Sufi is an Arabic word which signifies wool, long hair - one who is devoted to himself or devoted to religious exercise but this meaning is post-classical – people who wear clothes made of wool or cotton, people who turn away from evil or mischief are some of the meanings of Sufi.
The Sufis are mostly misunderstood by their followers because Sufis don’t teach, preach or propagate; they live and lead by example. They are simple people with meager belongings. They are originally desert people always on the move in search for some resources for their livelihood. They knew the value of things because they belong to the arid lands. They are very good economist because of their geographical background thus they posses good dealing ethics.
These down to earth desert people were always on the move to find pastures for their cattle and food for their families. This migratory nature of desert people was one of the basic causes why they had to travel all the way to Spain, Russia, Africa, China, India, Bangladesh then finally to Maldives, Malaysia and Indonesia all along the silk route. Sometimes they were with the invading armies but their intentions were never aggression but trade; impeccable character was their only strength.
Originally Arabic was the native language of Sufis but later on it was adopted by Persians. The first thing they did after migrating to foreign land was to learn the local language and mingle with the locals. Note their initial intention was not to spread Islam but to find livelihood. For that they had to learn the culture of natives and participate in their local music, folk singing, poetry and dancing. The love for all and secular attitude of theirs made them enemies of medieval Sunni theologians.
Gradually, when they established their foot hold they began to interpret the teachings of Quran in their local languages in the form of folk songs, poetry and storytelling. The Sufis never tried to imposed any restrictions on the way of life of the individuals or societies, because they very well knew the original teachings of “Quran” which was secular and had nothing to do with any religion.
Sufism is mainly a lone inner journey of deep contemplation. Wherever the Sufi migrated they won the hearts of local people with their fair dealings and respect of their cultures. This was their main forte which brought thousands of local inhabitants to their fold. History is witness to it that Islam reached peacefully to the western Indian shores, Maldives, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh and even southern China without any aggression.
Sufism is basically spiritualism which embraces everyone as being their own self. Sufism or spiritualism does not make any distinction with caste, creed or religion. Neither does it follow any religious ideologies. Over a period of years Sufism was wrongly associated with performing of miracles, cataleptic prayers, singing, dancing and monasticism. As the original Sufis are no more and the purpose of their learning the art and mingling with other cultures no longer makes sense to the general masses who were influenced by Salafi Islam funded by oil money.
Today Sufis are being accused of pluralism by the so called puritanical Islamists - But the fact is Sufis of old were the main torch bearer of Islam, to the lands where Wahabism is now spreading its tentacles.
Having said that I would add that majority of present day Sufis do not represent the original Sufis of the past. Today's Sufism has become a cult like other branches of Islam and it no longer represent true teachings of Islam or Quran.
Yahya bin Muadh al Razi (830 AD - 871 AD) said " Avoid the society of three classes of men; headless Ulemas, hypocritical Quran readers and ignorant pretenders to Sufism."
My analysis towards understanding of Sufism…