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Origins

In Basra

  • Al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 728 C.E.) (see above)
  • Sahl ibn Abdallah al-Tustari (d. 896 C.E.) wrote treatises of Sufism and also Quranic commentary. This was especially important in debates surrounding the interpretation of apparently anthropomorphic verses of the Quran. For example, in one verse in which God is said to be seated on a throne, Al-Tustari claimed that the verse described a divine act that should not be questioned in a literal sense because "reason alone cannot explain One [God] Who is without beginning and without end being upon a throne. God built the Throne as a sign and as tidings for us so that hearts should be guided to Him . . . He did not require the hearts to obtain knowledge of its exact nature. Therefore it is impermissible to ask 'how?' The believer must only accept and submit."
  • Rabia al-Adawiya lived during the 8th century C.E., and is one of the most famous female Sufis in history. She is most well known for her asceticism, and stories about her conversation with Al-Hasan al-Basri seem to indicate that in some ways, he was her disciple. In a very popular story, she is said to have carried a pail of water and a hammer-like tool, claiming that she wanted to douse the fires of hell and raze heaven, so that the worship of God be unfettered by either fear of the former or hope of the latter.

In Tirmidh

  • Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi (d. 910 C.E.) was a prolific scholar and much of his work on saints and mysticism has survived. He is said to have written over sixty books.

These regional exemplars depict the various aspects of Islamic mysticism (Gnosticism, renunciation of physical comfort, poverty) that were characteristic of the Sufi movement in its earliest stages. Later Sufis who were also respected and well-established intellectuals and scholars, like Al-Ghazali or Ibn 'Arabi (13th century), elaborated upon a vast tradition that was much more developed by their lifetimes. In these foundational figures are the roots of the practice and belief in cultivating outer poverty in exchange for spiritual well being, a notion, which some say originated with the Prophet and his earliest followers, that formed the basis of later mystical thought.

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