Sufi philosophy

Sufi philosophy includes the schools of thought unique to Sufism, a mystical branch within Islam, also termed as Tasawwuf or Faqr according to its adherents. Sufism and its philosophical traditions may be associated with both Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. It has been suggested that Sufi thought emerged from the Middle East in the eighth century, but adherents are now found around the world.[1] According to Sufism, it is a part of the Islamic teaching that deals with the purification of inner self and is the way which removes all the veils between divine and man. It was around 1000 CE that early Sufi literature, in the form of manuals, treatises, discourses and poetry, became the source of Sufi thinking and meditations. Sufi philosophy, like all other major philosophical traditions, has several sub-branches including metaphysics and cosmology as well as several unique concepts.


The emergence of Sufi thought is commonly linked to the historical developments of the Middle East in the seventh and eighth centuries following the life of Prophet Muhammad, and its development took place throughout the centuries after that. Between the tenth and twelfth centuries, Sufism became a widely spread discipline. One influential early writer on Sufi philosophy was Al-Ghazali (1058–1111). He discussed the concept of the self and the causes of its misery and happiness. By the end of the thirteenth century, Sufism had become a well-defined science of spiritual awakening throughout the Islamic World, an "Islamic Golden Age". No important domain in the civilization of Islam remained unaffected by Sufism in this period. Several tariqahs (Sufi orders) were found. Also a class of notable Sufi philosophers, theologians and jurists such as Hankari, Ibn Arabi, Abu Saeed Mubarak Makhzoomi, led this age who trained and generated historical specimens of philosophers and geniuses now read worldwide such as Al-Ghazali, Avicenna, etc.[2] An important mark made in the history of Sufi philosophy has been made by Abdul Qadir Jilani with his jurisprudence and philosophy of Sufism that made him define the Sufi orders.[3] Jilani's adopted order was Qadiriyya and the offshoot he started later became known as Sarwari Qadiri. Several other orders were also founded in this era. Sufis were influential in spreading Islam particularly to the furthest outposts of the Muslim world in Africa, India and the far East.


Major ideas in Sufi metaphysics have surrounded the concept of Wahdat or "Unity with God". Two main Sufi philosophies prevail on this controversial topic. Wahdat-ul-Wujood (Unity of Being) essentially states that the only truth within the universe is God, and that all things exist within God only. Wahdat-ul-Shuhud(Apparentism, or Unity of Witness), on the other hand, holds that any experience of unity between God and the created world is only in the mind of the believer and that God and his creation are entirely separate. It is the state where there is no difference between God and human being who is trying to achieve a particular state i.e. 'No One Except God'.[4] The concept of Sufi Metaphysics was first deeply discussed in written form by Ibn Arabi[5] in one of his most prolific works entitiledFusus al hikam[6] where he applies deep analysis on the issue of Oneness through the metaphor of mirror. In this metaphor, al-Arabi compares an object being reflected in countless mirrors to the relationship between God and his creatures. God’s essence is seen in the existent human being, as God is the object and humans being the mirrors. Meaning two things, that since humans are mere reflections of God there can be no distinction or separation between the two and without God the creatures would be non- existent. When an individual understands that there is no separation between human and God they begin on the path of ultimate oneness. This metaphysics of Sufi philosophy is also narrated in the hadith: "Whoever recognized his self, undoubtedly recognized his Rab(Allah)".[7]


Sufi cosmology (Arabic: الكوزمولوجية الصوفية‎) is a general term for cosmological doctrines associated with the mysticism or Sufism. These may differ from place to place, order to order and time to time, but overall show the influence of several different cosmographies such as the Quran's testament concerning God and immaterial beings, the soul and the afterlife, the beginning and end of things, the seven heavens etc.; the Neoplatonic views cherished by Islamic philosophers like Ibn Sina / Avicenna and Ibn Arabi or; the Hermetic-Ptolemaic spherical geocentric world. The cosmological plan, explains creation by successive emanation of worlds, as taught by Plotinus[8] In Islamic Sufi terminology, these are also known as "Tanzalat-e-Satta" (6 steps). After Husayn ibn Ali, Abu Saeed Mubarak Makhzoomi was the one who discussed these levels in his Arabic book called Tohfa Mursala.[9]


