What Is 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. 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. 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. 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.


Main articles: Sufi metaphysics and What Is “Unity of Being” (Wahdat al-Wujud)?

Sufi gathering engaged in dhikr

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’. The concept of Sufi Metaphysics was first deeply discussed in written form by Ibn Arabi in one of his most prolific works entitled Fusus al hikam 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)”.


Main article: Sufi cosmology

Sufi cosmology (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 Neoplatonicviews 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 In Islamic Sufi terminology, these are also known as “Tanzalat-e-Satta” (7 steps). After Husayn ibn Ali, Abu Saeed Mubarak Makhzoomi was the one who discussed these levels in his Arabic book called Tohfa Mursala.


Main article: Lataif-e-sitta

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.

Subtle bodies

Ruh (spirit)

Main article: Ruh

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. Also it is stated in hadith Qudsi that “Whoever recognizes his self, undoubtedly, recognized his Allah”. 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.

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”.

Spiritual states


Main article: Hal and Maqam (State and Station)

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.


Main articles: Putting an End to a Long Journey, Another Way of Journeying and Initiation, and Safar (Journeying)

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.


Main article: Hal and Maqam (State and Station)

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.

Concepts in Gnosis


Fana Fi’llah (Annihilation in God)
Fanaa is the Sufi term for extinction. It means to annihilate the self and realize the God, while remaining physically alive. 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.


Main article: Baqa Bi’llah (Subsistence with God)

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.


Main article: Yaqin (Certainty)

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.

Other concepts


Main articles: Haqiqat and Haqq (the Truth), Haqiqa (the Genuine) and What Lies Beyond

Haqiqa or Haqiqat is the Sufi term for the supreme Truth or absolute Reality.


Main article: Ma’rifat

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.


Main article: Ihsan (Perfect Goodness)

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.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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