Sufism, also known as tasawwuf is the practice of following the intrinsic mystical definitions of Islam. What separates Sufi practitioners from conventional Islamic practitioners is the fact that while normal Islam followers hope to get close to Allah in the afterlife, Sufi saints try to get close to him in their life. The other distinct quality of Sufism is the teaching of religious tolerance which is absent from other Islamic schools of thought. Sufi sects can be traced back to Mohammed who they consider to be a perfect human being.

The word Sufi seems to be derived from safa and suf which respectively mean wool and purity. Earlier saints were known as Sufis because of the rough woollen garments they used to wear. Sufi isn’t exactly a discipline which needs to be followed rigorously, on the contrary Sufism is meant to help purify the inner self of its practitioners. The Sufi practices increased in scale and propagation, as new areas started coming under Muslim rule. As Sufism didn’t demand such strict adherence as some other Muslim sects it became popular with non-Muslims too.

History of Sufism
Sufism has a long and glorious history, originated in the Golden Age of Islam, in the 9th to 10th centuries. Islamic practitioners report that the entire philosophy of Sufism is taken directly from the Quran, after some modifications and alterations. Some people even believe that Sufism is a way to enhance the emotional contact between a worshipper and his god. Sufism places a strong emphasis on emotionality and some sects even teach practitioners on how to feel the presence of God through the use of intuition and emotion.

Sufi Saints
Sufism has a very illustrious history and has had a lot of influential and learned practitioners and teachers. Some Prominent examples among them are Abu Hasan, Abdul Qadir Fulani, Bulleh Shah, Gharīb Nawāz and Bayazid-i Bastamī. Almost all of them started their own sects within the umbrella of Sufism, with each sect having different beliefs, practices and goals. In India Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti is among one of the most famous known Sufis, who came to India around 1192 A.D. He was given the title of gareeb nawaz that means benefactor of the poor. Chisti resided in Ajmer and preached for peace between Hindus and Muslims. Farid-ud-din Ganj-i-Shakar, a disciple of Chisti was another great Sufi saint of India, He was also known as Baba Farid, and spent most of his time in India in Ajodhan (Punjab) and Hansi (Haryana). Nizam-ud-din Auliya was a disciple of Baba Farid, and a great Chisti Saint, who entered Delhi in 1258 and settled in a village called Chiaspur near Delhi.

Sufi Orders
Muslim culture started to pervade through India, after Multan, the capital of Sindh, was conquered by Muslims and thus the Islamic empire expanded into the country. Various Sufi orders were established during the expansion of Islamic empire, especially after the northern India was conquered by the Muslims. The sufi orders established include Chisti order, Suhrawardi order, Qadiri order, Naqshbandi order, Shattari order, and Raushaniyah order.

Importance of Sufism in India
Sufism in India has a history of over a 1000 years. The practice has almost always been combined with religious tolerance inside this country. Muslims that arrived or resided in this country about a 1000 years ago can be divided into two camps. There were the extremely religious teachers called ulemas and the fakirs which are known as Sufis today. The fakirs were generally tolerant about other religions and even had non Islamic followers in some cases.

The main reason behind the early popularity of Sufism in India were the Khanqahs. Khanqahs were large gathering halls where followers lived with their guru or teachers. The gathering halls also acted as community centres and were open to everybody, specifically providing support and sustenance to poor people. They also became known as a centre for spiritual learning which helped in further enhancing their popularity. As Sufis played an important role in the intellectual development of India their contributions in the field of religion and society are immense. The Sufis also abstained from religious and communal conflicts and reached out even to the poor and marginalised communities.