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Sufism or Sufitum (also Sufik , Arabic تَصَوُّف, DMG taṣawwuf ) is a collective name for currents in Islam that have ascetic tendencies and a spiritual orientation, which is often referred to with the word mysticism . A follower of Sufism is called a Sufist , a practicing Sufi (صُوفِيّ, DMG Ṣūfī ) or dervish ( Persian دَرویش darwisch , DMG darwīš ). The core elements of the various practical and theoretical teachings often include a unity of everything that exists , an " inner sense " (بَاطِن batin , DMG bāṭin ) of the Koran, an individual closeness or immediacy to God, as well as corresponding exemplary Koran verses and normative handed down sayings and biographical reports about Mohammed .

By the 9th century, the Sufis were (صُوفِيَّة, DMG ṣūfīya ) an ascetic fringe group in what is now Iraq . From the 10th century systematic handbooks on the spiritual path of the Sufi were drawn up, which emphasize the closeness to Orthodox Sunniism . For the systematic formulation of theology and epistemology , philosophers and theologians such as al-Ghazālī , Suhrawardi and Ibn Arabi were influential. In the 12th century, Sufi orders were formed that also had religious-political functions, including the organization of popular piety and mission. Sufism has historically been one of the most important factors in attracting non-Muslims to Islam.

At the latest with the organization in orders, an identification of mysticism and Sufism is problematic, since the former mostly relates to a specific type of spirituality, the latter to institutions. Opposite the terms sufiya and tasawwuf is the expression 'irfān (عِرْفَان), literally gnosis , meaning "mysticism". The word Sufism has only been used in Europe since the 19th century.

A frame drum used by dervishes in Sufi monasteries def ; exhibited in the Museum of Antalya


Sufism is sometimes associated with Gnosticism , whereby the Sufis are actually independent of religious affiliation and this movement is much older than historical Islam. Sufis themselves emphasize, however, that Sufism did not develop to its full bloom until the appearance of the Prophet Mohammed and that Islam had the most suitable metaphysical instruments available for the spiritual and spiritual development of man.

Early Sufis

According to Muslim tradition, the first Sufis are said to have existed as early as the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed in the 7th century. They are said to have often lived as individual ascetics . The most famous of these is Uwais al-Qarani from Yemen , who lived as a hermit in the desert. The oldest Islamic Sufi order Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi is said to go back to him.

A very influential early Sufi was the ascetic Hasan al-Basri (642–728). His ideas about a spiritual life were: little sleep, no complaints about heat or cold, not having a permanent residence and always fasting . Also in the city of Basra (in today's Iraq ) lived and worked Rabia al-Adawiyya (714 or 717 / 718-801), one of the most important female Sufis. It is believed that she never had a teacher, and she is referred to as a "drunken god-lover" who lived as a strict ascetic: for drinking and for her ritual ablutions she is said to have a broken jug, an old reed mat to lie on and a river stone used as a pillow.

Sufis of the 9th and 10th centuries

In the 9th century Dhu'n-Nun al-Misri (died 859) was one of the first Sufis to develop a theory about "Fana" (Arabic for dissolution) and "Baqa" (Arabic for existence), a teaching about the destruction or dissolution of the self ( nafs ). He also formulated the theory of Ma'rifa (intuitive knowledge of God). Through his poetic prayers , he introduced a new style to the serious and ascetic piety of the Sufis of the day. He heard - true to the Koranic word - the praise of God from everything created and thus influenced the later descriptions of nature by Persian and Turkish Sufis.

Bāyazīd Bistāmī (803-875), from Bistam in what is now Iran, thought above all love to be the most important thing in order to achieve unity with God. In addition, he said he was the first to achieve the state of absolute oneness with the Creator through strict self-mortification and privation. In the later Sufi texts from the 11th century onwards, as an intoxicated Sufi, he formed the opposite pole to his sober contemporary Junaid .

Junaid (d. 910) from Baghdad, which at that time was considered a religious and spiritual center, represented a more sober way of Sufism . He had a great influence on later Sufis through his teaching, he emphasized love, union and the surrender of the individual will to the will of God. At that time, Islamic orthodoxy was already looking at the activities of the Sufis with growing suspicion, for this reason Junaid rejected his student Mansur al- Hallaj (858–922), also a Persian, who spoke the secrets of the Sufi path in public. From this one of the most famous sayings of a Sufi comes: "ana al-Haqq". This saying translates as "I am the truth", where Haqq not only means truth, but is also one of the names of God. Thus the translation can be “I am God”. This and his provocative demeanor were some of the reasons why al-Hallaj was the first Sufi martyr to be executed. Along with other Sufis, Rumi has probably best expressed that "ana al-Haqq" is the most consistent interpretation of the oneness of God.

al-Ghazālī (1058–1111)