Drawing from Qur'anic verses, virtually all Sufis distinguish Lataif-as-Sitta ("the six subtleties") as: Nafs, Qalb, Sirr, Ruh, Khafi, and Akhfa. These lataif (singular: latifa) designate various psycho spiritual "organs" or, sometimes, faculties of sensory and suprasensory perception. They are thought to be parts of the self in a similar manner to the way glands and organs are part of the body.[10]

Subtle bodies

Ruh (spirit)

Some mystics named ruh as “batin” or “the esoteric self” or “qalb”. The Sufi, mostly believes in a strong soul as it brings him close to Divine. Soul is strengthened by the spiritual training given by the perfect spiritual guide. This eventually leads to the nearness to Allah.[11] Also it is stated in hadith Qudsi that "Whoever recognizes his self, undoubtedly, recognized his Allah".[12] Hence, death is not the end but in fact it is the beginning to the eternal life which is only endowed to the soul and not to the body.


Nasma is the Sufi term for the subtle or Astral Body. It is not to be confused with the Ruh (spirit) which transcends both nasma and physical form.[13]

Physical body

Sufism demarcates the physical body from the Nasma. According to Sufi beliefs, physical body is a reflection of spiritual body or ‘batin’ or ‘ruh’, as also stated in one of the famous hadiths of Prophet Mohammad ,”Actions are but by intentions”.[14]

Spiritual states


A haal is a state of consciousness, generally a product of spiritual practices, recognized in Sufism. Each haal (state) is associated with a maqaam (station) of along the spiritual path.[15]


A Manzil which literally means destination, is a terminology in Sufism, is a plane of consciousness. There are seven Manzils along the path to God. The Manzils are also parts of the Qur'an which help in protecting on sorcery.[16]


A maqaam is one's spiritual station or developmental level, as distinct from one's haal, or state of consciousness. This is seen as the outcome of one's effort to transform oneself, whereas the haal is a gif.[17]

Concepts in Gnosis


Fanaa is the Sufi term for extinction. It means to annihilate the self and realize the God, while remaining physically alive.[18] Persons having entered this state are said to have no existence outside of, and be in complete unity with Allah. The nature of Fanaa consists of the elimination of evil deeds and lowly attributes of the flesh. In other words, Fana is abstention from sin and the expulsion from the heart of all love other than the Divine Love;expulsion of greed, lust, desire, vanity, show, etc. In the state of Fanaa the reality of the true and only relationship asserts itself in the mind. One realizes that the only real relationship is with Allah.


A person's baqaa, which literally means "permanency", is a term in Sufi philosophy which describes a particular state of life with God and is a manzil or adobe that comes after the station of fanaa. Inayat Khan writes in his book A Sufi message of spiritual liberty, "The ideal perfection, called Baqa by Sufis, is termed 'Najat' in Islam, 'Nirvana' in Buddhism, 'Salvation' in Christianity, and 'Mukhti' in Hinduism. This is the highest condition attainable, and all ancient prophets and sages experienced it, and taught it to the world. Baqa is the original state of God. At this state every being must arrive some day, consciously or unconsciously, before or after death. The beginning and end of all beings is the same, difference only existing during the journey.[19]


Yaqeen is generally translated as "certainty", and is considered the summit of the many maqaams (stations) by which the path of walaya (sometimes translated as Sainthood) is fully completed.[20]

Other concepts


Haqiqa or Haqiqat is the Sufi term for the supreme Truth or absolute Reality.[21][22]


Marifa (or alternatively 'marifah') literally means knowledge or recognition. According to mysticism, the truth behind creation of man and essence of all prayers is the recognition of Allah. The term is used by Sufi Muslims to describe mystical intuitive knowledge, knowledge of spiritual truth as reached through ecstatic experiences rather than revealed or rationally acquired.[23]


Ihsan is an Arabic term meaning "perfection" or "excellence." Ihsan is the goal or aim of Sufi practices and is achieved when a seeker surrender and submit himself completely to the will of Allah.[24][25]


