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Sufism is an Islamic movement that has its followers seeking and searching for divine truth through a direct encounter with their Creator, God. It arose in 8th to 9th centuries as a recognized ancient movement in the Islamic society. The movement was given the name due to wool garments they used to wear to signalize their rejection of the then existing worldly things. The worldly things included poverty and celibacy. From the time of its formation, Sufism has developed religious practices that focus on the strict self-control enabling both mystical and psychological insights, as well as self-loss with an ultimate goal of uniting with God.
The movement has fraternal orders whereby leaders teach the disciples on how to master the philosophical principles and ritual practices, as required by the Sufism law. Examples of such practices and rituals are writing, recitation of poetry and hymns. Moreover, Sufis involve themselves in a variety of different ritual activities, which are intended to help them in the realization of their union with God. These included certain forms of ritual prayers that involved recitation of God’s names. The successive paragraphs illustrate the relationships between Sufism practice and the communities where they are being practiced.
As mentioned earlier, Sufis are present in all the Muslim societies. They have their community organizational structures just like existing society. They are the leaders of these societies most of the times. Their orders are referred to as tariqas, which stands for ‘paths’ in the Arabic language. Tariqa refers to a Sufi order, which is under the leadership of shaykh. The members of an order have a general name of disciples, mureeds, or followers.
Sufism is also prevalent among the Shi’s and Sunnis (men and women) from different global social classes. The existing denominations are not always relevant to the Sufism category or classification. This is because Sufism adds mystical dimensions to existing forms of Islamic denomination. Not every Islam believer is a Sufi. However, the non-Sufi Muslims do not view or classify Sufism as another religion but as another style of worship. Sufi practices are not similar in all the Muslim societies as one may think or imagine. In India and Pakistan, for example, the general participation of people in Sufi festivals is very common. However, in other areas, like the United States, participation of people in Sufi festivals is very rare. The reason behind the contrasting facts is that Sufi tradition and beliefs in Southern Asia normally deeply rooted in general cultural beliefs and practices, such as music, dancing, food, iconography ands singing. Nevertheless, the opposite is true with nations like the United States where Sufism has not claimed a number of Muslim believers.
Every Sufi order normally derives its name from its initial founder. Different tariqas could easily form offshoots, as long as the disciples achieve the necessary level of becoming teachers. However, in some cases, a shaykh names a successor. The successor will immediately carry on with the order’s work and tradition. In cases where no successor is named, disciples will have a task of electing a new leader. There is no hereditary leadership among the Sufis. New leaders are chosen using several factors as shown below.
Each order in Sufism maintains several traditions, including the founder and his teachings and Mohammed’s teachings, which are normally revealed in the form of hadith in the Quran. A continuous chain of these traditions is called silsilah which mainly comprises long lists of names
from one generation to another. Sufis branded as common changers in various communities since their brand ways of Islamic worship looks a little bit more conducive and can be easily adopted by many individuals in other faiths.
Disciples are guided with specific instructions related to the path of his or her spiritual development most of the guidance is always on recitations, which are meant to be read at specific times. The guidance may also contain many repetitive supplications. In addition to the compulsory prayer, all the above practices are incumbent and done by all Muslims the world. An example of this can be found in Southeast Asia where the local Sufis fused practices with Hindu music in a way that largely contributed to the spread of Islam in most parts of Asia, Africa, and Sub-Saharan African nations. According to these organizational and leadership structures, it is evident that Sufis also live a well-organized communal life like any other society.
Besides the above organizational structure, Sufism also has a vision for its society. As stated earlier, Sufism focuses mainly on the development of an individual character sharing the Islamic societal vision. The major Islamic vision for a society is to ensure the existence of peace and justice among the societal members. Sufism has been growing vibrant in the presence of the existing and strong Islamic world. However, any other form of belief faces attacks and sometimes hatred from the so-called modern reformists. One of the modern reformist movements is Wahhabism. They have attacked and questioned the legitimacy of Sufism, most of them claiming that it is always blasphemous to play music, revere Saint’s tombs or sing as part of a religious ceremony. The impact of such groups is a spread throughout the entire world reaching Islamic minority and majority regions.
The orders, such as those in Senegal, Sudan, Muslim India, and Egypt, continue to exist in the Islamic world.The normal longstanding orders, like Shadhaliyya, Qadariyya, and Naqshabandiya, are still popular among the Sufis. These three orders have a responsibility of providing emphasis on Zuhd (antipoverty). Nonetheless, such kinds of asceticism are not supposed to be manifested as abject poverty. This is because there are wealthy Sufi orders whichhave the ability to endow schools, lodges, pilgrim’s hotels and hospitals.
Zuhd has a principle of being unattached to the world. Sufis describe the principle as ‘die before you die’. This that no one is attuned to the transient or the temporary earthly life and each person should turn all his ways to God who is the Divine Face. Tazkiyat al-nafs is a Sufi discipline with the role of purifying souls of individuals. Besides, Sufi ethics is always aimed at bringing morally upright societies.
It is, therefore, very clear from the above points that Sufism is not all about a theoretical or inner practice. Its moral dimensions are portrayed well in different societies. They are enacted in relationships with the society’s unfortunate and downtrodden. Many of the Sufi lodges are attached to soup kitchens, hospitals, or schools exclusively funded by the awqaf (pious endowments). Sufis also have institutions like schools, public fountains, and mosques. These institutions are meant to serve the wider public the same way the old ribat institutions did it.
Sufism emphasizes the teacher student relationship. This ensures that morality is maintained in Sufism education. Sufism also emphasizes the value of charity. It does this through its teachers who advise their students to provide for the needy. Sufism also stresses the necessity of discipline. They believe discipline is the only truth through which people can relate well within a society of several individuals, some of them coming from different backgrounds. The Arabic word for discipline is ‘adab’which also stands for etiquette. ‘Adab’ denotes correct, ethical attitudes, culture, comportment, and etiquette. According to the Sufi model, Sufis believe that all Muslims are Mohammed. They also practice renunciation as a method of reconciling or settling disputes among the clan or village members. This is done through purification of the soul and repentance. It is also done through material renunciation.
Besides the above, Sufi has its own sacred narratives told to the youth. The narratives are mainly on how some of the past believers had testified faith in Muslim as well as in Sufi beliefs. The narratives are also about the existing relationship between humans and God as revealed in the mainstream Islam. This explained further in the Quran and the hadith. There is also Sufi wisdom literature, which is normally in the form of biographies and sayings meant to teach the youth. Teaching and enlightening the youth on certain societal issues are common practices among different people in different communities. Therefore, Sufism qualifies to be a community itself based on this.
As can be seen from above, it may look strange that there are such groups in our nations. The truth is that they do exist and the only option we have is to let them live their own lives. All these activities aim to better or improve the living standards, as well as the living style of Sufis.