An important representative of Sufism is al-Ghazālī (* around 1058, died 1111), a Persian who was one of the first to organize his ideas into a mystical system. This greatest Sunni theologian incorporated the system of moderate mysticism of Sufism into Orthodox Islam. The original legal scholar realized one day that he could only really find God through a way of life renouncing the world. He gave up his chair at the University of Baghdad to spend many years in seclusion as a wandering dervish. He bequeathed numerous religious and spiritual writings to the world and even managed to reconcile Orthodoxy with Sufism for a time and to bring both systems closer together: By softening the radical asceticism of the early Sufis, systematizing Sufi thought and by teaching the philosophers, for which he therefore demanded the death penalty, pulling on seventeen points of heresy and three others of unbelief, al-Ghazālī contributed significantly to the general recognition of Sufism by orthodoxy in Islam. He rejected rigid dogmatics and taught the way to a God consciousness that springs from the heart. A central point in al-Ghazālī is the work on the “subtle heart”. According to the teaching of al-Ghazālī, people have a “subtle heart” in their breasts, which is at home in the world of angels . This organ is in the asylum in the material world and shows people back the way to paradise.

Sheikh Adi (1075-1162)

An important Sufi was Sheikh Adi ( Kurdish Şêx Adî, also Şexadi, full name ʿAdī ibn Musāfir, probably 1075-1162), who spread Sufism beyond the borders of the Islamic core areas. Probably to escape conservative adversaries, he came to the Iraqi-Kurdish mountains and settled in Lalisch , an old sun temple that had changed several times between Yazidis , Christians and Muslims. There he learned about the Yezidi faith and brought Sufi elements into it. He is now regarded as a reformer of Yazidis and, although actually a Muslim, is venerated by Yazidis as a saint. Lalisch, the place where, according to Yezidi beliefs, the earth was solidified, is Yazidi sanctuary and burial place of Şexadi. Since there are practically no written traditions from Yezidism from the time before Şexadi, it is only known that the Yezidi belief itself is composed of many mystical elements. Şexadi's ideas complemented the older Yazidi religion and still endure.

Ibn al-Arabi (1165-1240)

Just as important as al-Ghazālī is Ibn Arabi (1165–1240), who was born about half a century after al-Ghazālī's death in the Spanish city ​​of Murcia . Ibn Arabi is the author of around 500 important Sufi scriptures; it is said that he did not have a spiritual teacher, but was initiated directly into mystical Islam by the hidden master Chidr . Ibn ¡Arab∆ is also referred to as the “Sheikh al-akbar” (“the greatest sheikh”), although his ideas about “ wahdat al-wudschud ”, the unity of being, were part of Sufi metaphysics before him . But he was the first to formulate these ideas in writing, so that they were well preserved for posterity and later Sufis. Accordingly, God created the whole world as a single cohesive entity so that it might praise and know the Supreme Creator. In his work "Fusus Al-Hikam" Ibn-Arabi draws a metaphysical genealogy in which the 28 designated in the Koran mentioned prophets help to awaken the mystical consciousness. This idea was taken up again in the 19th and 20th centuries by Western esoteric authors such as Madame Blavatsky and Rudolf Steiner . According to this, the significant religious figures of people are figures of light who shape people's consciousness.

Farid ad-Din Attar (1145 / 46-1221)

The mausoleum of Farid ad-Din Attars in Nishapur, Iran

The poetic works of Farid ad-Din Attar (Farīd ad-Dīn ʿAṭṭār) influenced mystics of both Eastern and Western origins for centuries. Attar is considered one of the most important personalities in Sufism. He shed new light on the teaching, describing the path with the art of a storyteller like no one before him.

One of the most famous of his 114 works are the " Birds Talk " (Manṭiq aṭ-ṭair) . This epic tells of thirty birds who undertake a journey through seven valleys to the bird king, the Simurgh , and who finally recognize their own identity in this. Attar uses a play on words here, since Simurgh is not only the name of a mythical creature resembling the phoenix , but si murgh means "thirty birds". This work contains, for example, the Sufi love story of Sheikh San'an and a Christian girl . San'an, who lives in Mecca, is portrayed as the author of hundreds of theological treatises and miracle worker, converting to Christianity for some time and then returning to Islam.

Sufi religious orders

It is believed by most historians today that the first Sufi religious order ( Tariqa ) was founded in the 12th century by ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī (1088 or 1077–1166), which is why it is called Qadiri -Tariqa. Shortly afterwards, the Yesevi and the Rifai -Tariqa emerged. Later, other tariqas developed, many of which still exist for the most part, but some no longer in the focus of public life, such as the Shaʿrānī tariqa. The centers or meeting places of the orders are called Chanqah ( Persian خانگاه chānegāh andخانقاه chāneqāh ), Dergah (Persianدرگاه dargāh "threshold", "palace"; Ottoman dergâh also dervish convent ), Tekke (Ottoman تَكَّيَّه tekke, tekye ) or Zawiya (Arabicزَاوِيَة zāwiya pl.زَوَايَا zawāyā ). Sometimes there is also talk of convents or monasteries , a Tekke cannot be compared with the Christian idea of ​​a monastery.

One of the most famous tariqas is that of the Mevlevis , which goes back to the Sufipoet Jalal ad-Din Rumi . Most of his works are written in Persian, some in Arabic. The dervishes of this order practice the Dhikr with religious music and rotate around their own axis. This ritual is known in the West as the “dervish dance ” ( semā ) or “dance of the whirling dervishes”.

