Sufism (Arabic tasawwuf) deals mainly with mental, spiritual and philosophical aspects of Islam, the essence of which is to establish a direct relationship with Allah by purifying the soul.

Opinions vary regarding the etymology of the word tasawwuf. Some believe that the word is derived from suf (wool) and refers to the rough woollen clothing worn by early ascetics. Some other opinions are that it derives from safa (purity), from saf (row), or from ashab-i-safa (row of holy persons). Whatever its etymology, however, tasawwuf or Sufism essentially means spiritual meditation for the purification of the immortal soul. The purified soul achieves baqabillah (eternal love of God) through fanafillah (absorption in God). Since God is invisible, it is through love alone that a soul can become one with God (Al-Quran, 2:165). According to Sufism, meditation is the tariqah or way to reach God. Sufis believe that a murshid (spiritual guide) is essential for tariqah. The way to reach God is first through fanafish shaikh, absorption in the guide, then fana firrasul, absorption in the Prophet (Sm), and, finally, fanafillah, absorption in God. Baqabillah can be achieved only after attainment of fanafillah. A Sufi is enlightened with the power of God if and when he attains Baqabillah. At this stage the Sufi attains eternal peace and happiness.

Sufis derive their inspiration from hazrat muhammad (Sm) who forms the source of spiritual knowledge and teachings. He himself meditated in the cave of Hira in Makkah for more than five years before achieving prophethood at the age of 40. The purpose of Sufism is to purify the soul through full-time remembrance of Allah. Regarding purity, the Prophet said, 'Know carefully, there is a special part in the human body called qalb (soul). If that is pure, the entire body remains pure; if that is impure the whole body becomes impure' (Hadith). The only way to purify the soul, the Prophet (Sm) noted, was through God: 'There are machines to clean up things, but remembering Allah is the only way to clean up the impurity of the soul'.

Hazrat Muhammad (SM) transmitted to his Companions and to his son-in-law Hazrat Ali (R) the essential doctrines of Sufism. Sufism was further developed and popularised by Sufi dervishes, poets, and philosophers who wrote religious treatises, poems, commentaries etc. As a result, various doctrines and tariqahs evolved round the teaching and of Sufi saints or awliya, the following four being prominent: (1) Qadiriyyah tariqah, which originated with Hazrat Abdul Qadir Gilani (R) (2) Chishtiya tariqah, which is named after Hazrat Khawja Muinuddin Chisti (R), (3) Naqshbandiyyah, which is named after Khawja Bahauddin Naqhshbandi (R) and (4) Mujaddadiyah, which follows Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (R). Apart from these, Sufis belonging to the suhrawardia, Madari and ahmadiya tariqahs also came at various times to preach Islam and Sufism in Bengal.

The advent of Sufism in Bengal may be dated to the mid-eleventh century with the arrival of Muslim and Sufi preachers. For the next six centuries, learned Sufis and saints continued to arrive in Bengal from Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Central Asia and north India. Among the prominent Sufis who came to Bengal during the 11th-12th centuries are Shah Sultan Balkhi (Bogra), shah sultan rumi (Mymensingh), Shah Niamatullah Butshikon (Dhaka), shah makhdum ruposh (Rajshahi), Shaikh Fariduddin Shakkarganj (Faridpur) and Makhdum Shah Daulah Shahid (Pabna). baba adam shahid was another Sufi saint who came to Bengal in the 12th century.

According to tradition, Hazrat Shah Sultan Rumi arrived in Madanpur in the netrakona district along with his spiritual guide, Syed Shah Surkhul Antia. Wanting to test the Muslim saint, the king of the region invited him and offered him some food that had been poisoned. Sultan Rumi ate the food without suffering any ill effects. The king was amazed at this miracle and accepted Islam along with the members of his court. The king presented the saint with some land as a token of his devotion and respect. Later on, several people of the area were converted to Islam. Shah Sultan Rumi died probably in 475 Hijri (1075 AD).

Every Sufi preacher was not so lucky. When Baba Adam Shahid arrived in vikramapura near Dhaka in 1119 AD, vallalasena, the king of Vikramapura, ordered his troops to attack the saint. In the ensuing fight Baba Adam Shahid was killed. The king, along with the members of his family, died shortly afterwards, tradition ascribing the deaths to the king's ill treatment of the Sufi saint.

The spread of Islam was accelerated in Bengal after the victory of bakhtiyar khalji (1204-05 AD). Many Sufis accompanied the conquerors and devoted themselves to spreading the message of Islam and Sufism. Among those who played a significant role in this regard were Shah Jalal Tabrizi, Ismail Khan Ghazi and shaikh alaul haq in Gaur Pandua, Shah Jalal Yameni in Sylhet, Khan Jahan Ali in Khulna, Jafar Khan in Hughli Pandua, Shah Daula in Bagha, in the district of Rajshahi, Shaikh sharfuddin abu tawama in Sonargaon, badruddin shah madar in Chittagong and Shah Fariduddin in Faridpur.

