The term "Sufi" derives from three Arabic letters sa, wa and fa. There have been many opinions on the reason for its origin from sa wa fa. The most frequently cited in Western dictionnaries suggests the Arabic word "suf" meaning "wool" in the sense of "cloak", referring to the simple cloaks the original Sufis wore. Some initiates are given a specially designed, colored wool vest which is symbolic of the woolen robes of poverty worn by ancient dervishes, and signifies the loving commitment of the dervish to serve humanity. The Sufis use letters of words to express hidden meanings, and so the word could also be understood as "enlightenment". According to some the word is derived from safa which means purity. According to another view it is derived from the Arabic verb safwe which means "those who are selected" - a meaning quoted frequently in Sufi literature.
The problem with understanding Sufism, is thus illustrated by the diversity of possible derivations of the word itself. There are many different Sufi movements, and many dimensions of Sufism. Although frequently characterized as the mystical component of Islam, there are also "Folklorist" Sufis, and the "Traditional" Sufis.
Sufis are "movements", within, and in a few extreme cases outside of mainstream Islam. Sufis in general, are complex, and cover many different "stripes" of Islam. Sufism started out as a Shia movement, but over the past several hundred years, has almost disappeared from Shia Islam, and is now, mainly a Sunni movement. Hanbalis, Shafis, Malikis and Hanafis can all belong to different Sufi "tariqas" or "brotherhoods, as they are called. In fact, the Islamic brotherhood in Egypt, and Al Qaeda, are both Sufi based movements.
The Traditional Sufis, are actually people like the Wahhabiyyah and Al Qaeda, who eschew that type of thing as apostasy, and instead, insist that Sufism is all an Internal (internal to an individual) movement/spiritualism, that should never adopt external/folkloric elements, like the Dervishes, etc.
Sufism is a movement of organized brotherhoods, who are grouped around a spiritual leader or sheik. There are no Islamic states which regard themselves as officially Sufi. Sufism is characterized by the veneration of local saints and by brotherhoods that practice their own rituals. Sufis organize themselves into "orders" or groups, called Tariqas. These groups are headed by a leader called a Shaykh who is considered the most spiritual man with the most Taqwa among them.
These orders emerged in the Middle East in the twelfth century in connection with the development of Sufism, a mystical current reacting to the strongly legalistic orientation of orthodox Islam. The orders first came to Sudan in the sixteenth century and became significant in the eighteenth. Sufism seeks for its adherents a closer personal relationship with God through special spiritual disciplines. The exercises (dhikr) include reciting prayers and passages of the Quran and repeating the names, or attributes, of God while performing physical movements according to the formula established by the founder of the particular order. Singing and dancing may be introduced. The outcome of an exercise, which lasts much longer than the usual daily prayer, is often a state of ecstatic abandon.
A mystical or devotional way (sing., tariqa; pl., turuq) is the basis for the formation of particular orders, each of which is also called a tariqa. The specialists in religious law and learning initially looked askance at Sufism and the Sufi orders, but the leaders of Sufi orders in Sudan have won acceptance by acknowledging the significance of the sharia and not claiming that Sufism replaces it.
The principal turuq vary considerably in their practice and internal organization. Some orders are tightly organized in hierarchical fashion; others have allowed their local branches considerable autonomy. Some are restricted to that country; others are widespread in Africa or the Middle East. Several turuq, for all practical purposes independent, are offshoots of older orders and were established by men who altered in major or minor ways the tariqa of the orders to which they had formerly been attached.
The four main Sufi orders are the Chishtiyya, the Naqshbandiyya, the Qadiriyya [Quaddiri] and the Mujaddiyya. Other orders include the Mevlevi, Bektashi, Halveti, Jerrahi, Nimatalahi, Rufi, and Noori. The Mawlawis, the whirling dervishes, are famous for their dancing ritual, an organized variation of earlier practices which were confined to music and poetry.
Three Sufi orders are prominent: the Naqshbandiya founded in Bokhara, the Qadiriya founded in Baghdad, and the Cheshtiya located at Chesht-i-Sharif east of Herat.
Among the Naqshbani, Ahmad al Faruqi Kabuli, born north of Kabul, acquired renown for his teachings in India during the reign of the Moghul Emperor Akbar in the sixteenth century. Sometime during the nineteenth century members of this family moved back to Kabul where they established a madrassa and a khanaqah in Shor Bazar which became a center of religious and political influence.