Other supraregional Sufi orders besides those already mentioned are Naqschbandi , Bektaschi , Kubrawi , Suhrawardi , Chishti or Halveti . These orders are also divided into numerous sub-branches and sometimes overlap with one another (see also: List of Sufi Orders ). The Iranian Sufi order MTO Shahmaghsoudi is widespread in the USA, Great Britain and other Western countries.

In Morocco , the Sufi orders of the Gnawa , Aissawa , Tijaniya and Hamadsa are not only important expressions of popular Islam and the spiritual life, but also important social formations. For Moroccan foreign policy, these Sufi brotherhoods play a central role in structuring relations with the neighboring states of Mauritania and Mali , in particular in order to stand up to a Salafist Islam with Wahhabi characteristics, which is increasingly gaining influence in the Sahara region.

Sufism has always remained alive in the eyes of the Sufis and has retained its dynamism because it always adapts to the times and changes accordingly. At the same time, he remains true to the essence of tradition, which is the inner alignment of the heart with God and the giving up of the ego. As societies and cultures are constantly evolving and changing, Sufism externally responds to these changes.

“Sufism is the ancient wisdom of the heart. It is not limited by form, time or space. He always was and always will be. "


The term Sufism is the name of an ancient doctrine that today has mainly manifested itself in the Islamic culture. The word Sufism came up at a time when this teaching was connected with this world religion, but the essential teaching of Sufism can be traced back over many millennia through all religions and world views .

Etymologically it is unclear whether the word Sufi comes from the Arabic ṣūf صُوف- “New wool”, which refers to the woolen garments of the Sufis, or from ṣafā صفا - "being pure" comes from. “Pure” in this context means purified from ignorance or ignorance, superstition , dogmatism , egoism and fanaticism as well as free from restrictions imposed by social class, political convictions, race or nation. Historically, however, the former interpretation is more likely, since the derivation of “pure” could represent a deliberate interpretation. Others, especially Western representatives of “universal Sufism”, brought the word Sufi (also written as Sofi as a name for a wise man who immersed himself in contemplation of the divine) with the Greek word sophia (“wisdom”) or with the Hebrew Word from the Kabbalah En Sof (“there is no end”) in connection. The Jewish Encyclopedia (Vol. XI, p. 579 ff.) Regards the Kabbalah and the Hasidim , the Jewish mystics, as originating from Sufism or as a tradition identical to it. The most important representative of Sufism living in the West, Idries Shah , on the other hand, refers to the Hujwiri script, the Revelation from the 11th century. In this earliest available treatise on the Sufi tradition in the Persian language and at the same time one of the authoritative Sufi scriptures, it is stated that "the word Sufi has no etymology".

Classical Sufi authors such as al-Kalābādhī (d. Between 990 and 995) have also related the Sufis to the so-called Ahl as-Suffa ("people of the shadowy roof"). This is a group of people who gathered around him in Medina during Muhammad's lifetime and lived in forced or voluntary poverty . Al-Kalābādhī took the view that a Sufi is someone who resembles the Ahl as-Suffa in character. It is also claimed that the word Sufism can refer to the people of the first (prayer) row ( ṣaff-i avval ).

The term Sufism was not introduced by followers of this teaching. The word itself is a neologism that originated in Germany and was coined in 1821. Rather, it was shaped by people outside of this mystical current. As a rule, a Sufi does not refer to himself as such. Instead, Sufis use terms such as “people of truth”, “masters”, “near ones”, “seekers”, “students” or “travelers”.


There are Sufi orders that can be classified as Sunni or Shiite , others can be assigned to both or neither of the two Islamic schools. These represent a separate area of ​​the Muslim faith and mostly teach a "universal Sufism". Most Sufis, however, move within the Orthodox Islam of Sunnah and Shia and are therefore either Sunnis or Shiites, with most Tariqas being associated with Sunni Islam (e.g. Naqshbandi, Qadiri) and only a few with Shiite.

The way of the Sufis follows four stages, the characteristics of which refer to the Indian area; So far, however, it is unclear how and in which direction this influence took place historically:

  1. Erasure of sensual perception
  2. Abandonment of attachment to individual characteristics
  3. Death of the ego
  4. Dissolution into the divine principle

The ultimate goal of the Sufis is to get as close to God as possible while leaving your own desires behind. Thereby God or the truth is experienced as “the beloved”. The core of Sufism is therefore the inner relationship between the “lover” (Sufi) and the “beloved” (God). The Sufi is led to God through love, whereby the seeker strives to experience the truth already in this life and not to wait for the hereafter . This is reflected in the principle to die before you die , which is persecuted throughout Sufism. For this purpose, the Sufis try to fight the drives of the lower soul or the tyrannical ego ( an-nafs al-ammara ) in such a way that they are transformed into positive properties. In this way, individual stations can be passed through, the highest of which is the pure soul ( an-nafs as-safiya ). This last stage, however, is reserved exclusively for the prophets and the most perfect saints.

The mystical experience of God is the state of being one ( tauhid ) with God, the so-called " unio mystica ".

