The Origins of Sufism before Rumi
The different factions and beliefs that we have examined briefly weakened the holy joy and enthusiasm of faith and damaged the unity of the Islamic community. Sincerely devout Muslims who were disturbed arid saddened by this situation retired to lonely places and devoted themselves to worship. They ate little, they drank little, as if turning their backs to the world. Those who behaved in this fashion eventually came to be known as Sufis. However, in the early stages of Islam, those who devoted themselves to this kind of worship were called abid (worshipper) or zahid (ascetic). Sufis took their name because they wore clothes made of rough wool, and the Arabic word for wool is suf. According to historical sources, the first person to be called Sufi and to build the first zawiyyah (retreat house of mystics) in Syria was Abu Hashim of Kufah (d. 767 AD). After him came many great saints like Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 784 AD), Dhu al-Nun al-Misri (d. 859 AD), Abu Yazid (Bayazid) al-Bistami of Khorasan (d. 874 AD), Hallaj al-Mansur (d. 921 AD), and Junayd al-Baghdadi (d. 910 AD). Despite all obstacles, all accusations, all insults and allegations of heresy and blasphemy, the Sufis’ views and way of life spread to every corner of the Islamic world.
Due to the efforts of Abu al-Qasim ‘Abd al-Karim al-Qushayri (d. 1072 AD) to show that the beliefs of Sufis did not contradict the Islamic and Muhammadi way and along with al-Ghazali’s (d. 1111) very well-founded works, Sufis, who previously were looked upon with suspicion and less than admiration by the scholars of Islamic law, gained great regard and respect among the public and even among the scholars of Islamic law. Many famous scholars dedicated themselves to great shaykhs; the sultans and statesmen promoted Sufism, built dervish lodges and religious retreats, and facilitated the appearance of many shaykhs and dervishes in all corners of the Islamic world. From the eleventh century to the thirteenth century, the century of Rumi, Sufi orders began to be founded in the Islamic world, and from the thirteenth century onward, this network of Sufi orders expanded and gained importance in all areas.
In the ninth century in which Sufism began to spread rapidly, the social and ideological environment was very suitable for the expansion of Sufism. The welfare and economic situation during the first century of the Abbasid caliphate provided a comfortable life for the public. The conditions necessary for a Sufi current to settle and grow among Muslims were now ripe.
It is erroneous to accept as true that the “beliefs of different creeds and groups, philosophical ideas that started to spread with the translation of the ancient Greek philosophers’ works, beliefs migrating from India and Iran, and especially the Neo-Platonic view of the Alexandria School, caused Sufism to emerge among the Muslims.” Indeed, the main issue that led to the emergence of Sufism is the fact that popular un-Islamic beliefs had forced the believers to turn inward, to be absorbed in their religious beliefs, and to reject all views outside the Qur’an. Therefore, just as Islam was not influenced by the previous religions, Sufism was not inspired by Indian or Greek ideas. As in every religion, there is a mystical current within Islam that is unique in itself. Islamic mysticism, or Sufism, belongs to Islam.
The source of the Islamic mysticism is the Holy Qur’an and the Noble Prophetic Traditions. In this regard, if we remember the following, it will save us from remaining under the influence of this idea.
At the time of Abu Hashim (d. 767 AD), the first Sufi of Islam and founder of the first zawiyyah in Syria, Indian and Greek texts had not yet been translated into Arabic, and thus the Sufis of Islam could not have come under the influence of foreign beliefs. The oldest book written about Sufism that has remained today is that of Abu Abd Allah al-Harith bin Asad al-Muhasibi(d. 837AD).