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1. Orientations
a. Figures
2. Koran
3. Theology
4. Concept of divine
5. Sharia
6. Muhammad
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8. Mecca
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10. Caliph
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Islam / Orientations /
Arabic: 'at-tasawwuf

Sufi zawiyyas, Nefta, Tunisia.
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Sufi zawiyyas, Nefta, Tunisia.

Order founded in the 14th century by Baha-ud-Din Naqshband of Bukhara. Today it is mainly found in India, China, the Central Asian republics and Malaysia.

Mystical orientation, usually defined as part of Sunni Islam, although it represents an individual religious idea.
A person who belongs to Sufism, is called a Sufi. Nearly all Sufis are men. Sufis belong, and follow, the rules of an order, known as tariqa.
Sufism's aim is to gain a closer connection to God and higher knowledge. This is gained through communal ceremonies, where trance is widely used. Today there are less Sufis than earlier, some estimates run at less than 5 million in the whole Muslim world. Sufism's strongest footholds are now in Egypt and Sudan.
Sufism got its content and its rituals inside Islam, but it also picked up elements from older religious practices. Sufism developed gradually in the first centuries of Islam, but there is little proof of real Sufism before 800 CE (about 200 H). Sufism as a tradition has had many theoreticians, but has still been a practice mainly used among ordinary peoples, and often performed without much consent from the religious elite.
The core of Sufism is to leave the ordinary life, in order to close down the distance to God. And by reducing the distance between man and God, man also gets closer to truth and knowledge. The soul is seen upon as an element that can stretch out from the carnal body, and pass through the divine spheres. Even if few Sufis will claim that they can reach all they way to God, knowledge and insight increases the closer one manages to get.
Techniques vary, but they have three things in common: rhythm, repetition and endurance. The actual technique can be utterance of words or phrases, singing and dancing. It can in some cases involve physical pain, or acting out illegal acts.
There is little to find in the Koran that sustain the tradition of Sufism, and therefore Sufism have normally had big problems being accepted by the religious as well as the learned elite. Sufism has also had problems with surviving during modernization processes that have taken place in most of the Muslim world. Today Sufism will normally be performed in the countryside, and by people in the outskirts of towns that are so big that there are several cultures co-existing. Sufis are also often of a high average age, as recruiting among the young proves difficult.

By Tore Kjeilen