The Cheshtiya order was founded by Mawdid al-Cheshti who was born in the twelfth century and later taught in India. The Cheshtiya brotherhood, concentrated in the Hari Rud valley around Obe, Karukh and Chehst-i-Sharif, is very strong locally and maintains madrasas with fine libraries. Traditionally the Cheshtiya have kept aloof from politics, although they were effectively active during the resistance within their own organizations and in their own areas.
Many Iraqi Sunni Kurds belong to Sufi orders, of which the Qadiri and Naqshbandi are the largest. Both orders have followers across the Middle East, Central, and South Asia. A Qadiri Sufi shrine in Baghdad attracts annual transnational pilgrimages. While Sufi Islam has broad acceptance in Iraqi society, Sufism has frequently been viewed by orthodox Sunni Muslim theologians with some degree of suspicion because of its strong mystical components. Shia Muslims tend to be hostile towards Sufism because they believe it is heretical. Sufi orders serve to both strengthen and divide Kurdish society. Kurds of the same order feel a common bond, regardless of tribe. There is, however, tension between rival orders. Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), follows the Qadiri order. The Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), and the influential Barzani family are Naqshbandi Sufis.
The Tijaniyah (Tijaniyya) Order, founded in Morocco by Ahmad at-Tijani in 1781, extended the borders of Islam toward Senegal and Nigeria, and their representatives founded large kingdoms in West Africa. The Tijaniyah Order is strongly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which began in Egypt in the late 1920s and later spread throughout the Arab world. Hasan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 in Egypt, called for radical measures to bring about a return of Islamic government. The goal of the Muslim Brotherhood was the establishment of an Islamic state based on Shariah. It transcended the narrower sectarianism of the more traditional political parties. Moreover, the Brotherhood's superior organization made it a political force far stronger than its numbers might suggest. Many of the methods which made Sufism a succesfull occult underground helped the Muslim Brotherhood function effectively.
After World War II, the Muslim Brotherhood acquired a reputation as a radical group prepared to use violence to achieve its religious goals. The group was implicated in several assassinations, including the murder of one prime minister. The Brotherhood had contacts with the Free Officers in Egypt before the 1952 Revolution and supported most of their initial policies. The Brotherhood, however, soon came into conflict with Nasser. The government accused the Brotherhood of complicity in an alleged 1954 plot to assassinate the president and imprisoned many of the group's leaders. In the 1940s and early 1950s, the Muslim Brotherhood had appealed primarily to urban civil servants and white- and blue-collar workers. After the early 1970s, the Islamic revival attracted followers from a broad spectrum of social classes. In the 1970s, Anwar as Sadat amnestied the leaders and permitted them to resume some of their activities. But by that time, the Brotherhood was divided into at least three factions. The more militant faction was committed to a policy of political opposition to the government. A second faction advocated peaceful withdrawal from society and the creation, to the extent possible, of a separate, parallel society based upon Islamic values and law. The dominant moderate group advocated cooperation with the regime.
Bayat ("taking hand") is sanctioned by "Verily, those who give thee their allegiance, they give it but to Allah Himself" Quran 48:10. It is the initiation ceremony specific to many Sufi Orders. The Prophet Muhammad established this ceremony when he allowed his trusted companions to take his hand and commit themselves to vastly increase their love and loyalty to Allah and the Messenger: this is directly referred to in the Qur'an. Most Sufi Orders still practices some form of this sacred ceremony as a sacramental reenactment of the initiation offered by Prophet Muhammad to his companions. During the "taking hand" ceremony, the new dervish receives the blessings of the lineage, and a promise of spiritual protection along their life's journey.
Members of al-Qaeda take bayat [an oath of allegiance] to their sheik, Bin Laden, as an act of initiation. Al-Qaeda is a secret society without acclamation or public bayat to him. Bayat, the Arabic word for an oath of loyalty, means religious fealty or the submission more than personal allegiance. It means the link between the one making bayat, the shaykh and Prophet Muhammad (saws) is unbroken. This makes a Sufi connection possible during the solemn moment of taking bayat (pact) with the shaykh, who is the link in the chain - it connects to the chain and you become a recipient of the light of Muhammad (saws). Bayat is the ritual of accepting the shaykh as guide and coming under the protection of the lineage of the order. The number of actual members pledging bayat is unknown, but al-Qaida is said to have trained as many as 5000 militants in camps in Afghanistan and perhaps Indonesia.
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