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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Sufism \Su"fism\, n. A refined mysticism among certain classes of Mohammedans, particularly in Persia, who hold to a kind of pantheism and practice extreme asceticism in their lives. [Written also sofism.]

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

"mystical teachings of the Sufis," 1817, Sufiism (modern form by 1836), from Sufi + -ism.


Sufism or Tasawwuf , is defined as the inner mystical dimension of Islam. Practitioners of Sufism, referred to as Sufis () (; ), often belong to different ṭuruq or "orders"—congregations formed around a grand master referred to as a mawla who traces a direct chain of teachers back to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. These orders meet for spiritual sessions (majalis) in meeting places known as zawiyas, khanqahs, or tekke. Sufis strive for ihsan (perfection of worship) as detailed in a hadith: "Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him; if you can't see Him, surely He sees you." Rumi stated: "The Sufi is hanging on to Muhammad, like Abu Bakr." Sufis regard Muhammad as al-Insān al-Kāmil, the primary perfect man who exemplifies the morality of God. Sufis regard Muhammad as their leader and prime spiritual guide.

All Sufi orders trace many of their original precepts from Muhammad through his cousin and son-in-law Ali with the notable exception of the Naqshbandi, who claim to trace their origins through the first Rashid Caliph, Abu Bakr. Sufi orders largely follow one of the four madhhabs (jurisprudent schools of thought) of Sunni Islam and maintain a Sunni aqidah (creed).

Classical Sufis were characterised by their asceticism, especially by their attachment to dhikr, the practice of repeating the names of God, often performed after prayers. Sufism gained adherents among a number of Muslims as a reaction against the worldliness of the early Umayyad Caliphate (661–750). Sufis have spanned several continents and cultures over a millennium, originally expressing their beliefs in Arabic before spreading into Persian, Turkish, and Urdu among dozens of other languages. According to William Chittick, "In a broad sense, Sufism can be described as the interiorization, and intensification of Islamic faith and practice."

Usage examples of "sufism".

In the event Khurasan became the cradle of the highest forms of philosophical Sufism, which developed alongside the more extreme forms characteristic of popular and ecstatic sects.

Moreover, with its increasing appeal to the masses in eleventh-century Khurasan, Sufism became a social force, as well as the spiritual exercise it had been when restricted to a few rigorously trained initiates.

A more than averagely devout follower of the North American sufism promulgated in his childhood by Pir Valayat, the medical attache partakes of neither kif nor distilled spirits, and must unwind without chemical aid.

True, Alamut eventually fell, under the pressure of the Mongols, but the Ismaili sect survived throughout the East: it mingled with non-Shiite Sufism, it generated the terrible sect of the Druzes, and it survived finally among the Indian Khojas, the followers of the Aga Khan, not far from the site of Agarttha.

In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which brings it about that the mystical classics have, as has been said, neither birthday nor native land.

Such a style of life does not seem to match Sufi professions of poverty and avoidance of the world's delights, but if we remember that the physical and psychical worlds were not sharply differentiated, and that Sufism was providing the oppressed and hungry with hope and sustenance, the paradox is lost.