A term that generally refers to Islamic mystics. Unlike most Muslims, who simply fulfill their religious duties by following the Five Pillars of Islam, Sufis are Muslims who also (roughly) work to achieve a direct mystical union with God.

There are many conflicting stories about the origin of the word "Sufi"; for example, the name has been associated with the Arabic word for "wool" or, according to Sufi teacher Idries Shah, linked to a meditation-word used by Sufis ("SUF").

Sufi teaching practices are similar to Zen Buddhism in many ways. For example, Sufis often emphasize that their teachings are often nonverbal and require direct transmission from master to student in face-to-face situations. Again, like Zen, Sufi teaching stories and poems can be deliberately paradoxical, humorous, crude, or even heretical (by Islamic standards).

Unlike Zen Buddhism, which usually relies on several traditional teaching methods--the monastic lifestyle, meditation, and the posing of koans--Sufis seem to use a wider range of teaching methods, including meditiation, chanting, various rituals (including the dance of the Whirling Dervishes), and anything else that a Sufi master devises.

I would like to add that properly, Sufis still fulfill the religious duties delineated in the Five Pillars. Sufism implies additional methods used to get closer to God. Sufis still should perform Salat like all other Muslims, for example. They still pay the Zakat and perform their religious duties. Hamza Yusuf said that the Sufis always had a fine tradition of being hard on themselves and easy on everyone else. Unfortunately, he goes on to say, the disease of this age is that Muslims are frequently easy on themselves and hard on everyone else.

The false Sufis, who abandon the Sunnah, are people of deviation within the ummah.

From http://www.haqq.com.au/~salam/sufishar/sufishar.html:

The Shari`ah is of fundamental importance to the Sufi path. This point is very strongly made by the great Naqshbandi Sufi, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (also known as Imam ar-Rabbani), in his letters. Here is a small excerpt from one of his letters, where he clarifies this topic: 

The Shari`ah has three parts: knowledge, action, and sincerity of motive (ikhlas); unless you fulfil the demands of all these parts, you do not obey the Shari`ah. And when you obey the Shari`ah you obtain the pleasure of God, which is the most supreme good in this world and the Hereafter. The Qur'an says: "The pleasure of God is the highest good." Hence, the Shari`ah comprehends all the good of this world and the next, and nothing is left out for which one has to go beyond the Shari`ah. 

The tariqah ("way") and the haqiqah ("reality") for which the Sufis are known, are subservient to the Shari`ah, as they help to realize its third part, namely, sincerity. Hence they are sought in order to fulfil the Shari`ah, not to achieve something beyond the Shari`ah. The raptures and ecstasies which the Sufis experience, and the ideas and truths which come to them in the course of their journey, are not the goal of Sufism. They are rather myths and fancies on which the children of Sufism are fed. One has to pass over them all and reach the stage of satisfaction (rida) which is the final goal of suluk ("travelling", i.e. the Sufi path) and jadhbah ("overwhelming love"). The purpose of traversing the stages of of tariqah and haqiqah is nothing other than the realisation of ikhlas which involves the attainment of rida. Only one out of a thousand Sufis is graced with the three illuminations (tajalliyat sih ganah) and gnostic visions, given ikhlas and elevated to the stage of rida.

(Quoted from "Sufism and Shari`ah: A study of Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi's Effort to Reform Sufism," by Muhammad Abdul Haq Ansari, pp. 221-2. Originally from Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi's letters, Vol. I:36.) 
The majority of undereducated Arab Muslims are under the impression that Sufi means wearing wool or has something to do with wool, since Sufi sounds like Soof which translates to wool, it is not true. According to Sufi sources the word Sufi is derived from the 3 letter Arabic root verb S'F'A, meaning to purify. Purifying the heart and soul is all over Sufi teaching. It is also worth mentioning that a huge number of hot shot philosophers in Muslim ruled Spain upgraded them selves to Sufisim in their later lives. According to Islamic history Sufis were hugely responsible for spreading Islam so fast and so far in Africa and Asia during the 10th century. Sufis have a huge popularity in East Asia, especially Indonesia and India, breaking the age old belief that Islam was spread by the sword.

Sufis follow the teachings of Mohammed and perform the 5 pillars. There is nothing mystical about it, except for their philosophical stories that are told to children at an early age. Modern day scholars consider these stories to be heretical, especially if the fictional story has anything to do with having a conversation with god in judgement day. Want a famous Sufi Philosopher? how about Al Ghazali.

Su"fi (?), n. [From the name of a dynasty of Persian kings, Safi, Safavi; said to come from name Safi-ud-din of an ancestor of the family, confused with sfi pious.]

A title or surname of the king of Persia.

 

© Webster 1913.


Su"fi, n. [Ar. & Per. sfi, wise, pious, devout.]

One of a certain order of religious men in Persia.

[Written also sofi.]

 

© Webster 1913.

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