  1. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica 2005
  2. ^ Brague, Rémi. The Legend of the Middle Ages. ISBN 9780226070803.
  3. ^ Biographical encyclopaedia of sufis: central asia and middle east, Vol 2. Hanif N. Sarup and Sons. (2002) ISBN 81-7625-266-2, 9788176252669.
  4. ^ tauheed pg,426.
  5. ^ Ibn al-'Arabi, Muhyi al-Din (1164–1240)
  6. ^ Chittick, William C. "Ebn al-‘ArabiMohyi-al- Din Abu ‘Abd-Allah Mohammad Ta’IHatemi." Encyclopedia Iranica (1996): Web. 3 Apr 2011. <>
  7. ^ "Basics of Islam".
  8. ^ "Sufi Cosmology".
  9. ^ Tohfa Mursala by Abu Saeed Mubarak Makhzoomi. Archived from the original on 2016-05-18.
  10. ^ "Lataif-e-sitta".
  11. ^ "Ruh or Soul in the light of Sufism".
  12. ^ "Basics of Islam".
  13. ^ "Astral body".
  14. ^ "zahir o batin=physical and spiritual body". Archived from the original on 2015-09-24.
  15. ^ "haal".
  16. ^ "Manzil".
  17. ^ "Maqaam".
  18. ^ "Fana in Sufism". Britannica.
  19. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ stages of yaqeen.
  21. ^ "Haqiqah, Aboslute Truth".
  22. ^ John Baldock, The Essence of Suffism. Haqiqah.
  23. ^ "The Concept of Marifat".
  24. ^ M.Fethullah Gulen, Key Concepts in the Practice of Suffism. Ihsan.
  25. ^ William C.Chittick, Sufism:A Beginner’s Guide. ihsan.

Further reading

Arcs of Descent and Ascent

The Arcs of Descent and Ascent, an ontological circle, are described in Neoplatonism, as well as in Islamic and Sufi cosmology, mainly inspired by the works of Ibn al-Arabi. In the Arc of Descent ("qaws al-nuzuli"), from unity to diversity, God creates successively the Intellect (Supreme Pen), the Universal Soul (Guarded Tablet), Prime Matter, Nature, the Universal Body (including the imaginal world) and the Earth. The Arc of Ascent ("qaws al-su'ud") is the way back to the Presence of God, the process of spiritual perfection.In a hadith attributed to Ja'far al-Sadiq, the sixth Imam of Shi'i Islam, the arc of descent is described as having seven stages. These stages have been commented on in Shaykhism.


Baqaa (Arabic: بقاء‎ baqāʾ ), with literal meaning of subsistence or permanency, is a term in Sufi philosophy which describes a particular state of life with God, through God, in God, and for God. It is the summit of the mystical manazil, that is, the destination or the abode. Baqaa comprises three degrees, each one referring to a particular aspect of the divine theophanies as principle of existence and its qualitative evolution, consisting of faith, knowledge, and grace. It is the stage where the seeker finally gets ready for the constant vision of God. Hence, it can be termed as Divine Eternity.


A fakir, or faqir (; Arabic: فقیر‎ (noun of faqr)), derived from faqr (Arabic: فقر‎, "poverty") is a Sufi Muslim ascetic who has taken vows of poverty and worship, renouncing all relations and possessions. Fakirs are prevalent in the Middle East and South Asia. A fakir is thought to be self-sufficient and only possesses the spiritual need for God.Faqirs are characterized by their attachment to dhikr (a practice of repeating the names of God, often performed after prayers). Sufism gained adherents among a number of Muslims as a reaction against the worldliness of the early Umayyad Caliphate (661–750 CE). Though, Sufis have spanned several continents and cultures over a millennium, originally expressing their beliefs in Arabic, before spreading into Persian, Turkish, Indian languages and a dozen other languages.The term is also applied to Hindu ascetics (e.g., sadhus, gurus, swamis and yogis). These usages developed primarily in the Mughal era in the Indian subcontinent.

There is also a distinct clan of faqirs found in North India, descended from communities of faqirs who took up residence at Sufi shrines.


