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A Look at the History of Tasawwuf and `Irfan

The historical development of tasawwuf and `irfan may be divided into several stages. At the initial phase of their development, their main focus was to make headway within various Islamic sects, in other words, a fight for survival or an attempt for consolidation. The second stage was marked by efforts geared to blend tariqah (mystical practice) with shari`ah as a means of deflecting allegations levelled by those who considered tasawwuf as an aberration and as contrary to the true spirit of Islam. These efforts went as far as claiming as among the ranks of Sufi masters such prominent faqihs as Abu Thawr, Abu Hanifah, Shafi`i and Ahmad b. Hanbal. The third stage of development was characterized by the founding of Sufi orders and establishment of major khanaqahs (monastic complexes) as well as by the coming into existence of a corpus of didactic and symbolic literature which over time came to loose its authority owing to the rise of a large group of impostors who feigned Sufism as a means of fulfilling their ulterior motives. This corpus, none the less, made a great contribution to the life and culture of the Muslim community and transformed the period of Sufi flourishing into one of the most glorious in the history of Islamic sciences, a heritage which continues to be viewed in the same light. The scope of the present work precludes an even abbreviated discussion of the historical development of Sufism. Here, we will suffice by providing a coherent picture of certain aspects of this phenomenon.

 source: Zarrinkoob , Abdol Hossein "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.470- 4710

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