Template:Islam Sufism (Arabic تصوف taṣawwuf) is a system of esoteric philosophy associated with Islam. In modern language it might also be referred to as "Islamic spirituality" or "Islamic mysticism". Some non-Islamic Sufi organizations also exist, especially in the West. [1] (


Many Sufi practitioners are organized into a very diverse range of brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Although many orders ("tariqas") can be classified as Shi'a or Sunni or even both, there are a few that are clearly neither Shiah nor Sunni and so constitute a separate sphere of Islamic faith.

Sufis believe that their teachings are the essence of every religion, and indeed of the evolution of humanity as a whole. The central concept in Sufism is "love". Dervishes -- the name given to initiates of sufi orders -- believe that love is a projection of the essence of God to the universe. They believe that God desires to recognize beauty, and as if one looks at a mirror to see oneself, God "looks" at himself within the dynamics of nature. Since they believe that everything is a reflection of God, the school of Sufism practices to see the beauty inside the apparently ugly, and to open arms to what they believe as even the most evil one. This religious tolerance is expressed in Sufism via these lines which are often attributed to the famous Sufi philosopher and poet Mevlana Rumi (but which were penned before his time, according to some scholars): "Come, come, whoever you are. Worshiper, Wanderer, Lover of Leaving; ours is not a caravan of despair. Though you have broken your vows a thousand times...Come, come again, Come." (In many Unitarian Universalist youth groups this poem is sung with minor alterations.)

Sufis teach in personal groups, believing that the intervention of the master is necessary for the growth of the pupil. They make extensive use of parables and metaphors, in such a way that the meaning is only reachable through a process of seeking for the utmost truth and knowledge of oneself.

Although philosophies vary between different Sufi sects, Sufism as a whole is primarily concerned with direct personal experience, and as such is often compared to Zen Buddhism and Gnosticism. The following metaphor, credited to an unknown Sufi scholar, helps describe this line of thought. "There are three ways of knowing a thing. Take for instance a flame. One can be told of the flame, one can see the flame with his own eyes, and finally one can reach out and be burned by it. In this way, we Sufis seek to be burned by God."

A large part of Muslim literature comes from the Sufis, who created great books of poetry (which include for example the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the Conference of the Birds and the Masnavi), all of which contain the profound, and hardly graspable, teachings of the Sufis.

Offshoots of Sufism in Africa include, for example, the Muslim brotherhoods of Senegal. The Sidis of Gujarat migrated from East Africa to India in the twelfth century.

The word Sufi

The word Sufi has its origin in Tasawwuf. The root word of Tasawwuf is the Arabic word Saaf, meaning pure, clean or blank. So the word Tasawwuf means purifying or making clean. A Sufi is a person who practices purification of heart.

There are alternate theories of the origin of the word Sufi. One view is that it originates from Suf (صوف), the Arabic word for "wool", in the sense of "cloak", referring to the simple cloaks the original Sufis wore. Some scholars (see Tor Andrae's Garden of Myrtles) have suggested that this derivation gives credence to early Sufism's link with Syriac Christian monastic orders. Woolen clothes were common in these monastic orders, but uncommon amongst normal Muslims of the time.

The Greek terms Sophos/Sophia, literally implying "wisdom" or "enlightenment", have also sometimes been asserted as the source of the word Sufi. Although this etymology has largely been discredited, it was popular amongst orientalists in the early 20th Century.

Most Sufis agree with the first definition, while most scholars tend to adhere to the second. The two were combined by the acclaimed sufi Junayd al-Baghdadi (d. 920 CE) in the famous saying, "The Sufi is the one who wears wool on top of purity..."

Universal Sufism

Sufism ( is usually seen in relation to Islam. There is a major line of Non-Islamic or offshoot-Islamic Sufi thought that sees Sufism as predating Islam and being in fact universal and, therefore, independent of the Qur'an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. This view of Sufism has understandably been popular in the West and has been always opposed by Traditional Sufis who practice it in the framework of Islam. Major exponents of this universal Sufism were Inayat Khan and Idries Shah. There is also an attempt to reconsider Sufism in contemporary Muslim thought. According to this view, Sufism represents the core sense of Islam that gives insight to Allah and His creation. In Bangladesh, there is a young group, named 'Sanskriti O Biddya CharchaPit', that claims that Sufi insight is the core of Islamicity and that it could help to realize the cosmos that includes not only religiosity but also polity. This attempt could be marked as 'de-divinization of Sufism'.