Haal or ḥāl (Arabic, meaning "state" or "condition", plural ahwal (aḥwāl)) is a special-purpose, temporary state of consciousness, generally understood to be the product of a Sufi's spiritual practices while on his way toward God.


Haqiqa (Arabic حقيقة‎ ḥaqīqa "truth") is one of "the four stages" in Sufism, shari’a (exoteric path), tariqa (esoteric path), haqiqa (mystical truth) and marifa (final mystical knowledge, unio mystica).


Hurufism (Arabic: حُرُوفِيَّة‎ ḥurūfiyyah) was a Sufi doctrine based on the mysticism of letters (ḥurūf), which originated in Astrabad and spread to areas of western Persia and Anatolia in the late 14th–early 15th century.


Not to be confused with western Identity theory.Identityism is the school of Sufi metaphysics of unity of being traditionally known as Wahdat-ul-Wujood or Wahdat al-wujud (Arabic: Literally, unity of existence) formulated by Ibn Arabi. Identityism is similar to monism in the west and nondualism and advaita vedanta in Hinduism.


In Sufism, ma'rifa (Arabic: معرفة‎, romanized: ma‘rifah, lit. 'knowledge') describes the mystical intuitive knowledge of spiritual truth reached through ecstatic experiences, rather than revealed or rationally acquired.

A seeker of ma'rifa is called 'arif, "the one who knows".In one of the earliest accounts of the Maqamat-l arba'in ("forty stations") in Sufism, Sufi master Abu Said ibn Abi'l-Khayr lists ma'rifa as the 25th station: "Through all the creatures of the two worlds, and through all the people, they perceive Allah, and there is no accusation to be made of their perception."Marifat is one of the "Four Doors" of Sufism:

Sharia (Arabic: شريعة‎) : legal path.

Tariqa (Arabic: طريقة‎) : methodico‑esoteric path.

Haqiqa (Arabic: حقيقة‎) : mystical truth / verity.

Ma'rifa (Arabic: معرفة‎) : mystical knowledge & awareness, mysticism.A metaphor to explain the meaning of ma'rifa involves pearl gathering. Shari'a is the boat; tariqa is represented by the pearl gatherer's rowing and diving; haqiqa is the pearl; and ma'rifa is the gift to see the true pearl perpetually.

Mast (Sufism)

A mast (pronounced "must"), in Sufi philosophy, is a person who is overwhelmed with love for God, accompanied with external disorientation resembling intoxication. The word was coined by Meher Baba and originates from the Sufi term mast-Allah meaning "intoxicated with God" from Persian mast, literally meaning "intoxicated." Another interpretation of its origin is that it is derived from masti, a Persian word meaning "overpowered."


Murāqabah (ar. to observe) refers to meditation in Sufi terminology. Through murāqbah a person watches over their (spiritual) heart and gains insight into the heart’s relation with its creator and its own surroundings. Murqābah is a core concept in commonly found ṭarīqas (ar. sufi orders). The objective of murāqbah is to purge one's base characters and develop lofty character in its place.


Nafs (نَفْس) is an Arabic word occurring in the Quran, literally meaning "self", and has been translated as "psyche", "ego" or "soul". In the Quran, the word is used in both the individualistic (verse 2:48) and collective sense (verse 4:1), indicating that although humanity is united in possessing the positive qualities of a nafs, they are individually responsible for exercising the agencies of the "free will" that it provides them.

Much of the popular literature on nafs, however, is focused on the Sufi conceptions of the term. According to the Sufi philosophies, the nafs in its unrefined state is "the ego", which they consider to be the lowest dimension of a person's inward existence — his animal and Satanic nature. Nafs is an important concept in the Islamic tradition, especially within Sufism and the discipline of gnosis (irfan) in Shia Islam.

Nūr (Islam)

Nūr (Arabic: النور‎) may refer to the "Light of God". The word "nūr'" is Arabic for "light", and has been passed on to many other languages. It is often used in the Quran, notably in a verse that states

has been the subject of much discussion. Many classical commentators on the Quran considered that this should be taken metaphorically, as in the sense that God illuminates the world with understanding, rather than literally. The Andalusian scholar Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi categorized nūr into different levels of understanding from the most profound to the most mundane. Shias believe nūr, in the sense of inner esoteric understanding, is inherited through the Imams, who in turn communicate it to the people.


