Discuss the major beliefs and practices that characterised Sufism.

The Sufis were a group of religious minded people who turned to asceticism and mysticism in order to seek God In the early centuries of Islam. They did this as a protest against the growing materialism of the Caliphate.

• They interpreted the Quran on the basis of their personal experiences and criticized the theologian’s rigid definitions and scholastic methods of interpreting the Quran and Sunna.

• They emphasized on the need for seeking salvation through devotion and bhakti towards God.

• According to them the Prophet Muhammad was a perfect human being and they preached to follow him.

• They believed in the concept that there was one all- powerful God and everything was His creation which made everyone equal.

• Sufis ignored rituals and observed extreme forms of ascetism and stressed on mendicancy and celibacy.

• Under the guidance of any Auliya or Pir, the Sufis practiced the acts of zikr, sama, singing, dancing and training of the mind.

• Sufis observed ziyarat by going to the tombs of Sufi saints and singing and dancing was a part of this ziyarat. Sama or performance of ritual music was done to evoke God’s presence and Sufis would often recite the Divine Names to remember God. Sama was an integral part of the Chistis and represented the interaction with local devotional traditions.

• Owing to the underlying concept of equality, Sufis, considered the service of mankind and needy people equal to devotion towards God. This is observed in the langar (open kitchen) run in the Khanqah of Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya which was run on ‘futuh’ (unasked for charity). It was open to all sections of the society and provided food to them.

• Austerity was also a major feature of Sufism and the Sufis tried to abstain from worldly power. They accepted grants and donations from the political elites but these were unsolicited.