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Sufi Practices

Rahal Eks

Image: "encounter of two shadows near Marseille" by Rahal Eks.

The multifaceted Sufi Tradition is by nature based on a holistic approach. Not all Sufis do the very same exercises and practices. In this summary for interested beginners, I will point out that some practices belong specifically to a certain Tariqa, or Sufi Order, while others are done in variations by different ones. But in this context here, I just want to give a general overview of what Sufis do.


Sufi seekers are required to read and study Sufi books. These may be prose texts, poetry, teaching tales, jokes such as the Nasruddin material, and the story of Mushkil Gusha (the Problem Dissolver), including philosophical and scientific works.

Also included in this reading list are the Qur’an and / or studying other religious scriptures, as well as commentaries on the former and / or certain Sufi-relevant Ahadith (the reported sayings and actions of the Prophet Mohammad, PBUH), or dealing with specific Ahadith Qudsi (the Sacred Sayings of God through the Prophet).

It should also be noted that some Sufis don’t focus on the scriptures and instead use mainly the written and orally transmitted material of Sufi teachers.

When it comes to reading, this can be done alone and / or in a group situation. It is of interest to note that the body of classical and contemporary Sufi books and translations is indeed huge.


“Educate your women, a nation that doesn’t educate its women cannot progress.” - Haji Bektash Veli

After an initial familiarizing and harmonizing with the Sufi Tradition via books, tales, and sayings, as well as gathering more in-depth information from insiders, the quest to find a suitable Sufi teacher is also part of the process and the Sufi practices.

This could take more or less time, depending on the clear intention of the seeker and his or her dedication and sincere interest. If one is just plagued by what is known as “spiritual tourism,” which often never leads to any committed goal but becomes a lifestyle of consumerism to superficially cream off a bit of this, that and the other and always race after new hunting grounds, forever hungry for pseudo-spiritual or esoteric kicks, whatever it may be. This is not at all conductive on the Sufi Path.


There is a clear difference between the attitude of a spiritual tourist and a general interest and gathering information and knowledge about all the existing philosophies, religions, and spiritual paths, which should be part of a good general and universal education of a contemporary person. Also, the field of comparative studies is, of course, a valid one.

But none of this is based on the urges of the undecided folks who believe that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence or who fancy to pick and mix what they consider cute and dandy.


The Sufi Tradition is per se open to anyone regardless of skin color, ethnic background, religious affiliation, or the lack of it. But there are often filters put in place to make things not so easy and test the want-to-be-seeker / student to avoid wasting time with undedicated spiritual tourist types.

Therefore the Sufi exercises are not taught to those or to interested inquirers but to people who really want to learn and walk this Path in a whole-hearted manner. This usually happens at the right time – and surprise, surprise – it might not be according to the schedule that the seeker has in mind.


For this reason, the information about Sufi practices is here at this stage very general to avoid potential troubles along with the self-help and home-made-guru approach. Sufi practices are only taught to the student when it is clear that there is a sincere intention and a mutual commitment.


The next step in terms of Sufi practices is often testing the potential seeker’s patience. It has been said since classical times that patience is to the Path what the head is to the body! This very aspect doesn’t quite figure on the list of the other much more liked and popular Sufi practices.  


“How did I attain my spiritual station? By losing all my attainment in Him.” - Rabi’a

Among the widely known practices is “Sufi dance,” the whirling of the Mevlevi dervishes. It is called sema in Turkish, or in the original Arabic sama’ and is related to listening to recitations and music and moving as an active form of worship, prayer, and meditation, as well as receiving and transmitting the baraka, the blessed energy.

The whirling is also done in variations by numerous other Sufi Orders and groups, alas not in the choreographed manner that was designed much later by Rumi’s son, Sultan Walad.

But even Shamsuddin Tabrizi and Jalaluddin Rumi never danced in what is now known as Mevlevi style – instead, they got up spontaneously and whirled ecstatically. However, each form has its purpose and function.


“Among those of the heart, outward manner comes from within.” - Rumi

Then there are various other sama’ styles, involving body movements, ecstatic dance, and chanting to drums and musical instruments. These naturally vary according to time, place, people, and culture.


