Missions and Expansion

Part of what characterizes Sufism is its adaptability to various intellectual influences and its absorption of regional cultures. Sufi Islam is practiced in Iran, the Arab world, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Morocco, Turkey, and many parts of Europe and the United States. Sufism is also practiced in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia.


The shrines of the Sufi saints are common sites of celebration and prayer, and it is at these sites that local cultic and venerative practices meld with Sufi doctrine. Local cultural traditions, especially musical ones, also permeate various Sufi saint-day celebrations. In India, for example, the tomb of Moinuddin Shishti attracts Hindu and Muslim pilgrims. It has long been argued by scholars and advocates of Sufism alike that Sufism contributed to the spread of Islam in South Asia by forming cultural alliances between Muslims and other religious communities. Nizamuddin Awliya, a Sufi saint whose shrine is in Delhi was famous for his advanced practice of Yoga. This type of cultural adaptation was bidirectional: Ramanand, a Hindu religious preacher was likewise influenced by Sufism, and one of his disciples claimed that both religions revered the same God.


Sufi literature flourished in Persia, especially in the poetry of Jalal al-din Rumi, a Persian poet who died in 1273 CE. Although Rumi's works were written in Persian, his importance to the Sufi literary tradition goes beyond regional or linguistic boundaries. His poetry has gone on to influence poetry in multiple languages, including Urdu and Punjabi, and languages in Central Asia. Rumi's work is so widely known and translated that he has been described as the "most popular poet in America" in 2007. His six-volumes of Spiritual Couplets, the al-Mathnawi Ma'nawi, sometimes simply called the "Masnavi" contains nearly thirty thousand lines. While he wrote about many themes, love and the communication with the Beloved (God) was one of the most prevalent. This poem, the Call of Love illustrates the principle that love is the principle by which one attains union with God:

At every instant and from every side, resounds the call of Love:
We are going to sky, who wants to come with us?
We have gone to heaven, we have been the friends of the angels,
And now we will go back there, for there is our country.
We are higher than heaven, more noble than the angels:
Why not go beyond them? Our goal is the Supreme Majesty.
What has the fine pearl to do with the world of dust?
Why have you come down here? Take your baggage back. What is this place?
Luck is with us, to us is the sacrifice!...
Like the birds of the sea, men come from the ocean--the ocean of the soul.
Like the birds of the sea, men come from the ocean--the ocean of the soul.
How could this bird, born from that sea, make his dwelling here?
No, we are the pearls from the bosom of the sea, it is there that we dwell:
Otherwise how could the wave succeed to the wave that comes from the soul?
The wave named 'Am I not your Lord' has come, it has broken the vessel of the   body;
And when the vessel is broken, the vision comes back, and the union with Him.

(Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch, 'Rumi and Sufism' trans. Simone Fattal, Sausalito, CA: Post-Apollo Press, 1977, 1987.)


In addition to poetry, music is also a major feature of regionally varied Sufi practice. The Sufi tradition of kawali was influenced by the classical music of the Indian subcontinent. The recently deceased Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was from Pakistan, where Sufi musicians and singers continue his tradition of singing praises to God accompanied by music.

North Africa:

In North Africa, Sufism was brought by the Rifa'i tariqa from Syria. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Sufism grew in Egypt and in North-West Africa, including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Muslim Spain. In Tunisia a group known as the Shadhaliyya was established and still has followers in North Africa. Likewise the Egyptian tariqa, named for a shaykh named al-Badawi, continues today and has thousands of adherents. The Shadhaliyya even has numerous adherents in Europe and the United States.

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