Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam. Though many Shia and Sunni Muslims reject Sufis as true Muslims, Sufi Muslims consider themselves followers of Allah. Further, Sufis believe they are practicing the highest form of worship or devotion. Strongly emphasizing peace and non-violence, Sufis have sometimes received great persecution from other Muslim groups. Further, since it represents only approximately one percent of Islam worldwide, it has often been seen as less important, despite its rich history and significant impact on culture.
The word translated Sufi shares a root with the Arabic word for purity. Some also suggest the word is related to the Arabic word for wool that early Muslim mystics wore. In addition to the main beliefs of Islam, Sufis believe in the ability to experience God more closely in this life.
The earliest Sufis arose under the Umayyad Dynasty (661-749 AD) less than a century after Islam began. Their monastic-like lifestyles included strict obedience to the Qur'an, nightly prayers, and tawakkul, a term referring to absolute trust in Allah.
The period from about 800-1100 AD is often labeled as the period of classical Sufism. During this time, Sufi teachings began to become more structured, including a focus on inner knowledge and mystical teachings about Muhammad.
By the thirteenth century, Sufis had developed communal lifestyles where followers committed themselves to the teachings of a specific community leader or teacher. Spain, Persia (Iran), and Central Asia became three important regions for the flourish of Sufi teaching and living during this time.
One specific teaching to Sufism is tariqah, meaning the path. This path focuses on repentance and submission to a sheikh, or spiritual guide. This guide then provides instruction, often including fasting, poverty, and chastity. The struggle is a holy war against the flesh or spiritual self, often represented by a black dog. After passing through various spiritual states, a person passes on to fana' or annihilation and reaches a new level where he or she continues the journey of God or journey of Allah.
Many note the similarities between Sufism, monasticism, and Eastern religious traditions found in Buddhism and Hinduism. Even Muslims have raised concerns in the apparent overlapping teachings found in some Sufi groups.
Interestingly, this same focus on personal spiritual growth is what Jesus claimed to come to provide in John 10:10. He taught He came to give abundant life as well as eternal life to those who believe in Him (John 3:16). He also taught that He is the only way to this life (John 14:6).
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