The term sufi (Arabic: mystic) is likely based on the root suf (wool), recalling the simple woolen garments worn by ascetics. Sufism is often seen as an unorthodox type of Islamic mysticism.
Some might idealize Sufis as itinerant holy men wandering through remote deserts, in actual fact Sufism became an organized movement around the 7th and 8th centuries. Their organization was mostly a reaction to the Middle-Eastern Umayyad dynasty, known for its worldliness.
The well-known Dervish orders arose in India around the 12th and 13th centuries. These emphasized ecstatic states and remained influential until recently.
The prominent Sufi Al-Hallaj (CE 858-922) advocated a mystical union of the individual soul with God. Like many who threaten the worldly minded, he was branded a heretic, imprisoned and later executed.
The essence of Sufism might best be expressed by the 13th-century and still popular poet Jala ud-Din Rumi. Rumi’s verse can be found in New Age bookstores and his message prefigures Joseph Campbell‘s dictum of follow your bliss.
On the Web
- “Sufi” keyword search » Earthpages.org
- Excellent entry at Wikipedia
- Good info at http://ias.org, a site for non-sectarian and non-denominational Muslims (thanks to Buzz Kill for this link)