabi (d.1240) whose religiously brilliant thought displayed a marked pantheistic tendency. In effect, Sufism contributed greatly to the spread of Islam through its sufi orders into central, south and southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. It may be noted that the oldest sufi order was founded by Abdul Qadir Al-Jilani (d.1166), and other Sufi orders including Al-Naqshabandiya, Al-Shadhiliya, Al-Tijaniya and others.

Many modern reformist jurists, thinkers and theologians have criticized Sufi thought and practices such as saint worship, the visiting of tombs and extremist predestinarianism.

More details about Sufism:  Sufism in Jerusalem under Ottoman Rule

Introduction to Islam (7) Conclusion - Islam in the Modern World and Interfaith Dialogue


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 Sufism in Jerusalem under Ottoman Rule

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