A BRIEF HISTORY
How Sufism endured through the years.
lthough he introduced Sufism, Prophet
Mohammad was unable to promote it
on a significant scale during his reign.
Historically, Sufism mostly emerged through
Ali ibn Abi Talib, a close Companion of the
When Prophet Mohammad began to
preach Islam, he faced opposition from the
Arab pagans. This was because he introduced
monotheistic beliefs in a society where most
people were polytheists. Furthermore, for
the bedouins whose tribal culture was rife
with racism, misogyny and strict class
divides, Prophet Mohammad’s message was
revolutionary. He gave hope to those living
in poverty, he gave women many rights
that they had never been afforded and he
declared all Muslims to be brothers and
sisters to each other regardless of their race.
He shook the very foundations of the Arab
Indeed, Prophet Mohammed stated, ‘No
Arab is greater than a non-Arab. Today, I
crush all these differences under my feet.
Greatest is one who is greatest in piety.’
[MUSNAD AHMAD 22391]
This earned him fierce enemies in Mecca.
He spent most of his time in this world
defending the religion of Islam from those
who wanted to destroy it. It was only after the
Conquest of Mecca in 630 CE that he began
to speak openly on the subject of spirituality.
After the Conquest of Mecca, he asked
his Companions to focus their attention
on the ‘Jihad-e-Akbar (The Great Struggle)’
which he declared to be the struggle against
their Carnal Selves. Prophet Mohammad
said, ‘When you fought against your enemy
previously, your enemy was visible and
you were able to kill them. You were able
to punish them, so it was a relatively lesser
Jihad. But now, I turn you towards a greater
Jihad in which you cannot see your enemy.
Your enemy is inside you.’ [KITAB AZ-ZUHD AL-
However, his demise occurred in 632
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CE, just two years after conquering Mecca.
Therefore, he was unable to teach spirituality
to the wider Muslim community during his
lifetime. In one of his last sermons, Prophet
Mohammad directed the Muslims to Ali.
He said, ‘I am the city of knowledge and
Ali is its gate. For whomsoever I am Moula
(Lord), Ali is also their Moula.’ [AL-HAKIM’S
MUSTADRAK `ALA AL-SAHIHAYN, VOL. 3, P. 126-7;
From this statement, many people came
to believe that Prophet Mohammad intended
to appoint Ali as the caliph to lead Muslims
after him. However, due to intervention from
Umar bin Khattab, Prophet Mohammad was
never able to voice his final verdict on the
Thereafter, Ali began his efforts to
raise awareness of spirituality among the
Muslims. He did not become the leader of
Muslims until after the reigns of Abu Bakr
Sadiq, Umar bin Khattab and Usman bin
Affan. By the time he came into power, the
Muslims were already divided between him
and the tyrannical Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan;
rather than being able to preach spirituality
openly, he was forced to spend most of his
time thwarting conspiracies from Muawiya.
Nevertheless, Ali managed to build a base
for Sufis to follow. The Suhrawardi, Chishti
and Qadri Sufi orders all trace their origins
back to Ali. The Naqshbandi order obtained
spiritual knowledge through Abu Bakr Sadiq,
another close Companion of the Prophet
Mohammad and the first of the Rashidun
During his final days, Prophet Mohammad had a strong
fever. He told some Companions, ‘Call someone who can
write. I would like to give advice about the future of the
Muslim nation.’ Umar bin Khattab interrupted, saying that the
prophet was too ill to be speaking sense and that the Koran
was enough for them. The Companions then began to quar-
rel, resulting in Prophet Mohammad asking them all to leave
his room, without him giving them his decision regarding the
next leader of Muslims. [Sahih Bukhari 7:70:573]
The Rashidun Caliphs’ is a term used for the first four
caliphs of Islam. It means ‘Rightly Guided Caliphs’.
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