What is the Difference Between Sufism and Mysticism?

The word Sufism has been derived from the Arabic classical word for wool, ṣūf. And it usually refers to the wool garments used by these early ascetics. It also has a symbolic reference of the act of sitting down on one’s knees, or “sujood,” and it is derived from the same word. The Sufis generally believe firmly that people are inherently good in nature. But it is society that forces them into behaving badly to others. The basic object and ultimate goal of a Sufi are to purify oneself of all illusory thoughts and act only in accordance with God’s will.

The term mysticism may refer to either an idea or practice that emphasizes direct communion with, or absorption into, the divine through contemplation (mystical contemplation), personal prayer (devotional prayer), ritual (liturgical prayer), and ascetic practices (asceticism). This type of mysticism has traditionally been known as contemplative or ascetical mysticism.

What is Sufism?

As mentioned above that the term Sufism (the word comes from the Arabic word for wool, ṣūf) is a religion that seeks to experience “union with God” through meditation and divine love. The goal of this type of religious mysticism is to cleanse oneself from all kinds of illusory thoughts and firmly act only in accordance with God’s will (to become “one with God”).

What are the origins of Sufism?

Sufism is an esoteric philosophy, religion, and way of life-based on the teachings of Sufi masters. One can generally divide Sufism into two different branches:

1- Traditional or classical form that teaches individuals to seek God through inward purification. And one can achieve it by turning off one’s ego and following the path of love and devotion.

2- Folk Islam, which relies on ritual practices in accordance with the parameters of religion.

There are many different types of Sufi orders (tariqah) in Islam including Qadiriya, Rifa’iya, Shadhiliya, Naqshbandi, Chishtiya. 

Sufi Beliefs

Sufism is a practice that is the mystical branch of Islam. Sufis are those Muslims who seek to find divinity through direct communion with God. Sufism has been an important part of Islamic practice since the beginning but was not originally called by that name. 

The concept of Sufism has a link back to the history of Islam. Many renowned Sufi emerged in that time, who contributed a lot to the literature and philosophy.

The Differences between Mysticism and Sufism

The basic notion of Sufism is to seek the ultimate truth. And for this purpose, they have to follow certain spiritual paths. In order to attain religious spirituality, they usually go through certain practices. These practices vary in different schools of thought. The Sufis have different schools of thought, and each of those has its own way to get religious spirituality. But all these paths go to search for the ultimate truth which is the search of Allah (God). 

So it is worthy to mention here that mysticism and Sufism and mysticism are two aspects of spirituality. In mysticism attaining the favor of the supernatural power is more highlighted. While on the other hand, Sufism is a way to search for Allah (God) by practicing the notion of self-denial and obstination from the desires. 

The Sufi schools of thought have a huge contribution to literature as well. From Rumi to the famous Punjabi Sufi poets, there is a huge list of such Sufi poet who has a great contribution to literature. The literary work of Rumi is famous not only in literary circles but also in the public at large. In the same way, Urdu and Punjabi poets have their huge contributions to literature. Their literary work (kalam) has gained ultimate influence in the society of today. One can significantly observe the influence of these Sufis in society.  

Self-denial in Sufism

The Sufis are, in a sense, the mystics of Islam. They believe that all people are inherently good ones and it is the society that compels them to act badly. The goal of a Sufi is to purify oneself of all illusory thoughts and act only in accordance with God’s will.

Sufis often practice self-denial as a way to focus on this goal. This includes fasting, chastity and celibacy, and self-flagellation (without causing injury). Though many of these practices are also there in other faiths (including Christianity). But the Islamic tradition has given them a special significance because they can be practiced at any time or place by anyone. These can be performed without the need for expensive ritual objects or taking up large amounts of time or space like some forms of worship.

Recently there has been an increased interest in Sufism as an antidote to Western consumer culture. Much like asceticism became popular during the Christian Dark Ages as an answer to the excesses of wealth and power. So Sufism offers, Muslim men and women who see themselves as marginalized by so-called globalization, a way to express their faith and reconnect with their cultural identity. Which is possible to do without abandoning their socioeconomic status or cultural norms.

Concluding Lines

Sufism is a mystical Islamic tradition that includes the belief in one god, while mysticism is more of a philosophical worldview. The essence of Sufism is about reaching an enlightened state of being, while mysticism is about reaching an enlightening experience or knowledge. Some people argue that Sufi beliefs gain influence from various other religions, while mysticism is less likely to gain influence from other religions. But in fact, Sufi beliefs only trace their foundations from the teaching of Islam. Sufism is a way to practice religious spirituality under the parameters of Islamic teachings.

The differences between mysticism and Sufi beliefs are vast. But self-denial in Sufism is not the same as self-denial in mysticism. The practice of self-denial in Sufism is spiritual, while in mysticism it is more about the ego. The practice of self-denial in Sufism means denying the ego to get closer to god. While in mysticism it means denying one’s desires to get closer to god. 

The notion of self-denial in Sufism is often spiritual, it can also be literal. For example, when one must give up all of their worldly possessions to become a Sufi. Self-denial in mysticism does not always need to be literal but can entail things like feeling nothing at the moment of fasting. Sufis believe that there are many paths to reach the ultimate truth and that truth is the oneness of Allah (God).