Orders of Sufism

Islamic orders

PHILTAR (Philosophy of Theology and Religion at the Division of Religion and Philosophy of St Martin's College) has a very useful Graphical illustration of the Sufi schools (

Persian Sufi Orders

Non-Islamic Sufi Groups

The Traditional Islamic Schools of Thought and Sufism

The relationship between traditional Islamic Schools and Sufism is complicated by at least three important factors. Firstly, Sufism as a separate movement within Islam makes its appearance quite late, so we cannot know for sure how the very earliest of the scholars would have treated it. Secondly, the founders and earlier scholars of the schools have displayed mixed opinions towards Sufism. Thus, although some of them recognized Sufism, illustrated for example by Imam Hambal's frequent visits to the Sufi master Bishr al Hafi, there are others who considered Sufism to be heretical, to the extent of leading to disbelief. Thirdly, the term Sufism has had such a wide range of connotations attached to it, mostly emotive definitions rather than theological or logical ones, that a comparison to traditional Islam is essentially not possible except in a strictly defined context.

The Sunni Muslims who form the largest part of the Muslim community hold Tasawwuf to be the sciences of the heart (as distinct from Fiqh which are the matters of practice and Aqidah which are matters of the intellect). For a more detailed exposition of how Sufism is very much a part of traditional Islam, please refer to the following article titled The place of Tasawwuf in traditional Islam (

Some modern Muslim groups (such at the Salafi sect) hold Sufism to be a form of reprehensible innovation (what is called Bida in Islam). However, traditional Sunni scholars still hold it to be an integral part of Islam. This article entitled How would you respond to the Claim that Sufism is bid'a? ( addresses the issue at length. The audio file at the end of the article, and much of the content on Salafi sites such as, attacks the traditional view of the Sunni majority that Sufism is as old as Islam itself (although the term "Tasawwuf" came only later).

However, some of the modern non-Islamic and liberal Sufi movements do things which are beyond the pale of traditional Islam, and that has caused differences of opinions inside Islam itself.

Sufi doctrines

Sufi cosmology

Although there is no consensus with regard to Sufi cosmology, one can disentangle various threads that led to the crystallization of more or less coherent mythic cosmological doctrines. Reading various authoritative texts, one can see that practitioners of Sufism were not much bothered with inconsistencies and contradictions that have arisen due to juxtaposition and superposition of at least three different cosmographies: Ishraqi visionary universe as expounded by Suhrawardi Maqtul, Neoplatonic view of cosmos cherished by Islamic philosophers like Ibn Sina/Avicenna and Sufis like Ibn al-Arabi and Hermetic-Ptolemaic spherical geocentric world. All these doctrines (and each one of them claiming to be impeccably orthodox) were freely mixed and juxtaposed, frequently with confusing results- a situation one encounters in other esoteric doctrines, from Hebrew Kabbalah and Christian Gnosticism to Vajrayana Buddhism and Trika Shaivism. The following cosmological plan is usually found in various Sufi texts:

Alam-e-Hahoot (Realm of He-ness)

It can also be thought of as the Realm of pre-existence , i.e the condition of the universe before its formation. It is equated with unknowable God’s essence and named Alam-I-Hahut (the world of “He-ness”). Etymologically, the Arabic root word for God with attributes (or Manifest Absolute) is Al-Lah or “the Divinity”, and Hu (“He”) is the root word for Unmanifest Absolute, the naked essence of Godhead that nothing can be said about. Alam-e-Hahoot has similarities to the Christian concept of Deus absconditus, and the Hindu notion of Nirguna Brahma.

Maqaam-e-Mehmood (Place of the extolled)

The residing place of Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him). Beyond this lies the unperceivable.

Alam-e-Lahoot (Realm of Divinity)

Realm of Divinity is that region where incalculable unseen tiny dots emerge and expand to such large circles that they engulf the entire universe. This Realm is also known as Tajalliat (The Beatific Vision, or the Circle of the Beatific Vision). These countless circles are the bases of all the root causes of the universe. These very circles give rise to the species (or kinds of non living) of the universe. This whole circle is known as the Ghaib-ul-ghaib (Unseen of the Unseen). It is that ascent for which the human perception could train itself for the cognition of the Extolled Veil and Beatific Visions of the attributes of God that are operative in there. Alam-e-Lahoot has similarities to the Christian concept of Deus revelatus and the Hindu notion of Saguna Brahma.