A quote from Abu Nasr al-Sarradsch , a contemporary of the Islamic mystic Junaid :

"Sufism means having nothing and not being possessed by anything."

Or a more detailed description of Abu Sa'id :

“Sufism is glory in misery, wealth in poverty, domination in servitude, satiation in hunger, life in death and sweetness in bitterness ... The Sufi is the one who is satisfied with everything God does, so that God is satisfied with everything is what he does. "

Another important aspect of Sufi teaching is that the truth is experienced and not just grasped intellectually. According to the principle “Faith is seen in deeds”, it is crucial for the Sufis to often set a good example in the world rather than talk about faith . Furthermore, "sincerity" is indispensable and an attempt should be made to become as pure outwardly as it is sought inwardly.

Many Sufis, if they are not followers of a strict Sharia , believe that a fundamental truth can be found in all religions and that the major religions are the same in essence / spirit. Some Sufis even go so far that they do not see Sufism as part of Islam (i.e. a religion), but rather believe that mysticism stands above religion and even conditions it.

The way of the dervish

A Turkish dervish around 1860

The term dervish is derived from the Persian word is ( "Gateway", "door"), a symbol that the beggar from door (threshold) moves (threshold) to door. In Sufi symbolism, this also means the threshold between the knowledge of the earthly world (material, see also dunya ) and the divine world on the other .

The full Persian translation for dervish ( Persian دَرْوِیش darwīsch ) is "beggar". It is not necessarily to be taken literally that every Sufi is a beggar; but this term serves as a symbol for the fact that those who are on the path of Sufism recognize their own "poverty compared to God's wealth".

On the path of a dervish there are the following stations that he tries to master:

  1. Sharia ("Islamic Law")
  2. Tariqa ("the mystical way")
  3. Haqīqa ("truth")
  4. Ma'rifa ("knowledge")

(In the Alevi - Bektashi doctrine, Ma'rifa comes before Haqiqa .)

The Sufis see these stations as “doors” on the way to God, which are not next to, but behind, or better still “inside” each other. You have to go through one door before you can tackle the next.

Ibn Arabi describes the four stations as follows: At the level of Shari'a there is “yours and mine”. That is, religious law regulates individual rights and ethical relationships between people. At the level of Tariqa, "mine is yours and yours is mine". The dervishes are expected to treat one another as brothers and sisters, letting each other share in their joys, love and property. At the level of truth ( Haqiqa ) there is “neither mine nor yours”. Advanced Sufis realize that all things come from God, that they themselves are only the stewards and in reality have nothing. Those who know the truth are not interested in property and outward appearances in general, including notoriety and social class. At the level of knowledge ( Ma'rifa ) there is “no me and no you”. The individual realizes that nothing and no one is separate from God. This is the ultimate goal of Sufism.

The sheikh

A very important institution of the Sufik is the Sheikh or Murschid ("spiritual teacher"). The Sheikh not only conducts the Dhikr in joint meetings with his dervishes , but also gives each of his disciples ( murīd ) mostly individual spiritual exercises that correspond to the status of the individual dervish.

Arthur Buehler, who has dealt with the history of the sheikdom in Sufik, notes a general change in the understanding of this institution. The first Sufi Sheikhs thus drew their authority solely from their own actions, which were viewed as exemplary by their followers, and from spiritual experiences. In the 10th century, this type of "teaching sheikh" was replaced by another type of sheikh, whom Buehler referred to as the "leading sheikh". In contrast to the teaching sheikhs, the “leading sheikhs” were regarded as “heirs of the prophet”. Their authority was based on the fact that they could trace their knowledge back to the Prophet Mohammed through a "living line" . This “living line” is symbolized by a chain of tradition, the Silsila , which goes back to the Prophet Mohammed. In the early modern times, a new type of sheikh experienced his rise, whom Buehler called the "mediating sheikh". It is characteristic of him that he has largely given up the exercise of spiritual practices and mainly fulfills the function of a mediator and advocate for his followers - before God, but also before the political authorities.

The way

The symbol of the rose is often used in Sufism. This represents the above-mentioned stages on the path of a dervish as follows: The thorns stand for the Sharia, the Islamic law, the stem is Tariqa, the way. The flower is a symbol of Haqiqa, the truth that ultimately carries the fragrance, Ma'rifa, knowledge.

The following view of the Sufis can be recognized: the thorns protect the stem, without them the rose could easily be attacked by animals. Without the stem, however, the thorns alone have no meaning; it can be clearly seen that the Sufis regard Shari'a and Tariqa as belonging together. The stem without a flower would be useless, and a flower without fragrance would be useless. The fragrance alone without the rose would also have no possibility of existing.


The focus of Sufi teaching is love (Arabic hubb, 'ischq, mahabba ), which is always to be understood in the sense of "turning (towards God)". The Sufis believe that love is expressed in the projection of the divine essence onto the universe. This can often be seen in the “intoxicated” poems of many Islamic mystics, who sing about unity with God and love of God. Since these poetic works are mostly interspersed with metaphors , they have often been viewed with suspicion by Islamic legal scholars throughout history. In their eyes they have heretical statements, for example when the seeker is intoxicated with "wine"; In the symbolism of Sufism, the wine stands for the love of God, the sheikh for the cupbearer and the dervish for the glass that is filled with love in order to be carried to the people.

