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Mystical movement within Islam that seeks to find divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. It consists of a variety of mystical paths that are designed to ascertain the nature of mankind and God and to facilitate the experience of divine love and wisdom in the world. Sufism arose as an organized movement after the death of Muhammad (AD 632), among different groups who found orthodox Islam to be spiritually stifling. The practices of contemporary Sufi orders and suborders vary, but most include the recitation of the name of God or of certain phrases from the Qu'ran as a way to loosen the bonds of the lower self, enabling the soul to experience the higher reality toward which it naturally aspires. Though Sufi practitioners have often been at odds with the mainstream of Islamic theology and law, the importance of Sufism in the history of Islam is incalculable. Sufi literature, especially love poetry, represents a golden age in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu languages. See alsoAhmadiyyah; dervish; Malamatiyyah; tariqa.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Sufism, visit Britannica.com.