The final boundary of the human knowledge and understanding is called Hijab-e-Mehmood (The Extolled Veil), which is the extreme height of the Arsh (Supreme Empyrean). Nehr-e-tasweed(The Channel of Black Draught/Darkness) whose last limit is in the Realm of Divinity, is the basis of the Unseen & feeds Rooh-e-Azam (The Great Soul).

Alam-e-Jabaroot (Realm of Omnipotency)

The stage when the universe is constituted into features is known as the Realm of Omnipotency. Hijab-e-Kibria (The Grand Veil) is the last limit of this realm. Nehr-e-tajreed (Channel of Abstraction), whose last limit is The Realm of Omnipotency, feeds Rooh-e-Insani (Human Soul) with its information.

Alam-e-Malakoot (Angelic Realm)

When the characteristics of the species and their individuals descend from the Realm of Omnipotency, separate consciousnesses comes into being, this stage is called the Angelic Realm. Its last limit is called Hijab-e-Azmat (The Great Veil). Nehr-e-Tasheed (Channel of Evidence) whose last limit is Angelic Realm, feeds Latifa-e-Qalbi .

Arsh-e-Mualla (The Divine Throne)

The limiting boundary through which no one but the very nearest to God can pass. The above mentioned realms (Alam-e-Malakoot, Alam-e-Jabroot & Alam-e-Lahoot) are its levels of functioning.

Sab’a Samawat (The Seven Skies)

Similar to the Seven Valleys in the Bah' Faith, these are the boundary of the material Realm. The seven skies can be thought of as 7 energy levels or 7 levels of enlightment . At the end of 7th sky is the height known as the Baitul Mamoor (Inhabited Dwelling) . After which lies the station which is called Sidratul Muntaha (Lote Tree), which is the last limit of the flight of the most intimate angels.

Alam-e-Nasoot (Realm of Humans)

When the features further descend and come out of the limits of the angelic realm, foundations of the tangible world of matter are being laid, which is known as Alam-e-Nasoot. It includes the material realm (most of which humans can see), and all the normally visible cosmos is included in it. Nehr-e-Tazheer (Channel of Manifestation) whose last limit is Alam-e-Nasoot, feeds Latifa-e-Nafsi. Human Realm is categorized as under:

One Kitab-al-Mubeen, that controls

300 million Loh-e-Mehfooz, each one controlling

80 thousand Hazeere (Galaxies), each one containing

13 billion Solar systems, out of which

1 billion solar systems have life on one of their planets.

Each Star has 9, 12 or 13 planets around it.

On every planet with life on it, life exists in three different planes of existence. These include Plane of Angels, Plane of Jinns, & Plane of Humans. On the other hand, it is surrounded by another realm known as Alam-e-Araf or Barzakh (Astral plane), where humans stay after they die (when the connection of soul breaks with the physical body). Humans can also visit astral realm during sleep (in dream state) or during meditation.

Sufi psychology

The term "Sufi psychology" is probably a deceptive one, because it implies that there is a relatively homogenous doctrine of the psyche the majority of the Sufis would subscribe to. It is not the case. However, one can point out the terms most frequently used and expound on the meanings of these notions.

Drawing from Qur'anic verses, virtually all Sufis distinguish Lataif-e-Sitta (The six subtleties), Nafs, Qalb, Sirr, Ruh, Khafi & Akhfa. These lataif (sing : latifa) designate various psychospiritual "organs" or, sometimes, faculties of sensory and suprasensory perception

In general, sufic development involves the awakening in a certain order of these spiritual centers of perception that lie dormant in every person.. Each center is associated with a particular color and general area of the body, as well as oft times with a particular prophet. The help of a guide is considered necessary to help activate these centers. The activation of all these "centers" is part of the special, inner methodology of the sufi way or "Work", and cannot be counterfeited. After undergoing this process, the dervish is said to reach a certain type of "completion" or becomes the Complete Man.

Lataif-e-sitta (The six Subtleties)


This is the first of these Lataif, located slightly below the navel, & is associated with yellow color. Its energies are increased by meditation.

