Sufism has existed since the beginning of human history, for in every time and place, God has sent Prophets to lead mankind to knowledge of Him, and Sufism is the Way of the Prophets. The great Master Bayazid Bistami (qtd al-Muqaddisi) stated: “Its seeds were set at the time of Adam, they sprouted under Noah and flowered under Abraham. Grapes formed at the time of Moses, and they ripened at the time of Jesus. In the time of Mohammad, they were made into pure wine.”
Historical records date back to the seventh century, to the time of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), when was founded by Oveys Gharani. Sufism is generally accepted to be the mystical dimension of Islam. Hujwiri, in the eleventh century, presented several views of the origin of the term, “Sufi.” Some scholars say Sufism is derived from the word Ahl al-Suffa, or the People of the Bench, which refers to the platform on which the Holy Prophet Muhammad and the believers used to sit while worshipping God.
Others say that they were named Sufis because of their habit of wearing suf (wool). The habit of wearing wool next to the skin dates back to the first master of Islamic Sufis. While this theory of the derivation of the word does have a foundation in the practices of Sufism, the words of Hazrat Mir Ghotbeddin Mohammad Angha (qtd Angha 12) clarify this point: “While every Sufi wears wool, not every person who wears wool – suf – is a Sufi.” Others have concluded that Sufis were named so because of the safa, or purity, of their hearts and the cleanliness of their actions. Therefore, the practitioners of safa are called Sufis, meaning “pure-hearted.”
The Sufi Pir, Hazrat Salaheddin Ali Nader Angha (12-13), tells us that while this allusion by historians is not incorrect, it is incomplete. They have presented the outer form of Sufism, while its inner meaning has been beyond their personal experience. If we look closely at the last three hypotheses, we will note that to be called a Sufi has certain requirements. To be a companion of the Prophet surely requires a different mode of action and behavior. It requires purity of heart, spiritual awareness, and sacredness of goal. In essence, the people of the Bench, or the companions of the Holy Prophet, must have been aware of the significance of the teachings of the Holy Prophet and must have been intent on being trained by him, because they wanted to know God.
Thus if wearing wool was one of the conditions, they did so. Wearing wool was a mere reminder not to surrender to earthly absorptions. The aim was to reach a state of purity, through which they would be in direct relationship with God, unite with God, be annihilated in God, subsist in God, and then attest to the Oneness of God — as the Holy Prophet had declared, la-illaha-illallah. Reaching this state means that no other but God is in one’s heart — safa.
This method of purification through submission to God and annihilation in God was termed ma’rifa, meaning acquaintance and cognition. In this context it refers to the cognition of oneself and the cognition of God. The one who teaches this method of cognition is known as the arif, or he who has attained the most exalted state of existence through annihilation and permanence in God. The esoteric wisdom of cognition was transmitted from the Holy Prophet to his cousin and son in-law Ali ibn Abu Talib known as Amir al-Mo’menin (peace be upon him).
The sanctity of the message of Islam and the tradition of the Holy Prophet were kept
intact through an unbroken chain of transmission by the great masters of Maktab Tarighat
Hujwiri, Ali B. Uthman Al-Jullabi. The Kashf Al-Mahjub . Trans R.A. Nicholson. London: E.J.W.Gibb Memorial, 1911-1976. Print.
Angha, Salaheddin Ali Nader. Sufism. Washington, DC: M.T.O. Publications®, 1996. Print.