The Sufi scholar, Shaikh Sharfuddin Abu Tawama was born in Bokhara (c 610 AH/ 1210 AD), then a centre of learning. Around 1260 AD, Abu Tawama arrived in Delhi, drawing the attention of the people by his knowledge and spiritual power. Giasuddin Balban (1265-87), the Sultan of Delhi, felt threatened by Abu Tawama's popularity and requested him to go to Sonargoan to preach Islam. Abu Tawama acceded to the king's request. He arrived in Sonargaon in 1278 and set up his khanqah there. He was interested not just in preaching Islam, but also in disseminating knowledge. For this reason he established a madrasah, which attracted students from home and abroad. Abu Tawama played a pioneering role in imparting Islamic knowledge through Bangla.

Shaikh Jalaluddin Tabrizi was born in Tabriz in Persia (c 560 AH /1159 AD). He visited many Arab countries before arriving in India. He visited Multan and met two renowned Sufis, Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariya and Khawja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki (R). He then travelled to Pandua and settled down there. Impressed by Shaikh Jalaluddin's humanitarian activities and miraculous power, King Laksmanasena and gave him some land and permission to build a mosque. Shaikh Jalaluddin set up a khanqa which later turned into a centre of Islamic learning.

According to some accounts, Hazrat Shah Jalal Al-Mujarrad (R) was probably born in Yemen (c 671 AH/1271 AD), though some historians suggest that he was born in Turkey. He achieved kamaliyat (spiritual perfection) after thirty years of study and meditation. At the advice of his spiritual guide, he left Yemen with 750 kamel-awliya-e-kirams (Sufi saints). When he arrived in Bengal his companions had been reduced to 360. Gaur Govinda, a tyrannical king reputed to have magical powers, was the ruler of Sylhet at the time. Shamsuddin, the Sultan of Gaur, sought help from Hazrat shah jalal (R) to subdue Gaur Govinda. Shah Jalal reached Sylhet along with his disciples and defeated Gaur Govinda. He then set up his khanqah in Sylhet and settled. People of different castes and religions used to come to see him. Shah Jalal (R) was a lifelong bachelor; hence he was called Mujarrad. In 1345 AD, ibn batuta came to Bengal and met Hazrat Shah Jalal (R), whom he described as being tall and thin. Hazrat Shah Jalal (R) died in 746 AH (1347 AD) and is buried in Sylhet. Many people visit his mazar every day. Hazrat Shah Jalal's (R) followers and disciples were scattered in different parts of the country and helped to spread Islam and disseminate the philosophy of Sufism. His disciples Haji Daria, Shaikh Ali Yemeni, and Shah Paran settled in Sylhet, Shah Malek Yemeni in Dhaka, Syed Ahmad Kolla Shahid in Comilla and Syed Nasiruddin in the region of Pargana Taraf.

The Sufis taught tawhid or monotheism, that is, the oneness of Allah, the Holy quran and the Hadith. Before the advent of the Sufis, most of the inhabitants of Bengal were Hindus and Buddhists. Sufis were able to convert large numbers of people to Islam by preaching the essence of Islam and Sufism: love, brotherhood and equality. Many of these Sufi preachers became renowned as saints. Their tombs are still respected as holy places, with people from all walks of life visiting and praying for earthly prosperity and spiritual salvation.

Sufi Saints are believed to possess miraculous powers, and there are several legends about the miracles they performed. Shah Makhdum Ruposh, who arrived in Rampur Boalia in Rajshahi in 1184 AD, is said to have crossed the river wearing a pair of wooden sandals (kharam). The conversion of several people to Islam is ascribed to this miracle. He is also said to have crossed the river on the back of a fish. Shah Makhdum is believed to have died around 1190 AD. Another story relates to Hazrat Shah Jalal (R) who is said to have crossed the river into Sylhet along with his disciples on a jainamaz (prayer rug). Reaching the opposite bank, he ordered the azan to be sounded, at which the magnificent palace of Gaur Govinda shattered. A legend ascribed to Hazrat Shah Paran relates how a piece of dead wood miraculously produced six different trees, which are still giving shade to his tomb.

Sufism not only helped the spread of Islam in Bengal, but it also influenced the indigenous religions. The ideal of Sufism, attaining the love of God through love of His creation, has greatly influenced the devotional doctrines of vaisnavism as well as the mysticism of the bauls. At times Sufism in Bengal has been transformed into a folk religion with many of the Sufis being regarded as saints or folk deities. During a maritime journey, for example-specially if a storm arises- sailors pray to Pir Badar, repeating his name, 'Badar Badar'. The names of different Sufi saints are inscribed on the bodies of buses, trucks, launches, and steamers to ensure safe journeys.

Sufism has also influenced the literary and cultural life of the land. Innumerable songs and stories, for example, have been written on the miraculous stories of the Sufi saints. Murshidi and marfati songs, gazir gan, the poem of gazi kalu-champavati, the songs of Madar Pir, Sona Pir etc are based on the lives of these Sufis or developed from the Sufi ideals of their teaching. [ANM Raisuddin]

Bibliography TW Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, Lahore, 1956; Golam Saqlayin, Purba Pakistaner Sufi Sadhok, Dacca, 1961; RA Nicholson, 'Mystics of Islam', Sidney Spenser ed, Mysticism in World Religions, Harmondsworth, 1963; ME Haq, A History of Sufism in Bengal, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Dacca, 1975.