Al-Ghazālī describes the love of God as the highest of the stages and even as the ultimate goal of the stages on the way to God. He says that only God is worthy of love; However, he calls love for Muhammad praiseworthy because it is nothing other than love for God. He also mentions love for the scholars and the pious as praiseworthy, because "one loves those who love the beloved".

Isa bin Maryam ( Jesus of Nazareth ) is seen in Islam as the "prophet of love".


Mevlevi dervishes at the Sema ceremony in Istanbul , Turkey
Dhikr in Omdurman , Sudan . Choreographed dance performance for the public that takes place every Friday at the tomb of Hamed al-Nil. He was a Qadiriyya Sheikh in the 19th century .

The Sufis seek to come close to God or to become one with God in earthly life through regular daily meditation ( Dhikr , that means “remembering”, ie “remembering God” or Dhikrullah ) and special spiritual exercises ( Chalwa ). The latter is at least viewed critically by orthodox Islam and its own Islamic jurisprudence ( Fiqh ), if not condemned as blasphemy. On the other hand, the Sufis are often critical of this conservative, sometimes ossified, Islamic jurisprudence. Mansur al-Hallaj , who believed he had become so one with God that he said: Ana al-Haqq (“I am the truth”, so “I am God”), was condemned as a heretic by Orthodoxy and publicly executed.

When Sufis come close to such a state, they often go into a trance , although this is only a side effect and not the goal of the dhikr, as is sometimes assumed . A few Sufi communities perform injurious acts in a trance, such as piercing the cheeks of the Rifai dervishes, which is intended to demonstrate complete trust in God. Another example of trance states among Sufis are the so-called rotating dervishes of the Mevlevi - Tariqa from Konya in today's Turkey , which rotate around their own axis during their Dhikr ( Sema ) and thus get into a trance.

Not least through the Dhikr, Sufism offers the seeker an opportunity to find or rediscover the divine within. The Sufis believe that God has put a divine spark in every person that is hidden in the deepest heart. At the same time, this spark is obscured by love for everything that is not God, as well as by attention to the banalities of the (material) world, as well as by carelessness and forgetfulness. According to the Prophet Muhammad, God says to people: "There are seventy thousand veils between you and Me, but none between Me and you."

The "perfecting of the Dhikr" has always been a high aim of the Sufis and the aim is to repeat the Dhikr over and over so that it continues in the heart even in the midst of all other (worldly) activities. This corresponds to an "uninterrupted awareness of God's presence". The latter is called the “Dhikr of the heart”, while the outwardly audible form is called the “Dhikr of the tongue”.

During the Dhikr , the Sufis recite certain passages from the Koran and repeat a certain number of the divine attributes ( ninety-nine in Islam ). A dhikr that is used by all Sufis is the repetition of the first part of the Shahāda ("Creed") lā ilāha illā-llāh , in English: "There is no god but God" or "There is no power worth it is to be worshiped besides God ”. A derivation of the first part of the Shahada, which is also pronounced repeatedly in the Dhikr , is the formula lā ilāha illā hū , in English: “There is no god but Him.” In addition, most orders know a weekly meeting at the next to the Cultivating community and common prayer also performing a dhikr . Depending on the order, this dhikr can include music, certain body movements and breathing exercises. In the Northeast Caucasus ( Dagestan , Chechnya , Ingushetia ), for example, the Kumyk Sheikh Kunta Hajji Kishiev was a pioneer of a noisy dhikr .

Sufi stories

An important part of Sufism are the doctrinal stories that the Sheikhs tell their dervishes over and over again. There are three different categories.

  1. Stories that deal with the relationship of the individual to himself and his individual development.
  2. Stories that deal with the relationship to society and to other people.
  3. Stories about the relationship with God.

These are often seemingly simple stories whose deeper meaning can be very subtle and profound for the dervish. It does not necessarily matter whether the student understands the essence of the story down to the last detail, because learning does not only take place on the level of the mind . Analogous to this, the mode of action is often compared with that of drugs, whereby the patient does not have to know or understand the chemical composition of the medicine in order to be cured by it.

The best-known teaching stories in the West are, for example, those of Nasruddin Hodscha (also Mullah Nasruddin), which are mostly misunderstood as anecdotes or simple jokes.

An example for 2:

Nasruddin places a scholar over stormy water. When he says something that is grammatically incorrect, the scholar asks him: "Have you never studied grammar?"
"Then half of your life was wasted!"
Shortly afterwards, Nasruddin turns to his passenger: "Have you ever learned to swim?"
"No. Why?"
"Then your whole life was wasted - because we're sinking!"

Based on this story, Sufis want to make it clear that Sufism is not a theoretical study, but can only be lived through practical action. By analogy, they say that while there are many books on Sufism; But to find Sufism in the books is impossible. Similarly, the Sufis regard a religious scholar who does not practice his knowledge as a donkey who carries a heavy load of books, but which are of no use to him because ultimately he has nothing to do with them.