Parvardegār or Parwardigār (پروردگار; Persian pronunciation: [pærˌværdeˈgɒːr], Urdu pronunciation: [ˌpərʋərd̪ɪˈgɑːr]) is an appellation or title for God in the Persian language. Its literal meaning is sustainer, a name metaphorically and attributively used for Khuda or God.

The word has Persian roots and comes from parva- meaning to foster, cherish, to nurture, to develop/care for. Digar, when applied in this sense, means "again and again." Thus Parvardigar means "to care again and again."


In Islamic philosophy, the qalb (Arabic: قلب‎), or heart, is the origin of intentional activities, the cause behind all of humans intuitive deeds. While the brain handles the physical impressions, qalb (the heart) is responsible for apprehending. Heart and brain work together, but it is the heart where true knowledge can be received.

In Islamic thought, the heart is not the seat of feelings and emotions, but of rūḥ (Arabic: روح‎): the immortal cognition, the rational soul.In the Quran, the word qalb is used more than 130 times.


In Islam, especially Sufism, rūḥ (Arabic: روح‎; plural arwah) is a person's immortal, essential self — pneuma, i.e. the "spirit" or "soul". The Quran itself does not describe rūḥ as the immortal self. Nevertheless, in some contexts, it animates inanimate matter. Further, it appears to be a metaphorical being, such as an angel. In one instance, rūḥ refers to Jesus. Further, the Quran refers to rūḥ as Ruh al-qudus (Arabic: روح القدس‎, "the holy spirit" or "spirit of holiness") and al-ruh al-amin ("the faithful/trustworthy spirit").

Outside the Quran, rūḥ may also refer to a spirit that roams the earth; a ghost.Among the al-Laṭaʾif as-sitta (Arabic: اللطائف الستة‎) it is the third purity.


A sālik is a follower of Sufism, from the verb salaka which means to travel or follow, related to sulūk "pathway". Sulūk here specifically refers to a spiritual path, i.e. the combination of the two "paths" that can be followed in religion, the exoteric path or shariah, and the esoteric path or haqiqa.

The "path" metaphor is derived from the Qur'an: see sura 16, (An-Nahl, The Bees), ayat 69:

faslukī subula rabbiki dhululan "and follow the ways of your Lord made easy [for you]", which uses the imperative of the verb salaka which means to follow or to travelA sālik is also called murid when one becomes a disciple to one particular spiritual teacher (murshid) or a Sufi master.

Sufi cosmology

Sufi cosmology (Arabic: الكوزمولوجية الصوفية‎) is a Sufi approach to cosmology which discusses the creation of man and the universe, which according to mystics are the fundamental grounds upon which Islamic religious universe is based. According to Sufi cosmology, God's reason for the creation of this cosmos and humankind is the "manifestation" and "recognition" of Himself as it is stated in Hadith Qudsi – "I was a hidden Treasure; I desired to be recognized so I created the creature".

Sufi psychology

There are three central ideas in Sufi Islamic psychology, which are the Nafs (self, ego or psyche), the Qalb (heart) and the Ruh (spirit). The origin and basis of these terms is Qur'anic and they have been expounded upon by centuries of Sufic commentaries.


Yaqeen (Arabic: یقین‎) is generally translated as "certainty", and is considered the summit of the many stations by which the path of walaya (sometimes translated as Sainthood) is fully completed. This is the repository of liberating experience in Islam. In relation to the exoteric religious life, certainty is the sister of religious life in its perfection (ehsân), that is, to say the adoration of Allah according to the visionary way; through this channel it is the pillar of Islam in the accomplishment of its external practices, as it is the foundation of faith (iman) in its internal dogma. It is, in fact, ihsân which gives the external religion its true meaning and the domain of faith its real values. It occurs in the Quran about certainty, "And worship your Lord until there comes to you the certainty". Certainty (yaqeen) comprises three degrees.

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