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Sufism: The Essentials

Mark J. Sedgwick
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 132
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    For more than a millennium, Sufism has been the core of the spiritual experience of countless Muslims. As the chief mystical tradition of Islam, it has helped to shape the history of Islamic societies. Although it is the Sufi face of Islam that has often appealed to Westerners, Sufis and Sufism remain mysterious to many in the West, and are still widely misunderstood. In this new, redesigned paperback edition of this bestselling book, a scholar with long experience of Sufism in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Europe succinctly presents the essentials of Sufism and shows how Sufis live and worship, and why. As well as what Sufism is and where it comes from, the book discusses Sufi orders not only in the Islamic world but also in the West. The political, social, and economic significance of Sufism is outlined, and the question of how and why Sufism has become one of the more controversial aspects of contemporary Islamic religious life is addressed. This book assumes no prior knowledge of the subject. It is a penetrating and concise introduction for everyone interested in Islam and Islamic societies.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-265-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-x)

    In the West, there is a real and growing interest in Sufism, one of the world’s most widespread and important religious paths. The beauty of the poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi, the most popular Sufi author in translation, is clear to all, but the real nature of Sufism is not well known. Many of the best-selling Western texts on Sufism present a version of Sufism which is very different from that found in the Muslim world for at least the last millennium. These works often portray Sufism as something separate from Islam, which is simply not the case. While this...

  4. Chapter 1 What is Sufism and where does it come from?
    (pp. 1-12)

    Nobody is entirely sure why Sufis are called Sufis. The etymology of the Arabic wordsûfiis unclear. It may come fromsûf, wool; there is a theory that a group of especially devoted followers of the Prophet Muhammad wore woollen cloaks, which were in those days cheaper and less comfortable than those in general use. Alternatively, the word may come fromsuffa, a raised platform or step, and refer to a group of particularly devoted Muslims who used to assemble on a platform outside the house of the Prophet. There are several other theories, none of them much more...

  5. Chapter 2 How to be a Sufi
    (pp. 13-32)

    Anyone can be a Sufi, whether rich or poor. Sufism in the twentieth century is certainly found more frequently in villages than in cities, and university graduates are rarely Sufis, but this was not always so. In the eighteenth century, almost any Islamic scholar or dignitary would be a Sufi, and an attack on Sufism was an attack on the religious elite. In the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid was not only a Sufi but an enthusiastic patron of Sufism, partly because he saw Sufism as a counter-weight to the various new trends which would soon lead to...

  6. Chapter 3 The orders
    (pp. 33-52)

    All Sufi orders since the eleventh century have been named after one of a small number of great shaykhs. These shaykhs may not have actually established the orders named after them in an organizational sense, but in each case an order emerged from the group of followers who were left on their death. Generations of shaykhs and ordinary Sufis have since acted in the name of one of these shaykhs and on the particular pattern he established. It can never be established with total certainty that the great shaykh from whom an order derives was awali, but it is...

  7. Chapter 4 Friends, warriors, and merchants
    (pp. 53-60)

    Sufism has, so far, been considered solely as a religious path. In its essence, intention, and purpose, this is what Sufism is, but in practice it can be and has been other things as well. Mention has already been made of Sufis’ commercial activities. In addition to economic significance, Sufism has often had, and sometimes still has, military, political, and social significance.

    In the first part of the twentieth century, one of the best-known Sufi orders in the West was the Sanusiya, an order which played an important role in French and Italian colonial history. Ironically, it is now becoming...

  8. Chapter 5 Whose orthodoxy?
    (pp. 61-76)

    As has been remarked, particularly in the nineteenth century, Western scholars frequently placed Sufism in opposition to Islamic orthodoxy. From a purely historical point of view, this is incorrect. Muslims, too, have denied the orthodoxy of Sufism, however, particularly in the twentieth century, but also in earlier periods. Sufis have always had to deal with opposition, perhaps inevitably given their position as a sort of minority within Islam. Minorities everywhere attract opposition, if only because they are different, and differences from any norm tend to produce tension with that norm.

    Sufis are perhaps lucky that Islam is in general a...

  9. Some of the Hikam of Ibn ‘Ata Allah
    (pp. 77-80)
  10. Glossary
    (pp. 81-84)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 85-90)