An example for 3:

Rabi'a was seen walking the streets of Basra with a bucket in one hand and a torch in the other. When asked what that meant, she replied: “I want to pour water into hell and put fire on paradise so that these two veils will disappear and no one will worship God out of fear of hell or in hope of paradise, but only out of love to him."

Sufi music

In many tariqas the practice of music is also common, which often only consists of chants, in other tariqas it is accompanied by an instrument. The music is part of the Dhikr , because in the songs either the names of God are recited or the love for God or for the Prophet Mohammed is sung about .

Sufism in the West

The effects of Sufism were not limited to the Muslim world. He had influences, among other things, on world literature , music and many cultures in southern and eastern Europe. For example, concepts such as romantic love and chivalry were adopted by the West when Europe came into contact with the Sufis. The Spanish Arabist Miguel Asín Palacios recognized during his research the enormous influence of the ideas of the Islamic mystics on Western culture.

In Europe, Sufism was an important factor in attracting non-Muslims to Islam. Sufi groups emerged in connection with the new interest in Asian religions. The work of the Indian musician and mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan , who founded the International Sufi Order with legal statute in London in 1917 , can be mentioned for the popularity of Sufi ideas, which have been reinterpreted and adapted for the needs of Western seekers .

At the end of the 20th century, orders based on the Sufi model or offshoots of traditional Sufi orders were formed in the west, some of which accept non-Muslim members. Many Sufis are of the opinion that Sufism does not require membership of Islam, which is best described as a "universal Sufism". This led to the fact that more and more Western seekers were able to open up to Islamic mysticism without having to convert to Islam, although according to the principles of all traditional orders and their sheikhs already mentioned above, the Tariqa is necessarily based on the foundations of the Sharia, while In early Islamic times, some Sufis rejected the Sharia as a restriction of the true faith. In the opinion of the supporters of universal Sufism, this form of mysticism has existed since human existence, thus longer than historical Islam, which is why they do not necessarily see Sufism too closely linked to this religion and it as a global movement with all religions consider integrating message of salvation.

A prominent representative of universal Sufism is, for example, Reshad Feild , who introduced Sufism to many Western readers through his reports. Another movement close to Sufism with many followers in the West is the Subud brotherhood that emerged from the Javanese Naqshbandiyya-Qadiriyya and was founded in 1934 by the Javanese Muhammad Subuh. It is also considered non-Islamic by most of the Muslim authorities.

Sufism in Germany

According to an estimate by REMID in 2015, fewer than 10,000 Sufis live in Germany . The best-known Sufis living in Germany are the Sufi master Sheikh Hassan Dyck , who converted to Sufism, the Sufi masters Sheikh Eşref Efendi and Sheikh Seyyid Osman Efendi , who came from Turkey , and the convert Sheikh Bashir Ahmad Dultz , who heads the Tariqa As-Safinah, which belongs to the shādhilīya tradition.

The nationally known Sufi association Haqqani Trust - Association for New German Muslims based in Mönchengladbach plays a special role for Sufism in Germany . The association has had an "Ottoman hostel" since 1995, which sees itself as the "German center for Sufism in the Eifel ". He belongs to the Naqschbandi-Haqqani order , which is a branch of the Naqschbandīya and thus works according to the teachings of Sheikh Nazim al-Haqqani .

There is also the relatively well-known Sufi Center Rabbaniyya around Sheikh Eşref Efendi, which is mainly active in Cologne , Berlin and on Lake Constance . The Sufi order MTO Shahmaghsoudi is a worldwide organization also represented in Germany with several centers. Furthermore, the Burhani order, originally from Sudan, has spread in Germany since around 1982. The European headquarters of the order is the Haus Schnede estate near Salzhausen in the Lüneburg Heath.

Persecution in Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia

During the tenure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad , the Iranian Basichi militias were positioned against the Shiite dervishes by the Iranian government. In April 2006, the militia set fire to the prayer and residential houses of around 1200 dervishes in the city of Qom . The dervishes see in jihad only a struggle of each individual for his own salvation and not a call to war. On November 10th and 11th, 2007, the Basiji Sufi churches in the southwestern Iranian city of Borujerd cleared . 80 people were injured. Molotov cocktails and bulldozers were used for the evacuation . According to the Sufi master Seyed Mostafa Azmayesh , the aim is to wipe out the dervish movement. A campaign in newspapers and by preachers in mosques had been going on for months. Azmayesh fears a recurrence of the Borujerd incidents in the city of Karajesh . Although the Nematollah dervish order belongs to the Shia , this tariqa was persecuted in Iran as allegedly un-Islamic. Commentators saw the fear of the Iranian Ayatollah regime for its right to opinion leadership in the Ummah as the reason . The dervishes' open-minded interpretation of the Koran, combined with dance and music, made the movement increasingly popular among young people in Iran.

In Pakistan, the mystics are increasingly being targeted by fundamentalists close to the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. Between 2005 and 2009 there were nine attacks on Sufi shrines, with a total of 81 dead. In 2010 there were five attacks on Sufis shrines, including a suicide attack on Pakistan's largest shrine, the Shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsch in central Lahore, killing 45 people, and two other suicide attacks on the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazis in Karachi which killed nine people and injured 75. The negative attitude towards Sufism in Pakistan comes mainly from the Deobandi and the Ahl-i Hadīth .

