Mysticism in Islam
The most widely used term for the Islamic mystical tradition is “ Sufism,” with its practitioners known as Sufis. The word “dervish” is also common. From the mid-eighth century, roughly one century after the rise of Islam, distinctly Sufi teachings were formulated in both the majority Sunni branch and among the Shi’a. The earliest regions of activity were Iraq and Khurasan, but Sufism quickly established itself throughout the Muslim world. From the twelfth century onward, various Sufi orders developed, each based on the teachings of a saintly founder. Sufism has balanced the literalist and exoteric impulses of the religion and, in the modern period, become a foil to Islamist and Wahhabi interpretations.
In the premodern period, as articulated in poetry, philosophy, and ethics, Sufism was often considered one of the “sciences” (Ar. ‘ulûm) of religion. Some grounding in this branch of knowledge was expected of...
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