What is Sufism?
Sufism is a religion that combines the practice of asceticism with spiritual contemplation. It aims to develop the capacity of the heart as a container for love, and to discover the divinity inherent in all of creation.
Despite its growing popularity in the West, many people still have difficulty understanding Sufism. It is also a source of confusion for conservative Muslims.
According to Islamic historian Peter Hellyer, the movement developed in the second century after the hijrah, when people began reinterpreting Islamic teachings from the perspective of their own experience. The movement was able to soften the rigid legalism of Sunni Islam.
In addition to this, Sufism permitted Islam to bring in some of the traditional practices of converts from other religions without damaging its own essential doctrines. This facilitated its spread to central Asia, Anatolia, southeastern Europe, India, Indonesia, and Black Africa.
The Role of Love in Sufism: Understanding the Concept of Divine Love
But there are some who are critical of the practice and who believe that Sufism is a threat to the core beliefs of Islam. These hardliners tend to be conservative Muslims, such as Salafists or Wahabbis in Saudi Arabia.
There are a few schools of Sufism, all with their own teachers and techniques. Each has its own philosophy and spiritual beliefs.
A major part of Sufi worship is dhikr, a form of constant remembrance of God. This is done both communally and individually, geared towards developing closer connections to God.
It is also based on the belief that mystical experiences can be had in private, without risking exposure to other people. Because of this, Sufism has traditionally been practiced in secret and is not usually regarded as a heretic by conservative governments or Muslim extremists.