On February 16, 2017, at least 88 visitors, including at least 20 children and nine women , died in an attack on the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in Sehwan Sharif . Over 340 were injured, some seriously. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack .

In Saudi Arabia, which was dominated by Wahhabi , the teachings of the Sufis were denigrated as shirk (idolatry, polytheism), and Suf brotherhoods were banned. In particular, visits to shrines, as well as dancing and music, meet with rejection from the Wahhabi fundamentalists. Decades ago, the Wahhabis consistently destroyed all shrines, even the shrines of companions and relatives of the Prophet, ostensibly to prevent mystical cults.


Most of the criticism of Sufism comes from the Muslim-Orthodox side, because their dogmatic rigorism ( Sharia ) is rejected by the Sufis, since in Sufism the Sharia is only the starting point for the further spiritual path . Furthermore, opponents of the use of music criticize that it is not compatible with Islamic teaching. Above all, dance - and thus forms of dhikr similar to dance  - are of pagan origin and therefore a reprehensible renewal within religion. Sufis, on the other hand, argue that the Prophet Muhammad was received with music by the people when he entered Medina, and when asked whether the music should be stopped, the Prophet replied that people should celebrate times of happiness with music. For the Sufis, music is an expression of joy in the presence of God and is therefore not reprehensible.

Wahhabi opponents of the Sufis have criticized the fact that, in the form of the Sheikh, they place a person between God and the ordinary Muslim and thereby violate the teaching of the Koran. Sufists counter this by stating that an authentic sheikh will never promote personal worship. Although he attracts attention as a teacher, he will then point away from himself towards the Eternal (= Allah ). It is therefore the task of the sheikh to prevent the student from giving himself up to his own self (cf. nafs ) or the personality of the teacher.

Criticism of Sufism is sometimes expressed in the fact that Sufism is often perceived as apolitical due to its mystical dimension, although Sufism shapes both the public and private life of the Sufi.

See also


There is a rich literature by Sufis and on Sufism. In addition, it must be mentioned that the Sufis say: "There are many books about Sufism, but Sufism cannot be found in books."

Source texts

  • Ǧalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī : The Maṯnawī. various editions, most recently:
    • The Maṯnawī. Spiritual verses. B. Meyer, Cologne 2002, ISBN 3-00-010283-3 . (E-book)
    • Mesnevi. Translation from English with reference to Turkish and Persian sources by Uli Full and Wolf Süleyman Bahn; Barth, Bern / Munich / Vienna 1997, ISBN 3-502-61004-5 .
    • The Mathnawi. Selected stories. from the Persian by Annemarie Schimmel; Sphinx, Basel 1994, ISBN 3-85914-196-1 .
    • Masnavi i Ma'navi. Teachings of Rumi. Omphaloskepsis, Ames (Iowa) 2001. (pdf), English ( Memento from September 29, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
    • Online resources at
  • Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi : Fusus al-hikam = The book of signet ring stones of wisdom sayings. Academic Printing and Publishing Establishment, Graz 1970, ISBN 3-905272-71-7 .
  • Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi: The Journey to the Lord of Power. My journey was only within myself. Chalice, Zurich 2008, ISBN 978-3-905272-73-4 .
  • Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi: The Hidden Treasure. The greatest master's mystical philosophy of the unity of all existence. Chalice, Zurich 2006, ISBN 3-905272-72-5 . (Contains the two texts Lubbul Lubb. ("The innermost core") and Kitab al-Ajwibah ("Who knows himself ..."))
  • Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi: Treatise on Love. From the Futuha al-Makkiyah .. Chalice, Zurich 2009, ISBN 978-3-905272-74-1 .
  • Al Ghasali : The Elixir of Bliss. Hugendubel, Kreuzlingen / Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-7205-3053-8 .
  • al-Sulami : The Sufi Way to Perfection. esotera-Taschenbücherei, Bauer, Freiburg im Breisgau 1985, ISBN 3-7626-0623-4 .