The word nafs is usually translated as self or psyche. Its etymology is rooted in "breath" (similar to Biblical or Kabbalistic nefesh) and is common to virtually all archaic psychologies where the act of breathing was connected with life, animating otherwise lifeless object. In this respect, ancient notions of "Atman" in Hinduism (cf. German noun "Atem", breath, respiration) or Greek "pneuma" (as well as Latin "spiritus")-all equate the basic visible process of breathing with energizing principle that confers existence to an individual human being. Some Sufis consider under the term "Nafs" the entirety of psychological processes, encompassing whole mental, emotional and volitional life; however, the majority of Quranic-based Sufis are of the opinion that Nafs is a "lower", egotistical and passionate human nature which, along with Tab (literally, physical nature), comprises vegetative and animal aspects of human life. Synonyms for Nafs are devil, passion, greed, avarice, ego-centeredness etc. The central aim of the Sufi path is transformation of Nafs (technical term is "Tazkiya-I-Nafs"' or "purgation of the soul'") from its deplorable state of ego-centredness through various psycho-spiritual stages to the purity and submission to the will of God. Although the majority of the Sufi orders have adopted convenient 7 maqams (maqams are permanent stages on the voyage towards spiritual transformation), and some still operate with 3 stages, the picture is clear: the Sufi’s journey begins with Nafs-e-Ammara (self-accusing soul), Nafs-e-lawwama, and ends in Nafs-e-Mutma’inna (satisfied soul)-although some Sufis’s final stage is, in their technical vocabulary, Nafs-I-Safiya wa Kamila (soul restful and perfected in God’s presence). In essence, this is almost identical to Christian paradigm of "vita purgativa" and various stages the spiritual aspirant traverses in the journey towards God.


The second faculty is located in the left of Chest & is associated with red color. In Latifa-e-Qalbi man witnesses his deeds. By awakening it man also gets the knowledge of the realm of Jins.

The word Qalb, stands for heart. In Sufi terminology, this spiritual heart (not to be confused with the blood pumping organ) is again variously described. For some, it is the seat of beatific vision. Others consider it the gate of Ishq or Divine love. Yet, for the majority, it is the battleground of two warring armies: those of Nafs and Ruh or spirit. Here, one again encounters terminological confusion: for the Sufis influenced by Neoplatonism, a "higher" part of Nafs is equated to the Aql or intellect (called Nafs-I-Natiqa) or "rational soul" and is the central active agent in spiritual battle: Ruh or spirit, notwithstanding its name, is rather passive in this stage. In short, cleansing of the Qalb or heart is a necessary spiritual discipline for travellers on the Sufi path. The term for this process is Tazkiah-I-Qalb and the aim is the erasure of everything that stands in the way of purifying God’s love or Ishq.

Qalb & Nafs form the “Rooh-e-haivani” (Animal Soul). This part of the soul has the record of every activity of life. It is also termed as Joviya (Confluence).


The third faculty is ruh, located in the center of the chest & color is green. After its activation the human gets acquainted with Alam-e-Aaraf (the place where man resides after death).

Ruh or spirit is the second contender in the battle for human life. Again, opinions on Ruh differ among Sufis. Some deem it coeternal with God; others consider it a created entity. Be that as it may, Ruh is the plateau of consensus for the majority of Sufis, especially the early ones (before 11th/12th century C.E.). For those Sufis with Gnostic leanings (which can be found in Bektashi or Mevlevi orders), Ruh is a soul-spark, immortal entity and transegoic "true self", similar to the Christian concepts of "synteresis" or "Imago Dei", or Vedantist notion of "jiva", as well as Tibetan Buddhist "shes-pa", principle of consciousness and Taoist "shen" or spirit. But, the majority of the Sufis would consider this an unnecessarily extravagant speculation and would stick to the more orthodox notion of dormant spiritual faculty that needs to be worked upon by constant vigil and prayer in order to achieve the Tajliyya-I-Ruh, or Illumination of the spirit. Ironically, this spiritual faculty is frequently referred to in terms one encounters in connection with Nafs- "blind" life force or life current that needs to be purified by strict religious observances in order to achieve illumination.


The forth faculty is Sirr, located at the right side of the chest & is associated with white color. It records the orders of Allah for the individual in similitude to that which is originally present in Loh-e-mehfooz (Preserved Scripturum). After its activation, human being gets acquainted with Aalam-e-Misal (The Allegorical realm - Reflection of knowledge of the preserved Scripturum.)

Sirr, literally means "the secret". Emptying of the Sirr (Taqliyya-I-Sirr) is basically focusing on God’s names and attributes in perpetual remembrance or Dhikr, hence diverting one’s attention from the mundane aspects of human life and fixing it on the spiritual realm. The "emptying" signifies negation and obliteration of ego-centred human propensities.

