Origin of Sufism
The origin of Sufism is a much-debated topic and is rather difficult to trace. With regard to the origin of the word 'Sufi', there are different views amongst scholars. The majority of them, however, agree that the use of wool (Suf in Arabic) in clothing by them has characterized Sufis. Use of coarse wool as clothing reflected upon one's inclination towards austerity and renunciation of worldly pleasures. Another view holds that Sufism has been derived from the word 'Safh' which means cleanliness or purity as the Sufis laid great stress on the purity of mind, body and behaviour.
Regarding the rise of Sufism it might be said that the extravagant life of the rulers after the establishment of the Islamic rule, heightened the need of a more sober way of life based on values and not just craving for materialistic pleasure. It was believed that Sufism had originated among Muslims near Basra in modern Iraq, and mostly all traditional Sufi schools owe their existence to the Prophet Muhammad via his cousin and son-in-law Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib. Among this, the Naqshbandi Order is a notable exception to this rule, as it traces its origin to Caliph Abu Bakr. The spread of Sufism or to be more precise Sufism as a movement took place was during 1200-1500 CE, known as the Classical period of Sufism. Sufi movement was propagated from Baghdad's major Shia areas like Khorasa, Iraq, then Persia, Indian, African subcontinent and Muslim Spain.
Philosophy of Sufism
The essence of Sufism is the quest for absolute non-existence, a state that needs no existence besides the Almighty's Existence. The idea of an intimate communion of the self with the Eternal Reality is central to being a Sufi. Sufism is a kind of spiritual activation of the person, a process of the evolution of self in harmony with the others. Sufis believe in evolution of a man into a complete man by enlightenment through one's own experience and understanding.
Sufis hold that man is God's greatest and highest creation having his own individuality, knowledge and bliss, yet he is not perfect. It is said that the God has made human beings in His own image and therefore there is a reflection of all His Attributes in the human being. Since God Himself is perfect, the desire to achieve perfection is reflected profoundly in the human beings.
Man has evolved into a human being after passing through various stages of evolution, which reflect in his being. All that is there in the universe is reflected in him. Even before his birth God has blessed man with these characteristic qualities in the most balanced state. Since human beings are not perfect God has bestowed upon man the faculty of reasoning to distinguish between good and bad and to achieve perfection through practice. God has provided man with all that is necessary to make progress, mind, wisdom, consciousness and so on, and His Divine energy, which is called 'Mercy'. It is the characteristic quality of God's Grace that the man is not left alone, only he has to use his effort and will power to make progress. One may choose the path of downfall by forgetting one's original nature and adopting worldly things, and therefore become a victim of suffering and pain or one may use his discretion to search for the right path. True repentance and a wholehearted prayer pave the way for one to reach the right path. The essence of Sufism lies in keeping to the right path and achieving the perfection.
Leaders of the Sufi Movement
The great pioneers of the 13th century Sufi movement were four friends known as "Chaar Yaar". Baba Sheikh Farid Shakarganj of Pakpattan (1174-1266); Jalaluddin Bukhari of Uch Bahawalpur (1196-1294) Bahauddin Zakaria of Multan (1170-1267) and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar of Sehwan (1177-1274). The Sufi who left an indelible mark both on India and on the history of Sufism was Abul Hasan Ali Ibn Usman al-Hujwiri, known as Data Ganj Bakhsh, who reached Lahore in 1035 AD. The order of the Chistis, founded by Khawaja Abdal Chisti was introduced into India by Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti.
Teachings of Sufism
The central doctrine of Sufism is Wahdat-al-Wujud, the 'oneness of being'. This is derived directly from the Shahada in Islam which is understood not only as 'there is no god but God' but also as 'there is no reality except Reality'. One of the Names of God, indeed, is al-Haqq, which means 'Reality' or 'Truth'. The Sufis teach that the relative has no reality other than in the Absolute, and the finite has no reality other than in the Infinite. In Islam, man has access to the Absolute and the Infinite through the Holy Quran, which is the revelation of God to the world, and also through the Prophet who, within the world itself, is God's very reflection.
Sufism teaches that God can only be known when the human ego is extinguished and done away with as it stands in the way of God-realisation. This does not mean that the immortal essence of the soul has to be destroyed. What does in fact need to dissolved is the mental chaos, made up of passions and imaginings, which has a constant tendency to restrict consciousness to the level of temporary appearances.
When this veil of selfishness is lifted from the Spirit which is hidden underneath, then for the first time things are seen as they really are. God is seen in His all-embracing Presence. The presence of God is, according to Sufi teaching, not the brain but the heart. The heart is the seat, not of the sentiments, but of the Intellect or Spirit (ar-Ruh), which penetrates to Reality and transcends mental forms.
The consciousness of man is said to be captured in a dream-like state of forgetfulness known as Ghafla. It is for this reason that man must be 'reminded' of That which he has forgotten, and this is the reason for what is known as Dhikr, which the Sufi must practise in a large variety of ways. In essence Dhikr includes in itself the concepts of means recollection, mindfulness, contemplation and invocation.
Sufism can be considered as something approaching a universal faith with liberal teaching and great tolerance as exhibited in the conduct of most of the Sufis. Sufism does not just find expression in merely the mental dimensions but also in poetry and the visual arts. It has found great acceptance among its followers mainly because it can speak without hindrance not only to learned believers, but also to the simple man of the people. The goal of the mystical path is essentially the transcending of the ego, and this path can only be embarked upon with grace (tazvfiq).