Sufism Overview

December 8, 2007 · updated February 15, 2022

Sufism is less an Islamic sect than a mystical way of approaching the Islamic faith. It has been defined as "mystical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God."[#359]

Islamic mystics are called Sufis and their way of life is Sufism (also spelled Sufiism). These terms evolved in Western languages in the early 19th century and derive from the Arabic term for a mystic, sufi, which in turn derives from suf, “wool.” This likely refers to the woollen garment of early Islamic ascetics.

Similarly, Islamic mysticism in general is called tasawwuf (literally, “to dress in wool”) in Arabic. Sufis are also referred to as fuqara, “the poor,” the plural form of the Arabic faqir. The Persian equivalent is darvish. These are the roots of the English terms fakir and dervish, used interchangeably for an Islamic mystic.