Sirr & Rooh form “Rooh-e-Insani (Human soul) or Ayan. This part of the soul is inscribed with commands characterizing the life. It is also termed as Ayan. When a human being gets acquainted with it, he can witness the record & scheme of “all that exists”, written on loh-e-mahfooz.


It is located in the middle of eyebrows & associated with blue color. It’s the equivalent of Kitab-e-Marqoom (the written book).

The term Khafi means mysterious, arcane or Latent Subtlety.


The term Akhfa means most arcane, deeply mysterious or obscure Subtlety. It is located above the head & is associated with violet color. It’s the Nuqta-e-wahida (point of unity) in every human where the Tajalliat (Beatific visions) of Allah are directly revealed. It has got recorded information about the hidden knowledge of universe. By entering into this point, the human being enters the system of universe & laws governing the universe & he understands the meaning of “ for you we(allah) have revealed whatever is in the earth & the heavens “.

Akhfa & khafa form “Rooh-e-azam” (the great soul), also called sabita. It is a bright ring of light in which all the information pertaining to the unseen & seen cosmos are inscribed. The Attributes of God that have been transferred to the existents and have become parts of the mechanism of the universe are collectively known as the Incumbent Knowledge (Ilm-e-wajib). The knowledge of Incumbent means that knowledge that has been transferred to the existents, that is, it refers to those Attributes of God with which existents enjoy an affinity and correlation. The Knowledge of Incumbent is also known as the Knowledge of the Pen (Ilm-e-Qalum}.

First Descent is that state when God exhibited the program present in His Mind as He Willed. The creative formulae of the cosmos are the secrets of the First Descent. Why did God opt to create the universe and what is the Will of God, which He intends to accomplish? Reflection of all these things is found in the Great Soul; The Firmly Affixed Inscription. One side of Great Soul is the Obscure Subtlety (akhfa) and the other side is the Latent Subtlety (khafi) Great Soul is the storehouse of eleven thousand Beatific Visions of God. The person, who manages to have the acquaintance of these two subtleties, can observe these eleven thousand Beatific Visions. It will not be out of place to remind that these two subtleties of akhfa and khafi are found in every human being irrespective of the fact that who he is, what he is or to where does he belong.

So, in these six "organs" or faculties: Nafs, Qalb, Ruh, Sirr, Khafi & Akhfa, and the purificative activities applied to them, the basic orthodox Sufi psychology is contained. The purification of elementary passionate nature (Tazkiya-I-Nafs), followed by cleansing of the spiritual heart so that it may acquire a mirror-like purity of reflection (Tazkiya-I-Qalb) and become the receptacle of God’s love (Ishq), illumination of the spirit (Tajjali-I-Ruh), fortified by emptying of egoic drives (Taqliyya-I-Sirr) and remembrance of God’s attributes (Dhikr), & completion of journey with purification of the last two faculties, Khafi & Akhfa. Through these "organs" or faculties the transformative results from their activation, the basic Sufi psychology is outlined and bears some resemblance to the schemata known as the kabbalah or to some the Indian chakra system.

It is important to mention that “ Great Soul ”, “ Human Soul “ & “ Animal Soul “ are actually “levels of functioning” of the same soul & not three different souls. These three parts of soul are like three rings of light infused in one another and are collectively called the soul, the indivisible entity, Lord’s edict of simply the man. Man gets acquainted with them one by one by Muraqaba ( Sufi Meditation ) , Dzikr ( Remembrance of God ) & purification of one’s psyche/life from negative thinking patterns (fear, depression), negative emotions (hate, contempt, anger, lust) & negative practices (hurting others psychologically or physically). Loving God & loving/helping every human being irrespective of his race, religion or nationality, and without consideration for any possible reward, is the key to ascension according to Sufis.

Related articles

External links



  • SufiBlog  ( forums & online Spiritual Magazine of Sufi Meditation (Muraqaba) and Healing
  • Forums Sufi (

Online resources


  • Moon.Over.Medina ( A Sufi Bookstore
  • Sufi Coffee Shop ( Center of Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Sufi Order's publications in greater San Jose, CA area.
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  • Islamic texts society (
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Scholars/Imams on tasawuf

Audio files about Sufism

de:Sufismus el:Μεβλεβί Ντερβίς es:Sufismo eo:Sufiismo fr:Soufisme he:סופיות nl:Soefisme ja:スーフィズム pl:Sufizm pt:Sufismo ru:Суфизм


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