“In the eyes of God, to bring one moment of joy to the heart of another

is worth years of religious observances.” - Abu Sa’id

The very core practice of the Sufis is dhikr, also spelled zikr, meaning remembrance of the Beloved’s Ninety-Nine Most Beautiful Names, Attributes, and Qualities.

There is dhikr performed alone or as group exercises, with or without the use of a tasbeh, a rosary.

Dhikr can be done in a repetitive loud chanted form – mantra-like – or by itself, as well as accompanied by drums and other musical instruments, as well as also in its silent form.


Then we have fikr, the Sufi way of contemplation on the Beloved, the Source of Absolute Being, and reflecting on His beautiful creation. This is done in love, not just from an intellectual modus operandi.

In the Qur’an, there are numerous references about this.

For example, Surah 3 verse 44, it says: “There are those who remember God standing and sitting and reclining, and who reflect upon the creation of heaven and earth.” As well as in verses 6:50, 2:66, 30:21, 16:44 et cetera.

And a Prophetic Hadith informs us: “An hour’s reflection is worth more than seventy years of worship.” While ‘Ali advised us: “Awaken your heart with reflection.”


Not to forget Maulana Rumi’s spot-on lines: “Oh brother, you are your very thought. As for the rest, you are only hair and bone. If your thought is a rose, you’re a garden of roses. If it is a thorn, you are but fuel for the stove.”


We also have moraqabah, which is meditation. Ibn ‘Arabi, the sheikh al-akbar, the greatest Master, advised us: “Meditate upon God in all situations, for God meditates upon you.”

The purpose of Sufi meditation is to get closer to the Beloved, the Absolute Existence, and forget the relative existence of the self. It implies to be vigilant and practice non-being, getting closer to the Beloved with the aim of merging with the Source of Being. Meditation can be done alone or in groups, in silence or with specific Sufi music.


Another Sufi practice is wird, the invocation of words, phrases, or sections of the Qur’an, prescribed by the teacher to the student for specific purposes – usually to be recited silently alone or aloud in a group situation.

Here too a tasbeh, a rosary may or may not be used. It all depends on practical individual indications and the specific situation.


“Inam migsare!” - “This too shall pass!”

Attention is also paid to dreams and visions, and they are discussed with the teacher. Under certain circumstances, this may, at times, also be done as a group activity, but more often, it is dealt with in private between student and teacher.

Evidently, not every dream is oozing with deeper meaning and symbols to be understood; some dreams might just be a result of having eaten too much Sushi at a late hour.


This brings us to food and the kitchen and being of service in a Sufi group context. There is a saying that the Sufi Path starts in the very kitchen: cooking, serving, cleaning, bringing out the garbage and doing the dishes.

It might also imply to feed the poor, as it is done since ages at certain Sufi shrines like the one of Mo’inuddin Chishti in Ajmer, India, where the motto is: “Love all, hate none!”


Other Sufi practices might involve weaving carpets, doing calligraphy and metal work, miniatures, art, music, crafts, being useful in the fields of healing and nursing, being a gardener, architect, builder, designer, taking care of animals, building roads and bridges, running a publishing company or working in any profession for that matter.

Some Sufi practices are out in the open; others are happening discreetly behind the scenes.


Coming back to the more evident spiritual practices, we also have the 11 Naqshbandi Sufi Rules or Principles to be used in daily life according to needs. These rules and their use need a more detailed explanation for later. Also, for later: the issue of Malamati Sufis who walk the Path of Blame.


Another Sufi practice is the activation of the Lataif centers, singular Latifa. These are the subtle energy centers that some people like to compare to the chakras, even though it is not exactly the same thing. This practice also falls into the more advanced activities of certain Sufis. The teacher explains how to do so at the correct time.


Participating at the weekly Sufi gatherings – certainly on a Thursday evening, but possibly also on an additional different day – also forms part of Sufi practices per se.


And last but not least, we have ziyarat, which means visiting Sufis and or Sufi places.


“Oh traveler of the Path, lose yourself; then there will be no need to trust in God.”


Saludos! May love and blessings be with you! Ishq bashad wa Baraka bashad!

Want to read more from "Sufism 101"? Here are the links, just click on the section you want to read: Sufi OriginsSufi BeliefsSufi PracticesSufi Spaces, and Sufi Personalities

ولا غالب إلا الله

© 2020 Rahal Eks.