(Last Updated on : 03/08/2013)
Origin of Sufism goes a rather long way back in history and is often said to be as old as humanity itself. Traditionally, it is associated with the advent and development of Islam
. Even though Sufi Saints had existed even before Prophet Muhammad
, they were not known or recognised as Sufis at that that time. It was only a few centuries later that they came to be known as Sufis. According to Qushayri (988 AD) and some other scholars like Shihabuddin Suhrawardi, the term 'Sufi' was first used at the end of second century Hijri i.e. in the early ninth century AD. The term Sufi did not find a mention either in the Sihah-i-Sittah compiled in the 9th and 10th century AD or in the Arabic dictionary, the Qamus compiled in the early 15th century AD.
The prime reason which led to the greater acceptance and proliferation of Sufism was the increasing worldliness and materialistic lifestyle of the leaders of the Muslim community. There were a number of people at this time who were growing increasingly disgruntled with the highly materialistic and extravagant lifestyle of the rulers and wanted a system based on values and ethical lifestyle. The infidelity and sinful rule of the Umayyad immediately following the first four caliphs, created such political and social conditions that many Muslims became disgusted and turned to asceticism and a life of seclusion to seek peace of soul. Towards the end of the first century Hijri, there were many who moved beyond the life of ascetics and seclusion to contemplation, to vision and to ecstasy. The life of austerity and poverty, which was until now conceived essential for gaining access to paradise, came to be reconciled as an expression of devotion to God. Not only that, gradually the focus shifted from material wealth to the lack of desire for possession i.e. a true detachment from all worldly things. It was out of this feeling of disenchantment and a need to establish a sober and morally correct lifestyle that Sufism gained practice. Sufism, to its followers meant to acquire the inner knowledge, the enlightenment that could enable them to realise the Truth, which is also the underlying objective of all the religions. This being central to all religions, the Sufi fundamentals existed in all religions and, therefore, Sufism travelled beyond the borders of religion. The essential of Sufism found an expression in all societies trying to achieve perfection.
It is believed that earlier there was a sect called 'Kamal Posh' (the blanket wearers). They went to every prophet of their time seeking spiritual advice. No one, however, could satisfy them completely and they were told to do this or that. But when they went to Prophet Muhammad, they were completely satisfied and, therefore, they stayed with him. When the Kamal Posh were with Prophet Muhammad, he only looked at them without saying anything to them. He created love in their hearts (transmitted the knowledge of the Truth from his heart to their hearts) and that is why they were completely satisfied. The significance of this tale lies in the heart-to-heart revelation that the Prophet gave to these men. Prophet Muhammad is said to have received a twofold revelation. One was the knowledge of the Absolute Truth in his heart, and the other that is embodied in the content of the holy Quran
. While the Quran was conferred the status of the Holy Book to govern the conduct of the Muslims, the transmission of knowledge of the Absolute Truth in the heart of Prophet Muhammad was meant only for a few, from heart-to-heart, through the line of succession i.e. from the Master to the disciple and so on. All the Sufi Tariqats (different Sufi Orders), therefore, trace their origin in Prophet Muhammad.
Sufism is based on the teachings of the Quran. The effort of Prophet Mohammed was to unite the Arabian tribes, make them believe in one God, reform them and to give them a religion adapted to their own requirements. In order to evolve them as a perfect society, they were asked to follow the Quran. The essential ingredients of Sufism are, therefore, found in abundance in the Quran. The mystical tendencies exhibited by some of Prophet Muhammad's companions and friends also find justification and support from the Quran. The tendency of renunciation of worldly pleasures and intense fear of the God and His judgments were profoundly manifested in the Sufism of these early Muslims.