  • Andre Ahmed Al Habib: Sufism. The mystical heart of Islam. An introduction. Hans-Jürgen Maurer, Freiburg im Breisgau 2005.
  • Titus Burckhardt : About Sufism. Introduction to the mysticism of Islam. Barth, Munich-Planegg 1953. Strongly expanded new edition under the title Sufism - Introduction to a Language of Mysticism , Chalice, Xanten 2018, ISBN 978-3-942914-27-7
  • Jürgen W. Frembgen : Journey to God. Sufis and dervishes in Islam. C. H. Beck Verlag, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-45920-X .
  • Richard Gramlich : Islamic Mysticism. Sufi texts from ten centuries. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne 1992, ISBN 3-17-011772-6 .
  • Bahram Jassemi: The Way of Love. Videel, Niebüll 2003, ISBN 3-89906-635-9
  • Bahram Jassemi: Cosmology and Psychology in Sufism. Make a book, Neukirchen 2007, ISBN 978-3-939119-84-5
  • Annemarie Schimmel : Mystical Dimensions of Islam. The history of Sufism. Insel, Frankfurt am Main / Leipzig 1995, (1985 1 ), ISBN 3-458-33415-7 .
  • Annemarie Schimmel: Sufism. An introduction to Islamic mysticism. C. H. Beck, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-46028-3 .
  • Ludwig Schleßmann: Sufism in Germany. Germans on the path of mystical Islam. Cologne publications on the history of religion 33; Böhlau, Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2003, ISBN 3-412-11503-7 .
  • Frithjof Schuon : Understanding Islam. An introduction to the inner teaching and the mystical experience of a world religion. Barth, Bern / Munich / Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-502-61096-7 .
  • ʿAbd al-Qadir as-Sufi: What is Sufism? An introduction to the history, essence and meditative practice of Islamic mysticism. OW Barth, Bern / Munich / Vienna 1996, ISBN 3-502-65496-4 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Sufism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Sufism  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Hartmut Bobzin : Art. Sufi, Sufitum . In: Lexicon for Theology and Church , Vol. 9, p. 1094 f.
  2. See Nehemia Levtzion: Toward a Comparative Study of Islamization . In: Levtzion (ed.): Conversion to Islam . New York / London 1979, pp. 1-23. Here pp. 16–18.
  3. Specifically from FAG Tholuck: Ssufismus sive theosophia Persarum pantheistica , Berlin 1821
  4. Compare: Geo Widengren : Iranian Gnosticism. In: Iranian Spiritual World. Holle Verlag, Baden-Baden 1961, pp. 245-279.
  5. Tahafut-al-falasifa ( The Destruction of the Philosophers ), quoted from Ibn Warraq: Why I am not a Muslim. (Matthes & Seitz) Berlin, 2004, German by Taslima Nasrin and Jörg Köbke, p. 363f. ISBN 3-88221-838-X ; Original: Why I am not a Muslim. New York (Prometheus Books) 1995.
  6. Annemarie Schimmel : Gardens of Knowledge (Munich 1982), p. 119.
  7. On the term sheikh cf. Sheikh # In Sufism .
  8. ^ Peter Lamborn Wilson , Karl Schlamminger: Weaver of Tales. Persian Picture Rugs / Persian tapestries. Linked myths. Callwey, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-7667-0532-6 , pp. 46–77 ( Die Liebesdichtung ), here: pp. 54–56 and 72–75.
  9. ^ Georg Friedrich Daumer : Hafis. A collection of Persian poems. Along with poetic additions from different peoples and countries. Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 1846, p. 315 ( Sofis ).
  10. Idries Shah: The Happiest Man - The Great Book of Sufi Wisdom p. 14.
  11. Cf. al-Kalābāḏī: At-Taʿarruf . Engl. Transl. AJ Arberry : The Doctrine of the Sufis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1977. p. 7.
  12. Idries Shah: The Happiest Man - The Great Book of Sufi Wisdom p. 12.
  13. ^ Robert Frager : Heart, Self, & Soul - The Sufi Psychology of Growth, Balance, and Harmony (1999), p. Xi.
  14. See Buehler: Sufi Heirs of the Prophet. 1998, pp. 29-35.
  15. ^ Muzaffer Ozak : The Unveiling of Love (New York 1981), p. 144.
  16. Michael Kemper: Chechnya . In: Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE (Eds. Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas) Everett Rowson. First published in 2012.
  17. Idries Shah : The Sufis ; Munich 1976; P. 211.
  18. See Ali Köse: Conversion to Islam. A Study of Native British Converts. Kegan Paul International, London & New York, 1996. p. 142.
  19. Hazrat Inayat Khan : Complete Works , 15 volumes
  20. See Ali Köse: Conversion to Islam. A Study of Native British Converts. Kegan Paul International, London & New York, 1996. p. 143.
  21. See: Asfa Widiyanto: Ritual and leadership in the Subud Brotherhood and the Tariqa Qadiriyya wa Naqshbandiyya . EBV, Berlin 2012 and Manfred Meitzner: Art. Subud in Gasper, Müller, Valentin: Lexicon of sects, special groups and world views. Facts, backgrounds, clarifications. Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 1990. pp. 1021-1023.
  22. ^ Membership numbers : Islam. Religious Studies Media and Information Service (REMID)
  23. a b c d e Michael Hanfeld in the FAZ of November 14, 2007, p. 35 below: “Erasing the dervishes. In Iran, the religious minority of the Sufis is persecuted. "
  24. a b
  25. tc: Deoband hits back, rejects “baseless” charge of radicalizing Muslim youth
  26. Pakistan launches crackdown as Isis shrine attack toll rises to 88 , The Guardian, UK, February 16, 2017
  29. comparisons EF Kisriev: Islamic Movements in the Northern Caucasus and Their relations with the Authorities. In: Hans-Georg Heinrich, Ludmilla Lobova, Alexey Malashenko (eds.): Will Russia Become a Muslim Society . Peter Lang, Frankfurt a. M. u. a., 2011. pp. 39-84. Here p. 72.
  30. Tilman Nagel : Exercise of Power and Private Violence in Islam , in: Die Neueordnung 61/2 (2007) , 84–98, 90.