Where does the term Sufism come from

People have differed in the original meaning of the term “Sufism” many westerners who are Sufis claim that this term has nothing to do with Islam rather it existed way before Islam, neglecting the linguistic structure of the term “Sufism” which is related to the Arabic language without any shadow of a doubt. Others however acknowledged the term “Sufism” relation to the Arabic language but insist its existence predate Islam; in other words, they think that it is true that this term is related or derived from the Arabic but the path of self purification as an ideology predated Islam. Looking at both opinions we see that although both sides seem to share the same term “Sufism” and at the same time differ on its origin, but both have failed to differentiate between the origin of the term and origin of the actual path of self purification as an Ideology. We conclude from this reality that there is some kind of confusion between the true nature of Sufism as an Ideology and its relationship to its term. In other words they seem to deal with it as an ideology classified by the term Sufism. Where in reality Sufism is a spiritual path of the inner self and the individual desire to draw near the ultimate Truth, the Beloved. This fact alone should not allow to any title or term to obscure the the true nature of this path. However, it fair to say that Sufism as pure Ideology have predated Islam before it was even called Sufism. What really happen here in my opinion is that the term Sufism has become synonymous with this spiritual path which is shared by all people of diverse denominations. The reason for this fact is that Muslim philosophers have profoundly influenced this spiritual path-most likely before it is called Sufism- and consequently this path have inevitably adopted the Arabic term “Sufism” and have become attached to it. It is worth mentioning here is that the path of self purification in various cultures is still carries different terms, for example in Hindo philosophy it may be called Nervana and in Judaism may be called “qabbaalla”, in Christianity it may be called Rahbana, and in Islam it is called “tasawwuf- the act of self purification or as it is called in the west sufism”

Why is he term “Sufism” was adopted to represent the process of self purification?

Now based on what has been mentioned above, lets find out the true meaning of the term “Sufism”. The most common opinion is that the term “Sufism” comes from the term “soof-صوف, lit. means wool” in Arabic and the common understanding is that it is named after Imam Ali’s way of life as humble appearance where he was described as dressed in wool garment to prevent himself from falling into the comfort of this world so the wool garment on his skin is a good reminder of that. This understanding represent half of the true meaning of the reason of choosing the term Sufism to represent this spiritual path of the human soul. Yes it is true that this term is related to “wool” but what is the relationship between them. The answer to this question is by further examining the true meaning of the “soof صوف; wool” in Arabic. Now “soof صوف” represent the hair of lamb and we know that as a fact that the hair of lamb is very coarse in nature. Now the question to ask here is why the Arabs name the hair of the lamb to be soof صوف; wool. The answer to this question lies in the original meaning of the root word where the term soof صوف is derived from. The root word for sooph صوف، is “safa صفا , yasfu يصفو, safaa صفاء’” which literally mean to purify, to be pureو, purity respectfully.” Surprisingly this original meaning appear to be contradictory to the nature of the hair of the Lamb which is very coarse in nature. Now to explain this it seems that the Arabs wanted to find a proper name to the hair of the lamb which would appreciate its most notable benefits besides its usage in garments to provide heat against cold temperatures. So the Arabs have another use of this hair and that is as a tool of purification of water as a strainers. The environment of the desert did not make the wool (as garment) as an essential property of the wool rather their need for pure water was considered to be the most essential property of the hair of the lamb. Therefore they wanted to appreciate this fact about the hair of the lamb so they borrowed the root word “safa, yasfu-become pure, to be purified” and derived the term suf” which represent the material performs the act of purification. Hence the derived term “suf” was borrowed here to become the name for the hair of the lamb in other words the name suf was chosen in accordance to the purpose and function of the hair of the lamb and that is “to purify” the fluids. Now let s go back to the main issue and that is the true meaning of “Sufism” based on what has been established so far it became very clear that the Arabic term “Suf” was anglicized to become “Sufism” in accordance to the main purpose of this spiritual path which is to “purify the inner self” as the wool purify the fluids


Adill Hissan

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